Major Hutton was a force to be reckoned with in the village. Local parish councillors dreaded his appearing on their doorstep or turning up at meetings, for they knew it wouldn't mean good news. The local newspaper was well used to receiving one of his lengthy letters, his headed notepaper elicited groans from the editor when yet another three page epistle landed on his desk. He was outspoken, often to the point of rudeness, and seemed to think that having been a Major and getting on in years entitled him to be like this, no apology or explanation needed. Nor would it be given even if asked for; the Major rarely apologised, everyone knew this.
So there was no-one more surprised than Phoebe when she found herself on the receiving end of a rather blustering apology from Major Hutton. He'd turned up unnanounced and uninvited on her doorstep last Saturday morning, and if there's anything Phoebe dislikes it's visitors of this kind. Not that she's the most sociable of beings, at times she tends to retreat into her cottage and won't be seen for days, and rather like the Major, she never feels she has to explain herself. It's just Phoebe, she values her time alone, and guards her privacy. She's never been particularly fond of Major Hutton, sensing that beneath that well turned out exterior was a man who was both a bully and a coward at the same time. A bully until someone stood up to him, and then a bit of a coward, often backing down, as happened with the incident with the squirrels drey earlier in the year, which some of you may recall reading about. Having been married to a bully in uniform, she knew the signs, but kept her views to herself, and if asked what she thought of him, she'd simply say, 'Not much' and leave it at that. Their paths crossed at village events, but that was all.
So there he stood on her doorstep, holding his tweed cap in one hand, using the fingers of the other to smooth down his moustache just as Phoebe opened the door to him. A bit embarrassed at being caught preening, he coughed rather louder than intended, startling one of the cats that sat beside Phoebe, almost as if guarding her. Phoebe had an inkling as to why he was standing there, but wasn't going to make life easy for him, not at all. So she stood and stared at him, one eyebrow raised quizically, waiting. The Major on the other hand, was also waiting for her to help him out and ask why he was there. Seconds dragged by, each looking at the other, the cat trying to nonchalantly wash itself as if it hadn't been scared half out of its wits by the Major's cough. Neither spoke, until in the end the Major had to back down and be the one to speak first, and as Phoebe told me later, it was his place to do so, after all, he was the one in the wrong.
It had all begun last Wednesday when an old friend of Major Hutton's had arrived, unexpectedly. It seems Rowley was doing a tour of all his old Service chums, one last visit whilst he was still capable of driving himself, no particular plan in mind he explained, which was why he hadn't been able to give the Major any warning. They went to the pub for lunch, the Major looking decidedly uncomfortable, not his usual loud self many commented later, but hardly surprising really they added.
Several drinks were downed before the food arrived, a bottle of red wine with the meal, a couple of brandies afterwards, and the two old comrades were very relaxed. Well, the Major still had the look of a rabbit caught in headlights about him, and it wasn't long before his worst, hidden fears were realised. Rowley began reminiscing, loudly. The Major kept saying 'Shh, not so loud old chap!' but Rowley had a good head of steam up and away he went. Out came the indiscretion with the CO's wife, the bouncy cheque scandal, posing as an officer and a gentleman to a rich widow in order to extract money from her, the bullying of female recruits, and the final misdemeanour which led to his being discharged.
It didn't take long for the gossip to get around the village, this time not aided by Elsie, it seemed to have a life of it's own this juicy titbit! Phoebe heard about it, even though she hadn't been out of the house due to the snow on the ground and really not having the need to go out. One or two friends had popped in to make sure she was OK, all telephoning first of course respecting her need for privacy, and all had told her what had gone on, how the Major had been well and truly embarrassed and not shown his face in the village since his friend drove away from the Major's house early on Thursday morning. As soon as his car was out of the drive, the Major had almost scuttled back inside like a frightened animal, as Elsie put it in the village shop, where she hastened after witnessing this.
And the reason for the visit to Phoebe? He had gone to apologise, for giving the wrong impression, not exactly lying to anyone as he put it, but just not correcting them when they assumed he was entitled to use the rank Major, which was how he had introduced himself when he first came to live in the village several years ago. 'Force of habit m'dear' he explained, still standing on the doorstep having not been invited in, as expected. It had just slipped out when introducing himself in the pub for the first time, and since then, he'd been The Major. 'I know I should have put it right straight away' he said to Phoebe. 'But you know how it is, the longer that type of thing goes on....' 'Type of thing?' asked Phoebe. 'Oh, you mean deception?' Here the Major issued another of his coughs, muttered 'Quite, yes, sorry' and once again a silence descended.
By now Phoebe was beginning to feel a bit chilly, so she hurried him along. 'So what exactly are you doing here Major, sorry MISTER Hutton?' 'Just came to apologise, say 'sorry' for not being honest from the start. Bad form I know, no excuse, sorry' and with that, he turned on his heel and began to walk away. 'I suggest,' shouted Phoebe, 'that you apologise to those who are interested or who were taken in by you in the first place. I don't fit into either category, good day', and with that she closed the door firmly on the snowy world and went back to her cosy fireside and her book, which coincidentally was Roger Moore's autobiography called.. 'My Word is My Bond'. (One of Phoebe's passions, though she never spoke of it, was for old television series of the sixties and seventies, The Saint amongst them.) As she looked at the title of the book, and thought back to her visitor, she couldn't help but laugh out loud, once again disturbing the rather skittish cat.
One of the more interesting and beautiful old houses nearby is Heddering Hall, lived in by a couple from London, he having made a fortune in finance, she having made a successful career of spending some of it. Luckily there was lots left, as she liked to say. But a large house of that kind took a lot of upkeep, and apart from anything else, as Joanna, the lady of the Hall liked to say, it was such a beautiful place it should be shared. And so they got into the business of hiring out the hall for commercials, film locations and such like. It's siting at the edge of one of the villages meant that often nobody knew who was there, what was going on, other than there would often be a long caravan of trucks and four by fours making it's way up the drive off the main road, often having driven through the village first. For many who had no interest in such matters, like Phoebe for example, the first they would know about it would be seeing it in some costume drama, or advertisement on television.
However one recent hiring of the hall left nobody in any doubt as to what was going on, and was yet another occasion when apologies all round were called for. The Hall had been used for the making of a pop video. Now I am not allowed to say who it was, even though I was there and I knew it was all going on.... I was there helping a friend who had been called in to provide flowers, lots of them, which came in very useful later on. Even though in the past there have been camera crews and the like all busy at the Hall and nobody aware of it, on this occasion there was no getting away from the noise. Which was loud. You could hear rock music blaring out for three days non-stop it seemed. Many of the villagers with cars followed the noise, thinking that we had been invaded again by ravers, and whilst some were mollified to learn it was all legitimate this time, others felt that the countryside was no place for such a cacophony - that would be the 'Major' at the forefront of this little group of course. But most agreed it was too loud, went on for too long, and heaved a joint sigh of relief when the trucks and limos and so on drove off through the village, restoring peace to the Hall once more, and leaving Joanna going around the village distributing huge bunches of flowers to everyone with her apology and firm promise that no, they wouldn't be doing that again! No more pop videos for the Hall, no more rocking in the village, it will all soon be forgotten, just like the Major's less than upright behaviour.