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3: Mrs. Pink at Home

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Author Topic: 3: Mrs. Pink at Home  (Read 32 times)
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« on: April 20, 2023, 01:03:12 pm »

MRS. Pink left the town hall just too late to catch the half-past three bus from the market-place and she was condemned to a thirty minutes wait for the next one. Nobody, looking at her as she stood at the head of a slowly lengthening queue, would have taken her for a successful litigant---least of all for one whose success had been as complete as it had been unexpected. She was tired, hungry and dispirited. Her head ached and she was badly in need of a nice hot cup of tea. (There were tea-shops in plenty at Didford, but she had already been at the expense of lunch while awaiting the trial, and two meals out in one day simply did not enter into Mrs. Pink's scheme of things.) A heavily built woman, she shifted her weight uneasily from one foot to the other as she watched the hands of the town clock creep slowly towards the hour.

It still wanted ten minutes to four when release came unexpectedly in the shape of a very dirty jeep, which pulled up, clattering and quivering, opposite the bus-stop. Above the noise of the engine she heard Horace Wendon's voice saying, "Can I give you a lift back to Yewbury, Mrs. Pink?"

Wendon was in a comparatively cheerful mood. He had spent the better part of a month's instalment on his judgment debt lunching in Didford, and capped that extravagance with an orgy of buying at a farm sale nearby. Farm sales were to him what the bottle is to other unsuccessful men, and almost as ruinous. He could not resist the fascinating assortment of oddments that these functions always produce. His smallholding was already littered with objects that he had bought in the past because they were going cheap, and the jeep was now overflowing with fresh acquisitions which, in the teeth of past experience, he yet firmly believed would come in handy one day.

He cleared a roll of rotten wire netting off the seat beside him to make room for his passenger. Mrs. Pink climbed gratefully in, and they shot erratically down the High Street.

"I saw you in court this morning, didn't I?" he said, when they were at last free of the traffic and out on the main road. "What was your trouble? Mine was bad pig meal, as I expect you heard."

"Mr. Todman took me to court," Mrs. Pink explained. "He wants my cottage back for his Marlene to live in."

Mr. Wendon was genuinely concerned. "That's a bad business," he said. "Where will you go? Yewbury can't get along without you, you know."

"The judge said I could stay. It seems that Marlene being only a stepdaughter made all the difference. I don't understand it really, and no more did Mr. Todman. He was ever so upset."

Horace Wendon seldom laughed, and then usually at the expense of others. He did so now.

"I bet he was!" he said. "That will make him really mad. Serve him right, the old robber!"

"I wouldn't say that, Mr. Wendon," said Mrs. Pink gently. "Marlene really does want the cottage. I'd be glad to go if I could."

"You hold on to what you can," replied Wendon. "It's no good being too generous in this world. Todman can find somewhere else for the girl if he wants to. He's rich enough, to judge by what he charged me for overhauling this contraption. And now," he relapsed into his usual depression, "I suppose he'll start pressing me for his bill."

Nothing more was said between them until he deposited Mrs. Pink at the door of the disputed cottage.

"I'm sure I'm very grateful to you, Mr. Wendon," she said as she got out. "Would you care to come in for a cup of tea?"

There was a shade of diffidence in the giving of the invitation that marked her recognition of the fact that, in spite of everything, Mr. Wendon was still hanging on to the skirts of the gentry, and might regard it as a liberty. Wendon, whose misfortunes had aggravated his class-consciousness, hesitated before he accepted. He did so, he told himself, because he did not wish to offend her. All the same, it was odd finding himself the casual guest of a village woman! He had the feeling as he entered her door that he was in some obscure way crossing the Rubicon.

"If you'll just sit there a minute while I boil the kettle . . ." said Mrs. Pink and disappeared into the kitchen.

Wendon looked around him in some surprise. The room was much better furnished than he had expected. It was grotesquely overcrowded, of course, but some of the pieces were quite good. The desk in the corner, laden with neatly arranged papers, was a solid mahogany affair which his own father would not have been ashamed of owning. There were even some quite respectable pictures on the walls. . . .

He was examining one of these when Mrs. Pink returned with the tea. It was a Vanity Fair cartoon by "Spy," depicting an elderly man with a bushy white beard and prodigious frontal development, a dripping quill pen in his hand.

"That's an interesting thing you have there," he said. "I've seen one like it before, somewhere. It's of Henry Spicer, isn't it?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," said Mrs. Pink vaguely.

"Henry Spicer," Wendon persisted. "The writer at Yew Hill people used to make such a fuss about." Then, seeing that Mrs. Pink still looked blank, he added, "How did you come by it?"

"It was something my husband had, like all the rest," she said shortly. "Do you take sugar in your tea, Mr. Wendon?"

"Yes, please. There's something written in the corner. Such a scribble I can't make it out. 'Yours truly...' By Jove! It's an autograph. You know, Mrs. Pink, this might be worth quite a bit of money. If it was mine I'd sell it."

"Oh, I couldn't do that. Won't you sit down and have your tea, Mr. Wendon?"

Though he was not particularly quick on the uptake, Wendon realized that his hostess was not prepared to discuss the picture. He sat down, and the tea was consumed for the most part in silence. As soon as he decently could, he rose to go.

"Sorry to rush away," he observed, "but I've got a little business I promised to do for Mrs. Ransome up at The Alps." He took another look at the "Spy" cartoon as he went. "Ugly old blighter," he observed. "He puts me in mind of something, but I can't think what. I still think you ought to sell him for what he can fetch."


Mrs. Pink did not attempt to keep him. Her hospitality had already delayed her from something else more important in her eyes even than tea. When he had gone she did not even wait to wash up the tea things. Instead she put on once more her battered black straw hat, walked out of her house, down the lane past the Huntsman's Inn, across the road and through the lychgate of the churchyard just opposite.

It was cool and dim inside the church. The garish stained-glass windows with which pious nineteenth-century restorers had ornamented the Norman building let in little of the faint spring sunshine. Mrs. Pink stood for a moment at the west end while her eyes grew accustomed to the half-light, and the peace that the church had never yet failed to bring descended upon her. She noticed that electric lights were burning beyond the choir-screen, to the north of the altar. That would be in the Harvill Chapel. Visitors were always coming to see the monuments there. Mrs. Pink, who loved the church, stained glass and all, with uncritical adoration, cared less for the Harvill Chapel than for any other part of it. It was more like a museum than a place of worship, she thought, with its rows of stiffly sculptured squires and ladies lying on their tombs, and even piled one above another against the wall, for all the world like passengers in a third-class sleeping carriage on the railway. She let her eyes travel round the church. It was time to be thinking about flowers for Easter. She must remember to remind Lady Furlong to bring hers in good time this year. Last Easter they had not arrived till almost everything had been arranged, and it had been most awkward persuading Mrs. Blenkiron to take her arums off the altar to make room for her ladyship's eucharis. . . . Guiltily, Mrs. Pink told herself that this was not the object for which she was in the church that afternoon. She recalled her wandering thoughts, slipped into a pew and knelt down in prayer. She remained on her knees for a long time.

When she finally rose to her feet, her headache now gone, and even her craving for tea temporarily forgotten, she observed that the light was still on in the Harvill Chapel. Visitors did not often stay there as long as this. One dead Harvill looked much like another and their curiosity was usually quickly satisfied. Possibly they had gone and forgotten to turn off the lights. If, on the other hand, they were still there they were being remarkably quiet for tourists, which probably meant that they were Up To No Good. In either case, it was her clear duty to take action.

Mrs. Pink walked quietly up the length of the church. Turning to her left just past the choir-screen, she entered the chapel. At first she thought that it was empty. Then, peering over a high, late Renaissance tomb, she saw a figure kneeling on the floor just beneath the north window. The carpet had been rolled back, and he was vigorously scrubbing away with a short black stick at a long sheet of paper, kept in place by piles of hassocks and hymn-books at the corners.

The effigy of Sir Guy d'Harville has a modest celebrity among connoisseurs of English brasses as a sound, if not outstanding, specimen of early fifteenth-century work. Mrs. Pink was aware of its existence, though she had never troubled to examine it. She could see that something unusual was going on in its vicinity, and her immediate conclusion was that the intruder was indeed Up To No Good. She advanced firmly upon him and said, as loudly as her respect for her surroundings would allow, "What are you doing here?"

The stranger stood up, and Mrs. Pink realized with relief that she had to do with a boy, not more than seventeen years old. He was tall for his age, thin and spectacled, and appeared perfectly self-possessed.

"Good afternoon," he said politely. "I heard you, but I thought it was the verger coming to lock up. I've been taking a rubbing of the brass."

"Nobody's allowed to take anything out of the church without permission," said Mrs. Pink severely.

The boy looked pained.

"Naturally I've got permission," he said. "I asked the Vicar on Sunday. He told me I could come any time the church wasn't being used. And I'm not taking anything from the church, actually. Only an impression of the brass. It's like taking a photograph, really, only much better. I'm just about finished now. Would you like to look at it?"

He stood away from the sheet of paper and proudly exhibited the results of his labours. Mrs. Pink looked down uncomprehendingly at Sir Guy's mailed figure, severe in black and white.

"It's very ugly," she observed.

"It's a jolly good impression," the boy protested. "The skirt of taces is a bit blurred, perhaps, but the brass is rather badly worn there, anyway. The gorget is a great success. I thought it would be a bit tricky." He returned the hassocks and hymn-books to their proper places, pocketed his black stick and rolled up the strip of paper.

"What are you going to do with it?" Mrs. Pink asked.

"I shall hang it up in my room, naturally. I've got quite a decent collection already. Last holidays I was able to get Stoke d'Abernon." He breathed the name with reverence. "There's nothing so good as that in Markshire, of course, but according to Boutell there are two fairly interesting ones at Didford Magna. I shall try them next week." He rolled the carpet back over Sir Guy. "I'm afraid I'm boring you," he added politely.

Mrs. Pink did not contradict him, but she was looking at him with interest.

"I saw you in church last Sunday, didn't I?" she said. "Are you staying in these parts?"

"Well, actually I suppose I should say I'm living here, when I'm not at school. At least, I imagine I shall be living here from now on. I'm at The Alps."

"You'll be young Mr. Ransome, then?"

"My fame has evidently preceded me," said the boy gravely. "Yes, I'm Godfrey Ransome."

"I was wondering," said Mrs. Pink hesitantly. "That is, the Vicar was asking me---do you think Mrs. Ransome would care to help with the refreshments at the summer bazaar? I didn't like to trouble her, but perhaps you could enquire? The name is Pink---Mrs. Pink."

"I could ask if you like, of course. Unfortunately, I don't know my mother very well, but I should rather doubt if it was in her line. However, there is no harm in trying."

He prepared to leave the chapel. Mrs. Pink came with him.

"I've never heard a lad of your age say he doesn't know his own mother," she said in shocked tones, as they reached the choir. "It doesn't sound natural to me."

"Mine has been a somewhat unusual childhood," he replied shortly. "By the way, I notice there are six candle-sticks on the altar. Did your vicar get a faculty for them?"

"I couldn't say, I'm sure."

"I was only asking because one of the boys at school has a father who's chancellor to a diocese. He's awfully down on that sort of thing. Personally, I couldn't care less."

They parted at the door of the church. Mrs. Pink left Godfrey attaching his rubbing to the back of a rather battered bicycle and made her way home. She washed up the tea, carefully swept up the crumbs which Mr. Wendon had left on the carpet as a memento of his visit, and then sat down at her desk and opened her typewriter. There was much to do. First she dealt with Colonel Sampson's almost illegible agenda for the forthcoming meeting of the British Legion. Next she composed several appeals to laggard subscribers to the Friends of Yew Hill. She was about to turn her attention to the affairs of the Moral Welfare Association, when there was a knock at the front door, which was also the door into the sitting-room.

Mr. Todman stood on the threshold, his yellow hair standing up in the evening breeze, his hard little face pale and determined.

"Come in, Mr. Todman," said Mrs. Pink gently. "Won't you sit down?"

Mr. Todman would not sit down. He stood in the middle of the little room and came to business at once.

"Mrs. Pink," he said, "will you take three hundred pounds?"

"For what, Mr. Todman?"

"For this shack, Mrs. Pink. It's more than what my dad gave for it."

"It's less than I could get any other place for, Mr. Todman, the price things are now. You know that."

"Maybe it is, Mrs. Pink, but this happens to be my house. You're forgetting that. I'm offering you three hundred, just to get out."

"I couldn't do it, Mr. Todman."

"I tell you what, Mrs. Pink. You can have the room over the garage what Marlene's got now---and three hundred. That's a fair offer, ain't it?"

"I'm not saying it isn't, Mr. Todman. But it wouldn't do, you know it wouldn't. I'd like to help Marlene if I could, but I must have a place to myself. It's worth more to me than money. That's what I told the judge."

"Judge, my foot!" Mr. Todman was so agitated that he departed for once from the civil Yewbury custom of repeating the name of the person he was addressing. "What did he know about it? Why, he wasn't so much as a proper judge at that, but a silly old man they'd dug out of a ditch to sit there and keep people out of their rights!"

"I can't help that, Mr. Todman. If the law says I can stay here, then I shall just stay, till I can find some place else."

"And when will that be, may I ask?"

"I cannot say, Mr. Todman. Quite soon, perhaps. Perhaps not."

Mr. Todman shifted his line of attack.

"You told a lot of lies in court this afternoon," he said.

Mrs. Pink was startled out of the tranquillity which she had maintained up to that moment.

"Mr. Todman, what do you mean by that?" she cried, in a voice sharpened by fear.

Mr. Todman saw that his random shot had struck, but was clearly unable to press home his advantage.

"A lot of lies," he repeated. "I heard them, and so did a heap of other people. You'd best be careful, I'm telling you, Mrs. Pink."

"I swore on the Book that I'd tell the truth," said Mrs. Pink firmly. "And if I said one word that was wrong"—she looked round her for a moment, hesitated, and then went on defiantly—"may God strike me where I sit!"

Mr. Todman was impressed in spite of himself. He looked hopefully at her to see whether her challenge would be accepted, and then, seeing his opponent still in her chair and apparently none the worse, moved slowly to the door. But he still had one more word to say.

"I'm going now," he said. "But mark my words, Mrs. Pink. I shall have my Marlene in this place one way or another before you're much older---law or no law. I'm warning you."

"Over my dead body, Mr. Todman!"

"If you like it that way, Mrs. Pink!"

The door slammed behind him.

Mrs. Pink turned back to her desk and inserted a new sheet of paper in her typewriter. But it was some time before she could collect herself sufficiently to resume her work. "A lot of lies!" she repeated to herself. Nobody had ever dared suggest such a thing of her before. And now . . . But she hadn't lied---not what anybody could call lying. She had explained it all to God that afternoon in church, and He had assured her that he understood. Her conscience was as clear as it had always been. But would Mr. Todman understand if he ever found out? Would that nice old gentleman who had looked at her so oddly and then told her she could stay in the cottage? Why had the Lord chosen to put so great a burden on His weak servant, Martha Pink? She looked at the calendar on the wall. It would not be for long now, please God.

She began to type a letter for the Moral Welfare Association, and forgot her troubles in the task. But they returned again when, her work for others completed, she had to attend to her own affairs. Among the pile of papers on her desk was a letter which had reached her that morning from a firm of London solicitors.

    "Dear Madam [it ran],
    We have received notice . . ."

She read and re-read the letter, shaking her head in dumb despair. The words and figures wavered before her tired eyes. Miserably, at last she braced herself to the task of composing a reply.

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