Murder At St Marmaduke’s #31b

About 2/3 of the way through. Thanks for sticking with it.

You probably know the drill by now, but for anyone new, please click here to read the first 30 chapters. (Don’t worry – some of them aren’t huge.)

And for the first section of Chapter 31, you need to find post #31a somewhere below this one.

Now – on with the motley…

Chapter 31

Wednesday 13th November 1985: 08.30 – 10.00

Section (b)

Lavinia Marple had found a new doorway to lurk around. It was in the vicarage, and the door itself was shut; but by putting her ear close to it (although not so close that she would be eavesdropping, as that would be quite against what Jesus would expect from one of his followers) she could hear all that was being said. And what was being said was very interesting indeed.

She’d let herself in, finding the kitchen door unlocked. (No good ringing the front doorbell; that would only alert the vicar and his wife that she was there, and then they’d have to take time to answer the door, and they were such busy people.) There was washing-up water in the sink, and cups and saucers draining on the side, and she’d tutted in disapproval of a wife who kept such slovenly habits as not drying and putting away properly; the wife of a reverend, especially, who should be free of such sinful behaviour.

She had a good mind to write to the Church Times about it. Anonymously, of course, as she would hate to cause trouble for young Mrs Rawlings.

She’d lurked around a few doors, most of them from both sides to make sure she didn’t miss anything important (affording her the opportunity to also lurk around a few cupboards and drawers, also from both sides) before making her way to where Father Rawlings’ study was. She knew its location because the previous vicar, Father Madison, had been a bachelor, and Lavinia had been assigned by Hettie Foster to ‘do’ for him, in the hopes of finding something to explain why she (Hettie) had the feeling there was something ‘not quite right’ about him.

And it was in front of the study door where she was right now, and on the other side of it, the following conversation was taking place.

‘Supposing it was Mabel Cartwright who killed Hettie, darling?’ (This was from the vicar’s wife — too young for dear Father Rawlings, really; but there, men were apt to make strange choices in life when middle-age began to hunt them down, such as buying motor bikes, and trying to hide the fact that their hair had ceased to grow on their heads and begun to sprout from their noses and ears instead.)

‘But Clarissa, my dear…’ Father Rawlings began to protest. (Such a suitable voice for preaching a sermon. A gentle tone, not intrusive on one’s consciousness when one was checking round to see whom among the Sunday morning congregation might have indulged in a new coat — or, more interestingly, a new fancy-man or -woman, which one could easily tell by the shifty way that she or he glanced sideways at their spouse when they thought that he or she might not notice.)

‘You have to face it, darling, everything you think you know just by sticking your head into that 2,000-year-old book of yours might not be all there is.’ (There! They’d always known that something was not quite right with Clarissa Rawlings either. ‘She and Father Madison would have made a far better pairing than those two,’ Hettie would frequently say; this despite the fact that she, Lavinia, had never managed to find any satisfactory evidence against the former vicar.)

‘But the idea of Miss Cartwright rising from the dead and taking revenge on Miss Foster…’

‘But all the evidence adds up to that, Frank, surely you can see that?’

There was a long pause, during which the cogs in Lavinia’s brain whirred as seldom before. Could it be possible? Surely not — holy scripture didn’t support it in the least.

But then — holy scripture also didn’t support the idea that men and women were descended from monkeys, and nowadays it was only extremely silly people (ie, Americans) who believed that they weren’t.

‘Well,’ Father Rawlings broke the silence, ‘I suppose that if we do accept the possibility — and I don’t say that I fully do, my dear, as long as there are other possible explanations for what has happened — then what on earth should we do, do you think?’

‘I think, darling, the only thing we can do is to start looking for Mabel Cartwright; and if we find her —’

‘Yes, my dear?’

Lavinia heard a deep sigh. ‘Well,’ Mrs Rawlings concluded, ‘then I suppose we’ll have to decide what to do from there.’

Lavinia crept away from the door. Lily and Daphne must know about this conversation as soon as possible; and the three of them, too, might well have to indulge in some more lurking in order to find Mabel first, if she were abroad and no longer at her final rest.

On the way out through the kitchen, she found a tea-towel, dried the crockery and stowed it neatly in a cupboard that appeared to be its home. She may be in a hurry, but really, there were standards, and if the vicar’s wife was not keeping to them, somebody had to.

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