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His voice trailed off. He was not a very intelligent young man, but even he could see that his was not a position where righteous indignation could be assumed with any solid chance of success. As a substitute he tried pathos.

'Oo-oo, my head does ache!'

'I wish it would burst,' said his sister, unkindly.

'That's a nice thing to say to a fellow!'

'I'm sorry. I wouldn't have said it--'

'Oh, well!'

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'Only I couldn't think of anything worse.'

It began to seem to Nutty that pathos was a bit of a failure too. As a last resort he fell back on silence. He wriggled as far down as he could beneath the sheets and breathed in a soft and wounded sort of way. Elizabeth took up the conversation.

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'Nutty,' she said, 'I've struggled for years against the conviction that you were a perfect idiot. I've forced myself, against my better judgement, to try to look on you as sane, but now I give in. I can't believe you are responsible for your actions. Don't imagine that I am going to heap you with reproaches because you sneaked off to New York. I'm not even going to tell you what I thought of you for not sending me a telegram, letting me know where you were. I can understand all that. You were disappointed because Uncle Ira had not left you his money, and I suppose that was your way of working it off. If you had just run away and come back again with a headache, I'd have treated you like the Prodigal Son. But there are some things which are too much, and bringing a perfect stranger back with you for an indefinite period is one of them. I'm not saying anything against Mr Chalmers personally. I haven't had time to find out much about him, except that he's an Englishman; but he looks respectable. Which, as he's a friend of yours, is more or less of a miracle.'

She raised her eyebrows as a faint moan of protest came from beneath the sheets.

'You surely,' she said, 'aren't going to suggest at this hour of the day, Nutty, that your friends aren't the most horrible set of pests outside a prison? Not that it's likely after all these months that they are outside a prison. You know perfectly well that while you were running round New York you collected the most pernicious bunch of rogues that ever fastened their talons into a silly child who ought never to have been allowed out without his nurse.' After which complicated insult Elizabeth paused for breath, and there was silence for a space.

'Well, as I was saying, I know nothing against this Mr Chalmers. Probably his finger-prints are in the Rogues' Gallery, and he is better known to the police as Jack the Blood, or something, but he hasn't shown that side of him yet. My point is that, whoever he is, I do not want him or anybody else coming and taking up his abode here while I have to be cook and housemaid too. I object to having a stranger on the premises spying out the nakedness of the land. I am sensitive about my honest poverty. So, darling Nutty, my precious Nutty, you poor boneheaded muddler, will you kindly think up at your earliest convenience some plan for politely ejecting this Mr Chalmers of yours from our humble home?--because if you don't, I'm going to have a nervous breakdown.'