Home Page Books Jack News Blog Reviews Contact

A Fête Worse Than Death

Chapter One

With a feeling of relief, Jack Haldean walked into the dim green interior of the beer-tent. My word, it was like an oven out there. A noisy oven, where the laboured thump of the Breedenbrook band mixed with the shrieks of excited children on the helter-skelter, hoarse shouts from the hoop-la and coconut shies, sharp cracks from the rifle-range and the hollow, oddly mournful music of the steam-organ on the roundabouts, all grilling under a blazing sun.

He took off his straw hat and fanned himself. It was easily as hot as Spain, the difference being that no Spaniard, and certainly none of his relations, ever expected him to do anything in the middle of the day but sleep. They certainly wouldn't lug him out to a village fête.

Haldean found a space on a bench and wriggled his backbone into a comfortable position against a sturdy tent-pole. His cousin, Gregory Rivers, was standing at the trestle-table bar, waiting patiently to be served. Haldean relaxed, soaking up the low rumble of conversation, savouring the contrast between the muffled din outside and the slow, placid voices within. The smell of hot canvas, the smell of hot grass, the pungent reek of tobacco and the sweet smell of beer…

"Cheers," said Greg, handing him a pewter mug. He took a long drink. "Good Lord, I needed that." He looked at Haldean suspiciously. "You seem jolly pleased with yourself."

Haldean gave a contented smile. "I'm just enjoying it all, I suppose. I mean, I know we've more or less got to come, with Aunt Alice helping to run the fête and all, but I'm glad we did. It's… it's peaceful."

"You're having me on," said Greg as a boom from the trap-shooting thundered across the park.

Haldean put down his mug. "Not peaceful because there's no noise, but peaceful because - well, because all this sort of thing really makes me believe the war's over… Damn!"

"What ever is it?" said Greg in surprise, his mug halfway to his mouth.

"Over there," hissed Haldean. "By the bar. Don't look now. Thin dark bloke with Oxford bags and a moustache. This is the last place on earth I'd have expected to see the rotten little creep."

"What's he done?" asked Greg. "It's not like you to go overboard like that."

Haldean raised his eyebrows. "Isn't it? You don't know him. His name's Jeremy Boscombe and he's a swine. He was in my squadron. He was a mutton-fisted pilot and a lousy shot with a huge chip on his shoulder. God knows how he survived, but he did. He only joined the Flying Corps because he expected it to be a soft touch after the infantry, and he held me personally responsible it wasn't. He had the cheek to look me up a few months ago at the magazine offices to see if I could help him publish a book that he's writing, a cynical thing about what a ghastly time he had in the war." He pause and added, with reluctant fairness, "Well written, though. I recommended him to Drake and Sanderson."

"It sounds putrid," muttered Rivers. "Uh-oh, he's seen you. Bad luck."

With a weary sigh, Haldean got to his feet. Boscombe was threading his way through the crowd, a supercilious smirk on his face.

"Well, if it isn't Major Haldean." Haldean caught the smell of drink and sighed. Boscombe always had a weakness for whisky. "Whatever brings you here?"

Haldean decided to play it absolutely straight. "My aunt, Lady Rivers, is on the committee."

Boscombe's eyebrows crawled upwards. "Is she, by Jove? I never suspected you of having such well-connected relations." His smile grew. "Damned if I thought you had any English relations at all."

Haldean smiled back. "I'm flattered to know you gave it any thought whatsoever."

Boscombe searched for an answer, couldn't find one, and slumped onto the bench. "Bloody awful affair, isn't it?" he said after a pause. "I can't stand these yokels and their high jinks."

"A fête worse than death?" asked Haldean smoothly. There was a snort of suppressed laughter by his side.

Boscombe stared at him blankly, then caught the grin on Greg River's face. "Don't tell me you're enjoying it?"

Greg's grin vanished as he took in Boscombe's slurred speech and flushed face. "Yes," he said bluntly.

"Yes? Well, there's no accounting for taste, is there? I don't think we've met, by the way. I'm Boscombe, Jeremy Boscombe and you are…?"

"Rivers. Gregory Rivers."

They looked at each other with mutual distaste. Boscombe shrugged and turned to Haldean again. "I read one of your stories in the train, old man. Why on earth don't you write something other than those mindless detective things?" He leaned forward. "I don't say it was bad - it had a lot of promise - but the subject! Murder. I ask you. Absolute rubbish."

"Thanks for the advice," said Haldean, with every appearance of sincerity. Boscombe preened himself. Haldean took out a cigarette and lit it, without offering one to Boscombe. "Damn good of you to take an interest. Er… How's your first book coming along?" There was a very slight emphasis on the word "first".

"My book?" Boscombe crossed his arms and leaned back, narrowly avoiding falling off the bench. "Rather well, actually. Who did you recommend? Drake and Sanderson? Hopeless, old man, hopeless. I mean, they wanted it all right but the sales they predicted would make a cat laugh. No. I've got other fish to fry."

"Oh really? What?"

"Private publication." Boscombe tapped the side of his nose and laughed to himself. "Private publication. I can reach a truly appreciative audience…." His glance flicked up. Haldean followed his gaze, but see nothing to draw his attention. A tall, fair-headed man came into the beer-tent and stood in the crowd at the open flap, looking around. Without another word, Boscombe levered himself up and walked over to him. They heard his voice above the buzz of conversation. "Colonel Whitfield? I thought it was you…"

Greg Rivers let his breath out in a heartfelt sigh. "Of all the obnoxious little toads… Murder. Absolute rubbish. Supercilious little runt. I wouldn't be surprised if you murdered him yourself, talking like that. I like murders."

"Between hard covers, so do I. Bump off Boscombe. That's a thought. Outraged author kills critic." He sighed regretfully. "That'd never do for a motive. I wonder what really happened with Drake and Sanderson? Boscombe's barking up the wrong tree if he thinks publishing it privately will do any good. Tout au contraire as the Frenchman said on the Channel steamer when asked if he'd dined." He looked once more to where Boscombe was standing at the entrance. "Who's he's cottoned on to now? That tall bloke in riding kit who looks too handsome to be true. He looks vaguely familiar."

Rivers glanced across the tent. "That's Colonel Whitfield. You know, Jack, the Augier Ridge V.C. We met him at the Meddingholme point-to-point. He owns a livery stable on the outskirts of the village."

Haldean nodded. "Of course it is. I couldn't place him. Whitfield's the Augier V.C. you say? That explains why Boscombe's glued onto him. He was mixed up in that Augier Ridge business too. It's all his wretched book." Another memory clicked into place. "I say, Greg, is Colonel Whitfield the bloke Marguerite Vayle's keen on?"

"Yes, that's the one."

Haldean looked at the Colonel. "I hope everything works out for her. I've got a soft spot for Maggie Vayle. I think she had a rotten break, loosing her parents. She's only a kid, after all."

Rivers pulled a face. "Kid or not, she's nineteen and old enough to get married. You know my parents are responsible for her? She's giving them a real headache. My mother's very iffy about her marrying the Colonel because he's so much older. I know he's not old old, if you see what I mean, but he must be nearly forty." He tapped Haldean's arm. "Come on. We can get away from your pal Boscombe if we slope off now."

They walked out of the tent into the brilliant sunshine. All Haldean's content had evaporated. That Boscombe - Boscombe! - of all people should be at the fête beggared belief. Well, he had ruined his much looked forward-to drink, but he was damned if he was letting him ruin the rest of the afternoon. With Greg following, he plunged into the crowd as far away from the beer-tent as possible, fetched up at the coconut shy and then onto the darts and hoop-la.

Quarter of an hour later, having proved his skill and won two coconuts, a celluloid doll in a carry-cot and a large and violently coloured packet of sweets, Haldean, his temper restored, strolled between the stalls towards a tent advertising Zelda, Seer of the Future.

"What on earth are you going to do with that lot?" asked Greg, looking at his friend's winnings.

"Oh, I don't know." Haldean looked around for inspiration. A small girl, wearing a green velveteen frock which was too hot and too tight materialized beside them. Her eyes fixed longingly on the carry-cot and the sweets. "Here - d'you want any of these things?" The little girl nodded enthusiastically but timidly. "Come and get them then," said Haldean, stooping down and holding them out. "It's all right, really. Don't be shy."

The little girl took one step forward and two back. "My mummy says I'm not to take sweets from strange men."

"Hmm." Haldean dropped down on one knee so he was at eye-level with this cautious child and pondered the problem. "I'm not really a strange man, you know. Shut up, Greg. Have you seen Lady Rivers? She's my aunty and Sir Philip Rivers is my uncle. And Greg here is their son and my cousin, so you know quite a lot about me really."

The little girl put her thumb in her mouth and regarded him gravely, reassured by this burst of genealogy. "You've got a face like a gypsy's," she said eventually.

"No, I haven't," said Haldean indignantly, ignoring the crack of laughter from Rivers. "Not a bit of it. Look, old thing, I'm blowed if I'm carrying this stuff round any longer. Sweets give me tummy-ache and I never played with dolls. Here you are." He put his unwanted prizes on the grass and the little girl, with glowing eyes, picked up the carry-cot with the coconuts and sweets and scurried off.

"Talk about suspicious," said Haldean with a laugh. "At her age I'd have killed for a bag of sweets as polychromatic as those." He looked round the stalls. "What else is there? Let's have a go on the rifle-range. Unless, that is, you feel tempted by Zelda, Seer of the future."

Rivers laughed. "Not me. You know who Zelda is?" he asked, picking his way towards the rifle-range through the guy-ropes which stretched out over the grass. "Mrs Griffin, who used to be the cook at Hesperus."

Haldean stopped. "What? I must call in and see her. She used to be very generous in the matter of biscuits when I was a kid, to say nothing of letting me lick the bowl out after she'd made a cake."

"It's cakes which are the bone of contention, so to speak." Rivers raised his voice to carry over the band, which, after a brief period of silence, had plunged into The Pirates of Penzance. "Apparently Mrs Griffin has won the home-made jam section every year but she's never got more than a Honourable Mention for her cakes. Isabelle tells me that Mrs Griffin thinks it's because Mrs Verrity's cook always has an entry and Mrs Verrity, the big bug to end all big bugs, is on the judges' panel. Mrs Griffin took the hump a bit, and my mother and my sister had to put in some heavy charm to persuade her to come and read the fortunes."

"Prejudice, eh?" Haldean put down sixpence on the counter of the rifle-range. "Well, she may be right." He squinted down the barrel of the air-rifle. "Let's see if the old skill still lingers..." He pointed the gun at a battered tin lion's head which formed part of the Big Game Jungle Safari for the marksmen of Breedenbrook.

"My mummy says I've got to say 'Thank you,' said a voice from just above his knee-cap. Haldean jumped and the pellet thudded into the wooden boards at the back of the stall. He sighed and looked down at the little girl in the green velveteen frock.

"I'm going to call her Daisy and I'm going to dress her and take her to bed and take her for walks and make her a tea-time with mud-pies and she's going to eat it all up like a good girl, even all the nasty bits and her greens and at bed-time I'm going to get her undressed and she's going to stay in bed all night and..."

"Good for you," said Haldean kindly, loading up and sighting the gun on the lion once more.

"So there you are," said a voice from behind them. "I was wondering where you'd got to." Haldean flinched and once more the pellet thudded into the wooden boards. It was Isabelle, Greg's sister. "I expected to find you in the beer-tent."

"As if," said Greg with a grin. "We did look in, actually, but we didn't like the company. There was a complete outsider who used to know Jack."

"And she's going to be my very own dolly and stay with me for ever 'n ever ..."

"I think I saw the man you mean. I didn't like the look of him at all. He was shovelling down whisky or something from a hip flask and arguing with Colonel Whitfield." Isabelle glanced down and smiled at the little girl. "What a beautiful dolly, sweetheart. What's her name?"

"She's called Daisy and that kind gypsy man gave her to me."

Isabelle gave a gurgle of laughter. "What, this gypsy here?"

Haldean put down his air-rifle with a sigh. "Look, girls and boys. I used to have a reputation as a crack shot. This is now in tatters. I still have tuppence worth of enjoyment to get out of this gun and I'm going to pot that lion." He looked down at the little girl. "Why don't you go and have a ride on the chair-swings or something? They look awfully good fun."

"I've spended all my money."

"Here's sixpence. You ought to be able to do something with that."

"My mummy says I'm not to take money from strangers."

"Oh, good Lord!"

"I'll take you, darling," said Isabelle bending down to her. "I'm not a stranger, am I?"

"No. You've got a pretty dress."

"Why, thank you, sweetheart. I'll have that sixpence, Jack. It belongs to your little friend here." Hand in hand they walked off to where the chair-swings were whirling madly amid shrieks of pleasure. Haldean shot his lion and turned to find Rivers looking out over the crowd.

"There's that blighter Boscombe again. He's still got Colonel Whitfield in tow I see."

Haldean's eye's lit up. "That means the beer-tent's free once more. Shandy?"

"Shandy it is."

They made a leisurely progress back to the beer-tent, slipping round the back of the hoop-la stall to avoid Boscombe. Boscombe saw them and looked as if he was about to follow, when he was stopped by a very elegant woman who had come over to speak to Colonel Whitfield.

"Have we shaken him off?" asked Haldean, pausing at the entrance to the tent.

"If you're quick. Damn! Here he comes again."

Boscombe, weaving slightly, walked across to them and linked arms affectionately with Haldean. "Thought I'd missed you, Jack ol' man. You don't mind me calling you "old man" do you, Jack, old bean? I used to have to call him "sir"," he confided to Rivers. "He wanted me to chase Huns all the time. It was bloody dangerous."

Haldean unlinked his arm. "You're drunk."

"Just a little. Seen anyone you know? I've seen someone. Bloody surprising that was, all things considered. Bloody funny too, if you think about it. Give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself." He started to laugh and Haldean and Rivers looked at him wearily.

"Look, Boscombe, why don't you go somewhere and sleep it off?" asked Haldean with diminishing patience.

Boscombe stopped laughing. "Don't tell me what to do. I don't need you any more, Major Haldean. You see that woman with Whitfield? She needs me." Boscombe gave a knowing wink. "Nice woman. We go way back."

"Glad to hear it," said Haldean with false cheerfulness. "Don't let us keep you."

He shook off Boscombe's groping hand and went into the tent, Rivers following. Boscombe was left swaying gently outside. "Little tick," said Haldean briefly and applied himself to a pint of shandy. "Who was the woman, by the way? The one Boscombe was being revoltingly suggestive about, I mean."

"That's Mrs Verrity. I can't see what she'd have to do with the likes of him."

"Me neither." There was a long and liquid pause. "Has he gone yet?" asked Haldean, finishing his drink.

"Yes," said Rivers, glancing outside. "All clear."

"Thank God. I want to see Mrs Griffin to talk about old times and I don't want him around while I'm doing it. Let's go and see if she's free."

Mrs Griffin wasn't busy; in fact she was standing outside the fortune-teller's booth, looking extremely hot in a long and artistically tattered skirt, brilliant red blouse and heavily beaded shawl. She greeted Haldean with delight. "Do excuse what I'm wearing, Master Jack, but I've got to look the part. I mean, everyone knows it's me and when I'm just doing the tea-leaves at home I don't bother dressing-up, of course, but it's different here. People like you to make an effort."

"Do you really tell fortunes then, Mrs Griffin? I mean, it's not just something you make up?"

Mrs Griffin looked shocked. "Oh no, Master Jack. T'wouldn't be right, that. I could read your hand now easy as wink. Of course in the general way I don't charge for it - I don't want no trouble with the police - but I have a stall at the Stanmore Parry fête to oblige her Ladyship and she asked me ever so kindly if I'd do Breedenbrook as well, as the usual lady they had was laid up and Mrs Verrity couldn't get no-one. Well, I don't mind. It's not very far, not really, and I did wonder if I did Mrs Verrity a favour it might count for something when it came to the home-made cakes. Twelve years I've been doing cakes for this fair now, and nothing more than a Honourable Mention to show for it. Still, it's not what you know, as I always say, it's who you know that counts. Speaking of who you know, I think this gentleman's looking for you."

With a feeling of ghastly inevitability Haldean turned and saw Boscombe walking towards them with Colonel Whitfield behind. "Oh, God damnit, not again!"

Mrs Griffin sized up the situation and stepped forward. "Do you want me, my dear? Have your fortune told?"

Boscombe gave a short laugh. "Why not? Although I know it already, why not, eh, Whitfield?"

Colonel Whitfield shrugged. "Just as you like."

A small boy came hurrying through the crowd. "Mrs Griffin? You've got to come. They're announcing the winners for the cakes and I've been told to come and fetch you."

She clicked her tongue. "Just as I was going to see this gentleman, too." She turned to Boscombe. "Why don't you go and sit down inside my tent, my dear? I won't be very long and you look as if a little rest might do you some good." Boscombe blinked at her. "You'll be more comfortable in the shade," added Mrs Griffin, tactfully. "I think you might have a touch of the sun and no wonder in this heat and with all the noise there is too." She opened the flap of the tent. "In you go. Settle yourself down while I go and see about my cake."

"Cake?" repeated Boscombe uncomprehendingly, but went in all the same.

Mrs Griffin peered in after him. "There. He's resting nicely now. Might even have a little nap, I dare say." She adjusted her head-scarf and took the small boy by the hand. "Come on, Michael. I don't want to miss this." Hitching up her inconveniently flowing robe, she set off across the field.

Haldean looked at Colonel Whitfield. So this was the man Marguerite Vayle had fallen for. It was obvious why. He looked as if he should be on the front cover of a film magazine. Whitfield had melancholy sky-blue eyes, a sensitive mouth, broad shoulders and crisply curling blond hair. "I saw you in the horse trials this morning," said Haldean conversationally.

Whitfield brightened. "Did you? Nice mare, that. She's inclined to shy a bit so I thought I'd bring her out locally before trying any of the major events. I thought she was going to get a clear round but the noise from the trap-shooting startled her. I'm sorry," added Whitfield, "I know we've met before, but I can't recall your name."

"Jack Haldean. You know Captain Rivers, of course."

"Indeed I do. Haldean... You're Sir Philip's nephew, aren't you? And don't you write or something? It sounds damn clever," he added dubiously. Obviously being clever was not an unalloyed compliment in Whitfield's eyes.

"It pays the bills," said Haldean, easily. "D'you know Boscombe well, Colonel?"

"Not frightfully. I've had a couple of letters from him. Apparently he's writing a book about the war for some reason and he was one of the men to come out of that Augier Ridge affair I was involved with. I hardly know him. Do you?"

"Yes..." The way Haldean said it made Whitfield smile. The smile made his whole face lighten. Haldean grinned. "He's a bit much, isn't he? He transferred to the Flying Corps and was in my squadron for a while."

"You poor beggar. I never had the dubious pleasure of serving with him."

"Lucky you."

Whitfield laughed. "He's a bit hard to take, isn't he? Goodness knows what…" He stopped as the Vicar, Mr Steadman, approached.

"Ah, Colonel, there you are. Excuse me butting in, gentlemen, but I have to leave soon and I was looking forward to a word with the Colonel. It's about this pony I'm interested in for my son, Whitfield. I believe you have it here with you. Thomas is waiting by the loose-boxes at the moment and it seemed an ideal opportunity to let him try it out."

A shade of annoyance crossed Whitfield's face. "Can't it wait, Mr Steadman?" Mr Steadman looked annoyed in turn. "I'd rather see to it now. Thomas is off on a visit to a schoolfriend's on Monday and I'd like to get everything arranged before then."

Whitfield's lips tightened, then he shrugged in resignation. "Very well. Now's a good a time as any, I suppose." He turned to Haldean and Rivers. "Nice to have met you again." He tipped his hat and walked off between the tents, the Vicar by his side.

"He is a bit old," said Haldean thoughtfully, accepting the cigarette that his friend was offering. "For Marguerite, I mean."

"Oh, he's all right," said Rivers, striking a match. "Isabelle's funny about him. She thinks he's deadly dull, but that's because he talks about horses and not about her. She's so used to having blokes dance attendance that she can't credit anyone simply doesn't notice she's around."

Haldean grinned. "Don't tell me she's jealous of Marguerite."

"Good grief, no. I mean really no. But Marguerite's terribly intense about him and Isabelle finds it all a bit wearing."

They finished their cigarettes. The band, wearied of Gilbert and Sullivan, started on Jerome Kern. "And if I tell them…" hummed Rivers. A series of renewed shrieks bit through the air. "Your little pal on the chair swings is kicking up a rumpus, isn't she?"

"I'll say," agreed Haldean with a lazy smile. "Mind you, I don't suppose she's making that din all by herself." He glanced at the tent behind them. "If Boscombe manages a nap in this racket he's doing well. Is he asleep in there?"

Rivers lifted the tent-flap and peered inside. "Dead to the world," he announced briefly. "Hullo, here's Isabelle."

"Have you got your trumpets and drums handy?" she asked. "Do give me a cigarette, Greg. I haven't had one all afternoon. Thanks. Mrs Griffin won the cake competition and she's making a sort of royal progress across the fair. Virtue rewarded and all of that." She sucked in the smoke gratefully. "Thank goodness, that's better. I hoped to be able to slope off after the cake-judging but mother was there and although she wouldn't actually say anything, she'd look, you know. She's still got the idea that smoking is a thing that a lady does in private, so I went round the side of the cake-tent and that was no better because Mrs Verrity and Colonel Whitfield were there and three was definitely a crowd."

"I say!" said her brother. "They weren't.... Were they?"

"No, Greg, they weren't. Although I wouldn't be surprised if there was something going on. She's still awfully good-looking in that preserved kind of way, even if she's old enough to be his mother."

"No, she isn't," countered her brother.

"Well, she's getting on a bit at any rate. And I wouldn't put it past him," she added darkly. "No, they seemed to be having an argument. They stopped when they saw me, of course, but Mrs Verrity wasn't happy. Unlike Mrs Griffin who's on cloud nine. Jack? What is it?" For her cousin had stopped listening to her and stepped forward. There was a small green blur and the little girl in the velveteen frock flung herself out of the crowd and into his arms, sobbing.

Kneeling down, he patted her back and looked helplessly at Isabelle.

"What is it sweetheart? Tell us," she said.

The arms tightened round Haldean's neck. "It's Daisy," she said between sobs. "My dolly what he gived me. She's broken. I put her cot down all safely to go and play and when I got back someone had thrown Daisy out of her cot and stood on her."

"Oh dear," said Haldean soothingly.

"And her cot's all dirty and her pillow's gone and it had roses on it. It did."

"Look," said Haldean, attempting to disentangle himself. "What if I win you another one? Would that make it better?" The little girl stopped sobbing and nodded. "We'll go and do that now, shall we? And perhaps a glass of lemonade would help too." He looked up as the flushed and happy Mrs Griffin came towards the tent with Mrs Verrity in approving attendance.

"Master Jack? I won. I won the cakes. And Mrs Verrity here says I did it fair and square."

"You certainly did, Mrs Griffin," said Mrs Verrity. "I thought your entry was outstanding and said as much."

Haldean, still on his knees, glanced up in pleased surprise. Mrs Verrity was a remarkably good-looking woman with beautiful eyes, but it was her voice which captured his attention. It was low and clear with a zest of an accent. Italian? French? French, he decided, and lovely to hear.

Mrs Griffin was beaming. "Why, thank you, mum." She looked at the little girl in Haldean's arms. "Sally Mills? Whatever's the matter with you?"

"It's my dolly. She got broked but this nice gypsy man's going to get me another one."

"Don't you call Major Haldean a gypsy, Sally. It's not polite. I think that's very nice of the Major and you should say so." Haldean rose gratefully to his feet as Sally haltingly thanked him and Mrs Griffin beamed. "That's better," she continued. "Now wipe your face. Here's a hanky. You've got sweety-stuff all over it." Mrs Griffin spat into a corner of her handkerchief and rubbed Sally's face vigorously. "There. No harm done. Is my gentleman still waiting for me inside the tent, Master Jack?"

"He certainly is, but..."

"Then I'd better see to him right away." She disappeared inside, only to reappear seconds later, giggling. "I think you'd better come and have a look at this. Has he had a drink or two? Yes, I thought I could smell it. Talk about the sleeping beauty! We'll have to wake him up. I can't have him there if I'm going to do the fortunes."

Mrs Verrity raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow. "Is Mr Boscombe the gentleman in question? He'll have to move. Really, Mrs Griffin, this is too bad for you, after you were good enough to step in for us at the last moment." She looked at Haldean and Rivers. "Perhaps you would come in with me?" She opened the tent and stepped inside, Rivers and Mrs Griffin close behind. Haldean was stopped by a small hot hand thrust into his.

"I won't be a minute," he said reassuringly, looking down at the tear-stained face. "You be a good girl, Sally, and wait with Miss Rivers. Belle, d'you think you could... Thanks, old thing." He walked into the tent to find Mrs Verrity bending over Boscombe, hand on his shoulder.

"Mr Boscombe. Mr Boscombe...." Mrs Verrity suddenly paused and stared, gazing down at the man sprawled out in the chair. She straightened up and looked at the little group by the door. Her eyes fixed on Haldean. "I think," she said, in a very controlled voice, "you'd better take Mrs Griffin out of here. And get that child away from the entrance."

Haldean started forward. "What...?" he began but was stopped by a gesture.

"Please do as I say. And afterwards I think you'd better get some help. Please." Her plea for understanding was compelling.

Haldean dropped his eyes to the body and slowly nodded. "I see. Mrs Griffin, would you mind coming outside? It's all for the best. That's the ticket. Come on."

"But why, Master Jack?" asked Mrs Griffin out in the open air once more. "What's wrong? Has the gentleman had an accident?"

Haldean steered her away from Sally Mills who was still clutching Isabelle's hand. "I think you'll find," he said as gently as possible, "that he's dead."

Site designed by Netaddress Ltd
Copyright © Dolores Gordon-Smith 2007