Dorothy Cannell

The Importance of Being Ernestine

Book 11 in the Ellie Haskell series, 2002

To Julian Ashley Moore and Trevor McNeil Cannell.

Time to take your bows. Here is your book.

With love from Granna


Mata Hari and the other devious divas of history had nothing on me! The plotting with all its secret assignations and whispered telephone conversations was enormously satisfying. Yesterday’s heist had been somewhat nerve- racking given that Kathleen Ambleforth, the vicar’s wife, had failed to send the van at the appointed time to remove the loot. But now the stage was set.

All day I was exuberantly busy. In the morning I instructed the furniture men where to place the leather sofa that would have done Lord Peter Wimsey proud, made sure the tapestry armchair was angled just right and that the Georgian-style cabinet intended to hide the new computer was positioned squarely under the window. Seeing three burly men close to tears always brings out the best in me. In the space of fifteen minutes I produced three pots of tea, watched an entire fruitcake be demolished and did not snap when one of them took a chunk out of the wall. Immediately following their departure I hung the Scottish landscape paintings and the gilt-framed mirror, positioned the lamps and potted plants and tied back the topaz velvet curtains with tasseled cords.

My cousin Freddy who lives in the cottage at the bottom of the drive kindly watched two-year-old Rose for me during the afternoon, enabling me to revel in arranging the brass candle-sticks and antique finials on the mantelpiece and the Royal Worcester figurines in the display cabinet that had arrived the previous day. I had just finished positioning the area rug when it was time to collect the twins-son Tam and daughter Abbey-from school.

They would be five in a few weeks, at the beginning of December, and were always bounding with energy when they got home. Having them underfoot made lining up the books in the newly installed walnut bookcases a lengthy process, but I got through it with my sunny mood intact. The only one out of sorts was Tobias the cat who accidentally got shut in the cupboard under the stairs. But fortunately he worked off most of his irritation having a showdown with the Hoover and a couple of mops. All three children ate their supper of toad-in-a-hole and rice pudding without fuss.

I got them bathed and down for the night with a minimum of pillow fighting and jumping on the beds. Hurrying them through their prayers and only reading them one chapter of Charlotte’s Web left me feeling a little guilty, but the minutes were ticking away. It was time to step into the shower. I resisted the temptation to skip washing my hair because it is long and always takes an age to blow-dry. But I wanted to look my best when the curtain rose on the entrance of the man who played the leading role in my life.

The corduroy dress I put on was forest green, one of my favorite shades. A glance in the mirror showed my eyes sparkling with anticipation and my chignon pinned neatly in place except for the tendrils I had allowed to escape. Usually I didn’t fuss unduly about my appearance. I would never be a beauty like my cousin Vanessa, the well-known model. My coloring was too subdued, my features unremarkable. Fresh-faced and wholesome was one way I’d heard myself described. Still, I thought this time I had risen to the occasion.

It had been storming on and off during the day, and rain now beat against the windowpanes as I hurried back down to the study to turn on the gas logs, another new addition. The grandfather clock struck the half-hour: 7:30. He should be here any moment now. I was setting two glasses on the silver tray containing the brandy decanter when I heard the front door open and his footsteps in the hall. My hero! My husband had returned from a week’s trip promoting his latest cookery book.

Ben was peeling off his damp coat. Never had he looked more handsome with rain glistening in his dark hair and his blue green eyes alight with the pleasure of being back where he belonged. I stumbled over his suitcase in getting to him and for several moments I was lost to the thrill of being again in his arms and returning his passionate kiss. It’s amazing how even a short absence can revitalize a marriage of six years. I was swept back to those first heady days when he had stormed into my life and I had thought him the most insufferably arrogant, infuriating… marvelous man alive. But this wasn’t just a reunion. It was the moment for which I had been rehearsing all day. Over and over again I had recited my lines and his too, knowing exactly what he would say when I walked him on stage.

“Come with me,” I tugged on his arm. “Have I got something to show you, darling! We’re going into the study. Promise to close your eyes when we get to the door and not open them until I’ve walked you into the middle of the room.”

“Not a surprise party?” He recoiled, looking aghast. “There isn’t a bunch of people in there. I want it to be just you and me and the children.”

Hadn’t I known that’s what he would say?

“The children are in bed. And there’s nobody else here except Tobias, and he’s too much of a gentleman to intrude.” I laughed in cheerful delight. I just couldn’t wait to see my beloved’s expression when I had shuffled him into position. Across the flagstones we went, past the twin suits of armor against the staircase wall and through the study door. No doubt about it, my labors had paid off. The room was a vision to behold. Those gas logs gave an apricot glow to the newly hung wallpaper and gleamed upon the polished surfaces. The brandy in the decanter seemed to have caught on fire. How could Ben fail to be as delighted as I was? “You can open your eyes now.” I moved back to the doorway, eager not to impede an inch of the view.

“My God, Ellie!” It was the exclamation I had anticipated.


“You’ve changed everything!”

“Out with the old. In with the new,” I carroled back at him.

“You shouldn’t have!”

The very words I had rehearsed for him! But he was supposed to have included an endearment, such as sweetheart or darling. And I hadn’t pictured his eyebrows coming down in an iron bar across his nose. Or that his mouth would have firmed into an equally hard line. For several moments he did not move except to fold his arms. Then he began to pace with thundering steps.

“Where’s my typewriter?”

“The old manual?” A quiver entered my voice.

“And my filing cabinet?”

“That beaten up, rusty piece of tin?”

“Ellie,” menace throbbed through every syllable, “what have you done with my stuff? I can’t work in this fussed-up environment. I want my own things. My lumpy armchair, the old jet gas fire. Why the wallpaper? Why the china cabinet and the silver and crystal?” He was now clutching his head and looking as anguished as if I’d given away his mother to the Salvation Army. “How do you expect me to write? With a quill pen?”

“There’s a computer in that cabinet?” I pointed a shaking finger. “And all your files are in the drawers.”

“I don’t want a damn computer!”

“I thought you would be pleased!”

Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату