Marge was perished with the cold by the time she reached the house. Not having a coat was bad enough but on top of that her face had begun to throb and by the time she got off the bus one eye had closed shut. The house hadn't been difficult to find, just a short walk from the bus stop. But it wasn't quiet what Marge had expected.
It was big all right, but not all that big and the paint was peeling from the windows and door. The garden in the front had a nice tree in it, but the whole place had a run down look to it as if it had simply become old and tired. Still, it was a good area, Marge could see that, with trees along the streets and little cars parked outside some of the houses.
Marge stood outside the door and waited before knocking. How quiet the street seemed, there were no children about and she couldn't hear any noises from the houses. It was creepy really, for although most of the windows were lighted, the road itself seemed totally deserted.
Marge hadn't decided what to say to Mrs Threlfall. She wanted her to help but she hadn't worked out how much she should tell her. In fact, now she'd got here she was too afraid to knock. After all, she couldn't tell the whole story, could she?
Just then the hall light went on and she saw Mrs Threlfall come to the door and peer at her though the frosted glass. Marge tried to smile but realized that the lady wouldn't be able to see properly, so she shouted out, "Hello, it's me--Marge. Remember?"
The head disappeared for a moment then a set of bolts were drawn. The door opened a few inches and Mrs Threlfall stared out into the darkness. Marge could see that the door was still on the chain and she smiled reassuringly.
"Fancy it being you, my dear. I thought it was my hubby. He's working late, supervising you know. But what are you doing here? And in a thin dress like that. You'll catch your death---You'd better come inside, my dear."
Mrs Threlfall stepped back so that Marge could come into the hallway. For a moment she stood in the shadow as the lady shut the door. Then, as Mrs Threlfall turned, she heard an intake of breath.
"Oh, my dear, but what ever has happened?"
Mrs Threlfall stepped back and put her hand to her face as she looked at Marge. There was a long silence then, as Marge began to cry, Mrs. Threlfall ran forward and, putting her arms around the girl, led her into the kitchen.
"Now you don't have to say anything, dear. Just sit here and I'll put the kettle on and we'll have a nice cup of tea -- you'll feel much better after that."
But the sobbing wouldn't stop so the lady stood over Marge, stroking her hair and patting her on the back. "There, there, there, it's all over now, you've not need to worry."
"But it's not, it's not, and I don't know what to do." Marge began to cry even more while Mrs Threlfall went on patting and stroking. "This is what we're going to do. You don't have to tell me anything at all...just sit there and we'll have a look at your face. We'll soon have it cleaned up. I was trained you know, in the war. Tonight you can sleep in the spare bedroom and we'll talk the whole thing over in the morning when you're feeling a little better."
Soon the kettle had started to whistle and Marge watched while the lady warmed the tea pot and made the tea. She took down two beautiful tea cups with roses painted on them, and a gold rim around the edges. It made Marge feel better just to watch. Something in the way the lady did everything was just right. It was as if she'd been doing it for years and years and nothing, no matter how bad, could ever make her do it differently.
The lady poured out two cups and put three big spoons of sugar in Marge's before she handed it to her, "Come along, dear, drink this up, it'll make you feel better."
The she let out a little gasp, "Oh, silly me" and ran out of the room. Marge heard her go upstairs and she seemed out of breath when she came back with a little bottle in her hand.
"Here, put a drop of this in your tea." Then the lady laughed. "Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. I think I'll have a little too. It's brandy. I keep if for medicinal purposes actually - but, well, you never know do you? And it's as well to be prepared. Like tonight for instance, who'd have thought?"
The lady sat and watched Marge as she drank her sweet tea. Each time Marge took a sip Mrs Threlfall would put her head on one side and nod in encouragement.
When the tea was finished Mrs Threlfall went into the pantry and lifted down a large white wooden box with a red cross painted on it.
"These are my medical supplies, dear. From the war, but they're still very good."
She took a bunch of keys out of the pocket of her house coat and Marge had to smile when she saw old bus tickets, torn envelopes and even some boiled sweets--all sorts jumbled together which the lady brought out in her hand. She noticed Marge's grin, "I'm always stuffing things in my pocket, aren't I? You see I like to listen to the wireless and jot things down on a piece of paper as I hear them. You hear such interesting things on the Home Service, don't you?
The lady went chattering on and on as she opened the medicine box, "I do prefer the Home Service, don't you? Some of the people on the Light program are so common. And then there's the Sunday Hymn singing and the play on a Saturday evening, I never miss that."
Marge drew in a breath of all the exciting smells inside the box and sat back contented as the lady began to examine her face. It was so peaceful just siting there, listening to Mrs Threlfall and not having to think. Marge would tell her the whole story tomorrow, after a good sleep.
"We used to be regular church goers but neither of us attends very much now. Well its the new vicar you see. Old Cannon Bragg was a real gentleman. And he certainly kept you on your toes. Miss one Sunday and he'd be round the next day wanting to know why."
The lady took a white cloth from the box and, carefully folding it, put it on her head. It had a red cross stitched on the front. Then she filled an enamel bowl with water from the kettle and poured in something from one of the bottles that made the water go milky. Marge shuddered in pleasure as she felt the warm water on her face. It was so good to be taken care of.
"But the new vicar. Well, you can tell he's low church. The organist wouldn't stand for it, he's resigned you know; and some of the ladies who've been going for years, they don't like changes do they? And there's so much ungodliness in the world today, it's awful. I know we should stand by the church but it's so hard with the new vicar. He's started one of these youth clubs in the church hall. We used to have whist drives on a Thursday but he changed the time without consulting anyone. Such terrible louts, from the prefabs, not our type at all, they don't appreciate nice things. I told him 'Vicar" I said, 'that type have their own church to go to so why do they have to come here?'"
The lady put down the bowl and began to dry Marge's face. "Now let me look at that leg of yours, if we're not careful it's going to go sceptic. So you see my hubby and I don't care to go anymore, since it changed. Our friends the Lunds used to be very regular, but they've dropped off as well. Of course I listen to the Choral Evensong on the wireless and I like the morning service. I tell my hubby, 'I'm with them in spirit', Oh dear, that's nasty, I'm afraid this is going to hurt. But it's a nice church, stained glass and a beautiful reredos that Councillor Aspinall's father paid for; an Italian carved it so it's very good. My but you are a brave girl, just once more. And he's changed the vicarage too, well that's his wife of course. Cannon Bragg was a celibate. There, that's done, now I'll just put a dressing on and then we'll see about getting you to bed."
Marge was too tired to say anything and half an hour later she was propped up in bed in one of Mrs Threlfall's nighties drinking a cup of hot Horlicks. The lady was sitting in a blue wickerwork chair smiling approval at Marge. "There, you look one hundred percent better already. It's wonderful what a hot bath and a cup of Horlicks will do. Now, dear, don't try to touch that dressing on your face, just keep it on and we'll have a look at it in the morning."
The lady went over to the window. "My nephew sleeps in this room when he comes to visit. He was here only last weekend. He's a lot better now, you know, but still very weak. These windows used to open right onto the fields, you could see rabbits and partridge some mornings, a lovely view. But then they built that factory during the war; terrible, ugly thing and such awful black smoke. It was ruining the gardens and you couldn't hang anything out to dry. They put up a bigger chimney stack in the end but it didn't do much good."
Marge snuggled down in the bed, warm and content. It was funny in a way, but she was starting to forget things. The thoughts were fading away, and it was as if she had always lived here, as if she had been a child here.
"It's such a shame. My hubby bought this house because of the view from the back and now there's a factory and behind that the pre-fabs. The world's changing so fast these days, isn't it dear?"
But Marge's eyes had begun to close. It was so nice just hearing the lady drone on and on, and to smell the clean sheets over the scent of polish. She felt safe in the bed and so secure, it was as if all the bad things had been left far away and there was a new life before her. Tomorrow Marge would tell the lady what had happened, she'd tell her all about Cullen and Taylor and how she wanted to help him, and ask her which solicitor to go to, and how much it would cost, but for now she just wanted to fall asleep.
The lady put out the light. It was quite dark now, even though the curtains were thin no light found its way into the bedroom. Before she went to sleep Marge thought about the little boy and how he's slept in the same bed a few days ago. She wondered what he was like.
The next morning was dreamy, Marge slept late and when she woke up there was a tray beside the bed with a cup of tea and some buttered toast. It was the same pretty cup with the roses and there was a white crocheted doily underneath the saucer.
After her tea Marge drew the curtains and looked out of the window. It really wasn't as bad as the lady made out, not by a long chalk. The factory was there all right but it was new and clean, and beyond it Marge could see trees, and over to one side a big field with a path through it. Marge looked down into the back garden where the lady bending over some rose bushes. It was a beautiful back garden, quite big and with trees and flowerbeds, just like out of a magazine. Except that being late October there wasn't much in the way of flowers except for the roses.
Marge dressed, washed her face and remembered not to peer under the bandages. The bathroom was beautiful and full of lovely smells, soap and talcum powder and spicy smells from a cupboard over the sink. Marge opened the cupboard and discovered that it was full of medicine bottles, and pill boxes and different coloured jars. They were all from the same chemist and had the lady's name on the labels, but Marge realized that some of them were years old. Still the colored bottles were pretty and smelled so nice.
After Marge had brushed her hair she went downstairs. There were carpets everywhere, even on the stairs. She shouted, "Hello, I'm up." and Mrs Threlfall came out of the kitchen with a bunch of flowers in her arms.
"Oh, you're up already. I was just going to put these in a vase for your room. You must be famished, dear, let me get you something for your breakfast and then we'll look at that face of yours. Now let's see..."
But Marge shook her head, "I don't want anything, really I don't."
"But you should always have a good breakfast dear....Oh, I'm forgetting, I suppose you're still having morning sickness. Well, let's just have a nice cup of tea and some Marie biscuits....Now you sit down over there and I'll put the kettle on."
After the kettle was singing on the gas Mrs Threlfall ran upstairs. Marie heard her rummaging about and then she came down with a bottle of sherry in her hand.
"Now why don't we have a little drink, it'll make you feel better. Old Doctor Brieley said that a glass of sherry in the morning was a wonderful tonic, far better than all these modern drugs. 'A little wine for thy stomache's sake". That's St. Paul. So you just sit there and I'll get the glasses."
The lady came back with two lovely glasses on a silver tray, with little lace doilies underneath them -- just like with the tea cups. "This is the most awfully special sherry, from Cyprus. Terribly good, you know, and every bit as posh as the Spanish. You see we have a nice little wine store on the high street and the man there always saves me a bottle. Now you just drink that and it'll bring the colour back to your cheeks."
Marge didn't talk much. She didn't even think of Cullen, well not really, she just sat there and took everything in -- the room, the glasses with the tiny patterns cut into them, the taste of the sherry and the sound of the lady's conversation. It was like music, the way it swept over her and made her warm and secure.
The lady poured out a second glass of sherry and after the sherry they had tea and biscuits. Then Mrs Threlfall took out her photograph album and showed Marge lots of photos of her nephew. Then some of the first house she'd had, their holidays in Scotland and snaps where she was dressed up as a nurse. They were in the war, she said, and she looked so jolly in her uniform with a big smile on her face. When they'd finished looking at the album the lady got the bottle of sherry out again and they had another little glass.
Marge began to wonder when she was going to tell her about Cullen. After all, that was why she'd come in the first place. But in a way she didn't want to spoil it all; it was a bit like a fairy story and Marge didn't want it to end. She knew that if she just sat there and nodded it would go on forever.
For lunch they had a piece of steamed haddock with a side plate of bread and butter, the slices cut very thin and the crusts removed. The lady said that they had their dinner in the evening and a knife and fork tea on a Sunday. So what they ate in the middle of the day was called lunch.
After lunch the lady put the electric fire on in the front room. She served another glass of sherry and, after she had looked at Marge's eye, she sat beside her on the settee and became very serious. "It's your husband isn't it?"
"I knew it was as soon as you set foot in the door. 'It's that husband of hers', I said to myself. Terrible."
The lady leaned over and put her hand on Marge's knee, "Now, do you want to go to the police, dear? My hubby'll take you if you want."
Marge shook her head violently. "No. No...nothing..."
The lady smiled at that. "Well, I suppose I can understand that--it's a terrible thing but I think I can understand. Now I don't want you to worry my dear, you can stay here for the next day or two and you don't have to make your decision yet."
"But I've got to. I've got to do something... What's going to happen?"
"Well, I'm going to have a talk with my hubby tonight- I told him what I thought when he came in last night but...well, er, he said I should wait 'till I'd spoken to you. So when he comes in tonight I'll tell him that you'd like to stay for a few days, isn't that right, dear?"
"And you don't want to go back?"
Marge shook her head "No, not back there, no."
"Well, I think a doctor should see that face. Just to be on the safe side. And we should be thinking about a solicitor."
"Yes, I've got to do that....the right one, I don't know which one to see."
The lady nodded, "The man who handled our house is very good. I'll get my hubby to make an appointment with old Mr Allsop, he's very experienced and a real gentleman. We'll go and see him as soon as you're up to it - it's as well. But the doctor should see your face first. It'll be evidence you know, and there's the baby to think of isn't there?"
Marge was totally at sea by now, but she tried not to show it. She simply sat there and nodded her head meekly at everything the lady said - if she could just stay here a couple more days that'd be nice. And then this solicitor, well if he was that good they he'd know what to do for Cullen. The best thing was to hang on like the lady said.
"So I said to my hubby. 'Oh you should see her poor face, the man must have been maniac to do a thing like that' and do you know what he said? Well he's very outspoken, he just looked straight at me and said 'Americans', just like that. He doesn't like Americans because of the war. I was all for calling in the police, you know, when I first saw you. Well, even if he is your husband he shouldn't be allowed to get away with a thing like that. But my hubby said that wasn't right, it wasn't really our business to do a thing like that and I should wait to have our little chat first."
Marge meant to speak up, meant to correct her, but somehow she just couldn't summons up the energy. It may have been the sherry or just being there, lying back in the soft cushions of the settee and never wanting it to end.
Mrs. Threlfall put out her hand and patted Marge on the arm. "There, there, that's done. We've made our decision and now I'll go and put on the kettle again. If you like, we could walk down to the bakery afterwards and get some nice cakes, or do you like Ice Cream? The dairy makes a very nice vanilla, and it's real cream you know, not that awful stuff they sell in the cinemas."
Marge nodded, "Yes, that'd be nice."
"Well we'll go right after our cup of tea. Of course I wouldn't buy an ice cream in a cinema myself. We used to go a great deal in the old days, some lovely films. And wasn't it terrible about that shooting at the Palace Cinema? There are some dreadful people about these days, dreadful. My hubby always says that hanging is too good for them."
Marge nodded in agreement.
In the afternoon the two of them walked to the shops. It was warm in the sun and everyone they passed seemed to know Mrs Threlfall and to have a word to say to her. At the post office they went behind the counter where there were shelves full of books. It was a little library and you paid so much each week to borrow a book. "I'm a great reader, you know, and of course listening to the wireless when my hubby's out, but there's nothing better than a good read."
Marge stood around whole Mrs. Threlfall looked though the titles. "I must confess it's a bit naughty, but I do like a good murder, Agatha Christie or The Toff. Do you like murder, dear?"
When they got back Marge sat in the garden while Mrs. Threlfall pottered around doing things to the plants. It had turned out to be so warm that Marge didn't need a coat, even though it was October. She could smell winter in the air ... soon it would be bonfire night. She wondered if the lady's nephew liked bonfire night and staying up late to collect firework money for the guy. They used to have a big bonfire in the middle of the street when she was a girl, with everyone coming out with fireworks, and Dad doing spuds in their jackets for her. If she was still a kid she'd have made her guy already and they'd be standing outside the pub shouting "Penny for the Guy".
While Marge day-dreamed the lady talked on about the flowers, and green fly, and slugs, and transplanting, and a hundred other things. It didn't mean much to Marge, after all she didn't know one flower from another, but it was nice to have it all going on in the background. Then Marge began to dream about the house she'd have, how it would be a cottage with flowers growing up the walls and a fantastic garden. It'd be a white cottage, just like the one in Wales.
But at that point, all the bad thoughts came flooding back into her head. Oh God, what was she going to do? She'd wasted all this time just thinking about herself with Cullen locked up in Walton Jail and not knowing what was going to happen to him.
Marge coughed to make the Mrs Threlfall stop talking and look over her way. "You know what you said about a solicitor? You know, about me going to see one?"
"Yes dear," the lady smiled.
"Well, I've got to. I've got to go soon...what do you have to do?"
"Oh, don't worry, we can leave all that to my hubby. He'll be in early tonight, so first we'll have dinner together and then we'll talk about it afterwards. I'm sure he'll be able to get you an appointment sometime next week."
"But I've got to go now...as soon as I can. It's dead important."
"Well, we'll see. Now why don't you help me carry these flowers into the house? You can give me a hand with the dinner if you like."
Contact F. David Peat