فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

Before Mrs Serrocold could say anything more, her husband came in from the hall carrying some letters.

Lewis Serrocold was a short man, but he had a strong personality. He was full of energy and he concentrated completely on who he was speaking to.

‘Bad news, dearest,’ he said. ‘That boy, Jackie Flint. He’s in trouble again. And I really did think he meant to stay honest this time. He seemed so sincere about it. You know he always liked railways - and Dr Maverick and I thought that if he got a railways job he would be good at it. But it’s the same story. He’s been stealing from the parcels office. We haven’t got the answer to his troubles yet. But I’m not giving up.’

‘Lewis - this is my old friend, Jane Marple.’

‘Oh how do you do,’ said Mr Serrocold, not really noticing Jane. ‘Jackie is a nice boy, too, not too many brains, but a really nice boy. Terrible home he came from. I-‘

He suddenly gave all his attention to the guest. ‘Why, Miss Marple, I’m delighted you’ve come to stay with us. It will make such a great difference to Carrie to have a friend from the old days she can exchange memories with. She has in many ways a bad time here - so much sadness in the stories of these poor children. We do hope you’ll stay with us a long time.’

Miss Marple could understand why her friend had been so attracted to this charming man. Though she was sure that Lewis Serrocold would always think that causes were more important than people. It might have made some women angry, but not Carrie Louise.

Lewis Serrocold took out another letter. ‘And we do have some good news. This is from the bank. Young Morris is doing extremely well. They’re very satisfied with him and are promoting him. I knew that all he needed was responsibility - that, and a thorough training in dealing with money.’

He turned to Miss Marple. ‘Half these boys don’t know what money is. It means no more to them than buying cigarettes - yet they’re clever with numbers and find it exciting to use them. Well, I believe in training them - in accountancy - to show them how money works. Give them skill and then responsibility. Our greatest successes have been that way - only two out of thirty-eight have failed us. One is a head cashier - a really responsible position.’ He broke off to say, ‘Tea’s all ready in the Hall, dearest,’ to his wife.

Carrie Louise linked her arm through Miss Marple’s and they went into the Great Hall. Tea seemed rather strange in these surroundings. The tea things were in a pile on a tray - inexpensive white cups mixed with the remains of some very good quality old tea services. There was a loaf of bread, two pots of jam, and some cheap-looking cakes.

A plump middle-aged woman with grey hair sat behind the tea table and Mrs Serrocold said, ‘Jane, this is my daughter Mildred. You haven’t seen her since she was a tiny girl.’

Mildred Strete looked exactly like a Canon’s widow, wealthy, respectable and slightly boring. She was a plain woman with a large face. She had been, Miss Marple remembered, a very plain little girl.

‘And this is Walter Hudd - Gina’s husband.’

Walter was a big young man with hair brushed up on his head and a bad-tempered expression. He nodded uncomfortably and continued putting cake into his mouth.

Soon after, Gina came in with Stephen Restarick. They were both excited.

‘Gina’s got a wonderful idea for that scenery’ said Stephen. ‘You know, Gina, you’ve got a talent for theatrical designing.’ Gina laughed and looked pleased. Edgar Lawson came in and sat down by Lewis Serrocold. When Gina spoke to him, he did not answer.

There were more people at dinner, a young Dr Maverick, who was a psychiatrist, and whose detailed medical conversation was not easy to understand. There were also two young teachers, and a Mr Baumgarten, who was an occupational therapist, and three very shy young men. When there were guests, a few boys were chosen to learn how to behave properly at the dinner table. One of them, a fair-haired boy with blue eyes, was, Gina whispered to her, the expert at knocking people out.

The meal was badly cooked and badly served.

After dinner Lewis Serrocold went away with Dr Maverick to his office. The therapist and the teachers went away to their own rooms. The three juvenile cases’ went back to the college. Gina and Stephen went to the college theatre. Mildred knitted and Miss Believer repaired socks. Walter sat and stared at nothing. Carrie Louise and Miss Marple talked about the old days.

Edgar Lawson seemed unable to stay still. He sat down and then got up.

‘I wonder if I ought to go to Mr Serrocold,’ he said rather loudly. ‘He may need me.’

Carrie Louise said gently, ‘I don’t think so. He was going to talk over some cases with Dr Maverick.’

‘Then I certainly won’t interrupt! I won’t go where I’m not wanted. I’ve already wasted time today going down to the station when Mrs Hudd meant to go there herself.’

‘Gina should have told you,’ said Carrie Louise. ‘But I think she just decided at the last moment.’

‘You do understand, Mrs Serrocold, that she made me look a complete fool!’

‘No, no,’ said Carrie Louise, smiling. ‘You mustn’t have these ideas.’

‘I know I’m not needed or wanted. I’m perfectly aware of that. If I had my proper place in life, things would be very different indeed. It’s no fault of mine that I haven’t got my proper place in life.’

‘Now, Edgar,’ said Carrie Louise. ‘Don’t get excited about nothing. Jane thinks it was very kind of you to meet her. Gina has these sudden ideas - she didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘Oh yes, she did. It was done on purpose - to make a fool of me.’

‘Oh, Edgar.’

‘You don’t know half of what’s going on, Mrs Serrocold. Well, I won’t say any more now except goodnight.’

Edgar went out, shutting the door loudly.

Miss Believer sniffed. ‘Terrible manners.’

‘He’s so sensitive,’ said Carrie Louise.

Mildred Strete said sharply, ‘He is a horrible young man, Mother.’

‘Lewis says he can’t help it.’

Walter Hudd spoke for the first time that evening. ‘That guy’s crazy. That’s all there is to it! Crazy!’

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