The Life We Choose – Episode 71

The library seemed suddenly a cheerless place, ashes in a trail across the hearth, a scatter of unwashed teacups on a side table, a jumble of books spilling on to the precious carpet with the cinder hole in it.

“Mrs Goudie’s on strike, it seems.” Giles sank into a chair and waved Tricky into the one facing it. “Now, I fear that our list of suggested improvements has been something of a waste of time. Bunty said she’d give it to her brother on his return, but she also said that he doesn’t like change. I don’t know what to make of it at all.”

He leaned forward, lowering his voice.

“But that’s not why I wanted to see you. I need your advice, Tricky. You seem to have a particular knowledge of womanly wiles.”

“I widna say that exactly.” Tricky’s reply was modest.

“And I would disagree.” Giles was at his most charming now. “As you know, my intentions towards Miss Bunty are honourable, and indeed I have already proposed to her – several times. I feel that she just might accept if I try once more, but time is not on my side, now that I’ve been told to consult my rail timetable.” He stared gloomily into the empty fireplace.

“Nae time like the present,” was Tricky’s reply. “An’ be masterful. Nae sense in jokin’ aboot it. The wimmenfolk like ye tae be masterful. Straight tae the point,” he finished, his words suddenly mingled with a piercing scream coming from the direction of the hall.

* * * *

The travellers had returned. Fleur clung to the open door of the drawing-room, her hat askew, one hand at her throat. Bunty’s dogs, Thor and Vulcan, were leaping joyfully over a tumble of valises in the hall and Bunty was halfway down the stairs. A scarlet-faced Colonel Grant was standing helplessly in the midst of the chaos.

Suddenly the commotion died down and a smothering silence took its place.

“I didn’t expect you back until next week.” Bunty’s voice, for once, was uncertain.

“Who are you?” Fleur turned to stare at Giles.

Picking up his boots, Tricky made for the open front door as Mrs Goudie appeared from the kitchen. She glared at him and he was suddenly rooted to the spot.

“And who’s responsible for this?” Fleur waved her arm helplessly at a wrecked drawing-room. Side tables were upturned, one velvet curtain hung loose from its moorings and the chaise longue, now a fetching shade of grubby grey, was covered in muddy paw prints.

“Come and sit down, Fleur. Calm yourself.” The colonel tried to lead his wife to the chaise longue but she recoiled.

“Sit down? On that? Just look at it, Roderick? It’s ruined!”

Still standing in the doorway of the drawing-room, Fleur turned on Bunty.

“It’s all your fault! As soon as my back’s turned, you fill the house with your . . . your . . .”

She pointed accusingly at Giles.

“Your followers. I should have known, of course. You have no idea of the finer things of life, with your big boots and your beastly dogs and your hangers-on.”

Suddenly, Roderick Grant’s voice cut into his wife’s tirade.

“Enough,” was all he said, but as he did so, he took a firm grip of her arm and propelled her to the nearest chair.

“Sit down and calm yourself, then you can apologise to Bunty,” he said brusquely.

His wife looked up at him, her face petulant.

“I feel quite faint,” she began.

Roderick Grant regarded his wife for what seemed a very long moment.

When he spoke at last, his voice was firm and cold.

“I have told you to apologise to Bunty, but before you do, please understand this,” he said to his wife. “You behave like a spoilt child, Fleur. Fainting fits, tantrums, sulky silences – all of it to be endured if you don’t get your own way about things. But that’s at an end. Enough is enough. And if things have fallen into disarray . . .” he looked around the chaotic room “. . . there is no doubt a reason for it. Or several reasons, come to think of it. One of them being that you’ve insisted on lingering in every emporium and opera house in Paris and then in Milan – not to mention Venice!”

“I apologise, Bunty.” Fleur made her apology before more could be said.

Tricky spoke from the doorway, where he had been watching events with great interest.

“That’s her telt,” he remarked to Giles, standing behind him.

Then, seeing Fleur reach for the bell pull, he added, “Ah widna pull that if Ah wis you, Mistress Grant. Mrs Goudie’s in a richt dull yin the day.”

Colonel Grant didn’t hear him. He was already at the far end of the room, deep in conversation with his sister, learning more about recent events down at Langrigg.

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”.