Suddenly, without warning, a knock on the Library door broke the silence. Gibberish, dustpan and brush in hand, swiftly removed the bits of broken silence and opened the door.
“Ah, Edith, what is it?”
“What’s what, sir?” asked Edith, taken aback.
“What is it that you want, Edith?”
“Oh yes! Just to say that Doctor Wilbur W. W. Wilberforce-Wilberforce MRCGP PhD MSc(Hons) VD(four times) is on the telephone.”
Lord Grope exploded: “Good God! Tell the damn fool to get off, he’ll crush it, doesn't he know how expensive those items are these days!”
“Oh dear!” cried Edith, hastily retreating.
Silence pervaded the room, silence born of perplexity, born of unknowing, a silence born of many silent things crowded together in a small, silent space, not one of which was willing to break ranks. Grimper sat in silent confusion. Gibberish stood in silent confusion. Lavinia lounged in (stylish and contemporary) silent confusion. Lord Grope would have sat in silent confusion if he hadn’t been wriggling slightly. Better out than in, was what he would have said if it had been a loud one, but he had no need. It, too, was silent.
Even the confused silence existed in silent confusion.
One thing, however, that couldn’t be proved conclusively, was guilt. As Mr Grimper explains.
“The motive, then, is beyond doubt, is it not, Lord Grope?”
Lord Grope leaned forward, about to reply.
“Quiet, please,” Grimper continued, “The question was rhetorical your Lordship. Yes, beyond doubt. But the opportunity, I regret, is also - beyond doubt - absent!”
Lord Grope chuckled.
“From the time of your arrival at Wainscotting until the time I arrived, and afterwards, you have not been alone. I therefore conclude you, too, are innocent.”
And with that, Grimper sat and allowed his head to fall slowly into his hands.
Dickie continued drinking. Pterodactyls disappeared behind clouds. Small furry creatures emerged from nearby ferns.
“Bleedin’ Nora, what?”
“Look at the sky. There’s another sun.”
“Bert, you tart, that’s not another sun. That’s an asteroid.”
“You can get cream for that, y’know, Dickie.”
“For asteroids. Cream. You spread it on your bum and it makes them disappear. I read it on the internet.”
“That’s haemorrhoids, you tart! That up there’s an asteroid. We’re in for a cold spell I reckon.”
Bert hated cold. And spelling. It was his worst subject.
Thereby proving conclusively the sighiness of Brontosauruses.
Breezes finger the leaves, making last night’s rain splash off them onto the ferny ground. Two Brontosauruses stand beside a shimmering lake of clear water, long necks lowered, drinking their (enormous) fill. One of the Brontosauruses raises its head:
“You’re supposed to be on lookout, Bert!” He’s exasperated. “You know we agreed, one of us drinks, the other keeps an eye out for Tyrannosaurs. And spiders. You know I hate spiders!”
The other raises its head: “Sorry, Dickie, me old china, forgot. Orf ya go, I’ll go lookout.”
Dickie lowers his head and drinks.
“I am drinking!”
Lord Grope sighed. As sighs go, it was huge: it was a sigh of mammoth proportions, one could even (if one was so inclined) say it was a sigh of brontosaurian proportions, it was THAT big - though whether Brontosauruses sighed remains untested and unproved. Not proven beyond reasonable doubt, anyway. My view is that it’s unlikely: being noted for their enormous physical size and weight, their long necks, small heads and diminutive brain capacity (Brontosauruses, not Lord Grope), they probably didn’t have the intelligence to know when things weren’t quite going their way, so didn’t feel the need to sigh.
Lord Grope had to admit this solicitor chap had done his homework.
Gibberish, meanwhile, stood at the drinks cabinet, a bottle of Scotch in his hands and an empty glass before him. Throughout Grimper’s explanation, Gibberish had stood rooted in fear, lest his own name be mentioned. It wasn’t. If you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that. But was Grimper withholding it for some reason? Gibberish remained motionless, deep in disturbed thought.
Lord Grope, agitated, blustering, yelled out
Gibberish was unmoved.
Once again: “Scotch, Gibberish?”
The words sunk in at last.
“Only on my mother’s side, m’Lord,” he replied.
“I will merely say that, in deference to Her Majesty you have provided a small fortune of several thousand pounds to Miss Menagerie-Bowen as an out of court settlement.
“I will also gloss over your liaison with the First Mate of the Royal Naval vessel currently docked at the Royal Albert - to whom you deposited the sum of several thousand pounds, in deference to Her Majesty.
"Also, Jenny, Alice and Cuthbert, on each of whom you have settled small fortunes in deference to the wishes of the court.
“In short, you require the readies, mate, and need them quickly.”
Arnthwaite Grimper’s prowling brought him, at this precise moment, immediately behind Lord Grope’s chair. He rested his hands on the back of it and continued by asking:
“Would you like me to continue, Lord Grope?”
The above line is left blank. It should contain more of Lord Grope’s blustering, but given what I’ve said already, let’s just pass over it, shall we?
“Very well, your Lordship. I shall merely gloss over your clandestine affair with Doris Menagerie-Bowen - one of Her Majesty’s Ladies-in-Waiting - who is waiting no longer, having produced a healthy eight pound baby only last weekend.
Lavinia watched her father intently. She felt certain that he was feeling extremely uncomfortable. He had blustered a lot in the last few minutes and that was always a sign of mental discomfort. I have not recounted all the incidents of blustering for you because this is not a story about blustering. If you’d like a story about blustering I suggest you go to the local Library, they are sure to have a section on it. I mention it now only because Lavinia had picked up on it, but now I’m wondering if I should have mentioned it at all.
Scene: the lobby of a bank, marble floors, oak counters, cast iron railings, gentlemen in dress coats, quiet murmurings of transactions and the blue aroma of fine cigars hanging respectfully, silently waiting.
The men in dress coats dissolve into penguins, the cast iron railings becomes prison bars. Above Lord Grope’s head the smoke twirls and dances, forming the shape of a hangman’s noose.
The marble floor turns to liquid and Lord Grope sinks slowly, his panicking hand reaching upwards. The only thing he can grab is the noose. He screams as the hangman approaches.
Such is Lord Grope’s recurring dream.
As Grimper paced the room, Lavinia wore an expression of genuine surprise. It was a traditional expression, but she wore it in the modern manner, with one eyebrow slightly raised and an understated twinkle in her eye subtly underlined by lips that hinted at a smile but never quite got around to actually smiling - though she did break into a chuckle when Lord Grope realised that Grimper had insinuated he was in debt.
“Are you insinuating I am in debt, Grimper?”
See, told you so.
“Not alarming debt your Lordship. But you’ve certain financial obligations - ahem - which cannot be avoided.”
“Your ulterior motive is greed. That is further subsidised by your unshakeable belief that you have a right to anything and everything.”
Lord Grope chuckled.
“There’s no question about that. I have a title, Grimper, therefore I am entitled. To whatever I decide that I am entitled to, haha. Talking of which - Gibberish, I still haven’t had my Scotch!”
Gibberish, unfortunately, heard nothing as he was deep in thought, still trying to work out whether Grimper’s assessment of his honest character was complimentary or not.
Grope sneered and Grimper continued:
“And your lavish lifestyle has burdened you with certain debts.”
Lord Grope wriggled in his chair. This damned impudent solicitor was about to accuse him, Lord Grope of Wainscotting, Lord Grope of Wainscotting the twenty- third no less (and no more), member of the landed aristocracy - Heavens! what impudence! what insolence! - this upstart was about to accuse him of thievery! As if he were some hoipolloi, some ne’erdowell, someone from the upper-middle or (God forbid!) even the middle classes!
“Go on, Grimper, do your worst,” he muttered.
“My Lord,” he began with the slightest bow, “We have eradicated three potential thieves from our deliberation. Only one remains.”
“And so... to your Lordship,” Grimper continued, unaware that tennis allusions were floating coquettishly in the ether between him and Lavinia. (He was aware that Lavinia and he had begun a match of some sort, but as far as he was concerned the score remained “love-all,” a slight variation on Lavinia’s doctrine of “love-everyone.”
This concept relaxed in his mind, feet up, magazine open and coffee at its side, awaiting, as it were, the next move: it was not up to Grimper to call “service,” the onus was on the lovely Ms Ballsworthy to call “new balls please”.)
Lavinia made no response. Not five minutes ago she realised that she had come to see Mr Grimper in an entirely different light, though where that light came from and whether it would be left on or turned off remained to be seen. But for now she had made plain to him that she found him strangely attractive: whether he appreciated that she could not be certain, though it appeared that he did. For now, better to leave the ball in his court. A man in his own court soon tires of playing with his own balls, she had learned.
“Ms Ballsworthy, your indulgence in causes, just or otherwise, is well known. And that requires significant outlay. There is your motive.”
Lavinia nodded in agreement.
“However, your reaction at the reading of the will leads me to believe that you were unaware that your inheritance lay in a safe in your dear mother’s bedroom or that it amounted to such a significant sum. Furthermore, since then, you have not been alone and therefore have not had the opportunity to make off with the valuables.”
Lavinia nodded again.
“I therefore conclude that you are innocent and must rule you out, also.”
He smiled at Lavinia.
She saw his smile and raised it an eye-twinkle.
Unperturbed, Grimper saw the eye-twinkle, hid his surprise beneath his poker face and raised it a boyish half-wink, simultaneously noting that Lavinia’s cheeks shaded just ever so slightly pink.
He waited for a response, which was not slow in coming. She saw his half-wink and raised it a slow lowering of the eyelids, immediately raising further with a direct look into Grimpers eyes.
Grimper, this time, met the direct look, but did not raise.
Metaphorical cards on the table thus revealed, Grimper continued.
Lord Grope exploded. The events of the past ten minutes had finally found their way through his skull and therein they painted a rough picture of what was going on around him.
“You insolent oaf!” he bellowed, “are you accusing me- us- of pilfering?”
Arnthwaite Grimper smiled at Lord Grope in a way that Arnthwaite Grimper would never have smiled at Lord Grope prior to his moment on the road to Damascus; or rather, his revelation and metamorphosis in m’Lady’s bedroom.
“Indeed I am. How astute of you to notice. Now, if I may continue with the divine lady here?”
“Now we come to Ms Ballsworthy.”
Lavinia smiled sweetly.
“Your lifestyle, dear lady, is one of extravagance and indulgence, and no doubt for you a significant, additional sum of money would come in quite handy. Ermm…”
“Grimper!” Lord Grope interrupted the appearance of complex thought that was currently underway in Grimper’s head. “Grimper, are you making this up as you go along?”
“Yes, of course, your Lordship. I could go away and cogitate on the situation in private, but that wouldn’t be half so amusing for myself as doing it here, in front of all the prime suspects.”