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Read the story to the end. What do you think George is after ?
But I was glad to rest. The stack had been broken up, but we managed to find a nest in it. I buried my bottle of milk in the hay for coolness. George placed his carefully at the foot of the stack. “My old cousin is terribly vague, poor soul. A bit hazy in her head. She hasn’t the least sense of time. If I tell her I’ve only been gone ten minutes she’ll believe it.”
I giggled, and looked at him. His face had grown much larger, his lips full, wide, and with a ripe colour that is strange in a man. His brown eyes were abounding as before with some inarticulate plea.
“So you’re going to marry Skinny after all these years ?”
“I really don’t know, George.”
“You played him up properly.”
“It isn’t for you to judge. I have my own reasons for what I do.”
“Don’t get sharp,” he said, “I was only funning.” To prove it, he lifted a tuft of hay and brushed my face with it.
“D’you know,” he said next, “I didn’t think you and Skinny treated me very decently in Rhodesia.”
“Well, we were busy, George. And we were younger then, we had
“A touch of selfishness,” he said.
“I’ll have to be getting along, George.” I made to get down from the stack.
He pulled me back. “Wait, I’ve got something to tell you.”
“O. K., George, tell me.”
“First promise not to tell Kathleen. She wants it kept a secret so that she can tell you herself.”
“All right. Promise.”
“I’m going to marry Kathleen.”
“But you’re already married.”
Sometimes I heard news of Matilda from the one Rhodesian family with whom I still kept up. They referred to her as “George’s Dark Lady” and of course they did not know he was married to her. She had apparently made a good thing out of George, they said, for she minced around all tarted up, never did a stroke of work, and was always unsettling the respectable coloured girls in their neighborhood. According to accounts, she was a living example of the folly of behaving as George did.
“I married Matilda in the Congo,” George was saying.
“It would still be bigamy,” I said.
He was furious when I used that word bigamy. He lifted a handful of hay as if he would throw it in my face, but controlling himself meanwhile he fanned it at me playfully.
“I’m not sure that the Congo marriage was valid,” he continued. “Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t.”
“You can’t do a thing like that,” I said.
“I need Kathleen. She’s been decent to me. I think we were always meant for each other, me and Kathleen.”
“I’ll have to be going,” I said.
But he put his knee over my ankles, so that I couldn’t move. I sat still and gazed into space.
He tickled my face with a wisp of hay.
“Smile up, Needle,” he said ; “let’s talk like old times.”
“No one knows about my marriage to Matilda except you and me.”
“And Matilda,” I said.
“She’ll hold her tongue so long as she gets her payments. My uncle left an annuity for the purpose, his lawyers see to it.”
“Let me go, George.”
“You promised to keep it a secret,” he said, “you promised.”
“Yes, I promised.”
“And now that you’re going to marry Skinny, we’ll be properly coupled off as we should, have been years ago. We should have been — but youth ! — or youth got in the way, didn’t it ?”
“Life got in the way,” I said.
“But everything’s going to be all right now. You’ll keep my secret, won’t you ? You promised.” He had released my feet. I edged a little farther from him. I said, “If Kathleen intends to marry you, I shall tell her that you’re already married.”
“You wouldn’t do a dirty trick like that, Needle ? You’re going to be happy with Skinny, you wouldn’t stand in the way of my…”
“I must, Kathleen’s my best friend,” I said swiftly.
He looked as if he would murder me and he did, he stuffed hay into my mouth until it could hold no more, kneeling on my body to keep it still, holding both my wrists tight in his huge left hand. I saw the red full lines of his mouth and the white slit of his teeth last thing on earth. Not another soul passed by as he pressed my body into the stack, as he made a deep nest for me, tearing up the hay to make a groove the length of my corpse, and finally pulling the warm dry stuff in a mound over this concealment, so natural-looking in a broken haystack. Then George climbed down, took up his bottle of milk, and went his way. I suppose that was why he looked so unwell when I stood, nearly five years later, by the barrow in the Portobello Road and said in easy tones, “Hallo, George !”
The Haystack Murder was one of the notorious crimes of that year.
My friends said, “A girl who had everything to live for.”
After a search that lasted twenty hours, when my body was found, the evening papers said, “ ‘Needle’ is found: in haystack !”
Kathleen, speaking from that Catholic point of view which takes some getting used to, said, “She was at Confession only the day before she died — wasn’t she lucky ?”
The poor byre-hand who sold us the milk was grilled for hour after hour by the local police, and later by Scotland Yard. So was George. He admitted walking as far as the haystack with me, but he denied lingering there.
“You hadn’t seen your friend for ten years ?” the Inspector asked him. “That’s right,” said George.
“And you didn’t stop to have a chat ?”
“No. We’d arranged to meet later at dinner. My cousin was waiting for the milk, I couldn’t stop.”
The old soul, his cousin, swore that he hadn’t been gone more than ten minutes in all, and she believed it to the day of her death a few months later. There was the microscopic evidence of hay on George’s jacket, of course, but the same evidence was on every man’s jacket in the district that fine harvest year. Unfortunately, the byreman’s hands were even brawnier and mightier than George’s. The marks on my wrists had been done by such hands, so the laboratory charts indicated when my post-mortem was all completed. But the wrist-marks weren’t enough to pin down the crime to either man. If I hadn’t been wearing my long-sleeved cardigan, it was said, the bruises might have matched up properly with someone’s fingers.
Kathleen, to prove that George had absolutely no motive, told the police that she was engaged to him. George thought this a little foolish. They checked up on his life in Africa, right back to his living with Matilda. But the marriage didn’t come out — who would think of looking up registers in the Congo ? Not that this would have proved any motive for murder. All the same, George was relieved when the inquiries were over without the marriage to Matilda being disclosed. He was able to have his nervous breakdown at the same time as Kathleen had hers, and they recovered together and got married, long after the police had shifted their inquiries to an Air Force camp five miles from Kathleen’s aunt’s home. Only a lot of excitement and drinks came of those investigations. The Haystack Murder was one of the unsolved crimes that year.
Shortly afterwards the byre-hand emigrated to Canada to start afresh, with the help of Skinny who felt sorry for him.
After seeing George taken away home by Kathleen that Saturday in the Portobello Road, I thought that perhaps I might be seeing more of him in similar circumstances. The next Saturday I looked out for him, and at last there he was, without Kathleen, half-worried, half-hopeful.
I dashed his hopes. I said, “Hallo, George !”
He looked in my direction, rooted in the midst of the flowing market-mongers in that convivial street. I thought to myself, “He looks as if he had a mouthful of hay.” It was the new bristly maize-coloured beard and moustache surrounding his great mouth suggested the thought, gay and lyrical as life.
“Hallo, George !” I said again.
I might have been inspired to say more on that agreeable morning, but he didn’t wait. He was away down a side-street and along another street and down one more, zig-zag, as far and as devious as he could take himself from the Portobello Road.
Nevertheless he was back again next week. Poor Kathleen had brought him in her car. She left it at the top of the street, and got out with him, holding him tight by the arm. It grieved me to see Kathleen ignoring the spread of scintillations on the stalls. I had myself seen a charming Battersea box quite to her taste, also a pair of enamelled silver ear-rings. But she took no notice of these wares, clinging close to George, and, poor Kathleen — I hate to say how she looked.
And George was haggard. His eyes seemed to have got smaller as if he had been recently in pain. He advanced up the road with Kathleen on his arm, letting himself lurch from side to side with his wife bobbing beside him, as the crowds asserted their rights of way.
“Oh, George !” I said. “You don’t look at all well, George.”
“Look !” said George. “Over there by the hardware barrow. That’s Needle.”
Kathleen was crying. “Come back home, dear,” she said.
“Oh. you don’t look well, George !” I said. They took him to a nursing home. He was fairly quiet, except on Saturday mornings when they had a hard time of it to keep him indoors and away from the Portobello Road.
But a couple of months later he did escape. It was a Monday.
They searched for him in the Portobello Road, but actually he had gone off to Kent to the village near the scene of the Haystack Murder. There he went to the police and gave himself up, but they could tell from the way he was talking that there was something wrong with the man.
“I saw Needle in the Portobello Road three Saturdays running,” he explained, “and they put me in a private ward but I got away while the nurses were seeing to the new patient. You remember the murder of Needle — well, I did it. Now you know the truth, and that will keep bloody Needle’s mouth shut.”
Dozens of poor mad fellows confess to every murder. The police obtained an ambulance to take him back to the nursing home. He wasn’t there long. Kathleen gave up her shop and devoted herself to looking after him at home. But she found that the Saturday mornings were a strain. He insisted on going to see me in the Portobello Road and would come back to insist that he’d murdered Needle. Once he tried to tell her something about Matilda, but Kathleen was so kind and solicitous,
Skinny had always been rather reserved with George since the murder. But he was kind to Kathleen. It was he who persuaded them to emigrate to Canada so that George should be well out of reach of the Portobello Road.
George has recovered somewhat in Canada but of course he will never be the old George again, as Kathleen writes to Skinny. “That Haystack tragedy did for George,” she writes. “I feel sorrier for George sometimes than I am for poor Needle. But I do often have Masses said for Needle’s soul.” I doubt if George will ever see me again in the Portobello Road. He broods much over the crumpled snapshot he took of us on the haystack. Kathleen does not like the photograph, I don’t wonder. For my part, I consider it quite a jolly snap, but I don’t think we were any of us so lovely as we look in it, gazing blatantly over the ripe cornfields, Skinny with his humorous expression, I secure in my difference from the rest, Kathleen with her head prettily perched on her hand, each reflecting fearlessly in the face of George’s camera the glory of the world, as if it would never pass.
Âñå ìàòåðèàëû ïðåäñòàâëåííûå íà ñàéòå èñêëþ÷èòåëüíî ñ öåëüþ îçíàêîìëåíèÿ ÷èòàòåëÿìè è íå ïðåñëåäóþò êîììåð÷åñêèõ öåëåé èëè íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ. Ñòóäàëë.Îðã (0.01 ñåê.)