Читать онлайн «The Willow Pool»
‘What sort of a job? Skivvying?’
‘People like the Kenworthys don’t employ skivvies! But let’s make a brew, Nell, and a plate of sarnies, then I’ll tell you about it all, right from when the milk lorry picked me up.’
‘You’ve been hitching lifts, then?’
‘The driver was a lady. Look, Nell, let me tell it? Don’t be saying I’ve done something I shouldn’t till you’ve got the whole story?’
‘All right, then. I’ll provide the tea; you supply the sarnies. Then we’ll have a good natter.’
‘Gone to bed ages ago. Said I was bothering over nothing!’
‘You said he was worried sick.’
‘Now see here, Meg Blundell, you get on with them sarnies and I’ll go fetch me tea caddy! All right?’
They talked long into the night about how it had been; about the lady at the post office and the job on a card in the window; about Polly Kenworthy and Mrs John and the elderly ladies and the pump trough; talked about peace and quiet and the little white-walled bedroom with matching curtains and bedspread, and the washstand with a blue and white china bowl and jug on it.
‘And you’ll be expected to help clean the place and run up and down the stairs and fetch and carry; all for a pound a week!’
‘A pound a week and Candlefold, Nell!’
‘So Doll was right?’
‘Ma’s heaven on earth, and I want to give it a try. It might only be for two weeks, but I want to go there.’
‘Tommy and me’ll miss you.’
‘I’m not going to Australia! Once the buses and trains get back to normal I can be here and back easy in a day – if I take on the job permanently, that is.’
‘You will. That house has got you charmed like it charmed your ma. What’s to do with the place? Even after she’d got herself into trouble, not one bad word did Doll say about it!’
‘And now I’ve seen it I know why.’ Though there weren’t words to tell about the brightness of the air; about the trees and the sky, all high and wide around them. And the old part of Candlefold, with its huge entrance hall and walls covered from floor to ceiling in carved wooden panels. And the big bell beside the door, and birdsong.
‘Ar, hey. I suppose there’ll be no living with you till you’ve given it a try. And it won’t be for long.’
‘Two weeks, Nell.’
Only it wouldn’t be for two weeks. Candlefold had called her, and as far as Meg Blundell was concerned she was staying for ever!
‘Did you tell them who you was?’ Nell asked, spooning tea.
‘Decided not to. Said nuthink about Ma, or that I was born there. I’m going to wait and see what I can find out first. As far as they’re concerned I’m someone who went there for a job. I never said nuthink about Ma getting this house for a shillin’, and anyway, the man who gave it to her is dead now – Mr John Kenworthy. He died when Polly was quite young. The old lady who is sick is his mother, Mrs Kenworthy, and the other one – Polly’s mother – is called Mrs John so as not to get them mixed up.’
‘And the name Blundell – didn’t it ring any bells? After all, it wasn’t all that long ago. Surely Mrs John would remember a housemaid called Dolly Blundell who got herself into trouble? That lady would be there when you was born, don’t forget. It was her husband who let Doll stay there to have you, then gave her this house.’
‘Nothing was said, Nell. After all, Blundell is a fairly common name around these parts. There’s Ince Blundell and Blundellsands, the posh areas. And I don’t look anything like Ma did. Why should Mrs John get suspicious?’
‘OK, then – why should she?’ Nell shrugged, and wondered instead about the flush to Meg’s cheeks and the brightness of her eyes.
‘Is there a son?’ she asked bluntly.
‘I believe so. He’s a soldier and Polly is engaged to his best friend. Want mustard on yours, Nell?’
Although they had talked late into the night, Meg awoke early, lying very still for a little while to hug her joy to her.
There was much to do today. She must take her ration book to the Ministry of Food office, get a temporary card for two weeks; and she must draw out the money from Ma’s bankbook and write to Kip and make arrangements for Tommy and Nell to take in her coal ration when it came, and for them both to keep an eye on number 1 for a couple of weeks, after which she would be back. Back to visit, she hoped, on her first day off, though there was no need to say that, yet.
‘I did hear the buses are gettin’ through again to Skelhorne Street,’ Nell said. ‘You’ll be able to get a bus from Lime Street through to Ormskirk tomorrow, no messin’.’
‘Yes, and maybe catch the eleven o’clock bus to Nether Barton.’ Allowing for the walk, carrying her case, she could be ringing that bell tomorrow by one o’clock. ‘You’re not mad at me, Nell?’
‘No. More mad at myself at realizing I’m goin’ to miss you! But Doll would want you to give it a try, and if heaven gets to be too much for you, girl, there’s always Tippet’s Yard to come home to! Reckon I’d do the same if I was your age!’
The post office in Scotland Road was open again for business, its windows boarded up, the inside gloomy. There was a queue in front of Meg and a longer one behind her.
‘Gotyeridentitycard?’ The lady behind the counter was too busy to go into minute details over a few pounds. Meg handed over the withdrawal form and her mother’s identity card.
‘Four pounds, ten shillings you want?’
‘Yes, please. Leave the eight and six in, will you?’
Meg signed D. Blundell with the exaggerated looped D and a rounded B. It might, she thought, have been her mother’s own signature, so well had she done it.
The clerk pushed the book, in which she had folded three pound notes, three ten-shilling notes and the identity card, under the grille.
Meg walked out into the road, relief shuddering through her. Though why she should feel like this she didn’t know, because it was her money, left to her in Ma’s will, and if she had signed – or was it forged? – Ma’s name, she hadn’t done anything illegal; not really illegal!
The branch office of the Ministry of Food, next door but one, which had been damaged by the same bomb that had closed the post office, was now open too.
If there was a phrase that would go down in history when this war was over, Meg decided, it was the time-after-time requests for identity cards!
Meg offered her ration book and watched as two weeks’ food was obliterated by a purple stamp and two one-week emergency cards filled in with her name and identity number.
Now there was only a letter to write to Kip, the floors at number 1 to be swept and mopped, and the last of the bomb dust shifted from the furniture. Then she would pack enough for two weeks, collect Ma’s case from Nell, and all would be ready for an early start in the morning.
She wouldn’t sleep tonight, but who cared?
Meg was surprised and pleased to find Polly Kenworthy waiting at the bus stop.
‘How did you know when I’d be getting here?’ she beamed.
‘I didn’t. I was posting a parcel to Davie and Mrs Potter asked me if the young lady had managed to find Candlefold – about the job, she meant – and I told her you had. And that you’d be coming today. The bus was about due, so I hung around just in case.’
‘Did you think I wouldn’t come?’
‘I hoped you would. My bike is outside the post office. We can put your case on the seat – save you carrying it.’
‘That’s very kind of you,’ Meg said slowly, remembering how her mother had spoken, feeling that now was her chance to knock the edges off her Liverpool accent; talk proper, like Ma had done.
‘So how often do you write to your young man,’ Meg asked as they walked.
‘Every day. Sometimes more than that – even if it’s only I love you and miss you – oh, you know what it’s like when you’d give anything to be with them for just a couple of minutes.’
‘No. I don’t. There’s someone I write to; he’s in the Merchant Navy. He’d like us to go steady – even said he’d buy me a ring in Sydney, but I hope he won’t. I – I’m not ready to be in love with anybody yet.’
‘Not ready, Meg? But falling in love just happens, whether you’re ready for it or not! You see a man and that’s it! The minute I laid eyes on Davie everything went boing! inside me. He’s in Mark’s regiment – Mark is my brother, did I tell you? – and he got a crafty thirty-six-hour pass and brought Davie along. They were walking across the courtyard, Mark said something, and Davie threw back his head and laughed. That was the exact moment I fell in love with him. I didn’t know who he was and it never occurred to me to wonder if he had a girl or might even be married. He was the man I wanted; simple as that! And don’t tell me I’m too young to know my own mind, that I haven’t been around enough. I met Davie, so I don’t want to gad around now. I just want us to be married.’
‘And will you be, or must you wait till you’re twenty-one?’
‘Mummy would like me to wait. She agreed to our being engaged but she wants us to give it time, so we’re both sure. Mind, if Davie gets posted overseas she might let us get married on his embarkation leave, which wouldn’t be very satisfactory, really.’
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