• 29 Jun - 05 Jul, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

‘I’m a spoiled Catholic myself, Father,’ Grandpa had said, shaking Mr Oswald’s hand in the church porch, ‘but when in Rome, eh? Better safe than sorry.’

George gave him a silver tankard with his name engraved on it, there was a teething ring with a silver teddy from the regulars, an antique silver–and–coral rattle from Bobs and Dittany, a silver spoon and pusher in a box from Granny and a blue wool golliwog with yellow eyes from Ruby. I had got him a board book called Barnyard Babies.

‘George and Bobs and Dittany are getting on like a house on fire,’ Percy said to me in the kitchen.

‘Perhaps he’ll fall in love with one of them and they’ll get married.’

‘I don’t think so, old George isn’t the marrying kind, and I can’t see our ladies behind a bar.’

I was pleased because I would have hated either Bobs or Dittany to move away. All three of them, George and Bobs and Dittany, had cried with Peter when Mr Oswald sprinkled the water from the font onto his wrinkling, astonished forehead.

Somebody was trying the tea–room door.

‘Be off with you, this is a private party,’ Grandpa shouted.

I choked on my ginger beer. It was Mr Greenidge.

‘sorry,’ he called. ‘Didn’t realize you were closed.’

‘Come in, come in,’ Percy welcomed him, unlocking the door.

‘I saw all these good people and assumed you were open. Wouldn’t dream of intruding.’

‘Come and join us, Mr Greendige,’ Betty called out. ‘Come and have a piece of cake. You’re not intruding. We’re just having a little tea party for Peter’s christening. Family, mostly,’ she said apologetically, with a glance at those who were not.

Liesel pulled Mr Greenidge into the party and sniffed jealously at Boy’s white bow.

‘Sorry about that just now,’ Grandpa Fitz told him. ‘I didn’t know you were a friend. Pull up a chair and make yourself at home.’

‘April, where are your manners? Fetch another plate and glass or a teacup. We’ve got whiskey, gin, sherry or tea or ginger beer, Mr Greenidge.’

‘Begorrah, I wouldn’t say no to a drop o’ the cratur,’ said Mr Greenidge, rubbing cold, dry hands.

‘A gentleman after me own heart,’ cried Grandpa.

I thought it was rather rude of Mr Greenidge to try to mimic Grandpa’s voice, but he took it in good part.

‘No, don’t get up anyone, plenty of room. I’ll just squeeze in here with the young ladies. A rose between two thorns, eh April?’

When I had brought Mr Greenidge’s plate and glass I went to sit at the table with George and Bobs and Dittany.

‘To Master Peter. A long life and a happy one!’ Mr Greenidge raised his glass in a toast.

Everybody joined in with clinkings and ‘Peters’ and ‘God–bless–hims’ and only I could tell that Mr Greenidge’s eyes were glinting with cold fury.

The party went a bit flat after that. Betty had to go upstairs to feed Peter. Liesel snapped at Boy’s tail and Dittany said she ought to shut the ducks up for the night. Mr Greenidge was explaining to Grandpa that he and Granny had met before.

‘We had the pleasure, briefly, in the summer. At least, the pleasure was all mine.’

George snorted into his drink, spraying the tablecloth.

‘Steady on,’ said Mr Greenidge coldly. ‘That ginger beer can go right up your nose if you’re not careful. I’d better toddle along or my good lady will be wondering what’s become of me.’

He held out half a crown to me, so hat I had to go over to him and take it from him. I looked at Percy, saying ‘No thank you, I’m not allowed to take money.’

Mr Greenidge winked at Percy.

‘Who said it was for you? I was going to ask you to pop it into Master Peter’s money box as a token christening present from me and Liesel.’

‘Rose between two thorns, I should cocoa,’ said George when they had gone. ‘Spend it on yourself, dear, I would.’

‘You went bright red,’ Ruby told me.

‘Well he made me look greedy in front of everybody. Trust him to spoil everything. It was nice until he had to come barging in.’

‘Do you think your mum will let me have the frill off the cake?’

‘I’ve already bagsied it.’

Mr Greenidge had left me melancholy and mean. I didn’t even want the cake frill. Boy began to make heaving noises, his sides working like bellows.

‘Too much marzipan I’m afraid,’ said Bobs scooping him up and making for the door.

‘No, Liesel upset him snapping at his tail,’ I said.

Dittany followed them, profuse in her thanks for a lovely party.

A silence fell.

‘Drinking in the afternoon,’ said Percy. ‘Always makes you sad, never fails. When you’ve been in the licensed trade as long as I have …’ he broke off, remembering that he was speaking to the Fitzs and George, and even Ruby.

Feet thudded along the path and the tea–room door, unlocked now, flew open and Myrna Pratt and Dorreen were inside, out of breath, panting ‘Mr Harlency, Mr Harlency! Come quick! Mr Greenidge has fallen over and hurt himself. You’ve got to come, I think he’s broke his leg.’

We all ran out, Percy and George getting to him first and trying to sit him up on the pavement. Mr Greenidge shook George off angrily. Liesel licked his face.

‘Get me my stick! I’m perfectly capable ouch it’s my ankle, twisted the blessed thing under me, some damn fool idiot boys ran me down.’

A wooden box on a pair of pram wheels was disappearing round the corner in the dusk.

Mr Greenidge’s face twisted with pain as he stood up, leaning havily on his stick and tried to put his foot to the ground.

‘Let me have a look,’ Myrna volunteered suddenly. I’m a Girl Guide.’

‘Over my dead body. Somebody help me to the doctor’s.’

‘Come on, old chap! Put your arm round my shoulder, that’s the ticket. You can put your weight on me. Easy does it. You girls take the dog and explain what’s happened. I think it’s probably just a sprain.’

‘A bad sprain can be worse than a break,’ said Myrna.

‘My turn to be in the wars, April,’ Mr Greenidge put on a brave smile. ‘Now you’ll have to bring me chocolates when I’m laid up,’ he said over Percy’s shoulder.

Mrs Greenidge opened the door at once, looking agitated.

‘Liesel! Liebchen, where have you been? Mother’s been so worried about you. Is she all right? Why is the with you?’

She bent down and Liesel leaped into her arms. We blurted out the news of Mr Greenidge’s accident.

‘It’s probably only a sprain,’ I tried to reassure her.

‘A sprain can be more serious than a broken bone. What a nuisance! It really is too bad. First he takes Liesel out without her coat, and now this! Thank you so much for bringing her home safely.’

When we got back to the Copper Kettle Betty was upset. ‘First you all run out leaving the doors open, and now this! Lovely christening this turned out to be! Poor little Peter!’

George had discovered two flat tyres on the Morris Minor.

‘It’s impossible. I can’t believe it,’ he said.

I could.


My dream of taking Liesel for walks had come true. How long ago it seemed that I had yearned to have her leaping by my side on her red lead. Now every afternoon after school I had to go straight to Kirriemuir to collect her. Usually Ruby came with me and Mr Greenidge could do nothing about it because he was trapped in an easy chair with hisbandaged foot resting on a stool while Mrs Greenidge answered the door to us. Sometimes, she gave us a Marie biscuit or a rich tea in the kitchen before we set off. There were no more cakes and chocolate fingers.

‘Liesel looks forward all day to her walk,’ Mrs Greenidge said.

‘When do you think Mr Greendige’s foot will be better?’ I asked her when we returned Liesel.

‘Oh, it will be a while yet, Dr Barker says.’

It was all a misunderstanding. I had offered to take Liesel for a walk the first time I had called round to see how Mr Greendige was, and they had thought I meant I would take her out every day.

‘April!’ Mr Greendige’s voice, feeble and invalidish from the sitting–room. With an embarrassed glance at Ruby and Mrs Greendige, I went along the hall.

‘Why do you never come to see me? It’s torture hearing your voice and then you just stick your head round the door to say hello and goodbye and run away, can’t you spare me five minutes of your precious time? Is that too much to ask? I never dreamed you could be so cruel.’

I was in agony in case the others should come in and hear him.

‘I bought you this television in the foolish hope that we could sit and watch it together. How wrong I was. You haven’t looked at it once.’

I was gawping like a goldfish with resentment and indignation when Mrs Greenidge walked in, followed by Ruby.

‘Thanks, my dear,’ said Mr Greenidge. ‘Blessed Radio Times slid off my lap and I couldn’t reach it.’

He had been holding it all the time.

‘You’re not totally crippled, Clement. You just enjoy being waited on hand and foot. I saw you from the window this afternoon hopping about the garden like a two–year–old.’

‘And I’m paying for it now. Blooming thing’s really giving me gyp. You don’t know the half of it. If only I could identify those young hooligans who did this to me, I’d have them up before the magistrates before you could say Jack Robinson!’ He looked keenly at Ruby and me. ‘I suppose you’re none the wiser? Nobody said anything in the playground? Who do you think it might have been?’

‘Jack Robinson,’ said Ruby.

‘Well, we mustn’t keep you. I’m sure you’ve got more interesting things to do than hang round two old crocks,’ Mrs Greenidge said. ‘We’ll see you tomorrow.’

Mr Greenidge groaned and shifted his foot. ‘It feels like a hundred red–hot darning needles.’

I had to go home to Betty and Percy and Peter who did not know that Mr Greendige thought me cruel.

‘I don’t like taking Liesel out,’ I said. ‘Everybody calls her a sausage dog.’

‘Poor old Liesel,’ said Betty. ‘still, you stick up for her, don’t you?’

And so we went on. On the Sunday I had to go to Kirriemuir alone and the three of us and Liesel sat watching a programme about pygmies in the jungle and eating Battenberg cake. ‘ “Lips of Finest Fat” , eh?’ chortled Mr Greendige. ‘What do you think of that for a name, April?’

‘I don’t know.’

The pygmies had hardly any clothes on and I was relieved when the programme finished and I thought that Mrs Greenidge was as well.

She was wearing a purple cardigan and her face was always purplish now, like an overripe peach. She got out of breath easily and seemed exhausted, perhaps from looking after Mr Greenidge.

I had to get out the words that had been buzzing like disturbed wasps inside me all afternoon

‘I caon’t come tomorrow. It’s my mother’s birthday. I’m sorry.’

I didn’t dare look at Mr Greendige.

‘Run up to the bedroom, April,’ Mrs Greenidge said. ‘You’ll find some birthday cards on the bureau. It’s the second door on the left.’

‘I know.’

The breath drained out of me like air from a balloon. They were staring at me.

‘I mean, I don’t know what a bureau is.’

I had to cling on to the banister to get up the stairs on wobbling, tingling legs.

There was the pink bed, the turquoise–tasselled scent spray, the silver brush and comb, the cabinet inlaid with mother–of–pearl, a bird singing in the garden. I found the cards and took them downstairs worried that Mrs Greenidge would think that I had been touching her things or had stolen something.

‘Which one do you think your mother would like?’

‘The one of the daffodils.’

Mrs Greenidge wrote with a mother–of–pearl fountain pen in thin blue letters,

‘With best wishes from Elizabeth and Clement Greendige.’

The lone cry of the peewit woke me in the middle of the night, a desperate call in the darkness ringing in my head.