Last year I started writing stories prompted by my friend Karen’s fabulous Christmas Village that she puts up each year. The Village is up again, and I have some new stories for you. If you’d like to read last year’s stories (and start to get to know the Villagers) you can find them here.
“Thank you, Daisy,” Mrs Watson carefully closed the florist shop door behind her cradling the bunch of flowers in her arms and headed toward home. She opened her front door and gazed in satisfaction at the tidy, pleasantly arranged home before her. Mrs Watson’s mother had always kept high standards, personally and at home, and these had been indoctrinated into Mrs Watson from a very young age. Unlike her mother, however, she did indulge in flowers for her home getting great joy from the bunches picked from her own flourishing spring/summer garden and the ones she bought regularly at Daisy A Day florist during the winter months.
Mrs Watson’s parents had been academics, her father a Professor of Classics and her mother the first woman to achieve professorship in Accounting at their University. They had met during their tertiary education, discovered they had much in common and by dint of reasoning agreed to take part in a marriage whilst still following their professions. The unplanned arrival of a child late in their lives had been viewed as a chance to meld a mind by her father and an interruption to her career by her mother. Her father wanted to name her Euphemia from the Greek meaning auspicious speech or good repute; the worst of having a Classics scholar for a father, Mrs Watson always thought. Her mother abided by her husband’s wishes and the child was burdened with Euphemia, never to be shortened to the more palatable Effie.
Thankfully Euphemia was a bright child and her father schooled her thoroughly. She soaked up all the information that came her way, eager to please and constantly seeking her father’s praise which was rarely given. Part of her education was her father’s mantra to Plan; life must have a Plan, what to do, how to achieve that, where to go, how to achieve that, always a Plan.
Euphemia was a plain child with limited social graces due to her upbringing, and this along with her strange name (which her mother refused to have shortened) and her bright mind estranged her from her classmates. Ostracised and lonely she spent more and more time with her books which, ironically, made her more intelligent and furthered her from friendships.
As a little girl Euphemia had wanted a pet, either a dog or a cat. Subconsciously, the animal would be something she could love and have that love returned. When asked, her mother was adamantly against the notion.
“Goodness no! Animals create mess, ruin furniture, carpets and curtains and need care and attention which neither you nor I are prepared to give,” she sternly said and forbade further discussion on the matter. Euphemia had started to cry, much to her mother’s horror. “No tears, Euphemia,” her mother had scolded her. “We don’t do tears in this house.”
Abiding by her father’s words, Euphemia made a Plan to become a teacher. She was Dux of her year, entered Teachers’ College and passed that too with flying colours. She applied for and was successful in gaining a position at a nearby Primary School in the city in which they lived and relished the opportunity to guide the young minds of her charges finding interaction so much easier with children than adults. She delighted in their learning and proved to be a very good teacher. Still, her parents wished to know what her future Plan was. Secretly Euphemia had a Plan to find a good, kind man, someone to love her and care for her and wanted to set up her own home, far away from the cold sterile environment she currently inhabited. She knew that voicing this would be met with stupefied silence, so she fabricated a Plan for her parents to become Principal of a school and outlined a time frame for this event at which they were suitably pleased.
As she walked home one day, her arms full of supplies from the stationery shop to make teaching aids, a man rounded the corner too quickly bumping into Euphemia and sending her packages, and herself flying. Apologising profusely the man ascertained that Euphemia wasn’t hurt then helped her to her feet and gathered her parcels.
“I am most dreadfully sorry,” he said for the third time. “You look awfully pale. Come and have a restorative cup of tea.”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly,” although it was actually what she wanted most at that moment.
“We’re right outside a teashop,” he inclined his head to the shop doorway. “I’d feel much happier if you would.” Euphemia agreed; a cup of tea in a crowded teashop couldn’t possibly be misconstrued.
They introduced themselves after the waitress had taken their order and Euphemia learnt the man’s name was George Caldwell. He was a salesman travelling the length and breadth of the country with his wares and had made top salesman the last two years running. George then asked about her, judging that she had needed some time to collect herself. Euphemia imparted the barest of information, but George didn’t seem to mind. They continued discussing books and films, Euphemia taking surreptitious looks at this handsome gent who appeared to be a few years older than herself, very self-assured and so charming. Euphemia found herself laughing at his salesman stories and realised she wasn’t as gauche at social interaction as she’d thought and was actually enjoying herself.
When George asked to see her again Euphemia shyly agreed. He was an attentive suitor, showering her with complements and making her feel very special indeed. Before too many more weeks and meetings had passed she was taking him home to meet her parents. They, of course, were horrified, not that they expressed any emotions on meeting George, instead waiting until he had left.
“A salesman?” Euphemia’s mother uttered the word with such distaste.
“What about your Plan, Euphemia?” her father wanted to know.
“You just met him,” thought Euphemia. They argued long into the night but Euphemia was not to be dissuaded and when George asked for her hand in marriage, she readily agreed.
They decided on a civil wedding and were to delay their honeymoon as George had sales commitments to attend to. A small house was rented on the other side of the city and the newlyweds moved in. As a married woman Euphemia had had to give up her teaching position so she threw herself into the role of wife and housekeeper rejoicing in her love of her husband and the knowledge that he loved her too. But with George away for lengths of time she soon found herself at a loose end. Her parents then became unwell with influenza and shortly after they both died despite her ministrations. A complex pair of Wills endowed their Estate solely to Euphemia with complicated codicils and legal language ensuring George had no direct access. It would take time to get the Estate sorted but Euphemia had some money of her own and, hurt by her parents patent lack of trust in her judgement, Euphemia didn’t hesitate or question when George started asking for money “just to tide me over” as he said.
In George’s absences Euphemia started exploring parts of the city she’d never been to and after seeing a write up in the City paper about a park several suburbs away that had recently been awarded a Certificate of Greenery, made her way there by train one sunny end of Summer day. Strolling along the paths she spied a beautiful old Weeping Maple that had remained deliberately untouched for decades, its branches falling to the ground and virtually hiding its trunk. Someone had thoughtfully placed a bench seat against the trunk and Euphemia wriggled her way between the branches and sat in the cool of the maple’s shade. She opened her book and was soon lost in her reading.
Sometime later she became aware of children shrieking and laughing. She lowered her book and gazed through the branches seeing a couple arm in arm and various children running around. The couple turned her way and Euphemia jolted as she recognised the man as her George. Surely not! But as she looked more intently there was no doubting that handsome face. But who was he with and what was he doing here when he should be miles away selling his wares? His sister, perhaps? But George had never mentioned a sister. The man, George, bent to kiss the woman and no sisterly kiss either. Then Euphemia realised what the children were calling out: “Daddy, daddy look at me!” shouted one of the two boys, as he did a somersault on the grass. The little girl fell over and cried for her mother, and the woman ran over to comfort her. Euphemia couldn’t believe her ears or her eyes. Should she confront George? But what was she to say? Utterly confused and so unsure of what to do she slowly brought her book up to her eye line, carefully watching over the top of it. She dreaded him spotting her but remembered she was wearing a new dress, one George hadn’t seen as yet, so with staying in the shade of the tree, the book over her face, she should be safe from discovery.
“Come along children, time to go.” After what had seemed like an eternity but was probably no more than 30 minutes, the family were leaving. She watched until she could see them no more thankful that the train station was in the other direction. As she rose to walk away she was surprised to find her legs were shaking. She steadied herself on the arm of the bench. She couldn’t remember the journey home, her normally agile, quick thinking mind was at a standstill and she must have been working automatically as she was surprised to find herself seated at the dining table with a simple meal in front of her.
The fog started to clear and ugly words formed in her mind. George was a bigamist. Her marriage was a sham. George didn’t love her. Euphemia felt so foolish. She was grateful that her parents weren’t alive to see her humiliation. They had been right to doubt George. Feeling nauseous, she pushed the plate away and bowed her head onto her folded arms on the table. Suddenly her mother’s voice was in her ear, “No tears, Euphemia. We don’t cry in this house.” She sat up and gulped back her tears and her father’s words rang next; “A Plan, Euphemia, always have a Plan”. Euphemia sat upright, shook her head to dispel the threatening tears, squared her shoulders and in the dwindling twilight started to formulate a plan.
When daylight penetrated the curtains of her bedroom Euphemia was surprised to find that she had actually slept; the result of conceiving a worthy Plan, she guessed, now to put it into action. She carefully checked the calendar on which George marked his absences and times at home. Just to reassure her of his whereabouts, he’d said. So he didn’t get himself confused, she thought bitterly. Yes, he was to be away this week, and the Annual Sales Conference was coming up too. Of that Euphemia was sure he’d attend, hoping to get another award. But she did wonder how, with two families, did he keep making his sales figures? He must work doubly hard when he wasn’t dallying.
Guessing that the park she’d been at yesterday was local to George’s “other family”, Euphemia made her way there again and again hiding, not that she’d been hiding yesterday, under the branches of the weeping maple. After an impatient wait the mother and the three children appeared. Euphemia scanned the path but saw no sign of George and was rewarded with hearing a conversation about his absence from the children. Not quite sure how to strike up a conversation with the woman (she couldn’t bring herself to call her George’s wife) fate played into her hands when the children’s ball landed at her feet and she was able to return it. Euphemia introduced herself with a false name to the young mother and a conversation was started. She had thought it would take several meetings to glean all the information she wanted, but this woman, Sally, was starved for adult female conversation and was soon trotting out her life story. She’d met George at a young age, fallen for his handsome good looks (as I know only too well, thought Euphemia), accepted his flowery proposal and soon children were on the way. Sally was very proud of her husband’s career, but it didn’t seem to bring in enough money and with children, Sally’s hand strayed surreptitiously to her stomach and Euphemia guessed another baby was on the horizon, making ends meet was proving hard. However, Euphemia’s ears pricked up, that was all to change soon as George was going to be coming into some money very shortly. Is he now? thought Euphemia, and steered the conversation into neutral territory.
Armed with the knowledge gleaned from Sally, Euphemia stopped at the library on the way home seeking out the Government Gazette to look for teaching positions. She copied out the details for several schools and at home wrote her letters of application, using her mother’s maiden name and informing the schools in question that she’d recently been widowed (if George came home too soon, she’d be making that a fact), detailed her excellent qualifications, included her glowing references, and stated she was ready to start said position immediately.
A week passed and the postman finally delivered an acceptance from the primary school in Christmas Village. Euphemia, having only lived in the City thought a village would be a nice change and, wrongly, somewhere that she wouldn’t be known or have to explain herself.
When George came home the following week Euphemia feigned an illness and made up the bed in the spare room for him. Worried, but not overly so to Euphemia’s now jaundiced eye, George was solicitous, made her light meals but did spend a lot of time at the office in the run up to the company’s Annual Sales Conference. During the time he was at the office, Euphemia furthered her Plan and finally George left to attend the Conference which was to run for a week in a City many miles away; no fear of him coming home in the evenings.
Two day after George left, a removal truck arrived and loaded up all the furniture, most of it Euphemia’s parents’, and her worldly goods, leaving the rental house very bare. Euphemia reasoned that George had another house to go to, and she’d left his clothes and a suitcase to put them in. She closed the door with a sad sigh on what had been her dream home pushing the keys through the letter box as instructed by the real estate agent. The removal truck left on its journey and while she waited for her taxi cab one of her neighbours came to the gate.
“What’s happening, Euphemia?” asked the old lady. “I saw the furniture being loaded into that truck.”
Euphemia feigned a laugh. “George is spoiling me. He wants to buy new furniture so we’ve sent the older pieces off to an auction house,” she lied.
The neighbour appeared satisfied with that explanation but then queried Euphemia’s packed bag.
“Oh,” Euphemia glanced at the overnight bag at her feet. “Just some loose ends to tie up with my parents’ Estate which will take a couple of days to sort out. It’s easier to deal with over at their house.” Thankfully the taxi cab arrived on time and she could escape to the train station, guessing the nosy neighbour would pass on her lies to George.
By the time the train journey was half way to Christmas Village her carriage had emptied of fellow passengers. Feeling exhausted from all that had happened and daunted by a totally unknown future Euphemia finally, defying her mother, burst into tears crying for her lost dreams, broken promises, misplaced trust and her damaged heart. After some moments she gathered herself together, wiped her tears away and prepared herself to face a new life, to be known as Mrs Watson; the Mrs to keep men away, the Watson being her mother’s maiden name and should keep George from finding her, and no-one would know of her first name.
Mrs Watson had a bumpy time settling into village life. She relished being back teaching children but the adults were another matter, as always feeling awkward and socially inept but also needing to keep herself private. She became, gradually, very adept at turning conversations and questions away from herself and her background and after some time the villagers accepted that she didn’t want to disclose any information and viewed her as aloof but respected her for her teaching abilities. The only person who knew her history was Mr Sylvester the solicitor and she totally trusted the professionalism of this kindly man. Mr Sylvester took over the arrangements for the settlement of her parents’ Estate, helped Mrs Watson buy a very pretty property called Rose Cottage in reasonable walking distance from the school, and undertook the overseeing of an investment portfolio with the remaining funds.
The years passed and the time came for Mrs Watson to retire and for the first time in her life had no Plan for this phase of living. Initially she couldn’t quite comprehend the feeling but soon worked out that it was relief; she could do what she liked, when she liked and would no longer be a slave to any Plan. She filled her days with gardening in the warmer months, and reading and the radio during the winter and was content, although she did sometimes miss the children. Or was it companionship?
One early evening a week before Christmas Mrs Watson answered a knock at her door to find Rev Jenkin standing there shivering in the cold air, despite his big coat and having his arms wrapped around himself. Having learned and refined her social skills over the years she invited him in leading him into her warm parlour.
“May I take your coat?” Mrs Watson asked.
“I might just keep it on until I’ve warmed up a little,” Rev Jenkin replied and Mrs Watson nodded.
“Would you care for a cup of tea?”
“That would be lovely.” Mrs Watson returned so promptly with a tray bearing the tea things that Arthur suspected he’d interrupted Mrs Watson’s own tea preparations.
As she poured his tea Mrs Watson enquired about his visit. All Arthur’s carefully rehearsed words fled from his mind in front of Mrs Watson’s stern countenance.
“Well, er,” he stumbled, “I’ve, um, I’ve been out to Collier Farm this afternoon.” Mrs Watson nodded. “Our children, um, Will…..”
“Yes, yes, William and Kate.” Of course Mrs Watson would know who his children were. Arthur tried again.
“The children have been very keen to have a dog, well, a puppy, and after much consideration and extracting of promises, “ he laughed remembering how keen his children had been, even writing out signed promises of Dog Caring Duties, “Jean and I have decided to buy them one for Christmas.” Again Mrs Watson nodded having no idea what this conversation could possibly have to do with her.
“Um, the Collier’s house dog has recently had a litter.” Arthur continued his narrative.
“I think you’ll find that it’s the bitch,” interrupted Mrs Watson.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Collier’s dog is Jasper and as he’s a male and unless the laws of nature have changed, I think you’ll find it was the bitch, Speckles, who had the litter.”
“Oh, um, quite right,” Arthur cleared his throat. “You’re familiar with the Collier family, then?”
“Indeed. I taught all the current Collier children, except the youngest, and their parents too.” Arthur was sharply reminded of how long Mrs Watson had been in the village.
“I see. Um, well as I said, I visited there this afternoon and chose a puppy for our children and found out that, um, all the others are spoken for except for one,” Arthur took a deep breath. “and I wondered whether you would……?”
“Good heavens, no!” Her mother’s words came unbidden from her mouth. “Dogs create mess, ruin furniture, carpets and …….”
At that moment Arthur’s coat started to move and a little head appeared above his top coat button. As Arthur moved his hands up to support this little being, it suddenly jumped onto his lap, down onto the carpet, skittled over to Mrs Watson’s chair and sat expectantly at her feet and cocked its head, its little face and big eyes gazing at her. Unwittingly, beguiled and utterly charmed by the pup she bent down to pick up the little scrap and cradled it at her chest. It immediately fell asleep, snuggling into her hands. Now it was Mrs Watson’s turn to stumble over her words.
“Well, he, er she?” she looked over at Arthur. “ He,” Arthur confirmed.
“He seems to have made himself at home.” Mrs Watson couldn’t believe the comfort this warm little body was bringing to her scarred, lonely soul. “I suppose,” she murmured after a short time, “we could see how he settles in. If it doesn’t work out he can always go back to the farm.”
Arthur mumbled something non-committal, wary of changing Mrs Watson’s mind as she continued to gaze at the pup.
Suddenly she looked up at Arthur, once again practical and in command. “If you would be so kind, Reverend Jenkin, there’s an old fruit box and blanket in the cupboard under the stairs.” Arthur did as he was bidden, found the box and blanket and placed them beside the fire. “Thank you,“ Mrs Watson nodded in his direction.
Judging the time to be right Rev Jenkin moved to the parlour door and softly said, “I shall see myself out, Mrs Watson.”
“Very well,” the ex-school ma’am replied, totally engrossed in the little creature the parson had brought into her life.
“So,” Jean asked eagerly as Arthur walked into their kitchen, “how did your plan go?”
“I think,” replied Arthur with a big grin on his face, “it will be a resounding success.”
At Rose Cottage Mrs Watson made the pup and herself a little more comfortable, amazed to feel her entire being relax; the pup sighed contentedly in his sleep. Mrs Watson felt the gentle rhythm of his heart beat and breathing and very soon pup and new owner were both fast asleep.
© Pomegranate and Chintz 2018