Chapter 3. The Man Who Grew Vegetable Marrows
I told Caroline at lunch that I should be dining at Fernly. She expressed no objection – on the contrary.
‘Excellent,’ she said. ‘You’ll hear all about it. By the way, what is the trouble with Ralph?’ ^ ‘With Ralph?’ I said, surprised; ‘there isn’t any.’ ‘Then why is he staying at the Three Boars instead of at Fernly Park?’ I did not for a minute question Caroline’s statement that Ralph Paton was staying at the local inn. That Caroline said so was enough for me.
‘Ackroyd told me he was in London,’ I said. In the surprise of the moment I departed from my valuable rule of never parting with information.
‘Oh!’ said Caroline. I could see her nose twitching as she worked on this.
‘He arrived at the Three Boars yesterday morning,’ she,,.said. ‘And he’s still there. Last night he was out with a girl.’ |?i;i That did not surprise me in the least. Ralph, I should say, is out with a girl most nights of his life. But I did rather wonder that he chose to indulge in the pastime in King’s Abbot instead of in the gay Metropolis.
II,, ‘One of the barmaids?’ I asked.
‘No. That’s just it. He went out to meet her. I don’t know…who she is.’} (Bitter for Caroline to have to admit such a thing.) ‘But I can guess,’ continued my indefatigable sister.
; I waited patiently.
‘His cousin.’ ‘Flora Ackroyd?’ I exclaimed in surprise.
Flora Ackroyd is, of course, no relation whatever really to Ralph Paton but Ralph has been looked upon for so long as it 19 practically Ackroyd’s own son, that cousinship is taken for granted.
‘Flora Ackroyd,’ said my sister.
‘But why not go to Fernly if he wanted to see her?’ ‘Secretly engaged,’
said Caroline, with immense enjoyment.
‘Old Ackroyd won’t hear of it, and they have to meet this way.’ I saw a good many flaws in Caroline’s theory, but I forebore to point them out to her. An innocent remark about our new neighbour created a diversion.
The house next door. The Larches, has recently been taken by a stranger. To Caroline’s extreme annoyance, she has not been able to find out anything about him, except that he is a foreigner. The Intelligence Corps has proved a broken reed. Presumably the man has milk and vegetables and joints of meat and occasional whitings just like everybody else, but none of the people who make it their business to supply these things seem to have acquired any information.
His name, apparently, is Mr Porrott ~ a name which conveys an odd feeling of unreality. The one thing we do know about him is that he is interested in the growing of vegetable marrows.
But that is certainly not the sort of information that Caroline is after. She wants to know where he comes from, what he does, whether he is married, what his wife was, or is, like, whether he has children, what his mother’s maiden name was – and so on. Somebody very like Caroline must have invented the questions on passports, I think.
‘My dear Caroline,’ I said. ‘There’s no doubt at all about what the man’s profession has been. He’s a retired hairdresser. Look at that moustache of his.’ Caroline dissented. She said that if the man was a hairdresser, he would have wavy hair – not straight. All hairdressers did.
I cited several hairdressers personally known to me who had straight hair, but Caroline refused to’be convinced.
I can’t make him out at all,’ she said in an aggrieved voice. ‘I borrowed some garden tools the other day, and he was most polite, but I couldn’t get anything out of him.