“We have a responsibility to make sure this family are safe,” Ruby said, vehemently.
Her cheeks were flushed and the colour was spreading to her chest. To Monty she looked like a figure-head, full- bossomed and wild-haired in her determination to see justice done and it was all he could do to prevent himself from applauding.
Edgar Branwhite on the other hand was of a different mind.
“There are two small children and a mother at the end of her tether in that chalet,” Ruby continued, “It’s not fit for winter…”
As she paused to catch her breath, Edgar Branwhite saw his chance, “My point exactly. It’s a summer-let only. My clients have been quite clear on that point and furthermore, no one gave them permission to be there. They are squatting and, as agent for the property, I will be taking steps towards their eviction.”
Ruby drew herself up to her full height and faced him. The whole pub had become silent.
“But they have nowhere to go. What do you think is going to happen to them?”
Edgar Branwhite shook his head, “I have no idea. It is not my concern. If you want to do something to help, call social services. That’s what they are there for and now if you don’t mind, I have had enough bleeding heart liberal nonsense for one night and I would like to be left alone to enjoy my pint in peace.”
“How can you be so heartless…..?”
Branwhite raised a hand, but it was to Monty that he spoke next,
“Well, Monty Peir, if this is your woman, I advise you have her tied and muzzled before she bites someone.”
There was a collective intake of breath from the company, and a small nervous laugh from Emma Evans who had just called in to collect her cleaning pay. Little more than a second passed; a heartbeat of time in which the whole pub seemed to lean forward in anticipation and the insult registered with Monty.
His fury ignited. He made a step towards the offender, only for the landlord’s wife to step briskly between them. Shaking her head, she sharply admonished Branwhite and at the same time ushered Ruby, Monty, The Major and his wife towards the door.
It took a moment to register that they were on the pavement and the door firmly closed against them.
A special meeting
By the time a special meeting of the Residents Association had been convened, the altercation had taken on an epic tone.
“I heard he called Ruby a bitch,” Penelope squeaked.
“After she slapped him,” Araminta Clarke added, breathlessly.
Araminta didn’t come to many meetings. She lived in a ‘proper’ house a mile up the road but tonight, she hoped, was going to the most exciting meeting since 1998, when Phil’ the Nails had fallen through a gap in the fence on his way home from the pub. He had been discovered the next morning asleep on the beach by dog walkers. Miraculously unharmed, speculation as to facts of the event were discussed for weeks and the palaver of locating and fixing the broken bit of fence had gone on for months.
Angharard shook her head briskly, “No, no, no – Monty punched him on the nose.”
Penelope jumped in with relish, “The police were called. Darren from the community had to break it up.”
A loud cough from the Major, followed by a call to order quieted the excited company.
What followed lacked the drama hoped for by those assembled. Not even tea and best quality chocolate biscuits could ease the tedium of an agenda that dealt with the mundanity of whose turn it was to ensure the cliff sign was facing in the correct direction. A recurring problem due not just to strong winds but also to 7 year old Dickon from no.74 whose Aspergers and ADHD presented challenges to the whole community.
Eventually, after item 2 on the agenda – and the dull droning of Matthew Matthews, concerning his perceived right of way over a local farmer’s land, item 3 was announced; the issue of the squatters.
“Moving on,” the major pushed his glasses up his large nose and inspected the company. A hush descended. “Ruby, I believe you have something to say on this matter?”
All eyes turned upon her as she stood. Monty felt his heart swell with pride. He inspected the curve of her ample cheek, flushed pink with the intensity of her feeling. The flower of her lips moved and the words rang out like a song he had waited his whole life to hear. Every so often he noted her tongue would appear and delicately lick her lower lip. The lip she nibbled on as though to hide her anxiety. Her shoulders were high and her back was ramrod straight. Her hands flew about her like birds.
Monty was just considering how solidly her feet seemed to be planted upon the rug when he realised that the room was in silence and all eyes were upon him.
“ That’s right, isn’t it Monty?” Ruby was asking him and by the flush that ran across her chest, above her frilly blouse, he realised, not for the first time.
He felt his own cheeks flush but he nodded and then, because he realised more emphasis was now needed to his agreement, added, “ Yes, yes of course. Ruby is absolutely right.”
A small spark flew from her eye and buried itself in his heart . Bowing his head so as not to experience her disapproval he became consumed by the demon of unworthiness who spent the rest of the meeting telling him what a twat he was.
The Major was the last to leave but once the door was closed Ruby began to collect the cups and plates and convey them to the kitchen. She didn’t seem happy. Monty, wrapped in misery, followed her into their little kitchen and took up the cloth for drying.
“ I don’t know what we are going to do,” Ruby said, finally.
“I am really sorry.”
“For not listening. For not hearing what you said. For letting you down.”
Ruby laughed, “You are a silly, Monty.”
“I know I should have been listening but I couldn’t help… well, admiring you… you looked so purposeful… so powerful… I… I just couldn’t concentrate. I am so so sorry.”
“You were overwhelmed by my magnificence?”
Monty nodded. It was only then that he looked into her eyes and saw the humour there.
Stepping forward she took his face between her hot soapy hands.
“Monty Pier, No man has ever been lost for words because of me before. When you look at me I feel as though no one has ever really seen me before. You see me… the best bits of me… the bits I don’t always see in myself. I don’t know why I am so lucky but I know I am. You are the best thing to have happened to me, ever. You have nothing to be sorry for.” She paused and, letting him go, added, “There is just one thing…”
“You have just agreed to make sure that little family get housed properly. You do know that, now don’t you?”
“Whatever it takes Monty. You will be with me? Because I can tell you now, the Residents Association were less than a little luke warm about my intentions.”
Monty wiped the soapsuds from his chin, “Okay, I agree. Whatever it takes. I have just one condition.”
Ruby stepped closer, “Would it be that I reward you like this?” she asked, settling her lips tenderly upon his and kissing him slowly.
When Monty was released he drew her close again. “That would be exactly what I want. How lucky that you know me so well.” He said into her hair, and they both laughed.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ruby stepped into Transition Café with a box of surplus onions from Monty’s prolific garden and was rewarded with a cup of beetroot tea. Settling into the corner she was admiring the latest art work from the local craft shop when a man in his fifties with abundant salt and pepper hair, approached her table.
“ Are you Ruby Cellars?” he asked, in a soft local accent that made Ruby sound like the jewel it was.
“My name is Huw. Huw Thomas. May I sit down?”
He didn’t wait for her agreement but settled himself opposite her, “You don’t know me, right, but I am the nephew of the owner of Sea Mist.”
Ruby was about to speak but he raised a hand.
“Someone told me you were looking for Gwendolin. About the chalet?”
Ruby began to tell him about the little family. She had got to know Dawn quite well in the week following their first meeting. She knew enough to know that Dawn was fleeing a very unsavoury marriage and was terrified of being found, but the young woman’s fear made her difficult to get close to.
She and Monty had trawled through the charity shops for clothes and bedding for her and the children to make their lives more comfortable but Dawn would not agree to the authorities being alerted to her plight. She was terrified of losing her children. So far Ruby had agreed to honour her promise to tell no one.
Now she revealed only the most important details to Huw and begged him for his aunt’s address.
The man listened patiently and then shook his head, “It won’t do you no good missus. My aunt is 97 and living in a care home. She doesn’t even remember me, so she wouldn’t be able to make any agreement with you.”
Ruby’s heart sank. She thought of the anguish in Dawn Hardcastle’s face when she had begged her not to tell the authorities where she was, of the dread of her partner tracking them down, of the retribution she feared if he did. She thought of the burn marks on Dawn’s tummy which she had shamefacedly revealed to Ruby to add weight to her story.
She thought of the children’s shiny, questioning eyes, of the things those little eyes had already witnessed. She thought of them possibly being taken from their own mother and she felt all hope slip away. That was it then. They had no other choice.
The family had nowhere to go and it was going to be down to her, the only friend Dawn had in the world just now, to betray her. What else could she do?
The authorities would have to be involved.
What’s to become of The Residents Association Pembrokeshire refugees?