The Ferryboat – Episode 22

JUDY watched Louise disappear round the corner on her left just as Roberta appeared from the right, her arms full of Michaelmas daisies and marigolds.

“My contribution to the festivities. Where would you like them?”

“They’re glorious! Thank you I wanted to have flowers on the reception desk but I’m running out of time.”

“Get me something to stick them in and I’ll do it,” Roberta offered. “How’s it going for the big do?” She followed Judy to a cupboard in the hall from where Judy produced a green glass vase. “All set?”

“Almost there,” Judy replied. “Can I leave you to it, Roberta? I need to sort out sleeping arrangements. My mother and younger daughter have turned up unexpectedly.”

She tried not to let her thoughts show in her face as Roberta roughly stripped the stems of their leaves and crammed the pretty flowers into the vase without attempting to make any kind of arrangement.

“There, all done,” Roberta said, wiping one hand against the other. “Look, I imagine the hotel’s full to the gunnels tonight. I’ve got a spare room if that’s any use to you.”

Judy could have kissed her.

“Really? Well, if you wouldn’t mind your house being an extension of the hotel, that would be brilliant. A business arrangement, of course. Come through and meet my mum.”

She led Roberta through to the kitchen, made the introductions and left the two ladies to get to know each other. Out of the kitchen window she could see Tom and the van driver struggling with boxes of wine bottles. Why couldn’t Philip go and help instead of picking at the canaps and getting in everyone’s way?

He caught her eye and called across the kitchen.

“Judy, you know that conversation I had with Tom, about how the golf widows would pass the time? Any thoughts?” Philip’s hand hovered over the pastries and to her amusement Judy saw Roberta move very slightly to block his way.

“Yes, lots,” she said. Why did they have to discuss this now? “There’s an alpaca farm nearby, would you believe, and you can watch the wool being spun. And we wondered about hiring a mini-bus to take them to that wonderful shop in the middle of nowhere? They do clothes and antiques and there’s a fabulous food hall.”

Philip came over to her, nodding his approval.

“Then there’s Lorn House,” Judy went on. “It’s been famous since Jacobite times. They’ve said they can arrange a private tour. Can we have a chat tomorrow about it?”

“I’m impressed, Judy. I think the ladies will go for all of that.” Philip followed Judy’s gaze out of the window. “It looks as if Tom could do with a hand.”

“I’m sure he’d appreciate your help,” Judy said, making her escape. She helped Corin and Verity to cover the plates of food with clingfilm and clear up. Everything seemed to be in hand now. She looked at her watch. Just the extra glasses to wash and that might still leave time to slip over to the annexe and change into the birthday top, because her mother was here to see her wear it.

* * * *

The party whirled through Judy’s head as she lay beside Tom, trying to sleep. Iris playing the fiddle while Donnie swung his piano accordion through traditional Scottish tunes, his foot keeping time. A hundred people talking, laughing, enjoying Corin’s food. Marilyn and Roberta, sitting on a sofa, chatting nineteen to the dozen. Louise, a firefly in a short scarlet dress, seemingly everywhere at once as she held out trays of canaps and replenished glasses. Charlie slipping off to sit in the office by himself. Philip’s booming voice. Herself being greeted by their guests neighbours, bridge workers, food suppliers, people who ran local tourist attractions. Tom, as always, the perfect host. Under the bedclothes she patted his hand, although his deep breathing told her he would be unaware of the gesture.

The only casualty of the evening was the green glass vase of daisies and marigolds, knocked off the desk by a guest’s shoulder-bag.

What was keeping her awake, though, was the conversation she’d overheard between Verity and a pale-faced Holly.


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