Fellow Passenger

Fellow Passenger by Geoffrey Household Read Free Book Online

Book: Fellow Passenger by Geoffrey Household Read Free Book Online
Authors: Geoffrey Household
Tags: Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
end of the room was a gallery with a little curving staircase leading to it - a real, Carolean show-piece, with all the balustrades delightfully carved. I explored it, stepping over a rope of red velvet which hung across the foot of the stairs. Against a side wall were a few stools and benches - probably for musicians - which would do for a hiding-place so long as the person who pulled the curtains and gave the hall its good-night inspection did not deliberately search for me. At the back of the gallery and in the centre of its panelling was a small door. I thought I had better make sure that no one would come in by that, so I turned the wrought-iron handle and gave a firm pull, slightly lifting the door to keep it silent.
     
    It was locked, but the mortice which projected from the panelling seemed to be loose. One is always vaguely fascinated by doors which are supposed to be secure, and are not; so I fiddled with the mortice and found that it could be lifted out of its seating. The flange at the bottom, which should have been sunk into the wood to a depth of two or three inches, had been filed away so that only an eighth of an inch remained.
     
    The door led to a deep, cool cupboard in the thickness of the stone wall, fitted with racks for bottles. The set-up was obvious. The chapter’s butler or the Dean himself kept the key of this little cellar, but somebody else had decided that the servant was as worthy as the master. His neat bit of jobbery, which showed signs of considerable age, had never been detected. It was not surprising. Who in so smoothly run an establishment would tug or rattle at the door - which might have torn the lower flange of the mortice clear out of the wood - or who would lift the door, as I had done, and spot that the mortice was loose? Like had spoken to like across the decades.
     
    I looked for whisky. When a man is hot, thirsty and distracted, there is nothing else. It is the sole creation of the British Isles of universal, irreplaceable value. Parliamentary government? For most countries, an illusion. Bits of machinery? Every sane man wishes they had never been invented. Shakespeare? We could get along very well with Cervantes and Rabelais. But a world without whisky would be the poorer by an essential pleasure.
     
    That is by the way. A mere remembering of my disappointment. There was no whisky. The cellar made no concessions whatever to hot and thirsty vulgarians beyond a tap for rinsing glasses. Three-quarters of the bins were empty. The rest contained only port and Madeira, and I never had any great opinion of either. On principle I disapprove of the dry, fortified wines beloved of the English, and the prejudiced Spanish half of me refuses to admit that the Portuguese know anything of wine. But I now apologize, sincerely and from the depths where lives the palate, to our oldest alliance.
     
    One bin of Madeira bore the date of 1851. There were only four bottles left. In a calmer mood I should not have dreamed of depriving the Dean and chapter of the last of their treasure. I must have been feeling more of an outcast from society than I realized. Or was it the power complex of a man on the run? At any rate, I opened a bottle, decanted it - a last clinging to the decencies of civilization - and restored myself.
     
    Oh, but my dear Dean, my reverend chapter, what a noble wine have you there! If ever, in your weekly mourning for the missing bottle or in the regret that steals upon your souls while listening to Bach upon the organ after evensong in summer, grief is more poignant for the thought that it vanished down the unthinking gullet of some housebreaker, let me assure you that, after the first careless swallow, I sipped it fasting, as it should, I think, be sipped, with no disturbance but the excellent dry biscuits from the tin upon the shelf. And never was it more gratefully appreciated, never did it make so generous a return. By itself, it called me back to a proper mood of urbanity

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