"Don't be tarsome, Lucia. Stop teasing me."
"You can't help it if some ladies find you irresistible, dear, "said Lucia, " You must remember in Riseholme when Piggy - I suppose we must call her 'Perdita,' now - sent you that delicious note saying that she was going to call on you and 'hoped to find you alone?'
"Oh, please stop. That's quite enough!"
"Or when Poppy Sheffield was 'so terribly taken up with you' and your, what was it? Oh yes, your 'delightful little beard!'"
"Oh Georgie, really! " rebuked Lucia.
"Just trying to cheer things up, Lucia. I do actually sympathise. Poor Benjy, how he must be loathing it,” commented Georgie.
All present nodded silently in sympathy and agreement.
As the final curtain fell there was a tumultuous standing ovation with four or five curtain calls. Lucia and her ladies then collected first themselves and then their coats from the cloakroom.
The Tilling contingent joined the keen throng of theatregoers and autograph hunters crowded around the Stage Door in an alley at the rear of The Theatre Royal.
"How fortunate," replied Lucia, in a positively glacial tone.
The ladies of Tilling were naturally impressed as the glass and metal wonder that was the Crystal Palace loomed up before them on Sydenham Hill.
They disembarked and waited by the charabanc as their President went in search of the guide for their tour.
As Lucia strode off, the sharp-eyed Evie Bartlett emitted yet another high-pitched squeal and pointed excitedly to a vehicle approaching them at considerable speed across the large car-park, now empty save for their charabanc.
"It's not, is it?" cried Evie.
"It is I'm afraid. It's Florence and Nellie again," answered Diva, "I don't think our President will be too pleased!"
As Diva spoke a motor cycle and side car pulled up with a squeal of brakes next to them. Florence, wearing a dashing crash helmet, drove, whilst Nellie in a leather pilot's cap sat in the side-car clutching the bottle filched from Drury Lane, as if nursing a baby.
"At least now we know how they managed to make it up to London," whispered Susan to Diva.
"Hello again girls!" beamed Florence, "We have booked for the grand guided tour too. We hope you don't mind if we tag along?"
"We shall have to see what our President says," replied Diva testily, "Oh look, here she is."
Taking in the latest development in a single glance Lucia bowed to the inevitable,"I don't see that we can reasonably stop you from taking the tour if you choose to. However, Florence and Nellie, I would ask you as a favour to us all not to do anything to spoil our tour or bring shame to Tilling. My members have been so looking forward to it."
We promise to behave, Mrs Pillson," chorused the sisters and Lucia simply nodded.
"Then off we go," said the Guide, "Kindly follow me."
It was reported that the whole world had been shocked by the fiery end of the Crystal Palace and that over a hundred thousand people had gone to Sydenham Hill to watch it's death throes.
Observers of the inferno included Winston Churchill, who was reported to have said, "This is the end of an age."
Following her exertions yesterday, Lucia Pillson had decided to not to join in the marketing hour in the High Street that morning.
In any event, she had received an early telephone call from Mr Meriton of the "Hastings Chronicle" asking if she was willing to give an exclusive interview following her "near immolation at the Crystal Palace the last evening."
Naturally disinclined though she was to court personal attention or publicity, Lucia thought that it behove her "as Mayor and Chief Magistrate of the town to give Tilling's civic perspective upon this event of national and even global importance."
"They begged to be allowed to come with our group on the tour and to be honest I couldn't see any way of stopping them. It wasn't even really up to me, it was up to the Tour Guide. So I agreed, provided they promised to behave themselves."
As the Inspector wrote in his notebook, Lucia took a deep breath and continued, "As you know only too well from my time on the Bench, Inspector, I refuse to jump to conclusions, but I must draw what may be salient facts to your attention. First, they were seen to arrive at the Crystal Palace with a very large bottle of vodka and secondly, they were both well known to be very heavy smokers. Thirdly, both were inclined to drink heavily when the opportunity arose and finally were equally prone to what one might call 'carelessness' or even 'recklessness' when intoxicated. I will leave you to make of those points what you will."
"It does look rather damning, but is essentially circumstantial evidence without the support of a credible
witness or confession, is it not Inspector?"
Welcome to Tilling, Your Ladyship," said Georgie, extending his hand.
Next morning, Lady Ambermere found it more convenient to breakfast in her room and required only freshly squeezed orange juice, kedgeree, poached haddock with scrambled eggs, devilled kidneys and porridge.
Copyright reserved Deryck Solomon 2016