The End Of The Rainbow – Episode 45

The Grays completed the last part of their journey in fine style, driven by Sir Hugh’s coachman. Mirren was thankful that her sister Jenny had lent them a respectable valise, belonging, she told them, to her son, Malcolm. Thomas seemed embarrassed by the deference shown by the coachman, and insisted on hefting the valise into the carriage by himself.For the last mile of the winding road to their destination, Mirren breathed deeply, luxuriating in the purity of sea air, feeling that any moment now she would wake up and find that all of it had been a dream.The gatehouse was just inside the big double gates of Sir Hugh’s residence. It was small, with low eaves sheltering little lattice-paned windows, its stonework covered by a creeper of warmest crimson. A wide driveway curved away from it, the trees lining it obscuring a view of the big house.Inside, a plump, smiling woman in a flowered apron was laying the table.“Tillie,” she introduced herself. “I’m from the big house. I’ve just been layin’ in the food you’ll need for your wee holiday.”She patted a covered dish in the centre of the table.“Cold cuts for your tea.There’s a’ you need in the pantry at the back o’ the scullery, and the press is fu’ forbye. I’ll send a lassie down wi’ a basket in the mornin’. Juist leave it at the doorwhen you’ve emptied it, an’ put a wee line in it if there’s anythin’ else you need, or fancy.”She paused to draw breath and treated Mirren to a searching glance.“Mind an’ eat, now, Mrs Gray. Sir Hugh says you’ve been no’ so well, and that he wants you bloomin’ at the end o’ this week!”When Tillie swept off at last, the house seemed very empty. Thomas had taken refuge outside, and was sitting on a bench by the front window, smoking his pipe. He nodded to Tillie, and raised his cap as she swept past.“Much obliged.”The meal was set in the main room of the house. It seemed large in comparison to Mirren’s kitchen at home, and had easy chairs on either side of a fireplace where a fire lay set but not lit. There was a chenille couch matching the chairs, bright rugs on the polished floor, two small tables with lamps and a bookshelf crammed with books.The big table with its four chairs was pushed against the open window. An inside door revealed a small lobby withthree doors. One led to a bedroom, another to a box-room with a little bed crammed into it, and the last to a small scullery with an even smaller pantry off it. All the windows were open, and Mirren was aware again of the freshness of sea air drifting through them. In the bedroom, fatigue suddenly overtook her. She kicked off her shoes and lay down for a moment on the flowered quilt that covered the big bed. From the pillow, she breathed in the scent of lavender.Thomas finished his smoke and went inside in search of his wife. He found her sound asleep, her hair tumbled round her and a smile of sheer contentment on her face. His expression softened as he closed the door quietly behind him, for he had caught a glimpse of the bonnie country girl he’d married all those years before.Mirren drifted into wakefulness, unsure for a moment of where she was. The curtains had been drawn, but a chink of daylight sneaked between them. The quilt had been folded over her, and she felt as if she were lying in a softly feathered nest. In the distance, she could hear a kettle singing.Thomas was on his knees at the fireplace in the sitting-room.“That’s the fire lit, an’ the kettle’s biled ben the scullery.”His voice was offhand, but Mirren noticed with satisfaction that her husband was in his shirtsleeves, his boots placed by the fender. Making himself at home already, she reflected.The clock on the mantel told Mirren that she had been asleep for hours, yet the food Tillie had brought was untouched, she saw.“Ye must be starvin’. Ye should have wakened me!”Her husband shook his head.“This week, hen, time stands still, so it does. An’ that might never happen again, so we should make the best o’ it.”


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