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Chapter Twenty-Five

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Author Topic: Chapter Twenty-Five  (Read 23 times)
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« on: September 29, 2023, 12:36:39 pm »

MRS. BUSH, who had been born Susannah Pincott, was the kind of stirring woman whose energies are quite unable to find sufficient scope in the domestic round. As soon as her children could be bundled off to school she embarked upon the contest with a reluctant husband which resulted triumphantly in the addition of a glass bay to their living-room and the stocking of it with picture postcards, bottles of lemonade and other soft drinks, china ornaments, cigarettes, and cheap sweets. She could thus see life, enjoy unlimited opportunities for gossip, and ensure her own control over at least a part of the family finances.

When Miss Silver entered the shop at eleven o'clock, Mrs. Bush was deep in conversation with a little elderly person with a long nose, pale eyes, and a black felt hat tipped sideways over straggling grey hair. Mrs. Bush herself towered mountainous behind her counter, her hair still as black as when she was a girl, her cheeks red and firm, her massive figure upright and controlled in spite of the temptation offered by the prevailing village fashion. Like every other woman in Bourne, she wore a loose flowered overall, but beneath it were the formidable stays of her youth.

In a most deprecating manner Miss Silver enquired if she might look at some postcards.

"I am in no hurry---no hurry at all. Pray do not let me disturb you. I always like plenty of time to make a choice."

She became immersed in a colourful series depicting the ruined Priory, Bourne village showing the stream running down the side of the street, the church with its old squat tower, the new secondary school at Marbury, and the water-works. As she turned them over she was aware of the two women's voices, hushed to a sibilant undertone. Not for the first time, she felt gratitude for the excellence of her hearing.

"He did ought to be ashamed of himself," said the little elderly woman.

Mrs. Bush was leaning close. Her voice was deeper.

"Ezra never did have any shame, nor never will. Nothing but a trouble to the family first and last, and no good expecting anything different. I suppose he was drunk as usual."

Out of the tail of her eye Miss Silver saw the black felt hat shaken.

"Not to say drunk, Tom says---it takes more than what you can get nowadays to make Ezra Pincott drunk, Tom says. Just a bit above his usual, if you know what I mean, and telling everyone that'd listen to him as how he knew something that'd be money in his pocket if some he wouldn't name knew which side their bread was buttered."

"Gracious, goodness me!" said Mrs. Bush.

"And all of them laughing and egging him on, but he wouldn't say no more than that, only of course everybody knew what he meant."

"Ssh, Annie!"

There was a nudge across the counter. Two pairs of eyes were turned upon Miss Silver, who gazed with rapt attention at the card which depicted the secondary school, bright yellow against the kind of blue sky which an English summer has seldom been known to achieve. The voices dropped still lower. No more words were discernible until Annie straightened up and said she must be going.

"And I'll be taking my sweet ration here same as usual, Susannah, if you'll bear me in mind for the first lot of peppermints as come through. Wonderful partial to peppermints, Tom is."

She went out, and Mrs. Bush moved down the counter.

"Very interesting views," said Miss Silver. "I am staying with Miss Fell at the Rectory. She told me you would have pictures of all the most interesting places in the neighbourhood. So nice, I always think, to be able to send a really interesting card to a friend when one is on a holiday."

The ice thus broken, conversation flowed. There were reminiscences of the old Rector, of Miss Sophy at the time of the last war.

"They had the sewing-parties up at the Rectory regular, and nothing would serve them but I must do the cutting out. No good at all with the scissors, Miss Sophy wasn't. Oh, well, we didn't think we was going to have it all over again and worse, did we? That's the church, and a very good likeness, as you can see if you take a look out of the window---and the last one I've got left. You wouldn't believe the run there's been on them this week on account of poor Mr. Harsch shooting himself while he was playing the organ. And I'm sure he played beautifully, though I'm not such a one for music myself. It's Mr. Bush that'll go anywhere for a bit of good playing, and what I say is, it's all very well in its place and a little of it don't hurt anyone, but look at poor Mr. Harsch when all's said and done---it didn't do him any good."

"A dreadful fatality," said Miss Silver.

"Shocking," said Mrs. Bush. "A nice quiet gentleman if ever there was one, in spite of being foreign. And it's my belief he shot himself same as the verdict in the inquest. Rubbidge, I call it, their trying to put it on Mr. Madoc. Isn't that just the police all over? I've got a nephew in them---constable, he is---Jim Pincott, my eldest brother's son---and I said to him only last night, 'And what's the good of an inquest, will you tell me, if that's all the notice you take of what the jury says? Didn't they hear all the evidence? Didn't the Coroner put it to them proper? And didn't they bring it in suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed, same as you see it in the papers? And what call have you got to go bringing down the London police after that?' Let them stay at home and mind their own murders, I say, and not come ferreting and worriting where nobody wants them!"

Miss Silver gazed in timid admiration.

"How well you put it!"

Mrs. Bush smiled complacently.

"Oh, I can hit a nail on the head when it's there to be hit. And I'll say that for Jim, he hadn't got a word to say, only it wasn't none of his doing."

"Then it is the London police who have arrested Mr. Madoc?"

"Two of them," said Mrs Bush. "You'd think they'd have enough to do at home with all you see in the papers. Come in to see Mr. Bush, the two of them---Chief Detective Inspector Lamb and Sergeant Abbott. Of course Mr. Bush being the one to find the body along with Miss Janice Meade, they couldn't move hand nor foot, as you might say, without his statement. But it wasn't anything they got from him that made them go after Mr. Madoc. It was something one of those 'vacuee boys said, and if he was mine I'd put him across my knee---coming down here and taking people's characters away! I'm sure Mrs. Brewer was in here Saturday evening, the very day poor Mr. Madoc was took. She goes there twice a week to oblige, and she said, 'Mrs. Bush, he never done it. Hasty he may be, but what's a hard word or two when you're used to them?---and there's a lot of difference between language and shooting people.'"

"Yes, indeed," said Miss Silver in reverential tones.

Mrs. Bush leaned nearer.

"Of course they do say there was something going on between him and that Miss Brown." She checked suddenly and drew back. "Well, there---I shouldn't have said that, with you staying at the Rectory. I hope you won't mention it to Miss Sophy."

Miss Silver looked shocked.

"Oh, no, indeed. It was quite natural, I'm sure. I don't really know Miss Brown at all, but I have heard that there was some talk about her and Mr. Madoc. She seems to have had a very severe shock, poor thing."

Mrs. Bush primmed her lips. Even according to her own indulgent standards she had been indiscreet. But what a chance of obtaining inside information. The Rectory maids were as tight as tight---not a word out of either of them. She allowed temptation a foothold, and succumbed.

"Hardly eats a thing, they tell me."

Miss Silver sighed.

"She seems very low, poor thing."

Mrs. Bush leaned half across the counter.

"They do say she went out to meet Mr. Madoc in the Cut, but there's such a lot of gossip, you don't know what to believe. Mr. Bush, he's never seen anything---not in that quarter. I won't say as much for other people. I'm sure I don't know what the girls are coming to. There's that Gladys Brewer, no more than turned sixteen---it's not once nor twice Mr. Bush has had to speak to her, up in the churchyard nights with bits of boys that want a good tanning if you ask me. And I'm sure I pity Mrs. Brewer from my heart, for if she hasn't got trouble coming to her, I don't know who has---and her own fault, poor thing, the way she's spoilt the girl. Mr. Bush, he's had to speak to her very severe, and she's not the only one. But as to anything between Mr. Madoc and Miss Brown, he's never seen anything, as I said. And who'd be likely to if it wasn't him? That's what I say. Regular as clockwork round the churchyard every night of his life, and if there were any goings on, well, he'd be the first to know, wouldn't he?"

"Unless they counted on his being so regular and waited till he was gone, Mrs. Bush. People can be sadly deceitful when they are doing wrong."

Mrs Bush nodded condescendingly. She had put Miss Silver down in her own mind as one of those humble dependants, neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring---a governess or some such that Miss Sophy had got down to stay by way of a kindness. That sort was in the way of knowing things, but you didn't have to mind your p's and q's with them.

"That's right," she said. "Never five minutes out, Mr. Bush isn't. Ten o'clock he takes his key from the hook on the dresser and out he goes on his round, wet or fine."

Miss Silver coughed in a deprecating manner.

"Why does he take his key?" she enquired.

Mrs. Bush looked important.

"Because he's responsible for the church as well as for the churchyard---verger and sexton, same as his father before him. And if there was to be a window left open or such like, he'd go in and shut it. Of course they're too high up for anyone to get in, but if it was to come on to blow there'd be the rain, and if it was a gale, broken glass on the top of that. It's the Rector opens them---that's just between you and me. Says the church is damp. He's one of these learned gentlemen that can't see past what they've read in a book. Now it stands to reason no place won't keep dry with the windows open to the rain, but he goes on opening them, and Mr. Bush, he has to watch his chance to get them shut. Quite worries him, but as I say, what's none of your doing it's no use worrying after. But you know what men are---it's no good talking, they just go their own way."

Miss Silver gazed.

"He does his round at ten o'clock every night?"

"Regular as clockwork," said Mrs. Bush.
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