The Boys in Blue Ch. 04byRobinLane©
He sat in the foyer with his walking stick between his knees, when a taxi pulled up, and Terry alighted from it.
She was dressed in a tailored dark grey trouser suit wearing a black hat with a large brim; her hair must be in a bun under it, thought Robert, her long neck exposed.
He rose to greet her, "Well how do I look?" She asked.
"Fantastic," replied Robert, "how do I look?"
"Very handsome," and realised with a start that she meant it.
They had been chatting away, when a taxi pulled up; the driver entered the foyer, seeing the Uniform he walked over to Robert. "Flight Lieutenant Barlow?" He enquired.
Terry noticed the pronounced limp, as they walked towards the taxi, the walking stick taking the weight of his right leg.
Finding out that Robert didn't know London all that well. In fact, he had said he avoided it like the plague, she, began pointing out the places of interest.
Has they neared the gates to the Palace; he noticed that Terry had put on a pair of dark sunglasses. The usual throng of tourists was milling out side the gate; most appeared to be Japanese, festooned with cameras around their necks. The police sergeant checked the pass, and waved for the gates to be opened.
The taxi deposited them around the back of the palace in the quadrangle. Pulling up by the entrance of, two large doors which were opened. A man in a morning suit stood at the entrance.
After negotiating the steps awkwardly, Robert presented him self to the man.
The man informed him that the investiture would take place on the next floor; Robert was eyeing up the long staircase with some trepidation, when the man indicated a lift of to the side, "you may find this easier sir," much, to Robert's relief.
When the lift opened another man in the same attire has the one down stairs was waiting. "If you would follow me sir," he said setting off down a long corridor.
Robert could not help but impressed by the furniture and decorations; the man entered a large room, tables by the wall were set out with cups and sources. He passed through this into another large room.
Three rows of chairs were aligned in the centre of the room.
At the far end was a raised dais with doors behind it.
"If you will sit here sir," indicating a seat at the end of the last row, "it will make it easier for you when you have to go forward." He continued, "As you are to receive the most senior award today you will be called last. Stop two paces from Her Majesty bow, and say Your Majesty, then walk forward. If she offers, her hand, don't grip it too tightly. After that, you address her as Mam, as in jam, all clear?"
"Yes thank you," replied Robert.
After sitting down with Terry on his inside, he watched as others entered the room, to join those already sitting down.
He was twiddling with his walking stick, when he felt Terry take his hand in hers, she squeezed it, "relax, enjoy it," she whispered.
"If you say so Mam," coursing her to chuckle.
Promptly at two pm, the doors behind the dais opened, and the Queen emerged, flanked by Prince Phillip, and equerries. One of which was Captain St John now in uniform.
They all rose to their feet. The investiture had begun.
When, Robert's citation was read out. Terry listened in horror at what Robert had done, his sheer disregard for his own safety; she all ready, was aware off some details from TV and newspaper reports.
But being with the shy reluctant hero now, seemed even more pertinent, today.
Robert's name was called he rose, passing his hat and walking stick to Terry, he said, "Hang on to these, for me please."
With his shoulders pulled back, he marched forward.
Terry watched as he stopped and bowed then approached the Queen. Her Majesty seemed to stare at his face for several seconds, and they conversed for a few minutes and then Robert stepped back, a few paces bowed, turned and marched back to his seat carrying a small velvet box in his hand.
When he had sat down, Terry glanced at him, noticing a thin film of perspiration on his forehead, that walk had cost him dearly she knew. She slipped her hand into his and gave it a little squeeze; she was suddenly overcome with a feeling of emotion and pride for him.
The Queen stepped down form the dais, and every one rose. She walked down past the rows of chairs, into the other room followed by Prince Phillip and her equerries. Has they passed, the front row followed, and then the second, and then Robert's row followed them in.
Inside liveried servants were distributing tea and cakes. Robert and Terry accepted tea but turned down the cakes moving into a corner of the room.
Suddenly Prince Phillip was before him, "That was a bloody good showing you put in over there Flight Lieutenant, bloody good show, congratulation on the award." He growled proffering his hand.
Robert was surprised at the strength of his grip. "Thank you sir," was all he managed to stammer.
After they had drunk their tea Robert said, "What do you say we get out of here."
Terry nodded; she realised he was quite shy and out of his depth in this kind of company.
Robert caught the eye of Captain St John, who came over.
"We'd like to leave now if there's nothing else."
"Oh, course old boy, I'll show you to the lift," he reached for a mobile phone in his pocket, "I'll warn transport you need a taxi," speaking into it, as he conducted them to the lift.
At the lift he stopped and pressed a button, "Well, congratulation's on the VC, old man, I suppose we have to let you fly boys win one now and again." He said smiling and shaking Robert's hand.
As they got out of the lift, he could see a crowd of reporters and press photographers on the steps out side; a taxi was drawn beyond them. Terry was behind him rummaging in her handbag.
As he reached the top of the steps, camera flashes began to go off, and men with either note pads, or microphones were all shouting, at him at once.
Robert felt confused and disorientated, and then one man stuck a microphone near his face and said, "What's it like to win the Victoria Cross Flight Lieutenant?"
Robert cleared his throat, trying to get his thoughts in order; finally he said.
"A lot of people, both in the services and civilian life, both in Afghanistan and here at home. Went to a great deal of trouble, to ensure I would be alive, to receive this award today. So I think it's as much theirs, as it is mine. Thank you gentlemen."
He began to move down the steps.
Fortunately at that moment a premier league football star, which had just received an OBE had appeared behind Robert, with his current girlfriend. Who was keen to display her new set of enhanced breasts.
Leaving Robert free to descend the steps, Terry was already in the taxi wearing her sunglasses.
As the taxi pulled away, and he settled into the seat, he looked over to her, "What's the matter, ashamed to be seen with me," he said with a smile.
"Oh, course not, you idiot, but this is your day, I would have been a distraction."
He picked up her hand; it felt cool in his grasp, "I couldn't have done it, with out you; I'd rather fly a dozen combat missions than to go through that again."
Back at the hotel, Robert, led the way into the bar. James was behind it.
"Hello sir you are looking much better than you did last night."
"I'm feeling much better thank you James," he paused, "James we're celebrating I need a bottle of your best Champagne and two glasses please."
Terry had already sat down, at a table by the wall. After James had served them their drinks leaving the bottle in an ice bucket. Robert raised his glass, "I'd like to propose a toast, to guardian angels, which look after the boy's in blue."
"You fool," she laughed, "So," she continued "what happens to you now?"
"Now I catch a train at seven fifteen and go home to Aventon."
"Where's that?" She asked.
Robert began to describe the small village, perched on a low hill above the River Avon. And the people who lived in it, Mrs Mac, and Archie her husband. Sir Wilber at the Manor. Jack and Ruby, who ran the village pub, The Archers. He described Lark Hill Cottage his home, and the surrounding area.
He suddenly realised he'd been talking non-stop for well over an hour.
But Terry looked enthralled by it all.
"Oh, it sounds wonderful," she murmured.
"It is, you have probably realised I'm not a city person."
"I'm not either, it's just where my work is."
He glanced at the Rolex; surprised to see it was ten past six.
She saw what he had done, "I suppose I had better be going." She said.
"Terry," he paused not sure how to say this, "if you are ever in my neck of the woods, or you would like to take a break from London. I would love for you to see the village, there's plenty of room in the cottage, and Mrs Mac would be there to chaperone you."
She hesitated; there was some thing in the way he was looking at her; he's shy, she realised, but some thing else, that sent a shiver down her spine.
"Well thank you, I don't really know what my schedule is at the moment, but I promise I'll think about it."
Robert reached into his pocket and extracted a card from his wallet, "This is the address and telephone number, if you do decide to come, all I'd need is for you to ring."
They stood up from the chairs; he proffered his hand, and she took it, but then moved closer, kissing him lightly on the cheek, "thank you for a lovely day." She whispered in his ear and then moved quickly towards the exit.
After settling his account with James, and saying good-bye, he moved to the reception to retrieve his case and greatcoat. When he asked for his bill, he was surprised to learn,young lady had settled it that morning.
He managed to catch the train with five minutes to spare. As he settled into his seat, he thought now for Home.
The taxi stopped by the gate after he had paid off the driver; he picked up his case and greatcoat, and descended the four steps down to the pathway, which led to a large old oak front door. A brass plate with engraved lettering announced that this was Lark Hill Cottage, was screwed into a Purbeck granite block, the material used in building it.
The cottage was old; the concrete lintel above the door had the date 1825 chiselled into it.
The cottage had been built for the manager, who ran the estate for Sir Wilbur's ancestors, when the estate had been much greater. Taxes and death duties had necessitated selling off some of the land to pay them.
The door was unlocked, has he knew it would be; he'd seen Mrs Mac's old Ford Escort parked up when the taxi drew up.
Standing in the large living room, he shouted, "Mrs Mac, I'm home."
Mrs Mac came rushing out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a red checked pinafore that she habitually wore.
"Oh Robert," she cried, flying into his arms and kissing his cheeks, tears starting to run down her face. Eventually, she pulled back staring up into his face, "You look so pale and thin, have they nay been looking after ye, in that hospital?"
"Oh yes, but I've been cooped up in a room for over five months, but now I'm home I'll be able to get out side more."
She frowned not convinced at his explanation, "Well let me make you some thing to eat, it won't take a minute."
"No, thank you, all I need is my bed; it's been a long day."
"Well if you're sure, your bed is all made up, and I'll be around tomorrow morning to make your breakfast."
"OK, Mrs Mac," he said kissing her on the cheek.
After slipping on her coat and locating the car keys, she turned at the door and said, "Good night dear, it's so good to have you home again, where you belong."
After bolting the door, and turning down the light diffuser.
Robert moved over to the drinks cabinet; the only bottle that was in it was a half empty Jameson. Pouring out a good measure, he sat down in the old black winged leather chair that had been his fathers, in front of the huge, inglenook fireplace. The fire was dying, the orange embers, casting a ruddy glow into the room.
As he sipped his drink, he thought of Mrs Mac and Archie her husband.
They had been like surrogate parents to him, for as far back as he could remember.
They had been brought to Aventon, when Sir Wilbur's father sold the estate he held in the Highlands.
Archie had been twenty years old at the time, recently married to Agnes his seventeen-year-old bride. He worked on the estate as a junior gillie and gamekeeper. Sir Wilbur's father had been impressed by the young Scot's hard work and his direct but honest manner, and offered him the position of gamekeeper at Aventon, the Gatehouse Cottage went with the job.
When Robert's parents moved to Aventon, and his mother, had started work at Odstock Hospital, she started looking around for a daily help, and Agnes McKee was hired.
Within a very short while, the two women became very close friends, and the titles Mrs Barlow and Mrs McKee were dropped, in favour of Aggie and Mickey.
Why his mother was named Mickey, she'd been christened Lillian, Robert never did find out.
Mrs Mac couldn't have children; she'd seen specialists at his mother's urging, but it wasn't to be.
So in many way's, Robert became the child she couldn't have, he spent as much time as a youngster at the Gatehouse Cottage, as he did at home. Archie would take him around the estate exploring the three-mile stretch of the River Avon that ran through the estate. He taught Robert how to fish and shoot, and developed his interest in wild life.
Robert finished his drink, and was moving towards the staircase, when he had a sudden thought, Terry, the slight accent; she was a Scot; he suddenly realised.
The following morning, after his shower and shave, he went down stairs, the aroma of frying bacon drew him to the kitchen.
"Won't be long," said Mrs Mac, "sit down at the table."
After breakfast Mrs Mac, started the questions.
Robert gave her the pocket version glossing over the injuries he'd had.
He had to think what the Queen had worn. But finally she seemed satisfied with his answers.
"I have to pay my respects at the Manor, this morning, will Archie be at home?"
"No, he's up by the top copse, checking on the partridge chicks, a fox tried to get in two nights ago. I swear he thinks more of those birds than he does me, are you taking the car?"
"No, I'll take the bike, I need the exercise," he said.
After pumping up the tires, he opened the electric garage doors, his mother's car sat in the middle of the double garage covered in dust sheets, closing the doors behind him, to prevent any wind displacing them.
He started cycling up the hill, at the top the road passed round a bend and began to descend back down to the valley, half way down he came to the entrance of the Manor.
Two large granite columns, surmounted with a unicorn on each, supported the huge wrought iron gates, which were opened.
Robert cycled through; Gatehouse Cottage was on the left of the entrance, he was freewheeling down the gentle slope of the half-mile drive, as he rounded the last bend the Manor came into view.
Smaller than the Grange, but built in the same mode, it only boasted twelve bedrooms he knew.
According to Sir Wilbur, the Fitzwilliam's could trace their lineage back to the Conquest.
A house in one form or another had stood here for over nine hundred years.
They had changed over the years, being knocked down and rebuilt, destroyed by fire, or blown up, as was the case, when Oliver Cromwell's troops demolished it.
Sir Wilbur's ancestor had started the current structure in 1730. Who had made a fortune in the slave trade, with a fleet of five ships, crossing from West Africa to the Caribbean with slaves, and returning with sugar, cotton, molasses and rum to sell on the British market.
When his son, who took over the business, realised from the rumblings in Parliament that the end of the trade was in sight. He bought a large sugar plantation in Barbados and became part owner, of the Rum distilling factory, winning locative contracts with the Royal Navy.
Robert knew this aspect of Sir Wilbur's ancestral history was a mute point with him. Never the less he still held land, and interests in Barbados, which had helped to pay off the taxman.
Robert rang the doorbell, after a short pause the door opened and Davis, Sir Wilbur's Butler stood there, a wide smile breaking out on his face, "Master Robert it's so good to see you again."
'Thank you Davis, is Sir Wilbur at home?'
"He's in his study," he said leading the way.
Davis announced him and ushered him in.
Sir Wilbur was sat in his armchair by a roaring log fire reading the Times. "Robert my boy," he said leaping out of the chair, and giving him a bear hug, saying over Robert's shoulder "Davis, we'll take coffee."
"Yes Sir," said Davis closing the door behind him.
Breaking off from the hug he said, "Right pull up a chair, I want to know every thing that's happened, and don't skip the details." He commanded.
So, Robert began going into more detail than he had done with Mrs Mac. He knew that Sir Wilbur had been a serving Officer in the Second World War and would spot any glossing over.
When he reached the part of Sir Royston's involvement, Sir Wilbur interrupted, "Sir Royston Smith, I do believe he's a member of my club."
Robert knew; Sir Wilbur was a member of a very select club in Pall Mall, he and Robert's father used it, when England was playing at Lords.
"So what happened next," he asked
By the time he'd finished Robert's mouth was dry.
Sir Wilbur sat back in his chair, thinking for a few moments, "What happens now Robert?"
"Well, I'm on three weeks medical leave, at the end of that, I will have to take a medical to see if I'm fit for flying duties."
"Do, you want to return to flying?" Sir Wilbur asked.
"Oh, course sir."
"Umm, you know Robert, your parents, would have been enormously proud of you, has I am, there always in my thoughts."
"Mine too sir," he replied.
After a few more, minutes talking Robert took his leave promising to come to dinner later in the week.
As Robert mounted the bicycle, he couldn't help, but feel sorry, him. He knew he had a son, Denis, who was on the board of a merchant bank in London. He had a place on the Thames at Kingston. But he hardly ever visited his father, his wife couldn't stand Sir Wilbur, and the feeling was reciprocated. He had a grandson who was at Eton, who according to Sir Wilbur, was being ruined by the mother.
Back at the cottage, he let him self in, Mrs Mac had gone. But, had left a note on the kitchen table, saying Archie and she would see him in the Archers that evening. After having a shower and changing, he lay on his bed, to take a nap, his leg was throbbing from the exertion of cycling. Strange he thought, as he lay there, but I never mentioned Terry's involvement, to either Mrs Mac or Sir Wilbur.
The Archers was the centre of the village life.
A hostelry had stood there for hundred's of years, the large village green, that stood in front of it, had given it, its name.
By law, the men of the village, had to practice archery in the Middle Ages on a Sunday, after service. The crown recognising the deadly effect, the British longbow had, had at Crecy and Agincourt.
Later it had become a Post House where horses were changed for the last 15-mile coach ride to Salisbury.
But, with the construction of the new road, on the other side of the river, at the turn of the century, Aventon became a backwater.
Jack and Ruby Norris bought it ten years ago.
Jack had served his time as a chief studying under some of the best chief's in England and France; he'd met Ruby, at the hotel he was working in at London. She had been a senior receptionist, and they fell in love and married. They had both shared the same vision, to have their own place, and live in the country.