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zingmagazine10 autumn 1999

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the royal art lodge
glastenbury
sputnik
3d
lutwidge finch
haptics
luis macias
bob seng
asFOUR
6799
reviews

MacIntyre, in turn, presented: "Doris, my wife. We are here on our honeymoon."

"Are you really?" Inspector Jenkins asked with exaggerated interest. He turned his devouring gaze to the former housemaid. He knew all these people well, though they had never laid eyes on him. The comings and goings, the couplings and separations, of people at such sensitive sites as the Baron's laboratory at Tattson Hall were the subject of weekly reports from his informants. "I congratulate you, sir. And Missus. Can we be expecting another volume of yours soon?"

"I am retired," Mister MacIntyre said, "liberated from the demands of production, free at last to theorize, which is what I fear you overheard me doing just now. But in truth I am devoting the rest of my life to pleasure, as you see."

"Look." Doris thrust out her hand, on which sat a cut diamond of moderate worth. "When he gave it to me I had no idea."

"Nor I," MacIntyre smiled, recalling how the emotions leading to his proposal had taken him completely unawares. Even the cable he had sent, to a jeweler he knew in London, asked only for a bauble of a certain worth. "Diamond," he had added at the last moment, not considering its symbolism, wanting only memorialize what had been an exceptionally pleasant tryst. Then came the thought, or rather the certitude, that this could go on, could grow, into something that would relieve the accidie he saw stretching out before him and threatening to poison his remaining years. He had only worried for Doris, that the love of an older man would prove insufficient, that while he could leave her financially comfortable, leave her he would. But her practical answer, that it would be "better than beating carpets," had assured him she was entering the union with open eyes, that her strong, capable fingers would be there to close his own eyes, when the time came, and then go on.

"Yes, very fine indeed," Inspector Jenkins exclaimed, bending over to examine the gem. Chatting with them a little more, refusing an offer to sit, ascertaining directions to the landing, he then asked, as a kind of afterthought, "You have not by any chance, in your travels, run across Mr. Lutwidge Finch, have you?"

There was just the merest of silences, a misstep in the rhythm of the conversation. Mister MacIntyre opened his mouth to speak at the same moment Doris said:

"Isn't that the gentleman you said we were meeting in Rome?"

"No, my dear," MacIntyre answered gently, laying his hand on top of hers. "You are thinking of someone else." Turning to the Inspector, he explained, "I know Mr. Finch only slightly. Besides, being on our honeymoon, we have not sought out the company of countrymen who live abroad."

"I quite understand," Inspector Jenkins grinned. "After all, you have each other, don't you? Well, many thanks for the directions. I would still be walking round in circles if it were not for you."

As he went off, he noted the time. He was late, not that it mattered now. A hound on the scent, his pace quickened.

 

That autumn, Mrs. Hatchitt noticed an alarming change come over the Reverend Belcher: he ate his dinners. A week went by, a week of cod with mustard sauce, mutton chop and potato, mutton hash with turnips and greens, a stew of something she straightfacedly called pheasant (gift of Mrs. Ebblebowle's brother, it was, shooting on the Hackney marshes. "Pheasant from Hackney?" was all the Reverend had said), and finally, the piece she was sure would incite resistance, Bubble and Squeak, a day old to begin with, with yesterday's sodden chips from the shop molded into "croquettes." "More tea please, Mrs. Hatchitt," he called, in a newfound and disturbing tone of authority. "Right away, Reverend," she heard herself calling back from the kitchen.

At first she thought he had a new hiding place where he stuffed the meals as soon as her back was turned. But on Tuesday she had stood over him the entire time, a pose which would have discomfited the man's formerly timid personality to no end. Instead, he hardly seemed to notice, munching absently, occasionally removing a razor-sharp beak or overlooked sooty feather from his mouth and laying it neatly on the rim of the plate, all while turning the pages of his bible. It was this bible reading that upset her most of all. Always with his nose in scripture, occasionally pausing over a verse, mouthing it silently, smiling, then taking out his fountain pen and making some notation in the margin, an act she felt vaguely sacrilegious. She had already alerted the church hierarchy, that is to say the widows Splaytoe and Bonnet, Mrs. Ebblebowle and her sister Miss Chalk, and of course Mrs. Satterswaite. All had listened for any note of Romishness creeping into the sermons. But here he disappointed them, for his bible studies seemed unrelated to his Sunday performances, which, if anything, became both more perfunctory and correct, giving the ladies' natural appetite for indignation nothing to feed on.

"Please thank Mrs. White for the..." his voice trailed off, not having paid attention to what he was eating.

"Beans!" she said savagely, snatching away the cleaned plate. "Plain beans is what she gave you. Said there was rabbit in there but I saw none. Maybe the meat from one of them white mice her shiftless husband raises."

"It was delicious," the Reverend said, flipping to II Corinthians. "Is the kettle on?"

After suppers now, he entertained guests, and this, Mrs. Hatchitt had to admit, was a welcome alteration to his routine. They were men of the most diverse sort. Some were bankers and lawyers while others were hearty fellows in loud checks who made free with Mrs. Hatchitt in a way she could not help appreciating, giving her winks, imputing randy meanings to her simplest retorts, slipping her the odd coin for taking their caps. "A fine figure of a woman like you wasting away in this nunnery," one had said. "Why do these chaps in the odd collars get all the pretty women?" "Mr. Egan!" she had whooped, and gone off neglecting to reprimand him for tracking mud. Brutes, she thought happily, reminded of her days as a young barmaid.

But what was the Reverend doing with such men? They spent hours in his study, smoke seeping from under the door, occasionally poking a head out to have her to run down to the pub for a pitcher or to open another tin of sardines. It would have struck some as insidious, but Mrs. Hatchitt was reassured to have men in the house, to hear the low murmur of their masculine confidences. When she had asked the Reverend where he had met his friends he muttered something about "Oxford." So, he was reliving happy schooldays, though they were a mongrel lot to be University men. Even the bomb going off did not seem that unusual. It was only a small explosion and when the doors were thrown back and everyone staggered out they were all laughing uproariously except for the silent Mr. Pierce, who was emptying something into the grate. "A prank," he had explained, looking at the others with disapproval. Mr. Rossetti, the plump man who was so funny, took full responsibility, telling her a complicated story about Guy Fawkes that still had her in stitches the next day as, during her cleaning of the study, she picked up fragment after fragment of what seemed to be some sort of small black ball.

None of this was relayed to the ladies of the church. There was a nicety to Mrs. Hatchitt's gossip. She told much, but kept whole topics to herself. She felt she would be compromised if she let the others know about the Reverend's circle. They would sense her own satisfaction at this new liveliness in the rectory, and try poisoning it with disapproval and envy. "I knew you hoisted pints in your day," Mr. Egan said, when word of her former profession got out. "You still got the twinkle, you have. And the fizz."

One night, she was wakened by the sound of heavy footsteps in the hall. Peering out, she saw the Reverend and Mr. Egan carrying what looked like a small sack between them.

"Mrs. Hatchitt," the Reverend said, "go back to bed."

"No," Mr. Egan hissed, even though they were inside. "She can help."

"Very well."

Her hair was still down around her shoulders. Dressed only in a chenille wrap, she followed them to the study where they laid out what she now saw was a battered body.

"Why it's that one who sleeps in the church," she said. "Old Tom. What happened to him?"

"He took ill," the Reverend said, wiping his brow from the exertion of carrying the man.

"Took ill from a constable's baton," Mr. Egan growled. "Get us some brandy, will you Meg?"

When she returned, they had propped the little man's head up. His face, never a pretty sight, with its missing teeth, was now blood-soaked, both eyes swelled shut and a bloated tongue lolling out a slack mouth.

"Played pattycake with his skull, they did," Egan was saying. "Bounced him off the palace walls. Surprised you can't see the mark of the Royal Lion on his cheek."

"What was he doing there in the first place?" the Reverend asked.

"Looking for a way in, a drainpipe or something. He can squeeze through some pretty tight places, Old Tom."

"Well he will have to," the Reverend said, tearing open the filthy shirt and placing his ear on the man's chest, "where he is going."

"What do you mean? He's not--?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Hatchitt." The Reverend, troubled, got up and took the decanter from her hands.

"They will pay for this," Mr. Egan said. He removed the wadded-up coat they had used as a pillow and spread it now over the petty thief's lifeless face. "Won't they, Meg?"

"Indeed they will," she said, a fire in her cheek.

Later, Mr. Pierce came and the three went off with the body. There was no more mention of Old Tom in the rectory. Sometimes, when shopping on the Seven Dials Road, she heard people wonder aloud what had happened to the little man. Mrs. Hatchitt, unusually for her, said nothing. She only gripped her basket tighter.