I was experimenting with atypical chord progressions on the piano when I heard the living room door open. I glanced to look and my nephew Figwort was peeking at me.
"Hi Figgy," I said, "What's the script?"
"Hello Uncle Jack," he said, a slight frown clearing as he realised my meaning. "Things are good. Aunt Cessie said it would be okay to come through. Is it okay?"
"'Course it is. Family's always welcome. Come on in."
He beamed and almost ran to my side, eyes drawn to my paws on the piano keyboard. "What'ya doing?"
"Not much. Just twiddling. Sometimes an idea for a tune pops up. Is your mum with your auntie in the kitchen?"
He looked up. "No. She's at a meeting with the other teachers at the council offices. Dad's working so my mum asked Aunt Cessie to look after us. Aster is playing with Beverley and Biddie."
Rowan had spent quite a while as a house husband once Angelica joined the school's teaching staff, but once it was clear Aster and Figwort had settled in the village (and Figgy's bonding with his extended family helped) my brother-in-law started to seek employment. That was part of the reason we hadn't seen quite as much of him these past few months. The problem was, he couldn't decide what job he fancied. He refused point-blank to return to his career from over ten years ago. An architect, in case you're wondering. He'd helped design the houses on Cherry Blossom Avenue. No. Instead he was doing odd jobs here and there.
"Oh, he's helping out the Buttercups at Blackberry Orchards."
"Mm. There's a lot of work in the lactolia fields, so the Buttercups are all working there. Dad offered to help by doing the farm shop for Miss Dotty."
"Again? Has Dotty Buttercup forgiven him?"
Figwort giggled. "Mum said that the Buttercups said there was nothing to forgive. They thought it was funny."
"Very generous." I smiled, enjoying my nephew's happy face. He had changed markedly since our chat some nine or ten months ago... was it really that long? ...and Mellowdene had weaved its magic.
"I don't have to, if there's something else you'd like to do."
"No, that's okay, Uncle. I don't mind listening."
I nodded and resumed playing. As I began, I noticed that the rhythm of my playing had become jauntier. Maybe thoughts of Burdock Rowan Ivory and the farm shop were an influence...
o 0 O 0 o
On their ride to the drop-off area Rowan asked Penleigh Buttercup about the placement of the farm shop.
"Wouldn't you do better business nearer the village? You seem a bit out-of-the-way here."
Penleigh shook his head. "You're forgetting we already supply the village store like the Timbertops do. Since people living in the northwest of the county can get their fruit and veg directly from us at Blackberry Orchards, we've chosen the best place for those living furthest from those two locations. Common sense, really."
"So it is. I didn't think."
"And our customers know when we're going to be there. It's good of you to fill in, Rowan. It needs all of us to plant another lactolia field and to set up the new collection chutes for harvesting. Once I've dropped you off, I'll have to get back."
"So long as you don't forget to pick me up again later!" Rowan smiled.
"And there was I, thinking you were a seasoned traveller." Penleigh responded, enjoying the banter.
"Not carrying a veg stand, old chap."
o 0 O 0 o
True to Penleigh's comment, Rowan wasn't short of customers. The position near to the main route leading northeast ensured that passing trade supplemented the regular shoppers.
He chatted with Boswell and Carolinda Cornflower, who had walked from their cabin to stock up on oranges. Rowan tried not to stare at Carolinda because she dressed identically to his sister. A while ago, they had visited the Butterglove households and apparently she'd been impressed by Cecile's lifestyle, including her manner of dress. Of course, she had no need to do this - she was perfectly lovely in her own way - but as Boswell said, "It makes her happy and she feels more confident."
He caught sight of Willie and Wally Waters who had been doing some maintenance on the Cornflowers' cabins, and they waved as they passed by.
Harley and Penny Farthing came along to the farm shop accompanied by all of their children. They only attended school part time, Penny fulfilling the remainder of their educational needs at home.
Rowan didn't understand some of the more esoteric canine traditions that a few dog families maintained, and undoubtedly he is not alone in his ignorance.
Buster Slydale wasn't in school either. He whizzed past three or four times riding his father's old cycle and Rowan idly wondered if Slick knew his pride and joy had been borrowed. Or indeed, whether there was a reason for Buster's scholastic absence.
All in all, the farm shop experience was proving enjoyable. Rowan was seeing a few less familiar faces, and this brought back memories of his years on the road. He wouldn't mind doing this farm shop lark again, with one difference. He'd bring some snacks with him. Whilst he could buy some fruit or veg, he wanted something sweeter to eat.
In one of those weird coincidences, he saw something that would fulfil his desire. In the distance he saw Dolly Dale wheeling along on her candy floss cycle.
Rowan looked at the farm shop stand. He'd sold most of the stock. Penleigh would be back in under an hour. He was wearing a shoulder bag that held the takings. Could he risk leaving the stand whilst he ran after Dolly to buy a candy floss? Of course he could.
Off he went.
It took longer than he had thought to catch up with Dolly Dale. She didn't become aware of him for a few minutes, but Rowan was persistent. He wasn't going to give up on this tasty treat. Upon seeing the determined rabbit, she stopped and prepared to serve him.
"There you are, Rowan," she said. "You can have a large floss for your trouble."
He'd eaten the sugary treat whilst chatting to her, and their enjoyable conversation took some time. Eventually he thought he had better bring the chat to a halt, deciding that he would bring another candy floss back with him to the farm shop stand.
When he returned, he wished that he hadn't left his post. There were a few boxes containing the remaining provisions, but as for the stand itself, there was no sign. Somebody had taken it.
o 0 O 0 o
Penleigh Buttercup was an easy-going chap. He thought there'd be a simple explanation - it was just that he didn't know what it might be just yet. Still, he had the sense to know some help might be a good idea. And he had rolled past the ideal help a few minutes earlier. Two members of the Mellowdene Sheriff's Department.
Woodstock Fisher and his partner Billy Webster were returning from a routine job when Rowan and Penleigh caught up with them to report the incident.
Penleigh was correct in identifying these constables as the ideal help. Billy Webster's particular skill was aerial surveillance. If anyone could spot a misplaced fruit and veg stand, it was Billy.
Cloak removed, Billy shook his wings. "I'll go and scan the area," he said, then he ran along on his short little legs before rising into the air.
o 0 O 0 o
Billy was successful. He had located the missing item within fifteen minutes. Penleigh congratulated him on his efficiency.
It was resting atop the roof of Rowan's own house.
"I've no idea how it got up there," said Billy. "A ladder, ropes and pulleys, maybe. Have you any thoughts who might be responsible?"
"Not really," said Rowan. That may have been true at the time, but he confided his suspicions later to Cecile.
o 0 O 0 o
I became conscious of Figwort quietly singing whilst I played the piano. Doing quite well too, considering I was improvising.
Glancing at him, I wondered if he knew of some of the antics his father had performed in his childhood.
In particular, the time when he managed to position Slick Slydale's bike on the roof of his family home.*
Although there was no proof, maybe Buster Slydale thought it was time for payback on his father's behalf. And yet, he surely couldn't have managed it alone. Unlike a bike, a veg stand has no wheels to aid movement. A mystery.
Although I have a theory...
*See A Work of Artifice (Part 3)
o 0 O 0 o