She stood in the country lane with her parcel under her arm, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. She was in a shocking state of nerves. Her parcel was incriminating and must be disposed of as soon as possible. Her friend (she hoped she might truly call him that), who was to meet her there, was late. Her parcel, though not big, weighed heavily on her arm, but she could not bring herself to set it down. Her friend had agreed to help her, but he was late. He had laughed at her fear of disposing of the parcel herself. ‘Can’t you simply bury it, or burn it?’ But no, she just couldn’t. She dared not tell him so, but she wanted him to be like a father to her, to take the parcel from her and say, ‘There, now: don’t worry! Leave it to me. Everything will be alright!’ So she had pursuaded him to meet her in the unfrequented country lane where she would give him the parcel.
But he kept her waiting such a long time. The day was hot, yet there she stood shivering in her overcoat, picking the dry skin off her fingertips as she clung to her parcel. She thought he was never coming. And then, after an hour and a half, as if to be as difficult as possible, he arrived on top of a wagon-load of hay, fast asleep! She had to walk beside the wagon shouting to wake him up.
He drew up the horse and greeted her in a manner that was enfuriating and quite out of keeping with the seriousness of the occasion. For a while she was hard put not to shout and scream at him, until he jumped down and put his arm round her, assuring her, in all seriousness, that she must not doubt his sincerity and willingness to help. There were times, he said, when one should hide one’s true feelings. It was safer. He hadn’t meant to annoy. Couldn’t she see that even his being late for the appointment was only a blind, a precaution?
Reassured to some extent, she explained once more that she wanted her parcel disposed of. Then, as a final test of his good faith, she informed him quite frankly, almost brutally, of its contents. But he merely smiled at this and patted her arm affectionately while he said, just like her father might have done, ‘There, now: don’t worry! Leave it to me. Everything will be alright!’
He said just what she hoped he would say. And as he went off with her parcel beside him in the hay, she could have shouted with relief. Yet with the rumble of the wagon-wheels still in her ears, uneasiness began to creep over her again. Could she really trust her friend? Wasn’t it rather foolish to have shared her secret with another? Why could she not have disposed of the parcel herself? She could not answer these questions. She only knew that it was now too late for regrets.
Her friend had agreed to meet her at the village inn later in the day. She waited there anxiously for his coming. When he arrived she hurriedly slipped him the money for drinks, and for a while they sat looking at each other in silence across the table. They were practically alone just then and there was no reason why he shouldn’t talk. She was suspicious, too, of his manner, which was not rather moody and less confident. She had already suspected the worst when he leaned across and patted her on the arm, assuring her that he had done the job supremely well and that nobody could possibly find out. She had no difficulty then in realising that the very success of his mission had a depressing effect. Yet she got him to relate in close detail exactly where and in what way he had disposed of the parcel. This he did without hesitation. His account seemed satisfactory, so she gave him the money she had promised him, and he went.
Uneasiness, however, had so got hold of her that she knew she would have no rest until she had visited the spot and seen it for herself. It would have been stupid, she was thinking, merely to have thrown the parcel into the pond. But her friend had certainly been clever. He had, so he assured her, contrived to bury the parcel in the pond. This, she found, might well be possible, since the pond was supplied at one end by a faucet of spring water and it also had an outflow. Thus it could be fairly easily dammed and drained.
She looked carefully at the scene. Nothing seemed at all suspicious. It was simply a pond of clear water with no sign of any disturbance, remote from any habitation and mainly for the use of cattle. Watching closely, she wandered round the edge of it for some time. Then, in the shallows, something caught her eye. She bent down and picked out of the water a small green figure fastened to a chain. It was much corroded and appeared to be made of copper or bronze.
As she raised herself up with this object in her hand, she saw that she was being watched. An old gentleman stood on the other side of the pond, very intent on her movements. For a moment fear held her drawn and still. But almost immediately after, an inspired resourcefulness set her in motion. She hailed the old gentleman and advanced boldly, deeming this the best way to allay any suspicion and intending to get him sized up while she showed him her find.
The old gentleman put his stick under his arm and examined the little figure on the chain with the greatest interest. Racking her brains for something to say, she told him that the figure must have some archaeological importance. ‘Who knows?’ she said. ‘Perhaps in olden times the Romans came to this spring to drink and one of them dropped it. I mean perhaps one of them was leaning over to drink when the chain broke and the figure fell into the water...
The old gentleman was clearly impressed. He said he would like to possess the little figure and asked her what she would take for it. She had by now come to the conclusion that he was a harmless, gullible old fellow and told him he could have it for nothing: though she urged him strongly to keep the matter quiet. There were certain authorities who might be touchy about antiquities that were not reported or handed in.
Delighted, but full of naïve assurances, the old gentleman took his leave.
Now this incident, as far as she could see then, had no bearing at all on the security of her parcel, but somehow she clung to it for consolation. No consolation, however, was to ease her for long in her present state of mind. She spent the most wretched night, her thoughts tormenting her and keeping her awake. Nor on the following day was her conscience any easier. She knew she had to visit the pond once more.
As she approached she found, with intense relief, that her anxieties were over.
It was amazing what patience and energy the police had!
They had drained the pond and were busily digging. Already the bones of a complete skeleton were laid out on the bank to dry. They were all small and clearly those of a child.
A policeman stopped her and asked her business. She informed him, laughing, that she had come to give herself up for the murder of a child she had recently buried in the pond.
He laughed too, then told her to go away. When she protested, he turned his back. She looked around in despair and then saw the old gentleman she had met the day before and who now appeared to be superintending the digging.
He recognized her. She went towards him hoping that at least he would understand.
‘You were right about that pendant being Roman!’ he said excitedly. ‘We found the remains of a small coffin and the skeleton of a child surrounded by a few coins and amulets. A most interesting find, madam, indeed! Allow me to congratulate you and thank you on behalf of our Society!’
She looked at the diggers and saw that they were not policemen. There was only one policeman and he stood by watching. She could feel the agony on her face and that made the old gentleman’s smile seem so fantastically overdone.
So she was not to be relieved of her anxieties after all! They were to go on and on.
For nobody mentioned her parcel.
Nobody has ever mentioned her parcel.