The seven dials mystery – Agatha Christie
She looked as though she had some terrible secret sorrow in her life, and yet if the truth be told, Lady Coote had had no trouble in her life whatever, except the meteoric rise to prosperity of Sir Oswald. As a young girl she had been a jolly flamboyant creature, very much in love with Oswald Coote, the aspiring young man in the bicycle shop next to her father’s hardware store. They had lived very happily, first in a couple of rooms, and then in a tiny house, and then in a larger house, and then in successive houses of increasing magnitude, but always within a reasonable distance of “the Works,” until now Sir Oswald had reached such an eminence that he and “the Works” were no longer interdependent, and it was his pleasure to rent the very largest and most magnificent mansions available all over England. Chimneys was a historic place, and in renting it from the Marquis of Caterham for two years, Sir Oswald felt that he had attained the top notch of his ambition.
Lady Coote was not nearly so happy about it. She was a lonely woman. The principal relaxation of her early married life had been talking to “the girl” – and even when “the girl” had been multiplied by three, conversation with her domestic staff had still been the principal distraction of Lady Coote’s day. Now, with a pack of housemaids, a butler like an archbishop, several footmen of imposing proportions, a bevy of scuttling kitchen and scullery maids, a terrifying foreign chef with a “temperament”, and a housekeeper of immense proportions who alternately creaked and rustled when she moved, Lady Coote was as one marooned on a desert island.
She sighed now, heavily, and drifted out through the open window, much to the relief of Jimmy Thesiger, who at once helped himself to more kidneys and bacon on the strength of it.
Lady Coote stood for a few moments tragically on the terrace and then nerved herself to speak to MacDonald, the head gardener, who was surveying the domain over which he ruled with an autocratic eye.
MacDonald was a very chief and prince among head gardeners. He knew his place – which he was to rule. And he ruled – despotically. Lady Coote approached him nervously.
He spoke as head gardeners should speak – mournfully, but with dignity – like an emperor at a funeral.
“I was wondering – could we have some of those late grapes for dessert tonight?”
“They’re no fit for picking yet,” said MacDonald.
He spoke kindly but firmly.
“Oh!” said Lady Coote.