indescribable knitting. We heard her lecture. I should hardly have thought you could call her a friend of yours, though. We only knew Miss Carroll very slightly, and although you spoke to Mrs Bradley—’

Black?’ said Mr Tidson, turning his head.

‘She has black hair and black eyes,’ Miss Carmody sharply replied. ‘There is nothing else black about her, of course. Connie is given to wilful and misleading exaggeration at times.’

‘Exaggeration is always misleading,’ said Crete. Mr Tidson, who did not believe this, resumed his contemplation of the landscape, and the car swept smoothly past Dodsley Wood and a couple of tumuli, and then along a stretch of what had once been a Roman road, and so past Abbots Barton towards Winchester.

‘And although you spoke to Mrs Bradley after her lecture on hereditary tendencies,’ said Connie, who disliked to be cut off in the middle of a sentence, ‘I don’t see that that could exactly make her a friend of yours, Aunt Prissie, and I don’t want to meet her again! I didn’t like her.’

‘Put that rug back, dear,’ replied her aunt. ‘You won’t need that in the hotel. Well, here we are, Crete,’ she added, turning to the slightly more bearable of her parasitic guests. ‘I wonder how you will like it now we’re here?’

‘Oh, I shall like it,’ said Crete. ‘Edris will have his nymph, you will have your friend the black woman, Connie will walk and go early, very early, to bed, and I shall enjoy myself alone. But how is this the hotel? We are not yet in Winchester.’

Chapter Two

‘. . . which is to inform such Housekeepers as are not in the Higher Rank of Fortune, how to Eat, or Entertain Company, in the most elegant Manner, at a reasonable Expence.’


House-Keeper’s Pocket Book and Complete

Family Cook, 1760)

THE Domus hotel was in a side-turning and free of the main road traffic. It was approached by way of a lane south-west of the broad arterial road from which A33 debouched before appearing, out of a maze of tributary meanderings, as the main Southampton Road beyond St Cross.

The Domus had been in turn a monastery, an Elizabethan mansion devoted to the cause and hiding of Jesuit priests, an eighteenth-century town house, a nineteenth-century nunnery, and, lastly, a hotel, and it showed traces of all these adventures. The car had been driven past a long garden whose wall still carried stigmata in the form of a small Cross and the date 1872, relics of the nunnery, and was now drawn up before a glassed-in entrance-lounge containing a wicker-chair, an iron shoe-scraper, two plants in pots, a fibre mat, a model of Winchester Cathedral, and the hotel cat.

Further doors led into the hall, and a door to the right showed the reception desk. A tall, cadaverous porter of Scottish extraction jerked a Wee Free thumb towards the office and took charge of the smallest piece of luggage which Toogood had dumped on the tiled floor. Miss Carmody, followed by Mr Tidson, went to the reception desk, and the porter put down the smallest piece of luggage, glanced about him as though in deep suspicion of the whole party, and asked lugubriously of Connie:

‘You’ll be staying long, no doubt?’

‘Oh, not so long as all that,’ said Connie, glancing uncertainly at Crete.

‘For a fortnight,’ said Crete.

‘Ou, ay,’ said the porter, as though this confirmed his worst fears. A voice from the desk said:

‘Twenty-nine, thirty-three and seven, Thomas.’

‘Twenty-nine, therrty-three and seven,’ repeated the porter. ‘You’ll follow me. Fifteen, therrty-three and seven is what I was tellt this morning, but ye’ll suit yoursel’s, nae doubt!’

Twenty-nine, a pleasant little room in the oldest part of the house, was assigned by Miss Carmody to Connie. Thirty-three, containing twin beds and a double wardrobe, was for the Tidsons, and was on the same floor. Number seven was on the ground-floor of the annexe, and was gained by going through the sun-lounge into a bungalow building, very modern and pleasant. Seven was Miss Carmody’s room, and when she found that it was exactly what she had asked for – for she suffered slightly from pyromania and disliked to sleep above ground level in strange houses – she was extremely pleased. Crete was not pleased. She demanded a separate room.

The four met in the cocktail lounge and were served by the severe Thomas with excellent sherry, except for Connie, who preferred gin and Vermouth. They had not been there long when Miss Carmody, putting down her glass, said that they must find out whether her friend Mrs Bradley was expected for lunch. She asked Connie to go and see.

‘They won’t know,’ said Connie, ‘and, if they did, I wouldn’t dare to ask. This place always did terrify me, and Thomas makes me feel as though I’d jam on my face. I call him an awful sort of man.’

‘Oh, nonsense,’ said Miss Carmody. ‘I will send for him and enquire.’ She summoned Thomas, to the admiration of her niece, by pressing the bell. Thomas, who had added to his first impressiveness by putting their drinks before them as though he knew full well that they were jeopardizing the safety of their immortal souls with every sip they took, acceded civilly, with an inclination of the head and a ‘Verra guid’ uttered like a curse, to Miss Carmody’s request that he would find out whether Mrs Bradley was expected for lunch, and returned in due course with the information that she was.

‘And a verra clever body,’ he added, looking pontifical as he gazed over Mr Tidson’s head at the red geraniums in the garden. ‘A verra clever body. Just that.’

It sounded like an epitaph, and all found themselves gravely inclining their heads. The rite was interrupted by the entrance of a small, black-haired, black-eyed woman in a hairy heliotrope tweed costume and a green felt hat. She was of witch-like aspect, and heralded her coming with a harsh cackle which sounded oddly from her beaky little mouth.

‘Mrs Bradley!’ exclaimed Miss Carmody, getting up. Thomas made way respectfully for the new arrival, and, without being asked, went out and shortly returned with another glass of sherry.

‘Your Amontillado, madam,’ he said. As this title had not, so far, been bestowed upon the other ladies of the party, it was particularly impressive, and when Thomas went away (which he did without taking notice of being yelled at as ‘Waiter!’ by a young officer in the uniform of the Royal Air Force), Crete Tidson, having, with her husband and Connie, been introduced to the witch, enquired whether Mrs Bradley had often stayed at the Domus.

‘Once, some time before the war,’ Mrs Bradley replied. ‘Are you familiar with the country in and around the New Forest?’

The gong for lunch interrupted the flow of conversation which followed these last magic words, and the party of four were allotted an excellent table at the garden end of the dining-room and were provided with copies of the menu. Mrs Bradley was conducted to a table for one by a window.

‘Pig’s face!’ said Mr Tidson, enraptured, when he had read the menu. ‘I haven’t eaten pig’s face since I was a little tiny boy.’

He began to hum under his breath until his wife prodded him sharply. The waitress, a nice girl, perceiving his excitement, saw to it that he received a generous portion. She took his order for bottled beer, and decided, in the security of her small alcove between the sideboard and the serving-table, that the little man had picked the wrong wife and was henpecked. She made up her mind to make his stay as pleasant as she could. He reminded her of her uncle from America.

‘I like it here,’ said Connie, looking favourably upon a plate of excellent cold beef and the salad and boiled

Вы читаете Death and the Maiden
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату