52. Pinching and Planning

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  • Dedicated to Frank Stewart

My spies on their secret mission were less successful then I had hoped.

"Nothing!" Frustrated, Patsy stamped towards me, one hand on her hip, one stabbing her parasol into the air as if she could stab the unobliging passers-by who hadn't been able to offer any useful gossip about Sir Philip. "They told me nothing! And I bet they knew at least something about him worth knowing, something really bad. They looked frightened when I brought the subject up, and kept looking from left to right in a very shifty way."

"That might have been because you stared at them like an inquisitor in a hoop-skirt," Eve pointed out. "You should have been more relaxed and easy going, and everything would have been worked wonderfully! I met some people who were quite eager to talk, actually, and we conversed about him for a long time."

"Really? And what did you learn?" I asked, eagerly.

"That... he is rich, has a long nose and is fond of flowers."

"What blasted good will that do? We already knew that!"

"Yes, well... I suppose we did."

"Let's face it, girls," Patsy said gloomily, slumping down on the bench again. "The chap has a clean slate. Abnormally long nose and a flower-fixation are hardly grounds on which one convince an aunt to reject an affluent nephew-in-law."

"So what does that mean, Patsy?" Eve wanted to know.

Patsy shrugged, miserably. "It means that Ella is doomed to a life of matrimonial misery, doesn't it, Lilly?"

When I didn't answer, all of them looked up at me. They had all settled on the bench again by now. Only I was still standing, looking down at their inquiring faces.

"Doesn't it?" Patsy repeated.

I thought of Ella, on her knees in the garden, weeping, accepting Edmund's proposition to run away.

"Actually, it means something much worse," I said, darkly.

"Oh my God!" Eve clapped a hand over her mouth and stared at me wide-eyed. "She's not going to poison him, is she? Arsenic in his bacon and eggs, right after the marriage?"

"Eve!"

"Sorry! Sorry, I forgot. Ella would never do such a thing." She looked down, and for a moment, I thought she was actually ashamed of her outburst. Then she looked up again. "So you are going to poison him, then?"

"You read a great deal too much Edgar Allen Poe, Eve," I said, pulling a face. "Nobody is going to poison anybody.

"But then what did you mean?"

For a moment, I hesitated. Should I? They looked so eager, so helpful. But I couldn't. Deep inside I knew Ella would have died rather than have this particular secret revealed to anybody. I myself could listen in – that was all right, after all, I was her big sister, and had absolutely altruistic motives. But I couldn't tell a soul.

"Sorry." I shook my head. "I can't tell you."

I saw the hurt on their faces even before all the words were out of my mouth. "It's not because I don't trust you," I assured them. "I would trust you with my life! It's just... well, this is not my secret to share."

They exchanged looks with another. Finally, Patsy nodded. "All right... Let's file that under 'very mysterious."

I jumped. The word 'file' made me edgy these days, starting the urge to jump up and run for the nearest shelf full of boxes. Fortunately, none of them noticed.

"The question isn't really why Ella needs to get out of this so desperately," I reminded them. "You know she does. We have to figure out how to do it."

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