Thursday, March 12, 2009


continued from
Chapter Three
But Camellia couldn't walk. Every time Hugh and Stephen helped her to her feet, she sank against them, shaking. So they lowered her back to the chair and bid her rest. What to do next? She couldn’t stay where she was; her clothes were damp, the air was sour - and light through the windows was almost gone.

“I'll fetch a straw-barrow.”

"He won't manage," said Camellia, as Hugh left the room. But there was something in Hugh's step which alerted Stephen to Hugh's underlying sense of command. Camellia had noticed too and Stephen took her hand. She smiled. "He's perfectly capable really," she said. "It's just that he's . . . ,"

Something rumbled across the yard.

"But he'll need your help with that."

Stephen let go of her cold fingers and scrunched and slid his way to the front door, wishing he'd thought of coming to tea in wellington boots. Hugh was at the foot of the steps with a flat bed wagon. Its platform was made from rough and heavy wooden boards, its eighteen inch wheels had solid tyres and the tow bar was on a swivel - it would be difficult to manoeuvre it into the house but it was better than the wheel-barrow Stephen thought he might have brought.

And they did manage. Between them.

When they reached the drawing room, Stephen let Hugh go ahead so he could wipe his now filthy hands down his trousers; what else could he do? That was the end of them, he reckoned. He looked at his cashmere jumper too - and the band of mud and oil he'd acquired across his tummy when he steadied the three-foot wagon to lift it up the steps. Life, he thought, seemed to have changed pretty much since he'd set out for Church this morning - all crisp and new and two more weeks of holiday ahead.

Camellia struggled to move from her chair and onto the trolley. Stephen said goodbye to his jumper, took it off and folded it into a pillow. Then he helped her lie down as comfortably as she could and they set off for the kitchen.

- Which wasn't easy. After every few feet, they had to pull wadges of wet straw from the wheels and unwind it from the axles. Stephen let Hugh to do it nearly every time. He didn't want to touch the stuff so he stood back guiltily, wishing he were at work; that he had never left America; or let his flat; or even gone to Church; let alone come to tea - and he felt sad and mean as he watched Hugh tear the straw on his own.

And the donkeys weren’t happy either. Their ears went back and their eyes narrowed and they shuffled against each other and puffed at the air and looked at the humans sideways.

At the foot of the staircase, Stephen went ahead so he could prop open the kitchen door and let through some light. There was less straw here, which was good. The wheels ran smoother for the last few feet but the way was narrow and the wagon stuck. Panicking, Hugh started to push it back but it wouldn't go and in what little space there was left, it jack-knifed. Almost, he despaired.

“We’ll have to go the long way, round after all."

He tugged half heartedly at the wagon, knowing it wouldn't budge easily. And it didn't.

"Don't be silly Hugh," said Camellia, pushing herself up on her elbows. "I'll be alright from here."
Stephen pressed grimy hands against his temples and suggested Hugh went for a chair.

Camellia tugged at his elbow.

"Don't worry," she said.

He was irritated. He wasn't worried about her. He was worried about his clothes. About the mess he was in. How he'd get away.

And she'd meant more than that too. She meant, don't worry about anything. For she was trying to reassure herself. She didn't want to move off the trolley to the chair. She'd rather they'd simply bring blankets and let her be. Sleep. She didn't want to face the stairs. She didn't want to feed the cats either. She'd like a bath but if she did that, there wouldn't be enough water for Hugh until more had warmed and that would take an hour or two. She was trying to say she didn't want Stephen to feel responsible. Except - she did. She would have liked to tell him they were alright now and he that he could go without worrying. Except they weren't, and she knew he would worry - and, of that, she was glad.

Hugh helped her off the trolley, closed the door on it, brought a chair for Stephen and went to the AGA.

"There's a tin with peonies on," said Camellia, seeing that Hugh was lifting the cover on the hob. "In the larder."

Stephen rose hastily, glad for something to do.

"I'll get it."

Camellia closed her eyes. A dramatic act, thought Stephen, not necessary but effective. She had nothing more to say. And by the time the cake was on table and the tea ready to pour, she was able to walk over, though supported still by Hugh. Perhaps she didn't need that any more either, Stephen wondered. It seemed to him she was consciously taking on the role of a romantic heroine. And he admired her for it. It took them all into a world of black and white movies, far from the squalor, and the damp, and the tiredness - and it meant Hugh could be her hero.

Stephen hurried with his tea and drank it still standing. “I’ll call round in the morning,” he said, after a few sips. (If only it weren't so cold outside!) Hugh had opened the oven door and Camellia’s cheeks had begun to glow pink and she was already half asleep. The room had softened in the firelight. It would be dark in the yard and the car was up the hill. "Do you have a torch?"

Hugh found him his coat (crumpled under cats) and took a torch from a hook beside the back door.

"Is there anything I can bring you tomorrow?" Stephen asked. "I’ll be passing the village shop.”

“Yes,” said Camellia, startling out of her doze. “How kind. Would you bring us a couple of pints of milk? We used to have it delivered but the milkman said it wasn’t worth his while, we needed so little."

"He complained our drive was wrecking his suspension!" Hugh added.

"Painful," said Camellia, with half a grin and a mock grimace. "Where's my purse?"

Hugh started to hunt around the room.

“Don’t worry about that,” said Stephen. quickly. Now he was going - he'd go. “We’ll sort that tomorrow. Is there anything else?”

There was. It was as if a dam had broken. He'd need a supermarket.

Mrs Jenkins would advise. Mrs Jenkins. The lady with good food. Food without cat-hairs. Bacon for breakfast. Roast beef for lunch. What would she have ready for supper? Suddenly, her bed-and-breakfast-with-evening-meal seemed like home. And it looked as if he'd need one, for now he'd met Hugh and Camellia, he could see no way out of staying at least one more night.
To continue - Seventeen
For the post before this - Fifteen