The Postman’s Secret
A short story by Barbara Godfrey
Thomas Pike, the village postman, knocked on the front door of Bluemantle. He was glad he had a registered parcel to deliver as well as a letter because the new owner of the cottage would have to come to the door and that would mean he could make her acquaintance right away.
Old Tom, as he was affectionately called by the villagers, was fond of people. He liked to know all his customers, as he termed them, personally. He was busy wondering what his newest customer was like when the door opened.
Good morning, smiled a pretty young dark-haired woman.
Good morning, said Old Tom. Mrs Mayfield?
Yes, thats right. Ah, I see my parcel has come.
While she signed for it, Old Tom scrutinised her with interest. He liked newcomers to this tiny Surrey village, especially when they looked as friendly as Mrs Mayfield. It would mean they had a lot of friends, and Old Tom liked his customers to have plenty of friends. Friends meant letters more letters for him to bring.
His thoughts were interrupted by Mrs Mayfield. Havent you anything else for me? Im expecting another letter. It should have come by now.
Im afraid the post is rather slow in these country parts, replied the postman. But the letters get here eventually, he added consolingly.
Well, it cant be helped, said Mrs Mayfield.
Old Tom left reluctantly while Mrs Mayfield opened her husbands letter. Im going to like it here, she was thinking. Its a pity Robert cant join me until the summer.
Meanwhile Old Tom was continuing his round. He readily accepted a cup of tea at Mrs Parkinsons house, glad of the chance of a chat.
Aha, Romas letter has come at last, Mrs Parkinson said excitedly. About time, too. I was getting worried.
About the baby, you mean? asked Old Tom conversationally.
Yes, I havent heard anything. But the baby must have arrived by now, she said. Old Tom watched her slit open her daughters letter and start reading. Almost immediately she turned to Tom with shining eyes and gasped: Its a boy. Romas had a son. Im a grandmother.
The postmans eyes twinkled and his rosy face became even rosier with happiness. Congratulations, he said. Is your daughter coming to see you with the baby?
Mrs Parkinson read on for a moment, then said: Why, yes, shes coming next week. How did you guess? You must be a mind-reader, Tom.
Old Tom smiled. Then he said: By the way, a Mrs Mayfield has taken over Bluemantle. Charming lady. Pretty too. Her husband is coming to join her in August. Hes abroad at the moment on a job for his firm.
I see you havent wasted any time in finding out all about them, laughed Mrs Parkinson. Youre a sharp one, Tom.
After finishing his round, Old Tom cycled slowly back home. He felt dejected at the thought of his empty cottage with no one to talk to. Thomas Pike liked people and people liked him. But he was lonely. He had no friends and no family to write to him. He spent his life looking after other peoples letters, but never had any of his own.
When he reached home he brightened. After all, he had his secret. He smiled as he went into the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove . . .
In the village pub later that evening, Jack Lombard was surrounded by an excited group of people. He was in his element. He had some really hot news to divulge and everyone was listening open-mouthed with amazement.
Yes, he was saying dramatically, they found Jenkins in the living room with his skull smashed in. Blood everywhere . . .
Minnie Maskell squealed in horror and Jack went on enthusiastically: Some valuable jewellery was taken, too. They say it was a burglar who was interrupted. Everybody knows Ronald Jenkins came into a bit of money from his aunt.
Yes, everyone knew that he had a tidy sum, agreed Martin Norman, sucking pompously at his pipe. He was a decent chap. First-class golfer, too, he puffed. I wonder if theyve any idea who did it.
They havent! replied Jack Lombard importantly. The police are completely in the dark.
Royston Clegg snorted. Well, what do you expect? They cant see further than the toes of their bloody big boots. He finished his ale. I dont suppose theyll catch him, anyway. The burglar probably came from another area and therell be nothing to connect him with the crime.
Dont be so sure, put in Joe, the barman. The police arent such fools as you make out.
Well see, replied Clegg, his moody eyes shifting restlessly round the room. Well, I must be off. My housekeeper kicks up hell if Im late for dinner. Goodnight, all.
The conversation raced on. It was the first village murder and tongues had never wagged so busily.
Poor Ethel, said Mrs King. Such an attractive woman, too. They were devoted to one another.
She was out when her husbands body was found by neighbours, said Lombard. Shell never get over the shock.
Shell never get over it, echoed Minnie Maskell sentimentally.
The chatter and the theories continued . . .
Two days later people in the village noticed that Old Tom, the postman, was unusually absent-minded and did not even stop to gossip when he delivered their letters. By the end of three days he had acquired a sombre expression which puzzled everyone. He hardly spoke and never smiled.
People who tried to quiz him about the news of the murder soon found that even this juicy topic could not tempt him from his brooding silence.
But although Tom would not gossip about the murder he could not shut his mind to it, and his head buzzed with snatches of conversation he had heard: Have you heard if theyve caught the murderer yet? . . . Theyll never get him. The police havent a single clue. . . . Dont breathe a word of this to anyone, my dear, but do you know who theyre saying did it?
The whispers, suspicions, sniggers, sly questions and rumours had assumed vast proportions in Old Toms mind by the time he dragged himself to bed at night, and he lay awake for hours.
Its nothing to do with you, so forget it, he told himself firmly.
Isnt it, though? his conscience nagged. Isnt it?
In the morning, haggard from his restless night, he set off wearily on his round a round he used to enjoy. When he reached Bluemantle, Mrs Mayfield pressed him to have a cup of tea and he accepted listlessly.
Well, she said. What are your ideas?
Ideas? About what? he asked. As if he didnt know.
About the murder, of course. I bet you know more than you let on.
The postmans hand shook slightly. I dont know any more than anyone else, he said sharply. Why does everyone keep asking me?
Because you always know everything, Mrs Mayfield smiled. Everyones saying the burglar will never be caught because he must be miles away by now.
Before Tom could stop himself, he blurted: It wasnt a burglar. It was someone in the village. He regretted his words at once.
What do you mean someone in the village? pounced Mrs Mayfield. Do you know who murdered Ronald Jenkins?
Of course not, Im only guessing, the postman replied swiftly. And not one more word would he utter. He made his escape as quickly as possible, and as he cycled along the road he mentally kicked himself for allowing his words to slip out. But they cant suspect anything, he thought. No one can prove anything.
Old Toms been ever so strange since the murder, whispered Mrs King to her next-door-neighbour that afternoon. You dont think . . .
Really, Mrs King, whatever will you think of next? replied her neighbour. But he certainly has been queer, she added reflectively.
Even Mrs Mayfield began to wonder. Her curiosity had been roused by the postmans unguarded remark and she was determined to get to the bottom of the matter.
Next day she tried to pump him for information, and in desperation Old Tom changed the subject.
Your husband is coming home next Thursday, isnt he? he asked.
Mrs Mayfield stared. Then she said slowly: How on earth did you know when he was coming? Ive never mentioned it to anyone. I only knew myself at the beginning of the week.
Toms face went scarlet and he stammered: Well, I . . . er, you must have mentioned it. Or someone else may have told me. You know how news gets around.
Mrs Mayfield said: No one else knew. I was deliberately keeping it a secret because my husband hates noseyparkers, and if people knew he was coming theyd all be peeping out of their windows and that would infuriate him.
Suddenly a thought crossed her mind. Of course, she mused. Theres only one way you could know, and that would explain, too, how you seem to know something about the murder. But why . . . why?
Old Tom saw she had discovered his secret. It was no use denying it.
I know it was wrong of me, but I never meant any harm, he confessed miserably. Ill tell you all about it.
When Mrs Mayfield had heard his story she said: Of course youll have to own up. Why didnt you do so straight away?
Im due to retire in a months time, the postman replied. Ive been a postman all my life, and if anything happens now Ill lose my pension. I dare not confess.
What a quandary! she said gently.
I dont know what to do, Tom sighed. Ive been worrying myself sick. But I suppose I cant let them get away with it not even to save my pension. Ill have to face the disgrace.
At the police station Old Tom asked for the superintendent in charge of the case.
Well, Mr Pike, what brings you here? asked the superintendent.
Tom swallowed. Then he started: I know who the murderer is.
There was a silence. The superintendent said: Well?
In reply Tom handed over the letter. The superintendent read it, his face betraying no expression, but his voice was tinged with excitement as he asked: How did you come by this? And why didnt you hand it over before? The postmark is dated several days ago.
Tom looked at the floor. I was afraid, he said. Ill be retiring soon and Ill lose my pension of this comes out.
But you havent explained how you came by the letter.
Tom smiled wanly: It sounds ridiculous, Sir. But I have no friends. Im lonely. So I steam open other peoples letters, read them, and deliver them a day late. You see, I never get any letters of my own, he said pathetically.
The superintendents face showed amazement. You mean to say you open all the letters that come to the village? he asked incredulously.
Not all. I know most of the handwritings and I just pick out certain letters. I always read letters addressed to Mrs Jenkins. I was surprised to find this one was from Mr Royston Clegg, with a London postmark. He added: I didnt know they were having an affair.
He was obviously lying low for a while in London, the superintendent commented. But therell be enough evidence to convict them both, with this letter and the fingerprints at the house now we know who were looking for.
The superintendent looked at Tom sternly. Your passion for reading other peoples letters has turned out to be providential this time, he said. Ill do my best to hush up your part in the matter, Mr Pike but I hope this will be a lesson to you.
Old Tom sighed. I can honestly say I never want to read another letter in my life, he said. Then he set off to finish his round.
© 2001 Copyright by Barbara Godfrey
The story The Postman's Secret is an original work protected under copyright law, and may not be reproduced or adapted without the written permission of the author.
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While Others Sleep a collection of poems by Barbara Godfrey