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1: Pettigrew Goes North

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Author Topic: 1: Pettigrew Goes North  (Read 47 times)
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« on: November 09, 2023, 03:55:10 am »

FRANCIS PETTIGREW was staring gloomily out of the window of his chambers in the Temple at the trees on the Embankment and the grey glimmer of the river beyond them. It was by no means an unattractive view, but it displeased him. He was a man of conservative temperament and for twenty years he had been accustomed to having his vision bounded by a sober red brick wall twenty paces distant. Two months previously one high explosive bomb and a handful of incendiaries had opened up the vista by removing the red brick wall and the two blocks of buildings beyond it. For the first time since they were built, the chambers were now exposed to the full light of day. There was, Pettigrew felt, something rather indecent about it.

He sighed and turned from the window to the man standing in the room behind him.

“Well, there you are,” he said. “It’s yours, for the duration. Apart from the gap in the ceiling, the place isn’t in bad order. I should be careful how you handle the books, though. Some of them are pretty filthy. The Meeson and Welsbys in the corner, especially, had most of the soot from the chimney next door driven into them. And of course there’s always the chance of a glass splinter here and there. You’re not bringing many books of your own, I suppose?”

The other man grinned.

“Not very many,” he said. “One odd volume of Halsbury, to be precise. I happened to have taken it home with me the night of the blitz. It’s almost the only existing relic of Mulberry Court of blessed memory. Really it’s very good of you to let me take this place over. I can’t imagine what I should have done if----”

“Say no more about it, old boy. It’s a kindness on your part to keep the chambers warm while I’m away.”

“When do you go?”

“To-night as ever is. I feel a bit of a fool launching out on a new job at my time of life, but they really seemed to want me to do it and I felt I oughtn’t to turn it down.”

“What is the job, exactly? One of these Ministries, I suppose?”

Pettigrew assumed an expression of deep solemnity.

“The Pin Control,” he said portentously. Then, “Ever heard of it?”

“Er---yes, I think so. It looks after the pin trade, I suppose?”

“So far as I have been able to find out, that is a very inadequate description of its activities. The gentleman whom I saw about the job---he was no less a person than the Controller’s own deputy assistant director, mark you---he gave me to understand in no uncertain terms that on the proper administration of the Pin Control hinged the entire---I forget how he put it, but I assure you it made a deep impression on me, more than pin-deep I was going to say, but perhaps that would be an exaggeration. And as Legal Adviser to the Control, I am going to be a person of some consequence. Just how consequential you may discover if you care to glance at that masterpiece of light literature, the Pin Restrictions (No. 3) Order, 1940---but I don’t advise you to, unless you have to.”

“I don’t see why you shouldn’t do your advising from the Temple.”

“Neither, to be perfectly frank, do I. But the Pin Control is established at Marsett Bay, and so to Marsett Bay I go.”

“Marsett Bay. Let me see, where exactly is that?”

“You may well ask. It’s somewhere on the Polar Circuit, I’m given to understand. In the very depths---no, even worse than that, on the very fringes of what Shakespeare so justly described as our nook-shotten island. Anyhow, there’s a ticket to the place in my pocket, and, by the same token, if I don’t get a move on now, I shall miss my train. So long, old boy. Take care of the chambers. If the chimney smokes, which it always does in an east wind, you will find the best plan is to open the further window six inches at the bottom and leave the door slightly ajar. The smoke will then be diverted into the clerk’s room next door, which is a great improvement, unless you have a particularly important client waiting outside. I’ll write and let you know how I get on. I might even send you a card of black-market pins.”

Unlike most people who promise to write and say how they get on, Pettigrew was as good as his word. His tenant received his first letter within a fortnight of his departure to Marsett Bay.

“Dear Bill,” he wrote, “did you ever dream that you dwelt in marble halls? If so, you will not need any description of this place. It was, I gather, decreed as a stately pleasure dome by the first and---luckily---last Lord Eglwyswrw, who made his pile (appropriately enough, in pin tables) just before the war. He chose this really lovely, but confoundedly breezy, site overlooking the sea, to plant this monstrous structure. How anybody can have seriously proposed to live in such bloated magnificence, I can’t imagine. Perhaps nobody really could---at least, his lordship died within a couple of months of making the attempt, since when it stood empty until some genius realized that the marble halls were simply ideal for accommodating platoons of typists and that the endless marble corridors were just made for female messengers to run clattering down with files, or more often teapots, in their hands.

“I am fairly fortunate in having a reasonably quiet and small room to myself, intended, I should imagine, as an abode for one of the upper servants. In an even smaller cubby-hole next door is my young lady secretary. She seems to be perfectly efficient, has no conversation, thank heaven!---dumb, or merely shy? I haven’t discovered yet---with the kind of face that once seen, is never remembered. Anyhow, in view of some of the women about the place---and I never imagined how positively cumbered with women the place would be---I have reason to be thankful for my Miss Brown.

“As to the other people in this shop, I haven’t had the time to sort them out yet. There is the Controller, of course. He dwells in Olympian seclusion in Lord Eglwyswrw’s library. I think that he would be quite a reasonable human being, if it weren’t for the fact that he is a Senior Civil Servant, lent for the duration by the Treasury to run this racket. But as it is, I find him rather heavy going. In a show like this, full of amateurs and temporaries like myself, he finds few to praise and very few to speak to. Poor devil! I suppose he’ll get a C.B. or something out of it at the end of the war, but he’ll have earned it hardly.

“The only people I have got to know at all well are the ones who live at the residential club, alias boarding-house, which is sheltering me. They are all brother or sister pin controllers, and I think I shall get some fun out of watching their antics. Besides Miss Brown---no fun to be expected there, though---there is an odd creature named Honoria Danville, whose principal function in office hours appears to be the brewing of tea---easily the most important event of the day, I need not say. She is rather deaf, elderly, amiable and, I should say, distinctly batty. Also one Miss Clarke, a female gorgon, who rules a department with appalling efficiency and scares the life out of me.

“As for the men of the party, there is a positively poisonous young gentleman named Rickaby; a decent middle-aged ex-solicitor’s clerk, whom I suspect of having designs on Miss B. (you may remember him, by the way---weren’t Mayhew and Tillotsons clients of yours? Name of Phillips); and a horn-rimmed creature called Edelman, whom I can’t make head or tail of, except that he’s extremely clever and a first-rate bridge player.

“I won’t bore you with any further descriptions, but I have made one rather amusing discovery. An unassuming little man by the name of Wood turns out to be no other than the detective story writer Amyas Leigh. I’m sure you’ve come across some of his stuff---some of it quite entertaining, though his ideas of criminal procedure are pretty wild. Apparently he has been here some time quite incognito, and he was positively pink with embarrassment when I unmasked him. He ought to get some good local colour here, anyhow. The place would make quite a good setting for a homicide.

“By the way, is it really true that they are proposing to put Burroughs J. up to the Court of Appeal? I should have thought. . . .”

The rest of the letter was of purely forensic interest.

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