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Minstrelsy and Apple-Pie

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I

The announcement that Felicity Summers was to marry a bookseller in the small cathedral city of Torminster appeared discreetly in the London papers, but did not go missed. The news was a nine days’ wonder to aficionados of the theatre. While Jocelyn’s column did, to some degree, mitigate his obscurity, there was astonishment that such a golden talent had not chosen to marry riches or nobility, or at least a fellow artiste. Oliver Standish, perhaps.

Jocelyn bore with the repercussions stoically. Several members of the press braved the long trip to Torminster to seek interviews. When the first of these came into the shop, Jocelyn initially thought him an unfamiliar customer, and was rather annoyed when he realized the truth. The second waylaid him as he crossed the Market Place to speak to Felicity, who was feeding the pigeons. She was rather amused and did most of the talking herself, which was a relief. The third reporter invaded the Close itself in an attempt to interview Grandfather, and was rebuffed at the door.

There came letters of congratulations from his family; and some of these presented their own trials. His mother admired Felicity’s acting, was thrilled at their engagement, and wrote charmingly. His father was bemused, but said all that was right. Hubert, on the other hand, wrote man-to-man in a fashion that put Jocelyn in a state of high indignation. Fortunately, before he could sear the page with a reply, Ferranti—who caught the gist of his expostulation—provided an observation on Hubert (whom he had never met) so pithily accurate that Jocelyn burst out laughing. The two friends shared a pipe and a pint in the Dragon, and the crisis passed, leaving Jocelyn with merely a deeper distaste for his brother. … He did not mention this to Felicity.

Escaping the congratulations of the town was impossible. Every time the bell rang in the shop, he had to steel himself to bear, yet again, the note of satisfaction that the famous actress Felicity Summers had rejected the brightest lights of London to accept the hand of one of Torminster’s own. Not that such discernment was not right and proper: the good citizens of the city knew their own worth. They were, however, a little surprised at having their merits recognized.

There seemed to be a curious and general assumption in Torminster (though not in the newspapers) that Felicity would now leave the stage and settle down quietly to be a bookseller’s wife. Jocelyn had to correct this misapprehension, sometimes more than once. It got to be rather a bore. … This too, he did not bother to mention to Felicity. In her turn, she kept him equally ignorant of her own denials.

Summer hung late over Torminster that September. In the hills, if one had the energy to climb out of the valley in which the city lay, there was relief to be taken in walks through the woods. Ferranti essayed this outward trek almost daily, averring that the heights did indeed bring breezes. He thus maintained his temperament at a comfortably cool degree of heat. One could not say the same of Jocelyn, who had perforce to remain in the bookshop. Burning brass was the sky, as bright as the red hot pokers that lingered in the garden with the fall chrysanthemums; and there hung, sad to say, something of a miasma about the lovely little house with the bow-windows. Nary a breath of fresh air could be found, even with all the upstairs windows flung open. It was not for nothing that the house had stood empty so long because of its lack of drains.

Felicity, who came round daily from her godmother’s house, noticed immediately that there was an atmosphere. Jocelyn snapped at Ferranti, which was not like him. He even snapped at her. As for the miasma, which undoubtedly contributed to the air in his study that evening, she tracked it to its source with remarkably little difficulty, whereupon she declared the situation unendurable.

‘No wonder you’re impossible to live with right now!’ she informed her beloved. ‘In fact, I think Ferranti has become a veritable saint, putting up with you like this.’

‘Ferranti,’ Jocelyn pointed out, ‘can, if he wishes, leave Torminster at any time. It’s his decision to stay.’ This elicited a quizzical look from the man in question, who didn’t comment, but simply tamped down his pipe and lit it. ‘There’s no point in exaggerating,’ Jocelyn added. ‘It’s not as though I didn’t know the problem, at least in theory, before I ever took the house and opened the shop. It may be worse this year than it was last; but the cure’s the same. Tincture of time, and the turn of the seasons.’

‘Perhaps you should close up shop tomorrow and come with me for a walk,’ suggested Ferranti.

‘You keep saying that,’ Jocelyn grumbled. ‘You know I can’t. One of us has a living to make.’ With his lame leg, a long day’s ramble was beyond him. Besides … there was the shop.

Felicity glanced at Ferranti, who remained unmoved by the jibe, and informed them both that the next day, she should hire a carriage for a picnic in the hills, they should all go together, and ‘Hang the shop!’ she said robustly. This sally was rewarded by a pair of sudden smiles. Nor, she added, with her eye on Jocelyn, had she any notion of coming to live with him—married or not—as long as the house remained drainless. ‘It’s intolerable,’ she concluded forcefully. ‘And that’s that.’

‘Have you seen my bank balance?’ he asked rhetorically. ‘It’s almost as bad as his!’ And he pointed rudely at Ferranti, who laughed.

‘Then I shall pay for it,’ declared Felicity. ‘Consider it my wedding present … to both of us. I have plenty of money from The Minstrel. Let me put it to good use.’

Jocelyn protested but weakly. It was he, after all, who had to live with the situation; and, after their marriage, so would she. Drains—real, actual, working drains—were suddenly most peculiarly attractive for such plebeian engineering.

Felicity therefore went next day to the bank and arranged for the money to be made available. After that, she blithely left the details to him. It would, she decided, be better for his amour propre if he were to take the active role in negotiations regarding permits and labour. It was not, after all, as though she had any knowledge of plumbing herself. Jocelyn, equally ignorant of the details of pipes and sewers, asked his neighbours—whose premises did have plumbing—and then hired the firm of Rowland & Diggs. After which, the house became even less tenantable as the cobbles of the Market Place were lifted in front of the bookshop, and the hard-packed earth below was marred by a long, narrow, remarkably deep trench.

On the afternoon when the trench was at its full depth, the children came round rather early for tea in order to enjoy the spectacle. Henrietta peered into the bowels of the earth from a circumspect distance out of consideration for the cleanliness of her frock; but Hugh Anthony peered perilously at the edge, full of questions.

‘Why is the earth down there at the bottom a different colour?’ he demanded.

‘Dunno. But it is,’ replied Rowland, looking up. ‘No, step back from the edge there, young master. We don’t want you falling in, now, do we?’

Hugh Anthony took a half-step back. ‘When our gardener Bates is digging, the earth is brown,’ he pointed out.

‘Ah, that’s good for cabbages.’ Rowland nodded sagely. ‘And potatoes and carrots and such. Up top, now, that’s where the earth is brown, and where your Bates plants his veg and flowers. Down here, though, it’s yellow: good for planting drains, that is.’

Hugh Anthony considered this. Despite the sweltering day, he was wearing a long sleeved blouse with a sailor collar, though at least—by mercy of his age—he was still in short pants. One sock was sliding down; and he forbore to pull it up. Henrietta, standing back from the dust, had to suffer long stockings. He looked up at the brazen sun, then bent to the heap behind the hole, picked off a handful of earth, and asked if the dark soil was tanned by its rays.

‘Couldn’t say,’ said Rowland. ‘But I dare say you’ll be tanned if you get that white shirt of yours all mucky.’

Indeed, when Hugh Anthony came in, he was clucked over and sent immediately to wash. This was no mean matter, requiring (in the opinion of adults) the heating of water.

‘Though if I’d had you in South Africa,’ said Jocelyn judiciously, ‘or even in a farmhouse in the country, I’d simply stick your head under the pump. However, that’s not done in polite society.’

Hearing raised voices, Martha poked her head round the door and then left to heat the necessary water. Things would, of course, be rather different when the drains were in. At the moment, though, there was no proper bathroom in the house. The walls in the box room upstairs had been ripped ruthlessly out to make way for the pipes that would eventually run to the bath; and a partition had been installed to make the lavatory. (Blue flowers around the porcelain rim, and a comfortable wooden seat: Jocelyn had selected it from a catalogue, he said, with a side eye at Felicity.) At the moment, though, Hugh Anthony was banished to the kitchen for his ablutions. He found the lovely old room itself in disarray, for copper hot-water pipes were being installed from a geyser to the sink, and waste pipes to the new drainage system-to-be.

‘It’s a major endeavour,’ admitted Felicity as she poured their tea, ‘far more than I anticipated when I proposed it, I must admit. Not that I regret the decision for an instant.’ And she beamed at Jocelyn.

‘It will be good to have it done,’ he said ambiguously. Ferranti simply smiled. He had already comfortably installed himself next door at The Green Dragon for the duration, the din of construction being incompatible with poetry. This afternoon, he had affronted Martha by bringing with him one of Mrs Wilks’s apple-pies for afternoon tea.

Sarah, when told of the progress of the drains by Henrietta that evening, sniffed loudly. She still, twice daily, set the kettle on the range, filled the cans, and toiled upstairs with hot water to the bedroom shared by Grandfather and Grandmother. It was ritual and, in its own way, sacred; and the thought of its disruption offended her sense of propriety. ‘New-fangled nonsense,’ she said.

II

By October, the heat had broken; and preparations for the wedding were well advanced. The grey silk and white velvet ordered by Mr Bell had duly arrived and been purchased; and the dressmaker had visited both Grandmother and Mrs Jameson to discuss its making up. Felicity’s own gown, however, was being created by a London modiste. There had been some discussion about this, not least by the good people of Torminster; but the general conclusion had been that, for the marriage of a beautiful actress, nothing else could be expected.

She did, however, give in eventually to having Ellen make the wedding cake. At first, she had demurred, on the grounds that it would be better to have the entire wedding feast catered throughout. ‘There will be so many guests,’ she said apologetically. However, while going over the week’s meals with her cook, Grandmother received intimations of disappointment. After they had gone up to their room at ten as usual, she mentioned the matter to Grandfather. ‘She feels deprived of an honour, Theobald,’ she said firmly. ‘One must consider how long she has been with us. She may be a servant, but still ….’

Grandfather straightened from his nightly duty of placing the best silver teapot safely under the bed in its baize bag. With his usual perspicacity, he had already noticed that fat, jolly Ellen had been quieter than usual, but had put it down to her latest disappointment in love. (She had been walking out with the butcher’s assistant.) ‘I have always considered our staff to be almost as family,’ he said firmly. ‘I do not like to think that anyone should feel slighted, least of all at such a time. A young couple in love, their marriage, the promise of a new generation—I am sure, down the years that this house has stood, it has seen many such and will again. A wedding should be a joyous occasion for all.’

‘You might think of the comfort of others,’ said Grandmother tartly when Jocelyn came over for Sunday dinner. ‘Our pudding has been seasoned with tears these last few days; and, if Ellen does not start the cake soon, it will not be fit to eat before March.’

So veritable sacks of raisins and currants, dates and candied peel were delivered to the kitchen. Henrietta was permitted to help crack the walnuts and almonds from their hard shells, using the silver nutcracker from the drawing room; and both she and Hugh Anthony had a brief stir of the batter, which they found remarkably stiff for the wooden spoon to shift in the bowl. The ancient house then filled with the rich scent of spices and treacle as the cakes baked. They rested overnight to cool and were still slightly warm in the morning when they were basted over with brandy. The marzipan and royal icing was an event in itself. Eventually, the cakes were wrapped close and set in the larder, to await unveiling at the appointed time.

The good weather broke with heavy rain; and the children were well wrapped up under their mackintoshs before leaving for their lessons with Miss Lavender. Sarah was sent with them to carry the large umbrella. To Hugh Anthony’s disgust, she insisted upon his remaining close by her side, though—as he pointed out—she held the umbrella so high that the wind drove the rain underneath, and he might as well have been left to walk where he chose. She did not let them wait to watch the clock strike nine, which was a disappointment, but hurried them along to the old house by the Green where Miss Lavender lodged.

It was a dreary day. The wind whistled ominously, and raindrops trickled down the panes of the window. Miss Lavender dithered over whether or not to light the lamp, for the light through the window was really rather dim, and finally ventured the expense for the sake of the dear children’s eyes. Hugh Anthony spent the lesson reading about Africa, and the explorers who had travelled so far abroad simply in order to bring the savage continent to civilization. Henrietta, whose demand for ‘real’ poetry was now accepted as the norm, had been working her way through a collected volume of Coleridge. However, the charms of ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ failed to appeal on such a day: the former’s caverns were even darker than the sky outside the window, and the latter’s mist and snow outweighed the timeliness of its wedding feast.

Leafing through to the further pages of the volume, Henrietta’s eye was caught by the words, ‘Do go, dear Rain! do go away!’ This so suited her current feelings that she turned the page back to the beginning of the poem, and read it from the beginning. For the first time since looking out of the little window in her room that morning, a faint smile began to curve her lips.

Perhaps the poet’s exhortation did its work, for, as their lessons came to an end, so did the downpour, though Sarah still turned up reluctantly with the umbrella to escort them home for their dinner. Afterwards, in view of the improvement in the weather, Hugh Anthony was permitted to share the choirboys’ daily sports, albeit with the certainty that he would return home muddy. Henrietta’s walk, however, was cancelled. Inadvertently (for Grandmother still remained unaware that these perambulations never ventured down country paths), this decision annoyed both child and housemaid, for Sarah had been expecting her usual hour in the parlour of The Green Dragon, chatting with Mrs Wilks, just as much as Henrietta had assumed that she would have the pleasure of helping Jocelyn next door at the bookshop.

It was Ferranti, therefore, having gone to the stationer’s for ink, who came up the High Street, where the little stream was running in spate down the side of the road, and turned into the Market Place just as the sun came out. The clouds loomed low overhead, thick and tinged with purple; and, as it was late afternoon, the sun slanted in low from the west between two of the hills that encircled the city. Under the clouds, the sky was aglow; and the rain in the cracks between the cobbles gleamed suddenly gold. The setting sun ruddied the tiled roofs, and glittered the windows where the raindrops lingered. It was a magic moment: purple clouds above, apricot glory below: Ferranti stopped in his tracks, storing up the memory in sudden joy. It was Torminster as he had never seen it before, clothed in magnificence.

III

The last November leaves were clinging to the trees as Jocelyn took Mixed Biscuits for his daily perambulation along the river by the Bishop’s Palace. The swans were still in residence, but disinclined to perform their famous bell-pulling trick; nor had Jocelyn any intent to linger in the hope that they would feel a sudden urge to dine on the Bishop’s bread. The Christmas season had not yet truly begun; and it had therefore been a slow day in the shop. Ferranti was writing a poem, and refused to let himself be interrupted. The children were not with him for once; and the wind was cutting. … No doubt, had Felicity been coming to tea, Jocelyn’s mood would have been rather sunnier.

She had, however, been pressed into service by her godmother, who was holding a tea-party. This was a select gathering, for Mrs Jameson had found long since that, though she might issue invitations, many in the Close automatically sent their regrets. Grandmother came, but more from a sense of propriety than joy in her neighbour’s company. In truth, Mrs Fordyce found Mrs Jameson to be more than a little peculiar—which could hardly be denied—and preferred to avoid accepting her hospitality if possible, most especially when one of the more eccentric guests was staying next door. Felicity had once been relegated to that category. Now, though, she was a granddaughter-in-law-to-be, which is a very different status, indeed. So the invitation was accepted; and Grandmother dressed in her Sunday gown of black silk, with the lace fichu, and then covered all with a coat and shawl for protection against the cold. It was not, in her opinion, a day’s entertainment she was going to enjoy. Still, she knew her duty, as a Christian and a Canon’s wife. Even so, she looked askance at the thistles tied to the bannisters as she went up to the drawing room. At her age, she preferred the option of holding on to their support as she climbed the stairs, though it was not a weakness she would ever admit.

The green parrots cried their chorus of farewells from the cages in the corners as Mrs Jameson rose to greet her. It being now the season of Advent, she was dressed throughout in shades of purple, from her violet silk gown to her damson shoes and lavender stockings. Lace, dyed a delicate shade of lilac, deeply edged her collar and cuffs. A sparkling amethyst necklace looped over her bodice; and the same stones glittered in brooches and rings. As always, she was a splendid sight; but her eyes were as innocent as a child’s.

Already among the company were Canon Roderick’s daughter, and Mrs Phillips, the organist’s wife. The maid brought in the tea trolley; and there were hot buttered crumpets, as well as cherry cake. Felicity’s forthcoming marriage was, of course, a principal topic of conversation: the date was set; and it was to be held in the Cathedral, as befit the grandson of one of the Canons, though also convenient considering the probable number of guests. About these, she was quizzed at some length. From the Fordyce side of the family the attendees were predictable; the Summers connection virtually unknown; and the theatre world a delightful source of gossip.

‘Is it true that you plan to continue to act?’ asked Nell Roderick. ‘It hardly seems quite proper when your husband has such close ties with the Church.’

‘Surely that is between Jocelyn and myself?’ said Felicity. It was the gentlest reproof, and scarcely recognized as such.

Even though the others had eaten their slices and left nothing but crumbs, Mrs Jameson began to pick with her fork at the cake on the trolley. She succeeded in spearing a cherry, and pulled it out and ate it with a sweet smile on her face as if this behaviour were nothing out of the ordinary.

‘It affects all of us in the Close,’ said Miss Roderick, reprovingly, ignoring her hostess’s behaviour. Everyone knew Mrs Jameson’s history and her sorrow. … Besides, she was as generous as she was rich.

‘My grandson is a bookseller,’ put in Grandmother, ‘I do not see the impropriety, Miss Roderick.’ This was staunch defence, considering her initial objections to having Jocelyn turn shopkeeper.

‘Such a nice young man, Captain Irvin,’ put in Mrs Jameson. ‘He likes parrots, you know. Parrots and poetry: such pretty things, both of them.’

‘Thank you, Aunt Adelaide,’ said Felicity gravely. ‘I agree.’

Mrs Phillips said nothing. She regularly borrowed books from the lending library in the shop, and found Jocelyn very easy to talk to. ‘A nice young man’ was, in her opinion, an appropriate description. Also irrelevant to the original point.

‘Well, I cannot approve,’ said Miss Roderick, ‘and I can only say that I am surprised that your fiancé accepts such plans, the more so since you will presumably be in London much of the time—unless, that is, he plans to sell up and move there with you?’ She showed sudden sharp interest as the idea came to her; and Mrs Phillips looked at Felicity with concern. The bookshop had been taken to Torminster’s heart, and would be a sore loss.

‘Not at all,’ said Felicity serenely. ‘I love the theatre, and he loves the shop, and we both love each other; and that’s really all there is to do with it.’

It was not the first time that she had had to field such comments; nor, she suspected, would it be the last. Torminster was far removed from the Bohemian world of the theatre. That was, indeed, a large part of its attraction.

At much the same time as the tea-party broke up, Jocelyn returned to the shop with Mixed Biscuits happily tired at his heel, having let him chase the swans until they flapped indignantly to the far side of the river. The dog, after this activity, was warm under his thick wavy fur; Jocelyn himself felt rather chilled, and wished he had worn a heavier overcoat. He came in to find that Martha Carroway had left dinner warming gently on the hob before going home to the sweet-shop. After lifting the lids for a judicious inspection, he continued through to his study, where he discovered that Ferranti had lit a fire of the apple-wood from the shed. It was warm and welcome, shedding a cosy glow over the panelling.

‘I thought you could use it,’ said Ferranti with an appraising eye. ‘It’s a filthy day out.’

Mixed Biscuits lay down on the hearth rug with a sigh of pleasure and thumped his tail. Jocelyn held out his hands to the flames.

‘I appreciate it,’ he said. ‘Do you want to eat? I see Martha has left us chops, and I’m famished.’

There was also pie—this time Martha’s own, rather than one from The Green Dragon—and, after their main course, the pair of them dipped heavily into its sweet depths under the flaky golden crust.

‘There is,’ commented Ferranti, ‘something sinfully normal about apple-pie. I’ll have another slice.’ He added, thoughtfully, ‘One could come home to a pie like this.’

Jocelyn could only agree wordlessly … his mouth being rather too full for speech just then.

Some time later, Felicity turned up, not at all surprised to interrupt the pair of them in a long discussion of Venice. It had already been decided that the honeymoon couple would travel there after the wedding; and Ferranti knew the city well.

‘How was your tea-party?’ he asked lazily.

‘Awkward,’ pronounced Felicity as Jocelyn helped her off with her cloak. ‘As such things tend to be, but there’s no help for it. Aunt Adelaide loves to have company round. On the whole, this was better than some tea-parties I’ve been to this autumn. Your grandmother was there, Jocelyn,’ she added, as he took it back out to the hall.

‘Yes, I know,’ he called back. ‘Henrietta told me yesterday.’

He came back in and sat down, and she perched on the arm of his chair. ‘Would you like some tea?’ he asked.

‘I’ll make it,’ said Ferranti.

IV

Christmas tide brought snow, not too deep for easy travel but powdering the roofs and cobbles, and leaving the tracery of branches limned black and white against the soft silver sky. The little party left Number Two, passed through the arch onto the Cathedral Green, where they walked round the north wall of the Cathedral—alas, not on the hour, and so not at a time to see the clock strike—and thence to the west end, where they saw that each of the figures wore a cap of white, and stood in its own frosted arch of stone, side by side and tier on tier, up the face of the building. The great doors stood open, and they entered.

Although they had come for a wedding, the nave was decorated for Christmas, with holly and ivy. Lady Lavinia had, however, contributed a selection of hot house plants from the Deanery greenhouses; and these were clustered near the altar. The ladies of the Close had their pews in the choir; and so there was an excellent view, appreciated by Grandmother and Henrietta, if not Hugh Anthony. The building was quite chill, being unheated stone; but it warmed up as it filled, until eventually it almost felt as if one might remove one’s coat to display one’s new dress … if it were not so improper. Today, since it was not a Church service, Grandfather sat with them, which was unusual; and Henrietta kept peeping sideways to be sure that he was really still there. Then he caught her at it, and twinkled in his usual way.

Jocelyn had come by briefly the previous evening; Felicity was being conveyed to the Cathedral in a hired car to protect her dress from the snow. Neither, of course, was permitted to meet the other until the ceremony itself. This had all been explained carefully; so Henrietta did not expect to be joined by either. She whiled away the time, therefore, craning her head to look at the greenery and berries, and looking round at the pews as the rest of the Close took their places. Mrs Jameson arrived, wearing white velvet under a white coat trimmed with swansdown (for it was now the festival of Christmas). For once, most of her pearls and diamonds were hidden from view; but, as she shifted, there was a glitter from one hand; and Henrietta realized that she had decided to put her rings on over her fine white gloves.

The Dean and his wife were, as ever, among the last to arrive, with a certain state, for each knew his importance. He strode in, spats over his galoshes, his top hat removed and held, while his wife’s slender aristocratic hand lay within the crook of his other arm. His bulwark supported and protected her exquisite elegance up the aisle, until he ushered her graciously into the front pew on the right and took his place beside her. The Palace pew on the opposite side of the aisle remained empty, however, since the Bishop would be performing the marriage.

The first faint, clear strains of boys’ voices could be heard beyond the screen as the choir paraded up the nave from the vestry. Behind them came the vergers, and then the Bishop in his cope. The boys filed into the choir stalls; and the Bishop took his place to the resounding tones of an organ voluntary.

As Henrietta had been privileged to be present when Felicity had shown them her wedding gown, its sleek elegant satin came as no surprise. Ruffles accentuated the neckline and hem, edged with lace; but, as such things go, the design of the gown was restrained for the era. She carried lilies and, of course, wore her mother’s pearls. What Henrietta had not known was Jocelyn’s choice of garb; and she had assumed that he intended to wear morning dress, given the hour. For a moment, therefore, she thought the scarlet coat a tribute to the festive season. Then she caught sight of his sword—brought down from London by his father—and realized that he was, of course, in uniform.

The couple walked slowly up the aisle as the organ played, took their place in front of the Bishop, and the formal ceremony of marriage began.

Afterwards, there was the wedding-feast. Ordinarily, this would have meant a return to Number Two; but, in view of the numbers of guests, both from Torminster itself and also up from London, the Bishop had kindly offered the use of the Palace, and it was held in the gallery. As this ran the whole length of one wing, it was ample to hold both the townsfolk of Torminster and the crowds of well-wishers from the theatre world; indeed, to the horror of the Bishop’s elderly butler, Baggersley, even the reporters were not barred entry. The log-fires were blazing at either end; and the great Christmas-tree was already up in the centre of the gallery, ready for the choirboys’ annual party on Holy Innocents’ Day. Like the decorations in the Cathedral, it lent an inappropriately gaudy tone, but could not be helped.

The cake stood in glory on its own table, five tiers of richness clad in purest white icing, decorated with swags and flowers. If, here and there, some of these were less than professionally perfect, it could not be told from a distance, and would not be noticed when it was cut.

‘A thing of beauty,’ Felicity took care to say to Ellen, who, like Sarah, had been given time off to attend both ceremony and feast. ‘I am so glad you made it for us.’

‘It was an honour, Mrs Irvin,’ said Ellen. Felicity bit her tongue.  It was not the first time in the course of that afternoon that someone had so addressed her, and no doubt would not be the last time, either; nevertheless, she did not think it was a mode of address to which she could ever become accustomed. After all, she had no intention of changing her professional name any more than she planned to retire from the stage.  She could see, though, that it was going to be hard to break the good people of Torminster of their habit of propriety; indeed, she was beginning to suspect that, in this city at least, she would never be Felicity Summers again.

The wedding-feast seemed to last forever; and the newly wedded couple felt compelled to stay till the end, shaking hands at the door as people finally took their leave. After that, the hired car returned to take them to their home (or new home, for Felicity), where Jocelyn carried her over the threshold in brave style, despite the complaints from his lame leg. … As soon as they were inside, he lowered her quickly.

‘We have the house to ourselves,’ he told her. ‘Ferranti moved next door to The Green Dragon just yesterday.’

‘How tactful,’ said Felicity. It was, they both admitted, the most thoughtful gift of all they had received.

V

Although their wedding-night was spent at home, both Felicity and Jocelyn were ready packed for their honeymoon. The bus had been ordered in time to take them to catch the early train to London the next morning; and they rose betimes to wash—and, in Jocelyn’s case, shave—in the newly appointed bathroom. Then he fried them bacon and mushrooms, put the frying pan in the sink for Martha, and they ate at the kitchen table.

Mr Gotobed arrived shortly before nine. The clatter of hooves across the cobbles of the Market Place called them to the front door, where they spent a few minutes donning their outer garments as he heaved their bags in. Jocelyn then handed Felicity up, and followed her as Mr Gotobed slammed the door shut. He climbed to the box; and they sat, side by side, on one of the wooden seats. There was a ‘crack’ as the whip was flourished; and the two stout bays hauled the round, pumpkin-like vehicle round to the High Street, and then off towards the station.

Later that day, after Henrietta and Hugh Anthony had gone to Morning Service with Grandmother, returned to play quietly with their Sunday toys, and then had dinner, they were sent out to the garden to run around for a while, since the Christmas season lasts so much longer than a single Sunday, and children cannot be expected to settle quietly forever. Snow had begun to fall gently: not enough for artistic creation, but sufficient for them to wear off some of their energy by tossing it at one another. Then Henrietta found herself suddenly smitten by a deep need to see whether, with the wedding done and Jocelyn and Felicity off to Venice, the shop was still all right in the absence of its owners … though she knew that Ferranti would be there … and it had been arranged that ’Arriet Kate from the sweet-shop would come in to tend the till.

With only a careless word to Hugh Anthony, flung over her shoulder as she bolted down the path, she ran down the Close and through the archway to the Cathedral Green, round the massive building that ruled the city, and across the Market Place to the bookshop. There was no sign of ’Arriet Kate, and no light through the bulging bay window full of books. She stood back and looked up, but it was dark on the first floor. Indeed, the house had, once again, that closed and empty look; and, when she tried the door, she found it locked. She knocked, long and loud; and then violently kicked the door, sure that, somewhere at the back of the building, Martha must be in the kitchen or Ferranti in the study … if she could only catch their attention.

Then she realized that it was, of course, still Christmas-tide. It occurred to her that ’Arriet Kate might yet be considering herself on holiday, that Martha had tactfully stayed home on the morning after the wedding night, and that Ferranti—in the absence of his hosts—might have taken himself off for a drink at The Green Dragon. She therefore rushed into the small hotel-cum-public house and through to the Snug, where Mrs Wilks presided, in search of him. Astonished gentlemen looked round at the youthful apparition. Then she bolted back out.  She was peering through to the Ordinary when Mrs Wilks caught her by the shoulder and pulled her back before she could barge in.

‘You’re looking for your father,’ said Mrs Wilks, and there was a kindly look on her face, despite the brassy hair and the magenta blouse.

‘He’s left,’ said Mr Wilks, appearing from the Ordinary. He looked none too pleased for the invasion. ‘Said to tell everyone he’d probably be back … some day. But at least this time he settled his bill.’

Mysterious as the Pied Piper, Ferranti once again … was gone.