From Mary - 'Hugh and Camellia' - FIVE

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After the almost overwhelming emotion set off by the arrival of Rosemary’s letter, Hugh and Camellia surprised themselves by settling quickly into the routine of the day. Each hugged to each their excitement and it wasn’t mentioned again until supper.

“I think late Spring would be best,” remarked Hugh squinting to see Camellia beyond the flickering lights of their silver candelabra. Then, in order to conceal his feelings, he peered instead at his poached fish, flaking it to check for bones. “When the lambs are born and their mothers shorn; the ewes look tidier then.”

Camellia was startled. She’d decided next Saturday would be a good time for Rosemary’s first visit - and here was Hugh proposing they wait for months and months. She’d been making plans for Christmas too. They’d take a great, tall tree from the estate, set it up in the drawing room and cover it with decorations (children always like glitter, taste be damned!). She’d been imagining huge logs in the fireplace (there were loads of fallen branches around the fields) - and piles of parcels for Cressida and Cordelia. (So many Christmases and birthdays to catch up on!). It would, she’d decided, be a story book event; like the old days. She’d ask the vicar to send the choir and they’d sing carols and eat mince pies. How everyone would love it! And they’d talk to the sheep and feed the donkeys and walk through the fields and learn the names of the cows.

“D’you think we should buy a new carpet?” asked Hugh.

Camellia’s mind had wandered so clearly towards Christmas she couldn’t think what carpet he was talking about. Nor could she imagine why any carpet might have any bearing on Rosemary’s visit.

“It’s a bit slimy nowadays.”

Camellia sighed. What had she been thinking? The sheep lived in the drawing room. Forget the choir. It would have to be a Christmas like all the others they’d had in recent years. They’d cluster round the aga for warmth and eat in the kitchen as usual. (They could still have a tree and buy lots of presents for the children.) Did she want to go back in time? No. For the most part, she liked things as they were.

"Hugh," she said. "As much as I want to see her, I don't want a carpet for the sheep. They don't need one."

He looked up from his fish.

"Not for - "

But Camellia was in tank mode, pushing forward without interruption.

"We made our life as we want it." She tried to catch his eye and infuse him with a happy sense of conspiracy - tempt him to smile. But he was wary. "Now." She laid her hands on the table and hoped she sounded business-like. "Rosemary isn't like us." She waved brusquely to show he mustn't speak. "She worries about cleanliness. She likes to live a narrow line; be like the neighbours."

Neighbours? They had no neighbours.

"She worries what they might think."

"And we don't."

It was a flat statement. She looked at him sharply. She knew he was lonely.

"Not in the way Rosemary does, we don't. No . . . so . . . " She was still watching. "Suppose we change everything, everything we like but she doesn't - shift the animals, make everything cleaner than it need be, tidy away my knitting."

Had Rosemary not like knitting? He couldn't remember. Probably she didn't. As far as he could remember, she didn't like much.


He was listening. But he couldn't look as if he were listening.

"Suppose we do all that but it isn't enough for her . . . she arrives . . . sees . . . turns . . . " she was still watching "and goes."

He jumped.

"What are we left with?"

He didn't know. Broken hearts? Life never after?

"A carpet. A new carpet! That's all, Hugh. We could throw everything away and be left with nothing but a carpet." She leaned forwards, peering to see him beyond the candles, their lights stinging her eyes.

“Hugh,” she said firmly. “The sheep live in the drawing room and they don’t need a new carpet. Nor do we."

Hugh’s face twisted. They must, absolutely must, put all their strength, all their effort, all their fortune if necessary, into making Rosemary feel welcome. If it meant throwing everything else away, evicting the sheep, building a field shelter for the donkeys - well, he'd do it! - So long as she stayed. He'd even begun to wonder if her husband might be interested in farming.

“I want them here for Christmas Hugh,” said Camellia, her jaw tense and her eyes stinging.

Hugh sliced a potato.

Silence. Only broken by the strange scrape of silver forks on pottery plates.


“If we leave the sheep in the drawing room,” muttered Hugh. "She’ll walk in, she’ll walk out, just as you say, and that will be the last we see of her. Possibly for ever, Camellia. For ever.”

“She knows how we live,” said Camellia, tart and bitter.

(She didn't like to be bitter.)

“She'll say we’ve got worse,” said Hugh, quietly.


(Tart, bitter and shrill!)

“In her terms,” he said, more gently now. “We're worse. Much worse. Imagine how she’ll see things, Camellia. We’ve got to see through her eyes.”

Camellia stilled and stared.


“Ok,” she said, with a little clap of her hands. “We’ll do it.” She saw him brighten. His shoulders unhunch. She snuffed the candles. She could see him properly now. “And by ‘do it’, I only mean we’ll do what we have to. Just that. The minimum. But NOW. That's when. Not in the spring. The sheep can go on holiday, we'll clear the drawing room and clean the table in here and she can come on Saturday."

It wasn't what he'd wanted and he didn't know how they'd do it, not by Saturday. It gave them only six days in which to effect a massive transformation. Six days and a morning if they didn't invite Rosemary to lunch. Not good - but agreed. Almost.

"A week next Saturday."

"Done!" said Camellia - and she felt something ripple inside her. It was pleasure creeping back in. And with it came a spark of contradictory hope. Perhaps the sheep could stay away till January? Then they might have that tree . . . and that choir . . . and that massive fire - and mince pies - after all?

After that . . . . But she hadn't a clue about after.


For the next episode - SIX

For the post before this - Four