Saturday, 1 January 2011

Introduction

As an aficionado of the work of E.F. Benson, I admire his comic creations,  particularly the sequence of six novels creating the world of Mapp and Lucia in Tilling and Riseholme. Every year I re-read each volume with continued enjoyment and have conveyed some of my enthusiasm with an alphabetical reference blog http://www.mappandluciaglossary.blogspot.com/ which is intended to help fellow readers and explain many of the characters, places, events and references cropping up in the text.

Like many fans of Mr Benson - or "Fred" as he was known to his intimes - I have turned an amateur hand to write further stories, set in his exquisite world of  1930's Tilling. To do this, I have chosen to focus on one of the lesser characters, Inspector Morrison, the senior police officer in the town during the term as Mayor of Mrs Emmeline Pillson aka Lucia. By this means, I was able to imagine the work and home life of the good Inspector - christened "Herbert" - and the daily round of his family and various well-known Tillingites.

My task has been rendered more difficult by an appreciation of the sensitivities of some fastidious Bensonites who are loath that others should tread on their holy ground and perhaps impinge upon their vision of the world Fred created.

In having the temerity to visit his jewel (or perhaps "bibelot") of the Sussex coast, I did my utmost to mirror the great man's values and sensibilities, as authentically as possible. I have intentionally added some melodrama and a little farce, but hopefully in a genteel form, which never approached vulgarity. Others may disagree, but I have tried my best to honour his lovely Tilling and, respectfully, to leave it as I found it.

By way of preview, here are some of the somewhat primitive drawings accompanying the stories in "Un Film de Busy Indoors." Naturally, no rights whatsoever are reserved or claimed in the delicious background music.

video


We begin with a written Report by the Inspector to the new mayor commenting officially upon the recent activities of prominent local figure Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, latterly Mayoress.

We go on to witness the near-death experience of Mrs Mapp-Flint at the hands of the Sardine Tartlet Poisoner, coolly resolved by Inspector Morrison.

A crime wave afflicts staid Tilling when the Travelling Circus visits the locality, calling upon the Inspector's ingenuity to resolve.

As the year progresses,  summer is marked by a universal craze for cycling and scandalous events take place on a Bicycle Picnic in the Sussex countryside.

Subsequently Tilling is honoured by a royal Private Visit, which shakes the town to its venerable foundations. As ever, the calming influence of Inspector Morrison is to the fore in restoring the status quo.

In the ensuing weeks, as Tilling celebrates the first year in office of its beloved Mayor, the seaside calm is  shattered with the insidious malefactions of both a Phantom Arsonist and Ruthless Blackmailer. All the deductive skills of the Inspector are brought to bear to resolve these demanding cases

Autumn in Tilling's  annus criminalis sees the  advent of the Daring Jewel Thief and yet another testing conundrum for Tilling's senior police officer. Yet again, Herbert rises to the challenge.

As Sussex nights draw in and a memorable year approaches its close, Tilling is traumatised by the shocking Christmas Club Scandal in which suspicion falls upon one of the most respected leading lights of its society. Through this - as indeed through every other  incident in a thrill-packed year - the Inspector retains an imperturbable air of calm and applies the coolest of analytical skills in the search for an answer. Expressed as a pie chart, the year's material felonies in the ancient town of Tilling look something like this:



Hopefully, by the end of the year we shall know Inspector Morrison, his family and the burghers of our favourite seaside town even better.  The stories are admittedly amateur fan fiction intended as an expression of regard, respect and enthusiasm for Fred's work and the delightful world of Tilling he created: so please temper your critical faculties accordingly!

The thrilling events following those set out in "Inspector Morrison's Casebook" are described in "Inspector Morrison : Another Year in Tilling" in yet another  free blog http://inspectormorrisonanotheryearintilling.blogspot.co.uk/
Please do feel free to click and take a  look!

Copyright 2011 Deryck Solomon. All rights reserved in appropriate territories

Index to Inspector Morrison's Casebook

  • 1. Index
  • 2. Introduction
  • 3. Report to the New Mayor
  • 4. The Sardine Tartlet Poisoner
  • 5. The Travelling Circus
  • 6. The Bicycle Picnic
  • 7. The Private Visit
  • 8. The Phantom Arsonist
  • 9. The Ruthless Blackmailer
  • 10. The Daring Jewel Thief
  • 11. The Tilling Christmas Club Scandal
  • 12. Epilogue

Hopefully, each item can conveniently be accessed by scrolling down or simply clicking on the relevant title in the Blog Archive list in the margin on the right hand side of this page.

Copyright 2011 Deryck Solomon. All rights reserved in appropriate territories

Report to the New Mayor


Letter from Inspector Morrison to Mrs Lucia Pillson, Mayor of Tilling and Chief Magistrate

The following letter was found in a padlocked black japanned box bearing the mayoral crest of Tilling and labelled "Highly Confidential ~ for the eyes of the Mayor only". It was secreted at the back of a large bookshelf in the garden room at Mallards House in Tilling.



The few other contents of the box included:
·        an ornate broach apparently containing a lock of human hair,
·         a sheet of paper containing a recipe headed "Lobster a la Riseholme",
·        a letter from an hotel in Folkstone signed "Georgie" enclosing a draft of a letter in Italian,
·        some fragments of a glass bottle with lettering apparently spelling "Appolinaris" and
·         a toupet of a striking auburn colour.



Tilling Constabulary
The Police Station
Tilling


Your Worship,

Re: Tilling Constabulary File upon Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint (nee Mapp)


First, as senior officer of the Tilling Constabulary, it behoves me to congratulate you upon your appointment as Mayor of Tilling and its Chief Magistrate in addition to Chairmanship of our Watch Committee. Please be assured of the loyal and resolute support of the entire force as you shoulder the weighty burdens each office entails.

Secondly, when we met recently you issued an instruction, founded upon the wish to carry out your duties more efficiently and entirely without personal motive, regarding the very first initiative which you wished to take in office. In this context, you wished to take the earliest opportunity to review with me the surprisingly bulky file maintained in my office upon the activities in recent years of prominent local resident, Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint (nee Mapp) of Grebe, near Tilling and formerly of Mallards in Tilling.

I list below several incidents drawn to my attention by a variety of anonymous local sources under the heading of the relevant potential criminal charge with my italicised conclusions on the merits of each potential case:


  • Breaking and Entering: it was reported that without invitation Miss Mapp (as was) broke into Mallards by exerting considerable force with her shoulder on the front door. Although the freehold property then belonged to Miss Mapp, it was at the time leased to Your Worship who was in exclusive occupation and had not authorised admission. Although Miss Mapp claimed the chain must have been rusty and given way under normal pressure, inspection revealed that no rust was present. The "actus reus" or facts of the offence are provable, but it would be difficult to demonstrate that the intruder actually knew she was intruding. Since Miss Mapp appeared to lack the requisite intent or "mens rea", prosecution was considered inadvisable.
  • Criminal Damage: on her unauthorised entry into Mallards on the above occasion, Miss Mapp broke the hasp and chain which required replacement and re-installation. Again, the facts are provable, but not Miss Mapp’s intent; a civil claim would of course be available in respect of the entire cost of the damage suffered.
  • Trespass: it is understood that Miss Mapp’s entry on the above-mentioned occasion was unauthorised and therefore amounted to trespass. The intruder clearly trespassed, but does not appear to be guilty of any crime as such. A civil claim undoubtedly lies in tort for any loss occasioned by her trespass.
  • Burglary: similarly, in was reported that on Boxing Day 1930 Miss Mapp entered the garden and kitchen of Grebe near Tilling without permission. On this occasion forced entry was not required since the door was unlocked. Miss Mapp clearly entered uninvited as a trespasser and appropriated a recipe - by copying it. It appears Miss Mapp might have been guilty of burglary if it could be proven that unauthorised copying amounted to a crime.
  • Theft: on the occasion of the above trespass at Grebe it is understood that Miss Mapp referred to the cook’s recipe book in the kitchen and covertly noted down a recipe within, namely Lobster a la Riseholme. Theft requires dishonesty and an intention to deprive the owner of a possession permanently. It seems this test was not completely satisfied. In any event, Miss Mapp claimed to have entered Grebe to thank the owner for a Christmas gift and to ask to join a class of callisthenics. Against this must be balanced the fact that Miss Mapp’s luncheon menu clearly admitted unauthorised possession by specifically listing this very dish. Taken together, the prospects of success were insufficiently certain to merit the risk of a high-profile prosecution.
  • Affray: reports were received in my office of an unfortunate incident late one dark and foggy winter’s evening outside the cottage of Captain Puffin in Tilling. It appears Captain Puffin and Major Flint were under the influence of drink and engaged in a loud and irate altercation with Miss Mapp close to the pillar box. Although the shockingly disputatious behaviour manifestly took place in public, no witness was willing to give evidence and the altercation was not viewed by any of my constables; accordingly the case was dropped for lack of evidence.
  • Public drunkenness: during the above-mentioned affray, it is also understood that accusations of drunkenness were made by Miss Mapp against Captain Puffin and Major Flint and shockingly by Captain Puffin against Miss Mapp. Again, none of the accusations was supported by independent or police evidence and accordingly it was not deemed appropriate to take the matter further.
  • Obtaining Pecuniary Advantage by Deception: several complaints were made to my office over the years regarding the practice of Miss Mapp of agreeing terms for a lease during summer high season of smaller property on the express understanding that particular terms had been agreed for the letting of her own house. It then emerged that much more favourable terms including higher rents and rights of garden produce had in fact been obtained to the disadvantage of her tenant and her own temporary landlord. Whilst the practice was sharp and might raise moral issues and possibly a claim in contract or equity, it did not appear to constitute a criminal offence
  • Uttering a forged document: it became widely known that Miss Mapp unilaterally rejected paintings submitted to the Tilling Art Club Summer Exhibition by Your Worship and Mr George Pillson of Tilling without due authority of the Hanging Committee and fabricated evidence of rejection by issuing typewritten rejection slips in the name of the Committee, but without its knowledge or consent. Here it was apt to remember that although the law is necessarily involved with just desserts, it does not concern itself with mere trifles. Miss Mapp acted improperly and ultra vires and was subject to such penalty as was within the rules of the Art Club: this was a matter for the Hanging Committee, but not a hanging offence.
  • Murder: intelligence was received by Tilling Constabulary that on the very day of the sad death of Captain Richard Puffin, Miss Mapp had dissuaded his old friend Major Benjamin Flint from spending the evening with him to lift his spirits. Furthermore, Miss Mapp had also strongly advocated instead that Captain Puffin enjoy a solitary supper of soup. Major Flint complied with Miss Mapp’s wishes and tragically, when alone, Captain Puffin suffered a stroke and fell forward into his bowl of oxtail soup and drowned. It could be argued that Miss Mapp had sufficient motive for murder, given her antipathy to Captain Puffin following the public altercation mentioned above and the simple truth that the demise of Captain Puffin enabled her to progress her relationship with Major Flint, culminating in their marriage. To date, however, the causal link between Miss Mapp’s  prohibition of the Major keeping the deceased company, her advocacy of solitary consumption of oxtail soup and Captain Puffin's subsequent demise by drowning in the said soup, was not sufficiently close to merit prosecution. The prospects of success were as small as might have been contemplated had we charged Captain Puffin's cook Mrs Gashly with "assault with a deadly potage".  Accordingly both suspects remained uncharged.

Your Worship, the potential cases outlined above constitute the major issues of which my force has become aware in recent times. I confess that it is surprisingly long and colourful for a quiet and respectable town such as Tilling and for such a prominent and genteel bastion of its society. The range of criminal offences listed seems more appropriate to the outlaws in the Wild West than a respected gentlewoman by the English seaside.

Please rest assured that given your particular interest in this suspect, her future activities will be kept under continuous review. Unless I can be of further assistance to you Your Worship, I remain your humble and obedient servant

Yours sincerely,

Herbert Morrison

Inspector Morrison
Tilling Constabulary


Copyright 2011 Deryck Solomon. All rights reserved in appropriate territories

The Sardine Tartlet Poisoner





Peace prevailed that Sunday morning at “Braemar”, number 9 Undercliff Villas, the semi-detached residence belonging to Herbert and Bunty Morrison, subject only to a small mortgage in favour of the Tilling Building Society.

In just twelve years “Braemar” would be all theirs to do with what they would and ultimately to leave to their twins, James and Doris.

The Morrisons had hoped to devise a charming combination of their forenames to christen their new home, but neither “Herbybunt” nor “Bunbert” appealed or, for that matter, charmed. After toying with “Truncheons” to reflect Mr Morrison’s post as senior officer in the Tilling Constabulary, they finally settled on “Braemar”. This evoked, not
Scotland, but the guest-house in Eastbourne where they had honeymooned a decade before.

The row of neat new homes in which “Braemar” stood was located just outside the seaside town of
Tilling on the road leading to the golf links. Its peace was disturbed only by the occasional bell of a passing tram and the odd motor car.

Strictly speaking, Undercliff Villas was an example of the “ribbon development” recently harshly criticised by the town’s new Mayor, Mrs. Emmeline Pillson in a lengthy interview in the "Hastings Chronicle".

Although christened “Emmeline”, the Mayor was known to her “intimes”, as she put it, as “Lucia,” on account of being the wife of Philip Lucas, until widowed. Since moving to Tilling from the
Midlands, she had married her fellow "incomer," Georgie Pillson.

Needless to say, the Morrisons were not of a status to rank among the “intimes” of the Mayor of Tilling. Although invariably respectful, they were inclined to disregard the views of someone who, despite her elevated station and much-publicised largesse, was “after all 'new to the town.'” All they knew was that their shiny new semi, with indoor plumbing and fitted kitchen, was a massive step up from a crumbling terrace near the station, which they had rented from Mr Twistevant, Tilling's greengrocer, town councillor and slum landlord.

As their little Jimmy and Dot played on the manicured lawn in the well-tended garden, Herbert sat at the kitchen table and puffed ruminatively on his pipe. He liked this table with its stout legs, solid top and deep boarding running around beneath. He had been very lucky to get it for such a bargain price when Mrs Pillson moved from "Grebe" out near the sea defences to "Mallards" in the town. “Strange that she was so keen to get shot of it,” he thought.

As Bunty placed the tray on the table and poured his tea, he reached into his jacket and removed a white envelope, which he handed to his wife, “Happy birthday, dear” he said.

Bunty opened the envelope as he placed on the table a large parcel wrapped in brown paper, which had been secreted in the cupboard under the stairs.

By now they had been joined by the twins, eager to see what was going on, “Go on then, open it, dear. Happy birthday from us all,” he said.

“Yes, mum, open it,” clamoured the twins excitedly.

With a shy smile, Bunty wiped her hands down the front of her floral pinafore and set about the package, fastidiously untying the knotted string and undoing the paper, so it could be used again. Before long, all was revealed: the shining, deeply polished walnut grain of a brand new wireless, resplendent with ivory knobs and the names of exotic far-away stations on its glass dial – from Athlone to Zebrugge.

“Oooh, Herbert, how beautiful!” she exclaimed. Herbert smiled. The children thought it “marvellous” and wanted to know how it worked and when they could begin “listening-in.”

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t test it right now,” he replied. He plugged it in and gingerly turned a large ivory knob. It responded with a very satisfying clunk, a steady hum and a smell of warming glass and metal, as the valves heated-up. On turning the other knob, squeaks and crackles emanated from the woven panel in front and, all of a sudden, as though by magic, there emerged a catchy dance tune which made the children squeal with delight.

“That’s all the way from the
Savoy – a posh hotel in London, children,” said Herbert.

“It’s wonderful, Dad,” they responded in unison and tried to quickstep around the kitchen, which made a pleasing sound on the bright new linoleum.

Bunty exclaimed, “What a lovely present, Herbert. As long as you think we can afford it.”

“Now I’m senior officer, we can; we have a position to maintain, Bunty love,” he replied, adding “In some ways we can’t really afford to be seen not to have one. Anyway that’s not all. I thought to celebrate your birthday properly we would have tea at Mrs. Plaistow’s in Tilling.”

“Thank you, dear," Bunty replied, “That will be a treat. She calls it ‘Ye Olde Tea Shoppe’, although it’s still her front parlour, but in fairness I do hear she serves a very good tea. A nice enough person -very hard working - but I never really did understand how she came to be "Mrs". She lives on her own and you never hear of any husband or children. Funny that. ”

Herbert laughed and wagged his finger: "Mrs Plaistow is widowed, not that it's anything to do with us dear. I just hope we get a decent tea. As it’s your special day, we shall spare no expense and lash out on the one and eight penny’s all round. How about that?”

“Oooh Herbert,” she replied “Whatever next?”

By early afternoon, the Morrisons, dressed in their Sunday best, climbed aboard the black Riley and started their outing, en famille.

As was his practice, Herbert had planned his route thoroughly in advance. The Riley headed down the coast road with its sweeping views of marshes, sand dunes and the sparkling late summer sea and headed towards the neighbouring town of
Seaport.

On arrival, they parked close to the Marine Hotel and walked around the harbour side in the sunshine, taking time to watch the comings and goings of all sizes of boats and to enjoy a stick of famous Seaport rock.

Returning to their car, they drove inland through country lanes with views of rolling wooded hills and tranquil valleys and completed the loop until the hill of Tilling hove into view.

With his usual efficiency, Herbert ensured that there was enough time to park and walk through the cobbled streets of Tilling, so as to arrive at “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe” just before four o’ clock.

Greeted by the proprietor, Mr Morrison responded “Good afternoon, Mrs. Plaistow. What a lovely day. We have a table booked for four at four, so to speak. You know my wife Bunty of course and our James and Doris. Say ‘How do you do’ to Mrs Plaistow children.”

The twins shyly muttered the required greeting in the conventional sing-song way of eight year olds. Mrs. Plaistow, who was not really at ease the young, smiled wanly and scanned that part of the room nearest their allocated table for anything that might be broken or damaged should any “childish-ness” ensue.

This Sunday was particularly busy and Diva was assisted by her servant, Janet and Mrs Gashly, who had worked as cook for Captain Puffin before his tragic death. Without employment since her time with the late Captain, Mrs Gashly, a widow, valued the extra income from her stints at “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe.”

Diva, in turn, ensured that she obtained full benefit of Mrs Gashly’s services and made sure she was fully occupied behind the scenes making her famous jam puffs and sardine tartlets and front of house serving teas to customers.

Today “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe” - otherwise known as "the front parlour of ‘Wasters'" - was fully booked. It boasted the cream of Tilling society assembled for tea, conversation and a very competitive rubber or two of bridge.

One four comprised Major Benjamin and Mrs Mapp-Flint with the Vicar or Padre, Kenneth Bartlett and his diminutive wife, Evie. “Greetings to ye Inspector Morrison. I’m pleased to see ye with yon wifie and the wee bairns,” he boomed in an archaic Scots, implausible for one whose origins lay in the less salubrious parts of industrial
Birmingham. For some reason, this greeting prompted prolonged mirth and squeaks of merriment from the mouse-like Evie.

Major Benjy made a good deal of fuss of the twins, patting both on the head and declaring that he would give “each a shiny new shilling” for being on their “best behaviour”. It was only on their return to their seats that they were disappointed to find he had pressed into each small and expectant fist only a penny. By then the Major was engrossed in conversation and it would have been rude to interrupt him to rectify his “mistake.”

Nearby, sat the Wyses with daughter Isabel Poppit and local artist Irene Coles. Algernon Wyse, as was his courteous habit, stood up, upon Bunty Morrison’s entrance, greeted “la bella famiglia Morrison” warmly and made a bow so courtly it verged upon obeisance.

Algernon’s display of chivalry prompted the remark “Steady on old chap, we don’t want to lose our teas,” from Irene in her usual satirical manner, which went some way to explain her title of “Quaint” to all who knew her in Tilling.

Throughout this protracted entrance, Isabel continued to nibble at a plate of mixed dandelion leaves and nuts. She had taken the precaution of bringing these supplies from her isolated and unplumbed shack amidst the dunes as a healthier alternative to what she considered to be “the deadly and unnatural sugary confections peddled by Diva Plaistow”. Her mother Susan, swathed in sables, despite the warmth of the late summer afternoon, made up for her daughter’s abstemiousness by steadily consuming enough to constitute two one and eight penny teas.

The best table in the room was adjacent to the window, overlooking the pretty cobbled street opposite the King's Arms and the greengrocery of the Morrison's former landlord, Mr Twistevant. It was occupied by The Mayor of Tilling and her husband, Georgie Pillson.

Mr and Mrs Pillson were accompanied by their guests, the Misses Hermione and Ursula Pillson, the sisters of Georgie, who were visiting for the weekend. Since she was present in her private capacity, the Mayor wore no insignia, other than an understated enamel brooch featuring the Borough Arms.

On seeing the Mayor, who also chaired the Magistrates and local Watch Committee, Herbert stood to attention in rather a Germanic fashion and bowed from the neck, as though at court (that of His Majesty the King in London, rather than that of the Tilling Magistrates). Taking this as her due, Mrs Pillson remained seated, but reciprocated with a nod of measured slowness and graciously bestowed upon him a benign smile as he introduced his wife and offspring.

Diva Plaistow was relieved when the round of greetings and introductions was completed and she could take the orders from the seated Morrisons.

Not only was the room packed, but the congestion was worsened by the fact that the rather loud and boisterous Pillson sisters were accompanied by their lean and unruly Irish terrier Tiptree, whom they kept more or less under control under the table with surreptitious offerings of bread and jam. “Old Tipsipoozie adores his jam; he simply lives for it,” they chorused, broadcasting fragments of jam puffs with every word.

Over the years, Diva Plaistow had suffered much embarrassment over the mayhem caused by her own dog, Paddy, to whom she was nevertheless discreetly devoted. His list of offences ranged from the theft of rabbits from shopping baskets to the appropriation and destruction of riding crops. Paddy was always forgiven by his mistress for these transgressions, but not by his victim, which more often than not seemed fated to be Elizabeth Mapp-Flint.

Diva’s head span as she tried to take orders, monitor restless children, supervise Janet and Mrs Gashly and prevent any coming together of the naughtiest and most high-spirited dogs in Tilling.  

   
Eventually, despite Diva’s best efforts, the inevitable took place. Unable to resist the temptation of playing with Tiptree, the Morrison twins crawled under the table and fed him some slightly fermented marrow jam.

Realising food was on offer and disliking this favouritism on what was, after all, his territory, Paddy intervened and gobbled up half a jam puff that Tiptree considered rightly his.

Growls led to barks interlaced with the odd snarl and escalated remarkably quickly into a full-scale canine confrontation.

Being stronger than Diva's Paddy, Tiptree fared better in the ensuing cacophonous brawl. He soon pushed him backwards to where the Mapp-Flints and
Bartletts were seated. Knocking the table with considerable force, the teapot and jug of hot water were overturned, the cake stand went flying and Mrs Mapp-Flint’s plate containing her jam puff and sardine tartlet fell smashing to the floor.

Chaos ensued as both couples jumped up (surprisingly quickly considering their age and sedentary lifestyles) to avoid scalding with tea, soaking with milk and spattering with jam, cream and assorted dainty pastries.

Taking advantage of the melee, Tiptree swallowed the jam puff whole and Paddy, with uncharacteristic delicacy, sniffed and took one bite from the sardine tartlet.

Diva bustled about asking “Is everyone alright?” and wailing “Oh, my beautiful plates, my tea pot, my carpet,” whilst restoring fallen chairs and collecting broken crockery and the remnants of several teas from the floor.

With typical chivalry, Algernon Wyse gallantly offered his chair to Mrs Mapp-Flint, whilst her husband flapped his napkin to cool her – like a punkah wallah on the banks of the
Jumna – bellowing, “Stay calm Liz old girl. Your Benjy-boy is here.”

Hermy and Ursy eventually recaptured their miscreant hound with cries of “Naughty Tipsipoozie. We really can’t take you anywhere.”

In the meantime Georgie stood on his chair, where he had taken refuge in the height of battle to avoid any spillages on his new mustard-coloured linen suit in the latest safari style.

Only Lucia remained quietly seated, taking an intelligent interest in the scene before her. Her chin rested serenely upon her hand in the mode usually reserved in Tilling for listening to her own rendition of the slow movement of Beethoven’s immortal “Moonlight Sonata." As Mayor, Lucia was conscious of her duty to set those around her "a fine example of calm under pressure", but that Sunday afternoon was perhaps too serene in adversity and risked her "tranquillity" being confused with "tranquilisation."

As some semblance of order returned, Doris Morrison cried: “Look mum, what’s wrong with Mrs. Plaistow’s dog?”

Everyone looked down to see Paddy lying stretched out on the floor with slight frothing around his open mouth. Bending over the body, Janet touched his breathless flank and said to Diva: “Gawd help us mum, our Paddy’s dead.”

Then suddenly, Paddy's still corpse twitched once and then again and there followed the shallowest of breaths. Whining gently, the dog lifted his head above the carpet and coughed in the guttural way that only dogs cough. Across the room there flew, in an impressive arc, the partially-masticated, barely-identifiable remains of a fragment of sardine tartlet.

This unappealingly damp object landed in the ample d√©colletage of Susan Wyse, who screamed, "Get that nasty thing off of me. Algernon help me!" whereupon Mr Wyse dutifully went about the delicate task of extricating the regurgitated, half-eaten savoury.

A gasp went around the room and Elizabeth Mapp-Flint screamed in breathless staccato bursts, “That dog just eat my sardine tartlet and he nearly died. He’s been poisoned. It could have been me. Someone has just tried to kill me!”

At this point The Mayor of Tilling looked over the room at Inspector Morrison and raised an eyebrow quizzically – or rather the overall effect was such, if a brow alone "per se" is deemed incapable of such sentiment.

The Inspector stood up and strode to the centre of the room. Lifting his hands in front of him, he quelled the hubbub and spoke: “Ladies and gentlemen, if I might have your attention. Given the sad event we have just seen, I think it best if the service of teas ceased for today."

“Do you need me and my staff?” ventured Miss Plaistow, “We have lots of clearing up to do and I shall be paying Mrs Gashly double-time already, you know”. This elicited a look of disgust from Janet, who was paid at her ordinary rate for work on Sunday. "I also need to take care of Paddy."

“Yes, please stay, Mrs. Plaistow. Perhaps you would all take a seat.”

“What larks!” chirruped the Misses Pillson, “Perhaps we shall see Sherlock Morrison solve the case before our very eyes.”

“Oh, do shut up Ursy and Hermy!” responded Georgie irritably, “If you had controlled your blessed dog or left him at 'Mallards House' as I asked, none of this would have happened.” It was unlike Georgie to express himself so vehemently, but he had just noticed that his new linen jacket had been badly stained by flying marrow jam. “Even Foljambe won’t be able to get those marks out,” he thought morosely. “How very tarsome.”

After contacting his Sergeant and making arrangements for a taxi to take Bunty and the children back to "Braemar", Inspector Morrison began to speak,” Ladies and gentlemen. You have all seen what happened here today. It is clear that some kind of 'toxic substance' was administered to Mrs. Plaistow’s dog 'by person or persons unknown'."

“Poison!” said Hermy to Ursy in a loud stage whisper, prompting Georgie to say “Ssshhh girls. Don’t interrupt Mr Morrison.”

The Mayor intervened – somewhat magisterially – “Pray continue, Inspector.”

“Yes, Your Worship,” he replied “The unfortunate dog was, in fact, very nearly killed by the last thing he ate this afternoon, namely a stolen mouthful of a sardine tartlet served here at ‘Ye Olde Tea Shoppe’ to, and intended to be consumed by, Mrs Mapp-Flint.”

“I hope you’re not suggesting that I used one of my tartlets to poison my own much-loved dog or one of my dearest friends, Inspector,” responded a startled Diva Plaistow. “It’s my second most popular line and contains only ingredients of the highest quality. Poisoned dogs or, for that matter, poisoned customers, are hardly the best advertisement, you know.”

“No, certainly not, Madam” he replied, “I am satisfied that the tartlet was its usual wholesome self, but was tampered with. My purpose this afternoon is to establish who added the poison and tried to administer the lethal savoury to Mrs Mapp-Flint. We are talking of attempted murder here.”

Another (possibly different) gasp ran around the room and the hubbub of anxious conversation resumed. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint appeared to faint and was again fanned by her husband who called for “a large glass of brandy to calm the nerves of the lady”. When it arrived, he was so distracted that he absent-mindedly drank it himself and called for another.

Warming to his theme, Inspector Morrison continued, “As you may be aware, detection of the crime of attempted murder requires the establishment of both ‘motive’ and ‘opportunity’. I propose to review with you which person present here this afternoon satisfies both criteria”.

A general murmur of approval greeted this suggestion, since after bridge, gossip and currently bicycling, "inductive reasoning" was by far the most popular pastime of this circle in Tilling. Great skill was employed in martialling evidence to establish who did what, to whom, with whom, when and why; it was the very air that Tilling breathed.

The Inspector went on, “Let me start with the person nearest and dearest to the potential victim – Major Flint”

“I say old man,” ejaculated the Major as he swiftly finished the second medicinal glass of brandy, “I’ve never been so insulted. How dare you accuse an officer and a gentleman of such a thing. Never heard anything like it in my life.” During this interlude Elizabeth Mapp-Flint remained unusually silent and stared at her husband with cold suspicion and the driest of eyes.

“No Major, if you’ll let me continue. There’s no denying you had the opportunity to tamper with your good lady’s tartlet. Although you sat on next table, your back was to me and I could not see your hands.”

At this Major Benjy blustered “Upon my word, Sir. If you weren’t an officer of the law, I swear I'd take you outside and horsewhip you,” whilst his spouse, by now comforted by the Padre’s wife, wailed and dabbed her still-dry eyes with the corner of her handkerchief.

“Don’t excite yourself, Major” the Inspector responded “I’m in no way impugning your integrity. If you would let me continue to ‘motive’, you clearly have none.”

A murmur of surprise greeted this latest twist. “If you don’t mind me saying” Inspector Morrison remarked, in an almost conversational tone,” it is widely known about the town that, following her deliverance after being carried out to sea, the then Miss Mapp excluded you from her will on account of your - shall we say – ‘forwardness’ in accessing your inheritance under the terms of her previous will. Unfortunate though gossip is – it is a fact of life in Tilling – and it is widely understood that under her new will following your marriage, your good lady wife has left you only a life interest in her estate upon certain conditions as to ‘sobriety’ and ‘a more decorous way of life’.

At this point, the eyes of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint came to resemble the narrowest of gimlets and glared viciously across the room, boring into the very soul of Diva Plaistow. For Elizabeth knew she had only told Diva of this variation of her testamentary arrangements in strictest confidence and now this was now common knowledge in Tilling, her betrayer was only too plain. Diva had obviously told her Janet who in turn passed it onto every servant girl in Tilling. "Some friend she turned out be,"
Elizabeth thought. Some feet away across her parlour, Diva knew Elizabeth knew and smiled weakly, trying to look at anyone but her "dearest friend."

Simultaneously, the Major’s mouth, with its fringe of walrus moustache, opened and closed like that of a goldfish, but no sound emerged. Taking advantage of this want of interruption, the Inspector ploughed gamely on. “Given your known preference for shall we say, ‘the better things of life,’ it hardly seems likely that you would think yourself better-off following your wife’s sad demise. In short Major, you had no motive.”

“I call that impertinent, Sir” replied the Major with all the irritation that only the knowledge of being confronted by an undeniable truth can bring. Deciding that the only prudent course was to be seen to rise above such calumny, he busied himself in fanning and otherwise comforting his sobbing, but still curiously dry-eyed, spouse.

“Go on Inspector” cried Ursy and Hermy, thoroughly enjoying an afternoon out that they had anticipated would be “simply deathly dull.”

“Thank you, Ladies,” replied the Inspector. “Duty now compels me to turn to the other occupants of that table, the Vicar and Mrs Bartlett.”

Shocked by this turn of events, Evie squeaked like a mouse stamped on with great force and at a pitch growing so high it would have been audible only to Tiptree or -when in his normal robust health - Paddy.

“What do yow mean, yow cheeky jumped-up, young copper?” cried the Padre, before realising he had slipped from archaic Scots to the patois of the gutters of Brummagem from whence he sprang. At this point, knowing looks were exchanged between his most of his friends present and mental notes made for future reference.

“Now, now Mr and Mrs Bartlett, please remain calm. Duty obliges me to review all possibilities, however remote. Again, it is well known in the town that several ladies in your circle were gracious enough to offer their services as Mayoress on the election of Mrs Pillson to office.”

At this the Inspector again bowed at the neck, in somewhat Teutonic fashion, towards the Mayor, who reciprocated with the merest hint of a nod and a smile described by some as “soign√©e” and by others, including Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, as “supercilious.” Some even scandalously suggested that the imperturbably calm, almost regal composure of the Mayor resembled "intoxication" or "medication"; this was only true to the extent that Lucia was intoxicated by sheer enjoyment of office.

Inspector Morrison continued, “Although Mrs Bartlett’s services were offered, they were, I understand, reluctantly declined by Mrs Pillson, who instead invited Mrs Mapp-Flint to undertake the role of Mayoress of Tilling. I am also led to believe that Mrs Wyse and Mrs. Plaistow too were disappointed, after signifying their willingness to shoulder the burdens entailed in this onerous civic post.”

As the tumult grew from each lady added to the burgeoning list of potential suspects, the Inspector reassured them. “To be frank, I do not for one single moment consider that the disappointment at failure to secure this appointment engendered resentment against the successful candidate, sufficient to constitute motive for murder."

Everyone present knew the Inspector was correct in this assertion, for if the high feelings arising after every revocation at bridge, clashing frock, or petty social rivalry in Tilling constituted motive for murder, its cobbled streets would have been piled high with corpses.

“It is clear ladies and gentlemen,” he concluded, “that the Vicar and Mrs Bartlett, Mr and Mrs Wyse and Mrs. Plaistow had no motive and, in any event, were all in my plain view throughout the entire period and had no opportunity to commit the crime.”

“Thank you, Inspector,” said Elizabeth Mapp-Flint icily and with more than a hint of sarcasm, “But if neither my dear husband nor my sweet friends have just tried to poison me, who exactly did?”

“Yes please, Inspector, do tell!” cried Hermy and Ursy excitedly.

Retaking the floor, Inspector Morrison resumed, “Well now, who here today had both motive and opportunity? I think you will find that the only person fitting the bill completely is Mrs Gashly there! She had her own very particular grudge against Mrs Mapp-Flint and every opportunity to commit this terrible crime.”

Crossing the room, the Inspector looked her directly in the face and said, “Come on now, Mrs Gashly the game’s up. It’s time to tell the truth. Why did you do it?”

A deadly hush descended on Diva Plaistow’s parlour. Jaws dropped, breaths were held and shocked looks exchanged, as Mrs Gashly slowly stood up, wringing her hands in her white apron.

“All right then, Inspector it was me what did it,” she admitted. “I knew she was coming today and I took my chance. One sprinkle of rat poison in her tartlet and ‘Bob’s yer uncle', it was done.”

Looking around the room, she added, “But I had good reason; that woman ruined my life with her high-fallutin’ ways and interferin’. I was quite happy with dear old Captain Puffin. He liked his game of golf and grog of an evening, but he always found satisfaction with my work. We was quite happy together. When he was in his prime, he used to call her 'Old Mappy', you know. He was his own man and didn't care what anyone thought."

Pleased that she still had her listeners' undivided attention, she carried on, "In fact, I'm not ashamed to say I was very fond of the Captain and I hoped one day he would come to feel the same way about me. There was never any sign of that, but I had my hopes and now they're all gone - thanks to her."

Glaring at a by-now catatonic Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, Mrs Gashly continued defiantly, "Life’s not easy for a widow woman of my age. Even though he didn't know how I felt about him, I was well settled with the Captain. I had my kitchen and a nice warm room and managed perfectly. Then she comes along and goes and spoils it all: what with rows in the street late at night accusing my Captain of being drunk and bending that old windbag Major Flint around her little finger. She made a proud old sailor apologise, just to be permitted to play golf with her lap dog. It broke him. He was never the same after that.”

“And to top it all,” she continued, “when he’s ailing and feeling worse for wear, she issues her orders and stops her Major from sitting with the Captain of an evening and cheering him up. He sinks lower and lower – so low in fact he falls flat on his face and drowns in his bowl of my oxtail soup. In one go, because of that woman’s selfish, dictatorial ways I lose my job, my home and my reputation.”

Like an accomplished orator Mrs Gashly climaxed her peroration, “What chance has an old widow woman got of getting a position as a cook if her last employer drowned himself in her oxtail soup? Ever since that terrible day, I’ve been a laughing stock. You don’t know what it's like to walk into the snug of the ‘Traders Arms’ and suddenly it goes all quiet. I’ve heard all the jokes and remarks at my expense, saying I should be charged with ‘assault with a deadly potage’. Well you can get on with it now and charge me with ‘assault with a deadly sardine tartlet,’ if you like. I’m glad I did it; though I’m sorry I nearly killed your dog, Mrs. Plaistow. I didn't mean to harm Paddy. I’m only sorry she didn’t eat it and I’d do the same thing again.”

As Mrs Gashly paused to draw breath, seemingly for the first time, Inspector Morrison nodded to his Sergeant and instructed, “Take her away. I’ll see to the charging back at the station.”

Dumbstruck, the assembled group tried to absorb what had just transpired, until the uneasy silence was shattered, predictably by Hermione, “Well, Georgie old chap, you’re a dark horse and no mistake. You never let on that sleepy old Tilling was such a hot-bed of rancour and unrequited love. If we’d have known, we’d have visited you ever so much sooner."

"Yes, terribly good value!" added the more prosaic Ursula. "Anyway, we had better take Tiptree out for his walk, before he wrecks the place again. Thanks awfully for a thrilling tea. ‘Thrilling Tilling’ or what? Such larks. Toodle pip!”

Georgie smiled his thinnest smile and replied” Yes girls, I think it’s time we returned home. Don’t you agree Lucia?”

The Mayor nodded in agreement and rose from the table. Stopping first before her Inspector she said, with mayoral gravitas, “Thank you Inspector Morrison for carrying out your duty so capably. Tilling is most grateful.”

After settling the bill with Mrs. Plaistow, bestowing smiles around the room and blowing a kiss to the gently weeping, but persistently dry-eyed, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, Lucia swept out of the front door of “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe."

The Mayor took Georgie’s arm as they walked the few paces to “Mallards House” in silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts.

Lucia felt that the day had been “a disaster for poor Elizabeth”. The roll call of those closest to her with grudges against her had seemed "interminable." More than this, however, the behaviour of Lucia's circle, those she had hitherto considered to be the cream of Tilling society, had not borne close scrutiny. “Tilling has emerged with little credit,” she thought.

She remembered the time that “dear misguided Elizabeth” had admitted she virtually forced herself to speak to Doctor Brace’s wife when trying to obtain details of poor Captain Puffin’s demise, despite the fact that “she was not strictly in society” and "poor deluded Elizabeth" declared she “would not normally consort with her."

“Such a snob,” thought Lucia. “I really must try to discourage such distinctions” and made a mental note “to instruct her secretary Mrs Simpson to invite Mrs Brace and Mrs Morrison to tea at “Mallards House” the earliest opportunity.”

Whilst his wife pondered such sociological issues, Georgie was still preoccupied with mourning the “tarsome stain” on his brand new mustard-coloured linen suit. His mood improved to one of optimism as they passed Miss Greele’s shop, which prompted him to decide he should send it to her to be dyed a dashing British racing green, previously unseen in Tilling, particularly on gentlemen.

As the Pillsons made their short walk to “Mallards House”, the Mapp-Flints began a comparative route march to “Grebe” outside the town. They had hoped that Susan Wyse would offer to lend them the Royce, particularly after such a trying afternoon, but “offer came there none.”

Unusually, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint remained silent for a good part of the journey. This was largely to the relief of her spouse, who considered he himself “had suffered as much as a chap could be expected to bear in one afternoon.”

All of a sudden, the dam broke and an avalanche of shrill vituperation flew from Elizabeth’s lips, “I really don’t know. Who can ever have had to endure an afternoon like that? First Diva and those wretched Pillson girls fail to control their dogs, who engage in a savage fight very nearly on top of me, throwing scalding tea and hot water and shattered crockery everywhere. Next a demented old cook tries to kill me by tampering with one of dear Diva’s extremely questionable sardine tartlets. As a result a poor doggie collapses and nearly dies, positively frothing at the mouth – which could have been me.”

“Then,” she continued, “Inspector Morrison demonstrates in front of all and sundry that at least half of Tilling bears me sufficient ill-will to be suspected of my murder – including my dear husband.”

Remorselessly the barrage went on, “My loyal spouse is only absolved from suspicion because it is common knowledge - entirely due to a betrayal of a sacred confidence by my so-called 'dearest friend' - that his life interest under my new will does not make poisoning me worthwhile any more!"

As a small vein in her temple throbbed visibly, she exclaimed with gesticulations calculated to demonstrate her utter dismay, "And all this goes on whilst that woman - our dear, dear Mayor - looks on in a most condescending fashion, thoroughly enjoying the whole humiliating spectacle. How very, very kind! "

"Accordingly and in the circumstances, mon cherie," she concluded with a degree of chilling irony, "you may think it appropriate to sleep in your dressing room tonight".

Major Flint considered trying to stem this flow and assuage the torrent of his wife's injured pride and anger. But he knew, from past experience, that unless he found another target upon whom to divert her wrath, the effort would be pointless.

If even Lucia was insufficient to attract her fire, there was no advantage to be gained in intruding upon her fury and silence was the best course.

As they trudged on out towards “Grebe”, Elizabeth's raging monologue continued and Major Benjy retreated into his own private thoughts. He dejectedly considered the implications of “a life interest conditional upon continued sobriety”. Depressed by this prospect, he looked back on his days India and wondered whether, in retrospect, he might have been wiser to make an honest woman of his beloved Pride of Poona and forge a new life with her over there in the Raj. “At least,” he thought, “she wouldn’t have minded if a chap enjoyed a few tumblers of whisky of an evening.”

Meanwhile back in “Ye Olde Tea Shoppe”, Mrs. Plaistow and Janet had completed the grim business of the day. Fragments of broken crockery and fancy pastries had been cleared from the carpet in her parlour and the unappealing regurgitated sardine tartlet, so delicately rescued from the bosom of Mrs Wyse, had been "officially removed" for what Inspector Morrison called “forensic tests”. Paddy, for once, lay quietly at the feet of his mistress and made the canine equivalent of a mental note that "it would perhaps be best in future to avoid sardine tartlets."

“What a day,” thought Diva as she tidied the last chair and folded the final table cloth “You can go now Janet, thank you.”

Alone with Paddy in her now-quiet parlour, Diva counted the takings and remembered that, in all the confusion, she had forgotten to charge the Mapp-Flints for those two large brandies. She reminded herself to add it to their next bill. She also wondered if it would be necessary to pay Mrs Gashly her double time “Probably not,” she thought, as she closed the lid of her cash box, locked it and patted Paddy, “Every cloud.”

After completing all the necessary formalities at the Police Station, Inspector Morrison drove his Riley up the drive of “Braemar” after eight that evening. Entering the kitchen, he greeted his wife, “Hello, dear, some birthday that was, eh? Sorry about that. Are the children in bed?”

“Yes,” replied Bunty, “But you’ve got time to pop up and read them a story, if you want. Would you like some supper? I could do you something on toast. What do you fancy?”

“Anything, but sardines,” he replied, as he went up the stairs.

THE END


Copyright 2011 Deryck Solomon. All rights reserved in appropriate territories

The Travelling Circus

“Saturday mornings don’t get much better than this,” thought Herbert Morrison as he puffed on his pipe, leaning on the garden fence of “Braemar” at Undercliff Villas, just outside the seaside town of Tilling.

He had just mown his lawns front and back and his twin offspring, James and Doris were now practising cartwheels along the new green stripes.  He wiped a few beads of perspiration from his brow and relaxed, enjoying the invigorating air laced with sweet new-mown grass.

In one direction he saw the golf links and the sea, sparkling beneath a cloudless sky and in the other the bright red roofs of Tilling on its ancient hill. This morning the new plantation of almond trees between the new road and mellow stone walls of the town was a blaze of pink and white blossom and looked particularly fine. 

The onshore breeze gently blew away the aromatic smoke from his briar and with it all the tension brought by his week as Tilling’s senior police officer. To be honest, he had to admit that his job had not proved unduly arduous recently. With just one speeding bicycle, a report of juvenile scrumping of apples from Mrs Mapp-Flint’s garden out at Grebe and a case involving a drunk and disorderly labourer from one of Mr Twistevant’s slums down by the station, Tilling was not, by any measure, a hotbed of crime. Little did he know that his peace would be shattered all too soon.

“Herbert, dear! Children! Time for lunch” shouted Bunty Morrison over the gate that led into the back garden. Herbert shepherded the twins to the white Belfast sink where they washed their hands and sat down together around the large kitchen table for their Saturday lunch-time ritual of the twin’s favourite – assuming they had been good that week and this week they had. This was bangers and mash served with peas grown in the garden and lashings of Bunty’s special onion gravy. All agreed it was as good as ever and, within a remarkably short time, the twins asked to be excused and resumed their cartwheels on the lawn. 

“I’m glad to have a moment’s peace”, said Bunty as the noise from the children transferred outside. “I wanted to mention, I bumped into Mrs Pillson yesterday when I was in Worthington’s, the butchers, buying the sausages; she was in front of me in the queue and said she wanted to ‘Bespeak two brace of partridges,’ since she was ‘having some intimes to dine’- at least I think it was ‘intimes’ she said. I didn’t think that it was worth ‘bespeaking’ our sausages and, since you and the twins don’t really qualify as ‘intimes’, I just ‘ordered’ them - with some chops for Sunday lunch”.

“Quite right too, my dear” Herbert replied and then continued, with tongue firmly in cheek, “You know; I’m beginning to wonder whether we could do with some more ‘intimes’. Can a man in my position – ‘an Inspector with prospects’ - ever have quite enough of them? One thing, I do know though; our friends, Georgie and Per are both ‘intimes’

Intrigued, Bunty replied “Why’s that?”

“Because Georgie is in Tilling’s football team and Per is in the cricket team!” he said laughing, “That pun’s good enough for a Christmas cracker. If we want some better class ‘intimes’ we may have to advertise.”

Noting what she normally called his “silly jokes and sarcastic nonsense”, but without pausing or losing the thread of her narrative, Bunty continued, “Anyway, she was pleasant enough and asked me if I ‘had a moment to pop in to have a cup of tea with her at Mallards House this afternoon. I’ve got to finish off some shopping later and I said I’d ‘pop in’ at 3 o clock? I wonder what it can be about?”

“No idea, love” replied Herbert, “You had better go and find out. Whatever happens, it’s not everyone that gets invited to ‘pop in’ to the Mayor’s house for tea whilst they’re out shopping, is it? Do you think her Worship will wear her chain? If decorations are to be worn, there’s always your badge for sewing from the Girl Guides or you can borrow my bronze one for life-saving.”

“That’s quite enough of that, Herbert Morrison” she replied laughing “I do believe you’ve done nothing but send me up today. Now get into that garden and weed those borders, while I clear up this mess”. 

That sunny afternoon Tilling was crowded. The throng comprised the usual high season mixture of tourists clutching guide books and cameras. There were also many sketchers and painters, armed with their paraphernalia, intending the capture one of the myriad ‘quaintnesses’ on offer. These ranged from the charming crooked chimney to half- timbered cottages to the numerous elegant red-brick frontages of the time of good Queen Anne.

Various locals also busied themselves with their weekend marketing and the exchange of news, which was always the lifeblood of the town.

This Saturday there also seemed to be an extra special buzz of anticipation, over and above the usual hive of activity.

The clue to the special atmosphere lay in the colourful posters covering every spare wall and telegraph pole, as well as appearing in the windows of many of the shops in the High Street. They proclaimed in the brightest primary colours that Bertie Barrett’s Travelling Circus would pitch its big top on the recreation ground beneath the walls of the town that very day and thrill Tilling with twice-daily performances for a limited engagement of one week.

The posters proclaimed that delights on offer would include a menagerie of exotic animals including Indian elephants and the wildest of lions, death defying trapeze artists, oriental jugglers, agile acrobats on horseback, a mysterious fakir and magician and a troop of hilarious clowns plus thrills and spills for all the family far too numerous to mention.

Eagle-eyed as ever, the twins spotted the array of posters even before their father had stopped and parked the Riley in his usual reserved space, just outside the police station.

Jimmy and his sister jumped up and down reading out loud every scintillating word and absorbing the thrilling drawings of roaring lions, elephants with trunks held high, the ringmaster in his bright red tail coat and top hat, the fakir doing the Indian rope trick and Biffo the clown, with his bright red nose and huge shoes.

“Look dad,” they enthused “The circus has come straight from performing to the crowned heads of Europe. There’s going to be a parade at today. Can we see it?  Please! Go on dad, please!”

 “Very good of them to single out our little Tilling after all those crowned heads, don’t you think children?” teased Herbert with a smile.

“Can we go, dad, can we, can we?” chanted the twins in unison.

“We’ll have to see won’t we,” he replied, “But first let’s get your mother to her important meeting with the Mayor and then we’ll find ourselves a good position for the parade. We can decide if we want to buy some tickets, when we’ve seen what’s on offer – assuming you two behave, of course.”

After completing various purchases at Twistevants, the Morrisons arrived at the front door of Mallards House just as the clock in the tower of the Norman church struck three. Herbert and the twins left Bunty with waves and cries of “See you later mum. Don’t be late for the parade,” as they disappeared, still chattering about the circus, to explore the nearby belvedere and its view of the surrounding countryside.

Taking a deep breath, Bunty rang the bell and the door was opened by the parlour-maid Grosvenor, who smiled and said “Good afternoon Mrs Morrison. Mrs Pillson is expecting you” and showed her into the garden room.

Crossing the threshold, they heard what Bunty recognised as the final few notes of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata and glimpsed the aquiline profile of Mrs Pillson sitting at her grand piano.

As the reverberation of the final note died away, no-one spoke. Mrs Pillson then sighed; Bunty thought it only polite to sigh and even Grosvenor sighed, before leaving the room. A lengthy sigh had become the established custom at this point in Tilling, after the many public and private occasions upon which Mrs Pillson had given her interpretation of her “signature piece which, as had so often been reported in the “Hampshire Argus, she considered was “Another key to Beethoven’s soul”.

Gently closing the lid of her piano, Mrs Pillson sighed a final time by way of underlining what had passed before and stood to greet Bunty. “Oh, Mrs Morrison, how prompt you are. You caught me trying to fit in some relaxation in my busy day. I hope you weren’t kept waiting too long or too bored at my amateur effort. If I don’t at least try to find the time to practice, my fingers grow so rusty and I can’t even begin to do justice to the great composers. And then my husband, who is a far more accomplished pianist, will scold me. Do you play?”

“No, I’m afraid not” admitted Bunty, “But our twins James and Doris have just started lessons with Miss Terling and seem to be doing very well.”

“Oh yes, Miss Terling, a fine teacher of the young and quite a demon bridge player, I believe,” responded Mrs Pillson, carefully making no mention of her recent notoriety in bridge circles in Tilling after a particularly spectacular double revocation, “Such a marvellous facility, Mrs Morrison” she continued, “I’m sure your twins will be grateful to you in later life for bringing them the joy of music. I don’t know what Mr Pillson and I would do without our daily ‘po di musica. Pray sit down Mrs Morrison. May I pour some tea?”

After an exchange of the usual pleasantries regarding the weather and the health of their respective spouses, a pregnant pause occurred in the conversation, engineered and then filled by Mrs Pillson, “Mrs Morrison, I’m sure you wondered why I asked you to pop in today. The truth is I had hoped that you might be in a position to help me”

“Yes, of course, Mrs Pillson. If I possibly can” replied Bunty pleasantly, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, my dear,” continued the Mayor, “You may know that in recent months, since assuming the heavy burdens of office, I have found it increasingly necessary to call upon the help of Mrs Simpson as my secretary. Oh, how Tilling works me!”

Bunty signified assent by nodding and her hostess continued, “She has been an absolute godsend to me, organising my papers, arranging my diary and preparing correspondence and the numerous documents and reports that the Mayor must produce. She managed to deal with a substantial workload in only three mornings a week and I found her invaluable.”

“Yes, I think I know her,” responded Bunty, “American lady, isn’t she: a little older than me, short dark hair and Marcel wave, quite stylish?”

“That is she, Mrs Morrison,” said the Mayor, “For someone born outside these shores, her grammar and syntax have been admirable and her work of the highest quality. She is also discreet, an essential quality given the confidential nature of so much that passes over my desk.”

Heading remorselessly toward her point, the Mayor continued, “Unfortunately, it appears that I am the victim of my secretary’s exceptional competence and her reputation has spread. Sadly for me it, has reached Ardingly Park and the ears of Lord Ardingly. In short, I have lost my paragon who has moved on to pastures new. Her new pastures are landscaped by Capability Brown and her new employer will be Lord Ardingly himself.”

As understanding dawned, Bunty’s brow un-furrowed and she replied with a drawn out, noncommittal, “Oh… I see.”

Without pausing, Mrs Pillson carried on “Not that one can blame her, I suppose. Her husband Ernest is engaged in business in London quite often and there are no children. It’s only understandable that she should seek a more full-time occupation. In addition, life at Ardingly might, at first, appear more glamorous than our quiet and homely Tilling, even at the epicentre of affairs, here at Mallards House.

“There, I gather, she will often – and pray forgive me if I quote directly, ‘be arranging Fridays-to-Mondays for the highest in the land.’” Pausing for effect, she continued “You may know I have had the pleasure of entertaining a duchess here in this very garden room, but, as yet, my secretary has not yet had to work out table placements involving the Prince of Wales, whom I gather is a regular guest of His Lordship. Whether in the obscure backwaters of Ardingly she will ever enjoy such close involvement in such weighty and momentous matters as cross the desk of the Mayor of Tilling, each and every day is entirely another matter. For her sake I trust she will not regret her decision.”

Sitting back, as was her manner when pronouncing a verdict on the Bench of Magistrates, the Mayor reached her conclusion, “So there you have it. To be fair I can’t accuse her of abdicating her responsibilities towards me or indeed Tilling, but I’ve lost my treasure and badly need another. I just don’t see how I can carry out my duties as I would like to do without the help and support of a competent secretary.”

With a meaningful look, she continued, “This leads me to you Mrs Morrison.   I understand that before your marriage you worked as personal secretary for the General Manager of the Tilling Building Society. I wondered if you might come to my rescue, say, three mornings a week?”

Wearing an expression that contrived to be simultaneously pointed and quizzical, the Mayor poured more tea. Bunty took this as her cue to respond as to whether she wished to succeed as ‘Mayoral treasure’, “Well your Worship, I’m sure I’m very honoured to have been asked to carry out such important work, but it is several years since I took shorthand or typed and I do now have a husband and children. Much as I would like to help you, my family must come first.  I do hope you understand, but I don’t think I should resume my career just yet. I might be able to help out on a few mornings next week, just until you’re able to make a permanent appointment, if it would assist.”

“That’s very kind of you, Mrs Morrison,” replied the Mayor, “I shall continue my search for a full-time appointee, but bear in mind your generous offer ‘in extremis’, so to speak. Given my most recent experience, I did want to appoint a local lady to the post. I did wonder if Mrs Brace, the young doctor’s wife might have a suitable background. Do you have any idea?”

“I’m afraid not, Your Worship,” replied Bunty. This was somewhat disingenuous since, having been to school with Dolores Brace (nee Tubbs), she knew that literacy, reliability, punctuality and any number of the qualities imperative in a Mayoral secretary, were not high on the list of Dolly’s attributes. Frequent attendance at the cinema had prompted her to dabble in a short, undistinguished and undemanding career as an usherette at Tilling’s picture palace, before securing the prize of marriage to a professional man, to the surprise of many.

“I have received the odd offer of help,” continued Mrs Pillson, “On hearing of my loss, Miss Coles very kindly offered to ‘become my devoted amanuensis, Eric Fenby to my Frederick Delius,’ as she quaintly put it, whatever that may infer.”

Bunty did not comment, but nodded sympathetically, since it was widely known in Tilling that Irene Coles still harboured an endearingly devoted and puppy-like schwarm for its Mayor. Bunty recognised that any choice between Dolly Brace and Irene Coles amounted to steering a dangerous course between the Scylla of incompetence and Charybdis of infatuation and thus the less said the better.

 “Dear Irene meant well of course, but with her somewhat volatile and artistic temperament, she might not be entirely suited either to the prosaic or the more sensitive aspects of the position,” commented Mrs Pillson, adding “I suppose I shall have to insert an advertisement in the situations vacant section of “The Lady” magazine.

At this point the clock on the church tower began to strike. “Oh, Mrs Pillson, I hadn’t realised it was so late,” said Bunty “I promised the children I would be back with them in time to watch the circus parade. If you’ll excuse me, I must fly. Thank you for tea. Now do let me know if you need some temporary help and I’ll do what I can”

“Thank you, Mrs Morrison,” she replied, ringing a small bell to summon her parlour maid, “You had better hurry or you’ll miss all the fun. Do give my kind regards to the Inspector; ‘my Inspector’, I suppose. Enjoy the parade.”

Grosvenor closed the front door of Mallards House and Bunty walked briskly off towards the steps of the Town Hall where she could see Herbert and the twins waiting.

“Back again, children, just in time,” said Bunty as she reached them.

“How did it go?” said Herbert, “What was it Mrs Pillson wanted?”

“Nothing important, dear,” she replied, “I’ll tell you when we get home.”

At this point, the marching band turned the corner from the High Street and hove into view playing the jauntyEntry of the Gladiators”. The musicians were dressed in red uniforms with peaked caps decorated with gold braid that glinted in the sunshine.

There followed a lumbering line of elephants, each ridden by a mahout in a jewelled turban, gently holding the tail of the one in front. Unfortunately, just as the slow-moving pachyderms turned the narrow corner past Mallards House into West Street, the large and equally ponderous Royce bearing Algernon and Susan Wyse made the right turn from Porpoise Street, which was an awkward manoeuvre at the best of times.

Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, who had a particularly vicious dislike of what she called “poor Susan’s terribly ostentatious motor” watched with her husband from outside her former home.

She took particular delight as the Royce repeatedly edged forward and then back in an unsuccessful effort to return to whence it came and allow the elephants to pass.

There developed a general consensus amongst those watching – along the traditional lines of the dictum “sail before steam” - that elephants enjoyed priority over motor cars. Indeed Major Flint was able to confirm this from first-hand knowledge and practical experience gained during his many years bravely serving the King in the Raj.

Fortunately, the elephants were remarkably good-natured and tame, but gradually surrounded the vehicle, each still clutching the tail of the other until an elephantine ring was completed.

This encirclement proved too much for Mrs Wyse, who suffered from claustrophobia and who was overheated in her heavy sables in a confined space on such a warm afternoon.

Edging the window open an inch or two, she cried “Somebody help us please”, which prompted only an unsympathetic “Perhaps that will teach her not to take that monstrosity through the tiny streets of our sweet and ancient Tilling” from the deposed chatelaine of Mallards.

After a few more minutes, the chauffeur succeeded in reversing back to a safe spot outside his employers’ Starling Cottage. Sobbing, Susan Wyse was gallantly helped indoors by her concerned spouse and the congestion eased.

After the unfortunate interruption, the procession continued.  The elephants reverted from a circular to linear formation and continued their stately progress along West Street.

Next there followed a large cage on wheels drawn by jet black horses with two fierce lions looking at the crowd from side to side, pawing the air irritably and growling with surprising volume.

Capering about was a troop of acrobats, climbing on each other’s shoulders, doing somersaults and juggling brightly coloured balls. As they tumbled hither and thither, they handed out flyers to the applauding bystanders.

Walking proudly in the centre of the parade were the trapeze artists in white leotards trimmed with more gold, wearing dashing blue cloaks. An Indian fakir in turban and bejewelled tunic and his assistant salaamed to the crowd and the moustachioed ringmaster in shiny black boots, white breeches and red tailcoat, doffed his top hat.

Recording the scene for the benefit of posterity, Quaint Irene wandered unselfconsciously in and out of the procession, with a sketch pad in the crook of one arm, trying to capture the essence of each performer with swift, deft strokes of charcoal.

There followed snowy Lipizzaners, ridden by fairy-like young girls in tutus and with tinsel in their hair, waving and blowing kisses this way and that. Clowns brought up the rear, tripping each other up whilst handing yet more flyers and throwing sweets to the onlookers.

Doris and James thought their first parade unutterably exciting and implored their parents to take them to the circus. Their father had secretly been quite impressed by the display and, after only a little more prompting, agreed that he would book tickets for next Wednesday evening’s performance.

As the parade headed off down Porpoise Street, the Morrisons turned towards their parked car. Mr Morrison paused to raise his trilby to the Mayor and Mr Pillson who had also stepped out to enjoy the event. They were accompanied by Mr Pillson’s sisters, the Misses Hermione and Ursula Pillson, who were visiting Tilling for the first time since the unpleasantness involving a sardine tartlet at Miss Plaistow’s tea house. On this occasion they were on their way back from a hearty cycling holiday around the Downs. As ever, they were accompanied by their friendly but unruly Irish terrier, Tiptree.

“Wonderful spectacle Mr Morrison!” said the Mayor to Herbert as the two parties passed outside the Town Hall, “So colourful! You know my husband and his sisters, of course?”

“Yes, indeed Your Worship,” he replied “Good afternoon, Mr Pillson. How do you do, ladies? I trust you are enjoying your visit?”

“Oh, yes, Inspector” they chorused “Tilling never fails to thrill. Now that our appetite is whetted, we hope to see a performance of the circus whilst we are here. Tiptree does so like a show,” at which, as though on cue, Tiptree barked and dragged them both off at the end of his lead as he bounded towards his old friend and fellow Irish terrier, Paddy, who stood with his mistress, Diva Plaistow outside Hopkins,’ the fishmongers. Bemused, Herbert raised his hat towards the rapidly disappearing trio and he and Bunty bade farewell to Tilling’s first couple.

As the Morrisons walked on towards the police station, they passed Mr and Mrs Mapp-Flint. The usual pleasantries were again exchanged and the gentlemen raised their respective hats.

In a show of bonhomie, Major Flint tousled the hair of James with a hearty “How de do, me fellow me lad” and went on to say “Your Doris grows more like her mother every day; a real stunner. Since you’ve both been so good, I’m going to give you each a shiny new sixpence.” He then made a great fuss of searching all available pockets in his jacket, waistcoat and trousers before theatrically throwing his hands in the air and concluding “Sorry children; I seem to have run out of change. Better luck next time, eh?”

The twins remembered the disappointment of their previous encounter with Major Flint when the “shiny new shiling” he promised each of them turned out to be only a half-penny. They exchanged a silent glance that said more than a thousand forced thank you letters to aged uncles and, rising elegantly above his ploy, turned to Bunty saying, “Can we go and sit on the cannon in the belvedere, mum?” On receiving her nodded assent, they ran off laughing.

Left alone, the adults turned to the events of the day. Elizabeth had noticed Bunty leaving Mallards House and longed to know her business there.

Bunty knew precisely what Elizabeth wished to know, as did both husbands, and nothing on earth would have made her divulge the purpose of her invitation, or what had transpired.

In her opening salvo, Elizabeth hoped that Bunty had “enjoyed her visit to my precious Mallards,” and, “trusted our dear Worship was entirely well”.

Returning fire, albeit tentatively, Bunty had, “no reason to believe Mrs Pillson was not in the best of health,” and adroitly changed the subject to the circus, “We hope to take our twins to the performance on Wednesday evening, Mrs Mapp-Flint. Will you be seeing the show?”

Realising that her prospects of finding out the purpose of Bunty’s visit to her own, “beloved home of yester-year” were slim, Elizabeth made a vengeful mental note of the insubordination for future reference and smiled her most saccharine smile.

Drawing back her lips to the fullest extent to reveal her formidable array of teeth, she drawled “Yes, I believe so, Mrs Morrison. I gather our dear and generous Worship has booked and paid-for an entire block of seats at the Wednesday evening performance at the circus. I’m sure we must all be very grateful and now remember to call it the ‘Mayoral Gala’. I believe I will be invited to be in attendance as Mayoress.”

Elizabeth continued, “Our beloved Worship told me only yesterday that she intended to allocate the tickets to a party of 'her' Girl Guides and the Padre’s Boy Scouts, plus some of the poorer children from what she called ‘Mr Twistevant’s slums down by the railway station’ - although I personally prefer to regard them as ‘charming and picturesque cottages that give our precious Tilling its unique character’. I expect these will be some of the same children as recently stripped the apple trees bare at Grebe. By the way, I don’t suppose you have succeeded in apprehending any of the young culprits as yet, Inspector?” 

Herbert cleared his throat and responded that he “had no news of any developments on the case as yet, but would look into the matter.” Thinking - erroneously as it turned out - that he was steering towards calmer waters, he went on to express the wish that “all the children would have a very enjoyable evening” and to comment that “it was most generous of the Mayor.”

Bridling visibly, Elizabeth replied, “Yes, Inspector, I’m sure that is true, although there has been some comment in the town to the effect that this largesse is deliberately intended to erase the memory of the unfortunate incident after Worship’s installation as Mayor. You may remember when celebratory hot pennies were thrown down amongst the children from the balcony of the Kings Arms. Sadly, the Mayor’s Sergeant at Arms appeared to have been somewhat overzealous in the heating of the coins and it is unfortunately alleged that more than one of the scrabbling urchins suffered minor burns. Loathe though I am to gossip, there has even been some talk of legal proceedings.”

With both Morrisons startled into silence, Mrs Mapp-Flint continued, “Of course none of this was reported in the “Hampshire Argus”, which, as usual, concentrated its attention upon the Mayor’s ‘sensitive performance of the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ at her inaugural dinner.’ The distribution of the odd train set, dolls house and circus ticket appears to have ensured that and all was forgotten. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, if you know what I mean,” she concluded archly.

An embarrassing silence ensued whilst Herbert and Bunty wondered what to say next and Mrs Mapp-Flint savoured the impact of her extended bout of character assassination.

During these exchanges, Major Flint stood to attention, apparently taking an interest in the conversation, but actually wondering if he could devise a means of separating himself from his good lady for a few minutes. This would enable him to call into the club for a whisky and soda or two before completing the route march back out to Grebe, which was increasingly lacking in intoxicants nowadays.

“Well, it was good to catch up with all your news” said Herbert, raising his trilby, “We really must go and collect the children from the belvedere before they get up to any mischief. We hope to see you at the circus on Wednesday.”

With this, they hastened off to collect the twins, install them in the Riley and return to “Braemar”. At times like this both Herbert and Bunty understood that there were some advantages in living a little way outside the hot bed that was Tilling.

After supper when the children had been put to bed, Bunty updated Herbert upon her polite rejection of the Mayor’s job offer. “I think you were right dear,” commented Herbert, “It’s not just that you don’t have the time; I’m not sure it’s fitting for the senior officer’s wife to go out to work. I mean, folk might assume we need the money. You know what people are like, especially in Tilling. That would never do.”

“I thought you would say that, dear” Bunty replied, “but it was flattering to be asked.”

After an eventful Saturday, the family Morrison spent the Sabbath quietly at Braemar. All too soon, Monday morning came and Inspector Morrison took his place behind his desk in Tilling police station. Before the new week was an hour old, the telephone started to ring and citizens of Tilling queued to report a series of burglaries over the weekend.

Mrs Plaistow telephoned in her usual staccato bursts to report that her entire takings for the last two days at Ye Olde Tea House had been stolen and demanded briskly that a “competent detective attend immediately.”

Algernon and Susan Wyse stood at the front desk of the police station in person to advise of the theft overnight not only of a valuable solid silver photograph frame containing a signed portrait of brother-in-law Count Cecco di Faraglione but, worst of all, the velvet-lined case containing the beribboned insignia of Member of the Order of the British Empire, recently graciously bestowed upon Mrs Wyse personally by His Majesty the King.

 “Oh, I remember it so well,” wailed Mrs Wyse, “The King shook me by the hand and the Queen smiled at me and said ‘So pleased.’ Such charm, such simple, simple words, but to me they meant the world!”

Comforting his wife, Algernon Wyse insisted that “this infamous crime must receive the most urgent attention,” and wondered whether, “the unlawful appropriation of what was, after all, a personal gift from our Sovereign, did not fall under a particular subsection of the offence of High Treason and carry with it the most stringent of penalties.”

Courteous as ever, however, even in adversity, he assured the desk Sergeant that he had “every confidence that the Tilling Constabulary would do its onerous duty.”

Soon other Tillingites took their turn to report to the overworked constabulary a positive epidemic of missing cash, silver and jewellery.

As the outbreak of lawlessness continued, on Tuesday morning an extremely agitated Georgie Pillson stood before the duty officer to report that a break-in had occurred overnight at Mallards House.

The extent of his anxiety was evidenced by an uncharacteristically, unstylish deer stalker hat pulled carelessly on as he rushed out of the house. Given his shocking discovery that morning, he had not had time to complete the normally lengthy and delicate task of fitting and adjusting his toupet.

Georgie reported that a window of the garden room had been forced open and the case containing his beloved bibelots “most roughly rifled.”

Various valuables including a rats tail spoon, some Worcester china and a pretty enamelled cigarette case had been filched together with “most tarsomely of all” his most prized possession, the original manuscript of the opera “Lucretia” signed by its composer Cortese, which had been personally given to him by his good friend, the prima donna, Olga Bracely. Georgie concluded, “The manuscript is utterly priceless. It is of national, or even international, importance and simply must be found.”

By Wednesday, it was certain that Tilling was in the grip of a concerted crime wave. Other prominent victims by then included Dr Dobbie (a silver salver and tankard) and Kenneth and Evie Bartlett (tea spoons – electroplated, but of great sentimental value).

Confronted by what for genteel Tilling constituted “an onslaught of criminality”, Inspector Morrison and his officers worked steadily and patiently. Crime scenes were visited and thoroughly inspected and detailed accounts of what had been stolen and all surrounding circumstances obtained from the owners concerned. The modus operandi of the criminal or criminals involved was gradually built up and every other police force within a large radius (inland of course) was consulted in an effort to deduce whom the guilty party might be.

With such pressure of work, Bunty Morrison had seen little of her husband since the preceding weekend and was surprised to see him walk through the back door of “Braemar” late on Wednesday afternoon. “Hello dear, this is a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t really expecting to see you so early. With all the trouble this week, I thought you would be held up at the station until late again tonight.”

“No Bunty, love, I promised the children I would take them to the circus and I see no reason to break my word. Is everyone ready?”

“Yes we are” the twins replied and dashed off to put on their overcoats and climb into the back seat of the Riley.

As they drove up into Tilling, half the population seemed to be heading towards the recreation ground on the reclaimed land below the old town. At the centre of the field was erected the huge big top with “Bertie Barrett’s Travelling Circus” emblazoned in large letters on a banner hung between its two central supporting poles. To one side of the large tent was a fun fair with a helter-skelter, dodgems, food stalls and many side shows, whilst to the other stood the caravans of the circus artistes, encircled as in the old Wild West.

As night fell, the bright lights and deafening music of the fair combined with the expectant hum of the audience, cheerfully gathering for the circus show to create a thrilling atmosphere.

Walking towards the big top, Herbert and Bunty saw many familiar faces. The Padre in his scout leader’s uniform and dog collar led an orderly column of Boy Scouts, whilst his mouse-like wife Evie followed with a demure group of Girl Guides. Their curate was left to do his best to control an over-excited group of the children of Mr Twistevant’s tenants.

The Royce of Mr and Mrs Wyse hove into view, seeking to park as close as possible to the circus tent. This proved somewhat unwise as its rear wheels began to spin on the damp grass and the Wyses thought it prudent to leave their chauffeur to extricate the vehicle whilst they picked their way across the grass towards the circus.

Seeing this, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, wearing her insignia as Mayoress was able to shake her head and comment upon both “the sheer foolishness of trying to drive that great van across a field,” and, “the inadvisability of poor vain Susan wearing that ridiculously heavy sable coat on such a warm evening.”

Completing the official party for the Mayor’s Gala, there followed Mrs Emmeline Pillson wearing her chain of office with her husband Georgie, his sisters Ursula and Hermione and their terrier, Tiptree. Given the dog’s record of spectacular disobedience whilst in Tilling, Georgie had insisted that Tiptree be kept on a lead and his sisters had reluctantly acceded to his wish.

The Mayoral party took their seats in the front row in the big top with an uninterrupted view of the main ring. As she entered, Mrs Pillson nodded to her Mayoress and acknowledged many other friends and acquaintances, including the Morrisons. Most reciprocated with a smile whilst, to assert her “closer connection”, Mrs Mapp-Flint ostentatiously waved, blew several kisses and positively beamed. 

Before long, the lights dimmed. The performance began with the brave lion-tamer confronting the roaring kings of the jungle, armed only with a chair, bull whip and a dashing smile.

The troop of elephants walked in formation holding tails and made intricate patterns, threw large balls with their trunks, sat on enormous tubs like milk-maids on stools and trumpeted in unison upon command. All onlookers were amazed and touched by these gentle giants – with the possible exception of Susan Wyse.

The children were held spellbound by the trickery of the Indian fakir who charmed dangerous snakes and then lay on a bed of nails whilst Major Mapp-Flint was persuaded to leave his seat and stand on his chest. The Major loudly explained that “this was only right” since he had “performed the same service in Benares many years before”. The act concluded with the famous rope trick, when the fakir climbed a rope suspended in mid-air and disappeared completely upon reaching the top.

The acrobats on horseback amazed with their agility, as did the courageous trapeze artistes whose performance culminated in a death-defying triple somersault, which forced the entire audience to hold its collective breath.

The young guests of the Mayor roared their approval throughout the evening, laughing at the clowns, marvelling at each daring display and responding with thunderous applause.

The performance reached its zenith at the Finale with a parade of all the artists in full costume. Into the centre of the ring walked elephants and horses whilst around the edge stood each of the performers taking a bow in the spotlight in turn. This went uneventfully until the Indian fakir was announced and stepped forward.

Although he had until now reclined quietly at the feet of his mistresses, Tiptree sprang forward barking and, before he could be restrained, leapt up repeatedly, pulling at the beard of the shocked and surprised fakir.

Both Hermione and Ursula stood with cries of “Stop it Tipsipoozie, down boy,” but by now it was too late. The fakir’s turban rolled across the ring and what appeared to be a false beard lay in the sawdust. In the meantime Tiptree stood over the recumbent artiste licking his face with his tail wagging violently.

“Oh, my Lord” the sisters cried in unison, “It’s the curry cook: the one from the Calcutta Restaurant in Bedford Street. Tiptree must have recognised him. You remember Georgie, 'the holy man of utmost sanctity from Benares;' he fooled you all into thinking he was your Guru and pretended to teach half the village yoga years ago back in Riseholme. He then scarpered with all your swag. Still missing today!  What a laugh. Well done Tipsipoozie old boy. He never forgets a face!"  
Recovering the power of speech and stepping down from the seat on which he had taken temporary refuge, Georgie gave expression to the pain that had lain dormant within him since that terrible day when the Guru had disappeared with his most precious possessions, “You beastly man. Where are my bibelots?” At this, a buzz of interested conversation ran through the audience as many inquired what a “bibelot” actually was.

At this point, a look was exchanged between Mrs Pillson and her Inspector and he stepped forward with hands raised. He called in his Sergeant who had been standing near the exit and in moments the multi-talented fakir, Guru and curry cook was under arrest.

“Your Worship and ladies and gentlemen, if I might have your attention. By way of explanation,  I wanted to let you know that we have just apprehended the criminal responsible for the series of burglaries which have taken place in Tilling over the last few days.”

“Although the circus was advertised as having just come from Europe it has in fact,” he explained, “been completing a tour along our south coast. Inquiry of the police forces in Folkestone, Hastings and Seaport, which the circus has just visited, has disclosed a spate of identical thefts in each.”

“Tonight,” he continued “my officers monitored each of the artists throughout the evening and witnessed the fakir here slip away between his performance earlier in the show and the finale. During this time he walked up into Tilling broke into Twemlows, the grocers and stole the day’s takings. If those of you who have suffered burglaries would care to form an orderly queue outside his caravan, hopefully some of your property can be restored to you. In the meantime, Sergeant take that man away.” 

At this point the Padre stood and clapped his hands to quell the hubbub, which had grown to a crescendo as the drama unfolded. As sometimes happened when circumstances had taken a startling turn, he spoke not in his usual Scots or Irish dialect or even Old English, but with the softly rounded patois of suburban Birmingham from whence her sprang, “Ladies and gentlemen, children, I’m sure we are much obliged to Inspector Morrison and his wonderful officers for their all good work in apprehending this daring criminal tonight.”

“I’m also certain,” he continued, “That we are most grateful to our generous Mayor for her munificence in paying for so many boys and girls to attend the circus this evening. I know you’ve all had a marvellous time. May I call upon you to express your thanks with a song?”

On this cue, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and children of Mr Twistevant’s tenants joined together in a very loud, spirited and well-rehearsed rendition of “For they are jolly good fellows,” during which the Mayor waved to all and her Inspector smiled modestly.

Immediately afterwards in a fit of enthusiasm, yet again demonstrating the extent of his failure to appreciate the indifference with which his good lady wife was at best regarded by the youth of Tilling, Major Flint leapt to his feet with the cry “Now children, three cheers for the Mayoress. Hip, hip!”

The ensuing humiliating silence, when time truly appeared to stand still, rendered any further “Hip” or indeed “Hips” out of the question. The Major resumed his seat sheepishly and received a glare of cold fury from his spouse that did not augur well for their lengthy walk back to Grebe, a deux.

After arranging for Bunty and the twins to be driven home, Inspector Morrison supervised the pleasant exercise of returning the stolen property to rightful owners.

Diva Plaistow and Mr Twemlow were delighted to receive their takings, as were Dr Dobbie and the Bartletts when their silver and electro-plate were restored. Susan Wyse was overcome when reunited with her Order and proudly pinned it to her bosom to celebrate its return.

Most thrilled of all however was Georgie Pillson, who not only enjoyed the return of his objets from Mallards House and the precious manuscript from “Lucretia” but also several of his most precious bibelots stolen from his former home in Riseholme. These included his Louis XVI snuff box and miniature by Karl Huth. With more than a suspicion of tears in his blue eyes, Georgie said simply “Thank you so much Inspector. Foljambe will be so pleased. We have both missed them so.” and walked off, as though on air.

After charging the fakir with numerous offences and placing him in the cells overnight, Inspector Morrison drove back to “Braemar”. By now the children were in bed and he did not want to disturb them. Bunty asked what he wanted for supper after such an eventful evening. As was his habit, he joked in reply, “Anything, but curry, please dear.”

Sitting at the kitchen table later, Herbert and Bunty talked over the last few days and the various strong personalities, so evident in their community. As they switched off the kitchen light and started walking upstairs, Bunty said “By the way, can you explain something that’s always puzzled me? Although I call her ‘Mrs Pillson’ or ‘Your Worship’, I gather her close friends – all those ‘intimes’ of hers – call her ‘Lucia’.  I know it’s Italian and comes from her first marriage and her being ‘the wife of Lucas’. But now that she’s Mrs Pillson, shouldn’t she be called ‘Pillsia’ or some thing like that?”

“I suppose you’re right” responded Herbert, “There again, in that case, her Mayoress would have to be called ‘Flintia’. Somehow, I don’t see it catching on!”

THE END

Copyright 2011 Deryck Solomon. All rights reserved in appropriate territories