[aka Trying to Conquer the Germans 😉 ]
A sample of “The Cosy Knave”, the last scene of chapter 1.
Though Rose would rather swallow her own tongue than voice her agreement, Olivia Cadbury-Flake was not the only inhabitant of Knavesborough who thought it would have suited Mark Baldwin, or Sir Marco Bellini, to put in an appearance long ago. But no matter what the wagging tongues whispered in their own kitchens, they all accepted his invitation to a house-warming party the following Friday.
The women were curious to inspect the famous musician and discuss his choice of furniture and curtain fabrics. Their husbands counted it in his favour that the event did not collide with any of the important World Cup matches. A whisper ran among them that the food would probably be silly things on sticks that couldn´t satisfy an anorectic sparrow, but there must be some booze to compensate. Even red wine would do as long as it was free.
An impeccable butler threw open the double door and stepped aside to let in the first handful of villagers who were lingering self-consciously on the ancient cobblestones. Well, Rose was not quite sure his raven-black hair which looked awfully much like one of Evy´s knitted products deserved the epithet, but his suit and demeanour were everything one could expect, and a bit more.
“Do come in. How good of you to come.” Sir Bellini, the slender, tanned host took over the gawping guests. He hid his disfigured left hand in a thin cotton glove, and though he must be nearly sixty like herself, he looked quite the gentleman in a lightweight suit and greying temples. Rose thought he was dishy. She stole a glimpse of his steel-blue eyes and shivered. Rose, if you aren´t careful now…, she thought.
“I take it you know my new abode much better than I do, but feel free to look around.” With a grand flourish Sir Bellini indicated that the huge hall and the surrounding rooms were at their disposal.
“Please help yourselves to…” His words trickled off as he saw that once inside, his guests had no further restraints. The women helped themselves to generous views of the redecorated ground floor while the men went directly for the trays with canapés and drinks like lemmings spotting a steep cliff. Little Annabella Kickinbottom, uncharacteristically demure in her maid´s dress, darted around among them in an effort to keep food on the table.
“I hear that he has also hired the vicar´s daughter as a gardener,” one guest remarked.
“Thought she was a librarian.”
“No, not that one. The youngest daughter, I think.”
“Pleased to meet you, Sir Bellini.” With a large glass in one hand, Rose Walnut-Whip felt ready to attack her host. She all but stepped on Tuxford Wensleydale´s toes to get in position. She wrapped her silk-clad sleeve around Bellini´s linen one and clinked his glass merrily.
“Why, hello Rose. Long time no see. Please call me Mark, or Marco.”
“And now that we have a proper lord of the manor again, perhaps we can hope that you will close the public right of way through Netherdale Manor? As it is, we get all these hordes of American and Japanese tourists driving through the village in their huge tour busses, and they are most tiresome with all their cameras and fizzy drinks.” She tilted her head, looking up at her tall host.
“I have no actual plans of that kind, but I´ll think about it.” He smiled politely and looked around him to check that all was going well.
“Olivia, you must come and support me in my petition to his lordship,” Rose cried out, hailing Olivia Cadbury-Flake from the other side of the room.
“But you can´t close Borrowbridge Road. You can´t be serious, Rose.” Tuxford stared at Rose before he turned his candid face towards Sir Bellini. “Closing that road will be the death of my grocery!”
“Well, it´s not as if there is much left to salvage, is there? Tuxford, it´s time you learn to face reality.” She sipped at her drink, enjoying the grocer´s confused frown. It was always fun to poke a stick at Tuxford.
“It´s early days yet so let us wait and see, shall we,” Sir Bellini mumbled while extricating himself from Rose´s silky snare. “If you´ll excuse me, I think I ought to circulate a bit.”
“Reality? It´s not as if we can eat and drink reality, is it?” Tuxford craned his short neck and emptied his wine glass in one gulp.
“Remember, Evy is going to inherit me one day.” Rose patted the grocer´s tweed elbow.
“Let´s face it, Rose, she may have to wait forever and a day.” With a violent shrug of his shoulder he pulled back from her.
“Let´s face it, Tuxford, it may not happen in your time.” She narrowed her eyes while she pretended to laugh off his boorish behaviour.
Less than an hour later Rose slipped into the enormous library with the dark-brown oak panels. She knew she shouldn´t, but when she saw the worn, black case hanging unobtrusively in the corner, her hands stretched out and her fingers began unclasping it of their own accord. She told herself it did not matter, really. Their host had invited them to take a look at his home, and there could not be any harm in taking a peep. She was his old school friend, after all.
What was that? Why wasn´t she wearing her glasses? Because she was vain, that was why. Rose stood on tiptoe and squinted, trying to get a proper look at the content of the case.
A door creaked behind her, making her jump. She scuttled out of the other door, her heart beating excitedly, without waiting to see who had caught her red-handed. Slightly breathless, she dived into a circle of guests who were sharing some never-ending joke about a sailor, laughing loudly while slapping herself on her thighs as if she had got the point.