The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey

The page numbers are from “Lord Peter” published by Harper & Row. The excerpts are copyrighted 1972 by Harper & Row.

302 ~ posada
The Spanish word for hostel or inn

The Spanish word for handball

308 ~ painted by Sargent in his happiest mood

Detail from "Mrs. Hugh Hammersley" by John Singer Sergeant.

Detail from “Mrs. Hugh Hammersley” by John Singer Sergeant.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), noted portrait and landscape painter. Although an American, he was born in Florence, the son of wealthy parents, and when he wasn’t traveling lived in London. “An American born in Italy, educated in France, who looks like a German, speaks like an Englishman, and paints like a Spaniard” is an accurate description of him. His commissioned portraits of the wealthy came to symbolize during the Gilded Age, but he came to hate portrait painting, calling it “a pimp’s profession.”

I like to think that there’s a small jest buried in Sayers’ assessment of the Sargent portrait. Sargent favored dramatic poses and darker, richer colors, so that finding one that represented “his happiest mood” was a challenge. This image of Mrs. Hugh Hammersley is an acceptable example.

311 ~ a sort of salmis
This is a ragout consisting of roasted game and a mixture of sauce, mushrooms, truffles, wine and bread. Like curry, there are numerous recipes, reflecting regional foods and tastes.

312 ~ no Vivisection Acts to bother one
A general term for a series of laws passed in England that restricts or bans medical experiments on animal or human patients.

319 ~ an engagement with Maskelyn
A reference to the popular British magician John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917).

320 ~ Section of Greek
A bit from Homer’s “Iliad” — specifically from Book 2, roughly lines 570-615 — that describes the types of ships and their commanders participating in the war. Here’s a sample:

But I shall list the leaders,
commanders of the ships, and all the ships in full.

Peneleus, Leitus, and Arcesilaus
led the Boeotians, with Clonius and Prothoenor.
Their men came from Hyria, rocky Aulis,
Schoenus, Scolus, mountainous Eteonus,
Thespeia, Graia, spacious Mycalassus,
men holding Harma, Eilesiun, Erythrae;
men holding Eleon, Hyle, Peteon.
Ocalea, the well-built fortress Medeon,
Copae, Eutresis, Thisbe, city full of doves;
men from Coronea, grassy Haliartus;
men from Plataea, Glisas, those who held
fortified Lower Thebes and sacred Onchestus,
with Poseidon’s splendid grove; men from Arne,
land rich in grapes, Midea, sacred Nisa,
and distant Anthedon. Fifty ships came with these men,
each with one hundred and twenty young Boeotians.

Men from Aspledon and Minyan Orchomenus
were led by Ascalaphus and Ialmenus,
Ares’ sons. Astyoche bore them in Actor’s house,
Azeus’ son, to mighty Ares. She, a modest virgin,
went upstairs, where the god lay with her in secret.
These men brought with them a fleet of thirty ships.

Schedius and Epistrophus, sons of Iphitus,
the son of great-hearted Naubolus,
commanded Phoceans—men from Cyparissus,
rocky Pytho, holy Crisa, Daulis, and Panopeus;
men from Anemorea and Hyampolis;
from around the sacred river Cephissus,
from Lilaea, beside Cephissus’ springs.
Forty black ships these two leaders brought with them.
Moving around, as soldiers armed themselves,
they set Phocean ranks by the Boeotians, on their left.

The Locrians were led by swift Ajax, son of Oileus,
the lesser Ajax, not the greater Ajax,
son of Telamon, but a much smaller man.
Though he was short and wore cloth armour,
among all Hellenes and Achaeans he excelle
in fighting with his spear. Locrians came from Cynus,
Opous, Calliarus, Bessa, Scarphe,
lovely Aegeiae, Tarphe, Thronion,
and from around the river Boagrius.
Ajax brought forty black ships of Locrians
living across from sacred Euboea.

321 ~ “Ergo omnis longo solvit se Teucria luctu”
From line 26 of Virgil’s “The Aeneid”: Therefore, they all set sail from Troy.”

“A line notorious for its grave spondaic cadence”
spondaic: A technical term for a unit of rhythm in which each half of a two-syllable word is given the same stress, such as ad hoc, pen knife and heartburn.

“Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore. Poluphloisboio thalasses. Ne plus ultra. Valete. Plaudite.”
These lines are from Virgil’s “The Aeneid,” Book 6, line 314: “Reaching out their hands to the further shore in longing. Along the shores of the loud roaring sea. The highest point. Good-bye. Citizens.” The first sentence also appears on page 77 of “Strong Poison,” when Ryland Vaughan is contemplating suicide over the death of Philip Boyes.

322 ~ Danse Macabre of Saint-Saens
Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), the French composer and writer, known for his opera “Samson et Dalila” and the symphonic poem “Danse Macabre” and “Carnaval des Animaux.”

325 ~ “trifle too much sensibility, don’t you see?”
sensibility: An ability to respond emotionally to a stimulous, especially to the pathetic

327 ~ “devised by the ingenious Mr Devant”
A reference to David Devant (1868-1941), notable English magician. For more than two decades, Devant was a partner to Maskelyne (see note 319, above).

328 ~ “Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ is first class for producing an atmosphere of gloom and mystery”
A reference to Franz Schubert’s unfinished Symphony No. 8. Wikipedia not only has an entry, but a link to the music.

“But only,” he hastened to add, “in a purely Pickwickian sense.”
A reference to an incident in chapter 16 of “The Pickwick Papers” in which Pickwick tries to warn the head of a girls’ school that one of her charges was planning to elope.

In the midst of the tumult, Mr. Pickwick emerged from his concealment, and presented himself amongst them.

‘Ladies–dear ladies,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘Oh. he says we’re dear,’ cried the oldest and ugliest teacher. ‘Oh, the wretch!’

‘Ladies,’ roared Mr. Pickwick, rendered desperate by the danger of his situation. ‘Hear me. I am no robber. I want the lady of the house.’

‘Oh, what a ferocious monster!’ screamed another teacher. ‘He wants Miss Tomkins.’

Here there was a general scream.

‘Ring the alarm bell, somebody!’ cried a dozen voices.

‘Don’t–don’t,’ shouted Mr. Pickwick. ‘Look at me. Do I look like a robber! My dear ladies–you may bind me hand and leg, or lock me up in a closet, if you like. Only hear what I have got to say–only hear me.’

‘How did you come in our garden?’ faltered the housemaid.

‘Call the lady of the house, and I’ll tell her everything,’ said Mr. Pickwick, exerting his lungs to the utmost pitch. ‘Call her– only be quiet, and call her, and you shall hear everything .’

It might have been Mr. Pickwick’s appearance, or it might have been his manner, or it might have been the temptation– irresistible to a female mind–of hearing something at present enveloped in mystery, that reduced the more reasonable portion of the establishment (some four individuals) to a state of comparative quiet. By them it was proposed, as a test of Mr. Pickwick’s sincerity, that he should immediately submit to personal restraint; and that gentleman having consented to hold a conference with Miss Tomkins, from the interior of a closet in which the day boarders hung their bonnets and sandwich-bags, he at once stepped into it, of his own accord, and was securely locked in. This revived the others; and Miss Tomkins having been brought to, and brought down, the conference began.

‘What did you do in my garden, man?’ said Miss Tomkins, in a faint voice.

‘I came to warn you that one of your young ladies was going to elope to-night,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, from the interior of the closet.

‘Elope!’ exclaimed Miss Tomkins, the three teachers, the thirty boarders, and the five servants. ‘Who with?’ ‘Your friend, Mr. Charles Fitz-Marshall.’

‘MY friend! I don’t know any such person.’

‘Well, Mr. Jingle, then.’

‘I never heard the name in my life.’

‘Then, I have been deceived, and deluded,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I have been the victim of a conspiracy–a foul and base conspiracy. Send to the Angel, my dear ma’am, if you don’t believe me. Send to the Angel for Mr. Pickwick’s manservant, I implore you, ma’am.’

‘He must be respectable–he keeps a manservant,’ said Miss Tomkins to the writing and ciphering governess.

‘It’s my opinion, Miss Tomkins,’ said the writing and ciphering governess, ‘that his manservant keeps him, I think he’s a madman, Miss Tomkins, and the other’s his keeper.’

‘I think you are very right, Miss Gwynn,’ responded Miss Tomkins. ‘Let two of the servants repair to the Angel, and let the others remain here, to protect us.’

So two of the servants were despatched to the Angel in search of Mr. Samuel Weller; and the remaining three stopped behind to protect Miss Tomkins, and the three teachers, and the thirty boarders. And Mr. Pickwick sat down in the closet, beneath a grove of sandwich-bags, and awaited the return of the messengers, with all the philosophy and fortitude he could summon to his aid.

An hour and a half elapsed before they came back, and when they did come, Mr. Pickwick recognised, in addition to the voice of Mr. Samuel Weller, two other voices, the tones of which struck familiarly on his ear; but whose they were, he could not for the life of him call to mind.

A very brief conversation ensued. The door was unlocked. Mr. Pickwick stepped out of the closet, and found himself in the presence of the whole establishment of Westgate House, Mr Samuel Weller, and–old Wardle, and his destined son-in-law, Mr. Trundle!

‘My dear friend,’ said Mr. Pickwick, running forward and grasping Wardle’s hand, ‘my dear friend, pray, for Heaven’s sake, explain to this lady the unfortunate and dreadful situation in which I am placed. You must have heard it from my servant; say, at all events, my dear fellow, that I am neither a robber nor a madman.’

‘I have said so, my dear friend. I have said so already,’ replied Mr. Wardle, shaking the right hand of his friend, while Mr. Trundle shook the left.

“Let’s toddle round to the Holborn Empire, and see what George Robey can do for us.”
Holborn Empire: A 2,000-seat theater in London. It was bombed during the May 1941 blitz, but survived until its demolition in 1960.

Robey: George Robey (1869-1954) was a comedian, known for his incredible energy, his line of patter that verge into, but never achieved, smuttiness, and his comic songs. By 1930, he had been performing on music-hall stages for nearly 40 years. Sayers also invokes his name in “Strong Poison” and “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.”

(c) 1995-2016 by Bill Peschel