The Chilbury Ladies' Choir(8)

By: Jennifer Ryan


The New Music Tutor, Prim

But I almost forgot. There’s some excellent news! A music tutor has moved into Chilbury. She came down from London to teach in Litchfield University. Her name is Miss Primrose Trent, but she told us to call her Prim, which is funny as she’s not prim at all but frightfully unkempt. With her frizz of graying hair and her sweeping black cloak, she looks more like a wizened witch with a stack of music under one arm. Her color is dark green, like a shadowy woodland walk on a midsummer’s night.



Mrs. Tilling introduced me to her yesterday in the shop, and I felt bold enough to tell her my dreams of becoming a famous singer.

“Practice, my dear!” she boomed, her dramatic voice causing the tins to rattle on the shelves. “You must have the courage of your convictions.” She swept her arm out gracefully as if on a grand stage. “I can give you extra lessons if you have time.”

What an opportunity! “I’ll ask Mama to arrange one straightaway. You see, we’ve had some disastrous news. The Vicar has disbanded the village choir, so we’re stuck without any singing.”

“Well, that’s no good, is it! To close down a choir. Especially at a time like this!”

I’m hoping with every inch of me that she’ll persuade the Vicar to reopen the choir, although I can’t see what either of them can do. With no men around, what hope do we have? In the meantime, though, I have singing lessons to look forward to, as Mama agreed. That’ll propel me into the spotlight, I can tell by the way Prim’s eyes twinkled.





CHILBURY MANOR, CHILBURY,

KENT.

Wednesday, 3rd April, 1940

Dear Angela,

The bet still stands! Mr. Slater is tiresomely resisting my advances. I’ve tried my best tricks, even knocking on his door and asking if he had any spare paint as I was attempting “a frightfully difficult landscape,” but he simply handed some paint over and politely waved me off. I’d spent all day getting ready, wearing my green silk dress, my hair curled to perfection. Perplexing, my dear. Perplexing isn’t the word!

But you must stop proclaiming victory, as I’ll have him soon enough. He is truly captivating, Angie, and a romantic artist, too. I’ve always thought of them as bohemian willowy types, but he is more athletic, with the look of a gentleman fencer—en garde and all that. Beneath those crisp suits I can make out his muscular arms, thighs even. How I long to run my fingers over him. But Angie, it’s more than that. There’s something about him that makes me feel we’re meant to be together. The way he looks at me, as if he’s looking through me to a different person inside.

I miss having you here, even though things are improving. Everyone is finally calming down after Edmund’s death, although Mama remains weepy and Daddy furious. I miss him, too, in my way, the antics we’d get up to. Funny how one forgets how beastly someone can be when they’re dead. I suppose the threat of him is gone.



I’ve been rekindling my friendship with Hattie, even though she’s become as boring as boiled cabbage since she’s been pregnant. I went around for afternoon tea yesterday. She’d redecorated the baby’s room a ghastly green as that’s the only paint she could find. Her terraced house on Church Row is excruciatingly tiny. I don’t know how she can bear it.

“But it’s next door to Miss Paltry, the midwife!” she exclaimed, inexplicable joy on her pretty face, her long dark hair especially unruly since she’s been pregnant. “Don’t you see how useful that is? Although Mrs. Tilling is to be my main attendant at the birth. She’s like family to me with my parents gone.”

“And Mr. Slater lives on the other side of you. That’s infinitely more exciting.” I laughed, wondering if all this tedium was ruining my lipstick. I didn’t want to bump right into him without looking perfect.

“How is your bet going?” she asked.

“Not well. I confess I don’t know what to make of him.”

“I know what you mean. I do wonder what he’s up to. I always see him going out, in his motorcar or on foot, with not so much as a paintbrush, and he doesn’t come home for hours.” Hattie’s always acting the sensible older one. She thinks being two years older makes her wiser. And now that she’s going to have a baby, she’s insufferable.

“Maybe he’s really a movie star!” I laughed. “He certainly has the looks.”

She didn’t laugh. “Maybe you’re better off chasing someone else.”

I looked at her, in her dreadful maternity dress, the lonely quietness of the poky little house, but I knew she was tediously happy. I have to confess that a flash of envy crossed my mind. But don’t worry, I soon snapped out of it. Who wants Victor Lovell, after all? Who wants to be pregnant when there’s so much excitement with this war? All the new things a girl can do. We’d never have got our clerical jobs with the War Office, and you would never have been sent to live in London by yourself. All the parties and freedom. I heard that Constance Worthing is even ferrying planes for the war effort.