The sunshine of another balmy day gilded the ancient walls of Beevor Castle. Nine mellow chimes sounded from the clock over the stables. And Lord Shortlands, entering the breakfast room, heaved a silent sigh as he saw Desborough Topping seated at the table. He had hoped for solitude. Sombre though his thoughts were, he wanted to be alone with them.
"Oh, hello," said Desborough Topping. "Good morning."
"Good morning," said Lord Shortlands.
He spoke dully. He was pale and leaden-eyed and looked like a butler who has come home with the milk, for he had had little sleep. Few things are less conducive to slumber than the sudden collapse of all one's hopes and dreams round about bedtime, and when Augustus Robb in that unfortunate moment of pique had hurled his bag of tools into the moat, he had ruined the fifth earl's chances of a good night's rest. From two o'clock onwards the unhappy peer had tossed on his pillow, dozing only in snatches and waking beyond hope of further repose at about the hour when the knowledgeable bird is starting wormwards.
"Nice day," said Desborough Topping. "Don't touch the bacon,'" he advised. "That girl's scorched it again."
"Oh?" said Lord Shortlands. A tragedy to his son-in-law, who liked his bit of bacon of a morning, the misadventure left him cold.
"To a cinder, darn her. Thank goodness Mrs. Punter comes back this afternoon."
A look of infinite sadness came into Lord Shortlands' eyes. He was aware of Mrs. Punter's imminent return, and last night had hoped to have been able to greet her with the news that he had become a man of capital. Augustus Robb had shattered that dream. He helped himself to coffee-black coffee, but no blacker than his thoughts of Augustus Robb.
Breakfast at Beevor Castle was a repast in the grand old English manner, designed for sturdy men who liked to put their heads down and square their elbows and go to it. It was open to Lord Shortlands, had he so desired, to start with porridge, proceed to kippers, sausages, scrambled eggs and cold ham, and wind up with marmalade: and no better evidence of his state of mind can be advanced than the fact that he merely took a slice of dry toast, for he was a man who, when conditions were right, could put tapeworms to the blush at the morning meal. His prowess with knife and fork had often been noted by his friends. "Shortlands," they used to say, "may have his limitations, but he can breakfast."
He finished his coffee and refilled his cup. Desborough Topping, who had been fortifying himself with scrambled eggs, rose and helped himself to ham from the sideboard.
"Young Cobbold just left," he said, returning to the table.
"Yes. Hurried through his breakfast. Said he had to get in to London early."
"Probably wanted to have that eye of his seen to."
Lord Shortlands was not a quick-witted man, but even he could see that he must know nothing of Mike's eye.
"He has a black eye."
"How did he get that?"
"AR, that's what I'd like to know, but he didn't tell me. I said to him That's a nasty eye you've got,' and he said 'Into each life some nasty eye must fall.' Evasive."
"Perhaps he bumped into something."
Desborough Topping applied himself to his ham in silence for a space.
"That's what I said-What? What could he have bumped into?"
Lord Shortlands tried to think of some of the things with which a man's eye could collide.
"Then why not say so?"
"I don't know."
"Nor me. Mysterious."
"There's a lot of things going on in this house that want explaining. Did you hear a crash in the night?"
"It woke me up."
Lord Shortlands was in a condition when he would have found any breakfast-table conversation trying, but he found this one particularly so.
"No. I-ah-heard nothing."
"Well, there was a crash. Around two in the morning. A sort of crashing sound, as if something had-er-crashed. I heard it distinctly. And that's not the only thing I'd like to have explained. Look," said Desborough Topping, peering keenly through his pince-nez like Scotland Yard on the trail, "what do you make of that guy that calls himself Rossiter?"
Lord Shortlands licked his lips. This is a phrase that usually denotes joy. In this instance, it did not. He prayed for something to break up this tete-a-tete, and his prayer was answered. The voice of Cosmo Blair, raised in song, sounded from without. The door opened, and Clare entered, followed by the eminent playwright.
"Ah, my dear Shortlands."
"Good morning, Father."
"Good morning," said Lord Shortlands, feeling like the man who, having got rid of one devil, was immediately occupied by seven others, worse than the first. When he had prayed for something to interrupt his chat with Desborough Topping, he had not been thinking of Cosmo Blair.
- Елена Богова
- Маркин Алексей