Monday, 22 October 2012

Still on the back burner

I know I should be more industrious at my writing, but my drawing (doodling) has occupied my time for many weeks. I am still working on my "village" novel and it's getting longer an longer. Just when I think it's long enough, I get another idea (usually at night in bed) and off I go again. I'll post a short excerpt here. I plan to publish on Amazon for Kindle, where two books are already languishing. There are too many books around!!!!! However, as a translator I'm better off (not financially but from the achievement point of view). A lexicon on Picture Frames I translated is about to be published. I'll post a link when I have one.
Meanwhile, "Friends and Neighbours" is not far off the finishing line.
This is a short extract from Part 3 of the village novel. The vicar's wife (Edith) has gone missing, and the vicar's sister has come to the rescue (sort of). Clare is Edith's twin sister who has gone to Austria to make it up with her estranged husband. The book is episodic. Some chapters are very short.


By midday the Vicarage was tidy and Mrs Cagney, who had worked even more slowly than usual, had left even later than usual via the back door. She was sorry her elongated stay had not produced any more information on the domestic situation at the Vicarage, but she had another house to clean and could not possibly hang on any longer. Mr Parsnip was extremely nervous about his sister’s arrival. Beatrice would ask him awkward questions and he would not know any answers. The Sunday sermon was unwritten and the Damocles sword of the Bishop’s visit was hanging over him. In desperation, Mr Parsnip sharpened all of his sermon-writing pencils, allowing the chippings to fall on the floor. Then he sharpened them all again. He was so absorbed in this activity that he didn’t even hear Beatrice enter the study.

‘So that’s where you are,’ she bawled, and the Vicar nearly jumped out of his skin.

‘How did you get in, Beatrice?’

‘Through the back door, Frederick. Someone very kindly left it ajar.’

‘That would be Mrs Cagney. She cleans on a Thursday.’

 ‘Very nice, I’m sure. So why are you making all that mess, Frederick? Have you found Edith?’

You could not accuse Beatrice of prevarication.

‘Answer me, Fredrick. Have you found her or not?’

As if on cue, the phone rang and Mr Parsnip snatched it and pressed it to his ear.


‘This is Cleo Hartley again. Miss Price was able to identify the missing woman on a police photo as Edith.’


‘The police will probably be around soon to tell you officially.’

‘That won’t be necessary. But thanks.’

‘For what?’

‘Hmmm… Thank goodness they’ve found her.’

‘Do you want to know where they found her, Mr Parsnip?’

‘Of course not. Where?’

‘In Dover.’

‘Dover? Ah, yes...... Dover.’ The Vicar did some very quick thinking aloud entirely for Beatrice’s benefit. ‘I remember now. Thank you, Miss Hartley. Must get on. Goodbye.’

‘She’s in Dover, Beatrice. As I said, she’s on the way to Austria. Satisfied?’

Beatrice was not satisfied. She did not believe that Edith would have gone on a trip without notice and without making sure the five boys were being cared for and supervised. And Frederick did not give her the impression that he had everything under control, either. On the contrary, he had been a nervous wreck on the phone earlier that day and he was still in a bad state. What is more, the phone call two minutes ago had been more evidence of her brother being out of touch with reality. She decided to play along, however. She intended to get at the truth and she was sure that Frederick either couldn’t, or wouldn’t tell her everything of his own free will.

‘Are you going to fetch her home, Frederick?’

‘Of course not, Beatrice. She’s getting a ferry to Calais later today.’ Mr Parsnip was surprised how easily the lies came to him. ‘It was all planned ages ago.’

‘Funny that Edith didn’t tell anyone and even funnier that it took her two days to get to Dover, Frederick.’

‘She called on an old school chum on the way down,’ Mr Parsnip was starting to believe what he was inventing.

Beatrice decided not to pursue her current train of thought. She would have to talk to Miss Price and the Hartley woman. They would be sure to know more. As soon as Frederick had gone back to his study to make a start on his sermon, she phoned Miss Hartley and then checked her story with Miss Price’s. Their accounts of what they knew about Edith so far were identical and did not coincide with Mr Parsnip’s interpretation.

Mr Parsnip was genuinely relieved to know that Edith was safe. He would have to talk to the police, but he didn’t want them coming to the Vicarage and certainly didn’t want Beatrice listening in. He would find an excuse to go out – a visit to a parishioner would serve the purpose. It wouldn’t even be a lie. He would cycle to Miss Price’s cottage immediately and phone Middlethumpton from there to tell them not to bother calling in at the Vicarage. Leaving Beatrice to look after things, he hooked his bicycle clips round the bottoms of his trouser legs, found his bicycle and set off at a fair pace down the drive. He felt better already.


As luck would have it, Mr Parsnip’s departure on his rickety old bike coincided with the police car’s arrival. The Vicar hurtled out of the drive straight into it. He later said his guardian angel had saved his life. The police did not find the incident amusing. The Vicar’s front wheel had made a deep dent in the side of their patrol car. Luckily, the culprit got away with a few cuts and bruises, having been thrown into a convenient hedge.

‘You all right, Sir?’

Mr Parsnip thought about it for a minute then decided he was. He straightened his dog collar, brushed the dust and leaves off his jacket, and scrambled to his feet. The old bicycle was just a heap of scrap metal.

‘Oh dear, I’ll have to walk,’ he told the officer who, to do him credit, was looking quite concerned. ‘Don’t bother going to the house. There’s no one in.’

Mr Parsnip was getting more practice at being mendacious.

‘You sure, Sir? We were going to give you the good news about your wife being found.’

‘I already know.’

‘I expect you do, but it’s normal procedure to inform next of kin personally.’

‘Well, you’ve done that now, haven’t you?’

The officer thought the Vicar was acting strangely.

‘Are you sure you’re all right, Sir?

‘Positive. You must have better things to do than hang around here.’

The officer dropped his caring voice and assumed the officious one. ‘I’ll have to report this accident and the damage to the police car, Sir, and your insurance will have to pay for the repairs.’

‘Oh that, well I could come to the police station and arrange something.’

‘Not a bad idea, Sir. In fact, if you’ve got an hour to spare, we’ll drive you there now and take you to where you want to go to when we’ve finished the report.’

Mr Parsnip rightly perceived that the police officer’s suggestion was in fact an order. And so it came about that Beatrice, who had noticed the police car parked in front of the drive while she was airing the upstairs rooms, ran out to ask the police what they thought they were doing parking there. She was just in time to see Frederick Parsnip being bundled onto the rear seat and driven off.

Despite having been reassured about Edith’s safety by Miss Hartley’s phone call, Beatrice’s first thought was that something fishy was going on. Her second, third and fourth thoughts all went in the same direction. Perhaps the woman on the photo was Clare. What if Frederick had buried Edith in the Vicarage grounds? Up to now, she had never associated her brother with violence, but now she was forced to reconsider. She would have to make a thorough examination of the garden to see whether any bits looked freshly dug. Luckily, a close inspection produced no clues. Beatrice was a bit put out, as if she would have preferred to discover Edith’s corpse. What if Edith really was in Dover? What if Frederick was telling the truth, after all?

The phone rang. It was Mr Morgan. It occurred to Beatrice that she could call her brother’s bluff, if it was one, by getting Mr Morgan to offer to collect Edith in Dover and bring her home. Ridiculous, going off to Austria without rhyme or reason. And if she wasn’t going there, why was she in Dover, and if she wasn’t in Dover, did Mr Morgan know something she should be informed about.

Mr Morgan was disconcerted by Beatrice’s friendliness. It didn’t take her more than two minutes to persuade him to drive to Dover. He would check with the Vicar that it was all right and he would drive next day so that he could be back for the Sunday service. After all, he didn’t want to let the Bishop down. The Bishop had been a fan of his since the eisteddfod.

Beatrice went into the kitchen to do something about food for the boys, who would be home from school very soon. Two minutes later the phone rang yet again. It was Clare calling from Austria to say that she had arrived in Vienna safely. Clare was understandably astonished that Beatrice was at the Vicarage. She wanted to speak to Edith.

So the woman on the photo can’t have been Clare.

‘We’d all like to speak to Edith, but she isn’t here.’

‘What do you mean, Beatrice? Edith is always home at this hour.’

‘Not today she isn’t. Nor yesterday.’

‘Where is she? Stop beating about the bush!’

‘The police say she’s in Dover. Dorothy Price identified her from a photo.’


‘In hospital. She’s apparently suffering from amnesia.’

There was a long silence on the Austrian end of the phone.

‘I thought it might be you, Clare, and that Edith had been murdered.’

‘I’d better come home.’

‘I think you should, Clare.’

‘I can set off in an hour and be in Dover by tomorrow afternoon.’

‘Mr Morgan said he would drive down to collect her.’

‘Mr Morgan is a twit, Beatrice. I shall definitely be in Dover by tomorrow afternoon. Knowing Mr Morgan’s car, I should think I’ll be there before him even if he sets off now. You can tell him to stay at home. He’d only add to the general confusion.’ Actually, Clare was thinking that, infatuated as he was with one or both of the sisters, he would be more of an embarrassment than anything else.

‘He can’t leave till tomorrow morning at the earliest, anyway, Clare.’

‘Ah yes, his choir rehearsal. He wouldn’t miss that, even for Edith. That’s settled then. You tell him to stay in Upper Grumpsfield and I’ll collect Edith. Which hospital, Beatrice?’

Beatrice was baffled by Clare’s comment. Even for Edith....? Was Edith.....? Surely not. Not with that ridiculous little organist. But he was in Upper Grumpsfield, so he had had nothing to do with Edith leaving home.

‘What?’ Beatrice had stopped listening while she conjectured. ‘Oh, I don’t know. Call me later about that. They’ll apparently have to find out first if she wants to be collected.’

‘They’ll let me in, especially when they see who I am. Being an identical twin has its uses. I’ll just try all the hospitals till I find the right one.’

‘The boys are upset, Clare, and Frederick has been acting strangely. He seems relieved that Edith has gone.’

Clare did not want to ruffle Beatrice’s feathers any further. Poor Frederick with a sister like her.

‘There’s probably a simple explanation, Beatrice. I must ring off now. I’ll let you know how I get on.’

Speculating on what would happen when a look-alike Edith turned up in Dover to collect her sister, Beatrice resumed preparations for the boys’ meal. Clare might be a nuisance most of the time, but she was good to have in any emergency involving Edith.

However, she had left Beatrice in a state of curiosity. What had she meant by ‘even for Edith’? Was something really going on between her and Mr Morgan? Was that the reason Edith had left home? Surely not. She had met Mr Morgan and found his manner insufferable. The feeling had been mutual. Beatrice was the kind of overpowering female who frightened him to death. She made him feel as if a herd of buffalo was trampling all over him. Reminded him of his mother, actually.

Clare was frustrated. She had wanted to spend a quiet, happy week with Karl, and now she was going to have to dash back and straighten things out for Edith instead. Edith might complain sometimes, but she had never given any hint of wanting to run away. Clare had no idea what could have made her do that.

Karl was understanding, but disappointed. Of course she must go back immediately. Edith was to all intents and purposes alone in the world. She had cut herself off from her familiar surroundings and gone somewhere, losing her memory in the process. Karl would sort things out at the office and drive to Upper Grumpsfield as soon as he could get away. They would talk things over at leisure after Edith had been taken care of.

So Clare left Vienna with very mixed feelings. She would drive until dark then find a motel and get a few hours sleep before catching an early ferry.


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