âCome with me, the bathroom is in the adjacent room,â said the countess. They went out into the corridor together. Angry voices proceeded from the room nearby; she could grab a few words like âagencyâ, âinheritanceâ.
A resonant male voice boomed: âhe is unwell, he is really unwell.â The countess shrugged her shoulders murmuring: âThere are guests tonight.â Embarrassed, Carol replied, âI am really sorry for the inconvenience I have caused you.â
Her host nonchalantly gave away her misgivings and instructed Gilbert to change the towels. Carol washed her face and her hands, and dried the clothes she was wearing with a hairdryer; then she went back to the lounge and prepared to make a call.
The phone was in the room opposite the entrance, next to a wooden display cabinet â âmost probably 18th centuryâ - she thought, given her knowledge of antiques. It also contained a unique collection of daggers and stilettos of various origins and periods.
There were Russian knives, others Indian, many were ancient and Oriental, perhaps Chinese or Japanese. Some were adorned with precious stones; they must have been worth a fortune.
She was about to dial the number of her friend Maggie, when a tall and distinguished man entered the room, a typical specimen of an English gentleman, with a frank face and vivid light eyes.
âWhat a hitch!â said the man, giving her a start. Then he stared at her for long. âTompkins, Carol Tompkins!â he exclaimed. âDonât you remember me? We met a couple of weeks ago at Judge Kingâs.â
Carol stared at him perplexed. Then, she recognised him: âTedder, Lawyer Tedder.â The man walked towards her, and gave her his hand. Carol sneezed.
âYour clothes are damp, you will get sick. There is nothing better than a glass of whisky to warm up.â He poured the liquor in a glass. âDry yourself better, and ask the countess to lend you some dry clothes, and then I will take you home.â
Carol protested a little, but deep down she was happy about the offer. She went to the bathroom again, and changed her clothes.
Half an hour later she was unrecognisable, while she was sitting on the sofa near the fire, in dry clothes, sipping a sherry.
They seemed like three old friends, who had gathered to pleasantly spend an autumn evening together, while outside it was raining. In fact, the conversation was drifting. The countess had a strange preoccupied expression and she jerked at every rustle. Because of the wind, one could hear disparate noises. Some door was creaking, thuds of falling objects, violent rustle of the treesâ branches. âWhere did you leave the car?â the countess enquired. âOn the high road A120, about one mile from here,â answered Carol.
âI am afraid that with this rainstorm you will not find anybody to repair it. Today is Saturday evening and tomorrow being Sunday it will not be easy to find a mechanic. You could turn to the Emergency Services,â said the countess.
âIt is not so important. I have another car at home, my husbandâs. I will come back tomorrow morning to take it back. I will tow it to my house with Alfredâs car, and on Monday I will call my usual mechanic.â
âI can help you to tow itâ offered Lawyer Tedder. Carol shook her head, âIt is absolutely out of discussion. Outside there is a proper storm and it will last for long. It is not worth doing that, also because, as I was saying to the countess, it is a rather old and superannuated car. I will think about it tomorrow.â
âAs you want,â answered the lawyer, and coughed slightly.
After a brief silence, he asked: âYour husband, Alfred I believe, isnât here? âNo, he is away for work. He is a photographer and he often travels,â answered Carol. Meanwhile, the butler Gilbert turned up in the lounge with a tall, thin, and good-looking young man. His blonde hair was wet because of the rain, and his bleary big blue eyes looked tired and upset. The young man jerked nervously, as if something worried him.
His long and gaunt hands were shaking with agitation, while once close to the fireplace, he had lifted and opened it to warm up.
âSomething isnât right?â asked the countess.
âI feel cold. I have just come back and I got wet,â answered the young man while rubbing his hands. âI see that your guests have arrived,â continued the young man while looking at Carol. The countess explained who Carol was, and what had happened to her, and introduced the man as Jonah Barnes, her stepson.
âWhere have you been?â asked the countess. âI went out to check the horses in the stable. With this storm they have become frisky. Are the others here yet?â
âThe others, who?â asked the perplexed countess. The young man did not answer, addressing his astonished look at the flame, which was darting in the fireplace. Meanwhile, the butler Gilbert was listening and walking in suspense. He was first looking at the countess, then at her stepson with an inquisitive expression. Eventually, he decided to ask: âShould I ask for dinner to be prepared?â
âNo, not for me at least. I am not hungry,â answered the stepson, âand besides you already have someone giving you company,â he continued sharply, directing his eloquent glance towards the lawyer.
âDo as you like!â retorted the countess sighing. âLawyer Tedder is here for work. He will have dinner here as he has always done on such occasions. If you do not agree, you could even say itâ.
âNo, it does not matter. Itâs thatâ¦â he did not complete the phrase, âhe is always here, in our way,â he concluded dryly.
Tedder stood up from the sofa and was about to answer back, but the countess stopped him with a wave of her hand.
âI, I believe that you are not feeling well tonight, Jonah,â said the woman softening and placing a hand on her stepsonâs shoulders.
âThe lawyer is leaving; he will take Mrs. Tompkins home.â The woman rose and led the way out of the room with the young man, who followed her docilely like a child.
Gilbert went close to Carol, and said, âI see that you dried yourself. Did you make the call?â
âNo, I eventually did not make the call, since Lawyer Tedder offered to accompany me home. However, you have been very kind and I wanted to thank you.â
âFor so little! I am happy that everything has been sorted out. It has been a lively night and I have fallen behind in my duties, I have lots of things to finish, like the dinner for example.â
Carol smiled, and extended her hand to him saying, âIt is difficult to find helpful and kind people in todayâs world. Thank you again.â
Gilbert smiled at her showing off his very white teeth, which stood out on his dark face.
âAs they both clarify,â intervened Tedder, âIâll take Mrs. Tompkins home. I think that after the unpleasant adventure she ardently desires to go home.â Carol nodded while the lawyer was going to get ready.
âCome, I will accompany you,â Gilbert said with deference. Both led the way through the corridor.
From the room nearby, where one could still hear some voices, but more muffled, the СКАЧАТЬ