might have been the hallmark of conscious depravity. In the drawing-room, after dinner, their nervousness and awkwardness increased.
Oh, we havent shown you the silver-wedding presents, said Mrs Peter suddenly, as though struck by a brilliant idea for entertaining the guest; here they all are. Such nice, useful gifts. A few duplicates, of course.
Seven cream jugs, put in Peter.
Yes, isnt it annoying, went on Mrs Peter; seven of them. We feel that we must live on cream for the rest of our lives. Of course, some of them can be changed.
Wilfrid occupied himself chiefly with such of the gifts as were of antique interest, carrying one or two of them over to the lamp to examine their marks. The anxiety of his hosts at these moments resembled the solicitude of a cat whose newly born kittens are being handed round for inspection.
Let me see; did you give me back the mustard-pot? This is its place here, piped Mrs Peter.
Sorry. I put it down by the claret-jug, said Wilfrid, busy with another object.
Oh, just let me have that sugar-sifter again, asked Mrs Peter, dogged determination showing through her nervousness. I must label it who it comes from before I forget.
Vigilance was not completely crowned with a sense of victory. After they had said Good night to their visitor, Mrs Peter expressed her conviction that he had taken something.
I fancy, by his manner, that there was something up, corroborated her husband. Do you miss anything?
Mrs Peter hastily counted the array of gifts.
I can only make it thirty-four, and I think it should be thirty five, she announced. I cant remember if thirty-five includes the Archdeacons cruet-stand that hasnt arrived yet.
How on earth are we to know? said Peter. The mean pig hasnt brought us a present, and Im hanged if he shall carry one off.
Tomorrow, when hes having his bath, said Mrs Peter excitedly, hes sure to leave his keys somewhere, and we can go through his portmanteau. Its the only thing to do.
On the morrow an alert watch was kept by the conspirators behind half-closed doors, and when Wilfrid, clad in a gorgeous bathrobe, had made his way to the bath-room, there was a swift and furtive rush by two excited individuals towards the principal guest-chamber. Mrs Peter kept guard outside, while her husband first made a hurried and successful search for the keys, and then plunged at the portmanteau with the air of a disagreeably conscientious Customs official. The quest was a brief one; a silver cream jug lay embedded in the folds of some zephyr shirts.
The cunning brute, said Mrs Peter; he took a cream jug because there were so many; he thought one wouldnt be missed. Quick, fly down with it and put it back among the others.
Wilfrid was late in coming down to breakfast, and his manner showed plainly that something was amiss.
Its an unpleasant thing to have to say, he blurted out presently, but Im afraid you must have a thief among your servants. Somethings been taken out of my portmanteau. It was a little present from my mother and myself for your silver wedding. I should have given it to you last night after dinner, only it happened to be a cream jug, and you seemed annoyed at having so many duplicates, so I felt rather awkward about giving you another. I thought Id get it changed for something else, and now its gone.
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