Another episode in the Continuing Saga, as begun
(Part 3 here
The English gentleman loitering at the reception desk of the Hôtel de France paid no attention when the front door opened and a figure stepped into the dim foyer from the still savage evening heat outside. He had eyes only for Madame Villeneuve, magnificent in a red silk dress, cut to flatter a bosom as soft and white as the pillows of her superb hotel, but, alas, less available for weary heads to rest on, even at a price. Last night, he had persuaded her to share a glass of champagne with him; he had hopes that tonight this magnanimity might be extended to encompass dinner. But Madame Villeneuve, though evidently not averse to his attentions, knew better than to put pleasure before business. Her lustrous black eyes moved away from her admirer and rested on the new arrival, now approaching the reception desk.
"Good evening, Madame," he said, tipping his hat politely. "Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey have reserv…"
What happened next exceeded the English gentleman's comprehension. The stranger had spoken with perfect politeness, but Madame Villeneuve's features distorted in fury and she let out a shriek – no, not a shriek, nothing so ladylike as a shriek. It was a screech; a screech that put all those within earshot in mind of an inebriated parrot.
"Merveeeeeen! You Engleesh pig! 'Ow dare you show your faithless face in my presence! Vas te faire enculer, tu conasse, tu tête de noeud! I weel KEEL you!"
Suiting the action to the word, she produced a loaded shotgun from behind the reception desk and aimed it squarely at the newcomer.
With commendable rapidity, the stranger ducked, and the first blast went over his head. Thanks to the furious tremor afflicting Madame Villeneuve's hands, the second blast failed – narrowly, but in such instances a miss is as good as a mile - to take off his left ear. At this point, the lady had to pause to reload, and the stranger seized the opportunity to effect an exit.
Mme Villeneuve turned to her admirer. "Excuse me," she panted, her bosom rising and falling like the swell of the ocean with the effort of her exertions, "I 'ave unfeenished business," and she hurried through the door after the stranger.
Lord Peter Wimsey had been so overcome by the exigencies of the last two days as to actually lower himself to perch on his luggage while he waited for Bunter to sort out the rooms. He sprang to his feet at the sight of his man emerging from the hotel at the sort of speed one normally associated with latecomers to the bus stop, or fleeing criminals.
"Good lord, Bunter, whatever…" he began, but Bunter ignored him in favour of collaring a passing old man on a donkey cart, whom he proceeded to alternately threaten and cajole in a barbarous French that bore as much resemblance to the language of Racine as a Yorkshire farmer's speech bears to Donne. A bundle of franc notes facilitated comprehension, and in no time at all Bunter was tossing the luggage into the donkey cart, and handing her ladyship up on top of it.
"Bunter, I do wish you'd…" began his lordship plaintively, when a red-clad figure appeared in the doorway of the hotel. Bunter jumped into the driver's seat and cracked the whip, and it was only a superbly athletic leap onto the cart that spared his lordship the humiliation of eating dust while his manservant and his wife galloped off into the sunset together. Two shotgun blasts in rapid succession encouraged the donkey to respond to Bunter's desperate urgings, and within minutes the village, and the Hôtel de France, had vanished from sight.
"What was all that about, then?" demanded his lordship, when the donkey's pace had finally slowed and he judged the time ripe for conversation.
Bunter wiped a hand across his sweating brow.
"You will recall, my lord, that when his grace was charged with murder, we were obliged to leave Corsica with all possible speed," he said. "Unfortunately, given the haste, I was unable to find time to provide a satisfactory warning of my departure to the daughter of our landlord, with whom I had embarked upon a rather, ah, intimate acquaintance. It appears that she has never forgiven me."
"Bunter!" said Lady Peter, reproachfully. (Women, thought Bunter morosely, always took the woman's side). "Couldn't you at least have written to her?"
"It wouldn't have done any good, my lady. She can't read. Or at least, she couldn't in those days. She would seem to have risen considerably in the world since."
If he did not add, "None of this would have happened if your lordship had allowed me five minutes for a quick kiss and a grope behind the barn," it was because he knew that a true gentleman's gentleman never, under any circumstances whatsoever, blames his employer, not even when he finds himself well and truly up shit creek, and someone has forgotten to pack the paddles.
"Yes, well, that's all very unfortunate," said his lordship querulously, "but what I want to know is, where are we going to sleep tonight?"