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77. Up for the Cup

Unbearable Lightness of Scones

Angus was just about to telephone Domenica that morning when her call came through. I take it that you are up and about, she began. Up and about and at your easel?

Angus looked at the breakfast things on his table the jar of marmalade, the crumbs from the toast, the plate that had contained his muesli, now scraped clean. Breakfast things were not a good subject for still life, he decided; they were just too prosaic.

I was just about to phone you, he said. I wanted to tell you about what happened at the Braid Hills Hotel yesterday. Vintage stuff.

The Jacobites?

Yes, indeed. Big Lous Pretender set off for the Highlands.

So hes noo awa?

Precisely. In the side-car of a motorbike.

There was silence while Domenica digested this piece of historical detail. Well, thats very interesting, she said. And we must assume that Government forces are combing the hills even as we speak. But, listen, Angus, I need you down here mid-morning. Coffee time. Something has cropped up. What we may call a window of opportunity.

Angus agreed, and after a short morning of rather unsatisfactory work in his studio he attached Cyril to his leash and walked round the square to Scotland Street. Cyril was glad to be out and about, and strained at his lead, sniffing the breeze wafting up Scotland Street. Such a breeze contained valuable intelligence for a dog: it let everybody know which other dogs were having a walk at the time; which dogs had been that way earlier on and had made territorial claims; and it carried news, too, of human activities. For an urban dog, each area of town has its particular smell when it comes to human scents. In some areas of town, for example, the people themselves smell somewhat high; this is very rare in Edinburgh, of course, but occurs in some other places. In other areas, kitchen activities are the prevailing note: sun-dried tomatoes are prevalent in the New Town, a hint of quiche, notes of Medoc; Morningside dogs, by contrast, pick up the unmistakable odour of scones, that dry, slightly floury smell, and the smell, too, of cologne.

Scotland Street that morning, however, smelled only of cat, and Cyril let out a precautionary bark. He detested the cats of Scotland Street; unpleasant, arrogant creatures who taunted him over his leashed state, parading themselves within feet of him in the knowledge that the lead prevented him from meting out immediate justice. Cyril growled, but he realised that Angus was not in a mood to linger, and he had no alternative but to make his way without any attempt at a show-down.

Domenica had heard them coming up the stair and greeted them at her front door. Unusually, she admitted Cyril to the flat rather than suggesting that he stay out on the landing. Cyril stepped forward to give her an appreciative lick, which he felt was not adequately appreciated. She was a strange woman, this, he thought, but infinitely preferable, from the canine point of view, to that woman below, the one with the little boy he liked so much.

Dont make yourself too comfortable, Angus, Domenica began. We have work to do. Then I shall make you coffee.

Angus raised an eyebrow. Please explain.

Well, said Domenica, by a marvellous bit of serendipity, Antonia has announced that the gas people are coming to read her meter this morning. Shes overpaid, she says, and they are having a big argument over it. So she doesnt want to miss the appointment.

I see.

Domenica rubbed her hands together enthusiastically. She has to go out, and has left me the key to let the gas men in. So this gives us our chance to replace the blue Spode teacup.

Angus looked at her blankly. Replace it? But weve just liberated it.

Domenica explained, and Angus started to smile as the story unfolded. Youre in a mess, he said, at the end. You shouldnt have taken it in the first place.

Well, we can sort the whole thing out now, said Domenica. You can take it back.

Angus was prepared to help his friend, but he now began to feel slightly used. Well, frankly, Domenica, I dont see why you cant do it yourself. Youve got her key.

Domenica sighed. Of course I could take it back, Angus, she said. But the point is this: I dont know where it came from.

From the kitchen, Angus supplied.

Yes, yes. But where in the kitchen? If I go and put it back in some odd place then shell know, wont she? She will assume that Ive been in the flat, using her key or, rather, misusing her key. If you go, you can put it back in exactly the place you found it. She paused, looking intently at Angus. You do remember where you found it, dont you?

Angus had to admit that he did. It was in a small cupboard above the sink, he said. There were one or two other teacups there. Nothing very good, Im afraid. An old chipped Minton Haddon Hall cup, I think.

Those can be quite nice, said Domenica.

Yes, they can, said Angus. William Crosbie had a set, as I recall. I was in his studio down south once, and we drank tea out of Minton cups. I remember, because he was painting one at the time. It was in a still life that he had set up.

He stared at Domenica. You could put it back in that cupboard, now that Ive told you where it is.

Domenica brushed the suggestion aside. Far better for you to do it.

Angus decided not to argue: Domenica had made up her mind, and he would be the loser in any argument. Women always win, he thought. They just always win.

All right, he said. Ill take it. Are you sure that shes out?

She dropped the key in when she went, said Domenica. She said that shed be out for several hours. Youre perfectly safe.

Angus rose to his feet and took the key from Domenica. Then she passed him a plastic bag containing the blue Spode teacup.

I feel a bit like a burglar, he said.

Domenica was dismissive. Burglars dont return property, he said. They take it. Youre returning it.

But what if a person who was returning property, clandestinely, were to be caught? asked Angus. Wouldnt he then look, to all intents and purposes, exactly like a burglar?

Appearances can be deceptive, Angus, said Domenica. Now lets not waste any more time.

76. A Changed Man | Unbearable Lightness of Scones | 78. Antonia s Big Secret