The Way We Lied

The dedicated gardener looked as if this was an unwelcome disturbance, as she suddenly jerked her head up from the seed tray when she finally heard Susie’s commanding voice. “Evelyn dear, Mrs Harper is very interested in the Manor and particularly asked to see the gardens. She’d love to hear all about your plants. So you won’t mind if we join you in here for a minute, will you?”
No assent was required for this last question, but a slight nod was given and the white head bent again to its task. “We met briefly last week,” said Caroline. “When I spoke at the WI meeting. The flowers you gave me were really lovely.”
Evelyn turned her head slightly to glance at her, but still did not speak.
“And I’ve been hearing all about your knack with geraniums. I gather you are a very experienced gardener. Still, it must be nice not to have too much hard work to do now. I know I find it exhausting weeding our borders at home!” Caroline paused, thinking her laboured attempts to elicit a response were not proving to be successful.
“And I can see you’ve been very busy in here,” she gestured at the rows of neatly trimmed geraniums, snug in their pots for the winter. “I expect these will all look marvellous next summer.”
“Oh they will,” said Susie, coming to the rescue. “And many of them will go on sale at our annual garden fete, so this is all very valuable and useful work! Evelyn is one of our most reliable allies where the fete is concerned, aren’t you Evelyn?”
Again there was no reply. Evelyn was absorbed in slowly scooping sandy loam from a tray into another batch of pots awaiting their cuttings. “Well it’s been most interesting to meet you Mrs Tinwell,” Caroline finally said. “Perhaps I could come and look in on you again another time when I come to visit.”
And then, just as they turned to leave the greenhouse, they heard a faint voice behind them. “You could take me out for a while. I’d like to go for a drive.”
“Now Evelyn, I don’t think we can impose on Mrs Harper,” Susie responded automatically. “She’s a very busy and important person.”
“Oh I wouldn’t mind a bit,” Caroline jumped in quickly. “Really I wouldn’t. In fact, I’m free right now. Would that be any good? I haven’t got to be anywhere until later this afternoon. And it’s a lovely day for going out.”
“Well that’s awfully kind of you, Mrs Harper. Are you sure? Evelyn? Did you hear that? Mrs Harper is saying she could take you for a drive today? Would you like that?”
Evelyn nodded and brushed her hands free of soil. She picked up her stick and slowly tottered towards them. “Let’s go inside then and help you get ready,” Susie said, holding a hand out to the old lady.” We mustn’t keep Mrs Harper waiting too long”. She turned to Caroline and said in a half whisper, “ Don’t feel you have to go far. Half an hour or so would be more than enough.”
While Evelyn was gone, Caroline sipped a cup of coffee in the morning room and wondered whether she would be able to dismantle the old lady’s reticence in only thirty minutes. When Susie returned to announce that her passenger would only be a minute or so longer, she had an idea. “Mrs Price, do you think it would be alright if I took Mrs Tinwell out for lunch? I was just thinking that it is already getting late and we could go somewhere with a cafe. I thought that little gallery outside Furzecombe might be just the spot.”
“That’s very kind of you Mrs Harper, but you mustn’t feel you have to.” Susie clasped her hands in front of her. “Why don’t you just see how it goes. But if you aren’t back by lunchtime, I shan’t be sending out a search party!”

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