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.‘If it is not impudent to ask?’‘Oh, I would love to do it,’ said Richenda eagerly.‘Euphemia has acted as my brother’s secretary before and could do some little tasks.’I knew this to mean she would expect me to do everything for her.‘Ah, yes indeed, Miss St John,’ said Mrs Muller.‘It would be an honour to work with you.’ I could only stare at her.Words failed me completely.Until now she had largely ignored me.Richenda bristled at the slight and Muller gazed into the middle distance studiously ignoring the chaos he had wrought among us women.It was perhaps fortunate for all of us that at this time the butler appeared and sidled up to Muller to whisper in his ear.Muller sighed.‘It appears your brother’s man, Gilbert Barker, has indeed arrived,’ he said.‘He is asking to speak with Miss St John.’Chapter FourNo Dead BodiesThree pairs of eyes looked at me with varying levels of suspicion.Muller nodded slightly and I rose.Richenda began to protest as I exited the room.On the short walk to meet this stranger, I can put it no other way than to say a dark prescience began to overtake me to the extent that I would not have been surprised to find him stretched out on the fine Persian rug with his throat cut.Later, when I came to know Gilbert Barker, I would think it was a very great shame this did not happen.The ubiquitous Lucy showed me to the library.She left me at the door.My fingertips trembled against the cold metal of the door handle.I gave myself a mental shake.I told myself that this was only words.People were behaving oddly tonight, but considering how volatile the Staplefords had been over the years this situation should not be rattling me as much as it was.I took a deep breath and opened the door.Mr Gilbert Barker stood there very much alive.He was tall and thin with short, curly ginger hair.He wore a suit of the best cut but it sat uneasily on him.An unflattering five o’clock shadow framed a thin, pinched face set with dark eyes.His age could have been anywhere between thirty and forty-five.He had what can only be described as a lived-in face.‘Euphemia,’ he said and gestured to a seat.‘I had the maid bring a decanter and glasses.I think we are both going to need some whisky.’‘I do not believe we have been introduced, sir.’‘Oh, no need to call me sir, Euphemia.After all you don’t exactly work for Sir Richard any more.Barker will do.’‘And Miss St John will do for me,’ I replied making no move towards the indicated seat.Barker walked across and sat down in one of the seats.He poured two glasses of whisky, one much larger than the other, which he placed in front of himself.‘Do at least close the door behind you, Euphemia.There is a draft.’‘I will happily do so from the other side,’ I said, turning to go.‘Miss St John, you have secrets.Ones I think you do not care to share.’I pushed the door hard closed behind me, took my seat, and demanded, ‘What secrets?’Barker shrugged.‘I have no idea, but obviously ones you don’t want shared with your current employer.I shall have to ask Stapleford to fill me in.And make no doubt he will.I am his right hand.’Internally I let out a great sigh of relief.He knew nothing.But since I was here I might as well get the interview over and done with.‘What do you want?’ I asked.Barker pushed the smaller glass towards me.I pushed it back.He picked it up and poured it into his own glass.‘I hate waste,’ he said.I did not repeat my question, but waited.Obviously a little of Fitzroy had rubbed off on me.However, while I had never had any doubts that the spy Fitzroy would shoot me if he had to – with I hoped a soupçon of regret, I had never felt that physical violence hovered about him as it did with Barker.Barker took a sip of his whisky.He gave me a thin smile.‘I can say one thing for this German, he knows his whisky.But then foreigners are often more accurate on these things than real gentlemen.It’s all to do with keeping up the pretence, isn’t it, Euphemia?’It hovered on my tongue to tell him that he should know.Clothes do not maketh the man and all that, but I refused to allow myself to be baited and sat quietly with my hands folded in my lap.‘If Sir Richard had not briefed me fully on you and your services to the family,’ said Barker, ‘I might take you for the insipid companion of moderate intelligence that you are pretending to be, but we both know that is far from the truth.’Words, I told myself, it is merely words.‘Your empty threats aren’t even fully formed,’ I said.Barker gave a crack of laughter.‘Oh, we haven’t got to the threats yet.I am here to open up communications between Sir Richard and his beloved sister once more.Sir Richard is mindful that she has no claim on the Mullers and that her prolonged residence here is beginning to cause talk.And we both know how dangerous talk can be, don’t we Euphemia? Why it can even land innocent men in jail.’‘I don’t believe Sir Richard was ever tried, so technically we cannot say if he was guilty.’ I paused.‘Or not,’ I added.Barker’s eyes narrowed.I knew I was over-stepping the mark, but much as I have disliked Richenda in the past I felt a rather surprising desire to protect her from her brother.One’s training as a vicar’s daughter is always inescapable.‘I see you believe in straight talking,’ said Barker, ‘so do I.It makes things much easier.You and I Euphemia are not unlike.We both work for difficult masters and we both make our way in the world determined by the success of these masters.Richenda has little social status [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]