Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Private Visit

In the ancient seaside town of Tilling, the week had started in a quiet and orderly fashion. All seemed well under control: just as Herbert Morrison liked it.

It was now 10.30a.m.and Tilling’s senior police officer, Inspector Morrison sat behind his desk stirring a cup of tea and pondering a custard cream biscuit. His in-tray was already virtually empty and his out-tray piled with neatly annotated files.

The two folders still in the in-tray bore the name of long-standing resident of the town and its Mayoress, Mrs Elizabeth Mapp-Flint. One related to an alleged incident of scrumping of apples from her isolated garden at “Grebe” on low-lying ground outside the town. This case remained stubbornly unsolved despite regular inquiries from the victim, coupled with vociferous demands that her prime suspect, a youth from one of Mr Twistevant’s slums down by the railway station, be taken into custody immediately and interrogated with utmost vigour until the larceny was admitted.

The other file contained innumerable written and oral complaints by the Mayoress regarding the obstruction caused during marketing hours almost daily by the unauthorised parking of the Rolls Royce owned by prominent residents Mr and Mrs Algernon Wyse of “Starling Cottage”.

Notwithstanding her membership of the august Order of the British Empire, Mrs Wyse – according to her very dear friend Mrs Mapp-Flint – “consistently flouted the Road Traffic Acts and no-doubt countless other bye-laws under the pretext of ordering her shopping requisites at the risk of life and limb to all Tilling’s other law abiding citizenry.” As Elizabeth so eloquently put it, “The overriding demands of civic duty and concern for the public wheal cause me to draw the matter to your attention Inspector, notwithstanding my own personal feelings towards an intimate friend of many years standing.”

Both “cases” remained “unsolved” with unfortunate though small impact upon Tilling’s otherwise impeccable crime statistics.

On the whole Inspector Morrison preferred not to utilise his admittedly not particularly overstretched manpower upon these issues. He recognised that the price to be paid for so doing was the mild irritation of persistent enquiries upon “progress” from the Mayoress. “Still,” he thought, “If it wasn’t her apples or ‘dear Susan’s Royce’, it would be some other bloomin’ thing” and bit into his custard cream.

Pausing for breath, the Inspector turned to happier matters and mulled over the previous weekend. Saturday had been spent gardening at his neat semi-detached villa “Braemar”, just outside the town. On Sunday, he had enjoyed taking his nine year old twins James and Doris out on their new bicycles again. They had cycled past the old harbour and around the marshland nearby and had returned home along the line of the old steam tram.

He was introducing the children to his own boyhood hobby of bird-watching and they had seen a variety of waders and migratory wildfowl amongst the shallows. He was pleased that the twins had enjoyed it so much. As he was considering where next to explore with them, his peace was interrupted by the shrill ring of his telephone.

As he picked up the black Bakelite hand-piece, his desk sergeant announced, “A trunk call for you Inspector – from London,” and added, disapprovingly, “Wouldn’t say who he was.”

Intrigued, the Inspector assumed what his wife Bunty called his “telephone voice” which she suggested he reserved specially for giving evidence in court, speaking to the Mayor of Tilling and taking trunk calls. “Good morning: Tilling Constabulary. Inspector Morrison speaking,” he began confidently.

“Good day. Inspector,” boomed an even more confident voice seventy or so miles away as the crow flies in the capital - though whether crows ever had occasion to do so is another matter. “My name is Colonel Toby Goring-Smythe. I’m Equerry to Her Majesty, the Queen. I wanted to let you know that Her Majesty will be making a private visit to your neck of the woods in a few weeks time.”

“Oh, I see Colonel, splendid news indeed,” Herbert replied, rising to his most elevated trunk-call accent. Switching into professional mode, he quickly fired off a list of questions addressing practical issues which would form the basis of his lengthy check list of things to do in the coming days.

The Equerry advised Herbert that, “The Queen would be travelling with her party by motor car to stay for a week with Lord and Lady Ardingly at Ardingly Hall, just down the road from Tilling,” and continued, “You may remember that the Prince of Wales stayed with the Ardinglys a few months ago. ”

“Indeed, I do Colonel” replied Herbert deferentially. He remembered the merry dance the heir to the throne had led Tillingites one exhausting weekend as on Saturday they looked for him en masse on the golf links whilst he was pottering around the deserted town and vice versa on Sunday.

“Her Majesty will spend most of her time on the estate whilst the King is shooting at Sandringham. She does however hope to use the opportunity of her stay to revisit several of the Cinque Ports and call at some of their excellent antique shops to make purchases for the Royal Collections. In Tilling she would particularly like to visit the establishment of Mr Gascoyne. Her Majesty has also let it be known that she would also be graciously pleased again to take tea with your Mayor in her charming home, if invited, of course.”

“I have no doubt that both Mr Gascoyne and Mrs Pillson will be honoured to extend appropriate invitations and will leave you to contact them direct,” said Herbert. “Please rest assured that all appropriate arrangements from the posting of additional patrols in the vicinity of Ardingly Hall to the martialling of crowds and the policing of our streets to ensure the safe and secure passage of the Royal Party will be put in hand.”

“Thank you, Inspector,” replied the Colonel, “I would expect no less. I know the Queen very much looks forward to revisiting Tilling.  I will leave you to your arrangements. Good day.”

With a click, the purr of the dialling tone resumed and the Inspector thoughtfully put down the receiver. “A private visit to Tilling; just wait till Bunty hears this,” he thought and summoned his desk sergeant to convene the first of many meetings to plan for the great day.

Within twenty four hours the scheme for the efficient martialling of the might of the Tilling constabulary was in place. Rotas and detailed plans - including maps and diagrams – had been prepared for the patrolling of the perimeter of Ardingly Park and for the policing of the highways to and from Tilling. All leave was cancelled and each resolute bobby knew his allocated task in protecting the royal personage whilst within Tilling’s ancient walls.

There now only remained to liaise with the principal hosts regarding the fine-tuning of arrangements and what Herbert privately called “the choreography of the visit”. Inspector Morrison appreciated that strictly speaking such details lay outside his responsibilities, but knew well, as he had gravely advised Bunty over breakfast that “for such events the devil lies in the detail” and that a little prompting here and suggestion there might save - as he put it –“all sort of ructions in the long run”.

 “Anyway,” he thought as he walked down West Street and knocked on the door of Mallards House, “Organising a bridge tea or garden fete is one thing, but a visit from the Queen of England is quite another. Her Worship is welcome to take the credit, but I’ll just make sure it all works well on the day.”

As he pondered what was for him an unusually subversive thought, Grosvenor answered the door and led him to the Mayor, who awaited him in the garden room.

“Good morning, Inspector”, said Lucia, “Thank you so much for finding time to come and see me this morning. I imagine you’ve been very busy since our latest little piece of news. I gather you have spoken to Colonel Goring-Smythe?”

“Yes, indeed, Your Worship” Herbert replied, adopting what Bunty playfully called his “speaking-to –the –Mayor- voice”, “I received  his telephone call yesterday morning and, if you’ll pardon the expression, my feet haven’t really touched the ground since then. But I am pleased to say,” he added, “I think everything is now more or less in place - subject to this conversation with you and with Mr Gascoyne at ‘Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe’.”

“Excellent. That sounds very promising. I would like to review all the arrangements and the programme for the visit with you in a moment,” said the Mayor, “First, however I have a personal matter upon which I would like to consult you - or indeed to ‘report’ to you.”

“Indeed, Ma’am, what might that be? Herbert replied, intrigued.

“I think it might help if I asked my husband to join us,” replied the Mayor pressing the ivory button by the fireplace. This rang a bell which summoned the peerless parlour maid Foljambe, who in turn summoned Georgie Pillson, in name the master of “Mallards House”.

A few moments later Georgie entered, a veritable blur of anxiety and nervous tension. The normally smooth brow of Tilling’s eternal jeune premier was uncharacteristically furrowed. “Good morning, Inspector. How nice to see you,” he said courteously, “I assume you’re here to discuss arrangements for the royal visit?”

“Yes, Mr Pillson,” Herbert replied, “But I think there was something of a personal nature that Mrs Pillson wished to discuss first”.

“Oh, really Lucia”, said Georgie, “I specifically said I didn’t want to trouble the Inspector about such a small matter. I’m sure the items in question will turn up.”

“Nonsense Georgie,” responded Lucia, adopting her most magisterial tone, “Things don’t just ‘turn up’, as you put it, when they are extremely valuable and have been removed with no explanation from a locked display cabinet.”

Catching the full force of the wind of virtue, her sails of oratory billowed and, like a majestic galleon, Lucia sailed fulsomely on, “As Chief Magistrate of the town I have a duty to uphold the law and must set an example. When the law has clearly been broken, it is our duty to report it and assist wherever possible so that the culprit is apprehended and justice is seen to be done. I really must insist that we place the matter in the hands of the appropriate authority – and that is our good Inspector Morrison.”

“Really Lucia, this is most tarsome.  I would much rather not trouble the Inspector – however ‘appropriate’ he might be” said Georgie, visibly weakening.

“No Georgie,” replied Lucia firmly “Our duty is clear. Will you tell the Inspector or shall I?”

“If you must then, Lucia,” Georgie conceded and slumped into an armchair with a sigh, looking pointedly out of the window down West Street, as though disassociating himself from the impending revelations. 
“Well Inspector,” continued Lucia, entirely unaffected by her husband’s disapproval, “Our problem is simple, but puzzling.”

“Do carry on, Your Worship,” encouraged Herbert, who was intrigued to learn what felony could possibly have taken place in Tilling’s most prestigious and respectable residence.

“No doubt you remember the treasured possessions stolen from my husband years ago by the fraudulent guru, curry cook, burglar – call him what you will – from his former home in Riseholme?”

“Indeed I do, Ma’am” Herbert replied. He smiled with the happy recollection of his successful apprehension of the self-same criminal, who recently visited Tilling under the cover of performing as a fakir with the travelling circus. When reporting his feat of detection the normally staid “Hampshire Argus” spoke of the, “Magpie fakir,” who was “single-handedly responsible for a shocking one man sea-side crime wave.” 

“Largely through your efforts Inspector, many valuable objets were recovered, including Georgie’s favourite miniature by Karl Huth and an exquisite piece of enamelled Faberge,” Lucia explained. “My husband was delighted to be able to restore these items which were the pride of his collection to their rightful place among his bibelots in the glass display case in this garden room.”
Lucia pointed towards the case whose lid was open and which was now half-empty. She continued, “The case is kept permanently locked and the only key is held by my husband who attends to the dusting of the contents personally. We have a mystery worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, do we not?”
At this point with what verged upon a whimper, Georgie entered the fray once more and turned his attention to Herbert, “Really, Inspector I would prefer to let the matter rest and not to make any more fuss.”

“No, Georgino mio, no!” Lucia intervened, “It is typically selfless of you to wish to save the time of our hard-pressed police, but I’m sure Inspector Morrison will agree with me that theft of such valuable works of art from the home of the Mayor is a serious matter requiring urgent investigation. Why it attacks and undermines the very foundations of both of the twin pillars of our society in Tilling:  Order and Art. We owe it to civilisation to ensure that the Philistines shall not prevail.”

“Very well, Lucia. If you put it like that,” sighed Georgie weakly. Summoning his last reserves of sarcasm, he added, “It’s just that I didn’t really think my missing bibelots presaged the collapse of civilisation. I haven’t seen a Goth or Vandal in the High Street for simply ages. Perhaps they came on early-closing day.”

“Now, now Georgino mio,” coo-ed Lucia, “I know you are disturbed about the loss of your favourite things and will forgive your sarcasm: now Inspector, what next?”

“Well, Your Worship,” replied Herbert taking out his notebook and pencil and opening the first page in readiness, “First, I need to take some basic details from you both and then, since I’m here, I shall interview each of your domestic staff.”

At this, Georgie shifted uneasily in his armchair and wrung his hands, “Inspector,” he said, “Will it really be necessary to interrogate our staff? Most have been with us for many years. Foljambe won’t like it at all. She really won’t.”

“I’m afraid that it will be necessary, Sir,” the Inspector replied and began a sequence of questions clarifying the description and value of the missing items, when and by whom they were last seen, touched and cleaned.

It was established that there had been no unusual visitors or events in recent days and that no trace of forced or unauthorised entry into the garden room or the display cabinet had been found.

At this point the Inspector continued, “Thank you for those details Mr and Mrs Pillson. We clearly have mystery as to how the miniature and Faberge went missing. I think it will now be necessary to interview your servants. Shall I make a start with Foljambe or should I call her ‘Mrs. Cadman’?”

To everyone’s surprise – including to some extent himself – Georgie leapt up athletically and stepped between Lucia and the ivory button, thus preventing her from ringing to summons Foljambe, “It’s no use Inspector, I really can’t let this charade continue,” cried Georgie, somewhat dramatically. “I just can’t continue with this deceit a minute more and in any event I’m just no good at lying. Also, I couldn’t possibly let Foljambe, Grosvenor or even cook be interviewed by the police for something they didn’t do”.

“Calm yourself, Mr Pillson,” responded Herbert as soothingly as he could, “Now sit down and tell us exactly what happened.”   
Concerned glances were exchanged between the Mayor and her senior police officer as Georgie dabbed his moist brow with his handkerchief and sat down wringing it in the manner of an agitated prima donna.

After composing himself, Georgie took a deep breath and continued, “Well you both know how much I simply adore my bibelots. They really meant the world to me and I was mortified when they were stolen back in Riseholme. That theft left such unhappy memories that it really wasn’t too hard for me to leave the village altogether and make a new life here in Tilling.”

“I can endorse that sentiment entirely, Inspector,” interjected Lucia sympathetically, “Do continue Georgie dear.”

“Thank you Lucia,” said Georgie, “Now, where was I? Oh yes, my bibelots. You can imagine how delighted I was to recover them when you cleverly apprehended that ghastly guru chap. It was like seeing old friends again and I have so enjoyed their company again after so long away.”

“Yes, Mr Georgie,” said the Inspector a tad impatiently, “But what exactly has this got to do with them going missing this week?”

“Yes, Inspector, I was coming to that,” Georgie answered, “It started when I heard we were going to be honoured with another royal visit. I remembered when Her Majesty last visited Tilling. It was an official visit that time.”

“A marvellous day, Inspector, during my first term as Mayor,” added Lucia, who was keen to give what moral support she could to her husband

“Yes, Lucia” Georgie responded, eager to resume his narrative, “Her Majesty sat in that very chair and  looked at my bibelots, saying how much she admired the Karl Huth miniature and piece by Faberge and how she had similar items in the Royal Collection. I said ‘How very interesting Ma’am’ and thought no more of it. She then went on to admire those curtains embroidered with scenes from the history of Tilling and Lucia arranged for them to be taken down, wrapped and presented to Her Majesty as a gift from the town.”

“Yes, Georgie, That’s exactly what happened,” responded Lucia, “But what has that got to do with the latest disappearance?”

“You’ll understand in a moment,” Georgie replied, “This brings me on to a remark made at dinner when I was at Olga Bracely’s house party at Le Touquet. You remember Lucia, that gruesome time when absolutely no-one in Tilling would believe the Duchess of Sheffield had stayed overnight at ‘Mallards House.’”

“Indeed I do, Georgino mio. None of my so-called friends believed me – even Quaint Irene. I shall never forget it. Anyway, who said what?”

“Well, Poppy Sheffield and Adele Brixton were gossiping with Olga about the alleged habit of a certain very elevated member of the royal family to remark how much she admired particular items in homes she was visiting and how much they would grace the Royal Collection and simply wait and wait and wait. Eventually the penny dropped and the host would inquire whether Her Majesty would do them the honour of accepting the object in question as a gift.”

“Oh I see, Mr Pillson; the penny has dropped at last,” admitted Herbert, “In short you were concerned lest Her Majesty make it clear to you that she would be willing to add your favourite bibelots to the Royal Collection?”

“Yes, Inspector,” said Georgie “I am ashamed to say that is exactly what I feared. On her last visit, perhaps Her Majesty only gave up on the Huth miniature and Faberge because she was distracted by the curtains. I was frightened that she only wanted to come again to have another try and I panicked”

“So Mr Pillson, nothing has either been stolen or lost?” Herbert asked.

“No Inspector. I removed them from the display case and hid them somewhere no-one would ever find them,” he replied.

With these words Georgie rose and left the room. He proceeded upstairs to his dressing room and picked up the block on which his toupet normally rested overnight. Turning it upside down he removed the false bottom to reveal the compartment within and extracted the Karl Huth miniature and Faberge enamel, carefully wrapped in tissue paper. Returning to the garden room Georgie, resignedly place the pieces upon the glass top of the display case and sighed.

“I’m so sorry to have made all this trouble and wasted your time Inspector, but that’s the whole truth,” Georgie explained and continued, “I appreciate that you will probably need to charge me with wasting police time or some other offence. I hope it wasn’t some form of treason. Do you want me to get my overcoat and accompany you to the police station? I’m so sorry to bring such shame upon you as Mayor, Lucia. I wouldn’t have done such a thing intentionally for the entire world.”

“Wait a moment Mr Pillson,” said the Inspector reassuringly, “I think we should all keep this matter in perspective, don’t you?”

“I think I am about to agree with you entirely, Inspector,” Lucia replied, “Pray continue.”

“Thank you Ma’am,” Herbert replied, “As I see it, I was invited here today to discuss arrangements for the private visit next week. Prior to doing so, it was mentioned that Mr Pillson – as was his right – decided to remove from display two very valuable pieces which were his property and had previously been stolen and recovered. The location of the items in question had been temporarily forgotten and then remembered with no harm done. I can think of no offence that might have occurred under English criminal law as it now stands, Your Worship.”

“Thank you Inspector for that very lucid analysis,” Lucia responded, “I’m sure we are very grateful; are we not Georgie?”

“Oh, yes, so grateful Inspector,” said Georgie whose brow had un-furrowed for the first time that day, making him once more resemble the jeune premier of Tilling.

“If I might be permitted to make some final practical suggestions Mr and Mrs Pillson,” continued Herbert, sensing that his listeners were in receptive mode. “Perhaps it might be timely to arrange for your more choice bibelots to be away undergoing any necessary restoration or cleaning at the time of the visit?”

“A very astute suggestion,” Lucia replied

“But what about the gap in my display of bibelots, Inspector?” added Georgie “Won’t it look odd?”

“Well that reminds me of something my Bunty read to me from her ‘Woman’s Own’ magazine a week or two back,” replied Herbert, “It said that Sir Edward Lutyens, the famous architect created an exquisite doll’s house for Her Majesty’s collection of miniature pieces. It’s known to be her pride and joy.”

“I think I see where you are heading, Inspector” laughed Lucia.

“Yes Ma’am, you might look out for a suitable miniature of two and place them in the display case instead of the Karl Huth and Faberge. You can then be ready for them to be admired and happily donate them.”

“Thank you so much, Inspector” Lucia replied “We shall do exactly as you suggest. In fact we might take the opportunity to accompany you when you call upon Mr Gascoyne at ‘Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe’ today to see if he has anything suitable in stock.”

“Yes, indeed,” added Georgie, “Thank you for your understanding and practical approach. I have been so worried. One lives and learns. I think I now understand only too clearly what the term “la reine le veut” literally implies.  Also, I never thought the motto “Ich dien” would turn out to mean “I help myself.”

After the problem of Georgie’s “missing” bibelots was resolved, Lucia and the Mayor were able to review arrangements for the private visit remarkably quickly. The motorcade from Ardingly Park was scheduled to arrive at at ‘Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe’.

After viewing the premises and making any purchases under the supervision of Mr Gascoyne, Lucia and Georgie would meet Her Majesty there and conduct her the short distance through the streets of Tilling to take tea at “Mallards House”. It was anticipated that a crowd would gather in the streets and hoped that Her Majesty might have time to speak to one or two Tillingites.

“That all seems very satisfactory, Inspector” concluded Lucia as they rose to leave the garden room, “One other thing though; although this is a private visit I thought it might mark the occasion if a small bouquet of flowers and appropriate gift  were presented to Her Majesty on her arrival at ‘Mallards House’.”

“A very good idea, Your Worship,” Herbert replied.

“I wondered if we could ask your twins Doris and James to carry out this duty on behalf of the children of Tilling?” asked Lucia, “They always seem so pleasant and sensible.”

“I’m sure they would be thrilled to be asked. Bunty and I would be very proud for them to do it, Ma’am,” said Herbert, already looking forward to announcing the news of this honour at “Braemar”.

Having completed their business, the Mayor and her Inspector set off to make final arrangements with Mr Gascoyne at ‘Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe’ and to purchase some appealing miniatures, which it was hoped Her Majesty might graciously consider, would make a suitable addition to the Royal Collection.

The day of the private visit dawned dry and sunny in Tilling. During morning marketing in the High Street this was naturally the only topic of conversation as residents disclosed what they would be wearing to mark the special event and where they proposed to stand to obtain the best view and maximum chance to converse with Her Majesty.

A consensus developed that the pavement outside “Mallards House” afforded the most superior vantage point.

Upon learning that the private nature of the visit meant that, as Mayoress, she would have no part whatsoever to play in the proceedings, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint typically grew bitter. She criticised what she called “the Mayor and Mr Gascoyne’s rather vulgar exercise in self-promotion” and “deplored the very visit and everyone in Tilling connected with it.”

This tirade was taken as very disloyal and unpatriotic by the stoutly royalist burghers of the town. The Wyses, Bartletts and Diva Plaistow all agreed that they were looking forward to the day and were disdainful of what they called “poor Elizabeth’s sourness”. To a man they felt, “it does her no credit at all.”

To avoid universal social ostracism over this issue, Elizabeth had been forced to conform and feigned a growing enthusiasm for the visitation from on-high.

Considering her initial scepticism a degree of amazement greeted the sight of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint as she tripped jauntily down West Street thirty minutes or so before the royal arrival in Tilling. Her normal summer day wear of green skirt, blouse and hat were newly trimmed with silk ribbon in a patriotic red, white and blue stripe and the ensemble was completed with a broad sash in these Union Jack colours across her ample bosom, finishing in a large rosette resting upon her right hip.

“Why ‘tis a most striking costume, ye ken Maistress Mapp-Flint” intoned the Padre, somewhat taken aback, but as ever never at a loss for words in archaic Scotch.

“Thank you Padre,” simpered Elizabeth, “I thought I should make a teensy effort. Even though excluded from the proceedings in my own town and indeed my own home, I wanted to demonstrate my loyalty, as least. What lovely day for it.”

At his point Quaint Irene Coles strode upon the scene in breeches and fisherman’s jersey with her trusty briar clenched between her teeth. After walking around the Mayoress first in one direction and then in the other, she paused theatrically. “Good Lord, Mapp,” she exclaimed, with typical frankness, “What have you come as? You look like a cross between a Morris dancer, Madame Robespierre at the height of the Terror and a rampant suffragette. You aren’t going to throw yourself under the wheels of the royal motorcade are you?”

Gritting her ample teeth, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint did her best to rise above Irene’s mockery. Long experience had taught her that it was futile to attempt to counter Miss Cole’s barbs and that the most effective course was to make light of them and try to change the subject, “Oh, Quaint one, always here to lift our spirits with your bon mots and salty apercus: always such a joy. Anyway, do we have any news of the imminent arrival?”

Enjoying an opportunity to practice her favourite hobby of what she called “Mapp baiting” so publicly, Irene ignored the question and substituted another, “All alone today then Mapp? So you’ve let the Major off the leash?”

“Not exactly, precious one”, Elizabeth replied through molars so firmly gritted that movement was virtually impossible, “My dear Benjy boy is taking advantage of the glorious sunshine for a round of golf, actually.”

“Oh, I see” countered Irene “I bet he’s already in the club bar drinking whisky and soda’s and shocking the committee with his saucy tales of the Pride of Poona. Quai Hai!”

“Really Miss Coles,” said Elizabeth, as frostily as she could plausibly manage, adorned as she was in festive ribbons, “One day, you’ll go too far,” and turned her back.

Having thoroughly enjoyed this diversion, conversation amongst Lucia’s friends focused upon the royal party and how long Her Majesty was likely to stay in the town.

At this point Diva Plaistow arrived with her unruly Irish terrier Paddy on a leash. The assembled group froze and conversation halted as each member caught sight of Paddy who was decked out in red, white and blue ribbon startlingly like that with which bedecked Mrs Mapp-Flint.

With the speed of thought characteristic of hardened competitive bridge players, each person considered whether Diva had known the Mayoress would be quite so “be-ribboned” today and whether decorating her dog in the same way amounted to an intentional satire and slight.

The consensus of this quick-fire inductive reasoning was “No, it was an unfortunate coincidence: an act of God rather than of war,” and accordingly must be both enjoyed, but ignored, in Tilling’s typical way.

All present were well aware that this uncomfortable confrontation had a precedent, as when, in an act of legendary aggression, Diva sent out her servant Janet to parade up and down the High Street in a dress trimmed with chintz off-cuts, thus cruelly devaluing a similar creation being worn publicly by the then Miss Mapp.

On Diva’s arrival, she and Elizabeth circled each other, like boxers when the bell has rung. Unfortunate thought the clash might be, each decided, it was accidental and was best ignored. “How de do, Diva dear: lovely day,” Elizabeth coo-ed to which Diva reciprocated “Hello, Elizabeth. What a nice…hat. How long until she arrives do you think?”

As Diva spoke, the clock in the clock tower of the Norman church struck the quarter hour and a very large Rolls Royce struggled around the corner from Porpoise Street into West Street.   A cheer arose and flags began to flutter from amongst the waiting crowd, which lined the cobbled streets.

This prompted Elizabeth to extract a paper Union Jack with a wooden handle from the folds of her parasol and wave it energetically with a shout of “Hoorah! God bless Her Majesty.”

Unfortunately, almost as soon as the tumult arose it ceased and was replaced by loud groans, much tutting and irritable comment.

Elizabeth peered into the limousine as it halted outside “Mallards House” and was disappointed to note it carried only Susan and Algernon Wyse.

“Really”, sniffed Elizabeth “You think Susan could have walked the few yards from “Starling Cottage” rather than obstruct the streets of Tilling with that great lumbering bus of hers, today of all days.”

Realising they had made rather a gaffe, the Wyses tried to submerge themselves within the crowd and bestowed a greeting here and a smile and bow there. Despite the warmth of the afternoon, Susan Wyse wore her customary heavy sables and the insignia of her Order of Member of the British Empire. Their embarrassment was however short-lived as the cortege of royal limousines drove punctually into the centre of Tilling at the appointed hour.

The onlookers cheered and waved handkerchiefs and flags and enjoyed excellent views of the Queen, who acknowledged her subjects with nods and hand movements that fell short of a wave but whose practised economy of effort was matched by its graciousness.

As the shiny black Daimler pulled up in front of “Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe” in Market Street, its proprietor Hubert Gascoyne stepped proudly forward. Smart in his new blue pin-striped suit, he bowed and greeted Her Majesty, her Lady-in –Waiting and an Equerry. After being received by Mr Gascoyne, the Queen asked to be shown all the showrooms.

On completing her tour, the Queen made a number of purchases including Chippendale and Sheraton furniture in which Mr Gascoyne specialised. The smaller pieces purchased included an elephant’s foot umbrella stand and an antique wax bust of George III. It was reported that as the Queen chose each article she symbolically took them from Mr Gascoyne’s hand and passed them to his assistant.

After allowing fifteen minutes to pass, Lucia and Georgie accompanied by the Padre, Kenneth Bartlett entered Mr Gascoyne’s shop. When the Queen had completed her last purchase and bade farewell to Mr Gascoyne, she received Lucia and was pleased to accept her invitation to take tea at “Mallards House”.

Since the afternoon was clement, the Queen and her party took the opportunity to walk with The Mayor and her Padre through the centre of Tilling. To complete the group Georgie and Evie followed behind. As she walked, the Queen smiled acknowledgement to the crowds of Tillingites, who afforded her the warmest of receptions.

During the short walk, Lucia also acknowledged the cheers with an almost regal air, whilst animatedly commenting upon points of local interest - mainly those improved by virtue of her own munificence - until arrival at the Norman church. Here the Padre gave the royal party a brief tour. Whilst in the church, Her Majesty shook hands and spoke to the verger about his war service and wrote her name in the visitor’s book.

On leaving the church, the Queen thanked Reverend Bartlett and was introduced to his wife Evie, whose surprisingly expressive curtsy made up in energy what it lacked in elegance.

As the minutes passed, excitement and anticipation grew amongst those awaiting the royal visitor outside “Mallards House.”

Bunty Morrison stood proudly in her Sunday best just outside the front door holding the hands of her twins Doris and James.

In her free hand Doris held a colourful posy of flowers, picked that morning from the garden of “Mallards House” by Georgie himself and personally arranged into an exquisite bouquet. Doris wriggled free from time to time to practice her curtsy, which entertained the waiting crowd.

James held very carefully onto a parcel wrapped in bright paper and tied with silk ribbons, not unlike those sported by Mrs Mapp-Flint and Diva’s Paddy. Attached was a card which read:

To Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose

With kindest regards and sincere best wishes

From the Children of Tilling

Within the parcel was a pair of china money boxes in the shape of the legendary pig of Tilling, one for each granddaughter of the Queen. Like his sister, James took the opportunity to practice – a neat staccato bow from the waist with one arm in front and one behind. However hard he tried, however, he was unable to perform this whilst holding the gift and it had been agreed that Bunty might hand the package to him when he had completed this difficult manoeuvre and read out the greeting upon the card.
On arrival at “Mallards House”, Lucia introduced Herbert and Bunty Morrison and their offspring to the Queen. The twins then presented the posy and china pigs faultlessly with a well-executed curtsy and bow and beamed with pleasure.

Seeing many of her intimes amidst the waiting crowd, Lucia took the opportunity to present those she considered most “presentable” to the Queen. “Sometimes,” she reflected as she did this, “Power is just too too delicious.”

In the short time available, Her Majesty was able to address a few words to Algernon and Susan Wyse, Diva Plaistow and even Irene Coles. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint found this last conversation almost unbearable given Irene’s “well known unpatriotic pro-German and socialist sympathies and extreme bohemianism”.

Elizabeth was however most agitated at her own omission from the select few granted fleeting al fresco audiences that day. Unfortunately, she had been cheering exuberantly and waving her union jack so vigorously, in the hope of capturing the royal attention, that her paper flag flew off its wooden stick. By the time she had stooped to recover it, the Queen had passed-by up the steps into “Mallards House” and Elizabeth’s chance had disappeared with her.

Mrs Mapp-Flint’s chagrin was soon infinitely worsened by the excited accounts given by her friends of their conversations with the Queen.

Susan Wyse ecstatically reported that “Her Majesty noted my Order. She knew all about my work for Tilling Hospital and said she ‘well remembered our brief meeting at the Investiture at Buckingham Palace’. She said ‘So pleased’ again. What a marvellous day.”

Diva Plaistow was similarly exhilarated, “She looked at my Paddy and said ‘What a charming dog’,” and added, looking pointedly at Elizabeth, “Perhaps you’ll all remember that the Queen of England said that when you next call Paddy ‘a mangy old creature.’”

Elizabeth next had to endure an irritatingly off-hand account by Quaint Irene about how “The Queen remembered seeing my Picture of the Year at the private viewing of the Royal Academy.”

Knowing full well that Elizabeth had failed to have any exchange with the Queen, Irene compounded her offence by loudly asking “Well then Mapp you loyal old thing, do tell: did the Queen speak to you too?” 
Somewhat implausibly, Elizabeth replied, “No sweet Quaint one; you know me. Unlike some, I really don’t like to push myself forward into the limelight. I really don’t approve of self –promotion; it does so smack of vulgarity. I was just pleased to stand back and allow my dear friends to enjoy all that lovely limelight.”

“And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything and I’m a Dutchman,” responded Irene conclusively, turning her back and walking off towards “Taormina” in time for tea.

As the post-mortem amongst her friends continued on the pavement outside “Mallards House”, Lucia and Georgie completed the Queen’s tour of their home. “Yes Ma’am I have the honour to be the first lady Mayor of Tilling,” intoned Lucia.
“The office has been a great honour and profound responsibility,” Lucia continued,  entering the garden room, “Our records show that my predecessor as Mayor and owner of this house, entertained both George I and George II here – perhaps in this very room.”

“How interesting Mrs Pillson,” said the Queen as she seated herself next to the display case containing Georgie’s bibelots, “I think I should like my tea now.”

As Foljambe and Grosvenor busied themselves serving afternoon tea – for it had previously been agreed that the honour of serving the Queen of England should be shared equally – Her Majesty inspected the display of bibelots next to her chair.

Looks were discreetly exchanged between her hosts as the Queen admired each object and both sighed quietly with relief as no mention was made of the miniature by Karl Huth or the Faberge, which had so impressed on her previous visit.

The silent glances were replaced with smiles of pleasure as the miniature piano and exquisite scaled-down candelabra were singled out for particular praise by the Queen, “They would look simply splendid in the marvellous doll’s house designed for me by Sir Edward Lutyens,” said the Queen meaningfully.

After a suitable pause and further exchange of looks between Lucia and Georgie, the miniatures were duly removed from their case and taken away to be wrapped in readiness for presentation.

“Thank you so much Mr and Mrs Pillson,” said the Queen, “They will make a splendid addition to the royal collection. It really is unexpected and most generous of you.”

“Not at all, Ma’am,” Georgie replied, “We are honoured and shall take great pleasure of thinking of our small gifts forming part of your collection”

A pause in the conversation ensued as the wrapped gifts were awaited. With practised ease the Queen resumed her compliments regarding the furnishings of “Mallards House”, “Your piano is a fine instrument Mrs Pillson. Do you play?”

“Thank you Ma’am, I do” Lucia responded demurely, sensing instinctively that a magnificent opportunity was about to arise, “It has a particularly good tone and gives us a great deal of pleasure, in our amateur way.”

“Perhaps you would be kind enough to favour us with a short piece whilst we are waiting?” said the Queen, looking expectantly.

“Of course Ma’am” Lucia responded coyly “It must never be said that a Mayor of Tilling refused her Queen. How you work me!” Thus, by express royal command, Lucia sat down at her Steinway, opened the lid and began to play the opening bars of “The Moonlight Sonata.”

Outside on the pavement beneath the open windows of the garden room, the buzz of conversation amongst Lucia’s friends stopped instantly as the familiar swelling trebles of the opening of the slow movement were heard.

In accordance with normal practice in Tilling, members of Lucia’s circle assumed their “musical faces” which reflected rapt attention by a tilt of the head to one side or the other and a resting of the chin in the hand, if physically manageable whilst standing.

Once a few bars had passed, the reverential silence was broken by Elizabeth Mapp-Flint who after a trying day at last lost all semblance of composure, “That really is the limit,” she cried “That late-comer, that parvenu comes to our Tilling, keeps the Queen of England to herself in my house and then inflicts ‘un po di mu’ on her and we have to stand outside on the pavement listening – like urchins in the street. It really is too much. I’m going home.”

Without further comment or parting remark, the Mayoress of Tilling flung her broken flag down upon the cobbles and stumped off though the Landgate towards “Grebe”. Left in her considerable wake was a trail of crumpled silk ribbon and her friends and neighbours open–mouthed.


Copyright 2011 Deryck Solomon. All rights reserved in appropriate territories

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