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‘Susie, what is this about?’ asked Tristan as they left the station at Spärtz and turned into the high street. ‘You have told me nothing of our mission, and I am at a loss to understand you.’

‘Now, or in general?’ said Susie with a grin, but he was saved from answering by a nursemaid with a perambulator who came bowling towards them and had them skipping to opposite sides of the pavement to avoid her. When she had passed and they had returned to each other's side, Susie fished in the basket she carried and drew out a rolled up magazine.

‘You want to know what this is about,’ she said. ‘Well, it’s this.’

She unfolded the magazine and smoothed down the page, and proffered it to him. He took it and looked at the advertisement.

‘Ovaltine cold drink…’

‘Not that one - the other page!’

‘Oh! My apologies.’ He turned his attention to the second advertisement, which bore a large drawing of a girl in a blue bathing costume kneeling on a beach, hands resting on the back of her head. The headline of the advert ran, in large font:

‘You need not be embarrassed!’

and, below that:

‘Zip! It’s off because it’s out.’

‘Zip?’ he asked, bemused.

‘Well, exactly,’ said Susie. ‘Only you can’t get it for love nor money in the Tyrol, and it’s coming up to summer and I shall be wanting my sleeveless frocks, and that’s not even counting my legs. Which is why I want you.’

‘Susie, I have not the pleasure of understanding you,’ said Tristan, handing back the magazine. ‘I have never heard of this…this Zip, whatever it is, and I cannot possibly help with your dresses. I know nothing of fashion.’

‘I don’t want help with my dresses!’ said Susie indignantly. ‘I can manage that perfectly well without involving someone who’s a century out of date. No, I want your help over choosing a razor, that’s all. It’s the only solution I can think of.’

He ignored the slight, though it had stung, for he had always thought his suit to be perfectly acceptable - true, it had belonged to his father, but he had been a man of sense and discernment, and there had been no sense in discarding such well made items of clothing when there were still many years of wear in them. He resisted the urge to pout and concentrated on Susie’s request for help.

‘A razor? I shall certainly give all the assistance I can, but is your brother not better positioned to choose his own razor?’

‘No!’ She rolled her eyes - rolled her head, in fact, for she raised her eyes heavenwards in such evident frustration that he began to be rather concerned for her sanity. ‘Tristan, darling beloved, you are not listening to me! I cannot find even a granule of depilatory powder here in Spärtz, and I don’t have time to go to Innsbruck, and I want to wear my sleeveless evening gown this weekend, and if I am to do that and not look a total embarrassment I need a wretched razor!’

‘But…why?’

‘Why?’ She was looking at him with complete incomprehension in her lovely face. ‘To get rid of my underarm hair, of course - why else would I want a razor?’

His face must have showed his astonishment, for she squinted up at him and gave a laugh.

‘Do you mean to tell me you’ve never heard of underarm hair?’

‘I…’ He could barely keep his countenance. What a matter to be discussing - such a private matter, and in the middle of the street! ‘I had never considered it,’ he managed, in a hasty burst, hoping they might cease this uncomfortable discussion immediately. But Susie never had care for anyone else’s scruples - she threw back her head and laughed at him, and he felt his face grow ever more heated and wished, not for the first time, that she was not so impossible.

‘I do believe you’re blushing!’ she laughed. ‘There’s no need, darling, it’s not a dirty word any more. Why, even quite respectable magazines talk about it nowadays - as you can see,’ she added, brandishing the advertisement at him once again (oh, of course it was about hair removal - how could he not have seen that before?). ‘What does your sister do about it?’

‘I…I could not say.’ He’d never thought about it. Oh, and now he was going to, all the time. Thank you very much, Susie Smith.

‘I suppose she generally wears sleeves,’ said Susie. ‘Well, I don’t, not in summer. But I’ve never used a razor before - only powders - and I’m really not sure what to do about it. What do you think is best, Tristan, darling?’

He was about to answer when, in one of his rare flashes of insight, he observed something in the way she was standing, the posture of her head, the half-smile that played about her lips - a provocative something, a challenge. This was a test! She was not asking him to help her, she was daring him to.

And as this sudden understanding sank into him, his own posture changed and he drew himself taller, his embarrassment subsiding so swiftly it left no trace behind it. After all, this was a challenge he could rise to quite easily - for it was something he knew all about.

‘I understand,’ he said with a nod. ‘Come, let us to the chemist. I will assemble all the things you will need.’




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