ROBERTA eased herself off her kneeling mat not a fancy bought one, just a pile of newspapers inside a plastic carrier bag. My knees are getting creaky in their old age, she thought. But a good job had been done that afternoon, the dahlia tubers planted. She loved to see their colourful, pom-pom heads in the late summer.
As she leaned over to pick up the mat she caught a glint beside where she’d been working. But it was only a shard of broken glass. She threw it back. Every so often there would be something tantalisingly shiny in the soil and she would hope that, this time, it would be her lost engagement ring.
The ring, a large emerald flanked by two diamonds, had belonged to Donnie’s late mother. Roberta had been very fond of her so when Donnie first proposed all those years ago and asked if she’d like that ring or a new one she had no hesitation what was the point of buying new?
Donnie was delighted and liked to see her wearing it. She should have taken it to the jeweller’s to get it altered to fit it was on the large side, and her fingers were slimmer in those days but she kept putting it off. She’d only had it a matter of weeks when she came in from the garden one day and realised it wasn’t on her finger.
She wasn’t really a jewellery person, but of course the ring was more than that; it was a symbol of Donnie’s feelings for her. And it was a Campbell family heirloom. She thought that its loss had got their engagement off to a bad start although Donnie was philosophical, saying it would turn up eventually. He’d offered to buy her another ring but she refused to let him.
Eleven years of digging in the garden had passed but the earth had declined to give up its secrets.
“Robbie!” At the garden gate Angus was holding up a large brightly coloured box. “See what Sandy gave me.”
“He was desperate to show you,” Iris said. “We can come back if it’s a bad time.”
“It’s a very good time. In you go. I’ll wash my hands and put the kettle on.”
When she went into the sitting-room with the tea-tray Angus had opened the box and laid out two egg-cups, a little ball and a handkerchief-sized piece of cloth.
“It’s a magic set,” he said, his blue eyes sparkling with excitement. “Robbie, I can make the wee ball disappear. Sandy showed me how.”
“Goodness me.” Roberta put the tray on the table and sat down on the floor beside him. “I must see this, Mr Magic.”
As Angus arranged his trick Roberta looked up at Iris. Sandy’s visit had cheered her up and was also to provide her with some employment, keeping Charlie’s house clean and himself fed properly once Sandy was no longer there. But their relationship wasn’t just about that, of course; they seemed to get on well together and Roberta knew they’d been an item before that Fin came on the scene. Yesterday afternoon, when she’d bumped into Iris in the street, Iris had said that Sandy had asked her to have dinner with him at the Boat that evening.
Roberta’s mind didn’t usually dwell on romance her own or anyone else’s. Maybe it was because she was thinking of the missing engagement ring (if only Angus had a magic wand to conjure it up) that it occurred to her that perhaps love might have been in the air last night. Iris was young and pretty. It was time she moved on, as they said nowadays. It was a delicate subject, though; maybe she shouldn’t bring it up.
“How was your dinner with Sandy?” she asked tentatively. “Moonlight and roses . . . ?” She held her breath in case Iris was upset at the suggestion.
But Iris shook her head, smiling.
“Sandy’s my pal, that’s all,” she said. “He makes me laugh, always has done it’s been great to see him again.” She picked up a biscuit from the tray. “It was dinner for three last night. Sandy, me and Charlie. It was really weird being in the dining-room at the Boat and not being the waitress. Even weirder for Charlie, of course. The food was gorgeous. You and Donnie must go.”
“Donnie’s not keen on sauces and suchlike. Food messed about, as he sees it,” Roberta said.
“He’d like Corin’s cooking, I promise,” Iris said. “The puddings were to die for. I had this lemon and white chocolate OK, all ready, Angus?”
Angus had stood up, his shoulders very straight.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “here is my trick.” He bowed and sat down again.
Roberta was genuinely amazed when she pointed at the egg-cup she was sure the ball was in and saw that it was empty when Angus triumphantly whisked off the cloth. She clapped her hands loudly.
Angus tucked his props back into the box.
“There are five more tricks but I don’t know how to work them yet.”
“I want to see them when you do.” Roberta felt a rush of love for the little boy. Seeing far too much of children when she was a teacher she’d never wanted to have her own, but being able to borrow Angus occasionally was a great pleasure.
“Has Sandy gone?” she asked Iris as she got up from the floor.
It was Angus who answered, spreading out his arms wide.
“He’s flown away. Can we go in an aeroplane, Mummy?” He ran round the room. “I’m flying to see Sandy in my aeroplane.”
Clearly, Sandy had been a big hit. It would be nice for Angus to have a father, and who would be better than his mother’s very good friend?
Roberta bit her tongue. She’d said enough on the subject for today.