" Word of what, Jack? Two blokes having a bit of a ding-dong in the marbles room of the British Museum? Who would buy you a pint to hear that story?"
" You," Carrier pointed out. They had come to the nub of the matter. " I heard about those bonds. You got a year to wait, then you will have your money. Why throw away all your hard labor now?"
" These?" He patted his pocket. " I was going to sell these tomorrow."
" For two shillings on the pound, no doubt."
Egan frowned, used his hand to wipe his face, as if it were a rag. Carrier realized he had guessed the exact amount by which the blackmailer had expected to profit.
" Think you can do better?"
" Let me see them."
" Hell I will!"
" There is no need to curse." He looked around the room. No one seemed to have heard. " We should go somewhere private. It is in your own interest."
" Man tells you that, it means just the opposite, more like."
" Say it is in both our interests, then." Carrier's eyes lit on the strange steel ring again. " Where do your friends meet? The members of this brotherhood. That should be a safe enough place. Let me see what you have got."
Egan considered, grinding his rubbery features, then, without answering directly, threw a coin on the table, got up, and left. Carrier fell in step alongside him.
A calling, he thought. A calling.
Finch and Lady Tabitha arrived shortly before the gong sounded. She went upstairs directly but he was waylaid by Choir, just down in his own dinner clothes, smelling of bay rum and brilliantine. Choir clapped his companion on the shoulder and steered him to the drawing room for a pre-prandial tipple, poo-pooing Finch's objections that he must change. " The old bat won't stand on ceremony with you," Choir assured him. " And I have been as parched here for good conversation as I imagine you are for this drink after that ghastly rail ride." So they had sat, catching up, for the remaining ten minutes until dinner. No mention of Lady Tabitha was made, Finch because he was still bound by his sworn secrecy regarding their engagement, Choir because he frankly felt the Baroness' indiscretion at teatime today had merely been wishful thinking. A true egoist, the Earl could be magnificently perceptive when it was in his own immediate interest to be so. He could tell instantly what people thought of him, how to get round that (if it were bad) or how to exploit it (if it were good.) Of relations between others, however, he remained as ignorant as he was of ants on the forest floor, and as careful, which is to say not very. One may wonder at a friendship between two such dissimilar types as Lutwidge and Choir, but their bond was strong and sincere, though perhaps not very deep. They were good at precisely this, sitting in comfortable chairs, each balancing a drink on his knee, trading conspiratorially soft, rather empty talk, conscious all the while of muffled footsteps on the stairs, signalling the impending meal.
" There is a fair tomorrow," Choir said.
" Is there?"
" Yes. Something to break the monotony of tea and nasturtiums."
" You have been bored, then?"
" No. Just punctilious." The nobleman stretched and yawned. " I miss the company of men. This MacIntyre chap is past it, or acts that way, making a big point of his age and so-called wisdom. And His Nibs, of course, has not even bothered to appear."
" The Baron? I doubt he will. Is there no prospective bride for you?"
" Oh yes. The divine Miss Ethyl. You shall meet her at dinner."
" Ah yes, I have heard of her. Well she should provide a bit of a challenge for you."