“Can you keep a secret?” asked Mr. Macado Greere of his bulldog, Fairy.
The dog stretched her back out and groaned. Her nails scratched on the kitchen floor. Mr. Greere pulled a crystal glass out of a kitchen cabinet above the counter and set it down. Fairy settled and put her nose on her paws.
“The annual Bibury Garden Fair is coming up,” Mr. Greere continued. He put a slotted absinthe spoon over his glass and balanced three sugar cubes on top. “With Mrs. Estes dead, I aim to win first prize with my vegetable marrows. They are massive this year.”
Fairy opened one golden brown eye incredulously.
Mr. Greere pulled a tall green bottle toward him on the counter and uncorked it. The sweet smell of licorice and anise seed perfumed the small kitchen and gathered near the window above the sink as Mr. Greere poured the green liquid over the sugar cubes, dissolving them through the slotted spoon into the glass underneath. As ice cold water splashed into the glass next, the liquid turned pea green.
“You may laugh now, Fairy,” Mr. Greere said, as he recorked the absinthe and tasted his mix with a pleased sigh. “But the secret is I bought a new fertilizer. See for yourself how marvelously big my marrows are. Amazing what the right stuff will do for a marrow.”
He opened the kitchen door and walked out into a walled garden. Plentiful rose bushes and shrubs hid the raised marrow bed from any eyes that might peep over the brick wall, and the marrows were thriving. The long, green vegetables were fat and long and shiny in the afternoon sun.
Mr. Greere regarded them proudly standing on the stone path. He leaned down to scratch Fairy’s wrinkled head. “They are beauties, old girl, and the biggest I have ever grown. Not a word about my new fertilizer! I am bound to win, bound to. It is about time a real man won the garden fair, not some old lady without any balls to go alongside her marrows!” He snorted.
Fairy tilted her head at the marrows before she whined. Quite near, the train whistle went up, marking the arrival of the 1:15 and Mr. Greere agreed, “Time for our walk, old girl.”
He left his empty glass in the kitchen and donned his hat and coat in the hall. He took up his cane as he went out the front door and locked it behind him. Out through the white front gate and he walked jauntily into the street.
The walk to the woody park at the heart of the village was short, but Mr. Greere passed through the village on the main road. He tipped his hat to the few ladies left strolling the street near the Bibury Tea Parlor and soon approached the station.
Mr. Greere almost stopped as he saw a lady standing alone on the platform with her white suitcase at her feet. She held a map upside-down and looked confused.
“Madame,” Mr. Greere tipped his hat to her. “You look lost; may I assist you?”
“Why!” cried the female with big blue eyes and massive golden curls under her tiny hat. “I am lost. Sadly lost. I am looking for the cottage of Mrs. Agnes Estes. I am her niece, you know, and I have just been told I inherited her place.”
Mr. Greere tipped his head back and hid his satisfaction at the old lady’s passing. “Pray do allow me to accompany you safely to the cottage as I am passing that way. Allow me to take your case, Miss Estes.”
The girl fluttered her hand as Mr. Greere took up her suitcase and tucked his cane under his arm. “I am indebted to you, Mr.. . ?”
“Macado Greere,” said the gentleman. “Who do I have the pleasure of meeting?”
“Pinkola Estes,” said the girl. She stepped down onto the street in her delicate blue hells, holding her purse with both gloved hands.
“Mrs. Estes was a sad loss to our little village,” said Mr. Greere. “She was a dear lady and never failed to spice up the annual fair by winning first place with her vegetable marrows. The fair will not be the same without her.”
Pinkola laughed. “They say we have green thumbs in my family. I am afraid I am the black sheep; cannot grow a thing without killing it.”
“Indeed!” said Mr. Greere.
“Tell me,” said Pinkola. “Who is this darling dog?”
“This,” said Mr. Greere. “Is Fairy.”
Pinkola paused to lean down and pet the doggie before she resumed walking. “Tell me about the garden fair. My aunt often wrote to me about it. I understand you gave her stiff competition with your marrows.”
Mr. Greere smiled. “Why, yes, I always did try for that red ribbon. The fair is annual, you know, with plenty of flowers and pigs to go round, but I am rather proud of my marrows, if I do say so myself. Good seeds, that is the secret.”
Pinkola laughed again. “I grew up in a village quite like this one, you know, before I went to London. I remember my brother raised a pig once and won first prize.”
Mr. Greere dismissed the pigs. “We take pride in our roses and marrows here in Bibury.”
“Huge, ugly things are marrows,” Pinkola remarked. She sighed. “Except for some. I have seen some marvelous marrows in my time.”
“Here we are, my dear,” Mr. Greere said. He stopped at a gate in need of paint off the village road leading into the country.
Pinkola stared at the overgrown garden that pushed and shoved at the surrounding picket fence and nearly hid the stone cottage from view. “My! It is quite overgrown.”
“A solid piece of property all around, I assure you,” Mr. Greere said. “We are proud to house Evan, the best handyman for miles around, right here in Bibury. He will fix you up in no time.”
Mr. Greere opened the front gate and used his cane to clear weeds off the path leading to the house so Pinkola might reach the door untroubled. She dug in her purse for a key and unlocked the front door. She sniffed as she entered the foyer. “My! It is dusty in here.”
She turned to Mr. Greere. “I do thank you, Mr. Greere, for your kind assistance and company.”
Mr. Greere set down her suitcase and tipped his hat. “A pleasure, Miss Estes. Good afternoon.” He went out through the front gate and walked briskly down the lane homeward. Fairy bounded beside him.
“A nice girl, Pinkola,” Mr. Greere said. “How splendid her aunt is dead; I do look forward to hanging something other then refried dreams on my trophy wall.”
He passed the Tea Parlor on his way home; the Ladies’ Society was gathered there so engrossed in counting sugar cubes into their day, they did not notice him tip his hat.
The next day after a careful watering of his vegetable marrows and his daily dose of absinthe, Mr. Greere ventured forth into the village again, promising Fairy, “We did not make it to the park yesterday, girl, but we will today.”
The Ladies’ Society was gathered early at the Tea Parlor, their white hats and veils fluttering and teacups clattering. He smelled scones and heard fragments of a debate as to who was to preside over the tea tent and who was to tell fortunes at the fair as he passed.
A great white pavilion was set up in the park as he walked around it. People clustered, assembling booths and arranging benches. Mr. Greere looked onto the pavilion at the rows of tables and pig pens and anticipated a prime spot for his marrows on that big table near the entrance to the tent.
As he neared Pinkola’s cottage, he passed Evan, the handyman, coming out the front gate. It was freshly painted, and Evan wore his painting smock.
“Quite a mess the young miss has on her hands,” Evan remarked. “Back garden is as overgrown as the front, so I have got to make a dash home for the loppers. See you at the fair, Mr. Greere!” He smirked.
Mr. Greere found Pinkola on her knees with a wide straw hat and gardening gloves in the front garden, planting asters. He took off his hat as he peered over the fence at her. “I do hope you can forgive me for calling at this hour, but I simply had to check in on you.”
Pinkola put down her trowel and flung off her gloves before she opened the gate. “Not at all, not at all! Do come in. I have something to show you!”
She led him around the house on a cleared path to the back garden, where hard work had been done to restore order around a single raised bed. Mr. Greere’s heart sank at the sight of it.
“There!” said Pinkola proudly. “Just look at that. My aunt must have been growing them when she died, and they are simply huge now.”
Mr. Greere stared at the huge vegetable marrows filling the garden bed and the memory of his seemed small now. “I wonder, Miss Estes, if you have a use for them?”
“I thought not at first,” Pinkola admitted. “But then Evan suggested I enter them in the fair as a final remembrance of my aunt, you know, and I have decided I will.” Pinkola clapped her hands. “I have decided to move here, and the fair will be such a lovely place to meet everyone.”
“Splendid!” said Mr. Greere faintly.
“But you must come in for some tea!” Pinkola exclaimed. She flung open the back door into the kitchen. “Just sit right up while I put on the kettle.”
After a cup of tea and scones, Mr. Greere walked home slowly. He passed the Ladies’ Society in the street, gorged on tea, and the women surrounded him like moths.
“Well, hello, Mr. Greere! We hear you intend to enter your marrows into our charming little fair again. Maybe this time you will win!” The women tittered and fluttered their eyelashes. “Oo, you know we just love men with big marrows and yours are—ah—simply lovely.”
“Ladies,” said Mr. Greere. Not married, not a single one of them. He escaped with a tip of his hat.
Back at home, Mr. Greere hung up his hat and coat and put his cane in the stand in the hall. He clasped his hands behind his back as he walked through the parlor into his bedroom and stared at the wall beside the door. So many second-place ribbons. How had Agnes Estes stolen first prize from him so many times?
The day before the fair, Mr. Greere picked his marrows and piled the dear things in a basket ready to take to fair after his drink. As he prepared the absinthe, pounding on his front door upset Mr. Greere and he spilled some of the green liquid on the counter. Before he could make it to the door, Pinkola burst into his kitchen and nearly trampled him.
“Oh, Mr. Greere, it is simply dreadful, really dreadful, too dreadful for words!” She glanced about her and grabbed up the absinthe. Mr. Greere held up a hand, but she had already downed the drink. “My, that helps settle my nerves. But, oh, it is dreadful! I went to pick my marrows and deliver them to the fair and the whole plant came up and there were bones!”
“Bones?” said Mr. Greere.
“Bones!” Pinkola shrieked. “My aunt has been growing her marrows all this time out of a cat graveyard, and I even found her chopper! She killed the poor dears and buried them in the garden bed!”
Mr. Greere guided her into the parlor. She sank into his easy chair while he went into the kitchen to pour her a little brandy. Fairy ran in circles and barked as the girl downed the brandy and wiped at her eyes with her damp handkerchief.
“What shall I do?” Pinkola gasped. “I love cats, I do. I left mine in London.” Tears welled in her blue eyes again and Mr. Greere offered her his silk handkerchief. Pinkola took it.
“I do not have any marrows to enter in the fair and I promised the Ladies’ Society my biggest,” Pinkola went on. “I chopped up my aunt’s horrid things the minute I saw the bones. What will I tell them?”
“Intimidating, the ladies of the Society,” Mr. Greere said thoughtfully.
Pinkola sniffed. “They like big marrows, though.”
“I should be glad,” Mr. Greere said. “To give you my marrows to enter in the fair.”
“I could not possibly!” Pinkola gasped, but she clutched her handkerchief tighter in her gloved hand.
“I insist,” Mr. Greere said. “I should be glad to accompany you to the fair. Perhaps you will consider dining with me one night?”
Pinkola stood and pressed her hand to her heart. “Why! You are the dearest man. And, if I do win first place, think how proud of me my fiancé will be! He is coming down on the train tomorrow, you know. Goodbye, Mr. Greere!”
She caught up the basket of marrows in the kitchen and danced down the hall out the front door.
“Fiancé?” Mr. Greere whispered. His smile faded as he sat down weakly in his easy chair and Fairy jumped into his lap. “Fiancé’! Talk about refried dreams, old girl.”
When he rose, Mr. Greere discovered Pinkola’s handkerchief scrunched into a ball in the corner of the seat. He took it up and walked into his bedroom. He opened his dresser drawer; a pile of women’s handkerchief’s, neatly folded, occupied the top drawer.
Mr. Greere looked at Fairy. “Keep a secret, old girl. Do not tell Pinkola where this is.”
He put the handkerchief into the drawer and shut it. As he walked back into the kitchen to prepare himself a drink, he mused, “I dare say no one will be coming by to admire my marrows or ask for seeds this year.”