As it turned out, the evening was a disaster. In fact, Marge had to go up to bed in the end, she just couldn't stand it. Mr. Threlfall came home around six and Marge saw him thought the front window as he came up the path. He wasn't tall but he held himself very stiff and swung his arms in a particularly violent manner as he walked. It was as if he'd been in the army. Marge watched as he felt in his overcoat pocket for the front door key and called out to Mrs. Threlfall.
"Your hubby's home."
Mrs Threlfall was at the front door before he had time to put the key in the lock. He took off his homburg and kissed her then stood in the hallway where Marge could hear him scrubbing his shoes on the mat.
"Is she still here?" he asked and the lady replied something in a whisper. Then the two of them stood outside the front room door talking for a bit, very quiet. The door opened and they both came in. "Marjorie, this is my husband Mr. Threlfall. John, this is Marjorie Cullen."
Marge stood up in embarrassment. "How d'you do, Mr Threlfall."
Mr Threlfall nodded. "I expect my wife's been taking good care of you. Did you go to the shops this afternoon?"
Marge nodded, "Yes, it was dead nice there."
There was a long silence at this. Mrs Threlfall clutched at her dress and said to her husband, "Well, John, I'll go and lay the table. You have a nice little chat with my hubby, Marjorie."
Marge sat there and stared. She really didn't know what to say and, to make it worse, Mr. Threlfall was watching her very carefully. After a bit he got out his pipe and began to fiddle with it, blowing down one end and poking a cleaner down. He seemed preoccupied, as if he wasn't really interested in her. In the end it was Marge broke the silence.
"It's nice....I mean your wife's nice, for having me round. Well, for letting me say. You both are....Ta."
Threlfall held his pipe stem up to the light and looked down it again. Then he got a leather pouch from his pocket and began to fill his pipe with tobacco.
"Yes, Mrs Threlfall is very kind. She even had the Salvation Army in here once...collecting."
"And the Jehovah's Witnesses."
He tamped down the tobacco and began to light his pipe.
"Yes, she may be very kind." He looked at Marge. "But she's not worldly wise, you understand. She came from a good family."
He paused to light another match. "At least she said she did. But not worldly wise. She doesn't always see through people." He looked across as her. "Do you take my meaning?"
Marge tried hard to sit still, "But she's very kind, isn't she?"
"Oh yes, she's that. Of course, I'd stick by Mrs Threlfall through thick or thin. You have to do that, you know."
He drew deeply on his pipe. "So we'll have that little talk after dinner, shall we?"
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I must wash my hands."
But when Threlfall when outside he didn't go up to the bathroom, instead he went straight into the kitchen where Marge could hear the two of them whispering together again.
It was like that all though dinner. Mr and Mrs. Threlfall sat at opposite ends of the table with Marge in the middle and no one talked. It was horrible. For a start Marge didn't want to look stupid with all the knives and forks, so she just sat and watched the two of them eat until she got the hang of it.
They had some sort of curried soup first then a bit of lamb, although it wasn't Sunday.
After Mrs Threlfall had cleared away the meat she stood at the door and said "Could I have a word with you, dear?"
Her husband stood up and went into the kitchen where they started whispering again, as if they were having a big row and didn't want her to hear.
In the end Marge jumped up and asked if she could help but Mrs Threlfall just rattled the dishes in the sink. Then they sat down again to tinned pears. Mrs. Threlfall had put the pears into a big glass dish and called it sweet instead of pudding.
As Marge ate the pears she felt cold inside. Then she began to feel sick, and still the other two went on eating in silence. In the end the lady noticed.
"Don't you feel well, my dear?" She seemed quite kind now.
"I think I'm going to puke."
Threlfall stared at his wife and, raising his eyes to the ceiling, let out an explosion of breath. The lady jumped up and helped Marge from her chair.
"You'll feel better if you go upstairs and lie down."
By the time Marge got to her bedroom she was feeling so shivery that she just lay on the bed and pulled the eiderdown over herself. After a bit the shaking stopped and she thought that she'd better go downstairs again. But then she thought about having to talk to Mr Threlfall the shivers began again so that she felt worse than before. She was so bad that she had to take deep breaths just to stop herself throwing up.
As the room darkened Marge began to get angry at herself, thinking about the mess she'd made of everything. Cullen'd been in jail for days now and she'd done nothing about it. Why didn't she have the guts to go downstairs and tell Mr Threlfall the truth and ask him if she could see his solicitor? But somehow she just couldn't face him, not the way he'd just sat there looking at her. It was as if he'd known who she was all the time and was just playing with her.
After a while, just lying there in that lovely room Marge began to think that maybe things would be a lot better in the morning. She'd wake early and tell him first thing, then he'd take her to see his solicitor and she'd give Cullen the best alibi in the whole world.
Marge felt better once she'd made her resolution. She'd be up and dressed at first light and she'd ask to speak with Mr Burgess even before he'd had his breakfast. Things would be better in the morning.
But on the following morning she overslept and somehow, once the lady began talking to her Marge's determination wavered and she decided to put the whole thing off for another day or two. It wasn't very nice when the lady's husband came home. Mr Threlfall was being very cold to her but at least in the evenings he was preoccupied, locking himself in the front room to write letters and pour of the drawings he'd made of an electric light bulb.
Threlfall had revived his interest in The Eternal Light. At first he had been discouraged when the major manufactures had proved to be so short sighted as to fail to take action on his brilliant idea. But now that the nights had begun to pull in and people were switching on their lights before dinner time it seemed appropriate that he should launch a renewed attack of letters. Nevertheless, the Sunday afternoon he learned that Harold Coke had been called for jury he dropped everything and was round in a flash with good advice.
He found Harold seated at the dining room table with the envelope in front of him and scanning his Modern Home Lawyer. Immediately, Threlfall marched over to the table and picked up the envelope.
"A sheriff's warrant", he said removing the folded paper from inside. "A solemn document, Coke. This will take you right back to Magna Carta. The jury system is the backbone of Old England. Of course, this doesn't mean you will actually serve. Just that you'll get called to the panel. Empaneled the profession call it."
He removed The Modern Home Lawyer from Harold's grasp.
"No need for that. I can tell you everything first hand. I served on a jury some years ago. They asked me to be foreman but I turned it down. You see, it's best to play a waiting game, be the silent man who makes the final decision. But they'd you've not had much experience of committee work, have you?"
"Anyway, this is weeks away," Threlfall said, noticing the date on the front of the summons, "so what are you getting worried about?"
"I wasn't. I just..."
"You'll probably only have a bunch of speeding drivers to deal with, get the whole thing over in an afternoon and then back home with expenses. You see, they prefer a jury trial to a magistrate, think they'll be more sympathetic to a bit of speeding or to driving through a red light. Mine was more serious - breaking and entering, went on three days until the plea was changed, waste of time in the end. You'd better know the difference between a summary and an indictable offence. It's good to be familiar with these things, so you'd like to take notes I'll give you a few pointers."
Harold smiled at his friend. "Look, I don't really need to....."
"No bother. Picked up a few pointers in the army> dealing with men. Then there's the business with my solicitor over The Eternal Light. And the conveyancing of the house. As one moves in public life one gets acquainted with the law, Coke."
Threlfall began to pace around the room.
"To begin with, there is no way to gainsay a Sheriff's Warrant. You're duty bound to turn up, to be empaneled as I said. Then they'll chose twelve good men and true for the trial itself, not that they don't include women sometimes, Good God!"
Threlfall ceased in mid stride to stare through the window. A zinc washing tub was laying on its side under what Coke chose to call his apple tree. Inside the tub Threlfall could make out a small human form swathed in blankets.
"What in God's name is that!"
Harold walked over to the window and smiled. "Oh, that's Little Eric. As it was a warm day we allowed him to stay outside for a while. The doctor said that fresh air would aid in his recuperation.
"But he's inside a wash tub."
"That's Emily. She said it would protect him from damp rising out of the earth. He enjoys it in there, he said he'd even like to spend the night in it."
"Don't let him."
"Well, no, of course, you never know what's out there at night, cats, anything."
"Not that! If you indulge the boy now you don't know what you're getting yourself into later. He needs to be out playing sports. It's not right to see a boy in a washing-up tub. And he spends far too long in his bedroom from what you tell me. I hope you insist he always leaves his door open, even at night."
"He enjoys doing experiments."
Here Threlfall looked stern. "I could find another word for that. Take my advice and nip that sort of thing in the bud right now, before it takes hold of him. But then you were never in the army where you? If you'd ever had men under your control you'd know what I was talking about."
Harold had to admit that there was something in what Threlfall was saying. Indeed, there were times when he could not really understand Little Eric and his interests. The latest thing had been biology experiments, putting jam jars full of caterpillars in the oven and turning up the heat. But Emily did not seem to mind and he knew from long experience the importance of preserving harmony in the home.
"Come along now, Threlfall, and leave the boy alone. He had a nasty time hospital and I'm sure that we're all glad he's back home safe and sound again."
From within the wash tub could be heard the sound of low moaning. Little Eric was perfectly happy. If he squashed himself right down into the tub and tucked the blankets in over his head then the last of the light would be filtered out. In a while he would begin to use up all his air and would be left with the smell of his own body and a curious floating feeling in his head.
It would be like this one day, he knew. When people went to the moon. They'd be in mental containers to protect them from the rockets and then they'd have be packed round with things like blankets because of all the speed. Little Eric had once watched the moving men in the house up the street, observed how they took each cup and saucer and carefully wrapped it in newspaper before placing it in a tea chest. It would have to be like that with space men.
Little Eric knew that the Germans had had big rocket ships in the last war. He'd even seen rockets on the cartoons at the Tatler. He thought how, if he had continued his experiments with electrolysis of water, he could by now have collected whole balloons full of oxygen and hydrogen, maybe sufficient to fill the whole wash tub.
Little Eric pushed away the blankets and stuck out his head for more air. He looked up at the sky but to his disappointment it was still cloudless. On the other hand there were such things as sunshowers, that was when the rain came down out of an empty sky. His father had told him that the rain started so high up in the sky that it took hours to fall to earth and by then all the clouds could have vanished and the sun come out again. If there was a rain shower now it would sound just like meteorites when the drops hit the wash tub.
Little Eric had made some drawings of a scale-model for his rocket ship. It would be constructed out of a syrup tin and there would be places for the fuel. It should not take much oxygen and hydrogen to power a rocket ship the size of a syrup tin. He could make the fins with his Mechano set and paint the outside red. There would have to be passengers, of course, and he had settled on caterpillars as the best choice. Who knows, they may even turn into butterflies when they got into outer space?
Little Eric had already collected a large number of caterpillars, green ones off the cabbages on the allotments. They secreted a pungent smelling green slime onto his hands when he picked them up, and at first he had almost vomited. Now he was training them to withstand the heat of take-off. So far it hadn't worked out too well. Maybe he should try beetles or cockroaches instead.
Contact F. David Peat