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A PINT-SIZED Whisperer
By John Davies
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 John Davies
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePART ONE
Sheila Trenchard was devastated when her 28-year-old husband, Mark, was killed in a car accident leaving her the awesome task in life of caring for their beautiful 18 months old twins, Esther and Elspeth.
At 24 years of age it was a savage blow for Sheila who had made a pledge with her beloved Mark that they would produce a big family. Life must go on even in the jaws of tragedy and it took Sheila 20 months before she started to recover from the trauma. The nuts and bolts of caring for the twins helped to ease the pain while four days a week she worked as a receptionist at her local doctor's surgery. To augment the salary from the surgery her mother Ethel drove over in her Ford Fiesta from an adjoining village to baby-sit her twin granddaughters while Sheila worked as a relief barmaid one or two evenings a week at the King's Head pub. Charles and Doreen Hemmens, who were the tenants of the King's Head, had always liked Sheila from the days when she used to come into the pub with her late husband one evening a week to sample their famous hot-pot with mushy peas. As they ate in the restaurant they were allowed to bring Esther and Elspeth in their twin pram with them. There was nothing that Mrs Hemmens liked more than to pick up each of the twins and give them an affectionate cuddle which usually ended with a smile and a gurgle of delight from the identical toddlers.
After Mark's tragic death Sheila was often sent home after a night's work in the bar with the remains of a roast beef joint, or cooked leg of lamb in a greaseproof bag to augment a family budget depleted by the loss of Mark's salary. Gradually the pain of bereavement grew less although Sheila swore she would never forget Mark. But she began to smile again and Charles and Doreen Hemmens were pleased that they had given her the chance to earn more money. One night she was pulling a pint of bitter when the customer greeted her with a cheeky: 'Hi there blue eyes! Make sure you put a good head on that pint. I'm fussy.' Taken aback by being addressed so informally she recovered her equanimity enough to garble: '.... and who might you be? I haven't seen you in the pub before ...' He smiled at her friendly riposte. 'My name is Tom Ripley and I have just started at Carter's Biscuit Factory across the road,' he explained. 'They have just took me on as an Inspector in their quality control department.
'Which is the job I did in Reading before Carter's head-hunted me. I will be staying at Mrs Alice Turley's Bed and Breakfast digs meanwhile until I buy a house or flat locally. Several other Carter's factory workers are staying at Ma Turley's for they are a firm who are expanding and taking on a lot of extra staff.
'While you are pulling that pint have a drink with me ...'
She could not rebuff such a sunny character and carefully explained: 'I am sorry it's against staff rules to accept drinks from customers. But, nevertheless, thank you very much for the offer.'
Tom Ripley's smile was quite disarming and Sheila noticed him wink with his left eye as he chuckled: 'I'll have to save that drink until I take you out.!'
Sheila could not hide her amusement. 'Well, no one can ever accuse you of being backward in coming forward,' she said. 'My name is Sheila—Sheila Trenchard ...'
His next question was obvious if not clumsy. 'Would that be Miss, or Mrs Trenchard?'
He waited patiently for Sheila's hesitant reply.
'Mrs Trenchard, actually,' she said; 'My husband was killed in a car crash a year and half ago.' she said.
He was immediately remorseful.
'Oh, I am sorry,' he said. 'That was indiscreet of me ... I didn't realise ... please forgive me!'
As there was no malicious streak in her nature Sheila immediately put Tom at his ease and whispered: 'Of course you didn't. There is nothing to forgive. I hope your time here in Nether Drayton and at Carter's Biscuit Factory will be a happy experience for you.'
Sheila Trenchard arrived home from her shift in the King's Head at 11 30pm and wearily slipped the low-heeled pumps off her aching feet as she sat down to sip the scalding cup of chocolate that her mother Ethel Franks had placed in front of her,
'You look whacked Sheila luv,' said Ethel, who had been widowed for nearly 20 years and lived in a cute thatched cottage in the village of Drayton Berrow five miles away. 'What time are you due to start work at Dr. Millichip's surgery tomorrow, darling?'
Sheila acknowledged her mother's affectionate concern and replied:
'Oh I am on the early 9 am to 3-00pm shift all this week. Did you get the twins to bed without any problems?'
Ethel laughed: 'As the mother of four kids, all grown up now, with you the youngest at 27 years of age, I should know how to put a couple of three-year-old kids down for the night without too much trouble. They both ate up their Spaghetti Bolognaise and spread tomatoe purée all over the table. Then I had to keep a promise to read them a chapter of Red Riding Hood and when I came to the point where the Big Bad Wolf crept into the bedroom, they both screamed and hid under the sheets. I have promised to take them back with me to Drayton Berrow tomorrow. So I'll sleep in your spare room tonight. I have already made up the bed. It will give you a break for a couple of days because I know how difficult it is for you at the moment trying to cope with two jobs. The two girls are excited because I have promised them a ride on the donkeys my neigbour keeps at his sanctuary next door.
'How did things go at the pub tonight?'
Sheila considered her mother's question. 'Yes, quite well,' she said. 'In the restaurant they served three hotpots, four ham and eggs and a sirloin steak and chips. The bar was not all that busy but a nice chap came in who has just started work at Carter's Biscuit Factory. He explained that Carter's are expanding and had head-hunted him so he, obviously, has got quite an important job in quality control.'
Ethel was interested in what her daughter had to say. 'Oh, that's nice you found someone interesting to talk to,' she said. 'It is now getting on towards two years since Mark died and I know how hard it has been for you. I appreciate you will never forget that he was the father of your two lovely girls—but thinking of them I would suggest that the sooner they get a new father-figure in their life the better. So I don't want you feeling guilty just because an interesting man has taken the trouble to chat you up. It's a perfectly natural thing for a young man to do because you are a very attractive 26-year-old girl.'
Sheila laughed at her Mum's impetuosity. 'Hold on mother you are jumping the gun a bit aren't you? I just had a little chit-chat with a customer—it was no seduction scene. But really it is a bit too soon to think of things like that. Every woman in my situation needs a decent time for bereavement before she takes the next step forward in her life....'
Ethel, good humouredly, intervened: 'Don't argue with me daughter—just remember what your old Mum has said. Meanwhile, if you have finished your cup of chocolate, let's go to bed and get some rest.'
Sheila was up bright and early, showering and donning the smart blue jacket and shirt she wore at the Surgery Reception Desk.
Her mother had roused the twins, washed and dressed them, as they all met in the diner-kitchen where Sheila acted as a good natured Master of Ceremonies for a humorous family ritual. Lining up four cartons of well-known breakfast cereal she shouted: Who is for Rice Krispies? Up went three arms-her mother's, tiny Elspeth's and Ethel's.
Sheila's ruling was firm, although accompanied by a twinkle in her blue eyes: 'Sorry Grandma! Elspeth was first—she gets the Rice Krispies. Grandma Ethel pretending annoyance grimaced at the triumphant Elspeth who seemed to be over the moon with her victory as the milk was poured over her bowl of Rice Krispies.
The game went on and Sheila then shouted: 'Who is for Cocopops—you Esther or your Grandma?
Sheila's authority as the Master of Ceremonies was relentless: 'You are the winner Esther—you get the Cocopops—sorry Grandma you've got to be quick to beat one of my little girls ...'
But then came one of those magic moments when kids, as if prompted by the fairies, reward the grown-ups who bring them up. Little Esher, using her recently acquired command as a two-year-old plus child, of English said lovingly as she looked at her Grandmother and said: 'Don' worry Nanny—you share my Cocopops 'cos I luv oo ...!'
Her sister's benevolence sparked off something akin in tiny Elspeth's mind as her spoon ladled the remains of her bowl of Rice Krispies: 'Nanny. Nanny you could have some of my "Kis-pies" only they're all gone—'
Everyone finished up laughing and cuddling each other and Sheila summed up as she picked up her hand bag and headed off to her work at the doctor's surgery!
It was another ten days before Sheila again served Tom Ripley at the bar and, although she wondered how he was settling in at the Carter's Biscuit factory, she gave no other importance to the matter except thinking what a nice person he seemed to be.
But then she saw him again. He was dressed smartly in a grey suit, matching shirt and red tie, as she said: 'How are you? Are you beginning to get used to your new job and the area?' He was pleased with her greeting. 'It's good of you to ask those questions,' he assured her. 'As a matter of fact I have called in the King's Head several times since we last met. But it has been on the night's that you were not on duty. But I was so interested that I asked the landlady of the pub, Mrs Hemmens about, you. I must admit she is a very kind lady and thinks very highly of you and seems to be willing to help you with your difficulties. She also confirmed, what you already have told me, that your husband was killed in a car accident 20 months ago leaving you with twin baby girls who are over two years of age. So, after Mrs. Hemmens told me that you would be on duty here at the King's Head this evening I have taken the liberty of bringing a couple of "prezzies" for your little Elspeth and Esther.'
He handed over a gaudily decorated bag containing the Carter's Biscuits logo—and with a tag bearing the Christian names of the twins. There was a slight mist in her eyes as he handed the bag over the bar and said: 'Go on Sheila—make sure you approve before you give the gifts to the twins ...' Carefully she opened the flap on the bag and produced two elegant and identical wrappings and looking inside found a freshly baked Jammie Dodger and a Wagon Wheel.... An inexpensive present but a wonderfully warm guesture that prompted tears in her eyes but which she had no doubt would bring untold joy to her two little darlings. 'Oh, Tom,' she trilled trying unsuccessfully to disguise the sentimental lump in her throat. 'That is a wonderful and loving present for my two little girls. Thank you, thank you very much. Now let me get back to work and pull your pint of bitter.'
Tom was obviously delighted that his little gesture was accepted in the spirit it was meant. For he had been concerned that she might have considered it as an affront to her privacy. As it was the two little samples of the biscuit baker's art were to provide the base of a warm friendship—the kind of friendship between a young man and a woman that could lead to something even more precious. Tom, however, was worldly-wise enough to know that he would have to deal patiently, lovingly, and kindly with a girl who had been handed a savage blow so early in life!
Sheila Trenchard returned home from her stint at the bar that night a very happy woman following the kind gifts that Tom Ripley had given her to pass on to her twin girls, Elspeth and Esther.
Sometimes it takes a warm-hearted action like that to spark off a sincere friendship. But who would believe that a couple of Jammie Dodgers and Wagon Wheel biscuits would have such an effect?
Having paid 16-year-old Nancy, the daughter of a neighbour, her ten shillings for baby-sitting, while she was at work at the King's Head, she prepared the breakfast table for when her mother would arrive at 7-30am to take over for the day.
She placed the two packages, one for Elspeth and one for Esther, by their cereal plates ready for a big surprise the next morning. After making herself a cup of tea she trod quietly upstairs to bed, peeping in the small bedroom on her way to assure herself the twins were sleeping peacefully—they were. "Like little angels", she thought.
Minutes after their Grandmother, Ethel Franks' Mini-Minor, ground to a halt outside the cottage the twins, cheeks rosy from their morning scrubbing, came tumbling down all screams and excitement. They were followed closely by Sheila who had been up for half an hour or more supervising their ablutions and choice of clothes for the day.
'Ooh-look Nanny,' yelled Esther. 'I've got a prezzie and it is not my "birtday" Nanny!'
Sister Elspeth was determined not to be put out of the frame screamed: 'Look, look Nanny, me too I got a prezzie—look it's a big wheel made of choccy ...'
Determined to keep the fun alive Grandmother Ethel asked plaintively: 'But where is my present—why have I not got one?'
Little Esther came to the rescue. 'Do't worry Nanny I've got two and one's a "jammy dogger" like Mummy buys for us at "Texo" supermarket....'
Sheila then intervened. 'When you three girls stop talking about the presents none of you stop to think I haven't got one. But very seriously Esther and Elspeth those special biscuits have been given to you by a very kind man called Tom. To you girls he will have to be Uncle Tom—if your Nanny agrees with me to we should invite him to lunch next Sunday so you can both thank him with a big kiss and cuddle!'.
Granny Ethel Franks approved with that idea. 'Yes, yes!,' she said. 'I agree, that is a super idea. It is always nice to say thank you when someone is kind enough to give you a present. My contribution will be to bake a huge apple tart for afters and I'll buy some ice cream to go with it for those who don't like custard....'
Little Esther could not control herself. Nanny, nanny—but I luv both "eyescweem and custad"—can I have both pleeze ... nanny?
Grandmother Franks could not disguise her amusement and said: 'I suppose so Esther, if you ask nicely. Elspeth and you Esther will have to be very, very, good girls on Sunday!'
Fortunately Tom Ripley called in at the King's Head the following night which gave Sheila the opportunity to invite him to lunch at the cottage with her mother, herself and the twins the following Sunday.
'That will be lovely,' said Tom Ripley. 'I will tell Mrs Alice Turley, my landlady, not to expect me for lunch. It is very kind of you to invite me. Would you mind if I took the liberty of bringing a bottle of wine?'
Pleased with his reaction Sheila replied: 'No, of course not Tom. My mother and I both like red wine. So can we say come to us at 1-00 pm.?'
Tom acknowledged with a warm: 'Thank you. I will really look forward to it.'
* * *
The ensuing days flew by for both of them. Sheila engrossed with her day job at the doctor's surgery, the after hours chores of being a mother of two-year-old twins and the twice a week stint in the bar of the King's Head. Her mother Ethel Franks did what she could to relieve Sheila, and the availability of Nancy Smith, the 16-year-old daughter of her neighbours, for baby-sitting duties was another great help.
Tom Ripley arrived at the front door, freshly shaved, wearing a smart grey suit and matching shirt, carrying a bunch of cut flowers and a bottle of red wine for Sheila, a box of chocolates for Grandmother Ethel Franks, and two gaudy rag dolls which the twins adored from the moment he handed them over.
'You had better thank Uncle Tom for the dolls and for the lovely Jammie Dodger biscuits he sent you the other day,' asserted Sheila anxious that her girls should learn protocol and politeness at an early age.
'T'ank you Unca Tom' chorused Esther and Elspeth flinging themselves into his arms and devouring him with sloppy kisses. 'We luv oo!'
This set the tone for the whole afternoon. Tom was entertaining company and explained to Sheila and Granny Franks the plans that Carter's had to turn the firm into the largest biscuit bakers in Europe.
Excerpted from A PINT-SIZED Whisperer by John Davies Copyright © 2012 by John Davies. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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