The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks
suddenly. That would really be disastrous. But there was little danger of that.
    Was there?
     
    * * *
     
    'No,' Clara said fiercely. 'We've had this argument before. The house cannot be left empty. Burglars always prefer unoccupied premises. Mrs Hopkins would be bound to tell her husband we were all going away, and he has some very disreputable friends.'
    'If we had a maid or two, like everybody else I know, and didn't rely on just a cleaning woman, three times a week, the problem wouldn't arise,' said Agatha.
    'A maid - or two, as you so vaguely put it - would be a totally unnecessary expense.'
    'As long as you've got Dorry and me, you mean.'
    'This is irrelevant. We do not have a maid. We do have Mrs Hopkins. And Mrs Hopkins has Mr Hopkins, and Mr Hopkins has friends. Which means you must stay home. Dorothy can accompany me.'
    'I don't want to go,' Agatha said. 'I loathe funerals. In a way, I'll be very glad not to go. But it'll look most odd if I'm not there, especially considering that I am one of the beneficiaries.'
    'We're all beneficiaries. I'll explain that one of us always has to remain behind and that you volunteered.'
    'That's rich!'
    'It will show you in a better light than if I explain how you objected to doing this one thing for me, just to set my mind at rest.'
    'I've done it dozens of times for you - flitting around the house, turning lights on and off and playing gramophone records loudly until the early hours of the morning, but this is different.'
    'I don't know that 'flit' is quite an apt word to describe your movements.' Clara eyed her large and somewhat ungainly stepdaughter meaningfully.
    Agatha's already rather ruddy complexion took on an even deeper hue. 'That's damned unfair, Stepmother.'
    'Do not use that sort of language in this house, Agatha! I won't have it.'
    'Oh, please, don't quarrel!'
    Dorothy spoke pleadingly, her hands clasped together, as if in prayer. Her face wore an imploring expression.
    The words which had led to her speaking hardly merited the name quarrel, but to Dorothy even the slightest hint of what she always called "unpleasantness" was a major crisis, liable to lead to hysterics. Agatha immediately took a grip on herself and managed a forced smile. 'Don't worry, petal. No quarrel.'
    She turned back to Clara. 'Why, for once, can't you stay behind and the two of us go?'
    'I am not letting you take your sister away, even for one night. Heaven knows which of your godless and immoral ideas you might fill her head with.'
    'That is totally absurd. Why don't you admit the real reason: that you're not prepared to forgo several hours of potentially very profitable gossip and prying and pumping, among some of the cream of society?'
    This hit home and Clara could think of no better response than: 'That is unworthy of you, Agatha.'
    Dorothy said desperately: 'Look, Mother, I don't want to go either. I dread having to meet all those people. Couldn't I stay home and Aggie go with you?'
    'Wouldn't help,' said Agatha. 'It's the look of the thing I'm concerned about. We should both be there.'
    'Besides,' Clara said, 'you know you'd be far too nervous to stay here on your own. Suppose some villain did break in? You'd be totally useless. He might murder you in your bed.'
    'Whereas I'm expendable,' said Agatha.
    'You know I did not mean that. But you are more capable of taking care of yourself.'
    There was a sullen silence for a moment. It was broken by Agatha. 'You can't stop me going,' she said sullenly.
    'No, I cannot physically stop you. But you would be unwise to go against me in this. It is my house you're living in, remember.'
    'And you'd throw me out, just because I went to my grandmother's funeral?' Agatha sounded incredulous. 'This is unbelievable. I—'
    'Please!' This time Dorothy's voice was almost a scream. 'Aggie, darling, do what Mother wants. Just once more. Please - for me.'
    Agatha looked at her. She was plainly seething, but at last muttered: 'Oh, all right.'
    'Oh, thank

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