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In a first-class carriage of a train speeding Balkanward two Britons sat in friendly, fitful converse. They had first foregathered in the cold grey dawn at the frontier line, where the presiding eagle takes on an extra head and Teuton lands pass from Hohenzol-lern to Habsburg. After a day’s break of their journey at Vienna the travellers had again foregathered at the train side and paid one another the compliment of settling instinctively into the same carriage. The elder of the two was a wine businessman. The other was certainly a journalist. Neither man was talkative and each was grateful to the other for not being talkative. That is why from time to time they talked.

One topic of conversation naturally thrust itself forward in front of all others. In Vienna the previous day they had learned of the mysterious vanishing of a world-famous picture from the Louvre.

‘A dramatic disappearance of that sort is sure to produce a crop of imitations,’ said the Journalist.

‘I was thinking of the spiriting away of human beings rather than pictures. In particular I was thinking of the case of my aunt, Crispina Umberleigh.’

‘I remember hearing something of the affair/ said the Journalist, ‘but I was away from England at the time. I never quite knew what was supposed to have happened.’ ‘You may hear what really happened if you respect it as a confidence,’ said the Wine Merchant. ‘In the first place I may say that the disappearance of Mrs. Umberleigh was not regarded by the family entirely as bereavement. My uncle, Edward Umberleigh, was not by any means a weak-kneed individual, in fact in the world of politics he had to be reckoned as a strong man, but he was unmistakably dominated by Crispina. Some people are born to command. Mrs. Umberleigh was born to legislate, codify, administrate, censor, license, ban, execute, and sit in judgement generally. From the kitchen regions upwards everyone in the household came under her despotic sway and stayed there with the submissiveness of molluscs involved in a glacial epoch. Her sons and daughters stood in mortal awe of her. Their studies, friendships, diet, amusements, religious observances, and way of doing their hair were all regulated and ordained according to the august lady’s will and pleasure.

This will help you to understand the sensation of stupefaction which was caused in the family when she unobtrusively and inexplicably vanished. It was as though St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Piccadilly Hotel had disappeared in the night, leaving nothing but an open space to mark where it had stood.

As far as it was known, nothing was troubling her; in fact there was much before her to make life particularly well worth living. The youngest boy had come back from school with an unsatisfactory report, and she was to have sat in judgement on him the very afternoon of the day she disappeared. Then she was in the middle of a newspaper correspondence with a rural dean in which she had already proved him guilty of heresy, inconsistency, and unworthy quibbling, and no ordinary consideration would have induced her to discontinue the controversy. Of course the matter was put in the hands of the police, but as far as possible it was kept out of the papers, and the generally accepted explanation of her withdrawal from her social circle was that she had gone into a nursing home.’

‘Couldn’t your uncle get hold of the least clue?’

‘As a matter of fact, he had received some information, though of course I did not know of it at the time. He got a message one day telling him that his wife had been kidnapped and smuggled out of the country; she was said to be hidden away, on one of the islands off the coast of Norway I think she was in comfortable surroundings and well cared for. And with the information came a demand for money; a lump sum of 2000 pounds was to be paid yearly. Failing this she would be immediately restored to her family.’

The Journalist was silent for a moment, and then began to laugh quietly.

‘It was certainly an inverted form of holding to ransom,’ he said. ‘Did your uncle succumb to it?’

‘Well, you see, for the family to have gone back into the Crispina thraldom after having tasted the delights of liberty would have been a tragedy, and there were even wider considerations to be taken into account. Since his bereavement he had unconsciously taken up a far bolder and more initiatory line in public affairs, and his popularity and influence had increased correspondingly. All this he knew would be jeopardised if he once more dropped into the social position of the husband of Mrs. Umberleigh. Of course, he had severe qualms of conscience about the arrangement. Later on, when he took me into his confidence, he told me that in paying the ransom he was partly influenced by the fear that if he refused it, the kidnappers might have vented their rage and disappointment on their captive. It was better, he said, to think of her being well cared for as a highly-valued paying-guest on one of the Lofoden Islands than to have her struggling miserably home in a maimed and mutilated condition. Anyway he paid the yearly instalment as punctually as one pays fire insurance. And then, after a disappearance of more than eight years, Crispina returned with dramatic suddenness to the home she had left so mysteriously.’

‘She had given her captors the slip?’

‘She had never been captured. Her wandering away had been caused by a sudden and complete loss of memory. She usually dressed rather in the style of a superior kind of charwoman, and it was not so very surprising that she should have imagined that she was one. She had wandered as far afield as Birmingham, and found fairly steady employment there, her energy and enthusiasm in putting people’s rooms in order counterbalancing her obstinate and domineering characteristics. It was the shock of being pa-tronisingly addressed as ‘my good woman’ by a curate who was disputing with her where the stove should be placed in a parish concert hall that led to the sudden restoration of her memory.’

‘But,’ exclaimed the Journalist, ‘the Lofoden Island people! Who had they got hold of?’

‘A purely mythical prisoner. It was an attempt in the first place by someone who knew something of the domestic situation to bluff a lump sum out of Edward Umberleigh before the missing woman turned up. Here is Belgrad and another custom house.’

ВОПРОС 1 The two Britons in a first-class carriage were
1) fellow travellers.
2) friends.
3) colleagues.
4) acquaintances.

ВОПРОС 2 When Mrs. Umberleigh disappeared, all the family
1) felt a sense of loss.
2) regarded it entirely as bereavement.
3) were extremely surprised.
4) suffered a lot.

ВОПРОС 3 The narrator considered Mrs. Umberleigh to be
1) sympathetic.
2) domineering.
3) kind to her relatives.
4) the heart of the family.

ВОПРОС 4 On the day of her disappearance, Mrs. Umberleigh
1) wrote a letter to a rural dean.
2) went to a nursing home.
3) spent the afternoon with her son.
4) sent for the police.

ВОПРОС 5 Mrs. Umberleigh’s husband paid 2000 pounds yearly mainly because
1) he was afraid that the kidnappers would do harm to his wife.
2) he wanted his wife to be well cared for.
3) he did not want to put at risk his political career.
4) he believed she would be happy on one of the Lofoden Islands.

ВОПРОС 6 Mrs. Umberleigh disappeared because
1) she went abroad.
2) she went into a nursing home.
3) she was kidnapped.
4) she had a sudden loss of memory.

ВОПРОС 7 During her absence Mrs. Umberleigh
1) worked for charity.
2) lived happily.
3) cleaned people’s houses.
4) assisted a curate.

ВОПРОС 1: – 1
ВОПРОС 2: – 3
ВОПРОС 3: – 2
ВОПРОС 4: – 3
ВОПРОС 5: – 3
ВОПРОС 6: – 4
ВОПРОС 7: – 3