Author Notes: Thank you so much to lukadreaming for betaing and Brit-picking. Thank you also to miss_morland for betaing this and giving suggestions for the ending! Any remaining mistakes are entirely my own!
Richard took a deep breath. He needed to tell Hyacinth something and it was very important. It was going to entail some drastic changes in their lives. The only problem was that he couldn't seem to find the right time to tell her. "Hyacinth," he began, but she simply swept by, depositing a plateful of biscuits on the table beside him.
"Here you go, Richard," she said. "Biscuits and tea."
A minute later, a saucer and teacup were placed beside his elbow. Richard stood up. In his haste he almost knocked over the tea.
"Richard!" Hyacinth exclaimed loudly. "Be careful. That may not be my Royal Doulton with the hand-painted blue periwinkles, but it is still expensive." She tutted with irritation. "I have enough of this from Elizabeth."
"Sorry, dear," Richard said automatically. "But now that you mention it, we need to talk about our finances."
"Hmm?" she said absent-mindedly as she stirred the pot on the stove. "Don't be so crude, Richard."
Richard frowned. "But we need to talk about money."
Hyacinth slammed the spoon she was holding down on their newly-refurbished kitchen worktop, causing splatters of soup to fly across the kitchen. "Richard! I will not discuss monetary matters like a common person."
"There's been a recession..." Richard continued.
"I am well aware of that," Hyacinth interrupted. She lifted her chin and stared at him. "This is not the type of household where we discuss money over our evening meal."
"But we aren't eating yet," Richard pointed out.
Hyacinth pursed her lips and frowned at him.
Richard let out a long breath. Their finances weren't what they used to be. Last week, he'd had a phone call from his stockbroker. Apparently, with the recent financial crisis, the fund had lost a lot of money from their investments. His stocks and shares were less valuable than they had been this time last year and he wasn't getting the same monthly return from them. Although he still had his pension, it was nowhere near enough for the amount of decorating Hyacinth tended to do.
He knew it was time to budget.
However, the last time he had brought up the idea of budgeting with Hyacinth was when they were newlyweds and he'd ended up sleeping on the sofa for a week.
"We need to talk about this," he said quietly.
Hyacinth simply stirred the soup more vigorously.
Richard cringed and held their white slimline telephone away from his ear. "Yes, dear?" he half-shouted, holding the receiver at arm's length.
Hyacinth's voice came through loud and clear. "Richard! I expect you to inform this shop assistant that he will accept my Platinum Barclaycard. I will not be treated like this by somebody who works for Waitrose!"
"I'm trying to tell you, ma'am," a slightly annoyed sounding voice drifted through the phone. "Your card was declined."
"Uh," Richard said. He was beginning to realise what this was about and he suspected that it wasn't going to be pretty. "Hyacinth, I talked to you yesterday about this, remember? I cancelled our Platinum Barclaycard."
There was silence. Richard stared at the phone. He tapped it a few times using his index finger. He wondered if Hyacinth had fainted or something.
The phone rang shrilly.
Richard looked up from his tea and contemplated answering it when he heard Hyacinth calling out in her typical sing-song voice. "The Bouquet residence, lady of the house speaking!" There was a brief pause. "Yes, I am the woman who called Her Majesty's Treasury with a very pressing matter. To whom am I speaking?"
Richard's mouth dropped open. He got up from the chair and poked his head out. "You did what?"
Hyacinth made a shushing action towards him. "I have a very serious complaint to make," she said into the receiver. "It's about the state of the economy."
It was all Richard could do to stop himself from falling over in shock.
There was a brief pause before Hyacinth pursed her lips and replied, "I expect you to do something about the current economic recession. It just won't do. My husband, Richard, who worked for the local council for many, many years, has had to cancel my Platinum Barclaycard because of your recession. It is most inconvenient!"
Richard considered banging his head against the wall.
"Well there must be something you can do about it!" Hyacinth exclaimed. "You're the government!"
He watched as Hyacinth frowned. "I don't think this will work," Richard whispered, but she ignored him.
"Hello? Hello?" Hyacinth turned around and banged the receiver on the table. "Hello?" She turned to Richard with an incredulous expression. "He hung up!"
"I don't know what to do," Richard said wearily, collapsing onto Elizabeth's couch.
She looked at him sympathetically.
"I don't know how you stay sane," Emmet remarked. "I run away every time she starts singing at me. She started singing The Sound of Music at me yesterday."
"Which bit?" Richard asked absently, picking a piece of lint off his trousers.
To his surprise, Emmet stood up and lifted his arm. "I am sixteen, going on seventeen. I know that I'm naive. Fellows I meet may tell me I'm sweet," he began.
Elizabeth poked him in the ribs. "Oh dear," she said, looking like she was about to laugh.
"She gesticulated at me! Most vehemently too!" Emmet said, waving his arms around in explanation. "I was horrified. I tried to run away but she kept on cornering me. It was like one of those dogs you can't escape but instead of humping my leg, she just sings at me."
"Did you know she called the Treasury?" Richard burst out. "Wanting them to fix the recession!"
"Well, did she succeed?" Emmet asked.
Richard stared. He wasn't quite sure if Emmet was joking or not.
"Well," Emmet said, a slightly amused expression on his face, "if anybody could scare our government into action, it would be her!"
Hyacinth looked as if she was having an aneurysm. "I will not buy own brand groceries," she said, pursing her lips tightly together. "What if Mrs Councillor Nugent were to see us buying below-quality merchandise? This family has a reputation to uphold!"
"Daisy and Onslow buy own brand all the time," Richard pointed out.
Hyacinth let out a long sigh. "Richard! Must you be difficult?"
"Look," Richard said, holding out a packet of own brand biscuits. "I bought the same biscuits that you normally buy, but own brand." He nibbled on the edge of a biscuit. "They taste the same. Nobody would know the difference."
She gave him a horrified look. "What if somebody were to go through our rubbish?"
"Hyacinth," Richard said patiently, "nobody will go through our rubbish." Well, he thought, nobody except Hyacinth did it. Last month, she had gone through Elizabeth's rubbish to find out what brand of tea Elizabeth served.
"Well, I will still know," Hyacinth said decisively, as if that settled the point.
"Watch the cat, Richard!" Hyacinth said sharply.
Richard started to turn his head to look for the cat but then thought better of it. He kept his eyes on the road. "Watching the cat dear," he said wearily.
"Beep the horn for those pedestrians, Richard."
"But," Richard began. "I think they're fine." He could see the pedestrians out of the corner of his eyes and as far as he could see, they looked like two ordinary little old ladies out for their daily stroll. Neither of them looked liable to dart out randomly into the road in front of his car.
"Beep the horn, Richard."
Dutifully, Richard pressed the horn. He could see one of the old ladies jump and clutch at her heart while the other one gasped and fell into a flower bush.
"Left here, Richard."
Richard took a deep breath. "Now, Hyacinth," he said. "We've discussed this. We're going to the local Aldi."
"Richard!" Hyacinth exclaimed, seeming to have conveniently forgotten their long conversation about this the previous night. "I will not be seen shopping in that supermarket. What if we see somebody that we know?"
"Then won't they be shopping there too?" Richard pointed out but the logic was obviously lost on Hyacinth because she just sniffed. Taking her silence as some form of assent, he continued on his way to Aldi. He pulled into the car park, stopped the engine and got out of the car. Walking around to the other side of the car, he pulled open Hyacinth's door.
She just sat inside, immobile.
"Come on, Hyacinth," Richard begged as he stood by the door. He could see several other people in the car park staring at him with raised eyebrows. "Come inside. It won't take long. Nobody will see us here."
With a long-suffering sigh, Hyacinth lifted herself out of the seat, swung her legs out of the car and stood up. "The things I do for you, Richard," she said.
"Yes, dear," he said and closed the door behind her.
As they walked into the supermarket, Hyacinth sniffed in the direction of the cashiers. "How lazy!" she exclaimed, just a little too loudly. "They are sitting on the job. The cashiers at Waitrose would never sit down!"
Richard grabbed a basket. "Now what do we need? Milk? Bread?"
Hyacinth nodded and they started in the direction of the bread. On the way, Hyacinth stopped and stared at the biscuit aisle. She picked up a packet. "Bourbons," she said with a sniff. "They're nothing like my usual bourbons."
"They look the same, though," Richard pointed out. "How about we give it a try?"
Holding the packet as though it were diseased, Hyacinth dropped it in the basket. They continued along the aisle and were about to turn a corner when Hyacinth stopped dead in her tracks. "Richard!" she hissed. "Stop!"
Richard stopped. "What is it?"
Hyacinth bent over almost double and dragged Richard back along the aisle much to the amusement of their fellow shoppers. "It's Daisy and Rose!" she whispered. "They're here! I must not let them see me here. Imagine what they might think if they thought that we shopped here?"
"That we enjoy the savings?" Richard suggested.
"Oh Richard," Hyacinth exclaimed in an exasperated tone. She pulled him along until they emerged outside the store in the bright sunshine. Richard deposited their shopping basket on the floor along the way, which caused one of the shop assistants to give him a dirty look. "We're going home!" announced Hyacinth.
Richard saw Emmet freeze in his tracks. Slowly, the man turned around, his face looking pale. "Hyacinth, Richard," he said, through gritted teeth. "How lovely to see you this morning. I thought you would be off on your daily shopping trip."
"We decided to leave it until later," Hyacinth said breezily. "Change is good for the soul, as I've always said. Confidence is also important." She took a deep breath before launching into, "I have confidence in sunshine!"
"Where are you off to?" Richard asked hastily.
Emmet gave him a pathetically grateful look as Hyacinth stopped singing. "I thought I'd pop into the local Aldi. They have these jelly babies I like." With that, he opened his car door, hopped in and shut it firmly behind him.
Richard shot Hyacinth a look. "Emmet shops there."
Hyacinth ignored him.
"Phone, Hyacinth," Richard called.
"Oh! It must be Sheridan," Hyacinth said, beaming. "Or my sister Violet. You know, the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony."
"It's just me here," Richard said wearily. "Elizabeth left a half hour ago."
Hyacinth bustled past him and picked up the phone. "Bouquet residence, lady of the house speaking!" she sang, with a bright smile. Then her face fell. "Oh it's you, Daisy." Her face took on a peculiar expression. "Oh no, you couldn't have seen us in Aldi this morning. We were most definitely not trying to hide. We would never shop in such a low-class establishment. But of course, it's all right for you, Daisy dear. You can shop wherever you want." She paused before adding, "No, I'm sorry but we cannot look after Daddy this weekend. You know how much I love having him over, but he can be disruptive sometimes. Now, I have to go. Company's at the door." With that, Hyacinth slammed down the phone.
"So Daisy saw us?" Richard ventured.
Hyacinth nodded tightly. "We must be more careful next time."
Richard had a bad feeling about what Hyacinth meant.
"Is this necessary?" Richard asked and sneezed yet again for the fifth time in a minute. "The glue's making me sneeze and this... this beard is tickling my face."
"Hold still, Richard!" Hyacinth ordered as she carefully pressed the beard one more time. "There! You must wear that wig as well."
"Do I have to?" Richard asked, already knowing what the answer was going to be.
"Yes," Hyacinth said impatiently. "You must also wear this vest. If we are to shop at Aldi, we need to look the part!"
Richard brightened suddenly. Well, at least he would get to wear a vest. Onslow always wore a vest and he was always happy. Maybe that had something to do with the vest. "What are you going to wear?" he asked.
With her nose wrinkled, Hyacinth held out an outfit that looked like one of Daisy's old cast-offs. "With these disguises, nobody will recognise us," she announced as she pulled off her own floral patterned dress. She held up a blonde curly wig. "And I can get the ingredients for my candlelight supper."
Richard bit back a hysterical laugh.
Some of the other shoppers at Aldi gave them odd looks as they walked in the door. One woman grabbed the hand of her little boy and dragged him away.
"Come on," Richard said. "Let's just go home. This is embarrassing."
"Nonsense," Hyacinth said, lifting up her chin and marching into the store. "Nobody knows who we are. It's perfect."
Richard slunk into the store behind her, feeling acutely aware of his beard, vest and shorts that were too short and tight for him. In front of him, Hyacinth was in a grey t-shirt that looked far too much like one of the shirts Daisy slept in, and a long flower-print skirt. Her blonde curly wig was slightly askew on her head and she kept on patting it as if it was her protection.
"I am here to shop!" she announced to the shop at large.
Richard winced as half the store turned to look in their direction. He could see several women look at his shorts with scandalised expressions. "Hyacinth," he whispered, tugging at her arm. "I think these are too tight."
"Stop complaining, Richard," she said curtly. She picked up a basket self-importantly and began to place items inside.
Richard followed her.
He turned around. One of the shop assistants was standing there. "Your shoelace is undone," the assistant pointed out.
"Thank you," Richard said, with a smile. He bent over to tie it up when he heard an almighty ripping noise. His face turned pale and with a frozen expression on his face, he reached behind and felt the ripped fabric of his shorts.
"Sir," the assistant said, looking like he was about to laugh. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Your wife too. I'm afraid we do not allow shoppers to wear sleepwear in our store."
Hyacinth shot him an icy expression.
For the second time that day, they arrived home empty-handed.
"I was supposed to have one of my candlelight suppers on Friday," Hyacinth lamented. "Elizabeth will be so disappointed."
"Why don't we go over and tell her after we've changed into something more appropriate," Richard suggested as he pulled the car into their driveway. He thought he could see Elizabeth and Emmet-shaped shadows standing behind the curtains. He suspected that Emmet wanted to go outside, but was waiting until Hyacinth had got home and was safely inside before venturing outside the safety of Elizabeth's house.
Hyacinth nodded curtly.
"I'm afraid," Hyacinth said, with a sorrowful look, "that I will not be able to hold my candlelight supper this week."
A delighted expression passed Elizabeth's face before she rearranged her features into something more appropriate. "I'm sorry," she said. "And I was so looking forward to it."
Richard suppressed a laugh. "Maybe next time," he said. From behind the curtain on the door, Richard thought he could hear the sound of Emmet doing a jig. It certainly sounded enthusiastic.
Apparently, Hyacinth heard as well because she frowned and inquired, "Is Emmet all right? Is he terribly upset that I couldn't hold the candlelight supper? I know how much he adores me, poor man."
There was a muffled snort from behind the door.
"Yes, yes," Elizabeth said hastily. "He's fine. Now I'd better be going. I have a cake in the oven." With that she shut the door.
Hyacinth turned to Richard. "How rude!" she exclaimed.
Richard pulled their car into the driveway and got out to start unloading their groceries. It had taken them several trips and several different disguises, but finally, they had managed to get the essentials like milk and bread.
"How will I ever be able to hold my candlelight suppers again on this budget," Hyacinth lamented. "I'm known for my candlelight suppers! Everybody will be so disappointed!"
"I'm sure they'll cope," Richard told her. "The economy isn't going to be like this forever."
Hyacinth narrowed her eyes. "Well maybe it's time for me to have another talk with the Treasury and perhaps the Home Office too," she said as she opened their front door. "Take off your shoes, dear."
Richard sat down in the porch, put the shopping next to him, and removed his shoes. "I don't think the Home Office deals with finances, dear," he muttered, but she had already swept past him into the house. He could hear her dialling a number on the phone.
"Richard!" she exclaimed as he padded into the house with his shoes in one hand. "I'm getting an answering machine. How rude!"
Richard placed his shoes on the floor next to the door. He considered answering but just nodded instead. Sometimes it was safer simply to nod.
"This is Mrs Bouquet. I am a very important personage in my neighbourhood. I would not be surprised if you have heard of my candlelight suppers. I am calling about a very important issue and would appreciate a prompt response," Hyacinth said into the phone receiver and then recited off her phone number. She put the white slimline phone down into its cradle with a click. "There!" she said in satisfaction as if she had single-handedly fixed their entire economy.
With a sigh, Richard walked past her into the kitchen, holding their shopping bags. He deposited them on the kitchen table and sat down on one of the chairs. He watched as Hyacinth bustled into the kitchen and began to put away the groceries. "Cup of tea?" she asked.
Richard nodded as he stretched out his legs. He was just beginning to get comfortable when the doorbell rang. Its musical sound echoed throughout the house.
"Richard!" Hyacinth called out. "Would you get that?"
He sighed as he stood up. It felt like his old bones were creaking as he moved. "Yes, dear," he said, automatically. He walked over to the door and pulled it open.
Mrs Councillor Nugent was standing there, fixing him with her beady eyes. Richard could feel himself shrink backwards. "How do you do?" he said, acutely aware of the slightly chemical smell of the beard glue that still seemed to hang around him even after he had washed his face several times.
"I'm fine," Mrs Councillor Nugent said shortly.
Richard opened his mouth and then closed it again. He had no idea what to say to this woman.
"You look like a goldfish," Mrs Councillor Nugent told him.
Richard was about to respond when he heard Hyacinth come up behind him. "Oh!" Hyacinth exclaimed. "Mrs Councillor Nugent! I didn't expect you here, but do come in. I expect that you've heard of my most excellent candlelight suppers."
"I thought," Richard began to say but Hyacinth shushed him.
"I just thought I'd drop by to see how you two were doing," Mrs Councillor Nugent said. She leaned forward and peered inside the house.
"How we're doing?" Hyacinth said her voice higher than usual. "We're excellent! Most fantastic!"
"I see," Mrs Councillor Nugent said in a tone that implied very strongly that she didn't see. "I saw the most peculiar thing this afternoon. I was driving my car past the local Aldi and I thought that I could see both of you in there, shopping." She peered at Richard who cringed. "You had a beard."
Hyacinth laughed shrilly. "How ridiculous," she said. "Richard and I would never set foot in Aldi, would we dear?"
"I, uh," Richard said, but Hyacinth continued without letting him speak.
"We simply do not shop in such an establishment. In fact, I wasn't sure that there was such an establishment in our neighbourhood!"
Mrs Councillor Nugent looked at both of them dubiously. "I could have sworn that it was both of you."
"Impossible," Hyacinth said. "But why don't you come inside and have some tea and light refreshments. Richard, hold the door open."
Obediently, Richard held the door open.
"Well," Mrs Councillor Nugent said slowly, "I believe I have enough time to. Thank you, Mrs Bucket."
Hyacinth looked like she was about to have a fit. "My pleasure," she said, sounding like she was talking through gritted teeth.
Mrs Councillor Nugent was about to step inside, when Richard heard a very familiar sound of a car backfiring. He looked over at Hyacinth and could see the blood visibly draining from her face. They could hear the sound of Rose's heels on the asphalt.
"On second thoughts," Hyacinth said quickly, "perhaps you ought to come back later this week for my candlelight supper. Or perhaps next week! Yes, next week will be better." She stepped forward and grabbed Mrs Councillor Nugent by the arm and steered her down towards the footpath.
"What on earth are you doing, woman!" Mrs Councillor Nugent said, sounding alarmed.
Hyacinth made frantic motions behind her to Richard. He frowned. It looked like she wanted him to hide. No, wait, it looked like she wanted him to hide Rose, Daisy and Onslow. He watched as Hyacinth forcibly dragged Mrs Councillor Nugent down the road. A few seconds later, Rose came sashaying up the path in another one of her short skirts and skimpy tops.
"Daddy's missing again," she informed Richard as she pushed past him inside the house.
Onslow came up behind her, followed by Daisy. "He's off somewhere with Bruce," she said.
"Who's apparently wearing one of his pink tutus," Onslow added, entering the house as well. "I could murder a muffin right about now. Where does your Hyacinth keep her muffins?"
Richard waited at the front door for Hyacinth. A few minutes later she came up the driveway looking frazzled. "Are you all right, dear?" Richard asked.
"Of course, I'm all right," Hyacinth said, sounding defensive. "Everything is absolutely fine, as far as everybody else, especially Mrs Councillor Nugent, is concerned."
"Apparently your father's missing again," Richard told her, as he opened the door. "With Bruce this time. They might have gone to the ballet."
Hyacinth closed her eyes. "Daddy and Bruce are both so cultured."
Richard bit back a retort. "And Rose, Daisy and Onslow are inside."
"Well," Hyacinth said, looking around, "at least they've parked their wreck of a car around the corner this time."
As Hyacinth stepped inside, she half-turned around to ask, "I hope you asked Onslow to mind the walls. I do hate it when he brushes up against my walls."