The end result was a beast of a file with scenes ranging from their first meeting to Charles Parker knocking on Harriet's door to ask her a few questions. I'm still working on it, in fact, but I wanted to post the first part here so that if anyone wants to give advice, make corrections, or send Howlers they'll have the chance to do so. Happy Valentine's Day from two people who should never have gotten together!
Philip Boyes sat in Ryland Vaughan's armchair, contemplating his latest novel. Or rather, contemplating the back of it. He had seen the front of the book too much over the last few weeks; its bold, plain cover – red with a splash of black across it, underscoring the title. Nineveh, it said in block capitals, and in smaller capitals beneath, by Philip Boyes. He had seen it staring out at him from display-windows in the smaller bookstores, seen it pushed into obscurer corners as it was engulfed by other, more popular books in the larger bookstores, and as it became clear that this book was no more to the public's taste than his first three, he had sunk gradually into the gloomy dyspepsia which always seemed to arrive at about this time in the publication schedule. Damn Grimsby, he always swore he was going to really make a push this time, but somehow it never seemed to come off. If people would only read, not just suck up the mindless trash which they found in the railway stations …
The back of the book displayed a more welcome sight; his own face, or rather, his own face as it had been eight years ago, when Philip Boyes was the handsome young author of the much-discussed if poorly-selling Abhasa. Dark curls artfully rumpled, the younger, optimistic Philip stared out at the current version, and looked distinctly unimpressed. Well, no wonder, thought the living Philip. He had found some white hairs frizzing out from the dark curls, and the lines by his eyes never left them now. He had thought that by the time he looked like this, he would have at least managed a title which sold more than two thousand copies.
The bell rang. Vaughan, home already? No, he wouldn't be ringing his own bell. Philip crossed the living room to the front window and looked out at the rather droopy young man who now stood on the doorstep, hatless and sweating. James Rushworth – well, he would be a distraction. Philip opened the door.
"Phil! I thought I might find you here. Is Vaughan in? Oh dear, trapped at the bank again? Well, no need to wait for him, he'd just make the place more depressing and empty all the bottles. What do you say to a bite and then we'll go round to a party?"
"Hell, not another party, I'm sick of them."
"Oh, this isn't the usual crowd. Or, it isn't most of them – Miss Phelps is invited, and she told me that she's sure I could come as well, for a breather. I've been at home for the last three days trying to finish up the latest issue of Lightning and had to listen to Naomi and Mother talking up Dear Walter every single second of the day. When I'd finished the last sentence I absolutely fled. I even forgot my hat, or perhaps I remembered and then I forgot it on the tube. Oh dear, well, it was a dreadful hat anyway."
"Take this," said Philip, grabbing one of Vaughan's. He put on his own hat and opened the door. The warmth of the summer evening was reflected back from the steps, the sun still high in the sky. Poor old Vaughan, he thought, sweating in that underground office somewhere. Still, it made no sense to wait – he would probably be hours. "Where do you want to go?"
"The club, of course. I'll put it on Mother's tab. She owes me that much for having to listen to her rhapsodies about Dear Walter."
"Has Naomi actually captured the heart of Dear Walter? I thought he had better taste than that."
"I'm sure he has, but he hasn't absolutely told her No and has told her how intelligent she is a few times, so she's eating out of his hand. You know how women are," said James, who even by the laxest standards could not be said to know any such thing. "They like to think a man likes them for their brains, and heaven knows Naomi hasn't got much in the way of looks. You should come to the next do, to watch the fun. She follows him around like a dog."
Philip, who was trying to hail a taxi and not paying much attention, wondered vaguely if this conversation would produce an opening for a question on whether Lightning planned to raise its payment rates any time soon. His latest contribution, "The Failed God Of D.H. Lawrence" had been enthusiastically received but less enthusiastically remunerated.
It wasn't until they were actually seated at the club, trying to decide which of the offered dishes was most likely to actually be available, that Philip asked to which party James had been indirectly invited.
"It's at Sylvia Marriott's. It's for a friend of hers, that girl who writes mysteries. Something Vane … Henrietta? No, Harriet. Her third book just came out and Sylvia is having a celebration."
Philip, who had been ready with a dismissive quip ever since the word "mysteries", opened his mouth and then shut it again. Then – "Is she the one who wrote His Final Death? Vaughan lent that one to me. Not bad, for a mystery."
"Yes, I remember that one. Personally I think it rather unfair to make do with the murderer's confession, but I heard Mother and Naomi hashing it out when they'd read it and none of us could think how it could possibly have been proved. She must be a dead ingenious girl to think of something like that, and I'll offer her my warmest congratulations once we've crashed her party. I've heard she sells pretty well, too, and that's always something worth celebrating."
Philip winced, then took a sip of some unidentifiable alcoholic liquid. Perhaps he should beg off, say his health was at a low ebb again – but no, that would mean going back to the house, and having to put up with Vaughan's oppressive concern combined with complaints about the horror of the banking life. The liquor cabinet had required frequent replenishings lately. No, he'd go and meet Miss Vane, and extend his congratulations. Who knew, she might even be worth a look or two – and without a doubt, she'd be easier on the eyes than Vaughan.
Sylvia had insisted on the party celebrating the appearance of The Seventh Sin. "One book may be a fluke, after all," she had told Harriet as they sat at Sylvia's kitchen table while Sylvia cracked walnuts with a severe-looking pair of metal pincers. "There are a lot of orphaned books in the world; the people who wrote them just pushed them out and then called it a day. Two books may simply mean that a one-book writer has written his first book again with different names for the characters. But three books leaves no doubt that you're a professional.
"Eiluned can't come, she's out of London for the weekend with some terrible friend of hers from school, Mabel something, she's always mentioning books she's read and saying she expects you haven't. I don't know what she sees in her, really. The Brubakers are coming too, and Townsend and Trimbles, and Marjorie Phelps. She told me she'd asked James Rushworth along also – you know James? He's one of that crowd that's always running up to Lady What's-her-name's country house and telling each other how marvelous they are. Lady Till and Tweed, that's her name. I'm sure she nearly bankrupts herself on these things but of course that never occurs to any of her guests. Mark seems to think she's an official branch of the Bank of England. The other day he was telling me how the last weekend he was there, Lady T was so skimpy with the dinners that he could swear he actually saw a saddle of mutton being brought out for a second day, like something our grandparents might have done. I suggested that perhaps the butcher's bill was getting a little high and he looked absolutely shocked. It never crossed his mind. Of course, Eiluned would say, how many men ever have to work on a household budget?"
"Dad did," said Harriet, more to give Sylvia time to catch her breath than because she felt like reminiscing. "He would open the books every first Saturday and then close them five minutes later after saying that he didn't believe we could possibly spend so much and he had better look again later when he was better prepared for it. It wasn't that much, really, but he liked investing and was never very good at it, so we never had as much to spend as he thought we should."
"Was this after your mother died?"
"Yes. He was fairly careful about that sort of thing when she was alive, but afterward she wasn't there to put a check on him. Here, let me get those sausage rolls."
"Oh no you don't, you're the guest of honour," said Sylvia, pulling the tray back. "It's bad luck to prepare food for your own party."
"I've never heard that before."
"Well, I have. Or perhaps I made it up just now, but the principle is sound. Leave the rolls to me – Mrs McKee finished the other things before she left."
"Nonsense," said Harriet. "I can't stand to sit around feeling useless. I'll get them."
The rolls were barely finished before the bell began to sound. George Townsend and Dora Blacknall, painters who were swathed in scarves and airs of mystery but whose ethereal appearance was counterbalanced by their ravenous appetites. Miss Blacknall had only got halfway through The Seventh Sin and kept asking Harriet how it ended, as she wasn't sure when she would have time to finish. Laura and John Brubaker were good company, although Laura wanted to talk about some complicated quarrel between herself and another barrister's wife, and John appeared interested only in the extremely wobbly state of something called the Megatherium Trust. Marjorie Phelps appeared, thankfully interrupting John's expansively-gestured explanation, and after congratulating Harriet she promptly scooped up half-a-dozen sausage rolls and made for an armchair. "I'm famished," she said, as Miss Blacknall gave her a look. "A commission for a sweet little boy holding a bunch of balloons, and I swear that it's cursed. He simpers and smirks at me. It's dreadful. I'll probably be spending the whole week-end exorcising the studio and starting again."
"The whole week-end? Surely that's not all you're doing," said George Townsend, filling a plate with cheese straws. "Isn't anybody in love with you at the moment?"
Miss Phelps evidently found this a normal inquiry, as she only said "Not precisely. Lord Peter has been nosing around recently but he's been called away on an inquiry and abandoned me to pottery balloons."
"An inquiry – Lord Peter Wimsey, do you mean?" said Harriet, as the bell rang.
"Oh yes, didn't you know? He could talk all the air out of a house but he is a darling. And of course, you're somewhat in his line, aren't you? I'll have to introduce you some time."
Harriet reached into her pocket for her cigarette case, only to discover that it was missing. "No, please don't think of it. I doubt he'd think very much of my efforts, though I'd certainly like to hear more about his. I'm sure the papers don't tell half of it."
"They don't. But he also – oh, hello!"
"James Rushworth and friend," said Sylvia, who was holding two men's hats. "This is Miss Vane, the reason we're all here."
"Philip Boyes," said the friend, extending his hand, then starting to turn away almost before she finished shaking it. Harriet laughed, just as she remembered – this was the Philip Boyes, the one who had written Abhasa and Mrs Bolton-Brown. Those books had made the rounds of half the undergraduates at Shrewsbury and Miss Mollison had become rather tiresome in her insistence that she understood them.
"Is that how you treat a guest of honour?" she said.
He glanced back at her. "How precisely should I treat a guest of honour? Should I throw roses at her as if she just won a bullfight?"
"If you want to," she said, "But all I require is that you look at me for a moment."
Mr. Boyes's dark eyes crinkled a bit at the corners. "My apologies, Miss Vane. The truth is, I'm a bit out of sorts with the world and am taking it out on anyone who happens to live in it."
"I'm sorry to hear that," she said, taking a step towards the kitchen. "Would coffee or tea be better for reconciling you with the world?"
"Coffee. I can't abide tea."
Harriet wondered how many consolatory cups of coffee she had poured out over the years. Her father had drunk pots of it but had never learnt to make it to his own satisfaction.
"What has the world done to you, then?"
"Oh, the usual. Sales. My latest thing – Nineveh, you may have seen the notices – isn't doing any too well, and I hoped that by now … well, no use going on about it. You seem to be doing all right, though."
"I'm not doing too badly, but mysteries are – people expect different things from them."
"Less of a challenge, perhaps?"
Harriet could feel her face turning crimson, but Philip was smiling as he said it and didn't look as if he meant to be insulting. She took a long breath while her thoughts crystallized. "I don't think that's true," she said at last. "But the fact is that a purely literary writer will have a style, and type of book, which is entirely his own. With a mystery, one can have one's own style, but the type of book is still part of a larger whole. The man at the railway station may never have read a Harriet Vane mystery before, but he's probably read an E.F. Benson or an Agatha Christie, and if he hasn't read them he's read Nellie Quick or James Brunvand. But if he's read D.H. Lawrence, that doesn't mean he knows what a Philip Boyes book will be like."
"Interesting that you should mention Lawrence, I did an article on him not long ago, in Lightning. And I didn't see it myself but there are a few people who think some of my stuff is fairly similar in spirit. Did you ever read Mrs Bolton-Brown?"
"I did once." Well, she had read most of it.
"What did you think?"
Even to that pleasant voice and those dark eyes, she couldn't bring herself to lie. "I never give opinions on other authors' work."
Philip's shout of laughter made everyone else in the room jump; Miss Phelps looked positively astonished. "You're lying, Miss Vane," he said. "Or you're the only writer in the world who never talks about other people's books. I forgive you, though. It's one of my early things, anyway. You might like Nineveh, though. Shall I send you a copy? I won't demand an opinion afterward."
"I shall read, mark and learn, and inwardly digest."
"Ah, a daughter of the parsonage. My condolences." He took a sip of coffee.
"My father was a doctor. My grandfather was the parson."
They seemed to have run out of words, but before the moment could become too awkward, James Rushworth came bouncing over with some tolerable claret. Miraculously, he also appeared to have actually read The Seventh Sin, though he showed a terrible tendency to remember minor inconsistencies in plot. But somehow her eyes kept straying back towards Philip Boyes. A literary man – perhaps not the most popular, but nonetheless well-known – and he had wanted to talk with her. Judging by the way he was staring silently out the window, he wasn't a natural talker, but he had talked to her. And there was something about his face …. he turned suddenly, and caught her staring at him. He lifted a brow, nodded, and went back to his companion. But in the moment he looked at her she had felt as if something had smashed into her breastbone and left her struggling for air.
She had always felt a faint pride, while at school, that she did not succumb to pashes and love affairs the way the other girls did. She had regarded their antics, their obsessive note-passing and whispering, their constant talking about the boy at the other school or the wonderful gym mistress, as juvenile and weak-minded. Now she was discovering that far from being an adept at resisting temptation, she had simply never been subjected to it in the first place. In the space of half an hour, she had acquired a new and urgent concern in her life: to have Philip Boyes smile at her again, and to talk with him.
In the meantime, her cigarette case was still missing. She finally borrowed a Gauloise from Sylvia and as she received congratulations and Sylvia proposed a toast, her nerves quieted. When Philip Boyes left, not long after, she managed a good-bye that was as casual as if she had been talking to Miss Blacknall.
Harriet was scratching out and rewriting a timeline for her current book when the doorbell rang. Walking to the window, she was mildly let down to see that the bell-ringer was Sylvia. (Well, who on earth had she expected it to be?) Sylvia was carrying a large brown parcel and her expression, beneath her broad hat, was unreadable.
Harriet met her at the doorstep. "Here," said Sylvia, pushing the parcel into Harriet's arms. "Phil Boyes sent this round for you this morning. What on earth did you say to him? I can't remember the last time he gave anything to anyone."
"I didn't know you knew him, I thought he tagged along with Mr Rushworth." The day was warm but overcast, and the breeze felt damp as it played with Harriet's uncovered hair. The parcel was addressed to Miss Vane, care of Miss Marriott, and the weight suggested that it was full of either books or bricks.
"I've seen him about. I certainly didn't intend to invite him. Aren't you going to open it?" said Sylvia.
"Why not?" said Sylvia, sitting down on the steps. "I want to see what it is, and I haven't time to come inside, Eiluned's back in town and I'm meeting her for lunch."
Eiluned again. Harriet wondered if Sylvia realized just how often that name cropped in her conversations. She undid the parcel – a little too quickly, as it turned out, as the contents suddenly broke through the paper and tumbled onto the steps. Sylvia yelped with surprise and then with laughter as they bounced down the steps.
"Harriet! He's sent you all his books! Oh, good lord, look at this. Abhasa. That looks like one of his author copies. Mrs Bolton-Brown! I read that one when it came out; Mabel thought it was brilliant and she made me. Nineveh, he was whinging about that last night. Eiluned told me once that if he wants to know why his books never sell, he should try reading them."
Harriet stood with the books stacked in her arms, her face burning. What on earth had come over Sylvia? They were in public. The books didn't belong to her. What had Philip Boyes ever done to her besides write books she didn't care for? Phoebe Tucker had put Abhasa aside after thirty pages, saying that if she suspected Bob of resembling any of the characters she would flee to a convent, but that hadn't been the same.
Rain was spattering on the pavement now, and umbrellas going up. Sylvia looked at Harriet for a moment, then gathered up the books and handed them to her wordlessly.
"Thank you," said Harriet coldly.
"It's nothing. I apologize for getting carried away. Still – Harriet – do please be careful. He can be charming, but –"
"I'm not an innocent, Sylvia." She had witnessed some of the small and large scrapes her fellow-students had got into, and of course her father had made sure she read the relevant portions of his medical textbooks.
"It isn't that, exactly, but he – " Sylvia seemed to be struggling to speak. "Very likely I'm prejudiced," she said finally. "He simply isn't someone I care for. Perhaps I'm wrong. I can give you his address if you want to write and thank him."
She wrote Philip Boyes a polite note and put the books aside for the evening. The Seventh Sin may have only just been released, but it didn't do to sit on one's laurels – the public would read it, put it aside, and demand another one before she had time to look around. She set to work again but after a few hours she was relieved to see that the post had arrived and given her an excuse to stop fruitlessly erasing things for a bit. Two circulars, two bills, a note from the Misses Benn and Clarridge, who had lived in her grandfather's parish, doubtless bidding her to tea and improving lectures ("We see you so seldom, Hattie, and you only a few miles away now!"). And finally, a letter whose postmark told her it was from Mary Attwood.
She knew what it would say, but she opened it nonetheless. Her circumstances had kept her from visiting Mary during the last two years, and Mary's letters were poor substitutes for the Mary she had known at Shrewsbury; a bright, lively talker, always planning an outing, an excursion, a party – but reading Mary's flat letters made Harriet wonder how much of her brilliance had in fact been the result of her attempts to avoid thinking about anything in particular for very long. From sport to sport they hurry me … Her delightfulness utterly failed to translate to the written page, and this latest letter was no exception. Her mother-in-law had come to visit. She was expecting another baby (by intention? She gave no indication of how she felt about it). She was having a hard time finding a maid, they all wanted office or factory work these days. She wishes she and Harriet could go punting or picnicking together again, but that was all over.
Harriet sighed and put the letter down. She would have to come up with something to say about all of these things. If only she could see Mary in the flesh, or if Phoebe Tucker would write more often – her letters sounded just like her, but she was barely ever in England now, and her letters always arrived four months after posting and covered with mysterious blurred stamps.
At least, now that she knew Philip Boyes hadn't responded, she could get back to work. Which she did, and was pleased to discover that the embryonic book was much more cooperative. By evening she had the timeline much improved and was leafing through her copy of The Art Of Cross-Examination, thinking about alibis.
Philip didn't answer her letter straightaway: first, because he was in an extended wrangle with Tom Alderman of The London Review over cuts to a short story, and second because he regretted having sent all of his books. What extravagant impulse had made him give up his next-to-last author's copy of Among The Serpents? Just one book would have been enough, but as it was the girl was likely to get a swelled head – if it weren't swelled already from having sold four thousand of The Seventh Sin. Still, he thought, as he underscored "extremely presumptuous" in his latest letter to Alderman, all that proved was that the reading public didn't like a challenge. And she herself seemed to recognize that from the way she had spoken about it …. realism was always attractive in a girl, realistic, intelligent girls knew how the world worked and didn't make impossible demands on one. And while he couldn't call her pretty, there was no denying that she had a good figure. Youth compensated for a good deal.
Several days later, once the spat with Alderman had concluded and a new one with Grimsby had arisen to fill its place, he took a look at his calendar and realized that Kropotky's concert was the day after tomorrow. He wasn't sure he could survive the experience alone, so he concluded the evening by dashing off a quick invitation to Miss Vane. A composer friend of his was conducting his new piece at a concert hall in south Chelsea. Would she care to accompany him?
"What did you think?" Philip asked as they stood on the pavement, awaiting the bus which would carry them to the celebration at the Kropotkys' flat.
"I think," said Harriet, "That I need some time to recover before I can articulate properly. What was the chorus supposed to be doing, did you know?"
"Expressing the soul of the voiceless invertebrate, I believe. I think the bit with the musical saw represented paramecia, but I can't quite remember."
"He's certainly an impressive conductor. I can't imagine what it takes to control a chorus who are all singing in different keys."
"Don't tell him that. At least, don't say "conduct." It implies the submission of the musicians, and that offends him."
Harriet said nothing. This seemed like as good an opening as any.
"We can go to my flat if you'd prefer. There are always a thousand people at the Kropotkys' – nobody will mind if we're not there. And Vaughan should be out for the evening." Or if he wasn't, Philip would scrounge up enough money for a bottle and see to it that he was.
"Mr Boyes, I don't feel like going to anyone's flat just now. My head is feeling dreadful, and I really would like some tea."
"I could give you tea at my flat."
"Do you keep tea there? I thought you said you didn't like it."
She remembered – clearly she appreciated his company more than she was letting on. He took her hand, and while she didn't grasp his hand in return she didn't pull away either. "Vaughan may have something. I could content you without doing grief – that's Thomas Wyatt. "
"I know," she said. "But it would hardly be polite to scrounge your flatmate's tea. There's an ABC over there – shall we join the weeping, weeping multitudes?" She paused a split second and smiled at him. "That's T.S. Eliot."
"Mmm – well, if we must." said Philip. "Oi! There's the light. Let's cross."
A few minutes later, they were sitting by the second-storey window at the ABC, Harriet nursing her headache with Earl Grey and Philip attacking a poached egg on toast. "Not bad," was his comment, "But I could do it better. Eating-places can never do much with eggs, but you, Miss Vane, must do me the honour of sharing an omelette with me someday. Now tell me, did you get a chance to read the books?"
"What, all of them?"
"Of course not. But maybe one or two."
"I read Among The Serpents."
"I won't ask what you thought of them, since you never give opinions on other authors' work." He smiled at her and took a sip of coffee.
"Mr Boyes, you know that wasn't serious. You had me caught short."
"Then what is your opinion?"
She looked into her teacup for a moment, as if looking for an answer in the leaves. Finally, she looked him level in the eye and said "I thought parts of it were brilliant. The scene where Niniane is walking about the empty house and looking through the windows – that was beautifully done, like being in her head as she sees the past and the future together. And you have your people in very intriguing situations. But they don't move enough. They spend too long in the same place, and they have the same conversations over and over. If they could move just a little faster than the reader's thoughts, I think you wouldn't need to worry about your sales. For example, when Basil is braiding the whip in the garden – he talks too much and the whip disappears from the scene. It didn't feel alive."
"The whip wasn't meant to be literal, you know. And even if it were, he may have paused while he was braiding it. There's a lot of symbolism behind it at all – it's never finished and disappears from the story, and after is when the crackup begins. You caught that, I hope? This sort of thing needs a very close reading."
"I gave it one. Mr Boyes, if you ask for opinions, you should be prepared to get them."
For a moment he thought of walking out. Then he thought of her sales. Miss Vane, shallow as her choice of genre might be, clearly knew a technical trick or two. And now, in the dim evening light filtering through the tea-shop windows, her sober, expectant face was almost beautiful. He fought down his resentment. "If it's any solace, the reading public agreed with you. Still, you should see some of the letters I got. I think there were more country cousins trying to get the book banned than there were people who bought it."
"At least that would be one way to help sales."
"Yes, make people go to Paris for it. I had people writing and telling me that if I were going to write things like that, I would have been better off fetching it in the war and letting someone else live." He had, indeed, received one letter saying this. "I couldn't be in the war. Medical disqualification – I've had gastric troubles my whole life. Why anyone should think himself superior to me because the army wouldn't have me I don't know, but a lot of them do. Even Rushworth was in it at the end. Can you believe they took him?"
"He seems to have got through it, though. I'm sorry for the letters, but I get them too – it's just something that comes with the job."
"Letters wishing death on you?"
"No, you have me there. But I do get a lot of people who like to hunt for mistakes in the timelines and alibis and the worst of it is that often they're right. I also get a few who swear I based the characters on themselves and their friends, though why anyone would want to claim that I can't imagine. Someone once told me that Robert Templeton shouldn't wear tweed, as it didn't suit bearded men. And I once got a letter saying `Dear Miss Vane, I have just read A Murder Of Prose and I wish to inform you that I have spent two weeks in New York and Americans do not talk the way you say they do.' Or people want me to write about real crimes."
"Like the Trunk Murderer?"
"Yes, I've had a few people send me cuttings about him. But of course, if I put a body in a trunk now, everyone would say I was copying him."
"Haven't you ever used a real murder in any of your books? There are certainly enough queer things that go on, I'd think you wouldn't even have to bother inventing anything."
"I've used bits now and then, but of course they were all from long-ago cases. One can't be too blatant about copying from recent things, especially if anyone involved is still alive. But the fact is that most real murders are dull and would make for dull reading. Usually it really is the person caught with the smoking gun and who had the life-insurance policy. Like the Dumb-bells in New York."
From there on the conversation wandered pleasantly among recent murders, the vagaries of the publishing business, and parsonical upbringings. Harriet's father had been an intermittent churchgoer at best, but as she had been sent to live with her very High Church grandfather during her mother's frequent spells of illness, she had been observant while he was still alive and even for a while afterward. Philip, who had certainly not considered that when he was in his father's house, he was in a better place, was less than enthralled by her descriptions of her parents but grinned when she mentioned that her great-aunts had insisted on calling her Hattie. "I loathed it. It was very immoral of me, but I hated it almost as much as my mother going away. When I found out she was dead – they only told me a week after, Dad said I was too young to attend a funeral – my first thought was that now I would have to stay with them and be called Hattie forever. But Dad sent me to school instead, and I had a very decent time there."
"Hattie," said Philip. "I can't connect that with you at all. Hat, perhaps. A sensible sort of name, very much like you."
"Please don't. That's almost worse." Her head drooped slightly. "Mr Boyes, it's been very enjoyable, but I really must go home now."
He began to protest, then realized that he was exhausted and furthermore, that the poached egg was beginning to disagree with him. The old trouble? God, he hoped not. The last thing he needed was another sheaf of medical bills. "I'll see you to your bus. Good night, Miss Vane."