Susan Grimethorpe had certainly been beautiful the last time Mary Parker saw her. Eight years later, she was still, as Mary’s brother had put it, ‘astonishing’ – only a little more human, perhaps, her face more comfortably worn-in, with a well-used range of emotions beyond passivity and terror.
She was neither terrified nor passive, now, sitting across from Mary in the small cafe on the corner of the street where Mary now lived with her husband. Anxious, but not terrified. “She’s a willful girl,” she said, and frowned down at her hands. “I haven’t reigned her in as I might have done. I hadn’t the heart.”
“No one could blame you for that,” said Mary, with feeling. She had never seen Mrs. Grimethorpe’s husband but the once, struggling with the constables. She did not think she would ever forget how his face had looked.
“But she’s good at bottom, Lady Mary. A good girl. She wrote me --”
She broke off, turning to rummage in her bag. “Of course,” Mary agreed, meanwhile. It seemed the thing to say, though it was nearly impossible to comprehend that Susan Grimethorpe’s small frightened daughter should now be fifteen, and willful, and running off to London with unsuitable young auto-mechanics.
It occurred to Mary that if she had married either of the men she had been engaged to in 1923, she might now have a child of the same age that Susan Grimethorpe’s daughter had been the last time she had seen her. A little Goyles, or a little Cathcart -- but no, it seemed rather unlikely that there would ever have been a little Cathcart. It was just barely possible to imagine a little Goyles. She supposed she would have loved it, as Mrs. Grimethorpe clearly loved her daughter, despite the clear deficiencies of its parent.
Although perhaps she might even have still loved the parent of said junior Goyles, had events not played out the way they did -- but that really was impossible to believe. Even without the events of 1923, eight years must have granted her more wisdom than that.
“Here ‘tis --” Mrs. Grimethorpe handed over the envelope; Mary took it with care. It was grimy and much-folded and had clearly traveled a long ways with Mrs. Grimethorpe, being read over and over again at each stop. “I thought perhaps your brother might help -- the younger brother,” she clarified, and Mary resisted an uncomfortable urge to drop her eyes, though Mrs. Grimethorpe’s gaze remained clear and unabashed. “If he’s still in the detecting.”
“I’m afraid he’s not in London at the moment. But, you know, my husband’s a detective --”
“Your husband.” It wasn’t a question, but for the first time over the course of the interview, Susan Grimethorpe looked uncertain. “I did hear you had married.”
“More than a year now.” Mary found herself smiling. “I suppose it does seem unlikely, doesn’t it. I’d been so very much engaged - and had such rotten taste about it, too.”
“I mean no offense,” said Mrs. Grimethorpe, “but were I a lady such as you, I’d never have married for the world.”
She said it as she might have stated a fact about the weather. Mary looked down at her tea. The women of her own class all had plenty to say about her choice to marry, and the person she had chosen -- from the ones who seemed to take it as a personal affront that anybody might choose a common working man over their idle sons and brothers, to the other young comrades of the Soviet Club days, who were happy to admit that Love might Conquer All but found it difficult to believe that Love might come in the form of a bourgeois police-inspector. On the occasions that Mary couldn’t avoid such conversations, she had tart set-downs at the ready, and she did not hesitate to deploy them.
But a conversation with Susan Grimethorpe was a different beast altogether.
Under the circumstances, it would perhaps be unkind to speak of Charles’ many sterling qualities: his patience, his integrity, his dedication to duty. And yet Mrs. Grimethorpe did deserve an answer to the question that she had not asked.
Mary said, “He’s a very useful person, you know -- my husband, that is. Detective Parker. He makes me feel like a useful person, too. I suppose he’s the first man who ever did.”
She regretted it as soon as she’d said it. For someone like Mrs. Grimethorpe, how could this be anything other than a reminder of all the ways in which Lady Mary Wimsey and the women of her class could so easily choose to be useless?
But Mrs. Grimethorpe just nodded. “You’re happy, then.” She even smiled, a little, and looked as though she was trying to believe it. “I’m glad of that. I’ve not forgot the kindness you and your mother showed to me. If your husband would look into where my girl might be, it would be more than I deserve.”
“We haven’t forgotten what you were willing to do for Gerald, either,” said Mary, gladly retreating to familiar territory. “Charles will do all he can, I’m sure.”
She pulled the letter out of the envelope and began to unfold it carefully, only belatedly remembering to ask, “Do you mind if I read the letter?”
Mrs. Grimethorpe shook her head.
Dear ma, the letter said, you need not fret for I am very well -- but Mary was distracted from reading any further. “Mrs. Grimethorpe -- this letter is written on a cocktail napkin!”
“So ‘tis,” said Mrs. Grimethorpe. “Like as she’s no money to spend on stationary.” There was an odd sort of pride in her voice: at her daughter’s resourcefulness, perhaps.
“But look -- you can see the logo of the pub.” Lady Mary showed her the image of the mermaid, holding the harpoon and crown. “If we can find which pub this is, perhaps they’ll recognize her description, and be able to say if they’ve seen her.” She tried to keep her voice casual as she added, “It’s rather a good lead.”
“Ah!” said Mrs. Grimethorpe. “I suppose you’d know, being a policeman’s wife.”
That was all she said, but Mary fancied she saw a little relief in the other woman’s eyes that hadn’t been there before, and something warmed pleasantly in her stomach -- the same thing that warmed every time she successfully made a roast, or budgeted an account book, or got Charles to laugh after a particularly dreadful day. Look at you, Lady Mary, that warmth said, you can do something, after all!
She smiled at Mrs. Grimethorpe now, and said, “I suppose I would.”