Friday, 29 June 2012

October: The Long-johns on the Sixteenth Green

Rarely  are the  scorched  plains of  the  Serengeti confused with the mossy cobbles of  Tilling in October.

There are however some surprising similarities,  beyond sightings of herds of slow-moving pachyderms amiably wending their harmless way hither and thither or the odd  large-toothed predator remorselessly stalking its prey.

News of issues of the day had been the very life blood of  the red-roofed town for as long as it had stood upon its ancient hill.

Like a plump and innocent wildebeest, once efficiently cornered and mercilessly dispatched, gossip would be dissected and chewn over for some time before, sated and satisfied, the pride of Tilling moved on.

The bare bones of any old news remaining soon bleached and crumbled to dust to be  borne away on the delicious breezes for which Sussex was justly famed.  It was as though they had never existed...

And so it was that Tilling came to learn of the return of its Prodigal Son, Major Benjamin Mapp- Flint, Indian Army Retired.

Whilst still rejoicing, the more pedantically-minded Padre could not resist observing that with more than one disappearance in recent weeks, the Prodigal Major’s safe return was “Rather more of a Second Coming, tha noos.”

Leaving such chaffing to one  side, the community rejoiced, reviewed and eventually moved on.

In the days immediately following Benjy’s return, nothing was heard from the Master or Mistress of “Grebe.”

As was the way in Tilling however, intelligence was extracted with startling speed and efficiency from unimpeachable sources below stairs, namely cook and the parlour-maid.

By the marketing hour on the morning after the Major’s reappearance, it was universally known that he was in good health and had benefited from a shave, hot bath and fresh set of clothes. 

He had been well enough to enjoy a simple and hearty supper of vegetable soup, lamb cutlets and Bakewell tart with single cream (two helpings).

More importantly, the Man of the House had dined with his life’s partner who had, with uncharacteristic extravagance, served a crisp hock with dinner and had even joined him in two celebratory postprandial glasses of pre-war whisky.

The couple was observed to have been engaged in cordial and concerned conversation from the moment they  sat down to dine until they retired to bed several hours later.

Though no Tillingite would stoop to address the issue in vulgar terms, due unspoken  conclusions were drawn from the fact that the prodigal had not been consigned to the solitary camp bed in his dressing room as was previously universally understood to have been the case.

The powers of inductive reasoning for which Tilling was justly famed were not required to interpret any of this facile data.  The facts were noted, interpreted and absorbed with nothing more than an exchange of knowing looks and plans hatched to move to the next stage of  intelligence-gathering.

Accordingly, a note had already been dispatched “From the desk of Her Worship, the Mayor of Tilling” to “Ma carissima sindaca” expressing solicitous concern regarding her health and hoping that she and her other half “would be disengaged and able to accept a cordial invitation to join a small gathering of intimes for bridge and  tea at "Mallards House"

No sooner had Lucia’s invitation left the leather-gloved hand of her chauffeur Cadman at the threshold of “Grebe,”  the first post of the morning arrived bearing courtly copperplate salutations in strictest Chesterfield terms expressing the earnest hope that the Mapp-Flints would do their devoted friends the Wyses the inestimable honour of joining them for breakfast – otherwise known as "luncheon" – at "Starling Cottage."

By the same post, the newly-reunited couple were bidden to a fork supper at the Vicarage. This induced  raised eyebrows from the invitees  in recognition of  the rarity of such extravagance:  clearly on this occasion curiosity had for once outweighed any concern regarding the ruinous expense involved.

As this tripartite social pincer gestated (to the extent that a pincer can “gestate” and do anything other than "pinch") those who  begat it felt free to explore other developments and to inquire “Any news?” in time-honoured Tilling fashion.

The assembled luminaries were fascinated to learn that the Pillsons would shortly be receiving visitors from their former home of Riseholme in the Midlands for a few days.

“And may one be permitted to inquire with utmost respect whether you might be inclined to share with us the identity of those fortunates to whom you have extended the enviable privilege of  enjoying a sojourn in your delightful abode, ‘Mallards House’?” inquired Algernon Wyse bowing to the Mayor, her consort and in the general direction of  their abode as though it were Mecca.

Resisting the temptation to reciprocate these courtly Chesterfield terms, Lucia replied succinctly “The twin daughters of our dear friend and neighbour in Riseholme,  Mrs Jane Antrobus.  A lively pair.”

“They are called ‘Piggy'‘ and ‘Goosie’ added Georgie, “I can honestly say that they are the only ladies I know who might be considered both older and younger than their years.”

“Indeed?” queried Susan Wyse, entirely mystified.

“On Riseholme’s delicious Green,  the dear  Antrobus girls are often seen capering and frolicking about like eight year olds – despite being considerably older....” explained Lucia.

“Considerably!” added Georgie, broadcasting a knowing look, “If that means 'multiplied by four times' the very least.”

“Now, now, Georgie,” admonished Lucia, “Perhaps Piggy and Goosie will surprise us with a new-found maturity.”

“Perhaps,” replied Georgie cautiously, “Though you must admit it is a tad unusual for ladies well over thirty still to travel with their nanny, don’t you think?”

“I believe, Mrs Norland is now called their ‘companion’, Georgie dear,” corrected Lucia icily.

“Very well. I suppose we shall just have to see,” replied Georgie, wholly unconvinced.

“In any event, my major concern is how to entertain our young visitors during their stay at 'Mallards House’” 

“Perhaps a friendly rubber of bridge?”suggested Susan 

“Somehow, I don’t think bridge might be their forte,” replied Lucia.

“More like Happy Families or Snap,” added Georgie with glee.

“I do believe we will find our guests have quite grown into young ladies since we last saw them, Georgie. We shall just have to find a means of making their visit memorable. Now, does anyone else have any news?”

“I have if anyone’s interested,” chirped Irene, filling the bowl of her briar pipe with a particularly  pungent shag and lighting it. Between deep inhalations, she continued ,"The elections for the officers of the Tilling Club are due next week and I’ve decided to stand.”

“Not against Elizabeth?” asked Diva tremulously, “She founded the Club and has always been the President. She thinks of it as ‘hers.’”

“Yes, indeed! It’s time for a change then, don't you think?  Long overdue!” piped Irene,””I’m definitely standing as President. It’s about time that someone rattled the cage of that complacent old bird.”

"No!" declaimed the entire company which by Tilling tradition was deemed  the only fit response to such a thrilling morsel of news, particularly one constituting such an obvious portent of vicious conflict.

"Do you think that's quite kind just now Miss Coles?" asked Diva, conscious of her position as the oldest friend present of the current President.

"Elizabeth has had quite a trying few weeks recently Irene dear," added Lucia, "Especially with Benjy's the latest disappearance."

"Won't it be quite a blow to be opposed after so long?" asked Georgie.

"I s'pose so," pouted Irene, "But she's got her Benjy-boy back now and she was absolutely filthy to Lucy and me over my  brilliant painting of the Stoning of St Lucia. It was my masterpiece, you know. So I think she's got it coming. A vote for Coles is a vote for a better tomorrow!"

"Oh, I see" said Algernon Wyse, "And what will be your platform Miss Coles?"

"Rather like the Council election actually: 'Equality, Fraternity and Nosality.' I'm sure you've seen the reports of the hunger marches from Jarrow up north?"

"Indeed Miss Coles, but what has that got to do with our dear Tilling?"

"Well, Mr Wyse. I want the proletariat of Tilling to rise up and show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Jarrow."

"I didn't even know that Tilling had a proletariat," remarked Georgie mildly, "And how is our proletariat  going to show solidarity with Jarrow's?"

"I intend to inspire Tilling Working Club to mount the 'Tilling Crusade.' If we set off straight after the election, I calculate that we could reach London at the same time as our comrades from Jarrow. There you are;  cries of 'Equality, Fraternity and Nosality' shall ring about Westminster and in the ears of beastly Mr Baldwin!"

"Oh dear. I wouldn't like to be the one who has to tell Elizabeth that after twenty  years in office as the President and being re-elected unopposed every year that she is suddenly facing an election," said Diva.

"And that her opponent will be one of her closest intimes," added Georgie.

"Oh come off it you two!"exclaimed Irene, "Elizabeth Mapp and I were never that close and are certainly not 'intimes' - whatever that silly term means. It's not as though we are related! She's not my sister and we didn't go to school together! She hates my guts.  She's nice to my face and flashes those enormous molars because she's frightened of what I might do. I always think Elizabeth Mapp is like a dinner gong. She needs to be beaten regularly to get the best out of her!"  
"Oh Irene!" replied Lucia, "I do hope you know what forces you are unleashing here. My Mayoress is a formidable opponent. It never pays to underestimate her."   
"Thank you my angel," said Irene,"How typically generous of you to be concerned about my welfare but in these difficult times we must not think of ourselves but do all we can for the oppressed masses!"

"I only hope it doesn't end in tears," added Georgie, "Now does anyone have time for tea and a rubber or two at Diva's?"

Whilst the cream of Tilling society made its way to Ye Olde Tea Shoppe for refreshments and bridge, the subjects of most of their discussion sat down at the dining table a mile or so beyond the ancient walls of Tilling across the marsh out at “Grebe.”

As she faced her husband across the white linen tablecloth, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint placed before her three pieces of paper – as though she were dealing a beginner's  level game of patience  rather than the complex form employing two packs that she normally favoured.

“Well, Benjy–boy mine, here’s a to–do. You must help your 'ickle girly make a dreffy diffy decision.”

“What?” queried Benjy unused to and more than a little unnerved by his wife’s descent into the baby-language he more normally associated with “that Pillson fella.”

Seeing that her spouse did not respond well to such coy overtures, Elizabeth immediately adopted a more practical tone,"Well Benjy. The problem is this. We have three invitations, each of which has some advantages from our point of view.”

“Go on..”

As for the Wyses, we are normally guaranteed a good tea and diverting game of bridge with a possibility of winnings to bring home. One is however  bound to have to endure stories of the Wyses of Whitchurch, Susan's little Order  and the latest goings on of the Faradiddleonies in sunny Capri.


“Likewise Lucia usually  provides a reasonable spread”

“Except in the height of the tomato season”

“True and one has the opportunity to observe and make helpful remarks upon all her unfortunate changes to my 'Mallards.'"

"Also true."

"One does have to beware the tedium of un po di musica and her umpteenth rendition of the slow movement of the 'Moonlight Sonata'.”

“Indeed,' the key to the Master’s Soul.' And you know how, more than anyone, I am devoted to Chopin”

“Verissima , Benjy boy.  And then we have the Vicarage. The bridge would be competitive and possibly lucrative, but the catering mediocre. It would however be amusing to watch the  Padre’s anguish as we ate his food and drank his drink”

“Aye, yon expense would be ruinous and cost a brau baubee tha noos!” joked Benjy in his best Caledonian.

“All the invitations  have their advantages, but I think our response is obvious.”

“And what’s that Liz old girl?” he replied, with no idea as to what or why that should be.

“It’s obvious, silly boy. We ignore them all for the present  until we have sent out pre-dated invitations to dinner here at "Grebe."We can then respond to the invitations saying we were awaiting  responses to our own invitations before replying to theirs.”

“And what if they don’t want to come here and would rather we went to them” asked Benjy straightforwardly. He was also influenced by a marked preference to drink at the expense of his neighbours, rather than his own.

“Oh Benjy. Don’t you see? They can't take the risk. They want to know what's been going on and can’t take the risk of turning down our invitation  in case our dinner goes on and they miss being amongst the first to find out what transpired. They really can't afford to be the last to know - not in Tilling.”

“But we’re not going to tell them exactly what went on, are we?” asked Benjy

“Of course not, Benjy dear. We shall give them our version of events here at "Grebe" where we can set the agenda and have more control of events”

“You mean you want home-field advantage, old girl?”

“Precisely Benjy, precisely. Now I must get on with the invitations. 

“The ones you posted yesterday, Elizabeth?"

“Of course, dear.” 

Within fifteen minutes of the third postal delivery in Tilling that afternoon, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint had achieved her desired outcome.  
Telephone calls had been received from The Vicarage, "Starling Cottage" and "Mallards House" confirming that each of the invitees"'would be charmed to dine at 'Grebe."'   
Naturally, each expressed mild surprise that Elizabeth had only received their  invitation after her own had been posted and looked forward to a hopefully affirmative reply in due course.
After what she privately admitted had been a “difficult few days,” Elizabeth found the manipulation of her friends in this way thoroughly enjoyable and quite as therapeutic as she had found dangling a ribbon in front of a kitten as she had been wont to do in the window of her dear "Mallards" all those years ago to entertain the day-tripping painters and sketchers foregathered in the street outside.  
Now that her sheep had been neatly shepherded and corralled, there was much to be done in the short time available.  
Cook and Withers were summoned to the drawing room to be instructed as to the selection, preparation and service of the fatted calf for the evening’s festivities.    
Elizabeth had determined that for her to resume her fit and proper place at the head of affairs, it was imperative that Tilling be dazzled and entranced, if not somewhat shocked and awed by the evening about to unfold at "Grebe."

The finest of foods and wine were to be provided served on the very best china, crystal and silverware.    
No expense was to be spared, nor any care or consideration overlooked.  Tilling needed to be reminded of the means and status of the Mapp-Flints of "Grebe" since their windfall from the dear-departed Maharani. "Our true standing has been clouded by recent events and needs to be made clear again," thought Elizabeth as she ticked the last item off on her long list and dismissed her staff with an almost regal, "That will be all for now. Thank you."
Withers set about her mission of frantic Spring-cleaning with a quite demonic vigour.  

Cook soon bustled away intent upon implementing  clear and unambiguous instructions to prepare a feast unlike anything ever served before in Tilling. The lengthy menu included the finest bounty of the sea in caviar, oysters and turbot and the most exquisite produce of the rolling verdure of Sussex, abundant with truffles, game and the sweetest wild strawberries.   
Although the limited time available before the evening would not permit cook to harvest each delicacy personally, it was hoped that Mr Twistevant would respond to a telephone call and hasten to personally deliver the costly order in full within the hour.

The marketing hour on the morning after the extravaganza at “Grebe” passed unremarkably, albeit with a plethora of remarks.

A consensus emerged unanimously. Dinner was exceptionally extravagant, even by the standards of the newly enriched Mapp-Flints.

Dishes, wines and service were impeccable as were the hosts who could not have been more attentive to their guests or each other.

Not a cross word was exchanged and no further light was cast upon the Major’s foray to France. 

It transpired that the young lady in question, who happened to be an attractive actress, was a relative and the Major’s disappearance with her had no scandalous element other perhaps than the suddenness of departure. The impetuousness of late middle age thus compounded that of youth.

In the minds of most, the Major’s latest foray was rather dashing and romantic example of red-bloodedness and to be envied rather than condemned.

The Mapp-Flint horse had evidently long left the stable of conjecture and thus was of no further interest.  

Practical as ever, Tilling turned its attention to other developments.

It was generally understood that the Misses Antrobus and their companion would be arriving by the noon train from Riseholme, a pretty village in Worcestershire and former home of the Pillsons.

Lucia and Georgie confirmed that this was the case and shared with their friends the plans they had made to entertain their young visitors during their stay at “Mallards House.”

Bridge and a musical evening had been discounted as too likely to stretch the mental resources of the young visitors unduly. 

It had been decided instead to hold a tea dance in their honour and to invite as many as possible of  the respectable younger element of the town as could be found.

Accordingly invitations had been hastily dispatched to those deemed suitable. 

Invitees included the Padre’s curate,  the articled clerk at the local solicitors and trainee surveyor at the estate agents, several young ladies who belonged to Lucia’s luncheon club and young men about Tilling,  brothers Georgie and Per.

Twins Georgie and Per worked in management at the local Gas Board and Council Department of Works and, Corinthians to the core, ran virtually all wholesome societies in Tilling ranging from the football, cricket and cycling clubs to the Rotary Club and Young Conservatives.

Lucia had refrained from inviting any younger members of the family of prominent grocer, landlord and Town Councillor, Harold Twistevant owing to their recent consistent demonstrations of criminality and drunkenness. No Twistevant was deemed a suitable companion for such impressionable visitors.  
Lucia did toy briefly with the idea of inviting Quaint Irene to join the young people, but felt that her advanced ideas and inclination to smoke a pipe and employ salty language might be a tad broad for callow Piggy and Goosie. 
In any event, Irene was now well advanced and wholly absorbed in planning her campaign to usurp the throne of the Tilling Club from beneath the unwary eyes of the current Queen Elizabeth.  

As the Misses Antrobus and their companion arrived in Tilling and were greeted and conveyed to “Mallards House” by Cadman, preparations continued in the Assembly Room at the rear of the Tilling Club for hustings for the election of President.

This was unprecedented. Since the foundation of the Club, the re-election of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint had invariably been uncontested.   
Naturally the Secretary took great pains to ensure that all constitutional niceties were observed to the letter.  
It was, after all, only a matter of time before the formidable Mrs Mapp-Flint woke up and reacted to the coup d’état that was well in hand and the Secretary did not wish to worsen the truly terrible wrath that was bound to ensue.  
As this fevered activity continued in Tilling, the morning had been uneventful out at “Grebe.”  
“Damn fine spread that, Liz old girl,” enthused Benjy.  
“Thank you dear. If I do say myself, I think no one else in Tilling could have presented such a magnificent table.”   

“Very true, Liz, very true.”  

“And we saw them all off well and truly as regards your last trip to France.”   

“Yes, you spiked their guns good and proper; had them eating out of your hand.”   

“The only fly in the ointment just now seems to be this nonsense about Irene Coles standing against me for President of my Club. You couldn’t make it up! It seems there are to be hustings this afternoon. We’ll see about that. I will just open the post and then go and see the Secretary to put this right. He has a lot to answer for and won’t be Secretary much longer, if I have anything to do with it – and believe me, I will.”  
As Elizabeth railed against the plot to depose her as President of her beloved Tilling Club, Benjy had opened a manilla envelope.

He read its contents first quickly then slowly as if word by word.  
“That’s from your solicitors isn’t it, dear? Anything of interest?”

“You could say so,” replied Benjy, passing it to her.  

Elizabeth scanned the letter and put it down before her.

“Oh, dear!” she said.

“Yes, indeed. Oh, dear,” said Benjy.

“But what can this mean, Benjy?”

“Precisely what it says, Elizabeth.' The auction proceeds of the stamp formed part of the estate of the late Maharani.' It means that the estate now ‘exceeds the threshold for death duty’ and the Inland Revenue have assessed that the sum of fifteen thousand pounds estate duty is due and payable within thirty days – plus interest, of course... we mustn’t forget the interest.”

“Oh no,” replied Elizabeth, “Is there anything we can do about it?”

“No Elizabeth, it seems there isn’t. The solicitors say the demand is in order and that the tax is payable.”

“Can’t we appeal or something?”

“They say not. Helpful coves, aren't they?” said Benjy.

“And have we got the money left Benjy. Can we pay it?”

“Barely, Elizabeth.  I calculate that we have under twelve thousand pounds left from the proceeds of sale of the stamp after all we’ve spent.”

“Mainly on fine wine and pre-war whisky, you mean!” spat Elizabeth bitterly.  
“Come off it, Liz. You’ve not done too badly with all those new frocks and hats and the jewellery – not to mention that blessed cruise you were so keen to go on.”   

“Well anyway, there’s nothing to be gained from apportioning blame. What we need is an answer. What are we going to do? Can we afford to pay all that?”   

“Just about, but it more than uses up all the money left from the stamp and all my savings. A lot will have to go back from the wine cellar and all your new jewels. We may have to let some staff go.”  

“No, not Withers or cook?” wailed Elizabeth.  
“We will just have to see. You need to understand. We’re not rich anymore.”   

“How humiliating.  The Pillsons and Wyses will have a field day if they find we’re on our uppers. We will never hear the end of it. Oh Benjy. Why is it always us? How could you let this happen?”   

Elizabeth turned her back on her husband as her lament echoed around the dining room.   

There came no reply, just the sound of footsteps on the parquet floor and the quiet click of the door closing.  

Elizabeth Mapp-Flint did not follow in search of her husband. 

That afternoon the election hustings were duly convened in the function room at the Tilling Club.   

Both candidates were invited to address the members of the Club in General Meeting commencing at two ‘o clock before a secret ballot to determine the next President by simple majority.   

As the appointed hour arrived, surprise was expressed that only once candidate was present. The incumbent President was absent.  

In accordance with the Memorandum and Articles of the Club, the Secretary took the chair pro tem and invited Miss Coles to address the Meeting.

Seizing her opportunity, Quaint Irene strode forward and launched into an impassioned plea for power. She protested that, worthy though it undoubtedly was, the Tilling Club had drifted along in the doldrums created by the complacent and apathetic leadership of its longstanding President.  

Irene suggested that whilst the Club’s achievements in knitting comforters for our brave troops and rolling bandages had been laudable during the War, it was “surely now time for Tilling to look further afield than its ancient walls and to lift its eyes to the horizon.”   

Her peroration continued towards its climax, “As I speak, fellow workers are engaged in a brave demonstration of proletarian solidarity in marching together from Jarrow amidst the dark satanic mills of the north east to London. I say that Tilling should join in and launch its very own crusade. Brothers and sisters, I urge you to vote for me Irene Coles to lead the Tilling Club forward out of its current torpor onwards and upwards into the sunny uplands of workers’ solidarity. Equality! Fraternity!! Nosality!!!”   

Inspired by Quaint Irene's fervour (and a rumour started by her maid, Lucy that both beer and cakes would be given to her supporters should she be elected) seven of the twelve members present voted in her favour and the only candidate was duly elected as the second ever President of the Tilling Club.  

As the democratic process reached its tumultuous conclusion at Tilling Working Club, the Misses Antrobus and their companion Miss Norland were safely transported by Cadman to the portals of “Mallards House.”    

Whilst the young ladies disembarked, girlish laughter resonated across the venerable mossy cobbles as a heated debate continued as to who had seen most cows from her respective side of the railway carriage on the journey from Riseholme to Tilling.  

“I counted 42, so I win” cried Goosie.

“No you didn’t, you cheated. You counted a bull near Tring and that was a horse outside Bromley, so I win with 40. So there!” countered Piggie.    
“Now, now, girls, is that how we behave like young ladies?” admonished Miss Norland, weary after what had seemed an interminable journey.  

“Welcome to Tilling!” enthused Lucia.  

“And welcome to ‘Mallards House,’” said Georgie, slyly adding sotto voce for his wife’s ears only, “Well that’s a question answered; our visitors still behave like ten year olds.”  

“Now, now Georgie,” hissed Lucia, “Do come in and let us have tea!”   

“Ooh, lovely””cried the twins in unison, “We would love a cup of tea and a scone.”   

“Or something much, much stronger,” thought Miss Norland, who looked forward to a nip of something restorative from her secret hip flask when she unpacked her suitcase later.    
Whilst the Pillsons and their guests enjoyed tea at “Mallards House,” out at “Grebe” the metaphorical dust had settled after the morning’s metaphorical bombshell.   

Having taken some time to compose herself, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint went in search of her husband intending to discuss the way forward in a calm and collected way and then agree to proceed exactly as she decreed.   

Elizabeth’s anxiety grew as she found no trace of Benjy anywhere in the house, downstairs, upstairs or in the garden.    
She eventually summonsed Withers and inquired, diffidently – lest she jump to the accurate conclusion that something was amiss – if she “had seen the Major.”    
“Not for over an hour Ma’am,” she replied, “I caught a glimpse of him walking down the cinder path that goes past the kitchen window and I think I saw him go through the gate – the one in the horn-beam hedge.”    

“Which way did he turn?” asked Elizabeth, as casually as she could manage, “Left or right?”   
“Right, Mrs Mapp-Flint. I think I saw him heading towards the golf links.”   

“But he wasn’t carrying his golfing clubs, Withers?”    

“No, Ma’am.  He wasn’t even wearing his waterproofs or a raincoat, just a cap and jacket.”   
“How very strange. Thank you Withers. That will be all.”    

As Withers left the room, her mistress sat at the dining room table and again read the solicitor's letter slowly. When she had finished reading, she put the letter down with a sigh that expressed a lifetime’s regret. She removed a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed her eyes. On this occasion the tears of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint were real.  

Next morning the newly–elected President of the Tilling Club appeared at the appointed hour before the Town Hall with her giant maid Lucy.    

The pair carried between them a newly painted banner, hung between wooden poles, proclaiming “The Tilling Crusade.”    

As she had done many months before whilst demonstrating in favour of Mrs Pillson “the Friend of the Poor” and against Mrs. Mapp-Flint “the Foe of the Poor,” Irene carried a large brass bell which she rang repeatedly with manic abandon.   

The clanging combined with several trays of jam puffs laid out on trestle tables at the base of the Town Hall steps to attract a cheering crowd of waifs and urchins, drawn largely from Mr Twistevant’s slums down by the station.   

The capering throng of cake-munching tots followed the banner enthusiastically as it processed down the High Street through the Landgate down the hill leading from the red-roofed town to the harbour and marshland beyond.    

After its auspicious start, the sympathetic Tilling Crusade all too soon came to comprise only the President of the Tilling Club and her maid once the jam puffs had been consumed and the marching infants disappeared.    
A mile outside Tilling, the remaining two crusaders determined it would be an uncomradely act to seek to distract the attention of the world's press and news media from their brave and noble brothers marching to London from Jarrow.   

In consequence, their banner was rolled up and surreptitiously hidden under a hedge.  

Quaint Irene and Lucy then caught a passing bus and instead enjoyed a matinee double feature of the films of Greta Garbo at the Essoldo in Brinton.   
The marketing hour next day offered an even more diverse range of news than usual to digest and disseminate.  
The damp squib that was the Tilling Crusade surprised no-one.   
Tilling had never approached being a hotbed of proletarian ferment or indeed ferment of any kind. 

Nor had Tilling any great expectations of the capacity of Quaint Irene Coles to stir the oppressed masses of  coastal Sussex to match the efforts of their comrades in Jarrow. 
What did interest the good burghers and householders of Tilling was the absence of their good friend Elizabeth Mapp-Flint from the hustings for the Presidential election of the Tilling Club and her failure even to stand.

“It’s so unlike Elizabeth to surrender the Presidency of her Club without a fight,” remarked Diva Plaistow.  

“Now that the Mapp-Flints have come into money perhaps she has other priorities?” suggested Susan Wyse, hoping to demonstrate the insight and empathy that only the truly well-heeled could possibly have into the perspective of those equally prosperous.

“No, if she were as rich as Croesus, I still can’t imagine Elizabeth could bear to give up the helm of the Tilling Club. She founded it and considered it ‘hers.’ She would rather have died than allow Irene to take over. There must be something else,” declared Diva.   

“I dare say we will find out before too long,” declared Lucia, “I don’t suppose anyone has seen Elizabeth?”  

The consensus emerged that neither of the Mapp-Flints had been seen since their recent dinner party at “Grebe.”   

It was unanimously agreed that it would be kind, neighbourly and informative if Diva were to “pop out” to call upon Elizabeth that afternoon purely to vouchsafe that all was well and to report back promptly.   
The next item of business concerned confirmation of the arrival, well-being and planned programme of engagements in Tilling of the Misses Antrobus.  

“Our young visitors are having a quiet first morning,” explained Lucia, “To be honest we have been struggling as to how best to entertain them.”

“And if you met them you would understand why we ruled out bridge or a musical evening,” added Georgie somewhat archly, “We wanted something suitable for young people – especially young ladies who could hardly be described as ‘worldly,’ so we settled on a tea dance in the Garden Room at ‘Mallards House.’ ”  

“We have invited as many young people of the right sort as we could think of. It’s not that easy here in Tilling,” explained Lucia.  

“Most people here are –if you will kindly pardon and permit the use of so vulgar an expression- ‘of an age,’” added Algernon Wyse, bowing gravely to each person in the group, apparently in order of decrepitude.   

“We’re not that old, Mr Wyse!” blustered Diva.  

“Please forgive me, I beg of you, dear lady,” he protested, “I only meant that we have dearth of townsfolk enjoying the very first flush of youth. No further implication was intended, I assure you most sincerely.”   

“So we shall offer tea, cakes and other refreshments and dancing to the latest gramophone records. We have been sent a selection by our good friend Miss Olga Braceley.”

“I’m sure you have heard of her, the prima donna and operatic star who still keeps a place in Riseholme, an intime of ours,” explained Lucia, "Dear Olga  has stayed with us at 'Mallards House' many times.”   

“But I thought you didn’t approve of modern music and the noisy gramophone or even the wireless?” asked Diva pointedly.   
“Oh Diva dear, one must try to keep up with the times you know,” replied Lucia, directing a meaningful glare at Georgie which forbade contradiction, “I am not one of those blue-stockings who believe no art of merit was produced after the time of Joshua Reynolds. I do admit that I used to have some reservations regarding listening-in and records, but was completely won over long before I came to Tilling. Back in dear Riseholme, I remember I used to hold many a convivial informal evening for friends and neighbours at which the gramophone was played for dancing late into the night. The evenings were full of merriment and childish parlour games with champagne and an ad hoc  supper eaten off laps: so enjoyable. They used to call them ‘Lucia’s romps,’ I remember. Oh, how we laughed!”    
“Yes, you taught your dear friend Olga Blakeley to love the gramophone almost as much as you, didn’t you Lucia?” suggested Georgie with a wicked smile. 

"Indeed, Georgie," snapped Lucia, "We are hoping that some respectable young companions may amuse our visitors and have invited everyone  suitable we can think from the Curate and Woolgar and Pipstow's trainee surveyor to Georgie and Per."

"From the Drainage Department at the Council and the Gas Works," added Georgie, "Both fine upstanding young men. Keen at cricket and footer and all that. We do hope that Piggy and Goosie  know how to dance. We fear their skills may lie in pass-the-parcel and pin-the- tail-on-the-donkey. "

"Anyway, we had better  return to 'Mallards House' to check on the arrangements for our dance, don't you think, Georgie?"

"Of course, Lucia. We had better be off. Do all wish us luck."

With that the pavement parliament was prorogued and honourable members went about their business.

Summoned by the Mayor and Chief  Magistrate of  Tilling, the jeunesse dorée of the town duly converged upon "Mallards House" at four 'o clock prompt for the thé  dansant.

The Curate wore his best black suit and dog collar as though he was about to conduct his  Sunday School class or visit  to comfort the recently bereaved.

Early in the proceedings, the young men of the borough assembled sullenly  on one side of the Garden Room, whilst the delicate flower of Sussex womanhood foregathered on the other, fluttering fitfully like cabbage whites  on a garden buddleia.

On joining the gathering, Lucia  instantly recognised the  literal and figurative "stand-off." She strode into the empty ground between the factions and broadcast greetings and introductions liberally to help ease away the prevailing paralysing stiffness and reserve.

All too soon , the Curate was introduced to Miss Ross, the assistant librarian and Mr Lloyd of Woolgar and Pipstow to Miss Johnson, who taught at Tilling Juniors.

As the hubbub grew and guests began to help themselves to refreshments, Georgie put a lively foxtrot by Carol Gibbons on the gramophone.

"Topping choice, Mr Pillson," remarked Mr Lloyd, as he led Miss Johnson to the floor and the dancing began.

Brothers Georgie and Per stood in the bay window overlooking the street as the door opened and the guests of honour joined the party.

Seizing the opportunity Lucia led Piggy and Goosie over to Georgie and Per and introduced one set of twins to the other. "Hopefully as twins you will find you have lots in common. Please do join in the dancing. Enjoy yourselves!"  

Riseholme and Tilling’s pre-eminent twins needed no more persuasion as Per and Goosie took the floor followed by Georgie and Piggy.   

Both couples seemed to hit it off immediately and danced together as afternoon became evening with breaks for refreshments and a cooling turn in the garden – viewed from a distance by the ever vigilant Miss Norland.   

By the end of the evening, all four were firm friends and had made detailed plans for the week ahead.    
Next day, the sisters had agreed –with the consent of Miss Norland -  to watch the brothers play football for Tilling Strollers in its  crucial local derby with neighbouring Camber Sands Dynamo.  

Arrangements were also made for a bicycle picnic out to the Martello Tower beyond the harbour down the Military Road outside the town.  A tricycle would be hired for Miss Norland for the day.   

Tickets in the stalls would also be booked at the Bijou Cinema in Tilling for the couples to see a double bill of popular hit musicals, Jerome Kern’s “Roberta” and Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat.”   
Currently it seemed every errand boy and milkman in the town was whistling “Smoke Gets in your Eye” or “Cheek to Cheek.”   

After the last young guest had left and the sisters and their companion had retired to bed, Georgie locked and bolted the front door of “Mallards House.”  

Walking up the stars, Georgie and Lucia congratulated themselves on the success of their first ever tea dance and were pleased that their guests appeared likely to be occupied respectably for the rest of their stay.   
“I don’t think I could have coped with five solid days of I-Spy and Blind Man’s buff, Lucia.”  

“Quite, Georgie, quite,” she replied, closing her bedroom door.

The absence of any sign of the Mapp-Flints redoubled Diva Plaistow's determination to call upon her oldest friend "to ensure that all is well."

At noon the gravel on the path to the front door of "Grebe" crunched and scattered beneath Diva's famed staccato footsteps followed by her signature rat-a-tat-tat tattoo on the cast iron knocker.

After checking whether her mistress was at  home, Withers admitted Diva into the drawing room.

"I'm so sorry to call unannounced, Elizabeth, but I was worried about you. Is everything  alright?"

"Thank you for taking the trouble to come, Diva dear.  I really needed  to see a friendly  face just now. Welcome."

"So, what's been happening then?"

"It's Benjy, Diva. He's gone!"

"Oh, not again! What on earth  has  happened this time?"

"Thank you for your sympathy, Diva dear."

"Sorry,  Elizabeth, but  you must admit it is becoming rather a habit. How many times has Benjy disappeared this year. Is it four or is it five?"

"Yes, I must admit you do have a point. It does seem a lot but each time Benjy had his reasons - even if some of them might seem a little strange."

"But so often, Elizabeth?"

"Be fair Diva. First, he discovered his earliest love had come to England to die. Then he finds he has a son and that he gave his life bravely for his country. On top of this he learns of a granddaughter of which he knew nothing. If you put yourself in his position, can you really blame him?"

"Of course not, Elizabeth. And in any event, who are we to judge?"

"Thank you Diva. I needed to hear someone say that - though we both know in Tilling we do hardly anything else but judge. It's our speciality - like ceramic pigs and flooding!"

"But what on earth has actually happened now?"

"This," answered Elizabeth, passing the solicitor's letter to Diva, "You will see it's  a massive tax demand."

"Oh dear, how dreadful "sympathised Diva, "Is there anything  you can do?  Can you appeal or do anything about it?"

"I'm afraid not. I spoke to the solicitors on the telephone this morning and they say that there's nothing we can do."

"Can you afford it?"

"Just, Diva, just, but it will clean us out. We won't be comfortable any more. No more cruises or lavish dinner parties for our friends. We may have to let some of the servants go and severely pull in our horns."

"Well at least you will manage to keep 'Grebe' and I'm sure all your friends will rally round," added Diva, trying to put the best complexion on a difficult situation. 

"You perhaps, dear," commented Elizabeth bitterly, "But I hardly see the Wyses and Pillsons  doing  much 'rallying'. I know they will just enjoy our 'comeuppance.'"

Ignoring the insulting implication of "perhaps," Diva replied encouragingly, "You will be able to deal with them, you always have."

"You are probably right, Diva dear. Thank you for saying so. I  probably agree, but my main concern is Benjy."

"Why is that?"

"This, mainly" replied Elizabeth.

Diva looked down at a hand-written note which read, "I am so sorry Elizabeth. I just wanted you to be happy. I hope this will put things right. Ever  yours, Benjy."

Beneath the note was an insurance policy document. Opening it,  Diva noted the sum of  Twenty thousand pounds was due and payable to next of kin on the death of Major Benjamin Flint  (Indian Army, Retired.)

"Oh dear" said Diva
"What do you think I should do now?"

"I think you should telephone the police as soon as possible, Elizabeth."  
Within the hour Inspector Morrison sat opposite Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Diva Plaistow at the dining table at “Grebe.”  

Closing his notebook, he tried to reassure as best he could. He confirmed that an immediate search was even now being undertaken of a wide radius from the point at which the missing Major was last seen.  

Elizabeth remained seated as Diva showed the Inspector to the door.   

“I will be in touch as soon as I have anything to report, Mrs Plaistow. Perhaps you would stay with Mrs Mapp-Flint and keep her company this afternoon?”   

“Of course, Inspector” Diva replied. 

 Next morning the marketing hour began in the High Street as it had done for decades with the greeting “Any news?”

Precedence was naturally given to Diva Plaistow, since she was known to have called at “Grebe” to inquire about the health of the Mapp-Flints, who had been so conspicuously absent for several days now.

“Well,” said Diva, "You all know, I am the very last person to gossip.”

Naturally a look of universal disbelief was exchanged amongst the group, but the urge to respond with a smart remark was outweighed by the desire to know what had transpired.  

“Pray do continue, dear Mrs Plaistow,” replied Algernon Wyse at his most suave, “We are of course well aware that, like us all, your interest is only in the well-being of our mutual friends and is wholly selfless and altruistic. We keenly await your intelligence,”  

“Basically, Benjy’s disappeared again!”   

“No!” came the universal response to this startling news in time-honoured Tilling fashion.  

“Again?  How  many times is that now this year?” asked Susan Wyse, with no discernible trace of sympathy.   

“Four actually, Susan dear,” replied Diva succinctly, “First the Maharani, then the son, then the granddaughter  and now this.”  

“Do tell us Diva,” asked Lucia, fearing quite accurately that Susan’s response to Diva’s news would appear entirely lacking in sympathy, “What has happened now? We thought that Benjy had now met all his...what should we call them?”  

“Relatives?” ventured Georgie.  

“Yes, Georgie, le mot juste – gratzie mille – 'relatives.’”

“You will understand, I don’t want to divulge too much of Elizabeth’s private business.”

“Go on, you know you’re dying to, Diva” said Irene.

“I think Irene means that we understand that you wish only to share this difficult news sensitively with Elizabeth’s closest intimes,  whom you know will all – without exception - do all in their power to help and support her at this difficult time,” added Lucia quickly, with a withering glare at Quaint Irene.  

“Very well then,” said Diva, with a pained sniff, “Basically, they have had a solicitor’s letter saying they owe Fifteen thousand pounds in death duty since that stamp was part of the Maharani’s estate and although they can just about pay it, it will....”  

“Leave them financially embarrassed?” suggested Algernon Wyse.  

“You mean ‘wipe them out and leave them on their uppers'” added Irene, “I call it karma.”  

“You may or may not be right Irene,” said Diva, “But I think it’s very unkind of you to say so. Poor Elizabeth is very worried. Benjy hasn’t been seen for two days now. She’s been going out of her mind.”   

“Did Benjy leave any kind of message or note?”asked Lucia.   

“Just a scrap of paper with a note saying sorry and that he hoped this would put things right. It was on top of a large insurance policy.”    

“No!” came the universal reply for the second time that morning, an event unheard of in the annals of the marketing hour in Tilling.    

“So Elizabeth is anxious in case her Benjy-boy has topped himself?” asked Irene with a lack of restraint remarkable even by her bohemian standards.   

“Really Irene, you shouldn’t say such things,” chastised Diva, “I know you and Elizabeth have had your differences over the years, but you should at least try to be a little charitable!”   
“Well, Diva, that woman has never been charitable to me or anyone else that I can think of. If that’s how you feel, I’m off!”  

With that, Irene strode off towards “Taormina” with her briar pipe clenched between her teeth, both hands in her pockets and  kicking a tin can along the gutter.   

“I’m sorry about that, Diva," soothed Lucia, “I’m sure Irene didn’t mean to be quite so unfeeling. She is such a hot-head and does have quite a ‘history’ with Elizabeth. I am sure she will regret her words when she has calmed down.”  

“To be expected, I suppose,” said Diva, “More importantly, we need to keep an eye on Elizabeth until Benjy is found.”   

“One way or another,” added Georgie, meaningfully.   

“Don’t say that Georgie,” admonished Lucia, “We must all remain positive and be as supportive as we can.”     

"You mean that it's not time to erect any memorials  outside the west porch of Tilling church yet?" asked Georgie wickedly, alluding to his own noble gesture some  years before.

"Quite, Georgie.  That  would indeed  be a  foolish misjudgement  and wholly premature," replied Lucia with pointed sarcasm, "I will call on Elizabeth later this afternoon, just as soon as I have bidden farewell to our young visitors from Riseholme."

"Oh yes," commented Algernon Wyse, bowing in the direction of "Mallards House", "I had quite forgotten that the vivacious Misses Antrobus have been enjoying the honour of your generous hospitality as guests in your charming abode, Mrs Pillson. Is their visit nearing  its  end?  I have no doubt that they have thoroughly enjoyed their stay."

"It seems so, Mr Wyse, although we have seen very little of them ever since our  tea dance in the Garden Room."
"Why is that?"asked Susan, "Has there been any difficulty?"

"No, not at all. The very reverse in fact. Since being introduced to Georgie and Per, Piggy Goosie have been so very busy every day and totally occupied with them."

"How surprising" remarked Algernon Wyse, "From what you said before, I thought your visitors were somewhat - how shall I put  it - 'young for their age' to wish to be socialising with young gentlemen?"

"Tactfully put,  as ever , Mr Wyse," commented Lucia, "We too have been surprised that the couples appeared to get on so famously from the very start.  Perhaps being two sets of twins had something to do with it? They have been together to football matches, bicycle picnics and to the cinema."

"They were accompanied at all times by their companion Miss Norland of course," explained Georgie, "At the Bijou, we gather  she sat in the middle with girls on her left and boys on her right and doled out the mint  imperials"

"Thus inhibiting any hanky panky!" joked Algernon with uncharacteristic frankness.

"Oh, Algernon, how daring!" giggled Susan

"Quite," said Lucia, actually  quietly amused, "We have hardly seen anything of them."

"So they have been perfect house guests really," added Georgie.

"Which reminds me, we really must return home to see them off to the station before I call on Elizabeth.  Avanti Georgino mio, avanti presto!"    
As Lucia and Georgie reached home, their Rolls Royce stood outside with their guests’ luggage already strapped to the rack on the back.

In the Garden Room Piggy and Goosie awaited with Miss Norland and Georgie and Per.

“My Georgie and I particularly wanted to be here to bid you farewell,” said Lucia, “I do hope you both enjoyed your stay with us here in Tilling?”

“Oh yes, Mrs Pillson. We had such a lovely time. We couldn’t possibly have liked it more. Thank you so much for having us!” chorused both girls, with the synchronicity known only in identical twins.

“Our pleasure entirely,” responded Georgie, adding, “So nice of these young gentlemen to come to see you off.”

“We wouldn’t have missed it Mr Pillson,” explained Georgie’s namesake, “We couldn’t let them  leave Tilling without waving them off.”

“Rather!” added Per. Per was apt to add an enthusiastic “Rather!” and the odd “Topping!”  to his brother’s sentences.

“We were able to get an hour off work, so here we are” said Georgie.

“Georgie’s in charge at the Gas and I am at the Sewers, so we gave ourselves permission!” joked Per.

“And Georgie and Per will be taking some holiday and coming to visit us in Riseholme next month,” explained Piggy excitedly.

“Mama was quite happy. It’s all arranged “ said Goosie, “We know everyone in Riseholme will love them as much as you do in Tilling”

“Steady- on,” joked Per, “You don’t want Georgie getting big–headed, you know!”   
“We wanted to leave something for you to remember us by,” said Piggy as Goosie stepped forward and handed to Lucia a wrapped and be-ribboned parcel.  

“Oh, you really shouldn’t have,” said Lucia, taken aback.  

“Oh, do open it,” urged both sisters.  

“Rather!” said Per.  

Lucia undid the ribbon and removed the wrapping to reveal a photograph in  simple silver frame.  

“How charming girls,” said Georgie as Lucia showed him the gift.  

“Yes, it’s us with Georgie and Per,” explained Piggie. “We went to the photographer in Brinton. We hoped you would keep it with your other photographs here on the piano where we all met for the very first time.”   

“Topping idea!” added Per.   

“We inscribed it for you. We do hope you don’t mind,” said Goosie.  

“Oh, yes, so you have. How sweet,” replied Lucia, reading out, “To Mr and Mrs Pillson. Thank you so much for your kind hospitality at Mallards Hose and a wonderful stay. Yours ever, Georgina and Perdita.”  

“How lovely,” said Georgie, “And such a surprise; we have always known you as ‘Piggy’ and ‘Goosie.’ We didn’t even know you had any other names. Did we Lucia?”  

Bemused, Lucia silently shook her head.  

“It’s all due to Georgie and Per really,” confided the sisters, “They said we were too old now to be called ‘Piggy’ and ‘Goosie’ and that our real names are so much prettier and grown-up.”  

“Perfect girls,” commented Lucia, “’Perdita’ will always remind me of my lovely Shakespeare garden at ‘The Hurst’where I spent so many happy fragrant hours and obviously ‘Georgina’ of my own dear Georgie.”   

“So I suppose we shall now have two ‘Georgie and Pers’ then?” remarked Georgie.  

“Rather, Sir!” enthused Per, “One Georgina and Per and one Georgie and Perdita.
So both must be shortened to ‘Georgie and Per.’”  

As he spoke, Cadman appeared at the door and exchanged a glance with Lucia that suggested it was time to leave to catch the train.

In a scene not entirely unlike newlyweds departing on honeymoon, the two laughing couples were shepherded by Miss Norland down the steps of "Mallards House" into the waiting Rolls. All the was lacking was confetti.   

As the car drew away towards the railway station, the Pillsons waved, When it had turned the corner into the high Street, Georgie turned to Lucia and raised an eyebrow," 'Georgina and Perdita', who would have though it?"

"I suppose nothing should ever surprise us, Georgie, but I never thought Piggy and Goosie frolicking like lambs around the Green in Riseholme would turn into  Perdita and Georgina, young ladies with ardent admirers."

"A lesson for us all. Now isn't it time you were off?"

"Yes, Georgie. When Cadman returns from the station I will set off to call on Elizabeth at 'Grebe'. So much to do and so little time," she drawled, "Oh how you work me!"   
As her Rolls pulled up outside “Grebe,” Lucia noticed the Black Riley normally used by “her” Inspector Morrison.  

Withers admitted Lucia into the drawing room where Elizabeth and the Inspector sat in armchairs by the fireside.  

“How kind of you to see me, Elizabeth. Are you sure you have finished your business with my Inspector? I can call at an other time or wait outside to give you some privacy?”  

“Please do not worry Lucia,” replied Elizabeth, “The Inspector has just kindly updated me on the progress of the search for Benjy. I’m sure it will public and known by every Tom, Dick  and Harry about the town all too soon, so you might as well be the first to know.”  

“Thank you, Elizabeth,” replied Lucia, feeling comprehensively damned with praise so faint as to be entirely non-existent.   

“Pray continue, Inspector,” suggested Elizabeth, somewhat regally.   

“I have just reported to Mrs Mapp-Flint that during our search some gentleman’s clothing has been found on the sixteenth green at Tilling Golf Club, the fairway and green closest to the sea,” explained the Inspector, “Items found comprise male attire: boots, cap, shirt, socks, trousers, jacket and flannel underwear of an off-white hue. There were footprints across the green and sand leading directly to the water’s edge nearby.”   

“And you think these garments might belong to Major Benjy, Inspector?” asked Lucia.  

“I’m afraid so, Mrs Pillson. From my verbal description, Mrs Mapp-Flint believes they belong to her husband, though she will identify them in person when convenient.”   

“I’m  so sorry, Elizabeth,” sympathised Lucia, “You must be so worried.”   

“Taken together with his note and the insurance policy I’m afraid prospects do look rather worrying,” commented the Inspector, “ We have requested Tilling Coast Guard to scour nearby waters in case the Major was carried away by the current. But we will not jump to conclusions and have re-doubled our search.”   

“Thank you, Inspector,” replied Elizabeth, “But it all adds up. Our latest problem is one of a long series: yet another terrible humiliation for my husband, his note, the insurance policy and now his grimy old clothes on the green. He couldn’t even leave his Sunday best on display for all to see. His foot prints leading to the sea do seem to show it had all become too much for him. We knew you all laughed, but he was a proud man, you know, an old soldier....”  

“I know all of the circumstantial evidence seems to point to one obvious conclusion, but please do not jump to it, Mrs Mapp-Flint,” reassured the Inspector, “Rest assured that we will do all we can to find your husband and bring him home safely. Now, if you will excuse me, I must return to take charge of the search.”  

Lucia accompanied the Inspector to the front door of “Grebe” and agreed to remain with her friend and Mayoress whilst she waited for news.  
Over the next day the search for the missing Major continued and expanded around Tilling and down the coast in the direction of the prevailing currents and tides.   

As no further trace was found, an air of gloom pervaded the town.  
The odd black armband came to be worn during marketing in the High Street, although some considered this somewhat premature and in questionable taste.    

As a gesture of sympathy, Quaint Irene Coles announced that she would be standing down as President of the Tilling Club forthwith in  favour of her predecessor, Mrs Mapp-Flint, “In any event, the lack of support for my Tilling Crusade has provided ample evidence that the proletariat of Tilling is  as yet quite immature and insufficiently enlightened and advanced to express itself in such a mature manner. One day in the future I remain convinced it’s time will come!”

Through all this, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint remained retired behind the horn-beam hedge and drawn curtains of “Grebe” and waited for news.   

Out of respect, the normal social round of Tilling with its bridge and gossip was suspended and the town just waited.   

Diva Plaistow, Susan Wyse and Lucia Pillson arranged a rota to come to “Grebe” to sit with her through these long hours.    
As Elizabeth’s vigil continued, some miles down the coast in the busy resort of Seaport, a black Riley motor car pulled up outside a nondescript guest house.   

After inquiring at reception, Inspector Morrison was shown to room 12, a single occupancy which overlooked the concrete yard at the rear.   

Finding there was no response to his gentle knock, the Inspector let himself in.  

On the narrow bed opposite the door, sat Major Benjamin Flint (Indian Army, Retired).  

Clean-shaven and neat in  suit and tie he sat as though to attention, back ramrod straight and eyes unblinking, staring ahead.   

“Hello, Major Flint. I thought I might find you here.”   

“G’day, Morrison, how did you work it out?”   

“One didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes, Major. It was something your wife said about you leaving your oldest clothes on the sixteenth green. I thought, perhaps he needed his newer clothes and just put myself in your position.  It occurred to me that you might feel most comfortable being where the Maharani last stayed and where you called on her. The address here was on her Death Certificate: quite simple really.”   

“Correct, Inspector, as ever. You couldn’t make it up. It seems I can’t even be trusted to fake my own death properly: how typical!”   

“Now, now, don’t be too hard on yourself, Major. You have just been through a very difficult few months and suffered quite a few shocks. Many people would have crumbled under the same strain.”    

“You can say that again, old man. I rediscover my first love and a son and even a granddaughter I never knew. Then I have a bit of luck and Liz and I are suddenly comfortably off for life. Then all of a sudden it’s snatched away again and we’re back to square one – or even worse off than before.”   

“Go on Major. Please get it off your chest.”   

Thanks, Inspector, I will. It’s not just me, you know. Liz loved being well-off.  For once she felt able to stand up to Lucia and look her straight in the eye – on equal terms, you know. It didn’t matter much to me. I’m happy with a chota peg or three and a good dinner. But it meant the world to my Elizabeth. I’ve just let her down again and wanted to make up for it in the only way I could think of.”    

“I’m sure we understand Major, but I don’t really think it’s the answer to run away from it. I am sure you can sort it all out if you go home to ‘Grebe.’”  

“I don’t suppose I will be going home though, will I Inspector? Trying to fake my own death so my widow can claim under an insurance policy. Won’t I go to prison?”   

“From what I know so far, I do not really think the facts lead to that conclusion Major. Leaving aside your mental capacity to commit a crime at the time, you chose to leave some old clothes on the sixteenth green and go to a guesthouse in Seaport.”

“But what about trying to defraud the insurers Inspector?”  

“Actually Major,  I think you will find that such life insurance policies automatically exclude any cover for death by suicide.”

“So they wouldn’t have paid up anyway?”  

“Almost certainly not, Major.  To stand any chance of succeeding,  you would have needed to make it look like an accident. Also, as I understand it, your wife has  not submitted any claim under the insurance policy and has certainly not conspired with you do do anything unlawful. The most serious charge that can be laid against you would appear to be for leaving litter on the golf course, though I doubt it amounts to fly tipping. However this really must be your last disappearance, Major, don’t you think?”   
“Of course Inspector. I am so sorry to cause all this trouble. To be honest I’m getting much to old  for all this gallivanting nonsense now. It’s actually such a relief to be found. Do you think Elizabeth will take me back?”     

“It’s really not for me to say, but I really think that there’s every chance that she would. Why not come back to Tilling and give it a try?”     

“As ever Inspector Morrison you are quite right. I know I am an old fool. It’s sad to think that in my regiment they used to call me ‘Sporting Benjy’ and now I’m ‘Daft Benjy’ or at best 'Unlucky Benjy.’ Mind you, it’s not as though I shall go entirely unpunished.”   

“In what way Major?”    

“When I do go back every single day, my Elizabeth will make me pay in so, so  many ways, believe me she will. Still, I have no choice. I had better go home to ‘Grebe’ to face the music.”  

And so he did.


Copyright reserved Deryck Solomon 2016

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