[Published as “The Deadly Sin of Avarice” in the collection “Christmas in Knavesborough“]
When the rumour of old Helleboria Everthorpe´s demise ran from mouth to mouth in Knavesborough, the knitting club didn´t hesitate for a second. Evy ran into her kitchen to produce a batch of Christmas biscuits, Olivia went to the hairdresser and Thelma bought a new dress. Mildred ran a comb through her grey perm and did her best to squeeze her thighs into her best tartan skirt. She hoped no one would notice she had to secure it with a safety pin on the back these days.
They shuffled briefly on the threshold, but mostly for the sake of appearances. Of course it was Olivia who planted her well-groomed fingertip on the doorbell and spoke for the club.
– We were so sorry to hear about your loss. Compassion was not really part of Olivia´s repertoire, but her thin lips quivered a bit like a bunny rabbit.
– Thank you. Won´t you come in? Euphorbia Everthorpe-Smythe opened the door a few inches to let them in, but she was forced to step aside to admit Mildred´s bulky shape.
Euphorbia looked unreasonably well for her age, Mildred reflected. Just a pity she had had so much sun her cheeks looked like sole leather.
– We have brought some Christmas biscuits. Evy smiled warmly and displayed a plate of gingerbread men.
– Oh? In a conditioned reflex, Euphorbia´s hand refuted the biscuits as if they were a danger to public health and safety, but then she looked like one of those scrawny models on a perpetual diet. A brief smile crossed her face. – I suppose we´d better have a cup of tea in Mama´s sitting room.
– Are you planning to stay in Knavesborough now that you have returned home? Thelma´s words must be directed towards Euphorbia, but her eyes darted around in the packed room, busy assessing the late Mrs Everthorpe´s bric-a-brac. Old Helleboria had been an obstinate, old warmonger; rumour had it that no one but her char had set foot in her house for the best of fifteen years.
– My goodness, no! As soon as I have put Mama´s house up for sale, I´ll go back to Cambridge. The institute will need my presence before long.
– I´d have thought Michaelmas term…, Mildred began.
– And you didn´t bring your husband along? Professor Smythe? Olivia gazed at Euphorbia with her mouth slightly open.
– No, I did not. Her expression did not change, but Mildred could have sworn her cool eyes grew narrower.
– But there… that´s…. that Christmas plate… A drop of tea or saliva ran down Thelma´s chin, and she put the cup down so fast that the liquid splashed on the laquered sidetable.
Euphorbia pulled out a snowwhite handkerchief and rubbed at the tiny drop. – So you are interested in Mama´s Wedgwood collection?
– Well, it is mostly that particular plate, that is Tower Bridge, the Christmas plate from 1975. One of the few Christmas plates I have never got hold of.
– Really? She rubbed the table vehemently.
– Would you consider selling it?
The thin shoulders shrugged. – I have not made up my mind what to do about Mama´s collection yet. I intend to get in touch with one of Sotheby´s experts first thing next week. Then we shall see.
Come back for the ending tomorrow.