The Boys in Blue Ch. 05byRobinLane©
On entering the cottage door, he immediately heard the sound of the vacuum cleaner coming from upstairs.
He stopped and tried to collect his thoughts, the car, he remembered, and I have to charge the battery.
He always disconnected the battery and put it on the workbench of the garage, when he knew he would be on overseas duty. Passing through the side door into the garage, he located the battery charger, on the shelf and the bottle of distilled water. Two of the cells required a drop. With the charger connected, Robert knew that the battery should be fully charged by the following morning.
By the time, Mrs Mac left at six, warning him that she would be back early in the morning. Robert was feeling quite exhausted; she'd had him polishing brass and washing china, and vases, whilst she galloped up and down stairs, carrying towels, curtains and duvet covers, where she got her energy from, baffled him.
Terry had phoned earlier to say she would arrive at Christchurch at three thirty. Robert knew she could have got a link through to Salisbury, which was only fifteen miles from the village, but he preferred the longer journey from Christchurch particularly the stretch of the A338 from Ringwood to the village, which followed the course of the Avon.
He was woken, by the noise coming from downstairs; Mrs Mac had started early he realised; it was a little after seven thirty.
After he had showered and shaved, he stared at his reflection in the mirror.
He knew he favoured his father in looks and height, although he had his mother's eyes, but where his father's hair was always tidy Robert's refused to be tamed, invariably falling down near his fore head necessitating him to push it back with his fingers. He'd noticed the few strands of grey hair, either side of his ears at the Grange, that hadn't been there prior to the wadi incident.
He dressed quickly putting on fawn cargo slacks and a maroon long sleeved polo shirt, slipping his feet into a pair of tan slip-on's he went down stairs.
"Don't walk on the floor, go round," commanded Mrs Mac "I'll make your breakfast later when I've finished the floor."
She was washing the ancient stone slabs, which made up the floor of the cottage; the throw rugs piled up by the fireplace.
"Ok I have to go into the garage and get the car ready," he said edging round to the garage side door.
In the garage, he pressed the button that opened the double door, and then began to remove the dustsheets, that hid the car, revealing Buttercup.
That was the name his mother had given it.
A bright yellow Toyota Celica, she had loved this car. She claimed it reminded her of her miss spent youth that she had never had the opportunity to miss spend.
Although Robert had given Archie his father's old Land Rover after their deaths, he couldn't bear to part with the Celica.
Popping the bonnet, he quickly connected the battery and at the first go it burst into life. He drove it forward stopping it on the flat area of the drive, before the drive rose slightly to the double gates, which fronted the main road.
After changing into the Wellington boots that had been his fathers, he began to clean the vehicle.
After nearly three hours, he stood back to admire his handy work, the car gleamed inside and out, although there was still a slight musty smell, a legacy from being closed up for over eight months. He opened the sunroof and dropped the side windows to let the air circulate.
He was putting the hosepipe and bucket away, when Jack pulled up in his Range Rover, and started to unload boxes, he went to give him a hand.
As he opened the door, a voice rang out "wipe your feet."
In the kitchen, Jack took over storing the bottles placing the white wine and Champaign in the large chest fridge and the red in the empty wine rack by the fridge.
They loaded all the spirits and mixes into the drink cabinet, indicating the last box, Jack said, "nibbles," in it were crisps, olives, dips peanuts and cashew's.
"Thanks Jack I hadn't thought of those."
"No problem Bob, it must be a new experience entertaining a lady, for you."
Robert flushed, has Jack carried on, 'I've put the bill in the bottom, I'm only charging you at cost, and by the way what time do you want to eat tonight?"
"Oh, eight thirty or nine."
"Fine so I'll see you tonight," with that Jack left.
Mrs Mac left at two promising to be back by the time Robert returned with Terry.
He intended to call in at Ringwood and draw out some cash from the ATM, before going on to the station. He had showered and changed again into cavalry twill slacks, and a blue polo shirt under his old black leather bomber jacket.
Although he had driven slowly, he was still at the train station fifteen minutes be for the train was due to arrive. He'd bought some cigarettes and mouth spray in Ringwood, now he was on his third, its ridicules he thought; I don't smoke. Well only when I'm stressed out, but what have I to be stressed out about, he admonished himself.
The distorted tinny voice announced the imminent arrival of the London train. He snubbed out the cigarette then sprayed his mouth.
He waited by the gate, as the Guard began checking the tickets of the alighting passengers, and then she appeared, carrying a suitcase and small vanity case.
She was wearing jeans again, tucked into long black boots with red leather bomber jacket, her hair in a ponytail.
She was looking around, trying to find him; he stepped out from the alcove.
"Hi" he said, "can I help a lady in distress?"
"Hi" she replied her face breaking out into a wide smile.
His heart skipped a beat, at the warmth of her smile.
He led the way out to the car, carrying her case.
She laughed "So, this is Buttercup, I thought you were going to turn up with a pony and trap."
He laughed, "It's my mother's old car, that's what she called her, and it's kind of stuck."
Robert drove through Christchurch, slipping on to the duel carriageway of the Bournemouth by Pass. At the end, he negotiated the roundabout, before joining the A31 for half a mile, before taking the A338 to Salisbury.
He glanced at her has he drove god but she is so beautiful he thought.
They had been chatting away about the train journey, and Robert had been pointing out places of interest, as they crossed the flyover bridge at Fordingbridge that bypassed the town.
Robert said, "I'd better pre warn you, but it seems everyone in the village is an ardent fan of yours, Mrs Mac almost wet herself when I told her you were coming."
"Oh, dear," Terry replied, "I think I've only got half a dozen publicity photographs in my case, do you think that will be enough?"
"Doubt it," replied Robert.
He turned off the A338 onto a country lane passing over an old hump backed bridge the River Avon flowing below it.
"Nearly there now," Robert announced.
The car climbed up the slight incline of the hill, Oak and Maple trees, forming a canopy over the road, as they cleared the top, and the village lay below them.
He stopped the car so she could look.
The village green with The Archers behind it, and behind that, the square Norman tower of the church, with yew trees growing by the wall. A dozen or so cottages lined the road, some with thatched roofs, at the end, the village store and Post office.
"Oh, Robert it's lovely," her face aglow with pleasure.
He climbed the hill from which the cottage took its name, at the top he swung the car round to pass through the drive gates, pulling up in front of the garage.
As he opened the boot to retrieve her cases, he could see her staring at the cottage.
"The garage, is the only new thing that's been added, to the outside, but Dad insisted that it should be built in the same granite, as the main building. He also insisted that the UPVC of the door, be the same colouring as the oak door and windows," he explained.
At the door balancing the cases in one hand, he opened it allowing Terry to pass through.
Mrs Mac was standing in the centre of the living room, wearing a new dress over which was a clean new pinafore, the typical red checked.
Robert feared for a second that she would curtsey to Terry.
But Terry resolved the situation, by taking her hand in hers and saying, "you must be Mrs Mac, Robert has told me all about you, and your husband Mr Archie McKee. It's so nice to meet you Mrs McKee."
"Thank you Miss Kerr, and the name is Aggie," a broad smile breaking out on her face.
"And my name is Terry, Aggie."
"Robert take Miss err Terry's cases up to her bedroom, while I make some tea, or would you prefer coffee Terry?'
"Oh, tea would be heaven."
As Robert mounted the stairs, he saw Terry following Mrs Mac into the kitchen. Well he thought they seem to have hit it off.
After tea and Mrs Mac's scones with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam, Terry sat back and said, "It takes a Scot to make proper scones."
This brought a flush of pleasure to Aggie's face.
"Well if you have had enough, I'll take you up to the bedroom. I'm, sure you'd like to freshen up."
In the bedroom, Terry looked around. A woman designed this room she knew.
A king size four-poster bed, complete with curtains and canopy dominated it.
One wall was taken over by built in wardrobes, while by the bow window was a large dressing table complete with side mirrors.
A vase filled with daffodils and tulips placed to one side and a photo of Robert, in uniform, on the other.
The chest of drawers was placed near the door leading to the en-suite bathroom.
"Oh, it's lovely Aggie. Robert's mother had a say in this room didn't she?"
"Ay, Mickey let Tom chose most of the furniture that was made for downstairs, though she selected the kitchen equipment. But she insisted how this room was to be furnished."
After showing Terry how to operate the shower and the bath in the spacious bathroom, and indicating where the towels were. Aggie said, "I'll have to go and get my man's dinner ready for him, but I'll see you tomorrow Terry."
Terry embraced her giving her a kiss on the cheek, "thank you Aggie; I'll see you tomorrow," little realising she had just made a friend for life.
She returned downstairs having unpacked, showered and changed, into a skirt and jumper forty-five minutes later.
Robert was by the fireplace putting a log onto the fire.
"All sorted," he inquired.
"We are having dinner at the Archers tonight at eight thirty," he continued, 'I'll put the car out in the road then get changed myself."
"Can't we walk down, it didn't look that far," Terry replied.
"If you are sure, yes. Well I'll put the car away, and then go up."
Picking up the car keys from the stand, he went out. Ten minutes later he returned, moving to the staircase, "won't be long, why don't you have a look around."
The living room was large, to the right of the huge Inglenook fireplace, was the kitchen, which she had already seen, and to the left was a door that opened into the study, a man's study she realised.
One wall was taken over by bookshelves, from floor to ceiling, crammed with books of all descriptions and subjects.
The desk was by the window with a large flat-faced monitor, keyboard and mouse in the centre. To the side, a photograph of a woman in nurse's uniform, she had a warm friendly smile, she had Robert's eyes, Terry thought. On the other side a photo of Robert in RAF Cadet Uniform.
By the side of the desk, was a chest of drawers with a laptop on it, and to the side of that a tall filing cabinet.
She discovered the formal dining room with its antique table, which could seat eight in the matching chairs, along with a long cabinet from the same period. Above it, a mirror that reflected light from the wrought iron chandler.
She was studding a photo when he came back down.
"Is this your Mum and Dad?" Terry asked indicating the photo.
"Yes," Robert replied, "it was taken the year we finally won the cup. That's Jeremy at the end with Sir Wilbur."
The photograph showed five people, Robert and a black man at each end, wearing crumpled cricket whites. Two older men dressed in vertical stripped blazers of maroon and cream, the one standing alongside Robert obviously his father, the resemblance unmistakable, and a woman, his mother in the centre, holding a silver cup. The pleasure and pride at winning the cup plain to see on all their faces.
"Jeremy took five wickets that day and I had 97 not out," he told her.
"Oh, it's wonderful Robert. Whoever decorated and furnished the cottage went to an awful lot of time and effort. It just seems to all fit in."
Robert smiled at the complement.
"Dad got most of the furniture, he went to auction sales all over the country, what he couldn't buy at auction. He had specially made by a master carpenter he found in Salisbury."
They chattered on about the cottage and its history, then Robert glanced at his watch, "we had better start making tracks."
"I'll just get my wrap," Terry replied.
Robert was wearing a black blazer over his blue open neck shirt, by the time she returned, with long brown woollen wrap around her shoulders.
There were no street lamps on Lark Hill; they only began at the general store, the first building in the village. But the lights from The Archers illuminated the village green.
By the time they entered the pub, Terry's cheeks were pink from the cold, of the late February night air.
There was the usual crowd near the bar; some were playing domino's others at the dartboard.
Robert introduced Terry to Ruby, who unusually for her seemed tongue-tied.
But Terry put her at ease by insisting that Ruby call her Terry.
After taking their order, Ruby said she would bring their drinks to the table he had reserved, which turned out to be the last table, at the end of the restaurant.
They had settled into the leather bench seats, when Ruby arrived with their drinks, shortly followed by Jack, resplendent, in his clean white chief's uniform.
"Good evening Sir...Madam", bowing his head slightly, "May I present this evening's menu," passing a white A4 card to each of them.
Robert was looking at Jack with a puzzled expression, on his face, but if Jack saw it he ignored it and moved away.
It wasn't the usual mid-week menu. Jack changed it at the weekends for the visitors who came from outside of the village.
But in either case, the menus were usually in red leather folders.
Robert looked down at the menu. Most of it appeared to be written in French, his worst subject at school.
Terry's eyes were opened wide as she studied the menu.
"This is amazing," she gasped, "These are all, my favourite dishes."
Jack returned "are we ready to order?"
Robert gave a curt nod.
"Madam," he said turning to Terry.
"Oh, I just don't know I'm spoilt for choice."
"May I suggest," said Jack.
There then followed a long conversation most of it in French, before Jack turned to Robert
"Sir," His pen poised above the note pad.
Robert realised; he was being set up.
"I'll have," ignoring the menu, his eyes narrowed, "avocado pear and prawns, followed by an Angus fillet steak with chips, fried onions, mushrooms and green peas.'
"And how would sir, like his steak cooked?"
"Perfectly," growled Robert.
As he bent to retrieve the menu from Robert, Jack whispered but loud enough, so Terry heard.
Terry was covering her mouth with her hand trying to stop herself from laughing.
"Will sir, be taking wine with his meal," Jack inquired in the officious tone.
"Yes... but perhaps you and madam can decide," Robert growled again.
"A wise decision sir," replied Jack with a deadpan face.
After Ruby had cleared away the plates and cutlery and they were sat drinking their coffee
Terry said, "I can't remember ever, having a meal as good as this; he's a genius."
Robert heard Jacks footsteps on the flagstones.
"Well for a small village, I suppose he's not bad, for a cook."
Jack appeared with a coffee percolator in his hand, his eye's narrowed.
"Now you two stop it." Terry said before Jack could open his mouth.
"Hi Jack I'm Terry, could Ruby and you join us for a drink?"
The four of them had been talking for over an hour,
Jack telling Terry of the hotels and restaurants he had worked at, in London and France". Flushed with the praise, she heaped on him, whilst Ruby moaned that it was his cooking that had ruined her figure.
Eventually Robert said to Jack "we had better be going, can I settle up with you."
He followed Jack to the bar pulling out his credit card.
"Add the drink you brought this morning to it,"
Jack was reaching for the chip and pin machine when Robert continued.
"Now, you sod, how the hell did you know what she liked?"
"Well," said Jack, in a superior voice, "some would say it was witch craft, others would claim I'm physic, all I would say is it's amazing what you can discover, on the Internet.'
Over the next two days, Robert took Terry first to Poole Quay, and they wondered the narrow streets of the old town hand in hand.
They drove down to Sandbanks and crossed over to Shell Bay on the chain ferry. Then climbed the Purbeck Hills to Corfe and its castle, stopping to have a cream tea in the village.
On another day they visited Christchurch, with its ancient church, and the ruins of the Priory; they watched the fishermen in the punt, below the old bridge that spanned the River Avon.
Later, they drove down to Mudeford Quay, were the rivers Avon and Stour, joined the sea.
"Robert it's all so beautiful, I never realised that such places excited."
He looked at her face, has she gazed across the sea to the Needles on the Isle of Wight. He couldn't help but think; she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, not only her looks but also her personality.
The way she put everyone at ease, who met her, everyone was the same to her, no matter who or what they were.
He desperately tried to suppress the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.
It was ridiculous to even consider, that a girl like her, could ever look on him has anything, other than a friend, but her friendship, he knew he valued.
Robert had just returned from his morning run; noticing Archie's Land Rover parked be side in the road.
On entering the house he heard laughter coming from the kitchen, it stopped suddenly when they saw him.
"What's the joke?" Robert asked.
"Hock, we was just discussing the hay harvest," Archie said with a deadpan face, continuing, "now that you're here, I can tell yer, yer've both been invited to have dinner at the Manor tomorrow night, drinks at eight thirty."
Terry's face went white, "I don't have anything to wear for that kind of occasion."
"No problem," replied Robert "after I've had a shower, we'll take a run down to Bournemouth, I'm sure you will find something there."
After the third shop had not produced anything suitable for Terry, he suggested another boutique, in the town.
Arriving at the store, and having been mildly embarrassed by the goods on display in the other shops, Robert made an excuse, that there was something he needed to see in a hardware store next-door.
Ninety minutes later, she emerged from the shop carrying a large box.
When she saw Robert, she broke into a wide smile, "Co Co Channel was quite right, a girl should always have a little black dress."
Leaving Robert wondering what she was talking about.
Robert was in the act of pouring out sherry, when she came down the stairs.
He stopped frozen, the bottle still in his hands.
She was dressed in black chiffon dress with a boat neck and long sleeves, a full skirt ending just above her knees. She turned around the dress had a deep vee at the back, partially obscured by her hair which had been brushed back over her head, held in place with a clip, she was wearing black high heel slippers.