As Hilary Leatherbarrow was saying goodbye to Adam Lazarus, so another couple was conversing about a familiar topic.
“It is rather disturbing having body parts found so near home, don’t you think, Ralph?”
Verity Lambush was sitting at her desk, typing when Ralph Ramhard had walked in. He had taken an hour off from the Duck to spend with his wife. The restaurant now was so well staffed he could relax more than when the enterprise had been new. He looked confused at first hearing Verity’s question. For a second it was as though he hadn’t heard about the latest discovery. Then realisation dawned on him.
“The second hand being found?”
“Horrendous business, isn’t it? Of course, Birchtickle is a bit like that, a bit low.”
For some inexplicable reason, Ralph found that comment a little too disagreeable for his tastes, the innuendo as obvious as the nose on his face.
“Sometimes Verity, you are exasperating. For someone so intelligent, you are a dreadful snob.”
Verity pretended not to hear him.
“It says here that the police have someone helping them with their enquiries. Isn’t that merely a metaphor for interrogating the prime suspect?”
The fact Verity had ignored his retort didn’t faze Ralph. He was used to her ability to use both words and silences to supreme effect. Her faults to one side, he still found her irresistible if irritating at times.
“Not always, no. It can mean just what it says on the label. They’ve found a guy who is helping them.”
“I am not really a snob. I simply have standards.”
The swift subject change was another Verity tactic. It still took him by surprise whenever she applied it, though. Ralph decided to ignore the retort.
“Does the news give a name of the individual helping the police?” He asked.
“No, it just indicates the person is male. They said ‘he’ was helping.”
“It’s a guy called Harry Hertlasp. He’s a local resident.”
Verity spun round on her chair to face Ralph.
“How on earth can you be so sure?”
“I used to be a lawyer remember?” He said with a twinkle in his eye. This, of course, explained nothing. Verity knew this. She also knew her husband well enough to understand when he liked to dress comments with an air of mystery. She didn’t press him but continued with the conversation.
“I know him. Or rather I know of him.”
“Can’t say I’m surprised, hon. Fekenham is a small place.”
“He lives in Birchtickle, not Fekenham.”
“Where the people are low.”
“You really are like a dog with a bone.”
“You give a man something to chew on.”
“That sounds vaguely vulgar.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
Verity turned around again so that her back was facing Ralph.
“Years ago, I was in the company of Ethel Blowvalve and that dreadful Mille Meade. They were talking about Harry and how he had an eye for the ladies. He was meant to be quite a catch in his day. The conversation then revealed him to be somewhat of a Casanova whose roving eye had lit upon one of Fekenham’s fairest of femmes. Their romance was the talk of the region. It was all a bit steamy.”
Ralph arched an eyebrow.
“Steamy? Do you mean racy?”
“Darling, I love you with all my heart but I speak English whereas you are still learning. You are, after all, an American. I said precisely what I meant: steamy”
Ralph smiled to himself. He liked the verbal fencing he and Verity engaged in. It was the same with her insistence forever to drink tea. He always teased her about this, knowing every time the retort that would follow: Tea drinking is a relatively new habit of the British. Prior to the Victorian epoch, the Coffee House was all the rage. His being American was what had initially attracted Verity to him. He knew that. He also knew about her damn near encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Americana including her William Faulkner books and Ella Fitzgerald albums.
“Perhaps then you might enlighten this po’ lil’ States side boy wit some mo’ of yo’ tale.”
The slight rising and falling of Verity’s shoulders in rapid movement was the only physical sign that Ralph’s humour had worked.
“Of course, Harry met Mavis Mufftickle eighteen years ago, She was fifty-six at the time and still working at the brewery. I think Harry was about the same age, perhaps a year older. This would have been about nineteen eighty-seven. Margaret Major had managed to be re-elected, going against all political theorists who said she wouldn’t win a second term in office. It was certainly prior to Padraig Flynn being elected Albion’s PM.
Harry and Mavis’s romance was typical of two people in the autumn of their years. It had none of the heady hearts and flowers of youth, none of the bedroom gymnastics associated with younger people. It was more an old-fashioned courtship, one that took its time in getting to where it was going.”
“If only the same could be said of Wilfred Hardbottle and Rosie Sliteworth’s affair. The may be like a couple of old auto’s but they run on five stars in the bedroom.”
Again, Verity’s shoulders did their odd shuffle.
“Indeed, but we are not speaking of how Fekenham’s octogenarians are reinventing the Karma Sutra but what happened when Harry met Mavis. It almost has a Hollywood ring to it doesn’t it?” said Verity who then continued her diatribe.
“Mavis had been on her own for more years than I care to remember. She had given up bothering with make-up. Always smart but not to attract the attention of any paramour as she no longer considered love an option, at least not until November 1st nineteen eighty-seven.”
“It was after receiving an invite to attend a charity ball at Crust Manor, and not wanting her appearance to let her down that Mavis, fully made-up and in a rather elegant ball gown, arrived at the old mansion. For the occasion, Lord Crust had hired a team of specialists to help as the regular staff had all been given the night off so that they too could attend the event,” continued Verity obviously enjoying relaying the story to such an attentive audience.
“The man who opened the door that night for Mavis was Harry Hertlasp. He was dressed in the uniform of a butler. Having ushered her in, he took her coat then hung it in the cloakroom. At this stage, he said nothing to her, being the consummate professional. It wasn’t until she was leaving that he, helping her on with her coat, remarked how lovely she looked. Being given a compliment was a new thing to Mavis. She couldn’t remember the last time she had received one. She blushed, thanked him, then left. It was not to be the end though of their all too brief encounter.”
“Harry had managed to ascertain who the attractive female had been. He wrote down all the details he could then, a little out of practice himself, allowed a week to pass before contacting Mavis at work. It was, as she later confessed, a very unexpected but thrilling call to accept,” at this point Verity paused as she checked for grammar on the sheet she was typing before continuing.
“They started dating. Harry took Mavis to the usual places: the cinema, the theatre, restaurants, Winchester and even, on one very special occasion, London. It was a match made in heaven. After all the years on her own Mavis had finally found someone she was compatible with. It was more than having met a like-minded man, though, for this was love in all its many-faceted modes.”
“Apparently, Harry felt the same. I say ‘apparently’ for I have never spoken with him as I have Mavis but I am led to believe that he did. After a courtship of nearly two years, Harry invited Mavis to go on holiday with him. It was a cruise around the Caribbean. Although Mavis never went into graphic detail she indicated that they had consummated their love so it came as no shock to find Harry had booked a double cabin. There was a shock to follow, though, one that would sadly finish their relationship.” Verity stopped, pushed back the chair she was sitting on, and got up.
“I fancy a cup of tea. Would you like some of that revolting mud you drink?”
“What about the story of Harry and Mavis?”
“It can wait for a kettle to boil.”
The kettle took minutes. The water was then poured into a porcelain teapot and left for five minutes to brew. Verity soon had her cup of tea. Not so Ralph who liked traditional Turkish coffee. The process seemed, certainly to Verity, to take an inordinate amount of time, Verity often, or so it seemed to Ralph, to lack patience.
“Now that my love is a true beverage,”
Verity sniffed as she dunked shortbread into her tea.
“If you say so. Now then, back to the tale of Mavis and Harry. The holiday was a massive success. Both Mavis and Harry had the time of their lives. To bring the vacation to a splendid conclusion Harry went down on one knee, produced a ring from a box he had in his pocket then proposed to Mavis. She, overcome with emotion at this point, naturally said yes.
“It wasn’t until the liner docked at Portsmouth that a situation arose. Harry wanted to move as far away from Wessex, specifically Dorset, as could be imagined. Canada had been one option with the other Australia. He was very insistent that they emigrate and then begin new lives together. Mavis was equally adamant that she would not leave Albion. She had no problem with saying goodbye to Dorset but she could not contemplate leaving England.
“They argued for hours then, as tempers flared, decided it was better to call the whole thing off. Incidentally, it was Mavis who suggested them breaking up not Harry, or so she told us all. Even so, she was heartbroken by their parting especially the way it had all gone so horribly wrong.
“That was eighteen years ago, and apart from one time in Muckleford neither Mavis nor Harry has seen each other since.”
Verity sipped at her tea then proceeded to walk back into the living room
Ralph followed, cupping his coffee with both hands.
“That’s a sad way to part. Any idea why two people so cut out for each other would let something so dumb come between them?”
“Not the foggiest. I do know that Mavis still carries a torch for him, though. I have no idea of his feelings.”
“Well, rest assured, hon, that this Yank is happy to spend the rest of his days living wherever you are.”
Verity arched an eyebrow..
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.