Short Story - Children's
Old Mrs Bea was a knitter. She could knit just about anything. Jumpers and socks and mittens and gloves and scarves and caps and jackets and vests. All sorts of things.
No sooner had old Mr Bea worn through the elbows of one jumper than Mrs Bea knitted him a new one. Now he had a jumper in every colour, and one for each day of the week.
Fortunately, Mr Bea was a farmer. So he kept lots of sheep, which meant there was lots and lots of wool, for Mrs Bea to knit.
But the day came when there was no more room in Mr Bea's wardrobe for any more knitted jackets, or coats, and his chest of drawers couldn't hold any more socks or jumpers, either.
"Enough is enough, Mrs Bea," he said. "I have clothes to last me a lifetime. What's left of it."
Old Mrs Bea looked thoughtful. It was no use her knitting herself any more jumpers or skirts or dresses, for herself, because her wardrobe and drawers were full, too.
"But I can't stop knitting," she said. "I have to keep busy."
So she looked about her. "Ours is a nice cosy little farmhouse. But it is looking a bit shabby. It needs smartening up."
Which was the excuse for her to take out her needles and a big pile of wool and start knitting some new curtains. And once she'd knitted curtains, she decided to knit a new bedspread for herself and Mr Bea and one for the guest room as well. Then she started on new couch covers and chair covers and cushions to go with them and she finished up knitting lampshades to match.
When Mr Bea came in from the farm that night he was amazed, "Well now, Mrs Bea. You have been busy. You've knitted the house up a treat."
Mrs Bea beamed. "I was thinking," she said, "it would be nice to ask the neighbours in for afternoon tea."
"Good idea," said Mr Bea. Then he scratched his head. "Do you mean the neighbours who live two days' buggy ride away, that we haven't seen for twenty years?"
"Yes, them. What was their name again?"
"I can't remember," said Mr Bea.
"Well, it doesn't matter. You go off and ask them and I'll get ready.
So while Mr Bea rode off to ask the neighbours (whoever they were) to tea, Mrs Bea set about knitting a tablecloth. And after that she knitted a nice woollen teapot, with bobbles on the sides and lid, in a warm shade of brown to match the tea and keep it hot.
But a teapot wasn't much use without cups and saucers, she decided, so she knitted some of them and teaspoons to go with them, and a good round tray to put them all on.
Then rather than wait for the red woollen kettle to boil, she knitted cups full of brown woollen tea, in a good strong colour, but not as dark as the teapot. Then she knitted a sugar bowl and filled it with gleaming white sugar. (For this she chose a rather sparkly white wool).
All this was beginning to make Mrs Bea feel hungry, as well as thirsty, so she began thinking about afternoon tea. First, she knitted up a nice, big, cake plate in a lovely blue with a butterfly on it and a solid cake stand, in a smart shade of red to match the kettle.
And while she was doing that she thought about the cakes her grandmother used to make and decided that maybe she should knit up a batch of them. So she chose a range of pastel wool and knitted some dear, little, cuppy cakes with pretty icing, adding chopped up coloured wool, for the sprinkles on top.
The big cake proved more of a problem. She wanted to knit a nice fruit cake, but wasn't sure what colour to use for sultanas. Then there was the problem of almonds; how she could make them look white in all that brown? As for marzipan she decided that all that rich wool was much too heavy under woollen icing, what with everyone watching their waistlines nowadays.
So eventually she decided to use her grandmother's recipe for good old-fashioned fruit cake with a pound of butter to a pound of sugar, since her grandmother never learnt metric.
Mrs Bea chose a rich glossy tan for the brown sugar, and a lovely pale gold for the butter and away she went, knitting at a fast pace to keep it all light and airy.
She folded the gleaming colours of fruit into the spicy white wool she'd chosen for flour and, when she considered the cake done and cooled, she set it carefully on the stand. Next, she knitted a smart frilly wrapper to go round it and on top she put a thick layer of Royal icing (using moss stitch to keep the texture thick and even) and she spread it with just a few woollen fruits she'd kept to one side specially.
Four days after he'd set out, Mr Bea arrived home. "They can't come," he said. "They don't even live there any more. In fact, they died, years ago."
"What a pity. Their tea's getting cold," said Mrs Bea. "How do you know they died?"
"Alice, their daughter told me. Remember, her? Well, she's quite grown up now."
"Why didn't you ask her?"
"I did, but she was busy."
"Oh well, waste not, want not," said Mrs Bea. "Help yourself."
So they sat down and had afternoon tea together. Then Mr Bea went out the back to talk to his sheep, while Mrs Bea set about knitting some new neighbours.
First, she knitted Victoria, who was short and plump and wore her hair in a bun with a little, lace cap on top. She had glasses perched on the end of her nose and she crooked her little finger whenever she picked up her tea cup.
Then there was Albert. He was tall and thin and liked fancy china. He was always worried about catching a chill, so Mrs
Bea knitted him a warm woolly muffler to wear round his neck and a beanie in his favourite, football colours.
As for Alice, Mrs Bea simply couldn't imagine her grown up, so she knitted her just as she remembered,, with her hair in braids under her sun-bonnet. Alice helped herself to two cuppy cakes and would have had a third if her mother hadn't told her she'd had quite enough already.
After they'd settled in, Mrs Bea stopped knitting for a while, because there were extra people in the house now, and besides, she was clean out of wool. She spent her time dusting the roses and polishing the vegetables, while she thought about where she could get some more wool.
"I know!" she said. "All those jumpers Mr Bea has worn through at the elbows. I'll unravel them and start again. There must be lots of good wool in them still, I'll just roll it all up into balls."
That night, Mr Bea came in from shearing and said, "I don't like the look of that weather."
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs Bea.
"There's going to be a cold snap, I reckon. I can feel it in me bones and I'm worried about the sheep. I've just shorn them."
"Poor things, they'll be out there shivering," said Mrs Bea. "I know! Coals to Newcastle!"
"I'll knit them jumpers and trousers. I've just unravelled all your old jumpers, there's plenty of wool."
So Mrs Bea set about making jumpers and trousers for the sheep. But there were so many of them, she had to get Victoria and Albert and Alice to help. Victoria was a good knitter, especially scarves and Alice wasn't too bad either, though she sometimes dropped stitches. But Albert was really slow and in the end, Mrs Bea had to help him because somehow he'd managed to unravel the end of his trousers and was busily knitting all the way up his leg.
But in the end, all the sheep had jumpers and trousers and scarves and beanies and Mrs Bea's knitting bee had knitted outfits for all the other farm animals as well. So when the cold spell came the cows, and horses, and chickens, and ducks, and dogs and even the cat were rugged up and toasty warm.
And meanwhile, inside the farmhouse, Mrs Bea had knitted up a fresh batch of pumpkin scones and a woolly, warm mugs of cocoa to go with them.
© Vashti Farrer