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7: Postponement of a Bazaar

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Author Topic: 7: Postponement of a Bazaar  (Read 59 times)
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« on: April 21, 2023, 07:52:25 am »

TWO days of driving rain and mist had eliminated the view from Pettigrew's window, and the dissertation on the Law of Torts had profited accordingly. On the afternoon of Maundy Thursday the weather miraculously improved, and Eleanor was not surprised on entering the study to find her husband unashamedly occupied in looking out of the window. But this time she did not share his enthusiasm.

"Have you read this week's Didford Advertiser, Frank?" she asked, in a tone in which her husband's ear could detect a note of reproach.

"Not yet," said Pettigrew. "I've been too busy since lunch. Do look, Eleanor, there's a totally new effect since those beeches in the foreground came out. It's quite remarkable how----"

But Eleanor refused to be sidetracked.

"You ought to," she said, and laid the paper on his desk. "Lady Furlong's cook has given notice."

"Good heavens! I knew that her ladyship was a fairly important personage, but I had no idea that her domestic misfortunes were hot news. Do let me see what it says."

"It doesn't say anything about the cook, naturally. Lady Furlong rang up just now to tell me. She's putting off our invitation to dinner next week."

"I'm sorry to hear that, but I don't quite see the connection."

"The cook has given notice because of something you said in the paper."

"Something I said? But, my dear girl, I've never written anything for the Advertiser in my life. And if I did it would certainly not be about my neighbour's cook. Cuckoos, perhaps—they are always a fair topic for correspondence at this time of the year. But not cooks. It's clean out of my line. There must be some mistake."

"There's no mistake at all. Just look at it yourself."

Pettigrew found himself confronted with yet another report of the dressmaker's action at Markhampton. The Didford Advertiser's layout did not run to the facetious headlines which had surprised him so much in the daily press. Instead, a column of solid print carried what he was horrified to see was an almost verbatim report of his judgment.

"Giving judgment," he read, "the learned deputy observed that the plaintiff had alleged that Mrs. Gallop was a very difficult customer to fit. Having seen Mrs. Gallop in the witness-box he could well believe it."

"Well?" said Eleanor accusingly.

"What's wrong with that? It was perfectly true. Mrs. Gallop was the most cantankerous female I've seen for a long time. She found fault with everything. I don't think the dressmaker has yet been born who could have made anything that she would admit was a proper fit. My remarks were perfectly just, and very mild in the circumstances." He read the passage through again. "Good Lord!" he murmured. "Does the woman think I was referring to her shape?"

"Obviously. Wouldn't anyone?"

"Ridiculous! She must have known I only meant . . . Now I come to think of it, she was built on rather baroque lines. . . . Well, it's all most unfortunate, but how was I to know that she was Lady Furlong's household treasure?"

"She wasn't. Mrs. Gallop is Lady Furlong's cook's mother-in-law. When she read what you had said about her in the paper she took to her bed with a fit of hysterics and the cook has gone home to look after her. Now do you see what you have done?"

"I give it up," said Pettigrew wearily. "The sooner Jefferson recovers, the better. Doing justice in such a temperamental neighbourhood is altogether beyond my powers. Now I suppose I must sit down and read this rag from cover to cover to see what other dreadful solecisms I have committed."

Pettigrew was as good as his word. He carefully scanned every column of the Advertiser, and was relieved to find no further references to his activities on the bench. One item of local news, however, caused him some little amusement.

"Just listen to this, Eleanor," he said. "The popular Henry Spicer Museum at the foot of Yew Hill has been enriched by an autographed cartoon of the famous author by the celebrated artist Fly. This has been generously donated by Mr. Humphrey Rose, at present staying in the neighbourhood for the Easter holiday, and to whom the novelist presented it at an early stage in his career. Mr. Rose is well known as an admirer of the works of the bard of Yew Hill. What a wonderful country is England! Do you suppose that anywhere else on earth a quite celebrated swindler just out of jail would be called well known as an admirer of somebody's books?"

"You forget," his wife reminded him. "That paragraph was probably written by somebody who was at school when Rose went to prison. He has probably never heard of him."

"He has never heard of the cartoonist 'Spy', evidently. But that's a minor point. What I feel is a bit hot is that a dangerous ruffian should plant himself among us and then pose as a local benefactor."

"Aren't you being rather unfair, Frank? I don't expect he's a bit dangerous after all those years in prison. He probably just wants to live quietly and respectably. I dare say giving things to the local museum is his way of getting back into decent society."

"If the only decent society he gets into consists of readers of Henry Spicer, it will be a very restricted one. Anyhow, from what I know of him, Rose will never cease to be dangerous. But we shall see."

There was a ring at the front door. Pettigrew went to answer it.

"That will be Mr. Wendon, I hope," Eleanor called after him. "If he has brought the chicken, will you tell him----"

But it was not Mr. Wendon. It was Mrs. Pink. Pettigrew greeted her in some confusion. It was most awkward, he felt, the way that litigants had of bobbing up in one's path as if they were ordinary human beings.

"You want to see my wife, I expect," he said. "Do come in."

"Thank you," said Mrs. Pink, "but I only wanted to leave her the parish magazine. And this note---it's about the bazaar. We have had to change the date, because of the mission week, you know."

"Quite," said Pettigrew, trying to look as if he did know all about the mission week. He noticed that she looked rather tired, and added, "Have you walked all the way here, Mrs. Pink."

"Yes. But it doesn't matter. I'm used to walking. And this is the last house in East Yewbury. I've only The Alps to visit now, and then all the notices will be out."

Pettigrew was familiar with the village custom by which parish notices were always delivered by hand, whether to save money or through some atavistic suspicion of the reliability of the post, but he was shocked at the idea of this obviously exhausted woman trudging such a distance up such a hill.

"But you'll kill yourself!" he exclaimed.

"Oh no, Mr. Pettigrew, I'm not so easily killed as that. But it is a long way, that I will admit, and if the Vicar wasn't in such a hurry to get the notices out before Easter I'd leave it till I got my bike mended. I had an accident with it, you see, and the people in Didford won't so much as look at it till the holidays are over."

"But surely Todman's garage could---- No, I suppose they couldn't, in all the circumstances. Well, Mrs. Pink----"

He was interrupted by the stuttering roar that announced the arrival of Mr. Wendon's jeep. By the time that he had dealt with the important business of the fowl Mrs. Pink had walked away on her long, self-imposed journey.

"You were all wrong about that pig meal, you know," Mr. Wendon observed, as he was counting out the change.

"I'm sure I was," said Pettigrew easily. Oddly, he felt no difficulty in meeting Wendon, whom he had ordered to pay two pounds a month, whereas talking to Mrs. Pink, who owed him the very roof over her head, caused him acute embarrassment.

"By the way, I've paid the money---all of it."

"Good show."

"Not a good show at all---a damned swindle, if you want my opinion. And the chap I got the cash from was a damned swindler too. So long."

He was about to leave when Pettigrew stopped him.

"By the way," he said, "Mrs. Pink was here just now. I suppose you know her?"

"The widow Pink? Of course I do. Who doesn't?"

"Well, she's proposing to walk all the way up to The Alps to deliver some tom-fool message from the Vicar. Are you driving in that direction by any chance?"

"As a matter of fact," said Wendon slowly, "it would rather suit me to go that way. I'll give her a lift up the hill, is that the idea?"

"Splendid! It will really take a load off my mind. You're sure it won't be too much trouble?"

"No trouble at all. I'll pick her up in the lane."

Pettigrew went back into the house warm with the consciousness of having done a kindness. When he told Eleanor of the arrangement he was a little dashed to find it treated in a very matter-of-fact fashion.

"My dear Frank, Mr. Wendon must have seen Mrs. Pink here. He was probably waiting for the chance to take her out."

"Why do you think that?"

"Has it never occurred to you that he had designs on her?"

"Good gracious, no! They're not at all the same sort of people, I should have said."

"Obviously they are not. She is much too good for him. Anyone can see that. But he badly needs somebody to look after him, and she is an excellent housekeeper and must have a little money of her own----"

"Very little," said Pettigrew. "I happen to know exactly how much."

"Even a little would mean a lot to Mr. Wendon. And if he's not interested in her, can you tell me why he should have driven her home from Didford the other day and stayed to tea?"

"Really, Eleanor, after eight years of marriage I had begun to think I knew something about you, but you continue to surprise me. Since when did you develop into a village gossip?"

"I am nothing of the sort, Frank. I simply listen to what I am told. Lady Furlong has been full of the affair for the last fortnight."

"And where does Lady Furlong get all these precious details from?"

"That is the tragedy. She used to get them from her cook. Now, thanks to you, there will be no more of them."

"This is terrible. The least we can do is to supply the deficiency ourselves to the best of our feeble powers." He took up the field-glasses. "There is just one stretch of the hill road which you can see from here, where it crosses the shoulder. They should be nearly there by now. . . . Yes, there they go," he exclaimed a moment later. "Enveloped in a cloud of blue smoke. No, I am sorry to report her arm is not round his waist. She is holding on for dear life while he buckets over that rough patch by the corner. . . . They've gone behind the trees now." He put the glasses down. "And some people call country life dull!" he exclaimed.

---

"My mother's out, I'm afraid," said Godfrey politely to Mrs. Pink. "But I'm expecting her back any time. Won't you come in?"

"I won't trouble her, thank you very much," said Mrs. Pink, with the air of one repeating a well-learned lesson. "It's only a notice from the Vicar about the bazaar. We find we've had to change the date."

"I'll tell her, then. I'm afraid it will only be of academic interest to her, though. I mentioned that matter of her taking a stall, and she turned it down flat, as I thought she would."

"I quite understand," said Mrs. Pink.

Mr. Wendon meanwhile was rummaging in the back of the jeep.

"I expect your mother could do with a dozen eggs over Easter," he remarked, producing a battered cardboard box.

"Thanks; I expect she could. Wait a bit, though---aren't they supposed to be on the ration, or something?"

"'Supposed' is the word. Just give them to your mother with my compliments and she won't ask any questions."

"Look here, sir," said Godfrey, going rather pink, "I dare say you'll think I'm a fearful prig, but I'd much rather not take them. You see, I had a bit of an argument with Mother about---well, about a rather similar thing only a day or two ago, and I should look rather an ass if she came home and found I'd been taking in eggs off the ration. So do you mind frightfully if I say, No?"

It was clear from Mr. Wendon's expression that he did mind. He returned the box to its place in silence and climbed back into the driving-seat. He fiddled with the starter for a moment, and then said abruptly: "Is that blighter Rose anywhere about?"

"No," Godfrey told him. "Mr. Rose went to London yesterday. I don't know when he'll be back."

"Very well, young fellow-my-lad. I'll just wait here till your mother comes back. Then we'll see who looks an ass." He turned to Mrs. Pink. "What about you, Mrs. Pink? Do you mind waiting?"

"Oh, I shan't wait, thank you, Mr. Wendon. I shall walk home through the Glade. It's downhill all the way."

Grethe appeared at Godfrey's elbow.

"Mr. Godfree, I have put the tea for you in the drawing-room. Mrs. Ransome said not to wait for her."

"Oh, thanks awfully, Grethe. I'll come along now." Godfrey was about to go into the house when a thought struck him. "Mrs. Pink," he said, "why don't you come in and have tea before you go? It's awfully dull having meals alone---I mean---that's a rotten way to put it, but I'd love you to come."

"It's very kind of you Mr. Godfrey," said Mrs. Pink doubtfully, "but I don't know if I should, really----"

"It's quite all right. Grethe always makes much more than I can eat, anyway. Grethe! Noch eine Tasse, bitte!"

Mrs. Pink found herself being swept inside The Alps before she well knew what was happening.

"I shan't come in, thank you," said Mr. Wendon to Godfrey's retreating back. He shrugged his shoulders as the door closed behind them. As always, he gloomily resigned himself to unfair dealing. There were, he knew, half a hundred things at his holding that required his urgent attention, but he had said that he would wait for Mrs. Ransome, and wait he would---for a few minutes, at any rate. From behind his seat he produced a flask of whisky and poured himself out a dram. The requirements at the holding began to seem less urgent. Then he took from his pocket a creased copy of the Didford Advertiser. His lack-lustre eyes brightened as he observed that the front page carried advertisements of no fewer than three farm sales. He began to read with absorbed concentration.

---

Mrs. Ransome had been to a lunch-party at Markhampton. After lunch she had been induced to play canasta, which had not been good for either her pocket or her temper. It was with somewhat ruffled spirits that she returned home, to be greeted by strange sounds proceeding from her seldom-used piano. Godfrey, who had been endeavouring to enlist Mrs. Pink's support in a campaign to induce the Vicar to revert to the Cathedral Psalter in place of its new-fangled rival, the Oxford Psalter, was at that moment driving home his point by a practical illustration which left Mrs. Pink as mystified as it would probably have done King David. The music---to give it a charitable name---stopped abruptly as she entered the room.

"Well, Godfrey!" she exclaimed. "I see you've been having a party. And Mrs. Pink! How very, very kind of you to call. I am so sorry that I wasn't in to receive you."

From the saccharine sweetness of his mother's manner Godfrey gathered at once that he had blundered badly in inviting Mrs. Pink into the house. In some confusion, he embarked on a rambling explanation of what had happened.

"Oh, please don't explain!" Mrs. Ransome protested. "I always think explanations are so tiresome, don't you, Mrs. Pink? All that I do gather is that kind Mr. Wendon has brought me a dozen eggs, and that at least is satisfactory. There was rather an upset the last time he came here, and I was afraid he had deserted us. Do you find yourself terribly short of eggs, Mrs. Pink? Or perhaps you keep your own hens?"

"But he didn't bring the eggs, Mother---that's just the point. At least, he did bring them, but I didn't like to take them. He's waiting outside now to see if you want them."

"You didn't take the eggs? My poor Godfrey, you must be mad. And you left poor Mr. Wendon sitting outside----" And brought Mrs. Pink in, was the only too clearly understood corollary. "But where is he now? He certainly was not outside when I put the car away a moment ago." She turned to Grethe, who came in at that moment with a fresh pot of tea. "Grethe, have you seen Mr. Wendon?"

"Oh yes, Mr. Vendon, he is gone now in a hurry. He said he could no longer wait."

"Gone, with all those eggs!"

"Oh no, I took the eggs from him. They are in the kitchen just now."

"Thank heaven for that, at least!" Mrs. Ransome poured herself out a cup of tea. "I couldn't have borne to think that he had gone off with them. To lose a chance of getting anything nowadays is simply criminal. Don't you agree, Mrs. Pink?"

"I don't know, I'm sure, Mrs. Ransome," said Mrs. Pink in her soft, slow voice. "It's hard to say nowadays what's criminal and what isn't, I sometimes think."

It seemed to Godfrey, watching them, that Mrs. Pink had a very curious effect on his mother. It was almost as if she had in some way got upon her nerves. Normally so calm and self-possessed, Mrs. Ransome seemed flustered and uneasy in her presence. Her voice had a harder edge to it than usual, and she caught at the remark as though it contained a personal accusation.

"What a very strange thing to say!" she exclaimed. "I should have thought it obvious that when I said 'criminal' I only meant---- Oh, must you go?" she added, for Mrs. Pink had risen and was looking at the clock that hung over the mantelpiece.

"I ought to be on my way," said Mrs. Pink, still looking at the clock. "I wanted to call in at the Vicarage by six. That clock loses a little, doesn't it?"

"My little French clock?" It seemed that Mrs. Ransome could not stop talking. "Yes, it does---about a minute and a half a day, I suppose. It's a pretty thing, isn't it? I've had it for years. My husband gave it to me."

Mrs. Pink turned round and looked her full in the face.

"Oh no, Mrs. Ransome," she said. "Not your husband."

Mrs. Ransome's face had gone a bright scarlet.

"I think you are trying to be impertinent," she said in a strangled voice.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Ransome; I'm sure I didn't mean to be any such thing. Goodbye, Mr. Godfrey, and thank you for the tea."

With unimpaired dignity Mrs. Pink walked deliberately out of the room.

"Godfrey, show that woman out!" Mrs. Ransome commanded.

Godfrey reached the front door just behind Mrs. Pink. He was about to open it for her when the doorbell rang. Mr. Todman's car was outside and Mr. Todman himself stood on the step, a suitcase in his hand.

"Mr. Rose asked me to leave this," he said. "He's on his way up from the bottom of the hill. Said he wanted a walk."

Godfrey took the suitcase from him, but before he could say anything Mr. Todman had turned round to call after Mrs. Pink, who had slipped past him while he was speaking.

"Mrs. Pink!" he called. "I want a word with you! Mrs. Pink, I say!"

Moving more quickly than was her wont, Mrs. Pink had already got halfway to the gate. She paid no attention to his call.

"Mrs. Pink!" roared Mr. Todman again. He climbed back into his car and drove furiously up the short drive. But by the time he reached the gate Mrs. Pink had already gained the road and turned sharp off it on to the footpath that led steeply downhill towards the Druids' Glade. Watching, Godfrey could see the top of her shapeless blue straw hat bobbing down the path. He could also hear Mr. Todman shouting after her, but he could not distinguish the words.

Carrying the suitcase, Godfrey returned into the house. He found his mother standing by the drawing-room fireplace.

"If ever you let that woman into my house again----" she began, then broke off abruptly. "What have you got there, Godfrey?"

"It's Mr. Rose's suitcase. He's walking up the hill, Mr. Todman says."

"I shall go down and meet him then. I must have some fresh air!"

"Shall I come with you, Mother?"

"Certainly not!"

Feeling thoroughly miserable, Godfrey went upstairs, left the suitcase in the spare room, and then went to his own. Everything seemed to be going wrong, and in some way it appeared to be all his fault. That his mother should decide to take a walk of her own accord seemed the strangest thing of all. She must be very badly upset indeed.

---

Pettigrew's field-glasses were ranging the hill again.

"Hullo!" he said. "Here comes Mrs. Pink. She's walking home by herself. That doesn't bode well for the progress of Mr. Wendon's romance."

"Frank," said Eleanor, "I wish you'd stop wasting your time at the window. I want you to come and attend to the tap in the kitchen. I think it needs a new washer."

"Just a moment. She's taking the steep way down through the Glade, I believe. Yes, I thought so. How that blue hat of hers shows up! Now she's just reached the line of the yews. 'Beneath those rugged elms, that yew tree's shade, Where heaves the ground----' There! We've seen the last of her. You were saying, my love?"

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