The fire chief took a close look at the tower on Sunday afternoon. Nothing had changed since his team had left in the early hours. The collapse was presumably completed. On Monday morning he took care to be present when the surveyor arrived.
Meetings at the vicarage had a tendency the bring out the worst in anyone who had an axe to grind, so it was with some trepidation that Edith laid out an appetizing selection of homemade cookies and cakes on the sideboard and instructed the five boys not to be a nuisance on pain of death. As usual, the vicar had stuffed himself at lunch and had to take an afternoon nap for it all to sink a bit. He was sorry he had allowed a meeting to take place. His digestion was uncomfortable. He would rather lie down and forget the world.
After a hung over Thursday and Gloria’s departure on Friday morning, things were, in Dorothy Price’s opinion, about to get back to normal for most people who had been involved in any way. She was sure that Cleo and Robert would get married eventually. For a moment she had thought Cleo was going to walk out on the proceedings in the vestry, but she had eventually come round to believing that things were exactly as Rita had said they were.
Robert phoned the vicar and told him he had a problem.
Mr Parsnip said he’d be over right away, thinking it must be another lovers’ tiff, though dealing with lovers’ tiffs was not one of his favourite interventions, since he was invariably out of his depth in emotional situations.
Sandra Rossi’s death and feeling guilty about not confiding in Cleo kept Gloria awake for most of Tuesday night.
On the one hand, she knew that meddling was wrong and on the other it was her public duty to find out why her neighbour had met such a tragic fate. And yet again, she did not want to broadcast her possession of that diary. What was worse, for all she knew her phone might already be being tapped.
It should be said that none of these considerations made Gloria less curious and less likely to look for some answers.
It was Upper Grumpsfield’s coldest February in living memory. It had snowed almost nonstop all through January. There was so much snow that you could not tell where the pavements ended and the roads started. The older children could not get to school in Middlethumpton by bus and instead spent their days tobogganing down Monkton Priory hill and skating on the frozen village pond. Everyone agreed that it was the worst – or best - winter in living memory.
Dorothy Price was in no hurry to get in touch with Laura Finch, who had not even phoned her to find out what was going on in Upper Grumpsfield, though she must have read the newspapers and no doubt Mr Morgan would have told her his garbled version of events. With only three days left to go before the impro show, Dorothy finally picked up the phone and dialled Laura’s number.
She had decided to come straight to the point. Laura Finch would no doubt bombard her with all sorts of questions, but she would do her best to be brief and not enter into any moral judgments on anything.
“Are you coming on Saturday, Laura?” Dorothy started, cutting out any small talk.
Cleo had often asked herself why the bishop had not wanted to be addressed by his name. Why was the name James on the contract and not that of John or Robert? Was it James who had studied theology? If he was one of the brothers, was he now sure that he would not be rumbled? Or – and this was the most relevant question - was James McDuff even the real bishop under some kind of pressure? Had his brothers or some other influences forced him into being like he was? Was he being blackmailed? If so, by whom and for what reason?
How the details of the bishop’s corrupt actions made it to the first page of the national tabloids by next morning was to remain a mystery. Even Dorothy was not to know that Cleo had connived with the journalist to help him to the scoop of his career. Suffice it to say that the ambiguous heading that had not been thought up by Cleo had the desired effect on the citizens of Middlethumpton and District.
Cleo Hartley was optimistic when she left her cottage early on Monday morning. The bishop had not known that he would be rumbled and would not have covered his tracks. Now he was out of action, he could do little to protect his selfish interests. This was an ideal opportunity to get to the bottom of what was going on.
Cleo was anxious to find Edith, but calling the police was the first step to take. She left that to Dorothy Price, who explained that she was a close friend of the family and gave them a description of Edith whilst skirting round the inevitable question as to why the husband had not seen fit to report his wife’s disappearance yet.
“He might not have noticed,” she improvised.
The time between the talent contest and Christmas was too short to organize a replica of the previous year’s pantomime that had packed the old school hall to bursting point and been riotously entertaining. As usual when faced with a dilemma, it wasn’t to Edith that Mr Parsnip turned for advice, but to Dorothy, who could run rings round most people he knew.
After the talent contest prelims, those chosen to appear in the actual competition had been asked to congregate in the church hall in Upper Grumpsfield by 11 a.m. on the big day. They would draw lots for the order of appearance, but without a guarantee that this order would be followed since two similar acts would not perform in succession. Anyone who was not there in time would have his starting position decided for him and should not complain about it.
If Dorothy had been hoping Mr Parsnip would be too distracted by family matters to interfere in her organization of the talent contest, she was rewarded in full, but she was nevertheless getting worried about it. Against her better judgement she would have to appeal to him.
After the committee meeting at which she had appeared out of the blue, Mr Morgan had started courting Clare von Klippen, though she did not know it.
Hearing that Clare was working at the library, he had skipped his organ practice and gone there. He was so conspicuous that Cleo almost asked him if he had a special reason for sitting diagonally opposite the counter, ostensibly reading a book while his beady eyes followed Clare’s every move. His antics were quite obvious to everyone and Cleo found them very amusing. She wondered if he thought it was Edith. He came every day and Cleo did not think he had his sights set on her.
It was as if Karl von Klippen had smelled a rat.
No one had set eyes on him for years, but the week Clare started working at Middlethumpton library was also the week he decided it was time to make another effort at persuading her to return to the respectable life she had left a decade or so ago.
On discovering that Clare was no longer at the school, Karl drove to Upper Grumpsfield, hoping to find her there. He arrived just in time for elevenses with Edith, except that in his panic to find Clare he could have sworn it was her only pretending to be Edith.
Robert did not waste any time pondering on the wisdom of taking part in a talent contest. He dialled Cleo’s number and was rewarded by the sound of her voice.
‘This is Cleo Hartley. Please leave your name and number after the beep and I’ll call you back...”
Mr Parsnip had found Clare’s unexpected arrival at the vicarage inconvenient for reasons he preferred not to delve into. He had always found Clare’s visits inconvenient and confusing and did not even dare to consider whether he was sexually attracted to the vastly experienced Clare. Edith was in contrast to her sister tame and uninteresting and in his view only interested in the act of procreation. Edith had, in his priestly mind, now assumed the role of housekeeper. Her days of being a wife had ceased with the birth of the twins he had not wanted and, in his own words, ‘been tricked into fathering’.
Sunday dawned with an ominously red sky. Heavy rain clouds rushed in and very soon the heavens opened over Upper Grumpsfield. Mr Parsnip remembered the leak in the church roof, jumped into his clothes and dashed to St Peter’s to make sure the bathtub was in place.
Not long after the Eisteddfod, Cleo Hartley was weeding the flowerbeds in her front garden one evening when she was surprised to see the vicar getting off his bike in a terrible hurry.
“Oh Miss Hartley, Miss Hartley!” he wailed.
Mr Parsnip was obviously distressed. Cleo stopped what she was doing and looked at him.
“I need your help.”
“You’d do better to say a prayer or two,” she advised him, giving her rake a good shaking in his direction. “I’m not into church affairs.”
The weeks following the ghastly episode of the Duggy tour were to prove very arduous for Dorothy and Laura, despite their new-found mutual understanding. Part of their troubles lay in the nature and personality of the petulant and temperamental Mr Morgan who having been allowed to set free some of his Celtic enthusiasm was now getting on everybody's nerves with a surfeit of it.
The day after that Sunday afternoon vicarage meeting at which Mr Morgan had for the first time felt he was achieving some degree of integration into village life over and beyond serenading the occasional births, marriages, and deaths that occurred there, he waylaid his landlord, Mr Davies the newsagent, to tell him about the forthcoming eisteddfod. They were not friends and Mr Davies was a lousy landlord, but he had Welsh ancestry and that was a good reason for sharing the good news.
Dorothy could not get to sleep for excitement that night. Now the feud with Laura Finch was over, she could give her full attention to the free holiday. She lay in bed gazing through the gap in the floral chintz curtains at the full moon. Minor hated full moons because they lit up all the secret corners where his juiciest bones were buried. On nights like this one, he spent anxious hours crawling under his hole in the fence to guard his bone sites next door, not even allowing himself to be distracted by somebody's roaming cat, which could reckon with a chase on moonless nights.
Mr Parsnip retrieved his rusty old velocipede from the pile in the bicycle shed, pumped up the tyres a bit, clamped his trouser legs in his bicycle clips and set off in a zigzag line towards Dorothy's cottage. He was postponing the moment he would have to face her by enjoying all the gardens along the way and wondering why no one bothered much about the vicarage garden.
When Cleopatra Hartley first came to live in a cottage in Monkton Way that had been in the Hartley family for generations, the Upper Grumpsfield community had been perplexed, so unusually dark-skinned was she. When it was pointed out that her nose was distinctly Hartley, and when it became known that the late Mr Hartley was actually her father and had left her his cottage in Monkton Way, people had to admit that her Hartley origins were genuine, whatever colour her skin might be.
Dorothy's cottage is half way up Monkton Way, just before the sign pointing the way to the Priory, monastery on a hill pasture leading to Monkton Woods. Nobody nervous cares to go anywhere near Monkton Priory after dusk, but Dorothy loves to walk in the woods and that is where she rescued her dog Minor. Mr and Mrs Barker live next door in a house called ‘Dunroamin’, which they bought from a commercial traveller who was tired of listening to Dorothy playing Beethoven at all hours. They don’t go for walks much even during the day because Mrs Barker says her legs won’t take it. Mr Barker walks to Middlethumpton and back to visit his old colleagues at the Town Hall. But sometimes he goes by car. That is when Mrs Barker goes with him to do her shopping.
Sometimes, hardly have we dreamt that something will happen than it does. It was fate steering the wheel again on this particular morning. Dorothy was reading the daily newspaper over breakfast when she came across a very interesting advertisement announcing
"The chance of a lifetime! A one-in-a-million opportunity to go on a mystery tour of the universe.”
The Annual Garden Fete
The jamboree on the vicarage lawn is one of the vicar of St Peter’s favourite events, not least because it awards prizes for the best cake, the prettiest baby, the largest tomato, the nicest neighbour and other astutely chosen challenges, some of which he is allowed to adjudicate..
Weeks beforehand, he calls a meeting of all the important ladies in the village, now including Dorothy, Cleopatra Hartley and anyone else thought likely to be able to contribute something useful The list also includes Laura Finch who, to Dorothy’s dismay, has taken up residence in the family home, a cluttered-up old house in Lower Grumpsfield.
There she goes, her hat perched rakishly on her head, her little dog Minor tugging at his lead, eager to reach the shops and the butcher’s in particular. Dorothy Price ‘Piano Teacher’ is quite tall, quite thin and quite straight, ageless and extremely energetic, like so many independent females.