Read (5/13) Return to Thrush Green Online

Authors: Miss Read

Tags: #Fiction, #England, #Country life, #Pastoral Fiction, #Country Life - England - Fiction

(5/13) Return to Thrush Green (10 page)

BOOK: (5/13) Return to Thrush Green
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Molly left a forwarding address before she went, and promised to look in before Ben claimed her again.

'No, I best not stay for a cup of tea, thank you,' she said, in answer to Joan's invitation. 'Dad's medicine's got to be got down him within half an hour, and that'll take some doing.'

She made her farewells, and set off again to face the biting wind. The children were streaming out of school, followed by Miss Fogerty.

To Molly's surprise, the little figure did not take a homeward path through the avenue, but struck across Thrush Green towards the rectory. Going to collect the parish magazine? Offering to help Miss Dimity with a bazaar or some such? Taking a message from Miss Watson about the hymns? Such surmises are part of the pleasures of country living.

But this time Molly had guessed wrongly, for Miss Fogerty's errand concerned dear Isobel, a lady whom Molly had never met.

Still wondering, she opened the door of Albert's cottage and went to collect the medicine.

8. More News of Lodgers

DOTTY HARMER's new lodger, Flossie, had settled in very well, and the fact that nothing had been heard from her last owner was a great relief to Dotty, who had grown much attached to the young spaniel.

The dog followed her everywhere, as if, having been abandoned once, she feared that it might happen again. Dotty was moved by this affection, and returned it tenfold. The two grew very close and the sight of Dotty, shadowed by the faithful golden cocker, became a familiar sight in Lulling and Thrush Green.

One windy afternoon the two descended the hill to Lulling High Street. Dotty carried a basket in each hand, with Flossie's lead intricately entangled with one of them. They made steady progress against the biting east wind, which reddened Dotty's nose and sent Flossie's ears streaming behind her.

Their destination was the Misses Lovelocks' house. Dotty was bearing a collection of contributions for the bazaar, and was glowing with the comfortable feeling of doing good.

'Why, Dotty dear, how kind!' cried Bertha, on opening the door. 'Do bring them in. We'll put them straight on the table. Everything's in the dining-room.'

That gloomy apartment was certainly transfigured. The mahogany table had been covered by an enormous white damask cloth, a relic of some Victorian linen cupboard, and upon it there jostled an odd collection of objects.

Dominating all were Ella's colourful contributions. Dimity had supplied a dozen or so dried flower-and-grass arrangements, which the Misses Lovelock wondered if they could sell, as everyone in the district was addicted to making such things, and the market might well be saturated. However, they had been accepted with cries of delight, and one could only wait and see.

More normal contributions, such as soap, handkerchiefs, pots of jam and other preserves were among the rest, and would obviously be snapped up, and Dotty began to put her contributions among them.

'Four pots of preserved boletus, the
edible
kind, naturally,' gabbled Dotty, placing four sinister looking jars on the table. Through the murky fluid, could be seen some toadstools of venomous appearance. Ada's jaw dropped, but she remained silent, with commendable control.

'And six pots of hedgerow jelly,' continued Dotty, diving into her basket. 'It's a mixture, you know, of sloes, blackberries, rosehips, elderberries and any other nourishing berries I could find. I thought "Hedgerow Jelly" on the label, would cover it nicely.'

'Yes, indeed,' said Ada faintly, noting the sediment at the bottom of the jars, and the hint of mildew on the top.

'Not much room to write all the ingredients on the label, you see,' said Dotty, standing back to admire the imposing array. 'But I'm sure people will understand.'

'I'm sure they will,' agreed Violet bravely. But whether they would actually
buy
a jar of something which looked certain to give the consumer 'Dotty's Collywobbles'—a disease known to all Dotty's friends—was another matter.

'You are so generous, Dotty dear,' quavered Bertha, averting her gaze from the jars. 'And now you must stay and have some tea. Ada has made some delicious scones with whole-meal flour which we ground ourselves in father's old pestle and mortar.'

'Exactly the sort of thing I love,' said Dotty. 'And Flossie too, if she may have a crumb or two?'

The old ladies made their way to the drawing-room for this modest repast and a great deal of genteel gossip in which a number of Lulling residents' characters would be shredded finely, in the most ladylike fashion.

That same afternoon, Dimity had crossed the road to her old home to broach a subject which she and Charles had discussed thoroughly since Miss Fogerty's visit.

Charles had been wholly in favour of suggesting that Isobel Fletcher should spend the proposed week's visit with Ella.

'They both get on very well,' he said. 'Much the same age. And then Thrush Green is so central for the little trips she may wish to make for viewing places. I'm sure she would be perfectly happy.'

Dimity had some private doubts.

Everyone liked Isobel. She was kind, charming, and elegant. Ella had always spoken warmly of her, and admired her quick brain.

But Isobel was used to comfort. Her husband had been a prosperous man, and his wife was provided with a beautiful home and everything she could possibly desire. Could she stand the rough-and-ready hospitality which Ella would provide? And what about that all-pervading tobacco smoke? And the lack of punctuality in producing meals?

The meals themselves gave Dimity no fears. Ella had a surprisingly good way with food, and was meticulous about its preparation. The house might be a little dusty and untidy, but Ella's cooking arrangements could not be faulted. The snag was that she might well decide to make a chicken terrine at eleven in the morning, and hope to have it cold, with salad, at one oclock. Ella never seemed to have mastered the time factor in all her activities.

However, she was now on her way to put the proposition to her old friend. She found her sitting by the window doing the crossword puzzle.

'Funny minds these chaps must have,' said Ella, putting aside the paper. 'This clue "Makes waterproof" is "
Caulks",
and the next one is "Sea travel" which is "
Cruise",
so that makes "Corkscrews", d'you see?'

'No, I don't, dear, but I've something to tell you, and I must get back to take the cat's supper out of the oven, so I musn't linger.'

'And what is that spoilt animal having this evening?'

'Just a little rabbit. Nothing very special.'

'Lucky old cat! Well, come on, what's bothering you?'

Dimity launched into the account of Isobel Fletcher's need of lodgings for a week while she consulted agents about the possibility of buying a house in the neighbourhood. She explained Miss Fogerty's dilemma. Mrs White would not be able to put her up, as she had done. She
could,
of course, stay at the Fleece, but if Ella were willing...? The question hung in mid-air among the blue smoke from Ella's cigarette.

'Of course I'm willing,' replied Ella. 'I'm very fond of Isobel, and should be delighted to have her here. The only thing is, would she be comfortable?'

Trust dear Ella to come directly to the point, thought Dimity, with some relief.

'I'm sure she will be,' said Dimity bravely. 'If you like, I'll come over and help you make up the spare bed, and empty the cupboards, and so on.'

And give an expert eye to Isobel's comfort, she thought privately.

'When will it be? Any idea?'

'None, I'm afraid, but fairly soon, I imagine. Shall I let Agnes Fogerty know, or will you? I know she wants to write very soon.'

'I'll catch her after school,' said Ella. 'One thing though, I'm not letting Isobel pay me. It'll be a pleasure to have her here.'

'Well, you must sort that out between you,' said Dimity rising to go. 'It will be so nice to see her again, and I do so hope she finds somewhere to live nearby.'

'Unless she gets snapped up by somebody in Sussex before that,' said Ella shrewdly. 'She's eminently marriageable, from all viewpoints.'

'Oh, I don't think that will happen,' replied Dimity, slightly shocked. 'She's still grieving for her husband, you know. They were quite devoted.'

She opened the door to see a few children straggling across the green from the village school.

'Out already?' cried Ella. 'Here, I'll cut across now and see Agnes. No time like the present, and she can catch the afternoon post, if she looks slippy!'

Ben Curdle had departed on his way to Banbury, and Molly was left to cope with George and Albert as best she could.

The old man's temper did not improve. The doctor forbade his going outside in the bitter wind, which still prevailed, and Albert worried about the church and the way in which it was being looked after.

The rector had asked one of the Cooke boys to take on Albert's duties temporarily. The Cooke family was numerous and rather slap-dash, but there was no one else free to lend a hand and Jimmy Cooke had agreed to 'keep an eye on things'.

'And that's about all he will do,' growled Albert. 'And I won't be surprised to find me tools missing. Light-fingered lot them Cookes. Always on the look-out for somethin' to pinch.'

Molly tried to turn a deaf ear to the old man's constant complaining. How right Ben was to insist that they did not live with her father! Whatever the future held, that was certain. Look after him she would, as best she could, but to see dear Ben and young George suffering the gloomy and insulting behaviour of the miserable old fellow, was more than she could bear.

'If that's what old age brings you to,' thought Molly, attacking some ironing, 'I hopes as I dies young!'

Not that all old people were as trying as her father, she had to admit. Dear old Dr Bailey, for instance, had always been a happy man, even in his last long illness, and Mr Bassett, who would be arriving for his holiday that very afternoon, always had a cheerful word for everyone.

Perhaps education helped? Molly pondered on this as she ironed a pillowslip. If your mind was full of knowledge, then perhaps you did not worry overmuch about your body and its ills? It brought her again to the question of George's future. A sound schooling he was going to have, come what may, and he could not do better than start at Thrush Green School with Miss Watson and Miss Fogerty. He was going to have a better start in life than his father. Poor Ben, she remembered, had been unable to read and write, with any competence, when they first met, and she herself had acted as teacher. She had certainly had a willing—even amorous—pupil, and within a month or so he had mastered his difficulties. But he had never forgotten the humiliation of having to confess his ignorance for so many years, and he was as determined as Molly that George should never suffer in the same way.

Well, the next step was to look out for a suitable job for Ben. Once the Bassetts were settled in, she would have another talk with Joan Young, and perhaps walk down to that new Job Centre in Lulling to see if there were any openings for a hard-working man like her dear Ben.

Whoever employed him, thought Molly loyally, would be lucky. There was no one—simply no one—like her Ben.

There was a splendid sunset as Molly finished her ironing. Bands of gold, scarlet and violet clouds transfigured the western sky, and the dark mass of Lulling Woods was silhouetted against the blaze of glory.

The rooks were flapping homeward, their black satin feathers catching the light. Albert Piggott's cat sat on the sun-warmed wall of the Two Pheasants and enjoyed the last of the daylight.

Betty Bell, who was cleaning Miss Fogerty's schoolroom, stopped her ministrations to admire the spectacle. Just like a jumper she'd knitted once! All different bands of colour, she remembered, and no end of trouble with the vee neck. But what a gorgeous sight!

Miss Harmer would have a good view from her cottage, and Mr Shoosmith, next door to the school, would see that sunset even better from the bedroom she had done out that morning. Did you a power of good to see something pretty like that, thought Betty, returning to her desk polishing, much refreshed.

A car drew up outside the Youngs' gate, and before the doors were opened, Joan ran out to set the gates open.

Slowly the car drew into the drive. Out stepped Milly Bassett, to be enveloped in her daughter's embrace, and then, rather more slowly, Robert emerged.

He looked pale and rather shaky, but he stood erect and took in great breaths of fragrant air. His face was alight with pleasure.

'Just what I've been longing for,' he told Joan, holding out his arms. 'To come home again!'

Part Two

Change at Thrush Green

BOOK: (5/13) Return to Thrush Green
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