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Authors: Edmund Crispin

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‘He was coming away from Mrs Clotworthy's,' said the Rector. ‘Or perhaps he was just taking the short cut through from Chapel Lane.'

‘Youings,' Padmore muttered. He seemed depressed at this fresh addition to the
dramatis personae
accreting round Gobbo's troublesome disclosures. ‘Youings, Youings. Youings.'

The Major said, ‘Did Youings follow you past the pub, Rector?'

‘Don't know,' said the Rector. ‘Could have done. You'll have to ask him.'

‘House that Jack built,' said Fen.

‘Well, I'm going back to talk to Gobbo again,' said Padmore. ‘He's the mainspring.'

‘Rusty old mainspring,' said the Rector. ‘And if you take my advice, you'll take no notice of all this gammon he's been spouting.' (‘
Right,'
said Padmore.) ‘Amuse yourselves with it, by all means,' said the Rector, as though offering them a valuable indult. ‘Don't take it seriously, that's all.' To Padmore he said, ‘By the way, don't forget to come to the Fête, will you? All the fun of the fair. Yes, and while you're there don't forget to see the Botticelli.'

‘The Botticelli?' said Padmore faintly.

‘Well, of course, it isn't a Botticelli really,' said the Rector. ‘Awful great nineteenth-century daub actually, size of a barn door. Assumption of the B.V.M. or some such thing. Popish. Still, the Misses Bale imagine it's a Botticelli, so they get upset if enough people don't go and see it. You pay five bob and go in alone and sit in front of it and meditate on it for ten minutes.'

‘Do you?' said Padmore helplessly.

‘Yes, because that's what the Misses Bale's mother used to make their father do. Terrible woman. I don't believe she believed it was a Botticelli at all, but she always told her daughters it was, and now they can't get the idea out of their heads. Nice women otherwise, mind you, do a lot of work for the Church.'

‘The Botticelli is School of Burne-Jones,' said the Major. ‘And he's getting to be quite sought-after nowadays. There was a programme about him the other night on the telly.'

‘Telly, telly, telly, telly,' said the Rector, as if calling a cat. ‘All you ever think about is telly.'

‘I don't watch much except for the commercials,' said the Major meekly. ‘And then it's only for the jingles.'

This was true. Though a skilled water-colourist and a voracious reader, the Major had suffered all his life from tone-deafness, and so had had no comprehension whatever of music until IT V had come along, reducing the art to such brevity, and such absolute banality, that even the Major had found himself able to grasp it.

‘The hands that wash dishes can be soft as your face,' he suddenly sang at the Rector in a loud, crackling falsetto, ‘with mild green Fairy Liquid … Liquid, Liquid,' he sang. ‘I like that
melodic turn, or whatever you call it, on “Liquid”. Very affecting.'

‘It's your wits it's affecting, if you ask me,' said the Rector. ‘I suppose you haven't been eating properly again. He doesn't eat properly,' he reported to Padmore.

‘Ah,' said Padmore, pretending to have had a suspicion confirmed.

‘You'd better stay to lunch,' the Rector told the Major. ‘Liver and bacon today, fill up with vitamin B.'

‘Good,' said the Major. He liked eating with the Rector, who not only had a first-rate cook but also declined to allow conversation during meals. Explaining this policy to his Bishop, who had been about to dine with him during the course of a visitation, ‘What is the good,' the Rector had said, ‘of God giving us delicious-tasting foods, if every time we lift a forkful to our mouths we have to break off to cope with the inane prattlings of our guests?' (The Bishop, though he prided himself on his conversational skill, had taken this very well, on the whole. In any case he found the Rector much less of a burden than the incumbents of some other parishes in his diocese, who were given to composing pop masses, selling Coca-Cola in the vestry, blessing motor-cycles and other similar unedifying practices, thereby offending such congregations as they had without permanently, or even temporarily, recruiting anyone new.)

‘A Dettol home is a happy home,' the Major sang.

‘Can't ask you other two,' said the Rector, ‘because there's not enough.' Padmore uttered a single disclamatory vocable which would no doubt have blossomed into a full-length previous engagement if the Rector had given it the least chance. ‘And now I must get on with these hedges,' the Rector said. ‘Major, you can stand by and pick up the bits.'

3

On their way out, Fen and Padmore lost themselves, coming out on to the Rector's front path considerably nearer to his shallow front porch than to his gate. In the porch they saw grey-clad buttocks bent as if for a caning, their owner peering anxiously in through The Letter-box.

‘So there we are,' said the man from Sweb, straightening at
their approach. ‘Has it gone in, or hasn't it?' he added, in the bright, uncommitted fashion of a television question-master offering alternatives in a quiz.

The Major having been left behind with Fred, and Padmore being still half stunned by the complexities of English rural life, Fen felt that it was up to him to take the lead. ‘What is it,' he asked, ‘that may or may not have gone in?'

‘The Compulsory Service Order.' The man from Sweb sighed, with every evidence of genuine regret. ‘We
ask
people to cooperate, of course, but if they won't, then there's nothing else for it.'

‘But couldn't you save time and trouble by compelling everyone to cooperate straight away?'

‘Oh, no,' said the man from Sweb, shocked. ‘That'd be dictatorship, wouldn't it? Sweb wouldn't do anything like that. Dear me, no… The only thing was, I didn't feel the Rector was in quite the right mood for me to give him the order personally, so now I've put it in The Letter-box.'

‘Let's hope so.'

‘Of course I have.' The man from Sweb re-buttoned his grey overcoat efficiently across his middle. ‘Well, I must be away, away, away. Anyone for a lift?'

But there was no one for a lift, since Fen lived close by, and Padmore was heading back to Burraford to have another go at Gobbo, whereas the man from Sweb's headquarters were in Glazebridge, in the opposite direction.

Though lunch was still pending, the man from Sweb puristically said ‘Good afternoon,' and trotted off to his Mini.

‘Ought to have remembered to tell him to get his people to do something about that pylon,' said Padmore, on whom the Pisser had made its usual abiding first impression. ‘You'll have a word with this Youings, then?'

Fen said that if possible he would. He still, however, lacked any real interest in the Routh-Hagberd horrors, and off-hand, considered it unlikely that Gobbo's reminiscences, even if correct, were going to make any serious difference to anyone so long as they remained so feebly supported.

‘That tyre,' said Padmore sadly. ‘I'm going to have to change that wheel,'

Fen walked with him for fifty yards, back towards Burraford, and parted from him at the entrance to the Thouless-Youings-Dickinson lane. They had arranged to meet again later on, at the Church Fete.

‘Watneys brings us all together,' Fen heard the Major singing in the distance. ‘What we want is Watneys.'

3. Youings: A Rebuttal

Various the roads of life; in one
All terminate, one lonely way
We go; and ‘Is he gone?'
Is all our best friends say.

Walter Savage Landor:
Wisdom of Life and Death

1

As he walked up the lane, towards Youing's pig farm and his own cottage, Fen heard more music.

To be accurate, what he heard was not so much music as sounds. The sounds were being produced by Broderick Thouless, on the piano in the hut in his garden where he worked.

Film-music composers are just as liable to type-casting as actors and actresses. Chance pitchforks them into working on a picture which turns out specially successful, and subsequently, regardless of whether they have contributed anything ponderable to the picture's success or not, producers go on for years and years mechanically re-hiring them for further pictures of the same kind, with the result that one spends his working life in a perpetual seascape, another writing wah-wahs on trumpet parts for people surfacing in mud-baths into which they have comically fallen, a third assembling electronic bees for nude love scenes, and so on.

For more than a decade now, Broderick Thouless had resentfully specialized in monsters.

For him, type-casting had set in with a highbrow horror film called
Bone Orchard,
a Shepperton prestige production which against all probability had made a profit of over a quarter of a million pounds. By nature and inclination a gentle romantic composer whose idiom would have been judged moderately progressive by Saint-Saëns or Chaminade, Thouless had launched himself at the task of manufacturing the
Bone Orchard
score like a berserker rabbit trying to topple a tiger, and by over
compensating for his instinctive mellifluousness had managed to wring such hideous noises from his orchestra that he was at once assumed to have a flair for dissonance, if not a positive love of it. Ever since then he had accordingly found himself occupied three or four times a year with stakes driven through hearts, foot-loose mummies, giant centipedes aswarm in the Palace of Westminster and other such grim eventualities, a programme which had earned him quite a lot of money without, however, doing anything to enliven an already somewhat morose, complaining temperament. A bachelor of forty-six, he existed in an aura of inveterate despondency, lamenting his wasted life, various real or imagined defects in the luxurious large bungalow he had built himself, the slugs among his peas, his receding hair-line, taxes, the impossibility of getting decent bread delivered, the Rector, jet aircraft, the deterioration in the taste of Plymouth Gin (‘It's a grain spirit now, you see') and a whole manifest of aches and pains, some of them notional, others the inevitable consequence of smoking too much, a sedentary life, mild obesity, not being young any longer. In spite of his tales of woe he was quite well liked in the neighbourhood, possibly because his depressive phases were relieved on occasion by manic ones, during which he could be amusing company. His single state was accounted for locally by the theory that on his visits to film studios he seduced starlets, a breed which no one realized had long since become extinct.

The monster music suddenly transformed itself into the last two phrases of
Pop Goes the Weasel,
then ceased altogether. Thouless appeared in the doorway of his hut, caught sight of Fen over the hedge, and waved.

‘Come in and have a drink,' he called. The recording isn't till Monday week, and the only section I've got left to do is where they fail to destroy it with an H-bomb.

‘Though why they want music over that, God alone knows,' he went on, crossing to the hedge. He was short and plump, with untidy hair and horn-rimmed bifocals, and like most men who have spared themselves the strain of supporting a wife and family, looked younger than his age. The effects track's going to be so noisy that no one'll hear a note of
that
section, I can tell you. Still, good for one's performing rights, I suppose, that's if
they leave it in, which they probably won't. And performing rights aren't what they used to be, anyway. Do you know how many cinemas close down in this country every year? It runs into hundreds. I'm in a dying industry except for the telly stuff, and the pop boys have taken over all that, Grainer and that lot. I ought to try and strike out on a new line, but I'm not young enough, haven't got the adaptability any longer. In the end I expect I shall have to sell the bungalow, and even then I shan't get anything like what I paid for it, particularly if you include those fantastic fees the architect and the quantity surveyor mulcted me for, and the money I had to spend making the garden.'

Fen said that he was sorry, he couldn't stop for a drink at the moment.

Thouless nodded gloomily, a cram-full pin-cushion for life's darts into which, unbelievably, yet another spicule has successfully been inserted. He peered at Fen's sack.

‘That your pig's head?' he inquired, and when Fen had agreed that it was, ‘Brawn, I never liked brawn. Try not to salt it too much, or it'll be like getting a wave in your mouth when you're bathing. I must go and find myself some lunch, if there's anything in the house worth eating. Do look in and see me sometime, no one ever seems to visit me nowadays. You going to the Fete this afternoon?'

‘Oh yes, I think so.'

‘Radio Three gave rain,' said Thouless. Suddenly he produced from his trousers pocket a fistful of crumpled pound notes, which he thrust at Fen across the hedge. ‘I wonder if you'd mind buying something for me. At the Fête, I mean.'

‘Aren't you going yourself?'

‘Yes, but I can't possibly buy
this.
It's my scores for
The Mincer People.
I gave them with a lot of other junk to be sold on the Rectory Stall.'

‘And now you want them back?'

‘Good God, no. It's just that no one in his senses is going to offer a penny for them, so if they're left over they'll be a sort of embarrassment, or at least, so I suppose.'

‘Not to the Rector, surely.'

‘Not, admittedly, to the Rector, but it won't
be
him, it'll be poor old Miss Endacott, who's so shy of people, she practically
faints away whenever she catches sight of anybody. I'm sure she'd rather hang herself than face bringing the scores back to me, so you see, they've got to be disposed of somehow.'

‘I wouldn't mind buying them myself,' Fen said.

‘You would, you know,' said Thouless, all at once speaking quite cheerfully. Consideration of
The Mincer People
had improved his emotional tone, so that he was now veering towards one of his unpredictable fits of euphoria. ‘Terrible stuff, you've never
heard
such a noise. There was one bit of kiss music, for a marvel, but by the time I got to it I'd done so many murders that it sounded exactly like another one.
Derngh!'
he exclaimed in his nose, imitating sforzato stopped horns. ‘And then
erk, skerk,'
he added, possibly attempting to convey ponticello strings. ‘And then there was one part where I got Jimmy to put the xylophone down on its side and play tremolandos on the resonators - unspeakable, that was. I can't remember anything nastier I've done except for those sickening wailing violin harmonics in
Thing of Things.'

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