Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chapter One

“Come in, Norman.”

“Yes, Lady Sutherland.”

“Sit down.”

“Thank you, Lady Sutherland.”

“I gather Foster has found something disagreeable in the motor car.”

“Yes, Lady Sutherland.”

“A torso, George said. Headless.”

“Yes, Lady Sutherland.”

“You’re quite sure it is headless?”

“Quite, Lady Sutherland.”


“I beg your pardon, Lady Sutherland?” Although dependable and thorough, Norman was at times slow.

“Does it have limbs, Norman?”

“No, Lady Sutherland.”

“How provoking.”

“Lady Sutherland?”

“A headless torso is bad enough without being limbless as well. Two more stray parts drifting about. At least four more bits to account for. Four more at least: one head, two arms, nether regions—assuming they’re in one piece.

“No guarantees there, Lady Sutherland.”

“Exactly my point, Norman. Sex?”

“Male, Lady Sutherland, as far as we call tell.”

“Don’t be silly, Norman. How can there be any doubt?”

“The Colonel felt we shouldn’t unwrap it before Dr. Craddock comes back from golf.”

“Unwrap it? What on earth is it wrapped up in?”

“A lady’s foundation garment, Lady Sutherland.” Millicent Sutherland suppressed what might otherwise have been mistaken for a girlish giggle; Norman’s phrasing was impeccable as always, but she formed a mental picture of the young gentlemen of the Governor’s household puzzling over a torso wrapped in smalls. She recovered her composure.

“Good Heavens! But you say Foster thinks it is, was, male—a man—never mind the foundation garment?”

“Yes, Lady Sutherland. He was very specific.”

“Odd. Do we know him?”

“I’m sure I cannot say, Lady Sutherland.”

“No, I suppose not. Nothing there to go on, really, is there?”

“Quite, Lady Sutherland.”

“What have you done with it—him?”

“The Colonel felt it best to leave it—him—in the Rolls until Foster can find a suitable spot in the cool room.”

“Out of the question, Norman. The Rolls is no place for a headless torso, wrapped or unwrapped—animal, vegetable or mineral.”

“No, Lady Sutherland.”

“Think of the germs, Norman.”

“Yes, Lady Sutherland.”

“The same applies to the cool room, apart from the obvious.”

“Lady Sutherland?”

“Cook,” said Lady Sutherland.

“Ah,” said Norman.

“In and out. Constantly rummaging for comestibles.”

“He is slightly short on imagination, Lady Sutherland.”

“On the contrary, Norman. Cook has a vivid imagination. Lots of ideas, most of them dreadful. We don’t want him grilling parts of it by mistake.”

“I could speak to him.”

“Now you know that’s not a good idea, Norman. I’m quite sure he’s never seen a foundation garment. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

“I suppose so.” Norman grasped the larger point, even if in this case, as in so many others, he found it difficult to trace the individual steps in Lady Sutherland’s reasoning. “What about the tool shed?” he added, doubtfully.

“Worse: Sock would probably put it in the compost like everything else.” Lady Sutherland sighed, and tapped the arm of her chair with a pencil. “We had better have Foster use the laundry.”

“You don’t think it might get mixed up with the washing?”

“I shall speak to Mrs. Huntingfield.”

“If you say so, Lady Sutherland.”

“Right away, Norman. Chop, chop.”

“Very good, Lady Sutherland.”

“Oh, Norman?”

“Yes, Lady Sutherland?”

“I shouldn’t say anything about this to Miss Edwards. Rather overzealous and inquisitive. Sleeping dogs, and all that.”

“Quite, Lady Sutherland.”

“That’s all, Norman. Off you go.”

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