Everything was going wrong for poor Mrs Leonard that morning . Her new woman was coming over by boat but the wind was up and white horses ruffled up the lake and combed its blackened wash with white foreboding streaks
She was a stoical woman of about 60 . She wore no make up. He carriage was rigid and suggested a military background .
Her face was smooth and without blemish but the skin was that yellow waxen colour one associates with protracted illness. An illness which does not kill but rather slowly eats away the flesh and more slowly yet , the spirit too.
A liver disease would be suspected to the untrained eye, given her somtimes choleric disposition.
The observer would be only partly correct. Mrs Leonard had been brought up in Burma. Her father was an army officer , who’d fought in the Great War and stayed in the East until the outbreak of hostilities in the Second. War.
She was weaned in the shadow of shadow of the first and well remembered the vicissitudes of the second. These had tempered within her an amalgam of the opposing dual forces of chaos and disciline . And these two strange bedfellows dwelt within her persona without contradiction.
Living as she did on an island bestowed no loneliness of yearning as it might in others. She had lived happily with her husband of 40 years; Twenth years in the Midle East and the last twenty of his life here . When he died she had him buried in a sarcophagus on the northern sound. The local authorities tried to thwart her determination. They insisted he be buried in the local cemetery, and so he was . But Mrs Leonard proved an unrelenting woman. She was an formidable adversary . She persevered and ultimately they relented , their regulations falling like a house of cards in the face of Mrs Leonard's vehemance . The sarcophagus was built , her husband was reinterred and his new coffin placed in the stone vault , where she would one day join him.
Every Saturday evening she went to the little grotto and placed his lighted pipe outside the toumb .She discussed with him the matters of the day , the goings on in the town , the arrival of the geese and duck ,some domestic matters and just recently she had asked his opinion on taking in her ‘ woman’s companion.’ He had advised she change the advertising of the post to ‘Lady’s Companion’ and so she did .
It was typical of Robert to approach such matters with prudence and sound judgement . Sober minded and sensible as always was her George.
Now in the shelter of the large oaks swaying in the gusts above the bungalow she looked about the room she had prepared for her ‘ Ladies Companion ‘
She‘d advertised the position in Country Life . She expected a woman of substance would apply . She’d received over twenty replies , and of these she’d screened them all and short listed them down to three. Then this one final applicant had survived her punctiliousness scrutiny .
She wrote to her and described the terms , the expectations , the duties etc.
The reply was prompt and well structured. It told her that the woman was an artist, that she liked solitude , walking , and country living generally.
Shortly after this she rang the woman . The conversation was quite satisfactory and Mrs Leonard was optimistic about her the arrival of her guest.
The gale blowing in rhythmic gusts , down the lake which was unfortunate .Nonetheless it would serve as an test of the woman’s fortitude.
The bay window looked out on the lake . A picture window , she thought , and if the woman could paint , well it was quite a heavenly view. The remark had been made to Mrs Leonard on more than one occcasion.
She hoped she was'nt one of those arty farty arty types and breezed out of the room.
There were a hundred and one things to do. Mrs Leonard had a rule . She would make out a to-do list ; and beside it a list of the things she would actually do. The other things were add-ons ; optional extras.and it didn’t contravene any major ethos of her Calvanistic personna if these tasks were not completed .
Her decision to advertise for this companion while well thought out , she would have to concede that the impulse to take in a stranger under her rooof might have been to have been hastily made. Possibll even impulsive in itself .
She had placed the advertisments in the country magazines for ‘ a ladies’ companion, with some small chores . The candidate should honest ,be good humoured and have a sense of adventure. Fishing and shooting oppertunities would be at hand , and the post would be eminently suitable to an artist or a writer or a philosopher , ( but not an overtly religious one )
She went on to describe that the house was located on an enchanted island on one of Louch Corrib in the West of Ireland.. she then rang the magazine and had the term edited to read 'old world cottage , with all modern conveniences
- mod cons - suggested the receptionists .
-I beg your pardon, Mrs Leonard bellowed dowwn the line .
- Girl , I will say this but once . All Modenr Conveniences .. capital A and ''M'' and '' C'' !
On reflection now she regretted not going into the whole thing in more detail with George .
Three years had passed since his sudden death . But her companionship for him posthumously never faltered .Following his death she had continued to wear black. for over a year . She continued to go to thre crypt regimentally each Saturday evening.
The sight of Mrs Leonard appearing in the townin her ''widows weeds '' had caused some commment , but the discovery that she attended the sarcophagus with his pipe lighting caused consternation. Sometimes , it was said she would leave a stake dinner , and a glass of his favourite pre prandial sherry , and a large brandy for after.
These anecdotes were untrue, but the townsfolk took the view that a little embellishment should not get in the way of a good story particularly where Mrs Leonard's eccentricity was concerned.
But Mrs Leonard was impervious to gossip. Why on earth would they say such things she would ask herself with a heedless shrug of her manly shoulders.
She was always gratified to see that George had never lost his appetite , and ignored the fact that either had the fox or badgers might have feasted on his dinners. - Poppycock ! She would say as she was inclined to say about anything which deviated from her fundamental creed. It was her wont tto use the term quite liberally.
It was considered odd , sinister , then morbid that she might have continued this little gesture for her man a year after his death, but Mrs Leonard quite frankly thought little of public opinion.
For weeks on end she often saw no one except the post man who by special arrangement with the local authorities had to be rowed out to the island to deliver her post.
This often comprised some old advertising literature on horticulture , or old copies of Country Life.
The island was only some 20 feet from the mainland , and her husband had constructed a swing mooring which could reconnect them with the mainland an ingenious through a series of gears and pulleys .
It was rather like a moat in reverse , depending on how you regarded the thing.
For the most part she kept the gate open which meant her island was accessible only by boat.
In this way she preserved the joy of solitude without depriving herself of any amenity she might choose to avail of.
These were all things her new companion would have to come to terms with. It would be evident very quickly if she proved not to be the woman for the job.
She scanned the bay keenly and there to her immense relief in the distant coming across the foaming wave was a small fishing boat.
She saw only and spray and pitch of the boat as it battled into the teeth of the gale.