After the funeral – Agatha Christie
AFTER THE FUNERAL
Old Lanscombe moved totteringly from room to room, pulling up the blinds. Now and then he peered with screwed up rheumy eyes through the windows.
Soon they would be coming back from the funeral. He shuffled along a little faster. There were so many windows.
Enderby Hall was a vast Victorian house built in the Gothic style. In every room the curtains were of rich faded brocade or velvet. Some of the walls were still hung with faded silk. In the green drawing-room, the old butler glanced up at the portrait above the mantelpiece of old Cornelius Abernethie for whom Enderby Hall had been built. Cornelius Abernethie’s brown beard stuck forward aggressively, his hand rested on a terrestrial globe, whether by desire of the sitter, or as a symbolic conceit on the part of the artist, no one could tell.
A very forceful looking gentleman, so old Lanscombe had always thought, and was glad that he himself had never known him personally. Mr Richard had been his gentleman. A good master, Mr Richard. And taken very sudden, he’d been, though of course the doctor had been attending him for some little time. Ah, but the master had never recovered from the shock of young Mr Mortimer’s death. The old man shook his head as he hurried through a connecting door into the White Boudoir. Terrible, that had been, a real catastrophe. Such a fine upstanding young gentleman, so strong and healthy. You’d never have thought such a thing likely to happen to him. Pitiful, it had been, quite pitiful. And Mr Gordon killed in the war. One thing on top of another. That was the way things went nowadays. Too much for the master, it had been. And yet he’d seemed almost himself a week ago.
The third blind in the White Boudoir refused to go up as it should. It went up a little way and stuck. The springs were weak – that’s what it was – very old, these blinds were, like everything else in the house. And you couldn’t get these old things mended nowadays. Too old- fashioned, that’s what they’d say, shaking their heads in that silly superior way – as if the old things weren’t a great deal better than the new ones! He could tell them that! Gimcrack, half the new stuff was – came to pieces in your hand. The material wasn’t good, or the craftsmanship either. Oh yes, could tell them.
Couldn’t do anything about this blind unless he got the steps. He didn’t like climbing up the steps much, these days, made him come over giddy. Anyway, he’d leave the blind for now. It didn’t matter, since the White Boudoir didn’t face the front of the house where it would be seen as the cars came back from the funeral – and it wasn’t as though the room was ever used nowadays. It was a lady’s room, this, and there hadn’t been a lady at Enderby for a long while now. A pity Mr Mortimer hadn’t married. Always going off to Norway for fishing and to Scotland for shooting and to Switzerland for those winter sports, instead of marrying some nice young lady and settling down at home with children running about the house. It was a long time since there had been any children in the house.
And Lanscombe’s mind went ranging back to a time that stood out clearly and distinctly – much more distinctly than the last twenty years or so, which were all blurred and confused and he couldn’t really remember who had come and gone or indeed what they looked like. But he could remember the old days well enough.
More like a father to those young brothers and sisters of his, Mr Richard had been. Twenty-four when his father had died, and he’d pitched in right away to the business, going off every day as punctual as clockwork, and keeping the house running and everything as lavish as it could be. A very happy household with all those young ladies and gentlemen growing up. Fights and quarrels now and again, of course, and those governesses had had a bad time of it! Poor-spirited creatures, governesses, Lanscombe had always despised them. Very spirited the young ladies had been. Miss Geraldine in particular. Miss Cora, too, although she was so much younger. And now Mr Leo was dead, and Miss Laura gone too. And Mr Timothy such a sad invalid. And Miss Geraldine dying somewhere abroad. And Mr Gordon killed in the war. Although he was the eldest, Mr Richard himself turned out the strongest of the lot. Outlived them all, he had – at least not quite because Mr Timothy was still alive and little Miss Cora who’d married that unpleasant artist chap. Twenty-five years since he’d seen her and she’d been a pretty young girl when she went off with that chap, and now he’d hardly have known her, grown so stout – and so arty-crafty in her dress! A Frenchman her husband had been, or nearly a Frenchman
-and no good ever came of marrying one of them! But Miss Cora had always been a bit – well, simple like you’d call it if she’d lived in a village. Always one of them in a family.
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