‘You’re tired,’ he said abruptly. ‘I’ve stayed too long.’

‘No,’ I protested. ‘Really, I’m fine.’

He put out the cigar, however, and stood up. ‘I know you too well, Sid. Your idea of fine is not the same as anyone else’s. If you’re not well enough to come to Aynsford a week on Sunday you’ll let me know. Otherwise I’ll see you then.’

‘Yes, O.K.’

He went away, leaving me to reflect that I did still tire infernally easily. Must be old age, I grinned to myself, old age at thirty-one. Old tired battered Sid Halley, poor old chap. I grimaced at the ceiling.

A nurse came in for the evening jobs.

‘You’ve got a parcel,’ she said brightly, as if speaking to a retarded child. ‘Aren’t you going to open it?’

I had forgotten about Charles’ parcel.

‘Would you like me to open it for you? I mean, you can’t find things like opening parcels very easy with a hand like yours.’

She was only being kind. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Thank you.’

She snipped through the wrappings with scissors from her pocket and looked dubiously at the slim dark book she found inside.

‘I suppose it is meant for you? I mean somehow it doesn’t seem like things people usually give patients.’

She put the book into my right hand and I read the title embossed in gold on the cover. Outline of Company Law.

‘My father-in-law left it on purpose. He meant it for me.’

‘Oh well, I suppose it’s difficult to think of things for people who can’t eat grapes and such.’ She bustled around, efficient and slightly bullying, and finally left me alone again.

Outline of Company Law. I riffled through the pages. It was certainly a book about company law. Solidly legal. Not light entertainment for an invalid. I put the book on the table.

Charles Roland was a man of subtle mind, and subtlety gave him much pleasure. It hadn’t been my parentage that he had objected to so much as what he took to be Jenny’s rejection of his mental standards in choosing a jockey for a husband. He’d never met a jockey before, disliked the idea of racing, and took it for granted that everyone engaged in it was either a rogue or a moron. He’d wanted both his daughters to marry clever men, clever more than handsome or well-born or rich, so that he could enjoy their company. Jill had obliged him with Tony, Jenny disappointed him with me: that was how he saw it, until he found that at least I could play chess with him now and then.

Knowing his subtle habits, I took it for granted that he had not idly brought such a book and hadn’t chosen it or left it by mistake. He meant me to read it for a purpose. Intended it to be useful to me — or to him — later on. Did he think he could manoeuvre me into business, now that I hadn’t distinguished myself at the agency? A nudge, that book was. A nudge in some specific direction.

I thought back over what he had said, looking for a clue. He’d been insistent that I should go to Aynsford. He’d sent Jenny to Athens. He’d talked about racing, about the new race at Sandown, about Ascot, John Pagan, Carter, Wally Gibbons… nothing there that I could see had the remotest connection with company law.

I sighed, shutting my eyes. I didn’t feel too well. I didn’t have to read the book, or go wherever Charles pointed. And yet… why not? There was nothing I urgently wanted to do instead. I decided to do my stodgy homework. Tomorrow.



Four days after my arrival at Aynsford I came downstairs from an afternoon’s rest to find Charles delving into a large packing case in the centre of the hall. Strewn round on the half-acre of parquet was a vast amount of wood shavings, white and curly, and arranged carefully on a low table beside him were the first trophies out of the lucky dip, appearing to me to be dull chunks of rock.

I picked one of them up. One side had been ground into a smooth face and across the bottom of this was stuck a neat label. ‘Porphyry’ it said, and beneath, ‘Carver Mineralogy Foundation’.

‘I didn’t know you had an obsessive interest in quartz.’

He gave me one of his blank stares, which I knew didn’t mean that he hadn’t heard or understood what I’d said, but that he didn’t intend to explain.

‘I’m going fishing,’ he said, plunging his arms back into the box.

So the quartz was bait. I put down the porphyry and picked up another piece. It was small, the size of a squared-off egg, and beautiful, as clear and translucent as glass. The label said simply ‘Rock Crystal’.

‘If you want something useful to do,’ said Charles, ‘you can write out what sort they all are on the plain labels you will find on my desk, and then soak the Foundation’s label off and put the new ones on. Keep the old ones, though. We’ll have to replace them when all this stuff goes back.’

‘All right,’ I agreed.

The next chunk I picked up was heavy with gold. ‘Are these valuable?’ I asked.

‘Some are. There’s a booklet somewhere. But I told the Foundation they’d be safe enough. I said I’d have a private detective in the house all the time guarding them.’

I laughed and began writing the new labels, working from the inventory. The lumps of quartz overflowed from the table on to the floor before the box was empty.

‘There’s another box outside,’ Charles observed.

‘Oh no!’

‘I collect quartz,’ said Charles with dignity, ‘and don’t you forget it. I’ve collected it for years. Years. Haven’t I?’

‘Years,’ I agreed. ‘You’re an authority. Who wouldn’t be an authority on rocks, after a life at sea.’

‘I’ve got exactly one day to learn them in,’ said Charles smiling. ‘They’ve come later than I asked. I’ll have to be word perfect by tomorrow night.’

He fetched the second lot, which was much smaller and was fastened with important looking seals. Inside were uncut gem quartz crystals, mounted on small individual black plinths. Their collective value was staggering. The Carver Foundation must have taken the private detective bit seriously. They’d have held tight to their rocks if they’d seen my state of health.

We worked for some time changing the labels while Charles muttered their names like incantations under his breath. ‘Chrysoprase, Aventurine, Agate, Onyx, Chalcedony, Tiger-eye, Carnelian, Citrine, Rose, Plasma, Basanite, Bloodstone, Chert. Why the hell did I start this?’

‘Well, why?’

I got the blank stare again. He wasn’t telling. ‘You can test me on them,’ he said.

We carried them piece by piece into the dining-room, where I found the glass-doored book shelves on each side of the fire had been cleared of their yards of leather-bound classics.

‘They can go up there later,’ said Charles, covering the huge dining-room table with a thick felt. ‘Put them on the table for now.’

When they were all arranged he walked slowly round learning them. There were about fifty altogether. I tested him after a while, at his request, and he muddled up and forgot about half of them. They were difficult, because so many looked alike.

He sighed. ‘It’s time we had a noggin and you went back to bed.’ He led the way into the little sitting-room he occasionally referred to as the wardroom, and poured a couple of stiffish brandies. He raised his glass to me and appreciatively took a mouthful. There was a suppressed excitement in his expression, a glint in the unfathomable eyes. I sipped the brandy, wondering with more interest what he was up to.

‘I have a few people coming for the weekend,’ he said casually, squinting at his glass. ‘A Mr and Mrs Rex van Dysart, a Mr and Mrs Howard Kraye, and my cousin Viola, who will act as hostess.’

‘Old friends?’ I murmured, having only ever heard of Viola.

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