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Robert Harrison

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Blue Danube
By Robert Harrison
Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Village life.

Elsie Barrett was sixty-seven years of age, and as far back as her memory went she had spent all of those years living in the quiet Cotswold village of Little Dillford. For the past ten years. Elsie had set herself the task of seeing that the little chapel of Saint Cuthbert, which was situated at the top end of the village, was ready for the ten o'clock service. Every Sunday morning Elsie would walk through the still quiet village at seven o'clock, up the hill to the chapel and in through the oak doors which were never locked.
The little chapel always smelt of old hymnbooks and kneeling pads; of furniture polish and sometimes when Mrs. Grace had been in to clean, there was always the lingering smell of Brasso. Mrs. Grace was always one to give the little chapel "A good going over" as she would often say. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" was also one of her favorite sayings. Elsie always thought kindly of the cleaning lady. but wondered if her over zealous polishing of the candle sticks and the great Eagle fronting the pulpit would one day disappear, worn out through her "Good going over".

The Darling sisters always saw that there were flowers at the side of the organ and at each side of the alter. Mostly picked from their own garden when the seasons were right, if not then it was off to the local florists or the surrounding countryside to see what was available. The Darling sisters had never married, being content with the own company ever since they left the local village school, though Mary the older of the two did have a minor fling with a lad from another village, but it did not last more than two years. Their father was a retired Judge who presided at the Courts of Law around the county. The Judge had passed away some seven years ago leaving the sisters well cared for.

Elsie took in a deep breath, inhaling the smells of the old chapel and smiled with satisfaction at the familiarity of it all. Never once had she touched the flower arrangements of the sisters, unless it was to pick up a leaf or insect that had fallen off them. "It was not your place"she had told herself. " Respect the work of others and all will be well'. She looked around the chapel and noticed the shining brass candlesticks and their long white candles ready to be lit. Even the Eagle looked alive as with spread wings it watched over the small congregation.

Hard bound books of Chapel Hymns were ready for the ordinary village folk. While those who could afford it had their own copies bound in covers that are more expensive. Elsie thought it was a bit extravagant as the words in all of the books were the same.
She walked to the rear pew on her left and sat down on the hard seat, her back rested upon the single backrest, which ran the length of the pew and always forced you to sit up straight. She looked at the alter noticing for the first time the shaft of light that shone in through one of the simple windows of the chapel. Its beam shone with a golden glow upon the middle of the front pew on the opposite side of the isle. "How beautiful" She said softly. "It is as if God himself was poring out his spirit into out little chapel". She also noticed the tiny specks of dust that always seemed to make them visible whenever there is a beam of light. "I wonder why you cannot see them in daylight" She asked herself. "Maybe it takes the spirit of God to notice things so small". She continued to look at the dust particles as they floated on invisible wings, and then disappear when they reached the edge of the light. "Like people, when they loose the spirit they disappear into a darker world".

She closed her eyes and her right hand felt the pew along side of her. "I miss you Guillam" She thought "Oh how I miss you my darling". Moisture built up behind her closed eyes but no tears fell. After ten years of being without her Guillam she had no more tears to shed. Only the memory of her husband and lover still remained strong in her mind and in her heart.She pulled her shawl around her shoulders as a cool breeze came through the open doorway. She opened her eyes briefly to see the dust particles dancing madly in the shaft of light, just is if the music of some bygone dance had speeded up and the couples whirled in gay abandon around the dance floor. She closed her eyes again and was in Guillam's arms as they danced around the kitchen table to the music coming from the old wind up gramophone. "The Blue Danube wasn't it," she thought smiling as she lost herself in the memory of it all. When she opened her eyes she saw that the shaft of light had dropped to light up the flagstone laid in memory of the Earl Thomas Shaftsbury 1546-1629.

"Oh my" she said "I must be of; I'm dying for a cup of tea". She took one last look around the sunlit room, and being satisfied walked out of the door, but not before pulling the shawl over her head and throwing one end over her shoulder. She dug her hands deeper into the pockets of her Tweed coat and walked briskly towards the lytch gate, her sturdy sensible shoes crunching the gravel of the path under her feet. At the gate, she paused and looked at the daffodils growing under the Beech that had stood for more years than anyone in the village could remember. Two gray squirrels ran along the bough of the Oak that grew near the far wall of the churchyard, and then ran back again, down the trunk and along the wall to disappear behind the chapel. Elsie walked towards the village humming The Blue Danube.

Guillam had been the village blacksmith since he took over from his father and signs of his work could be seen all over the villages in the district, none more so then in the village of Little Dillford. The Manor gates were Guillam's work; in fact, they were his
pride and joy. Since the horse was no longer required to plough fields, he had taken to doing wrought iron work and his work was in great dempand. The Horse and Plough boasted his work with a new frame to display the name of the old pub. Most of the cottages and some of the homes during the building of the new estate just outside of the village, claimed to have boot scrapers outside of their front and back doors made by Guillam. The local council had braziers made by him to keep their night watchmen warm during the cold winter nights. Elsie would never be allowed to forget her man even if she wanted too; he was spread around the villages too much, even the great oak door of the chapel boasted a new doorknocker.

As she walked down the hill from the chapel she marveled at how pretty the village looked in the early morning sun. The cottages and larger buildings made of the finest Cotswold stone glowed yellow and orange, a Labrador dog seemed to blend in with the side of the pub he was sleeping near.
"Everything seemed to perfect, but then it was the Lords day" She thought. "Why would I want to leaver here"? Her two children Mark and Kirsty who lived in Nottingham wanted her to sell up, go, and live with either of them. "No" She would say "I'm far to settled to leave here, besides who would I have to talk to, all of my friends are here in the village". She loved her two children and her grand children, but as for living with them, no. that was out of the question. Besides, if they were so concerned they could come and visit her more often than they did.

"Elsie. good morning to you deary". It was Mrs. Thomas from the butcher shop. "Been up to the chapel have you'"?
"Why yes". Said Elsie "Just to make sure everything was alight for the service this morning„.
"And was it dearv'"? Asked the butchers wife. "Yes, perfect as usual".
Elsie did not stop to talk, as she knew to well that Mrs. Thomas was a gossip and would keep on talking for ages, besides she wanted her cup of tea. "Must get on" Said Flsie and walked on leaving Mrs. Thomas with a disappointed look upon her face.
"Old tittle-tattle" Thought Elsie, but smiled at the thought of the disappointment her friend would be experiencing.

She reached her front gate without seeing anyone else. The cottage was really a converted Alms House, two in fact, which had been made into one long cottage some one hundred and fifty years ago. It was far to large for Elsie's needs but suited when the family came to visit or friends wanted to stop over. Elsie loved to have friends over to stay for a day or two. They would go for long walks over the hills. and picnic in the little copse that grew about a mile from the cottage. It was all too glorious in the kind summer months. The children would make daisy chains while the adults talked and laughed. The would watch the fox hunt as the red coated riders spurred on their mounts, and sometimes they would spot the poor fox some distance ahead of the baying pack and shout "Go on Mr. Fox you can do it".

She opened the gate, closed it, and walked up to her front door. "I must start thinking about putting in my flowers ready for summer. I think Pansies for the boarder this year". She opened the front door and walked into her and Guillam's world. She made herself a pot of tea and sat at the kitchen table to drink it. "How fortunate 1 am". She said to Gilliam's picture, which hung near the crockery cabinet. The sun streamed in through the kitchen window and the dust danced in it's light. Elsie Barrett was in the place she loved most of all, her home. Where the memories of the past became part of her present, and the present would be one-day part of her past.
The single bell of the chapel sounded, she finished her tea and made her way up the winding stairway to her bedroom. She stood for a moment looking at her refection in the mirror of the old dresser she and Guillam had been given as a wedding gift from Great Aunt Lizzy. For all of her sixty-seven years she still was an attractive woman, the gray of her hair making her more so. She turned away to get ready for chapel "Vain hussy" she thought with a smile, and set to get herself ready.
The spring morning shone in all of its glory, and the chill was chased away but the golden sun. Birds fed from the lard and seed basket hanging from the bird table. Swans preened themselves on the village pond. Little Dillford was finally awake, and Elsie was heard to be humming The Blue Danube.

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Reviewed by Andre Bendavi ben-YEHU 1/5/2007

I like this story... "Blue Danube" is very rich in contents and narrative's style.

Long healthy creative life Author-Poet Robert Harrison.

In admiration,

Andre Emmanuel Bendavi ben-YEHU

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