The Stain of Scandal | Tim Dadswell

He noticed her among the other pedestrians on the pavement and doffed his cap.

Mabel Smith grinned at the driver of an empty cart pulled by two aged horses. In the main road leading into Dunechester, she found the familiar rhythmic sound of hooves pleasing.

Seagulls surfing salty thermals overhead, Mabel reached a dressmaker’s and turned down a side street. At a hanging sign displaying a silhouetted teapot, she entered the shop beneath.

Mabel greeted her friend, Ivy Dawson. Bunches of keys hanging from their waistbands, they were dressed in black, ankle-length dresses with white collars. When Mabel placed her bonnet next to Ivy’s, it became clear they sported similar chignons.

A plain wooden tray, loaded with their regular order, rested on a white linen tablecloth.

“Beautiful day, Ivy!”

“I suppose it is, for some.”

“Thank you for sending that gentleman artist my way. He’ll be staying at Dovecote Villas for three weeks.”

“Good for you. Mind he doesn’t drip paint on your carpet. I hate turning away customers. I wish I’d never set eyes on that pair from London.”

“I know. Since it happened, I can’t think of anything else.”

“Neither can I. You’d think you’d be safe with a well-to-do young couple dressed in the latest fashions. Now I face long evenings, eating my meals in the kitchen, with only my embroidery for comfort. The builder reckons my dining room ceiling will be repaired by next week, so I’ll be able to redecorate, but will my regulars ever come back? Who wants to stay where there’s been a grisly murder? I’ve a good mind to write to Her Majesty for advice. As a widow herself, she’d understand my plight.”

“Yes, you deserve better, Ivy, poor thing.”

They sipped their teas and munched on freshly baked sugar-frosted biscuits. Every so often, Ivy shook her head and sniffed.

A group of people left together. Only one other patron remained, sitting behind Ivy.

“Got your money’s worth?” cried Mabel.

Ivy turned around to see the subject of her friend’s reproach. A gaunt man in a shabby suit sat at a table bearing an empty teacup and a notepad. A stubby pencil gripped between his tobacco-stained fingers, he stared like a salivating wolf.

“Sorry ladies, no harm intended. I believe the Duval murder happened at your place madam, The Lapwings?”

“Who’re you?”

“Arthur Crabbe. I work for The Echo. Interesting case. Doesn’t happen every day.”

“I should hope not! If you’ve been earwigging, then you’ll know I don’t need the likes of you to stoke the fire!”

“Easy, lady. I know what you must be feeling. But there’s not much chance of this dying down. Now they’ve caught the girl, there’ll be a trial. As you were there when she stabbed him, you’ll be called to give evidence. Why don’t you tell me what you know? Either way, I’ll be writing about it for weeks.”

Ivy turned to her friend. “Did you hear that Mabel? Will my torment never end? Have I been wicked enough to deserve this? I can’t sleep with all the worry, not to mention the nightmares about blood pouring through my ceiling.”

“Careful Ivy, he’s writing it all down. You’re lining his pockets.”

Ivy turned back to Crabbe. “Listen, with my business suffering such grievous detriment, I deserve to make a few bob out of this. It wasn’t the first time Duval brought a girl to The Lapwings you know. It’s all there in my guest book. If I was to tell you all the details, then what?”

“Now you’re talking. If you sign a contract with us, on account of your great distress, I’m sure my boss would see his way clear to paying you a little sum. We could run your daily diary of the trial. And if it’s anything like the murder I covered last year, tour guides will soon be calling at your premises.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. The public are rivetted by murder cases.”

“I never knew that. Whatever next! In that case, I’ll pay a visit to your editor tomorrow.”

While Crabbe scribbled more notes, Ivy left like a destitute duchess who has discovered a Rembrandt in her attic.

Mabel hurried after her like an attentive lady’s maid. They paused in the street outside.

“I’m not sure about this, Ivy. Can you trust him?

Ivy looked down at her shoes. “Don’t know.”

“Come and speak to my lawyer. Isn’t that what your Walter would have done? I’ll go with you.”

Ivy met her friend’s gaze. Her brow unknitted and her smile returned.

***

Once home, Mabel glowed at the thought of collecting another fee from her cousin Arthur. They made such a good team, she thought.

The next morning, she would take a bowl of pease pudding to a neighbour whose wife had been seen by no one for a month or more. Why?

 


Tim Dadswell is a retired civil servant living in Norfolk. He has had work published in and by Ink, Sweat & Tears and Cocktails with Miss Austen. He won second prize in a Brilliant Flash Fiction contest and was a runner-up in a Writers’ Forum flash fiction competition.

Twitter: @TimD_writer

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