A Dalziel and Pascoe novel
'There is a splendid kind of indolence, where a man, having taken an aversion to the wearisomeness of a business which properly belongs to him, neglects not, however, to employ his thoughts, when they are vacant from what they ought more chiefly to be about, in other matters not entirely unprofitable to life, the exercise of which he finds he can follow with more abundant ease and satisfaction.'
Mrs Florence Aldermann was distressed by the evidence of neglect all around her. Old Caldicott and his gangling son, Dick, had been surly ever since she had made it clear last autumn that far from being willing to admit the latter's insolent, nose-picking fifteen-year-old to the payroll, she was contemplating charging his elders for the barrowloads of fruit he had stolen from the orchard.
After that the youth had disappeared, but his father and grandfather had clearly been nursing a grievance ever since. Her recent indisposition had given them their chance.
There would have to be words. More than words. If she could find somebody to take their place, heads would roll. The thought fathered the deed.
Angrily seizing a
Only then did she become aware that she was being watched. Behind the mazy frame of sweet peas which divided the main rose-garden from the long lawn running down to the orchard (and which, she noted angrily, had been allowed to form seed-pods that, unremoved, would pre-empt flower growth) lurked a slight figure completely still.
'Patrick!' called Mrs Aldermann sharply. 'Come here!'
Slowly the boy emerged.
Aged about eleven, small still for his age, he had large brown eyes in a pale oval face which was almost oriental in its lack of expression. Mrs Aldermann regarded him with distaste. It wasn't just that he belonged to the same ghastly sub-species as Brent Caldicott, though that would have been enough. But in addition she could never look upon Patrick without thinking of his origins, and then the anger came welling up. It took little to uncap her vast pool of wrath, and in particular any display of human weakness brought it fountaining forth.
She had been angry eleven years earlier when her niece, Penelope, had announced that she was pregnant. She had been angrier when the feckless girl had refused to name the father, and angriest of all when she had calmly announced her intention of bringing up the child single-handed. Even Penelope's feckless mother, Florence Aldermann's younger sister, had had the wit to get a wedding ring from the object of her particular folly, George Highsmith, carpet salesman, though neither this nor the fact that they were both dead prevented Mrs Aldermann from still feeling angry with them. No, death was no barrier to anger; indeed it could be a cause of it. She still felt furious at her own husband's display of weakness in dying of a coronary thrombosis, with so much still to do, so much still to expiate, in these very gardens two years before.
And finally her anger had turned upon herself when she collapsed in Knightsbridge on a pre-Christmas shopping expedition six months earlier. To be taken ill was deplorable; to have suffered a heart-attack, which she'd come to regard as a typically masculine form of weakness, was unforgivable.
Fortunately (she saw this now, though at the time she'd tended to blame her, as if 'weakness' were an infectious condition) she'd been with Penelope at the time, good-natured, unflappable Penny who had not taken the least offence (indeed, why should she?) when told after her Uncle Eddie's death that the charitable allowance he'd been making her for so many years would have to stop, times and taxes being so hard, and who had seemed quite satisfied with the substitution of tea at Harrod's on her Aunt Flo's bi-annual London visits.
A few weeks later the 'sixties dawned. Could Mrs Aldermann have foreseen flower-power, pop-art, swinging London and all the age's other lunar and lunatic achievements, she would have greeted it with vast indignation. As it was, the best she could manage in her state of ignorance and intensive care was vast indifference. Shortly afterwards she recovered enough to transfer to a luxurious private clinic. Her first real emotion and almost her second heart-attack occurred when she was well enough to enquire how much it was costing her. As soon as possible thereafter she declared herself fit enough to return to Rosemont, her Yorkshire home, to convalesce. Clearly unable to look after herself properly, she, with her doctor's help, persuaded her easy-going untied-down niece to accompany her, a large saving on a professional nurse. And during the weeks that followed, Mrs Aldermann had come to value Penelope for more than purely economic considerations. She was what all self-regarding, moderately wealthy ladies of the middle class long for: a treasure. Hard-working, easy-going, entertaining of speech and unresentful of indignity, she fell short only in the department of subservient gratitude. And, of course, of Patrick.
But even with these deficiencies admitted, Mrs Aldermann as she recovered had begun to toy with the idea of offering Penny a permanent place at Rosemont which was far too large for one old woman living by herself. There would be no question of salary, of course - they were after all blood relations - but a small allowance would be in order, and there would be the large inducement of a change of will substantially in Penny's favour.
The proposal had been made. To her amazement and irritation, instead of jumping gratefully at the chance, the feckless girl had looked dubious and talked rather nostalgically of London. What had London to compare with this