A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



After all this almost a hundred and two years,” thought Annie Grable after tidying her side plate away and then washing it before pouring a small sherry, her one little treat after a spartan lunch, “after this long it’s hard to remember what I was really like back in nineteen thirty two, aged fourteen and suddenly immersed in a world that to me was more sophisticated than anything I had ever dreamed of. I mean, all that silver and a lovely woman with nothing to do with her life having to force herself to do something or, perhaps, go mad...”

Outside, the thrush sang a little squawking tune, and Annie smiled. She couldn’t see the bird, it had perched just our of sight, but she could hear it, and that made everything all right. She might be suffering the indignity of lock down but that precious thrush wasn’t. And this enforced imprisonment was an indignity. She frowned. Imprisonment was the right word: it reminded her, excruciatingly, of prison.

She’d finished polishing the last piece of silver and arranged everything properly, like it had been before she started only now it was shining, and the mistress, Gertrude that is, came sashaying into the room where she was as if she could hear music that Annie couldn’t, and was moving to it.

I see you’ve finished the silver, Annie,” she said. “You’ve done a brilliant job! I don’t take anywhere near as long when I do it, but then, I don’t do it anywhere near as well.”

Annie tried to work out whether that was a compliment or not, and decided that it probably was.

Thank you, Gertrude,” she said quietly and rather meekly. This was her first day at the big house and she had yet to get used to it. For a start, this Christian name business… she’d never called an adult by her Christian name before. It seemed all wrong yet at the same time there was a rightness about it as if in the perfect world she and Gertrude shared some kind of equality.

Ralf wants me to take you to the studio where he works,” Gertrude told her, “if you don’t mind, that is, now that you’ve finished the silver.”

She didn’t mind: of course she didn’t mind! It wasn’t her place doing anything as inappropriate to her position in the world as minding, was it?

So she followed Gertrude along a short corridor to a flight of stairs, a narrow flight that felt rather insignificant as if they were meant for the hoi polloi to use invisibly, there and not there and the silent engine of the house. And those stairs went quite a long way up, so far that Annie began to wonder if they were going to emerge on the roof! But they didn’t.

I wonder how the Captain manages it with that bad limp of his,” thought Annie to herself.

At the top was a single large room with two windows, and it was a chaos of paints and easels and half finished pictures and the detritus that was the result of creation.

Once upon a time, when there was an army of servants, this was the lady’s dormitory,” murmured Gertrude. “I wouldn’t have liked that, would you? Sharing a bedroom with an army of other women, all of them seeing everything you were wearing, whether your unmentionables were clean or old or even brand new. It can’t have been pleasant, with only cold water to wash in. I would have felt sorry for them, but then, it was all before our time, before my time and, of course, ages before yours.”

Captain Davidson was sitting before one easel with his wounded leg sticking out in front of him and resting on a low stool. He had a brush in one hand and he was staring at the paper on the easel as if he was trying to mentally conjure an image onto it.

He must have heard them clomping on bare floor boards, but he ignored the sounds and merely frowned.

He’s concentrating on an inner vision,” whispered Gertrude, and she coughed theatrically. “We’re here, darling,” she said to the motionless artist.

He turned round slowly and smiled.

Two angels from the brightest Heaven,” he said quietly, “I never dreamed there would be such a thing in this house in my time. It’s as if the Lord had blessed me, maybe a celestial reward for this,” and he tapped the outstretched leg and winced as he did it.

My dearest Gertrude has a mighty vision,” he said, “she has great talent when it comes to words, and she plans to write a novel. But not just any novel. Oh dear me, not something as mundane as that! She plans to write the greatest of novels, a great roller-coaster of a tome that will embrace all of mankind! And it is to be written as though the entire saga was being observed by a servant girl, a maid, who like all good maids is everywhere, yet nowhere, rarely seen.”

Er … yes sir,” she stammered, not knowing whether any comment, or none, was called for.

And I am to illustrate the work,” he said grandly, “with what little talent I have I am going to create a masterpiece for the front cover. And masterpiece it will have to be or it will lower the tone of Gertrude’s mighty work, and that would never do...”

Her memory flickered out as the thrush appeared and, magically, sat on her window sill, looking in as if to suggest that freedom at any cost has to be better than incarceration, and Annie sighed and agreed with it. She was beginning to hate this lock down. Damn the virus that would almost certainly take her life if she so much as breathed the least particle of it in. It would go to her lungs, would corrupt them, and she would die gasping furiously and in vain for precious oxygen to give her heart one more heartbeat. And death was the one thing she didn’t want to contemplate.

I’m sorry, little bird,” she whispered, “I’d come and sing with you if I could, but I can’t … there are two steps down, and they are beyond me in this wretched state I find myself in.”

She shook her mind back to the past, the long ago land where she could take refuge from the nasty present, an immutable, unchangeable place, a foreign country.

Yes sir,” she murmured, not quite sure whether what he’d said needed any response, or none.

Gertrude tells me that you are the precise and very pretty maid she has in mind,” he said, “and when I look at you I see that you are indeed exceptionally pretty. In fact, I imagine you might be the prettiest young thing in all of Goosedown! If I were a younger man and not yet wed to my lovely wife I might even seek your company out for myself! But maybe it is just as well things are not different to the way they are. Maybe it would be an encumbrance for a pretty young thing like you to be burdened by a cripple with a lame leg… And more, much worse. It is not just the leg that is lame.”

Now come on, darling you’ll embarrass the girl,” chastised Gertrude, yet with a smile on her face, “just tell her what sort of pose you might want and ask her to practise it in the privacy of her own bedroom so that nobody else will see, and when you are ready for her she will know exactly what you want and waste no time in creating the perfect attitude for you.”

It’s really quite simple,” sighed Mr Davidson, “I see you turning around to walk away, it doesn’t matter what from, yet at the same time looking back directly at me. This will illustrate your omnipresence that goes unnoticed, and yet you see everything, the good, the bad and the ugly… Can you do that?”

Annie thought for a moment. It seemed a simple enough thing for her to do. So she turned round in an attitude of one who was leaving, and turned her head questioningly towards Ralf Davidson.

Beautiful!” he said, as if enraptured, “purely beautiful! Now think, would you be able to do it if you were wearing ordinary clothes? Maybe something a little, how can I put it? Flimsy?”

But nothing racy,” put in Gertrude, “nothing the least bit vulgar! You are a maid, remember, and maids are rarely flimsy.”

Of course not,” he added, quietly as if momentarily disappointed, “never vulgar,” and the memory of ancient times switched off in her mind as someone rang her doorbell.

Now what on Earth?” she grumbled, and slowly, painfully, made her way to the door.

The postman had been, late as it was, you could never depend on the post to come at the advertised time any more, and a voice called out, “parcel on the doorstep!”

She opened the door and looked out. The parcel was small and light, though it wouldn’t have passed through her letter box, and she picked it up with no difficulty and took it in. She knew what it was. She’d been expecting it.

© Peter Rogerson 08.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 8, 2020
Last Updated on May 8, 2020


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..

3. Exodus 3. Exodus

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson