Authors: Rebecca Shaw
Fast losing control of what she had hoped would be a magnificent climb down on Harriet and Caroline’s part, Grandmama turned to face Jimbo. She’d never seen him so angry. There didn’t seem to be quite so much pleasure in her challenge as there had been up to now. Obviously Sheila’s popularity, though she couldn’t think why, was much greater than she’d realised.
Holding her chin a little higher than normal Grandmama said quite clearly, ‘All I was doing was giving a helping hand, assisting someone in dire need and what do I get in return? Insulted! Lady Bissett’ – scathingly she repeated – ‘Lady Bissett – I ask you! called me an old …’ – there was hesitation here, should she tell? Yes, she must. She had to justify her actions, she really had – ‘an old
! She only got what she deserved.’
Harriet smothered a grin.
Jimbo’s face never slipped. ‘Mother, I am ashamed. Whatever everyone will think of you I cannot imagine.’
‘Well, I’ve resigned, so I’m not in charge any more. Perhaps now, everyone will be satisfied.’
‘They won’t forget though and neither will I.’
Rebecca Shaw is a former school teacher and the bestselling author of many novels. She lives with her husband in a beautiful Dorset village where she finds plenty of inspiration for her stories about rural life. She has four children and eight grandchildren.
|Willie Biggs||Verger at St Thomas à Becket.|
|Sylvia Biggs||His wife and housekeeper at the rectory.|
|Sir Ronald Bissett||Retired trades union leader.|
|Lady Sheila Bissett||His wife.|
|James (Jimbo) Charter-Plackett||Owner of the Village Store.|
|Harriet Charter-Plackett||His wife.|
|Fergus, Finlay, Flick and Fran||Their children.|
|Katherine Charter-Plackett||Jimbo’s mother.|
|Alan Crimble||Barman at the Royal Oak.|
|Linda Crimble||Runs the post office at the Village Store.|
|Bryn Fields||Licensee at the Royal Oak.|
|Georgie Fields||His wife.|
|H. Craddock Fitch||Owner of Turnham House.|
|Jimmy Glover||Taxi driver.|
|Mrs Jones||A village gossip.|
|Barry Jones||Her son and estate carpenter.|
|Pat Jones||His wife.|
|Dean and Michelle||Her children.|
|Revd Peter Harris MA (Oxon)||Rector of the parish.|
|Dr Caroline Harris||His wife.|
|Alex and Beth||Their children.|
|Jeremy Mayer||Manager at Turnham House.|
|Venetia Mayer||His wife.|
|Kate Pascoe||Village school head teacher.|
|Sir Ralph Templeton||Retired from the diplomatic service.|
|Lady Muriel Templeton||His wife.|
|Dicky Tutt||Scout leader.|
|Bel Tutt||School caretaker and assistant in the Village Store.|
|Don Wright||Maintenance engineer.|
|Vera Wright||Cleaner at the nursing home in Penny Fawcett.|
|Rhett Wright||Their grandson.|
‘Talk of the devil! Here he comes!’ Georgie finished pulling the pint, handed it over to her customer and waved to Dicky.
Bryn snorted his disapproval. ‘Dicky Tutt! You mean you’ve lined him up to launch it? What does he know about show business?’
‘He doesn’t need to, he’s a natural. A born comic.’
Dicky came bounding across to the bar and ordered his drink. ‘Good evening one and all! My usual, please. And how’s my Georgie tonight? Blossoming bright and beautiful as always.’
‘Flatterer!’ She drew him his pint and as he paid her she felt him give her fingers a slight squeeze. Georgie rewarded him with one of her stunning smiles. ‘You’re on top form tonight.’
‘Of course. Heard the one about the dog with two tails?’
Dicky launched himself into his story with extra verve, knowing full well Bryn was on the qui vive as far as he was concerned. He’d honed to perfection the art of taunting Bryn and felt guilty but also elated by the knowledge. As Dicky reached the climax of the story Bryn leant over the counter and waited for his chance to speak.
‘Don’t imagine for one moment that this is a dress rehearsal for a slot in this ridiculous showbiz scheme Georgie’s come up with …’
Dicky pretended innocence. ‘What ridiculous scheme?’
‘This business of having entertainment on Fridays here in the bar. I’ve put my foot down about it. We’re not. Right?’
‘OK. OK. I’m either way. Doesn’t bother me.’
‘Well, don’t come up with any more bright ideas for in here, ever again.’
‘I didn’t suggest it. It was Georgie’s idea.’
Georgie intervened. ‘It was, Bryn, honestly. It was me asked him. I think you’re being daft. We could just try it once or twice and see what happens couldn’t we?’ She opened wide her lovely bright eyes and looked up at Bryn to plead her cause. ‘Please, just once. Dicky would be a good one to start with. Dip our toes in the water, eh? How about it?’
Bryn twirled his Flying Officer Kite moustache and looked down into the pretty face of the woman he’d loved for twenty years. He wanted to please her, but something, he didn’t know what, warned him to steer clear and he couldn’t bring himself to agree. ‘No. Sorry. It’d lower the tone.’
Dicky grinned up at Bryn. ‘Eh! Come on, my jokes aren’t mucky.’
‘Not now they’re not, but they might be once you get in your stride.’
‘Oh no, they wouldn’t be, I don’t tell doubtful jokes. I’ve got all my Scouts to think of, got to keep their respect.’
‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether they’re smutty or not ’cos you’re not performing in here, in this pub, whilst ever my name is over the door. I’m the licensee. Subject now closed.’
Jimmy Glover, for once drinking alone called across, ‘Come on, Bryn, liven the place up. Bring more trade in, surely you can’t object to that?’
‘It’s not bringing in more trade that I’m objecting to, it’s what it might lead to that worries me.’
Georgie and Dicky exchanged a quick glance. She hastily served a whisky to a customer and as she pinged the till she said, ‘There’s nothing for you to worry about, it’s just an experiment and Dicky’s willing to give it a whirl and he’s not expecting getting paid either. You know how everyone loves his jokes. Come on, Bryn, let’s give it a try. Mmmmm?’
‘Absolutely not.’ Bryn began drying some glasses and turned his back to her.
She glanced at Dicky, pursed her mouth and shook her head. Dicky took the hint. He stood with his back to the bar and looked round. Jimmy was still alone and there were only three other punters in the bar besides him and Jimmy. There was no doubt about it, the pub could do with some new attraction to liven it up.
The outside door opened and in came Sir Ronald and Lady Bissett with their little Pomeranian.
Dicky called out to them, ‘Evening Sheila! Evening Ron. This round’s on me. What would you like?’
Sheila beamed her approval. She liked Dicky, he might be beneath her in the social scale but she liked him nevertheless. ‘Gin and tonic, please Dicky. How are you?’
‘I’m fine thanks. Ron, what’s yours?’
‘A pint of that special of Bryn’s, please.’
Dicky ordered their drinks from Georgie and the three of them stood at the bar discussing the weather. Sheila’s dog Pompom had to be kept on a tight lead because in his old age he had developed an alarming habit of sinking his teeth into the ankle of anyone who happened to displease him, and Dicky was a frequent target. Dicky moved away a few more inches when he heard a low rumble in Pompom’s chest.
Sheila bent down to pat him. ‘Now, Pompom, now, now, it’s only Dicky. I think it’s because he can’t see as well as he did, he mistakes feet for cats.’
Dicky chuckled. ‘Does he indeed. I’ll keep my distance then if you don’t mind!’
Ron, becoming increasingly hot in his ginger tweed Sheila insisted made him look like an English country gentleman, unwittingly brought up a subject of conversation close to Dicky’s heart. ‘I was thinking about you the other day, Dicky. Read an article in the paper about how successful clubs are nowadays, working men’s clubs and suchlike. They’re becoming the place to be discovered by a talent scout. They have entertainers, weekends – the big clubs get the big names of course, but they say the smaller clubs are a very good place to start. It named a few comics, and singers, who’ve got their feet on the ladder to success in the smaller clubs. I thought about you with your jokes. You’d go down wonderfully well I’m sure. I’m still laughing over that one you told us about the …’
Bryn poked a sharp finger into Ron’s shoulder-blade. ‘I don’t know if this is all part of a plot, but don’t encourage him if you please. I’m not having it and there’s an end to it.’
Sir Ronald, surprised at receiving such a body blow, asked what made Bryn so annoyed, all he’d done was mention …?
Sheila, feeling that a wholesale row was brewing and knowing she could never rely on Ron to be as tactful as she always was, interrupted by saying, ‘Let’s hope this good weather holds for the Harvest Festival, all that effort we put in, it does so put people off from coming when the weather’s bad.’
Dicky raised his glass to Sheila. ‘I’ve nothing but admiration for you on that score, Sheila, every year I think the church can’t look any better than it does this year and blow me next year it does. You’ve had some wonderful ideas in the past, and I’ve no doubt it’ll be decorated even more brilliantly than last year.’
Sheila beamed with pleasure. ‘Why, thank you. It’s all team work really, my committee are very talented, believe me. You know, you really are the most charming man.’ She tapped a lacquered fingernail on Dicky’s sleeve. ‘Most charming, your Bel did right to snap you up. In fact if you weren’t spoken for I could …’
Ron like a terrier at a bone said, ‘Bryn! Sorry! Didn’t mean to give offence, though I don’t know how I did, I was only …’
‘Beg your pardon. It’s just that Georgie here is wanting to start entertainment on Friday nights, and I won’t have it. I thought you were encouraging her.’
Ron thumped the bar counter with delight. ‘But there you are, there’s his chance. Dicky here would be excellent. Just the man for the job! You’d do a turn wouldn’t you?’
Deliberately Dicky pretended to be deaf to Ron’s question. Pompom suspecting that Dicky’s shoe was shuffling a little too near and the light tan of it was just the colour of that cat they called Chivers, lunged and snapped at Dicky’s ankle. The lunge pulled Sheila’s arm to its fullest extent and she overbalanced. Her glass, escaping her grasp, flew up before it fell down, and she tried to retrieve it as it passed her. Pompom took another snap at Dicky’s ankle as he tried to avoid the gin pouring down his jacket, Sheila made another try to catch the glass, Pompom took another snap and down Sheila went. Her foot slipped between the brass footrest and the front of the bar and they all heard the crack of bone as she landed, awkwardly trapped by the rail on which only a moment before her foot had been resting. Dicky just managed to save himself from falling on top of her and Pompom howled as Sheila’s bottom almost flattened him.
Ron tried to lift her up. Georgie dashed round to the front of the bar shouting. ‘Don’t move her! I’m sure she’s broken something.’
Sheila racked by searing pain and in shock, wept. Pompom hid under the nearest table. Dicky knelt down beside Sheila and put his arm round her. ‘There there, keep quite still. Just a bit longer, yes I know it’s uncomfortable crouched like that, but stay still just a bit longer till you know how you feel, then we’ll move you.’
‘Oh Dicky! It’s so painful you’ve no idea. Whatever am I going to do?’
‘Nothing for the minute. Then Bryn and your Ron, ’cos they’re bigger than me can lift you onto a chair. It’s your leg I’m afraid. It sounded like a break.’
‘It is, I’m sure. That’s all I need. The week before the Harvest …’
‘Now. Now. Don’t you fret about that. That’s the least of your worries right now. Bryn, come and give a hand here will yer?’
Bryn came round and pushed his way between the customers. He peered anxiously at Sheila, took hold of her under her armpits and, very very gentle, hoisted her up and propped her against the bar. She was ashen and sweating with the pain but felt slightly less ridiculous than when she’d been crumpled on the floor. She supported her bad leg. The pain she was suffering caused sweat to run off the end of her chin.
‘God, Ron! I feel terrible …’ Sheila’s voice trailed off and she fainted. Bryn caught her with Ron’s help.
Bryn shouted, ‘Someone go get Dr Harris, and quick.’
Jimmy volunteered to go. He knocked loudly on the rectory door. When it opened Peter was standing there looking down at him.
‘Rector! Sorry to trouble you this time o’ night but could your good lady wife come. Sheila Bissett’s had a bad fall and we think she’s broken her leg and now she’s fainted.’
‘Oh goodness. Yes, of course.’ He turned away from the door and using his most powerful voice called out, ‘Caroline! there’s an emergency. Can you come?’
Caroline dashed through from the kitchen. ‘Shush! You’ll wake the children! Well, Jimmy, hello, what’s the matter?’
Jimmy was always impressed by Caroline. Her cheerful competence and generous smile never failed to lift his spirits, and her short dark curly hair and pale skin reminded him of …
‘I’ll explain as we go along. I’ll return her to you quick as a flash, Rector.’
By the time Caroline reached the bar Sheila had regained consciousness and was seated on a chair.
‘Oh Dr Harris! It’s so kind of you to come. They shouldn’t have troubled you!’
‘Of course they should. Now let me look.’ Very, very gently Caroline explored Sheila’s leg causing her to wince several times. ‘I’m sorry to hurt you. Unless I’m much mistaken it’s more than a sprain, there is definitely a break mere. It’s hospital for you, Sheila, I’m afraid.’
Sheila put a hand on Caroline’s shoulder. ‘I rather thought so. It’s incredibly painful.’ Two large tears fell down her plump cheeks. ‘I’ll have to be very brave, won’t I?’
Caroline smiled and patted her arm. ‘You will, but you are a brave person anyway, aren’t you?’ Caroline stood up. ‘Sir Ronald, if we help her to your car could you …? You’ll get there quicker than waiting for an ambulance.’
‘Yes, yes of course. I’ll go right now and bring it round. I’ll bring that old blanket for you, Sheila, keep you warm. Shock and that.’
Glaring meaningfully at him she said, ‘You mean the car rug, don’t you, Ron?’
Taking her meaning he said, ‘Yes, of course, the car rug. The tartan one.’
‘The Royal Stuart one,’ Sheila called feebly after him as Ron hurried out. ‘… and my handbag …’
Pompom yelped from under the table. ‘Oh, Ron’s forgotten Pompom. I don’t know what to do any more. It’s all too much. Ohhh! the pain.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll take him home to the rectory with me. He can sleep in Mimi’s old basket. Sir Ronald can collect him in the morning. No, change of plan, better still I’ll bring him over to you and see how you are. Now you won’t worry about him will you? I’ll spoil him to death.’
Sheila’s bottom lip trembled. ‘It’s at times like this that you learn who your friends are, isn’t it? But I’ll be in plaster for weeks and there’s the Harvest, I can’t let the Rector down.’
Looking down into Sheila’s tear-streaked face Caroline forgot about all the times she had clashed with Sheila and felt nothing but pity for her. ‘Don’t you worry. You’ve made all the plans quite beautifully, and we’ll carry them all out to the letter. Just think about yourself for now. There’s the car. They’ll give you painkillers and you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel when they’ve set it.’
Between them Ron and Bryn contrived to give Sheila a bosun’s chair into the car whereupon she almost fainted again. Caroline bent down to speak to her. Tucking the car rug around her she said, ‘Now, promise you won’t worry about Pompom. I’ll ring Casualty and tell them to expect you. God bless.’
Reluctantly Pompom allowed himself to be taken to the rectory, dragging his feet and protesting at every step.
‘Now come along. Sheila’s being brave and so must you be. I’m not putting up with any nonsense.’ Hearing the firmness of her tone Pompom decided that he would have to give in and he followed her meekly back.