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Cyphers & Pigments | Maldons Hse, 29th 10am- Xmas 1677

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Sat in his carriage, Hardwick's thumb idly rubbed the top of his silver topped cane as the streets slipped past his eyes. All about was iced with snow, he could almost taste an almond fondant beneath, before teeth might meet a spiced fruit cake. London looked beautiful at this time of year. It was good to be back home.


His journey today brought him to a house he'd visited often enough, left his mark upon even, if you considered chipped paint and splintered wood. No doubt that had all been repaired by now, the new master of Lucinda Wyatt house would have refurbished with a theme more masculine and less heretical George supposed with a wry twist of lips. He was a tad jealous really, he'd have been rival for the houses purchase if it had hit the open market. It was as collectable in the same way as a voodoo doll full of pins, or a treasure map with a red X marks the spot, or the grave cloth of Oliver Cromwell (what had happened to that when he'd been exhumed?)


George would not have redecorated, but then neither would he had taken up living there either.




But here he was; at Maldons House.




He rapped on the door with his cane, then stepped back with hands folded behind him to wait.

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The house had been redone in a grand style that spoke of wealth. The gardens, half completed, spoke of the same and a careful and skilled master besides. There was one out of place element: a half-completed catapult in the yard.


Still, upon knocking George was met by a bark, then another, then a cacophony of animal noises. The servant that answered the door managed to meet the Catholic lord with a dignity belying the animals. The eager dogs were convinced Lord Chichester was the greatest thing ever. The cats carefully watching. And on.


“Lord Chichester?” The servant asked, and upon confirmation, “Please follow me.” The furnishings were also luxurious. While the home still had a darker character, a place that spoke of privacy and reclusiveness, it was permeated with warmth.


OOC: Edited due to my error.

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A catapult.


Well that was certainly a statement. Bemused the Earl wondered of the why and wherefore as he waited upon the porch - as the house itself filled with sounds of a menagerie. Oh my god. Discomfort grew.


Door was opened, and Chichester discovered himself looked upon with fantastic focus by how however many sets of eyes. "Yes that is I." he gave a lopsided smile, and nod to the attendant to the door. He was instructed to follow.


"Er... the dogs?" he paused yet, "I am not the best with dogs." he was loathe to push through them, for fear of that thing where they pushed and knocked against legs, jumping up and pawing, sometimes even licking. To George, the dogs were like a pack of rough (if laughing) bullies that he would avoid. So he waited for some allowance to be made, drawing the satchel he carried tighter to himself.



OOC: I've just replied to part of the post, for perhaps George cant come in after all! He's not a dog man. If it were just One, he could cope with it, but this sounds like a pack! *freaks out!*

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“Oh, they’re very friendly.” The servant assured him. Noting the discomfort didn’t dissolve he said, “A moment.” He closed the door again. A great deal of herding could be heard on the other side, involving at least one more servant. The door opened again to a clear way forward, the dogs off to the side or behind a door.


The dogs seemed well behaved but they whined at being denied the new acquaintance. Several made a show at being cute. A few looked hurt. They all showed why ‘puppy dog eyes’ was a turn of phrase.


The servant looked to George to see if this was sufficient.

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"Oh would you? " George was plainly relieved, evident both by expression and tone. "Thank you so much, I... I dont hate dogs, It's just that I. Well." he gave an embarrassed frown to the servant during this muddle of sorting the way clear.


At a distance he was just as happy as the next man to admire dogs, it was just when his personal space was breached that he found great discomfort, a rising sensation of panic. And he did want to see Maldon. It would be entirely inconvenient to need to reschedule to some other dog-less location at some other date.


"It's all dreadfully bothersome I am sure." While the servant kept the dogs in check, George was free to hook his cloak upon the nearby peg. "So he is just down that way?..." he gestured down the hall, "you are fine to stay there, and mind the pack. Is he the second door, or the third door?" To the servants called instructions he edged down the hall towards the some-where-waiting peer.

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“It’s quite alright.” The servant said with an easy smile. He nodded at Lord Chichester’s sympathy. It was a great deal of trouble. “My lord is fond of them.” If that was a criticism, the servant was tactful enough to not let it out.


The servant gave directions and Lord Chichester would find John in front of a fire reading in the light of day. It was a drawing room and Lord Chichester might divine John had been waiting for him. John, taking hold of a cane, stood at Lord Chichester’s arrival. “Ah, Lord Chichester. Welcome.” John was entirely unaware of the affair of the dogs.


“So, what d-d-do you want to see?” He asked. He wasn’t going to let Lord Chichester into his sisters’ rooms or his private study. But he was content to let the Catholic lord run around his home. He trusted that whatever evils Chichester found would be purged and not blamed on him.

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It was not so hard to find Maldon, perhaps in part due to the quantity of time he'd spent in this house before as much as the directions for servant on dog duty.


"Good morning Maldon." George entered with a smile, pausing to close the door behind him. It was only sensible to do that. "Want to see? Ah, yes I'd like to take a look at the painting from the attic. But that can wait, first let me show you what I've got." he moved through the centre of the room to approach his fellow Earl. Yet stopped at a convenient chair, and set his satchel down there. Resting it as one might upon a table, he sorted through for the paper he wanted.


"We discovered some queer symbols you see, upon the back of a painting sold at the auction. A particularly ugly painting might I add, it fetched far too high a price if you ask me, but, well there was something of an auction fever in the room that day. I know I was overcome by it." Straightening up, paper in hand, he gave a nod and a smile, "starved for excitement you might think, that we got so excited over some widows books hmm? Aha, here is its."


Gesturing as he spoke, formative years spent in Italy. "Melville brought the painting. The frame was damaged, upon inspection I gauged it had been purposely smashed. One would think not by the dearly departed. A hunch has me imagine it to be a angry spouse of relative, someone of the likes of the uptight Reverend we did both meet. Moralistic. Fanatic even. In any case, the markings seemed much older than the damage." George filled John in on the back story.




OOC: I need to hunt for the thread with the symbols in it, shall get to that next post!

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“It’s in the b-b-basement now.” John informed George. He had no reason to keep a portrait of a woman he didn’t know up. He rang a bell and told the servant who came over to bring it up.


John smiled, “Indeed.” He agreed with the earl about the excitement of the auction. Though truthfully John was too much of a bibliophile and collector of curiosities to regret his purchases.


“Oh yes?” John was curious to see the symbols. He leaned slightly to try and get a look. If they were Latin, Greek, Runes, or some other historic alphabet John would recognize them. He had books to help translate them in his library in fact. If they were the astrological symbols from the books he’d purchased at the auction, or the symbols from the house, he’d recognize them too. But more likely than not they’d be as mysterious to him as George.


John nodded to the talk of Melville. John reminded himself that he needed to go see Melville. Or at least his father-in-law.


“P-p-perhaps it was her servant.” John suggested for who’d destroyed the frame. “I think she slipped something poisonous into her mistress’s immortality p-p-potion.” John knew the recipe itself, while not healthy, was not lethal.


“My guess is that she encouraged the widow to b-b-buy expensive things as ingredients. Then p-p-poisoned her and made off with them.” John found the supernatural fascinating but tended to rationalist explanations. “She’s p-p-probably living the high life in Belgium.” Belgium was a common place to flee because it was close by and Spain didn’t have an extradition treaty with England. But John had no specific evidence for the guess.


"But maybe," John was excited at the idea, "there was a cache the murderess d-d-didn't know about? The mistress of the house suspected her c-c-coming death and hid the best things away. And these symbols l-l-lead there." John was constructing all this from whole cloth. And the imagination of someone who'd grown up reading fairytales and fiction novels.

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“Excellent, we can look at it later." Fortunately the painting had not been discarded.


While aware that John wished to see the paper sooner than later, George stalled a little, filling in some blanks, setting the scene for it revelation.


"Precisely, which was a hunch that I followed thru in investigating in the weeks after the auction. Proof you see. Proof is a necessary part of a well functioning justice system, and it was proof that I finally secured. Alas, not in time to catch the culprit, the 'loyal servant' betrayed widow Wyatt. I hope it was in time to prevent her receiving further ill gotten gains from the house sale. I was meaning to ask you of that... to whom did the money get transferred to? The Wyatt family I hope."


The servant had cashed up the houselot very well with the auction, but George had hoped his efforts had at least put a cap on that for any distant family involved.


"Still, I am surprised it never made the papers." It was the second time that John revealed he'd known nothing of the intrigue. Perhaps it was because of being a bloody Catholic that the papers printed none of it, not even his donation to Great barts to rebuild the fallen in roof - George was tired of his best efforts going unrecognised due to that. But soon that would change.


As John then worked through to the idea of a secret location, it was a perfect lead-in to showing him the notes made. "Funny you should say that, for Lord Melville came to the conclusion it was indeed a location. Here are my notes of our findings, please, read them for yourself."


He passed the sheet of paper to Maldon.


The back of the canvas, in charcoal, contained three numbers: 3, 33, and 9 stacked one upon the other inside a square. Nothing else was apparent.

A cypher? A combination? Wasnt there a locked safe or something like that the auction?

Under the edge of the frame covered with paint (which we removed)

Top: English word Colllgiate

Melville wondered if this was name of a gate?

Left edge: YHVH

Melville identified this as the Jewish name for god.

Right edge: Templar cross

Bottom: 2 symbols:

1) The symbol on the left had crossed keys

Popish symbol

Or, Melville wondered if they had removed the silhouette of a shield around them and a cross between them because, if the keys pointed upwards, and there was a shield and a cross, it would be the shield of Saint Peter.

2) the symbol on the right was of three purses within a shield. Each purse had a symbol on it. As best as the two men could tell, the symbol appeared to be a square standing on its corner with an X through the middle.

The shield of Saint Mathew, the tax collector.

Melville has bet 100 pounds to a penny that these symbols lead to a specific place.


For the most part George had drawn no conclusions at all, aside from privately wondering if the numbers were a house address. But Melville had not agreed on that, so George had left out out of his notes as inconsequential.

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“It was to a lawyer and the house agent. You c-c-could inquire with them.” But John doubted Cheatum had forwarded the money to his client. She’d fled, after all.


While John didn’t know about the papers, he did know that Catholics had a great deal of trouble getting their testimony believed. In some cases, they weren’t allowed to use courts at all since some courts administered the Test. They were forbidden from being lawyers and judges too.


John took the piece of paper and read it over. “Is this Colllgiate with three l’s or collegiate?” He wanted to confirm that wasn’t a transcription error.


“It’s a pentagram. With a square in the center marked 3, 33, and 9.” John observed. “The third book of the Old Testament and the New b-b-both have less than thirty books.” So it couldn’t be Leviticus 33:9 or Luke 33:9.


“This all l-l-looks Popish. The keys, the Templar, saints. Perhaps it has something to do with the Temple?” That building had belonged to the Templars before it had passed to the Hospitallers and finally been seized with the Reformation.


“Maybe we should… get a map. If we t-t-take the Inns of Court, the Temple, as one point. Perhaps a Synagogue for another and some Catholic church? That’d p-p-put you towards Ludgate or Newgate though.” George would probably have to supply where the Catholic Churches were.


"If the t-t-top of the pentagram is one of those gates and the right side is the Temple, that'd put us between west London and... east Westminster." That was not a small area though. And this was all based on assumptions to begin with.

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George leaned in to look at the paper again, and bunched his lips with agreement to Johns question. "I thought the three l's strange too."


"But that is how it was writ. It did not seem to bother Melville though, so I'd said nothing of it. I am not such a paper-puzzle-solving man. Isn't a Collegiate something to do with university?" But Duncan had thought it meant a gate, and he'd know more than George.


"It did not seem to me to be clues to an address at all." he commented now (he'd thought he was going to win that wager Duncan had rather recklessly made).


Maldon slowly worked though his own deductions, his thinking was easier to follow than Melvilles had been, though then he too thought it led to a physical spot.


"It' an old painting, seems to me that if it led to a specific place in London, any treasure it would be long since gone by now. I am not entirely certain that the widow even knew that this writing was there. It had been painted over you see, I had to clean it to find the text.


"Could it be masonic do you think? You know those masons love the arcane and mystery."


"Yes, so, you can understand why I then came to wonder about the other painting here. It just feels like we are missing something, some vital clue that is the key to unlock the puzzle."

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“Co-three-giate?” John sounded out, wondering if lll was actually three in Roman numerals. But that was equally meaningless. To answer George’s question, “Collegiate means to exist together under… the same l-l-laws co-lege-iate. To make the law together.” Universities were such an institution.


“It c-c-could be the college maybe? The Secret College.” John spoke of another secret societies. “I d-d-don’t suppose the cross had a rose in it?” That was mostly wishful thinking. The Order of the Rose Cross was a secret society associated with gardening.


John’s idea it led to a physical spot was an entirely unsupported assumption. John was getting caught up in his own narrative of buried treasure. “Maybe you’re right.” John admitted, “What d-d-do you think… it is?”


“Maybe.” If it was Freemasons, John didn’t know how to find them. Maybe he could ask Devonshire. He’d always had a rather vibrant intellectual life. John and Cavendish were not stupid but John thought he was smarter than both of them.


John nodded. “Yes, where is…” As John was about to ask the whereabouts of his servant, a maid came in trailing a few dogs. She gently placed the painting down, curtseyed, and turned to leave. The dogs followed her out, nipping at her heels.


“Here we are.” John stood. “We c-c-can do what we want to it. You should d-d-do the honors.” He walked over to observe.

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"Unfortunately I have no idea." Chichester confessed with a sighed breath and shake of head. "I just feel like, when we find the right answer, it shall make us think it was obvious all along. The right answers are like that, don’t you agree. And everything we've come up with so far has seemed to strain the facts and require suspension of disbelief to be possible."


Which was really just to say that it did not 'feel' right to him.


His staff were excellent, plainly they eaves dropped just enough to appear with what was wanted at the opportune time. George did suspect that the painting had not been in the basement storage after all, for they'd laid hands upon it so quickly. In all likelihood it had been a few steps away in Maldons study, and he examining it prior. That is what Id have done.


"Alright, what do we have here." taking the painting in both hands, George moved to the light of the window to make initial examination. The front of it was unlikely to hold secrets, but George looked closer at the paint work none the less. Searching for later additions. And then he flipped the painting over, and examined it's back. Checking around the stretcher bars in case some piece of paper had been tucked there in...


"Mmm... what is this... do you mind?" he pressed the painting into Maldons hands to hold, as he drew out a loupe from pocket and examined something more closely.



OOC: I'll pm BG for his input at this point. Cross your fingers!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Unlike the last painting that George had examined, this one was in good shape. Perhaps this was because the painting was not nearly as old. The frame looked undamaged.


The stretcher bar in the lower right corner revealed something silvery. Upon closer inspection, the duo would observe a small silver coin wedged. With some effort to dislodge it, the two would find a silver medallion with a pentagram in a circle. Yet, in its center was the ankh symbol. On the back of the medallion was written:


Fit immortality, cum deficit orbem tempore


There was nothing else that seemed odd behind the painting.

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It was clear to George by the piece's deterioration that the paint & canvas was only not old. "This is 10 perhaps 20 years old, and frankly could do with a re-varnish. Yet nothing interesting otherwise." he noted out loud, before flipping the piece over and inspecting the back.


There was nothing to suggest that this piece had greater provenance than vanity, no strange markings or sign that any had been erased. "Ah-ha, what do we have here?" There was something that glinted tucked behind the bar, to which the Earl applied fingernail to dislodge. He frowned looking at it, turning the piece over in his hand.


"Bearing an ankh and latin suggests, it is something of recent manufacture." he passed the token to John to look at, it was no egyption artefact. "It looks like a heretical-contrivance given to members of a group. I can just hear them now, dishing them out, telling their members to hide them for if found by pietists they might pay the penalty of death. The thrill of the forbidden. It was probably hid there with her heartbeat pounding with excitement. Ah, what people do to enliven a dull life."


Irony was not lost on George, and he loosed a amused puff of breath as he looked closer at the painting of a common woman. "Come along Mrs Wyatt, what else can you tell us?" he looked closer around the rest of the stretcher bars.




OOC: Swapped order as it made sense for us that George does his little naration.

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John quietly watched, letting the painter assess the painting. John nodded at the description of heretical contrivances. He understood the thrill of forbidden religion less. Yet, “It d-d-does look like a heretical contrivance.” John looked at George for a moment, questioning if he could handle that. As a Catholic, John expected him to have some experience in heretical contrivances (and Latin). But it was only a moment.


John took the coin carefully. “Whoever m-m-made this… doesn’t speak Latin very well.” John was mainly informed by the presence of the word ‘immortality’ instead of a proper Latin word. “Perhaps c-c-context will allow us to understand the meaning.” Or perhaps George knew someone with both the mystical and classical background to speak of it.


He examined the coin more closely. “Do you know what the symbol m-m-means?” John didn’t know the meaning of an Ankh. John looked at George curiously, “D-d-do you want to live forever?”

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The portrait was well done. The stretcher bars held no further secrets but upon a closer examination of the bottom of the painting itself, George would find a faded J. Carlile, likely the identity of the artist. George, as a painter, would know the name Joan Carlile as one of the first female English portrait painters.

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Of course the phrase 'heretical contrivance' only related to the Catholic church if one had been raised in another. To George perspective, where the rites of his religious upbringing were viewed piously, it was no dig at all.


"Not cast by an Oxford professor then hmm?" George mused upon a puff of breath as John critiqued the coin. Then upon a thought, he passed his loupe to his fellow, "Is there some makers mark though?"


"That symbol is an Egyptian anck. Ha!" he then gave a hollow laugh as Maldon asked him if wanted to live forever, "being caught with this on you, for a woman in particular, would not assist towards that goal would it. Hmm... but given that she seemed most anxious to reunite with her deceased husband in some sort of spirit form, I think the reference must be more towards the after life. Not eternity on this earth." he supposed.


He continued to examine the painting, turning it over several times, wrinkling his nose at dust that came upon his hands. "Nothing else here, though the name of the artist... she is resident in London still. Hardly active anymore, but I could take the painting to her and ask if she recalls anything of the woman she'd painted. Not that it's likely to assist with our riddle. Hmm... no that is probably a dead end." He set the painting down, and drew out pockerchief to wipe off his hands.

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“No,” John said. “Obviously f-f-from Cambridge.” George hit on something that hadn’t occurred to John (as obvious as it was). John turned the coin over to see the other side.


“An Egpytian ankh?” John repeated, uncomprehending. There was an obvious question there. The name didn’t reveal much more. He knew about Egypt of course, but was not as familiar with its symbols. Most of his knowledge came through Greek and Latin.


George dodged John’s inquiry. Yet John knew that the widow had been seeking immortality. He had the ingredients for the potion locked away. He probably had the recipe too. Or at least John presumed that was what the potion did based on the journal. “Perhaps.” John said. Perhaps he was wrong. The truth would come in time.


John tilted his head at George’s analysis. “Perhaps. I wish… to m-m-meet her nevertheless. What is… her name?” John said of Joan. Even if she had no clues, John had another use for a female portraitist. George might remember John had been interested in portraitists before.

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George gave a huff of amusement, though in fact he had no loyalty to either university, he had studied at none save the arts circles of Italy.


"Do not ask me of their religion, but it is symbolic of life, afterlife I suspect."


Unaware that Johns question had been serious, George thought no more of it. He might have been surprised indeed to learn that was a question of his fellow earl, but in any case, it was not one he'd have joined in.


"She is in her 70’s now, widowed I believe. Had been one of the original professional female portraitists, her name is Joan Carlile." George supplied, with not much interest in visiting her personally he was indifferent to Johns interest of doing so. Mrs Wyatt's portrait had been a dead end.


"Ah well. Thank you for your compliance, this is at least the end to the unsolved questions surrounding her portrait that have niggled at me since." George set down the paiting making ready to leave.

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“Hmm.” John knew something of Egypt through classical readings. But he was not a specialist there.


“I see. Does she still paint?” John asked. He didn’t know if art was like athletics and faded with time. “And d-d-do you know where she lives?” He had indicated she was still in London. If he did, it would save him the trouble of finding out.


“D-d-do you still intend to investigate?” John asked. It seemed a strange path to respectability. The Catholics were, in John’s mind, already associated with mysticism. Associating with it was always dangerous. But he thought it would be particularly so for George.

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“I could not say." He paused and looked at the man. "But I had promised to put you in contact with a portraitist had I not?" there was some talk of it, the detail of the outcome was vague in his mind. Was this man still looking for someone to paint a portrait? And, had he in turn promised to mention George to his Ducal relations with same regard. "I shall send someone over at a time you require." George did happen to have a cache of them after all, five artists full time at his Academy, with their years work near completed, and seeking external employment presently.


"I shall relay our findings to Lord Melville, the artefact is his." George replied of the investigation. "But for now I feel I have fulfilled my duty to him." Duncan had asked for his help, and George had done his best. "Yet if something else comes up, I shall certainly be interested. You shall keep me advised of course." Which had been the arrangement that this pair had entered into.

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John hadn’t specified what he wanted the artist for or whether mentions would be involved. George had been quick to ensure John wasn’t trying to reduce him to a common painter. But if John did associate with such a painter, one of his several ducal cousins would probably notice.


“I shall send you a note… when there’s opportunity to t-t-take you up on your generous offer.” John smiled. He would no doubt find one in time. George had pointed out that the painting would take too long for John’s purpose. But there was always a use for artists.


John nodded to George’s egress. “As you p-p-please.” He had little objection to George’s involvement. Especially when it was on full terms. “You m-m-must tell Lord Melville we have other matters to d-d-discuss when you meet.” John had been meaning to see Melville for some time. They had unfinished affairs.

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"Let me know if you decide upon watercolorist or oil in the end, not all artists are equal, I shall best know who to send." George replied. John would recall that George had explained that a watercolour could be completed in swift enough order, if he had a deadline to meet.


"I've not seen him this season, perhaps the joys of being a new father supersedes that of a Christmas Court?" George gave a laugh of that thought which might even be a little true. He knew his friend to be a soft heart underneath that lowlander brogue.

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"I shall rely on you." John said with a smile. They did have a future. John too was an artist of sorts, a writer and a gardener. He had given up on that project particularly. But he would have another. If nothing else, John needed draughtsmen and people to make models and images of what he was to eventually build. Though he hoped to find a more artistic task.


"Perhaps." John said. That would be odd. He knew Melville had spoken with great zeal of going beyond the seas. He'd said, in so many words, the expedition was already planned and scheduled to depart with him aboard. Perhaps I should speak to his father-in-law then.


"Shall I see you to the d-d-door?" John inquired. He felt their meeting was coming to an end.

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"I am not good with dogs no." He admitted again, watching his peers face judge him, and certainly not for the first time.


"Don’t bother yourself." he expressed finally. Taking a deep breath he braced to confront the scene of all those dogs running about jumping up and clawing his clothes. Swiftly he streaked down the hall, and out the front door!




OOC: fin

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