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 (2 page)

BOOK: (5/13) Return to Thrush Green
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And her new classroom was so pleasant! For years she had worked in the infants' room to the right of the lobby in the original village school building. Now the new classroom at the rear of the school was hers alone, complete with its own washbasins and lavatories, so that there was no need for any of the babies to brave the weather when crossing the playground, as in the old days.

The new room was a constant delight to her. The big windows faced southwest across the valley towards Lulling Woods. Bean and pea seeds, as well as mustard and cress growing on flannel in saucers, flourished on the sunny windowsill, and it was delightful to stand, back against the glass, and feel the hot sun warming one's shoulder blades through one's cardigan.

It had been good of Miss Watson, her headmistress, to let her have the room. She could so easily have appropriated it for her own class had she wished. But there, thought loyal little Miss Fogerty, Miss Watson would never do a thing like that! There could not be a better headmistress in the whole of the United Kingdom! It was a privilege to be on her staff.

Miss Fogerty fished up the whistle from the recesses of her twin-set and blew a loud blast. Three-quarters of the playground pandemonium ceased. Miss Fogerty's grey eyes, turning like twin lighthouse beams, round her territory, quenched the last few decibels of noise.

'You may lead in, children,' she called. 'My class last this time.'

And as the school filed indoors, she followed the youngest children across the playground to the beautiful new terrapin building where
The Tailor of Gloucester
was waiting on her desk.

***

From her bedroom window across the green, Winnie Bailey watched Miss Fogerty at her duties. Since her husband's death, she had found herself observing other people with an interest which she had not had time to indulge during the years of the doctor's last illness.

She missed him more than she could say. Hie fact that their last few months together had involved her in nursing Donald day and night, made their home seem even more lonely now that he had gone.

The tributes she had received at his death, and still received daily from those who had known him, gave Winnie Bailey much needed comfort. He had been a dear man all his life, and a very handsome one when young, but it was his complete dedication to the task of healing which had endeared him to the people of Lulling and Thrush Green. Every day, Sundays included, Donald Bailey had visited Lulling Cottage Hospital, until infirmity had, overtaken him. His young partner Doctor Lovell, married to Ruth, Joan Young's sister, knew how lucky he was to have watched and learnt from such a splendid man as his senior partner.

'Never appear to be in a hurry,' the old man had said to him. 'Listen to their tales, no matter how irrelevant they may seem at the time. You'll learn more that way about your patient than any number of tests at the clinic. Mind and matter are interwoven to an extent that none of us truly appreciates. If you are going to expect exactly the same reaction to the same treatment in every case, then you might just as well become a mechanic.'

Doctor Lovell's car backed cautiously away from the surgery into the road. He looked up and saw Winnie at the window, and waved cheerfully. He had probably called for medicines, thought Winnie, and was off to pay a few afternoon calls before evening surgery.

A bent figure was hurrying across Thrush Green from the church. It was Albert Piggott, sexton and so-called caretaker of St Andrew's, and he was obviously intent upon waylaying the unsuspecting doctor.

His cracked voice floated up to Winnie at the window.

'Doctor! Doctor! You got somethin' for me choobs? They've gone again!'

Doctor Lovell wound down the car window and said something which Winnie could not hear. She moved away hastily, not wishing to appear inquisitive, and made her way downstairs, where Jenny, her maid and friend for many years, was getting the tea-tray ready.

I am a lucky woman, thought Winnie, to be able to continue to live at Thrush Green among old friends, to have Jenny with me for company, and to see Donald's work carried on so conscientiously by John Lovell and his new young assistant. How pleased Donald would have been!

Albert Piggott, returning from his foray upon the doctor's car, looked upon the closed door of the Two Pheasants and thought sadly how far distant opening time was. They did things better abroad, he believed. Opened all day, so he'd heard. Now we were all in this Common Market perhaps we'd follow the foreigners' good example.

At that moment, the landlord of the Two Pheasants struggled through the wicket gate at the side of the public house, bearing two hanging baskets.

'Well, Albert,' said Mr Jones, depositing the baskets at his feet, 'how's tricks?'

'Chest's bad,' said Albert flatly.

'Always is, ain't it? Time you was used to it.'

'That's right,' growled Albert. 'Show plenty of sympathy!'

He surveyed the two baskets.

'You being fool enough to put them geraniums out already?' he continued. 'I s'pose you know we're due for plenty more frost.'

'They won't hurt under the eaves,' said the landlord. 'Got some shelter, see?'

'Might well get one tonight,' went on Albert, with every appearance of satisfaction. 'My choobs have been playin' up somethin' cruel. Went to see the doctor about 'em.'

'Ah! I saw you,' said Mr Jones. 'Holding up the poor chap when he was just off to see them as is really ill.'

Albert did not reply, but commented by spitting a flashing arc towards the churchyard wall.

The landlord pulled out the wooden bench and began to mount upon it.

'Wouldn't want to give me a hand-up with the baskets, I suppose?'

Albert looked at him sourly.

'You supposes right,' he said. 'I've got work of me own to do, thank you.'

He shuffled off towards his cottage which stood next door.

'Miserable old faggot,' said Mr Jones dismounting, and making towards the baskets. He made the comment quietly, but just loud enough to carry to Albert's ears as he opened his front door.

After the fresh air of Thrush Green, even Albert noticed that his kitchen seemed stuffy.

The general opinion of his neighbours was that Albert's home was absolutely filthy and smelt accordingly. No one had ever seen a window open, and the door was only opened long enough to allow the entry or exit of its master's unwashed body.

Albert sat down heavily in the greasy armchair, and began to unlace his boots. He removed them with a sigh of relief, and lay back, his gaze resting upon a pile of dirty crockery which littered the draining-board. He supposed he would have to tackle that sometime, he thought morosely. And get himself a bite to eat.

He became conscious of his hunger, and thought of Nelly, his wife, who had left him over a year ago to share life with the oil man somewhere further south.

'Nothin' but a common trollop!' muttered Albert aloud. 'But, golly, she could cook!'

He thought of the succulent steak and kidney pies which had emerged steaming from the now cold and dusty kitchen range. She made a fine stew too, remembered Albert, his gastric juices working strongly, and liver and bacon pudding with haricot beans. As for her treacle tarts, and rice puddings with a nice brown crinkly skin of butter and nutmeg on top, they were real works of art.

She had a way with mashed potatoes too, beating an egg into them so that the saucepan was full of light fluff, slightly creamy in colour and texture. He could do with a plateful of Nelly's cooking at the moment, he thought wistfully.

He rose from the chair and went to the cupboard where he found a piece of bread. He spread it with a dollop of dripping from a stone jamjar, and began to munch disconsolately. It wasn't right that a man had to find his own vittles, especially one who was delicate. One with ailing tubes, like himself, for instance.

Still, cooking wasn't everything, Albert told himself, wiping his hands down his trousers. She might be a good cook, his Nelly, he would be the first to give you that, but what a Tartar too! What a temper! And sly with it! Look at the way she'd been carrying on with that blighted oil man behind his back! He wished him joy of her, the wicked hussy. He hoped he'd had a lashing from her tongue by now, so that he'd see what he'd taken on, and what her lawful wedded husband had had to put up with.

He filled the kettle and put it on to boil. By the time he'd washed up, and had a snooze, it would be near enough time to go and lock up the church and see that all was straight for the night.

And after that, thought Albert, the Two Pheasants would be open!

Life suddenly became warmer and sunnier as Albert advanced bravely upon the sticky horrors piled in the sink.

2. Doctor's Prescription

WHILE the children of Miss Fogerty's class listened to the story of
The Tailor of Gloucester,
and Albert Piggott awaited opening time, Joan Young was busy preparing a salad.

As she washed lettuce and cut tomatoes her thoughts turned time and time again to her parents and her old home in Ealing. She was vaguely puzzled by this. She had an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps something was wrong, and tried to persuade herself that the fact that she had been thinking of her father's heritage, after Edward's return to work that afternoon, simply accounted for this present preoccupation.

But somehow she was not convinced. She was the last person to be telepathic, or to believe in such nebulous things as thought-transference. Nevertheless, the malaise continued, and for two pins she would have left her salad-making and rung her parents there and then.

'What nonsense!' she told herself. 'They would think I'd gone mad. I should have heard soon enough if anything were wrong!'

She began to slice cucumber with swift efficient strokes.

Some sixty miles away, Joan's father, Robert Bassett, listened to some very unwelcome truths spoken by his doctor.

'These X-rays show that that chest of yours needs a lot of care. And I'm not happy about your heart. I'm not suggesting that you should consider yourself an invalid, but frankly it's time you gave up work.'

'But it's quite impossible -' began his patient, and was interrupted by a violent spell of coughing.

The doctor watched gravely until the attack had passed. He said nothing, but continued to look steadily at the older man.

'Dammit all,' wheezed Robert, 'it's only this confounded cough that makes me so tired 1 I'm fine otherwise. Look here, I've a business to run, you know.'

'Someone eke will have to run it anyway in a few months,' said the doctor soberly.

He rose from the bedside and went to look out of the window at the neat suburban garden. Robert Bassett, shocked by the last few words, addressed the doctor's straight back.

'You don't mean that?'

The doctor swung round.

'I do indeed. All the tests we have done, these X-rays, and my knowledge of you over the last six years show that you are running yourself into the ground at an alarming rate. You need rest, cleaner air and more quiet than Ealing can give you, and a complete removal from sight and sound of your work. If you refuse to take my advice, I don't give you twelve months. It may sound brutal, my old friend, but that's the position.'

There was a short silence. Somewhere in the distance, a train hooted, and nearer at hand a lorry changed gear and ground away up the hill outside.

'I just can't take it in,' whispered the sick man.

'You own a house somewhere in the west, don't you? Can you go and stay there for a time?'

'Now do you mean?'

'Not immediately. You're going to have a week or two in that bed, with a daily visit from me. It will give you time to get used to the idea of moving, and to put things straight this end.'

'But what about my business?'

'Surely, there's someone there who can take over?'

'I suppose so,' said Robert slowly. 'It's just that I've never really considered the matter.'

The doctor patted his patient's hand, and rose to go.

'Well, consider it now, and cheer up. You'd like to go to this country house of yours, I take it?'

BOOK: (5/13) Return to Thrush Green
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