Echoes From The Past – Episode 48


Holly’s plans for Brenda Harris’s wall hanging went surprisingly well, bearing in mind how unsympathetic she found Mrs Harris’s character. Perhaps it was the absence of any fellow feeling that made her concentrate solely on the design. In the end, she came up with a streamlined pattern that looked simple and yet had a level of sophistication that she was sure would please. Again, she had painted the design in watercolour, giving as clear an idea as she could of what the final artefact would look like.

Holly was ushered into the same room as before, and this time she was offered a seat, though refreshment was again not mentioned. Holly was amused. She had made sure that she’d had her coffee before she left Bea, but just the same, it would have been nice to be asked.

Brenda Harris sat beside her on the sofa, so that the drawing could be spread on the coffee table. Holly was gratified to hear a spontaneous gasp of admiration from Mrs Harris, which she tried to turn into a cough.

“Very nice,” Mrs Harris said.

“I’ll explain the different bits to you, if you like. I mean, if you would prefer just to look at the piece in its entirety without any explanation, that’s absolutely fine. But I did take account of the things you mentioned and tried to incorporate them into the design. These I would be happy to expand upon. It’s up to you, Mrs Harris.”

“Please, expand away,” Mrs Harris said, a thin smile on her lips.

Holly spoke for several minutes, though she didn’t want to explain the picture out of existence. Some things just had to be taken on trust and enjoyed for what they were. She had the feeling that Mrs Harris understood that perfectly well, but wanted somehow to get her money’s worth.

As with her garden, money was uppermost in Brenda Harris’s thinking.

“You did say –” she began, mentioning a sum that was well below Holly’s estimate. Holly politely corrected her, naming the original figure.

Mrs Harris gave an indulgent laugh.

“I think you mean that as your starting price, Miss Seagrave,” she said. “No-one ever sticks to their starting price, do they? There is always room for manoeuvre, is there not?”

“I’m afraid not,” Holly said, with an implacable smile. “I don’t play games with people. I don’t bring the price down just to get the commission, and I don’t put it up if I find I have underestimated the cost. These pieces are expensive to make, I’m afraid. That’s just the way it is. I’m happy to give you an itemised estimate, so that we both know exactly where we are. I promise I won’t shift from that.”

“In that case,” Mrs Harris said wryly, “I’ll have to think about it.”

Holly started to pack up.

“Just as you wish.”

****

Holly was annoyed at what might well turn out to be a waste of time and energy, but Brenda Harris would never have known. Holly’s professionalism was unassailable. In any case, if Mrs Harris decided against the project, Holly still had the design, which she knew would make up well. It would be eminently sellable, whatever happened.

She was conducted to the door with a promise to get in touch with her once she had considered things. It was as Holly saw the garden again that she thought she might maximise the visit.

“That really is a beautiful garden,” she said. “You’re so lucky to have it.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Mrs Harris said with some asperity. “I employed the best. And, I might add, the company I dealt with were happy to negotiate.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, indeed. I had an expert designer who understood the art of compromise.” There was a note of triumph in her voice that was meant to embarrass Holly.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, Mrs Harris,” Holly said with unctuous politeness, “but who did the design for you? It’s just that my mother has a bit of a rambling garden and is looking for someone to do something with it, and something like this would be perfect.”

Brenda Harris could not resist the opportunity to
boast.

“It was a chap called Guthrie. Ken Guthrie, I think his name was. He has a small business in the town, just starting up, but then I like to encourage young people with ambition.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Holly replied, refraining from mentioning that it was no encouragement to anyone to beat them down on price.

She left Mrs Harris with no promise on either side, and a feeling that the commission was lost, though she could be mistaken. What she was not wrong about was the design of the garden. It was definitely Daniel’s.

Back home at Aunt Bea’s, she booted up the computer and searched for Ken Guthrie landscape gardener and designer. There were several Ken Guthries, but not one of them had anything to do with garden design in the Stirling area. So who was this Ken Guthrie, and how on earth had he got his hands on Dan’s designs?

lucycrichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!