THE VILLAGE FETE The day of the Steeple Norford Annual Village Fete being held on the Village Green that afternoon, dawned miserably. The sky was dark, the clouds were moving quickly across the sky and there seemed little chance of any improvement in the weather. The persistent rain slanted down upon the colourful marquees and stalls which were dotted haphazardly around the green. The Union Jacks and gaily coloured bunting that had been hung with care the day before, now drooped sorrowfully in sodden strands and were obviously too heavy to be moved by the strong and enervating breeze. Elderly widow, Agnes Watson looked at the scene set out before her, from the downstairs bedroom window of her beautiful little rose-covered cottage, (aptly named Lilac Cottage - a beautiful lilac tree stood proudly just to the left of the gate). Her garden was always well looked after and full of her favourite flowers. But Agnes was sad to see some of them lying flat on the ground and quite unable to cope with the incessant rain. She smiled when she saw her next-door neighbour, Ned Beckington beavering away as usual. He almost regarded her garden as being an extension of his own and tended it with all the loving care that she could no longer bestow upon it. Ned was smiling as he looked up at the lowering sky: he always wore his old straw hat perched cheekily on the back of his head and didn’t mind the fact that rainwater was streaming into his eyes. Day after day Agnes would sit in front of the window to watch the comings and goings of the people of Steeple Norford and when Ned saw her sitting in her usual place, he waved and she could just make out his usual call of ‘Mornin’ Mrs Watson. And how are you today?’ Agnes waved back with as much enthusiasm as she could muster due to her aching bones. The day of the Fete was always a special day for Agnes and she had been looking forward to it. Would today be the day when she would see her beloved Charles again, she wondered? With her once excellent eyesight now failing, would she be able to pick him out of the crowd? Would he rush into her arms and call her ‘A silly goose’? She watched as a group of people arrived, all carrying baskets filled to the brim with rolled-up paper, tablecloths and pretty patterned umbrellas. Others carried chairs and notice boards, in fact everything they needed to make their particular stall look just that much better than their neighbours. Two middle-aged women staggered under a load of cakes and buns for the cake stall: Agnes could see them chatting away excitedly. Then, she saw a young woman in a beautiful red dress with a full skirt. She was staggering along with what looked like a huge box containing bric-a-brac and obviously destined for the white-elephant stall. Agnes giggled. She’d often wondered why a stall selling anything antique or old could have been given the name of a ‘White Elephant Stall?’ Her giggles soon faded and she sighed as old memories flooded into her tired brain. She reminds me so much of the time so long ago now, when I had worn a dress like that. I wonder if she is looking for someone she loves too? Uncontrolled tears fell down her cheeks as she remembered that time so many years ago when she was in love, until she realised the utter futility of it all. Stop it, you silly old woman, she told herself and released the painful memory from her mind. Agnes could see the various stallholders and helpers all chatting away in animated conversation as they went about their tasks, seemingly oblivious to the rain that fell incessantly upon them from the heavens. They seemed convinced that the weather forecast would be correct and the rain would gradually disappear and allow the sun to come shining through. She fidgeted in her chair, trying to make herself more comfortable. All she could do now was just sit and watch the world go by without her. Agnes longed to go out into the fresh air and feel the wind in her hair and be able to walk around the green once more. Steeple Norford nestled proudly amidst the rolling hills of Sussex, as it had done for hundreds of years. The population consisted mainly of local tradespeople, a few commuters, farmers and their workers and had remained reasonably static over the years. Some of the more affluent inhabitants, had moved away and on to better things or so they thought and yet others from afar, had taken one look at the village and declared that they could never ever live anywhere else. But strangely, its character had remained roughly the same. The representatives of the various organisations in and around the village, met annually to arrange the Fete. This year, the day chosen coincided with the 60th Anniversary of V.E. Day – a most important event in the village and the country. After much squabbling about what form the celebrations should take, the organising Committee eventually agreed and they had all rushed away, eager to put their particular plans into motion. The Fete had been held on the same spot for nearly two hundred years and the proceeds were always given to the St. James’s Church Restoration Fund. The church was situated at the far end of the green and Agnes screwed her eyes up in order to see it more clearly: the spire was still twisted. It hadn’t changed at all during her lifetime, ‘All those long, lonely years,’ she murmured softly. Her grey, watery, myopic eyes suddenly grew tired and misty. She sighed and yet despite her earlier reluctance, she remembered the day so long ago when her love for Charles Watson had blossomed… It was 1938 on a balmy summer’s day in mid-June and she was preparing to meet Charles. He was in the army and she had walked out with him a few times recently. He was so handsome she told herself, as she pirouetted happily in front of the mirror, her red silk dress swirling around her long, slim legs. She placed two pretty tortoiseshell combs into her Veronica Lake style blond hair and feeling satisfied with her appearance, looked eagerly out of the window once more to see if she could see him. Her excitement heightened as each minute passed by. Charles was so patient and kind to her and she felt the first stirrings of love igniting within her. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on that particular day and people were already out on the village green and preparing for the grand opening of the Fete. Agnes felt unusually elated and excited, as though something momentous was about to happen. Then she saw Charles striding quickly across the green and her eyes followed him as he bent down to open the low white painted gate. Her heart fluttered with young love and excitement. She waited for her mother to answer the door and then heard the sound of his voice. She quickly patted her hair, checked her appearance once again, and twirled round in front of the full-length mirror, before walking out of her bedroom. Charles greeted her with great affection. ‘Hello, my sweet one,’ he’d said looking at her with love in his eyes. ‘You look absolutely delicious.’ In turn, she remembered thinking how dashing he looked in his uniform. He was a wonderfully upstanding and handsome young man. His military-type moustache always seemed to turn up at the edges: Agnes supposed that was because he was always smiling and laughing. Later they strolled hand in hand around the green, both completely unaware of what was going on around them. They didn’t see the milling, happy crowds of people throwing wooden balls at coconuts which were firmly implanted in their holders. They didn’t hear the excitement when someone expertly threw a ring around a hoped for prize or, smell the delicious aroma of the food which was on offer in the tea tent. The races went on in the centre of the green as they sauntered by. Even the noisy crowd which had gathered around the amateur boxing ring, failed to gain their attention. None of these things even existed for either of them. They were cocooned in a little place of their own and nothing could encroach upon their happiness. Soon after passing the coconut shy for the second time, Charles stopped, looked down at her and took her small hands in his. ‘My darling Aggie,’ he said tenderly, his voice filled with emotion. ‘I have something important to say to you.’ ‘Yes, Charles,’ she answered expectantly, her heart thumping in her chest. She thought that he’d never looked quite so wonderful before. His eyes were like deep blue intense pools into which she felt she could plunge… ‘Well, firstly, I would like to say how much I love you and that I would be honoured if you would consent to become my wife. Secondly, I am being sent away for a while.’ The last few words were said almost as an aside. Agnes opened her mouth to say something, but Charles was in full flow. ‘So perhaps we could get married when I get back. You will wait for me, won’t you, my dearest?’ he said earnestly. ‘Oh my darling Charles, I love you so much, and of course I will marry you… and I will wait for you for ever, if necessary.’ ‘Well…Aggie my dearest one, as you know, I am never quite sure how long I will be away.’ He bent down and kissed her gently on the lips. ‘There that seals it, my darling.’ Agnes looked up at him in wonderment. Their first kiss felt like every pleasant sensation she’d ever known and her words tumbled out in a rush. ‘My dearest Charles, thank you and I mean…oh I don’t know what I mean. Yes, it was sealed with a truly loving kiss,’ she replied joyfully. Her elation quickly disappeared when she remembered what he’d said before he’d kissed her and she suddenly felt afraid. ‘Charles, you said just now that you are going away for a while - where are they sending you and for how long?’ He took hold of both her hands. ‘Don’t look so worried Aggie, they’re sending me to Berlin.’ ‘Berlin!’ Agnes repeated. ‘But Charles won’t that be dangerous? I’ve heard so many stories about the troubles and…’ ‘I really have no choice in the matter. I have already received my orders.’ He lifted her chin upwards. ‘You silly little goose, everything will be alright, you’ll see.’ From that moment on, Agnes lost her heart completely and forever. Three weeks later, Charles managed to get some leave and managed to obtain a special licence, despite opposition from her parents, who regarded their decision to get married to be too soon. ‘Agnes,’ her father had said, ‘Are you sure that you know what you are doing? Charles seems a nice enough chap, but you hardly know one another do you?’ Agnes had stood her ground, saying, ‘Daddy, what is the point of waiting. There is going to be a war soon and who knows what’s going to happen?’ We feel there is no point in waiting.’ They were married in the local Register Office in front of their families and friends. The sun had shone down upon them, making them feel blessed and blissfully happy. But this feeling was short-lived however: two days later Charles had to go away again. When in 1939, war with Germany was eventually declared, he found it impossible to get out of Berlin. It was several weeks before Agnes heard from the War Office that Charles had been killed during a disturbance involving several members of the growing Hitler Youth Movement. He had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Agnes thought the end of the world had arrived: she was totally heartbroken and lost interest in everything that went on around her. Every year since then on the day of the Village Fete, Agnes would watch and eagerly wait, hoping against hope that she would see his happy, smiling face in the crowd, so that she could once again walk around the green with him… This year’s 60th Anniversary Fete was now in full swing and a group of about six war veterans, each wearing their uniforms and medals with immense pride, were preparing to march around the village green. As if on cue, the rain that had been falling gently for some time suddenly stopped and the sun came out. Agnes’s mind began to wander once more. A picture formed in her mind of Charles dressed in his uniform. She was waving goodbye to him as he leaned out of the train window. She’d felt so proud of him… The warmth of the sun soon penetrated through her bedroom window and Agnes was brought painfully back to the present. Again, unrestrained tears began to fall down her face, finally dropping unnoticed into her lap. She was old and frail and could now only walk a few steps with the aid of a stick. She’d never married again, believing that no man could ever have taken Charles’ place in her heart. She remembered it all so clearly as if it was yesterday, when Charles had proposed to her and then almost in the same breath, had told her that he was going away. The time when she had learned of her beloved Charles’ untimely death, was forever etched in her memory. She yearned to see him again…oh it has been such a long, long time she thought dreamily. Agnes felt a strange weakness pass over her: something that she had experienced more and more lately. She had been unable to eat or sleep properly for the past few days and she sighed deeply. Even eating seemed to have tired her. In fact she felt tired of life itself and looked out of the window again, for what she somehow seemed to know would be the last time. She watched as the group of old servicemen finally disappeared into the tea tent. Some young people wearing red, white and blue clothing and waving Union Jacks, sauntered around the green happily. Somewhere a band was playing and some people were singing ‘We’ll meet again’ and tears once again fell slowly down her cheeks. Agnes closed her eyes and remembered… Suddenly she thought she saw Charles. He was wearing his uniform and smiling and waving as he walked towards her. He looked so handsome and dapper and her old frail heart fluttered wildly. ‘Oh my dearest Charles,’ she said. ‘I knew you would come back for me: what kept you?’ The milkman discovered her the following morning. He had been unable to rouse her and had looked in through the window. She was sitting bolt upright in her chair, her sightless eyes still apparently staring through the window… Agnes was smiling so happily.*** ***Written by: Phyllis Burton26th September, 2012 (Website: www.phyllisburton.com)
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