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The Perfectionist

We’re running a bit late!” he thought,while waiting for his brother to arrive. Harold Jones was irritated.  If there was one thing he despised it was lack of graciousness and good manners.  In these matters, his brother Albert was far more lax, and this was something that Harold could never quite forgive.  As he had become older, tolerance had become almost a necessity as people were so difficult to deal with.  But one of the things about which Harold was particular was punctuality, which had at it’s root the essence of consideration for other people.  And Albert had never come up to the mark in this matter, Harold was pained to admit.  Being fifteen years younger than Harold, Albert was often on the receiving end of criticism from his elder brother.

He glanced at his watch one more time.Ten past ten!  He frowned.  He scowled at his wife Emily, who was looking anxiously down the road.  Ten minutes late and not a sign of Albert and his wife.  Albert had had set the time himself.

“We’ll meet you at Saunders’  at ten o’clock.  Don’t be late! “ he’d said with a smile.

“I am never late,”  Harold had replied, somewhat surprised.

“Oh, I know!  Little joke of  mine!” Albert had replied, cheerily.  “If anyone is likely to be late, it is me!  I always seem to  run about five minutes late no matter what I do!”

“Well, see that it doesn’t happen this time!” Harold had replied gruffly.  “If you are late, I am likely to change my mind about going out!’  They had laughed, Harold, Albert, Emily and Albert’s wife Margaret. Well, nobody was laughing now.

Harold and Emily  had arrived at  Mr. Saunder’s garage at exactly  ten o’clock in the morning.  Harold always liked to arrive exactly on time.  In his youth, he had been particular about arriving early, but as he had acquired age and wisdom, he had started to reach exactly on the dot of the designated time.  Arriving early was the prerogative of the younger ones.  As an elder, he had every right to expect the younger ones to be standing, awaiting his arrival.  Again, this was part of his consideration for others, the hallmark of gentlemanly behaviour.

“It’s a quarter past ten!  What the devil is this?  Is this the way civilized people behave?  One doesn’t expect this from an Englishman.  That does it!  I’m going.  Come, Emily!”  and he started to walk away.  Emily followed, sadly.  She had been so much looking forward to the outing.  She had never sat in a motor car before.  The prospect of a drive into the countryside to enjoy Sunday lunch in a nice hotel was an unheard of treat for her and her husband Harold.  She had been so looking forward to it.  And now, it was back home, for a dull Sunday lunch which would probably consist of simple bread and cheese.  The shops were closed and she had not prepared anything appropriate to eat for a Sunday lunch as they had planned to go out.  Should she mention it?  It might change his mind about returning just yet!  On second thoughts, no.  Let him find out for himself, she thought with a grim smile.

She had no idea why her brother-in-law and his wife should be so late, but she hoped it wasn’t for any unfortunate reason.  In any case, her husband was such a stubborn man that  trying to talk to him was simply a struggle.  Try to pacify him and he would fight with her.  Keep quiet.  Harold left a message with the garage assistant, as Mr. Saunders was not yet present.  What was wrong with people nowadays?  Mr. Saunders should have been present in the garage at the time the customers started arriving, so that he could discuss the state of their cars with them and give them appropriate advice.  Albert had an appointment at exactly this time to meet Mr. Saunders and collect his car which had been left there for a little routine maintenance work.  Were principles so completely lacking nowadays?  There was much talk nowadays of progress in the new twentieth century, but as far as Mr. Harold Jones was concerned, it might as well be back in the dark ages for all the sense people had.

“People today simply don’t have principles!” he reminded Emily many a time, whether she liked it or not.Harold told the garage assistant to tell his brother, Mr.Albert Jones, when he came to collect his motor car, that he, Harold, had changed his mind about the outing, and have a good day!

“Damned business people are all the same!” he snapped at the hapless Emily.  “Money is their driving force!  Values are a lost commodity!”  He was referring to the fact that his brother Albert, was in business, while he, Harold, was a retired civil servant.   They walked home slowly, without eagerness, no spring in their step.  Emily was feeling a sense of helplessness, and a little inner anger.  She hadn’t minded waiting.  Why was Harold so selfish?  Doing what he wanted, never bothering what she wanted?   Things had been particularly difficult for Emily since Harold had retired from the department.

It seemed that he was under her feet all the time, constantly fussing and finding fault with the way she ran the house.  She didn’t get much time to herself these days.  Once home, she busied herself preparing a simple lunch of bread, cheese and pickles while he sat down in an armchair and read his newspaper.  After preparing the food, it was still only half past eleven.  So she sat down in her favourite armchair and took out the letter she had received the day before from Reginald, her beloved son, a civil servant in India.

Reginald was a boy who had never come up to his father’s expectations on any level, but when he had been able to secure a  respectable job in the British administration in India, all had been forgiven and forgotten.  And Reginald, suitably far from home, was about as far away from his tyrannical father as he liked to be, although he missed his beloved mother.

“Dear Mother,” he had written, “I hope this letter finds you and father well as it leaves us.  As you know, Mavis and I are bringing Jim and Charlie home next year to leave them at school.  All the officers here send their children home for education purposes, and we have no intention of doing things differently…”   One of the joys of Emily’s life was the fact that Reginald, or Reggie as his mother called him, was married to a lovely girl, Mavis, who was actually the niece of his uncle Albert’s wife Margaret.

He had two lovely boys, Jim and Charlie, born within a year of each other.  Emily couldn’t believe that the boys were old already old enough to be sent to boarding school in England.  The next part of Reggie’s letter was the most interesting.  He had said, towards the end:

“Mother, Mavis and I would very much like to request you to consider returning to India with us after our visit next year.  Now that the boys will be in England, Mavis will have to stay alone in the bungalow with the only the servants for company whenever I am away on tour.  She genuinely loves you and would very  much like to have your company.  India is not an easy country to live in, but as I hold a very good position, I have a lot of advantages and comforts which makes life here very bearable indeed.  I am sure that the change of scenery would be very good for you, and as you always expressed an interest in traveling abroad when I was young,  I am certain that you would find your stay here interesting and memorable.   I am sure that we could make a suitable arrangement for father.  I am planning to ask uncle Albert if, in view of father’s advancing age and the fact that he has a good sized residence, he wouldn’t mind having father to live with them.  I think that this arrangement might work out satisfactorily…..”

Emily smiled to herself.  Reggie had been away from home too long.  In England nowadays, nobody could just foist their elderly family members on other relatives, no matter how much they thought they could.  But what an opportunity this would have been…….Emily had been a dutiful mother and wife, but deep down in her heart she had always dreamed of seeing the world.  And India – a mystical land of sunshine and beauty and splendour, with its myriad of cultures, languages and traditions – could very much fulfill her need for a little  adventure and a complete change of scenery.

So Harold and Emily sat through a dull lunch and dozed through the afternoon.  At around five o’clock, as Emily was just getting up to make a cup of tea, the sound of a car outside woke them out of a half-sleep.  And who had arrived only Albert and Margaret, mainly to enquire if everything was all right.  They had been worried when they had received the message in the morning, although the tone of the message had given the impression that there was nothing about which to be alarmed.  However,  they had wanted to reassure themselves, so on the way back from their drive and lunch in the countryside, they had dropped in to Harold and Emily’s house to say hello and make sure everything was all right.

Harold received them coldly.  Albert and Margaret enquired why they had changed their mind about the outing.

“It is simple enough!  You were late.  I just cannot bear to wait, as you know!”

“Late!  I don’t understand!”  replied Albert.  “We reached the garage five minutes before ten o’clock so that when you arrived, you wouldn’t have to wait for us. We know how you hate to wait!”

“What nonsense is this?” replied Harold.  “We arrived on time and didn’t leave until a quarter past ten, when you were already extremely late!”  Albert looked at him.

“Have you checked your watch during the last few hours?”  he asked.  Harold took out his watch, a large timepiece kept on a golden chain, a retirement gift from his colleagues at the department – and to his astonishment, discovered that it was running one hour early.  Harold had made a little mistake when he had wound his watch the night before.  Everyone laughed.  Even Emily.  Harold was rather shamefaced.

“First time I’ve ever done anything like that.  Terribly sorry!”  he said, gruffly.

“Well, Harold, don’t mention it.  Let’s make the arrangement again for the same time next week, and this time, we will come to the house and collect  both of you!” said Albert, laughing.  “I know Emily was looking forward to the outing, and I would not like her to miss it.”

“Oh yes!  Quite right!” added Margaret, smiling.  Emily felt such happiness, not to mention a little shiver of excitement!  She would still get her wish and have her outing.  Today’s events had shown her that anything could happen.  And, you never know, perhaps this time next year, she really might be on her way to India!

This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 12/10/2009

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