Village gossip, p.1

Village Gossip, page 1

 

Village Gossip
 


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Village Gossip


  Caroline stood gazing at him, dumbstruck. He was lean, too lean really, with a head of thick dark hair, left full at the sides which made for just a hint of curl above his beautifully shaped ears. He’d been introduced to Peter now and they were talking animatedly. There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between two men. Hugo was shorter than Peter, but then with Peter being six feet five, most men were. Not only was he shorter than Peter he was also much more lightly built. One couldn’t imagine Hugo on a squash court or running three miles before breakfast like Peter did.

  Caroline couldn’t help but admire the profile which had been displayed on theatre billboards and in magazines and newspapers all over the world. Beautifully balanced, at once tender and arrogant, elegant and virile.

  ‘My dear Caroline, what a privilege.’ His voice, more suited to Stratford than Turnham Malpas, turned Caroline’s knees to jelly. This gesture of his, this kissing of her hand and the holding of it for longer than was really necessary brought the eyes of the entire congregation to rest on her.

  She blushed, and she hadn’t blushed for years.

  Rebecca Shaw is a former school teacher and the bestselling author of many novels. She lives with her husband in a beautiful Dorset village where she finds plenty of inspiration for her stories about rural life. She has four children and eight grandchildren.

  By Rebecca Shaw

  THE BARLEYBRIDGE SERIES

  A Country Affair

  Country Wives

  Country Lovers

  Country Passions

  One Hot Country Summer

  Love in the Country

  TALES FROM TURNHAM MALPAS

  The New Rector

  Talk of the Village

  Village Matters

  The Village Show

  Village Secrets

  Scandal in the Village

  Village Gossip

  Trouble in the Village

  A Village Dilemma

  Intrigue in the Village

  Whispers in the Village

  A Village Feud

  The Village Green Affair

  Village Gossip

  REBECCA SHAW

  Contents

  Cover

  Title

  About the Author

  By Rebecca Shaw

  Inhabitants of Turnham Malpas

  Maps

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Acknowledgements

  Copyright

  INHABITANTS OF TURNHAM MALPAS

  Nick Barnes

  Veterinary surgeon

  Roz Barnes

  Nurse

  Willie Biggs

  Verger at St Thomas à Becket

  Sylvia Biggs

  His wife and housekeeper at the Rectory

  Sir Ronald Bissett

  Retired Trade Union Leader

  Lady Sheila Bissett

  His wife

  James (Jimbo) Charter Packett

  Owner of the Village Store

  Harriet Charter-Plackett

  His wife

  Fergus, Finlay, Flick and Fran

  Their children

  Katherine Charter-Plackett

  Jimbo’s mother

  Alan Crimble

  Barman at the Royal Oak

  Linda Crimble

  Runs the Post Office at the Village Store

  George Fields

  Licensee at the Royal Oak

  H. Craddock Fitch

  Owner of Turnham House

  Jimmy Glover

  Taxi driver

  Mrs Jones

  A village gossip

  Vince Jones

  Her husband

  Barry Jones

  Her son and estate carpenter

  Pat Jones

  Barry’s wife

  Dean and Michelle

  Barry and Pat’s children

  Revd Peter Harris (Oxon)

  Rector of the parish

  Dr Caroline Harris

  His wife

  Alex and Beth

  Their children

  Jeremy Mayer

  Manager at Turnham House

  Venetia Mayer

  His wife

  Neville Neal

  Accountant and church treasurer

  Liz Neal

  His wife

  Guy and Hugh

  Their children

  Tom Nicholls

  Retired businessman

  Evie Nicholls

  His wife

  Anne Parkin

  Retired secretary

  Kate Pascoe

  Village school head teacher

  Sir Ralph Templeton

  Retired from the diplomatic service

  Lady Muriel Templeton

  His wife

  Dicky Tutt

  Scout leader and bar-manager at the Royal Oak

  Bel Tutt

  School secretary and assistant in the Village Store

  Don Wright

  Maintenance engineer (now retired)

  Vera Wright

  Cleaner at the nursing home in Penny Fawcett

  Rhett Wright

  Their grandson

  Chapter 1

  His foot propped on the brass rail running along the bottom of the bar, a gin and tonic in hand, Peter toasted Caroline: ‘Happy birthday, darling!’

  She clinked her glass with his and smiled up at him. ‘And the same to you.’

  Peter bent down to kiss her. ‘I say this every year, and I say it again; how many married people are there who celebrate their birthdays on the same day?’

  ‘Somewhere, someone knows the answer to that, I suppose. Do you remember how sentimental you used to wax about our marriage being “written in the stars”, “this was meant to be since the beginning of time”, et cetera, et cetera, all because our birthdays were on the same day?’ Caroline grinned up at him.

  ‘Don’t mock. I meant it and still do.’

  ‘I know you do, and I’m eternally grateful that you do.’

  ‘Always will mean it, no matter what.’ Peter put his glass down on the bar and surveyed the crowded bar. ‘I don’t think we could have chosen a busier night.’

  ‘You’re right there.’

  The Royal Oak had been in business since, as the villagers often stressed, the beginning of time. The thatched roof, the ancient white walls bulging slightly more than they had done five hundred years ago, the huge open fireplace which boasted a real log fire in the winter months, and the mighty oak beams all leant a feeling of timelessness, of permanance, of a kind of security which encapsulated the feeling everyone had about their village.

  From the other side of the bar Georgie called out, ‘I’ve just realised it’s your birthdays, isn’t it? Next drinks on the house, OK?’

  Peter thanked her. ‘Where’s Dicky tonight?’

  ‘Night off.’ Georgie turned away to serve yet another customer. ‘Yes, sir, what can I get you?’

  Caroline, enjoying a birthday which some months ago she had thought she would not live to see, said to Peter, ‘Harriet and Jimbo are late. I wonder if our table’s ready? I’m starving.’

  ‘So am I. I’ll go see.’ He threaded his way between the tables, stopping for a word now and again.

  ‘Evening, Rector, ’appy birthday!’

  ‘Thank you, Jimmy.’

  ‘Your birthday is it, then? Many more, sir, many more.


  ‘Thank you, Don, Vera.’

  ‘Many happy returns, Rector, and that’s from Sheila too.’

  ‘Thank you, Ron.’

  He left a swathe of smiling faces behind him. Caroline, watching, smiled inside herself. He might have his ups and downs with them all but at bottom they were on his side. What a difference he had made to them since he had arrived. Stirred them up and no mistake. She hoped they’d never need to leave, because her roots had gone deep down here in this village and you couldn’t ask for more than that. Her eyes lit up when she spotted Peter signalling from the dining-room doorway that their table was ready.

  ‘But, Peter, what about Jimbo and Harriet? They’re not here yet.’

  ‘They’ve rung. Crisis with the children; they’re just leaving.’

  ‘Oh, brilliant. I wonder what’s wrong?’

  ‘No need to worry,’ he smoothed away her frown with a gentle finger. ‘Fran has had a temper tantrum.’

  ‘Oh dear.’

  Bel was in charge of the dining room tonight, a slimmer, more light-footed Bel of late. She beamed at the two of them and they couldn’t help but notice what a lovely heartwarming smile she had.

  ‘Good evening! We’ve given you the best table, seeing as it’s a celebration. Jimbo and Harriet are on their way. Happy birthday to you both.’

  ‘Thank you, Bel.’ She handed them each a menu and padded away to attend to other diners.

  The door between the dining room and the bar opened and Harriet and Jimbo walked in. Her dark hair damp and curling, her slightly sallow skin flushed with anxiety at her late arrival, Harriet waved when she caught sight of them. Jimbo stood behind her, smoothing his hand over his bald head which gleamed in the light over the tiny reception desk in the doorway. More round than he would have liked, Jimbo was a commanding figure. Energy, both mental and physical, exuded from every inch of him. ‘Sorry we’re late!’

  Peter stood up to pull out Harriet’s chair for her. ‘Good evening, Harriet!’

  She reached up to kiss him. ‘Happy birthday, Peter. Happy birthday, Caroline! How useful of you to have your birthdays on the same day. It halves the remembering!’

  ‘To say nothing of the cost!’ Jimbo took Caroline’s hand and kissed it. ‘Happy birthday, my dear, and many of ’em.’ He squeezed her hand and she knew exactly what it meant. A gesture of delight at her survival. Tears came into Caroline’s eyes. She blew her nose and remained quiet for a while, listening to the chatter and pretending to study her menu.

  ‘Fran Charter-Plackett! She’s so amenable, fits in without a murmur with anything we plan and then suddenly wham! bang! she’s on the floor drumming her heels and screaming like a hell cat!’

  ‘Jimbo, darling! She did have good reason, or so she thought.’

  Peter asked what the reason was.

  Harriet explained. ‘We’ve a guest coming to stay tomorrow, and Fran’s having a practise go on the put-u-up in Flick’s bedroom tonight. We’d talked about it and I’d put her favourite sheets on the bed, done all I could, but when it came to it …’

  The mention of a guest brought Caroline’s head up from the menu. ‘Who’ve you got coming?’

  Jimbo wagged a finger at her. ‘Wouldn’t you like to know!’

  Harriet protested. ‘Jimbo!’

  ‘If Caroline guessed until this time next week she wouldn’t get it right!’

  ‘You’re teasing me! Come on, tell!’

  Harriet laughed. ‘It’s a college friend of ours. Compared to Jimbo and me, who’ve only managed to rise to the dizzy heights of running a Village Store …’

  Peter interrupted her, scornful. ‘Only … Considering the success you’ve made of it …’

  Harriet silenced him with a finger to his lips. ‘Hush now. Wait for it.’ She intended to pause to increase the dramatic effect but couldn’t wait to see their faces. ‘His name is Hugo Maude.’

  A silence greeted her announcement. Caroline stared open mouthed. Peter stared, not believing he had heard correctly.

  Caroline, stunned, stammered out, ‘Hugo Maude! Not the Hugo Maude!’

  ‘The very same!’ Jimbo smiled at her astonishment. It was lovely to see her so taken out of herself.

  ‘You mean Royal Shakespeare-Broadway-Stratford-Hugo Maude?’

  ‘The very same!’ Harriet glanced at Peter, amused by his more controlled reaction.

  Caroline, seized with amazement, said, ‘How long is he here for?’

  ‘As long as it takes.’

  Bel came for their order.

  ‘With salad?’ They all four nodded. ‘Jacket potatoes, sauté potatoes?’

  Jimbo began to ask for sauté potatotes but hastily changed his order to jacket when he caught Harriet’s eye.

  ‘House wine, or something special?’

  Peter asked for something special.

  When Bel left, Caroline said, ‘How long what takes?’

  ‘The poor lamb has been terribly ill. Some ghastly virus he picked up when he went with the RSC to Tokyo, it came close to finishing him off. So Jimbo and I thought we’d ask him for a quiet stay with us away from the press and such, so he could recuperate properly.’

  Caroline persisted with her questioning. ‘How come we’ve never seen him before?’

  ‘Too busy. Never stops. Acting dominates his entire life.’

  Caroline nodded her head in complete agreement. ‘To be able to act as he does it would, wouldn’t it? Only to be expected.’ She paused. ‘Shall we have a chance to meet him, do you think?’

  Harriet grinned. ‘I expect so. In fact I promise you shall, but I’m not planning anything until he’s been here a few days. I don’t know just how ill he is.’

  ‘Oh, of course. Yes. I see.’

  Peter said. ‘You know that’s something we’ve never done.’

  Jimbo looked puzzled. ‘What is?’

  ‘We’ve never used the stage in the Church Hall for serious acting. At least not while we’ve been here.’

  Harriet thought for a moment and then said, ‘We’ve been here three years longer than you and you’re right, it certainly hasn’t, not for years.’

  Quickly picking up on her thinking processes, Jimbo wagged a finger and said, ‘No, we are not. Definitely not.’

  ‘Not what?’

  Jimbo looked at Peter and answered him by saying they were not going to encourage Hugo to act in a play. ‘The man has been very ill and he’s here to rest. He’s a dear sweet man and he doesn’t deserve us begging him for help. It could be the last straw.’

  Harriet replied briskly. ‘Such a thought never entered my head. Just the same, a village dramatic society would be a very, very good idea, wouldn’t it, Peter?’

  ‘It would. A real challenge.’

  Peter felt a tap on his shoulder blade. He turned to find Mrs Jones at the next table, twisted around in her chair, wanting a word.

  ‘Good evening, Mrs Jones, and good evening to you, Vince.’

  Mrs Jones, obviously bursting with information, stopped just long enough to greet him and then said, ‘Sorry to be interrupting, Rector, but I couldn’t help but overhear what you were saying.’ Harriet snorted her surprise at such a monumental disregard for the truth. Mrs Jones turned her chair round and squeezed in between Peter and Caroline. ‘The last time we had a play on the stage that wasn’t done by the Scouts or the Sunday School was in 1953. It was the Queen’s Coronation and we did an ’istorical pageant called … now what was it called, Vince? “Royal Progress” or “Queens Through the Ages”, or something like that. Blinking good it was too. The old rector, Mr Furbank, was Prince Albert. I was Brittania, and Vince here was the Prince of Wales, wasn’t yer, Vince?’ Before Vince could reply she had launched herself into a list of the people involved, followed by an appraisal of the play’s reception. ‘Two nights we did it and they came from all over. Penny Fawcett, Little Derehams and even some from Culworth, would you believe. And you know what a stuck up lot they are.’

  Their fo
od came and they had to excuse themselves. Mrs Jones stood up and turned her chair back to her own table. The four of them ate in silence while they absorbed what she had said.

  Peter broke the silence by saying, ‘So you see it would be a good idea, wouldn’t it? With or without Hugo Maude.’

  Jimbo, helping himself to a lavish portion of butter for his jacket potato, said, ‘Yes, but not until the winter, when Hugo’s gone and then it’ll give us something to brighten the long winter evenings.’

 
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