Holy Trinity Church, November 1861
The heavy fragrance of lilies wafted up to Stephen where he sat ready to begin the final rehearsal for the evening’s recital. He sneezed. “Who is there?”
“Oh, Mr. Grafton, good afternoon. I am Mrs. Broadbrace. I have come to arrange some flowers. I do apologize if I’m disturbing you.”
“You were here yesterday, were you not?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Hmm. Is it your intention to spend a great deal of time here arranging flowers in the church?” A rustle and chink followed by another blast of scent told him she’d put the darn lilies down.
“I don’t intend to be here every day, sir. However, with the holy season almost upon us there are decisions I must make about the floral work. I’ll need to order flowers for the arrangements for the Advent services and some for the Christmas Day service, too. There are also two weddings. I would have thought Mr. Francis might have said. I’m sure he’ll be expecting you to play.”
Stephen sneezed again and sucked in a breath. Damn the woman’s impertinence and her overpowering lilies. “I’m well aware of the weddings and of the seasonal catalogue of music the vicar requires. All I need is peace and quiet to rehearse the pieces for my performance tonight. That includes not being disturbed by the building of floral tributes.”
“I am working as quietly as I can, Mr. Grafton.”
A sniff followed her words, and a wave of discomfort rose. He’d neither the right nor need to be quite so abrupt. From the timbre of her voice she didn’t fit into the matronly group of females who so often gave their time to the church. This lady sounded little more than a girl, young enough to expect some chivalry, even from such as him. “Accept my apologies, Mrs. Broadbrace. I am finding today’s rehearsal a trial. I’ll leave you to get on and I’ll take a short walk.” He felt along the bench beside him and picked up the leather leash. “Come, Blue, time for a walk.”
The thump of the dog’s tail on the floor and then against his leg cooled his irritation. Stephen rose, followed the familiar wooden rail down from his seat at the church organ, and walked with Blue, his steps and Blue’s claws clicking over the tiles.
“I’ll get the door for you, Mr. Grafton.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
The metal rattle of the iron ring on the door sounded and a waft of cool, damp air greeted him.
“Why do you call the dog Blue? He’s brown.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t see him.”
“No, Mrs. Broadbrace, I can’t.”
“It’s raining. Would you like an umbrella, Mr. Grafton?”
He shook his head. “No, thank you. I’m certain I’ll not rust from a shower of rain.”
She laughed in a quiet way. The soft merry sound bubbled. A charming faint whisper rippled back from the church walls. The thrash of rain beating into puddles replaced the last of her laughter.
“It’s quite a heavy shower, sir. You’ll be drenched if you walk in it. At least let me bring you an umbrella?”
“I’d prefer not to use an umbrella, ma’am, but thank you for the thought. I’m sure you’ll have finished your flower arranging when I return.”
“I’ll work in the side room, Mr. Grafton, so as not to disturb you further. I’ll be along for the recital this evening. I’m looking forward to hearing you play.”
“Hmm, thank you. I’m sure by this evening I’ll have the piece right, as it should be. Good day to you, Mrs. Broadbrace. Come, Blue. We’ll go once around the churchyard.”
Goodness, he’d be like a drowned rat when he got back.
Mr. Stephen Grafton paced half a step behind his dog. She wondered at him again. He and his dog walked out to the gray stone pathway that led under the trees and all along the length of the churchyard wall, before turning at the bottom among the less well-tended graves.
“I’ll get a towel for him and the dog. He can’t sit and rehearse soaked to the skin. He’ll get ill.”
She hurried away into one of the side rooms used for the church social occasions where she knew linen was kept. Oh, how fortuitous. The verger must have lit a fire in the range, and she could boil a kettle to make a pot of tea for Mr. Grafton. Along with the fire in the range, with the recital scheduled for this evening, someone had also set a jug of milk ready for the tea that would be offered to the audience after his performance. While she waited for the kettle to boil on the hob, she sorted through a drawer in the large cupboard and found two thick towels.
Placing a fat knitted cozy over the filled teapot, she went into the church and to the door to see if Mr. Grafton might be on his way back. He may well be irritated to find her still here. Though he hadn’t said as much, she’d guessed she’d disturbed his thoughts with the noise of the jugs, scissors, stands and wiring. Never mind that, Christian duty meant if she could, she ought to offer a warm drink and a dry towel after he’d walked out in so much cold, wet weather. The rain still bounced as it landed on the pathway and splashed into puddles. An ominous rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.
Poor dog, too.
There he was, with his master, half way along the path at the bottom of the churchyard. Mr. Grafton’s fair hair lay plastered to his skull. Rainwater darkened his coat’s shoulders and sleeves. He and the dog had as far to walk again as they had already gone. The dog paced with a stoic expression, as though he might be used to such folly as strolling in the pouring rain.
She shook her head and while she waited for the organist to return, she tidied up the stack of hymnbooks on the bookcase by the door. They could do with a good dusting. She’d bring a feather duster when she came tomorrow.
The spatter of water at the door splashed on the hem of her skirt. The dog shook himself, and it was a pity his master could not do the same, for rain dripped from his coat, his hair and his dark spectacles. “My goodness, you’re soaked to the skin, Mr. Grafton. I’ve a towel for you.”
“Are you still here, madam?”
“Why, yes, Mr. Grafton. I couldn’t let you come back so wet and not offer a towel and a cup of tea. Do you take sugar?”
“No, thank you.”
“You just wait there and I’ll get the towel and the tea.” Alice hurried away to fetch them, all the time shaking her head. Typical of all musicians and their like, the artistic temperament had no practical reasoning, and Mr. Grafton without a doubt proved so today. “Walking in the wet, I don’t know.”
Uncertain if he would find one of the fine china cups easy to use, she poured the tea into one of the large workman’s mugs from the cupboard, added a splash of milk and then carried the mug along with the towels back to where she’d left him. “Here you are.” She placed the towel in his hand and set the mug down on a hymnbook on the bookcase. “You dry your hair and I’ll give the dog a rub over.” She bent to the dog and then looked up. “He won’t mind, will he?”
“No, Mrs. Broadbrace, he won’t mind any more than I would say no to a cup of tea. But I must ask; are you always such a mother hen?”
She drew in a deep breath. Why, the ungrateful so and so. Despite his words, she rubbed at the dog’s coat. “There.” She stood up satisfied at least the dog wouldn’t suffer a chill or worse. “If you’ll let me have the towel, Mr. Grafton, I’ll give you your tea.”
Taking the towel from him she very carefully set the mug handle in his fingers. Musician’s fingers, long and supple, smooth skinned knuckles, a fine hand. “Now, I’ll leave you and go get on with my arrangement. I’ll work in the side room so as not to disturb you. And no, Mr. Grafton, I am rarely a mother hen.”
She hurried off to put the towels away in the church wash bag. In the future, she’d not offer him help unless he asked for it. Mother hen indeed.
By the time she returned from the side room with the finished display of lilies, he sat at the organ playing. The rich swell of music stole all her thoughts as she placed her display on the stand beside the steps up to his seat. She made her way up toward the altar, to consider what flowers she’d bring tomorrow to replace the now drooping roses from last week, and couldn’t stop herself humming a little as she worked.