Simon Parke  
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Film night at the manor

CHAPTER 29

In the last episode, Cadbury and Inky thought they saw a monk ghost, Alky got a bit maudlin with David; Cromwell said “No” to the old air brush; Mrs Post continued with the sad tale of her father, and Mrs Pump received a surprise invitation from Lord Jo.

The Kid was trapped and hungry. She sat amid light and beauty, but soul and stomach have different needs. “Can you be trapped in beauty?” she asked herself.

She had heard the activity around the hole too late; she had been exploring at the time. By the time she got back to the wooden door, it was jammed shut with wet concrete; and of course no one heard her cries. She then sank into self-recrimination: “I should have returned to the old abbey last night, when the doctor and that woman left.”

But what could she do? Something inside her had wanted to stay.

“My instinct was to stay,” she said to herself. “But is instinct always right? People say you should listen to your instincts, like instincts are god. But I wonder – perhaps sometimes, instinct kills.”

She looked across at the magnificent carriage, almost completely preserved. Inside was the gold, which shone with unusual brightness. It was a fine tomb for the Kid; almost like that of the Pharaohs. The only trouble was, it was not a tomb she presently desired: “I don’t want to die.”

*

When Patricia turned up at the Manor that Sunday evening, she was neither expecting to see Mrs Pump, nor pleased about it.

“Lord Jo asked me to stay for a drink and some entertainment,” said Mrs Pump. “I could hardly say ‘No’ – well, could I?!”

After everyone had a glass of white wine in their hands, they made their way to the library, where the film show was to take place.

“Some local footage,” said Lord Jo, “put together in my editing suite this afternoon. Definitely only for the Over 18’s!”

“I didn’t know you had an interest in film,” said Mrs Pump.

“Ah, well I have a few secrets even from you!”

“And an editing suite? There was me thinking I knew this house better than anyone!”

“No, well I decided about six months ago I needed a few more cameras round the place.”

“Really?” said Mrs Pump.

“Yes, really. And when I sat down this afternoon to have a look at some of the footage, well! – “

“You mean Patricia breaking in?”

“Well, funnily enough, I have got some footage of that.”

“I look forward to it!” said Mrs Pump. “Was that your first attempt at breaking and entering, Pat?”

Patricia hated being called “Pat”; it was the sort of name cleaners had.

“And some of Patricia in my bedroom as well!”

“In your bedroom? This just gets murkier and murkier!”

“I did say it would be an entertaining evening.”

Patricia was close to tears. She had had such high hopes for tonight, imagining a quiet evening together with Lord Jo. Yet once again, her hopes were dashed – apparently, it was to be another humiliation. She could not believe Lord Jo to be so callous as to invite her here in a kindly fashion, and then turn on her in this way? Or had Mrs Pump set all this up, just for her own pleasure?

“But in some ways, I’ve got some even better footage,” said Lord Jo.

“I don’t want to see it!” said Patricia, now in tears.

“Oh, I think you might,” said Lord Jo. “Because it may answer the mystery of my escaping cows.”

“Oh, that was terrible,” said Mrs Pump. “Though I suppose it could have been an accident.”

“It could have been – but it wasn’t! Watch this.” And with that, Lord Jo started running the film…

*

“I didn’t kill him, Vicar,” said Mrs Post, in a matter of fact sort of way. “He just died on me one day, as he sat in my front room, stinking the place out. So what could I do but drag him down the street under the cover of dark, and lock him upstairs in the old Post Office sorting room?”

“What indeed?” said Rex.

“I wasn’t going to arrange a funeral for him! I wasn’t going to have his shame made public! He would stay there under lock and key, and under my say-so! I would decide what to do with him, and when to do it. He had forfeited all right to tell me what to do. Now I would tell him what to do!”

“I can see the issues,” said Rex.

“No you can’t, and I wouldn’t expect you to. I mean, I did know that eventually I would have to do something; knew that the matter was not going to go away. But I somehow always found a reason to postpone the day.”

“There was someone found recently who was feeding both his dead parents! Amazing, eh? The nutcases around! You didn’t try and feed your dad?”

“I don’t find that very helpful, Vicar.”

“I’m sorry – it was just a story I read in the local paper. And seemed topical.”

“But there was no escape. First the police started nosing around, and then one day, I found young Cadbury in there! Well, I just want to do the right thing now. That’s why I’m here. So he shall have a funeral in church, we’ll sing ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’, because that was his favourite, and then he’ll be buried in the graveyard. So people can say ‘Goodbye’ to him – and so I can say goodbye…”

Mrs Post started to sob. Rex looked around for the tissues, but there were none. It was so long since anyone had wept here, apart from himself.

“No tissues when you need them. It’s enough to make you weep,” said Rex, unthinkingly. “Would you like me to speak to the undertakers?”

“That might be good – you can explain everything. They will find the body a little decomposed.”

*

“So we pick up the night scene,” said Lord Jo, as the film ran, in the darkened room. “The picture’s not great, because the camera is a little distance away, and we’re using the night lens – bit like The Blair Witch Project, which so many young people enjoyed, and I thought was a complete load of wank. But you can see the cows clear enough, minding their own business.”

“Oh yes – I can see them,” said Patricia.

“And then, who’s this?” said Lord Jo. “Someone comes into shot now, who definitely isn’t minding their own business. Indeed, they are trying to fuck someone’s business, because as we watch, can you still see them – they go over to the gate, and open it! Well, well, well! Of course, they are wrapped up from head to toe, on a freezer of a night like last night; so there’s no face to look at. But a familiar walk, don’t you think as they scurry away? Definitely familiar, though I’ll be damned if I can place it.”

Both Patricia and Mrs Pump watched intently.

“But maybe this next sequence will help us. This is from a little closer to home – from the camera on the front door of the Manor, no less!”

“A camera on the front door?” said Mrs Pump. “I never knew about that!”

“No, you didn’t. Which is why you don’t even bother to hide your face when you remove Patricia’s ‘Welcome Home’ present.”

They all watched as the footage replayed her surreptitious approach, and hasty removal of the basket, and disappearance round the back.

“A familiar walk, don’t you think?”

“Mrs Pump, how could you?” screamed Patricia. “What have I ever done to you? And what has Lord Jo ever done to you, to warrant such behaviour?”

Mrs Pump smiled at them; there was almost a sense of freedom in her manner.

“It was the small disappearances which first got me interested in security cameras,” said Lord Jo.

“You shouldn’t be here,” said Mrs Pump. “You’re trespassing. I can take nothing from you, because everything here is mine already. This is my home!”

“Your home? Have you gone off your bleedin’ trolley?”

“I lived here until I was eight years old, and would still be living here if my father’s business had not declined so rapidly. I went from being the Girl of the Manor to homelessness, passed round from relation to relation, while my father tried to sort things out. He never did.”

“You mean your father was Henry Pumper-Norton?” asked Patricia.

“He was.”

“So you’re a Pumper-Norton?”

“I am, yes.”

“Well I never! Then in many ways, this is your home!” said Patricia.

“Er, if you two ladies would just shut the fuck up for a moment. Because we’re rather getting away from the matter in hand!”

“But I didn’t poison you,” said Mrs Pump.

The three all looked at each other.

“I was going to get on to that,” said Lord Jo.

“Well, I hope you have plenty of video footage of the church, because it would show only that it was nothing to do with me. I wasn’t crying about what happened – but I didn’t do it.”

“Then who did?” asked Lord Jo.

“You mean there’s a square foot of Misty Longings you don’t have on film?”

“Do you know who it was?”

“Best to get it off your chest if you do,” said Patricia, encouragingly.

“It isn’t on my chest. I haven’t a clue who did it, and I think probably, I best be getting home now.”

“That’s fine by me. And don’t think of returning, by the way. You’re sacked!”

“Of course.”

“Should have done it years ago.”

Mrs Pump stood and picked up her coat.

“I do understand this to be my final farewell to the Manor; and I see now that I should never have come back. I thought it would make me happy, just to be here; help return me to the innocence and hope of the little girl who owned a horse, and felt the world at her feet. But it did none of those things. Instead, it made me more and more bitter with every day that passed. It is time to go.”

“And by the way, I won’t be paying you for your work today,” said Lord Jo. “Not a penny!”

“Final proof – if more proof were needed – that you do not deserve this place,” said Mrs Pump. “Somehow, it’s still all about money with you, isn’t it? Whereas to me, it’s about home.”

She put on her coat and walked towards the door. She did everything with a sense of style, and Lord Jo hated it: “Still think you’re a member of the fucking elite, don’t you? Get out, you bitch!”

*

“Mrs Post!”

“Hello, Jane.”

Mrs Post was walking back to Cromwell’s, and feeling a good deal more at ease with her self now things were sorted.

“I have the most extraordinary request,” said Jane. “And of course you must turn me down if it is difficult.”

“And what is this extraordinary request?”

“I was wondering whether I might stay one or two nights in the spare room at the Post Office. My house burnt down this morning.”

“Rose Cottage?”

“Yes. Like poor David, Sunday has taken my home from me.”

“But my dear Jane – you must come and stay at Cromwell’s.”

“Really?”

“But of course!”

“I’d be very happy with the old sorting room.”

“Of course, but I have just decided to have it redone. It will look lovely after a clear-out and some fresh paint. I’ve just been talking to the vicar about it. Perhaps in time, you might be interested in renting the whole flat?”

This was the only line David heard, as he walked past the two ladies, having left Alky in the Dog and Whistle. Perhaps this was heightened awareness, because the words “flat” and “rent” had particular significance for him tonight. They hadn’t this morning – but they did tonight.

He decided on a walk while he considered his options, and soon found himself standing above the river on the old Monk’s Bridge; he had sometimes found solace here before. He was trying to hold on to Mr Johnson’s words about nothing being the end of the story. It was undoubtedly a nice idea; but with nothing to show for his life on earth thus far, was it any more than that? The world was full of good ideas – and very sad people. He was just beginning to regret earlier optimism, when he espied ahead what could only be described as a roaring fire in the Abbey ruins.

“Is this life or death?” he wondered.

He would go and see. Instead of turning away, he would go and see what he would see.

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