Monday, 16 November 2009

Chapter 20 - Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be?

'Oh dear, what can the matter be? Honeybun Slingsby's got stuck in the lavatory. She's been there from Monday to Saturday, and I really don't give a hoot,' sang Mrs Miggins.

'Is that appropriate?' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And are those the right words? They don't seem to scan very well.'
'No and no,' said Mrs Miggins, although she really didn't care. The first concert rehearsal had gone extremely well on so many levels. One, all the sound equipment had worked for the first time, despite it being run from a standard three pin socket and multi-point extension lead running from the hallway in the North Wing of Cluckinghen Palace. Two, she could still remember all the words to their Poulet Nous Tribute Act performance set, even the complicated arrangement of 'Take a Chance on Me,' and three, Honeybun Slingsby had returned from her mysterious meeting looking paler than an anorexic vampire, and when Boom had asked her if she was all right because she looked awful, she'd slapped him hard around the beak and run off crying.

It had been a surprisingly good day. And now, she and Pumphrey and Slocombe were sitting in front of the first open fire of the season, eating supper-on-a-tray and watching a repeat of 'Top Gear' on Dave. The weather had passed into a cold snap, and the girls had decided it was time to crank up the wood burner.
'I'm getting our old costumes trunk out of the attic after supper,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Bob has offered to go through them with me and help with any restyling that might need doing. He's a dab hand with sequins apparently.'
'I bet he is,' said Mrs Miggins. 'You've taken a bit of a shine to Bob Frapples, haven't you, Gloria?'
'I like him, if that's what you mean,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'He's very pleasant company. We seem to share a wavelength.'
Mrs Miggins laughed. 'If that's what you want to call it,' she said.
'Well, 'said Pumphrey, 'I've noticed you and Dave getting a bit chummy, too. Poor Boom.'
'What do you mean, 'poor Boom?'' demanded Miggins. 'Don't be giving him any sympathy. He had his chance with me years ago and he blew it. If he prefers to run about with that Slingsby strumpet, then that's his loss, not mine.'
'She's got a point,' said Mrs Slocombe, wiping up the last of her tomato and banana soup with a hefty chunk of granary. 'I mean, you only get one chance at love, that's what I think. And once you've plighted your trough at someone else's pigsty, well, you've got to move on, haven't you?'
'Boom doesn't like it when you cosy up to Dave, though,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'I've seen him, looking all seething and miserable at the same time.'
'And I didn't like it when I came home from work that day and found Honeybun Slingsby wearing my comedy cooking apron...'
'...the one with the ducks on it?' interjected Mrs Slocombe.
'...yes, in my kitchen, making Boom his favourite recipe, and her stupid chihuahua sitting on the kitchen table shedding hair in the butter,' finished Miggins.

They were interrupted by a rap at the door. An urgent rap.
'This always happens when we watch 'Top Gear,' sighed Mrs Miggins.'It's like there's a Universal conspiracy to keep me away from Richard Hammond.'

She got up and trudged to the front door. Opening it, she discovered me on the door step.
'Hello,' she said. 'This is an unexpected visit. I thought you'd be watching 'Top Gear' on Dave.'
'I was,' I said. 'But then I had a really odd phone call from your Italian Professor's girlfriend. A Honeybun Singsby.'
'Really?' said Mrs Miggins, 'you'd better come in,' and she stepped to one side. I followed her to the kitchen.
'Don't mind me,' said Miggins, donning a pair of rubber gloves, 'I'll carry on with the washing up whilst you talk.'
'Well,' I said, sitting at the kitchen table. 'This Honeybun Slingsby calls me. And she says that the Professor really likes the grounds of Much Malarkey Manor, since he's got to know them better by digging them up. And that would Andy and I consider selling the Manor to him.'
'WHAT?' said Miggins, dropping a soup bowl onto the flagstone floor and shattering it into a gazzillion pieces, not unlike what happened to the inner door of my oven a few weeks ago.
'I know,' I said. 'So Andy and I got to thinking that perhaps this rare marble that's been found under the Japanese water garden that was, is a lot more valuable than we thought. I mean, why else would someone make such a sudden and potentially rash decision to buy a property on the strength of its gardens?'

Mrs Miggins downed her Marigolds and sat next to me at the table.
'I don't know,' she said. What on earth were Boom and Honeybun up to?
'What did you say next?' said Miggins.
'I said we'd get back to her,' I said.
'You're not seriously considering selling the Manor, are you?' Mrs Miggins said. She was shocked and appalled that they would even consider this option, especially as she and Pumphrey and Slocombe were busting a gut to save it from the evil peoperty developer, Cleverly Dangled, although Denise and Andy knew nothing about the planned concert...yet.
'It was a very good offer she made,' I said. 'Quite a lot more than the last valuation that was done on the place.'
'That wouldn't be difficult,' sniffed Miggins. 'Given that the last person to have the Manor valued was Earl Gregory the Fanciful, back in 1472. What was it? Twelve groats or something? What's the exchange rate for a groat these days?'
'All right,' I said. 'Point taken. But we've improved the property since we bought it. We've installed Cluckinghen Palace, luxury poultry accommodation, for a start.'

Mrs Miggins wondered if now would be a good time to call Tango Pete and ask him to come over and put the 'fluence on Denise, to make her forget about this offer, as she was looking more than a little tempted by the thought of more than twelve groats in coldhard cash. (By the way, if you are thinking that Tango Pete seems an extremely multi-talented finger-in-all-the-pies kind of guy, you'd be right. He is.)

Instead, she decided to go for the sympathetic approach.
'But what would happen to us?' she said. 'To me and Gloria and Betty?'
'Well, you'd come with us,' I said. 'Wherever we go. We'd never leave you girls behind. You mean too much to us.'
'Oooooh, said Mrs Miggins. 'I don't think a move in the Winter would be a good thing for Mrs Slocombe. You know how the cold weather makes the blood migrate away from her brain. It'll only make her madder than she is already.'

I hadn't thought of this. 'Hmmm, you've got a point there,' I said. 'I think Andy and I had better sleep on it. See how it looks in the cold light of day.'
'It is a bit chilly,isn't it?' said Mrs Miggins. 'We've lit our woodburner.'
'So I noticed,' I said, rising to my feet and making for the door. 'Your chimney's on fire.'

Once the fire brigade had left(luckily, the chimney was merely smokey and overly warm, it hadn't reached full-blown inferno status), Mrs Miggins sat down and told the others the news from the Manor.
'But why does Boom want to buy it?' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'He knows that the whole rare Italian marble thing is a tale made up to put Andy and Denise off the scent of the concert.'
'Yes,' said Mrs Miggins. 'I know he knows that. Which makes me think he's up to something. Or rather, that Honeybun is up to something, that Boom knows nothing about. A bit of detective work is called for, I think.'
'That'll be me, then,' said Mrs Slocombe, who had already donned her Sherlock Holmes deer stalker hat. She had tried lighting her Sherlock Holmes pipe, but the fire brigade had put it out after they'd finished extinguishing the wood burner and now it was too damp to relight.

'Good,' said Mrs Miggins. 'You have a snoop around and see what you can find out. Then report back to us immediately. And try to be subtle, Betty.'
Mrs Slocombe stared at Mrs Miggins.
'Not a good time to be wearing my Groucho Marx moustache and enormous eyebrows disguise, then?' she said.
'No,' said Mrs Miggins.

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