@Cognac Blues Festival, 2011. Happy Days.
Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
Acorn Antiques, Bonnie Prince Charlie, chevet, Cluedo, commode, communion chalice, conceptual art, double bass, entropy, EPNS, Festival Fringe, Glasgow School of Art, lang pack, laws of physics, Lee Hall, monteith, Mrs Overall, poisoned dwarf, Rebus, Steradent, Taggart
Murgatroyd could have screamed, Infamy! Infamy! Someone’s had it in for
me! Instead he muttered, Entropy! Entropy!
He had always been a glass half empty kind of guy. He had concluded
that the Earth and planets in general tended towards a state of disorder.
That was why he was such a control freak. Single-handedly he
attempted mastery of the Universe. That had been the main issue
between himself and Diana when they had been man and wife.
His embracing of one of the fundamental laws of physics only served to
encourage his concentration on the total absence of the glass itself, and
not just half its contents.
Of course, it wasn’t a glass that was missing, but the very chalice from
which Bonnie Prince Charlie had received his final communion before he
ventured over the Scottish/ English border.
Murgatroyd had tried to dismiss the niggling suspicion that his cleaner’s
grandson had something to do with its disappearance. After all, had the
dodgy relative not made an unusual request to leave his double bass in
the kitchen for a day or so? The explanation had been that he was going
to play in a Festival Fringe gig the following weekend and didn’t want to
‘humph it around’ till then.
The local ‘polis‘ had found this highly significant and had quoted the rural myth
associated with Lee Hall, to wit: that a pedlar had once persuaded servants
who had been instructed that no one should be permitted to stay overnight
in their master’s absence, to store a ‘lang pack‘, as a compromise, in
the kitchen, since they refused to shelter him and it was too heavy to
transport further. He promised to collect it in the morning.
At nightfall, the servants retired and a man emerged from the parcel
and unbarred the door, blew on a silver whistle and admitted some
thieves who had been waiting for the signal.
The ‘polis’ had considered himself an admix of Rebus and Taggart and was
feeling as smug as someone who had just won at Cluedo, without cheating.
Diana had undermined his confidence by pointing out that not even a
poisoned dwarf such as Mrs Connolly’s grandson could have survived in a
three quarter-sized case without air holes.
Drusilla underscored her point, namely that Juniper, though an enfant
terrible, was perfectly honest and, if she had borrowed the aforementioned
object for a piece of conceptual art, would have replaced it before she left.
Dru said that she was writing a character reference for Juniper’s admission
to Glasgow School of Art, and, as her House-mistress, could vouch for her
honesty and probity of character.
In fact, she avowed, at times she is too honest.
As for Juniper’s father, Maxwell, Dru had been talking to him throughout the
interval, so she knew that he had not been wandering through the house.
He had been flattering her, but joked about the interval being ‘the best bit.’
He hastened to assure her that it was not because he was not enjoying the
concert, but that he was particularly relishing their little tete-a-tete.
Nigel had interrupted to tell her that they had three minutes till the second
half. He thought Maxwell was the smarmiest man he had had the misfortune
to encounter and was desirous of breaking up their little love-in.
Well, as you’ve said, mused Snod, Mrs Connolly was doing her impression of
Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, handing round haggis canapes and so on.
She would have noticed any of the audience wandering about. The portaloos
were in the courtyard and the signage was clear, so no one should have been
in here. They had no business to stray.
Sonia added: And I am sure that the chalice was in its niche when we went
to bed. Remember- you were showing it to us when we had the punch from the
monteith? She addressed this to Murgatroyd who was fiddling with his
cravat in a distracted fashion. Then you put it away and we all went
upstairs. Mind you, I had a feeling that something was going to happen.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I was on the stairwell and
I could have sworn that something cold touched my face.
Mmm, agreed Diana, though privately annoyed that Sonia always claimed to
have known about things after the event. But any thief would have taken the
monteith. It would have seemed more blatantly valuable than the chalice.
The confab was continuing when Aunt Augusta came down the steps into the
barmkin, balancing herself on a stick with a horn handle. She eased herself
onto a high-backed, tartan-upholstered wing armchair.
Why are you all looking so serious? she demanded. It was a lovely concert,
though I didn’t hear much of it. Now I can die happy.
Don’t worry, darling, soothed Dru. There might have been a little robbery,
but no one has been hurt. You didn’t hear anything, did you? She
immediately realised how silly that question had been.
I thought I heard some bagpipes in the early hours, Aunt Augusta said
thoughtfully. When I got up to visit the commode, I thought someone
pushed me, but it was only that grey lady –
Grey lady?! they chorused.
-the one I spoke to on the stairs on the way up to bed. I asked her if she
had anything that I could put my dentures in and she brought this up later
and left it on the bedside table. She didn’t even say goodnight when I
thanked her. Not a word. Left it on the bedside table, she did.
Chevet, darling, groaned Murgatroyd. It’s a chevet. He could only hope
that the old dear hadn’t used the Japanese lacquer commode, which was
purely decorative and had cost him a king’s ransom in a London auction.
Well, whatever it’s called. She brought that little goblet thing to me and jolly
useful it was too. I hope my Steradent hasn’t tarnished the silver.
It’s probably just that cheap EPNS stuff, though.
And she took the missing chalice out of her capacious handbag, with a
Somebody take this from me, she ordered. I can’t reach to put it back.
I shrank in 1993.
And she grinned- very pleased with herself- but was totally unaware
that she had forgotten to replace her dentures.
Oh, Aunt Augusta! they all cried.
If only their collective intelligence had been harnessed, they might have
explored more possibilities and might have overcome the entropy that
had threatened to de-stabilise the shared sensation of success of the
Clearly a longer course of meditation at The Tibetan Centre would be
no bad thing in the future.
Meanwhile, who was going to accompany Aunt Augusta in the taxi, all the
way to Snodland? She couldn’t possibly travel on her own, though she
had miraculously arrived safely on the northward journey.
Drusilla knew that the lot would fall on her. Oh joy!
Nigel would have to drive the hired van back on his own. It
must be admitted that he had his uses, even if he had a tendency to
come in too early.