He slipped along the dim upstairs passage of the manor house and looked into the small room that his father used as a parlour. His family's increasingly straitened financial circumstances had effected a general retreat from all the larger rooms downstairs that had slowly been made uninhabitable as their various antiques, paintings, and objets d'art were sold to make ends meet. Now the Brittons lived entirely on the house's upper floor. There were abundant rooms for them, but they were cramped and dark.
Jeremy Britton was in the parlour. As it was half past ten, he was thoroughly blotto, head on his chest and a cigarette burning down between his fingers. Julian crossed the room and removed the fag from his father's hand. Jeremy didn't stir.
Julian cursed quietly, looking at him: at the promise of intelligence, vigour, and pride completely eradicated by the addiction. His father was going to burn the place down someday, and there were times--like now--when Julian thought that complete conflagration might be all for the best. He crushed out Jeremy's cigarette and reached into his shirt pocket for the packet of Dunhills. He removed it and did the same with his father's lighter. He grabbed up the gin bottle and left the room.
He was dumping the gin, cigarettes, and lighter into the dustbins at the back of the manor house when he heard her speak.
"Caught him at it again, Julie?"
He started, looked about, but failed to see her in the gloom. Then she rose from where she'd been sitting: on the edge of the drystone wall that divided the back entrance of the manor from the first of its overgrown gardens. An untrimmed wisteria--beginning to lose its leaves with the approach of autumn--had sheltered her. She dusted off the seat of her khaki shorts and sauntered over to join him.
"I'm beginning to think he wants to kill himself," Samantha said in the practical manner that was her nature. "I just haven't come up with the reason why."
"He doesn't need a reason," Julian said shortly. "Just the means."
"I try to keep him off the sauce, but he's got bottles everywhere." She glanced at the dark manor house that rose before them like a fortress in the landscape. "I do try, Julian. I know it's important." She looked back at him and regarded his clothes. "You're looking very smart. I didn't think to dress up. Was I supposed to?"
Julian returned her look blankly, his hands moving to his chest to pat his shirt, searching for something that he knew wasn't there.
"You've forgotten, haven't you?" Samantha said. She was very good at making intuitive leaps.
Julian waited for elucidation.
"The eclipse," she said.
"The eclipse?" He thought about it. He clapped a hand to his forehead. "God. The eclipse. Sam. Hell. I'd forgotten. Is the eclipse tonight? Are you going somewhere to see it better?"
She said with a nod to the spot from which she'd just emerged, "I've got us some provisions. Cheese and fruit, some bread, a bit of sausage. Wine. I thought we might want it if we have to wait longer than you'd thought."
"To wait? Oh hell, Samantha..." He wasn't sure how to put it. He hadn't intended her to think he meant to watch the eclipse with her. He hadn't intended her to think he meant to watch the eclipse at all.
"Have I got the date wrong?" The tone of her voice spoke her disappointment. She already knew that she had the date right and that if she wanted to see the eclipse from Eyam Moor, she was going to have to hike out there alone.
Excerpted from In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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