Nothing ever takes place in a village. Or so many would think.
This was the phrase that came to mind most readily when Miss Eugenia Sprout thought fondly of her home, in a small village in the English countryside.
Miss Sprout was getting on in years, almost seventy four if you could believe it, and enjoyed pottering in her garden, weather permitting. This allowed her untold opportunities for observing her neighbours and the comings and goings at the Vicarage, which sat opposite her home on the lane at the North edge of Oakland Grove.
One autumn morning as she was bent over, weeding her begonias and contemplating whether she might be better off with photinias, she heard a disturbance across the lane. Looking up, she observed a black motor car pulling up in front of the Vicarage and the driver, dressed impeccably of course, alight and move to the rear of the vehicle. Upon opening the rear passenger door Miss Sprout observed from her vantage point a Lady, most definitely a Lady, emerge from the vehicle swathed in black from the tip of her head to the patent leather tips of her black shoes.
'Hmm,' Eugenia thought, 'now who might this be?'
Miss Sprout continued to watch from her shrubbery as the Lady in Black entered the Vicarage garden and walked solemnly to the front door, ring the bell and disappear inside. The impressive personage who had been driving the vehicle continued to stand alongside his conveyance, keeping a close eye on where the Lady had disappeared and showing no interest whatever in conversation with anyone who might deign to approach.
Miss Sprout however was not deterred. She approached.
“Good afternoon young man,” she called to him across her hedge. “That’s a mighty fine vehicle you have there. Have you come down from London?”
The chauffeur turned to consider Miss Sprout in her fluffy shawl, with her white fluffy hair and air of distracted interest. He smiled and nodded to her but did not reply.
Miss Sprout considered a second hail but the Vicarage door opened again and the Lady emerged. Moving swiftly towards the motor car, her step assured and purposeful, she swept through the gate and into the vehicle through the door held open for her. The chauffeur then re-entered the car himself and the whole swept off again, away from Oakland Grove.
'Well,' thought Eugenia. 'What was all that about I wonder?'
Considering the tableau that had just taken place in front of her, Eugenia debated whether she should visit with Claudia, the good vicar’s wife, and see just what might be in the wind.
She debated with herself for all of a minute, well, nearly anyway, before doffing her gardening gloves and pushing through her own garden gate, crossing the lane, and entering the Vicarage garden proper.
Miss Sprout knocked on the front door and listened as footsteps drew near then the door was opened and a fresh face looked out, then broke into a wide grin.
"Why, its Miss Sprout," exclaimed Enid, Claudia’s cook cum housekeeper. "What brings you to call Miss?"
“I was wondering if Mrs Grunow were at home,” Eugenia responded.
“Oh, of course Miss”, Enid responded and drew the door wider, inviting Miss Sprout inside.
Eugenia followed Enid to the sitting room and was greeted by Claudia, rising from an easy chair and putting aside a notebook.
“Eugenia!” she exclaimed. “What brings you here?” she asked, thinking to herself that it was amazing Eugenia hadn’t come while their visitor was still there.
“Oh Claudia, dear, I was just thinking that we should be organising another round of donations for the Sale of Work next month. Do you have a book that I could use? I thought I’d try the new development and drum up some interest with the young things there,” Miss Sprout burst out, dithering slightly as she made her way into the room.
“The Sale of Work?” Claudia responded. “Of course, what a wonderful idea. It would be so nice to get some real money instead of just never ending supplies of doilies.”
“indeed my dear,” Eugenia went on as she sat in the chair indicated.
Claudia Grunow went to her desk and collected a notebook there, blue in colour, and returned to where Miss Sprout was considering the red one she had put down by her chair. Claudia glanced at it, then met Miss Sprout’s eyes and passed her the blue book.
“There you are Eugenia. Was there anything else I could help you with?” she asked with a knowing smile.
“Thank you dear. No, there was nothing else, really.” Eugenia considered her host as Claudia sat. “You really have done a wonder with this room my dear,” she went on, glancing around.
Claudia smiled at her visitor. “Thank you Eugenia, I think the new cushions have certainly made a difference.”
“Indeed,” Miss Sprout agreed.
“Alright Eugenia, what are you really here for?” Claudia burst out, unable to restrain herself any longer.
“Why, Claudia! Whatever do you mean?” Miss Sprout exclaimed, her pale green eyes open wide.
“I know you Eugenia,” Claudia went on. “You’re on the prowl again.”
“Well,” Miss Sprout hesitated. “I did observe your visitor a short time ago and, given that she was a most unusual type of visitor for Oakland Grove . . . “ she trailed off, raising her eyebrows hopefully.
Claudia laughed, throwing her head back and drumming her feet on the floor. “I knew it!” she exclaimed. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist. Well, I can’t help you with this one,” she noted, although her eyes dropped briefly to her red notebook. “No, Eugenia, this is Jacob’s business and none of ours.”
Miss Sprout looked scandalised. “Claudia! I wouldn’t dream of intruding on a private matter, you know that.” She looked affronted but Claudia wasn’t fooled.
“Now Eugenia, I know you better than that and you know better than to pry,” Claudia went on smiling.
“Of course, of course Claudia, I wouldn’t dream of prying, of course I wouldn’t.” Eugenia stood slowly, gathering her shawl and clutching the blue notebook to her breast. “Thank you my dear. I’ll let you know how I go with the collection.”
And with that, Miss Sprout made her way back to her garden, through the gate, through the door and into her front hall, thinking furiously.
Claudia did know who the Lady was and Eugenia was sure that red notebook had something to do with it.
Now, she thought to herself, when I have I seen Claudia use a red notebook before . . . of course! Eugenia was ecstatic. She had remembered.
Claudia only used the red notebook when she was working with the Mission of the Sleeping Saint!
So, the Lady must be involved with the Mission, she thought to herself. Eugenia sat down in her sitting room, took out her knitting and knotted her brows in thought. Who? Who could it be?
She sat and rocked gently, knitting something pink and fluffy as she considered.
“That’s it!” Miss Sprout exclaimed, dropping two stitches as she surged to her feet. “It must have been Lady Amelia Worthington!”
Miss Sprout had just been reading about Lady Amelia’s recent bereavement (her son had perished in an airplane accident the previous week) and knew of her involvement with the Mission from a previous discussion with Claudia.
“Now,” she mused to herself, sitting again and taking up her knitting. “What was she doing here?”