Mrs Anthony 70

Mrs Anthony knew instinctively that Mrs Pettigrew was a kindly woman. Her instinct was wrong. But the first few weeks after Mrs Pettigrew came to the Colstons to look after Charmain she sat in the kitchen and told Mrs Anthony of her troubles.

‘Have a fag,’ said Mrs Anthony, indicating with her elbow the packet on the table while she poured strong tea. ‘Everything might be worse.’

Mrs Pettigrew said, ‘It couldn’t very well be worse. Thirty years of my life I gave to Mrs Lisa Brooke. Everyone knew I was to get that money. Then this Guy Leet turns up to claim. It wasn’t any marriage, that wasn’t. Not a proper marriage.’ She pulled her cup of tea towards her and, thrusting her head close to Mrs Anthony’s, told her in what atrocious manner and for what long-ago reason Guy Leet had been incapable of consummating his marriage with Lisa Brooke.

Mrs Anthony swallowed a large sip of tea, the cup of which she held in both hands, and breathed back into the cup while the warm-smelling steam spread comfortably over her nose. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘a husband’s a husband. By law.’

‘Lisa never recognized him as such,’ said Mrs Pettigrew. ‘No one knew about the marriage with Guy Leet, until she died, the little swine.’

‘I thought you says she was all right,’ said Mrs Anthony.

‘Guy Leet,’ said Mrs Pettigrew. ‘He’s the little swine.’

‘Oh, I see. Well, the courts will have something to say to that, dear, when it comes up. Have a fag.’

‘You’re making me into a smoker, Mrs Anthony. Thanks, I will. But you should try to cut them down, they aren’t too good for you.’

‘Twenty a day since I was twenty-five and seventy yesterday,’ said Mrs Anthony.

‘Seventy! Gracious, you’ll be – ’

‘Seventy years of age yesterday.’

‘Oh, seventy. Isn’t it time you had a rest then? I don’t envy you with this lot,’ Mrs Pettigrew indicated with her head the kitchen door, meaning the Colstons residing beyond it.

‘Not so bad,’ said Mrs Anthony. ‘He’s a bit tight, but she’s nice. I like her.’