Walking, she passed the pub, newly furbished and now called the Dibton Coachhouse. There were wrought-iron signs and a spacious car-park. Farther on, she passed the church, with its yew trees and lych-gate, and a notice-board fluttering with parish news. A guitar concert, an outing for the Mothers and Toddlers group. In the churchyard, a man lit a bonfire and the air was sweet with the scent of toasting leaves. Overhead, rooks cawed. A cat sat on one of the churchyard gate posts, but luckily Horace did not notice him.
The street curved, and at the end of it, by the dull bungalow which was the new Vicarage, she saw the village shop, flying banners advertising ice-cream, and newspaper placards propped against the wall. Two or three youths with bicycles hung about its door, and the postman, with his red van, was emptying the post-box.
There were bars over the shop window, to stop vandals' breaking the glass and stealing the tins of biscuits and arrangements of baked beans which were Mrs. Jennings's idea of tasteful decoration. Elfrida put down her basket and tied Horace's lead to one of these bars, and he sat looking resigned. He hated being left on the pavement, at the mercy of the jeering youths, but Mrs. Jennings didn't like dogs in her establishment. She said they lifted their legs and were dirty brutes.
Inside, the shop was bright with electricity, low-ceilinged and very warm. Refrigerators and freezers hummed, and it had strip lighting and an up-to-date arrangement of display shelving which had been installed some months ago, a huge improvement, Mrs. Jennings insisted, more like a mini-market. Because of all these barriers, it was difficult to know at first glance who was in the shop and who wasn't, and it was not until Elfrida rounded a corner (instant coffee and teas) that she saw the familiar back view, standing by the till and paying his due.
Oscar Blundell. Elfrida was past the age when her heart leaped for joy, but she was always pleased to see Oscar. He had been almost the first person she met when she came to live in Dibton, because she had gone to church one Sunday morning, and after the service the vicar had stopped her outside the door, his hair on end in the fresh spring breeze, and his white cassock blowing like clean washing on a line. He had spoken welcoming words, made a few noises about doing flowers and the Women's Institute, and then, mercifully, was diverted. "And here's our organist. Oscar Blundell. Not our regular, you understand, but a splendid spare wheel in times of trouble."
And Elfrida turned, and saw the man emerging from the darkness of the interior of the church, walking out into the sunshine to join them. She saw the gentle, amused face, the hooded eyes, the hair which had probably once been fair but was now thickly white. He was as tall as Elfrida, which was unusual. She towered over most men, being five feet eleven and thin as a lath, but Oscar she met eye to eye and liked what she saw there. Because it was Sunday, he wore a tweed suit and a pleasing tie, and when they shook hands, his grip had a good feel to it.
She said, "How clever. To play the organ, I mean. Is it your hobby?"
And he replied, quite seriously, "No, my job. My life." And then smiled, which took all pomposity from his words. "My profession," he amended.
A day or two later, and Elfrida received a telephone call.
"Hello, Gloria Blundell here. You met my husband last Sunday after church. The organist. Come and have dinner on Thursday. You know where we live. The Grange. Turreted red brick at the end of the village."
"How very kind. I'd love to."
"How are you settling in?"
"Splendid. See you Thursday, then. About seven-thirty."
"Thank you. So much." But the receiver at the other end of the line had already been replaced. Mrs. Blundell, it seemed, was not a lady with time to waste. The Grange was the largest house in Dibton, approached by a drive through hugely pretentious gates. Somehow none of this exactly fitted in with Oscar Blundell, but it would be interesting to go, to meet his wife and see his background. You never really got to know people properly until you had seen them within the ambiance of their own home. Seen their furniture and their books and the manner of their life-style.
Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. © August 1, 2000. Used by permission.
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