"It depends on the Urals," I said soothingly.
He was mystified. "What does?"
"The wind from the east. It's early in the year for a polar continental blast like this, but there may be a clear dry day for Caspar Harvey's filly, if it goes on blowing until Friday."
"And will it?" The question was put slightly pugnaciously by a gray-haired fiftyish imposing American-sounding woman who'd joined the group with three rows of pearls and an apologetic husband.
"Evelyn dear . . ." he murmured patiently.
She persevered with questions. "And what do you mean by Urals?"
Her husband, a small round man in heavy dark eyeglass frames, answered her smoothly. "Evelyn, dear, the Urals are mountains in Russia. On a straight line from the Urals to London, there is no high ground to get in the way. Nothing to divert or deflect an east wind from Siberia." He assessed me with shrewd but amiable brown eyes behind the heavy-duty lenses. He said, "Aren't you the young man who flew here with the meteorologist?"
Before I could agree that yes, I was, Oliver Quigley told him with rapid emphasis and energetic hands that I too forecast the weather and was probably even better known to the television public than Kris himself. "Robin and Evelyn," he assured me, anxious to be understood, "are American of course, and, as they live mostly in Florida, they don't see much British TV."
"Darcy," said the small man, completing the introduction by shifting his wine glass carefully to his left hand and offering me the right, "Robin Darcy." He made lunch-party small talk in a subdued Boston-type accent. "And will you be along with Kris Ironside on his vacation?"
Not that I knew of. "I don't think so," I replied. Robin, I thought, had just inquired very delicately about my sexual preference. And what, I wondered, was his own? Evelyn, matronly in black and seemingly older than her husband, was nobody's idea of a trophy bimbo.
"Be sure to look us up," she said automatically, but insincerely.
"Love to." I sounded falsely eager, as one does.
Her husband rocked a little on heels and toes, his wrists folded over each other low on his stomach. His interest in me, slight in the first place, was fading rapidly, and presently he drifted off, Evelyn in tow, in search of more responsive brains.
Belladonna reappeared with her jug, her gaze ahead on the Darcys. "If you like cleverness, he's your man."
"He's clever at what?"
Bell's pale eyelids fluttered. "It's like beauty. Born in him. He just is." Darcy wandered around, however, looking insignificant and unimpressive. Evelyn's socializing voice was the one that prevailed.
"Don't be fooled," Bell said.
"Kris said you saved his life a couple of times."
After a pause, I said, "He liked to play with trains."
"Less and less."
"I wouldn't fly with him," she said. "So we quarreled." After a silence she added, "It finished us. Doesn't he scare you?"
There had been a time only a year ago when the trains had all but won; when I'd sat with him all night while he curled like a fetus and moaned with pain: when the only word he'd said, in a sort of anguish, had been "Poison."
A couple of paces away Kris was at the top of his upswing, telling a flying joke and raising eye-crinkling laughter. "So the air hostess said, 'Yes, Miss Steinem, of course you can go up to the cockpit during this flight and talk to our lady captain and our lady first officer, but there's just one thing, with our all-female flight crew we don't call it a cockpit any more . . .'"
"God," Bell groaned. "I told him that bit of feminism yonks ago."
"Good jokes never die."
"Did you know that sometimes he writes verses?"
"Mm." I paused. "Scientific, mostly."
From Second Wind by Dick Francis. Uused by permission of the publisher - Putnam.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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