Tales from the Finchbottom Vale – (94) St Cuthbert’s Bazaar
The Finchbottom Vale was once a great wetland that centuries earlier stretched from Mornington in the East to Childean in the west and from Shallowfield in the south to Purplemere in the north.
But over the many centuries the vast majority of it had been drained for agriculture, a feat achieved largely by the efforts of famous Mornington Mills, of which only three had survived to the present day and even those were no longer functional and were in various states of repair.
There were only three small bodies of water left in the Vale now one in Mornington, one in Childean and third was Purplemere.
The village of Brocklington was on the River Brooke about six miles downstream from Sharping St Mary in the Finchbottom Vale which was nestled comfortably between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest to the south and the rolling Pepperstock Hills in the north, those who are lucky enough to live there think of it as the rose between two thorns.
Sophie Welby was the head teacher at St Cuthbert’s School and was a much respected figure in the village who had dedicated her life to educating the children of Brocklington, but she had done it at some personal cost, namely the love of her life Paul Barrington.
Paul was a journalist and had been offered a job at the Washington Post shortly after she was offered the Headship at St Cuthbert’s, he wanted her to go with him and he assured her that she could get a job in any school she chose, but she was scared, fearful of the unknown and the uncertainty, and was unsure about her love for him.
In the ten years that followed she realized that she loved him more than life itself, but that ship had sailed so she soldiered on as a loveless educator and stalwart of the village.
One of the high points of her year was the Christmas bazaar which was busy and exciting event that took a lot of organizing but brought a lot of joy, with all the usual attractions as well as Santa’s grotto.
But on Saturday afternoon at the height of the event as she strolled amongst the throng she caught sight of an attraction she hadn’t expected to see, Paul Barrington, and he beamed a smile in her direction the moment they made eye contact and her legs instantly turned to jelly.
He hadn’t changed a bit in her eyes, although his hair was a little greyer and his waist a little thicker, but he was still the man she loved, loves.
“Sophie!” he said “You haven’t changed a bit”
“You look great” he said
“What are you doing here?” she asked, although that wasn’t the question she wanted to ask, she wanted to know everything else, was he married? Was he back? Was he hers?
“I’ve transferred to the London office” he replied
“Are your family moving with you?” she asked
“No only me” he replied “There is only me”
“So when did you get back?” she asked encouraged by his previous answer
“Last night” he replied and she dared to hope, after all he had wasted no time in getting to Brocklington, but before she could build on the glimmer of hope she was called away from him to avert a crisis
“It’s good to see you” she said as she was led away.
The moment the problem had been resolved she set off in search of Paul to continue her interrogation of him, but after a thorough search and three circuits of the School there was no sign of him and very soon the visitors started to drift away and the doors were closed for another year and as the team of helpers began to pack away Sophie sought out a quiet corner in which to reflect on a missed opportunity and she took sanctuary in the grotto.
The grotto was decorated with red and gold velvet drapes, adorned with tinsel and coloured lights, with a huge throne in the furthest corner surrounded by Christmas parcels and leading to the throne was a snow covered path and on one side of it was a festive tableau of snowmen and reindeer and on the other side Santa’s sleigh was parked.
She walked slowly down the snow covered path and sat on Santa’s throne and put her head in her hands and sighed and remained there for an indeterminate amount of time until she was brought back to the moment.
“So this is where you’re hiding”
“You’re still here” she exclaimed
“You sound disappointed” Paul pointed out
“No, no I didn’t mean that” she corrected him a little too forcefully
“It’s just that when I couldn’t find you anywhere I thought you must have gone”
“You were looking for me?” he asked
“Erm well we hadn’t finished catching up” she explained
“That’s good but I didn’t travel three and a half thousand miles just to catch up” he said
“What did you come for then?” she asked
“I came here to pick up” Paul said
“What?” she exclaimed
“From where we left off” he added and kissed her and it was liked they’d never been apart.