As they clambered out of the car, Carl leaned towards Jean, still in the driving seat. “We’ll go for a walk. I’ve got my phone. If you need us at all just let it ring three times and we’ll come straight back.” Jean nodded and as they turned towards the gate, she waved at the farmer’s wife and managed a small smile.
She didn’t fall into the trap of asking how the other woman felt, it was obvious from the ravaged expression on her face, the constant pulling and tweaking at her coat and the tears that welled in her eyes only to be dashed away impatiently.
“Come inside Doris. Do you want tea, coffee?”
Doris shook her head. “I’m floating on tea. It’s all anyone wants to do. Give me tea. I want to talk.”
Doris wouldn’t remove her coat, though she kicked off her muddy shoes on the floor mat. Country habits, dyed in the wool. “I won’t beat about the bush Mrs Duncan.” Jean was surprised at the strength in the woman’s voice. She had expected the tears but, here in the living room, Doris obviously steeled herself to accomplish what she had to do.
“You talked to her, that young woman?”
“Did you talk to Lipscow as well? How much did he say?”
Jean slid her arms out of her jacket sleeves, placed it in a bundle on the floor. She was filled with sympathy but needed to keep control of the situation. Though she would try to be truthful she didn’t want to add to the woman’s hurt.
“It was all very difficult, Doris. I was very frightened, it was…” she struggled to find a suitable word. “it was tense and scary.”
“Yes, I’m sure but you talked to her? You had a conversation?”
There was something off here, Jean sensed it. This wasn’t just a grieving woman looking for answers to help her cope, but it was impossible to know just what was going on.
“Yes, I talked to her, here.” She raised a finger, indicated the room they were sitting in. “And in the shed. She came into the shed and we talked there.”
“Not so much, he ranted at me a bit, shouted instructions. He did say some things about what he was afraid of, for her, for his wife. I’m not sure I could recall all the exact words. Doris, do you think this is really going to help. I imagine a lot of it will come out at the inquest anyway and it seems that it’s just tormenting yourself. Of course, I’ll tell you what I can but, you know…”
“Did she tell you when she met him, Ted. Did she tell you how long they had been seeing each other?”
Jean thought it all became clear now, “Oh Doris, I don’t think they were ‘seeing’ each other. Not like that. I don’t think there was anything except a sort of wish for something, a wish by Flora, she’d sort of made up a story about the two of them.”
“Well, why then? Why was he there. Why was Ted visiting her, and why did he kill him? Why did that pig of a man kill my husband if him and her weren’t having an affair?”
Jean was lost for words. She didn’t know how much it would be safe to say. The police hadn’t told Doris what they knew. Not yet. She didn’t know whether it was her place. Surely it wasn’t. She shook her head. She couldn’t lie.
Doris was speaking more quietly, muttering to herself, her eyes lowered, “I can’t believe it, after all we’d been through, all the problems and I can’t help wondering, how much of the time he was going behind my back.” She raised her head “Do you know, Mrs Duncan, do you know how long?”
“Doris. I think you should wait. What have the police told you?”
“Oh them, nothing. They keep saying I have to wait, I have to wait until they talk to Lipscow, he’s not talking. I don’t know if he’ll ever talk again, neither do they. That’s why I’m asking you.”
I think you should ask the police these questions. I don’t know how much it will be alright for me to tell you.”
“Oh, come on, you must see I have a right to know? I was standing by him, I thought we were in it together and all the time he was playing away.”
Jean couldn’t leave it like this, couldn’t see the poor woman falling apart under the belief that her husband had been unfaithful.
“He wasn’t having an affair. She thought he cared for her. I know that for a fact because she told me. But, Doris she was fragile and damaged, it was mostly in her head. From what she said I don’t think Ted had done anything wrong. I truly believe that all he was trying to do was to sort things out. Tell me though, had you really, you and your husband, had you really tried to stand in the way of them expanding and diversifying, at the other farm? That was one of the things Stanley said, it was why he was so bitter.”
Doris pressed her lips together, she looked down at her hands folded on her lap. “Ted said that there wasn’t room for two of us. Lipscow wanted to open a caravan site, wanted a shop. Well you can see there wasn’t room for two shops. The caravan site would have changed things, made it like bloody Rhyll or somewhere. We didn’t want the place treating like a theme park. Kids running riot, gates left open, footpaths and stiles broken and damaged. No, this is our place, our land. We did it for the best. We were here first. He came back when his dad died, trying to muscle in, wanting to change everything.” She stopped, looked a little ashamed. “But if that was why, that’s no reason to kill my Ted. God, I hope that’s not why. No, no that can’t be why.”
“Do you know about the chickens, about the sheep and the shop?”
Doris shook her head, “What do you mean?”
“That was why Ted was there Doris, at their farm. He went over because he thought that Stanley Lipscow was responsible for all of that. It wasn’t anything to do with an affair, he was just questioning Flora because he thought he could find out the truth from her. I think he flattered her a bit, to make her tell him what he wanted to know. What he would have done with the information, I don’t know but…” she shrugged.
Doris was quiet for a while, her head tipped to one side, eyes flicking back and forth unseeing across the room.”
“Is that why he killed him then? Is that why he killed my husband, to protect himself? Because of what he’d done to us?”
Jean couldn’t let it go on any longer. “I don’t believe that he did. From what I was told I don’t believe that Stanley Lipscow killed your husband.” Nobody had told her that she had to lie, to hide the truth and what difference would it make anyway, it would all come out in the end.
“I don’t understand. Of course, he did. My Ted is there, he’s still there, in that horrible place. I can’t see him, they haven’t even brought him out. Not until they have gathered what they want. He’s still there. He didn’t just fall down, and die, did he? Stanley Lipscow killed his wife and he killed my husband and he’s got to be locked up for it. Don’t you go now saying that you don’t think he did it. Well, it’s ridiculous. Don’t you go feeling sorry for him.” As her voice rose in anguish, Doris pointed and jabbed with a finger towards Jean.
She tried to keep calm, the woman was distraught, riven with grief but she had to speak out. She took a breath. “Flora killed Ted. I truly believe that, Doris. She killed him because he wouldn’t take her away. Well in truth I think she killed him because she was unhinged, she never should have been allowed to live at the farm, it wasn’t safe.
“But…” Jean watched as Ted’s wife tried to process this bombshell of information. “But, he killed her. I know, everyone knows. He strangled her, right in front of your eyes. There’s some that think you should take some of the blame for that.”
Jean relived the scene in the pub, the strange atmosphere. A lump filled her throat, she had to swallow hard before she could speak. It had never occurred to her that people could lay blame at her door. But did they have a point? The thought turned her stomach. “We couldn’t do anything Doris. We tried, we tried so bloody hard, but it was no good. He killed her because he knew they would take her away. I really think that. He knew she would be locked up forever and he couldn’t bear it. But, we couldn’t do anything. We were trying to keep him there, until the police came. God, do you imagine for one minute that we would have left her alone with him if there had been any other way?”
They were both crying now, both shocked and lost in their own horror. Jean was the first to speak. “I think you should go, Doris. I don’t think this is doing any good. If you have any more questions, ask the police. I’m sorry, I really am.”
As she fastened her coat buttons and pushed up from the chair Doris turned and looked directly into Jean’s swamped eyes. “I wish you’d never come here. I had some hope. Before you came and poked your nose in, I had some hope. Alright, he would never have come back, I know that now. But at least I had hope, I could have found a way to live with that. You took that from me and it was all I had.”
I’m so sorry, Doris. I would never have wanted to cause you hurt. I thought we were friends.”
Doris turned and stood for a moment staring down at Jean. “Friends. Friends are the people who leave their warm homes to help you get the flock in when the snow comes early. They lend you money when the subsidies are held up and they run you into town to pick up bits for the tractor when your car’s not available. No, Mrs Duncan, you and your kind. You’re not friends. You’re just a means to an end, helping us to keep the wolf from the door.”
With those final devastating words, she turned and stalked from the room. Jean heard her sliding her feet into the shoes in the hall and then the thud of a door and the tramp of feet on the path.
She pulled her phone from the pocket in her jacket and dialled Carl’s number. “Come and get me Carl. Please just come and take me home.”
They slammed the door behind them and walked down the narrow path to the cars waiting at the gate. Jean didn’t glance back, she left behind the broken memories and tried to hold on to the echoes of happiness.
Jean had to go to the inquest but avoided Ted Smart’s funeral. There was no reason to go, she had no friends there after all. Doris listened dry eyed to the evidence, shown no reaction when Jean related the heart-breaking words of the tragic, Flora. She walked from the court leaning on the arm of her daughter. In spite of their last meeting Jean was desperately sorry for the woman but none of it had been her fault and all she could do was tell the truth as she knew it. Carl and Dave were there to give their own evidence and Lesley had come along, though she had no part in the real drama, and they hadn’t needed her to speak. Jean had a feeling her sister was a little disappointed.
When Diana Turnbull mentioned, months later, that she had sold the cottage to a holiday company Jean felt no real emotion. The same company had bought Hawks Farm and were turning it all into a holiday centre and caravan park. Well Head Cottage was just another place to rent in a pretty part of the country, the name changed to Bluebird House, to try and wipe away the stain of what had happened. Stanley Lipscow was in the sort of institution he had saved his wife from. He was still uncommunicative. They didn’t know if he would ever be well enough to stand trial. Maybe it was for the best, Jean had no doubt that he had loved his damaged wife and maybe, wherever he was hiding in his broken mind, they were together, and they were happy. She hoped so.