Hannah is a short story by the exciting new author A I Moffat, who conjures up the worry and heartache of being a mother. Hannah Jones has a chance to rekindle the close relationship she once shared with her daughter by Charlotte’s arrival, her daughters closest friend. A short story of intrigue which captures the imagination.
By A I Moffat
Hannah Jones was kneeling in front of the fire when she heard the girls open the front door, her head tilted slightly to one side. A warm faint smile grew as she listened to them. She thought of how time had flown and, felt a sense of pride in having watched over them for so many years. They had reached an age to be more than capable of making their own decisions in life. However, she was finding it difficult to prevent herself from interfering in her daughter’s life.
Their once-close relationship had taken a turn for the worst, and she was now afraid of losing the ability to talk as friends rather than a mother to her child. This fear made her realise she had made a mistake in allowing her own feelings and possibly her own desire to influence her actions. She now strongly regretted ever interfering and feared she might never be able to restore the intimate relationship she once shared with her only child.
Charlotte was the first to transform the gloom into life, she went straight to her and instantly fell to her knees beside her, ‘Hello, mother oh — I’ve missed you.’ Instantly she threw her arm around her and kissed her cheek. ‘Gosh, it’s so cold out there tonight.’ She shivered into her.
‘Yes, well you can’t expect anything else at this time of year.’ Hannah Jones chuckled, whilst with a firm hand, she rubbed Charlotte’s arm. ‘How was your journey?’
‘Tiresome mother, you know I’m sure men only have one thing on their minds.’
‘Oh, Charlotte, you will wear such glamorous clothes, what else can you expect.’ She smiled and pulled her close to her. ‘You’re a sight for saw eyes anyway, that’s for sure.’
Emily leaned over and kissed her mother’s other cheek, ‘Sorry we’re a bit, late mum, we stopped at Potters for a coffee on the way up.’
‘I guessed you had, and how is Lara and Mrs Ramsey?’
‘Lara’s off with a stinking cold again, and Mrs Ramsey is still complaining about being quiet, but she said to send you her regards.’
It was strange, but a relief, that in the presence of Charlotte her daughter was behaving more like her usual self, unlike the previous two weeks where she seemed to distance herself from her, sneaking in and out like a church mouse. She saw it as an opportunity to rekindle that close intimate relationship with her daughter.
Emily had positioned herself on the edge of the fireside chair; she sat leaning against the arm toward the fire staring directly into the flames, when her mother asked, ‘How are you feeling today, Emily?’
It was not something her mother would normally ask, unless she had complained of feeling unwell in the first instance. Emily remained silent, unsure of where it might be leading.
‘Only, Trevor phoned today, he wanted to know how you were, and whether or not you would be going back to work on Monday.’ For a few seconds before she continued, she waited, ‘I told him you were feeling much better and was intending to start back again, on Monday.’
‘It’s not my business to interfere. What you do with your life now is up to you. I don’t even want to know why you haven’t been at work, for the past two weeks or even where you have been. I want you to know that— I am always here for you, Emily and, always will be.’ With compunction, Hannah Jones turned to Charlotte and smiled, ‘Well, I think its best that I go and see to your tea, before it spoils.’
Charlotte, managed to bring a small weak smile to her face, her attention was quick to return to Emily, as Hannah stood up.
After Emily’s mother had left the room, it was Charlotte who broke the silence between them in a quiet, discreet raised voice, ‘Holly Shit! Emily! What was that all about?’
‘Nothing, we just ain’t been getting on lately.’
‘I can see that, but what about this business at work. I didn’t even know you hadn’t been going into work.’
‘Oh, Charlotte, I’m sorry. I better go sort things out with her.’
Her mother was standing at the sink; she went over and stood at her side, a moment of silent unity passed before she said, ‘Mum . . . I’m really sorry.’
In that split second, Hannah Jones closed her eyes with relief and thanked God at the same time, but she maintained her composure, prevented herself from showing her weak and unconditional love that she had of late found so unbearable to live with.
‘Mum— please. I don’t understand what’s happened to me; I can’t do this on my own. Please— Mu—mum.’
‘Well, that’s what I’m here for—’ She was unable to suppress her innermost feeling, her wanting, any longer and took her daughter in her arms, tight to her chest.
Charlotte had replenished the fire and was sitting patiently in the fireside chair, when she heard a sudden tapping sound coming from the front door; she was a little hesitant and not completely sure, whether or not somebody was actually at the door, and rather than disturb Emily or her mother she went to check.
Nobody was there; when she was closing the door, she noticed a box on the doorstep. She took a look around to see if anybody was in the street, then lifted it and took it inside; it was an open box wrapped in rustic oak leaves and inside was a single red rose laid on a bed of pale blue forget-me-nots.
Hannah had heard the front door close and rushed out of the kitchen, she was a little startled to find Charlotte looking at her in amazement, ‘What is it, Charlotte?’
‘It’s just so beautiful mother.’ Her gaze instantly fell back to the box; she was now cradled in her arms. ‘They just left it on your doorstep.’
‘Oh, My God, it isn’t?’ On impulse she covered her face in her hands, with her eyes still fixed on Charlotte, she slowly allowed her line of sight to become clearer, ‘You have got to be joking Charlotte, it can’t be.’
Charlotte lifted her head, her expression puzzled, ‘It isn’t— what?’
With apprehension Mrs Jones forced herself to look inside the box, ‘It’s just a rose?
‘Yes, but isn’t it beautiful?’
Mrs Jones sighed with relief, ‘For goodness sakes, you frightened the life out of me for a minute— Yes, it’s lovely.’
Emily had rushed out to see what all the commotion was, ‘What is it, mum?’ She leaned over the side of her mother, ‘Oh— My God!’
Hannah then watched her closely as she offered to take the box from Charlotte; it was done with such delicacy that her mother could hardly believe her eyes, especially after the way she had fought so hard against any such notion, of her and Steve getting back together again. She was not going to be complacent this time and, bit her lip. She merely indicated to Charlotte to follow her into the kitchen.
Emily had taken the rose over to the fire, once again she sat on the edge of the fireside chair, but this time she gazed down into the box and felt its warmth growing inside her, it felt as if he were with her, as it had all day.
‘Oh, Charlotte I just can’t believe it, you know I was beginning to think that boy didn’t have a romantic bone in his body.’ She paused a second and turned the dial-up on the cooker. ‘And to think I had just about lost my patience with Stephen Maguire, who’d have believed it.’
‘It’s very romantic, that’s one thing for sure, but—’
‘You know all the trouble that boy caused in this family over the past month; I tell you Charlotte, I had really reached the end with him. I’ve done your favourite, steak and kidney pie. It shouldn’t be much longer. You wouldn’t mind just peeling the potatoes, there already in the sink. Oh Charlotte, I can’t tell you how pleased I am your finally— here.’
Hannah was unable to suppress the emotion that had been boiling up inside her for so long. She had missed Charlotte immensely, she had always considered her as being part of her family as if she were her own, this mixture of emotion and in the presence of someone, she was able to trust and cared so much about, had allowed her to feel a sense easement, allowing her to let go finally.
Charlotte instantly put her arm around her, ‘Oh mother, please, everything will be alright; you just wait and see.’
‘I’m not sure Charlotte, I can’t take much more, at times I can’t talk sense to her, it’s like she’s in a different world that— I can’t seem to reach. Oh, Charlotte, I only want, what’s best for her.’
‘I know, you do mother, she’ll be fine.’
‘It’s her father you know, him and me arguing all the time, that’s what’s made her like this. I know it. She doesn’t let things out like she use to, she bottles them all up inside. Hardly ever talks to me these days.’ She shook her head lightly in despair. ‘It’s the drink you know; it brings out the worst in a man; he never use to drink; he was always such a kind and caring man.’
‘I know mother. Come on let’s get those spuds scrubbed, and pick their blooming eyes out.’
Hannah smiled, ‘Your one in a million Charlotte, yes lets.’
‘Mmm, I can smell that steak and kidney pie.’ And I’m absolutely starving.’
‘It won’t be much longer, did you not have something on your way down?’
Charlotte shook her head, ‘Well, I’m trying to lose a few pounds.’
‘You’re always trying to lose them; I doubt you ever had them in the first place, just look at you. You know Brian will be absolutely furious if they get back together. He reckons he’s never liked the boy. And after he cancelled the engagement, well —. He’ll not have his name mentioned in the house. He reckons that’s why he took up drinking in the first place, because he couldn’t stand the sight of the boy, sitting there with his daughter like he owned the place. He did use a few stronger words mind.’
‘Oh, mother you mustn’t go worrying about it, he’s probably just looking for any excuse, to get down to the stupid pub. That’s what they like.’
‘Listen to you all grown up, Miss Charlotte Harrison.’ She flicked some water over her arm, and they both laughed. ‘Yes, your right, no use worrying we just got to get on with the hand we’re given.’
‘Well, I think we’ve just about blinded the lot of them Charlotte.’
‘Yes, I think your right. Ooh, you a get a certain sense of satisfaction from sticking it in and twisting it around.’ She smiled wickedly. ‘Come on; let’s show these little blighters what a ring fire really feels like.’
‘She-devils, that’s what we are,’ Charlotte cackled. ‘Doesn’t it feel just great?’
‘Yes.’ She cackled back, ‘Thank you, Charlotte. ‘You’d better go and see if Emily’s alright, and then get unpacked. I’ve put some fresh towels over the rail on the top of the landing.’
Charlotte cackled a thank you.
Charlotte knelt in front of Emily; her hand gently covered hers, she looked up into her gaze and smiled softly. ‘He must love you so much, and it must have taken him ages.’
A few seconds of silence passed between them, then Emily replied, ‘I know. And that’s what makes it, so difficult.’
‘Oh, shit! Em, Steve didn’t send you the rose, did he?
‘No, you see Charlotte some things are far too big, to fit inside their own little box.’
‘Oh, Emi, you’ve fallen in love with him, haven’t you?
‘I think so.’
Charlotte was suddenly lost in thought. She kept repeating to herself over and over again; mother doesn’t know. She looked up at Emily, her eyes waiting, but she could not find an immediate answer. No matter which way she turned things, nothing seemed to fit, and always the same answer sprang to mind. She needed more time, time to think, yes she thought, time must be the answer. ‘Well!’ She exclaimed, scratching her head. ‘Let’s get that thing in some water, before it dies.’
Emily’s eyes opened wide, ‘Yes, and I know just the vase to use.’ She smiled, bringing her shoulders up in a twitch of elation.
Instantly they both stood up, went into the kitchen. Emily turned to Charlotte and asked, ‘Will you take care of it? While I get the vase.’
Charlotte went to grab it, but after seeing the look in Emily’s eyes, it was with empathy; she allowed her to lower the rose gently into her hands.
‘Mum, where’s that vase that looks like a fruit dish?’
‘A fruit dish! Emily for goodness sakes, there’s a vase under the sink.’
‘No, I can’t find it; I need a tall dainty one.’
‘Right at the back there should be a small— flared vase, use that and you’d better hurry, because I’ll be ready to serve up in a minute.’
‘I’ve got it! Thanks, mum.’
Hannah Jones looked over at Charlotte and smiled, it was a mere glimpse, but somehow she felt life was finally returning to the house. In these few days, she was determined, to rekindle her bond with Emily. She would not let the rose or her desire to make Steve a permanent family member come between her and her daughter ever again. She had acted recklessly, had said things that she didn’t mean, purely out of disappointment for her own wanting and desire. If anyone could break the bitter stance her daughter had now adopted towards her, it was Charlotte, and this opportunity that had excited her before seemed to have been restored.
‘You two had better go and freshen up, ready for your tea before it gets spoilt.’
The conversation at the dinner table was mostly local gossip; it seemed no one wanted to approach the subject of Stephen Maguire, least of all Mrs Jones. If his name were to be mentioned, she had already made up her mind, and it would not be of her doing.
Charlotte had enjoyed hearing all about her old school friends, and the local individuals she had known throughout her childhood. She had also avoided his name, and it had seemed the meal would be bought to a conclusion, without even touching the subject.
Emily was fully aware they had acted with prudence, and was grateful for the respite, yet unfortunately made the mistake of comparing Steve with the exploits of a David Bates who had recently cheated on his wife, of sixteen years a Miss Susan Fraser.
At first, there was an unbearable silence. It seemed impenetrable but for the grace of Charlotte who was quick to reveal the character of her new boyfriend, and where he had taken her on their very first date, an ice skating rink.
The Suspicious Jackdaw is a delightful, educational short story, not just for children. A unique tale which teaches us a valuable lesson. It is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was originally published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.
THE SUSPICIOUS JACKDAW.
There never was a more suspicious mortal in this world than old Madam Mortimer, unless it was Madam Mortimer’s Jackdaw. To see him peep about, and turn his head on one side as if to listen, and go and stand on the edge of her desk with his bright eye fixed on her letters, and then flutter to her wardrobe, and peer behind her cabinets, as if he suspected that in cracks and crevices, under tables and behind screens, there must be other daws hidden, who would interfere with his particular interests, or listen to the remarks made to him when he and his mistress were alone, or find the bits of crust that he had stowed away for his own eating; to see all this. I say, was quite as good amusement as to see old Madam Mortimer occupying herself in the same way, indeed quite in the same way, considering the different natures of women and jackdaws.
Sometimes Madame Mortimer would steal up softly to her door, and turn the handle very softly in her hand; then she would open it just by a little crack and listen till she must have had the ear-ache; but generally, after this exercise, she would return to her seat, saying aloud, as she took up her knitting, ‘Well, I declare, I thought that was the butcher’s boy talking to cook; an idle young fellow, that he is; brings all the gossip of the village here, I’m certain. However, this once I’m wrong; it’s only gardener sitting outside the scullery, helping her to shell peas. He had better be doing that than doing nothing—which is what most of his time is passed in, I suspect.’
Here the jackdaw would give a little croak, to express his approval of the sentiment; whenever his mistress finished a speech, he made a point of either croaking or coughing, just like a human being. The foot-boy had taught him this accomplishment, and his mistress could never help laughing when she heard him cough. No more could little Patience Grey, who was Madam Mortimer’s maid. She was very young, only fourteen, but then Madam Mortimer suspected that if she had an older maid she should have more trouble in keeping her in order; so she took Patience from school to wait on her, and Patience was very happy in the great old silent house, with its long oaken galleries; and as there really seemed to be nothing about her for either Madam Mortimer’s or the jackdaw’s suspicion to rest upon, she was very seldom scolded, though sometimes when she came into the parlour, looking rather hot and breathing quickly, her mistress would alarm her by saying, ‘Patience, you’ve been skipping in the yard. You need not deny it, for I know you have.’
Here Patience would answer, blushing,—’I just skipped for a few minutes, ma’am, after I had done plaiting your frills.’ ‘Ah, you’ll never be a woman,’ Mrs Mortimer would answer, ‘never! if you live to be a hundred.’ And it did not enter into the head of little Patience that her mistress could see everything that was done in the yard, and how she sometimes ran and played with the house dog under the walnut-trees, the two old walnut-trees that grew there; and how she played a ball in the coach-house, when she had finished all her needlework, while the little dog, and the big dog, and the big dog’s two puppies, sat watching at the open door, ready to rush in and seize the ball if she let it drop. It never entered into her giddy head that her mistress could see all this, for her mistress sat in a large upper parlour, and through one of its windows overlooked the yard; the blind was always drawn down, and how could Patience suppose that her mistress could peep through a tiny hole in it and that she did this continually, so that not a postman could politely offer an orange to the housemaid, nor she in return reward him with a mug of beer, without being seen by the keen eyes of Madame Mortimer!
Patience, on the whole, however, fared none the worse for being watched—quite the contrary; the more the jackdaw and his mistress watched her, the fonder they grew. She was such a guileless little maid, that they liked to have her in the large old parlour with them, helping Madam Mortimer with her needlework, and letting the jackdaw peep into her work-box. One day, when Patience was sent for to attend her mistress, she found her with the contents of an old cabinet spread open before her; there were corals with silver bells, there were old silver brooches, and there were many rings and necklaces, arid old-fashioned ornaments that Patience thought extremely handsome; in particular, there was a cornelian necklace, made of cut cornelians, which she considered to be particularly beautiful; so did the jackdaw, for when Madam Mortimer allowed Patience to wash this necklace in some warm water, he stood on the edge of the basin pecking at it playfully, as if he wanted to get it from her. Patience would not let him have it, and when she had carefully dried it she laid it on some clean cotton wool, and said to the jackdaw, ‘You are not going to have it, Jack. It’s the most beautiful thing that mistress has got, so I reckon she’ll never let you touch it.’
When Madam Mortimer heard this, she smiled covertly at the ignorance of Patience, and presently said to her, ‘Child, you may go down and ask for a piece of leather and some rouge powder, and I will show you how to clean this set of emeralds.’
So Patience ran clown to the footboy, and got what she required, and very happy she was under her mistress’s directions in polishing and cleaning the jewels— quite as happy as she could have felt if they had been her own; yet, when Madam Mortimer said to her, ‘Which do you think the handsomest now, Patience; the green stones or the red ones?’ she replied, ‘O, the red ones are the handsomest, ma’am, by a deal.’
Just at this moment, visitors were announced, and Madam Mortimer retired to her own room previous to seeing them, taking Patience with her to attend on her, and see to the set of her lace shawl, and of a new cap that she donned for the occasion. She turned the key of the parlour where all her jewellery lay about, and the jackdaw, as he hopped with her out of the room, coughed approvingly of the deed, in a manner as expressive as if he had said, ‘Who knows whether all the people about us are honest?’
The old lady put the key into her basket, but, strange to say, she forgot her basket, and left that in her bedroom with Patience, while she went down to receive her visitors; and all that evening, suspicious as she generally was, she never once remembered that anyone could unlock the parlour-door by means of this basket; on the contrary, she was in very good spirits, and she and her elder visitor talked nearly all the evening about their servants, and about what a trouble servants were, while the younger ladies walked in the garden, gathered a few flowers, and partook of some strawberries.
Now Madam Mortimer, suspicious though she was, had an exceedingly kind heart, and she very often allowed the housemaid to attend on her at night, that Patience might go to bed early, as befitted her age. The visitors staid late, but at nine the drawing-room bell was rung, and orders were sent out that Patience was to go to bed; so as it was the full of the midsummer moon, she stole upstairs without a candle, and when alone in her little garret it was quite light enough for her to examine various little treasures that she kept in her box. She was busy so doing, when Jack flew in at the open window, and lighted on her feet as she knelt, then fluttered on to her shoulder, and peeped down at her treasures, and began to make a great croaking and chattering. Patience thought he was more than usually inquisitive that night, and I am afraid he somewhat interfered with her attention while she was reading her chapter, for he would not let her pincushion alone, but would persist in pulling out the pins, and dropping them on to the floor, listening with his head on one side to the slight noise they made when they fell. At last, he flew out at the window. And what did he do next?
Why, he did not go to roost, as he would have done if he had not been for so many years accustomed to civilized society, but he flew once or twice around the house to see that other birds were asleep, and not likely to watch his movements, and then he peeped down the chimneys, where the swallows, now rearing their second broods, sat fast asleep on the nest; he next alighted on the roof and walked cautiously to a certain crevice, where he kept a few dozens of nails, that he had picked with his beak out of the carpet, and a good many odds and ends of ribbon, bits of worsted, farthings, and broken morsels of crockery, that he valued highly; these he pulled out of the crevice, and then he poked his property with his beak, chattered to it in a very senseless way, walked over it, and finally deposited it again in the crevice, flew down to the side of the house, and entered the parlour where his mistress’s jewellery lay.
Here lay the necklace—it looked very pretty—the jackdaw alighted on the table, pecked it as thinking that it might be good to eat, then lifted it up and shook it. At last, he flew with it out of the window.
It was still quite light out of doors, and as the necklace dangled from his beak, he admired it very much. ‘But what did he want with it?’ you will naturally ask. Nobody knows, but this is ascertained—that, finding it heavy, he took it, not to the roof, but to the edge of a deep well in the garden, wherein he had deposited the cook’s brass thimble, and several of her skewers; having reached this well, and lighted on the stone brink, he peered down into it, and saw his own image, and the red necklace in his beak; he also saw four or five little stars reflected there, and as it was his bedtime, he dozed a little on the edge of the well, while the evening air waved slightly the long leaves of the ferns that hung over it, and grew in the joints of the stone many feet down.
At last, it is supposed that some such thought as this crossed his brain: ‘These berries are heavy, and not good to eat; I had better lay them on the water till to-morrow morning.’
So he let them drop, and down they fell to the bottom. He had dropped a good many articles before this into the well; some, such as nuts, feathers, and bits of stick and straw, floated; others, like this necklace, had sunk. It was all chance which happened, but he liked to hear the splash of the red necklace, and he stood awhile chattering to himself, with great serenity of mind, on the occasion of its disappearing; then he went and pecked at the kitchen window, demanding his supper.
This is what the jackdaw did; and now what did the mistress do, when she walked to the parlour door the next morning, unlocked it, and found that the red necklace was gone?
She was quite amazed—nobody but Patience could have taken it—little Patience, her good little maid, who had seemed so guileless, so conscientious, and so honest. O, what a sad thing it was that there was nobody in the world that she could trust! Patience, must have taken the key, and after using it for this bad purpose, must have placed it again in the basket.
But Madam Mortimer was so sorry to think of this, that she decided to let Patience have a little time to reflect upon her great fault and confess it. So she said nothing to her all the morning, and in the afternoon, peeping through her little hole in the blind, she saw Patience chasing the ducks into the pond, and laughing heartily to see them plunge. ‘Hardened child,’ said her mistress, ‘how can she laugh?—I’ll give her warning;’ and thereupon she sat down in her easy chair and began to cry. Now, she felt, almost for the first time, what a sad thing it is to suspect a person whom one really loves. She had not supposed how much she cared for this little village girl till she was obliged to suspect her. She had not perceived how sad her constant habit of suspicion was, and how it had now obtained such a dominion over her, till everything done by a suspected person appeared to her mind in a distorted light. Now the childish simplicity of Patience seemed to her to be hardened guilt. Now, when she saw her at play, she made up her mind that the little girl knew she was overlooked and was playing about in order to make her mistress think she was at ease and had nothing weighing on her spirits; and when she came into the parlour, if she was awkward, her mistress attributed it to guilty fears; and if she made any mistake about a message, it was because her thoughts were pre-occupied with her ill-gotten trinket.
This unhappy state of things went on for several days. At last, one evening, Madam Mortimer happening to look out at her hole in the blind, saw Patience slowly walking across the yard, and cautiously looking down into her apron, which she had gathered up into her hands. Madam Mortimer felt convinced that the poor child had got the necklace concealed there. One of the housemaids came up, but Patience ran away, and would not let her see what she had got, and seemed so anxious to conceal it, that her mistress drew up the blind, opened the window, and said, in an awful voice, ‘Patience, come here!’
The little girl approached—there was a veranda outside the window, and some wooden steps led up to it. ‘Come up to me,’ said her mistress.
The little girl said, ‘Yes, ma’am;’ and still holding her apron, turned to enter the door.
‘No,’ exclaimed her mistress; ‘come up these steps; I do not want to lose sight of you.’
Patience obeyed. Her mistress sat down, and the little maid stood opposite to her. ‘Patience,’ said her mistress, ‘I have lost my red necklace.’
The little girl glanced under the table, as if she thought the necklace might have dropped there.
‘Do you know where it is, Patience?’ was the next question, asked with great solemnity.
Patience tightened the folds of her apron, looked earnestly at her mistress, and said, ‘No, ma’am.’
‘Poor child,’ replied Madame Mortimer shaking her head; and Patience, not appearing to know what she meant, coloured exceedingly, and looked as if she was going to cry. But at last, as her mistress sat in her chair, and did not say another word, she began to steal away till she was arrested by her mistress’s voice.
‘Come back again, you poor misguided child—come back, and show me what you have got in your apron.’
As Madame Mortimer spoke she started, for the evening was growing dusk, and when Patience turned, a light, a decided light, gleamed through her white apron.
‘Please, ma’am,’ she said, now holding it open, ‘it’s some glow-worms that old gardener gave me—three glow-worms, and some leaves that I got for them.’
‘Bless me!’ exclaimed Madame Mortimer, when she saw the shining insects slowly moving about on her little maid’s apron; but she looked so much less angry than before, that Patience, by way of peace-offering, took up one of her treasures, and placed it, with some leaves, upon the open page of her mistress’s great Bible, which lay on a little table by her side. ‘You may go, now, Patience,’ said her mistress, quite calmly, and the little girl left the room.
While her mistress sat so long, lost in thought, that it grew quite dusk. ‘After all,’ she thought, ‘that poor child must have been the thief; nobody else could have stolen the necklace, but I will still give her time to confess and restore it.’ As she said this she turned towards the Bible, and the glow-worm on the page was slowly moving along it; the darkness hid every other word, but she read by the light of her little maid’s gift, as it went on, this verse: ‘We—do—all—fade—as doth—a—leaf.’ ‘Too true,’ said the poor old lady, sighing, ‘I feel the coming on of old age very fast, and I could have wished to have somebody about me, however young, that I could trust. Ah, we are frail creatures we come up and die down like the summer grass; and we are as sinful as we are frail. My poor little Patience! I will try her a little longer.’ So saying, the mistress began to doze, and the jackdaw hopped down from the perch where he had been watching her, and when he saw that she was fast asleep, and that the yellow moonlight vas soft upon her aged features, he alighted on the page of the Bible which the shining glow-worm was then illuminating, and pounced upon him and ate him up.
Little Patience carried her glow-worms upstairs, and amused herself with them a long time; for she had nothing to do but to enjoy herself when her daily task of needlework was done; and as her mistress never set her more to accomplish than she could finish before dusk, she often had a good game at play with a clear conscience. That night, however, she was not in such good spirits as usual, because her mistress had been angry with her, and if it had not been for the glow-worms she would have felt very dull indeed.
However, she hung them up in a gauze bag that she had made for them, and long after she was in bed she lay looking at them, but thought they grew brighter and brighter. She fell fast asleep at last, and fast asleep she was when her mistress came into the room with a candle in her hand, and softly stole up to her bedside.
Patience looked very happy and peaceful in her sleep, and the suspicious old lady could find nothing lying about to excite her doubts. The child had left her box open, and Madam Mortimer, though she did not choose to touch or move anything in it, used her eyes very sharply, and scrutinized its contents with astonishing deliberation. At length, Patience moved, and Madam Mortimer, shading her candle, stole away again, feeling that she had done something to be ashamed of.
The next morning she sent for Patience, and said to her, ‘Patience, I told you that I had lost my red necklace; I must have you to help me to search for it, but first tell me whether you know where it is?’
‘I know where I think it is, ma’am,’ Patience answered quite simply.
‘Where?’ asked her mistress.
She had spoke and looked so severely, that Patience hung her head and faltered, and at last said, ‘She didn’t know, she only thought it might be;’ and when pressed for an answer, she said, ‘She thought it might be in the empty side of the tea-caddy, for Jack often took things and put them into it.’
While the little girl spoke she looked so bashful and confused, that her mistress was confirmed in her bad opinion of her; but she allowed her to help all the morning in searching for the lost necklace; ‘for, after all,’ she thought, ‘I may be mistaken.’
However, the necklace was not to be found; and though the jackdaw chattered and bustled about a great deal, and told over and over again, in the jackdaw’s language, what he had done with it, nobody took the slightest notice of him; and the longer she searched, the more unhappy Madam Mortimer became. ‘It is not the value of the necklace,’ she often said to herself; ‘but it is the being obliged to suspect this child, that I am so sorry for; for she was the only person in the wide world that I felt I could trust, excepting my own children.’
But if people trust only one person, and can make up their minds to be distrustful of everyone else, their suspicions are almost sure at last to reach the one remaining; and so Madam Mortimer had now found.
She sent for the little maid’s mother, and without finding fault with the child, said to her that she did not require her services any longer; and when the mother said, ‘I hope it is for no fault that you part with her, ma’am?’ she replied, evasively, ‘Patience has her faults like other people;’ and with that answer, the mother was obliged to be satisfied.
When Patience was gone her mistress felt very unhappy. She had felt a pleasure in her company, because she was such a child, and so guileless. She had meant to keep her with her, and teach her so long as she lived, and trust her, but now all this was over, and she had nobody whom she chose to trust. The jackdaw, too, appeared to feel dull; there was nobody to play with him and carry him on her shoulder. He was dull, too, because he had lost that pretty necklace, for he often thought he should like to have it again to put among his treasures on the roof; therefore, he was fond of flying to the edge of the well, and gabbling there with great volubility; but I need not say that his chatter and his regret did not make the necklace float.
After a time, however, he found something else to amuse him, for one of Madam Mortimer’s sons and his little boy came to visit her, and the jackdaw delighted in teasing the little fellow, and pecking his heels, and stealing his bits of string, and hiding his pencils; while the boy, on the other hand, was constantly teasing the bird, stroking his feathers the wrong way, snatching away his crusts, and otherwise plaguing him.
‘I wish Patience was here to play with that child, and keep him from teasing my Jack,’ said the old lady, fretfully. ‘I get so infirm’ that children are a trouble to me.’
‘Who is Patience?’ asked her son.
So then Madam Mortimer told him the whole story; the boy and the jackdaw having previously gone out of the room together the boy tantalizing him, and the bird gabbling and pecking at his ankles. When she had finished, her son said, ‘Mother, I believe this will end in your suspecting me next! Why did you not ascertain whether the girl was innocent or guilty before you parted with her?’
‘I feel certain she is guilty,’ answered the mother, ‘and I never mean to trust any servant again.’
‘But if you could be certain she was innocent?’ asked the son.
‘Why, then I would never suspect a servant again, I think,’ she replied. ‘Certainly I should never suspect—her she seemed as open as the day—and you do not know, son, what a painful thing it is to have nobody about me that I can trust.’
‘Excuse me, mother,’ replied the son, ‘you mean nobody that you do trust; for all your servants have been with you for years, and deserve to be trusted, as far as we can see.’
‘Well, well,’ said the mother, ‘it makes me unhappy enough, I assure you, to be obliged to suspect everybody; and if I could have that child back I should be truly glad; but I cannot harbour a thief.’
At this point of the discourse, the boy and the jackdaw were heard in the yard making such a noise, and quarrelling, that the son, went down, at his mother’s request, to see what was the matter.
‘He is a thief,’ said the boy; ‘I saw him fly to the roof with a long bit of blue ribbon that belongs to cook.’
The jackdaw gabbled angrily in reply, and it is highly probable that he understood part of the accusation, for he ruffled his feathers, and hopped about in a very exciting way; and as the boy kept pointing at him, jeering him, the bird, at last, flew at him angrily, and gave him a very severe peck with a loud croak, that might have been meant to express, ‘Take that.’
Having it on his hands to make up this quarrel, the little boy’s father could not go on with the discourse he had begun with his mother at that time; but when he found another opportunity he said a great deal to her; and if it had not been that the jackdaw’s suspicions being aroused, that troublesome bird would insist on listening to all he said, with his head on one side, and his twinkling eye fixed on his face,—and if he would have been quiet, instead of incessantly changing his place, as if he thought he could hear better on the right arm of the chair than the left, it is possible that the gentleman’s discourse might have had a great effect on the old lady’s mind; as it was, he interrupted his mistress’s attention so much, that it is doubtful whether she remembered what her son had been talking of. And there was no sooner a pause in what the jackdaw probably regarded as a disagreeable subject, than he hopped to a private little cupboard that he kept under the turned-up edge of the carpet, and bringing out five or six mouldy bits of bread, laid them in a row on the rug before his mistress and her son, and walking about before them with an air of reflection, seemed as if he would have said, ‘I must attend to my business, whether people talk or not.’
‘I never saw such a queer fellow in my life as that bird is!’ exclaimed the son.
‘Why, Jack, you miser!’ said his mistress; ‘one would think you were starved.’
The jackdaw gabbled something which was no doubt meant for impertinence, till hearing footsteps outside the door, he hastily snatched up some of his mouldy property and flew with it to the top of the cabinet; then he stood staring at the remainder, fluttering his wings, and making a great outcry, for he did not dare to fly down for it, because his little tormentor had just rushed into the room.
‘Papa, papa!’ exclaimed the boy.
‘Hold your tongue, Jack,’ cried the grandmother; ‘one at a time is enough.’
‘Come, I will take you on my knee,’ said his father, ‘and then the daw will fly down for his bread.’
The daw no sooner saw his little enemy in a place of safety than he descended, snatched up his bread, and having secured it all, came again to give the boy a malicious little peck.
‘Now what do you want to say?’ asked his father.
‘Papa,’ repeated the boy, ‘do currants ever grow underwater?’
‘No,’ said his father.
‘But,’ replied the boy, ‘there is something growing in the well, just underwater, that looks like currants; and, papa, will you get it for me, please, for I should like to have it if it is good to eat.’
‘Pooh!’ said his grandmother; ‘the boy is dreaming.’ But the boy made such a fuss about the bunch of currants, and was so positive as to their growing down in the well, that though it was now autumn, and the leaves were falling, and all the currants were either eaten up or stowed away in jam pots long before, his father and grandmother allowed him to take them to the well; but first the latter put on her black silk bonnet and her cloak, and fetched her stick from its place, lamenting all the while that Patience was not there to do all her little errands for her.
Now the weather all that summer and autumn had been remarkably dry, and the consequence was, that this old well, which had long been disused because it contained so little water, had now less than ever; but that little was clear; though when the old lady and her son looked over the edge they could not at first see down into it, because a few drops of rain had fallen, and had wetted the fern leaves which were still dripping a little and covering its surface with dimples.
‘There are no red currants here, nor plums either, my child,’ said the grandmother; and as she spoke she put down her gold-headed stick and shook the tuft of ferns that had been dripping, till she had shaken down all the water they contained.
The surface was now covered with little eddies and dimples. But when the water grew smooth again, ‘There they are!’ exclaimed the boy; ‘there are the currants. Look, grandmother, they lie just under the shadow of those long leaves.’
‘I see something,’ replied his grandmother, shading her eyes; ‘but it is six times as long as a bunch of currants, and the berries are three times as large. I shouldn’t wonder, son, if that was my cornelian necklace.’
‘I will see if we can ascertain,’ said her son; there are several ladders about the premises, and the well is not at all deep.’ So off he went, leaving the old lady and her grandson to look at the necklace; but the jackdaw, having by this time missed his mistress from her accustomed haunts, and being suspicious lest she might be inspecting some of his hoards, had set a search on foot for her, and now flew up screaming and making a great outcry, as if he thought he was going to be robbed. However, having lighted on the edge of the well, and observed that the necklace was there all safe, he felt more at his ease; and, if his mistress could have understood the tongue of a daw, she would have now heard him relate how he threw it there; as it was, she only heard him gabble, and saw him now and then peck at the boy’s pinafore. When the jackdaw saw a ladder brought, however, his mind misgave him that his mistress meant to get the necklace out again; and his thievish spirit sank very low. However, being a politic bird, he was quite silent while the ladder was lowered, and while the gardener’s boy descended to the bottom of the well and groped about with his hands, for there was not a foot of water.
‘There is my necklace, sure enough,’ exclaimed the old lady as the boy lifted up the long row of shining beads; ‘bring it out, James.’
‘Please, ma’am, here’s the great silver skewer that was lost a year ago,’ exclaimed the boy; ‘and, dear me, here’s the nozzle of a candlestick.’
The old lady held up her hands; she had parted with a good cook, in consequence of the loss of this skewer. But the sight of the necklace dangling from the youth’s hand as he prepared to mount the ladder was too much for the jackdaw—he suddenly flew down, gave the hand a tremendous peck with his hard bill, and while the boy cried out and dropped the necklace, the bird made a sudden dart at it, snatched it before it touched the water, and flew up with it into a tree. There he rested a few minutes playing with the wet necklace, and shaking it in the sunlight; but not all his mistress’s entreaties and coaxing could bring him down, and in a few minutes he flew off again and settled on the roof of the house.
There, in less than ten minutes, he was found by his mistress and her son, with all his ill-gotten gains spread out before him; everything was taken from him, and when his mistress saw the articles whose loss had caused her to suspect almost everyone about her of theft, she was so vexed that she actually shed tears. ‘Mother,’ said her son, ‘it appears to me that you have trusted the only creature about you that was utterly unworthy of trust!’
The old lady was so much disheartened that she could not say a word; but such is the audacity of a jackdaw’s nature, that not half an hour after this, when the foot-boy brought in the tea things, Jack walked in after him with a grave expression of countenance and hopped on to the tea table as if nothing had happened.
‘Patience shall come back again,’ thought the old lady; ‘I’ll send for her and her mother, and I’ll never suspect her any more. It is plain enough now that Jack must have thrown my property down there.’
So the mother of Patience was sent for; but, alas, what disappointments people are doomed to! The mother expressed herself much obliged to Madam Mortimer, but said, that her cousin, in London, hearing that she was out of place, had sent for her to serve in her shop. ‘And that I look on as a great rise in life for her,’ said the mother, with an air of satisfaction: ‘and I am going to send a box of clothes to her next week,’ she continued, ‘and I shall tell her, ma’am, that you have not forgotten her.’
Madam Mortimer was very much vexed, but the necklace was in her hand, and a sudden thought struck her that she would give it to Patience. So she said, with a sigh, ‘Well, Mrs Grey, when you send the box, you may put this in it.’
Her mother at first looked pleased, but she presently drew back, and said, ‘Thank you, kindly, ma’am, but that necklace is by far too fine for my Patience, and it might do her harm to have it, and I never encourage her to wish for fine clothes.’
‘Good evening, then,’ said Madam Mortimer; and as the woman went away, she walked softly to the hole in the blind, and watched her talking and laughing with the cook, rather, as it seemed, in a triumphant way, as if she was exulting in the good fortune of her child, and the evident discomfiture of her former mistress. ‘It is entirely the fault of that thieving jackdaw,’ said the old lady, as she returned to her chair; and as she spoke she saw the suspicious bird, sitting listening to her with his head on one side. ‘It is enough to make anybody suspicious to lose things as I have lost them,’ she thought. ‘However, I shall soon leave off the habit, as I find it a bad one. I wonder whether that woman is gone yet; I’ll just take a peep, and see what they are about, gossiping, down there. Ah, there she is! I wish I hadn’t sent Patience away; but, perhaps, if I had been kinder to her than I was, she would have given me cause to suspect her before long.’
Madam Mortimer then settled herself in her chair and began to doze. When she awoke, the necklace was gone again; and perhaps it is a proof that she really was somewhat improved, that though she said, ‘I suspect, Jack, you know where that necklace is,’ she never took any steps in the matter, but left her glittering stones in the bird’s greedy keeping; and after taking a little time for consideration, put a patch upon the hole in the blind, so that she could never look through it any more. Whether she was cured of her suspicious turn of mind is more than I can tell, but it is certain that she henceforth looked on suspicions as undesirable, and seldom thought of little Patience without a sigh.
Billy laughed as he cycled about her on his bike, ‘You look nice.’
Billy laughed, as he cycled about her on his bike, ‘You look nice.’
She smiled weakly from behind the collar of her coat.
‘You – gonna’ town?’
Emily just shook her head and gazed across the small village square where the sudden rush of excited school children had now evaporated into a sullen, still time of day.
‘Where is yer goin’ then?’
She remained silent, not wanting to encourage the boy.
‘Me Da’s takin’ me,’ the boy started, then did a complete circle on his bike before stopping right in front of her, ‘On, Monday.’
‘Yes— Monday,’ he replied, looking a little confused.
Emily, could not help feeling sorry for the boy; he was an unfortunate child whose father had fled the village long before he was born. She knew he was referring to Mr Richards, a large older man who had always lived on his own.
Suddenly the boy lifted his scruffy head of tangled brown hair and laughed, ‘You look nice.
She watched as he immediately twitched with some restless urge; his face tightened, then he was off, cutting across the village square with his mumblings.
Emily breathed a sigh of relief but then instantly cringed as the boy recklessly tore across the main road— without looking.
A few moments passed where her thoughts drifted to the enormity of her situation. Charlotte was her only hope; she was adamant her best friend would know what she should do for the best.
The old clock tower struggled to pass the half-hour mark; she still had fifteen more minutes to wait. Then, she noticed Laurel and Hardy, a name given to two older women by the children in the village.
She had never really noticed it until now, but there was an uncanny resemblance. They did not wear bowler hats; instead, they — wore black berets. One was taller than the other, who was, in fact, overweight. It seemed now to amuse her slightly. Each of them wore matching black overcoats, and from a distance, you could easily mistake them for men in their tightly wrapped long coats.
She watched as the two women hurried across the road, then began to make their way towards her. The tall woman was busy talking; the other just nodded now and then. Emily impatiently glanced up at the clock tower again. Only a mere four minutes had passed. Her gaze followed the ageing zig-zags of red bricks until the black wrought-iron fence ceiled in the columns. It was like a little square prison, she surmised.
‘It won’t be long now — dear.’
At first, Emily turned, thinking the woman was talking to her, but the taller woman was just attempting to console her friend.
After a few, almost hypnotic seconds of waiting, the taller woman turned to her friend and said, ‘You wouldn’t believe what little Davy Thomson did in the Co-op?’
Emily just caught her in the corner of her eye, glancing her over before she continued.
‘Well, I couldn’t believe it — with my own eye’s — I ask yer.’ she shook her head, ‘In the middle of the Co-op — of all places! Well, I just couldn’t believe it.’
‘Yes — ah-huh, ah-huh,’ nodded her friend, ‘— yes?’
‘You know where they keep the sugar and tins of plumbed tomatoes, right in the middle aisle — opposite the creamed rice on the middle shelf. Well, that’s where he stood. Screaming he was at his mother,’ she nodded. ‘Couldn’t get what he wanted, that’ll be it. Well — I ask yer? I couldn’t believe it. He just stood there and the next thing,’ she paused a second. ‘It must be running late then Dorothy.’
‘Yes, yes — ah-huh, ah-huh,’ her friend nodded again.
‘As I was saying — do you know what that little so and so did? He stood there right in front of her, and well — Oh Dorothy, I couldn’t believe it — with me’ own eyes an all. I’m tellin’ yer. He pulled down his trousers and — you’ll never guess what he did? That’s our bus now, Dorothy.’
‘Yes, yes — ah-huh, ah-huh,’ frantically her friend nodded until in the loud hiss of the bus she practically shouted, ‘Yes — s?’
Emily found herself on the brink of laughter; if not for her curiosity, she would not have been able to contain herself. She watched as each of them struggled with the first step onto the bus, both carefully assisting the other. It made her realise how much she had missed her closest friend, Charlotte.
Once the bus had pulled away, her attention flicked here and there, from one sound to another as she became more anxious. Then a sudden gust of oak leaves swirled up around her, only to settle at her side. That’s when it suddenly dawned on her; she already knew what she wanted, but — how could he forgive her?
Finally, a coach swung down onto the square. Emily found herself moving from one side to another, trying to anticipate precisely where it would stop. Her eyes narrowed as the driver brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt, in exactly the place she was standing in the first instance.
After an initial hiss of air, the door finally opened, and the driver turned to a sudden burst of repetitive clicking and clacking as Charlotte rushed down the aisle to greet her.
Emily’s face teetered on laughter when she saw her friend almost fall onto the bottom step; both her hands were full, one laden at her side with a small suitcase and the other held high with glamorous designer bags. Yet, she still managed to maintain some degree of elegance about her.
‘Emily!’ She gasped, ‘You just wouldn’t believe what sort of a journey I’ve had. Her eyes glanced back at the driver, disapprovingly, ‘to endure.’
She quickly helped her friend down off the bus with a smile, ‘You look amazing.’
‘Oh, do I — no thanks to my journey.’ Charlotte gave one final glance back at the driver, ‘that’s for sure.’ Immediately, she placed the small grey suitcase on the path and stretched out her arms; Emily embraced her friend without hesitation. Charlotte almost instantly took a step back. ‘My goodness, I’d swear there’s nothing left of you,’ she smiled.
Emily always felt a little embarrassed when her friend acted as a mother would to her child. Unlike Charlotte, she had always struggled to put weight on a much larger frame and often complained that she needed to lose a few extra pounds. Still, her size seemed to suit her maternal characteristics, which Emily found so endearing.
Charlotte took a deep breath, ‘Oh, just look at you, I just can’t believe he dropped you,’ she smiled sadly and pulled her close again, ‘How’s mother taken it?’
‘Oh, you know, mother, not very well.’ Emily replied, gently disentangling herself from the embrace, ‘It’s all she keeps going on about.’
‘Yes, I can imagine.’
Emily lifted the suitcase, ‘she’s looking forward to seeing you, though.’
‘It’s been a while, hasn’t it?’
‘Yes, but you’re here now, and that’s all that matters,’ Emily lifted the small suitcase,’ ‘How’s your family?’
‘All good, but never mind them. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and I just can’t wait to tell you all about my latest penguin. Come on. I’m gasping for a coffee.’
In unison, they both laughed, ‘Let’s go— p-p-p- pick up a penguin.’ Charlotte offered Emily her arm, and together they began to walk across the square. ‘You’ve not forgotten then?’
‘No, how could I ever forget.’
The image of her friend’s first boyfriend, Ben, was one she would never forget.
Charlotte had described her first night with him in a way the image was etched in her mind forever. The very notion of the boy with a Mohawk haircut and the sides of his head dyed white was so vivid Charlotte didn’t need to mimic his begging beeps, as well.
‘I’m telling you, Emi — seriously, that’s what it sounded like — they’re all the same, never found one that didn’t make the same blinking noise.’
‘You’re just so cruel; I thought he was lovely — I wonder if he’s still a punk rocker or ever settled down.’
‘I know — actually, he was quite cute, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, and besides, it’s the only bit of enjoyment I ever got from him.’ She thought for a minute. ‘You know, I did hear he joined the navy. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he wanted to get back home.’
‘Charlotte! — I’ll be wetting myself if you don’t stop it.’
‘Well, it’s certainly brought some colour back into your cheeks. I’ve never seen you so down; it’s like you’re carrying the whole world on your shoulders. They’re not worth it, Emi.’ She stopped and looked Emily straight in the eye, ‘Steve must either need his eyes testing or needs some serious medical attention; you’re stunning.’
When they reached the corner of Sydney Street, Emily hesitated before crossing the road, ‘I’m glad you’re here, Charlotte, there’s something I’ve been dying to tell you — which I couldn’t tell you on the phone.’
‘Well, that’s why I’ve travelled, all this way.’ She paused after noticing a tiny glint in Emily’s eye. ‘You’re joking . . . the wedding is back on again, after all?’
‘No — well, I don’t know — it’s all a bit complicated, that’s why I needed you here.’ She went to cross the road, but Charlotte held her back.
‘Hang on a minute. There’s something else, isn’t there? That you haven’t told me — ’
‘Oh, Charlotte, it’s much, much more than that — I’m pregnant.’
‘What! And that bastard called the engagement off? You wait till I get my hands on that stinking little penguin. I’m going to make him — ’
‘He doesn’t know.’ Emily was quick to cut in.
‘He soon will do, by the time — I’ve.’
‘Charlotte — Please,’ she pulled at her friend’s arm to follow, ‘I will explain everything later — but not in the street.’
Charlotte took a glance around her, ‘I’m sorry, Em, I just couldn’t help myself.’
Emily laughed. ‘It’s OK; they probably think you’ve just got a thing about stupid little penguins.’
When they reached Potters, an old fashioned tea shop, a little bell rang just above the door as they entered; directly in front of them was old Mr Taylor sitting in his wheelchair, who had a devilish look of excitement on his face. His wife behind him seemed a little agitated as she smiled lamely and continued to manipulate the wheelchair past the last two remaining tables. Mr Taylor grinned from ear to ear as the girls were forced back out into the street. Mrs Taylor smiled in gratitude once she got the wheelchair out through the narrow doorway, and the old- man just flicked the peak of his cap with his hand.
Charlotte instantly leaned over and whispered in Emily’s ear, ‘You know, I’m sure that little old git was sniggering,’ She tugged her arm, ‘come — on.’
They made their way over to a table in the corner, next to the window. Charlotte glanced over to the back of the shop, she had hoped to see Lara, but it was Mrs Ramsey, the proprietor who was making her way down the narrow aisle of empty tables, towards them.
Mrs Ramsey was a short and rather stout lady. However, she was a kind, caring individual who had offered Lara a place to stay after her parents had decided to move to London. At eighteen and her brother studying at Cambridge University. Lara chose to remain in the village close to all her friends. Mrs Ramsey had never married and, after caring for her mother until she died, at the ripe old age of ninety-five, had inherited the large detached house, which stood adjacent to the entrance leading down to the old rectory.
Mrs Ramsey could not hide her delight in seeing the girls and smiled warmly, ‘What a lovely surprise, and I was just thinking to myself — I might as well close early. Well, I haven’t seen you two for some time — how are you both?’
‘Yes, fine, thank you, Mrs Ramsey,’ Charlotte replied while taking off her coat. ‘And you?’
‘Can’t complain, dear, been a little bit quiet of late, but I’m sure things will pick up, now the weather is improving, we’ve had nothing but rain for the past week — never mind.’
‘Well, it’s most definitely feeling a lot colder.’ Charlotte replied and then inquired, ‘How’s Lara?’
‘Oh, she’s off at the moment, dear, with one of those frightful colds. I swear it’s the worst thing about this job; you seem to pick up everything that’s going — dear. I’m almost certain she picked it up off little Davy Thomson. His mother should be ashamed of herself — bringing him out in this weather without him having hardly a stitch to wear — I ask you!’
‘Well, I hope she feels better soon. It’s just her brother asked me to give her this.’ Charlotte pulled out a neatly wrapped, brown rectangular package from one of her bags and handed it to Mrs Ramsey.
‘Thank you — dear. I’ll give it to Lara as soon as I get home. I’m sure it will make her feel much better.’ She then pushed the package into the pouch of her apron, then lifted her head, and inquired, ‘Are you still enjoying university, dear?’
‘Sort of, I guess, just finding it a little hard with the amount of studying that’s involved,’ Charlotte smiled.
‘Yes, well, I’m sure it will be well worth it in the end — dear. How long will you be staying this time, dear?’
‘Oh, not long, just for the weekend, Mrs Ramsey.’
‘That’s nice, dear. Well, I’m sure you two have a lot of catching up to do. No doubt, you’ll want your usual coffee then?’
Emily smiled and pulled out her chair, ‘Yes, please, that would be lovely.’
Mrs Ramsey immediately leaned over and gathered the unwanted cutlery off the table. ‘There you are. I’ll be right back in just a few ticks — with your coffees.’
Once they had sat down, Charlotte immediately leaned across the table and asked, ‘Are you sure you’re pregnant?’
Emily closed her eyes before she answered with a heavy sigh, ‘Yes, I’m sure.’
‘Oh, Emi, why don’t you just get an abortion?
Emily’s face suddenly hardened as she snapped back, ‘No — It’s not the baby Charlotte.’ It caused Charlotte to sink back slightly into her chair. In an instant, her expression then seemed to soften as Emily stretched out her arm and offered her hand, ‘Oh, it’s all a bloody mess. I’ve made a mess of everything.’
Charlotte accepted her hand and leaned over the table, then gently she sealed the entwined promise with a kiss.
‘Well, I must say you can tell you two have certainly missed each other.’ Mrs Ramsey interrupted. ‘Come on — make some room.’ she smiled.
They turned, looked up at Mrs Ramsey, then almost at the same time began tittering as their eyes met again across the table.
Mrs Ramsey looked down at them fondly as she placed the coffee cups down, ‘I hope you two find the time to drink them.’ She smiled, ‘In-between all that catching up.’
Emily sighed and found herself relaxing into the shop’s ambience, which she had enjoyed so often in the past. With her old school friend for company, it began to make her feel as though all her innermost fears were gradually subsiding as she felt a sense of ease.
Charlotte quickly began to raid the sugar bowl, ‘You know I’ve missed these little sugar lumps, nowadays all I seem to get are those pathetic little sachets.’ She popped one into her mouth and then looked over at Emily and asked politely and correctly, ‘One lump or two — me, lady?’
‘Just one — please.’ Emily pulled herself up with a smile; her friend had not changed one little bit, she thought.
Charlotte held her cup with both hands and bought it up close to her mouth, allowing her elbows to rest on the table; she looked out of the window then back towards her friend, lightly blowing over the rim of the cup, ‘How’s mother, really?’
Emily had assumed the same posture at the table, ‘She’s fine, honestly. I’ve been avoiding her a bit, I guess — but you know, she just keeps going on and on about it. You know what she’s like.’
‘Is she excited — about being a grandmother?’
‘I’ve not told her yet — Charlotte, please don’t look at me like that; it’s because she will spoil any chance of Steve and me getting back together again, that’s why.’
‘Is . . . Steve, the father?’
‘Yes, of course, but you know what my mum’s like, with Steve, she treats him as though he was her son. She tells him everything before I get the chance.’ She turned, looked through the window and across the street, ‘I just couldn’t bear the thought of Steve wanting me back because he felt he had no choice, you know, doing what everyone expects of him. The right thing and all. I don’t want anyone’s pity and especially not his.’
‘Yes, I understand, but surely your mum would understand that too — how far gone are you now, anyway?’
‘Three months, but I only found out last week.’
‘Last week! Emily, what on earth have you been doing? You should have realised well before then.’ Charlotte shook her head in disbelief, ‘I just can’t understand this — so am I — the first person you’ve told?’
‘Yes — well — no — not exactly.’
‘Not exactly, well, who else knows? And what about Steve, is he still dating that floozy — what’s her name — Mary Lewis, Is he?’
‘I’m not sure — he keeps phoning me, but I haven’t spoken to him yet. Me’ mum said that he is missing me and is sorry. He admitted to her that he had made a big mistake and now really regrets it. And Lara told me she had heard that Mary had finished with him, but I don’t know if that’s true or whether he’s still seeing her.’
‘Crikey’s and I thought living in the country was dull. Why haven’t you spoken to him? Don’t you want him back?’
‘I suppose, but, I’m not sure anymore — I mean, well, you know, I don’t think I could ever trust him, ever again, and maybe if it weren’t for my baby, I wouldn’t. Oh, Charlotte, I just don’t know.’
‘The other week, you told me you would do anything to get him back, and now when you find out you’re carrying his child, you’re not sure? Emily, he has even been calling you and telling mother he wants you back.’ Her eyes opened wide in some way to emphasise the obvious. ‘Do you still love him?’
‘Yes, I think so. But, oh — Charlotte, I don’t know anymore. Maybe it’s because I have a part of him growing inside me now, which I know I love so very — very much. It’s just so hard to explain, but every time I think of him, I see her, the bitch laughing at me.
Charlotte smiled, took another sip of her coffee and placed the cup on the table. ‘You know, a few years back, I went through a similar thing Emi, and I understand entirely, except I wasn’t pregnant. You’ve got to think of the baby as well, and you’ll get over all that — in time, I’m sure of it, especially when the baby is born.
‘It’s not quite as straightforward as all that — and there’s something else —’
Charlotte cut in, ‘Oh, Emi, you take everything far too seriously. He probably just got cold feet being so close to the wedding and all. It will probably never happen again. But, you know it’s a big commitment, marriage.’
Emily drooped her head slightly, ‘Charlotte, please — there’s someone else.’
Charlotte stared at her in disbelief, her mouth opened to speak, but she remained silent. It was the first time she felt lost for words. A few seconds passed, and the only thing that came to mind was penguins. ‘It’s not Ben, is it?’
Emily instantly smiled and lifted her head, ‘No —’
Charlotte sighed and smiled warmly, ‘You know it’s not the end of the world, and just look at you, it’s not surprising; you’re beautiful Emi, and there’s bound to be thousands of those pesky little penguins, begging to get a date with you.’
‘Oh, Charlotte — I don’t know what I’d do without you; you always have a funny way of putting everything into its own, little box.’
‘Look, it’s getting late, and I’m sure Mrs Ramsey can lip-read,’ She glanced over at the shop counter, where Mrs Ramsey was standing, ‘See, she’s writing everything down as we speak. It’ll be all around town by morning. So come on, let’s drink up and see mother, she’ll be waiting, and then later, you can tell me all about this new — mysterious man.’ Charlotte pushed her chair back slightly and reached for her handbag. ‘It’s certainly been worth the train fare, that’s for sure.’
Emily lifted her cup, amused by her friend’s ability to make light of the situation and make her feel more optimistic that everything would eventually fall into place. Although even now, she found herself in some kind of trance, as though she somehow could not feel or hold onto anything her friend said. It was as if nothing seemed to matter, like floating through space and time. Suddenly it began to dawn on her that she had not stopped thinking about Joe, and funnily, it seemed as if he was always there — by her side.
Charlotte noticed the sudden glazed look in Emily’s eyes and muttered, ‘Aye, away with the fairies,’ She turned and looked over at Mrs Ramsey, who was putting the sweet delicacies from behind the glass shop display back into their boxes. Immediately Charlotte lifted herself and went over to the shop counter.
‘It’s been so lovely, dear, to have seen you both again,’ Mrs Ramsey smiled as she straightened herself up, ‘Oh, Charlotte, I’m sure I’m getting older by the minute.’ She wiped her brow, then sighed with slight exhaustion and smiled. ‘How is Emily? I couldn’t believe it when I heard — you know.’ She shook her head lightly and drew in a deep breath, ‘Well, if ever there was a wedding you could have been sure of, it was theirs. Shocked, I tell you, shocked. The poor girl must be beside herself.’ She paused for a few seconds. ‘That’s one pound and fifty pence, please, Charlotte.’
‘Thank you.’ Charlotte immediately handed her two crisp one-pound notes.
Over the ching of the cash register opening, Mrs Ramsey thanked her but then continued to say, ‘Heaven knows what he must have been thinking. I’m just so glad she has such a good friend like you to support her, dear. Lord knows what she’d have done otherwise.’ She handed Charlotte her change, pushed the cash register closed, then smiled.
Charlotte returned the smile, ‘Thank you, Mrs Ramsey, she seems to be coping very well, and I’m sure it will all sort itself out.’
‘Oh, I’m so glad to hear that, dear.’ She looked with pity at Emily sitting there all on her own. ‘She’s such a lovely young lady, and she deserves so much more — Oh — Charlotte, please forgive me. I just can’t help it. It brings tears to me’ eyes.’ She pulled her handkerchief out from her apron and then nodded with a straight smile.
Charlotte took a deep breath, smiled, and turned, ‘Please, don’t worry, Mrs Ramsey, everything will be just fine. She’s in good hands now. ’
‘Yes, yes — God bless you, dear.’
‘Emi, come on, let’s go — Em — Em.’ She persisted in a low, urgent tone, deliberately knocking the table as she pulled her coat up over the back of the chair.
It was as though Emily had not realised she had drifted off into a world of her own; she lifted herself out of the chair and immediately put on her coat.
Charlotte ushered her towards the door, ‘Goodbye, Mrs Ramsey.’ She waved and then held the door open for Emily, who said her goodbye in a more sedate manner. A cold evening breeze washed over them from the open doorway.
‘You’re both, more than welcome,’ Mrs Ramsey replied as she came up behind them. ‘Ooh, hasn’t it turned quite chilly all of a sudden? I’ll be locking up behind you, it’s a bit early, but I doubt there’ll be many folks out on a night like this.’
Charlotte smiled, watching Mrs Ramsey shake whilst rubbing her hands together in front of her. Then, after allowing her to take the weight of the door, she promptly replied, ‘Goodnight, Mrs Ramsey.’
“I hope you both have a lovely evening and don’t forget to give my regards to your parents.” She watched them with pride, as if they were her own, “Now mind how you go —”
Instantly they locked arms and continued down the street. ‘Well! Now I know why I prefer living in Cambridge,’ Charlotte was quick to declare. ‘Everyone knows everyone else’s business, down here. You can’t keep anything a secret, even if you tried.’
Emily turned and looked at her a little fearful, ‘I hope — you’re wrong about that, Charlotte.’
Charlotte looked across at Emily and laughed. ‘Sorry, Emi, I forgot.’
‘It’s not the fact I’m pregnant; I’m worried about.’
With intrigue, Charlotte looked at her friend with the cold autumn breeze against her face. The sudden need to seek shelter seemed to dampen her curiosity. She quickly pushed her head forward and encouraged Emily to quicken her pace.