Authors: Miss Read
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrush Green (Imaginary Place), #Pastoral Fiction, #Country Life - England
'It's a hair tidy,' quavered the arty lady.
' boomed Ella, much as Lady Bracknell declaimed:
'Who the hell ever uses a
' demanded Ella. But her victim had fluttered away to attend a less difficult customer choosing joss-sticks, and Ella made her way home determined to look out the cane and fashion something really worthwhile.
The light was fading fast as Ella struggled to immerse the cane completely. She was about to leave it to its own acrobatic writhings and fill the kettle for a cup of tea, when Dimity burst through the back door, wild-eyed.
'Oh, thank goodness you're here!'
'Well, where d'you expect me to be? What's up, Dim?'
'It's Dotty. She's at the police station.'
'That doesn't surprise me. That confounded car, I suppose?'
'Yes, but ... Oh, Ella, it's really serious this time. She's knocked down a boy and he's had to be taken to hospital.'
'That's done it! How badly hurt is he?'
'Someone said he was dying.'
Dimity's eyes filled with tears. Ella, used to her old friend's ways, spoke robustly.
Some of 'em love a bit of drama. Bet he's only had a bump on the head. Probably been sent home again by now.'
'I hope so. Anyway, Dotty rang up, really to speak to Charles, I think, but he's still out with Harold. She's worried about the animals. They seem to be asking her rather a lot of questions at the police station.'
'Then I hope to goodness she's got her solicitor with her,' said Ella.
'I didn't ask. The thing is, Ella, I'm expecting the men back for tea any minute, and I wondered if you could see to Dotty's chickens and things, before it gets dark?'
'Of course, of course. I'll go straightaway.'
She began to tug at a disreputable anorak hanging on the kitchen door.
'I'll get my milk at the same time. I suppose Dotty'll be back in time to milk Dulcie? That's one job I won't tackle.'
The two friends left the cottage and crossed the road to the green. As they parted, Harold Shoosmith's car drew up, and Ella heard his cheerful greeting as she hurried off through the dusk to Dotty's hungry family.
The grapevines of Lulling and Thrush Green were at work within minutes of Dotty's accident. She had been born in the little town, and was known to almost everyone in the neighbourhood. The victim too was soon named. He happened to be the third son of Mrs Cooke's large family at Nidden, and he was named Cyril. He was in his first year at Lulling School, having left Miss Watson's care – much to her secret relief – that summer.
Within the hour it was variously known, in Lulling and its environs, that Cyril Cooke was dead, dying, on the danger list, suffering from a fractured skull, concussion, two broken legs, one broken leg, one broken arm, multiple fractures of the pelvis and internal injuries. A few, however, were of the opinion that Cyril Cooke was shamming, and only had slight bruising.
Conjectures about Dotty were equally confused. Some said she would be charged with dangerous driving, careless driving or simply with having no lights. Others said she would face a charge of manslaughter, if Cyril Cooke succumbed to his injuries. There was a certain amount of sympathy for Dotty, but undoubtedly there was also a feeling of 'it-was-only-to-be-expected', laced with considerable excitement at this dramatic turn of events.
It was at Thrush Green that consternation was at its most acute. The good rector was much agitated, torn with anxiety for Dotty and sympathy for Mrs Cooke, whom he proposed to visit at once.
'Who is Dotty's solicitor?' enquired Harold Shoosmith.
'Justin Venables,' answered Dimity. 'Her family has always dealt with that firm. There was a case once against Dotty's father after he had caned a boy. I've an idea Justin handled that case as a young man. Mr Harmer got off, I remember.'
Harold Shoosmith forbore to comment, but was secretly dismayed. He had only met Mr Venables once or twice at social gatherings, and found him a charming old man, silver-haired and gentle. He was also, in Harold's opinion, a good twenty years too old to be practising with efficiency.
'I do so hope that she's had the sense to send for him,' said Charles. 'He's such a wise fellow, and so experienced. This could be a very nasty case, and I wouldn't put it past Dotty to insist on making her own defence. It could be disastrous.'
'I take it that one of the junior partners might take it on?'
Charles looked surprised.
'I suppose they might be asked, but I doubt if Justin would let such an old client down. Besides, they're mere boys, mere boys.'
Harold was aware that 'the mere boys' were all around the age of forty, but managed to keep silent. It seemed quite obvious that Dotty would be supported by the aged Mr Venables unless she decided to defend herself. Either course, thought Harold, seemed fraught with danger.
He made his farewells to the Henstocks and set off across the green. It was a pity that such a fruitful day had had to end so disastrously. They had both enjoyed their trip, and certainly Charles now had plenty to think about when planning improvements to Thrush Green's churchyard. Perhaps it was as well, thought Harold philosophically, that he had something else to think of at the moment. His enormous enthusiasm for levelling the graves had quite startled Harold who disliked undertaking anything too precipitately, particularly a project which must certainly face some opposition. By morning, dear old Charles should be seeing matters in perspective, he hoped.
He was shutting his gate, when Joan Young, who was exercising her dog, called across to him.
'You've heard about Dotty's accident, I suppose?'
Harold said that he had.
'Any news of the boy?' he asked.
'Yes. As luck would have it, Ruth's husband was at the hospital, so he examined him. Too early to say yet, the doctor said, but it's mainly head injuries. He's in the intensive care unit.'
'That sounds bad.'
'I feel sorry for that poor Mrs Cooke. She's at the hospital now, I believe.'
'Charles was going to call on her.'
'I'll give him a ring. He can telephone the hospital, and see if she's there. It's poor old Dotty who will need help.'
'She should never have had that wretched car. We should have seen that she didn't drive it.'
'Can you see
we said being considered by Dotty? She's a strong-willed woman – not to say positively pigheaded.'
'True enough,' conceded Joan, and broke into a run as her dog caught sight of Albert Piggott's cat and gave chase.
The morning dawned with a beauty rare in autumn. Fluffy pink clouds reflected the rising sun, and Thrush Green was bathed in rosy light.
After the spell of grey weather it was wonderfully cheering to see the sun again, and prudent housewives made sudden decisions to wash woollies, and gardeners determined to get on with the digging.
At the village school Miss Watson chose: 'The roseate hues of early dawn have waked me from my sleep,' for the morning hymn, thus confusing several infants, still unable to read, who misheard the opening line and later argued fiercely with Miss Fogerty about 'the rose ate shoes' which needed a lengthy explanation just when Miss Fogerty was trying to fathom the problem of the still-missing emergency knickers. However, infants' teachers are used to coping with such difficulties, and Miss Fogerty was no exception.
The fine weather meant that the children could play outside in comfort, and Miss Watson had time to remark on the sad affair of Miss Harmer's accident.
'I'm afraid I foresaw this sort of thing happening,' she confided to her assistant. There was an element of self-satisfaction in her tone that nettled little Miss Fogerty.
'No one can help an accident,' she responded. 'And you know what boys are on bicycles.'
'My boyfriend,' announced Miss Potter, who should have been on playground duty, but was loitering as usual, 'says that
should take a test, no matter how long they've had a licence.'
'Has he taken one?' enquired Miss Fogerty, unusually tart.
'Yes, five times,' replied Miss Potter, drifting towards the door.
'That may account for his dictum,' said Miss Fogerty, to the girl's retreating back.
'Have a biscuit, Agnes dear,' said her headmistress hastily. Really, Agnes was getting quite waspish!
'Thank you,' said Miss Fogerty, accepting an Osborne biscuit. 'It ill behoves any of us,' she pronounced in a milder tone, 'to lay blame at
door in a matter like this. I'm sure Miss Harmer and Cyril Cooke both deserve sympathy – not censure.'
'Yes, indeed, Agnes,' agreed Miss Watson, with unaccustomed meekness.
'Bad luck about Miss Harmer, isn't it?' cried Betty Bell when she reported for her morning duties at Harold's. 'I called in to see her on my way up. She don't say much, but she looks a bit shook up.'
'She's bound to be upset,' said Harold diplomatically, watching Betty unwind the cord of the Hoover from the intricate figure of eight which she employed for its resting hours.
Harold had asked her, on many occasions, to wind it straightforwardly up and down, because of breaking the covering of the cord, but he might just as well have addressed the moon on the subject, and was now resigned to the habit.
'She's a funny old party,' announced Betty, dropping the plug with a crack on the kitchen tiles. Harold winced, but remained silent.
'I know she feels bad about that Cooke kid, but she won't say so. Says it was all the child's fault. He wasn't looking where he was going, and she was, and all that. Let's hope she's got some people as'll back her up.'
'There must have been plenty of witnesses at that time of day.'
agreed Betty knowingly. 'But who's going to
a witness? As soon as a policeman comes, they all scarpers, don't they? Don't want to know. Might have to spend a day up the court having questions fired at 'em. You can understand it really.'
'It's a duty, Betty, which every citizen must accept.'
'Well, you try telling that to some of them Lulling lot! The only person I've heard of so far is the butcher. He saw it all evidently. Anyway, Mr Venables'll nobble him, I expect, to speak for old Dot – Miss Harmer, I mean.'
Harold was relieved to hear that the redoubtable Dotty had seen fit to call in help, even if it was in the ageing form of Justin Venables. However, he did not pursue the subject with Betty.
'Thought I'd make a start in the bathroom,' shouted his help, heaving the Hoover towards the stairs. 'You finished up there? Shaving, and that?'
'Yes, thank you,' said Harold. For a moment he felt as he had done at the age of six, when a particularly strict nurse had had charge of him, and demanded to know the most intimate details of his morning sojourn in the bathroom. It was only his advanced age, Harold felt, that kept Betty from just such an inquisition.
Halfway up the stairs she paused and put her face over the banisters.
'Know what I told her? I said them Cookes needed more'n a crack on the head to knock them out. And what's more, it was no good worrying about going to court.
'If it comes, it comes,' I told her. 'It's no good fretting about right or wrong, or what really happened. It's the chap who lies best wins the case.'
She resumed her ascent, leaving Harold to muse on the layman's view of the legal profession.
Surmise and conjecture were thick in the air at Thrush Green all that day, but nobody saw Dotty.
The sun shone warmly, and the inhabitants revelled in this brief span of brightness. Even Dotty's sad affairs could not seem entirely hopeless amidst such sunshine.
The early sunset was as spectacular as the dawn, but in tones of amethyst rather than rose, with a hint of mist rising along the river valley and veiling the ancient Cotswold bridges.
Just before dark fell, a new sign upon Thrush Green deflected interest from Dotty and focused it upon Dr Bailey's house.
For, against the darkening sky, a plume of smoke rose from Winnie Bailey's sitting room fire. A few minutes later, Jenny was observed wheeling her bicycle out of the gate on her way home.
Winnie Bailey, the watchers on Thrush Green thought, with immense satisfaction, was coming back!
was dark when Winnie Bailey arrived alone at her door. She had come from Lulling Station, some two miles away, in the local taxi.
It had seemed odd to travel along the dark High Street. It was months, she realised suddenly, since she had seen Lulling after dark, and its empty streets presented an alien air.
Lights shone from the windows at Thrush Green, and Winnie breathed a sigh of relief as she paid the man. Now, fumbling for her latch key, she beard the sound of the taxi dying away as it ran down the steep hill from Thrush Green.
Inside, the house was so dark that she felt a quiver of fright, instantly suppressed. From now on she must face things alone. Plenty of women came home daily to a dark empty house. She must get used to the idea, she told herself.