It was fascinating to watch all the activity before the customers arrived but when they did come it became totally absorbing, and even those who’d vowed not to buy anything from the stalls felt drawn just to go have a look, only
It was the fancy awnings over the stalls which added style, and gave the impression of a medieval fair so tempting that even Jimbo and Harriet felt the urge to go and check out at the opposition.
going.’ Jimbo turned away from peeping between the show cards in his window display.
will, then. Only for research purposes, you know.’
‘No! Absolutely not. We shall neither of us be seen even glancing across, never mind walking round.’ Despairingly he added, ‘I’d no idea it would be so
‘Please, darling, we’ve got to know.’
Jimbo firmly shook his head.
‘Right, well, I’ll ask someone to go instead of me. Bel, you’ll go won’t you?’
‘I’m sorry. No. I’m dead against it. My Trevor is, my Dicky is . . .’
Jimbo protested, ‘Your Dicky is set to make a bomb today. They’ll all be piling in there for food, for beer, for toilets . . . you name it. So don’t tell me he’s against the market because he can’t be. Well, he’d be an idiot if he was. What’s he going to do, shut his doors? I doubt it.’ Jimbo stormed off into his office and closed the door with a bang.
He found his hidden bottle of whiskey and his special glass, and drank a tot before he sat on his chair for a think. All that money he’d be throwing at the barn . . . He knew he couldn’t expand, without it and yet he wished he didn’t need it. Trouble was, he couldn’t think of a single serious reason for shutting the market down.
Suddenly he realized the bell was scarcely jingling this morning. He was right; they
all forsaking him. When it did jingle he restrained himself from rushing out in heartfelt gratitude to greet whoever it was.
Tom was at the door. ‘Titus Bellamy would like to see you.’
‘Would he indeed?’
Just in time Jimbo remembered to calm his inner turmoil. Being angry would do no good at all. He went out to meet the infamous Titus feeling grim inside but smiling on the outside.
‘Good morning, Mr Bellamy. Nice of you to call.’ Jimbo’s outstretched hand gripped Titus’s firmly and shook it vigorously. There was an air of refinement about the man. He wasn’t the usual bluff and hearty market trader, far from it. In fact, Jimbo warmed to him immediately, until he reminded himself that this man standing so quietly before him was most likely to prove a thorn in his flesh.
‘Call me Titus. Everyone does.’
‘Then you call me Jimbo.’
‘Thought I’d better make myself known. No reason why we can’t be friends, is there?’
Jimbo found himself agreeing with him. In his head he was thinking, ‘Damn him!’ But he heard himself say, ‘No reason at all. We’re all trying to earn a crust.’
‘You’ve a wonderland of a shop here. An absolute wonderland.’ Titus gazed round, seemingly dazzled by the displays. ‘Have you had a chance to look round the market?’ His grey eyes looked pointedly at Jimbo, as though pleading for approval.
‘Will you come and take a peek? I’ll introduce you to the stallholders. They’re all great friends of mine, and lovely people to know. They all do my other markets, too. OK? Will you come?’
It was hard for Jimbo to refuse despite his anger. The chap was so pleasant, the very kind of man he’d be glad to have as a friend. ‘Very well, but I haven’t much time.’
‘That’s fine, neither have I.’ Titus turned to leave, but at that moment his way was barred by Liz Neal coming in to post some parcels. Her arms were laden and she was in danger of dropping the lot.
‘Whoops! Sorry,’ she said.
Titus caught one parcel and Jimbo another, and she managed to cling on to the rest. They carried them to the Post Office counter for her and when they’d handed them over Jimbo introduced them.
‘Hope you had a good holiday, Liz. This is Titus Bellamy, who’s organized the market. Titus this is Liz Neal who runs the village pre-school.’
Titus held out his hand for Liz to shake. ‘I’ve an idea you must be Neville Neal’s wife. Yes? I’ve just taken him on as my accountant. I’m pleased to meet you.’
So this was who she was, this person who’d somehow occupied his thoughts ever since he saw her that morning in the pub all those months ago. He liked her eyes; they were large, kind and the deepest velvet brown. Her face was sweet and natural, her figure slender. She attracted him, very much.
Liz, even though her head was filled with instructions about the various parcels she was posting, took time to notice his gentle eyes, his full, generous mouth - nothing mean or picky about it - his thick hair, and that beard, which she found she rather liked. Normally she hated them. ‘Nice to meet you, Mr Bellamy.’ His hand was comforting and somehow it made her feel . . . well, cherished.
He still held hers as he said, ‘I’m Titus to everyone else.’
‘Titus, then. See you again soon.’ She quickly withdrew her hand, then turned away to sort out her parcels.
So Jimbo and Titus left to go round the market. After all he’d said that very morning about not going as he and Harriet had been peering between the show cards in the window display, and here he was going for a tour. Damn the man for being so pleasant. He was thankful Harriet had gone to collect produce from his league of farmers’ wives who kept his preserves and chutney supplies up to scratch; at least she wasn’t witnessing his change of heart. Though he knew he’d confess eventually, because someone would tell her if he didn’t.
Jimbo had expected to sneer at what he saw, but he was agreeably surprised by the standard of the goods on the stalls. Everything was of the highest quality. In fact, he was rather jealous of the cheese stall and wished it was on display in his store, but it was out here in the market and he quietly ground his teeth at the thought. The only stall he didn’t like was the pottery. Lovely woman - pleasant, chatty and amusing - but her pottery offerings were chunky and, what was worse, dull. Who in their right mind would want to drink from one of those mugs? Not Jimbo.
They reached the last of the stalls where the chap was selling fresh fish, and excellent it looked, too. He’d have been proud to have it in his store except he never had fresh fish because of the smell.
‘I’m envious of this fresh fish, my word,’ said Jimbo. ‘I don’t sell it because of my other stuff. The all pervading smell, you see.’
‘Your opinion would be appreciated,’ Titus said. ‘I won’t have anyone selling shoddy goods - well, except for Cassandra with the pots. Four children to feed and clothe, things are hard for her. We’ve had a talk but it’s had no effect. Well?’ He looked at Jimbo and waited.
To be fair, he had to approve; he could do no other. ‘Someone in the village said it would all be rubbish and you wouldn’t last for long, but they’re quite wrong. Everything is excellent, truly excellent. Good luck to you.’ He held out his hand and so did Titus, and they shook hands vigorously.
Titus smiled. ‘Thank you for your opinion. From a man who truly knows what he’s talking about it’s very encouraging. Perhaps some time we might have a drink in the pub together. I’ve taken a liking to it. I expected it would be all tarted up inside and the whole impression of the outside therefore ruined, but it isn’t, and the homebrew is excellent.’
Jimbo went back to the house and sat in his chair in the study ruminating on what he’d seen. This was competition on a grand scale. No point in trying to do Titus Bellamy down. He’d just have to concentrate on other aspects of his business to make up the shortfall, because shortfall there was definitely going to be.
Liz wandered home through the market, inspecting all the stalls and realizing that Titus Bellamy had a success on his hands. It was busy today but once the market became better known there would be hundreds of people coming to Turnham Malpas on a Thursday. She spotted Jimbo and Titus talking to Cassandra. That Titus . . . she couldn’t understand why she felt she knew him.
she met him before? He definitely rang bells, somehow or other. She smiled when she thought about Jimbo being persuaded into looking round the market, after all he’d said, but she rather thought that perhaps Titus could charm a monkey out of a tree.
Back at Glebe House Liz put her key on the hall table and her purse in the cupboard in the kitchen where she always kept it, and looked at her right hand as she closed the door. She put it to her cheek and imagined it felt warmer than the other one. That, of course, was rubbish. Total rubbish, but she suddenly liked that right hand better than the left; it felt smoother and softer. She recollected Titus’s face, then roughly dismissed her sentimentality. She was being foolish all because she lacked warmth and comfort in her own life.
These few days away had only served to emphasize her loneliness. Yes, she had her two boys and they were always willing to take her out for a drink or a meal when things got too bad - well, Hugh more than Guy - but relying on them for companionship was ludicrous. Somehow she’d have to shake up Neville and make their marriage work for both their sakes. A dead marriage was a prison sentence and she for one wasn’t going to tolerate that, not at forty-five.
According to the flier, the market would finish at one o’clock. Sure enough, the stallholders began clearing away as the church clock struck one. Each of them had taken more money than they had anticipated, considering it was the first time they’d opened in Turnham Malpas, and they congratulated each other in anticipation of even better days yet to come.
But opponents of the whole idea waited to see the mess that would surely be left behind, anticipating concrete evidence that the market was a nuisance and not to be tolerated. But as the last of the trestle tables was loaded into the huge van, three useful-looking chaps appeared with an old truck well past its best, and began clearing the rubbish. Within half an hour the whole of the green was cleaned and tidied, including the pieces of paper that had blown onto the pond. The geese took charge of their green again and settled comfortably for an afternoon snooze beside their pond, having benefited greatly from being fed by the stallholders and the people buying from the stalls.
Truth to tell, the opponents to the market were left with no ammunition for their campaign, but they gathered just the same in the Royal Oak that evening to discuss the matter.
Willie returned from the bar carrying a tray loaded with drinks. They’d pulled two tables together and were seated round, anticipating a good natter comparing notes.
Distributing the drinks, Willie got them wrong and Don finished up with Sylvia’s gin and orange. He loudly and agitatedly complained. ‘I’ve got a wrong ’un. This isn’t mine. This isn’t mine, I didn’t order this. Where’s mine?’
‘That’s all right,’ said Sylvia, ‘you’ve got mine and I’ve got yours. Here we are.’ She swapped their drinks and Don calmed down. Sylvia looked round the tables. ‘Where’s Jimbo? He said he’d be coming.’
Grandmama Charter-Plackett, who had allied herself to their cause because of Jimbo, looked surprised. ‘He’s obviously forgotten. I’ll give him a buzz.’ So she dug in her bag for her mobile and they all eavesdropped on her one-sided conversation.
‘But you said—
‘So, you’re not against it now?’
They all watched her eyebrows shoot up her forehead as she said, ‘You
the chap? How can you like him? I’m astounded ... I know nothing went wrong, I watched from the bedroom window . . . Well, of course I didn’t walk round to see . . . You what . . . walked round it with this damned Titus? You traitor! I assume you won’t be joining us, then?’
They thought she might explode she was so angry. So angry she couldn’t speak. She threw her mobile into her bag and sat arms crossed, lips folded into a thin, straight line, breathing deeply.
They all had to admit that nothing had gone wrong. They’d expected the stalls would be filled with rubbish, lots of shouting of wares - ‘apples ten for a pound’, ‘sausages, eight for a pound’, ‘early strawberries sweet as sweet, just right for his supper tonight with a splash of cream’ - piped music, cars parked everywhere to avoid paying in the field, and, in particular, rubbish everywhere after they’d left. None of their anxieties had materialized and the reason for the meeting soon melted away.