returning at night, happy and exhausted. There was something about the remoteness and strange beauty of the island that seemed to heal the past and restore courage.

In the evenings, Agatha found her eyes drifting over to the honeymoon couple. On the last evening, the new bride was flushed and animated and talking in rapid Spanish. Her husband leaned back in his chair, listening, his face expressionless, but with that odd waiting feeling about him.


The farewells were affectionate and tearful. Agatha and Dolores were going on a later plane than the family. They exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch. “Sad,” said Dolores. “Yes, sad,” agreed Agatha, “but I’ll be back.”


Agatha broke her journey home with a few days in Rio at a luxury hotel. But she found she did not enjoy her visit. The heat was immense and the humidity high. She took a trip up Sugar Loaf Mountain and then decided to explore no further. Among the tourist brochures in the hotel was one advertising a tour to see where and how the poor of Rio lived. What kind of people, wondered Agatha, would go on such a tour – to gawp at the unfortunate? It was with a relief that she finally boarded a British Airways flight for London. She had booked economy. She was at the back of the plane. There was only one screen at the end of the cabin and so she could not see any of the movies, and during the night she shivered in the blast of freezing air-conditioning. She complained to a female attendant, who shrugged and said, “Okay,” and walked on. Nothing happened. People struggled into sweaters, huddled into blankets, and no one but Agatha showed any desire to complain. Bloody British, thought Agatha, finally collaring a male steward. He glared at her and nodded. The plane finally warmed up.

In future years, Agatha thought, they will have models of this hell-plane in a museum and people will marvel that humans actually travelled in such circumstances, rather in the way that they wonder at the cramped accommodations in old sailing-ships.

At Gatwick, there was no gate available for the plane and so they waited an agonizing time before they were herded onto buses on the Tarmac. Agatha then began the long walk to collect her luggage. She began to feel that the plane had landed in Devon and they were all walking to Gatwick.

By the time she collected her luggage, she was in a blazing temper. But her temper dissipated as soon as she had located her car and had started to head home. She began to worry about her two cats, Hodge and Boswell. She had left them in the care of her cleaner, Doris Simpson, who came in every day to look after them. James was gone; Charles, too. Only her cats remained a permanence in her life.

It had been a night flight and she had been unable to sleep because of the freezing conditions. By the time she turned down the road in the Cotswolds which led to her home village of Carsely, her eyes were weary with fatigue. Her thatched cottage crouched in Lilac Lane under a winter sky. Agatha parked and let herself in. Her cats came to meet her, stretching and yawning and rubbing against her legs. She crouched down and patted them and then caught sight of herself in the long hall mirror that she had put up so that she could check her appearance before going out. She straightened up slowly and stared.

She noticed the grey roots in her hair, the dull skin and the lumpy figure and drew her breath in. How she had let herself go! And all over two useless men who weren’t worth bothering about. She phoned her beauticians, Butterflies in Evesham, to make an appointment for the following day. “Rosemary is having a Pilates class,” said the receptionist, “so she can’t do you in the morning. It’ll need to be the afternoon.”

“What on earth is Pilates?”

“It’s a system of exercises for posture and breathing and it exercises every muscle in your body.”

“I’m interested.”

“She has a space in her workshop tomorrow morning. It’s an introductory class.”

“Put me down. When is it?”

“Starts at ten and goes on until one.”

“That long! Oh well, put me down.” Agatha rang off. She fed the cats and let them out into the garden and then carried her luggage up to the bedroom. Too weary to unpack or undress, she fell on the bed and plunged down into sleep.


In the morning, as she drove to Evesham, she began to regret booking in for the Pilates class. Agatha was the type who booked an expensive course at a gym, went twice, and then chickened out and so lost her money. Still, she had to do something.

“Upstairs,” said the receptionist. “They’re about to start.” Agatha climbed up the stairs. Four women were struggling into leggings and T-shirts.

“Agatha!” said Rosemary, the beautician. “Welcome back.”

“Home again,” said Agatha with a grin. Rosemary was a very reassuring figure with her creamy skin and glossy hair. There was something motherly about her that made women feel unashamed of their lumpy figures and bad skin. Something reassuring that seemed to say, “Everything can be made better.”

The class began. After relaxation, the exercises seemed gentle enough but required fierce concentration. The exercises had to be combined with breathing and strengthening the stomach and pelvic muscles.

They finally took a break for coffee and biscuits. Rosemary began to tell the small group that Joseph Pilates had been interned in World War I and that was when he had developed the system of exercises and after the war had gone to America, where he had set up classes next to the New York Ballet School.

She broke off and took Agatha aside. “I know you must be dying for a cigarette. You can nip downstairs and go through to the room at the very back.”

Agatha longed to be able to say she wouldn’t bother, but the craving for nicotine was strong. She stood in the back room feeling guilty, but nonetheless lighting up a cigarette. Sarah, Rosemary’s assistant, was working on someone in the next room.

A girl’s voice said, “I didn’t want to do this. But Zak wants me to get a bikini wax before I’m married.” This was followed by a giggle.

“Don’t marry him!” Agatha wanted to scream. She had a feeling of feminist rebellion. It was all very well to keep oneself as fit and beautiful as possible, but all this total removal of hair, so that one looked like a Barbie doll, Agatha felt was going too far. And what sort of fellow ordered his girlfriend to have a bikini wax? “Thanks, Sarah,” she heard the girl say. “I’d better go. Zak’ll be waiting for me. He wants to make sure I’ve got it done.”

Agatha heard her leave. She had a sudden urge to see this Zak. She stubbed out her cigarette and went through to reception.

A young man was standing there, hugging a pretty blond girl. “You ready, Kylie?” he said. With his dark good looks and the girl’s blond prettiness, Agatha was reminded of the couple on Robinson Crusoe Island. She was snuggling up to him, but he had the same waiting feel about him as the man on the island.

She shrugged and went upstairs just as the class was resuming. When it was over, Agatha cheerfully signed on for ten lessons. She felt relaxed and comfortable and the exercises appealed to her common sense. Time to fight against old age. Strengthen the kneecaps and avoid kneecap replacements; strengthen the pelvic muscles and avoid the indignity of incontinence. She told Rosemary she would go for lunch and come back to get her face done. She took out her mobile phone and called the hairdresser and booked herself in for a late appointment to get her hair tinted.

By the end of the day, when she returned home with her hair once more glossy and brown and her face massaged and treated, she began to feel like her old self, her old pre-James self. The ‘For Sale’ sign had gone from outside his cottage. She wondered what the new neighbour would be like.


The next morning, Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar’s wife, called. “You look great, Mrs. Raisin,” she said. “The holiday must have done you good.”

Agatha began to tell her about the family on Robinson Crusoe Island and how much she had enjoyed their company. As she talked, she realized that she had not once bragged to them about her skill as a detective.

“Have you heard from James?” asked Mrs. Bloxby.

“James who?” asked Agatha curtly.

Mrs. Bloxby looked at Agatha curiously. Agatha, before she had left, had refused to talk any more about James.

But Agatha suddenly remembered Marie saying that James could not surely take holy orders as he had been

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