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The Nutcombe Tales


The Children's Christmas Party

At its next meeting after the death of erstwhile chairman Albert Gold, the first item on the agenda of the committee of the Red Lion Sports and Social Club was the election of his successor. Only one candidate came forward, the current treasurer, Reg Plackett, who was duly elected unopposed, to the surprise of those who had expected secretary Cyril Skipton to contest the post. Cyril, however, had preferred to keep his powder dry, and when, at the end of the meeting, Reg asked, Any other business? Cyril rose to his feet. Yes, Mr Chairman. There is the matter of the children's Christmas party. Our club chairman has always played the part of Father Christmas at that event. Can you confirm that you will be maintaining the tradition? Reg blanched, and Cyril sat down satisfied with a palpable hit. He knew, as indeed did all the committee, that Reg regarded children with a distaste bordering on loathing.

Reg countered Cyril's suggestion by arguing that the Father Christmas costume was too ample for his own less generous physique, and that the role had not devolved upon Albert ex officio, but rather pro pondere. He suggested that Alf Wagstaff the butcher be invited to act the part instead. There was no denying that Alf possessed sufficient corpulence, and Reg's motion was passed nem con.

The next day the proposal was put to Alf, but Mrs Wagstaff vetoed it on the grounds that her husband's knee joints were not up to the strain of being sat upon by a string of fidgety children. However, rather than disappoint the committee, she assured them that if they would delegate the matter to her, she would get the Ladies' Circle not only to find a Father Christmas, but also to fashion a costume for him, complete with such additional padding as might be necessary to compensate for any physical shortfall. In volunteering for this task, she had an ulterior motive. As she explained to a meeting of the ladies a few days later, not only was it their civic duty, it would also give them an opportunity to do something about Simon Laithwaite.

*****

Simon was the local librarian, a young man in his mid twenties. He was well educated, intelligent, and civilised. He was also shy. If spoken to, he would respond politely, but he had never been known to initiate a conversation. He had no small talk. He was long on character, but short on personality. Young ladies were not drawn to him, and he lacked the confidence to make an approach himself. He lived alone and unattached.

Simon's continuing and apparently permanent bachelordom irked the Ladies' Circle. They saw it as a waste of marital material. From remarking that he could make some girl a good husband, they progressed rapidly to a belief that he should make some girl a good husband, and from there to a determination that he would make some girl a good husband. They had long sought means of bringing this to pass, and now they saw their chance.

His recruitment was child's play. Faced with three matrons alternately cajoling and insisting, Simon had no hope of refusing. The ladies instructed him to attend Mrs Wagstaff's house to be fitted for his costume on Wednesday afternoon, that being half-day closing for the library.

*****

Simon arrived at the appointed time and was greeted warmly by Mrs Wagstaff and one of the ladies. His hostess took his proffered hand in both of hers and drew him to her. So kind of you, dear Mr Laithwaite - Simon. May I call you Simon? You won't need your jacket, dear. She had already undone its buttons, and her companion slipped it from Simon's shoulders before he had time to reply. He was ushered into the drawing room in his shirtsleeves. There he found six more members of the Ladies Circle seated around the room. Mrs Wagstaff led him into the centre and introduced him, although everyone present knew well who he was. Ladies, this is dear Simon, who has so very kindly volunteered to be this year's Santa, and it is up to us to make a costume which will do justice to such a fine figure of a man. The ladies all beamed their concurrence with this description. We are all friends here, Simon, and everything's quite informal, so don't be shy. Right, ladies, to work!

Two of the ladies came forward with dress-makers' tapes and began measuring him in surprising detail. After taking a few measurements, they handed over to two others, who took further readings before yielding to the next pair, and so on, the ladies working, as it were, in shifts to record each part of his anatomy. He had had three-piece suits made to measure with fewer notations of size than were now being taken for what he supposed would be a loose-fitting robe. They measured his head, around the brow and over the top from ear to ear. They measured his neck and his chest, his waist and his hips. They measured his arms, both from the top of the shoulder and from under the armpit. They measured his legs, both outside and inside lengths. They measured around his thighs and around his calves. With every measurement they used the same technique for ensuring that the tape was taut: they would hold one end to the starting point, and then smooth it out by stroking along to the finishing point. As a result Simon was being caressed in parts which had not felt a woman's touch since he had first been old enough to dress himself. It was an intensely tactile experience, and one which he found not entirely unpleasurable.

While the measurers worked, the other ladies chatted among themselves. They made no effort to keep their exchanges from Simon's ears, and he became privy to matters formerly arcane to him. They spoke of their own and others' marital disappointments and extra-marital successes. They spoke of their millinery and of their lingerie. They spoke of their cosmetic unguents, and of the purposes and places to which they were applied. The boundaries of Simon's education were extended that afternoon into unexpected areas.

When the measuring was finished, his jacket was brought, and three of the ladies helped him on with it. They buttoned the front, brushed the lapels, pulled the sides down taut, and smoothed the rear flaps down over his posterior. This last operation seemed to pose some difficulty, as it required the ministrations of all three ladies and took some time.

When at last they were satisfied, Mrs Wagstaff bade him farewell, adding, Same time next week then, Simon dear.

Next week? he queried. Aren't we finished then?

Oh no, dear. We don't want to do a slapdash job, do we? We must get it right.

Simon whistled on his way home.

*****

The following week the ladies had pieces of material cut and waiting. These, it transpired, needed to be held against him and patted and stroked before being sewn or modified. After every snip and every stitch they would be returned to be examined in situ, with loving care. The ladies chatted as they worked, and now Simon was drawn into their discourse. They sought his opinion on divers subjects: literature, art, food, holidays. Whenever they chanced upon a topic which appeared to be of particular interest to him, they encouraged him to expand upon it, avidly absorbing his utterances with looks of rapt attention. They became playful, taking turns to guess at his likes and dislikes, what were his favourite books, or favourite food, for example. Some of their guesses bordered on the saucy, but Simon entered into the spirit of their games, and even essayed a sally or two himself. By the time the session ended, he was flushed with animated pleasure.

A week later the costume was beginning to take shape, and it showed that the ladies had abandoned the Victorian version of Santa for something more dashing. Privately Simon thought that it made him look more like Will Scarlet than St Nicholas, but by now he would have worn motley if the ladies had so wished. The beard, instead of the full flowing version, was to be a distinguished goatee. Mlle Eugenie Lascelles had been called upon to realise the concept. The mademoiselle ran the local beauty parlour and hair dressing salon, and took care to be an advertisement for her business. Perhaps her hair was not the hue that nature intended, nor her eyelashes their natural length, but her manner of dress left little doubt that from the neck down she was the genuine article. Behind her she always trailed a scent suggestive of a Paris boudoir even to those who had never crossed the Channel. She had been known to quicken the male pulse rate at a range of fifty yards.

The fitting of Simon's beard required much closer proximity. As she alternately applied dabs of spirit gum and tufts of hair to his chin, her bosom pressed against his arm, and her face was no more than six inches from his. She snipped with small scissors, she patted with fingers, she stroked and she tweaked, while Simon's senses swirled. When she was done, she stepped back for the others to inspect the result.

Will that do, Audrey? she asked. Upon being assured that it would, she continued, Okay. Now I know what's needed, I can copy it any time. She once more leaned over Simon and removed the whiskers. Simon, who had just managed to get his breath back, was once again overwhelmed by Eugenie's perfume, laced with fumes of acetone and spirit gum. He hardly heard Mrs Wagstaff say, Don't be late next week, Simon. We shall be going over your lines.

*****

Now, dear, said Mrs Wagstaff the following week, first of all you are going to have to introduce yourself to the children. 'Hello, children, ho ho ho,' that sort of thing. Let's hear you give it a try. After a few attempts she was satisfied with his efforts. Then, dear, they are going to come up one at a time and sit on your knee. You have to ask them what they want for Christmas. Come and sit here on the sofa. No, knees apart, dear, and your feet planted firmly on the ground. That's better. Sophie, darling, you be the first child. Sophie Kendall, the doctor's wife, came forward eagerly and perched on Simon's knee. She placed an arm around his neck and pulled his arm around her waist. Hold her tight, Simon. We don't want any children falling and hurting themselves, do we? Now speak to her.

Simon was happy to comply. And what do you want Santa Claus to bring you for Christmas, little girl? he asked.

Sophie giggled and wriggled. Can I whithper? she asked, in her best imitation of Violet Elizabeth Bott. She put her mouth to his ear and whispered something which made Simon's complexion approach the same shade as his costume.

Sophie slid from his lap and another of the ladies took her place and played the part of a child. This was repeated until all the ladies had participated. Their different sizes and shapes necessitated slight variations in position. Some found it helpful to place both arms around Simon's neck. Some he found were more comfortably held around the hips or across the thighs. Some invited a squeeze, some even a little pinch. By the time they had all taken their turn, Simon was flushed but confident.

There is just one other thing, Simon, said Mrs Wagstaff. Many of the parents are going to want to know what it was their children asked for. Do you think you will be able to remember them all?

How many do you think there will be? Simon asked nervously.

Oh, no more than twenty or thirty, I dare say.

Good Lord! I don't think I'll be able . . .

Then you'll need a secretary to help you. Don't worry, dear. We shall arrange one for you.

*****

Mrs Wagstaff's promise was disingenuous. The ladies had in fact already made arrangements for his assistant.

Prudence Milton was one of life's victims, born, it seemed, to be imposed upon. Orphaned in her teens, she had been put in the care of her aunt, Mrs Banbury. It soon became clear that Mrs Banbury expected Prudence to take care of her. From waking her aunt in the morning with a cup of tea to tucking her up in bed at night with a mug of Horlicks, Prudence had no time of her own. The cooking and the housekeeping, the gardening and the window cleaning, the shopping and the dog walking, all fell to her. If ever Mrs Banbury left the house, it was in a wheelchair pushed by Prudence. When Mrs Banbury stayed home, she expected Prudence to read to her.

Three afternoons a week Prudence worked as bookkeeper for Bob Wetherby, the baker. It was a respite from her aunt, but not from exploitation. Prudence found herself called upon to serve in the shop, make deliveries, sweep the bakehouse, take the van to the garage for servicing, and generally compensate for the business's chronic understaffing. The bookkeeping she took home to do at night while her aunt was sleeping.

Her usual outdoor garb was a khaki parka over a long-sleeved cable-stitched jumper. Between her heavy tweed skirt and sensible shoes some six inches of knitted stocking might be seen. Her face usually bore a look of mute resignation, like a donkey patiently waiting for additional burdens to be placed upon its back. A stranger might guess her age to be the wrong side of forty, but she was in fact still in her early twenties.

The total antithesis of a flibbertigibbet, this was the girl that the Ladies Circle had chosen to be the future Mrs Simon Laithwaite, to which end they had asked her to assist at the children's Christmas party. Prudence of course agreed, having long since abandoned any attempt to resist whatever demands might be made of her. Not wishing to impose too much upon her, Mrs Wagstaff had spoken to her employer, Wetherby, and had persuaded him to release Prudence with pay for one afternoon a week. She had first reminded him that it was yet to be decided who should receive the order to cater for the party.

*****

At the first fitting it took less than half an hour to measure Prudence for her costume, after which Mrs Wagstaff and Sophie Kendall whisked her off to town to shop for undergarments. Her objection that she already had all she needed was countered by the assurance that this was all part of the costume, and the cost would be a charge upon club funds. They took her to a shop the like of which Prudence had never seen before, and there, after examining many items, the two matrons chose for her a matching set of brassiere and panties, and a pair of sheer black tights, at a cost which Prudence would normally have expected to cover a complete wardrobe. Contemplating the exiguous amount of material in them, Prudence calculated that her new underpinnings were costing some four hundred times more per ounce than her old. A pair of shoes were next on the shopping list, with somewhat higher heels than Prudence was used to, but not more than she could walk steadily in.

The following week Prudence was taken to the beauty salon for what Mlle Eugenie described as the full works. She was bathed and oiled, massaged and rubbed, powdered and sprayed. Her hair was shampooed, tinted, trimmed, styled, lacquered, and blow dried. Her fingernails and toenails were cut, filed, painted, and buffed. Her eyebrows were plucked and her eyelashes lengthened. When the mademoiselle was satisfied with her work. Prudence was returned to Mrs Wagstaff's.

The assembled ladies were pleased with what they saw. Your outfit is in the next room, dear. Go and change into it, then come back here and let us see what you look like.

In the next room Prudence found her new underclothes and shoes, which she swiftly changed into. The costume made by the ladies was a sleeveless jacket of red velvet with white fur trimmings. It fitted tightly at the waist and above, with a deep V neck, and was about two inches longer than hip length. There was also a chic little skull cap of matching colour. These she put on. She looked around, but could see nothing more.

She returned to the drawing room and said, I'm sorry. I can't find the skirt. The ladies all looked admiringly at her, and exchanged congratulations on what they had achieved. The skirt, Prudence repeated. Where is the skirt?

There isn't any skirt, dear. That is the complete costume.

But I can't wear this, Prudence wailed. I'm half naked!

By way of answer, Mrs Wagstaff wheeled out a full length cheval looking glass, and turned Prudence to see herself in it.

Prudence did not recognise the image in the glass, and yet it was oddly familiar. After a while she remembered. She had seen something similar on the calendar in the office of the garage when she had gone to collect Wetherby's van. She turned away from the mirror, and looked back at it over her shoulder. She smiled. She turned sideways on and looked over her shoulder at herself. She placed her hands on her hips and leaned forward. This made the short skirt of the jacket ride up, revealing much of her derriere. She bent her knees and hollowed her back, revealing even more. She wiggled it. She straightened up and placed one foot on the other knee. This more clearly revealed the shape of her thigh. It was, she thought, not a bad thigh - clad in sheer black tights, long, smooth, and nicely tapered. What more, she asked herself, could be asked of a thigh? She placed one hand behind her neck. This had an interesting effect on the profile of the jacket. She placed both hands behind her neck. The effect became more interesting. She forced her elbows back. The effect became absorbing.

While Prudence postured in front of the mirror, trying every pose she could remember from the garage calendar, and some that its photographer would not have dared to suggest to his model, the ladies looked at each other in delight.

Later, when Prudence had left, after being reluctantly put back into her normal clothes, Sophie said, I just wish there was some way we could clinch it - I mean, really bring them together.

Mrs Wagstaff said, I read this story once, where a shy couple were trapped in a lift between floors.

There isn't any lift in the Red Lion, Sophie pointed out.

Perhaps not, said Mrs Wagstaff, but it's given me an idea. Leave it to me.

*****

Meanwhile Reg Plackett had been organising the men to prepare the venue for the children's Christmas party. It was to be held, as usual, in the Functions Room of the Red Lion, a large hall occupying most of the first floor of the pub, used for dances, cabaret nights, and similar events. At one end was a stage large enough to accommodate an eight-piece band. It was a simple wooden platform, fronted by a plywood proscenium arch and red velvet curtains which masked the wings and hid a door behind stage right. The door gave onto a corridor which led to a small room, used mainly for general storage, but also serving as a dressing room when needed.

The men decorated the hall with paper chains and balloons. The small tables which usually sat four to six people were pushed together to form two long tables and covered with paper tablecloths printed with holly. The tables were laid with paper plates and plastic cutlery, with a Christmas cracker, a paper hat, and a streamer by each place.

In order to make the first Christmas party under his chairmanship memorable, Reg wanted a dramatic entrance for Father Christmas. Coming down a chimney was considered, but nobody knew how such an event could be staged. They settled upon arrival by sleigh. Fred Atkins at the garage put together a chassis on old car wheels, to which Lovejoy the undertaker and his assistant, Eric, attached wooden coachwork, converting it into the semblance of a sleigh. A two-seat garden bench was fitted to it. The plan was that, hidden in the wings stage left, Santa and his assistant would sit in the sleigh, the gifts that they were to distribute piled around them. A record of Jingle Bells would be played, and the sleigh would be drawn into view by ropes pulled from the wings stage right. The children would take turns to come up on the stage for their session with Father Christmas. When all were done, the sleigh would exit stage right to a reprise of Jingle Bells in a flurry of snow.

This last effect was deputed to Lovejoy to accomplish. Artificial snow was not a problem. Newspaper torn into tiny pieces would serve, and he soon accumulated a sufficient supply. It was a means for dispensing it which eluded him. His first thought was to suspend Eric from the beams above the stage with a pillow case full of the artificial snow, and let him scatter it manually. Attractive though the vision was of Eric swinging from a rafter, made doubly so by the possibility of forgetting to let him down, Lovejoy was forced to admit that it lacked practicability. He resorted instead to a solution founded on his joinery skills.

In his workshop he made a chest, as large as one man could carry unaided, with a hinged lid. The lid had no fastening, but did sport a handle which projected beyond the front of the chest. To the bottom of the chest he attached two diagonal straps, corner to corner, in the shape of a St Andrew's cross. He took the chest to the Functions Room, stopping at the hardware shop en route for a few additional items.

Mounting a tall step ladder, he fixed two pulleys to the ceiling beams above centre stage. Over each of the pulleys he threaded a clothes line, one blue and one white. He fixed two more pulleys to the ceiling in the wings stage right, and threaded the lines over them also. To the wall below the pulleys in the wings he fixed two cleats, and tied the ropes, one to each cleat. The two clothes lines thus ran from their cleats up to the ceiling in the wings, across to centre stage, and down to the floor.

Lovejoy placed the chest upside down on the floor centre stage and tied the blue clothes line to the intersection of the straps on the bottom. He tested the fastening by moving to the wings and hauling in a yard or so of the blue line. The chest rose smoothly up from the floor, the lid falling open as it did so. Satisfied, Lovejoy lowered the chest and tied the white clothes line to the projecting handle of the lid. He placed a few pieces of the artificial snow in the chest, laid it upside down on the floor, and returned to the wings. Taking care to keep the white line as taut as the blue, so as to hold the lid closed, he pulled in both lines until the chest was up to the ceiling. He fastened both lines securely to the cleats. He then unfastened the white line. The lid of the chest fell open, and his sample snowflakes fluttered down. He lowered the chest once more to the floor, filled it with all the snow flakes, and hauled it up again, tying off both lines, the blue which supported the chest and the white which held the lid closed. Before leaving he attached a large notice to the cleats:

DO NOT TOUCH!!

*****

On the day of the Christmas party, proceedings started with the tea. The table was laden with jelly and trifle, chocolate cake and cream buns, mince pies and Christmas pudding, lemonade and Tizer. When the children were replete, the tables were pushed to one side and there were party games: blind man's bluff, musical chairs, and pinning the tail on the donkey. After these had run their course, Reg signalled to Cyril behind the curtains. Cyril put Jingle Bells on the gramophone, and the sleigh slowly moved onto the stage, stopping at its designated spot. There were oohs and ahs from most of the children. Tommy Simpson was heard to say, That ain't Farver Christmas. 'E's a fraud! but he failed to win support from the children, who were now watching in puzzled amazement as Penelope decided to improvise.

Alighting from the sleigh, she strutted around it with a high-stepping gait, pausing occasionally to strike a pose. Fathers who usually stole away at this point remained in attendance. One who lived nearby dashed home to get his camera, and Penelope's audience grew in consequence of remarks he made as he passed through the bar. Wives who in earlier years had been wont to complain to their husbands, You could have stayed to help with the kids, were this year heard saying, You don't need to stay, dear. Why don't you go downstairs and get yourself a drink? Frank Jenkins*, who covered local events for the Nutchester & District Advertiser, burnt his fingers changing flashbulbs too hastily, and used up all the film that was supposed to last him until the New Year, to the puzzlement of his editor, who never got to see the majority of the photographs, as they remained in Frank's bedside drawer.

*****

Lovejoy did not witness the entrance of the sleigh. Carrying a toolbag, he had surreptitiously slipped down the corridor behind the stage in order to carry out a commission entrusted to him by Mrs Wagstaff. He entered the dressing room, leaving his toolbag in the doorway so as to hold the door ajar. From the bag he took two wine glasses and an opened but full bottle of Madeira, and placed them on the dressing table. He then unscrewed the inside doorknob and removed it. This allowed him to withdraw the square bolt which passed through the lock and engaged with both knobs, the turning of which operated the latch. He laid the bolt to one side and inserted in its place a similar bolt taken from his bag. This was one which he had previously sawn to a shorter length. He pushed it well into the hole so that it engaged with the outside knob and the lock, but fell short of engaging with the inside knob. He replaced the knob and tested his handiwork. The outside knob still operated as normal, but the inside knob was now ineffectual, turning idly without withdrawing the latch. Satisfied with the result, he packed his tools into the bag and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Outside he paused. Better double check, he thought. He put his tool bag down, opened the door and looked in. The original bolt from the door was still lying where he had laid it on the floor. Good job I checked, he thought. He stepped inside and bent down to pick it up. His backside nudged the door, and it closed behind him.

When Mrs Wagstaff had first asked him to sabotage the door lock, he had objected that anyone shut in would simply call for help and be released in a moment. She had assured him that the door was too thick and too remote for any such calls to be audible in the hall. This assertion he was now able to test for himself, and he found it to be vindicated. He settled resignedly in a chair and contemplated the bottle of Madeira.

*****

Confident that she had satisfied her public, Prudence eventually resumed her seat in the sleigh. Simon made his introductory announcement to the children, and they queued to sit on his knee. Simon managed to play his part without dropping a single infant, and Penelope dutifully made a note of the requested presents. When the last child had left the stage, Simon uttered one last Ho ho ho, and Cyril lowered the needle again on Jingle Bells. That was the cue for the snow, but no snow came.

Reg moved to the front of the curtain and whispered urgently, Lovejoy, the snow!

Behind the curtain Eric stood alone, now faced with a dilemma. Lovejoy, who was supposed to operate the snow dispenser and instruct Eric on when to haul the sleigh offstage, was absent from his post. The sign clearly said, DO NOT TOUCH!! but Lovejoy's reputation was in the balance and it was up to him to save it. He gave a tentative pull on each line in turn, but both were taut and would not give a millimetre. Clearly, the required action was to loosen them. With some trepidation, he unfastened the white line. Snow fluttered down satisfactorily. From the front there were gasps of delight and more than a little applause. Buoyed by the success of his action, Eric decided to double the effect, and unfastened the blue line. The chest narrowly missed Penelope, but struck Simon full on the head. He fell unconscious, a trickle of blood down his forehead matching the colour of his outfit.

As usual, Tommy Simpson had an instant diagnosis. 'E's dead! he announced loudly.

The cry was swiftly taken up by other children. They've killed Santa Claus!

Father Christmas has been murdered!

There was much screaming, sobbing, and rushing about. Parents hurried to sweep up their offspring and carry them away. Two St John Ambulance volunteers struggled to reach the stage against the tide of the exodus. They were secretly glad to have a worthwhile accident on their hands at last. In all the years they had attended the Christmas party, the most demanding occasion had been the year that Peggy Parkin had a jelly bean stuck up her nostril, courtesy of Tommy Simpson. They lifted Simon onto a stretcher and carried him down to their ambulance.

Prudence stood ignored, not sure what to do. Humphrey Snoad, the local bookmaker, sidled over to her. Let me give you a lift home, he suggested. No need to get changed. My Rover's just outside. It's got a heater.

I'll just get my things then, whispered Prudence, and went off down the corridor. On opening the door to the dressing room, the first thing she saw was Lovejoy asleep in a chair, an empty wine bottle beside him. Not wishing to disturb his rest, she left the door open while she swiftly gathered up her clothes, then stole away quietly, silently shutting the door behind her.

*****

The next day, news of Simon's accident spread around the village, and those who had not been present were keen to get reliable accounts from those who had. Tommy shared his eye-witness testimony with anyone who would listen. A great big chopper came swinging down from the ceiling and sliced his head clean in two. His brains all fell out on the floor, but they picked them up and put them in a jar. The doctors are going to sew them back in, but they have to be jolly careful. If they put them in the wrong way round, he'll turn into Doctor Jackal, and he'll have to hide. Tommy's parents had a library of gothic literature which Tommy was wont to peruse with more enthusiasm than comprehension.

His account did not go unchallenged. The jelly bean, though long since removed from Tilly Simpson's nostril, still rankled in her mind. She too had been at the party, and was not slow to refute Tommy's account. Someone shouted, 'Off with his head!' and a big croquet mallet came swinging down and knocked Santa's head clean off his shoulders. The doctors are going to fix it back on with a special bolt. I dare say they'll make a film about it, and I'll be in it.

By the afternoon, more reliable news was available from Eric Wrigley, whose sister was a nurse at the hospital. Simon's skull was not fractured, but he did have a cut which needed two stitches. It was above the hair line, and the scar would be invisible once the hair had grown back. He had very mild concussion which a few days of rest should cure, but to be on the safe side he was to be kept in hospital for observation over Christmas.

Nurse Carol Wrigley ministered to Simon's needs while he was in hospital. She spent more time at his bedside than was strictly necessary, partly to avoid the young housemen, who made little distinction between Christmas and Saturnalia, but also because she enjoyed his chatter, which was all the more fluent because the analgesic medication prescribed for him reduced his inhibitions. They continued to see each other after Simon was discharged, and married each other in the Spring.

Prudence was not at the wedding. She had left the district soon after Christmas. Her aunt expressed herself as being glad she had gone. That pesky girl never used to let me do anything for myself, she explained. The absence of her niece was made the more endurable by the generous remittance which she thenceforth received from Prudence every month, though it was a mystery to her how the girl could ever earn such money.

Prudence never returned to the village, but Fred the garage mechanic, who was a regular reader of Spick and Span, found that he now saw a great deal more of her than he ever had before.

*****

[*Editor's note: This is the only occasion when my grandfather featured in one of his own stories.]

*****


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