Authors: Ellis Peters
“Patrick, you’re not listening to me!” The old lady was half-way through the expected lecture, and he hadn’t heard a word.
“I am listening,” he said, with bewildering meekness, only half his mind present, the meek half. The rest, hurt, vengeful and obstinate, ranged bitterly after his mother’s treason. If she wanted that sort of fight, if she could immediately accept battle on those terms, and never give him the benefit of the doubt, well, she could have it that way.
“If they’ve said no, that should be enough for you. You’re not a little boy now, you know enough to realise they have your best interests at heart, and I thought you had sense enough to accept their judgment, even where you couldn’t quite agree with it. Fancy losing your temper over a little thing like that! I’m ashamed of you!”
So his mother hadn’t even kept
quiet. What could you do with women? They were all the same.
“I was ashamed of myself,” he said, with unexampled mildness; which pleased Miss Rachel so much that she never noticed the significance of the tense he had used. So he had been ashamed, for a few chastened and happy moments as he slow-biked up the drive. But not any more.
“That’s better. I know you’re not a bad boy at heart. Now you’re to put it right out of your mind, you hear me? They’ve said no, and that’s to be the end of it. You’re not to pester Simon. You’ll go right home and tell your mother you’re sorry.”
Will I, hell! thought Paddy very succinctly. Aloud he said: “O.K., I’m on my way, Aunt Rachel.” But he took good care not to say where.
She watched him mount his bike with exaggerated solemnity, salute her gravely, and pedal away down the drive again in a caricature of penitence and self-examination. He wasn’t even ashamed of pulling her leg. Practically speaking, she wasn’t in the act at all, she was just a miscalculation on his mother’s part.
And now, since that was the way his mother wanted it, now he
find Simon, if it took him all day.
It didn’t take him all day, but it did take him all morning. He’d tried the church in the sands, and the church in the town, and several other places, before he ran Simon to earth at noon in the lounge of the Dragon, snug in a corner between George and Dominic Felse, with three halves of bitter on their table. Paddy hesitated for a moment, somewhat daunted at having to prefer his plea before witnesses; but in the instant when he might have drawn back, Simon turned his head and saw him hovering.
“Hallo, there!” There was no doubting the welcome and pleasure in his face, but wasn’t he, all the same, a shade sombre this morning, a Simon faintly clouded over? Tomorrow was, Paddy reminded himself with a start of surprise and a slight convulsion of an uneasy conscience, a very serious business. “Looking for me? Anything the matter?” They made room for him, all three rearranging their chairs; he was in it now, he couldn’t back out.
“No, nothing. I just wanted—But I’m afraid I’m interrupting you.”
“Not in the least. Oh, I forgot you two hadn’t met before. This is Paddy Rossall, George. Say good-morning to Dominic’s father, Paddy.”
He had got something out of his pursuit, at any rate. He fixed George with large and hungry eyes. Did he look like a detective-inspector? The trick, he supposed, was not to look like one, but at least George Felse would do pretty well. Tall and thin, with a lean, thoughtful face and hair greying at the temples; not bad-looking, in a pleasant, irregular way. Paddy paid his respects almost reverently, and accepted the offer of a ginger ale.
“What did you want to ask me?”
“Well—if it’s all right with you, could I come along and help you to-morrow?” It was out, and in quite a creditable tone, though he had the hardest work in the world not to embroider it with all manner of persuasions and coaxings. His conscience suffered one more convulsive struggle before he suppressed it. If he hadn’t confessed that his parents had already forbidden it, still he hadn’t told any lies. It was a matter of his adult honour, by this time, not to admit defeat.
Simon sat looking at him for a few moments with an unreadable face, almost as though his mind had wandered away to ponder other and less pleasant subjects. “It’s like this, Paddy,” he said at last, almost abruptly. “I can’t very well say yes to you, in fairness, because I’ve just said no to Dominic here. There are good reasons, you know. Space is short inside there. And then, this isn’t an entertainment, you see, it’s a bit of serious research. It wouldn’t be the thing to turn it into a spectacle. The witnesses are necessary for the record, not for their own satisfaction.”
In the few seconds of silence George and Dominic exchanged a brief, significant glance over Paddy’s averted head. The boy studied his ginger ale as though the secret of the universe lay quivering somewhere in the globule of amber light suspended in it. His face was a little too still to be quite convincing, though the air of commonsense acceptance with which he finally looked up could be counted a success.
“Well, that all makes sense. O.K., then, that’s it. You didn’t mind my asking, though?”
“Paddy, in other circumstances I don’t know a fellow anywhere I’d rather have to help me.”
“Thanks! I’ll remember that. I suppose I’d better be getting back to lunch, then. You won’t be coming?”
“No, I’m lunching here. I told your mother this morning.”
“Well, thanks for the drink.” He tilted the empty glass and slanted a quick smile up at George. “Good thing it was only ginger ale.” He rose, his face still a little wry with swallowing his disappointment.
“Why, in particular?” asked Simon curiously.
The boy divided a bright, questioning glance between them. “Didn’t you really know? You’ve got a real, live detective-inspector sitting right beside you, watching your every move. Mr. Felse would have pinched you in a flash if you’d stood me a shandy.” He waved a hand, not ungallantly. “Good-bye!” He was gone.
“Well, I’m damned!” said Simon, blankly staring. “Are you really?”
George admitted it. “But I don’t know how Paddy found out.”
“I told him,” said Dominic, a little pink with embarrassment at seeming still, at his mature age, to be boasting about his father’s profession. “When he walked back half-way here with me yesterday, after tea at the farm. We hadn’t exactly got off on the right foot with each other, I was rather casting about for acceptable lures. There was Simon—” He smiled rather self-consciously across the table at the great man. “Anyone who knows your Harappa articles almost by heart is practically in with Paddy. And the next bid seemed to be you, Dad. He was duly impressed.”
“There’s still a bit of Paddy left in me,” owned Simon. “
impressed. Would you, as a change from sordid modern cases, be interested in my little historical puzzler? Come up to the Place for coffee, this evening, all the family. Try your professional wits on Squire Treverra’s epitaphs. There’s no special reason why they should, but they always sound like cryptograms to me. Anyhow, the whole library is interesting. Not many such families were literate enough to amass a collection like theirs.”
“Thanks,” said George, “we should like to, very much, if Miss Rachel has no objection to being invaded.”
“Miss Rachel loves it. Surround her with personable young men, and she’s in her element.” He smiled at Dominic, presenting him gratis with this bouquet. “I’m sorry I made such shameless use of you just now. Thanks for taking it so neatly. It helped him to accept it, and frankly, I don’t think it’s going to be much of a show for kids, and I’d rather keep him out of it.”
“As a matter of fact,” confessed Dominic ruefully, “I
wanted to ask, only I didn’t quite like to. But of course it’s settled now, anyhow. I don’t mind, if it makes Paddy feel he’s had a fair hearing.”
“I’m sorry to have had to do it, all the same. I suppose it wouldn’t do to ask you to come along, after all? No, I’m afraid Paddy wouldn’t forgive a dirty trick like that, and he’ll be somewhere not far away.”
“Couldn’t possibly risk it,” said Dominic firmly.
“But it really is a pity, because we
make room for
more sound man in the team.” And lightly Simon turned his deep-brown eyes, in their shapely pits of fine wrinkles etched paler in the bronzed skin, and looked innocently at George. “So how about you, George? I’d be very glad to have you there. Will you come?”
Visitors to Treverra Place were treated to a personally conducted tour of the whole house and grounds, both of which, in their way, were well worth seeing. Miss Rachel, bright as a macaw in black silk and emeralds and a Chinese shawl, tapped her way valiantly ahead with the stick she used as an extension of her personality rather than an aid to navigation, and pointed out, even more meticulously than its beauties, the drawbacks and imperfections of her family seat. She loved visitors; they were allowed to miss nothing.
Treverra portraits filled the long galleries on the first floor, and stared from the lofty well of the staircase.
“Most of them very bad,” said Miss Rachel, dismissing them with a wave of her wand. “All local work, we were not an artistic family, but we insisted on thinking we were.” The listeners got the impression that in her own mind she had been there from the beginning. “There’s just one very nice miniature here in the parlour—a young man.”
“It would be,” said Tamsin softly into Dominic’s ear, bringing up the rear of the procession. But she said it with affectionate indulgence rather than cynically. In her own way she was very fond of her formidable old employer.
“The garden,” announced Miss Rachel, pounding across the terrace and threatening it with the silver hilt of her stick, “is a disgrace. It is quite impossible to get proper gardeners these days. I am forced to make do with one idiot boy, and three days a week from the verger at St. Mary’s. There’s positively no relying on the younger generation. Trethuan promised he’d come in to-day and pick the apricots and Victoria plums. And has he put in an appearance? He has not. Never a sign of him, and never a word of excuse.”
“Maybe he wanted to finish scything the churchyard extension today,” suggested Simon vaguely, attendant at her heels. “He left it half-done yesterday, so the Vicar says.”
“If he’s going to be a jobbing gardener in addition to verger,” insisted the old lady scornfully, “he should
one, and plan his time accordingly. He came in yesterday after noon and picked just one tree of plums, and promised he’d be in to-day to finish the job. I was talking to him in the kitchen-garden not two minutes after you left here to go home to tea, Simon, and he said he’d only had an hour to spare, and he’d just looked in to let me know he’d give me the
of to-day. And not a sign of him. You simply cannot rely on the young people nowadays.”
“Trethuan is not much above fifty,” explained Tamsin in Dominic’s ear.
“And I particularly wanted to send some apricots down to Phil, while they’re at their best. She has such a good hand with bottling.”
“I tell you what,” said Simon promptly, “get Paddy to come and pick them for Phil to-morrow, and keep him out of our hair. He’s dying to get in on the act, it’ll be a good idea to find him something to keep him out of mischief.”
Miss Rachel halted at the low balustrade of the front terrace, spreading her Chinese silks in an expansive wave over the mock marble. Her shrewd old face had become suddenly as milkily still as a pond.
“Paddy?” she said, in a sweet, absent voice. “Absurd! Such a sensitive boy, I’m sure he wouldn’t join you in your grave-hunt for any consideration. Certainly I’ll get Phil to send him up for some apricots, but whatever makes you think he has any interest in your undertaking at St. Nectan’s?”
Simon laughed aloud. “Just the fact that he came and asked if he could be there. Asked very nicely, too, but it didn’t get him anywhere. It’s no horror project, but still it isn’t for growing boys.”
She had resumed her march, but slowly and thoughtfully. Without looking at him she asked innocently: “When did he ask you?”
“This morning, around noon. Why?”
“Oh, nothing! I just found it hard to believe he’d do such a thing, that’s all.” After I had expressly forbidden it, she thought, in a majestic rage, but she kept her own counsel and her old face bland and benign. Something drastic will have to be done about Master Paddy. This cannot be allowed to go on. The child is
spoiled. If Phil and Tim can’t take him in hand,
shall have to.
“And this,” declared Miss Rachel triumphantly, while the grandmotherly corner of her mind planned a salutary shock for Paddy Rossall, “this is our library.”
She always brought her visitors to it by this way, through the great door from the terrace,, springing on them magnificently the surprise of its great length and loftiness of pale oak panelling and pale oak bookshelves, the array of narrow full-length mirrors between the cases on the inner walls, and the fronting array of windows that poured light upon them. By any standards it was a splendid room, beautifully proportioned and beautifully unfurnished. There was Tamsin’s desk at the far window of the range, and the big central table with its surrounding chairs, and two large and mutually contradictory globes, one at either end of the room. And all the rest was books.
On the nearer end of the long table a large, steaming coffee-tray had been deposited exactly ten seconds before they entered by the outer door; and the inner door was just closing smoothly after Miss Rachel’s one elderly resident maid. When there were visitors to be impressed, the time-table in Treverra Place worked to the split second.
“There he is,” said Simon, “the man himself.”
The painting was small and dark and clumsy, a full-face presentation in the country style; commissioned portraits among small county families of the eighteenth century were meant to be immediately recognisable, and paid for accordingly. There was a short, livid scar across the angle of a square rat-trap of a jaw, redeemed by the liveliest, most humorous and audacious mouth Dominic had ever seen. A plain, ordinary face at first sight, until you looked at every feature in this same individual way, and saw how singular it was. The jaw could have been a pirate’s, the large, uneven brow might have belonged to a justice of the peace, and in fact had, for several years, until the squire had felt it more tactful to withdraw from the bench. The eyes were the roving, adventurous eyes of a lawless poet, and that joyous mouth would have looked well on the young, the gallant, the irresistible Falstaff.