Dorothy Cannell

The Widows Club

The third book in the Ellie Haskell series, 1988

To my husband Julian,

who need have no fear.


From the Files of

The Widows Club


Ladies, dear friends: Our monthly meeting having been called to order, let us offer a generous round of applause for today’s pianist, Mrs. Edwina Grouse, and her rousing rendition of “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Edwina is a charter member, now living in Spain, and we are delighted to welcome her back to Chitterton Fells, if only for a short visit.




And a big thank you to the Gardening Committee, who provided the charming centerpieces. Ah ha! I see hands waving. Yes, yes, all you horticultural enthusiasts-the chrysanthemums will be raffled off after lunch. Proceeds go to the Policemen’s Benevolent Fund. Now, as always, the moment of solemnity: Everyone please rise for the recitation of our club pledge.


Sisters in sorrow, we pledge eternal loyalty to our Founder and to each and every member of The Widows Club, past and present. Together we will mourn, console, laugh, work, and heal. We pledge to open our hands and hearts to other women soon to be likewise bereft of a life partner. And always we will bear courageous witness to The Widows Club motto: Mors Magis Amicior Quam Inimicor. [1]


Well done. Ladies, please remain standing. We will shortly be served kedgeree, followed by gooseberry tart and custard. Not gourmet! But the best The Dark Horse can offer. And Ways and Means has provided a treat for us today-a taste-testing of their new hazelnut fudge! Ways Chairwoman, Betty White, tells me that if we all pull our weight and sell one hundred boxes each, the proposed day trip to the Tower of London is distinctly feasible; please hold your applause, ladies.

I now have the pleasure and privilege of asking you to raise your wineglasses and offer a toast. To a new member whose husband has recently been called to his just reward. The Welcoming Committee has already introduced her. But to us she needs no name other than Sister.


Cheers! All the very best! Welcome to The Widows Club!

Part One


Funerals are heaps more fun than weddings. My mother told me so when I was a little girl. More flowers, wittier conversation, superior food, and invariably better liquid refreshment.

Her words were, “Ellie darling, any household bubbly is adequate for toasting health and happiness, but the drowning of sorrows demands the best dry gin.”

My mother, who met with a fatal accident in a railway station when I was seventeen, would have been delighted to know her funeral was the bash of the season among her intimate circle. I failed to enjoy myself, but everyone else, including my father who adored her, was still swigging back the neat gin and doing “Knees Up, Mother Brown” at 3:00 A.M. on the morning after, despite complaints from the neighbours.

More than ten years later, as I stood in the windswept churchyard of St. Anselm’s on that chill afternoon of the 8th May, my mother’s edict was a gramophone needle grinding circles inside my head. Funerals and weddings… funerals and weddings.

Only a few months ago, Ben and I had been married in this small Norman church. And now I stood under the elms, abject with misery, waiting for the Reverend Rowland Foxworth to begin the burial service.

I was living a nightmare. Once I had been Miss Ellie Simons, resigned (if not content) with my lot as an overage, overweight virgin. Tipping the scales at thirteen stone wasn’t so bad. I had my work as an interior designer, my cat Tobias, and my motley kith and kin had reduced social contact to the annual Christmas card. Then, fate had struck in the form of an invitation to a family reunion at the home of Uncle Merlin, an ancient eccentric, who had spent the last half century walled up in his castle on the cliffs above the village of Chitterton Fells. To go or not to go? Was it worthier in the mind to spend two days being the butt of familial fat jokes or to send a gracious decline, knowing full well that Aunt Astrid and her flawless daughter Vanessa would be snickering up their mink cuffs at my refusal to show my face and attendant chins? Impetuously, I telephoned Eligibility Escorts, and before I could rethink my pride and principles, its proprietress, Mrs. Swabucher, had rented me Bentley T. Haskell, darkly handsome, one-time chef, now aspiring writer of porno prose, to accompany me for the fateful weekend.

And what a weekend! Uncle Merlin was a toothless personage in a Wee Willie Winkie nightcap; the other relations were at each others’ throats from sunrise to sunset. As for Bentley T. Haskell, I swiftly came to feel I had grossly overpaid for his escorting services. The man was snotty, defensive, irreligious. He immediately turned his lascivious eyes on cousin Vanessa and had the effrontery to turn nasty, when, under the extreme provocation of mounting tension, I made a little slip and hinted-okay, announced-that he and I were engaged to be married. Naturally, I had every intention of doing the decent thing and setting him free. A few weeks later, however, events took a tortuous turn. Word came that Uncle Merlin had died. Haskell graciously returned with me to Chitterton Fells for the funeral, and at the reading of the will we were stunned to discover that my capricious great-uncle had left the entire estate to us, jointly, upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. One was that I lose approximately one third of my weight, and another that Ben write a book containing not one naughty word, and… oh yes, we had to reside together in that derelict house for a period of six consecutive months. After judiciously weighing the pros and cons, we leaped at the golden ring. I thrilled to the challenge of tearing down cobwebs, sweeping out half a century of dirt, seeing Merlin’s Court live again, as it had in his mother Abigail’s day! We hired a

Вы читаете The Widows Club
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату