"We have a new arrival in the village, Mr Norris," said old Mrs Evans one day. "The old Palmer place is taken at last."
"Tell me all, Mrs Evans," said Peter Norris.
"Well, I don't know his name," she said confidentially, "but I've heard he's a writer. Looks to be in his thirties."
"What kind of a writer?"
"Fiction, I heard."
"Famous? What's he written?"
"I haven't been able to find out yet, but the rumour has it he makes a good living at it."
"Come, come, Mrs Evans," he said. "This is only half a tale. You don't know his name. You suspect he writes but you don't know what. Is he married?"
"No sign of a better half," she replied.
"Well, he must be brave or foolhardy to take the Palmer place," Peter went on.
"Or he's not heard that it's haunted," she continued.
"Or doesn't care if it is," he finished. "We must keep our ears to the ground, Mrs Evans, and our eyes peeled. Not to mention the other senses."
"Exactly, Mr Norris," she said. "All senses alert."
It was not long after this that Peter Norris finally saw the new arrival for himself. He had taken his girl-friend, Evelyn Pelham, to the Stonemason's Arms for dinner - they do a very good boeuf bourguignon on Wednesdays - and a stranger came up to the bar just ahead of him when he went to refill their glasses.
"Evening, Mr Waterston," said Sid, the landlord. "What'll it be tonight?"
"Same as last time, please, Sid," replied the stranger.
"One Old Speckled Hen coming up," said Sid.
"If you like Old Speckled Hen," said Peter to the stranger, "you should try Sid's own brew. I don't think he's given it a name, but we locals call it "Death or Glory"."
Sid had heard my comment, and paused with a glass in one hand and an unopened bottle of the stranger's request in the other. He looked inquiringly at Waterston.
"Alright," said Waterston. "Let's give Death or Glory a shot."
Sid smiled a knowing smile, put the bottle in his hand back, and went over to a small pump at one end of the bar. A moment or two later he was back with a frothing tankard which he passed over to Waterston.
"Same for you, Peter?" he asked.
"Not with Evelyn here," replied Peter. "I started with wine and I'd better keep to it. Two more of the house red, please."
"Coming up," said Sid.
Meanwhile Waterston had taken a gulp or two of Sid's brew. He held up the glass to the light, a moustache of froth on his upper lip, which he sensed, and licked away.
"Wow," he said.
He held out his hand.
"Terence Waterston," he said. "I live in the old Palmer place as it's apparently called around here."
"Peter Norris. And the lady over there is Evelyn Pelham. Are you expecting company or would you like to join us?"
"I'd love to."
Peter took him back to the table and introduced him to Evelyn, and they talked as they finished dinner, and took a coffee afterwards. Terence took a plateful of stew himself, and another glass of Death or Glory, and by the end of the evening the young couple knew quite a bit more about him than Mrs Evans had been able to tell. He was indeed a writer, of short stories in a number of different styles, science fiction, romance, drama, occasionally mystery, for a large number of magazines, and occasionally for anthologies. He usually wrote under a pseudonym, a female one for women's magazines. He was not married, enjoyed his garden, and was a keen fisherman. If Peter had been the gossiping type, he would have had much to tell Mrs Evans.
Terence Waterston settled into the little village very quickly. His cheerful nature soon made him friends with almost everyone, although it was a reserved friendliness. No-one heard of visitors to his house, no dinner parties or drinks parties, and he was seldom known to have visited others.
"Keeps himself to himself," said Mrs Evans with a bit of a sniff.
"He's not alone in that in this village," Peter pointed out.
"No, you're right," she nodded. "We have our share of hermits."
It was some time later that Evelyn asked Peter over dinner if he had seen the librarian, Gillian Cooper's new spectacles.
"No, I've not seen her for some time," he said. "Why?"
"She's a changed woman."
"You mean she's got rid of those awful thick, black frames?" he asked.
"Rimless," she said. "Or very nearly. Apparently she was trying on new frames at the opticians, when Terence came in to pick up some lenses. He apparently said she had lovely eyes, which she shouldn't hide behind her glasses, and advised her to get frames which emphasised her eyes rather than ones which hid them. And he's right. She has beautiful eyes when you can see them. Completely changes her."
"Well, good for him, spreading a little joy."
It was some little time later that he bumped into Elsie Brewer in the High Street. He nearly didn't recognise her. Her medium blonde hair, which had always, as long as he had known her, hung down to her shoulders beside and partly in front of her face, untidy and with broken ends was gone. Instead it was cut short, with light blonde streaks. It made a frame for her face, which the villagers could now see for perhaps the first time. Her eyes were lightly shaded, and her lips carefully coloured. All in all, she looked as pretty as a picture, and he told her so.
"Thank you, Mr Norris," she said. "I went to that new hairdresser's and beautician's in Winstable. You know I've always done my hair myself or got Mother to do it? But someone mentioned the amazing results he had seen from people who had tried the new place, and I decided, why not. They fixed me up a treat, told me how to keep it neat myself between visits, and gave me some tips on make-up. I'd never used make-up before. Can you imagine? A lot of people have commented on the change. I think I'll have to keep going there."
"I think you should," agreed Peter, and felt a moment's curiosity. "Who was it told you about the new place?"
"That nice Mr Waterston. He came into the shop one day, looking for a special kind of dough blender. We didn't have it in stock, but I was able to order it for him. Did you know he makes his own bread?"
Peter had to admit that he didn't know.
"He's very good. He brought in a loaf for me to try after he got his dough blender. It was delicious. I bought one of those dough blenders myself and he showed me how to use it. My grandmother used to use one. Can you imagine, I'm using something my grandmother used to use. I told her about it and she laughed."
"That was very nice of Mr Waterston," said Peter.
He told Evelyn about Terence's latest escapade with the less attractive ladies of the village and she nodded sagely.
"Those two just needed a catalyst to re-create their lives," she said.
It was not long before they began to see both Elsie and Gillian, each in the company of a proud and somewhat smug cavalier. That Elsie's escort should be Charlie Fletcher was no real surprise. Charlie is the local painter and decorator, and has a good deal of trade with the ironmongery owned by Elsie's father.
It was another matter with Gillian's partner. Tom Fallows owned the village car repair firm, although he would fix any motor you brought to him. In his field he was one of those natural geniuses, a Mozart of electrical and internal combustion engines, who could discuss them with confidence, but in every other way he had been pathologically shy. The idea of him going up to Gillian Cooper, even before her transformation and suggesting that they might enjoy a plateful of Sid's stew together defied the imagination, although there was reason to suspect that he had long harboured a secret admiration for her. Once, when Tom and Peter were discussing a problem with Peter's car, Gillian had walked past and given Peter a shy smile and hello when he greeted her. Tom had clearly had his thoughts elsewhere than on their technical discussion until she was out of sight. But from the start of his being seen with Gillian on his arm, he had gained in self-confidence.
Peter took the matter up with him one day when he had called in to pick up his car from a service. He imagined that he would have to tread very warily if he were not to send him into a paroxysm of shyness.
"Was that Gillian Cooper I saw you with at the Stonemason's the other day," He asked casually, as Tom was preparing the invoice.
"Yes," he said. "I'm seeing her regularly."
"When did this start?" Peter asked, and expected him to clam up.
"Oh, it was a while ago now," he said. "She had just got some new glasses. You remember? Threw away those awful thick frames. She looked as pretty as a picture. And I got thinking - I've always had a soft spot for her, ever since junior school."
"Yeah, well I suppose it was pretty obvious."
"Not obvious," said Peter, "but the signs were there."
"Well anyway," he went on, "I thought to myself that as she was now, as pretty as a picture, every man and his brother would be after her if I wasn't quick. So I just - sort of - barged in and asked if she wanted to have a spot of dinner with me one day, and she said yes. I was that flummoxed. She said yes! So we went out and got talking, and that was that."
"Well, good for you, Tom." Said Peter. "You deserve her after all this time."
Secretly he was surprised as much at the fact that Tom had told him all this without the least sign of shyness. Somehow he had found the self-confidence he had always lacked.
It was not long before word of their engagement spread, heavily assisted by the usual source of village gossip, Mrs Evans.
"And who would have thought it," she concluded. "Shy Tom Fallows of all people. What can they have in common: a librarian and a mechanic."
She managed to put a good deal of scorn into the word 'mechanic', and Peter felt the need to enlighten her.
"Tom is very erudite when it comes to engines and motors, in fact anything mechanical," said Peter. "There's more to being a car mechanic today than being able to hold a spanner. So much of a car is computerised nowadays. Once upon a time I could tune my old banger with a screwdriver and a good ear, but those days are long gone. He's worshiped Gillian since junior school. And he reads a lot."
"How d'you know that?"
"What? That he reads a lot or that he's had a soft spot for Gillian?"
"Well, he has a habit of dropping erudite phrases into the conversation when he's talking about motors - or anything else for that matter, if you can get him on another subject. And as for Gillian, I've seen him watch her all the way down the street when she passes his workshop. He used to look like a dog that's lost a bone when she turned the corner. Come, come, Mrs Evans, you must have noticed!"
Mrs Evans sniffed.
"It's not often I pass Tom's garage. She pronounced it 'garridge' and Peter realised that his defence of Tom had fallen on deaf ears. She had her preconceived ideas on the 'intellectual' librarian and the 'good with his hands' artisan, and their mutual incompatibility.
Evelyn and Peter saw the two of them regularly in the Stonemason's Arms, for it seemed that they, too, had a taste for the food there, and after a while the four of them started to sit together, for Evelyn and Gillian were good friends.
One evening as they were waiting for their dinners together, Gillian took a couple of envelopes out of her handbag and shyly slipped one each to Evelyn and Peter. It was an invitation to their wedding, and Gillian hoped that Evelyn would be one of the bridesmaids, and they wanted Peter to act as one of the ushers, guiding the guests to their seats in the church. Of course they congratulated them heartily, and told them they would be delighted to help.
Peter bumped into Mrs Evans the very next day, and asked if she had heard the news.
"You mean about the Palmer place being empty again?" she asked.
"No, that Tom and Gillian have set the date," he said.
"Oh, yes," she said. "That's old news!"
"Really?" he said, a little miffed. "And how long have you known?"
"Well, if I'm honest, I didn't know till you told me," she said. "But one has been able to speculate. It was only going to be a matter of time."
"I suppose you're right," he said. "But I'm very happy for them nonetheless."
"And when are you going to make an honest woman of Evelyn Pelham, Mr Norris?" she asked bluntly.
"Well, I suppose Gillian's wedding will put a bit of pressure on me," he confessed.
He said goodbye and was just turning away when something she had said struck me.
"Wait a minute, Mrs Evans," he said. "What was it you said about the Palmer place?"
"Empty again," she said. "You hadn't heard?" she added rather more triumphantly than he liked.
He admitted that he had not heard.
"So when did Mr Waterston leave?" he asked.
"Well nobody's seen him for three or four days," she said. "Just up and left."
"Mysterious," he said, and went on his way.
Evelyn and Peter were in the Stonemason's Arms a couple of days later, and Peter asked Sid if he had heard anything. If Mrs Evans has a competitor for the role of village gossip exchange, it has to be Sid, with this difference that you have to ask Sid, whereas Mrs Evans broadcasts it voluntarily.
"So what's the take on Waterston, then, Sid?" he asked.
"Nothing special," he replied. "He told me one time that he'd only rented the place on a temporary basis. He was getting divorced and needed somewhere to stay until he found somewhere permanent. And now he's apparently moved to Spain. Says he prefers the climate there."
"So it's just the ghosts again at the old Palmer place now," said Peter.
He rejoined Evelyn, and just then Gillian and Tom came in. Gillian joined them at their table, and Tom went straight over to the bar to order their drinks and the meal. Peter asked Gillian if she had heard about Waterston.
"Yes," she said. "And I was very disappointed. I wanted to invite him to the wedding."
"Did you know him that well?" he asked.
"No," she said. "But we owed him a lot, although he perhaps doesn't know it."
She told us that he had taken his car to Tom's garage for some fairly major repairs, which had taken a couple of days. Whilst he was working on the car, Tom had noticed a magazine on the passenger seat, open at an article which had attracted his attention.
"And what was the article?" they asked.
"Something about how to overcome your shyness and change your life," she said. "Tom read it and got a few ideas, and put one of them into operation, and it was then he asked me out for the first time."
Evelyn and Peter looked at one another.
"Did Mr Waterston ever find out about Tom reading the article?" Evelyn asked.
"I don't think so," said Gillian. "Tom didn't say anything about having told him when he told me his little secret. But we wanted to reward him, and we thought it would be nice if he could come to the wedding."
Evelyn didn't say anything more about it until Peter was taking her home.
"I wonder..." she said.
"So do I," he replied.
"Could it possibly have been another of Mr Waterston's life-changing good deeds, do you think?"
"I don't know," he said. "Perhaps you'll have to go to Spain and ask him."
"Maybe we can go together," she said shyly.
"Is that a proposal of marriage?" he asked.
"No," she said. "But it could be an answer to a proposal."