Authors: Teresa Ashby
THE COLONEL AND HIS DAUGHTER
© Teresa Ashby 2012
Ermintrude Benson swept a pink chiffon headscarf over her hair, tucked in a stray tendril or two, then donned the sunglasses she’d bought way back when she was going through what she liked to call her “Elizabeth Taylor period.”
She pouted before the mirror, added an extra dab of livid red lipstick for good measure, then pressed her lips together and parted them with a loud smacking noise.
In this get up, no one would recognise her. She could walk the length and breadth of Great Evensbury and not a soul would stop to pass the time of day.
She’d be a ghost, a shadow, slipping along the street unseen and unnoticed.
She was wearing a long grey tweedy coat purchased from the thrift shop in town for two pounds and her thin ankles disappeared into a pair of chunky shoes she’d found lurking in the back of the closet from goodness knows when.
Slowly she opened the front door of Lily Cottage and peeped out.
The last person she wanted to see was Bernard Chumley and there he was, head slumped forward, bald pate shining in the sunshine as he sat on the bench opposite her cottage, snoozing.
He’d been there since following her home from church this morning. He’d knocked on her door and peered in through her window, but she’d told him to go away.
“I’ll wait for you forever, Troodles,” he vowed through her letterbox and it seemed he was willing to carry out his threat.
Apart from him the village was deserted. It was three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and Great Evensbury slept soundly beneath a blue summer sky.
Roger heard the opening of the door and approached hopefully from the living room. He looked up at her and she pressed her finger to her lips.
“Sh, Roger, it’s only me,” she said, hoping he would recognise her scent and not go into attack mode.
Not that it was likely. The last time Roger attacked anything it was his own tail and that must have been years ago. Besides, he was mild and gentle, even for a Labrador and she sometimes thought if a mad axe murderer walked into the cottage, Roger would greet him like a long lost friend and probably offer to oil his axe for him.
“I’m not going walkies, Roger,” she explained. “I’m going on a secret mission. You are to wait here until my return, okay?”
He continued to stare at her, his thick rudder of a tail thumping against the door. It sounded like someone beating a drum and any hope of making a quiet exit flew out of the window.
With a sigh, she picked up her purse from the hallstand and waved it at him.
“I’m going to the shop, I won’t be long,” she said loudly, but not too loudly. She didn’t want to wake Bernard.
She didn’t like lying to Roger, but needs must and all that.
Roger clattered back into the lounge and hurled himself into his armchair with a cross huff.
She peered out once again then slipped out and tiptoed down her front path. So far so good. No neighbours out and about in their gardens, no one to spot a stranger lurking in the village, for surely that is what they would take her for.
She was hot footing it past the church when the Reverend Blinking emerged.
“Ah, Trudy,” he called out. “Just the lady.”
Most people called her Trudy because she’d never really suited being an Ermintrude. She stopped in her tracks and dropped her sunglasses an inch so she could peer at him over the top.
“Isn’t it rather warm for that get up? Winter coat and scarf?”
“How did you know it was me?” she hissed. “I’m travelling incognito.”
“Ah,” he said, making a vicarly steeple with his fingers. “I see.”
“I don’t think you do, Vicar,” she said. “I’m on a mission. An assignment you might say and I’d be grateful if you didn’t mention this to anyone.”
“May I ask the purpose of your mission?”
Trudy squirmed. She’d been taught from a very young age that it was bad to fib to anyone, let alone vicars. And she’d already told dear old Roger a big fat lie.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” she said.
“Well, then I won’t,” he smiled. “But while you’re here, could I have a word about the flowers for Julia’s wedding . . .”
“What about them?” she said, looking round nervously lest her cover be blown.
“Well perhaps you’re not aware that Julia’s aunt has allergies in the plural and any flowers will have to be artificial.”
“Artificial?” Trudy groaned. “But I’ve already ordered fresh. They’re coming from Holland. Only the best for his daughter, Martin Pollard told me and so I ordered the best and now you’re telling me they’ve got to be artificial?”
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger,” Reverend Blinking put up his hands and grinned.
“Well I’m sorry, Vicar, but I feel like shooting someone,” Trudy said crossly. “As if I haven’t got enough on my plate, now I’ve got to find enough silk flowers for the wedding. Can’t the wretched woman just stay away from the church?”
She’d met Julia’s Aunt Sandra on a number of occasions. The woman conversed in diseases. Most people made small talk about the weather, but Sandra communicated in ulcers and asthma and if she had ever had an allergy in her life, then Trudy was a petrified tree!
“She just wants to be the centre of attention,” Trudy went on, her dander well and truly up. “No doubt she’ll cough all through the wedding ceremony and then put everyone off their wedding buffet with talk of her irritable bowel.”
Reverend Blinking blushed and Trudy realised she may have overstepped the mark.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll sort it out. Just like I sort out everything in this village. And how would you all manage without me, that’s what I’d like to know.”
She set off at a stride, then remembered she wasn’t supposed to be busy Trudy Benson, but some shy, scurrying stranger and immediately slowed her pace.
She turned the corner and almost crashed into Bill White from the Frog and Dumpling.
“Dressed for winter, Trudy?” he boomed.
“Keep your voice down, Bill,” she said. “I’m not me. I mean, I’m not who you think I am.”
“Well who are you then, Trudy?” he asked, frowning. “And where are you off to?”
“I’m not off anywhere,” she said irritably. “And why can’t people around here mind their own business?”
“I’m glad I’ve seen you actually,” he said. “About Julia’s wedding . . .”
“Oh, no, not another one,” she said. “I suppose you’re going to tell me that Julia’s aunt is allergic to just about everything I’ve got planned for the buffet?”
“Not everything,” he beamed. “Just dairy, wheat, peanuts, seafood, chicken, mayonnaise . . . erm, I’m sure there were other things.”
“Well not to worry,” she said. “I’ll cook her up a couple of ounces of rice.”
“Rice,” he said. “That was one of the other things.”
“Thought it might be,” she muttered.
Julia’s Aunt Sandra was a great one for leaping on bandwagons and accumulating various diseases and allergies.
“And I suppose it’s too late to make the cake wheat free,” he said and he looked so hopeful, she could have hit him.
“I’ve got more important things to worry about than Sandra’s allergies,” she said. “Please excuse me.”
She didn’t like being sharp with Bill. He was a nice man and everyone liked him. The only mystery was why no eligible young lady had snapped him up.
“You wouldn’t be going up to see the Colonel would you?” Bill asked and he sounded so desperate, she stopped in her tracks and turned back to look at him.
“I might be,” she said cagily. “Why do you want to know?”
He gave her a smile. “Oh, nothing,” he said. “I expect the old boy gets lonely with his daughter living away.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Trudy sniffed.
She put her head down and hurried on, insulted that anyone would recognise her in the old coat and headscarf. Didn’t they think she had any taste?
Two minutes later she had to pass a group of ladies in a huddle outside the village hall.
“It’s not . . .” Greta gasped.
“It can’t be . . .” Marjorie said.
“Never,” Dorothy cried. “Trudy, what are you doing dressed up like a bag lady? Are you going to a fancy dress party?”
“I’m not Trudy,” Trudy shouted. “I’m just visiting.”
And she hurried on her way before they could ask any more questions. She just couldn’t understand why it was that people could see so easily through her disguise. What was giving her away?
She’d even affected a scuttly fashion of walking to hide her usual confident stride.
Barely ten steps further down the road, a hand fell on her shoulder.
“Afternoon gorgeous, where have you been all my life?”
Her shoulders slumped. Bernard! If people didn’t keep stopping her, she would have been well away by now.
He’d arrived in the village for his niece Julia’s wedding a few days ago and had been practically camped on her doorstep ever since, convinced that she’d lit his fire.
Well, so she might have done, but he hadn’t lit hers.
“You can stop playing hard to get,” he declared. “You and I were meant for each other. You know it, I know it . . .”
“We don’t know any such thing,” she said.
“We have a past,” he said. “You can’t deny that. And we’re both footloose and fancy free.”
“I went out with you once,” Trudy said. “Forty years ago.”
“And you remember it.”
“Of course I do! I’ve still got the scar on my foot where you trod on it in your winkle-pickers. And you two-timed me with Maureen Withers.”
“Happy days,” he sighed. “I’ve always carried a torch for you, Troodles. You’re a fine looking woman even in that . . . that odd get up. Those glasses, that red lipstick . . . rather sexy I say!”
“Go away, Bernard,” she said.
He took a step backwards and grinned.
“Still intent on playing hard to get, eh?” he chortled. “I’ll go along with that – for the time being. But I warn you, I have plans for us, my darling.”
“I’m not your darling,” she insisted.
“Not yet,” he said, giving her a huge exaggerated wink. Then he turned and sauntered off, whistling cheerfully.
Trudy hurried on her way.
The closer to the edge of the village you got, the bigger the houses and the more rampant the hedges. Trudy ran along the edges of the hedges, diving into driveways and crouching behind bushes.
All this subterfuge! It wouldn’t be necessary of course anywhere else, but in Great Evensbury you couldn’t blow your nose without Dilys Parsons putting an article about it in the church newsletter.