Clouds of Witness

annotated clouds of witness

“Clouds of Witness,” 1st U.K. edition cover

This is the annotated Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers. The page numbers are from the first edition. All Biblical references are to the King James Version, which Sayers used.


The title comes from Hebrews 12:1 which concludes the lesson from the previous chapter about men of faith such as Noah and Moses, and how some were some were rewarded by God and some were scorned and martyred.

“Wherefore,” chapter 12 begins, “seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

6 ~ The Wallet of Kai Lung

A collection of stories by Ernest Bramah (1868-1942) about Kai Lung, an itinerant teller of tales set in “a China that never was.” These tall tales were praised for their style and were read for pleasure as much as we read P.G. Wodehouse today. Sayers quotes from Kai Lung in “Clouds,” “Strong Poison” and “Gaudy Night.”

Sayers’ title also appears in the story collection “Kai Lung’s Golden Hours,” the sequel to “Wallet.” In “The Timely Intervention of the Mandarin Shan Tien’s Lucky Day,” a maiden who loves Kai Lung warns him that his enemy has set a trap for him: “He has prepared a cloud of witnesses who will, once they are given a voice, quickly overwhelm you in a flood of calumny.”


7 ~ Of His Malice Aforethought

A legal phrase in an indictment accusing the defendant of intending to perform an unlawful violent act.

7 ~ O, who hath done this deed?

From Act V of “Othello.” When Emelia discovers the dying Desdemonia and asks who was responsible, she replies:

Nobody; I myself. Farewell
Commend me to my kind
lord: O, farewell! [dies]

The first line of Desdemonia’s response — “Nobody; I myself. Farewell” — appears at the head of Chapter XVIII: “The Speech for the Defense”

Hôtel Meurice

A five-star hotel near the Tuileries Garden in Paris. Opened in 1815, it was designed to accommodate tourists from England by offering an English-speaking staff and the opportunity to exchange currency.

Battersea Mystery

A reference to Sayers’ debut novel “Whose Body?”

Sir Julian Freke

The doctor Lord Peter consults in “Whose Body?”

Green Park

A 47-acre park in London consisting of wooded meadows and paths. It is part of the Royal Parks of London system that include Hyde, St. James’ and Greenwich parks.


An apartment on a single floor of a building. Derived from the Scots flet for the inner part of the house or Old English for a floor or dwelling.


A Mediterranean island off the western coast of Italy. Notable as the birthplace of Napoleon.


A code of honor in which violations are punished by death. Since the killing of a relative by an outsider, even for violating the code, is also punishable by death, this can causes revenge killings between rival families that could last for generations.

confidential man

A valet, responsible for a gentleman’s wardrobe, but who can also act in other capacities according to his master’s whim.

h. & c.

Hot and cold.

8 ~ soporific

Tending to cause sleep or lethargy.

valet de chamber

A male servant who works for the hotel.


Mortify means to subdue or deaden, especially through self-inflicted pain or discomfort. Some religious sects advocate mortification of the flesh in an attempt to deny bodily passions such as hunger or lust.


In the era before the ubiquitous suitcase, travelers carried their possessions in bags, steamer trunks, wardrobe trunks and other cases. Their ownership and destination would be indicated by gummed labels. A change in travel plans required relabeling the bags.

The Times

A daily newspaper founded in 1785. This is the “original” Times, its name appropriated by newspapers around the world, including The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.


A fictional location.

aeroplane Victoria

The Handley-Page Co. flew three aircraft between Paris and London, each named for royal personages: Princess Mary, Prince George and Prince Henry (but no Victoria). The W.8b model plane they used seated 15 passengers in wicker chairs in an enclosed cabin while the two pilots flew in an open cockpit.

Handley Page W8B

9 ~ dock

In U.S. criminal trials, the defendant sits at a table with his attorney, facing the judge and with his back to the spectators. In Great Britain at the time, he was placed in a fenced platform visible to everyone in the room. The word comes from the Flanders dialect docke, for cage.


A hearing led by a judge or a coroner that asks a jury to determine the cause of a death and whether to charge a suspect with causing it.

Mr. Parker

Police Inspector Charles Parker assisted Lord Peter in “Whose Body?”

cafe au lait

Dark coffee, closer to an espresso, with steamed milk added. The phrase is from the French for “coffee with milk.”

North Riding of Yorkshire

Yorkshire is a large county in the northeastern part of England. A riding is a political subdivision similar to counties within U.S. states. At the time, Yorkshire was divided into three ridings: North, West and East, with some cities operating independently.


A greenhouse used to grow or display plants.

Duke of Denver

Gerald Wimsey, Lord Peter’s elder brother, holds this hereditary title (as opposed to a life peerage that is bestowed by the monarch and cannot be inherited, e.g., mystery writer P.D. James, a.k.a. Baroness James of Holland Park).

Denver is a village is in the coastal county of Norfolk, located northeast of London. Lord Peter’s family home, Duke’s Denver, is several miles east of the village.


A home in the country usually leased for the hunting season. The English gentry called the house a box in the same way that the wealthy families of the Gilded Age called their mansions in Newport, R.I., “cottages.”

verdict of murder

The inquest ruled only that a murder has occurred, not that the duke has been convicted of it.

Duchess of Denver

Helen, Gerald’s wife and Lord Peter’s sister-in-law. Lord Peter’s mother is called the Dowager Duchess. (A dowager is a woman who possesses a dower, or life interest, in her deceased husband’s property.)

10 ~ Hon. Frederick Arbuthnot

Honourable is a title applied under a variety of circumstances. In the case of Lord Peter’s friend, he could be the son of a viscount or baron, or the younger son of an earl. (The younger son of a duke is, of course, a lord.)

Thursday, October 14th

Sayers took great pains to set her stories in a specific time. After she finished “The Documents in the Case,” she wrote her co-author Eustace Barton that “To-morrow I shall spend the day at the British Museum, putting in passing allusions to current events, with the help of a file of the Daily Mail, so as to blend verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”

“Clouds” was published in 1927. The nearest incidence of Oct. 14th falling on a Thursday was in 1926.

Unfortunately, this date contradicts the opening of the book, which has Wimsey, “a man of thirty-three,” returning from his holiday after the events recounted in “Whose Body?” which takes place in 1922. As Wimsey was born in 1890, it appears that the contradictions are irreconcilable.

Thanks to Tom Napier for the correction.

electric torch

A flashlight, invented by Conrad Hubert (1855-1928), a Russian inventor and businessman who changed his name from Akiba Horowitz after arriving in America. He founded the American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Co. and sold a flashlight promoted as “Ever Ready.” In 1905, Hubert renamed his company American Ever Ready. Eventually, the Ever Ready name was applied to his batteries, now called Eveready, and the company is now called Energizer Holdings Inc.


An elected public official charged with investigating the cause of death when there is reason to believe it was not by natural causes.

11 ~ Sahib

A gentleman. The word originated in India and was used to refer to Europeans of high social status.


A euphemism for the devil. Probably associated with cards or dice, where scoring a two is called deuce (from the Old French dues, “two”) and considered unlucky.

Newspaper ad, John Begg

last peg

A drink, usually of brandy or whiskey, mixed with soda water. Later, Lord Peter will mutter “take a peg of John Begg,” a catchphrase for a whiskey brand.


A room where the weapons and ammunition were kept.

Christ Church, Oxford

There are two types of colleges in England, a university college much like those in the U.S., and collegiate universities, where a school is subdivided into colleges, each with its own structure, activities and traditions. Oxford, for example, contains 38 colleges and six Permanent Private Halls. Lord Peter (and Sayers’ son) attended Balliol College. Christ Church has the reputation of attracting aristocrats, ideal for a snob such as Gerald.

12 ~ Egypt

Great Britain gained control of Egypt in 1882 after an uprising, granted it limited independence in 1922, and was expelled during the revolution of 1952.


During its occupation of Egypt, Britain embarked on programs to improve the nation’s agriculture and financial sectors. British engineers played a major role by helping to improve irrigation on the Nile, particularly by building dams.

sources of the Nile

One of the great geographical quests which occupied explorers and riveted the public during the age of Victoria was the race to locate the source of the Nile River, specifically the White Nile branch (the source of its partner, the Blue Nile had been documented as early as the 16th century).



13 ~ jilt

To drop unfeelingly, used since 1673.


An British word for a tuxedo, typically a black suit with contrasting satin lapel facings, bow tie, cummerbund and matching satin braid on the trouser’s outside seams.

14 ~ bowling-green

A stretch of lawn trimmed and rolled for the purpose of playing lawn bowls, in which players throw balls at a target, usually another ball. The balls are usually weighed heavier on one side, creating a curve which adds challenge to the game.

15 ~ moor

An uncultivated area characterized by low-growing vegetation on acidic soil. Also called a fen or marsh. The fens and the importance of its proper drainage play a major role in “The Nine Tailors.”

Scotland Yard

The headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police. Its original location was at 4 Whitehall Place, and its rear entrance opened onto Great Scotland Yard, inspiring the unofficial name. During moves to larger facilities in 1890 and 1967, the headquarters building was renamed New Scotland Yard. The head of the service is known as the commissioner and classified as “chief police officer,” but colloquially known as “the chief.” Up until the early 1960s, police departments outside London could call upon Scotland Yard’s detectives for help with difficult cases or major crimes.

16 ~ mutual confidences

Trading secrets.

18 ~ covert-coat

A knee-length topcoat, usually fawn-colored and single-breasted. Its signature design uses four rows of stitches on the cuffs and on the bottom-hem that strengthens the material, especially useful when you’re riding through the thicket after game birds.

sal volatile

Smelling salts, used to revive a person who has fainted. Its active compound is ammonium carbonate, variations of which have been used since Roman times. Sal volatile is from the Latin meaning “volatile salts.” Volatile in this context means easily vaporizable.

20 ~ manservant

A personal assistant who acts on behalf of his master.


To ride a horse at full speed in a reckless fashion. The phrase implies that the rider is encouraging his mount by using a whip or crop hard on the flanks.

getting across

To get someone excited or roused.

more dust than kick

Someone who raises a fuss but who doesn’t hold a grudge for long. Probably inspired from the behavior of horses.


Monte Carlo, a ward in Monaco, on the southern coast of France near the Italian border. The principality owns the Monte Carlo Casino, which was founded in 1856 as a way to save Monaco from bankruptcy.

21 ~ smoking-room

A room in a home or club reserved for that purpose. Smoking rooms were generally for men only, which served the dual purpose of keeping the smell away from the rest of the place and giving men an excuse to gather away from the ladies.

22 ~ travelling clock

A small clock that could be packed in a suitcase and endure the rigors of travel. As cars became more popular, some models came with a mount that could be attached to a dashboard.

from town

London. Britain’s capital and largest city occupies a dominant position in the English mind as a center of power, the national media, and a financial center. To the young, it can represent a glamorous, exciting escape from the backwater, rural provinces. Imagine giving one city a monopoly on the star power of Los Angeles, the political power of Washington, the financial and media power of New York, and the hipster and artistic credibility of whatever city’s fashionable at the moment (Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Portland, etc.). That’s London.


Cambridge University, founded about 1209 and the second-oldest university behind Oxford in the United Kingdom. It is located about 60 miles north of London. Although a rivalry exists between the two universities, the differences would be difficult to discern among the non-cognoscenti.


A woman who is responsible for carrying out the proceeds from a will.

£10,000 a year

A pound in 1920 was worth roughly $40 or £25 in 2012, so Denis received, in interest alone, $400,000/£250,000 a year. A tidy sum, when you consider that in “Whose Body?” we’re told that Inspector Parker paid a pound a week rent for his flat in the Bloomsbury district.

23 ~ gamekeeper

The man in charge of protecting game animals or birds on a manor. One of the privileges of owning a country estate was the exclusive right to hunt and fish there. The local poachers would disagree, so someone had to be responsible on his lordship’s behalf for keeping them away.

Given England’s small size, some of these estates could be surprisingly massive. In the county of Norfolk, where Gerald lives, Blickling Hall (built in 1616, now cared for by the National Trust) is situated on 4,777 acres (7.4 square miles), of which 500 consists of woodland, 450 acres of parkland and 3,500 acres of farmland.


A fence made of pickets, usually iron poles with spikes at the top.


Cultivated land, as opposed to the parts of a country estate that consist of woods or gamelands.


A fictional village. Although there is a Stapeley, it is in the county of Chester near the Welsh border, too far from the Riddlesdale area.

24 ~ American pattern

There are several possibilities. It could be a reference to details in the design of the gun, the pattern of the etching on the grip, or even the gun sight. English revolvers use the standard V-shape, while American revolvers use a buckhorn sight, consisting of a circle with a notch at the bottom.


A close-fitting shoe that grips the foot at the toe and heel, very effective for dancing. They can also be referred to as “dancing pumps.”

25 ~ cartridges

Shells. The model is not specified but the most common revolvers were from Webley and Enfield.

26 ~ far more shameful than such sins as murder and adultery

In aristocratic society, a man’s word was his bond to another gentlemen. A gentleman also did not cheat at games, particularly cards. Sayers made use of this belief in the short story, “The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker.” Such consideration had its limits, however. It was considered perfectly acceptable not to pay one’s tailor unless one absolutely had to.


A class of lawyers who deals with legal matters and can appear in court on civil or procedural matters. Cases appearing in High Court required retaining a barrister, with the solicitor acting as an assistant.

27 ~ verbatim

Quoted exactly.

28 ~ consultation

Debate in private.


28 ~ Drink, Puppy, Drink

A popular hunting song from the Victorian era. It was written by C.J. Whyte-Melville in 1874:

Here’s to the fox In his earth below the rocks!
And here’s to the line that we follow,
And here’s to the hound
With his nose upon the ground,
Though merrily we whoop and we hollow.

Then drink puppy drink,
And let every puppy drink
That is old enough to lap and to swallow;
For he’ll grow into a hound,
So we’ll pass the bottle ’round,
And merrily we’ll whoop and we’ll hollow.
(Repeat refrain)


In vigorous health.

sweet refection and holy love

A brief is an official instruction or responsibility, usually given to a government or military official. The phrase “of sweet reflection and holy love” might be a reference to the hymn “O Day of Rest and Gladness,” in which one verse reads:

Thou art a cooling fountain
In life’s dry, dreary sand;
From thee, like Nebo’s mountain,
We view our Promised Land;
A day of sweet reflection,
A day of holy love,
A day of resurrection
From earth to things above


Mackerel or herring, lightly salted.

29 ~ uncomfortable habits

Breakfasts at country houses were noted for its informality, with a buffet set out for guests to serve themselves at their leisure.

‘pon my soul

Note that Sayers switches the narration from third-person omniscient to first-person from the Colonel’s viewpoint.

quaecunque honesta

Latin for “Whatever is honorable,” quoted by Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215) from Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”


To attract a wider readership, newspapers added salacious material, frequently of a sexual nature (the “She called him Hubbykins” headline, for example, implied an affair was going on). Soon, newspaper tabloids would arise that would contain nothing but this kind of “news.” Cricklewood, by the way, is a district in North London.


A Communist, member of the extremist wing of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic party that seized power in Russia in 1917. The word is derived from the Russian word for majority.

30 ~ county magistrate

The lowest-level judge in the judicial hierarchy. Its members are drawn from the community and generally sit in threes to try minor offenses, currently those involving fines of up to £5,000 and imprisonment of up to 6 months.


A generic term for dishes from Southeast Asia, particularly India, that mixes spices and herbs with meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and/or vegetables. The source of the word is unclear. One theory links it to the Tamil word for dishes with kari, meaning sauce.


Prevented. This could be a reference to the set of mysterious footprints of unknown origin that Parker will show Lord Peter.


Dutiful, with a hint of insult, as if the person is going beyond his authority to order people about.


The top row of stones on a wall or building, usually slanted to keep off the rain.


Not practical.


King’s Counsel; a status granted by the king — so during Elizabeth II’s reign they’re known as Q.C.s — in which lawyers are allowed to wear silk gowns indicating they’re a senior member of the profession. This award is also known as “taking silk.”

31 ~ Socialists and Methodists

Socialists advocate centralized control of the economy by the state or through cooperatives. Methodists are a Protestant group that began as a revival movement within the Anglican Church. Although both groups are opponents of the established order, Freddy’s grouping of them can be read more as a joke.

dictum of Lord Melbourne

After hearing an evangelical sermon, Queen Victoria’s first prime minister was reportedly heard to say, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life.”

32 ~ blessing in disguise

Cathcart’s murder ensures Mary would not be married to an unsuitable bounder, an incredibly tasteless, if accurate remark.

Ajaccio—poste restante

Ajaccio is the capital city of Corsica. “Poste restante” means “to be called for.” That is, the letter is being held until Lord Peter claims it.

rummy old bird


Pickled Gherkins

The Duke’s son. He makes an appearance in the short story “The Learned Affair of the Dragon’s Head.”

33 ~ half a crown

Under Britain’s complex coinage — replaced in 1971 with the decimal system — half a crown was made up of two and a half shillings. In today’s currency, it would be equal to roughly £3 or $5, an insignificant amount to a wealthy man like Lord Peter.

(Thanks to Julian White for the correction.)


“Bili” is an intensifier, ramping up the intensity of the word it’s attached to. It also can be used by itself, e.g., “It rained like billyo.”

patent ointment

The practice of selling ointments for all kinds of cures, including spurious and quack remedies, exploded during the Victorian era. In 1884, for example, there were at least 800 makers of patent remedies, producing more than 5,000 medicines. While steps were taken to regulate ointments, it wasn’t until 1941 that manufacturers were required to disclose the ingredients on the label. As for the ad, Lord Peter is quoting a slogan for Homocea, which “touches the spot” and promises rheumatism, sore throats, eczema and even hemorrhoids.

North-Eastern to Northallerton

Lord Peter took a North Eastern Railway train to the market town, 204 miles north of London, in what is now the county of North Yorkshire. Northallerton was a major junction on the system, where main lines from Leeds, York, Stockton and Newcastle all joined, together with a local cross-country line to Hawes. Since the latter traverses terrain of the kind described in the book, it is probably close to a station on this line that Riddlesdale is supposed to be situated.
(Contributed by Nigel Wassell)

crepe-de-Chine undies

Chinese crêpe is a thin fabric, usually made of wool and now polyester, but most likely silk in this case. Lord Peter buying his brother’s wife such intimate apparel is a trademark example of his frivolous nature.


Slang for prison, possibly derived from quadrangle, the enclosure where prisoners took exercise, used as early as 1700.

34 ~ Polly

A nickname for Mary, derived from using rhyming slang with Molly.

high revel

To engage in a drunken carouse.

that’s not swearin’

“Bloody” — a reference to the blood of Christ — was considered blasphemous. When playwright George Bernard Shaw premiered “Pygmalion” in 1912, his lead actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, shocked audiences by saying “not bloody likely” on stage. Despite writing those words, knowing that they would cause a reaction — and therefore draw attention to his work — the reaction gave Shaw fits because “all political and social questions have been swept from the public mind by Eliza’s expletive.”


Slang for marmalade, a fruit preserve made from the peel and juice of citrus fruits. A popular version called Oxford marmalade was created by the wife of an Oxford grocer in the 1870s and proved popular with the undergraduates. The Oxford variety is supposed to be very dark, sweet and bitter and packed with thick-cut slices of Seville oranges.

brass fender

A low barrier in front of a fireplace, used to absorb and radiate heat as well as catch loose coals or logs.

night express

A train that runs through the night that would stop only at certain stations along its route.

35 ~ Golders Green

London’s first crematorium, built in 1902 and located in the district of the same name. Notable because of the celebrities who have gone up in smoke there, including Peter Sellers, Vivien Leigh, Kingsley Amis, Keith Moon and Amy Winehouse. When George Bernard Shaw’s mother died in 1913, he was permitted to see the cremation and described seeing the coffin “burst miraculously into streaming ribbons of garnet colored lovely flame, smokeless and eager, like Pentecostal tongues, and as the whole coffin passed in it sprang into flame all over; and my mother became that beautiful fire.”


Hard to understand.


A subtler way of saying “go to hell.”

all my whiskers



As we saw in “Whose Body?” the Hon. Freddy was an investor, buying and selling stocks.

tour of inspection

An official visit, usually by a government or military official.

Annotated Clouds of Witness -- pool tables at Biltmore Estate in Ashville, N.C.

(Click to embiggen). The pool tables at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. One table has pockets and the other doesn’t.

give me a hundred

Freddy and the Colonel were probably playing billiards, played on a table with pockets (simplified rules here). The game is played to a pre-determined number of points, such as 300, and Freddy was asking the Colonel to give him a hundred-point lead. A ‘sensational break’ is not a spectacular opening shot, but a long, unbroken and high-scoring sequence of successful shots. A typical score for one shot is 3, but a really good player can get to 300 in a single break.

Thanks to David Cox for correcting the entry.

36 ~ dressing-table

A small table, usually with a mirror and drawers, on which toiletries such as colognes and brushes are kept.

Blotting paper clue from 1st edition.

blottin’ paper

A pad of highly absorbent paper. When using a fountain pen, turning the page over to write on the back risked smearing the words. The page would be pressed on the blotting paper to absorb excess ink.


Someone who deliberately creates gloom by casting doubts, criticizing or belittling. Not normally spelled with capital letters, the word seems to be used here as a nickname.

37 ~ computation


Adelphi drama

A style of melodramatic plays, including adaptations of works by Charles Dickens, that were performed at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End. Founded in 1806 as the Sans Pareil (French: “Without Compare”), in 1819 it was renamed for the nearby Adelphi Buildings, a block of terrace houses.

head out of this

A noose. Murder was punished in England by hanging, carried out within a few weeks after sentencing.

one’s wits

Or, as Samuel Johnson said, as told to his biographer James Boswell: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

38 ~ True, O King

In Daniel 3:24, King Nebuchadnezzar orders the Jews Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to be bound and thrown into the fiery furnace, then asks his counselors, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.” But God saves the three from the flames, causing the king to acknowledge God’s power.

bloody but unbowed. A line from the poem “Invictus” (“Unconquered”) by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903):

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Henley, unbowed but seated


Members of a Jewish sect founded in Palestine in the first century B.C. From them arose the caste of priestly aristocrats that were the religious authorities in Jerusalem until the temple’s destruction by Rome in 70 A.D.

Morning Post

A London newspaper.

brown study

In a state of deep thought. The phrase appears in “A Manifest Detection of the Most Vile and Detestable Use of Diceplay, and other Practices Like the Same,” published in 1532: “Lack of company will soon lead a man into a brown study.”

Tortoiseshell brushes and combs, 1920s

tortoiseshell sets

A set of grooming tools — hair brushes, clothes brushes and a hand mirror — decorated with a brown, translucent material made from the shell of the hawksbill turtle.

Baiser du Soir.

A fictional perfume, from the French for Evening’s Kiss.

manicure set

A set of grooming tools that could include finger nail clippers, an emery board, tweezers, cuticle scissors, toe nail clippers and a cuticle cleaner.

five years younger than me

This might not sound like much of an age difference, but in the nobility, boys could be sent to a boarding school as early as 13. If that held true for Peter, Mary would have been 8 years old, and they would have seen each other only during the holidays and between terms. Not much time for a filial relationship to blossom.

bit of a stumer

Stumer is slang for a bad check, counterfeit money or a sham.

got the chuck

A reference to Lord Peter’s former fiancé, whom he had released from his engagement when the war broke out in case he was killed or mutilated. The illness Lord Peter refers to was the shell-shock he experienced from being buried alive when his bunker collapsed during an artillery barrage (from which he was rescued by Bunter).

39 ~ Attenbury diamond case

Lord Peter’s first case, described in the 2010 novel by Jill Paton Walsh.

There is some confusion — similar to Dr. Watson’s roving war injury — as to what Wimsey actually recovered. In “Whose Body?,” her first novel starring Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Sayers makes three references to the recovery of Lord Attenbury’s emeralds. Here on page 39 in “Clouds,” they’re referred to as diamonds. But page 179, we have the word of Lord Attenbury himself that Wimsey had “found those emeralds of mine.”

(Thanks to Tom Napier for the clarification.)

Cox’s Charing Cross branch

A cheque-book, of course, is used for writing cheques in place of money. Cox & Co., which was founded as a travel company in 1758, was sold to Lloyds Bank in 1923, later spun off into an independent company. It is still in business as a tour company, Cox & Kings. Charing Cross is a major road in London.


A small book used to record bank transactions, particularly for a savings account.


A fashionable apartment complex in London’s Piccadilly district, built in the 1770s for bachelors. Among its notable residents were Lord Byron, future prime minister Edward Heath, author Bruce Chatwin, and even women such as actress Dame Edith Evans and author Georgette Heyer. The fictional Raffles the gentleman burglar stayed at the Albany, as did Jack Worthing from Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” In 2013, the Albany was profiled by one of its residents, Christopher Gibbs, in The New York Times.


About £750 or $1,200 in 2010 dollars.

wine-merchant’s card

A business card left by a seller of wine and spirits. Sayers wrote several stories about salesman Montague Egg, who quoted aphorisms from the “Salesman’s Handbook” while helping the police with their inquiries. The 11 short stories can be found in the collections “In the Teeth of the Evidence” and “Hangman’s Holiday.”


Keeping love letters around left the recipient open to blackmail if they are stolen. Recovering such letters was a common trope in fiction, appearing in “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allen Poe and “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Onoto with complete gold casing

A maker of luxury fountain pens. The casing is the pen’s outer shell.

40 ~ La Rotisserie de la Reine Pedoque. L’Anneau d’ Amethyste, South Wind (our young friend works out very true to type), Chronique d’un Cadet de Coutras (tut-tut, Charles!), Manon Lescaut

This look at Cathcart’s reading tells us something about his character and state of mind:

* “La Rotisserie de la Reine Pedaque” (“At the Sign of the Queen Pedauque”) by Anatole France (1844-1924) is about a man who dies as the result of his love for a beautiful woman.

* “L’Anneau d’Amethyste” (“The Amethyst”), also by France, about a dying bishop who sees rival clerics vying for his amethyst ring, the sign of his office.

* “South Wind” by Norman Douglas (1868-1952) caused enormous controversy upon its publication in 1917, with its discussion of moral and sexual issues set on a fictionalized version of Capri.

* “Chronique d’un Cadet de Coutras” by Abel Hermant (1862-1950) is about the adventures of the younger son of the Coutras family.

* “Manon Lescaut” by the Abbe Prevost (1697-1763): This story of a pair of lovers, the Chevalier Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut was banned in France.

Roman brothers

No specific incident inspired Lord Peter’s remark, but in classical Greece and Rome, marriage involved transferring ownership of the woman from the family (via the father or, if dead, by the eldest male) to the husband.


The public announcement that a marriage will take place. Traditionally, the notice was posted on the church doors for three weeks, allowing time for anyone to object to the marriage.

public schoolboy

Private schools are called public because they are open to anyone capable of passing the entrance requirements and paying the usually high fees. They were considered incubators of the ruling class, and, as such, taught its pupils values useful in serving the Crown and Empire. Wellington’s quotation that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” — which he never said, by the way — is an example of the public-school spirit.

41 ~ gallows

A wooden frame from which criminals are hung.

Tower Hill

An elevated spot near the Tower of London where public executions were held between 1381 and 1747. The site was especially popular with nobles convicted of treason, including Sir Thomas More, Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud and Scottish Jacobite Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat.

Earl Ferrers being punished.

Earl Ferrers in 1760

Convicted of murdering his steward, Lord Ferrers was the last peer to be hanged as a common criminal.

dissected and anatomised

As was traditional with common criminals, Lord Ferrers’ body was cut open by surgeons and displayed for several days.


A piece of canvas wrapped around the calf, with a stirrup looped under the boots in front of the heel, used to protect the calves from damp and underbrush.


An inability to fall asleep.

sensational break

An opening shot in 8-ball pool, in which the cue ball is sent into a triangle of numbered balls. When performed well, the result is a resounding crack followed by the impressive sight of balls spinning across the table.


A container made of stone, wood or metal filled with water.

eighteen stone

A unit of measurement equivalent to 14 pounds, which meant the constable weighed 252 pounds.


Rubber boots designed to keep the feet dry.


Lacking spirit or life.

43 ~ blighters

Persons regarded with contempt or pity.

44 ~ bishop unveiling a memorial

Ceremonies to unveil statues, signs or historical “blue plaque” markers usually feature some Important Personage — politicians, religious figures, Z-list celebs who’d show up at an opening of an envelope — pulling aside the covering to “officially” present it. Of course, the ceremony must be performed with the utmost solemnity, whether commemorating a memorial to the war dead or the opening of a Tesco.

They tracked the footmarks small

Lord Peter and Parker are quoting “Lucy Gray,” a poem by William Wordsworth, about a child who went out into the storm and was never seen again. Read the poem.

No. 10 with worn-down heels.

No. 10 is a shoe size, equal to 10 3/4 inches.

45 ~ herbaceous

A plant consisting of stems and leaves that die down at the end of the season. It can be plants that die at the end of the season (annuals), die after two years (biennials) and beyond two years (perennials).

adjutant stork

Adjutant storks are birds native to India and southeast Asia. They were given their English name by British soldiers inspired by the bird’s ability to stand motionless for long periods of time, much like adjutants in the military. They are large birds, standing up to five feet tall, with a wingspan of up to 99 inches.


Also known as a dickey, this is a cloth-like panel worn with a dinner-jacket to simulate the look of a formal shirt, designed to remain white, smooth and stain-resistant through an evening’s wear.

46 ~ parleys

To negotiate. In medieval times, a parley was a conference between enemies on the field of battle, conducted under a flag of truce.

blows the gaff

Criminal slang for revealing a secret. Its origins are obscure, but it might be a variation on “gab,” meaning loud talk.


A medical term for bleeding, either through the skin or within the body.


In the theater, a moment in which the actors stand silent and motionless. Short for tableau vivant, French for “living picture.”

47 ~ provisionally

Accepting a supposition as fact until more information appears that demands reconsideration.

matters a rap

Nothing or worthless. From the name for an Irish counterfeit coin minted during a currency shortage in the reign of George I (1714-1727).


We must have Blood, you know

From “David Copperfield,” chapter 25, during a dinner party in which the guests were rambling on about the bloodlines that animates the British aristocracy. As one guest asserts, “We must have Blood, you know. Some young fellows, you know, may be a little behind their station, perhaps, in point of education and behaviour, and may go a little wrong, you know, and get themselves and other people into a variety of fixes – and all that – but deuce take it, it’s delightful to reflect that they’ve got Blood in ’em! Myself, I’d rather at any time be knocked down by a man who had got Blood in him, than I’d be picked up by a man who hadn’t!’


A 13th century word meaning “up to this moment.”


To scatter about.

48 ~ pukka

A Hindi word for first class or genuine. The word can be used by itself, or attached to nouns as a modifier, such as pukka sahib for a true gentleman.

teleological view of creation

Telology is the belief that elements in nature were designed to fulfill a certain function. It is the central belief of Intelligent Design, a creator-directed rival theory to evolution. A notorious example is actor Kirk Cameron’s contention in a video that the shape of a banana was designed to fit the human hand.

chevaux de frise

(French: “Frisian horse”) An obstacle placed on top of a wall, such as spikes or broken glass embedded in mortar, intended to discourage climbers. The phrase originated as the word for logs with long wooden or iron spike, placed on the battlefield to obstruct cavalry. The Frisians — who lived in the coastal regions of what is now the Netherlands and Germany — didn’t use horses in battle and relied in battle on these as anti-cavalry obstacles.


A clothing brand founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry. Its trench coat was widely used by British officers during World War I.

49 ~ Weirdale. Coomberland

He could be referring to Weardale, then a small rural district in County Durham. Cumberland was a county in northwest England, on the Scottish border. It is now part of County Cumbria.


In the early days of motorcycling, many bicycle manufacturers adapted their designs to accommodate an engine. The coat Mrs. Hardraw saw was probably a long coat modified with a slit up the back to allow the rider to straddle his machine comfortably.

50 ~ gesticulations

Emphatic gestures made to get the point across.

From such a ditch as this, / When the soft wind did gently kiss the trees

From “The Merchant of Venice,” Act 5, Scene 1, in which Lorenzo compares his night with his lover Jessica with history’s great lovers:

The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,
And they did make no noise, in such a night,
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls,
And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.

Note that audiences familiar with the classics will know that Cressida betrays Troilus, lending an ironic note to this scene.

Lord Peter repeats this quote in Chapter I of “Whose Body?”


A variation on the word reconnaissance, from the French word for recognition, a military term for scouting ahead to learn the lay of the land and locate enemy units.

51 ~ preserve

The part of the land reserved for wildlife to be hunted.


Species of large, coarse ferns.


Widdershins means counterclockwise, but its ancient, general meaning is closer to “the wrong way.” The original word, the Middle High German widersinnen, means “to go against.” In England, walking this way around a church was considered unlucky. The phrase also appears in “The Nine Tailors” in which Lord Peter “turned to his right, knowing that it is unlucky to walk about a church widdershins.”

The Lay of the Last Minstrel

A poem by Sir Walter Scott. The relevant line from the Sixth Canto runs like this:


So sweet was Harold’s piteous lay,
Scarce mark’d the guests the darken’d hall,
Though, long before the sinking day,
A wondrous shade involv’d them all:
It was not eddying mist or fog,
Drain’d by the sun from fen or bog;
Of no eclipse had sages told;
And yet, as it came on apace,
Each one could scarce his neighbour’s face,
Could scarce his own stretch’d hand behold.
A secret horror check’d the feast,
And chill’d the soul of every guest;
Even the high Dame stood half aghast–
She knew some evil on the blast;
The elvish page fell to the ground,
And, shuddering, mutter’d, “Found! found! found!”

52 ~ Side-car combination

A motorcycle with an open-top seat, semi-protected against the elements, bolted onto the side.

Dunlop tyre

Belfast veterinarian John Dunlop developed the first practical pneumatic tyre for his son’s tricycle in an attempt to ease the headaches he suffered while riding it. He patented it in 1888, but lost the rights when it was discovered that Robert Thomson had patented the idea in the 1840s in France and the U.S. Nevertheless, Dunlop is still credited with developing the pneumatic tyre and founded the company which bears his name. Tyre, by the way, remains the preferred British spelling despite criticism from language authorities that it’s etymologically wrong.

on shank’s mare

A Scottish phrase meaning to walk. The shank is the leg bone, and combining it with a horse is meant as a wry joke, implying that you’re riding the equivalent of a poor man’s horse, e.g., your feet.

to his bus

His motorcycle. Derived from the development of large horse-drawn wagons used to haul passengers through cities, called omnibuses (from the Latin for “for all”). As motorized transport began to replace horse-drawn vehicles in the 1900s, the word was altered to bus or autobus and applied to a variety of models.

Let Zion’s children

From “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied” (“Sing unto the Lord a new song”), a choral composition based on Psalms 149:1-3:

1 Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.

2 Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3 Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.

53 ~ paper-knife

A knife-like object used to open envelopes.


A light snack eaten between 2 and 5 p.m., depending on local custom, in countries where dinner is taken at 8 p.m. or later.

54 ~ water his animals

Access to water supplies is vitally important to farm animals. The average milk cow or beef cattle needs as much as 25 gallons a day and more in hot weather.


A Bristol-based motorcycle brand manufactured between 1907 and 1957.

Triumph motorcycle with sidecar and number plate over the front wheel, 1920s

number-plates / licence-holder

The number plate is a license plate mounted on the front and rear fenders to identify its owner. Typically made of leather with buckled straps, the licence-holder is affixed to a car’s steering column, or anywhere safe on the motorcycle, to hold official papers such as registration information.

55 ~ legerdemain

By sleight of hand or with a display of skill. From the Middle French leger de main for light of hand.


A religious ceremony, also called the Last Rites, intended to prepare the dying person’s soul for death by providing absolution for sins and prayers for the relief of suffering.


Several locations in “Clouds” are fictitious — Riddlesdale and North Fellcote, for example — but Ripley is a village in the riding of North Yorkshire.

56 ~ gauntlets

Large, heavy gloves


To walk without apparent purpose.


A petroleum byproduct used as an industrial solvent, especially for degreasing metal.

57 ~ pill-box

A small container used to hold pills or other objects.

all sixes and sevens

A state of total confusion. There are a number of possible origins, but the likeliest traces it to a French dice game called hazard, where the numbers five and six (“to set on cinque and sice”) were the riskiest.

58 ~ nervous prostration

Complete physical or mental exhaustion.


Fragments or bits. From the Irish smidirín for small fragments.

59 ~ brick-bat

A fragment of hard material used as a thrown weapon. The word has been in use since 1579.


An act marked by a lack of purpose.

60 ~ Bournemouth Murder

Bournemouth murder victim Irene Wilkins

A 1922 murder case in which a London woman lured to Bournemouth with a job offer was beaten to death. Although the victim had been seen being picked up at the railroad station, the vehicle’s license number was only partially remembered, complicating the hunt for the killer.

Villar y Villar

A brand of cigar imported from Cuba.


In a spritely or spirited state.


In great difficulty. Thought to be of Australian origin, although “up a tree” — possibly a reference to predators treeing an animal such as a possum — had been in wide use.

61 ~ 110 Piccadilly

To indulge her fantasy of the good life, Sayers housed Lord Peter in an apartment in the best part of central London. A short stroll west of his flat is Hyde Park. Across the street is Green Park, bounded on its south side by Buckingham Palace, and to its east the government seat at Whitehall and the River Thames. Lord Peter is also a short cab ride west of the nightlife district in Soho.

slopin’ off

Sneaking away.


Such a coin was minted in 1797, but the phrase doesn’t refer to it, only to two pennies (pronounced “tuppence.” Not caring two pennies’ worth for a person is not very much indeed.

hostile witness

A witness called by opposing counsel whose testimony is openly antagonistic. A hostile witness can be questioned as if in cross-examination, allowing for the use of leading questions, in which the answer is implied by how the question is stated. An extreme example would be “when did you stop beating your wife?”

revue airs

Songs (airs) from a show that consists of music, dance and sketches. Similar to a vaudeville show — in which a number of unrelated acts perform — except that revues revolved around a particular theme and were aimed more at the middle class than the lower classes and immigrants. This precursor to the musical was popular from 1916 to 1932, with its leading practitioners including Florenz Ziegfeld (“Follies”), George White (“Scandals”) and Earl Carroll (“Vanities”).

62 ~ nothing but the truth

A reference to the traditional oath a witness takes in court. The tradition of taking oaths in legal proceedings is at least as old as the Romans. The phrase “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” has been traced back in English trials as far back as the 13th century.


As if ordained by Providence (a higher power or God).

Liverpool Assizes

A criminal court session. Until 1972, assizes were held periodically, usually four times a year. The word assize is derived from the old French word for session or legal action.

Charioteer of Delphi

charioteer of Delphi

An ancient bronze statue of a chariot driver dated to 474 B.C.E. found at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece. It is in the Delphi Archaeological Museum in Greece.


To make inconspicuous.

63 ~ bullying of the witness

When a lawyer harasses or pressures a witness on the stand to make them react emotionally instead of asking questions to elicit information.

64 ~ perjure

To lie under oath.


A shortened version of “By Jove,” derived from the Latinized version of the Greek god Zeus. Used as a substitute for God, as a way of cursing without committing blasphemy.

65 ~ Craven Hotel. / Strand, W.C

The Strand is a street in the City of Westminster area of London. W.C. is the postal code area for Western Central London. It is currently subdivided into WC1 and WC2 districts that encompass Westminster, Camden borough, Islington and part of the City of London. Why Parker chose to pause there to write his letter, when he could have gone to Scotland Yard, or even his home, is not apparent.

66 ~ poking her finger into the pie

“Have a finger in the pie,” as slang for being involved in something, has been traced as far back as 1659.


The Sûreté Nationale, the investigative arm of the Paris police department. Founded in 1812 by Eugène François Vidocq, the agency became the model for national police forces such as Scotland Yard and the FBI.

Credit Lyonnais

French bank founded in 1863. By 1900, it was the largest in the world.

67 ~ curious plates

A common phrase found in book catalogs, but generally meaning unusual or interesting illustration, although Sayers wants to imply here that they’re erotic or pornographic.

Bond Street

A major street in London’s West End, known for its fashionable shops.


The women also looked pale and wan

The chapter title and the quotation are taken from John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” an allegory published in 1678. In part 2, stage 7, Christian and his party kill the giant Despair and demolish Doubting Castle. In the ruins, they find Mr. Despondency and his daughter, Much-Afraid. Before the party leaves, they mount Despair’s head on a pole by the highway and erect a marble stone with this verse:

“This is the head of him whose name only,
In former times, did pilgrims terrify.
His castle’s down; and DIFFIDENCE his wife
Brave Master GREAT-HEART has bereft of life.
GREAT-HEART for them also the man has played.
Who hereof doubts, if he’ll but cast his eye
Up hither, may his scruples satisfy!
This head, also when doubting cripples dance,
Doth show from fears they have deliverance.”

“Pale and wan” comes from the party’s reaction in part 2, stage 5, upon entering a valley “strangely haunted with evil things” called the Shadow of Death:

“When they were entered upon this valley, they thought that they heard a groaning as of dead men — a very great groaning. They thought also they did hear words of lamentation spoken, as of some in extreme torment. These things made the boys to quake; the women also looked pale and wan; but their guide bade them be of good comfort.”

These quotations can be easily applied to Lord Peter’s visit to Grider’s Hole and his encounter with Mrs. Grimethorpe.

68 ~ Hampshire

A county on England’s southern coast and the home of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and the British army, navy and air force.


Exhausted, possibly derived from a contraction of fatigued, or from fag, a public school boy who serves a senior student.


Of Chinese origin or design. The word is derived from the Latin word for east (orients), and has been applied to anything from Asia or the Far East. So while Oriental robes might be thought of as from China, the Orient Express train is called because it runs from Paris to Istanbul, Turkey. The word is useful in the right context, but frowned upon when applied to contemporary subjects. Residents of Japan, China, India and Turkey understandably object to being grouped under one word.

Caxton Confessio Amantis

“The Lover’s Confession” by John Gower (c. 1330-1408) is a collection of narrative poems illustrating vices and virtues that was published between 1390 and 1393. The work up for auction was published by noted printer William Caxton (c. 1415-1422) in 1484.

Kent, Maidstone

Kent is a county in southeastern England. Its location between London and the continent made it a vital crossroads throughout history. It has been settled since the Paleolithic era — bone fragments have been dated as 400,000 years old — it has fomented rebellions and, before the Norman Conquest, was semi-autonomous. Its administrative center is Maidstone, about 32 miles southeast of London.

69 ~ Come unto these Yellow Sands

Also known as “Ariel’s Song,” from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Act I, Scene 2. Ariel is a spirit bound to serve Prospero, a magician:

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss’d,
The wild waves whist,
Foot it neatly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
hark hark!
Bow, wow,
The watch-dogs bark;
Bow, wow,
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow!

I Attempt from Love’s Fever to Fly

A aria from the semi-opera “The Indian Queen” by Henry Purcell (1658/9-1695), based on a play by John Dryden and Sir Robert Howard.

I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.
No more now, fond heart, with pride no more swell;
Thou canst not raise forces enough to rebel.
I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.
For love has more power and less mercy than fate,
To make us seek ruin and of those that hate.
I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain,
Since I am myself my own fever and pain.

heroine of Northanger Abbey

A novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817). Its heroine, Catherine Morland, visits Northanger Abbey and due to her extensive reading of Gothic novels expects to find all manners of horrors and mysteries.


Bedspreads, a heavy blanket that’s not quite a quilt, that is laid atop a bed.


Later in the book, this motif will be repeated between Lord Peter and his brother, Gerald.

70 ~ blood-and-thunder novel

A genre intended to provide melodramatic thrills that was popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Also known as shilling shockers, dime novels and potboilers. The Adelphi drama referenced earlier could be considered a stage version of a blood-and-thunder novel.


Flimsy and miserable. The word was invented by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) in his poem “Jabberwocky.”

Sensation fiction

An earlier form of melodramatic fiction popular during the 1860s and 1870s, focusing on shocking subjects such as insanity, crime and seduction. Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” (1859) and “The Moonstone” (1868) are two popular examples.

instruct counsel

Being a solicitor, Mr. Murbles cannot speak for his client in court, so he has to instruct barrister Sir Impey Biggs on the particulars of the case.

reserves his defence

Declines to put up his defense until his trial. This keeps the prosecutor in the dark as to what strategies will be used to counter the evidence.


Foolish talk or nonsense. From the Turkish bosh lakerdi for empty talk, popularized in “Ayesha, the Maid of Kars” (1834) a novel by James Morier (1780-1849).

71 ~ heather

A common name for a variety of low-lying flowering plants. A field of low-growing woody vegetation, which can include heather, is called a heath.

Whemmeling Fell

A fictional hill.

River Ridd

While this river doesn’t exist in Yorkshire, there is the River Nidd, and even a Nidderdale — not a town, but a dale, or upland area — which might have inspired Sayers to create Ridd / Riddlesdale.

Hurdle made of wattles


A moveable section of light fence made by weaving plant material such as wattles or willows, used to pen livestock or separate land.


A patch of raised solid ground in a marsh held together by low vegetation.

Water wagtail


A common bird about seven inches long that frequents the shallow areas of springs and streams.


An old word from 1589 for marsh or bog. Waterlogged land can quickly turn into a quagmire.


Prone to change. Sayers’ word choice here might be a reflection on the Christian theology that teaches that the nature of God, his character and attributes, is immutable.


False idea.

72 ~ nadir

Lowest point.

Yorkshire people so kind and hospitable

Yorkshiremen have a reputation for stinginess, whether with money or words, as expressed in the Yorkshireman’s Motto:

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Do it fer thissen

(Translation: “Hear all, see all, say nothing / Eat all, drink all, pay nothing / And if ever you do anything for nothing — / Do it for yourself”).


Lord Peter is referring to the vine-covered cottage, bearing foliage such as roses, ivy, jasmine or Virginia creepers.


Apart from being an accurate evocative name for the sullen farmer, Grimethorpe is also a village in South Yorkshire. Its mining past and brass band, made up of workers from the mines and known as the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, was the subject of the 1996 black-comedy movie “Brassed Off.”

73 ~ kine

An archaic word for cow.


Fireplace, from the Scottish Gaelic aingeal, traced to 1508. A bench in a recessed area by the fireplace is called an inglenook.

clasp your honest hand

Lord Peter is reeling off the kind of bilge readers found in fanciful and romantic descriptions of the rural life that belies the hard work, long hours and occasional crop disasters that turns farmers into taciturn, optimistic depressives. A form of this turns up on the “loam and lovechild” school of novel popularized Mary Webb (1881-1927) and D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) (“Lady Chatterley’s Lover”) and satirized by Stella Gibbons (1902-1989) in “Cold Comfort Farm.”

This overwrought prose also appears in real life. For example, this letter from Mrs. W.B. Doak of Fairfax Co., Va., in the April 1914 issue of The Southern Planter magazine praising the benefits of bluegrass:

“Sloping green hills reaching up — unafraid — protected — in gratitude for both clouds and sunshine. Green hills grazed by flocks of gentle, mild-eyed sheep, while their lambs frolic and jump from mound or bank. Green hills, a home for Bob White, Bobolink, and other birds who live near to Mother Earth — not only making life happier for the flash of color and burst of song — but helping to make life itself possible by the destruction of ‘noxious insect and weed.’”

return of the prodigal

Lord Peter is referring to Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, who returns home impoverished after spending his inheritance and is forgiven and welcomed by his father.


People such as tenant farmers, who occupy land and pay rent to the owner.

Good night, sweet Prince

From Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Act 5, Scene 2, in which Horatio watches Hamlet die and says:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

dogs eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel

A reference to II Kings 9:10, in which God had Elisha’s servant anoint Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat, as king of Israel. Jehu was then ordered by God to overthrow the house of the current ruler, Ahab, “and the dogs shall eat Jezebel [Ahab’s wife] in the portion of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her.” Jezreel refers to the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee.

hounds of spring are on winter’s traces

The opening line from the chorus of “Atalanta in Calydon” by Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909):

When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,
The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain;
And the brown bright nightingale amorous
Is half assuaged for Itylus,
For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces,
The tongueless vigil, and all the pain.

Translation: traces, course or path; Itylus, in Greek mythology, the son of Aedon. In an attempt to kill a rival’s son, she slew Itylus instead. The gods eased her grief by changing her into a nightingale, a bird which seems to cry with sadness at night; Thracian, ancient name for the European part of Turkey and adjacent parts of Greece and Bulgaria.

Indian hemp

Marijuana. Since Sherlock Holmes had already laid claim to cocaine, Sayers appears to have chosen an alternative, although the drug is not known for its ability to excite the emotions (except for snacks and hair-brained philosophical concepts) as she assumes.

In 1893, the British government commissioned a report on marijuana use in India, and found that moderate use produced no ill effects, that it had no connection to crime, and advocated taxing and licensing it. So, naturally, Britain criminalized it in 1928.

Ten-shilling note

Treasury notes

Until World War I, the only paper money issued were Bank of England notes for £5 and above. The day after war was declared, the Currency and Bank Notes Act was passed allowing the treasury to issue currency notes of £1 and 10 shillings. The notes were issued until 1928, when the authority was returned to the banks.

74 ~ Barrow-in-Furness Grammar School

Barrow-in-Furness is a coastal town in northwest England, near the Scottish border.


The science of poisons and their effects.


A formal coat that extends to the knees, popular during the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

News of the World

A tabloid newspaper that specialized in titillating news such as crime and sex scandals. When it was closed in 2011 in a phone-hacking scandal, it still had one of the highest circulations among English-language newspapers.

British Museum

A museum, founded in 1753, considered to have one of the most extensive holdings in the world.

emotional history of income-tax collectors

Not as obscure a subject as you might think. There is a branch of history that studies the effect human emotion can have on events, covering not only the decision-making process, but in how we remember and feel about events.


Sewer pipes that convey water and human waste from a house.

high oak settle

A wooden bench with a high back and an enclosed foundation that is used as a chest.

75 ~ loquacity



A short-haired terrier crossed with a bulldog, more commonly known as a pit bull.

76 ~ malacca

A variety of rattan or palm plant, named for a town in western Malaysia. Unlike most palm plants, Malacca has a solid stem, making it an ideal cane.

77 ~ Jabez

This relatively uncommon first name appears in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Amid a roll call of the descendants of Judah, the chronicler pauses to tell the story of Jabez, whose prayer to God is answered:

9 And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow.

10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.

A 2000 book based on the passage, “The Prayer of Jabez” by Bruce Wilkinson (c.1940-) became a bestseller.

Medusa-head of terror

In Greek mythology, a Gorgon — a terrifying female creature — who had snakes for hair and was so ugly that anyone who saw her would turn into stone.

feudal privilege

Under the feudal system of the Middle Ages, society was stratified into classes such as peasants and nobility, with a system of rights and privileges outlining duties, obligations and payments. The peasantry, however, was owned by the nobility to use (and abuse) as they like, and Lord Peter, seeing the beautiful Mrs. Grimethorpe, felt moved to take advantage of it.

78 ~ remonstrances



The art or science of filming movies.

79 ~ alibi

A statement that a person, usually a suspect in a crime, was elsewhere when it was committed. From the Latin meaning “somewhere else.”


Man in charge of the dogs.

80 ~ Rue St. Honoré and the Rue De La Paix

The Rue St. Honoré is an ancient street in the 1st arrondissement in the center of Paris. The Rue De La Paix, in the nearby 2nd arrondissement, is noted for its fashionable shops.

I think it was the cat

H.M.S. Pinafore. In “Carefully on Tip-Toe Stealing,” the Pinafore’s crew sneaks through the ship while trying to help Ralph and Josephine elope. Upon hearing the Captain stamp his foot, they cry out “Goodness me — Why, what was that?” only to be told “Silent be, / It was the cat!”)

The lyrics:

Carefully On Tip-toe Stealing

(Enter Crew on tiptoe, with Ralph and Boatswain meeting Josephine, who enters from cabin on tiptoe, with bundle of necessaries, and accompanied by Little Buttercup.)

Carefully on tiptoe stealing,
Breathing gently as we may,
Every step with caution feeling,
We will softly steal away.

(Captain stamps — Chord.)

All. (much alarmed)
Goodness me —
Why, what was that?

Silent be,
It was the cat!

All. (reassured)
It was — it was the cat!

Captain. (producing cat-o’-nine-tails)
They’re right, it was the cat!

Pull ashore in fashion steady,
Hymen will defray the fare,
For a clergyman is ready
To unite the happy pair!

(Stamp as before, and Chord.)

Goodness me —
Why, what was that?

Silent be,
Again the cat!

It was again that cat!

Captain. (aside)
They’re right, it was the cat!

Josephine & Ralph.
Ev’ry step with caution feeling,
We will softly steal away,
Ev’ry step with caution feeling,
We will softly steal away.


The French word from which apartment is derived.


Marked by impassivity and steadiness.

Saddlebag chair ad

saddlebag chairs

A roomy chair, ideal to masculine tastes, upholstered in leather, sometimes with a covering of carpeting with an Oriental or Asian motif.

German shells

Artillery shell casings, probably relics from World War I.

pearwood frames

Wood from the pear tree. The material’s toughness and resistance to repeated soaking and drying cycles makes it ideal for woodwind instruments and furniture.

florid lady of the period of Charles II

There were a number of portraits of florid — as in ruddy or healthy — women during the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), so it would be difficult to identify which one Mr. Parker saw. Charles II was king of England after the death of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and the collapse of the English Commonwealth. He was known as the “Merrie Monarch,” a reflection of his morals and the country’s general relief after a decade of rule by the Puritans.


A collection of stories, some of them ribald, compiled by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375). The French edition is not known, but there is a five-volume edition published 1757-61 with 110 engraved plates as well as additional title-plates.


A writing desk.


In France, a resident of an apartment building who acts as the landlord’s representative. The concierge keeps an eye on the residents’ behavior, acts as doorkeeper and performs janitorial duties.


Neighborhood. Paris is divided into 20 districts, or arrondissements, each subdivided into four quartiers, overseen by the chief officer (prefect) of the police.

81 ~ Champagne

A region in the northeast of France renowned for its sparkling white wine. Laws in France and some other countries reserve the word exclusively for wines from this region.


Cambridge University, where students usually spend three years to earn a BA.

15th &#8212shires

This is how writers disguise the regiment a character was in, used particularly where said character is a reprobate. A possible candidate is the 15th East Yorkshire Regiment that was formed in 1686 and fought in World War I.

neatly docketed

Recorded, indicating an orderly mind concerned about money.

great crash

The onset of World War I caused enormous disruptions in the flow of capital. European countries had to print money to meet the cost of moving to a war footing, causing inflation by devaluating the worth of existing monies, and investors changed their investments depending on who they thought would win or lose and what areas would be caught in the fighting. The same disruptions appear in “Whose Body?” regarding the war’s effect on the economic expansion in Argentina.


Annuities, investments which guaranteed a certain amount of return per year.

20,000 francs

In 1915, a franc was worth 2.70223 Euros in 2012, making 20,000 francs worth more than 54,000 euros, £45,000 or $71,000. To give you an idea of how far the franc fell in a year, that same amount in 1914 would have been worth 64,800 euros / £54,000 / $86,000. By 1920, the franc’s low point, it would have been worth 18,300 euros / £15,200 / $24,300. The francs’ fall against the dollar made it possible for Americans to live in Paris during the 1920s, attracting expatriates such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos.

the Front

The front line, where Cathcart was stationed.


A powerful whirlpool or turbulence.

promissory notes

By this time, Cathcart was taking out loans and signing promissory notes promising to pay the interest or balance by a certain date. Renewing notes required paying an added charge.

82 ~ £12

Gambling on foreign exchanges involve converting an amount of money into another currency in hopes that its value will rise against your home currency. The defeat of Germany, Russia and Romania during World War I led to the collapse of their currencies and losses for anyone investing in them.

One wonders if readers at the time cocked an eye at Cathcart investing in the currency of England’s enemy, and conclude that death was too good for the rotter. But didn’t Parker do the same thing?

To give you an idea of what £12 meant to Parker, remember that he was paying a pound a week for his flat at No. 12A Great Ormond Street, so he invested — and lost — the equivalent of three months’ rent in his scheme.

very broken reeds

A reference to 2 Kings 18:21, in which Judah is ruled by Hezekiah:

Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him.

35,000 francs

Using the 1919 conversation rates, this is equal to 44,800 euros / £36,700 / $59,400.


Discharged from military service.


The southern coast of France, generally between Toulon and the Italian border.


With the pound worth 51 French francs, this means Cathcart took home 35,700 francs.

14,000 francs

In 2012, this would be worth 13,897 euros / £11,609 / $18,400.

tres correct

“Very correct.”

tres gentil

“Very kind.”

Bon jour

“Good day.”

trè comme il faut

“As it should be”

une jolie blonde

“A pretty blonde.”


A small apartment used for brief stays. For example, a person living outside the city might buy or lease a pied-à-terre to stay in during the week.

un jeune homme tres rangé

“An orderly young man.”


An English woman of noble or gentle birth.


An unmarried French girl or woman.

sens dessus dessous


Le pauvre garcon

“The poor boy.”

84 ~ irregular establishment

Keeping a mistress.

on the exchange

Speculating in the stock market.

85 ~ an allowance of her own

While it was considered bad form for the children of the aristocracy to work for a living, they still needed income. Generally, this took the form of an allowance from the family, paid regularly, and supplemented when needed by direct pleas for money.


Gerald Wimsey. Sometimes, the bearer of a title would be identified by his domain.

Byronic blighter

A reference to Lord Byron (1788-1824), the poet whose notorious life included numerous affairs with women, including his half-sister, and boys.


A reference to Mount Olympus, the home of the ancient Greek gods. This type of humor could be considered aloof, as if viewed from the ramparts, as well as abrupt, ironic and unexpected.


Criminal Investigative Division, a branch to which plainclothes detectives belong.

taking fortune’s tide at the flood

Implying the ability to be in the right place at the right time. Flood tide is when the water level is at its highest. Neglecting to set sail then risks leaving your boat stranded in the shallows. The quotation is a reference to “Julius Caesar,” Act IV, Scene 3:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

86 ~ fixing of the seals

Attaching signs and seals to a crime scene to protect it from entry by unauthorized persons and contaminating or destroying the evidence.


A drink consisting of a tablespoon of cognac and heavy cream mixed with espresso.

Boul’ Mich’

A nickname for the Boulevard Saint-Michel, a major street in Paris’ Latin Quarter.


A sleeveless undergarment for women, usually extending to the waist.


In Chapter II, we saw Lord Peter tell Helen he meant to buy crêpe-de-Chine for her in Paris. Now, Parker is buying lingerie for his elder sister. Either Sayers is delighting in shocking readers, drawing an amusing contrast between Lord Peter and Parker’s behavior, or families were much closer in England of the 1920s than I thought.


Parker is referring to the hard crape variety that had a crisp and elastic structure.

80,000 francs

Using conversion figures from 1920, Parker was considering a pearl necklace valued today at 73,200 euros / £60,000 / $97,200.

Bonne fortune

French for good fortune.

87 ~ no journeyman hand

In the medieval classification of skilled workers, a journeyman had completed an apprenticeship but was not yet a master.

5,000 francs

In today’s figures, 4,575 euros / £3,800 / $6,075.


Twenty, from the Old Norse skor or Old English scoru. So the opening of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863 — “Four score and seven years ago” — is another way of saying “87 years ago” or “In 1776.”

to repeat a thing often is to vulgarise it

Vulgar means common, crude, lacking in culture or taste. Multiple productions of a beautiful item would not make each less beautiful, it would be more common, and that can affect the buyer’s value of the piece. Or, as the philosopher Y. Berra (1925-) puts it: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

88 ~ Anglo-Saxons

People identified or associated with the English. The phrase survives in the U.S. as WASP, for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

89 ~ Mais oui, je l’ai vu, ce monsieur-la

“Yes, I did see this gentleman.”



pour porter bonheur

“To bring good luck.”

quoi encore? Voyons

“What else? I know.”

a merveille


je ne sais quoi

“I don’t know what,” but it implies “that certain something” or an intangible quality that sets one apart.

90 ~ Ah mon Dieu, ca c’est plus difficile. Monsieur sait que les jours se suivent et se ressemblent. Voyons

“Oh, my God, that’s more difficult to say. As a gentleman, you understand that the days tend to run together. Let’s see.”

Peigne en ecaille et diamants

Tortoiseshell comb and diamonds.

Chat en diamants (Dessin C-5)

Cat with diamonds (Pattern C-5).

been any other

With Mary in Paris during the same time, Parker is concluding that she bought the cat and therefore left it at the scene of the crime.

comic papers

Humorous and satirical magazines that combined illustrations and articles.


A restaurant in Paris’ Latin Quarter. The restaurant was mentioned as early as 1907 as one of many frequented by students that gave good value for money. In a 1921 letter, critic Malcolm Cowley (1898-1989) mentions that the “American colony” of expatriates is centered at the Rotonde “and at times straggles over to Boudet’s. . . . They dine at Boudet’s and sleep with one another, or, if they are not homosexual, with the tarts of the Quarter.”

91 ~ valet de chambre

A male servant who works for the hotel.

a colis postal

Parcel post

Epistle to the Hebrews

The chapter from the Bible more commonly known as Hebrews. An epistle is known as a letter, and the chapter is meant to exhort Jewish Christians, possibly as early as the end of the second century, to persevere in the face of persecution.

92 ~ Queen Elizabeth

A reference to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

Lord High Steward

The Lord High Steward is the first of the Great Officers of State. Originally an honorary post, its holders over time gained more power. The office was left vacant upon the death of Henry IV’s son in 1421, to be filled only at coronations and, until 1948, the trial of peers.

pro tem

An abbreviation of the Latin phrase, pro tempore, “for the time being.” It means the person is appointed to a particular office in the absence of a superior.


Mary Quite Contrary

The chapter title is taken from the nursery rhyme:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Lady Astor

Nancy Astor (1879-1964) was the first woman to sit in the House of Commons, representing the Conservative Party. Born in Virginia, she endured a disastrous marriage and moved to England after her divorce, where her combination of racy talk and prudish behavior won admiration. When one English woman asked if she had moved here to get their husbands, she reportedly replied, “If you knew the trouble I had getting rid of mine.” She became a popular socialite in England and married fellow expatriate Waldorf Astor.

The quotation is from her defense of women’s right to vote. The quote concludes: “… and most men get from their wives, if they choose wisely … unselfishness, vision, courage and cleanness — the real kind, which helps them to live up to what’s best in them. And there is so much good in all men, but only good women can bring it out.”


A period of 14 days.


One of the common people. From the Latin word plebs for, of course, common people.

peer of the realm

A peerage is a subset of the aristocracy, consisting of those who hold the title of duke, marquess, earl, viscount or baron. Peers could sit in the House of Lords until 1999, when an act was passed reducing its membership from 1,330 to 669.

Lord Chancellor

The second-highest-ranking officer among the Great Offices of State, behind the Lord High Steward. The GOS are the traditional Crown ministers who once wielded great powers, but have been mostly reduced in their authority. Until 2005, the Lord Chancellor oversaw the judiciary in England and Wales and presided over the House of Lords. He is also in charge of the Great Seal, which is affixed to important documents to indicate the sovereign’s approval.

Royal Gallery, Westminster Palace

Royal Gallery

At 110 feet by 45 feet, one of the largest rooms in Westminster Palace. It has seen the annual royal procession at state openings of Parliament, speeches by foreign leaders to both houses of Parliament, and the trials of peers.


A masculine-looking sofa, usually rectangular, made of rich, polished leather and held in place with rows of studs. It is typically associated with English clubs.


Ability to reduce strength or vigor.

baby black grand

A piano sized for small rooms. There are variations in piano sizes. A concert or grand model can be as long as ten feet, a baby grand five feet, and an upright piano less.

calf bindings

The covers of rare books can be rebound in calf leather, making it more durable and elegant-looking.

94 ~ primrose

Although the flower by that name comes in a multitude of shades, the color is yellow with a hint of black to it.


A warm, sandy color.

central heated

Sayers is expressing a popular prejudice against the system. Although the concept of central heating has been known since Roman times, it was slow to come to England. Well-to-do houses installed it during the late Victorian era, while many homes burned coal or wood, and, later, turned to gas or electric. It wasn’t until the 1970s that central heating became widespread.


Clearly, sanely. Lucid also means suffused with light, adding a gleam of clarity to it.


A word made up by Lord Peter.

95 ~ malingering
Faking illness or injury to avoid work.

96 ~ arsenic

A chemical element found in minerals and notorious as a poison.


A toxic chemical element, also poisonous.

Dr. Pritchard’s case

Dr. Edward William Pritchard (1825-1865), was convicted and hanged for murdering his wife and mother-in-law with antimony. More than 100,00 spectators turned out for his hanging, which was the last public execution in Glasgow.

Dr. Spilsbury

Sir Bernard Henry Spilsbury (1877-1947) was a forensic pathologist who advanced the science in Great Britain. His reputation was established through his testimony in a series of notorious murder trials, including Dr. Hawley Crippen in 1910, Frederick Seddon in 1911-12, and “Brides in the Bath” murderer George Joseph Smith in 1915.

poor little rabbits

Rabbits have been frequently subjected to medical and forensics experiments. For example, in 1862, Johann Ludwig Casper published a paper describing the effect of chloroform on rabbits. The experiments involved killing them with the drug and autopsying them immediately.

hysterics and naughtiness

One wonders what is going on in the Dowager Duchesses’ mind. In the latter half of the 19th century, hysteria was a popular diagnosis, covering a range of behavior including fainting, nervousness, irritability and loss of appetite. Over time, the symptoms would be expended to cover nearly every type of anti-social or “acting out” behaviors, particularly in women. Treatments involved “pelvic massages” to induce “hysterical paroxysm,” which we call orgasms. The development of the electric vibrator was considered a medical milestone, making it easier for the doctor to perform the treatment, reducing the time for the woman to climax and even allowing for home treatments. The 2011 movie “Hysteria” is inspired by the history of the vibrator.

97 ~ hoary

extremely old

Elliman’s embrocation

A product still available. Its slogan, REP (for “rubbing eases pain”) gives some indication of its uses. An embrocation is an old word, from the 15th century, for liniment or lotion.

Kruschen feelings

A reference to Kruschen salts, a dietary supplement which is still sold today to open the bowels, cleanse the blood and remove toxins. As a euphemism, “Kruschen feelings” was used to imply the vigorous health that one would feel after a dose of this medication.


A drug used as an emetic — to induce vomiting. Useful if you’ve swallowed poison, except in the case of a caustic agent such as lye, which will burn the throat coming back up as it did going down.


A waxy flammable substance derived from distilled wood, coal or petroleum. In liquid form, it can be used in paints, fuels or as mineral oil.

98 ~ subconsciousness

A force not directly accessible by a person’s conscious mind that is capable of causing an action. One theory holds that it can be understood through techniques such as dream analysis, meditation or random associations or verbal slips (known as “Freudian slips”).


A psychological term describing the neurotic urge to steal.

V.A.D. work

Volunteer Aid Detachment, units created at the start of World War I in which women worked as assistant nurses, ambulance drivers and cooks. V.A.D. hospitals operated in most towns to care for the wounded.

Soviet jumpers

A sweater that suggests some connection with the Soviet Union. The phrase is not found in the literature of the time, so one has to assume that the Dowager is mangling her phrases again.

ex abundantia cautelae

A Latin legal phrase meaning “out of abundant caution.”

99 ~ grouse

A game bird.


Opportune, or the exact right time.

100 ~ poker

A fireplace tool consisting of a long metallic rod, sometimes angled at the end and pointed.

101 ~ silver sand

A gritty powder consisting of quartz particles with no iron oxide. It generally feels sharp and gritty when rubbed.

pro tem

An abbreviation of pro tempore, meaning “for the time being.”

103 ~ Marylebone

An area of London roughly bordered by Marylebone Road to the north, Great Portland Street to the east, Oxford Street to the south and Edgware Road to the west.

Chateau Yquem

A highly rated dessert wine from the southwest region of France, near the port city of Bordeaux. It is noted for its complex sweetness and ability to be cellared for up to a century.


Sexton Blake

A fictional detective owned by a corporation and described as “the poor man’s Sherlock Holmes.” Since its debut in 1893, more than 4,000 stories have appeared, written by at least 200 authors, with numerous movie, TV and radio tie-ins. Before “Whose Body?” Sayers tried to write a Sexton Blake story in which Lord Peter assisted.

Seddon Case

Insurance agent Frederick Henry Seddon (1870-1912) was hanged for killing his lodger, Eliza Barrow, with arsenic. The case was notable for Seddon’s greed which pointed suspicion his way, his arrogance while testifying that turned the jury against him, and using their Freemasonry membership to seek mercy from the judge.

104 ~ door-bell

A mechanical bell in which a key on the outside of the door, when turned, causes a bell on the inside to ring.


A key used to open a lock on an outside door.


A heavy shoe, sometimes with hobnails on the bottom, favored in Ireland and the Scottish highlands.


A small bottle that holds a liquid.

105 ~ ammonia

A chemical compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, noted for its pungent odor. This “smelling salts” is what Bunter used to rouse Lady Mary.

1800 Napoleon brandy

A vintage laid down during Napoleon’s reign (1804-1814 and 1815). The phrase “Napoleon brandy” is a grade assigned by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac.

106 ~ pleating the orange envelope

The envelope the telegram came in, as seen in chapter 6.

108 ~ Chief of Scotland Yard

During 1923, the time “Clouds of Witness” is set, the commissioner was Brigadier-General Sir William Horwood. Sayers chose to substitute him with Sir Andrew Mackenzie, who is mentioned in “Whose Body?” as Lord Peter’s fly-fishing friend.

as the hymn says

A hymn inspired by Matthew 5:14-16 by Susan Warner (1819-1895):

Jesus bids us shine, With a pure, clear light,
Like a little candle, Burning in the night.
In this world of darkness, So let us shine?
You in your small corner, And I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine, First of all for Him;
Well He sees and knows it, If our light grows dim.
He looks down from heaven, To see us shine?

You in your small corner, And I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine, Then, for all around;
Many kinds of darkness, In the world are found.
Sin and want and sorrow; So we must shine?
You in your small corner, And I in mine.

Bobbed red hair

109 ~ bobbed red hair

Hair cut to the jawline, sometimes with bangs over the forehead.

corduroy jacket

A textile weaved to form parallel cords.



A Scottish woolen cap consisting of a wide flat circular crown and usually a pompon in the center. Named after a Robert Burns poem about Tam, a man who, while riding home drunk one night, sees visions of witches, warlocks and the Devil dancing amid the ruins of a church.


Sensitive to the recipient’s feelings and the need to maintain good relations.

Mr. Coke—the Labour leader

A fictitious character who is a high-ranking member of the Labour Party.


After the communists took over Russia in the November 1917 coup, they created and financed groups and intelligence systems to ferment revolution elsewhere. After communist-inspired uprisings in Germany and Hungary, there was fear of a similar revolution in England. A number of notorious spy cases involving British citizens working for the Soviets were prosecuted. The “grand hunt for spies” is a reference to ferreting out informers working for the police.

110 ~ capitalist

An economic system characterized by private ownership of the means of production, with the distribution of goods and their prices determined by the free market. Karl Marx’s greatest invention was to take human behavior that’s been in existence since before the Egyptians and codify it into a sinister international conspiracy.

Soviet Club

An amusing Socialist take on the club system, where aristocrats and gentlemen self-organize to form clubs where members drink, network, dine or snooze in the library.



Gerrard Street

A street in Chinatown, in the Soho area of the City of Westminster. It is northeast of Piccadilly Circus, far from Lord Peter’s usual haunts.


A deep purplish red.

mission teas

An event run by a missionary group to raise money for its programs.

West End Club

“Gentlemen’s clubs” — not to be confused with the current euphemism for strip clubs — originally congregated in the West End district beginning in the 18th century.


A story from Genesis about the origin of the world’s languages. In Chapter 11, when “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech,” a city and tower was built on the plain of Shinar “whose top may reach unto heaven.” Offended by this presumption, the Lord chose to “confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” and “scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”


Knives, forks and spoons, as well as more specialized silverware.


An opening between the kitchen and dining room to allow for the passage of food.


Her outfit is, indeed, a vivid conglomeration of European cultures. A Russian blouse is a loose-fitting tunic with puffed embroidered sleeves. Venetian beads are colorful glass beads, preferably made on the Murano islands near the city. A Hungarian shawl is black, fringed fabric with colorful embroidery, usually of flowers, at the corners. The Spanish comb with its four or more teeth and patterned handle serves as decoration and to hold long hair in place. The united front is a political tactic in which Communist Party members secretly form alliances with worker groups. The Internationale — formally the Second International — was an organization of socialist and labor parties formed in 1889.



111 ~ the superstition of syntax

James Joyce (1882-1941) was a modernist avant-garde author whose “Ulysses” (1922) broke controversial ground in its use of stream-of-consciousness, experimental prose and a complicated use of structure and allusions. Syntax is the system by which words are put together to create a language.

D.H. Lawrence formula

Lawrence (1885-1930) was an English novelist, poet and essayist. His novel, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” created an uproar for its depiction of female desire and sexual activity and was the subject of a 1959 obscenity trial.


An cultural movement that emphasized anarchy and a rejection of war, bourgeois capitalist society and prevailing standards in art. Although short-lived, it had a profound influence on avant-garde, modernism and performance art. The word has dual roots as baby talk and as the French word for hobbyhorse.

Propaganda Society

A fictional group, although there was a London Communist Propaganda Society founded in 1841 by Goodwyn Barmby, a utopian socialist.

nursing in the war

During World War I, groups such as the Volunteer Aid Detachment organized hospitals staffed with volunteer nurses and doctors to treat the wounded.

112 ~ mutton

Meat from mature sheep


Clubs operated on a membership model, with payment of an introductory rate plus an annual fee.

shock-headed Peter

Shock in this instance means bushy or shaggy. It is also a reference to “Der Struwwelpter” (Shaggy-Peter), a German children’s book by Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894) published in 1845. The book’s 10 stories feature children coming to a disasterous end due to their misbehavior.

(Contributed by Victoria Thompson)

eighteen shillings a week

Before the United Kingdom shifted to a decimal form of currency in 1971, with 100 pence equaling 1 pound, it used a complex coinage system that was as rich in tradition as it was baffling. Under it, 20 shillings made up one pound. In 1923, the year “Clouds” is set, a laborer in southern England earned an average of 10 shillings per day and agricultural laborers 28 shillings a week. By these standards, Miss Tarrant and her friends were living in poverty.

New Forest

An area in Hampshire, in the southeast of England, containing large tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest. It is now the 220-square-mile New Forest National Park. It was called new because it was created about 1079 by King William I as a royal forest, resulting in the elimination of 20 small hamlets and numerous farms.

113 ~ abolish industrialism

A economic system based on the creation of large-scale industries and the production of large quantities of inexpensive goods.


Beneficial. This blithe indifference to the suffering of other people to launch a glorious future for yourself is a mainstay of leftist theology, surfacing in causes such as the French Revolution, zero population growth, global warming and the Gaia theory.

after dinner

It is traditional to be served coffee away from the dinner table and into the more relaxing environment of, say, the library. In a classless society, of course, maids and butlers would be abolished, except to serve those in charge.


Open-faced boxes used to hold mail and notes for members.

gloved right hand

Lord Peter recognized that Mr. Goyles might be wearing a glove to treat an injured hand.


A person who stirs up emotions over a controversial issue.

Charing Cross Road

A major north-south street in central London. Its name is a combination of the hamlet of Charing (itself derived from clerring, referring to a bend in the nearby River Thames) and the Eleanor Cross, erected in the 1290s by King Edward I as a memorial for his wife, Eleanor. The site of the cross — which was pulled down during the English Civil War and replaced in 1675 by an equestrian statue of King Charles I — is considered the center of London for the purpose of measuring road distances.

brass bedstead

A frame used to support a mattress and box spring, including a headboard, footboard and side panels.


115 ~ hanged for a sheep as a lamb

An old phrase, hearkening back to a time when the death penalty was punishment for a number of crimes, including stealing lambs. The phrase implies that if you’re going to risk all, you might as well wager all. An early mention can be found in “English Proverbs” (1678) by John Ray: “As good be hang’d for an old sheep as a young lamb.”

116 ~ sharper

A scoundrel.

Charing Cross Hospital

In 1923, the hospital was on Villiers Street, near the south end of Charing Cross. In 1973, it was moved to Fulham Palace Road in Hammersmith, although it retains the name.

117 ~ belated

Appearing beyond its normal time.

Hyde Park Corner

Sayers appeared to have a little trouble with the geography around Lord Peter’s home. To get to Pall Mall, Lord Peter would walk east of his home on Piccadilly, but to catch a cab at Hyde Park Corner, one must proceed due west (in fact, the corner is closer to Lord Peter’s flat than Pall Mall).


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

From Chapter 9, “The Mock Turtle’s Story.” The Duchess finishes with, “Oh, ’tis love, ’tis love, that makes the world go round!” An ironic statement in light of the events to come.


A dark rose from France’s Bordeaux region.


A type of twill fabric that has diagonal lines or ridges on both sides.

mixed grill

A variety of grilled meats, sometimes cooked on a skewer. In England, it usually consists of lamb chops, lamb kidneys, beef steak, tomatos and mushrooms.

118 ~ Nelson, too, who was certainly English if he wasn’t Irish or Scotch

The Dowager is referring to G.K. Chesterton’s essay “On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set,” which discusses the common portrait of the emotionally repressed Englishman. While he agrees with Rudyard Kipling that “We do not fall on the neck and kiss when we come together,” he contrasts that with Admiral Horatio Nelson — who was a Norfolk man — and his words to his best friend as he was dying at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805: “Kiss me, Hardy.”

United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was created in 1801 and encompassed Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and the Republic of Ireland. When the Irish Free State was created in 1921, leaving Northern Ireland in British control, the name was changed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Free State / Orange Free State

The Duchess is referring to the Irish Free State, the first go at becoming a country independent of the United Kingdom. Its constitution was replaced in 1937 to create the modern state of Ireland. The Orange Free State was an independent republic proclaimed in 1854 in part of what is now South Africa. It was absorbed by Great Britain in 1902 after the Second Angelo-Boer War.

sucking Socialists

A variation on the phrase “blood-sucking,” implying that socialists want to use other people’s hard-earned money to effect reforms they favor.

119 ~ second-hand dealer

A seller of used objects.


A meat cleaver.

in the underground room. Thrilling fiction was noted for its use of tropes such as secret societies, masters of disguise, and in this case, numerous complex traps. This latter effect seems to have seeped into superhero stories, reaching its apex in the 1960s “Batman” TV series, in which the Caped Crusader and Robin, the Boy Wonder, ended most shows caught in a fiendish death-dealing contraption.


A small notebook that could be used as a portable diary.

cooling bandage

A damp cloth used to ease Lord Peter’s headache and, one presumes, a possible concussion. Sayers also might be winking at the reader, implying that he’s a typical penny-dreadful hero who can suffer great physical traumas and retain his vigor. Remember this when he meets greater peril in Peter’s Pot.

malicious enjoyment

Lord Peter is enjoying the moment when he’s about to spring a joke on his sister.

120 ~ boat-train to Folkestone

A port on the southeastern coast of England where a ferry could be caught to the continent. The Channel Tunnel now links Folkestone by rail with Pas-de-Calais in France.


To flee, from the Spanish vamos for let’s go.

parliamentary language

The ideal form of debate in the House of Commons, marked by a focus on the issue and treating members with decorum and courtesy.

distend and bloat

To distend is to enlarge from internal pressure, while to bloat is to inflate beyond the limit.

121 ~ draught

A British variant of the word draft, for dose.

Newport Court

A street that links Gerrard Street, where the Soviet Club is located, with Charing Cross Road.



Honest injun

On my honor! Originally, it was intended sarcastically, as Indians were considered by white Americans as dishonest, but children picked up the phrase, reversed its meaning and stripped it of its racial connotation.

perjuring yourself

Lying under oath, particularly while testifying in court.

122 ~ Good egg

Public school slang for an admirable person. The reason for calling someone a “bad egg” should be obvious to anyone who has encountered a spoiled one in the kitchen.

nobody’s convenience but his own

Meaning he acted selfish and in the process annoyed the other guests.

as Pope says

From “An Essay on Criticism” by Alexander Pope. The complete line is “True wit is nature to advantage dressed / What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.”

so bridegroomy and biblical

A reference to the poet Robert Browning (1812-1889). The metaphysical poets moved away from the prevailing practice of using images of nature or classical mythology and toward similes or metaphors to explore more philosophical concepts, hence the Duchesses’ complaint that you never know what they mean. Browning is not a descendant of the metaphysical poets, but his desire to have the reader suss out the meaning of his works — as opposed to telling them directly — encourages the Duchess to put him among them. The Established Church in Great Britain is the Church of England.

St. Augustine — the Hippo man, I mean, not the one who missionised over here

St. Augustine of Hippo (345-430), not St. Augustine of Canterbury (died 604), credited with bringing Christianity to England.

Dioscorides accepting a mandrake root at the cost of a dead dog

123 ~ mandrake

A plant in the nightshade family whose root is believed to have magical properties. It was believed that if the root is pulled out of the ground, it would emit a death-dealing shriek. Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-90) recommended tying a hungry black dog to the root and luring it away with food scraps, killing the dog in the process.


A follower of the prophet Mani (c. 216-276), who taught what became known as Manichaeism, a Gnostic religion that competed with Christianity. St. Augustine — the Hippo man — was a Manichaean before he converted.

the old man in the opera

Faustus was a Manichaean bishop whose encounter with St. Augustine led to the latter’s conversion. Not to be confused with the German legend of Dr. Faust, who sold his soul to the Devil in return for unlimited knowledge and pleasures.

Labour Party

A political party which advocates government control of key industries and the economy, the redistribution of wealth, publicly funded health care and education and increased rights for workers. In 1924, the first Labour government was formed under Ramsay MacDonald with help from the Liberal Party. It lasted nine months before collapsing.

Ministry of Information

A government department responsible for publicity and propaganda. It operated from 1918 to 1919 and from 1939 to 1946.

unearned increment

An increase in the value of land or property without its owner spending money to do so.


A mistaken idea. Lady Mary is trying to argue that living off a wife’s income — including the unearned increment from the land she owns — is different from living off one’s own unearned income.

124 ~ crusted old tawny

Lord Peter is referring to a type of port that is a blend of several vintages and made to be affordable and drinkable upon purchase, as opposed to port which has to be allowed to age.

anguish moist and fever-dew

From John Keats’ ballad-poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (French: “The Beautiful Lady Without Pity”): “I see a lily on thy brow / With anguish moist and fever-dew. / And on thy cheeks a fading rose / Fast withereth too.”

125 ~ beginning screw of £4 a week

Salary. At the end of Chapter 7, we learn that Miss Tarrant and her socialist friends were trying to live on less than a pound a week, well below a farm worker’s average salary of 28 shillings, which makes Goyle’s £4 a week seem like a princely sum.




The Laird of Lochinvar appears in “Marmion,” an epic poem by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). In Canto V, he sweeps into the wedding of his true love, dances a graceful galliard with her, then elopes with her on his horse.

126 ~ to think anything at all

Throw men and women together in a large house in a rural area — with plenty of outdoor cover — and little to do but drink, eat and hunt, make sure the bedrooms are far apart and the floors carpeted, and they’ll do what comes naturally. In one notorious case, Lord Charles Beresford crept to his lover’s bedroom in the middle of the night and leapt into her vast bed crying “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” only to find himself between the Bishop of Chester and his wife. Explanations were impossible, and he left the house before breakfast the next day.

128 ~ riots and insurrections and things

A reference to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which resulted in widespread upheaval and executions. Revolutionaries tend to believe that the ends justified the means. When famine struck Russia in 1891, Vladimir Lenin, the future Soviet leader, opposed aid for the hungry because it would ruin the peasant economy, destroy their faith in God and usher in socialism.


Pretentious nonsense.


Cover of first edition of “The Wallet of Kai Lung”

129 ~ The Wallet of Kai-Lung

From the story “The Vengeance of Tung Fel,” in the collection of stories about an itinerant storyteller in ancient China by Ernest Bramah (1868-1942).


From the poem “A Lecture Upon the Shadow” by John Donne (1572-1631). The narrator reflects that lovers cast shadows during the day except at noon, when “to brave clearness all things are reduced.” Then the shadows lengthen, blinding the lovers to the truth. The poem concludes, “Love is a growing, or full constant light, / And his short minute, after noon, is night.”

131 ~ ‘bus in the lane

He meant his motorcycle and sidecar.


A pair of glasses consisting of two lenses connected by a metal bridge, sometimes with a string attached that is looped around the neck or attached to a vest button. The word is derived from the French pincer, to pinch, and nez, nose.

132 ~ elopement

To run away secretly to get married, usually without parental consent.

133 ~ bachelor establishment

Being single, Mr. Murbles probably lives in “bachelor rooms,” an apartment consisting of a sitting room, bedroom and a bath, ideal for a bachelor who would eat out or have his landlady cook for him, but not for a respectable woman who would either be living with her family or husband.

Staple Inn, London

Staple Inn

A building in Holborn, central London. The Inns of Court was originally used as offices of the clerks of chancery. Over time, they evolved into accommodations and offices for solicitor, and today only four are left. Dating from 1585, Staple Inn, with its distinctive timber-frame façade and cruck, or curved timber-frame roof, is the sole surviving Inn building from that time.

134 ~ Sheffield plate

A technique to fuse silver and copper that enables them to be reshaped yet retain their distinctive layers. The process was invented by Thomas Boulsover of Sheffield’s Cutlers Co. in 1743 and used to create articles such as buttons, tankards, flatwear and plates.


An ornamental glass bottle used to serve wine.

law calf

Uncolored calfskin with a smooth grain used for binding law books.

Quangle & Hamper v. Truth

A fictional legal case.

the great Shakespeare

A reference to the North Star, the sole fixed point in the Northern Hemisphere, from “Julius Caesar,” Act III, Scene 1: “But I am constant as the northern star, / Of whose true-fixed and resting quality / There is no fellow in the firmament.”

wig and gown

For more than 300 years, despite occasional calls for reform, barristers in British courts have worn curly white horsehair wigs and black gowns.

as deaf as a post

Unable to hear. The phrase appears in “The Comedy of Acolastus” (1540) by John Palsgrave (c. 1485-1554): “How deaf an ear I intended to give him … he were as good to tell his tale to a post.”

135 ~ cocktail-drinking

An alcoholic drink that combines spirits — distilled ethanol — and one or more ingredients. While the word has been recorded as far back as 1798, cocktails grew popular after Prohibition in the U.S. (1919-1933) when illegal spirits had to be doctored to make them drinkable.


The sense of taste.

Lafite ’75

A wine from Chateau Lafite Rothschild, a wine estate in France.

notable an antiquity

The quality of being ancient.

divine Sarah

Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), a French stage actress nicknamed “The Divine Sarah.”

136 ~ avarice

An insatiable desire for wealth or gain.

briefless barrister

A lawyer without clients. A brief is a statement of a client’s case used to instruct counsel before a trial.

137 ~ What I like about Clive / Is that he is no longer alive — / There is a great deal to be said / For being dead

A Clerihew, a short poem named for its inventor, novelist and humorist Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956). Bentley is also the author of “Trent’s Last Case,” which Sayers cites as an inspiration for Lord Peter. Clive is Robert Clive (1725-1774), the British officer who helped the East India Company become the dominating power in India.

up to the scratch

Doing what was expected of her. In prize-fighting, a line used to be scratched on the ground and the fighters were expected to come “up to the scratch” before the bout could begin.

138 ~ obfuscate



Clear from guilt.


Absolutely and without qualifications. The hyphenated pronunciation stresses just how pigheaded Denver was becoming in keeping his silence.

140 ~ Continental ideas about marriage

Presumably that a husband can be expected to take a mistress, which his wife must accept.

watertight compartment minds

A reference to the design of ships that had watertight doors so that a leak in one compartment wouldn’t flood the ship. The Titanic, which sank in 1912, was renowned for its advanced design with 16 watertight compartments. Unfortunately, the iceberg ripped opened five of them, dooming the ship.


A coastal town in northwest England, near the Scottish border.

left the gee

Referring to a horse, through the command to turn to the right.


141 ~ Meribah

The place, during the exodus from Egypt, where the Israelites complained to Moses about the lack of water. Moses appealed to God, who told him to strike a rock with his staff, causing it to expel water.

Jack the Giant-killer

From “English Fairy Tales” by folklorist Joseph Jacobs (1854-1915). Actually, it’s “Lob’s-pound,” a generic word for a prison or stocks, but perhaps Sayers altered it to reflect the chapter’s events.

closing-down of Northallerton Gaol

The gaol was intended to hold prisoners temporarily during the Assizes, usually held quarterly. The gaol would be closed in between sessions.

word of honour

To Gerald point of view, a gentleman who swore on his “oath of honour” should be taken at his word, and that a promise made was as good as a promise fulfilled.

The use of the gentleman’s code is remarkably widespread in British literature. In “Treasure Island,” Long John Silver asks the captured Jim Hawkins, “will you give me your word of honour as a young gentleman — for a young gentleman you are, although poor born — your word of honour not to slip your cable?” And when James Bond, captured by Grant in “From Russian With Love,” offers a bribe to be set free, Grant responds: “Your word of honour … as an English gentleman?”

142 ~ paragraphs and news-bills

Paragraphs. Stories in the newspaper. News-bills. Advertising signs outside of news agents and tobacconists.

Richard II in scarlet in ermine

scarlet and ermine

The ceremonial outfit worn by members of the House of Lords, although kings as early as Richard II in the 1390s wore scarlet and ermine. Scarlet refers to red robes, and ermine the winter fur from a stoat that is worn about the peer’s collar. Its white fur and black tail end is associated with royalty and high officials, although due to animal-rights issues, it has been replaced in the Lords with rabbit fur with painted spots. Ermine is used because it’s expensive, rare and beautiful, and its whiteness can also signify Christian purity. Peers wear robes with bars of ermine and gold to signify their rank: duke (4); marquess (3½); earl (3); viscount (2½) and baron (2).

143 ~ Time, gentlemen

The traditional phrase used in pubs to indicate that the bar has closed.


A church official who serves as an usher during services and is charged with keeping order.


A reprimand, presumably for rushing into the cathedral.

Not seven, but the Five Sisters of York

Seven Sisters of York

Actually the Five Sisters, found in the Gothic cathedral York Minster. The window contains five lancet arches, each 52 feet high, and created using 100,000 pieces of glass. Sayers might have confused it with London’s Seven Sisters area.

market town

A town given the right in medieval times to host markets, where farmers from the surrounding area bring in their produce to sell. The location of market towns was regulated to ensure they were not set up too close together. Market towns required having a wide street or central square large enough to set up stalls.

carried a heavy ashplant

Lord Peter was prepared for a rugged walk. A Norfolk suit is belted and made of a sturdy fabric such as tweed. An ashplant is a sturdy walking stick made of ash.


A variety of rattan or palm plant, named for a town in western Malaysia. Unlike most palm plants, Malacca has a solid stem, making it ideal for use as a cane. Sayers mentions this cane in “Whose Body?” as a way of giving her detective a cool Batman-like tool (its length was marked in inches). As Lord Peter grew in character and depth, she abandoned this device, along with the magnifying-glass monocle and other devices.

144 ~ town-bred

One more used to living in a city than in the country.


Cool and haughty.

a sad mistake

Spoken by the character in “Milestones,” a popular play from 1912 by Edward Knoblock (1874-1945) and Arnold Bennett (1867-1931).


A light horse-drawn vehicle with two or four wheels.


A worker subordinate to the head gardener.


The owner or manager of a public house. To counter the introduction of gin into England from the Dutch, which was the 19th century version of crack cocaine, the Beer Act of 1830 was passed permitting anyone who paid two guineas to sell beer or cider from their home, even home-brewed beer. This combination home and bar led to the creation of the public house, or pub, and a staple of British life.

ower t’way

“Over that way.”


A talkative person, given to rambling or tedious speech.

Bridge Embattled

A reference to a symbol on a coat of arms. The bridge is show from the side, and can appear either on the shield itself, or above it as a crest. Embattled means that the top of the bridge consists of notches.


To change with a humorous or grotesque effect.


A person who takes care of horses or mules.


“Come up!”

145 ~ shafts

Long poles used to harness the horse to the dog-cart.


A list of goods shipped, specifying the number of items and their prices.


Presumably a measure of ale, bought by Lord Peter.

Nowt’s good these time

The constant cry that things were never as good as they were in times past.

146 ~ Brooks of Sheffield

A cutler from Sheffield who is named in Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield.” When Mr. Murdstone — who is secretly wooing David’s mother — meets two gentlemen at a hotel, he introduces little David to them. They ask if the child is “bewitching Mrs. Copperfield’s encumbrance?” Murdstone warns them not to say too much, saying “somebody’s sharp.” When David asks, “Who is?” Mr. Murdstone replies, “Only Brooks of Sheffield.” The name combines the verb form of “to endure” (brook) — implying that David is a burden that must be endured — the joke that a knife-maker would be sharp, and David’s home town.

Victoria Square War Memorial in Bradford, Yorkshire

pink granite

The aftermath of World War I, which decimated a generation of English men, saw a blossoming of memorials, monuments, plaques and cenotaphs dedicated to those who died in battle. They varied widely in size and quality, and some of them must have looked like they were designed by committee, in which every idea was accepted and the result showed no understanding what horrors the soldiers faced with stoicism and courage (and many of whom, like Lord Peter, cracked up as a result). The Victoria Square War Memorial in Bradford, Yorkshire, while certainly harmonious in Bunter’s judgment, could be a starting point for imagining Sayers’ memorial.

This tension over how to remember the dead is reflected in R.F. Delderfield’s “To Serve Them All My Days.” In the 1972 novel, part of a brilliant cycle of British history, teacher and shell-shocked war veteran David Powlett-Jones clashes with the head of his school over a proposed war memorial.


Piccadilly Circus

A major road junction in London’s West End where Piccadilly Road intersects with Regent and Glasshouse streets, Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square. The American equivalent would be Times Square in New York City. The word circus is derived from the Latin word meaning “circle.”

‘Olborn Empire

The Holborn Empire, a 2,000-seat theater in London. It was bombed during the May 1941 blitz, but survived until its demolition in 1960.

giv’ me the ‘ump

“Give me the hump.” Rhyming slang for being in the dumps.

Chantycleer Restaurong

A London restaurant in Soho.

148 ~ Felix is out of the bag

The Latin word for cat is felis. The name was popularized through a series of animated “Felix the Cat” shorts in the 1920s.


The part of the pub with tables.


Beer brewed from malted barley and fermented at room temperature. It is full-bodied enough to serve as a source of nutrition during medieval times.

149 ~ potmen

A worker at a pub who serves customers and performs other duties.

151 ~ 7s. 2d.

Seven shillings, 2 pennies (changed to pence after decimalization). With a pound roughly worth $11, Bunter paid nearly $4 for the beer.

£129 17s. 8d.

At $11 to the pound, he received $1,428.72.

152 ~ horse cast a shoe

A horseshoe came off one of its hooves.


A mountain, from the Old Norse word fjall.


Books printed before 1051, when Johann Gutenberg invented the movable type process.

Kentish village

A reference to Kent, a county in the southeast of England. Not only does Bunter’s mother live there, but it is also the home of Folkstone, where Goyles was planning to take the boat-train to escape London after shooting Lord Peter.

153 ~ Trap

The dog-cart Lord Peter drove from Riddlesdale.

peat fire

Peat is partially decayed vegetation found in bogs, moors, mires and some swamp forests. It can be dug up and used as a fuel. In the Netherlands, it was so popular a fuel source in medieval times that its fields were exhausted by the 15th century.

half a crown

A shilling is about 55 U.S. cents, while Groot received 2 shillings, 6 pennies, or $1.40.

Cockney innocents

Cockneys are city-born, born within sound of the bells at St. Mary-le-Bow in the City of London. The phrase Cockney was used by country people to describe and disparage city folk as early as 1521.

154 ~ vain shadow

A grim phrase from the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer: “For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain / he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.” It is drawn from Psalms 39:6: “Surely every man walketh in a vain shrew,” and reminds us that man’s earthly existence is ephemeral.

155 ~ shrammed

To benumb or shrivel with cold.


A town in Belgium near the French border. Lord Peter is reminded of an unpleasant incident from the war.

the bog

A quagmire filled with decayed moss and other vegetable matter.


The Wallet of Kai-Lung

From “The Transmutation of Ling” in the series of stories by Ernest Bramah.

156 ~ entreatingly

Earnestly requesting


A tuft of grass.

Gothic Theseus

In Greek mythology, the founder-king of Athens who entered the labyrinth and slew the Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. Theseus found his way into the heart of the maze and back by tracing a line of string that he had tied to the entrance.

peg out

This peg, unlike “having a last peg” early in the book, is a reference to cribbage, a card game in which scores are recorded on a pegged board. When you earn enough points to win the game, you “peg out.”

157 ~ Oy!

Cockney slang for an interjection similar to “hey” or “yo” in the U.S.

159 ~ Bide till tha’s wanted

“A man, only men, that’s what you’re thinking about. Hang about until you’re wanted.”

wry shoulders

Bent or twisted, usually from hard work.

On Ilkla’ Moor bar t’at

From the unofficial Yorkshire anthem, “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at” (“On Ilkley Moor Without A Hat”). In the song, a friend chides a man for going courting on the cold winds of the moor without his hat, which will kill him. Later, the wry-shouldered man will sing about how the worms will eat the man, then the ducks will eat the worms, and we’ll eat the ducks, concluding, “That’s where we get our own back.”

thi body

“Hold your tongue! You want me to break every bone in your body?”


Translation: “You’ll have to take them in for the night, I reckon, or there’ll be trouble with the sfolk over in Riddlesdale Lodge, let alone what the police will say. If this fellow came to hurt you, he did it to himself first. Look at him. He can’t do anything tonight. Bring him to the fire, man. Grimethorpe, you’ll get in trouble if he would die from pneumonia or rheumatism.”

Queer Street

Wrong or improper. It first appears in print in 1811 and possibly refers to Carey Street, the location of bankruptcy courts.

160 ~ blasphemously

Profane and sacrilegious, taking the Lord’s name in vain.


Fatigue or listlessness.


Mechanically or lacking in interest.

161 ~ closed his eyes once more

Considering that only a few days before, Lord Peter had been shot in the shoulder, he seems to have displayed a Sexton Blake-level of vigor to recover so easily from having himself heaved out of Peter’s Pot by a rope pulling on that broken clavicle!


A small bed on casters, also called a trundle bed, designed to fit under a larger bed as a space-saving device.

163 ~ sash

The frame that holds a window pane in place.

164 ~ His Majesty

A reference to George V, Queen Victoria’s grandson, who ruled from 1910 to 1936.

white staves

Members of the College of Arms, the heralds who oversaw to business of the royal court.

Royal Gallery at Westminster

One of the largest rooms in the Palace of Westminster, where visiting statesmen can address both houses of parliament, for receptions, and where visitors can watch the royal procession during the state openings of parliament.


An official responsible for keeping order in the room.

165 ~ cad

Someone who deliberately disregards another person’s feelings.

grave-bands from her fingers

In the Middle East, a body was prepared for burial by being washed, anointed with spices and wrapped in a linen winding sheet, with the hands and feet bound with grave-bands.

166 ~ stigma

A mark of shame.

167 ~ caricature

A distorted exaggeration


169 ~ Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

From the story, “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.” Holmes’ cry will be echoed in this chapter when Lord Peter realizes the significance of “Manon Lescaut” to Cathcart.

War Office

A government department that oversees the British Army. Sayers’ poem hasn’t been discovered, but there was a contemporary limerick that could apply:

There was a young man at the War Office,
Whose brain was an absolute store office.
Every warning severe
Simply went in one ear,
And out at the opposite orifice.

refined snigger

Suppressed laughter.

in bicycle-pumps

A traveler is a salesman who visits homes and businesses. In the U.S., he would be called a traveling salesman. Pumps are special shoes that grip the feet at the toe and heel, useful for controlling a bicycle.

governor is fixed

From “The Critic,” a play parodying the theater by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). The line is from “The Spanish Armada,” the historical play-within-the-play in which the Spanish governor is offered a thousand pounds by his prisoner for the hand of his daughter. The governor weakens — when he says “Thou hast touched me nearly!” — the prisoner replies “I should like to know the man a thousand pounds would not touch.” But then he rejects the offer saying, “The father softens — but the governor is fix’d!”

a garden of cucumbers

In Isaiah 1:8, God lists the ways the people of Israel have turned from him: “And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.” Zion is the hill on which Jerusalem was built (calling it a daughter is a literary trope in which towns were likened to beautiful women, like we refer to sailing vessels as female). Cottages and lodges were temporary structures where workers rested or guarded the crops. The besieged city is meant to evoke images of wastelands caused by the occupying army surrounding the city.


A basin of water used for washing and shaving.

171 ~ my friend Tim Watchett

The Cockney owner of the “Rose and Crown” Lord Peter visited in Chapter 11.

172 ~ Shakespeare says so

A reference to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which Theseus observes:

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact . . .
The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.”

Socialist Conchy

A Conchy is a conscientious objector, one who, during World War I, refused to serve for personal, religious or philosophical reasons.

173 ~ exhortation

Encouraging or inciting speech.


Unwilling to accept a statement given as true.


Spots caused by ink spreading on a sheet of paper.

174 ~ cabalistic

A secret or hidden definition associated with an occult belief.


The basic Buddhist code of ethics: to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct (as banned by law or by one’s parents), lying and alcohol.


The first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In Jewish tradition, they are collectively called the Torah, the laws given by God to Moses.

flamboys under the pole

A folk song that appears under different titles (“Green Grow the Rushes, Ho”; “The Twelve Prophets”; or “The Teaching Song”) that’s similar in structure to “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The flamboys line appears in “The Twelve Apostles.” One reference gives the line as “Five are the flamboys on the bourn” and says it is a reference to watchtower lights (flambeaux: burning torches) on the Cornish and Devonshire coasts.


Let’s take this series of ‘oe’ words one at a time:
* manoeuvre. The British spelling of maneuver, for the movement of units on a battlefield.

* Loeb edition. A series of important works of ancient Greek and Latin literature published by Harvard University Press. Named for James Loeb (1867-1933), the banker and philanthropist who conceived and financed the Loeb Classical Library.

* Citroen. A French automobile manufacturer.

diphthong. Two vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable, such as eye, hay, low and cow.

175 ~ Soeur – oeuvre – oeuf – boeuf

“Sister – work – egg – beef.”



perceras le coeur

“Pierce the heart.”



Je suis fou

“I’m crazy.”

A la bonne heure

“That’s right!”

de douleur

“Of pain.”

Perceras le caeur … je suis fou de douleur

“Pierce the heart … I’m mad with grief.”


A play by George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) — which became the musical “My Fair Lady” — notorious for its use of the word “bloody,” which at the time was a blasphemous word and caused a sensation on the stage. For several years afterwards, use of the word “bloody” was known as a Pygmalion, which Lord Peter himself uses (and adds, “That’s not swearin’”) in Chapter XIII.

changed her sex

In French, words are divided into genders, so that, in this instance, a man saying “I’m crazy” would say “je suis fou,” but a woman “je suis folle.”

176 ~ Waterloo

A station in central London where railroad and subway lines meet.



There are a number of ships named Normannia, a Latin word for Normandy. One associated with the London & South Western Railway, offering service from Southampton, a port on the south-central coast of England, to Le Havre on the French coast. She was bombed and sunk during the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940.


A structure built parallel to the bank used as a landing place for ships. Different from a pier, which extends into the water.

Boddy jacket

Boddy jackets

An early form of a life-jacket, named for its inventor, G.M. Boddy, consisting of a large coat stuffed with kapok (silky fibers from the ceiba tree).

scraped acquaintance

Meet and befriend.

Abbe Prévost

Antoine Francois Prévost (1697-1763), the author of “Manon Lescaut.”


177 ~ The Edge of the Axe Towards Him

Traditionally, when a noble prisoner is taken from the Tower of London to be tried, the jailer would walk in front bearing an axe with the edge away from the prisoner. If the prisoner is found guilty, they would return to the Tower with the edge turned toward the prisoner, to show the crowd that he’d been found guilty.

King Richard II

From Act IV, Scene 1 of “Richard II,” in which an inquiry is made into the death of Gloucester. Lord Aumerle would be accused of the killing, which will result in Richard’s downfall and death.

by an Antiquarian

Traditionally, convicted peers could request that they be hung with a noose made of silk rather than rope, a fate suffered by Lord Stourton, who in 1557 was hanged for murdering two men. Lord Ferrers’ request for a silken rope, however, was denied, although he was permitted to be hanged with his hands tied in front of him.

(The nobility always get the advantage. In Terry Pratchett’s “Mort,” Death uses a sword instead of his scythe to kill King Olerve. “KINGS GET THE SWORD,” he observes. “IT’S A ROYAL WHATS-NAME, PREROGATIVE.”)

“An Antiquarian” is a pseudonym and means someone who collects and studies objects from ancient times.


Tending to cause to a premature judgment.

178 ~ royal mandate

A command from royalty, even if couched as an invitation to dine, is not to be rejected without consequence.

Royal Personage

A member of the royal family. Because the RP is dining with the American ambassador — which, in 1923 was George Brinton Harvey (1864-1928) — we can conclude this was King George V or the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) since the ambassador would not be expected to dine at the palace with someone of a lower rank, plus the RP must have enough authority to arrange for Lord Peter’s rapid admission into the United States.

Ellis Island

An immigration station on an island in upper New York Bay between the southern tip of Manhattan and the New Jersey shore. It was opened in 1892 as the nation’s first federal building site dedicated to processing immigrants, a task previously performed by the state of New York at Castle Clinton on the tip of Manhattan.

Garter King-of-Arms

The heraldic official responsible for running the College of Arms, established by Henry V in 1415. The name is derived from the Order of the Garter, England’s highest order of chivalry that was founded by Edward III in 1344.

179 ~ heralds

Officials who, during Medieval times, acted on behalf of the sovereign, carrying messages on the battlefield, organizing meetings on the fields of battle, and running tournaments. This latter duty led to them assuming responsibility for regulating knights’ coats of arms. In “Clouds,” they’re organizing the procession according to the order of precedence — i.e., where the titles ranked in the pecking order. This organized, regulated fight for status, scored according to one’s accent, education, profession and royal titles, can be considered one of the foundation stones of British society.


A patently ridiculous act.

Lord Attenbury

The theft of his emeralds became Lord Peter’s first case, and the subject of the third post-Sayers novel by Jill Paton Walsh.

choleric countenance

Choleric. Easily moved to anger. Countenance. Face or general bearing.

Earl of Strathgillan and Begg

A fictional noble rank. Earl is derived from the Scandinavian word “jarl” or chieftain.

Prohibition and the Legitimation question

Prohibition was the proposal to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The Legitimation issue dealt with the status of children born out of wedlock if the couple subsequently married. This was considered an important issue among peers whose titles were inherited. The Legitimacy Act of 1926 allowed the children to be considered legitimate if the parents were not married to other parties at the time of the birth.

Rouge Dragon

A junior officer in the College of Arms, named for the red dragon, the symbol of Wales (rouge is French for red).

Duke of Wiltshire

Another fictional title.


Female side. From the Old English distaef for “flax staff,” a rod used in spinning and a symbol for women’s work.

below the Bar

The barrier that divided courtroom officials from the public.

born to sorrow

From Job 5:7: Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

full-bottomed wigs

A large-sized wig, made of horsehair, that extends to the shoulders.

King’s Robing-Room

The room in the palace where the sovereign prepares for the state opening of Parliament.

both of fact and law

Meaning that the members of the House of Lords were acting both as members of the jury — the “fact” part — and as judges — the “law” part.


A raised platform.

Westminster Palace. Big Ben is at right and the Embankment at lower right.

Big Ben

The nickname for the great bell in the Clock Tower (renamed in 2012 the Elizabeth Tower to mark the queen’s Diamond Jubilee) at the Palace of Westminster. The bell, cast in 1856, is named for Sir Benjamin Hall (1802-1867), who oversaw the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament after the fire of 1834.

180 ~ Voice that breathed o’er Eden

A hymn by H.J. Gauntlett. The voice is that of God, “The voice that breathed o’er Eden, / That earliest wedding day, / The primal marriage blessing, / It hath not passed away.”

High Church, you know

This long paragraph has several terms to unpack:
* Proclamation of Silence. A call for order and quiet in the room.

* Sergeant-at-Arms. An officer responsible for maintaining decorum. It should not be confused with the Serjeant-at-Arms who performs this function in the House of Commons. The equivalent officer for the Lords is Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

* Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. The senior civil servant in charge of the Crown Office, which helps oversee the courts and the judicial process. The office also maintains custody of the Great Seal of the Realm, which is impressed onto wax at the bottom of important state documents to symbolize the sovereign’s approval.

* Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. As noted above, this official is responsible for maintaining order in the House of Lords. The black rod — an ebony staff topped with a golden lion — is the symbol of his office.

* Lord High Steward. The Lord High Steward is the first of the Great Officers of State. Originally an honorary post, its holders over time acquired power and authority. The office was left vacant upon the death of Henry IV’s son in 1421, to be filled only at coronations and, until 1948, the trial of peers. Sayers’ footnote mentions that this office was performed by the Lord Chancellor, the second-highest-ranking officer among the Great Offices of State, behind the Lord High Steward.

* High Church. Anglican churches that use ritual practices or beliefs associated with Roman Catholicism.


Another paragraph with a number of terms to identify:
* Certiorari and Retu—rn. A legal term — certiorari is Latin for “to be more fully informed” — in which a higher court asks a lower court for the record of a given case to review, which is then returned to the judge. The rest of the paragraph declares under what laws this demand is being made and for what purpose.

* Old Bailey. The building in central London that’s the home of the Central Criminal Court.

* Lord Mayor of London. The city’s top civic official, entitled to sit on the judges’ bench during hearings but not take part.

* Recorder. A position held by the senior permanent judge at the Central Criminal Court.

* aldermen. Elected officials who form the Court of Aldermen, presided over by the Lord Mayor. Although most of their duties were taken over by the Court of Common Council, they are entitled to observe hearings from the judges’ bench, although they are not allowed to participate.

* King William the Fourth. The uncle of Queen Victoria, William IV (1765-1837) was king from 1830 to 1837.

* Local Government Act of 1888 established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales that assumed numerous powers, including the administrative functions of the magistrates.


French for powerful.


A rank above baron and below earl.

181 ~ Stool placed within the Bar

Sayers’ quotes were inspired from the trial of Earl Russell in 1901 for bigamy as recorded in the House of Lords Journal, vol. 133-134.

House of Lords Journal

The official record of proceedings, similar to the Congressional Record in the U.S.

182 ~ suavely

Smoothly and gracefully.

184 ~ put into the mouth of the witness

Sir Impey is protesting that Sir Wigmore is attempting to lead the witness, hinting by his question what answer he wants.

187 ~ Take a peg of John Begg

An advertising slogan for a brand of Scotch whisky.

188 ~ cross-examination

Questioning conducted by counsel who did not call the witness.

Royal Automobile Club. A private gentlemen’s club founded in 1897, that over the years added services to help motorists. This division, renamed RAC, exists today, but the club is still in operation. Coincidentally, its headquarters was once at 119 Piccadilly, down the street from Lord Peter’s flat at 110.

189 ~ Belial-like

One of the four crown princes of Hell and a demon in the Bible. In the New Testament, the word was used as a synonym for Satan, such as in II Corinthians 6:15: “And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” It is worth noting that he tended to seduce souls through encouraging arrogance, much like Sir Impey encouraged Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson.


Soothed and softened.

190 ~ contrived

Although not stated, it might be implied that she had let herself become pregnant.


A folding knife small enough to carry in a pocket. Its original use was to sharpen the tip of quill pens.


191 ~ Bar Falling

A barometer, a device that measures air pressure. When it falls, it predicts that stormy weather is coming.

Copyright by Reuter, Press Association Exchange Telegraph, and Central News

When the BBC received its broadcasting license in January 1923 from the General Post Office, it was prohibited from gathering and reporting the news. Instead, it received a daily summary from the four main press agencies, and would begins its report with “This is London calling — 2LO calling. Here is the first general news bulletin, copyright by Reuters, Press Association, Exchange Telegraph and Central News.” One of the reasons was financial: the Post Office sold telegraph and telegram services to the press agencies, but not the newer technology of wireless telegraphy. Another reason was impartiality. The worry was that the BBC, if it acquired and disseminated the news, would be unable to keeps its biases out of its broadcasts. It would take two decades for the BBC to slowly maneuvered out of this stranglehold and by its institutional biases, prove its critics correct.

192 ~ adjournment

A temporary suspension of proceedings.

Air Pilot Grant

Sayers might have borrowed the name from U.S. Lt. Vernon F. Grant, who in 1924 set a speed record by flying 117.1 mph to win the Curtiss Marine Trophy race in Miami.

S.S. Lucarnia

A fictional ship, although there was a RMS Lucania about that time.

barometer is falling

A barometer measures air pressure. A falling barometer indicates that a storm is approaching.

black frost

A killing frost

stop-press announcements

A story so important that the printing press is stopped so it can be put in the paper.


Words characterizing the action or person; it can be disparaging, but not in this case.


In an era when newspapers were dominant and radio still primitive, companies such as the Exchange Telegraph Co. sold tape-machines installed in newspapers, clubs, offices, even homes, to distribute news over the telegraph.

Slug of type


Metal pieces of type, created by a linotype machine, that are used in printing. Since the time of Gutenberg, type would be hand-assembled, letter by letter, used to print a page, and then broken up and reassembled to make another page. The process was speeded with the invention of the linotype machine, which would melt lead bars, receive information either from an operator or perforated tape, and cast a line of type.

Vimy Ridge

A major offensive fought in 1917 in northern France near the Belgium border. The Canadian Army, helped by British forces, captured the ridge after four days of fighting.

193 ~ iron grille of a tree in Kingsway and displayed his placard

An iron grille is a fence wrapped around a tree to protect the trunk. The veteran is selling newspapers with the help of a placard announcing the latest news. Kingsway is a major north-south road, sure to see much traffic and, hence, newspaper buyers.


Excessive; more than expected.

solvitur ambulando

“Solved by walking,” implying that a practical experiment should be used.

194 ~ Je suis fou de douleur

As we shall see in chapter 17, the phrase, indeed, was French, and will be translated as “I’m mad — mad with misery!”

soap and pickles lords

Titles created for merchants who accumulated enough wealth to buy it through donations to the ruling party. Naturally, the aristocrats would sneer at these upstarts.


An ancient word (from the 1618!) for someone who deals in money or finance.

belle a se suicide

“A woman [beautiful enough] to die for”

195 ~ grotesque from a Gothic corbel

Medieval cathedrals are decorated with creatures that were installed projecting from the wall. They could be gargoyles, mythological creatures or humans, all carved in a distorted, sometimes humorous, fashion to emphasize their ugliness.

Parliament Square

The square in front of the House of Parliament and Big Ben.

NS-type open bus, 1920s

Outside only

London’s double-decker buses were sometimes roofed only on the bottom floor. When that is full, subsequent passengers had to sit on the top level and be exposed to the elements.

2LO calling

2LO was the call letters for one of the world’s first radio stations. The first, called Two Emma Toc (2MT), began broadcasting entertainment programs in 1922. In May 1922, 2LO was launched at Marconi House in The Strand, London. That same year, the British Broadcasting Company was formed and took over the 2LO call signs and transmitter. “London calling” was a standard phrase used by BBC radio as a way of identifying itself to listeners. Later, the ‘80s rock combo the Clash would appropriate “London Calling” for one of its best albums.


Ballad of Lady Maisry

A Scottish ballad with several variations in which the heroine — Maisry, but also called Janet, Margery or Susie — becomes pregnant by her English lover. A page boy is sent to fetch the lover, but she dies before he arrives. The verses have several archaic words: briggs is bridge; chap is knocked; ca is called; lap is leapt and wa is wall.

Here’s a version of the verses translated into English:

O when he came to broken bridges,
He bent his bow and swam,
An when he came to the green grass growin,
He slipped his shoes and ran.

O when he came to Lord William’s gates,
He chose not to knock or call,
But set his bent bow upon his breast,
And lightly leapt the wall;


“I see”

des histories

Depending on the context, it could mean a fuss, problems or troubles. The first time she says it, she could mean a fuss caused by her lover seeing Lord Peter and becoming suspicious. When she says “But always des histoires” and “very tedious, full of histories”, she implies “the same old story,” implying a world-weary “here we go again.”

197 ~ Eh, bien



“You see?”

n’est-ce pas

“I am not a woman who will endure these problems for long. You understand what I mean, don’t you?”

Mon pauvre enfant

“The poor child.”

mon pauvre ami

“My poor friend.”

198 ~ habile comme tout pour la toilette

“As skillful as any in the toilette,” as in the process of dressing.

gimcrack secretaire

A showy object of little use or value. A secretaire is a combination small desk with drawers, useful for writing letters.

C’est cela que cherche monsieur

“Is this what the gentleman is looking for?”


A person stationed at a door to admit or assist those entering.

199 ~ Jaeger dressing-gown

Jaeger is a high-end brand name founded in 1884 and named for Dr. Gustav Jaeger, who advocated wearing clothes made from animal fibers, such as wool, instead of plant fibers. Playwright George Bernard Shaw was an enthusiastic early adopter of Jaeger clothing.

burnt her boats

Abandoned all hope of returning home. The metaphor comes from the incident in 1519 when Hernan Cortes landed on the Mexican coast with the intention of conquering the Aztec Empire. Hearing of a plan to mutiny and seize a ship to return to Cuba, Cortes scuttled his ships. (The misconception that Cortes had burned the ships comes from a 1546 account.)

200 ~ beck



201 ~ Manon Lescaut

“I knew Manon: why then distress myself on account of a calamity which I could not but have plainly foreseen?” From Chapter 9 of “Manon Lescaut,” when the unfaithful Manon dumps the impoverished Chevalier Des Grieux for a wealthier man.


A dense, puffy cloud.

203 ~ When the clock

A variation on the Mother Goose rhyme:

Robin and Richard were two pretty men;
They stayed in bed till the clock struck ten.
Then up starts Robin and looks at the sky:
“Oh, brother Richard, the sun’s very high.
The bull’s in the barn threshing the corn;
The cock’s on the dunghill blowing his horn.
The cat’s at the fire frying of fish,
The dog’s in the pantry breaking his dish.
You go before with the bottle and bag,
And I will come after on little Jack nag.”

Arc De Triomphe, center, with Paris’ 12 major roads radiating from it.

206 ~ Avenue Kléber

One of the 12 main avenues radiating from the Arc De Triomphe in Paris, named for a general in the French Revolution.


Expelled in disgrace, from the Middle French casser for to discharge.

Aladdin’s palace

In the “Arabian Nights,” the genie builds Aladdin a wonderful palace that outshines the emperor’s. In Andrew Lang’s version, it is “of the finest marble, set with jasper, agate, and other precious stones. . . . [with] a large hall with a dome, its four walls of massy gold and silver.”


207 ~ Othello

From Act V of “Othello.” Note that this completes the couplet that’s at the head of the first chapter:

Emelia [Desdemonia’s maidservant, discovering her dying]: O, who hath done this deed?
Desdemonia: Nobody; I myself. Farewell
Commend me to my kind
lord: O, farewell! [dies]

208 ~ criminal bar

Originally, the bar referred to the wooden barrier that divided courtroom officials from the public. During the Middle Ages, anyone qualified to speak to the court about a legal matter was “called to the bar.” Over time, the phrase referred to lawyers — later called barristers — and legal groups would be called in the U.S. bar associations.


Gloomy or sad, from one of the four medieval humours thought to make up the human body, along with blood, phlegm and choler.

fatal passion

Not just love but irrational passions that caused an overwhelming loss of reason.

crime passionel

French for a crime, particularly assault, murder or rape, committed in the heat of passion or anger over a betrayed love. Under France’s Napoleonic Code, a husband could not be tried for premeditated murder — but on lesser charges — if he killed his wife or her lover while catching them together.

209 ~ with its sports and rags

Rags refers to ragtime, a music genre emphasizing syncopated — a ragged rhythm that sounds uneven — popular from 1897 to 1918.


A course of study at Cambridge University that would lead to a bachelor’s degree. A student, for example, could read for the Law Tripos, the Engineering Tripos or the Angle-Saxon Tripos. The word Tripos refers to the three-part nature of the system and dates from medieval times.


Chevalier des Grieux is the hero from “Manon Lescaut,” a novel by Abbé Prévost that caused a scandal upon its publication in 1731. Des Grieux, the scion of a noble and wealthy family, forfeits everything by running away with Manon. In Paris, he is forced to scrounge for money to satisfy Manon’s taste for luxury, and she abandons him repeatedly when he runs out. They move to New Orleans, where they live in peace for awhile until the governor’s nephew tries to win Manon. Grieux challenges him to a duel and knocks him unconscious. They flee into the wilderness, where Manon dies of exhaustion and Des Grieux returns to France to become a cleric. Simone Vonderaa, you may recall, was Cathcart’s mistress.



210 ~ complaisant

Inclined to gratify or consent to your wishes.


Inevitable or foreordained.

C’est Vénus tout entière à sa proie attachée

“But Venus in her might seizing her prey.” From Act I, Scene 3 from Jean Racine’s “Phèdre” a dramatic tragedy that refers to Venus, the goddess of love.

211 ~ I know she lies

From Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138:

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love, loves not to have years told.
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

by hook or by crook

By any means necessary. An old phrase of unknown origin — there is speculation that it was derived from two Irish villages — Hook Head and Crook — or the custom of limiting firewood harvests by what could be reached from a billhook or a shepherd’s crook. The phrase was first recorded in 1380.


A Latin word for a clause in a contract that introduces a condition.

212 ~ millinery

Women’s headwear.

in the Bois

Woodlands. There are two in Paris, both much larger than Central Park in New York: the Bois de Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne.


Named for the wife of Richard the Lionheart, the RMS Berengaria began as the German liner SS Imperator, launched in 1912 and used for transatlantic service. After World War I, she entered the U.S. Navy, was renamed the USS Imperator and used to transport U.S. troops home. She was then given to Britain and transferred to the Cunard line, where she served until she was scrapped during World War II. RMS, by the way, stands for Royal Mail Ship, indicating it was contracted to carry mail for the Royal Mail.

213 ~ demeanour

Behavior towards others.

214 ~ advocate

Someone who pleads the cause of another, particularly in a judicial setting.

in vacuo

In a vacuum. Sir Impey is implying that no evidence has been introduced to support the prosecution’s contention that the Duke had silenced Cathcart for a reason other than his behavior toward the Duke’s sister.

215 ~ sealing-wax

Wax which is melted and applied to envelopes in a circular daub to keep the flap closed. While the wax is still warm, a signet ring could be pressed into it, leaving a mark that identifies the sender.

216 ~ rebutting

A response to evidence introduced by the opposing side.

calm himself down

Impey is stretching a point here. It was a wet and drizzly night. Gerald did not have a flashlight. It must have been so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Gerald might have found his way around if he stuck to the paths, but still it seems like an unlikely reason to go stumbling about on a pitch-black damp night. One can imagine Impey making this point and hurrying on, hoping the peers didn’t think too hard about this.


A canvas bag kept in the hall to collect mail sent by residents and guests. At regular intervals, the bag would be taken to the village post office by a servant for posting.

218 ~ such a friend

From “The Three Ravens,” a traditional song that appeared in printed form about 1600. The version below is from “The Oxford Book of English Verse,” edited by Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), published in 1900.

The Three Ravens There were three ravens sat on a tree,
They were as black as they might be.

The one of them said to his mate,
‘Where shall we our breakfast take?’

‘Down in yonder greene field
There lies a knight slain under his shield;

‘His hounds they lie down at his feet,
So well they can their master keep;

His hawks they flie so eagerly,
There’s no fowl dare come him nigh.’

Down there comes a fallow doe
As great with young as she might goe.

She lift up his bloudy head
And kist his wounds that were so red.

She gat him up upon her back
And carried him to earthen lake.

She buried him before the prime,
She was dead herself ere evensong time.

God send every gentleman
Such hounds, such hawks, and such a leman [lover].

218 ~ utilitarian age

Utilitarianism is a doctrine that states that the right and proper conduct should depend on the usefulness of the act. Sometimes, that might require personal inconvenience if it benefits a people or society. This philosophy was concisely expressed by Mr. Spock in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” as “the needs of the many sometimes outweigh the needs of the few.”

219 ~ high shores of the world

A soliloquy by Henry V from Act IV, Scene 1, of Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” Moving among his soldiers in disguise on the eve of the battle of Agincourt, Henry reflects on the crushing weight of responsibility a king feels, who can’t sleep “so soundly as the wretched slave / Who with a body filled and vacant mind / Gets him to rest, crammed with distressful bread.” Balm is a healing ointment; the scepter and the ball are objects the king holds to display his royal authority; intertissued means weaved together; and farcèd means stuffed with pompous phrases.


Judge Cluer

Judge Cluer is a comic figure created by DeWitt Mackenzie, who wrote humor columns for newspapers and magazines such as Punch.

Lyons Corner House, Oxford


A chain of huge restaurants that first opened in 1909. Because they were found on street corners, they were called Corner Houses.

220 ~ candour

A forthright, honest expression.


Everyone agreed on the same position.

made-up tie

A pre-knotted tie that attaches behind the neck and is tucked under the collar. A gentleman knows how to tie his tie; men who don’t are certainly no gentlemen.

In “Peter Pan,” the narrator observes of Mr. Darling that: “He, too, had been dressing for the party, and all had gone well with him until he came to his tie. It is an astounding thing to have to tell, but this man, though he knew about stocks and shares, had no real mastery of his tie. Sometimes the thing yielded to him without a contest, but there were occasions when it would have been better for the house if he had swallowed his pride and used a made-up tie.”

pushing in the slide

Cameras used by newspaper photographers were large models that recorded images on plates rather than rolls of film. The photographer had just taken a picture and was swapping plates before taking another.

221 ~ bonnet




Westminster Palace. Parliament Square is in front of Big Ben. Westminster Bridge and the Embankment is to the left.

Embankment dead-end

The Embankment is the barrier road built alongside the Thames. It dead-ends into the road outside Big Ben and the House of Commons. Here is the sequence of events: Lord Peter and the Duke were in Parliament Square, entering the car, when the Duke was shot at by Mr. Grimethorpe, who ran along Great George Street toward Westminster Bridge. The cabbie had just crossed the bridge when he saw the man with the gun, who shot out the tire. The cab slewed, struck Mr. Grimethorpe, and slammed into the tram, crushing him to death.


Short for a single-lens reflex camera, which used a mirror-and-prism system that allows the photographer to compose the shot by looking through the lens, rather than the viewfinder.

222 ~ Cornwall

A county in the far southwest of England, bordered by the Celtic Sea to the north and west and the English Channel to the south.



bottle of milk

Bonzo the dog was an advertising mascot created by George Studdy in 1911, and used to sell a wide range of products throughout the world during the 1920s. In this case, he was selling cigarettes (“gaspers”).

Nestle baby ad

Nestle’s baby

A mascot used to advertise the company’s baby formula.

Inspector Sugg

Lord Peter’s nemesis in “Whose Body?”

Lord Palmerston

One of England’s greatest politicians of the 19th century. Palmerston (1784-1865) was prime minister twice and had been in office nearly continuously from 1807 until his death.

224 ~ Whitehall

A street in central London. It runs north from Parliament Square.

an all-night sitting

St. Stephen’s Porch and Hall, part of the entryway into Parliament, located between Westminster Hall and Old Palace Yard, is the name for the entrance.

This might be confusing, so bear with me. During the Victorian era, members of the Commons met in St. Stephen’s Chapel (the former chapel of the royal palace, made available in 1547). A fire in 1834 burned down most of Westminster Palace. Work was begun almost immediately, but not completed until the 1870s. When the House of Parliament was built, the St. Stephen’s name stuck for awhile. Victorian journalists called the Clock Tower “St. Stephen’s Tower” and referred to business conducted in the House of Commons as news from St. Stephen’s.

St, Stephen’s Porch

(c) 1995-2018 by Bill Peschel