The short story ‘The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker’ by Dorothy L. Sayers was collected in Lord Peter Views the Body (Gollancz, 1928). In this extract the characters are playing a game of bridge:
‘Whatever has induced you, my dear boy,’ said Colonel Marchbanks, ‘to take up with that very objectionable fellow Melville?’
‘Diamonds,’ said Lord Peter. ‘Do you find him so, really?’
‘Perfectly dreadful man,’ said the Hon. Frederick Arbuthnot. ‘Hearts. What did you want to go and get him a room here for? This used to be a quite decent club.’
‘Two clubs?’ said Sir Impey Biggs, who had been ordering a whisky, and had only caught the last word.
‘No, no, one heart.’
‘I beg your pardon. Well, partner, how about spades? Perfectly good suit.’
‘Pass,’ said the Colonel. ‘I don’t know what the Army’s coming to nowadays.’
‘No trumps,’ said Wimsey. ‘It’s all right, children. Trust your Uncle Pete. Come on, Freddy, how many of those hearts are you going to shout for?’
‘None, the Colonel havin’ let me down so ’orrid,’ said the Hon. Freddy.
‘Cautious blighter. All content? Righty-ho! Bring out your dead, partner. Oh, very pretty indeed. We’ll make it a slam this time.’
The puzzle here is to explain the bidding, which I’ve highlighted.
If Lord Peter and Sir Impey have the cards for a slam, how come they stopped bidding at one no trump?
According to the modern laws of rubber bridge, a bid “names both a level, from one to seven, and a denomination”. So Lord Peter’s opening bid of “diamonds” would today be given as “one diamond” and Freddy’s “hearts” as “one heart”. Was it the norm in the 1920s to omit the “one”, as in the dialogue above?
By comparison, in Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table (1936), the bidding is in the modern form, in this respect at least:
There they were well down to it, their faces serious, the bids coming quickly. ‘One heart.’ ‘Pass.’ ‘Three clubs.’ ‘Three spades.’ ‘Four diamonds.’ ‘Double.’ ‘Four hearts.’
‘One no trump’—clear and decisive—Mrs. Lorrimer.