Mr Tom and Polly arrived back a short while ago. Myself and Robert were sitting in the dining room eating fried fish and chips in silence. Robert was upset by the news of Mrs Whittlesworths deterioration, and with tears in his eyes, he sat head down picking over his meal. Clattering arose from the kitchen when Mr Tom ambled in. “Ahhh Mr Tom,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “How is she? I trust she is feeling better? ” The big man slumped into a chair and sighed. “The Doctors think its consumption Mr Pottles. They have put her in a clean ward and left her sleeping soundly.
It does not look good though, I fear she will be gone by morning. ” Robert snorted and stood. “Maud is a fighter, she should never have gone to no bloody hospital. You should have just taken her to the mortuary and be done with it. ” He wiped his eyes, snorted again and stormed out as fast as his old legs would carry him. We heard him shuffle down the hall, open the front door and slam it shut. A silence pervaded the room. Polly entered carrying the afternoons soup and with nothing more to be said I watched them eat while I finished my chips.
Tonight before I sleep, I will pray for Mrs Whittlesworth and tomorrow I shall catch a train to Shoreham and visit Annie. Sunday, 16th September, 11am I have booked myself into the ‘Ye Olde George Inne’ in Shoreham; It is a short walk from the station and stands on the corner of Church Street. St Peter & St Pauls Church looms across from the Inn and following the road down you arrive in Bridge Street which crosses the river Darent. My room is on the second floor and I am sat by the window watching the rain fall on the street.
Downstairs in the bar, a group of labourers are chatting and far-off across the downs an engine is sounding its whistle. Before I left London this morning I bumped into Polly who was waiting for Mrs Gedge outside the house. She was dressed up against the frost with a white knitted hat pulled down to her eyes. “Good morning Peter, are you leaving us? ” She nodded towards my case and smiled. “No Poll, I am going to Shoreham for a few days, I am in need of country air. ” I inhaled heavily to make my point. Laughing, she informed me Mr Tom had gone to visit Mrs Whittlesworths sister in Clapham.
I have met the woman once, a tall thin creature with features resembling a hawk. She owns a drapers shop on Clapham High Street and lives above it with her spoilt daughter Cordelia. Mrs Gedge soon joined us wrapped up in a large red knitted scarf and the conversation turned to Mrs Whittlesworth. After talking for a few minutes, they then bid me a good morning and headed down Church Passage. I hope Mrs Whittlesworth recovers as I do not wish to meet Mrs Patterson nor Cordelia again. 5pm I have taken a stroll along the banks of the River Darent.
The rain had eased and armed with an umbrella I followed it north towards Eynsford. After a while, I arrived at Lullingstone Castle, a magnificent manor house set within its own grounds. I purchased a single rose in London and edging down to the water I placed it on the current and watched it disappear from view. It was a Belle De Cracy, Annie’s favourite and as it floated away, I cried like a small boy. Annie is not buried here, she is buried in London. Coming to Shoreham though, is where I still find her; she is in the back lanes, the ebbing of the river and the breeze across the hills. 0pm Our courtship was a short one.
I fell in love with her that day in the barn and she with me on the night I fell in the pond. I arrived for dinner that summer’s evening hoping Annie might join us. The sun had sunk low and the farmhands heading home bid me a good night as they passed. Mr Willis greeted me from the cow-shed as I ambled up the path. He wore an old brown suit and looked proud. “Peter my man, good to see you, Mrs Willis has a fine spread laid and I am as hungry as a church mouse! ” I shook his hand and followed him into the house.
Mrs Willis had been busy; flowers adorned the hall and everything had been cleaned from top to bottom. The old farmer led me into the kitchen and on the table sat a large crusty pie surrounded by various steaming vegetables. Mrs Willis stood at the stove wearing a blue floral dress and stirring a large pot of gravy. “Hello Mr Pottles, so good of you to come, I do hope you like chicken pie? ” I told her I did and Mr Willis poured me a glass of cider. From upstairs I could hear laughter and my heart fluttered in anticipation at the thought of meeting Annie again.
I had taken a seat at the table when his daughters entered, Mr Willis stood and introduced me. Emily was the eldest and the most decorous, Mary seemed painfully shy and Caroline the youngest had an air of adventure about her. Annie looked beautiful dressed in pink and they all joined us at the table in good cheer. The meal was excellent and Mr and Mrs Willis were the perfect hosts; we sat talking and enjoying the food while the animals on the farm settled down for the evening. After dinner, Mr Willis declared that he would burst and suggested a stiff walk with the dogs, I accepted and Annie and Caroline joined us.
It was a beautiful warm night; we wandered down the lane past one of the farm cottages, bidding a good evening to a labourer who lived there. The dogs bounded on ahead barking, while Caroline threw a ball for them to fetch. After crossing fields we arrived at a large, overgrown pond. The half crescent moon cast a glow upon its surface and from the reeds the occasional quack of a nesting duck broke the silence. Mr Willis sat on a log and lit his pipe while I talked with Annie and watched Caroline play with the dogs. After a while, we heard a splash. Mr Pottles,” Caroline shouted from across the pond. “My ball has fallen into the water, please help. ”
Annie groaned and Mr Willis scratched his head and blew a plume of smoke. Acting the hero I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves and ran towards her. What happened next was unfortunate. As I neared the edge of the pond, one dog came bounding playfully towards me. I thinking myself more nimble, tried to leap past him, but slipped, tumbling to the earth and then into the pond. I surfaced covered in weeds, to be greeted by howls of laughter from Mr Willis.
Standing there knee-deep in pond water I laughed too, holding the ball above my head in triumph. We returned to the house to be greeted by Mrs Willis, who after scolding the unfortunate hound, started a fire to dry me before my return home. I remember sitting half damp and smeared with mud on the train, and I must have had a smell about me because my compartment remained empty all the way to London. I returned many more times after that and became good friends with the family. My relationship with Annie blossomed, and we kissed for the first time in the back orchard one Autumn’s night.
My intentions towards Annie were honest and sitting with Mr Willis by the fire one evening, I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage, which he agreed to wholeheartedly. Everyone was overjoyed, none more so than me and Annie. We married at St Peter & St Pauls Church in December, two days before my 26th birthday. It snowed that day, and it seemed as if the whole village attended the service. Oscar and Harriet arrived with my parents, with my mother seemingly embarrassed by it all. Oscar told me the consensus among our family was I had chosen beneath me.
I admit I was enraged though I did not let it dampen my spirits. The ceremony went without a hitch and we left Shoreham for Brighton amidst a flurry of snowflakes and cheers. We honeymooned for the weekend, spending most of it in bed and returned to Walthemstow as man and wife. “Well Mrs Pottles,” I announced, carrying her over the threshold. “Welcome to your new home. ” I placed her down and she kissed me. “Our new home Peter,” she said, giggling. “It’s our new home. ” The time we spent there are my fondest memory’s and will remain so until I die.
With her arrival, the house became a home. Annie held no airs nor grace’s and Number 32 Church Hill reflected that; the gardens became tremendous blooms of colour and the inside was transformed into our snuggery. Our short time together was filled with love and warmth and sitting here with only the memory of her, fills me with much sadness. Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. I wrote this to her in a card three days before she died. I had no idea then that time was short, but if I had, I would have written it in the stars.