Authors: Rebecca Shaw
She finally managed to make herself a cup of tea, to which she added a drop of whisky to help revive her. How could he? How could Willie remind her when she thought all that part of her life had been well and truly forgotten? Showed what people were like, just waiting for the right moment to stab you in the back. She’d never be able to show her face in the village again.
Then Dottie leaped to her feet at the realisation she simply couldn’t go to the Rectory tomorrow to clean, and her heart broke. Nor do the couple of hours at Harriet and Jimbo’s like she did every Thursday afternoon, and never again would she help alongside Pat Jones with the events at the Old Barn for Jimbo. But it was not being able to work at the Rectory that really hurt the most, for she loved working there. And here was she thinking all these years that she had finally left her past behind. She’d been deceiving herself. She’d have to write a note. She’d take it up there in the dark when no one would see her. Then she remembered she wasn’t all that good at writing.
It took her three painful tries to construct a note that appeared readable and wouldn’t show her up for what she was. She found an envelope and addressed it, glanced at the clock and saw it said nearly ten past eleven and decided to leave there and then to take it up to the Rectory. Then in the morning she’d order a taxi for the station and go to stay with her cousin Irene, whom she knew she could rely on to welcome her with open arms, her always feeling lonely.
It was Peter who found the envelope on the hall carpet when he checked the front door was bolted before joining Caroline in bed.
‘Darling! There’s a letter for you.’
‘For me? I wonder who it’s from?’ She dropped the book she was reading on the duvet and ripped open the envelope.
As she read it she gasped. ‘Oh! Peter, it’s from Dottie. She says . . . I can’t believe this; what on earth can have happened?’
‘What do you mean? What’s she said?’
‘Here, you read it.’
Dear Doctor Harris
I shall not be coming to clean no more. I should not have had the cheek to start in the first place because I am not a fit person to clean for you and the rector. I’m sorry. Yours sincerely
PS. Please give my love to my dear Beth and to Alex. I shall miss them and you
Peter handed it back to her. ‘Someone somewhere has said something and here’s the result of it. Poor Dottie. I shall go see her first thing.’
‘I can’t believe this. What on earth has made her say what she’s said? No one thinks to mention it nowadays. Poor Dottie.’
‘I’m sure she must have misunderstood; people in the village wouldn’t dream of bringing the matter up . . . would they?’
‘Perhaps someone feeling vicious thought to mention it. She must be heartbroken! No one cleans like Dottie; I could recommend her to absolutely anyone.’
‘Like I said I’ll call round tomorrow and get to the bottom of it.’
‘Yes, please do and make her understand that she’s needed here no matter what others have said about her; we want her back a.s.a.p. The hurt she must be feeling . . . people can be so cruel. But who the blazes would confront her with it?’
Peter climbed into bed, grimly remarking, ‘Don’t fret, I shall find out. Good night and God bless, my darling, it’s lonely not having the children to say goodnight to, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, but they’re having a wonderful time; they’ll remember it all their lives.’
Caroline turned over so she lay behind Peter with her arm around his waist. ‘Good thing Beth isn’t home or she’d be round the village interrogating everyone to find out who’s been so thoughtless as to hurt Dottie. They are very close.’
‘Dottie has a great deal of wisdom; I’ve always thought so. Good down-to-earth wisdom. I’ll be round her house first thing tomorrow, I promise.’
And Peter was. But the house was locked up. He shielded his eyes and peered in through the downstairs windows but there were no signs of life. Everywhere looked tidy with no signs of a hasty departure.
Peter heard someone trying to attract his attention. It was Dottie’s next-door neighbour calling to him over the wall.
‘She’s gone, rector, by eight o’clock this morning. I saw her leave as I was letting the dog out. In a taxi with a suitcase. I spoke to her yesterday morning but she never said a word about going away, so it must be something urgent because we leave each other our keys when we’re away just in case, but she hasn’t done, not this time.’
‘Good morning, Audrey! When I think of you I always remember about when you played the fairy godmother in that pantomime we did once; I thought you were brilliant. So well done.’
Audrey blushed. ‘Thank you, didn’t think anyone remembered it.’
‘Well, I do. Audrey, if you hear anything at all about Dottie, get a card or anything from her, will you let me know? I feel very concerned about her, you see. We can’t understand why she’s gone. Look, here’s my card with my number. Keep it and let me know, will you?’
‘Thanks. Yes, I will. I couldn’t have a better neighbour than Dottie. Lovely person, never a wrong word and always a good laugh.’
But the card was propped against the clock on Audrey’s mantelpiece and there was still no word from Dottie.
The night of the incident that so distressed Dottie, Willie and Sylvia had a terrible argument, the worst they had ever had. It began when Dottie scurried out of the bar looking so distressed. Sylvia stood up calling out, ‘Dottie! Take no notice; he didn’t mean it.’
But Dottie never looked back. In her fury Sylvia turned on Willie. ‘Will you never learn, Willie Biggs, to control that tongue of yours?’ Sylvia gave him such a push that he almost fell out of his chair. Her anger made her give him another push and his chair went over backwards and Willie with it.
This incensed him so much that despite his advancing years he rapidly stood upright and managed to proclaim for all the world to hear, ‘I only spoke the truth. That’s my defence.’
Zack, standing Willie’s chair up for him, said, ‘There’s times to speak and times not.’
‘You found it funny. I saw Marie give you a nudge to shut you up.’
‘But . . . the difference is I didn’t say anything, did I? I’m ashamed of you, Willie, hurting her feelings like that.’
‘So all of a sudden the truth is illegal, is it? We all have to tell lies, do we, to be politically correct as they call it?’
Sylvia, breathing hard, said between gritted teeth, ‘Home!’ pointing dramatically to the door. ‘We shall have words when we get in.’
‘Honestly, men aren’t even masters in their own homes nowadays,’ Willie grumbled.
Sylvia loudly retorted, ‘Well, you certainly aren’t! Out!’
And so it was that Willie slept the night on the sofa while Sylvia luxuriated in having the bed to herself and feeling distinctly self-righteous about it.
So after Peter’s fruitless visit to Dottie’s he drove home, parked the car in Church Lane and knocked on Willie Biggs’s door. Sylvia answered and invited him in. ‘I was coming round, rector, but I saw you leave in your car.’
‘Ah! Do you have news about Dottie? She’s left us a note to say she can’t come to clean any more because she’s not fit to do so. From the sound of it someone must have—’
Sylvia put a finger to her lips. ‘Willie! There’s a gentleman to see you.’
The distinct sounds of someone in the kitchen doing the washing up ceased and Willie appeared, looking downtrodden. ‘Oh! Good morning, sir. You want to see me?’
‘I don’t know. Do I?’
‘Yes, you do,’ said Sylvia, arms akimbo, glaring at Willie.
Willie cleared his throat. ‘There was an unfortunate altercation in the Royal Oak last night and unfortunately Dottie took it the wrong way. What I said was the truth but she took offence.’
‘I’ve been to see her this morning because of a note she put through our letter box very late last night. Audrey, her neighbour, says she left first thing this morning in a taxi with a large suitcase.’
Hesitantly Willie asked if he knew where she’d gone.
‘I don’t know, because she’s disappeared without even telling Audrey where.’
Willie had no reply to this, feeling too shocked to think.
So Sylvia replied on his behalf. ‘He can’t control his tongue nowadays. He’s not as bad as Don, who can say the most out-of-place things and doesn’t know he’s doing it. Willie knows what he’s saying but still he says it.’
Peter turned to Willie. ‘What did you say, Willie?’
‘Well, it was like this . . .’ So he related the whole conversation to this man for whom he had more respect than any other person on earth and felt deeply mortified as he said it. ‘I can’t apologise enough. If I could see her now I’d tell her how sorry I am. And I am. Very sorry. I’ll get back to the washing up; I’ve nearly finished, love. It’s mopping the floor next you said.’
Peter had to smile at Sylvia when Willie returned to his domestic duties. ‘I see why she is so upset. We never think on those terms, you know, Caroline and I.’
‘Neither does anyone else, except Willie. I do hope she comes back. We’ll all miss her. I’m so sorry, rector, I really am.’
‘So am I. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more. Bye, Sylvia.’
With his hand on the door latch, Peter said before he left, ‘That’s three people gone from the village in one week. What is wrong with everyone?’
‘Don’t worry too much about Dottie; she’s pretty tough is Dottie.’
‘Perhaps, Sylvia, but not quite tough enough it would seem.’
‘I’m sorry all over again about what Willie said. He simply didn’t think.’
Peter nodded his head. ‘You see, Dottie is acutely sensitive about her past life, though she may not appear to be.’
During this first term at Cambridge Beth had chosen to come home for a weekend twice as often as Alex, and she was home again the weekend of the flood victims’ coffee morning. She clung to her mother the moment she appeared and Caroline did not need to be told how much Beth missed her home.
‘Had a good journey, darling?’
‘Lots of traffic but not too bad, no major hold-ups.’
‘I can’t believe that you passed your test first time. It took me four goes to pass.’
‘Mum! Honestly. Four tries! Mmm. Tea, cup of, needed immediately.’
‘Kettle’s already boiled. In the kitchen?’
‘Shortly. Sick visiting in Little Derehams; it won’t take him long. It’s so lovely to see you. Dad was saying only the other night how lonely it was having no one but ourselves to say good night to.’
‘It’s lonely for me too.’
‘But you’ve made friends, you say.’
‘Oh! Yes, plenty, but no one I’m really close to and the temptation to dig out Alex is unbearable sometimes. But I don’t. He doesn’t want his sister tagging along. He’s got his rugby friends, and his science faculty lot and he seems perfectly happy.’
‘Here’s your tea, darling. I think perhaps he isn’t quite as content as you imagine.’
‘Well, he’s doing a very good impression of being so. I just don’t fit in, you know.’
‘I’m sorry you feel like that. But it is only your second term.’
‘I know. Can I tell you why?’
‘You can tell me anything you choose, as you well know.’
Beth sipped her tea, put the mug on the corner of the Aga and then said, ‘Don’t tell anyone else, not even Dad, but they all like partying and dashing about here there and everywhere and dressing up and it doesn’t interest me one little bit, and I don’t know why.’
‘You used to enjoy parties. What do you prefer to do then?’
‘Think about home, and everyone here and wish I was home where I belong and feeling safe. Sometimes it’s so bad it hurts.’
‘That sounds like bad homesickness and it can be very upsetting, but if you stick at it, it will get better. By the time you go back for your second year you won’t be able to wait to get there, believe me.’
‘You think so?’
‘Yes, I do. Just get stuck in there and give yourself time.’
Beth picked up her mug again. ‘Did you know Jake’s there?’
‘Jake Harding? Really! I thought he’d applied to London.’
‘Apparently not. I saw him from a distance the first term; I couldn’t believe it.’ Beth looked down at her mug of tea and said very softly, ‘He’s better looking than ever.’
‘I see. Is that possible, I ask myself?’ Caroline smiled and Beth managed to smile back. ‘Beth . . . you don’t still have feelings for him?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe. I think I must have. It’s a good thing he left Penny Fawcett when he did to live with his dad. Anyway, he can still turn my knees to jelly.’
The back door opened and in walked Peter. ‘Beth, you’re home! You’ve made good time. How’s my favourite daughter?’
Beth sprang out of her chair and they hugged. ‘All the better for seeing you, Dad.’