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The Awful Reason Of The Vicar’s Visit
by [?]

“When I arrived there were only four other maiden ladies with Miss Brett, but they were sewing very busily. It is very difficult, of course, for any person, however strongly impressed with the necessity in these matters of full and exact exposition of the facts, to remember and repeat the actual details of a conversation, particularly a conversation which (though inspired with a most worthy and admirable zeal for good work) was one which did not greatly impress the hearer’s mind at the time and was in fact–er–mostly about socks. I can, however, remember distinctly that one of the spinster ladies (she was a thin person with a woollen shawl, who appeared to feel the cold, and I am almost sure she was introduced to me as Miss James) remarked that the weather was very changeable. Miss Brett then offered me a cup of tea, which I accepted, I cannot recall in what words. Miss Brett is a short and stout lady with white hair. The only other figure in the group that caught my attention was a Miss Mowbray, a small and neat lady of aristocratic manners, silver hair, and a high voice and colour. She was the most emphatic member of the party; and her views on the subject of pinafores, though expressed with a natural deference to myself, were in themselves strong and advanced. Beside her (although all five ladies were dressed simply in black) it could not be denied that the others looked in some way what you men of the world would call dowdy.

“After about ten minutes’ conversation I rose to go, and as I did so I heard something which–I cannot describe it–something which seemed to–but I really cannot describe it.”

“What did you hear?” I asked, with some impatience.

“I heard,” said the vicar solemnly, “I heard Miss Mowbray (the lady with the silver hair) say to Miss James (the lady with the woollen shawl), the following extraordinary words. I committed them to memory on the spot, and as soon as circumstances set me free to do so, I noted them down on a piece of paper. I believe I have it here.” He fumbled in his breast-pocket, bringing out mild things, note-books, circulars and programmes of village concerts. “I heard Miss Mowbray say to Miss James, the following words: ‘Now’s your time, Bill.'”

He gazed at me for a few moments after making this announcement, gravely and unflinchingly, as if conscious that here he was unshaken about his facts. Then he resumed, turning his bald head more towards the fire.

“This appeared to me remarkable. I could not by any means understand it. It seemed to me first of all peculiar that one maiden lady should address another maiden lady as ‘Bill’. My experience, as I have said, may be incomplete; maiden ladies may have among themselves and in exclusively spinster circles wilder customs than I am aware of. But it seemed to me odd, and I could almost have sworn (if you will not misunderstand the phrase), I should have been strongly impelled to maintain at the time that the words, ‘Now’s your time, Bill’, were by no means pronounced with that upper-class intonation which, as I have already said, had up to now characterized Miss Mowbray’s conversation. In fact, the words, ‘Now’s your time, Bill’, would have been, I fancy, unsuitable if pronounced with that upper-class intonation.

“I was surprised, I repeat, then, at the remark. But I was still more surprised when, looking round me in bewilderment, my hat and umbrella in hand, I saw the lean lady with the woollen shawl leaning upright against the door out of which I was just about to make my exit. She was still knitting, and I supposed that this erect posture against the door was only an eccentricity of spinsterhood and an oblivion of my intended departure.

“I said genially, ‘I am so sorry to disturb you, Miss James, but I must really be going. I have–er–‘ I stopped here, for the words she had uttered in reply, though singularly brief and in tone extremely business-like, were such as to render that arrest of my remarks, I think, natural and excusable. I have these words also noted down. I have not the least idea of their meaning; so I have only been able to render them phonetically. But she said,” and Mr Shorter peered short-sightedly at his papers, “she said: ‘Chuck it, fat ‘ead,’ and she added something that sounded like ‘It’s a kop’, or (possibly) ‘a kopt’. And then the last cord, either of my sanity or the sanity of the universe, snapped suddenly. My esteemed friend and helper, Miss Brett, standing by the mantelpiece, said: ‘Put ‘is old ‘ead in a bag, Sam, and tie ‘im up before you start jawin’. You’ll be kopt yourselves some o’ these days with this way of coin’ things, har lar theater.’