‘Not very,’ he said smoothly. ‘They’ll be here in time for dinner tomorrow night. You’ll meet them then.’

‘But I’ll make it an odd number… I’ll go up before they come and stay out of your way for most of the weekend.’

‘No,’ he said sharply. Much too vehemently. I was surprised. Then it came to me suddenly that all he had been doing with his rocks and his offer of a place for my convalescence was to engineer a meeting between me and the weekend guests. He offered me rest. He offered Mr van Dysart, or perhaps Mr Kraye, rocks. Both of us had swallowed the hook. I decided to give the line a tug, to see just how determined was the fisherman.

‘I’d be better upstairs. You know I can’t eat normal meals.’ My diet at that time consisted of brandy, beef juice, and some vacuum-packed pots of stuff which had been developed for feeding astronauts. Apparently none of these things affected the worst shot-up bits of my digestive tract.

‘People loosen up over the dinner table… they talk more, and you get to know them better.’ He was carefully unpersuasive.

‘They’ll talk to you just as well if I’m not there — better in fact. And I couldn’t stand watching you all tuck into steaks.’

He said musingly, ‘You can stand anything, Sid. But I think you’d be interested. Not bored, I promise you. More brandy?’

I shook my head, and relented. ‘All right, I’ll be there at dinner, if you want it.’

He relaxed only a fraction. A controlled and subtle man. I smiled at him, and he guessed that I’d been playing him along.

‘You’re a bastard,’ he said.

From him, it was a compliment.

The transistor beside my bed was busy with the morning news as I slowly ate my breakfast pot of astronaut paste.

‘The race meeting scheduled for today and tomorrow at Seabury,’ the announcer said, ‘has had to be abandoned. A tanker carrying liquid chemical crashed and overturned at dusk yesterday afternoon on a road crossing the racecourse. There was considerable damage to the turf, and after an examination this morning the Stewards regretfully decided that it was not fit to be raced on. It is hoped to replace the affected turf in time for the next meeting in a fortnight’s time, but an announcement will be made about this at a later date. And here is the weather forecast…’

Poor Seabury, I thought, always in the wars. It was only a year since their stable block had been burned down on the eve of a meeting. They had had to cancel then too, because temporary stables could not be erected overnight, and the National Hunt Committee in consultation with Radnor had decided that indiscriminate stabling in the surrounding district was too much of a security risk.

It was a nice track to ride on, a long circuit with no sharp bends, but there had been trouble with the surface in the Spring; a drain of some sort had collapsed during a hurdle race. The forefeet of one unfortunate horse had gone right through into it to a depth of about eighteen inches and he had broken a leg. In the resulting pile-up two more horses had been ruinously injured and one jockey badly concussed. Maps of the course didn’t even warn that the drain existed, and I’d heard trainers wondering whether there were any more antique waterways ready to collapse with as little notice. The executive, on their side, naturally swore there weren’t.

For some time I lay day-dreaming, racing round Seabury again in my mind, and wishing uselessly, hopelessly, achingly, that I could do it again in fact.

Mrs Cross tapped on the door and came in. She was a quiet, unobtrusive mouse of a woman with soft brown hair and a slight outward cast in her grey-green eyes. Although she seemed to have no spirit whatever and seldom spoke, she ran the place like oiled machinery, helped by a largely invisible squad of ‘dailies’. She had the great virtue to me of being fairly new in the job and impartial on the subject of Jenny and me. I wouldn’t have trusted her predecessor, who had been fanatically fond of Jenny, not to have added cascara to my beef juice.

‘The Admiral would like to know if you are feeling well today, Mr Halley,’ said Mrs Cross primly, picking up my breakfast tray.

‘Yes, I am, thank you.’ More or less.

‘He said, then, when you’re ready would you join him in the dining-room?’

‘The rocks?’

She gave me a small smile. ‘He was up before me this morning, and had his breakfast on a tray in there. Shall I tell him you’ll come down?’


When she had gone, and while I was slowly dressing, the telephone bell rang. Not long afterwards, Charles himself came upstairs.

‘That was the police,’ he said abruptly, with a frown. ‘Apparently they’ve found a body and they want you to go and identify it.’

‘Whose body, for heaven’s sake?’

‘They didn’t say. They said they would send a car for you immediately, though. I gathered they really rang here to locate you.’

‘I haven’t any relatives. It must be a mistake.’

He shrugged. ‘We’ll know soon, anyway. Come down now and test me on the quartz. I think I’ve got it taped at last.’

We went down to the dining-room, where I found he was right. He went round the whole lot without a mistake. I changed the order in which they stood, but it didn’t throw him. He smiled, very pleased with himself.

‘Word perfect,’ he said. ‘Let’s put them up on the shelves now. At least, we’ll put all the least valuable ones up there, and the gem stones in the bookcase in the drawing-room — that one with the curtains inside the glass doors.’

‘They ought to be in a safe.’ I had said it yesterday evening as well.

‘They were quite all right on the dining-room table last night, in spite of your fears.’

‘As the consultant private detective in the case I still advise a safe.’

He laughed. ‘You know bloody well I haven’t got a safe. But as consultant private detective you can guard the things properly tonight. You can put them under your pillow. How’s that?’

‘O.K.’ I nodded.

‘You’re not serious?’

‘Well no… they’d be too hard under the pillow.’

‘Damn it…’

‘But upstairs, either with you or me, yes. Some of those stones really are valuable. You must have had to pay a big insurance premium on them.’

‘Er… no,’ admitted Charles. ‘I guaranteed to replace anything which was damaged or lost.’

I goggled. ‘I know you’re rich, but… you’re an absolute nut. Get them insured at once. Have you any idea what each specimen is worth?’

‘No, as a matter of fact… no. I didn’t ask.’

‘Well, if you’ve got a collector coming to stay, he’ll expect you to remember how much you paid for each.’

‘I thought of that,’ he interrupted. ‘I inherited them all from a distant cousin. That covers a lot of ignorance, not only costs and values but about crystalography and distribution and rarity, and everything specialised. I found I couldn’t possibly learn enough in one day. Just to be able to show some familiarity with the collection should be enough.’

‘That’s fair enough. But you ring the Carver Foundation at once and find out what the stones are worth just the same, and then get straight on to your broker. The trouble with you, Charles, is that you are too honest. Other people aren’t. This is the bad rough world you’re in now, not the Navy.’

‘Very well,’ he said amicably. ‘I’ll do as you say. Hand me that inventory.’

He went to telephone and I began putting the chunks of quartz on the empty bookshelves, but before I had done much the front door bell rang. Mrs Cross went to answer it and presently came to tell me that a policeman was asking for me.

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