It arrived in a plain box.
Innocuous enough. The boy, Peter, had brought it home in that ugly car of his that made too much noise – apparently having made a special trip to one of the out of town shopping centres.
He had come to her to ask for some scissors and a Stanley knife, and – since Thomas was out for the day, visiting the Scottish doctor – Molly had rather let her curiosity get the better of her, following him out to the coach house after finding the implements he required. She was interested to see what the boy was so excited about.
In retrospect, Molly thought, she ought have known better at her age. But the boy was fascinating to her; after so many years living in Thomas’ company, his enthusiasm and energy was compelling - if a little wearisome at times.
She had seen the world change considerably over her lifetime, and – in general – life had become less of a slog; while she favoured using traditional methods to clean and care for the Folly, this was more from habit and an overabundance of time on her hands. But it was nice to know that a girl working in service today would be spared some of the physical exertion that her contemporaries had endured. Those she had kept a correspondence with had complained in their later years of terrible aches and pains, cultivated during their working life. And the computing machine that the boy had brought with him – she had observed him using it, and seen a little of what it could do – so many possibilities, with the world opening up as it had.
With this in mind, she wasn’t quite sure how modern manufacturing had conspired to produce something so hideously complex to assemble.
Peter’s initial eagerness had soon given way to a bewilderment, then grim determination – followed by barely contained rage, which finally contorted to something akin to despair. Molly leaned cautiously over the boy’s shoulder to look at the instructions that were printed on a large piece of paper.
The product was Swedish and had a name that Molly couldn’t pronounce – or imagine being able to pronounce, if she were that way inclined. The instructions were ostensibly simple – diagrammatic drawings illustrating the various stages of assembly. Laid out next to the sheet of paper, on the floor of the coach house, were an assortment of pieces of wood, and a small bag which had been ripped open to expel a number of fastenings.
‘It just doesn’t make sense,’ said Peter, turning to look at her. ‘That,’ he said, jabbing at the first diagram, ‘does not look remotely like that.’ He indicated the largest piece of wood. ‘Where are the holes? There’s nowhere for those screws to go. And I’m not sure that what’s in the bag actually corresponds to what they’ve drawn here,’ he said.
Molly frowned, and crouched down fully to have a closer look. He was right; the diagram seemed to be totally at odds with the materials they’d been given. She looked at the name on the box: BJURSTA, it read, in large block letters.
Then, she looked again at the diagram. NORDEN, it read. Well, no wonder! Excitedly, she picked up the sheet of paper, gestured at the name and then to the box. The confusion on Peter’s face cleared.
‘Well, that explains a lot,’ he said, and laughed. ‘They can be a bugger to make at the best of times, but there’s no hope if you’re following the wrong instructions! Good spot.’ The smile faded slightly. ‘An hour I’ve been at this – god, it’s going to be really embarrassing when Nightingale gets back and I’m still at it. Sorry for wasting your time, Molly.’ He looked back at the mess on the floor, defeated.
She felt a tug, then – sympathy, or something like it. Perhaps she wasn’t the only one eager to please, to be appreciated and needed by someone. He’d not long joined them, after all; for all his good-natured demeanour and air of confidence, perhaps Peter had his insecurities too. Well, this wouldn’t do – if the diagrams weren’t going to help, she would.
Molly put the sheet of paper to one side, and started to rearrange the wood – larger pieces in the centre, smaller pieces round the outside of that, and the long planks along the top. Taking her lead, Peter nodded and they started to experiment – marrying various combinations and testing fit as if trying to construct a large, three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Which, in a way, was exactly what they were attempting. Slowly, out of chaos, things started to make sense. She was fascinated to see Peter’s clever mind at work, and appreciated the flashes of a smile that he afforded her every time she made a contribution.
After another hour, they broke for tea: Molly had intended to bring a tray up to Peter in the coach house, but had been touched by his following her down to the kitchen, where they sat around the reassuringly solid and uncomplicated oak table with their mugs – at first in silence, but gradually the boy started to natter about the Folly – telling her about his explorations of the neglected parts of the building. It was fascinating to her; of course she’d noticed signs of his incursions – dust sheets askew, pieces of furniture not quite where they once were. Nothing in the Folly was a mystery to her, by now, but it was such a place of secrets. She thought back to her own night-time explorations, as a young girl.
They finished their tea, and resumed their toils – except by now it had become rather engaging, this problem-solving task, with company who was beginning to endear himself to Molly. And then, all at once, the table was complete. They stood side by side, looking at it, basking in the accomplishment, neither quite daring to believe that they’d finally solved the puzzle. Peter turned to her, grinned, and asked –
‘Shall we see if it works? It’s supposed to pull out, like – this,’ he said, and – miraculously - the table extended just as it ought to, and didn’t appear to be at risk of imminent collapse.
Molly raised an eyebrow, and smiled back – careful not to open her mouth, which she knew the boy found disconcerting.
From below came the unmistakeable sound of the Jaguar pulling up in the garage. Peter went over to the door of the coach house as they heard the door slam.
‘Hello sir, we’re up here,’ he called down, and she heard Thomas start to climb the wrought iron stairs outside – slowly, she noticed – he was still poorly, of course. She wondered if it was sensible for him to be exerting himself, but as she was about to frown at the boy for summoning him up here, she saw the expectant look on his face. Well. Thomas was old and ugly enough to judge this sort of thing for himself.
‘Well well,’ said Thomas, taking in the new table, and the pair of them standing to one side – Peter having re-joined Molly as Thomas arrived. ‘Excellent work, Peter.’
‘And Molly sir. It was very much a team effort,’ he said, grinning at her for good measure – and Molly felt a little surge of pride, and gratitude. It had been his project, after all, and she had known plenty of young men, once upon a time, who would have been keen to keep whatever credit they could for themselves.
Thomas gave her a shrewd look then, and she raised an eyebrow in mock defiance. They exchanged a smile, and he turned back to Peter. ‘Good to hear it,’ he said. He sounded pleased. ‘Well done both. Now,’ he sighed, ‘I don’t suppose you’d mind giving me a hand back down? I think I might have over-estimated my current level of physical fitness. Of course, I suppose I could always stay up here. Through your efforts it’s become rather cosy…’
Peter laughed. ‘Come on sir, we’ll have you back down, no worries. Molly, you alright to take the weight his other side?’
She nodded, and the three of them made their way gingerly back down the stairs, and across the courtyard to the Folly.
That evening, as Peter returned with Toby from their walk, Molly met him in the atrium with a mug of hot cocoa. Because sometimes, she reflected, words aren’t necessary to express what you want to say to someone. She and Thomas had managed to construct their own language, of sorts, over the years. It would be interesting to see what else she and Peter could build together, too, given a bit of time. If today’s trial run was anything to go by, the results might surprise them both.