Mrs. Downce

The first week-end after the school holidays were over, the Minivers kept away from Starlings, so as to let Mrs. Downce give the house a thorough turning out. By the time they went down again it was well into May. A noticeable change had come over the countryside: it had lost the coltish uncertain grace of spring and taken on a more poised, though still virginal, loveliness.

As soon as Mrs. Downce appeared at the door Mrs. Miniver knew, with that morbid sensitiveness to emotional atmosphere which is common to lovers and housewives, that something was amiss. She was not sure which of the two possible types of bad weather the omens portended -- the subjective (or dudgeonly) or the objective (or catastrophic). On the whole, knowing that it couldn't be anything to do with the children, she hoped that it would turn out to be the latter. Burst water-mains were so much easier to deal with than injured feelings. But mightn’t it, after all, be something to do with the children? There might have been a telephone message while they were on their way down

"Is everything all right?" she asked in a casual voice, pulling off her gloves.

"Well, no, madam, I'm afraid I couldn't hardly say that." Mrs. Downce paused ominously.

"(Oh, come on, you old fool, don't keep me on tenterhooks like this -- which of them is it? Toby? Judy? Vin?) I'm sorry to hear that. What's happened?"

"Well, madam, there's nothing what you could call happened, it's just there's a norrible smell."

Mrs. Miniver nearly laughed out loud with relief.

" Smell ? Where?"

"Everywhere, madam. All over the back part of the house, that is. A norrible smell."

Mrs. Miniver crossed the hall, opened the door which led to the kitchen premises, mid shut it again very quickly.

"Good heavens! " she said. "It's unspeakable."

Mrs. Downce's face bore the triumphant look peculiar to those who, suspected of hyperbole, are found to have been employing meiosis.

"Downce thinks it's the drains. His mother died of typhoid."

Clem came in from putting away the car.

"Look here, Clem, you ought to know -- is this drains, or isn't it?"

"I'm an architect," said Clem, "not a sanitary inspector. Still, I'll have a sniff -- oh, Lord!" He, too, shut the passage door, appalled.

"Me and Downce have been sitting in the library, sir, and cooking on a spirit lamp. We thought you wouldn’t mind."

"Of course not," said Clem. "But why on earth didn't you get in a plumber?"

"We thought at first it might go off," Mrs. Downce explained. "But when it got too bad we did ring up Mr. Bateman. But that's three days ago now -- he's putting in a new bathroom up at the Hall, and you know what the tradesmen are like down here when they're busy. Independent. They don't care who gets typhoid." She was a Cockney, but had married into Kent; and the last twenty-five years had only strengthened her conviction that anywhere outside London was virtually Central Africa.

"Nobody's going to get typhoid," said Clem impatiently, striding over to the telephone.

"It's Saturday afternoon, sir," Mrs. Downce reminded him with melancholy relish. "You won't get nobody now till Monday."

"Come on," said Mrs. Miniver, in whom curiosity had at last overcome squeamishness. "Let's try and find out what it is. It may not be drains at all. It may be a dead rat under the floor."

"Bore like a dead sheep," said Clem, as, holding their noses, they proceeded down the kitchen passage.

"Bore like a dead babboth," said Mrs. Miniver. They tracked the smell past the kitchen, scullery, and larder, until they came to the small wash-place and cloakroom just inside the garden door. where it seemed to be at its worst.

"I suppose that beads it bust be draids," said Mrs. Miniver. But Clem, after looking round suspiciously among the litter of waterproofs, walking-sticks, nets, rods, and golf-clubs, took down Vin's fishing haversack from a hook on the wall.

"Bait," he said briefly. "Dab the boy." They carried the haversack out into the garden and emptied it. Among the floats, leads, and other paraphernalia there were two tins. The first contained earthworms. the second lugworms, both in an indescribable state.

Really, said Mrs. Miniver, "this is a bit much. Such waste, too, " she added. "I helped him dig those lugworms the day we went over to Dungeness. They took us nearly two hours to get."

Clem's face was grim. He got a spade from the tool-shed and buried the bait very deep in the kitchen garden. Then he went indoors and wrote a letter to Vin. From the time it took, and the look of his shoulder-blades, Mrs. Miniver was afraid that for once in a way he was being over-stern; but when he leant back in his chair to re-read the letter she saw that it was profusely illustrated down the margin with his own particular brand of pin-man picture: so she knew it was all right. And Mrs. Downce, as she brought in the tea, remarked amiably and with an air of discovery that boys would be boys. Mrs. Miniver breathed more freely. The trough of low pressure was already over: it was going to be a fine week-end.


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