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An April Shroud

Reginald Hill

… the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all

And hides the green hill in an April shroud…

John Keats

De'il and Dalziel begin with ane letter

The de'il's nae guid and Dalziel's nae better.

Old Galloway Saying

1

Epithalamium

No one knew how it came about that Dalziel was making a speech. Pascoe had with great reluctance let himself be persuaded into a church wedding, partly by the argument sentimental (Mum's looking forward to it), partly by the argument economic (Dad's paying for it), but mainly by the suspicion, hotly denied but well supported by circumstantial evidence, that Ellie herself wanted it.

But they had been agreed about the reception. A pint and a pie, insisted Pascoe. A glass of sherry and a sausage on a stick, Ellie translated to her mother. In the event, they were drinking champagne and eating creamed chicken canapes, but at least they were on their feet, able to mingle freely, and no one was going to start reading telegrams and making speeches. Especially not Detective Superintendent Andrew Dalziel.

'I reckon I know Sergeant Pascoe, Inspector Pascoe, Peter, as well as anybody,' proclaimed Dalziel.

'It can't be the drink,' murmured Pascoe. 'He never gets drunk. Not so you'd notice.'

'That's on scotch. Dad says he's sunk two bottles of champagne so far,' said Ellie.

'He's counting, is he?'

‘ No! He just noticed, mainly because merry Andrew there keeps calling it perry. Which hurts when you've paid for genuine non-vintage champers.' They giggled together and drew some reproving glances from a group of elderly relations who clearly believed that Dalziel's speech was the first reassuringly normal thing at a wedding where the bride had not worn white and there was no sit-down meal at the reception. If you do it standing up, it doesn't count was a maxim which could carry a decent body through nearly all of life's tribulations.

'He's a good policeman,' Dalziel assured the elderly relatives. 'He'll go far. Deserves every success. I've encouraged him from the start. And I don't flatter myself when I say I've managed to give him a bit of a leg- up…'

He paused and mopped his brow with a huge khaki handkerchief. The bald patch, uncompromisingly visible through the grey stubble of his hair, shone with sweat. He smiled now as he lumbered towards a dirty wedding joke, and with his shining face, broad smile, broader paunch, and the champagne glass held perpetually at the ready a foot from his lips, he should have been a figure of Pickwickian jollity. Instead, he looked as if he had just kicked the door down and was demanding that no one moved as he had the place surrounded.

'… a bit of a leg-up in his career,' he resumed. 'But he'll have to manage by himself tonight.'

'Oh Jesus,' breathed Pascoe.

The elderly relatives didn't much care for the joke but were still willing to give marks for effort.

'Ellie I don't know so well. But she'll do very well, I'm certain. My old Scottish grand-dad used to say, when you're picking a lassie, start at the bottom and work up. Broad hips for the bairns, broad shoulders for the housework, and a broad smile for good-nature and a peaceful life. Ellie, now…'

Some early-warning system must have told him that he was heading into troubled waters.

'Ellie,' he repeated. 'It's a hard job being a policeman's wife. Not every woman can do it. But if she can, and I'm sure Ellie can, then it's a grand and rewarding task. There's nothing better for a policeman than to be well looked after at home. Nothing. I can tell you… I've been looked after in my time… once..’

'In every Toby Belch there's an Andrew Aguecheek trying to get out,' murmured Ellie. 'I think he'd have been better droning on about my big mouth and huge bum.'

'So I give you,' cried Dalziel, explosively recovering from his introspective lapse, 'the happy pair! May their lot be a happy one!'

'The happy pair!' echoed the assembled crowd of about forty relations, colleagues, friends, while Pascoe and Ellie looked at each other with love and speculation in their eyes.

Later as they ran across the car park of the Three Bells to Pascoe's ancient Riley, it was Dalziel who trotted alongside them, using a Martini table-parasol to fend off the rain which had been beating down unremittingly on Lincolnshire for twenty-four hours.

'Good luck,' mouthed Dalziel at the passenger window. To Ellie he was almost invisible through the running glass. She smiled and waved. Her parents and the other guests had not risked their wedding finery in the down- pour, which meant that at least they were spared the usual primitive valedictory rites. It also meant that she couldn't see anyone to wave at except Dalziel and even he had moved out of their way round the back of the car.

'Let's go,' she said.

Looking back, she saw him standing in the middle of the car park, waving the umbrella in a gesture of farewell and (accidentally, she hoped) menace.

'You're sure he doesn't know where we're going?' she asked Pascoe anxiously.

'No one does,' he replied with confidence.

Thank God for that. I wouldn't put it past him to decide to spend his holiday with us.' She relaxed with a deep sigh, then suddenly laughed. 'But he was funny, wasn't he? Leg up/'

Pascoe laughed with her and they even managed to laugh again five minutes later when they were stopped by a police Panda driver, curious to know why they were towing a police helmet, a police boot and a banner inscribed Hello! Hello!! Hello!!!

'I thought it went very well, George,' said Dalziel. 'Very well.'

He sounded self-congratulatory as though he had arranged the ceremony himself.

'I suppose it did,' said Detective Inspector George Headingley, glancing at his watch. He and Dalziel were the sole survivors of five policemen who had travelled down from Yorkshire for the wedding. In fact they were the sole survivors of the entire wedding group and it was only his awareness of their profession and status which prevented mine host of the Three Bells from pushing them out into the gloomy damp of a late spring afternoon in Lincolnshire.

'Stop looking at your watch, George,' said Dalziel. 'Have another drink.'

He had abandoned the pernicious 'perry' and obtained a bottle of the true Hippocrene, Glen Grant straight malt, two large doses of which had restored him to his customary dignity and composure.

'I really mustn't, sir,' said Headingley. 'It's all right for you, but I've got to drive back this evening. God knows what's happened back there with all the best minds down here!'

'Mondays are always quiet,' pronounced Dalziel. 'One for the road. A small one.'

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