She braced herself against the biting wind and headed down a corridor which led from the house to her little music study . She could see the boat advancing across the lake from her window here .She picked up some sheet music and regarded it with indifference ; one of her own compositions was on the music stand , but it was not a morning for that sort of music . The arrangement was incomplete and unsatisfactory .
She picked up a piece of Elgar and began playing. The opening chords immediately made her sullen , and putting it down she picked up a piece of Vivaldi. The piece was equally unsuitably .
Abandoning all formal score she played the opening bars of Penny Lane ..Ah Yes .. ! She threw back her head and began to sing along with the accompaniment.
The voice and instrument were incompatible . The combination would grate on the most tolerant ear. Mrs Leonard was not blessed with a tuneful singing voice . Rather, she compensated for this shortcoming with an intensity which bordered on defiance . She saw in some airs a sort of challenge as she would experience in her aerobics class ; the weight lifting came to mind .
One could have observed that the only thing missing from subverting the piece into one of military music was the bass drum. That and the mega phonic brash brass instruments which rendered it difficult to listen to such music with any fondness . The visual image which such music conjured up , of ballooned out purple cheeks , of Pickwickian stature suggested a lack of serious endeavour and more reminiscent of a music hall sketch.
After some time she could the boat being dragged up on the shale alongside the pier .
Her first glance at the woman told her it was a mistake. She looked dainty and prissy where Mrs Leonard expected vigour and strength.
The woman was making far too much fuss getting out of the boat . She was like a ballerina in high heels. She just didn’t look the part.
With an ungainly unsteadiness she disembarked , and as the boatman unloaded her suitcase Ms Leonard noted her give the man a look of sniffy haughter.
She was a Ms Burke . She stood a goodish 5 feet seven inches . She had a ruddy complexion and looked a little blowsy after her crossing
Mrs Leonard had afternoon tea all set up. Partly to show the woman how this was done . It would also give her some insight into her character.
- I like to have afternoon tea about now she said pouring out the tea.
-4 30 ish
- Oh yes … and what time is tea time
Tea time ! There is no tea time . There is dinner time .and that’s at 730. Its best for the digestion . After that its far too late . The system gets sluggish.
Ms Burke seemed to consider this.
I see you’re a painter .
- well yes I paint ..
-Oils I suppose
No ..Water colours usually
It would be thought Mrs Leonard , who had no regard for dainty insipidness -Do you shoot ?
-You mean with guns
- what other way is there . Of course with guns my dear. I keep two 12 bores here- one in the hall and another just by the back door… we get duck flights coming over the island about now .. Not always easy to get to the hides in these floods ..
She hesitated noting Ms Burkes timid reticence
- Perhaps you’ll learn..I could teach you.
The other woman was silent, and looked away
- I don’t think I could even look at a bird being shot
-poppycock .. it’s the best way to keep the flock’s healthy. It keeps the numbers up. it’s a Darwinian thing ..well anyway - she trailed off and then
-I like to play music . I ‘ll show you my music study presently . What sort of music do you like ..
- Oh folk mostly
You mean that gypsy music
Well like Irish folk .. Scottish ..
Mrs Leonard’s forebodings were beginning to stack up in a most displeasing manner. The auguries were not positive,
- do you enjoy a drink ?
-Oh I’d be a very modest drinker .. A few glasses of sherry and I’d be quite tipsy..
-You don’t drink whiskey?
-No I never have
-I like to go to town once or twice a week . I often stay overnight in the village . Theyre good fun the anglers . They are a jolly lot .
They frequently have English guests over for the May fly.. You’ll find then quite engaging..
- living on an island as one does it is convenient to be able to manage a boat. I don’t suppose you’ve ever managed to learn about boating
-No I never have I was quite terrified coming across in that storm
- that was no storm my dear . A storm is when the foundations of the house sway with the trees .. That is what we call a storm.. But of course you ‘ll learn to manage a boat ?
-Oh . I shall try
- and you shall succeed..
Mrs Leonard then showed her guest her bedroom , and found to her mild relief that it seemed to meet with Ms Burkes’s satisfaction.
- it faces South so you’ll get the best light . And it warms up nicely ,- see here - she indicated the pipes running across the ceiling .
- all the heating is run from the stove in the kitchen, back boilers you see.
She could see that Ms Burke was unfamiliar with back boilers.
- come . It is vital you understand the heating system. Otherwise we should freeze . I usually order two ricks of turf at a time. The men stack them up against this gable end . It serves to dry them out . It was my George’s idea. They’re a rotten lot . Unreliable . Quite likely as not to give you damp turf.
So all you have to do is open this trap door and it delivers two buckets at a time . Two fro the drawing room and two for here .
Ms Burke regarded the contraption with a perplexed look.
- oh you’ll get the hang of it . I ‘ll look after things for a week or so after which I would expect we should be able to share these little domestic chores.
-Now you must tell me what you like to eat.
This proved to be less complicated than Mrs Leonard had envisaged in one quite so pernickety in other matters. Much to her surprise she discovered evidently had a liking for Indian curries , a taste she’d acquired when in service in the Raj.
Dolores was her name , and she’d been in the service of a Colonel up to the time he’d retired. She stayed on for a time and then returned to Ireland . She soon tired of the old country and again sought a post in the East .she acquired a post in the service of a retired doctor who’d stayed in his club all his service years and couldn’t seem to make a decent whack of living outside the officers mess. His habituation to pink gins was what did it for Ms Burke. Her own husband had succumbed to inveterate intoxication and passed away in delirium during his sojourn in Burma.
He had tried marriage but apart from his being rarely completely sober he devoted his spare time to shooting wild game , which when successful he had no hesitation in bringing home his quarry and celebrating the occasion into the small hours.
Other than this Mrs Leonard knew very little of her guest.
After this less than auspicious start the two women lived in a reserved and partly isolated harmony for some time . They each knew the others little foibles.
Mrs Leonard could not abide the other woman’s habit of staring out a window as if in a dream.
Dolores detested Mrs Leonard’s utter sabotage of some beautiful airs. Particularly infuriating was the treatment given to Penny Lane. It was as if she took the song and trounced it into shape.
On Fridays as was her wont Mrs Leonard went down to the sarcophagus and lit Mr Leonards pipe.
Dolores was quite disturbed and revolted by the practice . She could see no act of kindness in it at all . Rather a form of self indulgence .
Having had one unsuccessful altercation with Dolores about her assisting in this duty and see the other woman recoil so vehemently Mrs Leonard abandoned perusing it with her.
Plainly the woman , a spinster was ill equipped to deal with some higher feelings.
That autumn the fire began to give trouble . Mrs Leonard was sensible about the fact that it seemed to spew plumes of soot down upon them whenever it required cleaning , but her reasoning was whoever it was lit it that morning had to clean it up .
This eventuality occurred to frequently that at length Mrs Leonard condescended .They sent for the chimney sweep.
He having pushed up all his brushes up the chimney and on Mrs Leonards instructions , and under her watchful eye out the top , the sweep regretted following her direction of operations . But too late .
- dam top brush - he announced through the billowing plume to Mrs who was watching over him with a grating scrutiny . She was wearing a turbaned affair on her head. To keep away the sooth , and this lent itself to her hectoring demeanour .
He struggled at the hearth looking hopelessly up into the black unknown.
- no good no good Maam . I’ll have to get up on the roof to get me brush down.
- cant you just pull it down- Mrs Leonard suggested ..
- a sort of a sharp ..she continued.
- Maam ! .. I’ll bring down your chimley..
-Never mind !!
- I can give her wan draw so ..
- why not
- But let it be on your heads maam .
He placed his heel against the hearth as if in the proceesss of delivering some monstrous beast .
There was a sudden shudder and the broom sticks gave way.
- you have it..!
He looked at her with eyes raised in anticipation.
The crash when it came rattled Mrs Leonard and gave Ms burke such a start. .
- I warned ya maam .. Shes down through the roof.
- you stupid man..
Mrs Leonard went to the attic and there she saw the clear daylight beaming down , as the dust scattered around .
- what are you going to do now.- she demanded .
- well , I’ll have to patch her up somehow..just for now.
- the least you could do Mrs Leonarsd muttered .
-dam fool of a man… why oh why.. Dolores !!
Dolores in so far as could be seen looked ashen in the could of soot settling in the sitting room.
- he’s gone and buggered our roof … chimney’s come right through..
- I did warn ya maam..
- you stupid man..
The sweep got to work at patching the roof and when he’d done he came down .
- its only a temporary job , but it’ll get you by fer now.. Me brother is in the roofing business.. I’ll get him out to have a look if ya like ..
- it’s the least you could do.
Well maam I did ask ya .. I said did ya want me to try..
-don’t talk rubbish .. Said Mrs Leonard experated.
- have him here tomorrow morning.
- he does be busy mammm
- have him here !- do it..- she shook her limp wrist at the sweep as if scattering chickens.
-well don’t just stand there ..
What about me .. Me
- fees fer services rendered - he said
Mrs Leonard turned on him roundly. A fee indeed . He should be sued. Called himself a sweep . indeed . She would not part with not one penny until her roof was completely repaired to her satisfaction. And just maybe then she might consider a consultation fee.
-that’s all , - not a penny more -she insisted.
The two women endured a sharp spell of frost over the coming days, and there was a light sheet of ice on the lake just off the shore.
Despite the ice the sweep’s brother duly arrived .
With much ado. And having secured his fee beforehand he went about his work. Finally he completed the repair and Mrs Leonard L went up to inspect the chimney.
Yer chimley . She’s near as good as new ..
- chim-ney !
- whats that
- leave it !
The job so far as she could determine was quite proficient. She had to inspect it form the outside of course , and when this inspection also met with her begrudging approval, she came down from the ladder.
- well we shall have to see if it works now..
- what about me …
- no .. no fee ! - she became truculent .
- not one penny until I’m satisfied .. With whatnot .. Down drafts and pull and all that.. Oh yes !! I know what I’m talking bout ..….
- well maam .. Twasnt me fault that the chimley fell down
- nonetheless- Mrs Leonard held up a n admonishing hand
- you and you r brother I regard you as the one company
- shure I do have natin at do with him..
- nonetheless.. -Mrs Leonard continued.
- Noneletheless- she added and left it at that.