The Last Houseparty

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Authors: Peter Dickinson
was pushing Madagascar …”
    â€œThat is rubbish. The only place the Jews will agree to go to is one that contains Jerusalem—which is one of the great holy places for the followers of Islam. Was not Abraham our father? Why should the Jews have Jerusalem? Tell me, Masham, why?”
    â€œI don’t know. I suppose that’s one of the problems. I mean it’s difficult for us to understand anyone feeling so strongly about something like that. No one I’ve talked to in the army is at all k-keen on the idea of fighting the Palestinian Arabs, but one has to keep order, you know.”
    The Prince checked his answer, nodded and smiled, now looking considerably older than Vincent.
    â€œOne has to keep order indeed,” he said. “Explain to me, Masham, about this aunt of yours. I don’t mind telling you hers was a rather peculiar invitation, but as I am at Oxford to study politics my tutor suggested it would be worth the experience to come. I have already met a few of your notorious English aunts. Would you say Lady Snailwood is a typical specimen?”
    â€œZena? G-g-good lord, no!”
    Still trailing its fuming cloud the Daimler swung down the tight curves of the drive and sighed to a stop beneath the battlements of Snailwood’s east façade. The arrival was not particularly well timed, as they passed the Sunbeam coming from the other direction after depositing the guests from the Marlow train. Under the porte-cochère —for that was all it was, though imposingly tricked out as part of the fortifications—stood the loose pile of their luggage, with Purser beside it evidently supervising its removal. He gave a furious glare at the approaching Daimler, picked up the lightest available case and stalked out of sight. The only figures left beneath the ponderous frontage were Sally Dubigny and a vapid-looking woman whose outfit—grey felt hat, grey quasi-military coat, flat-heeled shoes—though not exactly a uniform would at once have declared her to be a nanny even if there had not been a child in sight.
    The guests climbed from the Daimler, first Sir Charles, then Mrs Blech—lemon-coloured and holding a handkerchief to her mouth—and finally the Professor still talking volubly over her shoulder to Sir Charles.
    â€œOne moment,” said Sir Charles, turning and beckoning dramatically to the nanny, as though he himself had posted her there to cope with precisely this contingency.
    â€œMrs Blech is going to be sick,” he said. “Take her somewhere, will you?”
    â€œBut Sally …” began the woman.
    â€œQuick!” snapped Sir Charles.
    â€œI’ll look after Sally,” said Vincent.
    â€œExcellent,” said Sir Charles. “And I’ll take care of his highness. Well, get on with it, nurse! Now, your highness, Professor, I had better explain to you that one of the minor delights of staying at Snailwood is to watch the progress of the campaign between our hostess and her butler, the redoubtable Mr Purser …”
    The group broke up, the nanny at last moving decisively, putting her arm round Mrs Blech’s waist and supporting her up the steps. Sir Charles stayed where he was, to allow them time to get clear and also seizing the chance to give his set-piece entertainment on the subject of the Snailwood Feud, its alliances, treaties and betrayals. The Prince began to laugh almost at once. Professor Blech composed himself into that attitude of acid patience which serious foreigners learn to adopt when confronted with exhibitions of native childishness.
    â€œWhy don’t you get in the car?” said Vincent to Sally. “When I’ve got the luggage off we’ll drive it round to the stables.”
    â€œCan I steer? Daddy always lets me.”
    â€œIf you like.”
    Even had Vincent taken his hands off the wheel there would have been little danger of Sally hitting anything. The Daimler appeared far

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