A Village in Jeopardy (Turnham Malpas 16) (8 page)

BOOK: A Village in Jeopardy (Turnham Malpas 16)
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‘Oh! I see. Gilbert’s got up your nose has he, so you’re taking it out on me.’

‘Yes, he did, but he’s apologised and we’re friends again. It’s you that’s my trouble: I do all the work, I earn all the money and what do you do? Spend hours up in the attic, writing books that never get published. Hasn’t it dawned on you yet that maybe it might be more sensible if you went back to the job you’re qualified to do and wrote in your spare time? Maybe that way you might actually join the real world.’

‘In my spare time? My God, Alice, you certainly know how to twist the knife.’

‘You’ve spent years obsessed with writing, yearning for the unobtainable, and I’m sick of it. Get real, Marcus.’

Marcus swung round on her and for one appalling moment she thought he was going to hit her. Flashing through her mind was the idea that after all, this house belonged to her, not to him, and if she wanted, she could turn him out. The idea struck her with refreshing enlightenment.

‘You’re very cruel speaking to me like that. You’re my wife, or have you forgotten? After all the hard work I’ve put in. The hours I’ve struggled, the endeavour, all the heartbreaking rejection I’ve had to swallow and you say that to
me
.’ He grew taller with his indignation.

‘Ten years! Ten years and you’ve not earned a penny and you—’

‘Just wait till they accept this book, then you won’t be talking to me about money; we’ll have it by the shed load.’

‘When that day comes I shall take back all I’ve said, but right now, you’ll have to put up with it, because I’ve reached the end of my tether. Made the tea yet? I’ll have mine in front of the TV, please.’

She marched out of the kitchen feeling better than she had for years. It had been said and she’d meant every word of it, every single word. From now on if he didn’t put money in the kitty then he’d have to do all the gardening, make the occasional meal, and generally help to make her life easier. She’d been a willing doormat for far too long.

When her tea arrived there was no sugar on the tray, though he’d known for the last twelve years she always took sugar in her tea.

Alice pointed out his forgetfulness in a carping tone that was alien to her, but before she’d said more than three words, Marcus picked up his own mug of tea and threw the contents right down the front of her. ‘I won’t be spoken to in that manner! Get your own tea in future.’ He gave her a sneer of a smile and left the sitting room, closing the door with a crash, and as the tea soaked into her clothes Alice heard him tramping angrily up the two flights of stairs to his eyrie.

Dottie, leaving the pub at closing time with Zack and Marie, was witness to the sight of heavy black plastic bags being thrown out of the bedroom window of Alice and Marcus’s house. There was no sign of Marcus objecting, and no sign that Alice was in tears about it, for she was throwing them out with deadly intent. The four bags landed in the road and they stepped round them disinclined to protest, because, by the looks of it, Marcus had at last met his just deserts.

Chapter 6

 

Naturally Dottie reported the event when she went to do her cleaning stint at the Rectory the following morning. ‘You see, rector, we’ve all known for years his idea about getting published was a load of rubbish, just a nonsense to make sure he didn’t have to work. They were obviously his belongings being thrown out of the house because a pair of men’s trousers fell out from one of ’em. We couldn’t believe it! As Marie said, “No more than he deserves.” Have you heard anything?’

‘Nothing at all. Not a word.’

‘Question is, where is he now? Did he sleep in the house last night? Or did she make him leave immediately? Perhaps he had to sleep in his car. What’s more, what on earth triggered it?’

Peter was looking out of his study window as Dottie asked these questions to which he had no answers. ‘Leave it with me. I’ll call round.’

‘Right. Thanks. Anything special the doctor required doing this morning?’

‘No. Nothing.’

‘I’ll get cracking with my usual then.’

Peter, left alone in his study, only half-listened to the vacuum cleaner and Dottie singing her latest favourite pop song. Oh! Johnny! What a mess you’ve left behind. Why on earth did you go? Had Alice told you she would never leave Marcus? Yet here she was throwing out his clothes. Peter sighed as he headed over to Alice’s. He knocked on Alice and Marcus’s door and had to wait a while before he found out if anyone was at home.

Alice was dressed rather carelessly for her, and obviously embarrassed at seeing Peter on the doorstep.

‘Sorry! I thought it might be Marcus.’

‘You sound relieved.’

‘I am.’

‘Thought perhaps you might want someone to talk to . . . after . . . last night.’

‘You know, then?’ Alice was more in control of herself. ‘I’ve just put some coffee on. Will the kitchen do?’

‘Of course.’

‘Sit down, I won’t be a minute.’

After her first sip of coffee Alice opened up. ‘I turned him out last night. I don’t know where he went and I don’t care.’

‘What happened?’

‘I’ve got sick of supporting him day in day out, year in year out. He gives me no consideration, just expects me to earn the living, do the shopping, keep the garden going; he does absolutely nothing but writing and being waited on hand and foot. So I decided he had to go.’

‘I see. It wasn’t because of Johnny, then? Marcus hadn’t found out?’

Alice didn’t reply and occupied herself by sipping her coffee and staring at the neglected wood-burning stove.

‘Everyone knows.’ Peter said this so softly she could barely hear his words.

‘I expect you, with your secure marriage and your exceedingly high standards of morality, consider me a harlot, do you?’ The uncharacteristic bitterness in Alice’s voice surprised Peter.

‘My opinion has nothing to do with it. You are one of my parishioners and I know you wouldn’t have done such a thing without serious provocation so I’ve come to help. If talking to someone impartial and nonjudgemental will help, then here I am.’

‘Mmm.’

Peter remained quiet and waited for Alice to speak.

Eventually she looked him directly in the face, saying, ‘He’s gone, you know. Johnny. For ever, I think. I expected commitment and apparently there wasn’t any, despite him saying how much he wanted to be with me. I . . . I’m . . . well, I suppose I’m deeply in love with him, and want to be with him, for always, but . . .’ Alice shrugged.

‘I see.’

‘No, you don’t, Peter. You don’t see anything. I’ve been two-timing Marcus almost from the first day Johnny arrived in the village. It’s not his wealth I’m interested in, but believe me he is very wealthy . . . it’s him, he’s magic. We can’t help ourselves. Have you felt like that, ever?’

‘Only with Caroline; we met and married inside four months. We both knew the first time we met.’

‘It was like that for Johnny and me. All consuming. Inevitable. Him going has made me see what a pointless marriage I have, so at last I have stood up for myself and finished it. Trouble is I’ve lost Johnny too.’ Tears welled in her eyes.

‘Has he
said
he won’t be back?’

Alice shook her head.

‘Then maybe he will, Alice. There’s always hope, you know.’

‘I don’t think so.’

Someone knocked at the door. ‘That’ll be a pupil I’m expecting. Sorry.’

‘I’ll let them in. I’m always at home to anyone in trouble. Don’t hesitate, will you? Just come and see me?’

Alice nodded her acknowledgement of his kindness and went to greet her pupil, more unfit to teach than she could ever remember.

Peter’s phone was ringing when he got back to the Rectory and Dottie was rushing down the stairs to answer it.

‘I’ll get it, Dottie, thanks. Good morning. Peter Harris speaking. How can I help?’

‘It’s me.’

‘Yes?’

‘Marcus March. I don’t doubt you know that Alice banned me from the house last night with some story about having had enough of me. I’m certain she doesn’t mean it, because she wouldn’t. After all, I’ve done nothing wrong. Not been unfaithful or anything. However, I’m off to London today, to see my publisher.’ He paused for effect, expecting to get an admiring response, but none was forthcoming. ‘So I’m going to give you my mobile number in case Alice is upset and needs me at home. You’re the first person I thought of because I know you won’t gossip like the rest of the ill-begotten lot in the village.’

‘Right. I have been to see her, and yes she’s upset, but determined to carry on. However, if things get worse I will gladly phone you, but only with Alice’s permission. On that understanding.’

‘With Alice’s permission! What does that mean?’

‘Exactly what it says. Only at her request. Hasn’t she got your mobile number herself? She must have.’

‘Yes, but she might not ring. She can be very stubborn and she has no one but me to care for her.’

‘I see. Give me the number then.’

‘I wouldn’t want . . . anyway . . . never mind.’ He gave Peter the number and Peter dutifully put it in his phone.

‘Hope everything goes well with your publisher. Big opportunity for you.’

‘Only what I deserve, you know. Only what I deserve. Thank you. Bye.’

‘Bye.’

Peter guessed that Marcus was trying to preserve his marriage as though he were the innocent party and he rather despised him for it. His motives appeared to be self-driven rather than Alice-driven. He’d never liked the man; he was far too concerned with his own ego. Still, if he did get published, financially one hoped they would be better off, but . . . and there was a big but . . .

Had Peter known that as soon as Marcus switched off his mobile he went immediately to the bank and cleaned out his and Alice’s joint bank account he might not have been so helpful.

 

In the bar that night there were mixed feelings about Marcus’s dramatic departure. Willie was certain it was the best thing that could have happened, but Sylvia wasn’t quite so sure. ‘Marriage is marriage and just because he doesn’t know how to behave within a marriage is no excuse for driving Alice to such drastic action.’

This confusing statement puzzled them all, but it was Dottie who asked for some light to be shed on it. ‘Just a minute, Sylvia, I can’t make out whose side you’re on. Alice or Marcus? Well?’

‘To be honest I don’t really know, there’s faults on both sides isn’t there?’

‘You name Alice’s faults then, because I can’t.’

All those seated round the old table waited for Sylvia’s reply. ‘Well, she hasn’t any, but who knows better than Marcus what goes on behind their front door?’

Zack sniggered, Marie gave him a dig with her elbow to shut him up and Dottie roared with laughter. When she finally calmed down Dottie said, ‘Well, my word, that opens up a can of worms. What goes on behind
your
front door then, Sylvia?’

Willie was furious and said so immediately. ‘Typical of you, Dottie, a remark like that. Nothing untoward goes on behind
our
front door, but what about yours? Eh! A lot too much went on in the past as everyone sitting round this table knows full well, though we don’t say anything out of politeness. There were years of it, but none of us ever criticised you for it. And what’s more you should be grateful we keep quiet. You were nothing more than a . . . well, anyway.’

A shocked silence ensued. Dottie was horrified. She thought for years that her past life, chequered though it was, was no longer of any interest to anyone at all in the village, except for the older ones who’d known her all her life. And here Willie had broadcast it all round the pub, loud as loud and her whole sad life was out in the open.

Several of them, shocked to the core, said ‘Willie!’ in horrified tones.

Willie’s reply was, ‘Have I spoken the truth or what? You all thought the same except it was me that said it. Out loud.’

When Dottie replied her voice was choked with emotion. ‘That remark is absolutely unforgivable. A thousand apologies from you will never ever make me forgive you for it, Willie. Never.’ Dottie, blinded by tears, stumbled to her feet, pushed her chair out of her way and left the bar. She struggled all the way home down Shepherd’s Hill sobbing, staggering in through the door and slumping down on the sofa, at the same time glad but mad that no one had the thoughtfulness to catch her up and offer her comfort.

She’d never denied she been free with her favours, as her mother called it, but unskilled, uneducated, Dottie had found herself in her teens without any means of support and, with the rent to find for the cottage, had taken to the age-old profession of prostitution. Never on the streets, but always available in the old house at the bottom of Shepherd’s Hill her mother had rented for years before she was taken into a mental hospital, the horror of which had never left Dottie. She’d given comfort to lots of men in need of kindness and to those who only needed to talk to someone with a sympathetic ear, until eventually she got too old and took to cleaning. For the last fifteen years no one had ever referred to her situation, ever, but there it was coming unbidden out of the woodwork to remind her all over again what a waste of space she was.

BOOK: A Village in Jeopardy (Turnham Malpas 16)
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