Mrs. Peter turned to her guest with confidential coyness.
“A diplomat like you will know how to treat this as if it hadn’t happened. Peter’s little weakness; it runs in the family.”
“Good Lord! Do you mean to say he’s a kleptomaniac, like Cousin Snatcher?”
“Oh, not exactly,” said Mrs. Peter, anxious to whitewash her husband a little greyer than she was painting him. “He would never touch anything he found lying about, but he can’t resist making a raid on things that are locked up. The doctors have a special name for it. He must have pounced on your portmanteau the moment you went to your bath, and taken the first thing he came across. Of course, he had no motive for taking a cream jug; we’ve already got seven, as you know—not, of course, that we don’t value the kind of gift you and your mother—hush here’s Peter coming.”
Mrs. Peter broke off in some confusion, and tripped out to meet her husband in the hall.
“It’s all right,” she whispered to him; “I’ve explained everything. Don’t say anything more about it.”
“Brave little woman,” said Peter, with a gasp of relief; “I could never have done it.”
* * * * *
Diplomatic reticence does not necessarily extend to family affairs. Peter Pigeoncote was never able to understand why Mrs. Consuelo van Bullyon, who stayed with them in the spring, always carried two very obvious jewel-cases with her to the bath-room, explaining them to any one she chanced to meet in the corridor as her manicure and face-massage set.
“Don’t talk to me about town gardens,” said Elinor Rapsley; “which means, of course, that I want you to listen to me for an hour or so while I talk about nothing else. ‘What a nice-sized garden you’ve got,’ people said to us when we first moved here. What I suppose they meant to say was what a nice-sized site for a garden we’d got. As a matter of fact, the size is all against it; it’s too large to be ignored altogether and treated as a yard, and it’s too small to keep giraffes in. You see, if we could keep giraffes or reindeer or some other species of browsing animal there we could explain the general absence of vegetation by a reference to the fauna of the garden: ’You can’t have wapiti and Darwin tulips, you know, so we didn’t put down any bulbs last year.’ As it is, we haven’t got the wapiti, and the Darwin tulips haven’t survived the fact that most of the cats of the neighbourhood hold a parliament in the centre of the tulip bed; that rather forlorn looking strip that we intended to be a border of alternating geranium and spiraea has been utilised by the cat-parliament as a division lobby. Snap divisions seem to have been rather frequent of late, far more frequent than the geranium blooms are likely to be. I shouldn’t object so much to ordinary cats, but I do complain of having a congress of vegetarian cats