“It would be awfully kind if you could pop down,” Bill Beverly was saying. “It’s probably nothing, but it is still rather worrying in its way.”
“Say no more, dear boy,” Tony’s voice came over the telephone wire, “I am on my way even as we speak.”
Bill waved to Tony as he emerged from the railway station and led the way to the car, which was half-blocking the main entrance.
“Hop in, before someone shouts at me,” Bill said.
Tony waited for Bill to negotiate the bustling market square and take the road which led to his aunt’s house before saying, “Tell me again what’s happened.”
“Cook has lost the Christmas pudding. It’s vanished completely,” Bill replied.
“Not just misplaced? Moved onto another shelf to make way for two dozen mince pies, or something like that?”
“No. She and Dorothy, that’s the maid, have looked all over the kitchen and thoroughly checked the pantry, but there’s absolutely no sign of it. Cook’s very upset.”
“Would anyone else have reason to take the pudding?”
“I can’t think why my aunt would move it. Arthur, my cousin, doesn’t go into the kitchen – he’s got an artificial leg, so finds the steps down difficult to manage. And even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to carry the pudding and cope with coming back up the steps.”
“There’s no-one else in the house? I thought you said there should be a number of you over Christmas.”
“Florence and her husband, Walter, haven’t arrived yet. They were originally coming on Saturday, but Walter had an unexpected appointment, so they’ve delayed their arrival until later today. And Lilian and her family are visiting his relations this Christmas, so they won’t be here until the new year. The only other person is George King, who acts as butler and helps Arthur when he needs it. He’s married to cook.”
“And his life wouldn’t be worth living if he’d done anything with the pudding.”
“Precisely. Oh, I’ve told Aunt Cecile you’re an old friend who suddenly found yourself at a loose end, so I thought I’d invite you down for a few days. I hope that’s all right by you? Here we are.”
Bill parked the car and showed Tony inside. There was no-one in sight, so he suggested they go down to the kitchen which would enable Tony to begin his investigations immediately.
In the kitchen Bill persuaded the cook to make them some coffee and then said, “I’ve been telling Tony about the disappearing Christmas pudding.”
“He’s been making quite the mystery of it,” Tony added.
“Well, I don’t know what to make of it,” Mrs King replied.
“When did it go missing?” Tony asked.
“It was definitely here on Saturday afternoon, because I saw it when I got the cake down to marzipan it. But when Dorothy went to check how many mince pies we had left, do help yourself to one …” She paused and pushed the plate over to Tony, who accepted one happily. “The pudding was no longer there.”
“Was the cake there?”
“Oh yes. I shall be icing that this afternoon.”
“But nobody noticed whether or not the pudding was there on Sunday?”
“No sir. The family had Sunday lunch here but were out for tea.”
“At the vicar’s,” Bill said. He pulled a face.
“And you’ve not had any strangers call round in the last couple of days?” Tony continued his questioning.
“No. And if it was gypsies, which it wasn’t, why would they steal a Christmas pudding?”
“It does seem unlikely. I presume you keep the tradition of putting small items in the pudding?”
“Oh, yes.” She smiled. “And all the family come and help stir. Even Mr Arthur came down, my George gave him a hand. It was the weekend Miss Florence, that is Mrs Fortescue, and her husband were staying so they joined in too. You know, that’s funny. Dorothy said she thought she saw Mr Fortescue’s car in the lane on Saturday, but she can’t have done. It must have been someone else’s.”
“Excellent mince pies, Mrs King,” Tony said. “Thank you so much. We won’t keep you any longer.”
He and Bill left the kitchen together.
“You look like you know what’s happened,” Bill said.
“I have a theory, but we shall need to test it out,” Tony replied.
“Do you want to go somewhere quiet to discuss it? Arthur will be in the study, but the dining room should be free.”
“Do you trust Arthur?”
“Yes, I do.”
“In which case, can I suggest we include him in our plans, since I think he might prove very helpful.”
Accordingly, Bill took Tony into the study and introduced him to Arthur. Tony explained his idea and the three of them waited for the rest of the party to arrive.
That evening, before dinner, Arthur invited Bill, Tony and Walter Fortescue to join him in the study for a drink. His mother and Florence had no objection, being happy to have some time together.
Once they were all seated with a glass in their hands, Arthur began, “It’s been very strange, the way the Christmas pudding has completely disappeared.”
Fortescue made a nondescript noise, while Bill and Tony nodded.
“You know,” Tony said, “I’m going with the theory that someone hid something of value in the pudding and wanted to get it back.”
“Weren’t you saying your mother had misplaced a ring recently, Arthur?” Bill asked.
“Yes,” Arthur replied. “Wouldn’t it be funny if it had turned up in the pudding on Christmas Day? Of course, she rarely wears the ring, it’s too valuable, so it couldn’t have slipped off her finger into the pudding mix.”
At that moment, George rang the gong for dinner, and they adjourned to the dining room.
Fortescue was very quiet during the meal, and towards the end of it he leant towards his wife, and in a voice that was clear enough for everyone to hear, said, “I’m sorry, darling, I’m afraid I will have to go up to town again tomorrow. I shall only be a few hours. And while I’m up there, I’ll make sure I pick up a suitable replacement pudding for the one that’s gone missing.”
Aunt Cecile said, “Please don’t trouble yourself about that.”
“It will be my pleasure,” Fortescue replied. “The least I can do.”
The following afternoon, Bill took Tony back to the railway station. “Thank you so much for coming down. I think you may have made Christmas for everyone.”
“No problem at all, I’ve enjoyed it. And you will make sure you let me know how things work out, won’t you?”
And so, a few days’ later, Bill was able to tell Tony that the ring had mysteriously turned up, and that Arthur had had a frank discussion with Fortescue. He wasn’t sure what the outcome had been, but Florence had seemed happier as well, so he was hopeful that some good had come out of it all. He also reported that, although the replacement Christmas pudding was very nice, it wasn’t a patch on Mrs King’s.