Past Caring
returned to England in the spring of 1951 and went to Barrowteign to stay with his nephew.”
    “What did he die of ?”
    “He was hit by a train on a level crossing where a railway line traversed the Barrowteign estate. That’s all they could tell me.”
    “I see.”
    “Though, as you’ll read for yourself, that has a curious paral-lel with events in the Memoir. But I’d better say no more at present.”
    Beyond that, Sellick would not be drawn. His smile was sphinxlike in the candlelight, his sudden revelation and as sudden reticence all too convenient. I knew then that I wasn’t the only one holding back information. In Sellick’s case, he was letting it slip at intervals. Now, I was to understand that Strafford hadn’t ended his days in exile, but back in England, by accident, in search of . . . what? The truth after forty years? A last sight of Barrowteign? Or something else Sellick wasn’t telling me about yet? But no, he’d said the mystery of Strafford’s fall was intact. I had to assume he didn’t know either, yet I couldn’t any longer be certain.
    We went through to the drawing room for coffee. There, on a card table, stood a solitary, dark bottle of madeira.
     
    66

R O B E R T G O D D A R D
    “What’s this?” said Alec. “Something special?”
    “You might say so,” replied Sellick. “I asked Tomás to put it out for us.”
    “But there are no glasses.”
    “That’s because it’s not for drinking . . . yet. You could call it a prize bottle. Take a look. You’ll soon see what I mean.”
    Alec picked up the bottle and tilted its yellowed label to the light. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “I just don’t believe it.”
    “What is it?” I said, walking to his side.
    “See for yourself . . . Leo’s been holding out on me.”
    It was old madeira . . . very old. In fact, a bottle of the 1792
    vintage.
    “I’m sorry, Alec,” Sellick said with a smile. “Nothing could stop you writing the article when you did. Unfortunately, the time was not then ripe to tell you that there was indeed some left.”
    “But how . . .”
    “A bequest from Dr. Grabham to the previous owner of this property, discovered by me in the cellar.”
    “But last night you said . . .”
    “That in all probability Grabham had left none behind. I know. Well, that still is the balance of probability. In fact, though, he left a few bottles to Strafford—naturally enough, as the most distinguished and discerning Englishman of the locality after Grabham himself—and Strafford left this one bottle for me to find. But I couldn’t tell you until tonight because I hadn’t persuaded Martin to research the Strafford mystery.”
    “I’m not sure I see the connection,” I said.
    “The connection,” replied Sellick, “is my description of it as a prize bottle. It constitutes our prize, our reward to drink in Strafford’s honour when your research is satisfactorily concluded.
    At that time, I propose that we three should gather here to com-memorate the occasion by cracking open the last of the ’92. I am sorry not to have told you before, Alec, but I hope you’ll agree there was a good reason.”
    “I suppose I must,” said Alec. “Can I at least write about it after that?”
    “Of course,” said Sellick. “As a good journalist, you should be grateful to me for providing you with the perfect sequel.”
     

P A S T C A R I N G
    67
    We laughed, and toasted in much younger malmsey Sellick’s judgement in planning such a fitting tribute to Strafford. For me, it was a long way to look ahead, but at least there was the satisfaction of knowing that Sellick’s whimsical editing of the facts could be applied to Alec as well as me.
    “I think you owe me a game of snooker for this, Leo,” Alec said. “It’ll give me a chance of revenge.”
    “What Alec means, Martin, is the certainty of revenge.
    Clearly, I must submit. Will you join us in the billiards room?”
    “I’d like to, but duty calls.” I

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