Bredon had always considered himself one of the unimaginative Wimseys, so he was surprised to come round the corner on the gravel path below the terrace and see the well- remembered figure smoking a cigarette.
His cousin looked up and said, “It doesn’t work quite like that. Dorothea is as imaginative as anyone, but she can’t see any of the Wimsey ghosts. The guv’nor can – and I don’t think he would lay claim to any imagination at all. I’ve not tried appearing to Dorothea myself, of course. I think that would be rather cruel of me.”
“Maybe if you did – maybe she would change her mind and not marry that man.”
“That’s exactly why I haven’t tried it. Not the only reason, of course. I always told myself I wouldn’t hang around the place at all. I’m still only going to show up if I absolutely have to. Don’t worry” Gerry smiled, “I’m not going to turn up every night to discuss the oaks in Boulter’s Hollow or anything like that.”
“Well, it would do precious little good if you did,” Bredon answered, “because..” he caught Gerry’s expression and abandoned that tack. “Why did you appear then? Not that I’m not very glad to see you, of course.”
“Now that last little bit was pure Dorothea.” Gerry observed. “I’m rather glad you’ve seen enough of her for it to rub off a little. Not that I don’t have enough of the Wimsey arrogance myself, of course.”
“He does – but he has Aunt Harriet to temper it and the wisdom to see it in himself. I think the rest of us mostly don’t notice it until afterwards in ourselves. In fact, I suspect it still hasn’t occurred to grandfather at all. And has for why I’m here, I came to speak to you. You’re being rather rotten to Dorothea, you know.”
“And it isn’t making the slightest bit of difference.”
“It is, you know. She could be feeling completely happy about her wedding, and thanks to you, she isn’t.”
“Aunt Helen doesn’t approve either.”
“Dorothea doesn’t mind what my mother thinks. I warned her about that before we married; she never had any reason to expect anything but hostility from that corner.”
“But she was married to you, and now she’s marrying this bloody Scotsman. I mean, you’re a hero and now she’s just going to turn round and…..” Bredon spluttered to a halt. He found it difficult to put what he felt in words. Surely Gerry, his war-hero cousin, of all people should appreciate what he was trying to do. It was Gerry he was sticking up for after all.
“If being a hero consists of getting shot at, I think you’d find Ian McGinty is quite as much a hero as I am – or rather more.” Gerry said rather drily. “And from what I can make out – and I have been listening to plenty of conversations that were none of my business – he will actually make Dorothea happier, in the long run, than I would have done. And that I do regard as very much my business – still and always. If you feel any particular loyalty to me, you might make it yours.”
“She’s got plenty of friends.”
“Good friends. The same ones as when I met her – plus a few others. If that was enough why would she have married me?”
Answering that would take Bredon’s thoughts to places he didn’t want them to go.
“Gerry, do you want me to have to like this McGinty? And tell Dorothea you don’t mind her marrying again?”
“Entirely up to you how you feel about him. And you don’t have to tell Dorothea. She knows.”
“I thought you said she couldn’t see you.”
“We talked about it. The possibility that someday I might not come back did occur to me. There was a possibility of invasion, of course, although I don’t think either of us considered it that likely. I did make her promise me not to do some kind of Widow of Windsor thing on my account unless she really felt she wanted to. I was rather afraid the mater would make her feel she had to, you know.”
“Aunt Helen’s been pretty nasty about McGinty.”
“I bet Aunt Harriet wasn’t.”
“Of course she wasn’t!” Bredon said rather hotly.
Gerry raised an eyebrow, but didn’t push his point further.
“I remember.” said Bredon, “You always used to hold your cigarette like that.”
“Used to drive my mother mad. That’s why I did it.”
“Your uniform ..” Bredon swallowed hard as a thought struck him. “It’s…I mean it isn’t …and you…..you look quite erm..” He wished wildly his father had explained more about what actually constituted acceptable behaviour when talking to family ghosts. Luckily Gerry, who really was rather like Father in some ways, knew what he meant.
“No, Bredon, we aren’t compelled to go round in the condition we died in. Although, thinking of the third duke scurrying round in the state he died in is rather amusing. I suppose I’m meant to say you’re too young to know or something like that. Never mind that. Most of us settle for looking the way we feel most ourselves.”
“Oh. I was wondering for a moment – you see, you’re exactly how I remembered you. I wondered if you were just my memory or my conscience or something like that.”
Gerry gave a brief shout of laughter. (And Bredon remembered that too.) “You’ve got a much better conscience of your own. As for being a memory – I don’t think you’ll remember this.”
Gerry pulled out a silk scarf from under his collar. Bredon could have sworn it wasn’t there a moment ago. Things were probably different for ghosts. Gerry shook the scarf out. It was clearly a woman’s scarf. It was mostly the sort of green they call mint green.
“It’s her’s.” Gerry said simply. “She gave it to me not long before we were married. I was wearing it when I died, so you won’t have seen it tucked away in a drawer or anything.”
He stubbed his cigarette out on a handy statue and tucked the scarf back under the collar.
“So you want me to apologise to Dorothea?”
“God, no! I can’t stand forced apologies. Anyway, I’ve said my piece. You’re doing rather well overall you know. Better than I ever did. Goodbye, Bredon.”
And Bredon found himself staring at a statue and the wall behind it. After a little while he felt in his pocket and took out a matchbox. It wasn’t a matter of finger-prints, at least he presumed it wasn’t with ghosts, but out of habit he used a leaf to help him tease the cigarette butt into the matchbox. He would show Father. He’d explain and ask him to write to his housemaster about that exeat to go to the wedding after all.