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6: Mayblossom Cut

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Author Topic: 6: Mayblossom Cut  (Read 2 times)
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« on: May 24, 2023, 01:23:06 am »


SIDNEY Arkwright was a young man with an excellent sense of humour. It would be more correct to say that he was two young men---the smart, well-mannered, plum-coloured chauffeur and the smart, slick-haired lady-killer who sallied forth when his day’s work was done. His deferential manner was simply a bit of professional blah. He touched his peaked hat, opened doors, arranged the rugs and cushions because he was paid a decent salary to do so. When in Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s employ, before being loaned to Eustace, he had professed a keen interest in the cult of Coo because he could see that such an interest would pay good dividends. And it did. He became more than Mrs. Hagge-Smith’s under-chauffeur. He became her protégé, her latest “find”, with privileges that were not extended to the less diplomatic members of her staff and a far bigger salary than was normally paid to under-chauffeurs. She, herself, instructed him in the elementary ethics of the Movement. When finally he was transferred to Welworth to drive for the High Prophet, he was selected as one of the two Temple Sistrum-Shakers. As, at one time, he had served as assistant behind Charlie’s Cocktail Bar at Southend, he could shake a very pretty sistrum indeed. Older disciples of the Movement said he was the greatest virtuoso on the instrument that they had ever heard. Sidney Arkwright smiled modestly and said nothing.

But once clear of the atmosphere which surrounded his job, Sidney was a different cup of tea. His pin-stripe suits were the envy of the other lads about town. His ease and success with the local belles filled them with admiration or racked them with jealousy. In his private life he “shook a leg” at the local hops with as great a mastery as he shook his sistrum in the temple. On one occasion only had his particular cronies tried to bait him about his connection with the Children of Osiris. He selected the heftiest of the gang and, with consummate skill, knocked him down. After that he cooled off and explained just why he attended the meetings and services in Carroway Road.

“It’s this way---see? It pays me pretty handsome to act a bit soft with that crazy gang. Lots of ‘perks’ attached to my job just because old Haggie thinks I’m a bit of a High Lifer.” Sid winked. “But you fellahs get this straight unless you want one bloody nose apiece. I’m not listening to any wisecracks about the Guv’nor. That Penpeti guy makes me feel hot under the collar, but Mr. Mildmann’s a proper sort of chap---a decent, straight-dealing, honest sort of chap. And don’t you forget it!”

And Sidney made a prolonged and vibratory noise which in those enlightened circles was known technically as “a raspberry”.

His whole-time girl at that period was Violet Brett---a flashing brunette with a perfect pair of legs and big ideas. Sid found her expensive to run, but with a classy kid like that he didn’t mind throwing his money around a bit. On the dance-floor she was the tops and no mistake about it. She and Sid had been hitting the Garden City high-spots for about three months, when the Rollup Corset Factory advertised the fact that their annual fancy-dress dance was due to take place on the first Saturday in December.

Actually Sid had known for some time that this great event was on the way and he had prepared for it in advance. He had even managed to slip up to Town and visit a theatrical costumiers. Naturally he was taking Violet to the dance.

“Tell me, Sid, what are you going as?” she asked one evening as they were coming out of the pictures. “I’m fixing myself up as a pierrette.”

“You wait and see,” said Sid cryptically. “I reckon I’m going to raise a laugh.”


Sid did raise a laugh! There was no question about his supposed identity. The moment he walked into the crowded canteen of the Corset Factory, where the dance was held, people nudged each other, pointed, sniggered, giggled and then started laughing. Sid had gone to considerable pains to get his sartorial details correct. His make-up was admirable. From the fez to the purple umbrella, from the black beard to the long black caftan, the illusion was without flaw. And having had ample opportunity to study his original at close quarters, even the walk and the accent were passably good imitations. At first glance one or two of the more gullible actually thought it was Peta Penpeti. Violet was enchanted. Sid was the hit of the evening and since he danced only with her, she was able to wallow in reflected notoriety. The sight of the well-known, dignified Prophet of Coo dancing the rhumba with the verve and abandon of a Carmen Miranda more or less brought the house down.

By popular acclaim Sid took the Gent’s First Prize for the most original fancy-dress.

It was one of the grandest evenings he’d ever had in his life. Not only had he got his laugh, but he’d got it at the expense of the half-baked crowd that patronised him. He got a tremendous kick out of running with both the hare and the hounds, of having his cake and eating it too. After the last waltz, he gathered up Violet on the stretch of asphalt before the factory main-entrance and prepared to get down to the more serious business of the evening. With this in mind, he suggested escorting Violet home via Mayblossom Cut. And although Violet had no illusions about the perils which would result from agreement, she accepted his invitation with alacrity. They took a firm grip on each other’s waists and, with his fez at a cocky angle, Sid piloted his inamorata towards the inadequately lighted Cut.

Mayblossom Cut, as its name suggests, was a narrow footpath roofed over by the interlocking branches of a double row of may-trees, running parallel with the railway embankment. Three widely-spaced lamp-posts were supposed to illuminate this arboreal tunnel. Naturally they didn’t, and it was for this reason that Mayblossom Cut was highly popular with the younger and more enterprising couples of Welworth. To take a young lady for a stroll through the Cut was the last word in doggery. Needless to say it was not Sid’s first visit there with Violet and, if Sid had his way, it wouldn’t be the last. But as Destiny is quite indifferent to the hopes and desires of mere mortals, it was very nearly his last! Death lurks where he will---so why not in Mayblossom Cut?

Between the first and second lamp-posts, with a common-sense that Terence would have envied, Sid and Violet kissed. Then they murmured for a space and kissed again. Then Violet, with the age-old technique of her sex, suddenly went cold on Sid and refused him any further intimacy. They wrangled. Sid pleaded. Violet shook her head.

“Aw shucks!” said Sid. “What’s come over you, Vi? Where’s the harm in a kiss?”

“I don’t want to---that’s all. It’s time I got back.”

“Running out on me, eh?”

“You know it’s not that, Sid. But we’ve been hanging about here long enough.”

“Oh well, in that case . . .” muttered Sid, kicking sulkily at a stone, “there isn’t time to show you something that I bought for you in London. Rotten shame, eh? Something rather slap-up, it was. I thought you’d rather like it.”

“Coo! Let me see, Sid. There’s a sport.”

Sid shook his head.

“Naow! Can’t hang about here, Vi. You gotta get back.”

“Well, I might be able to stretch a point this once and----”

“Maybe I don’t want to give it you now,” said Sid in chilly tones. “When a chap gets something fancy for a girl, the least he expects is a bit of a come-back. Fair’s fair, Vi.”

“I didn’t mean to go dumb on you, Sid. Come on---be a sport. Let’s see it.”

“Gimme a kiss, first.”

“O.K.,” said Violet, “only don’t crumple my ruff---it’s only hired.”

They kissed---pierrette and her pseudo-Penpeti.

Then, by common consent, they moved on to the next lamp-post, where Sid halted and plunged his hand into his pocket. He drew out a small, flat, red-leather jewel-case, nicked open the clasp, and displayed to Violet’s astounded and excited gaze a glittering bracelet.

“Aw, Sid!---it’s luvly! Luvly! I never seen anything half so luvly before.”

“S’gold,” said Sid nonchalantly. “Studded with dimunds.”

“Dimunds!” cried Violet. “Go on, Sid, you’re kiddin’!”

“No, honest, Vi. Like it?”

Violet took the bracelet from its case and stared at it rapturously as it gleamed and twinkled in the lamplight.

“Do I like it? Aw, Sid, I’ll never be able to----”

But Violet never completed her sentence. There was a sudden shattering explosion, a deafening stab of sound, followed almost at once by a second. Violet let out a piercing shriek. Sid gave a curious little grunt and collapsed, moaning, on the ground. He tried to say something, then, with a sigh, he seemed to pass out in a dead faint.

There was the sound of running feet receding up Mayblossom Cut. Then silence, save for Violet’s tearful and agitated whispers, as she crouched over Sid’s recumbent body.


Although it was getting late, Inspector Duffy was still at his desk dealing with arrears of routine work when the sergeant-on-duty came briskly into his office.

“Well, sergeant?”

“There’s a young woman just showed up. Some story about a shooting affair up Mayblossom Cut. Thought you’d like to be informed, sir.”

Duffy got instantly to his feet.

“A shooting affair, eh? All right. I’ll see her at once.”

Followed by the sergeant, he went through to the main office where an agitated and tearful Violet was seated in a chair by the fireplace. Her open coat revealed a sadly rumpled pierrette costume and in her left hand she still clutched the diamond bracelet that Sid had handed her just before he collapsed. Having run the whole way to the police-station she was still struggling to regain her breath.

“Well, young lady, what’s all this I hear?” asked the inspector quietly. “Just take your time and tell me all about it.”

“But I can’t!” gasped Violet. “You gotta come at once. Sid’s been hit. He may be dead for all I know.”


“Yes---my friend Sid Arkwright, what chauffeurs for that queer Mr. Mildmann. We was coming home from the Rollup Corset Dance.”

“I see.” Duffy turned to the sergeant. “You’d better get the ambulance and follow us up. Come along, young woman. You can give me the details on the way.”

By the time Violet and the inspector reached Mayblossom Cut, Duffy was more or less cognisant with the complete layout of events. But like a sensible man he refused to advance any theories until he had learned the full import of the incident. A great deal would depend on whether Sid Arkwright were dead or alive.

On this point he was soon able to satisfy himself. As they approached the middle lamp-post in the Cut, a figure came limping towards them out of the gloom.

“Sid!” cried Violet, suddenly running forward. “Coo! You did give me a fright. I thought you was a gonner---honest I did!”

She slid an arm round his waist, whilst he leaned heavily on her shoulder to take the weight off his right leg.

“Sorry, kid,” he muttered, obviously still in pain. “Winged in the back of the leg. Fainted, I guess.” Then as Duffy drew level, he asked: “Hullo---who’s this?”

“I’m a police inspector. Your young lady came along to the station. Here, put your other arm over my shoulder. We’ll get you along to the end of the Cut. The ambulance should be there any minute.”

In this estimate the inspector was right, for no sooner had they reached the road into which the narrow track debouched, when the police ambulance drew into the kerb. Once Sid had been helped into the interior of the vehicle, Duffy drew up his trouser leg to examine the wound. A single glance told him that it was not serious. A bullet had passed through the fleshy part of the calf and, though the wound was bleeding fairly profusely, the inspector had soon checked the flow with a workmanlike bandage. Leaving Violet to sit with him and hold his hand, Duffy jumped up beside the driver and told the sergeant to follow on foot.

A cup of hot sweet tea laced with a spot of brandy soon put Sid in a more comfortable frame-of-mind, and Duffy felt justified in putting him through a brief cross-examination. As his story matched in every detail the one already told him by Violet Brett, the inspector realised that the facts of the case were unquestionably true.

“So you were coming home from a fancy-dress dance, eh?” He nodded towards the fez that Sid still gripped in his hand. “What were you supposed to represent? The Caliph of Baghdad? The Sultan of Turkey? Or what?”

Sid displayed a momentary embarrassment and fingered his false beard which, in the stress of events, had come partly adrift. Then, with a glance at Violet, he said sheepishly:

“As a matter of fact, Inspector, I was putting over a bit of a leg-pull. You know that chap that walks about in a fez and a long black coat affair---one of the big-shots up at the Osiris temple?”

“Mr. Penpeti, eh?”

“That’s him. Well, I thought it ’ud be a bit of a joke to get myself up to look like him. Everybody in Welworth knows the chap. Got a good laugh, too, didn’t it, Vi?”

“Sid ran away with the first prize,” said Violet with an admiring look. “It was ever so funny, Inspector. A real scream.”

“Umph---that’s rather interesting,” reflected Duffy, his mind suddenly reaching out to new possibilities. “You say you got no glimpse of your assailant?”

“No. Took us so sudden that we hadn’t time to gather our wits. He was off up the Cut before we really knew what had happened.”

“He?” snapped the inspector.

“Sorry---that was only a manner of speech. Might have been a woman for all I know.”

“Do you think your assailant could have seen the bracelet you had just given this young lady?”

“I should think so. We were slap under the lamp-post.”

“So the motive was evidently not robbery,” commented Duffy.

“Strikes me,” said Sid in injured tones, “there just wasn’t any motive. Some loony, I daresay, out for a quiet evening’s gunning.”

“I suppose you’ve no rivals for the hand of this young lady?”

Violet blushed scarlet, but Sid merely chuckled.

“Oh there’s one or two other chaps who’d like to cut me out, I daresay. Vi’s a good-looker as you can see for yourself. But there’s none of them that crazy about her. Damn it all, if I’d have been hit in a fatal spot, Inspector, it would have been murder. Can’t get around that.”

Violet shuddered and slipped her arm more tightly through Sid’s, looking down on him fondly. The inspector nodded.

“Well, your explanation may be the right one---a homicidal maniac. On the other hand . . .”


“Suppose somebody really mistook you for Mr. Penpeti?” said Duffy. “It’s a line of argument we shall have to follow up.” The inspector rose. “And now if you’re feeling better, I’ll get the constable to run you home in the ambulance. Where do you live?”

“Over the garage at Mr. Mildmann’s---‘Tranquilla’ in Almond Avenue. I have my meals over in the kitchen with the rest of the staff.”

“I see. Well, we’d better let Mr. Mildmann know what’s happened. You won’t be fit to drive for a week or two. You’ll have to get a doctor to look at that leg of yours. It’s nothing serious, but wants watching. I’ll come up and have chat with your employer to-morrow.”

Sid enquired with a hang-dog look:

“I suppose you’ll have to give him the low-down on my little leg-pull at the dance to-night?”


“The boss won’t like it,” said Sid slowly. “He won’t like it at all. He’s a damn decent old buffer but he’s touchy when it comes to religious matters. It may mean the sack. Just bloomin’ bad luck that we decided to come home through the Cut, I reckon. Otherwise I shouldn’t have run into this spot of bother.”


But to Sid’s lasting gratitude Mr. Mildmann made no mention of the matter. His anxiety for Sid’s comfort was touching. It made Sid feel a little cheap and ashamed of himself. It struck him that in guying Mr. Penpeti he had been perilously near to guying Mr. Mildmann himself. From that moment onwards Sid was determined to make amends for his previous behaviour and was prepared to champion his employer against the slightest criticism.

Eustace himself, after a long talk with Inspector Duffy, felt curiously uneasy. He had a feeling that things, dark, unpleasant things were happening about him that he was powerless to diagnose or check. He was convinced that Duffy’s theory was correct. The shots had been aimed, not at his chauffeur, but at a clearly recognisable simulacrum of Peta Penpeti, and, for one horrid instant, he recalled Hansford’s words to him in the temple---“Time ripe for action! Strong action!” Then he dismissed such wild suspicions as absurd. Hadn’t Hansford in these last few days suffered a complete change of heart towards his Prophet-in-Waiting? Hansford no longer suspected Penpeti of serving his own ends in the Movement. Hansford seemed to think that the threatened split had now receded. He was even apologising for his own previous suspicions.

Yes---it was all very queer and disturbing. And on top of all this stealthy unrest which seemed to surround him, Eustace had his own personal troubles to combat. Before leaving for Sussex, Alicia, as variable as a weather-vane, had suddenly turned nasty about a play she had written and was desirous of staging at the Summer Convention. This wretched play was an old bone of contention between them. Alicia had written it in a trance---or, in the parlance of Cooism, “the Divine Forces had used her as a medium through which to disseminate the Great Truths incorporate in the Ancient Wisdom of the Predynastic Gods”. It was called The Nine Gods of Heliopolis. And it was a bad play. A very bad play. Even worse, it was a very bad play in blank verse. Ever since Alicia had swept like a whirlwind into the tranquil harbourage of Cooism, she had moved heaven and earth to get this play produced. Eustace had naturally submitted the MS. to the Cultural Committee of Coo---a panel of advisers with considerable artistic sense and ability. They had taken one look at the manuscript and turned pale. They told Eustace that if he wanted to inflict mortal injury on the fortunes of his order he had only to produce The Nine Gods of Heliopolis. Naturally Eustace bowed to their superior knowledge and told Alicia that there was, so to speak, nothing doing. Alicia was furious. Like all fond amateurs who think they can write a play without (a) any knowledge of writing and (b) any knowledge of the theatre, she was abnormally sensitive to criticism. Her pride was severely wounded; and it came naturally to her to blame the mild and apologetic Eustace.

For a time she had let the play, like the sleeping dog, lie---but now, with the Summer Convention looming ahead, the wretched thing had taken on a new lease of life. It was yapping and snarling and scrabbling at the door, demanding attention. Eustace sighed. It was going to take a lot of energy to keep that play off the suggested programme of events for the June rally at Old Cowdene. He knew that Alicia was working hard on Penpeti and Penelope to have the thing performed, baiting her hook by offering them the two fattest rôles in the cast. And he had an idea that Penelope rather fancied herself as an actress. It would cost him much to go against her evident wishes.

Eustace sighed again. It was not much fun being a High Prophet. In the old days, before Alicia Hagge-Smith had got her teeth into the Movement, it had not been so bad. Now his office bristled with difficulties.

But being a father was, he claimed, even more unpalatable. Terence grew daily more sulky and unapproachable. Eustace tried to jolly him out of his moodiness. The effort was a dismal failure. Terence looked at him with the repugnant expression of a vegetarian who finds a slug in his salad. Eustace tried to reason with him. The result was even more disheartening. Terence had suddenly jumped up from the dinner-table and shouted at the top of his basso-profundo voice:

“I’m sick of all these pi-jaws! I’m sick of Cooism, rational clothing, rabbit’s food and all this High Life bunkum! I want to live as a normal low-minded, carnivorous, lounge-suited sort of chap. Damn it all, father, can’t you realise that I’m old enough to decide things for myself? I tell you straight, if I have to knuckle under to this sort of goody-goody business much longer, I shall go crackers! Haywire! Stark, staring crazy!”

Eustace was shaken to the very core of his paternal soul.


But there was one bright spot amidst all this gloom. Quite unexpectedly the Crux Ansata turned up again in its niche above the altar-piece of the temple. It had apparently suffered no damage. So Eustace promptly informed the police and the queer incident of the missing Crux Ansata was quickly forgotten.

That is to say, by all save the man or woman who, for some mysterious reason, had stolen it.

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