5 – THE WHISPERERS

5 – THE WHISPERERS

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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THE LIFE AND LOVES OF ANNIE GRABLE - 5

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It was time for her to have a bite for lunch, and there had been a tin of salmon in the food box the lad had dropped off the previous day. She liked salmon, especially when it came in a tin. Just the job, she thought, for a sandwich for lunch and the rest at tea time with, maybe, a little mashed potato. She had some mashed potato in her freezer, and it was very nice with too much butter in it when it spent a few minutes in the microwave.

Mother would have loved to have a microwave,” she thought as she sat and gazed at the sky through that window. But there had been of course, no such things as microwaves back in the thirties when she’d been about to start her first job.

I remember the walk home with mother after the Captain had told me I’d got the job and could start on Monday,” she told the window. “At the time I thought she was being obscure in what she said, but I know now, looking back on things, that she was really only trying to help me see something big and grand and beyond my years...”

Her mother was holding her hand! She was fourteen and her mother was actually holding her hand as they walked along, and that was something she was quite sure she’d never done before. Mother had never been big when it came to affection. She had always been a woman who seemed to be restraining herself, as if displays of affection were displays of weakness. It’s not that she was unkind, just wary. Maybe, thought Annie, she’d had one huge pain through loss in the war of a gigantic love, and didn’t want another.

What did you think of Captain Davidson?” she asked, “because he’s a big man in these parts and to be offered a job by him is a big thing. We’ll be able to afford a few luxuries, what with you working as well. We might even afford a wireless!”

Annie thought that they’d never dreamed of having one of those things before she’d started work. She’d never even seen one back then, though sometimes she’d heard voices escaping from next door’s windows in the summer, and they weren’t the voices of people from round her neck of the woods. The accents were too posh and polished, clipped and somehow ugly, in a refined sort of way. And there was music too, though they had music from their own gramophone if anyone could be bothered to wind it up.

He was all right,” she said, careful not to be either too enthusiastic or too critical of him.

That’s how I’d put it: all right,” said mother. “But, and listen you here, young lady, there are things whispered about him by folks as don’t properly understand.”

Annie didn’t properly understand that one little bit, either. What sort of things were whispered about the Captain and what didn’t the whisperers understand? It was all very mysterious and had about it a sense of a darkness beyond her experience.

When you go on Monday to start work, do you think you’ll wear the pink dress that his lady wife gave you?” asked her Mother.

Sitting and talking to her window, Annie smiled when she remembered that dress.

Gertrude Davidson had appeared with it, carrying it over one arm as if it was made of something precious, and it certainly was a pretty dress, all pink but trimmed here and there with white.

You can have this, dearie,” she said to her, offering it, “it should fit you because it fitted me a year or two back, and you’re really quite tall for your age, aren’t you? But if you find it is too large you can cut it down a bit. You are handy with a needle and thread, I suppose?”

That was one of the things she’d done at school, basic needlecraft. It was one thing that girls needed to carry from childhood to their adult years, she knew that much, else who would stitch up hems if they came loose, or shorten long frocks to make them more fashionable?

Of course, ma’am,” she said, “teacher said I was real good and neat at hemwork.”

Gertrude smiled at her. “Then feel free to do what you like with it. I have no further use for old things like that.” And she had taken its pink loveliness from the Captain’s wife without noting the disparaging tone of her words. It might have been an old thing to Gertrude but to Annie it was by far the nicest thing she had ever owned, and it had been given her so she owned it.

I’ll love to wear it,” she said as she and mother walked home, “and the overall I’m to wear, I’ll take this off before I put a dirty old overall on. I don’t want to spoil my lovely new frock.”

You will be careful though, won’t you dear?” asked her mother, “when a woman, and you’re a woman now, takes her clothes off to change into something else she must be quite sure there aren’t any menfolk around to see her doing it. There have been whispers, silly, foolish whispers I know, but you don’t want the whisperers to get more ammunition for their spite, do you?”

Annie was quite at a loss when her mother said that, and said so. “Mother, what do you mean?” she asked.

The need to answer that question quite caused the older woman to change the subject.

You will have to tidy whole rooms, put things that are misplaced back where they should be, clear out fireplaces and set them ready for lighting in the cold weather, clean the silver, there’s lots of that and it needs cleaning regularly or it turns black. You’ll find there are endless chores. There’s a woman comes in half a day a week, and that’ll be your time off. Then you can come home and help me out because I’ll probably still be in the Captain’s kitchen and someone will have to get our dinner ready.”

But what were the whisperers whispering? Annie was none the wiser, but she knew her mother and how she liked to change the subject rather than broach on something awkward. She’d done ti often enough. There was that time, for instance, when she’d invited the dreadful Benjamin Cooper to tea and sent him packing with what she called a flea in his ear.

Why were you so sharp with him, Mother?” she‘d asked when the man had, scowling and reluctant, mooched off, but mother had merely replied something about the way it looked as if it might rain, how it would be good for the garden when it did, wasn’t the back lawn looking a bit dry? And she’d had to be satisfied with a weather report rather than the true explanation, that the uncouth man had wanted to stay the night, sharing her bed with her and goodness knows what else. At least, that’s what she really thought had happened, looking back on it from the lofty height of being nearly one hundred and two.

What do people whisper?” she asked again, boldly, thinking that really she might need to know.

But Mother could be obscure. “I’d say it was nothing, but if it is something you’ll find out soon enough, so be careful or you might end up...” and her explanation petered out and consequently was useless. And she had to be satisfied with that.

Looking back, and gazing at her friend, the window and occasionally an old thrush beyond it, she knew exactly what her mother meant when she said folk were whispering. And whether she’d known the contents of those whispers or not, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference because when it came to masters and servants back then the masters had all the say and the servants had none.

But I enjoyed every moment of it,” she told the window, “even cleaning the silver! And I was so careful to make sure it didn’t start turning black, because if it had it might have spoiled everything...”

© Peter Rogerson. 05.05.20




© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 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..

Writing