“You’ve just come back from Adelaide’s funeral, haven’t you?” said Sir Lulworth to his nephew; “I suppose it was very like most other funerals?”
“I’ll tell you all about it at lunch,” said Egbert.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort. It wouldn’t be respectful either to your great-aunt’s memory or to the lunch. We begin with Spanish olives, then a borshch, then more olives and a bird of some kind, and a rather enticing Rhenish wine, not at all expensive as wines go in this country, but still quite laudable in its way. Now there’s absolutely nothing in that menu that harmonises in the least with the subject of your great-aunt Adelaide or her funeral. She was a charming woman, and quite as intelligent as she had any need to be, but somehow she always reminded me of an English cook’s idea of a Madras curry.”
“She used to say you were frivolous,” said Egbert. Something in his tone suggested that he rather endorsed the verdict.
“I believe I once considerably scandalised her by declaring that clear soup was a more important factor in life than a clear conscience. She had very little sense of proportion. By the way, she made you her principal heir, didn’t she?”
“Yes,” said Egbert, “and executor as well. It’s in that connection that I particularly want to speak to you.”
“Business is not my strong point at any time,” said Sir Lulworth, “and certainly not when we’re on the immediate threshold of lunch.”
“It isn’t exactly business,” explained Egbert, as he followed his uncle into the dining-room.
“It’s something rather serious. Very serious.”
“Then we can’t possibly speak about it now,” said Sir Lulworth; “no one could talk seriously during a borshch. A beautifully constructed borshch, such as you are going to experience presently, ought not only to banish conversation but almost to annihilate thought. Later on, when we arrive at the second stage of olives, I shall be quite ready to discuss that new book on Borrow, or, if you prefer it, the present situation in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. But I absolutely decline to talk anything approaching business till we have finished with the bird.”
For the greater part of the meal Egbert sat in an abstracted silence, the silence of a man whose mind is focussed on one topic. When the coffee stage had been reached he launched himself suddenly athwart his uncle’s reminiscences of the Court of Luxemburg.
“I think I told you that great-aunt Adelaide had made me her executor. There wasn’t very much to be done in the way of legal matters, but I had to go through her papers.”
“That would be a fairly heavy task in itself. I should imagine there were reams of family letters.”
“Stacks of them, and most of them highly uninteresting. There was one packet, however, which I thought might repay a careful perusal. It was a bundle of correspondence from her brother Peter.”