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“So,” said Aunt Martha, “you will go down there and bring Wilmot back.”

Aunt Martha was the tribal autocrat: a severe old lady with piled-up white hair, a hearing aid, a favourite nephew and more money than any one person should have. Consequently she didn’t offer suggestions or make requests, she issued ukases. This was a ukase; but while Rafe Harding, along with all her other nephews and nieces, had long since seen the folly of argument, he was so startled by this one that he nearly fell out of his chair before putting up feeble protest.


“Certainly. You.”

“But, good heavens, why me?”

“Who else is there to send? You do no work, you are not tied to any place of business.”

“I do work,” said Rafe, stung.

“Tchah!” snorted Aunt Martha.

“I write books. In fact, I’ve written several books.”

“I am aware of the fact,” said Aunt Martha crushingly. “I have read one of them.”

Rafe went down under this body blow, but not quite out.

“I’m writing one now and honestly, Aunt Martha, I can’t spare the time. Besides, I couldn’t afford it. Also—”


It was a trumpet blast, the knockout. Rafe went down again and this time out.

“Rafe,” said his aunt incisively, “let there be no argument over this simple matter. You are the only one I can send to rescue poor Wilmot. As I have said, you are not tied to any place of business. Your time is your own. You will go. As for your expenses, naturally I shall attend to that. I shall furnish you with ample funds. All that I require is that you go immediately and return with Wilmot.”

And by way of indicating that the matter was settled, the audience over, Aunt Martha switched off the hearing aid.

Well, thought Rafe ruefully, that is that. But as for this business of “rescuing poor Wilmot”...

Wilmot Foy was the favourite nephew aforementioned and lived with his aunt in one of those old brownstone houses in New York. Aunt Martha, like the rest of the tribe, was English born and bred, but she had been married to a highly successful and wealthy American businessman. Widowed late in life she had inherited the business, the house and everything that had been the tycoon’s, except his ulcers, and had decided to go on living in the land to which she had grown accustomed. She had also decided that her favourite nephew should come and live with her and keep her company, and had there and then issued a ukase to that effect. Wilmot, then a struggling artist, had complied with alacrity and had thereafter ceased to struggle. Not that he had forsaken art—the reverse. Under the protecting and encouraging wing of the tribal autocrat he had, surprisingly enough, become quite successful.

But if Wilmot was Aunt Martha’s favourite, he was no one else’s. To Rafe and the rest of the tribe, and others not greatly concerned with art, he was, viewed in the kindest light, something of a cross between a lame dog and a black sheep. Viewed in other lights, not so kind, he was a blot, a blister, an excrescence. He was also, in Rafe’s considered opinion, definitely a nut.

Rafe had his reasons for so thinking.

As thus:

Some eight or ten weeks before Rafe had been summoned to the presence, Wilmot Foy had walked out of the brownstone house as casually as if he were going for a stroll in the park. Only he hadn’t gone back. He hadn’t said good-bye to Aunt Martha, he hadn’t said anything to anybody, he had just upped and gone. He hadn’t communicated with anybody since, and in all those weeks no one had heard anything of him. Aunt Martha had fretted, but all she had said was what an odd thing it was for Wilmot to have done, he had never done anything like it before and she couldn’t understand why he had done it now.

Rafe and the others had found it easy to make guesses, right or wrong. The general consensus of opinion among his cousins was that Wilmot had at last got into some kind of woman trouble that Aunt Martha’s money couldn’t fix—though offhand they couldn’t think of one—had cleared out to avoid the explosion and was now lying low long enough to allow the dust to settle.

And then a friend of a friend of Aunt Martha’s had returned from a trip to South America with news that Wilmot was believed to be in a little place called San Roque. It was pretty vague, really only a straw on the water, but Aunt Martha had clutched at the straw and promptly summoned Rafe Harding, who happened to be handy, and issued her ukase. So Rafe, making the best of a bad job, went.


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