Mrs. Gertie Valentine opened up the Post Office at the usual hour of 9 A.M. and settled in behind her counter. She didn’t expect much business for another hour, and so she got out her writing materials and started a long and chatty letter to her cousin Flossie, the wife of a green-grocer in Great Blister.
Oh My Dear! We have been having an exciting time of it, and no mistake! In my last, I told you of Our Murder. Well! I could only give you the Bare Fact at the time, as I didn’t know anything else. But Things Have Been Happening since then, and I know you’re dying for all the Latest News!
First, a piece of news about a kinsman that looked at first as if it would be Very Serious, but (I assure you At The Outset, so as to Allay your Fears) turned out not to be. Our Alfie- you remember Alfie, Our Rose’s Second Boy, as went to work as Boots at the Hall- has been Helping Himself to the Cadblister Silverware! Really, that boy has always been a sly-boots (no pun intended, I assure you!), and Rose should have Taken Him In Hand long ago- as I’ve told her Often Enough! And, as a Valuable Spoon was found next to the Corpse, well! We were all Greatly Upset, thinking that perhaps Alfie had been Detected in the Act by His Lordship, and had done a Dreadfully Wicked Deed to cover his Crime. But Alfie has Come Clean with the man from Scotland Yard, and he has said he has accepted Alfie’s story and will Take No Steps.
And, as you may have Gathered from the Above, The Yard has been Called In! There are two of them here, staying in The Yeoman’s Arms, an Inspector and a Sergeant. The Inspector-
Here, the fluid motion of Gertie’s pen was interrupted by the arrival of a customer. It was that Violet Teasdale, Gertie saw, and pursed her lips. She knew all about Miss Teasdale’s Profession, and she didn’t consider it a Proper Trade For Anyone Calling Herself a Gentlewoman. Journalism, she meant to say! A nasty, sneaking sort of trade. But she straightened politely from her Labour of Composition, and said, “Yes, Miss?”
“A telegram form, please, Mrs. Valentine,” said this young person.
Mrs. Valentine supplied the necessary. The form, when Violet passed it over the counter for transmission, read as follows:
To: John Barrelchest, Ed. In Chief, Blister Examiner, Great Blister
Message: Hon. Percival Neville Bloater STOP Nephew of murdered Lord Cadblister STOP arrested yesterday afternoon at house of Chief Constable STOP forgery charges STOP No comment from Inspector Crowner of Yard as to murder charge STOP My own opinion is he did not do murder STOP shared by Lady Cadblister STOP who tried unsuccessfully to prevent arrest STOP Violet Teasdale STOP Your Girl On The Spot STOP
As she transmitted this message, Gertie reflected on the Lack of Economy in the Modern Girl. She looked with special disfavour upon “Your Girl On The Spot,” which seemed both unnecessary and rather bold, not to say Flirtatious. Well, well. She Did Her Duty, and then hurried back to her letter.
…is a man called Crowner, and he really does seem Quite Competent. The Sergeant- a Sergeant Mug- I am less certain about. He goes about with a Twinkle in his eye, and is Very Casual in his Ways. Crowner Lets Him Get Away With Too Much, in my opinion, and you know, Flossie, that I’m Not one to Judge my Fellow Man.
This Inspector Crowner put our Constable Wilkins’ nose Out Of Joint almost the moment he arrived. Constable Wilkins had arrested the Vicar’s Daughter and the Grudge boy (you remember, I am sure, All About That Grudge Woman and her Awful Son) for the murder! But Crowner made him let them go. Quite right, too, I’m sure, though they do say there’s No Smoke Without Fire. And – well! Really, That Boy is a Bad Lot- everyone knows that. Blood Will Tell, after all. Still, if Inspector Crowner thinks he didn’t do the murder, I imagine he Knows His Business.
Here, Gertie was interrupted again, this time by one Mrs. Widget, a long-time confidant of Mrs. Valentine’s. Gertie smiled. “Why, hello, Mrs. Widget! We are up early today, are we not?”
“So I be, Mrs. Valentine, so I be. But I’ve got overmuch curiosity, that’s my trouble- and me mind is sore curious about Her Ladyship’s visit to Rose Cottage yesterday afternoon.” And Mrs. Widget stood back and watched the effect of her news on her interlocutor. It went over big, she was pleased to see. Why, Gertie almost spilled the ink-bottle in her excitement.
“Why, Mrs. Widget, whatever could you mean?” Mrs. Valentine squealed.
“What I say, Mrs. Valentine, what I say. I seen her myself, with these two eyes, and the Viscount with her, marching up to Rose Cottage, looking pleased as a cat what’s got the cream, if you take me.” And she bent over the counter and whispered, thrillingly, “and she let herself in a with a key.”
“Oh dear! I suppose she must have got hold of His Lordship’s key,” whispered Gertie. “It isn’t as if he ever Bothered to Conceal that he had one.”
“You’ve said a true word there, Mrs. Valentine. Hide his sin he did not.”
“But you must tell me all about this visit! What on earth happened?”
“Well, now. That I can’t say. But I can tell you they didn’t stay long. Ten minutes, maybe five. And when they came out, Her Ladyship were proper boiling up. She fair stomped out, and you know she’s not one as generally shows her feelings. And then the Viscount followed, looking sheepish-like… ” and here Mrs. Widget’s voice sunk again to a thrilling whisper, “…and ran direct into Miss Verity Meadows, coming up to Rose Cottage in company with That Grudge Boy, and looking mighty pleased about each other they both were!”
Mrs. Widget nodded. “Arr. And the Viscount takes one look at ’em and is off again after the Countess.”
“But… but they were engaged!”
“Oh, as to that I don’t know. Miss Meadows never got no ring from th’ Viscount, that I do know, on account of I checked every Sunday at church ever since they started keeping company.”
“Well, but they had An Understanding!”
“Arr, well, Understandings isn’t the same as rings, now. You and I know that, being married women.” And they nodded solemnly at each other. Mrs. Widget then waddled out, much pleased at Mrs. Valentine’s evident surprise at her news.
Gertie bent down over her letter once more, Much Agitated. Hurriedly, she summarized Mrs. Widget’s news for Flossie’s benefit, and then went on to give Flossie the latest installment of the continuing saga of the Mysterious American at the Inn.
…In Other News, That Mr. Ermyntrude was in here again yesterday evening. I tried to tell him we were closed, but he just grinned at me and said that, as the door was unlocked and I was here, he “reckoned he’d get his business taken care of right away, if it is all the same to you, ma’am.” Well, I didn’t like to say no- he is a Very Good Customer at my little General Store, you know, and he has Very Charming Manners, though Forward, but what else can one expect of a foreigner? At any rate, he sent an International Cablegram to a place called Ohio (which is in the United States), addressed to a Mrs. Ermyntrude (his wife, I think, as he looks too old to have a mother living). It was just two words: Contact Made. Now what do you make of that? Could it be a Cipher Message? I always do consider it Unsporting of people to use them- as if they think they can’t trust to my Discretion!
As for my Frank, his Rheumatism is Much Improved…
And Gertie scribbled happily on. At noon, she locked up the Post Office and went home to lunch. Her Frank, village Blacksmith and Farrier, was, for once, home before her.
“Oh, Frankie! Wherever did you go last night? I was Terribly Worried, and Could Not Sleep A Wink until I’d heard you come in again,” she twittered at her husband.
“Had to go up to bring Mrs. Goodkind her little basket, didn’t I? Fair’s fair, and she’s done me a powerful lot of good, one way and another.” He spoke over the clatter of plates he was setting out on the table. Frank was a powerful man, and never could set anything down gentle.
“But- so late!”
“Well, it’s the iron, see,” Frank explained, smiling down at his bird-like wife. “She can’t abide it, or so she says, and so I must needs wait three hour or more after I finish up in smithy afore I go calling on her.” Gertie started serving up the roast lamb left over from the Sunday. She knew her Frank, and she knew when he had news. He had news now. So she served the food up, and stayed silent, for fear that, if she talked, he might get distracted and forget whatever he meant to tell her.
“And it weren’t so very late, Gertie, only it gets dark so early in winter you can’t hardly tell. Why it weren’t more’n maybe half past eight when I left.”
“I do tend to go to bed awfully early in the winter,” Gertie said, still waiting for whatever it was.
“Others,” said Frank, Significantly, “don’t. I took the path as passes close to the Home Farm- and I came upon Her Ladyship and yon Viscount, having a nasty quarrel, looked like, in that Dead Man’s Clearing.” And he sat back, beaming, as if pleased at having Told All.
Gertie, however, wanted to know more. “What about?” She asked, breathlessly.
“Well, now. That I don’t know. Had to take lantern along, of course, or else I’d be like to break my neck. They must’ve seen it, or else they heard me, me not being what you’d call a quiet-moving man. I just heard the Viscount say summat like ‘be patient. These things take time,’ as if he were fair exasperated with Her Ladyship, and then she said something, too low to catch, and then the Viscount was calling out to know who were there, and I said as it were only me, and called out my condolences to him and Ladyship, and said as I were on me way to Mrs. Goodkind. Of course, her Ladyship said nowt, or if she did I didn’t catch it, what with all that veiling, but the Viscount used to come visit smithy when he were only a lad, and he were awful gracious about the whole thing. ‘Alright, Frank,’ says he, ‘thanks for the kind word, and now do go on before you catch cold.’ A real gentleman, is our Viscount.”
“He is indeed,” agreed Gertie. “I wonder if they were arguing about whatever brought them to Rose Cottage yesterday.” And she told Frank all about Mrs. Widget’s remarkable news. Frank was interested, but when Gertie re-iterated her theory that the visit to Rose Cottage had caused the quarrel, he shook his head.
“As to that, it don’t cover all the facts,” he said. “Why quarrel in woods in that case when you could just go quarrel comfortable-like in yon enormous Hall? No, what I think is that the young Lord – for he is that now, for all it is hard to break th’habit of calling him Viscount- is that he’d just found out about her Ladyship’s own visits to Mrs. Goodkind. That’d account for why they were quarreling in middle of wood, if he’d caught her up, like.”
“Her Ladyship- visits Mrs. Goodkind?” Gertie was staggered. She was a bit of a snob, and had married ‘beneath her’ (though she was quite happy with her Frank, genteel he was not and never had been), and she’d always thought of visiting Mrs. Goodkind as a lower-class sort of practice. But if the Countess called there- well! “How do you know?”
“Run into her once on path. She was coming to witch just as I were coming away.” said Frank, looking uneasy. “But look here, Gert. Don’t go telling anyone about that. It- isn’t lucky, gossiping about who calls on a witch.”
Gertie promised not to gossip, kissed her husband, and headed back over to the Post Office. As she was heading up Main Street, she saw that a figure in widow’s weeds was coming towards her. The Countess! Gertie, feeling rather flustered, began to curtsy- and then froze. For under the veiling she’d caught sight of peroxide-blonde hair.
Mad Grudge smiled cynically at the postmistress’s confusion and then went on her way, her black-clad shoulders shaking with silent laughter.
“Well, really!” Thought Gertie, staring after her. Then she shrugged and continued on her way.
It was the last time that Gertie would see Mad Grudge alive.