What is more, a leading shopkeeper of the town had also been appointed an Officer and it was plainly undeniable that “So delighted” certainly trumped “pleased” in whatever degree. To borrow a metaphor intelligible to the members of Tilling Football Club, it was as though their first division champion, Mrs Wyse had suffered the embarrassment of two relegations in successive seasons.
Looking up from the latest edition of the "Hampshire Argus," Elizabeth smiled with her own patented combination of pity and condescension, "Yes, thank you Diva dear. Though did you think the sardine tartlets were quite what they should have been? I do hope so, but suppose only time will tell."
“ No thank you dear," Elizabeth replied, content to have ruffled a feather or two," More than sufficient, I think, much more."
Sniffing, Diva turned and made a dignified exit to count the day's takings thus far, a task which always lifted her spirits, even when discomforted by she whom Diva was pleased to consider her oldest, if not dearest, friend.
"What's in the "Argus", this week Elizabeth? "asked Benjy.
"Predictable as usual, Benjy dear," replied Elizabeth, without looking up, "It seems the 'Argus' thought it worthwhile to send Mr Meriton all the way to London to report on the Investitures. They certainly got their money's worth with all his usual florid prose."
In the pristine new extension, a portrait of Tilling’s beloved Mayor, painted by celebrated local artist Quaint Irene Coles, rejected by the Council largely at the instigation of the Mayoress and subsequently loaned by the subject now hung prominently on permanent exhibition, “And you Mr Georgie?” asked the loyal Mayoress.
"Sure you really mean 'artiste' Mr Georgie?" asked Elizabeth acidly, applying the forensic linguistic analysis with which she invariably dissected the Padre's sermons each Sunday.
"Forgive me, Elizabeth. A foolish little play on words; positively tarsome!" replied Georgie, making light of her correction, adding, "You're quite right that it's undeniable that Miss Coles is an artist 'skilled in the art of painting.' However, don't you think our unique Irene is also an artist with an 'e' - a 'public performer' and what if I'm not mistaken the dictionary calls 'an adept in a manual art?' I believe painting qualifies as a 'manual art', doesn't it?"
Elizabeth shivered when she remembered Quaint Irene's most recent very public performance with a dinner bell, banners and a band of urchins at the time of the Council Election. She was also hardly likely to forget how Miss Coles' acclaimed rendition of the Painting of the Year proved definitively that she was exceedingly adept in the unarguably "manual art" of painting.
Consequently, even Elizabeth Mapp-Flint in the very sourest of moods could not credibly continue to contradict Georgie. She therefore pretended not to have heard his remark and remained silent.
At that moment, Inspector Morrison entered the front parlour
and stood smartly before the card table.
After Elizabeth had accidentally dropped her last hand and with it her assembled tricks, the requisite post mortem and reconstitution of hands played took place. The blatant revocation of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint was laid bare and due reparation claimed.
As the Pillsons took the few steps from “Wasters” to “Taormina,” Georgie asked “What was all that about with the Inspector and the two last warrants, Lucia?”
Confronted by this challenging question, Lucia paused for a moment and stood back to take in the enormity before her.
Clearing her throat, Lucia decided time was ripe to express her view, “First Irene, I must congratulate you upon your skill and vision in creating such a major work - a tour de force!. Secondly, I must commend you in your courage in addressing such a contentious set of issues. Brava!”
Georgie and Lucia strolled the short distance from "Taormina" to "Mallards House" in silence. It was plain to both that Quaint Irene's new painting would cause a furore when unveiled at the exhibition shortly. This prompted fevered thought.
Georgie Pillson made a mental note that he must pop along to the High Street to purchase a few items tomorrow morning – at ten on the dot.
“What?” grunted the Major, who if truth were told, disliked any form of verbal communication before noon.
“I don’t know about ‘Sporting Benjy,’ dear one,” commented Elizabeth, “’Grumpy Benjy’ more like. Yes, ‘grumpy’ - that’s the mot juste at 'Grebe' aujourd hui!”
“Really, Elizabeth, can’t a chap have a bit of peace first thing without all this forced jollity? I just wanted to read my paper and eat some toast. Is that asking too much?”
“Very well, my sweet. At least I at last have your attention,” said Elizabeth in what she mistakenly imagined was a coquettish fashion, “Now tell your life's partner, what’s on the agenda today? A delicious round of golf perhaps?”
Before the Major could answer, Withers entered with two buff envelopes on a silver tray. She handed one to each of her employers.
“Thank you Wither’s, some more tea, I think,” said Elizabeth, as she opened the official-looking missive.
“Not the General Rates already, surely?” asked Benjy, gruffly. As Elizabeth read on without answering, Benjy added impatiently, "Well, what is it?”
Expressionless, Elizabeth eventually answered, “I suggest you open your letter, dear.”
Non-plussed, Major Benjy slit open the envelope with his knife. Elizabeth noted with distaste that the blade was flecked with marmalade and butter. Unfolding the sticky document, Benjy groaned, “Oh, no...”
As bitter recrimination reigned and blame was loudly apportioned in and about many of the rooms of “Grebe” and even, at one stage, around the cinder paths of the kitchen garden, a mile or so away within the venerable walls of Tilling, the morning took its normal calmer course.
As he had planned, Georgie Pillson had called early at the picture framers in the High Street to return their latest completed commission, which had been delivered to him wrapped in brown paper. Although he was satisfied with the delicate frame, which complimented his exquisite still life of apples, pears and soft fruit admirably, he was less than happy with the newly-applied gilt lettering which read “Autumn’s Bunty.”
The piece was therefore promptly returned with the polite request that “Since the painting was NOT intended as a birthday gift for Inspector Morrison’s wife, might it not be better for all concerned if the errant spelling was corrected?”
The framer accepted that the culpability was his and promised to have the corrected picture returned to “Mallards House” later.
Georgie also took the opportunity to collect his newly frames triptych of Tilling scenes which he had agreed to show at the Art Exhibition due to open the next day and which he could conveniently drop off at the Institute on his way home.
“Not really,” she replied, “Mrs Wyse was just saying that things have been a little dull recently, you know, somewhat stale.”
“Well, I think I may be aware of some fresh news that might liven things up more than somewhat,” explained Georgie, adopting a conspiratorial tone.
As Diva and Algernon and Susan Wyse leaned forward expectantly, Georgie succinctly divulged to them what had, since 10 am sharp that morning, been plainly visible upon the List of the Accused, soon to face the ignominy of appearance before the Bench of Tilling Magistrates.
At each stage in Georgie’s masterfully pithy exposition of the charges and the events preceding them, his audience gasped and pronounced the communal “No!” that demonstrated their absolute fascination by and enjoyment of the shocking information being shared with them.
As the group was uttering its third tribal “No!” they were joined by the Padre and Evie Bartlett, who interrupted immediately with, “Have you heard? They’re to be dragged before the Court next week!”
“Aye, tis a sad day for Tilling tae hae its guid name dragged through the mire like this!” intoned the Padre, in his broadest Scots and then, like some Hibernian Cassandra, “And our very ain Mayoress too. The sacred office is besmirched, I tell ye, besmirched!”
“ I trust you will not consider it impertinent or forward of me to inquire, Mr Georgie,” remarked Algernon Wyse, bowing as he spoke, “But now that her good name is ruined, has Mrs Mapp-Flint ... done the right thing?”
“He means ‘resigned,’” added Diva Plaistow matter of factly, “ He means ‘’Has she stood down?' The only honourable thing in my opinion.”
“Well, I don’t know “ Georgie replied truthfully, “Only time will tell. I suppose this will teach us to appreciate it when times are a little duller or even, as you said, ‘stale’?”
With that remark Georgie again raised his boater, turned and made his way to the Institute. Behind him, his friends competed the post-mortem of the good names of their dear intimes, the very bulwarks of Tilling society, Major Benjamin and Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint.
As Georgie approached the Institute, he saw Irene's huge canvass being manoeuvred through the lofty rear entrance. At one end Irene and Mr Hopkins, the fishmonger and her part-time model, together struggled to hold the enormity aloft. The other end was held single-handedly by Lucy, Irene's colossal maid, seemingly without undue effort.
Wearing shiny leather boots, jodhpurs and sporting a monocle, Irene had decided to dress today in the fashion of Eric Von Stroheim the German cinema director. Her outfit was completed by a riding crop, which she slapped noisily on her boot from time to time to emphasise a point or simply because she chose to.
Irene had communicated her very strict conditions to the Art Society by means of a written memorandum, before she would consent to exhibit her new work.
She had insisted, inter alia, that:
Conversation during dinner that evening was sparse at both “Mallards House” and “Grebe,” although for very different reasons.
Eventually as Foljambe withdrew after serving coffee, Georgie broke the silence, “Actually Lucia, I have to admit, I’m more than a little worried.”
"Yes, I have to agree they may find it difficult to accept Irene's vision, Georgie,” she admitted
As was to be expected, the Emmeline Pillson Wing of the Tilling Institute was crowded for the Grand Official Opening of the Tilling Art Society Winter Exhibition next morning.
Accordingly in formal attire Lucia led her Corporation, including her macebearer, many Councillors, the bewigged Town Clerk and the Padre in clerical garb as the Mayor's Chaplain from the steps of the Town Hall to the Institute.
As Georgie Pillson awaited the arrival at the Institute of his wife the Mayor, he was approached by Algernon Wyse who, after the usual lengthy bowing and sundry other Chesterfield-inspired civilities, suggested that, "If Mrs Mapp- Flint felt compelled by her proven criminality to step down from the onerous post of Mayoress, Mrs Pillson should be reminded that his other - indeed, undoubtedly 'better' half - whose probity and value to the community had been recognised by the award of a distinguished Order by the King himself, might possibly be persuaded to overlook her personal feelings and, entirely for the benefit of Tiling, accept the onerous appointment of Mayoress."
Embarrassed, Georgie thanked Mr Wyse for this intimation and undertook to "vouchsafe it unto the Mayor forthwith when time permitted."
For this Mr Wyse was, "very much obliged," bowed yet again and withdrew.
No sooner had Mr Wyse completed his advocacy in favour of his wife Susan, than Diva Plaistow offered her own services, though in more staccato and less verbose terms: "Sorry to hear Elizabeth's let herself down so badly. Shame that. When she resigns, please tell Lucia I'm ready to stand in as Mayoress. Least I can do to offer."
Georgie said he would also pass on this offer and thought to himself that the Padre was probably offering his wee wifie Evie as Mayoress during the civic procession to the Institute. In this Georgie was not mistaken.
As the Corporation processed up to the steps of the Institute, various onlookers noted the absence from the ranks of serving Councillors of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, the Mayoress.
"Understandable in the circumstances, I suppose" remarked Diva Plaistow
As the Mayoral party made its way to the dais at one end of the principal gallery, a stir was heard by the entrance. Everyone turned to see what was happening and a buzz of loud whispering spread around the room.
After thanking her audience for its attendance, Lucia confirmed how pleased she was to have the honour as Mayor of the ancient town of Tilling to open what had become the Annual Winter Exhibition of the flourishing Tilling Art Society. She was proud of the burgeoning reputation of Tilling as a centre of enlightenment, refinement and appreciation of the Arts in all their forms. She would shortly be honoured to declare the exhibition open.
Lucia continued her peroration by explaining that, “It is also my particular pleasure to be able to call upon celebrated local painter and my dear friend, Miss Irene Coles to unveil her very latest work for the first time here in Tilling. You may remember that Miss Cole's earlier work famously featuring our beloved Tilling and was exhibited to great acclaim in the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy in London and pronounced “Picture of the Year.”
After this Evie, emitted what could only be described as a high-pitched squeak of support.
As the Mapp-Flints left the dock they virtually staggered down the steps of Tilling Magistrates Court, blinking and in speechless shock.
“That would be very kind” replied Benjy, “And then a taxi back out to 'Grebe' post haste. We don’t need a route march today, eh Liz old girl?”
“Absolutely not, Benjy,” smiled Elizabeth.
The Mapp-Flints and Mrs Plaistow were enjoying their second cup of tea and a plate of freshly-baked jumbles when they heard a commotion outside.
Going to the front window of her parlour, Diva looked out and said, “It’s Irene. She’s running around the road in front of the Institute waving her hands in the air and screaming.”
“What’s she saying?” asked Benjy, intrigued but after his tiring morning, lacking the energy to get up and see for himself .
“Can’t hear. Better go out and look!” shouted Diva as she slammed the front door behind her.
Diva approached Irene who was literally running around in circles outside the Institute in huge distress, “Whatever’s the matter?” she asked.
“Come in and see for yourself!” cried Irene pointing towards the door of the Institute, “You won’t believe it! I knew I said they all were boors and Grundys in Tilling, but I never thought that they would stoop to this!”
Diva followed Irene into the main gallery together with the Mapp-Flints, Diva’s Janet and Irene’s maid Lucy. Next followed Georgie and Lucia Pillson, who came directly from the Magistrates Court with Harold Twistevant, the Padre and Evie Bartlett. All stood shocked and silent as they stared at Irene’s huge painting, hanging in its place of honour on the gallery wall. Even Inspector Morrison gasped as he entered and took in the scene.
Instead of the bright enormity of the scene of martyrdom set against the red roofed splendour of the ancient town, created by Tilling’s finest painter, there was a slashed and desecrated abomination.
Some sharp instrument had been used, as if in a towering rage, to cut and tear the canvas from one corner to the other and from side to side. What had been Irene’s triumphant vision, hung in strips and tatters, vandalised and shredded.
“How could anyone be so cruel” wailed Irene, picking up one long ribbon of serrated canvass, I know it upset folk, but this? Who could possibly deserve this, this violation?”
Lucia hastened to Irene’s side and cradled her sobbing head. Turning to Inspector Morrison, Lucia said, “Mr Pillson and I will take Irene home to “Mallards House” immediately, whilst you begin your investigation. Will that be alright?”
“Yes, Your Worship” replied the Inspector,” I will need to interview Miss Coles in due course, but think it best to allow her time to compose herself. I will be in touch later.”
From dawn next day Tilling was alive with conjecture as to the identity of what rapidly came to be known locally and in the popular press as "The Tilling Slasher."
“Very well, Miss Coles,” Herbert replied, “The Slasher was none of the people shown in your picture”
“Well who?” shouted Irene, "Do put us out of our misery, please!”
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this Miss Coles, but I’m afraid that the Tilling Slasher was your maid, Lucy. Clearly Lucy was the only person with unrestricted access at the relevant times with the height, strength and reach to inflict such damage upon the canvass. I fear her motive was simple jealousy. There was only one suspect!”
"I’m sorry, Irene, but he’s right," she explained, “It was me. I’m sorry I hurt you so much, but it all got too much for me.”