Miss Pelham's Boyfriend


"I heard that, Mr Norris."

Peter Norris turned round to find old Mrs Evans carrying her lazy poodle.

"Sorry, Mrs Evans," he said. "Just a bit annoyed. Miss Pelham’s done a bunk."

He waved at the note taped inside the glass door of the village shop and post office.


Closed early today. Sorry.

No reason, just the plain fact, which his rattling of the door handle had already confirmed.

"I promised a customer to send this packet by special delivery today," he said, indicating the small parcel in his hand. "What should have been a fifteen minute brisk walk is going to take me a couple of hours at least if I have to drive to Winstable."

"Oh, dear," said Mrs Evans. "And I did so want some more of those biscuits with jam in the middle. Bundle loves them, don't you, Bundle?"

She looked down at her poodle, who totally ignored her. Peter Norris grunted and tried to show that he regarded the disappointment of her dog as of equal import to the disruption of his working day. He hoped, without conviction, that he had succeeded.

This was a part of the downside of living in a small village, he thought. Most of the time these small interruptions to the daily routine merely added novelty to one’s life. When the chemist’s attached to the health centre changed its closing time from six to four, just after the second of the two break-ins, and then settled for a mean of five after the new alarm system had been installed, word spread quickly on the jungle telegraph, and very few villagers arrived out of hours.

"I don’t call this closing early," he went on, pointing at the note and looking at his watch. "It’s only ten-thirty. I call it taking the day off!"

"Charity, Mr Norris," she gently chided him. "It’s not like Miss Pelham to close early without giving us plenty of warning, you know it’s not."

"Of course, you’re right, Mrs Evans," he sighed. "She’s here six days a week and at least fifty weeks in the year, and as you say, she usually gives notice in good time."

"Yes, poor girl. And she has nothing outside of the shop. She has no husband and not even a young man, and with the best will in the world you couldn’t say more than that she’s homely."

Peter nodded. Miss Pelham, at thirty-ish, gave every indication of turning into what used to be called an old maid. She was taller than most men, and had a tendency to try and hide the fact by moving with a stoop. This in its turn made her look even more shapeless.

"And as for those glasses," said Mrs Evans, as though she had been reading his mind. "I haven’t seen glasses like those anywhere since I was a girl."

"I’ve only seen them on old, brown photographs of my grandfather," he agreed.

"Oh, I say, Mr Norris," she went on. "If you’re going into town and have time, perhaps you could call in at the grocer’s whilst you’re there, and buy me a packet of Jam Rings. You know the ones, I’m sure. I’ll pay you when you come back."

His grunt of agreement was almost a growl, but he managed to contort his face into what he hoped would pass for a smile, and set off to collect his car. Half way home he remembered that it would still be at the mechanic's undergoing repairs. The two hours of his journey would now, thanks to the infrequency of trains, be nearer four. He looked quickly around, to be sure that Mrs Evans was not in earshot, and swore heartily, swung on his heel again and set off for the station.

He had only a vague idea of the train timetable, and the nearer he came to the station the more convinced he became that he was just about to miss a train, and from walking briskly but in a civilised fashion, his pace increased steadily to the point where he began to look and feel like one of those athletes from former times who used to compete in walking races. All the way along the approach to the station he expected to hear the shrill whistle of the engine, and know that he would be just too late to make the next train.

But no, his luck had apparently turned, or the fates had taken pity on him, after having created such havoc with his day. On arrival at the station he found that he had about three minutes before the train left, long enough to purchase his ticket provided all the technology associated with a purchase over the internet worked, but short enough to keep him on tenterhooks until the deal was done, and far too short to allow him to grab a newspaper from the dispenser on his way to the train. He dashed from the ticket office, threw open a door and climbed in, just as the train began to pull out. He walked along the corridor looking for an empty compartment. In one of them he saw Miss Pelham sitting alone with a youngish man of what he thought was disheveled appearance. They appeared to be holding hands, and he was a little miffed at the thought that she had closed the post office early for the sake of a half-day with a boyfriend whom most women would not have looked twice at.

He remembered his conversation with Mrs Evans, and the general opinion that Miss Pelham was the village definition of clumsy and unmarriageable, and thought, a little more charitably, that it must be something of an event when you are Miss Pelham to have a boyfriend at all to spend part of the day with. He could understand that she could not afford to be picky.

He sat looking out of the window, wishing he had had the opportunity to have taken a book, and, lacking interest in the wintry scenery, his thoughts turned once more to confounded Miss Pelham and her day out with her tramp of a boyfriend. He was suddenly struck by the fact that she had not been slumped forward, but was sitting upright, and instead of her usual nervous and insecure expression, his memory told him she had been looking serious and almost confident. And the glasses? He could not remember them, and to his own surprise, in order to check on these details, left his compartment to go along the corridor, passing as he did so, the compartment where Miss Pelham and her boyfriend were still holding hands. She didn’t notice him, but he could see she was not wearing her glasses. He supposed she had merely taken them off for the sake of the tramp. Oh, well, good luck to her.

The train arrived in the town on time, and Peter Norris saw Miss Pelham walking away in front of him, still holding the tramp's hand. He walked to the post office and posted his packet, consoling himself with the thought that, having been posted in a town, it was more likely to get to its destination on time than if it had been posted from our little village with its uncertain collection times. No, that was a return to his earlier annoyance. He would continue to be charitable towards the ugly duckling of a postmistress.

After leaving the post office, he found a grocer’s and purchased Bundle’s jam biscuits, then went to a local bookshop, browsed for a while and bought something to read to while away the time. He had plenty of time for lunch, and found himself a café.

When he finally returned to the station, whom should he see sitting patiently on a bench if not Miss Pelham, alone this time. She was sitting upright and smiling to herself, and he had to admit that he thought she looked less of an ugly duckling than usual, and not at all what Mrs Evans would call homely. Could it be the effect of having a man in her life? He asked if he could sit with her to wait for their train, and she made room for him on the bench.

"Your boyfriend had to leave early?" he asked.

"Boyfriend?" she looked at him in surprise.

"The young man you travelled in with this morning. I saw you holding hands."

She laughed, and he thought to his surprise that this was probably the first time he had heard Miss Pelham laugh. She usually just smiled a worried, nervous smile occasionally, when not just looking worried and nervous, but she did not laugh.

"Oh, he wasn’t my boyfriend," she said with a smile. "We had quite a different relationship."

"Ah," he said. "A relation. Been staying with you for the weekend?"

"No, no relation."

She smiled again and fell silent. For his part, having guessed wrong twice, he was unwilling to make a third try but she released him from the necessity.

"You’ll find out all about it soon enough anyway, I suppose, so I might as well tell you. I gather it will be in the local newspaper tomorrow."

He looked at her expectantly.

"That young man came to rob the post office this morning," she said. "But I wasn’t having any of that. I don’t know whether word has got around in the village, but I’ve been taking karate lessons for a couple of months. I kicked my assailant into submission, tied his hands together and decided to take him into town and hand him over to the police."

"And the holding hands?" he asked.

"I was holding the rope around his wrists to make sure it didn’t come loose."

"Karate?" he said.

"Yes. A friend told me that training in one of the martial arts would give me control over my body and get rid of my clumsiness, which has always been an embarrassment to me, and that it might give me a little self-confidence, which I also think has been lacking. But it had a useful side effect, as you see."

"So that’s why..."

He stopped. No point in emphasising the pity with which Miss Pelham was regarded by the villagers. She had found grace and self-confidence, which in turn had transformed the village ugly duckling into a swan, and the success of today’s escapade would only continue the good work. He had to admit he found himself looking at her in a completely different way. Almost before his very eyes she had metamorphosed. Without her horn-rimmed glasses to hide them one could see that she had beautiful eyes. She sensed that he was staring at them.

"I decided to get rid of those awful glasses, too," she said. "I use lenses now."

She looked at him again with those beautiful eyes, which smiled on all she saw, at the moment Peter Norris. She sat there, confident and graceful, and looking at him a little speculatively. When they stood up to board their train, she was as tall as he, and did not try to hide it.

"Why bring your robber in yourself?" he asked when they were seated in a compartment of their own. "Why not just call the police and let them come and get him?"

"The telephone has been out of order for a couple of days now," she explained. "And the battery was dead on my cellphone. So I just decided, on the spur of the moment, to do the job myself."

He thought about this and nodded.

"So your little escapade will be in tomorrow’s paper," he said "Miss Pelham, I’m sure there will be a number of the villagers at the pub tomorrow evening who will be discussing the affair, and be wanting to hear your story at first hand. How would you like to have dinner there with me."

"Why, thank you," she said, coyly replacing a straying lock of hair with all the grace of a swan. "And why don’t you start calling me Evelyn?" she added with suave self-confidence.

© James Wilde 2015