Читать онлайн «The Willow Pool»
‘In the window, on a postcard. Thought you’d come in to ask for directions.’
‘Oh, er, yes!’ Heaven help her, a job! ‘Any idea what it’s about?’
‘Just general help around the place, I imagine. Hours to suit, Polly said, or live in. They’re pretty desperate, if you ask me. Mrs John’s got a lot on her plate.’
‘It’s a big house, isn’t it?’
‘Not any more, so to speak. The powers-that-be took Candlefold – left the Kenworthys only the very old part of the house that used to be the servants’ quarters in the old days. But there’s no help to be had now for love nor money, and the Kenworthys such nice people. Real gentry, you know!’
‘Ar.’ She did know. Ma had said much the same thing. Often. ‘So how will I get there?’
‘Straight down the road you’ll see the gates. They’re locked, so carry on a couple of hundred yards till you come to a stile. From there, cross the field to the far corner and you’ll come out at the back of the house – the part they’re living in now. It’s the way I go to deliver the letters. You’ll see a stone archway that opens on to the courtyard – the door is straight ahead of you. Are you used to housework, then?’
‘Yes. And I nursed Ma when she was sick. I’m not afraid to roll my sleeves up.’
‘Then you’ll be more than welcome, if you suit. Old Mrs Kenworthy is bedridden, poor lady. In pain a lot of the time. Would be a mercy if she was to slip away. But I’m not one to gossip, you’ll understand.’
‘Oh, of course not! And thanks for your help.’
‘Be sure to let me know how things go,’ called the postmistress as Meg left, and she turned to smile, and said she would, then took a deep breath because her heart was thudding so.
A job at Candlefold! Ma had known about it all along! Must have, or why was her daughter here now, flush-cheeked and hardly able to believe her luck, because all she had ever thought to do was get a look, somehow, at that pump trough.
She picked up her bag, straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin, walking head high as Ma had always done, no matter how bad things had been.
‘This is it, Meg!’ And oh, if there really was a heaven and a God in it, she could do with a bit of help right this minute because she needed – no, wanted – that job; wanted to live and work in the middle of fields and trees and be happy like Ma had been. She’d had enough of Tippet’s Yard and rows of little houses and mucky streets and bombs, and here, on a plate, was her chance to get out of it!
The gates, when Meg reached them, were chained and padlocked. They were wide and tall, and patterned in scrolls and swirls, and far more beautiful than the gates to Sefton Park taken away by the iron collectors. She was glad They hadn’t melted down Candlefold’s gates. She gazed down the long, straight drive to a red-brick, two-storeyed house with little gabled windows in the roof. Even from a distance, she could see that the downstairs windows were shuttered from the inside; that the drive was weed-choked, the grass either side of it in need of cutting.
She remembered Ma’s faded photographs and the trees and lawns and flowerbeds and the garden party for wounded soldiers. For whatever reason the Government had taken the house, they’d got it well shut up! And why could those men in London just take what they wanted because there was a war on; your house, your car and, at the time of Dunkirk, your little boat, even!
Meg wondered what Ma would have made of the neglect, then turned abruptly away. That part of Candlefold was of little interest to her. It was a pump trough she needed to find!
The stile looked over a field of sheep and lambs. Meg hoped sheep weren’t fierce, then decided it was only bulls she needed to look out for! Carefully, at first, looking to either side, she began to walk.
The lambs were pretty little things; the old mothers just looked at her with stupid faces, then went on with their chewing. Braver now, she made for the corner of the field and the far stile that would lead to an archway and a courtyard.
The archway was in the centre of an old, thick wall. The stones were uneven and plants with tiny purple flowers grew between the cracks. There was a safeness about that wall, as if it had stood for hundreds of years and seen things you would never dream of. Dry-mouthed, she stepped beneath it to see the cobbled courtyard of the long-ago photograph.
Her heart began to thud, her cheeks flushed red. She was looking at Ma’s heaven on earth and a trough Dolly Blundell once stood beside to be photographed. Ma had sat on that old granite trough often, and had laughed beside it and been happy.
All at once Meg knew she had done the right thing, because there was nothing foolish in following a dream. Head high, she made for the wide, low, nail-studded door, because it was no use just standing there, wallowing in sentimentality! Ma had got her here and now it was up to herself. Chin jutting, she knocked hard with bare knuckles.
‘It isn’t any use doing that!’
Meg spun round to see a fair-haired girl wearing a short cotton dress.
‘Beg pardon?’ It was all she could think of to say.
‘That door’s so thick they wouldn’t hear you knocking on the other side. You’ve got to ring.’
She took the chain that dangled from a bell hanging beside the door, shaking it to make the most terrible din.
‘See what you mean,’ Meg grinned. ‘They’ll hear that half a mile away!’
‘They once did. Years and years ago, when this was a farmhouse, they rung that bell so the workers in the fields could hear it. Now, we shouldn’t really use it. Bells aren’t supposed to be rung, except if the invasion starts, but we are so far from civilization, it doesn’t matter. I’m Polly Kenworthy, by the way, and I hope you’ve come about the job. Come in, won’t you?’
She lifted the heavy iron latch, pushing on the door with a shoulder. It opened slowly, creaking protest.
‘Hecky!’ Meg gazed at the huge, high room. Its walls were wood-panelled, the roof rounded and high. Despite the warmth of the day and the brightness outside, it was dim and cool.
‘Mm. Like the inside of a church, isn’t it? Come into the kitchen and sit down whilst I find Mummy. You have come about the job?’ she asked anxiously.
‘I have, though I haven’t got any references. Worked in a shop that got bombed, see?’
‘Look – we’re so desperate for help I don’t suppose references will be asked for. Mummy’s a pretty fair judge of people. I’m sure she’ll like you. What’s your name, by the way?’
‘Meg Blundell.’ For no reason she could think of she offered her hand, which was taken without hesitation and shaken warmly.
‘Take a pew. I think Mummy will be with Gran – or Nanny.’
‘No she isn’t. She heard the bell!’ The voice from the doorway caused Meg to turn. ‘Gran is comfortable for the time being, and Nanny is asleep. I’m Mary Kenworthy. Have you come about the job? If you have, you’ll be the first! Girls don’t want to bury themselves in the middle of nowhere these days. Be a dear, Polly, and put the kettle on? You’ll join us, Miss – er …?’
‘Blundell. Meg. And I wouldn’t mind living here. When you come from Liverpool that’s been bombed something terrible, a bit of peace and quiet is just what the doctor ordered!’
She stopped, embarrassed, wondering if she had gone too far; been just a little bit forward.
‘Then you’re welcome, Meg, if you won’t mind helping out sometimes with two elderly ladies. I’d better tell you right from the start that Mrs Kenworthy senior is an invalid. She has chronic arthritis and we have to do everything for her – sometimes even feed her. And Nanny is still with us. She is fit of body, but her mind has gone. She’s very childlike now, and can be rather – well, mischievous, you know, if we don’t watch her. There would be quite a bit of running up and down stairs, I’m afraid.’
Her eyes were anxious – pleading almost, Meg thought; looked as if a good night’s sleep would do her no harm. And she was straight, an’ all, looked you in the eyes, which was to be expected of a Kenworthy.
‘Then right from the start, I’d better tell you I haven’t got references, but if you’ll give me a try, I don’t mind giving a hand with naughty nannies,’ she grinned, ‘and I know a bit about nursing sick people. Ma died of TB, you see, so I know what it’s like.’
‘Tuberculosis? Oh, my dear, I hope you –’
‘No. I haven’t got it,’ Meg interrupted. ‘When Ma died, the people from the Health came and stoved out the house – sent me to hospital for tests. I’m all right. I didn’t catch it. I’m only pale because that’s the way I always am!’
‘Please – forgive me. But it’s natural to ask, you’ll understand?’ Nervously, she brushed her hair from her face. ‘And I’m not too worried about references. You’ve got an open face, and I’m not often wrong about people. Will you give it a try for a couple of weeks? The wages would be a pound a week, all found, and there would be time off, which we could arrange between us. Shall we give it a go?’
‘I’d have to live in …’ Meg warned.
‘That would be no problem.’
‘Then when would you want me to start? I’d have to go home first, see to one or two things and collect a ration card for two weeks. I could start the day after tomorrow, if that’s all right with you – and if you’re sure about me, ’cause you don’t know the first thing about me, do you? I might be a Liverpool scally!’
‘Scally?’ Polly set down a tray.
‘Scallywag. A wrong ’un, a thief. Somebody what’s light-fingered.’
‘And are you a scally?’
‘Course not – though youse people aren’t to know that. But I’d like to give it a try, and the wages are quite satisfactory,’ she added primly.
‘So let’s have that cup of tea.’ Relief showed plainly on Mary Kenworthy’s face. ‘Then Polly can show you the house and where you’ll be sleeping. We have three empty bedrooms; you can choose the one you like best. The bus to Preston leaves the village at five – that gives us a couple of hours, doesn’t it? Will you be very late getting back, my dear?’
‘About ten o’clock, but it’ll still be light. No bother!’
Meg took the china cup and saucer with a hand that shook. There was so much she wanted to say, to ask – like why, all of a sudden, should she be so lucky and what would go wrong to spoil it? She had come here on a whim to find a welcome she had not expected. But maybe it was all a dream; maybe she was going to wake up in the slant-roofed bedroom and draw back the curtains to see rooftops and Tippet’s Yard.
Yet it wasn’t a dream. All this was honest-to-God real, and if she didn’t grab the chance with both hands she was a fool, because Ma must have gone to a lot of trouble to get her here! It was the only explanation that made any sense. She had Ma to thank for this!
‘And where have you been till now?’ Nell Shaw demanded. ‘Coming in at this hour! Tommy and me was sick with worry!’
‘You know where I’ve been. It’s only eleven, and I’m ravenous, Nell. There’s a tin of Spam Kip sent in the cupboard. What say we open it and make ourselves some sarnies? Then I’ll tell you all about it!’
‘There’s something to tell, then? You found the place?’
‘I did! And a job too! A pound a week; live in! We’re giving it a go for two weeks, see if I suit – and if they suit me. Remember the photo of Ma and two maids standing by a stone trough? Well, it’s still there. It was like stepping back more’n twenty years!’
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