Idle Truth, by Belinda Campbell
‘I have it on good authority that it is, in fact, completely true.’
Agatha Fairley announced this with great relish to the rest of the ladies at their weekly lunch. A cake stand stacked with warm scones accompanied with ramekins of curled butter, clotted cream and jams stood as the centre piece in the conservatory at Fairley Manor. Agatha had already noticed Shelly Gatsby eyeing the treats greedily but she would make her wait until the story had settled and the conversion of her listeners was complete.
‘But it can’t be, Agatha. It simply is too much to believe.’
The incredulous response came from Margaret Moran. Agatha was not surprised or offended in the slightest by this outburst. After all, Margaret had once boasted unbearably about how her youngest daughter had been courted by the very person in question that afternoon at Fairley Manor.
‘It doesn’t at all surprise me. I guessed as much the moment my Rufus ran him out of Alison Boland’s garden party last spring.’
Rufus was Claire Byatt’s greyhound. He was a notoriously ill-tempered and bad mannered dog that all of the ladies secretly agreed matched his owner’s own temperament perfectly. Agatha sipped her lemonade, concealing her grin behind the rim of the crystal glass.
‘I must admit, I did have reservations about him myself after I saw him wearing a hat to the Davis’s wedding ceremony. A good Christian man would never wear a hat to a wedding.’
This latest contribution came from Lynnette Stern, the Pastor’s wife. She gave the illusion of unyielding faith and purity, but everyone had heard the rumours about her and her Spanish gardener. Ordinarily if there was such rumours about any of the other ladies, Agatha would without remorse fail to invite them to her home again. However Lynnette had been married to the Pastor, who incidentally was twenty years her senior, for twelve years and Agatha could not help but admire how well she played the part in public.
‘That reminds me, Lynnette I have noticed an orange, foreign looking plant beginning to grow amongst my geraniums and I was wondering if you could spare your gardener for an afternoon so he might tell me what it could be.’
Julie Lanson, the youngest and most calculated lady that Agatha associated with, sat blinking innocently in her chair as she politely waited for a response.
‘I wouldn’t concern yourself with it, Julie. It is probably a simple weed.’
Agatha marvelled at this response, perfectly venomous in its reassurance, although she was slightly disappointed that her topic appeared to have been changed. She had, however a plan that would ensure the topic was pursued even more fervently than before.
‘Well if anyone really has any doubts on whether it is true or not, you can ask his sister Gillian whom will be joining us for tea.’
Shelly Gatsby’s face dropped at the thought of having to wait for another guest before they could make a start on the scones. Agatha took pity on her.
‘More lemonade, Shelly?’
She accepted remorsefully. The other ladies looked aghast with horror and pleasure at Agatha who once more took a sip from her glass in order to contain her excitement of the situation she had birthed.
‘Agatha, really? Have you truly done so? This isn’t just one of your tricks?’
Agatha did not need to reply in order for the ladies to make up their minds that it was in fact true. At that moment one of the maids at Fairley Manor entered the conservatory to announce the arrival of Gillian Chambers. The ladies looked at the unfortunate young woman as if she held for them both the importance of the Queen and the gratuitous pleasure of witnessing the bearded lady at the circus.
‘Good afternoon, Agatha, ladies. Am I late?’
‘Not at all, Gillian. Perhaps you would like our maid Joan to show you where you could relinquish yourself of your coat and gloves.’
And with that, Gillian was escorted back out of the conservatory. The room was silent, but only for the short while until the noise of Joan and Gillian’s footsteps faded with their distance.
‘Well there is absolutely no doubt in my mind now,’ remarked Claire.
‘None at all,’ joined Lynnette.
‘Did you hear the guilt in her voice when she asked if she was late? The burden of bad blood,’ observed Julie.
‘I suppose she did seem rather strange, didn’t she?’ Margaret commented.
‘Indeed, I hope you all do not just think me an idle gossip any longer?’ Agatha expressed in a tone that suggested concern.
‘Oh how could we? It’s clearly true after all.’ Shelley concluded desperately.
And with her listeners finally converted, Agatha offered Shelley the first scone.