Authors: Miss Read
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrush Green (Imaginary Place), #Pastoral Fiction, #Country Life - England
Miss Fogerty felt suddenly warm. The vision of a little brook which had remained frozen for weeks near her house but, only this week, had thawed and started to run merrily again, flashed across her mind.
So too did she feel. The ice had melted, the bonds were broken, and joy flowed again.
'It is all forgotten and forgiven long ago,' said Miss Fogerty.
'Ah, Agnes,' sighed Miss Watson. 'Teachers may come and teachers may go, but you and I go on for ever it seems.'
Miss Fogerty decided it was time to change the subject.
'And what about a wedding present?'
'We might club together and buy a cradle,' rejoined Miss Watson, with rare tartness.
Across the green, at Tullivers, one of the mumps' victims sat up in bed.
Jeremy was a woebegone figure, his face and neck so grotesquely swollen that even his mother might have had difficulty in recognising him if she had met him away from home.
Charles Henstock had called in to see the patient, and to deliver a box of coloured pencils and a drawing book thoughtfully provided by Dimity.
Conversation was limited to expressions of sympathy on Charles' side and sad, inarticulate little cries on Jeremy's. Before long, Charles left the sickroom and accompanied Phil downstairs.
'At least he's in a comfortable bedroom,' said Charles, 'with a kind nurse to look after him. I had mumps at my prep school, and the san. was full, of course. A horrible place – bitterly cold, with lumpy flock mattresses to lie on. And nurse was run off her feet, naturally, and let us know it.'
'Poor Charles!' said Phil. 'I can imagine the misery.'
'The worst thing was being dished out with doorsteps of leathery toast when one could hardly open one's jaws. What is there about boarding schools?'
'I assume that that is a rhetorical question,' said Phil, with a laugh. 'We went to see Frank's the other day, and I was most depressed at the sight.'
'Does Frank still want Jeremy to go away?'
'Let's say he's thinking twice since seeing his old school, but in principle I think he likes the idea of boarding, if only we can find a good place. As you know, I want Jeremy to go with Paul Young in September to Lulling, until he's twelve or thirteen.'
'Well, I'm sure you'll both do the best thing for the boy, as you are at the moment.'
He rose and made for the door.
'Sorry to miss Frank. You know the application for the faculty has gone in? We can only wait and hope now.'
'How soon shall we know?'
'Whenever the Chancellor has time to attend to it. He's a busy man, but very meticulous about his correspondence I know. Maybe within a month.'
'How lovely! And when will the work begin?'
Charles laughed, and held up two crossed fingers.
'Don't go too fast, my dear,' he said.
He had been gone less than ten minutes when Frank arrived home from the office.
'How's Jeremy? Can I go up?'
'Yes, he's awake. Charles has just been to see him.'
She followed her husband up the stairs. Frank, startled at the boy's appearance, stood stock-still in the doorway.
'My goodness! You're twice the boy I left behind me this morning!'he cried.
Jeremy lowered his eyes.
'Not funny,' he muttered.
Frank was instantly contrite.
'You're quite right. It's not funny, and I'm sorry. Got all you want?'
'Yes, thanks,' said the child, looking more cheerful, 'except a drink.'
Phil refilled his glass and sat on the bed watching him take the liquid in painful sips.
Frank surveyed the scene thoughtfully.
'I should have a nap,' advised Phil, at last.
'I think I will,' said the invalid, sliding down the bed. 'My eyes won't stay open.'
Downstairs, Frank turned to Phil.
'He looks pretty snug up there. I had mumps at school. It was ghastly.'
'So did Charles,' said Phil. 'He told me the grisly details of a boarding school illness.'
'I've something extraordinary to tell you,' said Frank, helping himself to a drink. 'About Ribblesworth. Tom had the news this morning at the office.'
'Burnt down?' asked Phil hopefully.
'Worse, really. That headmaster's run off –'
'With the matron,' interrupted Phil.
Frank looked at her in astonishment.
'How did you know?'
'She was exactly the sort of person who would be run off with.'
'You must have second sight! That's exactly what's happened. I never took to that chap. And what a scandal for the school!'
'I daresay it's happened before.'
'Not to Ribblesworth,' said Frank loyally.
He put down his drink and began to pace the room.
'What with going to see it, and remembering mumps at school, and now this business,' said Frank, 'I'm coming round to your way of thinking. Let the boy have a few more years at home as a day boy. Agreed?'
'You know I've never wavered in my feeling on the subject,' said Phil, 'but I think it's downright noble of you to change your mind so generously.'
'Let's go and see the head at Lulling, and get him entered for next September if there's a place, shall we?'
'An excellent idea,' said Jeremy's mother.
Next door, at Doctor Bailey's house, a bridge session had just finished, and Winnie, Dotty, Ella and Dimity sat round the fire with the debris of the tea trolley pushed to one side.
The ladies had discussed their hopes for the faculty being granted.
'Charles thinks of nothing else at the moment,' said Dimity. 'He's like a child waiting for Christmas.'
'Is Albert Piggott going to be in charge when the churchyard is altered?' asked Ella.
'I suppose so,' said Dimity.
'It's a great pity,' announced Dotty, searching in her knicker leg for a handkerchief, 'that my goats weren't allowed to keep the place tidy while we were waiting.'
After further scrabbling she produced a crumpled piece of linen and blew her nose with a resounding trumpeting. Only Dotty, thought Winnie, would keep her handkerchief in the leg of her knickers, thus needing to expose wrinkled stockings and bony shanks whenever it was needed.
'Thrush Green's going to see some changes,' said Dimity.
'One is going to happen in this house,' said Winnie, who had managed to keep her domestic plans secret, but now felt that things were advanced far enough to tell her friends. They looked suitably eager.
'Come on, Winnie,' commanded Ella, beginning to roll an untidy cigarette. 'Tell all.'
Winnie explained about the two upstairs rooms, without going too deeply into her own fears at night.
'And Jenny told me yesterday that the old people move next week.'
'How marvellous! And she comes then?'
'No, not for a month or two. There are several things to be done. My nephew Richard is spending a week here soon, putting in cupboards and so on, and the plumber has to fit a sink in the kitchen-to-be. She can stay in her present home for some months if she likes, I gather. Demolition doesn't start until the autumn, so she can take her time.'
'So you'll have someone in the house before long,' said Dotty, remembering that dark afternoon when she and Winnie had exchanged confidences. 'It will be company for you, especially welcome next winter.'
'Lucky Jenny!' exclaimed Dimity.
'Lucky me!' responded Winnie, rising. 'Come upstairs and see what I'm planning to do.'
When Dimity returned to the rectory, she was bubbling over with Winnie's good news and all the plans for Jenny's new flat.
The rector was standing with his back to the small sitting-room fire. In his hand was a letter.
Before she could tell him the news, Charles spoke.
'My dear, I have had a letter from the Bishop.'
'Oh Charles,' cried Dimity, remembering, with sudden fear, being summoned to her headmistress's study years before. 'What
'Why, nothing –' began Charles, in bewilderment.
'Or is it about the faculty?'
'That is the Chancellor's affair, my dear. This is from the Bishop himself.'
Dimity sat down abruptly.
'Well, tell me quickly. Is there some trouble?'
'Just the opposite. He has been kind enough to make me a Rural Dean.'
Dimity gazed at him open-mouthed.
'A Rural Dean,' she echoed, and then the full glory of the promotion burst upon her, and she leapt to her feet to put her arms round him.
'My darling, how wonderful! And you deserve it too. I'm so glad the Bishop has recognised all your hard work.'
'Others work harder, I expect,' said Charles. 'But I am truly grateful. I must write to him this evening and try to express my appreciation of the honour.'
'Do you know,' said Dimity, sitting down again, 'I feel quite faint. It must be the excitement. The room is swinging about.'
Charles looked alarmed.
'Stay there! I'll find a little brandy.'
'No, no,' protested Dimity, 'I shall soon be all right. I really musn't start getting a taste for brandy. It's so expensive.'
'Are you sure? Some water then?'
'No, really,' said Dimity, sitting up straight. 'It has passed now. It was simply pure joy! It's heady stuff, isn't it?'
The rector was looking at his letter again.
'It is indeed. Now, Dimity, help me to compose a meet and proper answer to His Lordship for honours joyfully received.'
Later that evening, Charles was in his study, writing a fair copy of his letter to the Bishop, when the telephone rang.
Dimity, by the fire in the sitting room, wondered at the length of the conversation. Someone in sore trouble again, she supposed. But when Charles entered the room he was smiling.
'That was Bruce Fairfax from the prep school. He has asked me to take Religious Instruction twice a week and I have agreed. He is glad of help and we shall be glad of some extra money.'
Involuntarily, Dimity glanced towards the tall, draughty windows.
'Yes, my dear,' said Charles. 'I think you can safely order some new curtains.'
One blue and white March morning Willie Marchant, one of the postmen at Thrush Green, tacked purposefully up the hill from Lulling, causing alarm to various drivers going about their lawful occasions on the right side of the road.
Willie ignored their shouted protestations, as usual, and dismounted at the rectory. A stub of cigarette exuded pungent fumes, killing temporarily the fragrance wafting from a clump of early narcissi.
He opened the door of the rectory and collected half a dozen letters left there, and put the one he was carrying in their place.
'Only one this morning,' called Dimity, when she went to collect the post. Charles was coming down the stairs.
'But it is the one we've been waiting for,' said the new Rural Dean.
He opened it hastily, and his pink face creased into a beam.
'It's granted!' he said, with a gusty sigh of relief. 'The precious faculty itself ... to be deposited in the Church Chest. Now, at last after all our battles, we can go ahead!'
On the last day of term, Miss Potter was presented with a set of silver coffee spoons (not a cradle) by Miss Watson and Miss Fogerty, and was given every felicitation for her future happiness.
They were to live in Scarborough, said Miss Potter, and she hoped that they would call if they were ever in that neighbourhood. As the ladies were positive that they would never go so far afield, they were in a position to thank her effusively for the invitation, and Miss Potter departed in a cloud of cordial farewells.
'Well,' said Miss Watson, turning into her classroom, 'I must spend half an hour tidying up here. I suppose you will be going over to your new domain, Agnes?'
'I thought I would take the bulk of my things across,' agreed Miss Fogerty.
'Come back when you've done,' said Miss Watson, 'and have tea with me. I've made a chocolate sponge to celebrate the end of term.'
Miss Fogerty thanked her, and went into her old classroom to collect a large case of infant handwork which was to be transferred to the terrapin across the playground.
The sun was hot on her head as she made her triumphal progress to the promised land. She dumped the case, and stood by the beautiful low window which would do so much to bring on the mustard and cress, the bean seeds and the bulbs, in the happy days ahead.
The little valley leading to Lulling Woods shimmered in the spring sunshine. Somewhere a lark was singing, and in some distant field lambs bleated.
Miss Fogerty sighed with happiness. Here she was – where she had longed to be. After all the struggles of the winter, peace had come with the spring.
Miss Watson was tapping the school barometer when Miss Fogerty returned. It was a handsome mahogany piece left her by an aged uncle, and as it was too large for the school house it had taken up its abode in her classroom.
'I must say,' said Miss Watson, peering at the instrument, 'it's pleasant to see the needle at 'Fair' after 'Stormy' and ' Rain' and 'Change' and all the other unsettled conditions we've had lately. Do you think Thrush Green will remain at 'Set Fair' for a time, Agnes?'
'I have no doubt about it,' said little Miss Fogerty.