RAYMOND WEST TO MISS MARPLE
Dear Aunt Jane,
Just a quick note to say we’re looking forward to seeing you next week. Lionel’s over the moon with that stamp you sent him, and David will likely talk your ear off about his model railway so watch out. Joan sends her love and thanks you for the scarf.
I don’t suppose you fancy coming along to a lunch with me while you’re in town? It will be full of literary types but I think you might find it rather amusing (and I must confess I’d like to see what you make of some of them - you do have rather a knack for skewering pretentiousness!). Let me know.
Your loving nephew,
EXTRACT FROM THE DIARY OF HONORIA LUCASTA, DOWAGER DUCHESS OF DENVER
20 April - Note from Harriet to ask would I like to accompany her to a lunch for mystery writers, Peter having been suddenly called away on Foreign Office business? Delighted to accept - Harriet always such good company, and I do enjoy meeting people who can talk intelligently about books. The lunch is being hosted by Mrs Trumpe-Harte, who I believe is one of Helen’s friends, but Helen does know rather a lot of people and she may well be perfectly amiable for all that. Must ask Franklin to make a list of the library books I’ve read recently - so embarrassing to be talking about a book when you can’t remember the title, especially when you’re talking to the person who wrote it. Also remember to tell Harriet about the delphiniums.
HELEN, DUCHESS OF DENVER, TO LADY GRUMMIDGE
My dear Marjorie,
I hope you are recovering from your cold. I must say that I was sorry not to see you at Amelia’s luncheon. The quality of the company was rather low, which I suppose one must expect with artistic types, and Amelia had not had the courtesy to inform me that she was inviting my sister-in-law. To make matters worse, Harriet brought along my mother-in-law (I cannot imagine why, unless she has some ludicrous idea of expectations - thankfully the Dower House is entailed). If Amelia hadn’t pleaded quite so insistently with me to come I should never have entertained the idea, but one does what one must.
I was seated opposite a rather plain man by the name of Raymond West, who I believe writes literary novels of some sort. He lives exclusively in town so we had very little to talk about, and he’d brought along an elderly aunt (who thankfully at least knew a little about gardening). Naturally, my mother-in-law managed to latch onto this woman and soon they were giggling together like schoolgirls. I suppose it is too much to ask for that one’s relatives-in-law behave with a modicum of decorum or consideration for one’s position in society, but I have become sadly accustomed to such situations.
Amelia was in an ebullient mood and insisted on dragging me upstairs to see her new emerald necklace. It was certainly large and clearly worth a fortune, and I praised it as tactfully as I could.
After dinner Harriet gave a short speech about literature, which I suppose she had been asked to prepare. She spoke tolerably well and at least had the good manners not to refer to Peter outright, although I doubt anyone present was unaware of her good fortune.
I was just making plans to leave when a most peculiar thing happened. Amelia rushed into the room in a panic and called attention as if to make an important announcement, but before she could explain the plain man’s aunt tapped her on the shoulder and whispered in her ear. Amelia went pale, and I was about to go over and see if she was alright when my mother-in-law appeared in front of me, chattering some nonsense about delphiniums. By the time I managed to get rid of her Amelia had gone upstairs to lie down, and when I asked her the next day she flatly denied anything being wrong.
All in all I considered it a most unsatisfactory occasion, and I was relieved to return home.
Peter handed Harriet a glass of brandy as she luxuriated in front of the drawing room fire, wriggling her stockinged toes in decadent pleasure.
“The necklace?” Peter asked, settling himself down beside his wife.
Harriet nodded. “Raymond’s Aunt Jane had spotted her slipping it into Helen’s purse. She’s quite an extraordinary woman - like a sharpened knitting needle buried in a cloud of wool. You’d love her.”
Peter hmmed. “I’m acquainted with the honourable Mrs Trumpe-Harte. I believe she wanted me to marry her daughter at one point, which was rather unfair on the daughter in question who didn’t seem to get much say in the matter. The honourable lady always struck me as a rather volatile personality. I don’t suppose my mother shed any light on the situation? She generally knows about this sort of thing.”
Harriet shook her head. “I did ask. She said that Amelia was a very silly girl who always did hold a grudge far longer than was good for her, and that Lord Baden-Powell had a lot to answer for but on the whole she does approve of the Girl Guides as a movement. I couldn’t tell if that was an answer or a distraction.”
“Both,” said Peter, stroking the back of her neck absent-mindedly.
Harriet curled into his hand, reflexively, like a cat. “Your mother got on rather well with Raymond’s aunt,” she said after a while, and she took a sip of her brandy.
“My mother gets on well with a lot of people.”
“I believe they’ve been writing to each other.”
“She mentioned to me that she was thinking of taking a cruise around the Greek islands and inviting Jane along with her.”
Peter’s hand paused in its caresses for a moment, then re-started. “Taking a companion seems like an eminently sensible idea.”
“Indeed,” said Harriet.
The fire crackled, low and forgotten.