It wasn't until late on the Friday afternoon, just when they were feeling relaxed - and congratulating themselves that everything was ready for the morrow - when Camellia asked what would happen if anyone needed the loo.
The only one which worked downstairs, or was even vaguely clean enough, was opposite the gun room, beside the back door. Hugh and Camellia still tended to walk round the outside of the house to get to it because the donkeys were forever trying to follow through to the kitchen but that wouldn't be a problem while they were penned in the dining room. No. The issue now was the kitchen itself. They had been so engaged with making sure there was a clear route between the front door and a comfortable place to sit, that they simply hadn't thought of it. It was as unclean as ever it had been and they mustn't, absolutely mustn't let Rosemary see it.
"We should have left the drawing room be," said Camellia, growing pale. "We should have cleaned in there instead."
Hugh proposed that 'The Visit' be postponed a week.
"What?" asked Camellia. "Tell them now? At the last minute! That they can't come? We can't do that!"
So Hugh suggested they make it short. After all, it was intended to be the first of many. They could use the loo the next time they came.
"But they're coming from London!" Camellia shouted at him. "It's not like dropping in from down the road! Rosemary won't leave the house without telling the children they have to go to the loo first. It's what mothers always do before a long journey. Worse still, she might feel chatty, want to help make tea!"
Hugh scrambled for an answer.
"Sherry," he said excitedly. "Let's give them sherry! That way we won't have to go to the kitchen at all and they can find public lavatories on the way home."
Camellia threw down her sewing things on the newly 'upholstered' sofa and marched back to the kitchen to look; to see if there was anything that could be done before the morning. But there was no comfort here. Until this moment, it had been her base; her place of refuge. But for the first time in years, she saw it as others might see it. She hadn't really noticed before that multitudes of sick and feeble cats infested every surface. And she didn't even recognise most of them. Once, each had been special to her. She'd given them names; known their natures. Their grandparents and great-grandparents had purred on her lap in the evenings but the current generations fended for themselves, co-existed with humans instead of living with them as family. When an animal was slaughtered, they grabbed at the scraps. Sometimes Camellia bought cat food in tins but neither she nor Hugh ever washed the saucers so the cats would only eat from them when it was either that - or starve.
Camellia thought about the rows of teddies and dolls which used to sit on the end of Rosemary's bed. Rosemary had known every one separately, noticed when they went missing, demanded them back if ever Camellia attempted a cull. She'd named them, loved them, recognised them and cared for them.
But who was this? A nameless and thin creature was dabbing listlessly at the edge of her skirt. An un-named being but a living creature still, a newly independent kitten that should have been rushing after its own shadow, chasing pipe-cleaners, rolling cotton reels under the table, climbing into her work basket and ripping at her knitting. It shouldn't be lurking like this, sultry and miserable. She lifted it up and stroked it. A lump of sticky hair came off on her hand. Her lip curled. There was a two inch gash in its side, half healed but oozing and infected. Guiltily, she lowered it back to the floor.
. . . . . She sat there. Half an hour ticked by. The light dimmed. Hugh let her be. . . . . . Four o'clock. She looked at her watch. Time enough.
She phoned the vet.
Then the blacksmith.
To continue - Thirty-One
For the Post Before This - Twenty-Nine