G is for Gossip. The village of Cadblister Parva is buzzing with gossip at the moment.
The village talked. Talk seethed, burbled, exploded, fell silent when certain persons came near, bubbled up again when those persons had left.
Randall Grudge had been detained, arrested, he’d confessed, he’d protested his innocence, he’d fled the country, he was even now in the single cell of the Cadblister Parva police station.
Or was it his mother, that Mad Grudge, who’d done for his Lordship? There had been that quarrel in Rose Cottage on the night of the murder- the whole village knew that. Many of the villagers rather hoped that the murderer was one of the Grudges – they always had stood apart from the life of the community, mocking and sneering at all the simple and wholesome pleasures of village life. Yes, it would really be best if it was one of those Grudges.
Or was it Doctor Brandwood? He’d found the body, after all, and they did say that the one who finds a body- and Doctor Brandwood was an irascible kind of man, and always talked of how it would be a better world if doctors were allowed to put some of their patients down.
Or of course there was Lady Cadblister- she’d had a lot to put up with, poor woman, what with Lord Cadblister openly keeping a mistress right in the village. Was it possible she’d gotten tired of it and taken a drastic step?
And Colonel Crabbit, who had been Cadblister’s rival in courting Lady Cadblister, and perhaps still cared for her- well, Chief Constable or not, he might well have done it.
Or could it be- well, the thing was, it could have been almost anyone. Everyone seemed to have had a motive, and no one was even pretending to be sorry that it had happened. After all, most people reasoned, with the death of Lord Cadblister, the village was saved. This was not, of course, the case- the money was still owing, and the creditors still held the mortgage. But, in all the excitement, few people had realized this. No, it was the murder that held the attention of the community.
Talk, talk, talk. It went on, and grew as it went.
“They do say that they be calling in Yard,” said one farmer to another in The Yeoman’s Arms.
The recipient of this confidence didn’t seem to think much of it. “Well, a’ course they be calling in Yard. Here’s local bigwig, stabbed in back, and a good thing, too. But, mind! Here be Constable Wilkins, a man as is of humble station. And, too, here be Colonel Crabbit, as passes under name of Chief Constable. He takes one look at what he’s got to work with- and he sees Constable Wilkins. Well, it isn’t good enough, now, is it?”
“There be the Cadblister Magna police. Three of them, over there,” remarked the Green-Grocer. The second farmer made a noise indicative of contempt.
“Arr,” said the first farmer, in complete agreement. “Would Yard man be staying here, Bess?” He asked the pretty barmaid behind the counter. Bess nodded.
“Arriving tomorrow, early,” she said.
Mrs. Grace Merriweather, a young widow with Designs, it was said, upon the Vicar, hurried away from the church, looking, for once, flustered. After a moment of indecision (also rare in Mrs. Merriweather) and a regretful look at the Vicarage, she made her way to the home of her friend Miss Bantree.
“My dear,” said Grace, “I have just seen something rather- odd. Odd, and disturbing. Really, I hardly know what to do. And in church, too! Well!”
Miss Bantree snorted. “Cut the cackle, Gracie, and get to the gossip.” She cocked her head at her friend. “Uncommon, you cacklin’,” she remarked. “Upset?”
“I suppose I am. You see, I heard the organ, and so I went in. I like listening to Miss Meadows practicing on the organ, she is quite musical, and has a flair for improvisation.”
“Yes, and she has a widowed father, too,” said Miss Bantree, nodding. “Go on. This is still cackle.”
Grace went on. “Fighting,” she said, simply.
“Viscount Diddums was sitting on Randall Grudge’s chest and punching him in the face. Repeatedly. And Mr. Grudge was- grinning. Horribly. And bleeding. And the organ continued to play. Really, I’ve never heard Verity in better form.” This last remark was spoken with surprised sincerity. “I- do you know, I do believe it gave me a bit of a turn.”
“What did you do?” Said Marge Bantree, much interest. “And you are lookin’ rather queer, you know. I’ll ring for tea. Unless you’d prefer a spot of brandy? No? Tea, Mabel! Tea!” Cried Marge.
“I didn’t do anything. I – ran away. And- oh, Marge!” And Grace sat up suddenly. “I just remembered. Do you know what the Viscount was saying to Mr. Grudge? He was saying, ‘murderer. Murderer, murderer, murderer.'” And Mabel, standing in the doorway with a tray of tea, gave out a little shriek at these words, deposited the tea hurriedly, and disappeared.
“Well, that’s torn it,” remarked Marge as she poured. “Be all over the village now.”
And when Mr. Randall Grudge, after he’d cleaned himself up as best he could at Rose Cottage, entered The Yeoman’s Arms later that day, all conversation suddenly ceased, save for that of one shrill old man, too deaf or too absorbed in his narrative to take notice of the warnings of his companions, whose voice cut through the silence.
“Murderer, murderer, murderer, he were saying, as he struck th’ bastard. Murderer, murderer, murderer.” And the old man was startled to feel a hand laid gently on his shoulder. He turned- to find Randall Grudge looming over him, smiling grimly.
“Why, why- oh. It’s you, Mr. Grudge. Sir. I was saying as how, in this bit I were readin’ in the paper-”
Randall raised an eyebrow. “You can read, can you? Well, well.” And then he leaned down, so that his mouth was an inch away from the old man’s ear. “Still your malicious old tongue, Fellows, or I’ll cut it out of you,” Randall whispered. Then he straightened, smiled sweetly, tipped his hat to the pub, who were one and all watching this exchange in interested silence, and walked back out of the building, closing the door very gently behind him.
“What’d ‘e say to e, Fellows?” Asked Mr. Spillikins, a man with a splendid white beard who always sat by the fire. “What’d th’ bastard tell ‘e?”
Fellows opened his mouth- and closed it again. He shook his head, firmly. “That’s private,” he said. And they didn’t get him to tell them anything all at until they’d poured six pints down him, and when he did speak, it was lies. Mr. Fellows hadn’t liked the look of Mr. Grudge, who was known to be spiteful. Grudge by name and grudge by nature, that was him.
“And that Nurse Harman you sent up to the Hall, she told me as the old lady be talking in her sleep,” said Mrs. Gotobed to Doctor Brandwood as she bustled about his study, tidying. It didn’t, in the Doctor’s estimation, need tidying, but he knew from experience that when his worthy housekeeper needed to talk, it was best to let her. If you tried to bottle her up, she got flustered, and started to drop things.
“Ah. And what has my patient said?” Said the Doctor, his pen continuing to move across the page. Mr. Bowdin’s ankle much recovered; see about sending old Mrs. H. away to milder climate- nephew might be induced to cover expenses if approached tactfully…
“She talks of three ghosts she seen in the snowstorm, like.”
“Would these be the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future?” …if not, try nephew’s wife. Put it to her straight, point out advantage of getting Mrs. H out of the house…
“Well, as to that, I couldn’t say. But the past, well- that’s right enough. One of ’em being the ghost of Richard Crabtree, he as was Lord Cadblister afore the one as was just stabbed for his wicked sins.” Tell Lady Belinda- but as the substance of Mrs. Gotobed’s words sank in, Doctor Brandwood ceased to write.
“She saw Richard Crabtree on Christmas Eve?” Asked the doctor, looking up sharply.
“So that Harman says. Funny, that, as I understood as Richard Crabtree died at sea, like. But these things is beyond our ken, and who knows what notion a ghost might take into his head?”
“Who indeed? Well, well,” said Dr. Brandwood. Mrs. Gotobed, satisfied with the information she’d imparted, bustled out of the room. Dr. Brandwood, however, did not immediately return to his work. He just sat and stared at the opposite wall, thinking deeply about many things.