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Peace and Quiet
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Helen Henley

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Honeysuckle Cottage, 
Stoke Defires.

Wednesday

Dear Mrs Henley,

Both my husband and I were so pleased to hear your cousins have decided to take our little home for the summer while we are away visiting my sister in Australia. They will find our little Bartsetshire village such a pleasant change from the United States which we understand from what we have seen on the television to be such a noisy place with all those guns. It will be wonderful for your cousin to convalesce in peace and quiet after his operation and I suspect his wife could do with a nice long rest too. 

I will leave all the keys with Mr Green at the post office but he is a little deaf and they may have to shout at him before he understands they are to be my tenants. The front door key is labelled 'larder' and they will have to turn it to the left and give it a good kick as it sticks in damp weather.

They will find all the instructions on feeding the cats behind the blue vase on the mantelpiece.  Tarquin, the larger of our two Siamese, never drinks yesterday's milk and I always give him today's and finish up yesterday's ourselves. Lucretia may run round and round howling in that funny way Siamese have when she’s ‘on heat’, but it soon passes off when Tarquin ‘performs’. (We already have two reservations for the kittens.)

Tell them not to let Falstaff - that's the old pony - get into the orchard from the field as apples don't agree with him and he will keep them awake all night with his awful braying.

The Colonel’s peacocks in the garden at The Hall can be irritating – that high pitched sound they make - but it is usually only for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the evening. Fortunately they won’t hear Mr Jones’s cockerels unless the wind is in the east.  The hooting at night is the barn owls that have nested this year in the stables – we are so pleased.  They are a protected species now and they do help to keep down the mice.

Speaking of the stables, it is wise to keep them locked (key behind the clock in the hall) as the hayloft had become a venue for the village Romeos and Juliets.  They were never very quiet or discreet about their trysts so we had to be firm.

I am so sorry about all the buckets of damp clay in the kitchen and the two pottery wheels in the hall. Since old Mrs Paddle died, the Gilchester Women's Guild have been holding their meetings here and I have been successfully reviving an interest in ceramics. They only come one afternoon a week - Thursday - and I told them I was sure they would not mind their continuing during their tenancy. They are so enthusiastic it would be a pity to stop them now.  Miss Chubthorne, our librarian, can show them the statuette she made at our classes. She says it was based on Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ but it is amusingly naughty, if you get my meaning.

When they are using the kiln my husband built for them in the back garden, do be sure all the windows at the back are closed as the smoke always seems to blow towards the house.

Your cousins will meet our new vicar – we say ‘new’ as he has only been the incumbent for four and half years. The Reverend Chubb will give them a guided tour of the church (parts dating back to the 12th century) and doubtless show them the medieval stone carvings that are of a ‘robust’ nature in keeping with the spirit of Chaucer who may well have inspired the carver.

Rev Chubb (‘call me Charles’ he insists) was most upset when he heard we were going to Australia to my sister's for the summer.  He was so worried as to who would run the Jumble Sale and look after the refreshments at the garden fete which is in July -  the 22nd I think !Of course there is absolutely no obligation for them to help him if he asks but I do think they would find it amusing seeing all our quaint English customs.  Last year we made £200 for the organ fund and this year it’s the roof and tower and so we are aiming higher.  It is such a wonderful cause but if you don't feel your cousins would be up to jumble and refreshments, perhaps they could judge the vegetables – as I expect they have those in America.    This is not at all difficult as Mr Prout wins the broccoli and mixed greens and Colonel Featherstone the root vegetables every year. Besides, foreign judges with their funny accents and funny way of speaking would put them all on their toes.

Everyone is dying to meet them and Miss Chubthorne has penciled them in to talk to the Woman's Guild one evening about life in America and all about Hollywood and the Red Indians. Young Jim wants hear all about Disneyland so I told him to stand up and ask when it comes to questions.

My husband used to run the coconut shy and the cake raffles at the fete and I know the vicar will be hard pressed to find someone else, but I did explain your cousin's recent illness and he said he could switch the coconuts and raffles with Harry Stout who collects the money at the gate - so you hold him to it.    That would be a sitting down job and you don't, I know, want your cousin to overtax his strength.  The coconuts can be very trying as last year we got a rather rough element from Cropbridge who didn't always bother about throwing at just the coconuts.

Wasps have made a nest in the thatch outside the bathroom but I don't think they will bother them if they keep the window shut.    If they do, then they must tell Trotter and he will do something - probably smoke them out.

About Trotter. He has been with us as gardener for more than forty years and remembers my great-grandfather when he was head gamekeeper to the Squire. He likes to come early – soon after dawn – so if they want to sleep in best to leave the back door on the latch. He is no trouble and cooks his own breakfast and washes up after.  Just leave the bread, eggs, bacon, sausages and black pudding on the table.  He's a little strange – given to grunting rather than talking -  but really very sweet when you get to know him. He never allows anyone other than my mother and myself to cut any of the flowers in 'his' garden so let him get them for them. If they notice a small boy wandering round at night that will be most likely his grandson Adam, seeing how the conkers and the apples are getting along.

About cleaning the cottage – Mildred Potter used to come in two mornings a week but she is now coming close to full term and her bulge rather inhibits her from doing more than light dusting. She still won’t reveal who the father is as her own father, she says, has made terrible threats and he has been seen oiling the shotgun he has not used for years. I think I can talk Annie from our local pub, the Dog and Duck, to help out while your cousins are here.

I’m afraid your cousins will have to get used to warm British beer while they’re here (unless they drink lager) but I have taken the liberty of putting their names down for the pub quiz team at the Dog and Duck– Tuesday evenings. Jim Cross, the landlord, says all ‘yanks’ play poker and wonders if he could get a poker school going?

Alice Neapole from Squires Pardon will be bringing her stallion over when the Colonel’s brood mare is in season.  The mare is ‘covered’ in our stable yard as this avoids upsetting the other horses if they try to do the ‘covering’ up at the Hall.  It is quite a noisy spectacle but fortunately of short duration.

Before I knew your cousins were coming I did promise that the traditional children's Wakerday Tea could be held in the garden. It is the last Friday in August. If it rains they will have to have it in the living room but as there are never more than thirty children they should be able to fit them in.    I do hope they won't mind.    Mr Neil, the schoolmaster, and his wife will be there to look after them and keep them under control but it will be best to move all the ornaments into another room just in case.

I do hope it doesn't rain as otherwise they won't be able to have the Morris Dancers which are such a traditional part of the tea. Last year it was so wet my husband had to do conjuring tricks for two hours in lieu.  I expect your cousins have lots of hidden talents.  Do they play any instruments do you know?

I think they will find everything to their liking. The grandfather clock in the hall always chimes thirteen on the hour during the night and may wake them at first if they are light sleepers. The key to wind it is behind the hallstand on a nail but Trotter likes to do that.   He will also clean up any mess in the cellar as my husband’s last batch of home-made sloe gin has proved to be a bit too lively and some of the bottles have been exploding at night making quite a bang and strewing glass and gin everywhere as well as creating quite an alcoholic odour.

I'm afraid they will find this part of Bartsetshire terribly quiet. There is so very little to do here and I'm so afraid they'll be bored. Still, there are nice walks and it will be a wonderful rest for them both.

Very Sincerely,

Matilda Hornbeam.



© Helen Henley, 2010






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