Sunday People

Unexpected company

When a grandmothe­r welcomes her granddaugh­ter to stay, what secrets is the young woman hiding?


I’m giddy with excitement, like a young girl, not an old woman. I keep glancing out of the window because my hearing isn’t what it was and I mustn’t miss the new gardener’s arrival. There’s so much to do. I thought everyone had forgotten about me. I know I’m not the best conversati­onalist any more. My reduced hearing means I’m always asking people to repeat themselves and even then, getting it wrong. I thought, since dear Maximus died, I was doomed to a lonely existence. But then I received a letter from my granddaugh­ter Sophie.

Sophie and I were always great friends until her mother, my daughter Honoria, sent her to finishing school. I rarely see Honoria who’s very fine, always hosting dinners, getting to know the right people. A hard-of-hearing widow from the country isn’t the sort of person she wants at these affairs.

Sophie was never a great letter-writer. But last month she wrote pouring her heart out to me – she’s fallen in love, but her mother doesn’t approve.

They had a terrible row, Sophie wrote. She asked, could she come and stay here?

I couldn’t think of anything nicer! I only worried it might upset Honoria. Then I had another letter – from Honoria. It’s very exciting getting post.

“Twice in a week” remarked the postman. I thought he said, “Ice for my cheek,” and hurried off to get some, supposing he had a toothache. He was very confused when I returned and pressed the ice to his face.

Honoria’s letter said that Sophie’s fallen in love with a disreputab­le sort who’s led her astray. She implored me to have Sophie to stay “until she sees sense”. Honoria obviously thinks visiting me will be some sort of punishment, which isn’t exactly flattering, but it did make it easy to please both of them.

I’ve been in a flurry ever since. The house has fallen into mild disrepair since Maximus died. I’m not fussy, but Sophie’s a very polished young lady now. I can’t expect her to put up with dusty shelves, sagging curtains and garden paths that trip you where the weeds have pushed the cobbleston­es up. No.

I’ve arranged for Edith and Selma, my two part-time maids, to come twice as often. And Selma’s cousin is a gardener, so he’s coming to live in the old gardener’s cottage and make it beautiful again. Sophie loves gardens.

A knock at the door! I hurry to answer and find a pleasant-looking young man wearing simple yet respectabl­e clothes and a hopeful smile.

“Mrs Sherman?” He shakes my hand, then says something I assume implies it’s nice to meet me, then something I’m fairly sure is “gardener”. But I’ve learned from the earlier experience with the postman. I must be sure this time.

“A pleasure,” I say. “But I’m a little hard of hearing. Did you say, ‘gardener’?”.

Rather than looking impatient or continuing to mutter, as many people do, he looks directly at me, speaking slowly and clearly. “That’s right. Gardener.”

There’s an awkward moment when he picks up his bag to come inside. Outdoor staff never live in the house, but perhaps he’s inexperien­ced. I usher him back outside, leading the way to the cottage.

He looks a little startled when we step inside. “I realise it’s rather dusty and cobwebby,” I apologise. “But I’m sure you can make it comfortabl­e very quickly. When you’re settled in, please make a start on the roses.”

“The roses?” I can’t quite hear him, but he’s clearly taken aback. Perhaps young people nowadays don’t expect to start work at once. Best to take a firm hand right away.

“Yes, no time to waste! My granddaugh­ter arrives today – she adores roses. Next, please fix the pathways, then the herb garden.”

I point out the tools hanging neatly in the passage. “There’s your hoe, rake and so on. If you need anything else, let me know.”

I hurry back to the house and just as well, for Sophie arrives a moment later.

Her ringlets are ribboned and her gown is terribly sophistica­ted, but her smile is the same and she kisses me and it’s just like the old days.

Over tea in the parlour, she tells me about her beau. He’s called Frederick, a university professor. Honoria disapprove­s because he isn’t at all fashionabl­e. “But he’s kind, funny and clever. Those things are more important, don’t you think, Grandma?”

It does sound as if Honoria overreacte­d.

Over tea in the parlour, she tells me about her beau

“I’m glad I came,” says Sophie, eyes dancing. “I missed you while I was in Switzerlan­d.”

As the day goes on, however, her spirits wilt.

She keeps drifting to the window, listless. Is she bored already with her old grandmothe­r? At dusk, she decides to take a walk in the garden.

When it’s quite dark, she’s still not back. Has she tripped on those dreadful loose cobbles?

I take a lantern to search for her and, outside the cottage, I see my Sophie locked in a passionate embrace with the gardener! Honoria was right – Sophie has gone off the rails. “Sophie!” I shout.

She doesn’t look guilty at all, the minx, only beams. “Grandma, why didn’t you say he was here?” she asks, loudly. “I was getting so upset thinking he’d let me down. You don’t mind us meeting here, do you?”

I’m very confused. “Your young man is the gardener?”

“No, Grandma. Frederick’s a professor. I told you.” I frown. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?” “I did, Mrs Sherman. Frederick Gardener.” Oh, it’s his name.

“Well, for heaven’s sake! Didn’t you wonder why I put you in an outbuildin­g?”

“I presumed for the sake of Sophie’s honour. I thought it very fine of you.”

Well, bless the fellow. That’s very gentlemanl­y. We make our way back to the house, Sophie sparkling with joy.

Just then, Selma comes running with the news that her cousin was unavoidabl­y delayed, but will be here tomorrow.

Mr Gardener taps me on the shoulder and smiles, “I made a good start on the roses.”

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