A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Annie looked at a thrush flying past her window, far enough in the distance for her to watch it move across the sky yet close enough for her to love the sight of it and mark its beauty. It was free, was that thrush, and she wasn’t. She was locked down. She’d been more free when she started work after leaving school, aged fourteen.

That first day at work with Captain Davidson set the tone for the rest of my time with him,” she thought.

She had arrived with her mother, who went straight to the kitchen whilst the Captain’s wife, Gertrude met her as she stood just inside the tradesman’s entrance and wondered where she should go next.

Good girl,” approved the fashionable Mrs Davidson with a white-toothed smile almost illuminating the passageway, “I like punctuality above almost anything else. If a job’s worth doing, I tell everyone, then it’s worth doing on time!”

Yes ma’am,” she had replied.

No! That won’t do! You mustn’t call me ma’am or madam or anything servile like that but, when we’re all alone like we are now, you can call me Gertrude, which is, after all, my proper name. If there are strangers around, in hearing distance that is, I’m afraid you’ll have to resort to Mrs Davidson, because that’s also my name.”

Yes … er … Gertrude,” she had replied, awkwardly.

The captain’s wife smiled broadly at her. “That’s much better,” she said, “now let me look at you. I see you’ve made a few changes to that dress and it’s a great deal better to look at than it was when I passed it to you. You’ve brought it up to date, which is very clever of you! And it’s just the right length, no sign of an ugly knee, not that I’m calling your sweet young knees ugly, but there’s a little bit of leg to torment the menfolk with, eh?”

Thank you m… Gertrude.” she mumbled.

Now don’t you worry about a thing! I’ve got an apron for you to wear because I was pretty sure you wouldn’t have one of your own, and you can pay me back at a penny or two a week from your wages. That way you won’t have to waste valuable time going to the shops and paying the village shop’s fancy price for one! Now here you are, and let’s see how it fits you.”

Gazing at the thrush, which still flew backwards and forwards, probably feeding a chick in her nest seeing as it was about that time of year and birds didn’t have to suffer the indignities of a lock down, Annie smiled to herself.

If I’d known then what I know now, would I have continued in that house or would I have fled for my life? she asked herself.

Of course she wouldn’t have fled despite the dark hours that were to come! She’d left school where she had learned a few things like how to give a person change from a half crown if he spent ten pence, and how to read the magazine that mother bought when she could afford it, which she did every so often. But it was working in that big house for the Captain and his wife where her education proper had started.

And it wasn’t just to do with giving silver a really good shine, though she did more than that as well. It was to the more esoteric world of the arts.

Captain Davidson had a hobby.

It wasn’t wildly known in Goosedown, the village where they all lived, but the Captain was quite an artist and the big house he occupied had grounds that were themselves expansive enough to provide him with beautiful things to paint. Hidden from the view of passing strangers by a tall hedge, he often found himself sitting at his easel and eyeing things up with a pencil. There was a small orchard with trees that offered him fascinating shapes, and flowerbeds with splendid blooms that Old Grobbims the gardener tended with the sort of love and attention that new mothers give to their infants.

Old Grobbims (he’d even been called that when he was young and now he was genuinely old) had worked on the grounds since the end of the last war, when he’d come home with a limp to match that of the Captain, but that limp in no way impeded his ability to turn the soil and provide his master with colourful and beautiful things to copy onto paper.

And he did that with a will. The thing about Captain Davidson was he was of independent means, which meant there was enough money constantly rolling into the coffers to keep him in gravy, as the locals put it.

So you’ve joined us,” said the Captain no sooner than Gertrude disappeared to the other side of a huge house, and she was wondering whether to wear the large apron over her nice new dress or remove that dress to protect it from whatever dirt she might come upon as she worked, and wear just that apron, which was quite expansive enough to cover almost as much of her as the dress did anyway.

Yes, sir,” she replied, nervously. She’d had precious little experience of the male sex in a life dominated almost entirely by the female version of humanity. So she was nervous. Inevitably.

Excellent!” he replied, “has my good wife instructed you as to what you should be doing?”

The truth was, not a word. All she’d done is offer the apron to the girl and instruct her in the use of her Christian name, and when it was appropriate. Then she’d left her with a smile and a waft of scented air from her perfume.

So Annie replied in the negative, quietly, politely, some might say even sweetly. And his expression showed that he appreciated the humility with which she addressed him.

The truth was, he had a lovely wife, and the rather stolid Muriel Stoker as a kitchen servant, and that had the entirety of his acquaintance with the fair sex since the war had ended, restricted as he was by a bad leg as well as allied aches and pains. He had memories, of course, of the halcyon days before the war when, some twenty years ago, he had met and walked out with the spectacularly beautiful and excitingly vivacious Gertrude. And they had fallen in love. Deeply and, he believed, irreversibly in love, and married.

Then the war had come along and he’d suffered the kind of wound that no man would want because it was the sort of wound that left him both almost immobile and definitely infertile. So in order to give his life a purpose he’d developed an enthusiasm for his art, and, truth to tell, he was quite good at it.

And right then he looked appreciatively at their new servant girl and liked what he saw because he saw everything that she was: clean living, innocent and above all things filled with a huge resource of respect.

Do you paint?” he asked, “do you create works of art in your spare time?”

She shook her head. “No, sir,” she replied, wondering why he would want to know that and what actually spare time might be.

I see,” he murmured, “Annie, isn’t it? Such a sweet name, and innocent! I have a confession to make to you, Annie. I sometimes take a brush in my hand and create my own daubings. Works of nature, you know, flowers and such like. Look behind you, there, on the wall: I painted that wretched piece.”

And she looked at a bright image of a garden with trees and the most magnificent yet lightly painted floral displays, and it was sheer beauty. To her, it must have been created by a grand master, yet here was the Captain who claimed that he had created it.

It’s … beautiful...” she murmured, “the very best picture I’ve ever seen!” And that last bit was the truth, for she had seen so few and it most certainly crowned any of that few.

When you’ve finished your chores … you don’t know what they are yet…?”

She shook her head and at that precise moment Gertrude walked in, her face a smile that it seemed she always carried with her.

Has he been boasting about his pictures?” she asked, seeing that they were both staring at the one on the wall.

It’s … beautiful,” she repeated.

But not his best! One day, when you’ve less to do, I’m sure he’ll take you to his studio and show you some better ones. But until then, how are you with silver? Can you polish it?”

That was one thing she could do. Mother had a silver plated tankard, once owned by her young husband in the peace before the war, and she was often made to polish it under that draconian woman’s critical eye.

Yes ma’ … Gertrude,” she said.

Good. Then come along with me and I’ll show you what there is to be done. And if you do it really well I’ll give you an extra shilling in your wages, for polishing silver is my worst nightmare!”

Annie, aged one hundred and two, sighed as the thrush fluttered away, finally out of sight. Tht bird, she reflected, was such a good listener.

That few moments marked the very start of her education.

© Peter Rogerson 06.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 6, 2020
Last Updated on May 6, 2020
Tags: silver, artist, gardener, war wound


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