The Life We Choose – Episode 23

Fleur sat up and looked round the room. Plush velvet and gilt-framed pictures all around her made her shudder slightly.

Her gaze travelled to the portrait of her late father-in-law which hung above the fireplace. He looked severe, his gaze stern and disapproving. Fleur shivered. Would her dear Roderick lose his indulgent ways and grow into his father’s unforgiving likeness one of these days, she asked herself, hoping against hope that this would not be the case. For the only thing that kept her here, in this gloomy house, where her sister-in-law seemed to be almost in permanent residence and where Roderick could speak of little else but coal mining, were his unswerving efforts to please her.

She took a mirror from her purse and studied her reflection for a moment, trying to convince herself that she had lost none of the youthful prettiness that had won her a rich husband.

She sighed. It was clear that she would have to use more of what she called “a little artifice”. Perhaps her sister-in-law was right when she said that she needed to discard dresses of sprigged lawn with lace collars for something more befitting a woman of her age.

The door banged again and her husband’s voice echoed through the hallway as he called to Mrs Goudie the housekeeper to ask about the evening meal.

Fleur put away her mirror and hastily rearranged herself in a reclining position, stirring only when Roderick leaned over her and tenderly kissed her brow.

She smiled up at him.

“Another migraine, I’m afraid,” she said faintly.

“Perhaps we should send for the doctor.” Colonel Grant was concerned.

“No need for that,” was the hasty reply. “It’s the weather, I think. This constant rain is so very depressing. Your sister crashing about the place isn’t helping. I need the sun on my face, even for a little while.”

At the mention of his sister, Colonel Grant’s expression had changed.

“Bunty isn’t the most graceful of women, Fleur, but she has a generous heart and she’s spirited, which tends to bring out the best in people. Why, even Mrs Goudie has a smile on her face when Bunty’s in residence.”

Fleur sat up. The conversation was drifting away from her chosen purpose.

She reached out and grasped her husband’s hands.

“They say that winter will come early this year, Roderick.” She shivered slightly. “I can feel it already. And you will have a great deal to do come winter, my love. It’s harder for the miners then.”

She took his hands in hers and smiled a tremulous smile.

“There’s just time for us to go to London for a few days to refresh us.” She turned imploring eyes on Roderick. They were swimming with tears.

His surrender was swift.

“I thought you said that you wanted to feel the sun on your face, my darling Fleur. London will be as gloomy as this if winter is approaching.”

She held her breath as she held his gaze.

“Paris, perhaps, as a diversion from the weather,” he conceded.

Fleur had the sudden tempting vision of new dresses.

“We could pause in Paris, but there will still be warmth in the sun in Venice. It’s such a pity that you cannot spare the time to take me there. Venice is so very romantic, don’t you think?”

At dinner, Fleur had recovered from her migraine and was in good humour. As Bunty delivered a tirade about Rushforth, the new pit manager, whom she judged “shifty”, Fleur picked daintily at her food, waiting till Bunty paused for breath before she spoke.

“I’m very glad that you’ve decided to stay on a bit longer, Bunty, because dear Roderick has suggested that we go to Venice before winter sets in. We might pause in Paris for a few days, of course.”

Bunty glanced at her brother.

“It seems you’ve found the perfect cure for a migraine, then,” she remarked.

As usual, he missed the irony of her remark, and beamed at his sister.

“It’ll be a short holiday. We’ll be back before you’ve noticed that we’ve gone.”

Bunty gave a curt nod and applied herself to her meal.

If only her brother wasn’t such a very nice man, she reflected.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.