'Do you do the garden by yourselves?'
'Oh . . . oh, yes. We're trying. It was in rather a mess when we bought the house.’
'And you have two little children?' This was Mrs Fairhurst, gallantly keeping the ball of conversation going.
'Yes. Yes, they're in bed. I have a friend - Evie. She's the farmer's sister. She put them to bed for me.’
What else could one say? Mr Fairhurst had lighted his cigar, and the room was filled with its expensive fragrance. What else could one do? Alison took a deep breath. 'I'm sure you'd both like a drink. What can I get for you?'
'Oh, how lovely,’ Mrs Fairhurst glanced about her, and saw no evidence of either bottles or wineglasses, but if she was put out by this, graciously gave no sign. ‘I think a glass of sherry would be nice.’
'And you, Mr Fairhurst?'
‘The same for me’
She blessed them both silently for not asking for martinis. 'We . . . we've got a bottle of Tio Pepe . . . ?'
'What a treat!'
'The only thing is ... would you mind very much if I left you on your own for a moment? Henry - he didn't have time to do a drink tray.’
'Don't worry about us,’ she was assured. 'We're very happy by this lovely fire.’
Alison withdrew, closing the door gently behind her. It was all more awful than anything one could possibly have imagined. And they were so nice, darling people, which only made it all the more dreadful. They were behaving quite perfectly, and she had had neither the wit nor the intelligence to remember which night she had asked them for.
But there was no time to stand doing nothing but hate herself. Something had to be done. Silently, on slippered feet, she sped upstairs. The bathroom door stood open, as did their bedroom door. Beyond this, in a chaos of abandoned bathtowels, socks, shoes, and shirts, stood Henry, dressing himself with the speed of light.
'Henry, they're here.’
‘I know.’ He pulled a clean shirt over his head, stuffed it into his trousers, did up the zipper, and reached for a necktie. 'Saw them from the bathroom window.’
'It's the wrong night. I must have made a mistake.’
'I've already gathered that.’ Sagging at the knees in order to level up with the mirror, he combed his hair.
'You'll have to tell them.’
‘I can't tell them.’
'You mean, we've got to give them dinner?'
'Well, we've got to give them something.’
'What am I going to do?'
'Have they had a drink?'
'Well, give them a drink right away, and we'll try to sort the rest of the evening out after that.’
They were talking in whispers. He wasn't even looking at her properly.
'Henry, I'm sorry.’
He was buttoning his waistcoat. 'It can't be helped. Just go down and give them a drink.’
She flew back downstairs, paused for a moment at the closed sitting-room door, and heard from behind it the companionable murmur of married chat. She blessed them once again for being the sort of people who always had things to say to each other, and made for the kitchen. There was the cake, fresh from the oven. There was the salad. And there was Evie, her hat on, her coat buttoned, and just about off. 'You've got visitors,’ she remarked, looking pleased.
They're not visitors. It's the Fairhursts. Henry's chairman and his wife.’
Evie stopped looking pleased. 'But they're coming tomorrow.’
'I've made some ghastly mistake. They've come tonight. And there's nothing to eat, Evie.’ Her voice broke. 'Nothing.’
Evie considered. She recognised a crisis when she saw one. Crises were the stuff of life to Evie. Motherless lambs, egg-bound hens, smoking chimneys, moth in the church kneelers - in her time, she had dealt with them all. Nothing gave Evie more satisfaction than rising to the occasion. Now, she glanced at the clock, and then took off her hat. ‘I’ll stay,’ she announced, 'and give you a hand.’
Чтобы распечатать файл, скачайте его (в формате Word).
Ссылка на скачивание - внизу страницы.