Miss Pym Disposes, by Josephine Tey


When tea was over (and Lucy had been introduced to at least twenty different sets of parents) the drift back from the garden began, and Lucy overtook Miss Lux on the way to the house.

“I’m afraid that I am going to cry off tonight,” she said. “I feel a migraine coming.”

“That is a pity,” Lux said without emotion. “I have cried off too.”

“Oh, why?”

“I’m very tired, and upset about Rouse, and I don’t feel like going junketing in town.”

“You surprise me.”

“I surprise you? In what way?”

“I never thought I should live to see Catherine Lux being dishonest with herself.”

“Oh. And what am I fooling myself about?”

“If you have a look at your mind you’ll find that that’s not why you’re staying at home.”

“No? Why, then?”

“Because you get such pleasure out of telling Edward Adrian where he gets off.”

“A deplorable expression.”

“Descriptive, though. You simply jumped at the chance of being high and mighty with him, didn’t you?”

“I own that breaking the engagement was no effort.”

“And a little unkind?”

“A deplorable piece of self-indulgence by a shrew. That’s what you’re trying to say, isn’t it?”

“He is looking forward so much to having you. I can’t think why.”

“Thanks. I can tell you why. So that he can cry all over me and tell me how he hates acting — which is the breath of life to him.”

“Even if he bores you ——”

“If! My God!”

“—— you can surely put up with him for an hour or so, and not use Rouse’s accident as a sort of ace from your sleeve.”

“Are you trying to make an honest woman of me, Lucy Pym?”

“That is the general idea. I feel so sorry for him, being left —”

“My — good — woman,” Lux said, stabbing a forefinger at Lucy with each word, “never be sorry for Edward Adrian. Women spend the best years of their lives being sorry for him, and end by being sorry for it. Of all the self-indulgent, self-deceiving ——”

“But he has got a Johannisberger.”

Lux stopped, and smiled at her.

“I could do with a drink, at that,” she said reflectively.

She walked on a little.

“Are you really leaving Teddy high and dry?” she asked.


“All right. You win. I was just being a beast. I’ll go. And every time he trots out that line about: ‘Oh, Catherine, how weary I am of this artificial life’ I shall think with malice: That Pym woman got me into this.”

“I can bear it,” Lucy said. “Has anyone heard how Rouse is?”

“Miss Hodge has just been on the telephone. She is still unconscious.”

Lucy, seeing Henrietta’s head through the window of her office — it was known as the office but was in reality the little sitting-room to the left of the front door — went in to compliment her on the success of the afternoon and so take her mind for at least a moment or two off the thing that oppressed it, and Miss Lux walked on. Henrietta seemed glad to see her, and even glad to have repeated to her the platitudes she had been listening to all the afternoon, and Lucy stayed talking to her for some time; so that the gallery was almost filled again when she took her seat to watch the dancing.

Seeing Edward Adrian in one of the gangway seats she paused and said:

“Catherine is coming.”

“And you?” he said, looking up.

“No, alas; I am having a migraine at six-thirty sharp.”

Whereupon he said: “Miss Pym, I adore you,” and kissed her hand.

His next-door neighbour looked startled, and someone behind tittered, but Lucy liked having her hand kissed. What was the good of putting rose-water and glycerine on every night if you didn’t have a little return now and then?

She went back to her seat at the end of the front row, and found that the dowager with the lorgnettes had not waited for the dancing; the seat was empty. But just before the lights went down — the hall was curtained and artificially lit — Rick appeared from behind and said: “If you are not keeping that seat for anyone, may I sit there?”

And as he sat down the first dancers appeared.

After the fourth or fifth item Lucy was conscious of a slow disappointment. Used to the technical standards of international ballet, she had not allowed in her mind for the inevitable amateurism of dancing in this milieu. In everything she had seen the students do so far they had been the best of their line in the business; professionals. But it was obviously not possible to give to other subjects the time and energy that they did and still reach a high standard as dancers. Dancing was a whole-time job.

What they did was good, but it was uninspired. On the best amateur level, or a little above. So far the programme had consisted of the national and period dances beloved of all dancing mistresses, and they had been performed with a conscientious accuracy that was admirable but not diverting. Perhaps the need for keeping their minds on the altered track took some of the spontaneity from their work. But on the whole Lucy thought that it was that neither training nor temperament was sufficient. Their audience too lacked spontaneity; the eagerness with which they had watched the gymnastics was lacking. Perhaps they had had too much tea; or perhaps it was that the cinema had brought to their remotest doors a standard of achievement that made them critical. Anyhow their applause was polite rather than enthusiastic.

A piece of Russian bravura roused them for a moment, and they waited hopefully for what might come next. The curtains parted to reveal Desterro, alone. Her arms raised above her head and one slim hip turned to the audience. She was wearing some sort of native dress from her own hemisphere, and the “spot” made the bright colours and the barbaric jewels glitter so that she looked like one of the brilliant birds from her Brazilian forests. Her little feet in their high-heeled shoes tapped impatiently under the full skirt. She began to dance; slowly, almost absent-mindedly, as if she were putting in time. Then it became evident that she was waiting for her lover and that he was late. What his lateness meant to her also became rapidly apparent. By this time the audience were sitting up. From some empty space she conjured a lover. One could almost see the hang-dog look on his swarthy face. She dealt with him: faithfully. By this time the audience were sitting on the edge of their seats. Then, having dealt with him, she began to show off to him; but did he not realise his luck in having a girl like her, a girl who had a waist, an eye, a hip, a mouth, an ankle, a total grace like hers? Was he a boor that he could not see? She therefore showed him; with a wit in every movement that brought smiles to every face in the audience. Lucy turned to look at them; in another minute they would be cooing. It was magic. By the time she began to relent and let her lover have a word in, they were her slaves. And when she walked away with that still invisible but undoubtedly subdued young man, they cheered like children at a Wild West matinée.

Watching her as she took her bow, Lucy remembered how The Nut Tart had chosen Leys because for the proper dancing schools “one must have a métier.”

“She was modest about her dancing after all,” she said aloud. “She could have been a professional.”

“I am glad she didn’t,” Rick said. “Coming here she has learned to love the English countryside. If she had trained in town she would have met only the international riff-raff that hang around ballet.”

And Lucy thought that he was probably right.

There was a distinct drop in temperature when the conscientious students reappeared to continue their numbers. Stewart had a Celtic verve that was refreshing, and Innes had grace and moments of fire, but the moment Desterro came among them even Lucy forgot Innes and all the others. Desterro was enchanting.

At the end she had an ovation all to herself.

And Miss Pym, catching the look on Rick’s face, felt a small pang.

It was not enough to have one’s hand kissed.

“Nobody told me that Desterro could dance like that,” she said to Miss Wragg as they went over to supper together when the guests had at last taken their departure with much starting up of engines and shouted goodbyes.

“Oh, she is Madame’s little pet,” Wragg said in the unenthusiastic voice of Madame’s follower speaking of a creature so far gone in sin that she did not play games. “I think she is stagey, myself. Out of place here, somehow. I honestly think that first dance wasn’t quite nice. Did you think that?”

“I thought it delightful.”

“Oh, well,” Wragg said, resignedly; and added: “She must be good, or Madame wouldn’t be so keen on her.”

Supper was a quiet meal. Exhaustion, anti-climax, and the recollection (now that they were idle) of this morning’s accident, all served to damp the students’ spirits and clog their tongues. The Staff, too, were tired after their shocks, exertions, social efforts, and anxieties. Lucy felt that the occasion called for a glass of good wine, and thought with a passing regret of the Johannisberger that Lux was drinking at that moment. Her heart had begun to thud in a horrid way when she thought that in a few moments she must take that little rosette into the office, and tell Henrietta where she found it.

She had still not taken it out of the drawer where she had left it, and after supper she was on the way up to fetch it when she was overtaken by Beau, who slid an arm into hers and said:

“Miss Pym, we are brewing cocoa in the Common Room, the whole shoot of us. Do come and cheer us up. You don’t want to go and sit in that morgue upstairs”— the morgue was presumably the drawing-room —“do you? Come and cheer us up.”

“I don’t feel particularly cheerful myself,” Lucy said, thinking with loathing of the cocoa, “but if you put up with my gloom I shall put up with yours.”

As they turned towards the Common Room a great wind out of nowhere swept down the corridor through all the wide-open windows, dashing the green branches of the trees outside against one another and tearing the leaves upward so that their backs showed. “The end of the good weather,” Lucy said, pausing to listen. She had always hated that restless destroying wind that put paid to the golden times.

“Yes; it’s cold too,” Beau said. “We’ve lit a wood fire.”

The Common Room was part of the “old house” and had an old brick fireplace; and it certainly looked cheerful with the flame and crackle of a freshly lit fire, the rattle of crockery, the bright dresses of the students lying about in exhausted heaps, and their still brighter bedroom slippers. It was not only O’Donnell who had had recourse to odd footwear tonight; practically everyone was wearing undress shoes of some sort or another. In fact Dakers was lying on a settee with her bare bandaged toes higher than her head. She waved a cheerful hand at Miss Pym, and indicated her feet.

“Haemostosis!” she said. “I bled into my best ballet shoes. I suppose no one would like to buy a pair of ballet shoes, slightly soiled? No, I was afraid not.”

“There’s a chair over by the fire, Miss Pym,” Beau said, and went to pour out the cocoa. Innes, who was sitting curled up on the hearth superintending a Junior’s efforts with a bellows, patted the chair and made her welcome in her usual unsmiling fashion.

“I’ve cadged the rest of the tea stuff from Miss Joliffe,” Hasselt said, coming in with a large plate of mixed left-overs.

“How did you do that?” they asked. “Miss Joliffe never gives away even a smell.”

“I promised to send her some peach jam when I got back to South Africa. There isn’t really very much though it looks a plateful. The maids had most of it after tea. Hullo, Miss Pym. What did you think of us?”

“I thought you were all wonderful,” Lucy said.

“Just like London policemen,” Beau said. “Well, you bought that, Hasselt.”

Lucy apologised for the cliché, and sought by going into further detail to convince them of her enthusiasm.

“Desterro ran away with the evening, didn’t she, though?” they said; and glanced with friendly envy at the composed figure in the bright wrap sitting upright in the ingle-nook.

“Me, I do only one thing. It is easy to do just one thing well.”

And Lucy, like the rest of them, could not decide if the cool little remark was meant to be humble or reproving. On the whole she thought humble.

“That’s enough, March, it’s going beautifully,” Innes said to the Junior, and moved to take the bellows from her. As she moved her feet came out from under her and Lucy saw that she was wearing black pumps.

And the little metal ornament that should have been on the left one was not there.

Oh, no, said Lucy’s mind. No. No. No.

“That is your cup, Miss Pym, and here is yours, Innes. Have a rather tired macaroon, Miss Pym.”

“No, I have some chocolate biscuits for Miss Pym.”

“No, she is going to have some Ayrshire shortbread, out of a tin, and fresh. None of your pawed-over victuals.”

The babble went on round her. She took something off a plate. She answered what was said to her. She even took a sip of the stuff in the cup.

Oh, no. No.

Now that the thing was here — the thing she had been afraid of, so afraid that she would not even formulate it in her mind — now that it was here, made concrete and manifest, she was appalled. It had all suddenly become a nightmare: the bright noisy room with the blackening sky outside where the storm was rushing up, and the missing object. One of those nightmares where something small and irrelevant has a terrifying importance. Where something immediate and urgent must be done about it but one can’t think what or why.

Presently she must get up and make polite leavetaking and go to Henrietta with her story and end by saying: “And I know whose shoe it came from. Mary Innes’s.”

Innes was sitting at her feet, not eating but drinking cocoa thirstily. She had curled her feet under her again, but Lucy had no need for further inspection. Even her faint hope that someone else might be wearing pumps had gone overboard. There was a fine colourful variety of footgear present but not a second pair of pumps.

In any case, no one else had a motive for being in the gymnasium at six o’clock this morning.

“Have some more cocoa,” Innes said presently, turning to look at her. But Miss Pym had hardly touched hers.

“Then I must have some more,” Innes said, and began to get up.

A very tall thin Junior called Farthing, but known even to the Staff as Tuppence–Ha’penny, came in.

“You’re late, Tuppence,” someone said. “Come and have a bun.” But Farthing stood there, uncertainly.

“What is the matter, Tuppence?” they asked, puzzled by her shocked expression.

“I went to put the flowers in Fröken’s room,” she said slowly.

“Don’t tell us there were some there already?” someone said; and there was a general laugh.

“I heard the Staff talking about Rouse.”

“Well, what about her? Is she better?”

“She’s dead.”

The cup Innes was holding crashed on the hearth. Beau crossed over to her to pick up the pieces.

“Oh, nonsense,” they said. “You heard wrong, young Tuppence.”

“No, I didn’t. They were talking on the landing. She died half an hour ago.”

This was succeeded by a dismayed silence.

“I did put up the wall end,” O’Donnell said loudly, into the silence.

“Of course you did, Don,” Stewart said, going to her. “We all know that.”

Lucy put down her cup and thought that she had better go upstairs. They let her go with murmured regrets, their happy party in pieces round them.

Upstairs, Lucy found that Miss Hodge had gone to the hospital to receive Rouse’s people when they arrived, and that it was she who had telephoned the news. Rouse’s people had come, and had taken the blow unemotionally, it seemed.

“I never liked her, God forgive me,” said Madame, stretched at full length on the hard sofa; her plea to the Deity for forgiveness had a genuine sound.

“Oh, she was all right,” Wragg said, “quite nice when you knew her. And the most marvellous centre-half. This is frightful, isn’t it! Now it will be a matter of inquiry, and we’ll have police, an inquest, and appalling publicity, and everything.”

Yes, police and everything.

She could not do anything about the little rosette tonight. And anyhow she wanted to think about it.

She wanted to get away by herself and think about it.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01