"Bunter," said Lord Peter Wimsey, "how are the baths progressing? No, don't bother with drinks, we'll see to ourselves." He took the heavy tray from the manservant and set it on the table before the fire.
"Thank you, my lord. I believe the baths are proceeding apace. I only left my supervisory post in order to bring in the port."
"As I say, we can manage ourselves. I'm sorry to put you to such a fuss, Bunter. Damned nuisance, Nurse taking ill with toothache and Mango still in town to see her mother. We came down here to Talboys for the halcyon experience of fresh air and rough living, but this is taking it a bit far. Next time we want a week-end in the country we might camp out in a couple of tents for a pleasant change. Her ladyship and I will go see to the boys. Get yourself a drink, Bunter, you look slightly harried."
"I beg you will not trouble yourself, my lord. I believe I am capable of seeing to the bathing of three small children."
"Yee-es," interjected her ladyship, "I should think you were, except they are as a rule very dirty and very unruly."
"Master Paul was no trouble at all," Bunter said, "and he is at present nicely tucked up in his cot. When I left them, my lord, Master Roger and Master Bredon were engaged in a sparring match to determine whose turn should be next. Master Bredon did try to negotiate a compromise with me whereby Master Roger would bathe and Master Bredon would not, but I informed him that as there were two of them remaining, there must be two baths followed by two boys in bed without delay." He stopped to draw breath, looking rather ashamed of this burst of emotion.
"Good man," Peter said. "We do appreciate it. I think you've done enough. I'll go up and make sure they're in bed presently. No, I insist. Off with you."
Bunter, whose mien indicated a certain level of mental disturbance, chose to yield without further argument. "Very good, my lord. If you have need of me, I will be in my pantry."
"I'll go up now," Harriet said, maternal feeling apparently overcoming the pleasant lethargy that naturally follows a good meal in front of a good fire. "One or both of them may need a reminder of the virtues of hygiene."
"You might wait a minute," said Peter, cocking his ear toward the staircase. "I hear the unmistakable grumble of plumbing. Yes, that is definitely the bath draining out, and that is the sound of fresh water running. Good boys, they're doing as they’ve been told for once. One has finished already and the other is just starting. We'll leave them in peace, shall we, to do what a man must do?"
"In that case," said Harriet, "perhaps you might do something else that a man must do."
"What, in the forum in front of the plebeii?"
"Bunter has left, and I only meant for you to kiss me," Harriet said, chuckling at the anguish on her husband's face.
"Ah. That I will do in public or private or 'twixt air's and angels' purity."
A silence fell, broken only by the snap and sigh of the fire.
Peter was the first to speak. "I hear the second bath draining out."
"Give them time to put on their pyjamas," suggested his wife.
A further span of time passed. Finally Harriet pulled away. "I suppose we ought to tuck them in. Apparently they have been quite well-behaved for a change; I think they deserve a kiss."
"So are they all, all honorable men. Very well, let us go up."
Lord and lady climbed the stairs. Harriet peeked into the nursery, where Nurse slept with a compress against her swollen cheek, Paul quiet in his cot beside her. They passed the open door to the bathroom, where the towels on the rack and the puddles on the floor attested to several baths having been taken. Finally they came to the bedroom at the end of the corridor, where two small boys were to be found tucked into the big bed, lit softly by the glow of a night-light.
"Well, children," said Peter, "you deserve commendation. You have managed to bathe and get yourselves into bed without Nurse's assistance and without destroying life, nor limb, nor Bunter's sanity. Thank you very much, and I hope you sleep well."
Harriet bent down and kissed Roger's cheek. His hair was damp and he smelled pleasantly of carbolic. She moved around to the side of the bed and bent down to Bredon. She straightened up rather quickly, and stood frowning at her eldest child.
"Peter, I think a little detective work is in order."
Peter, who had been regarding this domestic tableau with a smug beneficence, now stepped quickly from the doorway to join his wife at the bedside.
"I believe I have discovered some physical evidence that clouds the case of the boys in the bath," Harriet said solemnly. "Peter, if you would give Bredon a kiss?"
Peter regarded his son. "I don't think I need to. Our minds, as always, are as one. Bredon, can you explain how your hair is dry so soon after having cleansed yourself of your sins? Further, can you explain why there is dirt on your neck? Lastly, can you explain why you smell distinctly of grass, while your brother smells very strongly of soap?"
Bredon appeared rather more crestfallen than crafty. "Well, Father," he began.
"We have done as Mr. Bunter instructed us."
"I find that difficult to believe, in the face of the evidence presented to the jury."
"Mr. Bunter," asserted Bredon, "told us that as there were two of us boys, we must take two baths."
"We did hear the bath run twice," Peter admitted. "Proceed, my son."
"Well, Father, we took two baths."
Roger, sleepy and becoming belligerent at this interruption to his rightful rest, chose to intervene. "Only we didn't, Father," he said. "I took two baths. Bredon took none."
"But together," protested Bredon, "we two took two baths."
Harriet laughed. "I think he ought to train as a barrister, Peter. He has a terribly tricky mind."
"Or as a mathematician, but not a logician. Really, Bredon, haven't I ever taught you about logical fallacies? Your mathematical set is perfect, but you have committed the error of the non distributio medii. I will explain to you what that means tomorrow."
"Oh," said Bredon. "Well, I do dislike bathing awfully, Father."
"And I dislike dirty children sleeping under any roof of mine. I'm afraid you shall have to get up and go take your bath, Bredon. That's right, march now."
Father and son exited the room.
Harriet sat down on the side of the bed. "Roger," she said, "you mustn't let Bredon bully you."
"He didn't bully me," Roger said, now more asleep than awake. "He paid me tuppence, but I would have done it for a ha'penny. I don’t mind taking baths." He yawned and curled up under the blankets. "May I keep my tuppence, Mummy?"
"Yes, darling, I think you may, but you mustn't take any more money from Bredon. Next time he makes you a financial proposal, you must consult me or your father or Nurse first."
"Oh, dear," Roger said. "I shall be awfully poor then."
Harriet regarded her son with alarm. "Does Bredon pay you to do things quite often?"
"Not often. Only when he really doesn't want to do something. I don’t mind doing most things, not usually."
Lord Peter and his son reentered the bedroom. "Father said I must take a cold bath," Bredon announced, frowning hideously.
"The boiler had run out," Peter said without remorse. "Besides, cold baths have been taken before and shall be taken again in this house."
"Baths at the pump outside have been taken," Harriet said.
"Hush! Not in front of the children." For the second time that evening, his lordship appeared to be genuinely scandalized.
Harriet laughed. "All right then. Nice and clean now, Bredon?" She kissed his cheek. "Yes, I can see that you are. Good night to both of you."
They moved into Harriet's bedchamber.
"Shall we go to bed, too, to lie down and enjoy the blessed boon of sleep?"
"Very well. Give me your hands, the backs and palms to kiss."
Harriet switched off the lamp and gave him her hands.