A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Mother somewhat impatiently took Annie to the big house where the Captain and his wife lived, and they had been welcomed into one of several front rooms by the man Annie had been told she really must try to impress. And when she looked at him he impressed her, a middle-aged gentleman with a paint smear on one cheek and no tie.

Let me look at you then,” said Captain Davidson quietly, looking closely at Annie, “come on, lass, let me see your eyes. Have they got a light in them, eh? A nice sparkling light of youth and hope and, well, who knows what? And what can we do with your hair, then, what would you say to a ribbon or two, pretty ribbons for prettier hair?”

Annie was confused and frightened. Nobody had ever wanted to look at her eyes before and the only person to show any consideration for her hair was Mother when she was cutting it. Mother had always cut her hair. Getting it done by the hairdresser is a plain waste of money, she had always said, and Annie had gone along with her because she’d had to. But then, her mother wasn’t so bad at cutting her hair, unless she was distracted, and then she was terrible and Annie had to rescue it herself.

Gertrude,” called the Captain as he ran his fingers through her hair with such a light touch it sent tingles right down to her toes, “Gertrude, my love, come here and look at the girl and see if she will do. Tidied up, a bit, I think she’ll be splendid, don’t you?”

Gertrude was the most beautiful woman Annie had ever seen. She came sweeping into the room dressed in the latest fashions, a nice long dress that almost reached her ankles and her light brown hair cut short and neat. Her face looked young though to be married to the Captain she must have been the wrong side of forty. The glow of her cheeks must have reflected an easy life and plenty of rouge and luscious red lip stick.

She needs a decent frock,” replied his wife, “even with an overall on she’ll need a decent frock, don’t you think? Something pretty and dainty to match her pretty dainty face. She’s lovely, Ralf, like a breath of spring after the winter’s melted away! Really lovely. And sweet. She’s sweet as sugar, that’s what she is and absolutely perfect, she’s how I saw her...”

Annie didn’t know what a girl had to be like to be sweet as sugar, but it sounded all right. It made her feel less ordinary in a way, less the girl from the corner of the school yard hoping that nobody would notice her, especially the big boys in the yard next door. They called her, they did, names sometimes, but sometimes wanting to talk to her, and when they did she thought they liked to talk dirty and she didn’t understand the half of it. But then, that was boys and she still didn’t know one blind thing about boys except they found great delight in farting and laughing about it.

You’re right, Gertrude,” enthused the Captain, “I can see her now in pink! Don’t you think she’d look really pretty in pink, with a nice bow at her waist. And what about her unmentionables… what colour do you think they should be? After all, a young lady kneeling and polishing the hearth or reaching, say, under a bookcase, might unintentionally let a glimpse of her underthings show, and they’ve simply got to match if that happens, like yours do...”

Excuse me, sir,” put in mother, anxiously, “but we’re poor souls, we are, with my man killed in the war and no man’s wages coming in. I does my best, but can’t afford everything, not for myself and not for our Annie here.”

Now don’t you go worrying your head about that, Mrs Stoker,” said the Captain smoothly, “I’m sure Annie and my lovely Gertrude can come to some arrangements. Pink: I like pink very much. It brings out the softness of a young woman’s flesh, and as you know young women have such lovely soft flesh. So you run along to the kitchen, my dear, and peel some potatoes or do what ever it is you have to do, and leave your Annie to me and Gertrude.”

Yes sir,” replied mother, and she gave a little half curtsey, but her face was troubled. There hadn’t been a moment in all of Annie’s life when her mother hadn’t been troubled about the cost of this or that or the other. But she knew her place all right, and turned to leave the room.

Annie will be here when you finish,” called Gertrude after her, “so there’s no need for you to be worrying on her behalf.”

What do you think of pink, dear?” asked Captain Davidson, looking at her with keen eyes and despite the smear of bright paint and painful limp when he moved he exuded an aura of authority.

He’s a kind man, thought Annie whose experience of men was really limited to Benjamin Cooper who mother had brought home one day, for tea, she had said, but he’d had ideas that went beyond tea and she soon despatched him with what she called a flea in his ear, though Annie had looked from across the room and hadn’t seen anything remotely like a flea.

Benjamin Cooper had been an untidy man with untidy habits, and he smelt strongly of tobacco and something Annie had been unable to identify but what in later years she would remember and associate with strong liquor. He had stubble all over his chin and bloodshot eyes and she’d hated him straight away and wondered why her mum had ever invited him into their home.

By then both of her grandparents had died, grandfather of coal dust on the chest and grandma of grief, and both within a month of each other, leaving just mother and herself in the house, which had been bought from the mining company by the council and was being rented out to them.

Benjamin Cooper, though, had been mother’s one and only foray, as a widow, into the world of romance and it had been sickening. So when the Captain murmured kindly words about pink frocks to her she decided he was thinking of her and not himself.

How wrong I was,” she whispered to the window, and the window only pretended to listen.

Because it transpired quite soon after that day that the Captain was also thinking of himself. But all that was to be in the future and at the moment, the one she was concentrating on recalling, he was looking at her through the kindest eyes she had ever seen. At least, that’s what she thought they were.

I think pink’s a nice colour, sir,” she said, deciding there and then that it was, though aware that she’d not given a moment of thought to it before.

It would go so well with your freshly scrubbed skin, don’t you thing, dearest Gertrude?” he asked, “and freshly scrubbed skin, with the aroma of nice scented soap on it, is just the thing to set a young lady off and mark her as someone to take notice of. You would like people to take notice of you, dear, wouldn’t you?” he asked, looking at Annie quite keenly.

She didn’t know what he meant but had to reply or it would make her seem both rude and little stupid.

I think so, sir,” she replied.

Lovely. That’s quite lovely! Have we anything spare in pink, darling?” he asked his wife, and she looked at him with an expression that for just a moment contained something that brought a kind of shadow into the room. But it was gone almost as soon as it came.

I’ve got that pink dress you bought me last year,” his wife said, as if testing him, but he hadn’t risen to the splendid heights of captaincy without avoiding that kind of test.

No, beloved, not that!” he exclaimed, “that’s special, and makes me know that you’re the veriest angel when I look at you! No, you have masses of things you never look at in that wardrobe of yours, and maybe, something old but serviceable, in pink…?”

I’ll look, darling,” almost growled Gertrude, and she vanished from the room.

Are you all right for unmentionables?” asked the Captain, “I ask because nice crisp clean unmentionables are what turns any old slag into a lady of grace and refinement!”

She hadn’t known how to answer that, but the captain didn’t seem to mind her silence.

I think, when you’re working here, we’re going to get on just right,” he said, “just right indeed...”

© Peter Rogerson, 04.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 4, 2020
Last Updated on May 4, 2020
Tags: big nouse, interview, appearance, pink dress


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

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A Chapter by Peter Rogerson