Friday, 29 June 2012

Introduction to Inspector Morrison: Another Year in Tilling - An Inspector Calls


The first year's entries in Inspector Morrison's Case Book are set out in a free blog at http://inspectormorrison.blogspot.co.uk/. If you have a moment, please free free to click and take a  look.  This blog continues the story of what  happened  to Inspector Morrison in Another Year in Tilling.

After a happy but hectic Christmas with his wife and family at their semi-detached home “Braemar,” conveniently located just outside the ancient town of Tilling, Herbert Morrison, the Inspector commanding the town’s vigilant and valiant police, was enjoying the quiet few days between Boxing Day and New Years Eve.

On this late-December morning, the cobbled streets outside the police station were cold and deserted. Within, Tilling’s thin blue line took the opportunity to enjoy the warmth and catch up on paperwork over cups of hot, sweet tea.

Having emptied his in-try and filled that marked “out,” the Inspector picked up his cup, selected a custard cream and mulled over the events of the year, now drawing to a close. He pondered how best to reflect the achievements of his force in his written annual report to the Chief Constable and Watch Committee of the county.

Before the holidays, he had enjoyed helping his twin son and daughter with their arithmetic homework, which had included some colourful bar graphs and pie charts. He wondered if his formal review might, for the first time, include a bar or pie representing the success of his Tilling constabulary in thwarting the positive wave of crime, which had washed over the normally staid seaside resort in the preceding twelve months.

Scanning the list of offences, he placed his saucer on the paper before him and drew a circle around it in pencil. Measuring the centre with his ruler, he drew segments corresponding with the total of crimes committed and shaded appropriate sections to represent the proportion of each felony.

Irritatingly, the only unsolved reported offences involved a repeated allegation of the theft of fruit – colloquially known as “scrumping” – from the apple trees of Mrs Mapp-Flint out at “Grebe.” Since technically this property fell outside the boundaries of Tilling and, in any event, was such a minor issue, the Inspector felt justified in disregarding it for statistical purposes.

He recalled a phrase from the dim and distant past in a dusty classroom at the police college at Hendon – “De minimis non curat lex” – the law does not concern itself with trifles,  even perhaps at the behest of the formidable Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, the current Mayoress of Tilling.  Pleased with his daring, Herbert ploughed on with his pie chart.

Reviewing the diagram, the Inspector thought the overall effect was sufficiently impressive and would be more so when the hatching was substituted with coloured shading tomorrow. He must remember to borrow the twin’s crayons.

Next day, the pie chart was completed.  Looking at the contrasting colours on his diagram, the Inspector ruminated whether the Chief Constable and members of the Watch Committee would ever think about the human stories behind the statistics.


He thought of poor old Mrs Gashly staring into space in her cell after her first Christmas in Holloway all those miles away from Tilling, continuing "It was only a year ago that her employer Captain Puffin had met his tragic and undignified end by drowning in a bowl of her oxtail soup.  At her trial she simply said she was driven to try to poison Elizabeth Mapp-Flint because she was so angry at her taking the poor old Captain’s only friend from him and making his life even lonelier. No doubt Mrs. Mapp-Flint and her Major had enjoyed their Christmas out at “Grebe” on the marshes, still oblivious to what they had caused to happen."

"In some ways," thought the Inspector, "The question of blame was much the same with the Mayor's husband, Mr Georgie’s former chauffeur, Dickie.  He just passed him on to the chap that bought his house up in the Midlands like a fixture or fitting, a carpet or a pair of curtains - without so much as a thought as to the effect it might have on the servant’s life." 
 
"Surely enough, things go wrong for the lad. One thing leads to another, he starts mixing with a bad lot and a respectable chauffeur turns into a daring jewel thief. So daring, it’s almost as if he was asking to be caught. Dickie ends up doing a long stretch in Pentonville and the piano recitals in the garden room at “Mallards House” carry on in the candlelight. "

"That might amount to a story worth telling," the Inspector thought, "If one day a mysterious person in authority called out of the blue on some respectable, well-to–do folk and forced them to understand the consequences of their thoughtless acts, someone like a Police Inspector perhaps? The Mayor had said she had invited that playwright, Mr Priestley to speak at one of her lectures at the Literary Institute. He might have a chance to mention it to him then….perhaps something like, “An Inspector Calls”?"

"Enough day-dreaming," thought Herbert, "Time to plan the duty rosters for January…."   
    
The ensuing year featured work and play for Inspector Morrison in Tilling and further afield. Here is a short preview of a family holiday to Italy in the summer. Naturally, no right or interest is claimed in the charming soundtrack featuring the delightful and talented Miss Fields.....

 
Always remember.....
Inspector Morrison stories have expanded our narrow existences and taught us the true meaning of Life and the Universe" ~ Bonar Law, Winifred Atwell, Noele Gordon, Gandhi, Cecil Beaton, Albert Einstein and Hans und Lotte Hass.

Index to Inspector Morrison: Another Year in Tilling

  • Introduction
  • Index
  • January ~ The Mysterious Maharani
  • February ~ The Martello Tower Murder
  • March ~ The Tilling Slasher
  • April ~ The Four Feathers
  • May ~  The Sicilian Bandits
  • June ~ The Mafiosi and the Missing Mistress
  • July ~ The Remarkable Recrudescence of Smuggling in Tilling
  • August ~ The Brouhaha following Major Benjy's Brief Encounter  
  • September ~ The Vanishing Soubrette
  • October ~ The Long-Johns on the Sixteenth Green
  • November ~ The Surprising Assassin
  • December ~ The Abdication Crisis
  • Epilogue
  • Appendices 

January: The Mysterious Maharani




As the New Year succeeded the old, a freezing wind all the way from the foothills of the Urals, chilled the downs and wetlands of the Sussex coast.

On the first Sunday morning in January, the normally red roofs of Tilling, perched on its ancient hill, sparkled white and crystalline under plump overhanging eiderdowns of snow.

As seagulls wheeled and soared in the clear blue dome of a huge and bitter sky, the roads and pavements of the silent town below were virgin ground, unmarked by footprint, wheel or paw and waited the first-footing despoilment of early risers.

Along the coast, gulls circled the Martello Towers and swooped past the windmills whose static sails, fringed with icicles, shone in the morning sun. The river and canals of the town were uniformly frozen.  They made a network of white highways leading to the Town Salts, whose winter flood had frozen to become a vast expanse of ice, soon to become Tilling’s playground.
After a tumultuous year, the festive season had come as a blessed and tranquil relief to Tilling.  The preceding months had seen a succession of crimes, culminating in the theft of the whole year’s savings from the Christmas Club operated from Ye Olde Tea House by Diva Plaistow. Fortunately, the thief had been apprehended by the Tilling Constabulary under the quietly effective leadership of Inspector Morrison and Tilling’s prudent savers had been able to enjoy the turkey, plum pudding and fine wines bought with their nest eggs. 
  
The turn of the year had been marked by the announcement in the King’s Honours List of the award of an Order of the Most Honourable Officer of the British Empire to prominent local antiques dealer Hubert Gascoyne, who had been privileged to serve Her Majesty the Queen on her recent private visit to Tilling. Similarly honoured, had been the senior Police Officer of the town for services to law enforcement during what had been a veritable crime wave in the genteel Sussex resort.

The Mayor of Tilling reflected civic pride in the honour done both to the locality and prospective officers by immediately announcing that a formal reception would be held at her home, “Mallards House” to celebrate.  

In doing so, Mrs Pillson bravely put aside whatever personal disappointment she may have privately felt upon being overlooked for the award of an honour, which many in Tilling (she had absolutely no doubt) considered long overdue to acknowledge her generous and benevolent beneficence to her adopted home.  In the past year, Mrs Pillson’s largesse had extended to funding the new Emmeline Pillson Wing for the fire-damaged Literary Institute and a rebuilt viewing shelter for the visitors, whom she proclaimed were “the veritable commercial life-blood of the town,” as well as any number of other good works. 

Similar mature magnanimity was also required of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Irene Coles, who both felt thwarted in what they considered were entirely reasonable expectations of recognition respectively of  a longstanding charitable contribution to their seaside community and massive artistic achievements. For three ladies of Tilling, January 1st dawned with  expectations greater than those in all the works of Charles Dickens. Well-before luncheon, they had evaporated entirely.
 
As the new year began, each thwarted citizen sought to conduct herself - albeit with gritted teeth (which in the case of the dentally formidable Mrs Mapp-Flint, took quite some gritting) - with a dignity befitting unjustly disappointed honorees.

Meanwhile, oblivious to this, in their villa outside the town, Herbert and Bunty Morrison were taking down the last of their Christmas decorations, with the help of their nine year old twins, James and Dorothy.

As the mercury on the barometer in the hall continued to fall and the snow grew deeper outside, the twins asked their father if they would be able to use their new ice skates the next day.

Exchanging glances with his wife, Herbert replied non-committally, "May-be, provided the ice is thick enough and the weather isn't too bad. We'll see how it looks in the morning."

Treating this response as positive, with a cry of  "Good old Dad!" the twins ran  into the garden to complete their new snowmen, before it grew too dark. Herbert and Bunty sat down for a cup of tea at their large, well-scrubbed kitchen table. 

As he sipped his tea, Herbert turned the pages of his "Hampshire Argus," which had just been delivered.  Just below a respectful report of the recent passing of Rudyard Kipling, the front page bore the prominent headline "New Cinema opened in Tilling."  Beneath was a photograph of Mrs Emmeline Pillson in her full mayoral rig, including a fetching plumed tricorn hat, described as "of her own design."  The Mayor was pictured cutting a ribbon next to the box office with a smile that some might consider "pleasant," others "winsome" and a harsh minority, "condescending."

In the background, Herbert noted himself and Bunty looking on, with other local worthies and what amounted to the entire Corporation of the ancient borough.  

"Oh, look Bunty," said Herbert,"There's a report about the new picture palace and the opening we attended." 


"What does it say, dear?" asked Bunty, as she stood at the sink peeling potatoes for supper.

Smoothing the front page, Herbert read out loud ,"On Friday evening, the Mayor of Tilling, Mrs Emmeline Pillson officially opened the newly constructed Bijou Picture Palace in Tilling prior to a Gala Charity Presentation in aid of the Mayor's nominated charity, Tilling Girl Guides. The evening featured a spectacular double bill, comprising a newly released musical comedy film from America entitled "Thin Ice" starring Norwegian Olympic skating champion Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power and "One in a Million,"a cheery and light-hearted mix of comedy, romance, songs and ice skating dances."


"Yes, they were very good films. We must remember, I promised we would take the twins to a matinee before the run ends," commented Bunty.

"Yes, dear, shall I carry on?"

Bunty nodded and smiled.

Clearing his throat, Herbert resumed, in a voice not unlike Alvar Lidell reading the news from Alexandra Palace, "Prior to ceremoniously cutting the ribbon, Mrs Pillson, the renowned philanthropist and chatelaine of the exquisite "Mallard House," the acknowledged epicentre of the social, political and cultural life of the town, was gracious enough to be persuaded to address an audience of eager onlookers drawn from Tilling and the surrounding area."

"Weren't we 'eager onlookers' lucky?" commented Bunty, dryly.
 
Grinning, Herbert read on, "The Mayor remarked that, although she opposed uncontrolled building and what was called 'ribbon development' along the highways, that might adversely impact upon the visual amenity of Tillingites, she was minded of the need to upgrade social facilities, which might both benefit local residents and attract visitors to swell the coffers of the town. Accordingly, after deep consideration and reflection, she had been pleased to add her vote to those of her councillor colleagues in favour of the new all-electric picture palace.  Her Worship trusted that the Bijou would indeed be a veritable jewel in the crown of Tilling's ever-improving cultural resources and a valuable asset in promoting the vital tourist trade. Accordingly Mrs Pillson was delighted to declare the Bijou Cinema and All-Electric Picture Palace, Tilling well and truly open." 

"That's nice, is there any more, dear?"

"Quite a lot actually," Herbert replied, "It carries on,' The Mayor's address was enthusiastically greeted by a  round of applause from onlookers and a spontaneous chorus of "For she's a jolly good fellow" in her honour.'

"Yes, that was George and Per. They do have a soft spot for Mrs Pillson. They can always be relied on to take the lead in such things," observed Bunty, "Mrs Pillson spoke well. It was a little embarrassing when Major Mapp-Flint shouted 'And three cheers for the Lady Mayoress' and everyone  ignored it."

"True dear, Herbert replied," By then everyone was going in to watch the first feature and wanted to get their ice creams and sweets. Shame really.  More?"

"Yes, please."

Herbert continued, "A sensation occurred during the Intermission in the Gala Opening, when unannounced an illuminated Wurlitzer electric organ rose dramatically from the very bowels of the theatre, beneath the stage.  Bathed in a single spotlight, sitting at the organ as it rose slowly and majestically upwards, was the Mayor, still robed in full civic regalia, smiling and waving to the surprised and delighted audience. The Mayor proceeded to give an affecting rendition of the slow movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven.  Seated next to the Mayor, her husband, Mr George Pillson, assisted by playing the pedals of the organ, whilst waving gaily to acquaintances in the audience. The performance was warmly greeted by a standing ovation from the assembled cinema-goers and the deafening applause was only interrupted when the organ descended beneath the stage from whence it came and the house-lights dimmed for the second feature." 

As Herbert finished scanning the "Argus", the twins returned from the garden, arguing cheerfully as to whose snowman was best. Bunty diverted their attention from the debate by suggesting to Herbert, "Skating tomorrow, don't you think love?" 
  
As the children quickly joined in, "Yes, please, Dad; let's go skating!" Herbert replied, "I suppose I don't see why not. We'll go down to the Town Salts after breakfast. It should be frozen really thickly by then. Now go and wash your hands. It's time for supper." 
  
Next day, during Tilling's usual marketing hour in the High Street, there was but one topic of conversation. This naturally was the front page article in the "Hampshire Argus," concerning the opening of the new Bijou Cinema.

"I'm afraid we must get used to dear Worship being called a 'chatelaine', whatever that means, and to my sweet 'Mallards' being upgraded to 'Mallards House', but I never thought it was the 'epicentre' of anything, let alone the political, social and cultural life of our dear little Tilling.What utter tosh!" complained Elizabeth Mapp-Flint bitterly to Diva Plaistow outside Twistevants shop, continuing, "And who, if I might ask, wrote this drivel?"

"Mr Meriton, I think, dear," replied Diva, adding, "He usually covers events in Tilling. I must admit, he does seem rather an admirer of our Mayor."

"'Smitten', I'd say," commented Elizabeth, acidly,"Mind you. Now you mention it, I have never actually seen the man. I'm tempted to wonder if Mr Meriton exists. Perhaps, 'Mr Meriton' is just a nom-de-plume Lucia uses to write all those pieces about herself, the self-proclaimed chatelaine of our epicentre of everything!"

"And whilst we are on the subject," railed Elizabeth, warming to her theme.

"Oh dear, there's more," thought Diva.

"Why, oh why," Elizabeth continued," Do we always have to listen to that "Moonlight Serenade" of hers? Always Chopin. Doesn't she know any other tune?"

"I think its 'Moonlight Sonata' dear," suggested Diva helpfully, adding weakly, "You know, the one by Beethoven?"

"Details dear, mere details," continued Elizabeth, unbending, "The point is, why do we always have to put up with it? I know we can't have our Mayor like an undignified music hall turn, playing "Boiled Beef and Carrots" on the banjolele or "Oh, I do like to be beside the Seaside," as if she was Reginald Dixon on the organ in Blackpool Tower, but if I hear that tune yet again, I shall scream.  She really is the limit."

"Now, now Elizabeth, don't get carried away," added Diva, trying to calm her, but once Mrs Mapp-Flint had built up a head of steam on the subject of her close friend the Mayor of Tilling, this often proved difficult.

Thinking that a change of subject might assist, Diva enthused, "Have you seen the Town Salts dear? Flooded and frozen as far as the eye can see. The children have already started to skate. Everyone's having a wonderful time."   

As Diva and Elizabeth walked through the frosted ornamental gardens to the belvedere overlooking the expanse of flat land below, they could see a glittering field of ice stretching towards the harbour. It was already littered with miniature figures, skating this way and that,  like a winter landscape by Pieter Bruegel.  
  
Walking onward through the snowy gardens, Elizabeth and Diva noted Lucia and Georgie Pillson standing next to a pair of canon from Napoleonic times, for which the belvedere was best known, admiring the wintry scene spread out beneath, "Wouldn't you know it, it's the chatelaine of 'Mallards House' and her consort," muttered Elizabeth quietly, as she bared her magnificent teeth in a smile intended to convey pleasure, but not entirely succeeding.

"Now, now Elizabeth," Diva urged, "Be good. It's not her fault what Mr Meriton wrote."

"Stuff and nonsense, Diva dear," hissed Elizabeth through a smile, which trod a far from fine line between "fixed" and "clenched," adding emphatically,"We all know that woman is responsible for nearly everything amiss in Tilling; it's just that we don't yet know how she does it. Truth always comes out in the end."

Noticing the approaching duo, Lucia and Georgie waved cordially.

"How de do, Worship and Mister Georgie," cooed Elizabeth in her most sycophantic style, "Charmed to see you both, looking so well on this bracing Sussex morning."

As Georgie bowed in courtly fashion, borrowed from his neighbour in Porpoise Street, Algernon Wyse, and raised his boater jauntily to both Diva and Elizabeth, the warm greeting of the latter was reciprocated with about equal sincerity by Lucia, who continued, "Lovely to see you ladies. What, no Major Benjy today, Elizabetha mia? Nothing amiss, I trust?"

Recognising this thrust as a coded enquiry either as to the severity of her husband's hangover or an inference of marital discord, inducing separation, Elizabeth parried imaginatively, "Nothing 'amiss,' as you sweetly put it, Lulu dear one. Mon mari has gone to visit his aunt, sa tante, in Seaport. She is tres malade, I fear and," she continued, "At 'Grebe,' possibly unlike certain other prominent homes in Tilling, the wishes of the head of the house invariably prevail," adding coyly,"That's simply the way it is chez nous."

Taken aback by the novel and entirely false assertion that Major Benjy was at the helm at "Grebe" and mildly irritated by the obvious inference that this was not the case Chez Pillson, Lucia diplomatically rose above both issues and enthused," We were marvelling at the vast field of ice before us. A veritable pleasure ground. I was just remarking to Georgie that I really must look out the Diaries of John Evelyn. I'm sure they are somewhere in the Garden Room at "Mallards House."

As his wife spoke, Georgie thought, " No, she didn't. I'm sure I would have remembered if she had mentioned any diaries. Such fibs. Typical. Naughty Lucia!"

Whilst Georgie wisely kept his thoughts to himself, the truth was that, before leaving home that morning, Lucia had, with typical foresight, prepared herself by glancing through the entries in her invaluable Encyclopaedia regarding the memorable events of the Great Frost of 1683, when the River Thames in London was frozen to considerable depth.

Never being one to wear her learning (however superficial) lightly, Lucia intended to make fullest use of her, at best sketchy, knowledge of the subject. Assuming what Georgie privately called her "Oxford voice," Lucia drawled, "If I remember correctly, just before Christmas in 1683, Evelyn describes 'a greate frost', so severe that streets of booths were set up on the frozen Thames, including all sorts of tented shops and places where they roasted meat. Coaches, carts and horses passed over the thick ice."

Warming to her chilly theme, Lucia continued, "There were even printers where Londoners - especially ladies - could have their name, the date and year printed on cards, actually on the Thames. How stunning it must have been to be there."

As resigned glances were exchanged between them, Elizabeth muttered sarcastically to Diva, "So invigorating to be improved outdoors on such a bitterly cold day, is it not, dear?" whilst Lucia ploughed on with her al fresco lecture regardless.

"Evelyn tells us," Lucia continued, "That coaches plied on the ice from Westminster to the Temple. Sleds sliding with 'skeetes' were pulled by bulls and horses. There were coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other 'lewd places'. According to his diary, it was like' a bacchanalian triumph' or 'carnival on the ice'."

As Lucia eventually paused for breath, Elizabeth interjected,  "I trust you don't have it in mind that your Council should sanction such excesses on our Town Salts, Worship? I for one am sure we don't need any 'lewdness' in Tilling, or any more 'tippling' than already goes on in the Traders Arms most nights of the week. And we certainly don't want the Council involved or subsidising it. As I have always said, the rates are ruinously high already." 
  
"No dear," Lucia replied soothingly, "All those activities on the ice in 1683 were private matters. We shall just have to wait and see what, if any, respectable enterprise nature's frozen largesse prompts in the citizens of the borough. That winter was so harsh. Evelyn says that trees were split by the frost and birds and fish perished. It was so cold, smoke from fires was hindered in rising, so breathing was often difficult. Many parks of deer were destroyed and fuel was so costly that money had to be raised to keep the poor alive."

"I don't really think things are quite that bad yet here in Tilling, Lucia," observed Diva, mildly.

"And if they are, I'm sure Worship will make a very substantial donation to start 'The Mayor's Emergency Coal, Coke and Anthracite Fund' to save our shivering pensioners," added Elizabeth, sarcastically. 

Ignoring the latter remark, Lucia chose to reply only to the former, "Yes, Diva dear, our current freezing weather seems only to be what the meteorologists call a 'cold snap.' Hopefully, these few icy days can be  enjoyed and not endured. Come Georgie, let us go down and watch the skating. Will you join us ladies? "

"Thank you Lulu, dear, but I'm afraid, we can't," responded Elizabeth instantly," Diva and I have a prior engagement. In fact, look at the time; we must be off. We look forward to seeing you both at your soiree next week. So lovely to celebrate the honour done to Tilling by the King. Seven-thirty for eight isn't it?"

"Indeed, Lib Lib, precious one," countered Lucia, "We look forward to seeing you both then. Come on Georgie, I think I can see Algernon Wyse skating in the distance. How marvellous. Au reservoir, ladies!"


As Tilling's first couple descended the steps that led down to the Town Salts, Diva turned agitatedly to Elizabeth, "Thank you for asking me, Elizabeth. I actually wanted to go and watch the skaters. What prior engagement? That's the first I ever heard of it. Really, sometimes...."

Interrupting her, Elizabeth said soothingly, "Yes, sorry Diva dear, I just couldn't stand another freezing lecture from Lucia on the history of figure skating or winter sports and, to be honest, I really wanted a private word with you before going back out to 'Grebe.'"

True Tillingite that she was, Diva immediately moved on from her irritation at her friend's unilateral refusal of the invitation to join the Pillsons down at the Town Salts and focused on the much more interesting issue of what, possibly intimate, private issue was troubling her. Changing tack instantly, Diva replied solicitously, "Of course dear, we can watch the skating later this afternoon. Let us return to 'Wasters.' Janet is visiting her sister just now and we shall have the place to ourselves."

Elizabeth Mapp-Flint smiled and nodded and, arm-in-arm, the two mature ladies walked gingerly back through the frosted gardens, across icy Church Square and down the slippery High Street to Diva's home, "Wasters," outside which hung the shingled sign devised by Quaint Irene Coles with "Ye Olde Tea House," over a picture of good Queen Anne.

Once inside, Diva quickly brought into her parlour a tray laden with tea and various pastries. "Janet has been working on a new savoury addition to our tea time menu, Elizabeth," she explained, "We need to complement our famous Sardine Tartlet in the fish section of the menu - which we call "Neptune's Bounty."  Janet is trying to perfect her Pilchard Turnover. Perhaps you would like to sample it?"

"Of course, Diva dear," replied Elizabeth, who had a strong (literally "repeated") memory of the last new dish concocted by Janet, which Diva had tested on her. If she remembered correctly, it was a rather gritty anchovy and haddock rissole, which she had accurately, if undiplomatically, described as  "positively noisome."  

As Elizabeth took a small bite from the flaky savoury, she masticated thoughtfully. In her honest opinion, the taste was somewhere between "loathsome " and "deplorable."  After several seconds and a "Well?" accompanied by arched eyebrows from Diva, Elizabeth swallowed hard, cleared her throat with difficulty and replied, with a slow shake of her head, "Questionable, dear, at best questionable," adding, "Perhaps it would be kindest to leave it at that."

"Yes, I think you might be right," sighed Diva fatalistically. "I shall tell Janet to give up on the pilchards and perhaps revisit haddock"

"It's probably for the best," agreed Elizabeth gently.

"Now, you were saying, there was something you wanted to discuss. How can I help?" asked Diva continuing, "I suppose it has something to do with Major Benjy?"

"Yes, dear, I'm afraid it does," replied Elizabeth, reaching into her sleeve for a handkerchief, whilst sniffing and proceeding to dab at her dry and strangely unblinking eyes."I just don't know what's going on," she complained.

"Why not start at the beginning," suggested Diva, intrigued.

"Well, it started before Christmas" explained Elizabeth,"The weather was too bad for golf, yet Benjy still went out three mornings in one week and three the next.  I enquired as usual if he had enjoyed his round and he was just evasive. When I asked if he wanted me to walk around the course with him, as I used to do, he just said 'No, Liz old girl, I'd rather be on my own.'"

"Go on," encouraged Diva.

"And when I bumped into the Padre in the High Street," she continued, "He asked how Benjy's cold was and said he was looking forward to a game of golf when Benjy was recovered. Of course, I didn't let on that he hadn't had a cold at all and that I didn't know he hadn't been playing."

"No, of course not," sympathised Diva, "And?"

"Next, when I was hanging up Benjy's best suit in the wardrobe," she explained, "I  was going through the pockets, as you do."

"As you do," added Diva.

"And I came across several return rail tickets to Seaport," Elizabeth explained.

"He never mentioned going to Seaport?" asked Diva

"No, never," answered  Elizabeth, "We have been there to catch the ferry for the Continent, but never for any other reason. We don't know anyone there - so far as I know. I can't think of any reason to go. It's a mystery, it really is."

"And is that everything?"asked Diva, sensing that her friend was holding back something pertinent.

"Well, yes, there's his Post Office Savings Passbook," Elizabeth replied, "It's Benjy's secret. Benjy doesn't know I know about it, but he always keeps it inside the lining of his old solar topee from India, hanging up on the wall between the stuffed water buffalo head and tiger."

Resisting the temptation to comment upon this demonstrable lack of mutual frankness as between spouses, Diva focused upon the point at issue and asked what the passbook had revealed.

"Regular weekly withdrawals of twenty pounds for the last two months and, just before Christmas, fifty pounds" answered Elizabeth.

"As much as that! " gasped Diva, adding unnecessarily, "And you have no idea what for?"

"No, of course not," replied Elizabeth pointedly, whilst returning her still dry handkerchief to her sleeve and glaring at Diva with dry-eyed irritation, "I don't suppose you have any constructive suggestion to make at to what might be going on, dear?"

Recognising that there was little she could yet say that would be of much help or comfort, Diva chose her words carefully, "Well, dear, I have to admit that from the information you have available, it's impossible to work it out."

"Thanks for nothing then," replied Elizabeth, somewhat ungraciously, even by her, often irritable, standards.

"If you would kindly let me continue, oh 'ye of little faith'," added Diva, "But in circumstances where there is insufficient information, I generally find that the answer is to find out some more."

"Sorry. Do carry on," replied Elizabeth guardedly, for although she was frustrated by the blank drawn thus far, she was well aware that Diva excelled in the field of inductive reasoning, which had been developed in Tilling to a fine art.

"Thank you, dear," replied Diva, her honour satisfied, "It's obvious that we need to keep Major Benjy under observation and see what he is up to. It may be entirely innocent."

"Of course, it might," replied Elizabeth, unconvincingly, continuing anxiously, "And how do you propose to do that?"  
    
"Clearly, neither you  nor I could follow him, but I'm sure we can arrange for someone he doesn't know to do it, tactfully," explained Diva.

"Oh, I see," said Elizabeth,"Who?"

"My Janet's sister's boy, Neville might  fit the bill. He's just finished school and is at a loose end before going into the army. A bright, sensible lad.  I'm sure for five shillings and his fares, he could follow Benjy to Seaport and report back"

"What a good idea, Diva," replied Elizabeth, "Thank you so much. I feel as though a weight is being lifted from my shoulders already."

"That's what friends are for dear," Diva replied, "Would you care to try another of Janet's pilchard turnovers?"

As Elizabeth Mapp-Flint left "Wasters" and the proferred pilchard turnover untouched, she set off briskly on the veritable route march out to "Grebe."


Walking through the Landgate, she looked down and across towards the  frozen Town Salts and spotted Lucia and Georgie sitting on a bench surveying the scene. Elizabeth waved and blew a kiss in their direction, somewhat theatrically, but, having failed to capture their attention, pressed on towards home.

Meanwhile, at their bench beside the ice, Lucia and Georgie were captivated by the activity in front of them.

Led, as ever, by the enthusiatic Georgie and Per, the Tilling Ice Skating Club, had sectioned off part of the ice. In one half Georgie adjudicated a very energetic competition in barrel jumping, whilst in the other, Per organised races around a two hundred yard oval circuit.

"I suppose you are the President of the Tilling Ice Skating Club, as well as the football, cricket and cycling, Lucia? " asked Georgie.

"You know, I think I am," replied Lucia, insouciantly, "You must remind me to give them a cup for their racing. It looks very exciting and skillful," adding, "Also very worthwhile exercise. I wonder if they have any lady members?"

"Yes, dear," Georgie replied, "And perhaps a President's Shield, or something, for the barrel jumping?"

"Very good idea, Georgie," she confirmed, "Oh look, here is Inspector Morrison and his children."

At that moment, Herbert skated slowly by, managing to nod civilly to the Mayor, whilst holding the hand and supporting each twin in one of his. As their uncertain progress continued, Lucia waved and called, "Do be careful Inspector. You're all doing very well."

As the Morrison trio shuffled away, the figure of Algernon Wyse hove into view. Clad in a dashing white cashmere V-necked jumper and plus fours, Mr Wyse skated with a smooth confidence and impressive speed that made him stand out from others on the ice that morning.


With his hands behind his back in a supremely natural, almost diffident manner, not dissimilar from the style in which he rode his bicycle,  Mr Wyse executed a number of elegant figures, demonstrating immense poise and shoulder control, apparently effortlessly.

He added to a mesmeric combination of exquisite patterns and precise figures in the ice, changes of direction and edge, crossing and reversing, with jumps going both forwards and backwards. His display culminated in the dizziest of spins. Whilst apparently rooted to the spot, his madly revolving head and limbs seemed to the watching Pillsons to disappear in a veritable blur.

Halting after this bravura performance, Mr Wyse smiled modestly, bowed  from the neck in a clipped Germanic fashion and skated over.  Lucia and Georgie stood and applauded him with cries of  "Bravo, Signor Sapienti!" and "Wonderful, wonderful, Mr Wyse!"

As Mr Wyse soaked up the praise, Lucia enthused, "How marvellous! Such a talent. How could you possibly hide such stunning skill under a bushell? Please tell us, how did you become so accomplished?"

"It is very flattering of you to heap such praise on me, Mrs Pillson," replied Mr Wyse with his customary olde worlde  self-deprecation, "And entirely unwarranted. I owe such skill as I posses to the very best of teachers."

"If you don't mind me asking, Mr Wyse," interjected Georgie, who shared his wife's admiration and curiosity, "Who was it who taught you so well? Such a difficult art."

"It's rather a long story, actually, Mr Georgie," replied Algeronn Wyse, who had only now caught his breath after his earlier exertions, but it goes back more than twenty five years, to one of my earliest villeggiaturas in my beloved Capri, shortly after the marriage of my sister Amelia to Count Cecco di  Faraglione."

"Ah!" commented Lucia and Georgie in unison, but none-the-wiser.

"During my first stay on Cecco's estate in Capri, we dined with the English resident of  the neighbouring property, Villa Cercola, a delightful retreat. A charming man, a classicist, archaeologist and successful author, from the best of families and the very best of company. His father had been Archbishop to the late Queen, God bless her."

"Oh!" replied Lucia, for herself and her spouse, still terribly impressed, but no nearer understanding, "Pray continue, Mr Wyse."

"Well, dear friends," he continued, " On returning to England, our neighbour from Capri weekended with my family at Whitchurch, when Amelia and Cecco were also staying. I remember it well. It was February and very cold.  During his stay, it emerged that he was an excellent skater and a renowned exponent of the classical English style. In fact, he was a medallist and member of the National Skating Organisation. Our ponds were frozen and he very kindly offered to give me some tuition in skating in the classical manner. The result is evidenced by what I had the temerity to expose to your gaze on the ice today."

"How very interesting, Mr Wyse," enthused Lucia, "Your skill does credit to both student and teacher. In fact, I am so impressed, that I long to begin to skate myself."

"I thought that might be coming," thought Georgie to himself.  He had already perceived what seemed likely to be the germination of what he had already privately christened, "Lucia's Winter Stunt."

As his wife continued to exchange remarks with Algernon Wyse concerning "the purity of the English style," and about salkows and lutzes, Georgie  day-dreamed about Lucia in full Mayoral attire, including her plumed tricorn hat, leading a veritable conga-line of her fellow members and officers of the Borough Corporation of Tilling at high speed around the icy expanse of the Town Salts. This brief fantasy owed more to his recent viewing of film extravaganzas starring Miss Sonja Henie than the likelihood of the Town Council gamely taking to the ice en masse.

George was soon snapped out of his reverie by a specific offer from Mr Wyse, "Well, Mrs Pillson, if you are interested, I would be very happy to lend to you what I think is recognised as the definitive manual on the theory, technique and practice of the English style of figure skating. If you will be kind enough to receive it, I will send the volume around by hand with Figgis later this afternoon."

"How very kind, Mr Wyse. I should indeed be very interested to read it. Thank you," replied Lucia,"Oh, look isn't that dear Susan coming towards us?"

As Lucia spoke, there appeared before them the ample figure of Susan Wyse, swathed in her luxuriant sables, sitting on a stout wheel back chair of rustic design that appeared to be fixed onto a pair of long wooden blades, not unlike those used in  the troikas or horse-drawn sleds of Russia.

In this instance, the troika of Susan Wyse was not pulled by team of three, steaming greys, but pushed from behind by the solitary, perspiring and virtually exhausted Figgis.

"Whoa, Figgis," cried Susan Wyse, more than somewhat imperiously, as her vehicle eventually slid to a halt on the ice, where her husband was conversing with Lucia and Georgie.

"Good day, Mr and Mrs Pillson," said Susan, amiably, as Figgis stood gasping and crimson faced, clinging onto the the back of her chair, "Such fun today on the Salts, out in the fresh air, so healthy and invigorating, don't you think?" she remarked.

Slightly concerned at the, possibly life-threatening impact his exertions might have had upon the still-heaving and speechless Figgis, Georgie replied, "Yes indeed, Mrs Wyse, but poor Figgis seems to be quite worn out by all his hard work."

"You might be right," responded Susan, unconcerned, "Anyway, I think I should quite like my afternoon tea now. To the Royce, Figgis: chop chop!"

With this, Figgis, by now merely grey with fatigue, pushed his mistress to the edge of the ice, where the Rolls Royce was parked to make a speedy return to tea and crumpets by the fire at "Starling Cottage".

Before joining her, Algernon Wyse bade a civil farewell to  Lucia and Georgie with the assurance that he was looking forward to the reception at "Mallards House " next week and the promise to send round his book on skating.

Sure enough, by five that afternoon Foljambe entered the Garden Room at "Mallards House" with a silver salver on which, with the compliments of Mr Algernon Wyse, lay a volume, first published in 1908, entitled "English Figure Skating," bearing on its frontispiece the fading handwritten inscription:

To/
Algernon Wyse

Enjoy your figure skating, my friend and remember:

English figures in the ice
Lord Desborough thought were very nice -
Though lacking in the sinful spice
Of beastliness and English vice.

With my thanks for your generous hospitality

The Author
Whitchurch
10th February 1909.

Leafing thorough the detailed text with its "forward changes of edge"," four rules", "reverse Q's"  and "crossing pairs on opposite feet", Lucia remarked that this was "exactly what she needed" and that she would "begin serious practice the next day." 
  
In the ensuing days, it was generally agreed that Tilling had became a "veritable St Moritz-on-Sea,"  as skating on the frozen Town Salts became all the rage.

As Georgie Pillson had anticipated,  Lucia threw herself enthusiastically into mastering the refined art of figure skating in the English style, which had indeed become her "Winter Stunt."
 
With typical efficiency, the Mayor read and absorbed her borrowed manual and urgently sent up to London for suitable skates and accouterments of the highest quality from Lillywhites in Piccadilly. Enjoying the prospect of  "a striking new costume," as he put it to Foljambe, Georgie Pillson also equipped himself with skates and a well-cut suit in finest tweed, in an unusual pale eau de nil hue, so as not to be outshone.

After several lessons from Algernon Wyse and a good deal of practice alone, Lucia declared herself ready to commence holding her own classes for beginners in skating, which were duly attended by the Padre, his wife, Evie and his curate. 

When not teaching Lucia, Algernon Wyse was to be seen skating exquisitely each afternoon, whilst his wife Susan continued to enjoy her Figgis-powered perambulations around the Town Salts, decked in her furs like a Russian dowager.

Striking a more bohemian note, Quaint Irene Coles tore around the ice field at breakneck speed, clad in her Breton fisherman's smock and britches with a brier pipe clenched between her teeth in a slightly piratical manner.

As Lucia's confidence grew and she skated this way and that around the Town Salts, in and out of the good folk of Tilling.  Thoroughly enjoying the novelty of a huge expanse of ice, Lucia, not for the first time, felt like Queen Catherine the Great of all the Russias and relished being at liberty incognita amongst her adoring people.

Of all the Pillson's circle, only the Mapp-Flints and Mrs. Plaistow did not succumb to the new enthusiasm for winter sports. Unbeknownst to their friends, Major Benjy was fully occupied with the matter that had been distracting him of late and Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Diva Plaistow were preoccupied with the task of divining exactly what this was.

Elizabeth and Diva were therefore pleased and relieved to sit down in the parlour of "Wasters" with a pot of tea, some biscuits and Neville, the teenaged son of the sister of Diva's servant Janet. For five shillings and his fares, Neville had been persuaded to follow Major Benjy, at a discreet distance, on his latest trip from Tilling to Seaport. After consuming most of the biscuits before him, Neville took a dog-eared exercise book from his pocket and licked his fingers.

Turning to the relevant page, he began,  "As requested, I followed Major Mapp-Flint on Tuesday morning -at a 'discreet distance' in accordance with your instructions."

"Indeed, Neville, do carry on," urged Elizabeth.

"The Major left 'Grebe' at 9 a.m without luggage. The weather was dull and dry.  He walked directly to the railway station in Tilling. There at 9.35, he bought a copy of the "Daily Mirror" and a second-class return ticket to Seaport and boarded the 9.45 train, sitting in a first class compartment."


"Typical," thought Diva to herself.

"My Benjy has obviously had a lot on his mind," explained Elizabeth loyally, if implausibly, adding defensively, "A pure oversight, I'm sure. A mistake, you know."   
  
"Anyway," continued Neville, warming to his task and rather enjoying the rapt attention of his listeners,"On arriving at Seaport at 10.25 a.m., the Major proceeded on foot to Esplanade Street and at 10.45 a.m. entered the Windermere Private Hotel, where he remained for the next sixty minutes."

"Could you see anything from outside?" asked Elizabeth.

"I saw him enter the lift and go up to the second floor. There was a lady sitting in the window, who got up and disappeared from view," Neville explained.

"As though she was going to the door to let someone in?" suggested Diva.

"Yes, Mrs Plaistow," he confirmed, "After an hour or so, they came down in the lift together. She was leaning on his arm and talking quietly to him. I couldn't hear what they said."

"What did she look like?" Elizabeth asked.

"She wore a sort of pale blue robe or sari, with a fur coat over her shoulders, and had a red mark on her forehead,"  he explained, "She wore some bangles that looked like gold and had grey hair tied up in a sort of bun. She was very old.  Even older than you,  Mrs.Mapp-Flint," he concluded.

"Thank you, Neville dear," said Elizabeth, "Charmingly put," continuing, "You said she was leaning on Benjy's arm. Did she look ill, do you think?"

"Yes, she did. Very grey and - sort of - 'drawn'," Neville replied, "And that ties in with where they went. They walked around the corner - quite slowly - into Marina Parade and went into an office."

"And what was it?" Diva asked.

"Outside, there was a brass plate that said, 'Dr. D.G. St.John-Evans.'

"Oh!" exclaimed Elizabeth and Diva, in surprised unison, "And how long..?"

"Fifty minutes," said Neville, "And the Major then walked her back, still very slowly, to the hotel.  They went in and he stayed for another hour and he came out alone. It was about 2.30 then."

"What happened next?" Diva enquired, "Did he catch the train back to Tilling?"

"Not immediately, Mrs Plaistow," Neville answered. "He walked over the road to the Station Hotel and went into the Saloon Bar."

"And?" asked Elizabeth.

After looking down at his exercise book and pausing, Neville added, "And the Major had two large scotches and a small pork pie.  He then went to the station and caught the three-thirty back to Tilling."

"Thank you very much, Neville, that was very comprehensive," said Elizabeth, reaching into her handbag and extracting two half crowns. Passing them to him, she said, "I think we agreed on this for your time?"

"Thank you, Mrs Mapp-Flint. I'm only too pleased to help. This will come in useful. I can take Muriel to the pictures now. There's that Sonja Henie double bill, still on at the new Bijou."

"Very nice dear," Elizabeth replied, "That's Mr Twistevant's youngest girl, isn't it? I hope you have a nice time."

As she showed Neville out, Elizabeth added, "Thank you again for your help. And don't forget, what happened is our little secret, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," Neville replied, as he stepped out into the High Street, "Mum's the word."  Neville set off down the road, clinking the half crowns in his pocket and wondering whether instead of the army he should aim for a career in the police, or even better, as a private eye, like in the movies. His Muriel would like that.

   
As Elizabeth returned to the parlour at "Wasters," Diva poured another cup of tea. Sitting facing each other, the two friends simply sighed and sat quietly for a minute or two.

Eventually, Diva broke the silence, "Well, I'm not sure that takes us much further forward!" Flexing her well-honed analytical skills, she continued, "We know Benjy has met her several times in Seaport. Obviously, he knew her before and there is some kind of connection,  but we don't know what it is, or even who she is."

"Thank you for that thrilling statement of the blindingly obvious, Diva dear," responded Elizabeth, sourly, "We also know she's ill, but heaven knows with what. I didn't mention it, but there's also the fact that even more money has gone from Benjy's Post Office Account."

"No! " gasped Diva, in time-honoured Tilling fashion, "How much now?"

"Another hundred and fifty pounds, I'm afraid," replied Elizabeth.

"Well, if you don't mind me saying," remarked Diva carefully, "It seems to me that you have two choices now - three, if you include doing nothing."

"Impossible!"  snorted Elizabeth.

"That leaves us with either confronting Benjy with the whole issue," suggested Diva.

"Or?" asked Elizabeth.

"Having a private word with Inspector Morrison and asking if he could look into it for you, or at least give you some advice. For all you know, there might be any kind of crime involved - blackmail, smuggling, anything"

"I think that's a little far-fetched Diva, if you don't mind me saying," Elizabeth replied, "But I must admit I don't feel up to confronting Benjy with it all just yet and it might be helpful to have some independent advice."

Standing up from the table, Elizabeth thanked Diva for arranging for Neville's services and confirmed that she would try and speak privately to Inspector Morrison.

Seizing the moment, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint walked straight from "Wasters " in the High Street to Tilling Police Station, just off Church Square, and was soon ushered into Inspector Morrison's office.


After the usual pleasantries concerning health and the festive season, Mrs Mapp-Flint outlined the recent sequence of events involving her husband, his exotic foreign visitor and the substantial withdrawals from his savings account. Whilst 'not wishing to jump to foolish conclusions', she asked the Inspector if it would be 'possible to enquire discreetly if there were any issues arising, of a criminal nature' requiring his attention.

Somewhat relieved that his formidable visitor had not come to upbraid him yet again regarding "the dismal failure of his force to apprehend the wanton criminals responsible for the despoilment of fruit stocks out at 'Grebe'", the Inspector undertook to implement very tactful enquiries and to report back to her. Satisfied with this commitment, Tilling's Mayoress, bade him good day. 
  
Within forty eight hours, Inspector Morrison had completed this task and telephoned "Grebe" and suggested that Mrs Mapp-Flint call on him at his office at her early convenience.  The same morning, whilst her husband was otherwise engaged  in who-knew-what, a short train ride away in Seaport, Elizabeth was ushered into the Inspector's office.

"Well, Inspector," said Elizabeth,"Do you have anything to tell me? What have your investigations revealed?"

Herbert replied, "I have now made various enquiries and spoken to my colleagues in the force in Seaport,"

"And?"

"This seems to be one of those cases when there is only so much I can say, Mrs Mapp-Flint," Herbert explained, as gently as possible, " I think it proper to tell you that for the last month a lady known to your husband has been staying at the Windermere Private Hotel in Seaport. She has travelled to Europe and entered the country perfectly legally. She has settled her bills at the hotel in full promptly and has not, to my knowledge, been guilty of any criminal offence in this country or abroad or, for that matter, any civil transgression."

"Oh, I see,"said Elizabeth, "Do you know her name, Inspector?"

"I do understand that the lady in question is titled." Herbert replied, "She is Indira Gayatri, the Dowager Maharani of Maharashtra and I gather has sadly been suffering ill health in recent years. Since I have found no indication of any criminal activity whatsoever, in the absence of any complaint from your husband or someone else, I am afraid I can do nothing further"

"Thank you, Inspector" replied Elizabeth, "I am grateful for your time. I realise that I must find out directly from Major Mapp-Flint exactly what has been going on."

As Elizabeth Mapp-Flint again made the long walk back to "Grebe," she rehearsed in her mind the way in which she would raise her concerns with her husband. He would, she imagined, return home in the late afternoon as he had done after his previous assignations in Seaport.

On reaching "Grebe," Elizabeth was surprised to find Major Benjy already there. Entering the drawing room she greeted him with a cheerful, "Hello dear, a good round today?"

Benjy had his back to her in a studded leather wing back chair facing the fire. He had a glass of whisky in his hand. This consumption itself was not surprising, but Major Mapp-Flint was usually careful not to be found by his wife drinking spirits during the day. Today, however, it seemed he did not really care.

When Elizabeth walked around the front of his chair and saw her husband's face, she could have sworn his eyes were red and moist, almost as though he had been crying. Concerned, she asked,"Benjy dear, What's wrong? Whatever can the matter be?"

"It's all right, Liz old girl," he replied gruffly, "Don't fuss. I've just had a bit of a shock, that's all. Thought I'd have a drop of whisky. Do you want one?''

Although initially her instinct was a stiff rebuttal, with all the offended dignity of dear Queen Mary, Elizabeth sensed that, for once, it might be best to bend a little, "Just a small port, please dear," she replied, "Now tell me. Just what's been going on? I think it's time to let me in on what's been happening, don't you think?"

With a sigh, the Major poured his wife's port and refreshed his own glass. Sitting down, he raised his tumbler to her and said, resignedly, "Yes, I suppose so."

Trying to make his task a little easier, Elizabeth interrupted, "Benjy dear, I know you've been going to Seaport for over a month now. I know about the Windermere Hotel and the Doctor. I know about her and even about your Post Office Account. I've been so worried. Please, just tell me the truth."

"Fair enough, old girl," said Benjy, a little unnerved at the extent of his wife's knowledge, "It will be a relief to tell you, after all this time."

"Go on dear, get it off your chest," Elizabeth replied.

"Well Liz, like so much in my life, it goes back to my time in India. I was quite a young buck out there. Enjoying army life and all that it brought: the mess dinners, the polo, tiger shooting, servants and house parties up country. It was a very good life for a young chap.'Sporting Benjy', they used to call me in the Regiment."

"Yes," commented Elizabeth, trying hard to remain as neutral as possible,

"My 'circle of friends,' as you might put it," he explained, "Was fairly wide and included many attractive ladies. Many. They never really pinned me down and I had fun moving from one to another,"

"Ye-e-s," observed Elizabeth again, finding it harder to resist becoming rather more judgemental.

"Well....one of my very best and closest lady friends at the time was a particularly beautiful woman of the highest caste, who was also very popular with my brother officers. She had many friends in my regiment. I think the term might even be a "courtesan" - or some thing like that?"

"Yes, Benjy, I get the picture, dear. I have read novels. Many novels," said Elizabeth, in a tone that was now closer to brisk than sympathetic.

"She was such a legendary beauty, we used to call her 'the Pride of Poona'," he added, oblivious to the mounting irritation of his listener who had never enjoyed her husband's repeated references his legendary long lost love.

"Anyway, you may have gathered, " he continued, "When that Maltravers chap appeared at the time of the Mayor's dinner some months ago, I had a little trouble involving a fellow officer's wife up-country and my Commanding Officer found it advisable for me to return to Blighty pro tem, at least until the dust settled. That was when I also saw the last of the Pride of Poona and thought I would never see her again."

"And?" asked Elizabeth.

"A few weeks before Christmas," he explained, "Completely out of the blue, I got a letter from her, explaining that she was visiting the country and needed to see me urgently."

"So, you agreed to meet her?" asked Elizabeth.

"Yes, I did," he replied, somewhat emboldened by his second stiff whisky, "I didn't think you would take very kindly to my meeting  up again with a close lady friend of forty years ago."

"I have to admit, you were correct in that assumption, Benjy, dear," observed Elizabeth menacingly, "Pray, do go on."

"It's very sad actually, old girl" he explained, "Her name, by the way, is 'Indira Gayatri.' "

"I know, Benjy," replied Elizabeth, by now anxious to assert herself  in some small way and show that she had not been entirely passive.

"How do you know that?" asked Benjy, regretting his words as soon as they had left his lips.

"Does it really matter, dear?" she asked, "I don't really think today is the day for you to be asking me  questions, do you think?"

Recognising the weakness of his position, Benjy shrugged and continued, "I suppose you're right.  Anyway, she told me that her doctors advised her that she was fatally ill and had not got long to live. There were some important things that she needed to put right, before it happened."

"Such as?" asked Elizabeth, continuing to feel more impatience than sympathy.

"Her first bombshell was that when I boarded the P &O at Bombay to come home, she was already carrying my child."

"Good Lord," exclaimed Elizabeth,"Why didn't she tell you?"

"In those days, confronted with the news from someone regarded as, at best, 'a courtesan', what do you think she assumed a British officer would do? Drop everything and marry her?"

"Oh, I see," said Elizabeth, "So what did she do?"

"She quickly married the Tika Raja, who soon succeeded to the title of Maharajah of Maharashtra," he explained, continuing,
"The Maharajah had long carried a flame for her and was happy to bring up the child as his own. He was immensely wealthy and Indira lived a life of utter luxury in his palace outside Poona."

"So the Pride of Poona, eventually became its Queen, so to speak?" asked Elizabeth.

"Yes, she did," Benjy replied, "The good times lasted until the Crash in 1929 when the Maharajah lost virtually everything. He died in 1931 and life has been much, much harder for her since then."

 "And that's why you needed to draw the money from your Post Office Savings - to pay for her hotel and doctor's bills?"  Elizabeth suggested.

Benjy merely nodded and Elizabeth continued, "And what became of the child?"

"A boy Liz, a boy," confirmed Benjy proudly, "Indira told me he followed in my footsteps. After Sandhurst, he joined the Guards."

"You must be very proud," Elizabeth remarked quietly, "And do you have any grandchildren?"

Clearing his throat, Benjy sipped his scotch and replied, "No Liz, that was one of the main things Indira needed to tell me. Our son was lost in the War. He was leading his brigade just outside Ypres. A very brave young man."

"Oh, Benjy, I'm so sorry," said Elizabeth,"You gained a wonderful son and lost him in the same conversation. And now your Indira is so ill."

"Yes, Liz," Benjy replied, "That's why I'm here now and not still in Seaport. Indira passed away this morning. She said she couldn't go before, without my knowing about our son, the soldier."

"And now,"  Benjy concluded trembling, "All I can do is bury her, so you'll have to bear with me whilst I deal with that. It's my responsibility. It's the least I can do."

"Of course, dear. We shall arrange it together. Indira was a friend of the family. Her funeral shall take place in Tilling and the Padre will officiate. The Maharani must be buried in our churchyard here. We shall invite all our friends in Tilling. Perhaps young Neville and Muriel Twistevant will be able to attend?"

"Thank you, Elizabeth, I never thought you could be so understanding," Major Benjy replied, "I always said that as an old campaigner, I've seen a great deal of shikarri in my time. I now realise, you have too, Liz old girl."


THE END

Copyright reserved in all appropriate territories  Deryck Solomon 2012

February: The Martello Tower Murder


The closing days of January saw hectic preparations for the funeral of Indira Gayetri, the dowager Maharani of Maharashtra.

Elizabeth Mapp-Flint had reassured her husband Major Benjy that they would put in hand the arrangements for the burial of their "old family friend," the Maharani, together.

In practical terms, this meant was that the lady of the household worked feverishly upon the myriad of practical issues involved from arranging undertakers, the service and interment to extending invitations to mourners. It even fell to her to deal with the formalities of registering the death and arranging for the insertion of appropriate notices in the press.

Whilst all this was going on, the good Major made his own contribution. For the most part, this consisted sitting in his armchair in his study at “Grebe,” broodily looking through fading sepia snapshots taken during his dusty days stationed near Poona and nursing numerous tumblers of pre-war whisky.  He also arranged for his old Indian army uniform to be let out at virtually every seam, to be worn at the service.

Although the burden fell almost entirely upon Elizabeth’s not insubstantial shoulders, her many friends in Tilling did what they could to assist.

The Padre was able to accommodate her regarding the preferred date for the service in Tilling church.  Diva Plaistow assisted in arrangements for catering for the refreshments to be offered at “Grebe” afterwards. Both Algernon and Susan Wyse and Georgie and Lucia Pillson were happy to make their impressive Rolls Royce motor cars available to carry those attending the funeral and Lucia was eager to assist in putting together a selection of hymns and readings for approval by Mrs Mapp-Flint and the Padre.  
  
On receiving her handwritten note of the draft order of service for the funeral, Elizabeth was pleased to accept all Lucia's suggestions, save for a voluntary to be performed on the organ by Mrs Pillson herself  of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."

Choosing her words carefully, Elizabeth thanked Lucia for her "thoughtful and refined suggestions", all of which she endorsed, "save for the organ recital." Here Elizabeth, "did not wish to usurp the role of the regular organist at Tilling Church, who might be offended if he were to be replaced by someone of  Lulu's standard of musicianship."

Elizabeth's remark (as she had surely intended it should) caused Lucia to wonder whether her musical competence was being applauded or denigrated. Though fairly certain it was the latter, Lucia diplomatically did not feel inclined to seek clarification.  She was quite content to be requested instead to give a reading, particularly in the light of what Elizabeth called, "your unforgettable performance of that speech by Lady Macbeth, during your thrilling lecture on the Shakespearean drama at the Literary Institute only a few  months ago: such a memorable treat for us all. Though perhaps on this occasion it will not be necessary to perform with your face lit only by a bright flashlight beam, dear? There's always a time and place for such stunts, don't you think, Lulu, sweet one?"

In an effort to be helpful, Lucia also contacted Lord Ardingly as Lord Lieutenant of the county to enquire discreetly as to the etiquette regarding the possible representation of His Majesty the King at the funeral of a Dowager Maharani.

Lord Ardingly was advised through what he described as "the usual channels" that "their Majesties well–remembered receiving the obeisance of the previous Maharajah of Maharashtra at the Coronation Durbar in 1911," and felt it, "entirely appropriate that they should be officially represented on this saddest of occasions by their representative in the locality."

It was understood that Her Majesty the Queen was particularly fond of a suite of fine emeralds given to her by the old Maharajah to mark the occasion, which the Royal jewellers subsequently incorporated into what became known as the "Poona Tiara." 
  
Snow and ice still gripped Tilling as February began with the day of the funeral. An impressive cavalcade of motor cars drew slowly away from "Grebe" that morning. Behind the long black hearse followed the Rolls driven by Cadman with Lucia and Georgie Pillson and Elizabeth and Major Benjy Mapp-Flint, as chief  mourners. 
 
There followed Lord and Lady Ardingly in the Ardingly Daimler, bearing the Lord Lieutenant's armorial shield.

Next was the Wyse's Royce, today driven by the bovine Boon, whose funereal demeanour was well-suited to the sombre occasion. Susan and Algernon were accompanied by Diva Plaistow and Evie Bartlett.

The cortege was completed by a black Riley driven by Inspector Morrison, wearing dress uniform,  with Bunty Morrison at his side.  The twins were at school that morning and, in any event, deemed too young for such an occasion.

The rest of those attending, such as Quaint Irene Coles, Diva's servant Janet, her sister's son Neville and his girlfriend Muriel Twistevant, went straight to the church and awaited in their pews as the  hearse arrived and the coffin and principal mourners were greeted and led ceremoniously down the aisle of Tilling Church by the padre, Kenneth Bartlett.


All present agreed that the service "went" very well indeed.  Hymns included "The Day Thou Gavest," and, "The Strife is O'er."   
  
Lucia had endeavoured to put together an eclectic selection of readings, beginning with her own rendition of Shakespeare's sonnet,   
  
"Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages."  
  
Lucia had aimed to distinguish between the heat and dazzling sunshine of the Raj and the icy chill of a February morning in Sussex, "thus encapsulating the sharp contrasts of Life's journey."  She thought she had succeeded quite well.

To broaden proceedings, Lucia had inventively included a touching poem by the Bengali writer Rabindraneth Tagore, "Farewell My Friends," to be given by her husband, which began,
  
"It was beautiful as long as it lasted
The journey of my life.
I have no regrets whatsoever
Save the pain I'll leave behind."   

  
As he sat down, much relieved after his reading, Lucia patted Georgie's hand and whispered, "Beautifully read, Georgino mio," and paradoxically adopted her "Beethoven expression" to listen to the organist's performance of a Bach fugue, which she was forced to admit was "passably competent," though privately she felt it lacked the poignancy of her own version of the "Moonlight Sonata."      
  
After the congregation essayed a spirited rendition of "Lead Kindly Light", Algernon Wyse gave a resolute reading of Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar" with its final stanza so meaningful to Mesdames Mapp-Flint and Pillson, after their ordeal together on the Gallagher Bank, six or so years before:   
   
"For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar."   

  
Psalm 42, Hope in God, was followed by a reading of high sentiment by Major Benjy. The brittle leather of his old riding boots creaked and his spurs clicked and occasionally sparked on the stone  floor, as he marched stiffly to the bronze eagle of the lectern.    
    
Ignoring the neatly-typed copy of the poem allocated to him by Lucia, "Life," which Charlotte Bronte urged her readers to    
   
"..believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a  pleasant day."   
   
Instead, in a clear voice, the Major almost barked  "If "  by Rudyard Kipling. As delivered from memory, the lines seemed redolent both of the mores of the dusty plains of the Raj, as much as the muddy playing fields of a hundred public schools in England many thousands of miles to the north.     
   
As he concluded with the thundering assertion, "And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!" and a dramatic, shuddering salute, which rattled the row of campaign medals on his chest, more than one member of the congregation wondered privately at the relevance of the poem to an Indian Maharani.  Some thought the choice might have been intended as the mournful tribute of one son of Empire to another following the poet's sad passing shortly after the turn of the year.  No-one, however, denied the sincerity, and indeed volume, of the declamation. Only Major Benjy and Elizabeth knew that his reading was a father's farewell to the brave soldier son, he had never known. 

Gathered outside the West door after the interment, in the shadow of the flying buttresses, those attending were invited by Elizabeth Mapp-Flint to "a reception and simple fork buffet at home." From Tilling Church, the cortege, other than the hearse, retraced its tracks in the gently falling snow back across the marsh and out to "Grebe," where refreshments were laid out in the dining room in readiness.

As they removed their hats and outdoor coats in the hall, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint thanked Lucia as warmly as she was able for her hard work in preparing the service, which all agreed was, by Tilling’s standards, “so widely-based as to be positively ecumenical - and all the more uplifting for it.”

In her bohemian way, Quaint Irene Coles still eschewed female clothing even on such a solemn occasion.  Today, however, she showed some restraint by dressing in a dark blue double breasted suit with white shirt,  black tie and plain brogues. Georgie thought to himself that, with her short hair parted and brilliantined, Irene resembled the under-manager of a branch of Montague Burton.

Quaint Irene moved from one group of mourners to another as they quietly reviewed the events of the morning. She joined the Pillsons and Wyses next to the buffet table.

Her continued schwarm for Lucia soon evidenced itself in its charmingly artless way, “I simply loved your choice of readings, Lucia, so widely drawn and worldly. Just like you!” she gushed.

“Thank you dear,” replied Lucia, without showing the slightest embarrassment and receiving this praise from her most longstanding devotee as her due, “I was pleased with the overall effect and thought everyone read beautifully.”

“Of course, Lucia, after you set the standard with that lovely, lovely sonnet,” added Irene.

 “Though I thought the Kipling jarred just a little?” interjected Georgie, a little mischievously.

“You might be right,” Lucia replied, “I had intended Major Benjy to read a short piece by Charlotte Bronte, but he obviously decided to go ‘off piste,’ as you might say.”

“You have to admit the effect was, to say the least, authentic,” added Algernon Wyse, to which the assembled mourners nodded in unanimous assent.

Diva Plaistow approached the group, bearing in one hand a plate of jumbles and cream puffs and in the other sardine tartlets and pilchard turnovers. The reputation of her savoury offerings had gone before her and that plate was left untouched, whilst her friends assuaged their grief with her sweeter treats.

After agreeing yet again that the proceedings had “gone well,” Diva leaned forward conspiratorially and asked, “Did anyone ever actually meet the Maharani?”

“No, I cannot say, I had the honour to meet the good lady,” replied Algernon Wyse with a short bow, in the general direction of the grave yard by Tilling Church, where the deceased had lately been laid to rest.

“Me neither,” added Irene.

“Now you come to mention it,” said Georgie, “I don’t remember her ever being mentioned before last week, when we were told, ‘an old family friend had died’”

As meaningful looks were exchanged in time-honoured Tilling fashion, Lucia broke the pregnant silence, "I didn’t want to be the first to mention it….”

“But?” said Georgie, as Lucia’s voice trailed off.

“But,” she continued, “I couldn’t help but wonder, how it was that the Mapp-Flints had 'a close family friend,' who was a Maharani….”

“And never came to mention it!” added Georgie triumphantly, “I thought exactly the same thing. Heaven knows, if Elizabeth had royal connections I would have expected to hear about nothing else!”

“Morning, and night!” added Diva, pleased that her query had elicited such a response.

“It is of course entirely different when  one’s aristocratic connections are 'family ties',” observed Susan Wyse, uncomfortably aware that she and her husband rarely missed an opportunity to advertise their kinship with Count Cecco di Faraglione and his ancient Caprese lineage.

“Of course, Susan dear,” said Lucia reassuringly, “' La famiglia’ is entirely another matter.”

Having got this particular bit between her teeth, Diva was not yet content to let the matter rest. “And have you noticed, there’s never been a trace of her either at “Mallards” or here at Grebe?”

“Or in Major Benjy’s old house,” added Georgie, “Not so much as a photograph - or even a Christmas card.”

“That’s assuming Indian Dowager Maharanis send Christmas cards, Georgie old boy,” added Irene, who had by now found Benjy’s decanter of pre-war whisky and helped herself to it liberally.

“I suppose you’re right, Irene. Perhaps they send 'Divali cards' in Maharashtra?” he replied, without appreciating that her point had not been entirely serious.

“Anyway, I think it needs looking into,” concluded Diva meaningfully, whilst making a mental note to look up "Maharashtra" in her "Pears Soap Children’s Atlas," immediately she returned to “Wasters.”

Somewhat sheepishly – like pupils removing evidence of illicit sweets on the advent of a prefect – this line of conversation terminated on the approach of their hostess.

Smiling, as only the chatelaine of “Grebe” could smile, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint entered the circle, bringing with her Lord Ardingly, “I think you all know Lord Ardingly?” she enquired, assuming an ease that was intended to infer that his presence was an every-day occurrence and not at all unusual in her home.

“Of course, Elizabeth, dear,” replied Lucia, “So good of you to come today, Your Lordship. I’m sure their Majesties must be comforted to know that you have represented them so well on this difficult day.”

A general murmur of concurrence was followed yet again by one suggesting that “it had all gone very well.”

As the group fractured into several smaller ones, Lucia took the opportunity to remark, “ I do hope you will be able to attend my reception at "Mallards House" next week to mark the award of honours to our Mr Gascoyne and Inspector Morrison, Lord Ardingly?”

“Indeed, Mrs Pillson,” he replied, “I asked my secretary to confirm that Her Ladyship and I would be charmed. You should receive it shortly.”

“Excellent,” said Lucia, who had never entirely forgiven Lord Ardingly from, as she put it, “poaching” her estimable secretary to work for him at Ardingly Park, continuing,” I hear that Mrs Simpson has left you too now, Your Lordship? I trust your new one has settled in well?”

“Yes, Mrs Pillson, Miss Pilbeam has taken over the reins admirably, though I was sorry to lose Mrs Simpson. Plain, homely sort of woman, but efficient.”

“I seem to remember, she left you shortly after the Prince of Wales last came to Ardingly for the Hunt Ball?” asked Lucia.

“That was it; moved to London with her husband. Though she was American, she performed her duties admirably. I don’t suppose we shall hear of her again.”

“No, I suppose not,” agreed Lucia.


As his black Riley pulled away from “Grebe”and headed towards Tilling, Herbert Morrison turned to Bunty and said, for the umpteenth time that day, “Well, that went well, didn’t it, love?”

Bunty nodded, looking out upon the frozen marshes in silence.

“What are you thinking about?” Herbert asked.

“Nothing really, dear,” she replied, “It just seems a little sad really. She came all the way from the heat of India to our freezing winter and passed away like that, all on her own: bit of an enigma.”

“I see what you mean,” commented Herbert, “We’ve just spent the morning marking the passing of someone we don’t know in the slightest.”

“Exactly, dear,” Bunty agreed, "Dowager Maharani or whatever, I just feel very sorry for her. I wouldn’t like to go like that.”

“Now, now Bunty, don’t get carried away,” said Herbert, “It’s very unlikely that you will be buried thousands of miles away from home, by people who don’t know you from Adam. Or should it be Eve?”

“I still think it’s sad and I still feel sorry for her,” Bunty added.

“I don't disagree with you, but at least we made the effort and were all there to pay our respects. As I said, I think it was all done very well.”

“You’re right of course, Herbert. It was a very respectable send-off. But you mark my words, there’s a mystery there. Perhaps one day, we’ll know a little more about the Maharani.”

“Probably not dear,” said Herbert, whilst thinking to himself, “Not  if  Elizabeth Mapp-Flint has anything to do with it.”

Meanwhile, at home at  "Wasters" in her parlour, Diva Plaistow took down her atlas and turned to a map of the Indian sub-continent, coloured brightest red. She looked for the state of Maharashtra.

Diva found it and noted the Deccan Plateau, the Western Ghats and various rivers and cities. "There's Poona," she thought, "I'm sure Major Benjy mentioned it more than once, but I can't for the life of me think what he said. Oh, well, I'm sure it will come to me one day. Time for a quick cup of tea and then down to the Salts to watch the skating whilst the ice lasts."

Over the succeeding days Tilling endeavoured to raise its spirits by undertaking vigorous exercise in the bracing air of a frozen February.

The Town Salts teemed with skaters from dawn until dusk. Many were practising for the forthcoming Championship Gala of Tilling Skating Club.

The strict rules  precluded Lucia as President and Georgie as a Committee member from normal competition, but each was permitted to enter “hors concours.”   Thus the Mayoral couple enjoyed participation in their respective figures and were awarded special rosettes, though no official medal or silver cup.

It fell to Lucia as President to present the Club’s Victor Ludorum shield bearing her name to Algernon Wyse, who had naturally won both the gentlemen’s figures and freestyle skating competitions by a considerable margin.

After much heated debate over whether the rules permitted the entry of same-sex couples, both the pairs and ice dance competitions were won by Quaint Irene Coles performing with her maid Lucy. Lucy's height and remarkable upper body strength ensured that the many lifts, jumps and throws in their ingenious performances, in which her employer positively “flew” prodigious distances, were truly spectacular.

Unfortunately, Quaint Irene became somewhat over-wrought when awarded her winner’s medals by Lucia and flung her arms around her and kissed her repeatedly, until wrestled away by Lucy and Georgie. 

The crisp weather and enthusiastic adoption of winter sports ensured that the spirits of the town had lifted no end by the day of Lucia’s Mayoral Reception at “Mallards House.”

To celebrate the announcement in the King’s New Years’ Honours Lists of the award of OBE’s to Tilling’s leading dealer in antiques and Inspector of Police, Lucia declared she aimed for a more “inclusive gathering than was the norm.”

Accordingly, in addition to the Ardinglys and her closest intimes – the Mapp-Flints, Wyses, Bartletts and Mesdames Plaistow and Coles  - Lucia sought to cast her mayoral net more broadly.

Handing him the final guest list, Lucia had explained to Georgie that she wished to include representatives of the entire community and thus many more professions and even trades would be represented, ranging from medicine and the law, to banking, estate agency and local businesses. The Town Council and its clubs and organisations were also to be represented by well known and popular Tillingites who made such a contribution to the community, such as the brothers, Georgie and Per.

Thus, in addition to her usual circle, stiff cards of invitation were posted to Dr Dobbie and young Dr Brace, the Town Clerk, surveyors Messrs. Woolgar and Pipstow, Mr Causton, Lucia's solicitor and prominent shopkeepers, such as Harold Twistevant.

After lengthy thought, Lucia decided not to invite the fishmonger Mr. Hopkins to avoid causing any embarrassment to Elizabeth Mapp-Flint.  Elizabeth had never quite recovered from meeting him at “Taormina,” posing “au naturel” (save for little bathing drawers) as the model for Quaint Irene’s infamous portrait of Adam or the fact that he was know to be walking out with her parlour maid Withers.

After reviewing the list, Georgie handed it back to Lucia with the observation, “Very ‘democratic’ Lucia. I always thought you preferred to see yourself as Catherine the Great of Russia rather than Beatrice Webb handing out leaflets amongst the Fabians, but you live and learn!”





The Reception proved to be a lively affair. With Georgie by her side, Lucia as hostess greeted each guest and presented them to both impending honourees and their spouses.

Bunty turned to Hubert Gascoyne’s wife Deidre and remarked laughing, “It’s a little like the receiving line at a wedding reception, don’t you think? I feel like the mother of the groom.”

Deidre smiled in agreement as both earnestly shook hand after hand and thanked each new arrival for their congratulations and good wishes. Since the day was brisk but dry, guests were able to move freely between the drawing room and dining room in the main part of “Mallards House” and out, via the garden, into the Garden Room.

As usually happens at such functions, small groups of friends and acquaintances formed and reformed throughout the evening, holding glasses of champagne or wine and balancing plates of canapés.

Georgie and Per particularly enjoyed themselves, knowing virtually everyone present  by virtue of their lengthy connection with the Council, Gas Works and every sports club and charity functioning  in Tilling.

On this special occasion, Susan Wyse had for once agreed to remove her heavy sables, revealing her evening gown and proudly displayed upon her ample décolletage of her own Order of Member of the British Empire.

As ever, this crimson ribbon proved a veritable red rag to the bull that was Elizabeth Mapp-Flint. Hoisting her standard high, she rode into battle instantly, “Susan dear, so brave of you to display your Order this evening, of all evenings.”

Not knowing quite what was in store, Susan replied politely, “Thank you Elizabeth dear. I thought it apt to show solidarity, as the proud fellow recipient of an award from His Majesty. They are so few and far between in our area.”

“Yes dear, that is true,” Elizabeth responded, “But it is so unself-conscious of you to display such a lesser Order than we are here to celebrate tonight, don’t you think?”

As the colour rose in Susan’s plump cheeks  and Algernon’s brow furrowed with indignation, Quaint Irene chose this moment to intervene, “Well, at least Mrs Wyse has been recognised for her valuable work with Tilling Hospital and jolly well-deserved too if you ask me.”

As Susan and Algernon Wyse smiled weakly, Irene continued unchallenged, “ I don’t think they give out medals for hoarding groceries in times of national shortage or charging summer tenants more than you let on, do you, Lib-Lib - sweet one?”

As always, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint found Quaint Irene’s pointed insights insufferably insulting, but had no effective means of defence, let alone counter-attack and was obliged simply to make light of her barbs, “Now Irene, quaintest one, I’m sure we are all very proud of Susan and her little decoration – as we shall be of good Inspector Morrison and Mr Gascoyne. Let us just enjoy the evening.”

Subjects were immediately changed and the volume of small talk increased as safer ground was sought. Suitable distraction was soon found in the presence that evening of Dolores Brace, the young and pretty wife of young Doctor Brace, junior partner  of Dr Dobbie.

As Dr Brace exchanged pleasantries with his senior partner and Mrs Dobbie, Dolores stood at the centre of her own group of admirers consisting of brothers Georgie and Per, Harold Twistevant and Major Benjy, who by now had managed to imbibe five glasses of champagne, whilst his normally vigilant spouse was otherwise engaged.

Dolores looked particularly voluptuous in a  gown daringly based on one recently worn in a film by the American actress Mae West and ingeniously replicated by Miss Greele in the High Street. Everyone agreed, Tilling had not seen its like before.

Mrs Brace had been a great fan of Miss West, since her days as usherette at Tilling’s old picture place, lately replaced by the Bijou Cinema and assiduously copied her idol's clothing, hair, make-up and mannerisms.

This evening, after several glasses of sherry, Dolores was happy to be liberated from the hesitant banalities of conversation with the Dobbies and soon became the life and soul of the party.

Georgie and Per found her talk riveting and were particularly attentive in lighting her cigarettes and replacing her demure schooner of Amontillado with “something more interesting,” in the form of a large ports and lemon.

As their corner of the Garden Room grew more noisy and smoky and levels of laughter grew louder, so disapproval mounted elsewhere.



Still in full mourning, for the late-lamented Dowager Maharani, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint looked formidable and forbidding. Wearing her jet black tea gown, she glided about silently, combining the menace of  a killer shark with the mass of an iceberg. This was the third incarnation of the infamous garment in which she had fought a mortal battle with Diva Plaistow in both kingfisher blue and crimson lake.

This bruising experience had taught both ladies that a degree of liaison was well worthwhile and avoided both the embarrassment and ruinous expense involved in clashing in public in precisely the same frock, which then had to be re-dyed.

Looking at her husband cavorting in his dark suit with its black armband, Elizabeth tutted, “You wouldn’t think Benjy was in mourning would you, dear?” she asked, shaking her head, “Mind you I blame Dolores Brace for leading them all on - with her blond hair and low-cut dress. Look at them; they’re like little puppies, eating out of her hand. Sacre Bleu!  I never thought I’d live to see the day when Dolly Brace was flaunting herself at the piano in the Garden Room at “Mallards. Jamais!”

Diva knew that nowadays Elizabeth only tended to resort to exclamations in schoolgirl French, when “her blood was up” and thought it best to try to pacify her friend, but before she could start, Dolores and Benjy sat at the piano roaring with laughter and picked out a very hesitant duet of “Chopsticks” followed by the first few bars of “The Lambeth Walk.”

This caught the attention of Lucia, who was mortified to observe that  Dolores had placed her half-smoked cigarette in the mouth of the bust of the immortal Ludwig Von Beethoven, enshrined upon on its pillar beside the Steinway.

“That really won’t do at all,” she told Georgie and summoned Foljambe to divert the performers with a tray of canapés, whilst Grosvenor gently closed and locked the lid of the piano and discreetly removed the smouldering cigarette from Beethoven’s lips.

Watching this, Diva did her best to make light  of  the behaviour of Mrs Brace, “You mustn’t be too hard on her. Dolly was always a lively girl and she’s known Per and Georgie since they were all at school together. She really doesn’t mean any harm.”

“Be that as it may, Diva, dear,” said Elizabeth, wholly unconvinced, “I would rather like to know what excuse Benjy or Harold Twistevant might have; they’re both old enough to be her father – if not her grandfather!”

Since Diva had no answer to this apercu, Elizabeth continued, “I do understand that Dolly’s always been a little like that,” she admitted, “But she’s a married woman now. The wife of a doctor is expected to behave with a little decorum and not to flirt with every grown man in Tilling, who buys her a port and lemon. You know she’s in the public bar of the Traders Arms every night with one chap or another. It’s just not fair to her husband, now is it?”

Under this veritable barrage, Diva was forced to concede that Elizabeth “had a point,” but paused as Mrs Brace and her circle of gentlemen admirers headed for the door of the Garden Room en masse.

“Oh, no what now?” asked Elizabeth, “I expect Dolly is going to lead them in the 'Hokey Cokey' on the lawn outside.”

It emerged however  that with all the guests they had been requested to assemble in the dining room for supper and then speeches of congratulation addressed to the guests of honour prior to their investiture by the King.

Despite the fears of Mrs Mapp-Flint, for that evening no limbs or other body parts were “put in” or “out” or in any way, “shaken all about”…..


Later, Herbert and Bunty Morrison were conducting their usual post mortem on the events of the evening, as they unlocked the front door of “Braemar.”

After learning that the twins had behaved well, Bunty handed half a crown to young Muriel Twistevant,who had been baby sitting and let her out into the cold February night.

Returning to the kitchen, where Herbert was pouring cocoa into mugs, Bunty said, “ I thought Mrs Pillson did you proud tonight Herbert. Her speech was quite touching really, with all that about 'Tilling being grateful for your talent and hard work and proud of your success'.”

“Yes, it was good of her to say that,” he replied, “Lord Ardingly’s speech was very generous too. It’s quite something to live up to.”

“The rest of the evening was interesting, don’t you think, dear?” she asked, with a meaningful look

“I suppose you could call it that,” he replied with a smile.

“I wondered if the Mayor will be tempted to invite such a ‘broad’ mixture of people again?” Bunty asked, already knowing the answer.

“I doubt it, love. I thought things would settle down when they locked the piano, but that conga really was the last straw.”

“I thought Mrs Mapp–Flint was going to have a fit,” laughed Bunty.

“That may have had something to do with the way her husband was holding onto Dolly Brace, don’t you think?  At least Georgie and Per are single. It’s different for a married man.”

“Yes I do,” said Bunty, “I think it’s unlikely that Dolly will ever be asked again.”

“One port and lemon too many,” remarked Herbert

“'Several too many', I should say. Though it's Doctor Brace, I feel sorry for. Poor chap. He just had to stand and watch as she made a show of herself.  Dr Dobbie and his wife didn’t know where too look either. It can’t be good for the reputation of the practice.”

“Dolly was always high-spirited, even back at school,” Herbert pointed out, “It’s funny to think of her in the same class as Georgie and Per and me all those years ago at Tilling Juniors. Now, a respectable doctor’s wife,  she’s leading a conga out of the front door of the Mayor’s house and half-way down the High Street to the Trader’s Arms.”

“I wonder if Mr Meriton will mention that in his report in the ‘Hampshire Argus’?” Bunty asked, tongue firmly in cheek.

“I suspect not, dear. But there should be some fairly interesting gossip during the marketing hour in the High Street tomorrow, that’s for sure. Time for bed, I think.”


The marketing hour in Tilling next day, ran its usual acrimonious course. Tension was high. Susan Wyse and Quaint Irene Coles were distant with Elizabeth Mapp-Flint because she had belittled Susan’s  M.B.E.

Elizabeth, in turn, was irritated with Irene for insulting her with accusations of hoarding and profiteering. The only thing everyone agreed in was disapproval of the behaviour of Dolores Brace and sympathy for “poor put-upon Dr Brace.”

“No Major Benjy this morning, Elizabeth?” enquired Diva Plaistow.

“An acute migraine, I’m afraid, Diva dear,” she replied, well aware that everyone knew exactly what had discommoded her other half.

Irene Coles recognised what was expected of her and chipped in, “Nothing to do with downing the nine or ten glasses of Lucia’s champagne last night, I suppose?”

“Entirely unconnected, Irene, sweet one,” Elizabeth snapped,  “Also, while we are on this painful subject, I hate to say it, but I cannot absolve dear Lucia from all responsibility for the sad events of last night.”

“How can that be?” asked Diva, “She opened her home to celebrate a great honour to Tilling and the event was spoiled by the ill manners of others. How can it be her fault?”

“Well, if you don’t mind me saying,” asserted Elizabeth, “Such a thing would never have happened in my day. You would never have seen such a motley crew invited  into the Garden Room of 'Mallards,' when I owned it.”

Before Diva could reply Irene Coles exploded, “Really, Mapp !” she exclaimed, “You really take the biscuit, you really do. Lucia, out of the kindness of her heart,  for the first time invites a cross section of the decent people who really make Tilling tick - unlike the small clique who always went there in your day. She provides the best of food and wine. Some of her guests rudely take advantage of her hospitality and make fools of themselves – including, if you don't mind me saying, your own husband – and you have the nerve to blame dear generous Lucia. You should be ashamed of yourself, you really should! And what's more , you should make Benjy beg her apology, so there!”

At this, confronted with her usual inability to respond, let alone defeat, Quaint Irene in argument, Elizabeth simply clenched her fist, reddened in the face and stormed off, whilst Irene shouted after her,"That’s it Lib–Lib dear, run away. You really don’t like it when some one dares speak the truth, do you?” 
  
The hasty departure of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, in the direction of the Land Gate and the road out to “Grebe,” freed her friends to discuss the behaviour of her spouse at “Mallards House.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever since him down quite so many glasses of champagne so quickly,” commented Diva Plaistow.

“After which, he was putty in Dolly Brace’s hands” added Irene.

“As was Harold Twistevant; and both happily married men. Foljambe told my Janet that she found a half-smoked Woodbine behind the left ear of the Beethoven bust and lots of marks and rings from glasses on top of the Steinway - like a four-ale bar. And a conga, indeed.  Dolly has a lot to ….”

Before Diva could add “answer for,” her voice trailed off and instead she smiled broadly, saying, “Good morning to you both. Lovely day isn’t it” as Mrs Dobbie, the doctor’s wife and his junior partner's mother, Mrs Brace, who was leaning heavily on her walking stick, left Twistevants. They hurried by as quickly as they could on the opposite side of the road.

“Do you think they heard?” asked Susan Wyse, deeply worried, “Poor Agnes Brace looked like she had the world on her shoulders. She worships that son of hers and will hate him being made to look like a fool.”

"I don’t think they could hear us,” replied Diva, in a failed attempt to reassure her.

“Well, even if they didn’t, they can’t have thought for a moment that anyone in Tilling would have any other topic of conversation this morning, could they really ladies?” asked Irene, “Anyway, enough of this tittle-tattle, I’ve got some real work to get on with. I must ask Mr Hopkins if he’s free to pose for me again on his half-day. Cheerio!”  

By the time that the forensic analysis of the social misdemeanours of Dolores Brace and the character defects of Major Benjamin Mapp-Flint had been completed in Tilling High Street, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint had reached “Grebe.”

Entering the drawing room, she mustered more sympathy than most would consider her husband’s self-imposed malaise merited and asked cheerfully, “Feeling any better, dear?”

Lifting the cold compress from his forehead, Benjy merely grunted and handed to his wife a typed  letter that had arrived by the second post that morning.

Picking it up, Elizabeth noted it came from a grand-sounding firm of solicitors in Lincoln’s Inn Field, which she read aloud, were “recently instructed in the administration of the estate of Indira Gayetri, the late dowager Maharani of Maharashtra.”

“Oh, Benjy, how exciting,” she exclaimed, “They respectfully ask you to contact them ‘at your earliest convenience, so that you might learn of something to your advantage.’ You must telephone straight away and make an appointment.”

“What? A trunk call?” exclaimed Benjy, shocked at the thought of the ruinous expense involved.”

“Yes,  dear. Needs must. Do it now and I’ll then ask Withers to bring in some tea.”


Next day, as Inspector Morrison walked out of his office at Tilling Police Station, he was surprised to see Dr Brace standing at the counter, engrossed in conversation with the Duty Sergeant.

Sensing something was amiss; he walked over and greeted him, “Good morning, Dr Brace. We don’t often see you here. Nothing wrong I trust?”  

“Good day, Inspector. I was just explaining to your Sergeant that I thought I should call in this morning. I’m very worried. It’s my wife Dolores. She didn’t come home last night.”

The Sergeant leaned over the counter and handed to the Inspector the buff manila folder containing the newly-completed missing person forms. Thanking him Herbert said, “That’s alright Sergeant, if you’ve competed the various formalities, I’ll just take Dr Brace into my office for a chat and I’ll call you in. Perhaps in the meantime you could arrange for some refreshments?”  
    
In the Inspector’s office, Dr Brace lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, “I knew we should never have accepted the Mayor’s invitation to her reception.”

“Why should you say that?” asked Herbert.

“Despite looking so extrovert , my wife really isn’t as confident as she pretends. Underneath she’s a bundle of nerves. She was terrified of an occasion, like that – with the likes of Mrs Mapp-Flint and Mr Wyse there – with her teeth and his airs and graces. And she found her nerve in the only way she knew how…”

“Port and lemons?” suggested Herbert.

“Exactly. The trouble is, after she has a few, there’s no saying where it will end.”

“As in the Lambeth Walk and a conga down the High Street?”

“I’m afraid so, Inspector. But it’s different this time.”

“In what way?” asked Herbert

“I have to admit that my wife has, what I suppose could be called, her ‘own circle of friends’.”

“You mean down at the Traders Arms, for example,” suggested Herbert, trying to be helpful.

“Yes. I’ve always known that she was not going to fit into a typical doctor's wife's life with its Mother’s Union,  Rotary  Club lunches and Masonic Dinners.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“But this is the first time Dolores has not come home. And I’m worried.”  
  
Before Dr Brace had left the Police Station, Inspector Morrison had deployed his force on a systematic search of the area, spreading out in concentric circles from the Brace residence in Starling Street. All constables out on the beat or about the area in motor cars or on bicycles were given a description of the "missing woman aged 29, of medium height, pale complexion with blonde hair, last seen on a pale summer dress and high heeled shoes."

As the search was put underway, news of the disappearance spread around the town and gave residents much to gossip about on their way in and out of the shops.

Terms ascribed to the young doctor's wife did not become noticeably kinder as the search progressed and the words, “shame”,  "irresponsible” and “no better than she ought to be” were used as often as “that poor young doctor.”

As the long hours passed, speculation increased as to her whereabouts with wild rumours about “Being driven by shame to catch the ferry from Seaport to Le Touquet” or “Raced off to London, to go on the stage.”

Through all this, Dr Brace and his mother stayed quietly at home, awaiting news.

Those who had joined in with the high jinks at the Mayor’s reception all protested their innocence and  played down their connection with Mrs Brace in a manner that was neither entirely generous nor remotely truthful.

Behind his till, Harold Twistevant was particularly unchivalrous in denying any connection with “that young woman,”as he called her, whilst Georgie and Per claimed that, "unused to champagne," they had "no recollection whatsoever of the events of the evening. "They did however ,"wish Mrs Brace, 'all the best.'"

Major Benjamin Flint in the meantime maintained the lowest of profiles and did not set foot outside “Grebe” for several days, whilst recovering from the most acute hangover in a singularly bibulous decade. He was particularly preoccupied with preparations for his impending appointment with the solicitors in London and engrossed in mental speculation as to what his "expectations" might be.

It was only after twenty four hours of fruitless conjecture that Tilling had the news for which it had been waiting.

Breathless and flushed, the Curate burst through the double doors into the Reception at Tilling Police Station, “Officer, officer!” he gasped, clinging to the polished mahogany counter,”A body. The body of a woman. Lying in a heap. Out at the Martello tower. It’s young Mrs Brace. A terrible accident. She’s dead!”    
    
Coming out from his office, Inspector Morrison took control of the situation and sent his Sergeant and two constables out in the patrol car to the spot described by the Curate. He followed in his Riley with the Curate,who grew more composed and explained what had happened.

“I was walking out along the Military Road past the harbour and along the canal to the first of the Martello Towers, Inspector.”

“Were you alone?” Herbert asked

“Yes, I was going to look for mosses and wild flowers as part of my project on 'Flora of the Sussex Foreshore.'”

“What happened?”

“Well, I  reached the Martello Tower and was noting some interesting specimens of moss on the lea side, when I saw this crumpled  heap on the ground.”

“And that 'heap,' was the body of Mrs Brace?”

“Yes , Inspector. She wasn’t breathing and there was nothing I could do for her. So I thought it best if I ran to the Police Station."

"Quite right, Curate, quite right," said Herbert as he pulled up in front of the Martello Tower.



By the time that the scene of death had been forensically examined and officially photographed and the Martello Tower and the surrounding area had been painstakingly checked for evidence, night had fallen. In the distance, a mile away
, the lights of Tilling twinkled brightly against the dark February sky.

The headlights of the ambulance taking the body to the pathologists for examination and the police cars returning to Tilling illuminated the deserted Military Road that ran beside the canal and made a slow and sad procession.
  
That evening, as a distraught Dr Brace was comforted by his elderly mother Agnes, there was only one topic of conversation in the homes and public houses around Tilling.

Everyone agreed that the accidental death of one so young and beautiful was indeed tragic.

This concern soon led to conjecture over whether Mrs Brace had fallen to her death from the top of the Martello Towed by unfortunate accident or whether the stress of the general disapproval of her behaviour at the Mayor’s reception had caused her to take her own life – when unhinged by guilt and embarrassment.  
  
Next day, Church Square resembled a scene from the Meistersingers, with excited citizens running hither and thither with but one topic of conversation.  This drama had everything from a poor thwarted young husband to the reckless beautiful wife, cut down in her prime by a cruel Fate or even her own hand, possibly as retribution for her own excesses.

At eleven 'o clock Inspector Morrison telephoned Dr Brace. After apologising for disturbing him, he asked him to call at the Police Station at twelve to deal with various formalities, such as official identification of Mrs Brace, once the initial pathologist's report was received.

As the clock on the church tower struck , Dr Brace in his best pin-striped suit, with a black arm band was ushered into the Inspector’s office.

Picking up a folder from his desk, Inspector Morrison spoke gravely, “I have the pathologist’s report Dr Brace, and I’m afraid I have some disturbing news.”

“What now, Inspector?” asked Dr Brace, barely able to conceive that his current situation could be any worse.

“Coming to the point, I must tell you that he pathologist says that the cause of your wife’s death was a strong blow with a blunt object to the back of the head and not the injuries sustained from her fall from the top of the Martello Tower. Mrs Brace was dead by the time she hit the ground”

“You mean, it wasn’t an accident, Inspector?”

“Yes, Dr Brace, I’m afraid we must conclude that your wife was murdered.”

“But who could have done such a thing, Inspector? My wife may have upset a few people, but I never thought she had enemies.”

“Sadly, it falls to us to try and work that out Dr Brace. I’m afraid we can’t afford to rule anyone out – even you.”

“Yes, Inspector, I understand. You must do your duty. What do you want from me now?”

“It will be the same for everyone known to have been  in contact with your wife,  Doctor. We will need to verify their whereabouts at the estimated time of death. Now where were you between two and three yesterday afternoon?”

As the interrogation of Dr. Brace continued at the Police Station, rumours of the pathologist's report spread about Tilling.

Groups stood exchanging views on the possible sequence of events and potential suspects.  The generally understood "somewhat hectic social life of the deceased" led her neighbours to compile a disturbingly lengthy list of those who seemed likely to be called upon to establish alibis. 

Those in question ranged from sundry drinking companions in the Traders Arms and their potentially jealous spouses to guests known to have frolicked with Dolores at the Mayor's reception and even their disgruntled other-halves. Mention was even made of the degree of irritation that the respectable Dr Dobbie might have felt at the damage done to the hard-won reputation of his practice by the antics of the wife of his junior partner.

Naturally in the circumstances, much outrage was felt amongst those tarnished by such “unfounded slanders.” 

Upon hearing some of them second-hand from Diva Plaistow, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint threatened “legal proceedings for slander against anyone uttering such spiteful, base and fabricated falsehoods against my Benjy.”
  
"Or you, dear?," suggested Diva, helpfully.
 
"Yes of course - or against me!" spluttered Elizabeth, who had not even dreamed that she fell within those classed as "suspects."

Mrs Dobbie was similarly infuriated and Agnes Brace, the widowed mother of Dr Brace was utterly mortified. She hobbled away from the High Street in tears, to be comforted at home.

During this maelstrom of rumour and innuendo, Inspector Morrison remained immured in his office, piecing together the movements of the widower of the deceased, who increasingly appeared to be his prime suspect.

During the key hours in the afternoon, Dr Brace had been alone in his surgery or out and about the neighbourhood in his motor car on his rounds. It was clear that he had ample opportunity to visit the isolated Martello Tower along the unused Military Road and to return to town unseen.     
   
As the day wore on, the prognosis for Dr Brace worsened. Georgie and Per were demonstrably occupied by their respective duties at the Gas Works and Town Clerk’s Department.

Domestic staff at “Grebe” confirmed that Major Flint, still suffering from “an acute migraine,” had not set foot over the threshold of “Grebe.”

Dr Dobbie was occupied with several of the great and good of the borough, including Susan Wyse M.B.E, attending the Board of Tilling Hospital.   

Equivalent certainty existed in respect of the whereabouts of the potentially jealous spouses of each of the leading male suspects.

After an interview of no less than five hours, both the interrogator and interrogatee were tiring.  As Inspector Morrison called for yet another pot of tea, his Sergeant interrupted, “Inspector there’s a visitor at the desk, says she need to speak to you most urgently.”

“She?” asked Herbert, realising almost immediately that the Sergeant did not wish to say more in front of Dr Brace,” Very well. I’ll come and speak to her.”

There at the desk, patiently waiting and leaning on her walking stick, stood the diminutive figure of Agnes Brace, septuagenarian mother of Dr Brace and mother-in-law of the late Dolores.

“Thank you for coming out to see me, Inspector,” she said, “I know you’re really busy, but I needed a very urgent word with you. This really has gone too far; much too far.”

“Of course Mrs Brace,” Herbert replied, “Perhaps we should go for a private word in the interview room?”

There, in a small airless room lit by a solitary electric bulb, across a plain wooden table sat Mrs Brace in her winter coat and cloche hat, of the kind fashionable fifteen or so years before.

Her handbag hung over one arm of the chair and her walking stick leaned on the other. Declining the offered cup of tea, Agnes Brace began, “I couldn’t let you go on Inspector. You see, it wasn’t my son that killed his Dolores.”   
  
“Really, Mrs. Brace” Herbert replied, “But if it wasn’t your son, then who was it exactly? Who did murder Dolores?”

“I’m afraid it was me, Inspector,” Agnes replied, disconcertingly.

“I beg your pardon,” gulped Herbert.

“Well, Inspector, you were there at “Mallards House" that night. You saw what happened. My son was so pleased and excited to be invited by the Mayor. It seemed as though he had at long last ‘arrived’ in Tilling and amounted to something. So they turn up, looking their best. I was so proud of them both when they left home that night. Then she goes and spoils it.”  
  
“Please continue, Mrs Brace,” said Herbert. 
  
“Instead of just passing a civilised evening with pleasant conversation, Dolly has to go and show him up. Three port and lemons and she’s playing the piano and leading a conga down to the Trader’s Arms. Everyone in Tilling – apart from my son of course – already knows she’s wayward and sees other people from time to time. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she has to go and rub his nose in it right in front of the Mayor and half the Town Council.”

“But, was that really enough reason to murder her, Mrs Brace?”

Ignoring the question, Agnes continued, “You don’t know how much my son gave up to be a Doctor, Inspector,” she explained, “All those years of study. All those nights working late at his books whilst his friends were out enjoying themselves.  All those sacrifices – for him and me, a widow – to build his career. And Dolly goes and wastes it all and humiliates him, after three ports and lemons. I really had no choice you see.”     

“And what exactly happened out at the Martello Tower, Mrs Brace?”  
 
“Well, Inspector, it was quite simple really,” she replied, “I just told her she needed a walk to clear her head after the night before. I suggested we walk out to the Martello Tower after lunch. It’s always so quiet out there.” 
  
“And?”

“It was very quiet. No-one saw us on the way. We talked about this and that and what happened at the Mayor’s House. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t think it mattered much at all.”

“What happened when you got there?” Herbert asked.

“Dolores insisted on climbing right up to the top of the tower to see the view down the coast. With all those steps, it took me quite awhile to catch up with her.”

“And when you caught up?”

“She just kept pointing out the places where she used to meet various chaps, like Harold Twistevant’s youngest son, the one that stole the money from our Christmas Club”

What happened then, Mrs Brace?”

“When she talked about meeting young Twistevant just below where we were standing at the Martello Tower, without any thought for my son, I just snapped…”

“And?”

“I was carrying my Contadina’s umbrella, the one with the stout ivory handle, carved like a duck’s head. It’s heavy; I can lean on it like a walking stick”

“Yes?”

“Dolly had her back to me pointing to where she has that last assignation with young Twistevant. She kept laughing. So I just hit her. I hit the back of her head so hard it broke the handle in two. And she fell off the tower onto the concrete below.”

“So Mrs Brace, you did this on purpose. It wasn’t an accident?”

“Yes Inspector, I meant to do it. I did it for my son. If you need to see my Contadina’s umbrella, it’s in the hall stand at home.”

“Thank you for that Mrs Brace,” said Herbert, “We certainly will need to collect it.”

Later that night, when Agnes Brace had been charged with murder and detained in custody pending an initial appearance before the local magistrates, Dr Brace returned to his cold and empty house. His mother’s Contadina’s umbrella had already been removed and placed in safe-keeping as evidence by Tilling Constabulary.

Inspector Morrison returned to supper with his wife Bunty at “Braemar” just outside the town. As they sat down by their fireside afterwards, Herbert completed his account of the day’s dramatic events.

In silence, they both thought privately of the innocent far-off days when they had both been in the same class as Georgie, Per and Dolly at Tilling Juniors.

After some moments, Herbert said, “It’s all about class really, isn’t it Bunty love? We were all in the same class once and it’s never comfortable trying to move from one to another.”

“You’re right dear. Sometimes, there’s a high price to pay; far too high.”


Copyright reserved in all appropriate territories  Deryck Solomon 2012