It was breakfast time at Utopia Ltd. Dame Hilda Bracket was pouring out the tea, chattering happily as was her usual wont. Doctor Evadne Hinge sat silently, a long-suffering expression on her face. She accepted her cup of tea from Hilda, who sat down opposite with her own cup. The ladies looked down at their tea, swapped teacups and drank.
“You’re very quiet this morning, dear,” said Hilda. “I hope you’re not sickening with something. Would you like some prunes? They’ll get you going nicely.”
Evadne looked displeased. “No, thank you, Hilda, I do not need any prunes. You know very well that I’m not a morning person, and besides, even if I wanted to talk I wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgeways.”
“Well, if you’re not interested in what I have to say, I shall remain silent,” said Hilda, offended. She turned her head away from Evadne and sat unspeaking until Evadne apologised and let her have the last piece of toast.
“We have to do the shopping - it’s just as well you didn’t want any prunes because we’re out of them.” Hilda started singing ‘Who Will Buy?’ from ‘Oliver’.
Evadne, who was feeling brighter after her second cup of tea, joined in on the piano.
“Ah, Music: the food of love!” said Hilda when the song was finished.
“But what we need right now is the food of shopping.”
They both laughed.
Hilda headed for the stairs. “I’ll just change into something more fitting for shopping.”
“I don’t know why you can’t wear the dress you’re wearing now, Hilda. It’s perfectly suitable. I’m certainly not going to change mine.”
“Well, there wouldn’t be any point for you, dear, would there?”
Evadne gave her a suspicious look.
Once she had changed, Dame Hilda, resplendent now in a blue floral frock, with pearls and a little green hat trimmed with feathers, sallied forth in the Rolls, waving regally to everyone she passed on her way. Dr Hinge, attired in her more practical skirt, blouse and cardigan, walked across the lawn to her shed. Before she unlocked the door she looked furtively around, and as soon as she got into the shed she carefully opened one of the curtains that were at all the windows a little way, checking to be sure she was unobserved. A moment later she came out, wheeling her tricycle and set off toward the village.
On the way home Evadne left a trail of vegetables and fruit behind her as they fell from the basket on wheels that was attached to the rear of her tricycle. Oblivious, she carried the remaining contents of the basket into the kitchen, putting them onto the table with the meat that Hilda had brought home. They put the shopping away, telling each other the village gossip they’d picked up while they were out.
“I bumped into the Vicar on my way out of Ptolman’s - such a nice cut of meat he had today,” said Hilda.
“Who, the Vicar?
“No, Tewkesbury! Anyway the Vicar told me there’s a problem with Big Tom - apparently he’s got a bit of a crack and we should handle him with care.”
“I don’t think I care to handle him at all, thank you.”
“You won’t have to, dear. I always ring that bell.”
As they finished putting their purchases away, Hilda looked puzzled.
“Where’s the rest of the shopping, Evadne?” she asked.
“It should be here any second…”
The doorbell rang.
“…now,” finished Evadne, going to open the door.
A small boy stood there, arms piled high with the groceries that she had shed on her way home.
“Thank you, Timmy, bring them into the kitchen as usual, please.”
The boy made his way there, Evadne following behind him, picking up groceries as he dropped them.
Hilda greeted him. “Hello, Timmy! How are you today, dear?”
Hilda and Evadne took the groceries from him, then Hilda gave him sixpence. “And here’s some of my home-made toffee.”
“Thank you, Dame Hilda! Bye Dr Hinge - see you next week,” Timmy said as he left.
“Do you think it was wise to give him that toffee, Hilda? Evadne asked. “Remember what happened to Peggy. And I’m not sure that the HP Sauce you accidentally put in instead of the treacle will improve the flavour.”
Hilda looked guilty for a moment, then brightened and said, “That’s all right dear, Timmy doesn’t have false teeth!”
“He may need them after he tries to eat that toffee.”
Meanwhile outside Timmy was doing a roaring trade selling the toffee to a queue of boys who intended to repurpose it. “Let’s see if that old bat of a librarian can still say ‘Shhhh’ with her teeth stuck together,” said one. Some choir members wanted to stick Rev Smollett’s teeth together before he got to the sermon, though there was some debate about how to get him to eat toffee during a service. Timmy vetoed the plan of one boy to stick toffee into Doctor Hinge’s organ - he was loyal to his two benefactors and would never allow them to be targets.
Indoors, Hilda was looking a bit embarrassed. “There’s something I need to tell you, Evadne,” she said.
“Should I sit down?” Evadne asked.
“No, it’s not that bad. When I was in Ptolman’s, I saw old Mr Ptolman, Tewkesbury’s father.”
“Just flashing past as usual?”
“No, he actually stopped flashing and spoke to me.”
“What did he say?”
“He was telling me about Esmeralda.”
“Isn’t he a bit old for that sort of thing?”
“Well, he would be, but Esmeralda is a goat, you see.”
“Good heavens, that’s even worse!”
“No, not like that! He was visiting a goat sanctuary for some reason that isn’t quite clear, and he met Esmeralda and fell in love - quite platonically, you understand - with Esmeralda and agreed to sponsor her board and lodgings. ”
“And why do you particularly wish to tell me this?
“The problem is, he hasn’t got the money, so, erm…”
“So you’ve volunteered to raise it.”
“You’ve volunteered us both to raise it. You do realise you owe me a big favour for this?”
“What do you want?”
“I’ll let you know when I’ve decided.”
“Let’s take some time to think about it,” Evadne suggested. “Why don’t we do some gardening for half an hour then meet back here and pool our ideas.”
Evadne went over to the shed again, once more looking furtively around. Hilda watched her, vowing as she had many a time that one day she would find out what Evadne’s great secret was. Then she went off to tend to her prized rose bushes.
Meanwhile Evadne came roaring out of the shed on her motor mower and started trimming the lawn. The mower as usual would only go backwards; for all her tinkering she had never got it to go forwards apart from the one time when it went round in a circle. Hilda had refused to believe Evadne’s excuse that she was intentionally making crop circles on the lawn.
When they met up again, Evadne spoke first. “We should have a musical evening,” she suggested.
“But we always have musical evenings! We should do something different - we’ve never done fund-raising for a goat before.”
“Very well then - something musical that a goat will enjoy.”
“I wonder if Esmeralda likes music… I know - I’m going to telephone Teddy - he’ll know about goats in his capacity of Foot-In-Mouth Inspector.”
“No, Hilda, he’s Foot-AND-Mouth Inspector - the cattle disease, you know.”
“Oh, silly me.” Hilda picked up the phone and dialed. “Oh, hello, is that the Town Hall? Oh good! This is Dame Hilda Bracket speaking. Put me through to the Town Clerk’s office, please.” There was a brief pause. “Hello, Teddy dear, it’s Hilda. How are you?”
She listened. “Oh, that’s good. Yes, you’re doing the right thing, keeping it out of the damp! And how’s Peggy? Has she been able to get her teeth removed from the toffee yet? … I’m so glad. Will I be seeing her for her singing lesson soon? … No - SINGING, Teddy! … Oh, the Highland Games - that sounds interesting! … Tossing the what? Oh, the caber! How far did it go? … Oh no, she didn’t!… She couldn’t! … She did. Oh dear. I think you’re supposed to let go of it after you toss it. Well, give her our best and tell her we hope she’s better soon. What’s that? Why did I call? Hmm, why DID I call? I’ve quite forgotten!”
“Goat, Hilda!” Evadne said.
“I beg your pardon… oh yes, of course, the goat! Teddy, I’m calling about an old goat … No Teddy, not you - I mean Mr Ptolman’s Esmeralda … No, he hasn’t married again! Esmeralda is a goat - you know, the kind that goes ‘baaaaaa’… Well of course she doesn’t wear any clothes, she’s a GOAT!… Yes, that’s right, Mr Ptolman has adopted a goat called Esmeralda! No, she isn’t living with him, she’s in a goat sanctuary… no, SANCTUARY, and he needs to raise funds for her board and lodging,” Hilda covered the speaker and said, “Silly old goat!”
“So Teddy, we need your advice about what we can do to raise the money. We thought we should do something musical, of course… MUSICAL, Teddy, but we need something different… oh, that’s a wonderful idea! Evadne, Teddy says that we should do a program of animal songs! Thank you, Teddy, we knew you’d think of something! Bye-bye now, and love to Peggy!”
Hilda hung up and turned to Evadne. “Well now, what can we sing, I wonder? Perhaps some of my singing pupils might join us - Tewkesbury of course; he has by far the best voice, and we are doing it for his father. The Vicar and his wife - perhaps there’s a song about Noah’s Ark, nice and biblical for them. Then there’s Teddy.”
“Provided we can make him hear which song we want him to sing,” put in Evadne.
“Peggy might be able to join us now she’s got her jaw unstuck from the toffee. Maybe she could sing something Scottish. She’d better leave the caber at home, though.”
Evadne played a few bars of ’Scotland the Brave’, then said, “I imagine the toffee made her singing lessons a bit difficult.”
“Yes, but she hummed very nicely. But oh, that wretched librarian!”
“I told you that was a mistake, Hilda.”
“How could I be expected to teach someone who says ‘Shhh!’ every time I open my mouth?”
“I had the same problem with her French lessons.”
“Why? Don’t you know the French for ‘Shhh!’”
“Now, what can we sing?
The ladies thought about it for a moment, then inspiration stuck them both and they exclaimed in unison, “The Lonely Goatherd!”
“Perhaps I should wear a costume,” Hilda said.
“You need a dirndl.”
“I need no such thing! My dress fits perfectly without need of anything artificial!”
“No, I said a dirndl, not a girdle. It’s a dress - a traditional costume worn in Austria.”
“Oh, I see! I wonder where my costume for ‘The Sound Of Music’ has got to. It must be in the attic. Let’s go and look for it.”
After digging through several trunks, Hilda finally found the costume and held it against herself. “I think it might need a little alteration.”
“Quite a lot of alteration, actually.”
“It must have shrunk the last time it was washed.”
“Either that or something else has expanded.”
Hilda gave Evadne an old-fashioned look. “Well, I think it’s nearly time for bed,” she said. “All this fiddling about with the trunks has made me quite tired. Let’s get ready and then I’ll make our cocoa.”
The two ladies went to their bedrooms to change, then came down to the sitting room wearing their dressing gowns over their nightwear. Hilda went into the kitchen, singing ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’. Evadne sat down at the piano and started to accompany her. On the last note of the song, Hilda appeared with the cocoa. The ladies sat down on the sofa, looked down at their cocoa, swapped cups and drank.