Of Doggerel and the Dean

Final Words

Chapter 5

When Colin left, Susan found Nellie in the kitchen preparing that evening's dinner. "Hi, Mrs. Crutchfield, don't suppose I could bother you for a glass of water?"

"Of course, unless you'd prefer a nice glass of ice tea. I always keep some in the fridge."

It would please her, Susan thought, to accept her offer. "That sounds great, thank you."

A minute later, Nellie handed Susan her tea, "Here you are, Susan.

I hope you don't mind if I call you Susan. When Colin introduced us, he didn't mention your last name."

"It's Rhodes, but I'd much rather you call me Susan."

"If you call me Nellie."

"It's a deal, Nellie. Thanks so much for the tea."

"So how did you and Colin meet? Have you known each other long?"

"For about ten years, but we've only been seeing each other for the last six months or so."

"He mentioned something a couple of months ago when he was visiting Mr. Bill about a school teacher. You must be her."

"I'm she," Susan said, and then reddened, hoping Nellie wouldn't think she was correcting her grammar. She quickly went on, "I'm the school teacher. I've heard all about you, as well. Colin is very fond of you. Known you all his life he says."

"It's true. Didn't see as much of him when Dr. Benton and Mrs. Benton were alive. I'm afraid they weren't as interested in children as Mr. Bill was. He was such a fine man. Funny too."

"I'm sorry I never got to really know him. I met him only once. Colin admired him so much."

"It's sad."

"Nellie," Susan said, in a tone of voice embodying as much compassion as she could muster, "I'm concerned, and so is Colin, that something is sadly wrong here. Colin told you about his uncle's final words: conscience, promise me, don't hide the truth. Bill Benton intended those words to communicate something to Colin. He was dying and so weak he couldn't put words together in meaningful way. Colin is at his wits end trying to make sense of it all. Earlier you indicated you didn't know what Bill meant. I'm asking you, please, try to think what might be behind the words. It's really important for Colin's peace of mind."

Susan intentionally omitted the words murder and gold feeling the mere mention of them would increase Nellie's reticence to involve herself in the conversation she hoped would ensue.

Nellie was silent for at least a full minute before answering. "I told you and Colin when you were here the other day these words meant nothing to me. It is true, they didn't and still don't, at least not exactly."

"Not exactly?"

"I had a strange feeling around the time Dr. and Mrs. Benton were leaving for Mexico that something was wrong. But that could have been because I was going into the hospital for my operation. I was a little worried, which I suppose is normal."

"Operation?"

"Yes. I had a hysterectomy. Three days in the hospital and then to my sister's place for a couple of weeks to rest up. Because the Bentons would be away for a few weeks, we decided it would be a good time for me to take time off. It turned out to be Mrs. Benton's last trip home. She died there in Mexico. Buried there too. I'm sure you've probably heard about that."

"Yes, Colin told me about it. You say you had a feeling something was wrong. What might have caused it, other than that fact you were not well?"

"I've never said anything to anyone, not even my husband, when he was alive. Maybe especially not to him."

"I believe Colin mentioned your husband died about the time his Uncle Bill began living here."

"That's right," Nellie said matter-of-factly.

It had been nine years since Hugo died, still Susan was surprised she didn't detect even a tinge of sorrow in the tone of Nellie's voice. She said, "This feeling you had about something being wrong. You say you especially didn't want to talk with Hugo about it. It's really none of my business, but it interests me, especially if there's something Colin should know about."

Nellie glanced at Susan's empty ice tea glass, "Would you like more tea, there's plenty?"

The cocktail hour was approaching. Susan would have much preferred something stronger, but she felt it would be ungracious to refuse Nellie's offer. Nellie was beginning to confide. The offer of more ice tea meant Nellie wasn't eager to bring the conversation to a halt. "I'd love another glass," was her disingenuous reply. Ice tea delivered.

Susan decided to return again to the subject of Nellie feeling that something was wrong. "You were saying...about your strange feeling?"

"Just before I went into the hospital I remember thinking Dr. Benton seemed kind of disturbed. He was never really friendly like Mr. Bill, but this was a little different. It may have just been me. At about that same time him and Hugo seemed to be spending more time together. Not like being friends or anything, but Hugo driving him here and there. Hugo never wanted to talk much about it."

Nellie suddenly stopped talking, allowed her chin to drop, and sat staring at her lap. Susan said nothing, hoping Nellie might have more to say.

The housekeeper slowly raised her head. "I've never said anything about this to anybody, but when Hugo died I discovered a whole lot of money in a savings account we had for a long time. Up till then, we never had enough in it to matter. It just sat there. Hugo kept the passbook."

Susan wondered if there was some pattern to the deposits. "How often," she asked, "was money added. You could tell from the bank statement."

"It was all one deposit, just about a year before Hugo died."

"Where do you suppose it came from?"

"I'm sure Hugo didn't steal it. It wasn't something he would have done. I don't mean he was too honest. More like he would be too afraid of being caught."

Not a lot of respect for her late husband, Susan mused to herself. She was itching to know what Nellie thought was a whole lot of money and why it might be related to the 'strange feeling'. "Nice, though, to have a small nest egg for your retirement," Susan said, hoping to elicit a response that would include a dollar amount. It worked.

"Fifty thousand dollars is more than a small nest egg," Nellie replied, and I've not touched a dime of it. The man at the bank thinks I should have their investment people handle it. It would make more money that way than sitting in the savings account. It's been nine years, and I still feel funny about it."

"Why is that?"

Then from the doorway from the dining room to the kitchen a voice said, "What are you two up to?" It was Colin returned from his errands.

"Just chatting," Susan replied.

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