Authors: Miss Read
Tags: #Fiction, #England, #Country life, #Pastoral Fiction, #Country Life - England - Fiction
'Of course I would,' said Robert. 'I've always promised myself a retirement at Thrush Green.'
'Good, good! That's grand news.'
He picked up his case, and smiled at his patient.
'What's more,' said Robert, 'I've a son-in-law who is the doctor there.'
'Better still! I'll be in touch with him, no doubt, when the time comes. Meanwhile, you stay here and get some sleep. I'll be in tomorrow.'
He closed the door behind him, leaving his patient in mental turmoil.
'Sleep!' muttered Robert crossly. 'What a hope! I must get Milly to ring the office straightaway and get young Frank to come over.'
He sat up suddenly, and was reminded of his weakness by a severe pain in the chest.
Rubbing it ruefully, he thought of further arrangements to be made.
'We'd better warn Joan and Edward, poor dears, that they may have a convalescent father on their hands in the near future.'
Nevertheless, the thought of Thrush Green in spring sunshine, gave comfort to the invalid in the midst of his trials.
In Miss Fogerty's classroom
The Tailor of Gloucester
had been returned to the shelf, the children had stacked their diminutive chairs upon the tables, leaving the floor clear for the cleaner's ministrations later, and now stood, hands together and eyes closed, waiting for their teacher to give the note for grace.
Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.
Now the darkness gathers
Stars begin to peep,
Birds and beasts and flowers
Soon will be asleep.
They sang much too loudly for Miss Fogerty's peace of mind. It sounded irreverent, she felt, but she had not the heart to reprove them, knowing how eagerly they were looking forward to running home through the first of the really warm days of spring.
She thought, not for the first time, that this particular closing hymn was not one of her favourites. That line 'Stars begin to peep', for instance, was a little premature at three-thirty, except in December perhaps, and in any case the word 'peep' seemed a trifle coy. But there, Miss Watson wanted the children to use that hymn, and she must fall in with her wishes in these little matters.
'Hands away! Good afternoon, children!' said Miss Fogerty briskly. 'Straight home now, and no shouting near the school windows. The big girls and boys are still working, remember.'
They streamed from the room comparatively quietly, and across the playground towards Thrush Green. Daisies starred the greensward, and the sticky buds of the chestnut trees were beginning to break into miniature fans of grey-green. The children raced happily to meet all the glory of a spring afternoon.
All except Timmy Thomas, always a rebel, who saw fit to stand beneath Miss Watson's window, put two fingers into his mouth and produce an ear-splitting whistle.
He was gratified to see his headmistress's face appear at the window. She shook her head at him sternly and pointed towards the gate. Miss Fogerty had emerged from her classroom, and also exhorted him to depart immediately.
Grinning, he went.
'That boy,' said Miss Watson later, 'will become a very unpleasant leader of students, or some such, as far as I can see!'
'He might make a happy marriage,' observed Miss Fogerty, more charitably, 'and settle down.'
'It seems a long time to wait,' commented her headmistress tartly.
One of the first of Miss Fogerty's pupils to reach home, was young Jeremy Prior who lived just across Thrush Green at Tullivers, a house as venerable as the Youngs', although not quite so imposing.
Jeremy enjoyed life at Thrush Green. His mother Phil had married for the second time, and his stepfather, Frank Hurst, was a man whose company he enjoyed. His own father had been killed in a car crash, but before that had happened he had left home to live in France with another woman, so that the child's memories of him were dim. Frank had given him the affection and care which he needed in his early years, and Jeremy flourished in the happy atmosphere surrounding him at Thrush Green.
Now, as he opened the gate, he was conscious, of his mother talking to friends in the garden.
One was Winnie Bailey, their next-door neighbour. The other was Ruth Lovell, the doctor's wife, and clutching her hand was Mary, her two-year-old daughter.
As soon as the toddler saw Jeremy she broke away from her mother and charged over the flower beds to greet the boy, babbling incoherently, fat arms outstretched.
over the garden!'
But she was ignored. Her daughter by now had Jeremy's legs in a rapturous embrace which nearly brought him to the ground.
'Is it as late as that?' exclaimed Winnie. 'I must get back. Jenny has gone down to Lulling, and I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on a fruit cake in the oven.'
She hurried away and they heard the click of the next-door gate as she returned to her duties.
'How are things working out there?' asked Ruth.
'Very well, I gather,' said Phil. 'It was a marvellous idea to invite Jenny to live with her. At one stage I was afraid that Winnie might think of moving into a smaller house, perhaps near her sister. We should have missed her horribly, and I think she would have been lost without Thrush Green.'
'I'm sure of it. We're lucky to live here. Joan and I always thought it was the best place on earth when we were children. I can't say that my opinion has changed much.'
She walked towards her daughter who was rolling over and over on the grass, being helped by Jeremy.
'Come along, Mary. We're off to see Aunt Joan.'
'No! Stay here,' said Mary, stopping abruptly, her frock under her armpits and an expanse of fat stomach exposed to view. Her expression was mutinous.
'No nonsense now! We've got to collect the magazines.'
'Why not let her stop here while you see Joan?' suggested Phil, in a low tone. 'Jeremy would love to play with her for a while.'
'That's so kind. I won't be more than a few minutes.'
She turned towards the gate.
'Do you mind, Jeremy?' she called.
'I'll show her my new fort,' said Jeremy enthusiastically. 'It's got Crusaders and Saracens, and lots of flags and hones and swords.'
'Mind she doesn't swallow them,' advised Ruth. 'You don't want to lose any.'
She waved to the potential sword-swallower and made her way across the green to her sister's.
Joan Young was sitting in the hall when Ruth arrived. She was listening intently to the telephone, her face grave.
Ruth was about to tiptoe away, but Joan covered the mouthpiece with her hand, and motioned her sister to take a seat.
'It's mother. Tell you in a minute.'
Ruth perched on the oak settle, and fell to admiring the black and white tiles of the floor, and the elegant staircase, which always gave her pleasure.
'Do you want a word with Ruth? She's just dropped in.'
Silence reigned while Joan listened again.
'No, no. All right, darling. I'll tell her, and you know we'll look forward to seeing you both. Yes,
! Give him our love.'
She replaced the receiver and looked at Ruth.
'Poor Dad, he's pretty weak evidently. Bed for a week or two, and then his doctor wants him to come here for a rest.'
She stood up abruptly.
'Come in the garden, Ruth. I've left a cookery book on the seat, and I probably shan't remember it until it pours with rain in the middle of the night.'
'How bad is he?' asked Ruth, following her.
'Mother was calm about it, but sounded anxious. It seems he's had this bronchial trouble most of the winter, but wouldn't give up. I'll be glad to get him here. Mother must need a rest too. Dash it all, they're both around seventy.'
They sat down on the garden seat, and Joan nursed the cookery book.
'Shall we go up tomorrow to see him?' said Ruth.
'Mother says not to. He's not in any danger, but the doctor wants him to be kept quiet.'
She began to laugh.
'Poor Mum, trying to stop him working! As it is, she's had to ring Frank to give all sorts of messages about the office.'
'It's time he retired,' agreed her sister. 'Perhaps this will make him think about it.'
'Funnily enough,' said Joan, 'they've been in my mind a lot today. Probably because Edward said something about moving. It's about time we built a house of our own. We may have to now. Heaven knows we've been lucky to stay here so long.'
'Dad won't let you move,' said Ruth shrewdly. At times she saw more clearly than her older sister, who usually led the way.
'But he'll have to!' replied Joan, beginning to look slightly agitated. 'If he's to have a quiet life from now on, then it's only right that he should come back to his own home.'
'Maybe,' agreed Ruth. 'He'll be willing to come to Thrush Green, I have no doubt, but he won't let you give up your home, you'll see.'
'But where else is there for him? We've always known that they would retire here.'
'Don't forget that Dad hasn't yet said he will retire. So far, he's simply having a short convalescence here. I shouldn't take too many leaps ahead, Joan. Things will work out, you'll see.
She rose to her feet.
'I came for the magazines really, and then I must collect Mary before she drives Jeremy Prior mad. Noble boy, he's showing her his fort. I tremble to think how much of it is broken already.'
They made their way back to the house, and collected the pile of magazines from the hall table. A dozen or so inhabitants of Thrush Green had begun this communal magazine effort during the war, each contributing one journal and passing the collection from one to the other, and the custom had continued.
'I'll walk across the green with you,' said Joan. 'It's marvellous to feel the sun really warm again after months of shivering.'
They paused at the roadside and Joan gazed across the grass towards the church.
'Do you realise that we shall have the Curdles' fair here again on May the first? Only another week or so. Won't it be lovely to see Ben and Molly Curdle again? I still miss her.'
'The only comfort is that she's a lot happier with her Ben than she was with that ghastly father of hers, Albert Piggott. Isn't that him over there in the churchyard?'
'Looks like it. Waiting for the Two Pheasants to open no doubt.'
'Mary is going to the fair this year,' said Ruth. 'Perhaps we could make up a party with Jeremy and Paul?'
'Yes, let's. Though I may have the parents here by then, of course.'
They exchanged troubled glances.
'I shall ring Mother later on this evening,' said Ruth, 'and we'll keep in touch about developments.'
A yell from across the road drew her attention to her daughter who was struggling to climb over the Hursts' gate.
'I must be
she said hastily, and dashed to the rescue.
Joan returned thoughtfully to the garden. Of course, as Ruth said, the parents were only coming for a short stay. But this was a reminder that the future must be faced.
When Edward came home they must have a serious talk about plans. They really must think of the years ahead.
The family cat met her at the door, and rubbed round her legs, mewing vociferously.
'Poor old puss! I've forgotten your lunch and tea,' said Joan remorsefully. 'It's all this thinking ahead that's done it.'
The cat led the way purposefully towards the kitchen. As far as he was concerned, the next meal was as far ahead as he was prepared to consider.
3. Prospective Lodgers
IF the Youngs' house was acknowledged to be the most beautiful at Thrush Green, the rectory, it was admitted ruefully, was the ugliest.
Unlike its neighbours, its Cotswold stone walls had been clad by some Victorian vandal in grey stucco. It was tall and bleak. It faced east rather than south, and the front door opened upon a long dark corridor which ran straight to the back door, thus creating a wind tunnel which worked so successfully that the unlucky dwellers there needed a fortune to keep the house warm.
Despite the fuel bills, the present inhabitants of the rectory were not unhappy. The Reverend Charles Henstock and his wife Dimity, considered themselves exceptionally lucky in their marriage, and in their work at Thrush Green. Material matters did not affect them greatly, and the fact that their home was cold, shabby, dark, and difficult to clean bothered Charles not at all, and Dimity only occasionally, and then mainly on her husband's behalf.
For years she had lived only some fifty yards from her present home, at a snug thatched cottage on the other side of the road. Her companion then had been a stalwart friend, called Ella Bembridge, who still lived there, and spent her spare time in creating textile designs, which she sometimes sold, and a great variety of handicrafts which she did not.
Not that these products were wasted. Ella's cupboards and drawers were stuffed with handwoven ties, raffia mats, cane basketwork, mirrors decorated with barbola work, wobbly teapot stands, and a number of unidentifiable objects, all of which were destined for Christmas presents or given to charitable institutions, preferably those concerned with animals. Ella rated the animal race rather more deserving than the human one, and who can blame her?
The cottage had been warm, Dimity was the first to admit. It faced south, and was sheltered by the hill which rose steeply from Lulling to Thrush Green. Furthermore, Ella enjoyed a fire, and never returned from her walks without some firewood or fir cones with which to create a cheerful blaze in the evenings. It was not until Dimity had spent her first winter at the rectory that she realised quite how bleak was her present abode.
'The trouble with this barn of a place,' said Ella one morning towards the end of April, 'is that it faces the wrong way. You get no sunshine at all, except in the kitchen. Frankly, I'd live in there.'
She thrust a bunch of daffodils at Dimity.
'Here, these should cheer things up a bit. They're some you planted years ago near the gooseberry bushes.'