A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Sometimes it’s not so easy to remember and smile,” whispered Annie to a spider busy crawling across the top of the window, dragging a delicate filament behind it, well beyond her reach with a duster in her hundred-plus years of shrinking.

It had take a whole week for them to let her go even though mother and the Captain had proved beyond any possible doubt that the man who killed Gertrude Davidson was alive and well and living on the proceeds of his ill-gotten gains in the village of Swanspottle only a hop and a skip from Goosedown and the big house.

To start with the fat policeman was annoyed that an ordinary civilian like Muriel Stoker had arrived at a different answer to the question of who killed Mrs Davidson than he had He was annoyed and disbelieving even when Captain Davidson was at her side agreeing with everything she said and adding a bit more of his own for good measure. Maybe it was the colourful language learned in war-torn France that put that good officer into such a bad mood, especially when he discovered exactly which of his masters the Captain was on intimate terms with.

We have to go by the book,” he growled, “and the book says she’s in clink until the judge says she ain’t.”

And if she’s innocent?” asked the Captain, “is that what we fought the great War for, so that innocent hard-working young girls can be incarcerated with prostitutes and villains at the whim of a fat policeman?”

I’ll see the magistrate,” the blushing officer said, and he did nothing of the sort. Instead he had a nice hot cup of tea re-enforced with something from a flask suspiciously similar to the one the magistrate secreted about his person.

And the week droned past until, hip-hip hooray, she found herself once more free as a bird.

You know, mum,” said Annie when they were both at the house they shared, she and her mother, and all the nastiness was over and she’d been set free from the cell that had confined her, “the worst part is nobody apologised to me! Not the fat policeman who thought he’d done his duty because to him adding one and one together always make three, not the magistrate and his secret little flask of spirits, not the old woman who made her living on the streets until she was caught and put in prison who said that everyone was really guilty even though they said they weren’t!”

But you can forget it all now, dearest,” her mother said, as if she really could forget it.

And now over three quarters of a century of living a full life had passed and it still hurt. “But I couldn’t,” she told the thrush, “not even after all these years! And, you know, if mum and Ralf hadn’t put themselves out … if mum hadn’t learned to drive like she did, if Ralf in his terrible grief hadn’t proved himself to be the very best of men and been happy to help, then it would have been me swinging on the gallows one cold and crispy morning and not the repulsive Dirk Spencer, may he still be rotting in hell!”

It was the one and only time she’d rejoiced at the death of another human being, the time when they heard that finally, after all sorts of wasted appeals to the judiciary, Dirk Spencer had been taken one sunny morning to the condemned cell where the noose hung waiting for him and the floor was ready to give way so that he could lurch down to the cell below, and swing until someone cut his dead body down and put him in a body bag. Yes, she and mum and Ralf had celebrated together. She’d even been allowed a glass of sherry, small, discreet and unpleasant, but sherry none the less.

It had been almost a year since the dreadful night when Gertrude had been knifed to bloody death and somehow, she’d never been able to explain how or why, Muriel and Ralf had become ever closer together as friends, one a decorated Captain in the gig house and the other a grieving widow in a small council house. No longer the kitchen maid, Muriel was a welcome visitor to the front room of the big house with all its finery and grand framed pictures, and equally no longer in her often threadbare unfashionable clothes. Rather too quickly for Annie to keep up with her she she had accumulated dresses and skirts that were of the highest and most fashionable cut. And sometimes she even borrowed Ralf’s car to return home in and leave parked outside their small house over night, if the weather was inclement.

Driving’s easy,” she told neighbours, who didn’t know because nobody else on her street ever drove a car. “I learned when I needed to, and the Captain’s been good enough to loan me his motor.”

It wasn’t long after the execution of Dirk Spencer that Ralf received the one bit of news he had secretly been dreaming of ever since tragedy had befallen him and his wife, and he wasn’t thinking of the silver, most of which had been returned by then.

A publisher had agreed to publish Gertrude’s novel! She had written the last full stop and finished it before her death and, being a perfectionist, she had tinkered with it until she hoped to be satisfied that it was as perfect as it could be, but then she had been murdered and her tinkering had to come to a metaphorical full stop.

Poor old Ralf,” sighed Annie to the thrush as she set her tray ready for tea time, “Gertrude had wanted a pen name rather than see her own in print, and she had chosen Letitia Maiden. He didn’t know why, but he had agreed that it sounded the sort of name that would look good in a bookshop window. And he wasn’t the sort of man to go against his good lady’s wishes even though she was dead and could do nothing about it if he did, though I do know he’d have personally been happier if it had been published under the name of Gertrude Davidson.”

She sat down again, in that favourite chair of hers, and almost cursed at the way the sun shone and she couldn’t get to its warming rays yet every bird in the heavens could.

For the dust jacket, that’s what they call the loose cover, he chose the very first picture of me that he’d painted,” whispered Annie, half to herself and half to the window, “the one that he said he’d painted really as an experiment, to see if she’d like it. She never actually chose the one she preferred saying that they were all so similar that it was hard to place any one as superior to the others. But a decision had to be made and Ralf chose that one and put the title in a sort of antique scroll on it, She Walks Like a Ghost by Letitia Maiden… yes, he stuck to her pen name, though I know it was a struggle for him when, in his mind and to his certain knowledge the book was by Gertrude Davidson. I think that picture was the best. At least, it made me look intelligent, which was his impossible triumph.”

Pursuing the route to publication had been his one great achievement in peace time. That’s what he always claimed, though there was a gallery filled with his paintings that suggested he might have achieved a great deal more. But that was Ralf, never good at self-promotion, referring to his artwork casually and dismissively as daubs that a child might do better. But he had promoted Gertrude’s book with a single mindedness despite the limitations imposed on him by a leg that refused to work properly.

And it was during that period immediately after the murder and up to the publication of Gertrude’s one and only novel that he seemed to see more in my mother than just a kitchen skivvy,” thought Annie, “and he needed her ad grew to like her. She was his driver and she willingly took him to places she would never have dreamed she’d go. I went along once or twice and she was really a good driver despite her almost total lack of experience. Ralf said it right when he told people she’d taken to the wheel like a duck takes to water.”

The thrush tapped the window as if not wanting her to stop, keen to hear more of the story, and for once she felt obliged to carry on.

They planned to marry,” she sighed, “but it was the late thirties and army boots were travelling heavily towards war. And it was under the first pre-emptive shadows of that terrifying possibility that I met and fell head over heels with Klaus. Klaus Grable for my sins. He was German, and I loved him.”

The thrush nodded. It clearly understood all about love.

© Peter Rogerson, 12.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 12, 2020
Last Updated on May 12, 2020
Tags: imprisonment, release, friendship, publication, pen-name


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