Manuscript, in een zaadpakje gevonden; Over haar lijk

The setting is a country house with a large garden complete with Lime Walk, Upper and Lower Lakes, three hundred yard long double herbaceous borders, three follies, two hahas and a pigsty. The garden has been created by eccentric Lady Flora Passion-Spent and her husband Beverage Nicols; these two are seen, through the credits, having a heated argument about the future siting of the five thousand African marigolds she has just ordered.

The film begins with a close-up on the body of Lady Flora lying in the middle of the Great Lawn, stabbed through the heart by a flowering stem of Arundinaria murielae (now more correctly known as Fargesia murieliae). Snow begins to fall.

Next we see the house snowed in, its occupants stranded. Present at dinner are brash American millionaire Phil Adolf Uss and his assistant U. Forbyer, Irish socialite Stephen O'Tís, beautiful film-star Vinca Major, self-effacing Daphne Burke-Woodie (Lady Flora's secretary), gardening writer Percy Carrier, who writes under the name of Polly Gonom, and enigmatic cricket-playing Dutchman J.J. Notwillow.

Beverage says that he has decided to plough up the Great Lawn. “I could never tread on it again, and it was far too much work.” In comes Mathias, 'Maths' Nicols, eldest son of Beverage and Lady Flora, a handsome youth, who announces that he is going to bring the pig in, it is too cold for it outside. Lips are tightened and breath drawn in at this: Lady Flora had always said that the pig would only come into the house over her dead body.

Close-up of Notwillow watching the others, his eyes narrow as he sees Beverage scowling. Percy Carrier points out that pigs are very hardy.

Breakfast-time next morning. Percy Carrier's lifeless body is found lashed to the ancient walnut tree; only one set of footprints leads there through the snow. Vinca Major and Daphne Burke-Woodie have hysterics; Notwillow watches.

Beverage announces that he will have the walnut felled: “I couldn't bear to look at it - and anyway it gave far too much shade.”

“But,” stammers Maths, “That means ... Mama's cyclamen ... they'll be in full sun!”

Beverage summons a meeting in the conservatory to discuss calling in the police: E.A. Bowels of the Yard, world-famous crocus expert, is a close friend. Maths points out that since the telephone lines are down and the house cut off it is unlikely anyone can be called in. Everyone eyes everyone else uneasily. It is discovered that Percy Carrier had faxed his obituary of Lady Flora (“a tragic loss to English gardening ... her personality reminded me of the name she gave that great thorned climber she bred herself, Rosa oxythyma Mauvais Quart d'Heure”) to The Times at 6.13 a.m., thus fixing the time of his murder between then and breakfast-time.

Meaningful looks are exchanged. Later Maths and Daphne are seen slipping into the library, where Maths has installed the pig.

“Oh Maths,” Daphne whispers. “Lady Flora wouldn't have liked the pig being in here.”

“Daphne,” says Maths, “I have reason to believe that you are in danger, you must be extremely careful. I am going to stay with you at all times.”

“At all times?” Daphne is heard asking, as they emerge.

Uss and Forbyer now enter the library; Uss trips over the pig. “What do you mean you can't tell one snowdrop from another?” he asks.

“The darned things are under a foot of snow,” hisses Forbyer. A guttural sound is heard.

“What?” whispers Uss, “I don't speak German.”

“Neither do I,” says Forbyer, “It must have been the porker.”

“This evening,” says Uss, “Just take what you can, as soon as it gets dark.”

Next arrivals in the library are Vinca Major and Stephen O'Tís. They are interrupted by Beverage who is full of enthusiastic plans for the Lime Walk: “I've always wanted a Laburnum Tunnel!”

Maths comes back with Daphne just in time to hear these words; as he stares at his father in horror the gong goes for lunch. When everyone has left J.J. Notwillow is seen emerging from a deep armchair at the back of the room.

During lunch Maths asks everybody what time they got up that morning; the only one who does not answer is Notwillow, who merely stares ahead of him. Maths invites them all to have coffee in the conservatory after dinner.

At dinner-time it is discovered that Mr Uss is missing. U. Forbyer - close-up on the bulging pockets of his midnight blue tuxedo - organises a search party. Uss is found drowned in the huge urn which had contained Lady Flora's last flower arrangement. Everyone assembles in the conservatory.

“I have asked you all here tonight for a purpose,” Maths starts. Suddenly the garden door flies open and an imposing figure enters. “Bowels of the Yard!” gasps Vinca Major. “It was a long, cold journey, and how I hated it!” says Detective-Inspector Bowels grimly.

“I have been in touch with Inspector Bowels throughout, on my mobile phone,” explains Maths.

Bowels takes a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and claps them on U. Forbyer.

“What?” everybody shouts, “U. Forbyer murdera?”

“No,” corrects Bowels, “U. Forbyer robbiae.” He extracts from Forbyer's pockets a number of mudcaked snowdrop bulbs. “The bulb of a Snowdrop is well worth examining,” he adds.

“Flora's priceless snowdrop collection!” exclaims Beverage. “I would have given them to him if he had asked me; I was going to make a knot garden there instead. But who is the murderer?”

“That mysterious fate, a sudden blasting, overlooking, the Evil Eye, or whatever it is,” says Bowels slowly, “overtakes many a Clematis as well as Daphne...”

Close-up of Daphne's face. “Yes!” she admits, “You are right, it was I!”

“But that doesn't account for the footprints in the snow,” says Maths.

“Your powers of observation, my dear Maths, are minimal. Those were the marks of my accomplice's trotters. We were in this together.”

Close-up on the conservatory door as it is pushed open; the pig comes in, grunts, and trots over to Daphne. Together they walk out into the night. Notwillow, who still has not spoken a word, shoulders his cricket bat and goes to the door to watch them: his eyes narrow.

Noot van de vertaler: ter gelegenheid van de 1ste April 1995 verschijnt de Buitenlustcolumn van Sarah Hart voor één keer in het oorspronkelijke Engels. Het vertalen van dit niet alledaagse verhaal (eigenlijk de synopsis van een filmscript) gaat mijn krachten te boven. Speciaal voor tuinliefhebbers is deze 145ste aflevering een mijn van verborgen verwijzingen, citaten en woordspelingen, waaraan in vertaling met geen mogelijkheid recht is te doen. Alles wat ik nu vertaald heb is de titel (en dat is al een hele prestatie): Over Her Dead Body - Manuscript found in a packet of seeds.

    • Sarah Hart