The Clothes They Stood Up In
by Alan Bennett

 

Mrs. Ransome, too, could see the cheerful side of things, but then she always did. When they had got married they had kitted themselves out with all the necessities of a well-run household; they had a dinner service, a tea service plus table linen to match; they had dessert dishes and trifle glasses and cake stands galore. There were mats for the dressing table, coasters for the coffee table, runners for the dining table; guest towels with matching flannels for the basin, lavatory mats with matching ones for the bath. They had cake slices and fish slices and other slices besides, delicate trowels in silver and bone the precise function of which Mrs. Ransome had never been able to fathom. Above all there was a massive many-tiered canteen of cutlery, stocked with sufficient knives, forks and spoons for a dinner party for twelve. Mr. and Mrs. Ransome did not have dinner parties for twelve. They did not have dinner parties. They seldom used the guest towels because they never had guests. They had transported this paraphernalia with them across thirty-two years of marriage to no purpose at all that Mrs. Ransome could see, and now at a stroke they were rid of the lot. Without quite knowing why, and while she was washing up their two cups in the sink, Mrs. Ransome suddenly burst out singing.

“It’s probably best,” said Croucher, “to proceed on the assumption that it’s gone and isn’t going to come back. Maybe someone fancied a well-appointed middle-class home and just took a shortcut.”

He stood at the door.

“I’ll get a check to you as soon as I can. Then you can start rebuilding your lives. Your good lady seems to be taking it well.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Ransome, “only she keeps it under.”

“No outstanding jewelry or anything of that sort?”

“No. She’s never really gone in for that sort of thing,” said Mr. Ransome. “Luckily she was wearing her pearls to the opera.”

“She had a necklace on tonight,” said Croucher. “Rather striking I thought.”

“Did she?” Mr. Ransome hadn’t noticed.

When they were at the card table having their supper Mr. Ransome said, “Have I seen that necklace before?”

“No. Do you like it? I bought it at the grocer’s.”

“The grocer’s?”

“The Indian shop. It was only 75p. I can’t wear my pearls all the time.”

“It looks as if it came out of a Christmas cracker.”

“I think it suits me. I bought two. The other one’s green.”

“What am I eating?” said Mr. Ransome. “Swede?”

“A sweet potato. Do you like it?”

“Where did you get it?”

“Marks and Spencer.”

“It’s very nice.”

A couple of weeks after the burglary (everything now dated from that) Mrs. Ransome was sitting on her beanbag in front of the electric fire, her legs stuck out in front of her, contemplating her now rather scuffed court shoes, and wondering what she ought to do next. It was the same with a death, she thought: so much to do to begin with, then afterwards nothing.

Nevertheless (and further to her thoughts at the sink) Mrs. Ransome had begun to see that to be so abruptly parted from all her worldly goods might bring with it benefits she would have hesitated to call spiritual but which might, more briskly, be put under the heading of “improving the character.” To have the carpet almost literally pulled from under her should, she felt, induce salutary thoughts about the way she had lived her life. War would once have rescued her, of course, some turn of events that gave her no choice, and while what had happened was not a catastrophe on that scale she knew it was up to her to make of it what she could. She would go to museums, she thought, art galleries, learn about the history of London; there were classes in all sorts nowadays—classes that she could perfectly well have attended before they were deprived of everything they had in the world, except that it was everything they had in the world, she felt, that had been holding her back. Now she could start. So, plumped down on the beanbag on the bare boards of her sometime lounge, Mrs. Ransome found that she was not unhappy, telling herself that this was more real and that (though one needed to be comfortable) an uncushioned life was the way they ought to live.

It was at this point that the doorbell rang.

“My name is Briscoe,” the voice said over the intercom. “Your counselor?”

“We’re Conservatives,” said Mrs. Ransome.

“No,” said the voice. “The police? Your trauma? The burglary?”

Knowing the counselor had come via the police Mrs. Ransome had expected someone a bit, well, crisper. There was nothing crisp about Ms. Briscoe, except possibly her name, and she got rid of that on the doorstep.

“No, no. Call me Dusty. Everybody does.”

“Were you christened Dusty?” asked Mrs. Ransome, bringing her in. “Or is that just what you’re called?”

“Oh no. My proper name is Brenda but I don’t want to put people off.”

Mrs. Ransome wasn’t quite sure how, though it was true she didn’t look like a Brenda; whether she looked like a Dusty she wasn’t sure as she’d never met one before.

She was a biggish girl who, perhaps wisely, had opted for a smock rather than a frock and with it a cardigan so long and ample it was almost a dress in itself, one pocket stuffed with her diary and notebook, the other sagging under the weight of a mobile phone. Considering she worked for the authorities Mrs. Ransome thought Dusty looked pretty slapdash.

“Now you are Mrs. Ransome? Rosemary Ransome?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s what people call you, is it? Rosemary?”

“Well, yes.” (Insofar as they call me anything, thought Mrs. Ransome.)

“Just wondered if it was Rose or Rosie?”

“Oh no.”

“Hubby calls you Rosemary, does he?”

“Well, yes,” said Mrs. Ransome, “I suppose he does,” and went to put the kettle on, thus enabling Dusty to make her first note: “Query: Is burglary the real problem here?”

When Dusty had started out counseling, victims were referred to as “cases.” That had long since gone; they were now “clients” or even “customers,” terms Dusty to begin with found unsympathetic and had resisted. Nowadays she never gave either designation a second thought—what her clients were called seemed as immaterial as the disasters that befell them. Victims singled themselves out; be it burglary, mugging or road accidents, these mishaps were simply the means by which inadequate people came to her notice. And everybody given the chance had the potential to be inadequate. Experience, she felt, had turned her into a professional.

They took their tea into the sitting room and each sank onto a beanbag, a maneuver Mrs. Ransome was now quite good at, though with Dusty it was more like a tumble. “Are these new?” said Dusty, wiping some tea from her smock. “I was with another client yesterday, the sister of someone who’s in a coma, and she had something similar. Now, Rosemary, I want us to try and talk this through together.”

Mrs. Ransome wasn’t sure whether “talking this through” was the same as “talking it over.” One seemed a more rigorous, less meandering version of the other, the difference in Dusty’s choice of preposition not boding well for fruitful discourse. “More structured,” Dusty would have said, had Mrs. Ransome ventured to raise the point, but she didn’t.

Mrs. Ransome now described the circumstances of the burglary and the extent of their loss, though this made less of an impression on Dusty than it might have done as the diminished state in which the Ransomes were now living—the beanbags, the card table, etc.—seemed not so much a deprivation to Dusty as it did a style.

Though this was more tidy it was the minimalist look she had opted for in her own flat.

“How near is this to what it was before?” said Dusty.

“Oh, we had a lot more than this,” said Mrs. Ransome. “We had everything. It was a normal home.”

“I know you must be hurting,” said Dusty.

“Hurting what?” asked Mrs. Ransome.

“You. You are hurting.”

Mrs. Ransome considered this, her stoicism simply a question of grammar. “Oh. You mean I’m hurt? Well, yes and no. I’m getting used to it, I suppose.”

“Don’t get used to it too soon,” said Dusty. “Give yourself time to grieve. You did weep at the time, I hope?”

“To begin with,” said Mrs. Ransome. “But I soon got over it.”

“Did Maurice?”

“Maurice?”

“Mr. Ransome.”

“Oh . . . no. No. I don’t think he did. Well,” and it was as if she were sharing a secret, “he’s a man, you see.”

“No, Rosemary. He’s a person. It’s a pity that he didn’t let himself go at the time. The experts are all more or less agreed that if you don’t grieve, keep it all bottled up, you’re quite likely at some time in the future to go down with cancer.”

“Oh dear,” said Mrs. Ransome.

“Of course,” said Dusty. “Men do find grieving harder than women. Would it help if I had a word?”

“With Mr. Ransome? No, no,” said Mrs. Ransome hastily. “I don’t think so. He’s very . . . shy.”

“Still,” said Dusty, “I think I can help you . . . or we can help each other.” She leaned over to take Mrs. Ransome’s hand but found she couldn’t reach it so stroked the beanbag instead.

“They say you feel violated,” said Mrs. Ransome.

“Yes. Let it come, Rosemary. Let it come.”

“Only I don’t particularly. Just mystified.”

“Client in denial,” Dusty wrote as Mrs. Ransome took away the teacups. Then she added a question mark.

As she was going Dusty suggested that Mrs. Ransome might try to see the whole experience as a learning curve and that one way the curve might go (it could go several ways apparently) was to view the loss of their possessions as a kind of liberation—”the lilies of the field syndrome,” as Dusty called it. “Lay-not-up-for-yourself-treasures-on-earth-type thing.” This notion having already occurred to Mrs. Ransome she nevertheless didn’t immediately take the point because Dusty referred to their belongings as their “gear,” a word, which, if it meant anything to Mrs. Ransome, denoted the contents of her handbag—lipstick, compact, etc., none of which she had in fact lost. Though thinking about it afterwards she acknowledged that to lump everything, carpets, curtains, furniture and fittings, all under the term “gear” did make it easier to handle. Still it wasn’t a word she contemplated risking on her husband.

Truth to tell (and though she didn’t say so to Mrs. Ransome) it was advice Dusty only proffered halfheartedly anyway. The more she saw of the lilies of the field syndrome the less faith she had in it. She’d had one or two clients who’d told her that a hurtful burglary had given them a clue how to live, that from now on they would set less store by material possessions, travel light, etc. Six months later she’d gone back on a follow-up visit to find them more encumbered than ever. Lots of people could give up things, Dusty had decided; what they couldn’t do without was shopping for them.

When Mrs. Ransome said to Dusty that she didn’t particularly miss her belongings she had been telling the truth. What she did miss—and this was harder to put into words—was not so much the things themselves as her particular paths through them. There was the green bobble hat she had had, for instance, which she never actually wore but would always put on the hall table to remind her that she had switched the immersion heater on in the bathroom. She didn’t have the bobble hat now and she didn’t have the table to put it on (and that she still had the immersion heater must be regarded as a providence). But with no bobble hat she’d twice left the immersion on all night and once Mr. Ransome had scalded his hand.

He too had had rituals to forgo. He had lost the little curved scissors, for instance, with which he used to cut the hair in his ears—and that was only the beginning of it. While not especially vain he had a little mustache which, if left to itself, had a distasteful tendency to go ginger, a tinge that Mr. Ransome kept in check with the occasional touch of hair dye. This came out of an ancient bottle Mrs. Ransome had tried on her roots years ago and then instantly discarded, but which was still kept at the back of the bathroom cupboard. Locking the bathroom door before applying it to the affected part, Mr. Ransome had never admitted to what he was doing, with Mrs. Ransome in her turn never admitting that she knew about it anyway. Only now the bathroom cupboard was gone and the bottle with it, so in due course Mr. Ransome’s mustache began to take on the telltale orange tinge he found so detestable. Asking her to buy another bottle was one answer but this would be to come clean on the years of clandestine cosmetics. Buying a bottle himself was another. But where? His barber was Polish and his English just about ran to “short back and sides.” An understanding chemist perhaps, but all the chemists of Mr. Ransome’s acquaintance were anything but understanding, staffed usually by bored little sluts of eighteen unlikely to sympathize with a middle-aged solicitor and his creeping ginger.

Unhappily tracing its progress in Mrs. Ransome’s powder compact, kept in the bathroom now as the only mirror in the flat, Mr. Ransome cursed the burglars who had brought such humiliation upon him, and lying on her camp bed Mrs. Ransome reflected that not the least of what they had lost in the burglary were their little marital deceptions.

Mr. Ransome had been told that while the insurance company would not pay for the temporary rental of a CD player (not regarded as an essential) it would sanction the hire of a TV. So one morning Mrs. Ransome went out and chose the most discreet model she could find and it was delivered and fitted that same afternoon. She had never watched daytime television before, feeling she ought to have better things to do. However, when the engineer had gone she found he had left the set switched to some sort of chat show in which an overweight American couple were being questioned by a black lady in a trouser suit about how, as the black lady put it, “they related to one another sexually.”

The man, slumped in his seat with his legs wide apart, was describing in as much detail as the woman in the trouser suit would allow what he, as he put it, “asked of his marriage,” while the woman, arms folded, knees together but too plump to be prim, was explaining how “without being judgmental, he had never taken the deodorant on board.”

“Get a load of that body language,” said the lady in the trouser suit, and the audience, mystifyingly to Mrs. Ransome who did not know what body language was, erupted in jeers and laughter.

The things people do for money, thought Mrs. Ransome, and switched it off.

The next afternoon, waking from a doze on her beanbag, she switched on again and found herself watching a similar program with another equally shameless couple and the same hooting, jeering audience, roaming among them with a microphone a different hostess, white this time but as imperturbable as the first and just as oblivious of everybody’s bad manners, even, it seemed to Mrs. Ransome, egging them on.

These hostesses (for Mrs. Ransome now began to watch regularly) were all much of a muchness, big, bold and, Mrs. Ransome thought, with far too much self-confidence (she thought this was what they meant by “feisty” and would have looked it up in Mr. Ransome’s dictionary but wasn’t sure how it was spelled). They had names that defied gender: Robin, Bobby, Troy and some, like Tiffany, Page and Kirby, that in Mrs. Ransome’s book weren’t names at all.

The presenters and their audience spoke in a language which Mrs. Ransome, to begin with anyway, found hard to understand, talking of “parenting” and “personal interaction,” of “fine-tuning their sex lives” and “taking it up the butt.” It was a language of avowal and exuberant fellowship. “I hear what you’re saying,” they said, smacking each other’s hands. “I know where you’re coming from.”

There was Felicia, who wanted long and loving sexual interaction, and Dwight, her husband, who just had hungry hands and no marital skills. They both, it was generally agreed, needed to talk, and here in front of this jeering throng, hungry for sensation, was the place they had chosen to do it, finally, as the credits rolled, falling hungrily upon one another, mouth glued to mouth while the audience roared its approval and the presenter looked on with a sadder and wiser smile. “Thank you people,” she said, and the couple kissed on.

What Mrs. Ransome could never get used to was how unabashed the participants were, how unsheepish, and how none of these people was ever plain shy. Even when there was a program about shyness no one who took part was shy in any sense that Mrs. Ransome understood it; there was no hanging back and no shortage of unblushing participants willing to stand up and boast of their crippling self-consciousness and the absurdities to which overwhelming diffidence and self-effacingness had brought them. No matter how private or intimate the topic under discussion, none of these eager vociferous people had any shame. On the contrary, they seemed to vie with one another in coming up with confessions of behavior that grew ever more ingeniously gross and indelicate; one outrageous admission trumped another, the audience greeting each new revelation with wild whoops and yells, hurling advice at the participants and urging them on to retail new depravities.

There were, it’s true, rare occasions when some of the audience gave vent not to glee but to outrage, even seeming for a moment, presented with some particularly egregious confession, to be genuinely shocked; but it was only because the presenter, glancing covertly at the audience behind the speaker’s back, had pulled a wry face and so cued their affront. The presenter was an accomplice, Mrs. Ransome thought, and no better than anyone else, even going out of her way to remind participants of yet more inventive and indelicate acts that they had earlier confided to her in the presumed privacy of the dressing room. When she jogged their memories they went through an elaborate pantomime of shame (hiding their heads, covering faces with hands, shaking with seemingly helpless laughter), all this to indicate that they had never expected such secrets to be made public, let alone retailed to the camera.

Still, Mrs. Ransome felt, they were all better than she was. For what none of these whooping, giggling (and often quite obese) creatures seemed in no doubt about was that at the basic level at which these programs were pitched people were all the same. There was no shame and no reserve and to pretend otherwise was to be stuck up and a hypocrite. Mrs. Ransome felt that she was certainly the first and that her husband was probably the second.

The contents of the flat were insured for £50,000. It had originally been much less, but being a solicitor and a careful man besides, Mr. Ransome had seen to it that the premium had kept pace with the cost of living. Accordingly this modest agglomeration of household goods, furniture, fixtures and fittings had gone on over the years gently increasing in value; the stereo and the Magimix, the canteen of cutlery, the EPNS salad servers, the tray cloths and table mats and all the apparatus of that life which the Ransomes had the complete equipment for but had never managed to lead, all this had marched comfortably in step with the index. Durable, sober, unshowy stuff, bought with an eye to use rather than ornament, hardly diminished by breakage or loss, dutifully dusted and polished over the years so that it was scarcely even abraded by wear or tear—all this had gone uneventfully forward until that terrible night when the column had been ambushed and this ordinary, unpretentious little fraternity seemingly wiped out and what Mrs. Ransome modestly called “our things” had vanished forever.

So at any rate the insurance company concluded and in due course a check arrived for the full value plus an unforeseen increment payable in the absence of any previous claims and which served to cover disruption and compensate for distress.

“The extra is for our trauma,” said Mrs. Ransome, looking at the check.

“I prefer to call it inconvenience,” Mr. Ransome said. “We’ve been burgled, not knocked down by a bus. Still, the extra will come in handy.”

He was already working out a scheme for an improved stereo system plus an update on his CD player combined with high definition digital sound and ultrarefinement of tone, all to be fed through a pair of majestic new speakers in handcrafted mahogany. It would be Mozart as he had never heard him before.

Mrs. Ransome was sitting contentedly in a cheap cane rocking chair she had found a few weeks earlier in a furniture store up the Edgware Road. It was an establishment that, before the burglary, she would never have dreamed of going into, with garish suites, paintings of clowns and, flanking the door, two life-size pottery leopards. A common shop she would have thought it once, as a bit of her still did, but Mr. Anwar had recommended it and sure enough the rocking chair she’d bought there was wonderfully comfortable and, unlike the easy chair in which she used to sit before the burglary, good for her back. Now that the insurance check had come through she planned on getting a matching chair for Mr. Ransome, but in the meantime she had bought a rug to put the chair on, and, sewn with a design of an elephant, it glowed under the light from a brass table lamp bought at the same shop. Sitting with what Mr. Anwar had told her was an Afghan prayer rug round her shoulders she felt in the middle of the bare sitting room floor that she was on a cozy and slightly exotic little island.

For the moment Mr. Ransome’s island was not so cozy, just a chair at the card table on which Mrs. Ransome had put the one letter that constituted the day’s post. Mr. Ransome picked up the envelope. Smelling curry, he said, “What’s for supper?”

“Curry.”

Mr. Ransome turned the letter over. It looked like a bill. “What sort of curry?”

“Lamb,” said Mrs. Ransome. “With apricots. I’ve been wondering,” she said, “would white be too bold?”

“White what?” said Mr. Ransome, holding the letter up to the light.

“Well,” she said hesitantly, “white everything really.”

Mr. Ransome did not reply. He was reading the letter.

“You mustn’t get too excited,” Mr. Ransome said as they were driving toward Aylesbury. “It could be somebody’s sense of humor. Another joke.”

Actually their mood was quite flat and the countryside was flat too; they had scarcely spoken since they had set off, the letter with Mr. Ransome’s penciled directions lying on Mrs. Ransome’s lap.

Left at the roundabout, thought Mr. Ransome.

“It’s left at the roundabout,” Mrs. Ransome said.

He had telephoned the storage firm that morning to have a girl answer. It was called Rapid ’n’ Reliant Removals ’n’ Storage, those ’n’s, Mr. Ransome thought, a foretaste of trouble; nor was he disappointed.

“Hello. Rapid ’n’ Reliant Removals ’n’ Storage. Christine Those by speaking. How may I help you?”

Mr. Ransome asked for Mr. Ralston, who had signed the letter.

“At the present time of speaking Mr. Ralston is in Cardiff. How may I help you?”

“When will he be back?”

“Not until next week. He’s on a tour of our repositories. How may I help you?”

Her repeated promises of help notwithstanding, Christine had the practiced lack of interest of someone perpetually painting her nails and when Mr. Ransome explained that the previous day he had received a mysterious invoice for £344.36 re the storage of certain household effects, the property of Mr. and Mrs. Ransome, all Christine said was: “And?” He began to explain the circumstances but at the suggestion that the effects in question might be stolen property Christine came to life.

“May I interject? I think that’s very unlikely, quite frankly, I mean, Rapid ’n’ Reliant were established in 1977.”

Mr. Ransome tried a different tack. “You wouldn’t happen to know whether any of these household effects you’re holding includes some old stereo equipment?”

“Can’t help you there, I’m afraid. But if you have any items in storage with Rapid ’n’ Reliant they’ll show up on the C47, of which you should have a copy. It’s a yellow flimsy.”

Mr. Ransome started to explain why he didn’t have a flimsy but Christine cut him short.

“I wouldn’t know that, would I, because I’m in Newport Pagnell? This is the office. The storage depot is in Aylesbury. You can be anywhere nowadays. It’s computers. Actually the person who could help you at Aylesbury is Martin but I happen to know he’s out on a job most of today.”

“I wonder whether I ought to go down to Aylesbury,” Mr. Ransome said, “just to see if there’s anything there.”

Christine was unenthusiastic. “I can’t actually stop you,” she said, “only they don’t have any facilities for visitors. It’s not like a kennels,” she added inexplicably.

Mr. Ransome having told her the storage firm was in a business park, Mrs. Ransome, who was not familiar with the genre, imagined it situated in a setting agreeably pastoral, a park that was indeed a park and attached to some more or less stately home, now sensitively adapted to modern requirements; the estate dotted with workshops possibly; offices nestling discreetly in trees. At the hub of this center of enterprise she pictured a country house where tall women with folders strode along terraces, typists busied themselves in gilded saloons beneath painted ceilings, a vision that, had she thought to trace it back, she would have found to have derived from those war films where French châteaux taken over by the German High Command bustle with new life on the eve of D-Day.

It was as well she didn’t share these romantic expectations with Mr. Ransome who, the secretary of several companies and thus acquainted with the reality, would have given them short shrift.

It was only when she found herself being driven round a bleak treeless ring road lined with small factories and surrounded by concrete and rough grass that Mrs. Ransome began to revise her expectations.

“It doesn’t look very countrified,” Mrs. Ransome said.

“Why should it?” said Mr. Ransome, about to turn in at some un-Palladian metal gates.

“This is it,” said Mrs. Ransome, looking at the letter.

The gates were set in a seven-foot-high fence topped with an oblique pelmet of barbed wire so that the place looked less like a park than a prison. Fixed to an empty pillbox was a metal diagram, painted in yellow and blue, showing the whereabouts of the various firms on the estate. Mr. Ransome got out to look for Unit 14.

“You are here,” said an arrow, only someone had inserted at the tip of the arrow a pair of crudely drawn buttocks.

Unit 14 appeared to be a few hundred yards inside the perimeter, just about where, had the buttocks been drawn to scale, the navel might have been. Mr. Ransome got back in the car and drove slowly on in the gathering dusk until he came to a broad low hangarlike building with double sliding doors, painted red and bare of all identification except for a warning that guard dogs patrolled. There were no other cars and no sign of anybody about.

Mr. Ransome pulled at the sliding door, not expecting to find it open. Nor was it.

“It’s locked,” said Mrs. Ransome.

“You don’t say,” Mr. Ransome muttered under his breath, and struck out round the side of the building, followed more slowly by Mrs. Ransome, picking her way uncertainly over the rubble and clinkers and patches of scrubby grass. Mr. Ransome felt his shoe skid on something.

“Mind the dog dirt,” said Mrs. Ransome. “It’s all over this grass.” Steps led down to a basement door. Mr. Ransome tried this too. It was also locked, a boiler room possibly.

“That looks like a boiler room,” said Mrs. Ransome.

He scraped his shoe on the step.

“You’d think they’d make them set an example,” Mrs. Ransome said.

“Who?” said Mr. Ransome, slurring his polluted shoe over some thin grass.

“The guard dogs.”

They had almost completed a circuit of the hangar when they came on a small frosted window where there was a dim light. It was open an inch or two at the top and was obviously a lavatory, and faintly through the glass Mrs. Ransome could see standing on the window ledge the blurred shape of a toilet roll. It was doubtless a coincidence that it was blue, and forget-me-not blue at that, a shade Mrs. Ransome always favored in her own toilet rolls and which was not always easy to find. She pressed her face to the glass in order to see it more clearly and then saw something else.

“Look, dear,” Mrs. Ransome said. But Mr. Ransome wasn’t looking. He was listening.

“Shut up,” he said. He could hear Mozart.

And floating through the crack of the lavatory window came the full, dark, sumptuous and utterly unmistakable tones of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

“Per pietà, ben mio,” she was singing, “perdona all’error d’un amante.”

And out it drifted into the damp dusk, rising over Rapid ’n’ Reliant at Unit 14 and Croda Adhesives at Unit 16 and Lansyl Sealant Applicators PLC at Unit 20 (Units 17–19 currently under offer).

“O Dio,” sang Dame Kiri. “O Dio.”

And the perimeter road heard it and the sheathed and stunted saplings planted there and the dirty dribble of a stream that straggled through a concrete culvert to the lumpy field beyond, where a shabby horse contemplated two barrels and a pole.

Galvanized by the sound of the antipodean songstress Mr. Ransome clambered up the fall pipe and knelt painfully on the windowsill. Clinging to the pipe with one hand he prized open the window an inch or two further and forced his head in as far as it would go, almost slipping off the sill in the process.

“Careful,” said Mrs. Ransome.

Mr. Ransome began to shout. “Hello. Hello?”

Mozart stopped and somewhere a bus went by.

In the silence Mr. Ransome shouted again, this time almost joyfully. “Hello!”

Instantly there was bedlam. Dogs burst out barking, a siren went off and Mr. and Mrs. Ransome were trapped and dazzled by half a dozen security lights focused tightly on their shrinking forms. Petrified, Mr. Ransome clung desperately to the lavatory window while Mrs. Ransome plastered herself as closely as she could against the wall, one hand creeping (she hoped unobtrusively) up the windowsill to seek the comfort of Mr. Ransome’s knee.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the commotion stopped; the lights went out, the siren trailed off and the barking of the dogs modulated to an occasional growl. Trembling on the sill Mr. Ransome heard a door pushed back and unhurried steps walking across the forecourt.

“Sorry about that, people,” said a male voice. “Burglars, I’m afraid, measures for the detection and discouragement of.”

Mrs. Ransome peered into the darkness but still half-blinded by the lights could see nothing. Mr. Ransome slithered down the fall pipe to stand beside her and she took his hand.


 

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