Hector Selrymple, Lord Broodinwood, bit the inside of his upper lip, just to the left of his canines. It was the fifth time in three days he had done so during a meal, and he was suddenly seized with the judgment that this was no sort of life to continue.
His grunt of pain was swiftly followed by action: his left hand swooped down to the place setting and snatched up the fish knife. It was, by the standards of the knowledgeable would-be suicide, a poor instrument for the purpose; the earl, in his anguish, was prepared to overlook any deficiency and make the best go of it he could.
He raised the knife toward his throat and was stopped only by his wife’s horrified gasp. Hector warred with himself and the pain in his mouth. He surrendered to yet another of the cruelties of mortal existence and gently placed the fish knife on the side of his plate. He took two sips of white wine and sighed, prepared once more to meet a world of misery and injustice as it came.
Beatrice, Lady Broodinwood, looked down at her plate and composed herself before continuing to dine. She shook her head just slightly, deeply unnerved by the scene.
How she longed for Shurlton, the butler, to return from his holiday. The biscuit-headed girl deputizing for him had no notion of consistency in setting the table. Anyone of sense knew the fish knife was correctly placed to the right of the plate and not the left, where the Earl had found it. Lady Broodinwood feared what fresh horrors lay ahead before Shurlton was back in harness. God had scarcely tested Job more harshly.