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The Nutcombe Tales


The Wordsmith

By one of those odd tricks of coincidence which Fate sometimes plays, Rupert Thursby received two letters by the same post which, although unconnected, had strong similarities and provoked opposite reactions from him.

One letter was from his next-door neighbour, Mrs Alicia Banbury. She was quite ten years older than him, and unattractive in both appearance and character. From the moment he had moved into the property next to hers she had behaved towards him in an archly coquettish manner which he found gruesomely repellent. He had firmly refused many invitations to take tea with her, invitations delivered with such roguish simpers and girlish eye-batting as to leave no doubt of her intentions. She had now written to him proposing that they should remove the fence and hedge which separated their back gardens and develop them into what she called 'a shared leisure amenity,' which could, she wrote, even include a swimming pool. This suggestion was made all the more horrendous by the six exclamation marks which followed it.

The other letter was from Miss Phyllis Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh, a fellow author whom he had never met. He admired her books and the photograph of her which adorned their jackets. He knew that the photograph was, of course, probably ten years old and had been flattering even then - the author's portrait on his own books was neither recent nor honest - but he had long entertained a fantasy in which he and the lady enjoyed a relationship which was satisfying both intellectually and physically. She had now written to him expressing an admiration of his works, and suggesting that they collaborate upon a project which she was contemplating.

He had no hesitation in deciding the substance of his replies to these proposals. The letter he drafted in response to Mrs Banbury was forthright in his abhorrence of the suggestion she had made, and contained threats of legal action should she make any alterations within her garden to the detriment of the privacy he enjoyed in his. To Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh he wrote in honeyed terms, conveying admiration for her works and her person, and looking forward with eager anticipation to a long and fruitful partnership.

Rupert always took a deal of care with his writing - reading and re-reading, editing and polishing everything he wrote, not only the professional output submitted to his publisher, but also his private correspondence. He had found by experience that passion poured into a letter in the evening often appeared injudicious or even foolhardy by morning light, and it was his custom to retain all the letters he wrote for at least two days before posting them. The stronger the terms in which a missive was couched, the longer he tarried before despatching it. This wise habit had undoubtedly saved him in the past not only from a number of unwise liaisons, but also from sundry suits for defamation and breach of contract. For this reason, he did not immediately post the letters he had penned to the two ladies, but laid them aside for a time. Over the next few days he worked on them, inserting a word here, rewording a phrase there, until he was satisfied that they conveyed his meaning as fittingly as possible.

The final version of his letter to Mrs Banbury was as follows:

Madam

The proposal which you have had the effrontery to put to me is as unwelcome as it is grotesque. I am sure that I have given you no cause to suppose that I would favour so ludicrous an arrangement. I have no intention of surrendering the smallest part of my privacy for the dubious pleasure of a closer intimacy with yourself. Within your own domain you may give free rein to the expression of your execrable taste - I am powerless to prevent it - but should the results impinge upon my senses in an offensive manner, be in no doubt that I shall not hesitate to arraign you before the appropriate authorities.

R Thursby

His letter to Miss Phyllis Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh read:

My Dear Lady

The delight with which I received your gracious proposal is beyond words. I have long admired your œuvre, and never dared hope that you were cognisant of mine. Man is laid bare in your penetrating prose. You are truly the Trollope of our times. That you should consider me as a partner in the pursuance of your art rouses within me the desire to rise to the occasion and prove myself worthy of the honour. I humbly accept your invitation, in the hope that by eschewing solitary effort and embracing intercourse with one so well endowed as yourself, I shall be inspired to satisfy your expectations and play my part in begetting a fruitful outcome of our union.

I am, dear lady, now and always,
Your devoted admirer
Rupert Thursby

He inserted the letters into envelopes, which he sealed and addressed. When he came to stamp them, however, he found that he had only one postage stamp. He intended to go to the library on the morrow to change his books, so he decided to visit the post office at the same time to replenish his supply of stamps and to post the letters. With that in mind, he put the stamp on one of the letters, and popped them both inside the back cover of one of his library books.

*****

A few days later he received an instalment of royalties from his publisher. When he prepared to despatch a note acknowledging receipt, he found, unexpectedly, that he had no postage stamps. He recalled that he had intended to purchase some when posting his letters to Mrs Banbury and Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh, but he could not recall actually doing so. In fact he could not recall going to the post office or posting the letters. He searched his bureau and the hall table, but the letters were not there. He then remembered that he had put them inside one of his library books, and realised that he had left them there when returning the books.

He was unconcerned, confident that he could, if need be, recreate the letters verbatim, but it would be as well, he thought, to find out what had become of the originals, and he went to the library to make enquiries. The librarian told him that he had not seen the letters. They sought out the books which he had returned. Only one of them was on the shelves, and it did not contain the letters. The other book had since been loaned out again, to Alan Kendall, the doctor.

Rupert called on Alan and asked if he had found any letters in the book he had taken out from the library.

Oh, they were yours, were they? Alan answered. I couldn't tell whose they were, because they didn't have a return address on them. What did I do with them? Well, the one with a stamp on I put in the post. The other one I kept, meaning to get a stamp for it, but do you know, I forgot all about it until now. Let me see, where did I put it? Oh Lord! I put it in my jacket pocket, but that jacket has since gone to the jumble sale. He called to his wife. Sophie, dear, that jacket of mine we gave to the jumble, did you check the pockets before it went?

Probably, darling, I usually do. Why do you ask?

I think I left a letter in it.

Well, I didn't find one, darling. Sorry.

Can you remember which letter you posted? Rupert asked. I mean, the name it was addressed to?

Sorry, old man, Alan replied, I didn't take that much notice.

Rupert was now a little more worried. One of the letters did not need to be sent again, but which one? Hoping he might still find the answer, he called at the church and spoke to the vicar's wife, who usually ran the jumble sales at the church hall.

Why, yes, Mr Thursby, I did find a letter. I was smoothing out a jacket to display it to best advantage, and I felt something rustle. I looked in the pockets, but they were empty, and then I found that the inside pocket had come apart at the bottom, and the letter had fallen through into the lining. So of course, I took it out before the jacket was sold.

Bless you, Mrs Higgins. You have saved me a deal of trouble. If you'll just let me have it back then, please?

Oh, I can't do that, Mr Thursby. It was addressed to Mrs Banbury, so I gave it to Mr Grudbear to deliver. He lives somewhere out that way.

Rupert was relieved to find that both letters were now apparently on their way, but he would have preferred a more reliable messenger than Wilkinson Grudbear, the church warden, who was close on ninety and perhaps nearly blind and deaf, although some said that he merely feigned being so when it suited him. He often took a glass or two in the Red Lion, and that evening Rupert approached him there.

Good evening, Mr Grudbear. How are you?

Who am I? I'm Wilkinson Grudbear. Who are you?

I'm Rupert Thursby, Mr Grudbear.

Thursday? What's happening Thursday?

Nothing's happening Thursday, Mr Grudbear.

What, nothing at all? Is it a bank holiday, then?

I wanted to ask you about a letter Mrs Higgins gave you.

There won't be any letters if it's a bank holiday. There's no post on a bank holiday. Don't you know that? Where are you from?

Mrs Higgins gave you a letter.

Mrs Higgins? Who's she, then? I don't know any Mrs Higgins.

You do know her, Mr Grudbear. Mrs Higgins, the vicar's wife.

Oh, her, the McNaughtie piece.

Yes, her. She gave you a letter to deliver to Mrs Banbury.

Do you know what she did? She gave me a letter to deliver to Mrs Banbury! Am I supposed to be a Post Office messenger now? Have I got a pill-box cap on my head? Have I got a bicycle or a little red motor bike? Have I? No, I have not. So what's she want to go giving me letters to deliver for, eh? I always said no good would come of her being here. Should have been got rid of long since. Would have been, if they'd listened to me. But would they? No, they would not. 'Cause why? 'Cause she's got connections in high places, that's why. And I don't mean Heaven. Hey, that's good - high places, but I don't mean Heaven. Don't mean Heaven. D'you get it? High places, heaven. The old man broke off and cackled so much that Rupert feared he was about to have a seizure.

But the letter, Mr Grudbear, what about the letter?

What do you mean, what about the letter? What letter?

The letter Mrs Higgins gave you to deliver to Mrs Banbury.

Oh, that letter. What about it?

Did you deliver it?

Well, I did, in a manner of speaking, and then again, in a manner of speaking, I didn't.

Either you did or you didn't, Mr Grudbear.

Ah, you youngsters. Always like to see things in black and white, don't you? Well, life's not like that, young fellow. When you've lived as long as I have, you'll learn that sometimes there are shades of grey. Take the question of free will and predestination, for example. Now, if you . . .

I'd love to discuss that with you, but some other time, please, Mr Grudbear. Right now, what I want to know is, did you deliver the letter to Mrs Banbury? Yes or no?

I can't answer yes or no, young man, because your question is ambiguous, and the answer to one interpretation is yes, and the answer to the other interpretation is no.

Suddenly the old man had sounded a lot sharper, and Rupert took care with his reply. I'm sorry I was not clearer, Mr Grudbear. Please explain to me what the two interpretations of my question are.

Certainly. You asked, did I deliver the letter to Mrs Banbury? Well, as to the letter, I did not deliver it to Mrs Banbury, but as to the letter to Mrs Banbury, I did deliver it.

Enlightenment came to Rupert. Ah, I see. You delivered it to someone else.

You're a bit slow-witted, aren't you, boy? I'm surprised they let you out on your own.

Mr Grudbear, sir, please, who did you deliver the letter to?

The old man drained his glass, and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. I gave it to Ossie Crabbe to deliver. He lives nearer the old bat than I do, and he's daft enough to run errands for nothing, which I'm not. I'll have another half in this. He pushed his empty glass forward. Rupert replenished Grudbear's glass, and asked him if Ossie Crabbe was in the bar.

Aye, that's him over there. And that's his missus at the corner table with old mother Onions, keeping an eye on him. The old man cackled again.

Rupert went over to Ossie. Mr Crabbe? Good evening, my name is Rupert Thursby. I'm hoping you can help me. Can I get you a drink?

Ossie looked fearfully towards his wife, and replied, No, I'd better not. What do you want then?

Mr Grudbear tells me that he gave you a letter to deliver.

Ossie gave a start of remembrance, and slid one hand into his jacket, feeling at his inside pocket. He withdrew his hand, empty, and turned a blank face towards Rupert. Did he? That old fool's gaga. You don't want to take any notice of him. I didn't deliver any letter for him.

You're saying that he didn't give you a letter?

I just said so, didn't I? I haven't got any letter of his.

It was addressed to Mrs Banbury.

What was?

The letter.

What letter?

The letter Mr Grudbear gave . . . The letter Mr Grudbear says he gave you.

Oh, the letter I haven't got?

Yes, that one.

You're telling me that the letter I haven't got is addressed to Mrs Banbury?

Yes.

Look, Mr - what did you say your name was?

Thursby.

Look, Mr Crosby, there are millions of letters I haven't got, addressed to all sorts of people - Charlie Chaplin, the Pope, Mickey Mouse. I haven't got letters addressed to any of them.

The letter I'm interested in is addressed to Mrs Banbury. I thought that the address might jog your memory.

Well, it didn't.

Mrs Crabbe rose from her seat, caught Ossie's eye, and twitched her head towards the door. Ossie quickly drained his glass and scrambled to his feet. I've got to go now. He hurried across the floor and opened the door for his wife.

Rupert watched him go with resignation. Ossie had probably lost the letter to Mrs Banbury, he thought. It may or may not be found and make its way to her. No matter. If he received no reaction from her after a few days, he would send a copy. At least his letter to Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh had been posted.

*****

The following day, Rupert received a letter. It was typewritten, and read:

From the office of Miss Phyllis Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh.

Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh acknowledges receipt of Mr Thursby's undated communication, and notes that he does not wish to participate in her project. The tone of Mr Thursby's reply persuades Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh that her invitation was injudicious, and he may be assured that he will hear no more from her on this or any other matter.

Beryl Jenkins (Miss)
Secretary
pp Miss Phyllis Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh

When the implication of this reply dawned on him, Rupert groaned aloud, and he sat with his head in his hands. He had put the addresses on the wrong envelopes, and his admired lady author had received the dismissive reply intended for his importunate neighbour. Could anything be more mortifying? It suddenly occurred to him, with a pang of anguished chagrin, that if one envelope contained the wrong letter, then so did the other, and the envelope addressed to Mrs Banbury must contain the letter of acceptance intended for Miss Phyllis Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh. It had now become a matter of urgent necessity to find that envelope, and to prevent its delivery at all costs, if indeed it were not too late already.

He hoped that Mrs Banbury had not yet received the letter. If she had, surely she would have been around with effusive gratitude? He wanted to be sure, but it had always been his policy not to initiate any converse with her. As luck would have it, however, as he returned home the following day Mrs Banbury was just leaving her property, and they almost bumped into each other. She raised her nose, averted her head with an audible sniff, and swept past him without a word. He stood amazed. She had, without a doubt, deliberately cut him dead. Why would she do that? It was almost as if she had received the letter intended for her, but that letter had undoubtedly gone to Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh. Perhaps he had inadvertently sent one of the earlier drafts. In order to be sure, he quickly entered his house and went to the bureau. All the preliminary drafts of both letters were still on file.

Over the next few days he worried over the question inconclusively. Mrs Banbury continued to ignore him, and as he went about the village he noticed that some other ladies with whom he had previously been on civil terms now gave him the cold shoulder. There was also the danger that the missing letter might at any moment land on Mrs Banbury's doormat. After three nights of restless sleep worrying about the situation, he decided he needed help and advice. Audrey Wagstaff, he thought, probably knew more than anyone what went on in the village, and he invited her to take coffee with him.

*****

He told Audrey the whole story - the propositions he had received from the two ladies, the substance of his replies to them, the wrong addressing of the envelopes, the mislaying of the letters, the posting of one of them by Alan Kendall, the disappearance of the other, the reply by Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh, and the coldness shown to him by Mrs Banbury and other ladies. So you see, Mrs Wagstaff, I am at my wits' end. Where do I stand, and what should I do?

As Mrs Wagstaff listened to his account she gave a satisfied nod from time to time, as though suddenly enlightened. When he had finished, she said, I am pleased you have confided in me, Rupert. I should tell you that recently there have been some disturbing rumours circulating in the village about yourself and Mrs Banbury. Seeing the sudden look of alarm on his face, she laughed and quickly added, Oh dear, I phrased that badly. I should have said rumours, one about you, and one about Mrs Banbury. Let me ask you, Rupert, have you seen any suspicious activity at Mrs Banbury's? Men coming and going? Loud laughter? That sort of thing?

No, never, Mrs Wagstaff. I suffer from no disturbance of that sort at all.

Because, you see, there is a rumour that Mrs Banbury is operating a house of ill repute there.

What? A bordello? Rupert laughed helplessly. Oh, really, can you imagine a less likely madame than Mrs Banbury? No, I'm quite sure there is absolutely nothing of that sort going on, unless, that is, you can run a brothel with no girls and no clients.

That's what I thought. Now the other thing is, Rupert, are you married?

No, I'm not married, Mrs Wagstaff, but what has that got to do with anything?

Forgive me, Rupert dear, but you will see the point in a minute. Have you ever been married?

No, Mrs Wagstaff. I am, and always have been, a bachelor.

Because you see, Rupert, the other rumour is that you have a wife, a wife of whom you are ashamed, and so you keep her locked away in your house.

What? That is preposterous!

Of course it is, but the interesting part of it is, I am sure that that rumour originated from Mrs Banbury.

Why should she invent something so ridiculous?

That's what I wondered, Rupert, but I believe that the clue lies in what you have now told me. Leave it in my hands, and I may be able to find out what is going on. There's not much happens in Nutcombe that I don't find out about, one way or another.

As he let her out of the front door, she smiled sweetly and added, By the way, Rupert, do give my regards to Helen Wetherby if you should happen to run into her.

*****

Mrs Wagstaff suspected that the rumour of a brothel at Mrs Banbury's had been started by Mrs Eustacia Crabbe, and so she began her investigations by inviting that lady to coffee. Mrs Crabbe was flattered to receive the invitation. She was a scandalmonger of the street corner variety, always ready to spread scurrilous stories. She envied Mrs Wagstaff and her circle of ladies who shared genteel and good-humoured gossip over porcelain coffee cups. She thought she belonged in that circle, although Mrs Wagstaff and her ladies clearly thought otherwise. Mrs Crabbe hoped that the invitation to take coffee indicated that she was about to be awarded the accolade of joining them, and was disappointed to find that she was Audrey Wagstaff's only guest.

After the exchange of a few pleasantries, Mrs Wagstaff got down to business. Tell me, Mrs Crabbe, have you heard about what goes on at Mrs Banbury's?

Have I heard about it? Let me tell you, Mrs Wagstaff, I was the one who found out about it!

Really? I do declare! And what exactly was it you found out, Mrs Crabbe?

Why, that she was running a you-know-what, Mrs Wagstaff!

Honestly? A you-know-what? Really?

Really, Mrs Wagstaff, with painted hussies and all sorts of goings on.

Well I never! Do have another shortbread. How did you find out about it, Mrs Crabbe?

Mrs Crabbe brushed the crumbs from her lips with a paper napkin, and leaned forward confidentially. I'll let you into a little secret, Mrs Wagstaff. My Ossie was one of her customers! Now, he's a good man really, but you know what men are, Audrey, one glimpse of a bit of petticoat, and their brains slide down into their trousers. Anyway, she nearly had him hooked, but I found a letter in his pocket, a letter he had written to her, giving the game away.

My goodness! What did you do with it?

Oh, I've still got it, Audrey. If I ever have to use it, I will. I always keep it with me, to be on the safe side. She opened her capacious handbag, unclasped an inner compartment, unbuttoned a flap within that, and withdrew an envelope, which she handed to Audrey. See, it's addressed to Mrs Banbury. Now read it. Audrey took the letter from the envelope and read it, quickly realising that it must be the letter which Rupert had intended for his esteemed authoress.

When Audrey had finished reading, Mrs Crabbe addressed her with smug satisfaction. There, what did I tell you? Have you ever read anything so shameless? Where my Ossie picked up such language I don't know. Why, some of it's so dirty, it's in French! I had to ask Mlle Lascelles what an oover was. She told me it was French for 'opening.' It's disgusting!

To conceal her smiles, Audrey held her hand over her mouth as if aghast. It certainly is, Eustacia, and you were quite right to show it to me.

Mrs Crabbe's indignation was still on the boil. All that talk of bare men penetrating pro's! Pardon my language, Audrey, but I'm only quoting what's in the letter.

Of course, Eustacia. I quite understand. Audrey could not help thinking that Mrs Crabbe's disgust had not prevented her from memorising the parts she found most distasteful.

My Ossie at least recognised her for what she is. She's a trollop all right, though I wouldn't call her well endowed - overblown more like. Anyway, he's not going to get any opportunity for embraces or intercourse. Pardon the expression, Audrey, but that's what the letter says. Not that he would have satisfied her - I can vouch for that.

What did your Ossie have to say for himself, Eustacia, when you faced him with it?

Oh, I haven't let him know I found out. He'd only deny it. But I don't give him a chance to stray. I make sure I know where he is every minute. And I have written her a letter telling her exactly what I think of her, and warning her to leave my husband alone.

Quite right, Eustacia, you certainly handled that well.

Mrs Crabbe had more revelations to impart. I'll tell you something else, Audrey. That Mr Thursby what lives next door to her is mixed up in it. That envelope has not got a stamp on, has it? I wondered about that and then I found out why. I saw Mr Thursby come up to my Ossie in the pub, and Ossie went to give him the letter, but of course he couldn't find it in his pocket 'cause I had taken it, only Ossie didn't know that, did he? Mr Thursby is the go-between, Audrey! He's Mrs Banbury's procurator!

Audrey feigned horror. Goodness gracious me! Now that I know what is going on, I shall put a stop to it. I am going straight round to Mrs Banbury's, and after I leave there, I promise you she will not have women of that sort on her premises ever again. Then I shall speak to Mr Thursby, and see to it that he sends her no more customers.

*****

True to her word, Audrey called on Mrs Banbury. After chatting about this and that, Audrey turned the subject onto Rupert Thursby. How do you get on with Mr Thursby next door, Mrs Banbury? He seems a nice enough chap.

Seems is the word, Mrs Wagstaff. There's dark secrets in that house, let me tell you. Did you know he has a wife?

No, I didn't. I always though he was a bachelor.

So did everyone, Mrs Wagstaff, but I know better.

Where is his wife then? Why have we never seen her?

Mrs Banbury leaned towards Audrey and lowered her voice for effect. Because he keeps her locked up in the attic, that's why!

In the attic? Good Lord! Do these cottages have attics, Mrs Banbury?

Her informant was in no mood for architectural niceties. Attic, secret room, what's the difference? The fact is he has a poor mad wife locked away in there!

A mad wife? Audrey could not envisage Rupert Thursby as Edward Rochester. He had always seemed to her more pre-Raphaelite than Byronic. Have you seen her, then, Mrs Banbury?

No, but I know she's there, all right. I know because she sent me a letter.

A letter?

Such a coarse, ill-written letter, you couldn't imagine, Mrs Wagstaff. She must be a very low class of person. Here, read it for yourself. Mrs Banbury rummaged in a drawer of the sideboard and produced a sheet of lined paper, apparently torn from an exercise book. She handed it to Audrey Wagstaff, who read the scrawled script with some difficulty.

Mrs Crabbe's letter

Of course, you realise, Mrs Wagstaff, that the woman is utterly deranged. Why she should think I have any interest in her husband I'm sure I don't know.

But what makes you think that this came from next door, Mrs Banbury?

The opening words, Mrs Wagstaff, about me making proposals to her husband. The only thing I can think of that comes remotely close is that I did write to Rupert - Mr Thursby - suggesting that we adopt a joint design for our gardens. I still have not had a reply from him, so I assume that she must have intercepted my letter and completely misinterpreted it.

Oh dear, how unfortunate. I must try and persuade Mr Thursby to make proper provision for his poor wife. Mrs Banbury, if you were willing to let me have the letter, I could show it to him and that, I am sure, would bring home to him the necessity of making alternative arrangements.

Oh, would you do that, Mrs Wagstaff? I would be most grateful. Insulting though her letter is, I can't help feeling sorry for the poor thing.

*****

The next day, Mrs Wagstaff conveyed the results of her investigations to Rupert Thursby, adding So there you have it, Rupert. The letter you intended for your Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh was found by Mrs Crabbe in her husband's pocket, and interpreted by her as a reply from him to a brothel-keeping Mrs Banbury. Her outraged response to it was interpreted by Mrs Banbury as the deranged ravings of a mad wife kept locked up by you. I don't think you have anything more to worry about. Mrs Banbury and her friends will continue to keep their distance from you, cruel and heartless husband as they suppose you to be, but I imagine that the loss of their intimacy will cause you no sorrow.

You are right there, Mrs Wagstaff. Anything that keeps the Banbury woman away from my door is good news, well worth losing my reputation for. I am sorry that Miss Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh got the wrong letter though.

Don't be, Rupert. Did it not occur to you that a name like Phyllis Ffoulkes-Featherstonehaugh is almost certainly a pen name? The sort of nom de plume, in fact, that a male author might adopt to attract a female audience? Doesn't that make you feel glad that he did not get the right letter?

Recollecting the terms of that letter, Rupert could only agree.

Don't take this amiss, Rupert dear, but could it be that the source of some of the misunderstanding might be that your style of writing sometimes obscures your meaning?

*****

Back in his own study, Rupert considered Mrs Wagstaff's final remark. He had to admit that it bore some justification, as indeed did old Grudbear's earlier accusation of ambiguity. He sat at his desk, rolled the platen of his typewriter up a few lines, and re-read the opening of the new novel he had just started.

Gerard Hornby looked ruefully back over the seven years since he had made his wedding vows at the altar of St Nicholas' Church. It had been, he opined, a period during which the mists of youthful optimism had been dispelled by the harsh breezes of reality. Of the various qualities which might make a woman desirable - looks, wealth, intelligence, social connections, skill in the arts of the kitchen or the bedroom - his wife possessed none. He could no longer, no matter how hard he tried, remember what had led him to propose. Indeed, he could not even remember proposing, and wondered if he might fairly be numbered among those men considered to have been tricked into being tied by the nuptial bond. It made no difference whether it was the actuality of his life which had degenerated, or whether he was now merely taking a more objective view of circumstances which had always been less than ideal. Either way, the necessity to alter his lot grew stronger by the day, and had now reached a crucial point. To continue to endure was intolerable, and his only recourse was to act, decisively, ruthlessly, even if that action was one frowned upon by society - the ultimate taboo - the act of depriving another of the breath of life.

He took hold of the paper, tore it roughly from the machine, crumpled it into a ball, and threw it across the room towards a waste paper basket. He assembled a fresh set of two sheets of foolscap plus carbon, and fed them into the roller. Quickly he began to type.

Gerard Hornby was sick of his ugly wife, and decided to bump her off.

He paused and considered the new version. That too he tore from the machine. He folded his arms on the desk and laid his head on them. Perhaps he should return to teaching.

*****


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