Dr Hafiz's busy day
In the last episode, Jane had an awkward chat with Mrs Post, and then cycled off to The Palace. The kid thought the village was hers, while Lord Jo sped home. Billy left the Dog and Whistle under a cloud, while a stone climbed high and then smashed a window screen. Cadbury is saved, Inky is shocked, and Lord Jo? He is slumped over the wheel of the car.
We discover Mrs Post hard at work in the Post Office. And who else, frankly, could deal with customers like these? (This is why Mrs Post didn’t delegate. No one else seemed to know what to do, or how to put things right. And there was a lot to put right this morning.)
How many times did Mrs Post have to say it? No, she didn’t do road tax or passports. They’d need to go to Lesser Needing for services like those, as her Post Office was deemed too small an outlet to handle them. Of course she could handle them, which irked her a little, but that was how things were; the authorities must have their way. She had agreed to the lottery, however, and Algernon bought five tickets every week, religiously.
‘Some call it the Stupid Tax,’ said Algernon, ‘But I call it the Dreamer’s Dare! How does that sound?’
‘Cadbury is with Reality Jane,’ said Mrs Post, cutting to the chase, and not one for dreaming. ‘Recovering.’
Algernon did vaguely recall his assault on young Cadbury. Fortunately, from his perspective, he’d had the presence of mind to clear from the scene all the items he’d thrown.
‘Who knows what happened to her!?’ said Algernon. ‘And I suppose we’ll never know. It’s not as if Cadbury’s word is very reliable, sweet girl though she is!’
‘Now what have you done to yourself?’ asked Dr Hafiz. ‘Did you knock your head on the moon? Or simply trip over the sun?’
Cadbury had never been happier in her life. Jane had made up the bed in the spare room, and put in two extra pillows to help her sit up. Cadbury loved the clean cotton sheets, and the marmite soldiers for tea.
‘I am going to be a well girl!’ she said, as she looked into the good doctor’s eyes. He seemed a very kind man, even though he was a slightly different colour from her and Jane. Cadbury was whitey-pink in the main, and Jane, white with pale purple veins, whilst Dr Hafiz was the colour of her wardrobe. Perhaps colour wasn’t the most completely important thing, though her father always thought it was completely important, all the time, and every daughter loves her father in a way.
‘You are a funny colour,’ said Cadbury.
‘It causes me no end of amusement,’ said Dr Hafiz. ‘Every time I wake, I chuckle like a chaffinch.’
‘She was hit on the head by a china object,’ said Jane, bringing in some tea. ‘She doesn’t remember very much.’
‘So what exactly do you remember, Cadbury?’ asked the doctor.
‘Shall I tell you?’ asked Cadbury excitedly.
‘I am listening, as a dog to its master.’
It had all been terrible, but she was ready to remember everything now, though perhaps not in the right order. ‘She just told me to clean upstairs,’ said Cadbury. ‘And so naturally, that’s what I did. I always does as I am told.’
‘Who told you? Mrs Post?’
‘That’s right. I mean, I wasn’t to know I wasn’t allowed in that room! How was I to know? There weren’t no notice on the door nor nothing!’
Dr Hafiz and Jane looked each other. This wasn’t quite what they had expected.
‘And what happened then?’ asked Jane.
What happened then was Dr Hafiz’s phone started to ring. Bad timing, I would suggest.
‘My humblest apologies,’ he said, switching it quickly off. ‘Suddenly, I become the devil himself, disturbing your wonderful words. Now where were we? A room you weren’t allowed in, you say? Why weren’t you allowed there?’
Patricia was frustrated. She had wanted to talk with Dr Hafiz about Billy, even though Billy had now disappeared, running off down the road to who knows where? Yet this was the second time she had been diverted to the doctor’s voice mail; and he hadn’t rung back after her first message.
Patricia had also been unable to contact Lord Jo; again, an unanswered phone, and most frustrating. She didn’t believe Mrs Pump’s assertion that Lord Jo was eating alone tonight; not for a moment. After all, they’d agreed supper on this evening, and he wasn’t a man to change his mind. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, and didn’t see the need for publishing houses, but he stuck with what he agreed. Nevertheless, perhaps a casual call about an unrelated matter could establish once and for all that everything was as planned: ‘So I’ll see you at seven!’ she would add casually at the end of their conversation, which would make things very clear.
And it was best things were clear. It would, after all, be highly embarrassing to arrive at the manor all dressed to the nines, only to find Lord Jo watching a soap opera in his underpants, and eating a bag of chips! ‘Not an image to savour or linger upon,’ thought Patricia.
Yet this was her fifth casual call, and each time, there was no reply. Where was Lord Jo?
We do know where Rex was, however. Rex was in the church, lighting the evening candles.
‘The day thou gavest, Lord, has ended,’ hummed Rex.
It was good to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of village life. He could see his breath in the chill air, as he knelt to say his prayers. He could have turned on the old gas heaters but really, was it worth it? It took him twenty minutes to light them with his old lighting pole; and then a further two hours for them to have any effect at all, by which time he would be in the Dog and Whistle.
And anyway, this evening he was warmed within, strangely warmed, by the company of countless souls who had knelt here before him down the centuries. How many there must have been! A veritable cloud of witnesses! ‘They taught us so much,’ thought Rex, reflecting on the remarkable human insights carved from unforgiving centuries past; and feeling humbled. ‘Truly, we are the small people who sit on the shoulders of giants. It is they who help us to see as we do.’
And perhaps each of these giants was his friend. They were skeletons now, of course; empty-headed skulls in the deep quiet of the cold ground. Not for them, the cares of tomorrow and New Year plans. Their earthly race was run. Yet tonight, as he knelt in the flickering candlelight, Rex felt their loving presence around him, which was wonderful. Rex wished to be everyone’s friend – even the saints of yore.
Once settled, he thought of David, who seemed so down of late; and of Billy, out there somewhere in the whipping winter wind. Had Rex been blessed with particular knowledge, he would have known that of the two, David was probably the more in need of prayer. Along with the other bad things that had happened today – like the absence of bread and milk, and the leaking roof – he had just experienced a power cut, which was really all he needed. (They do say that bad things happen in threes, but with David it tended to be in fours or even fives.) Billy, on the other hand, was warm for the first time in days. And he also knew where the kettle was; and once you know that, it does make life better.
If Rex had had been blessed with even more knowledge, then he would have known that in the 17th century, during the English Civil War, a strange event was said to have taken place in the High Street of Misty Longings. In those days, the High Street was more of a track, of course. Indeed, the top of the High Street had been called ‘Marshy Point’, such was the boggy state of it. ‘Better for ducks than carts,’ joked the Parish Clerk to his buxom wife, as he contemplated the quagmire.
‘No place, to be sure, for a dry sense of humour!’ she replied.
‘Wouldst thou have me laugh like a drain?!’ he asked.
‘We could make fair of the bog if we all worked together.’
‘What meanest thou?’ asked her husband, suddenly serious.
‘I think we should ‘pool’ our resources!!’
It was good that someone was having a laugh during the early 1640s, because civil wars do not tend to be very funny.
The Roundheads were fighting the Cavaliers; Cromwell against Charles I; Parliament against the Crown – and the village of Misty Longings had just been sucked into the argument.
‘I definitely saw the Cavaliers arrive,’ she said. ‘All fancy clothed they were! Lace, velvet and trim little beards.’
‘Don’t be stupid, woman. Cavaliers here? Misty Longings is a hotbed of Roundhead sympathisers!’
‘I saw what I saw,’ she said.
And even though history doesn’t give her a name, she could well have been right. That something happened, there seems little doubt – for a few weeks later, Cromwell himself came to investigate; and he was nobody’s fool, despite the large wart on his face.
‘A warty face makes not a warty wit.’ Let that be today’s proverb, to be used at will.
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