|Two Gentlemen Sharing - William Corlett (1999)|
"At Mrs. Sugar's"
"Have you heard, my dears? The Hall House is sold at last." Mrs. Sugar was slicing ham with studied concentration as she made this announcement. The recipient of the meat, a woman with a distant, distracted expression and clothes to match, was more intent on the carving than on the speaker but the other customers crowded into the little shop all responded with satisfying interest.
"Really, Mrs. Sugar?" exclaimed a woman in jodhpurs and tweed hacking jacket. "Do we know who?"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Daltry, that I have so far not been able to ascertain," Mrs. Sugar replied with the carefully assumed vowels she saved for her favoured customers. "My informant, Miss Briggs at Lashams," the local estate agent, "seemed to think that the purchaser was a gentleman from London."
"Oh Lord! Not another commuter?" Heather Daltry groaned. "The village is becoming nothing more than a dormitory. One can scarcely breathe for exhaust fumes between six thirty and eight, morning and evening."
Meanwhile, the woman at the counter was trying to catch the carver's attention.
"That's more than enough," she said in an agitated voice.
"I'll just give you this one delicious slice, my dear," Mrs. Sugar told her, cutting it extra thick. "The Brigadier will come back for more tonight, Mrs. Jerrold, I'll be bound. Like Oliver Twist he'll be. And no wonder! My ham is the talk of the county on account of the secret ingredient I put in the water." As she spoke she was now wrapping the meat in grease proof paper. Then laying the little parcel on the scales she gave them a sharp rap with her clenched fist. "Drat these scales! They stick, you know."
Heather Daltry turned and raised her eyes in a way loaded with meaning. The slender woman in a flowing cloak standing behind her frowned.
"You should have them checked, Mrs. Sugar," she announced, making a statement rather than a suggestion.
"I've had them checked, Mrs. Simpson," Mrs. Sugar replied indignantly. "A man from the ministry came himself."
"It's Ms.," Diana Simpson said impatiently. "I've told you that before."
"Yes," Mrs. Sugar agreed, wiping her hands on her overall skirt. "I dare say as it is, but not round here, dear. That's all a bi