There was a sudden commotion outside, a metallic rattling and scraping on stone. The warped wooden door of the studio shuddered and jarred against the floor before suddenly flying open and thunder clapping against the wall. A groaning old-fashioned green lawn mower appeared. It was followed by an exasperated looking man in overalls whom Magnus did not recognise. The man, noticing the Madonna and the naked Jake, crossed himself with an expression of some alarm. Magnus cursed him in Italian. Lady Lydia Wentworth then stepped over the threshold. She had frosted blue powder on her eyelids.
“I’m most appallingly sorry for bursting in unannounced, Mr Almond,” she said, with an absolute minimum of effort. “Oh dear, and I see you were busy. Jason is my nephew, Mr Almond. However, be that as it may, you have my word I shall not whisper a word of what I’ve seen to his family. I’ve never been one to take much notice of the vices of others even when they are utterly incomprehensible to me. However, I cannot say the same for this Italian labourer. In all likelihood he’s a gossip like the rest of his race.”
Magnus, all six feet-two of him, had the frozen, tongue-tied air of a schoolboy caught in some shameful act. He was unable to express himself. He made one or two attempts but evidently thought better of either of them.
“The reason for my frightfully rude intrusion, Mr Almond, is my lawnmower.”
Jake, not bothering to dress himself, grinned.
“It’s not, you see, working. And I can’t make this Italian man understand a word of English. Naturally I thought of you.”
“Why did you think of me, Lady Wentworth?”
“Why, because of your profession of course. You’re an odd-job man. An artisan. Isn’t it the purpose of artisans to fix things? To restore the flailing and decaying to some state resembling their original pristine condition.”
“I’m a sculptor, not a mechanic, Lady Wentworth.”“Oh dear. I’m most sorry to hear that. Well, I suppose it can’t be helped."