The Sofa Club at the End of the World: TWO

It’s now 10:14 p.m. Headmistress Gloria Pettigrew paces the Persian carpet in front of the night windows. A fire is banked up in the drawing room. She’s called Barry Plumb’s number in Dampford, but the phone just rings. There’s no mobile service in North Rompshire.  She’s left the curtains open hoping to see his headlights on the hill. But there’s been no traffic for hours.

She stops pacing and comes to a decision.

Claire and Gloria can wait no longer. They sit at the table. Cook frowns at her collapsed cheese soufflé.

Claire Tweedy is Gloria’s old school chum all the way from Warmsley some forty-five miles distant, so she’s staying a week. She’s keen to ride around the wild country with the dogs.

“Buck up, old girl. He’s probably just gone off,” says Claire.

“But he said he would be here for dinner.”

“Don’t worry, darling, he’s a man. Men just go off.”

“No, they don’t,” says Gloria.

“Nancy Frump is always losing her man. Last week, she took him shopping in Dingle. She left him outside the wool shop, and when she came out, he’d gone.”

“How beastly!”

“It happens all the time. He came back two days later.”

“Where had he been?”

“Oh! It’s no good asking questions like that! Men mumble incoherent nonsense about meeting a fellow and going off to help him put his boat on the river. “

“My brother…” begins Claire

“Which one?” says Gloria

“Eric! He tells me he was helping a fellow launch his rowing boat on the river, and didn’t come back for a month. I’m sure he makes this up how two men get swept out to sea, get shipwrecked, rescued by a French luxury liner, and have to stay two weeks at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc to recover. But it was about a month, he’d been away.

Gloria, dear, Barry Plumb will probably show up. Men usually do.”

“I warned him, but I don’t think he took it seriously,” said Gloria

“Oh! come on now! You don’t believe all that nonsense. That just superstitious balderdash!”

“Yes, of course,” said Gloria

They finish eating and go off to bed. But Gloria Pettigrew’s mind is racing. Where can Barry Plumb be? She thinks of Brandon Manley in his riding jacket to distract herself. Eventually, she sleeps, and dreams.