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Конкурс переводов - Тур 56 (апрель 2006 г.)
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Lady Wickham came downstairs and made way like a stately galeon under sail towards dining-room. Unlike others of the household, she was feeling particularly cheerful this morning. She liked fine weather, and the day was unusually fine. Also, she had resolved that after breakfast she would take Mr Potter aside and use the full force of her commanding personality to extract from him something in the nature of an informal contract.

She would not, she decided, demand too much at first. If he would consent to undertake the American publication of Agatha's Vow, A Strong Man's Love, and - possibly - A Man for A' That, she would be willing to postpone discussion of ,Meadowsweet, Fetters of Fate, and the rest of her works. But if he thought he could eat her bread and salt and sidestep Agatha's Vow, he had grievously under-estimated the power of her cold grey eye when it came to subduing such members of the animal kingdom as publishers.

There was a happy smile, therefore, on Lady Wickham's face as she entered the room. She was not actually singing, but she stopped only just short of it.

She was surprised to find that, except for her daughter Roberta, the dining-room was empty.

'Good morning, mother,' said Bobbie.

'Good morning. Has Mr Potter finished his breakfast?'

Bobbie considered the question.

'I don't know if he had actually finished,' she said. 'But he didn't seem to want any more.'

'Where is he?'

'I don't know, mother.'

'When did he go?'

'He's only just left.'

'I didn't meet him.'

'He went out of the window.'

The sunshine faded from Lady Wickham's face.

'Out of the window? Why?'

'I think it was because Clifford Gandle was between him and the door.'

'What do you mean? Where is Clifford Gandle?'

'I don't know, mother. He went out of the window, too. They were both running down the drive when I last saw them.' Bobbie's face grew pensive. 'Mother, I've been thinking she said. 'Are you really sure that Clifford Gandle would be such a steadying influence for me? He seems to me rather eccentric'

'I cannot understand a word of what you are saying.'

'Well, he is eccentric. At two o'clock this morning, Mr Potter told me, he climbed in through Mr Potter's window, made faces at him, and climbed out again. And just now -'

'Made faces at Mr Potter?'

'Yes, mother. And just now Mr Potter was peacefully eating his breakfast, when Clifford Gandle suddenly uttered a loud cry and sprang at him. Mr Potter jumped out of the window and Clifford Gandle jumped out after him and chased him down the drive. I thought Mr Potter ran awfully well for an elderly man, but that sort of thing can't be good for him in the middle of breakfast.' Lady Wickham subsided into a chair. 'Is everybody mad?'

'I think Clifford Gandle must be. You know, these men who do wonderful things at the University often do crack up suddenly. I was reading a case only yesterday about a man in America. He took every possible prize at Harvard or wherever it was, and then, just as everybody was predicting the most splendid future for him, he bit his aunt. He -'

'Go and find Mr Potter,' cried Lady Wickham. 'I must speak to him.'

'I'll try. But I don't believe it will be easy. I think he's gone for good.'

Lady Wickham uttered a bereaved cry, such as a tigress might who sees its prey snatched from it.

'Gone!'

'He told me he was thinking of going. He said he couldn't stand Clifford Gandle's persecution any longer. And that was before breakfast, so I don't suppose he has changed his mind. I think he means to go on running.'

A sigh like the whistling of the wind through the cracks in a broken heart escaped Lady Wickham.

'Mother,' said Bobbie, 'I've something to tell you. Last night Clifford Gandle asked me to marry him. I hadn't time to answer one way or the other, because just after he had proposed he jumped into the moat and tried to drown Mr Potter; but if you really think he would be a steadying influence for me -'

Lady Wickham uttered a snort of agony.

'I forbid you to dream of marrying this man!'

'Very well, mother,' said Bobbie dutifully. She rose and moved to the sideboard. 'Would you like an egg, mother?'

'No!'

'Some ham?'

'No!'

'Very well.' Bobbie paused at the door. 'Don't you think it would be a good idea,' she said, 'if I were to go and find Clifford Gandle and tell him to pack up and go away? I'm sure you won't like having him about after this.'

Lady Wickham's eyes flashed fire.

'If that man dares to come back, I'll - I'll - Yes. Tell him to go. Tell him to go away and never let me set eyes on him again.'

'Very well, mother,' said Bobbie.

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