Home > Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(8)

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(8)
Jenny Colgan

Polly smiled. ‘Well when you put it like that…’

‘And you had a contract, right?’

‘No,’ scowled Polly. Then her face softened. ‘Also, this is making me think about stupid, selfish stuff. Rather than thinking about Mrs Manse.’

‘Yes, and all the happy times you spent together.’

‘An old woman who had a very sad life is dead,’ said Polly, still staring out of the window. ‘That is really awful.’

Huckle nodded, then got up and came over to the window. He put his arms around her waist and held her to him and they both gazed out at the moon. He kissed her gently on the neck.

‘I know,’ he said. ‘I know. It is sad.’

Neil waddled up crossly and stood between their legs in case they’d forgotten him.

‘It is sad,’ Huckle said again. ‘And it would be even sadder if her sister messed with what you’ve done here. But I’m sure she won’t. She’ll realise what a great job you’re doing and let you carry on. I’m sure she will.’

Polly rested her head back on his shoulder and followed the beam of the light above them as it glimmered over and across the waves. She wasn’t sure at all.

Polly threw herself into organising the funeral, as much as she was able. Janet was not inclined to be helpful: when Polly asked for a list of Gillian’s friends, she merely sniffed and made an unpleasant noise and said Polly would know that better than her, so Polly just told everyone in the village who came in and hoped for the best. She also baked up a storm. Mrs Manse would have liked that, probably.

There was a little graveyard up behind the old church, still consecrated ground, and they received the complicated permissions to bury Gillian there, as she had been born on the island and lived her whole life there. Amazing, really, Polly reflected: to stay within a square mile, to consider travelling to Devon a great adventure. She asked the fishermen if they ever remembered Gillian taking a holiday or going overseas, and they all looked at her strangely. Not a lot of people on Mount Polbearne took holidays.

The following Monday morning was grey and dreary, proper funeral weather.

It was not, Polly thought regretfully, the kind of send-off she would like for herself; nor the magnificent party Reuben had thrown last year for Tarnie’s funeral. It was a small service, in the village meeting hall, presided over by the female vicar from the mainland, of whom Mrs Manse had loudly and publicly disapproved, and the eulogy was short and impersonal.

On the plus side, it was well attended. Everyone from the village was there, from the eldest to a row of squalling babies – there’d been a mini baby boom earlier in the year – who had never even got to be scowled at by Mrs Manse for not having the right change for a bath bun.

All the fishermen, Polly noticed, lined up manfully to pay their respects to someone who, despite her demeanour, had been one of their own.

Muriel, Polly’s friend who ran the little supermarket, shut the shop for an hour and joined them.

‘I’ve never before,’ she whispered to Polly, ‘been to the funeral of someone who only ever shouted at me.’

‘She did shout a lot,’ said Polly. ‘But she was all right really. Well. She was just very, very sad. Which makes this sad.’

She had asked everyone if they wanted to say a few words, and nobody had done particularly – they had all shuffled and looked at the floor. It had really made her miss Tarnie; he would have been perfect for the job, would have done it properly and respectfully, without nerves or fuss. But unfortunately it looked like she was the only person left, after Janet declined to speak about her own sister.

After the ceremonial bit was over, Polly got up and stood at the pulpit, feeling incredibly shaky and nervous. She looked out over the entire town’s population, telling herself crossly that it was just everyone she saw every day, people she knew… Actually, that made it worse. She coughed, and tried to stop her hands from shaking as she unfolded her piece of paper.

‘Gillian Manse was a daughter of Mount Polbearne,’ she started, her voice sounding incredibly quiet in the room. Huckle, standing at the back so that his big head didn’t get in anybody’s way, gave her a massive thumbs-up, which gave her the courage to go on.

‘Um,’ she said, feeling slightly braver. ‘She devoted her life to this town, to feeding it, and to her family…’

Polly spoke about the hundred thousand loaves of bread Mrs Manse must have baked in her lifetime, and about her devotion to her son Jimmy – and when Polly mentioned him, and some of his scampish ways she’d heard about from the fishermen who’d known him as a young boy, there were smiles of recognition in the congregation – as well as mentioning her late husband Alf, who had been well liked in the town. She even risked a joke about Mrs Manse’s fierce reputation, pointing out that it was all in defence of the town where she lived. When she stepped down, delighted to have finished, there was a small round of applause. But of course what meant the most was Huckle holding her close when she joined him and squeezing her hand.

Afterwards, Polly had arranged for Jayden and Flora to appear with fresh sandwiches, little cheese curls, vol au vents and miniature flans, light as air. There was tea and coffee in the urns normally used by the Women’s Institute, and at the last minute Andy, who ran the Red Lion pub and the chip shop, had sidled up sheepishly – he was known as being a tight operator – and said that Mrs Manse had been good to him when he was a lad when she’d caught him stealing a hot cross bun, and could he donate two crates of beer, which perked the fishermen right up. So it wasn’t as grim as Polly had feared it would be.

Mrs Manse’s family were huddled to one side, looking at the townspeople suspiciously. Some of the older ones remembered Janet, who’d left the island when she got married, a very long time ago. She was looking large and stolid in a long black dress that gave her a slightly Victorian air, her hair, unusually long for a woman her age, piled on top of her head.

Her two sons were also there. Polly was surprised. Gillian had never mentioned them, not once. Had it really been so hard for her, Polly wondered sadly, after she had lost her own son, that she could never have her sister’s boys to stay, never pour some of that thwarted love into her nephews? People were so strange sometimes.

They were large, pasty men, soft around the middle, well upholstered, although apart from that they were not very alike. One was wearing a smart suit and was balding; the other had pale messy hair worn long or in dire need of a trim, and bad skin. He looked sullen.

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