فصل 06

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فصل 06

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CHAPTER SIX

Tea With My Cousin

I went into the room. Everything was neat and tidy. The candles had been lit, but the curtains were still open. The dogs were in front of the fire. A woman was sitting with her back to the door.

‘Good evening,’ I said.

She turned at once, got up and walked towards me. Now at last, I was face to face with my cousin Rachel. She was a small woman, dressed completely in black. Her dark hair was very neat. As she looked at me, her large, dark eyes opened wide in surprise.

‘I hope you are rested,’ I said awkwardly.

‘Thank you, Philip, yes.’ She sat down by the fire and the old dog, Don, laid his head on her knee.

‘Don is your dog, isn’t he?’ she said. ‘Is it true that he is almost fifteen?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Ambrose gave him to me on my tenth birthday.’

‘I know,’ she answered softly. Then my cousin Rachel stood up and moved towards the window.

‘I want to thank you, Philip, for letting me come,’ she said. ‘It can’t have been easy for you.’

It had started to rain. She closed the curtains and we both sat down again.

‘I felt so strange, driving up to the house,’ my cousin Rachel said. ‘Ambrose told me so much about it. I was longing to be h… here.’

She hesitated on the last word. I knew she had nearly said ‘home’.

‘I hope you will be comfortable here,’ I said. ‘There are no women servants in the house to look after you.’

‘That doesn’t matter. I don’t need anyone to look after me. I have only two dresses, and some strong shoes for walking.’

She smiled and I smiled back. Then I suddenly felt angry. Why was I smiling at this woman who had caused my dear Ambrose’s death?

At that moment, Seecombe came into the room.

‘Tea is served, madam,’ Seecombe said, putting down the large silver tray. On the tray was a large silver teapot that I had never seen before.

‘What about breakfast, madam?’ Seecombe went on. ‘Mr Philip has his at eight o’clock.’

‘I would like mine in my room,’ my cousin Rachel answered. ‘Would that be too much trouble?’

‘Certainly not, madam. Come dogs - downstairs. Goodnight madam, goodnight, sir.’

My cousin Rachel poured me some tea. Seecombe had never served tea after dinner before, but I said nothing.

‘If you want to smoke your pipe, you can, Philip,’ my cousin Rachel said.

I stared at her. I did not expect to smoke in a lady’s room. I had wanted to say a few hard words and then leave. Now here I was, drinking tea and smoking my pipe. But how could I be angry with this small, neat woman - or hate her?

The next thing I heard was a quiet voice saying, ‘You’re nearly asleep, Philip. Hadn’t you better go to bed? You walked a long way today, didn’t you?’

I opened my eyes and moved my long legs. Was my cousin Rachel laughing at me? Did she know why I had stayed away from the house all afternoon?

I got up slowly and looked down at her.

‘Wait a minute, Philip,’ my cousin Rachel said. ‘I have a present for you.’

She went into her bedroom and came out with a stick - Ambrose’s walking stick. It was the one he had always used. I took it awkwardly.

‘Now go!’ she said. ‘Please go quickly. You remind me so much of Ambrose.’

I stood outside the door for a moment, holding the stick in my hands. Had this woman really killed Ambrose? I had seen the look of deep unhappiness on her face. Already, my ideas about her were changing.

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