nationalism nagged the country like toothache.
overcoats lurked at either side of a frost-tinged burial ground high
above the River
Tees. Neither overcoat was interested in
the panoramic view of
While the stone enclave reverberated to robust hymn singing, one overcoat lifted his hand and spoke into his jaded lapel. The other glanced up. The land was green and pleasant, but the sky wasn’t. It was dark and moody. Snow skulked above the deserted rookeries, threatening a second winter of discontent. He checked his wristwatch, flipped up his collar and pushed his hands into his ballooning side pockets. Just another ten minutes, he thought.
The rumble of the Lord’s Prayer faded away. The heavy church door opened from the inside and the mellow tones of the organ rippled into the wintery serenity of Hurworth village. Gowned, with his bible held learnedly at his chest, the reverend stepped from the vestibule, his halo of fine mousey hair twisting in the icy breeze. He turned to acknowledge his departing congregation. Older parishioners normally insisted on briefing him about their arthritis or bad reaction to a flu jab, but it was different today. Curiosity had infected the congregation. Efficiently they filed past him with only the odd word of appreciation. He felt like air crew on a disembarking Boeing 747.
Dressed predominantly in black, the majority of his flock didn’t disperse in the usual straggling way, but congealed in pairs and small groups at either side of the door. Despite the celebrity buzz, a decorous silence prevailed when a well-groomed man appeared in a nicely cut Crombie coat, black tie and leather gloves.
The reverend held out his hand. “It was very good of you to attend, Your Lordship. We are so grateful.”
“My pleasure,” the Lord Lieutenant of the County replied. He shook the reverend’s hand and scanned the middle class faces surrounding the door. “May I congratulate you on a fine service in memory of Doctor Pritchett?”
It didn’t take long for His Lordship to be sucked away from the beaming clergyman. He was comfortable pressing flesh.
A group of exited ladies started to jostle for attention behind His Lordship. “She was a stalwart,” one of them called. “The only one who would listen.”
It prompted an overcoat to straighten his collar and close in. He eased himself between the women and the Lord Lieutenant. “Don’t stand behind His Lordship,” he advised.
The overcoat’s assertiveness disconcerted a less purposeful pair sauntering on the periphery. One had a shock of silver hair and a bulky walrus moustache, the other was carrying his grey fedora out of respect.
“The car is waiting, sir.”
The Lord Lieutenant got the message and bade a collective farewell. At the bottom of the tarmac path Tulloch adjusted his helmet and swept a hand across his tunic buttons. Standing to attention, he opened the rear door of the Mercedes in readiness. The overcoat accompanied His Lordship to the car.
“Thank you officer.”
“Good afternoon, Your Lordship,” said the overcoat as he shut the car door.
Tulloch threw a final salute and the Mercedes sped off on its return journey to
The other overcoat spoke again into his grubby lapel. “Operation complete.
“That’s it. All over,” announced Mrs King-Evans from underneath the brim of a flying saucer. Her face resembled the well-kept grave stones that surrounded her. “I’m glad the rain held off Margaret. Are you walking down?”
“Oh yes, Joyce. The exercise will do me good.”
“See you on Sunday everyone. Goodbye Tulloch.”
“Was it her problem in the end?”
“No, something to do with her blood.”
“She never married then?”
“No, it never happened.”
“Did you know her well, Joyce?”
“As well as anybody, I suppose.”
The pair stopped chatting while they crossed the narrow road, then Mrs King-Evans continued, “I must say, I didn’t expect to see His Lordship there.”
“Yes, that was a surprise.”
“He’s a representative of the Queen, you know?”
“I know. She must have been held in high regard.”
Mrs King-Evans stopped outside the front door of an elegant terraced house overlooking the village green. The view from her bay window probably hadn’t changed much since Lewis Carroll’s time. God only knows what he would have thought of the fifty motor cars shoe-horned into every nook and cranny that afternoon.
“Will you come in for tea, Margaret?”
“Oh, I can’t Joyce. I’ve got to get home. Perhaps another time.”