“There.” Linda put down the scissors which she had used to snip the last piece of thread she had used to stitch the edge, and held up the little quilt.
It really was the loveliest thing she had ever made. The golden stitches sat sweetly on the creamy surface, outlining the fans, cables and spirals, and creating the gentle texture which she loved about hand-quilting.
Four years ago, when they had first moved to the remote pub high up in the Pennines, she had only really joined the patchwork class in the village hall a few miles down the valley to have a bit of company. However, it had proved a good choice. As well as making firm friends, she had quickly revived the sewing skills of her younger days, caught their enthusiasm, and spent an increasing amount of time and money exploring the world of pattern and colour in fabric. Her husband, Bill watched with tolerant amusement, in between changing beer barrels and filling in the nooks and crannies of the old building to stop the bitter wind creeping in. It had always been his dream to own a pub, and they had finally taken the plunge after he was offered early retirement.
Linda looked again at the little quilt. She couldn’t help a little gleam of pride – yes, it was good enough to enter for the Harrogate Show. Beth, the elderly lady in the class who had encouraged her growing interest in hand quilting, had pushed an entry form at her in the last meeting before Christmas. “Your stitching is beautiful” she had said “and the way you have arranged those traditional Welsh designs is so lovely.” “It’s certainly nicer than the one that won the cot quilt section last year – but even if you don’t win, you will enjoy seeing it on display – and remember that there is an extra prize for hand quilting”.
“Why had she decided to make a cot quilt?” Linda wondered. Neither she nor Bill had ever been particularly interested in babies – so there were never going to be any grandchildren to give it to. But it had seemed sensible for her first wholecloth project to be a small one, and this was the result.
After a final stroke of the cotton sateen, she rolled the little quilt carefully around its tube, and wrapped it in tissue paper, ready to show Beth in the New Year. Setting aside the cheerful flannel quilt which had been wrapped around her legs, she started off downstairs to see if Bill needed help with the evening shift. It might be extra busy, given that it was Christmas Eve.
On the landing, she stopped and gazed out of the window at the wintry scene outside.
It had been snowing steadily since the previous morning, and an unbroken blanket covered the pub garden. She smiled as she saw the deep cap of snow on the bird table – “I must remember to put some more food out” she thought.
Linda was surprised to see so many faces when she opened the door into the Lounge bar. Some she recognised as locals who would get through to the pub whatever the weather, and she also spotted the adults of the two families whose children were presumably asleep in their guest rooms upstairs.
“Oh, there you are, love” Bill called across the noisy hubbub. “Could you just clear some tables while I serve these people? They’ve been waiting a while, and I’m running out of clean glasses!”
Linda grabbed a tray, and started filling it with empties. She had to step aside suddenly as the door opened, letting in, not only a cold blast, but a white-faced young woman being supported by her partner. Both were cloaked in encrusted snow. “Come in quick and shut the wind out” Linda said “We’re pretty busy, but there are a couple of stools free over there near the fire, if you don’t mind sharing a table.”
“Thank you so much” replied the young man “we’re desperate to get warm and dry. We’ve had to walk from near the top of the pass, where our car spun off the road into a snowdrift”. As they settled down, Linda couldn’t help noticing that the girl was pregnant – very pregnant. What on earth was she doing out in this weather in her condition? And how were they going to get home now – a taxi would struggle to get out here in the snow, even if one was available at short notice on Christmas Eve.
A few minutes later, as Linda brought hot mugs of tea, she couldn’t help asking them. “Joe said we were daft to set out”, the young woman admitted sheepishly. “But we couldn’t leave until he had finished work”. A look of pain crossed her face, and she stopped speaking for a moment “and I really want to get to my Mum as she’s on her own for the first time this year.”
“I’m not sure that you’re going to make it, love” said Bill, who had just come over. “I’ve just heard on the radio that the Snake Pass is closed. No-one’s going to get through to Sheffield tonight now.”
Joe took his wife’s hand, as her face creased up again. “I’m not sure that you are in a fit state to go anywhere, at all, anyway. I’ve been timing those contractions, and they are definitely getting closer together.”
In the silence, Linda took in his meaning. Looking at the girl’s face, she saw a mixture of fear, trembling and anticipation.
“I think it’s time I got some extra help. Is there somewhere quieter where she could rest for a bit before an ambulance gets here?” Joe asked, pulling his phone out of his pocket.
“No mobile signal out here” said Bill. “I’ll ring on the landline for you”. “Linda, where can we put her? A noisy bar isn’t really the best place for her right now.” “No, and I don’t want her waters breaking on our new carpet either” Linda just stopped herself saying.
“I’m not sure….” she wondered. “Dad’s in our spare room, and all the guest rooms are already full.” She thought desperately “There’s the old caravan out the back – it will take a while to warm through with the gas heater, but would that do?” “Great” said Bill. “Can you take them over while I get back to serving this greedy lot?”
Linda waited while the young couple got to their feet, and led them through the back way to the yard. “Just wait here in the lobby a minute, while I dig a path through”. Donning wellies and her thick coat, she took down the snow shovel from its hook in the porch. Outside, the wind had got up, and the thick snow was biting in her face. She expertly cleared a path through to the caravan, unlocked the door, and stepped inside. It was no warmer, but at least it was out the wind. After turning on the calor gas heater, she returned to the pub, sprinkling some rock salt on the path to keep it clear, and then brought the couple across.
“Here you are. Try and make yourself comfortable” Linda said, feeling a bit ashamed at the shabby curtains and damp cushions, as the girl sank gratefully onto the couch. “I’ll go and see when we can expect that ambulance”.
Back in the warmth of the bar, Linda collected another trayful of glasses, and finally managed to get Bill’s attention. “No go, I’m afraid” he shouted over the noisy chatter “They tried, but a lorry has jack-knifed across at the bottom of the valley, completely blocking the road. They can’t get through. She’ll have to cross her legs until morning.” Linda stared at him, aghast. “Sorry, love – shouldn’t have made a joke about it” Bill apologised, “don’t suppose she can stop it coming now. You go and give her a hand. I can manage here.”
Linda slowly turned round and went back into the kitchen. What did she know about delivering babies? She vaguely knew people boiled water, but wasn’t quite sure what it was for. After putting the kettle on, and staring round for a moment, she braved the trip back to the caravan.
Joe was glad to see her. “The contractions are coming much faster, now” he said “but I don’t know whether it’s safe to let her push yet. Oh, if only there was some way of getting some help!”
Sharing the panic on his face, Linda had an idea. Quickly, she went back to the pub and fetched her laptop. “The wifi signal will reach out to the caravan” she told Joe “and I can Skype my friend Ruth in Scotland. She’s a retired midwife and will be able to see and hear everything that’s going on”. The plan worked brilliantly. Despite being 300 miles away, Ruth was able to reassure, guide and direct them through the next few hours, until, just after midnight, a little boy was born.
Linda and Joe looked down in wonderment at the new mother cradling her son in her arms, wrapped in an old towel. After a while, Ruth advised them to find a box or a drawer for the baby to sleep in, so that the exhausted mother could have some rest.
“I’ll go and ask Bill to find something”. Linda went back inside the now silent pub, and crept upstairs. Bill put on his dressing gown, and went off to find a sturdy cardboard box. Linda vacantly looked around the room while she waited – and her eyes rested on her quilt.
“Oh no” she thought, “I couldn’t……..”
Should she? Could she? Could she let it go? So much work and hope had gone into it, and she loved it so much. She unrolled it and took a long look at the patterns she had spent so many hours lovingly stitching.
Bill and Linda knocked on the caravan door, and went in together. Linda slowly passed the wrapped tube over to Mary, shyly saying “This is a present for Joshua”.
They watched as Joe gently placed the sleeping baby in the box, tenderly tucking the beautiful quilt around him. Bill put his arm around Linda as she brushed away tears – and as her heart filled with joy at the precious gift of giving.