A sad tale’s best for Winter
The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare
Candida Alice Maldon was being a bad girl. Firstly, she had not told anyone that she had found a threepence on the street. Secondly, she had not mentioned to anyone in the house that she was going out, because she knew that she would not be allowed. Thirdly, since she had lost one of her teeth, she was not supposed to be eating sweets, anyway.
The consciousness of wrongdoing had never stopped Candida from doing anything she wanted. She was prepared to be punished, and even prepared to feel sorry. Later. She approached the sweet-shop counter, clutching her threepence in her hand, and stared at the treasures within. Laid out, like those Egyptian treasures her father had shown her photos of in the paper, were sweets enough to give the whole world toothache.
There were red and green toffee umbrellas and toffee horses on a stick. There were jelly-beans and jelly-babies and snakes in lots of colours, and lolly bananas and snow-balls and acid drops. These had the advantage that they were twenty-four a penny, but they were too sour for Candida’s taste. She dismissed wine-gums as too gluey and musk sticks as too crumbly, and humbugs as too peppery. She considered boiled lollies in all the colours of the millefiore brooch which her grandmother wore, and barley-sugar in long, glassy canes. There were ring sticks with real rings around them, and rainbow balls and honeybears and chocolate toffs. Candida breathed heavily on the glass and wiped it with her sleeve.
‘What would you like, dear?’ asked the shopkeeper.
‘My name is Candida,’ the child informed her, ‘and I have threepence. I would like a ha’porth of honeybears, a ha’porth of coffee buds, a ha’porth of mint-leaves, a ha’porth of silver sticks…a ha’porth of umbrellas and a ha’porth of bananas.’
‘There you are, Miss Candida,’ said the shopkeeper, accepting the sweaty, warm coin. ‘Here are your lollies. Don’t eat them all at once!’
Candida walked out of the shop, and began to trail her way home. She was not in a hurry because no one knew she was gone.
She was hopping in and out of the gutter, as she had been expressly forbidden to do, when a car drew up beside her. It was a black car shaped like a beetle. Nothing like her father’s little Austin. Candida looked up with a start.
‘Candida! There you are! Your daddy sent me to look for you. Where have you been?’ A woman opened the car door and extended a hand.
Candida stepped closer to look. The woman had yellow hair and Candida did not like her smile.
‘Come along now, dear. We’ll take you home.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Candida said clearly. ‘I don’t believe my daddy sent you. I shall tell him you’re a liar,’ and she jumped back onto the pavement to run home. But someone in the back of the car was too quick. She was seized by strong hands and an odd-smelling handkerchief was clamped over her face. Then the world went dark green.
Phryne Fisher was enduring afternoon tea at the Traveller’s Club with Mrs William McNaughton for a special reason. This did not make the ordeal any more pleasant, but it gave her the necessary spinal fortitude. Not that there was anything wrong with the tea. There were scones and strawberry jam with cream obviously obtained from contented cows. There were petit fours in delightful colours and brandy snaps. There was Ceylon tea in the big silver teapot, and fine Chinese cups from which to drink it.
The only fly in the afternoon’s ointment was Mrs William McNaughton. She was a pale, drooping woman, dressed in an unbecoming grey. Her sheaf of pale hair was coming adrift from its pins. These disadvantages could have been overcome with the correct choice of hairdresser and couturière, but the essential soppiness of her character was irreparable. Mrs William McNaughton reminded Phryne of jelly-cake and aspens and other quivering things, but there was steel under her flinching. This was a woman who had all the marks of extensive abuse: the hollow eyes, the nervous movements, the habit of starting at a sudden sound. But she had survived in her own way. She might cower, but she would not release hold of an idea once she had grasped it, and she could keep a secret or embark on a clandestine path. Her concealment of her character and her desires would be close to absolute, and torture would not break her now if her past had not killed her. However, despite the reasons, Phryne could not like her. Phryne herself met all challenges head-on, and the Devil take the hindmost.
‘It’s my son, Miss Fisher,’ said Mrs McNaughton, handing Phryne a cup of tea. ‘I’m worried about him.’
‘Well, what worries you?’ asked Phryne, pouring her cup of anaemic tea into the slop-bowl and filling it with a stronger brew. ‘Have you spoken to him about it?’
‘Oh, no!’ Mrs McNaughton recoiled. Phryne added milk and sugar to her tea and stirred thoughtfully. The process of finding out what was bothering McNaughton was like extracting teeth from an uncooperative ox.
‘Tell me, then, and perhaps I may be able to help,’ she suggested.
‘I have heard of your talents, Miss Fisher,’ observed Mrs McNaughton artlessly. ‘I hoped that you might be able to help me without causing a scandal. Lady Rose speaks very highly of you. She’s a connection of my mother’s, you know.’
‘Indeed,’ agreed Phryne, taking a brandy snap and smiling. Lady Rose had mislaid her emerald earrings, and was positive that her maid of long standing had not stolen them, thus contradicting her greedy nephew and heir, as well as the local policeman. She had hired Phryne to find the earrings, and this Phryne had done in one afternoon’s inquiry amongst the local Montes de Piété, where the nephew had pawned them. He had made an unwise investment in the fourth at Flemington, putting the proceeds on a horse which was possessed of insufficient zeal and had not been able to redeem them. Lady Rose had been less than generous with the fee, but more than generous with her recommendations. Since Phryne did not need the money, she was pleased with the bargain. Lady Rose had told her immediate acquaintance that ‘She may look like a flapper—she smokes cigarettes and drinks cocktails and I believe that she can fly an aeroplane—but she has brains and bottom and I thoroughly approve of her.’
Since she had made the decision to become an investigator, Phryne had not been out of work. She had found the Persian kitten for which the little son of the Spanish ambassador was pining. It had been seduced by the delights of the nearby fish-shop’s storehouse, and had been shut in. Phryne had released it, and (after it had suffered three baths) it was restored to its doting admirer. She had worked three weeks in an office, watching a costing clerk skimming the warehouse and blaming the shortfall on the inefficiency of a female stores clerk. Phryne had taken a certain delight in catching that one. She had watched a brutal and violent husband for long enough to obtain sufficient evidence for his battered wife to divorce him. For, in addition to her bruises and broken fingers, she needed to prove adultery. Phryne, who never shrank from a little bending of the rules, had provided the adulterer with a suitable partner from among the working girls of her acquaintance, and had paid the photographer’s fee out of her own bounty. The husband was informed that the negatives would be handed over after the delivery of the decree absolute, and everyone wondered that such a determined and hard man went through his divorce like a lamb. His divorced wife was in possession of a comfortable competence and was reported to be very happy.
The result of all this work was that Phryne, to her surprise, was busy and occupied and had not been bored for months. She considered that she had found her métier. Physically, Phryne had been described by the redoubtable Lady Rose as ‘small, thin, with black hair cut in what I am told is a bob, disconcerting grey-green eyes and porcelain skin. Looks like a Dutch doll’. Phryne admitted this was a fair depiction.
For the interview with Mrs McNaughton, she had selected a beige dress of mannish cut, which she felt made her look like the directress of a women’s prison, and matching taupe shoes and stockings. Her cloche hat was of a quiet dusty pink felt.
She was not getting anywhere with Mrs McNaughton, who had sounded frantic on the phone, but who now seemed unable to get to the point.
Phryne bit into the brandy snap and waited. Mrs McNaughton (who had not asked Phryne to call her Frieda) took a gulp of her watery tea and finally blurted out what was on her mind.
‘I’m afraid my son is going to kill my husband!’
Phryne swallowed her brandy snap with some difficulty. This was not what she had been expecting.
‘Why do you think that?’ asked Phryne, calmly.
Mrs McNaughton felt inside her large knitting bag, which had reposed on the sofa beside her, and handed Phryne a crumpled letter. It looked like it had been retrieved from the fire, for it was singed at one edge.
Phryne unfolded it carefully, as the paper was brittle.
‘If the pater doesn’t come to the party, it will be all up,’ she read aloud. ‘Might have to remove him. Anyway, I am going to talk to him about it tonight, so wish me luck, kid.’ It was signed, ‘Yours as ever, Bill.’
‘You see?’ whispered Mrs McNaughton. ‘He means to kill William. What am I to do?’
‘Where did you find this?’ asked Phryne. ‘In the grate, was it?’
‘Yes, how clever of you, Miss Fisher. My maid found it this morning when she was doing the rooms, it’s a carbon copy. Bill always keeps carbons of his letters. He’s so business like. He made a special arrangement to talk to William in the study tonight about this new venture, and I,’ Mrs McNaughton’s voice wavered, ‘don’t know what to do.’
‘Remove could have other meanings than murder, Mrs McNaughton. What sort of venture?’
‘Something to do with aeroplanes. Bill is a pilot, you know, and has won all sorts of races and things. It’s so worrying for a mother, Miss Fisher, having him flying. Those planes don’t look strong enough to stay up in the sky, and I don’t really believe they can, you know, being heavier than the air. He conducts a school at Essendon, Miss Fisher, teaching people to fly. But he wants capital from William for a new venture.’
‘And what is that?’ asked Phryne, interested. She loved planes.
‘They want to fly over the South Pole—apparently the North Pole is old hat. “No one has tried planes down here,” he said to me. “It’s no use staying on the ground. It’s all ice and desert, but in the air we can cover miles in minutes.” And he wants William to put money into it.’
‘And your husband does not agree?’
‘He won’t do it. They’ve had some terrible fights about money. William put up the capital to start the flying school, and it hasn’t been going well. He insisted that he be Chairman of Directors of the company, and he has all the books brought to him every month, then he calls Bill in and they have an awful argument about how the business is going. He was furious about the purchase of the new plane.’
‘He says that a company with such a cash problem can’t extend on capital—at least I think that’s what he said. I don’t know any of these business terms, I’m afraid. They are both big, hot tempered men with strong opinions—they are very like each other—and they have been fighting since Bill was born, it seems,’ said Mrs McNaughton with suprising shrewdness. ‘Amelia escaped a lot of it because she’s a girl, and William does not expect anything of girls. Anyway she’s dabbling in art at the moment, and she’s hardly ever here. She wanted an allowance to go and live in a studio, but William put his foot down about that. “No daughter of mine is going to live like a Bohemian,” he said, and wouldn’t give her any money, but she enrolled in the gallery school against his wishes and she only comes home to sleep. She’s no trouble,’ said Mrs McNaughton, dismissing her daughter with a wave of her tea-cup. ‘But Bill clashes. He disagrees with William to his face. I don’t think they’ll ever get on, and they behave as though they hate one another. Nothing but noise and shouting and my nerves can’t bear much more. I’ve already had to go to Daylesford for the waters. I’m afraid that Bill will lose his temper and…and…do what he threatened, Miss Fisher. Can’t you do something?’
‘What would you like me to do?’
‘I don’t know,’ wailed Mrs McNaughton. ‘Something!’ It appeared that she had relied on Phryne to wave a magic wand. As her hostess appeared to be on the verge of the vapours, Phryne made haste to assent.
‘Well, I’ll try. Where is Bill now?’
‘He’ll be at the airfield, Miss Fisher. The Sky-High Flying School. It’s the red hangar at Essendon. You can’t miss it.’
‘I’ll go there now,’ said Phryne, putting down her cup. ‘And I don’t think you have any reason to be really upset, Mrs McNaughton. I think “remove” means “remove him from the board of directors” not “remove him from this world”. But I’ll talk to Bill, anyway.’
‘Oh, thank you, Miss Fisher,’ said Mrs McNaughton, fumbling for her smelling salts.
Phryne started the Hispano-Suiza which was her pride and dearest possession and sped back to the Windsor Hotel. She had found a house and was moving out, and hoped that her new home would be as comfortable as the hotel. The Windsor had everything Phryne needed: style, comfort, and room service. She parked her car and ran up the stairs.
‘Dot, do you want to come for a ride in a plane?’ called Phryne from the bathroom to her invaluable and devoted maid. Dot, who had come by way of attempted manslaughter into Phryne’s service, was a conservative young woman who had so far resisted the temptation to bob her long brown hair. She was a slim plain girl and was wearing her favourite brown overall. Dot did not like the idea of the Hispano-Suiza and the thought of being bodily hauled through the firmament, which should contain only birds and angels, did not appeal to her. She went to the bathroom door with a leather flying jacket over her arm.
‘No, Miss. I don’t want a ride in a plane.’
‘All right, ’fraidy cat, what are you doing this afternoon? Want to come and watch, or have you something interesting to do?’
‘I’ll come and watch, Miss, but just don’t ask me to go up in one of them things. Here’s your breeches, and the leather coat. What about a hat, Miss?’
‘There should be a flying helmet in the big chest.’ Phryne pulled on breeches, a warm jersey and boots, then rummaged in the trunk, finally finding what looked like a battered leather bucket.
‘Here we are. Take a coat, Dot, and come on. We have to go to Essendon to talk to Bill McNaughton. He’s got a flying school. His mother thinks he’s going to kill his father.’
Dot, inured to the shocking things that Phryne was prone to say, gathered up her blue winter coat and followed her employer down the stairs.
‘And is he, Miss?’
‘I don’t know. The mother is the most nervous woman God ever put breath into. Both father and son sound like bruisers. However, we shall see. It’s been too long since I was in a plane.’
The Hispano-Suiza roared into life. Phryne swung the big car out into traffic with efficient ease, and Dot closed her eyes, as she always did at the beginning of a journey in this car. It was so big, and so red and so noticeable, and Phryne’s style of driving was so insolent and fast, that Dot found the whole equipage unladylike.
They covered the road to Essendon in little over half an hour and pulled to a stop near a red hangar. A neatly painted sign informed them that this was the ‘Sky-High Flying School Pty Ltd, Prop: W. McNaughton’.
‘Here we are, Dot, and off we go. This may be a stormy interview, so stay on the edges of the crowd and be ready for a quick retreat.’
‘Why difficult, Miss?’
‘Well, you think of a delicate way to ask someone if they are going to kill their father.’
‘Oh,’ said Dot. She clutched her blue coat closer. It was a cold, clear afternoon, with little wind. Perfect, as Phryne saw, for flying. Three small planes were up, more or less, being flown by nervous, amateur hands. A bigger, faster two seater did a quick wing-wobble and dropped neatly, landing and running along the grassy strip with the minimum of bounce. The pilot taxied the machine to its resting place and climbed out, shouting at the top of his voice.
‘A sweet little goer!’ he enthused. ‘Light on the controls, and just a bit nose heavy, but you warned me about that, Bill. Hello hello hello! Who’s the lady?’
Phryne walked close enough to put out a hand, and shook the airman’s gauntlet.
‘I’m Phryne Fisher. I’ve done a little flying, but I haven’t seen that ’bus before. What is it?’
‘Fokker, a German company, made it. One of theirs flew the North Pole, mounted on skis. Jack Leonard, Miss Fisher. Glad to meet you. This is Bill McNaughton. It’s his plane.’
Phryne put out her hand and had it engulfed to the wrist by a large paw. Mrs McNaughton had not told her that Bill stood six feet high and was built like a brick wall. Phryne’s eyes ran up the scaffolding of leather flying suit to reach a large and ugly face. He was blond, with curls like a Hereford bull and intense blue eyes. The face was redeemed by a friendly grin.
‘Pleased to meet you, Miss Fisher. Done some flying?’ The sceptical tone offended Phryne. She had two hundred solo hours and a taste for stunt flying. She was no amateur. Bill might need some convincing.
‘Yes, just a little,’ she said sweetly. ‘Perhaps I can take one of the Moths?’
‘I’ll come up too, Miss Fisher,’ he said condescendingly. ‘Just to keep you company.’
Phryne smiled again and climbed into the Moth. It was a sturdy biplane, perfect for beginners. It could land and take off on a handkerchief and had a stalling speed of forty miles per hour. She pulled on her helmet, breathing in the bracing scent of aviation fuel and grease.
‘Let her go, Jack,’ she yelled over the fracturing roar of the engine. Jack Leonard swung the propellor. The Gypsy Moth trundled on her bicycle wheels along the grassy paddock and lifted intoxicatingly into the air. Take-off was Phryne’s favourite moment: the heart-lifting jolt as gravity gave way under pressure and the earth let go of the plane.
She steered the Moth into a loose circle above the landing- field. She could see the Hispano-Suiza below, gleaming like a Christmas beetle, and the matchstick figures of Dot and Jack Leonard. Behind her Bill McNaughton yelled, ‘Not a bad take-off, Miss Fisher, what else can you do?’
Phryne pulled back on the joystick and the little machine gained height. She scanned the sky carefully. No one around. The last nervous would-be flier had landed. The air was empty, cloudless and still. She glanced over her shoulder long enough to see Bill’s smug grin. Phryne decided the time had come to wipe the smile off his face and stabbed down hand on the ailerons.
With an agonized whine, the Moth began to spin. Phryne blinked under the goggles as the air tore past her face. Down came her heel on the cable, paralysing the nursemaid controls which Bill was attempting to operate.
Falling like a leaf, spilling the wind from her wings, the Moth pancaked down. To all observers she appeared out of control. Phryne, her heart in her mouth, waited until she could see the look of horror on Dot’s face quite clearly before she threw the little plane into a forward roll, turning with the spin, and spiralled it back up into the sky. Bill swore breathlessly. She let the Moth find her controls again and turned back to smile her sweetest.
‘Do you think that I can fly, Mr McNaughton?’ she shouted against the wind. She saw him nod. Then she released the cable and said, ‘If you can keep this steady at fifty miles an hour, I’ll show you an interesting trick.’
Phryne was completely above herself with reckless delight.
‘All right, fifty she is,’ agreed Bill, taking control.
‘Keep her wings quite flat,’ yelled Phryne. The plane levelled out and was flying quite smoothly. Phryne seized a scrut, hung on tight, and got one knee up onto the top wing. Before the astounded Bill could cry out, she had gained the upper surface and was walking calmly along the wing, while he delicately rolled the plane a little to compensate for her weight. Sweat ran down his forehead and into his eyes. She had reached the end of the wing. She turned to come back.
Phryne faced into the gale with delight. The wind was no worse than in a racing car and the wing of the Moth was laced with struts of a suitable size into which to wedge a toe. She waved at the group on the ground and walked slowly back, noting that the tilt was being beautifully handled by her pilot.
He may not be a nice man but he flies like an angel, she thought, hanging briefly by her hands six hundred feet above an unforgiving earth before she dropped into her cockpit again.
‘Good flying,’ she yelled at Bill, but he did not answer.
Phryne took the Moth down to a near-textbook landing and hopped out of the pilot’s seat into an admiring crowd.
‘By Jove, Miss Fisher, haven’t you any nerves at all?’ asked Jack Leonard, pumping her hand up and down. ‘We must have a drink on this. Come into the mess, we shall make you a member.’
Dot, who had ceased to watch when Phryne had climbed out onto the wing, was being escorted into the hangar by an attentive young man who was promising her tea. Bill followed slowly, shaking his head.
Jack showed Phryne into a small room at the back of the hangar, which had a bar and a lot of bentwood chairs. The metal walls were hung with trophies and photographs of grinning airmen with terrific moustaches, as well as a grim picture of a biplane breaking up in the course of a loop-the-loop.
He procured her a whisky and soda and sat down to admire.
‘Where did you learn to fly?’ he asked, as Bill joined him with a large glass of neat brandy, which he swallowed in one gulp.
‘In England,’ said Phryne. ‘I learned to fly in a Moth. Beautiful little planes. You can make them do anything.’
‘So I saw. That spin didn’t look very controlled from down here but I expect you knew exactly what you were doing, eh, Miss Fisher?’ Jack enthused. Bill grunted.
‘You are a born flier, Miss Fisher. If you got the impression I thought otherwise, I apologize. I had my insides in a twist the whole time you were aloft on the wing. What a stunt! Why haven’t I heard of you before? Would you like to do some exhibition flying for us?’
‘Who is “us”?’ asked Phryne, sipping her drink, and wondering when her hands and shins were going to thaw.
‘The Sky-High Flying School. It’s my company.’
‘I see. Well, perhaps it could be arranged. Mr Leonard, could I trouble you to look after my maid? I think she’s had a shock.’
She gave Jack Leonard a forty-watt smile and he moved over to speak to Dot, who looked pale and weak. Phryne seized her moment and stared Bill in the eye.
‘I had tea with your mother this morning. She wants me to ask you not to kill your father,’ she whispered, and the big face flamed crimson.
‘What? You insolent bitch, what has my family to do with you?’
‘Keep your hair on and your voice down. I don’t think you are going to kill your father, and if you call me an insolent bitch again I’ll break your arm.’ She put a delicate hand on his right wrist. ‘That arm. If you can’t control that temper of yours you will get into trouble. Now listen. You are having some sort of meeting with your father tonight, are you not?’
The huge man nodded dumbly.
‘All right, then. Your mother is so frightened by the loud and angry way you and your father conduct your affairs that she truly thinks you might kill the old man. Why not try peaceful means? Is all that sound and fury essential?’
‘It isn’t me,’ protested Bill. ‘It’s him. He knows a lot about business but nothing about flying—he’s scared to death in the air, he’s only been up once—and he tries to lay down the law to me about flying and I get angry, then he gets angry and then…’
‘And then your poor mother has to put up with a scene that shatters her nerves again.’
‘Well, what business is it of yours, Miss Fisher?’
‘I told you. Your mother called me in to stop you from killing your father. I’m an investigator. I don’t think you are really meaning to assassinate the man, but I have to do something to earn my retainer. Perhaps you could conduct your arguments somewhere else, if that is how you have to carry on,’ she suggested. ‘Here, for instance. No neighbours near, and your mother need never know.’
‘That might be an idea. Of course, the mater has never been strong, but I didn’t know it was upsetting her all that much. Amelia was always saying that the mater flinched at every sound, but you can’t believe Amelia.’
Bill snorted and leaned forward to whisper.
‘The girl’s potty. Gone off to be an artist, joined the gallery school and talks of nothing but light and colour. I never pay any attention to her. She’s not interested in flying. But you, Miss Fisher, you’re different. I’ll do what I can,’ conceded Bill. ‘I don’t want the mater to worry.’
‘That’s handsome of you,’ said Phryne ironically, and began to talk aeroplane shop.
An hour later she extracted Dot from the friendly attentions of Jack Leonard and drove back to the city, exhilarated by her adventure and satisfied that Bill would curb his anger when he met with his father that night.
‘Have you seen Candida?’ asked Molly Maldon, perplexed. There were times when the strain of coping with Candida and her father told on Molly. She was a small woman, fiery and logical, with a wild Celtic streak. Henry Maldon always said that her temper had come with her red hair.
Molly could cope with the baby Alexander, because he was not subtle and because he was very young, but Candida frequently reduced her to pulp. She was an honest child who did not scruple to lie like a trooper if it suited her. She was a delicate asthmatic with the strength of ten and the willpower of Attilla the Hun. She was a sweet, affectionate angel who had nearly bitten her baby brother’s ear off. Candida was very intelligent, and had taught herself to read, but occasionally did things that were so stupid that Molly wondered if the child was touched. Candida’s natural mother had died in an asylum and Molly had been known to comment, in moments of complete exasperation, that it was Candida who had driven her there.
Henry Maldon looked up from his navigation tables. He was a tall vague man, with blue eyes and weathered skin. He always seemed to be looking into far horizons. This meant that he had scattered Melbourne with his keys, wallets, hats, cigarette lighters and on one inexplicable occasion, both socks.
‘Oh, Henry, do buck up. Where is Candida?’
‘She was right there,’ said Henry, dragging his mind away from the South Pole. ‘Sitting on the floor reading the newspaper. She liked the treasures from Luxor, and I promised to help her make a pyramid out of blocks if she let me alone to finish my sums. Then she was quiet for…good God, a whole hour…and I never heard her go out.’
‘She knows that she is not allowed to leave the garden,’ said Molly. ‘The first thing to do is to search the house. Wake up, Henry, do! I have a nasty feeling about this.’ Henry, alert at last, rummaged his way through the ground floor of the small house which he had recently bought. It had been so complete a windfall that he was still not altogether sure that it had happened. Most of the belongings were still in boxes, and it was not difficult to scour the places where even a cunning and vindictive six year old might secrete herself.
‘Try the roof,’ suggested Molly.
There was a ring at the doorbell. Molly ran down the passage and snatched the door open.
‘You bad, bad girl,’ she said, and realized that the caller was looking rather puzzled. It was her husband’s old crony, Jack Leonard.
‘I say, Molly, what’s afoot? Been through the wars?’
‘Candida’s missing!’ exclaimed Molly, bursting into tears.
‘The spanking I shall give the little madam when I find her, she won’t sit down for a week. Oh, Jack did you come in a car?’
‘Yes, got the old motor outside. Do you want me to look for her?’
‘Oh, Jack, please. She’s only a little girl and I’m worried. She could have been gone for an hour.’
‘Cheer up, old thing, that kid is as tough as…I mean,’ amended Jack Leonard, seeing a furious light in Molly’s eyes, ‘she’s clever, Candida is. She won’t come to any harm. I’ll have a scout about. I’ll find her, never fret. I say, Henry, this is a nice house. Bought with the…er…proceeds, I expect?’
‘Yes, with the new plane and the money in the trust fund for the kids, I’m nearly as broke as when it happened. Molly hasn’t even had time to unpack all the new furniture and things yet, and the garden’s not even planted. All right, Molly,’ said Henry Maldon hastily, detecting signs of combustion in his red-headed spouse. ‘We’ll go out directly. Come on, Jack.’
‘Saw the most amazing thing this morning,’ commented Jack Leonard as he piloted the car out from the curb. ‘This spiffing young woman turned up at Bill McNaughton’s school and spun a Moth.’
‘They will spin, if you mistreat ’em bad enough,’ agreed Henry Maldon absently. He was beginning to wonder about Candida. Usually she was reliable, but she had a strange, wilful streak and might wander anywhere, if it struck her as a compellingly good idea. ‘Amateur, was she?’
‘No, old boy, an expert. It was a controlled spin down to three hundred feet, then she zoomed out of it, and all with good old Bill in the dickey. Then she upped and waltzed out onto the top wing and walked from one end to another. I tell you one thing, Henry, if I could find a woman like that, damned if I wouldn’t marry her. But she wouldn’t have me. Poor Bill, he was as white as a sheet when Miss Fisher finally let him take the crate down. Nearly kissed the runway. You aren’t listening, are you, Henry?’
‘No,’ agreed Henry. ‘I can’t see her anywhere.’
‘Candida!’ he snapped. ‘Drive round again, Jack, and do stop talking. I want to think.’ Jack Leonard, although childless, did not take offence, and turned the car yet again.