From what he and Tommy could deduce from their unlawful position on the stairs, spirits had been high and tea had been plentiful. The warm, optimistic hum of voices had wound down the passageway and up the stairs to where they had sat. Although some of what had been said had been indiscernible, the more animated conversation had been able to be made out.
Granny had started official proceedings by going through their agenda for the following evening’s meeting at the Burton Arms. Three items had been listed being the update in regards to the electrification of the village, the petition for funding to mend a hole in the church roof and the issue of intrusive persons within the village. To begin with, Granny asked for suggestions from the others. Her tone had been less exuberant and more forthright and purposeful. Even then, on the stairs, he had been able to clearly visualise her face in his mind with her notebook open before her and her reading glasses, complete with their looping chain dangling loosely under her ears and around the back of her greying hair, resting decidedly on the end of her nose as she looked over the top of them at her delegates and back to her page in turns.
‘Pro’te’tin’ ar’selves from them coomp’nies!’ Mr Jackson had weighed in first. There was a murmur of agreement and a pause as Granny itemised the additional issue on her list.
‘I know you’ll come to this Doris but we do need to continue campaigning for this electricity supply to be provided for the village. We may have a very small population but it is becoming utterly ludicrous now.’ The voice of Mrs Lawton had still made him cringe and he could see her concerned brows bowing to one another and her neatly held bun.
‘Well, Sally, I’ve news for the lot o’ yers on that front. Good news. What’s next?’
‘Doris, as some of us already know,’ the scratchy voice of Mrs Cartwright began, ‘and Ah certainly don’t mean to cause no stir—not least as mar children are many years beyond schooling—but Ah’ve repeatedly had local folks express their concerns about this new, young chap come up from London; this Mr Parker. Them sayin’ e’s leadin’ the children inta al’ sorts of strange and unusual thinking that inna right for the likes of us here.’ At this, his heart had leapt into his throat. Whatever could she mean? It was true, he had thought back then as he and Tommy had carefully pried, that Mr Parker was significantly different in the way he had taught but what was it that Mrs Cartwright wanted? He had listened on intently.
‘Well…’ Granny had sighed. Several people had started speaking at once and then all dropped to silence. Mrs Locksley, who had happened to be the younger sister of Mrs Jackson, began,
‘It’s a right mess with ‘im teaching mar Johnny. The boy’s comin’ home with the stranges’ ideas.’
‘He does seem different,’ Granny begun, ‘What do you think Sally? You’re colleagues after all.’ Mrs Lawton had responded swiftly,
‘Which is precisely why I’m hesitant to express any judgement on the man.’ She had paused, ‘still, in complete confidence,’ she had now spoken slowly in lowered tones, ‘he is certainly somewhat unconventional in the methods he adopts and..’ she had cleared her throat, ‘certainly manages the students in a more… progressive way than I’ve ever seen in my life!’ She had paused then, recomposing herself, before continuing, ‘I don’t know; I can’t say. In truth, I think the man isn’t to be trusted but I can’t say that outside of these four walls and you all know that.’ A decisive silence had hung in the air for what had seemed and incredibly long time.
‘Well…,’ Granny’s voice had broken through with a sad pragmatism as though she had sensed the inevitable course of events that were to take place from that point forward, ‘shall I put it on the agenda?’
‘Perhaps,’ Mrs Lawton had started again, her voice now swift like a mouse scampering in the shadow of a wolf, ‘perhaps we only speak of it if…’ she had paused, ‘if he's not present. What do you all think?’
The concurrence had been resounding. In the hall, the steady rhythm of the grandfather clock had been all that had been left for him in that moment as he detached from what he would hear and the voices faded to a subversive and untrustworthy babble like a fast flowing brook pushing at boulders it wished to move and rearrange to shape its course. These adults, he now realised, who had been as much a fixture of village life as he himself, as the apple orchards, the hedgerows, the sprawling fields and even the river, had had a greater say, an increased portion of power, in contrast with the younger members and, most certainly, than any newcomer.