Читать онлайн «The Willow Pool»
‘But how, when I don’t have any clothing coupons? They haven’t given them out yet, and it doesn’t say when they will!’
Her eyes filled with tears, and she blew her nose noisily.
‘Hush, Polly. It isn’t the end of the world!’ There was a hint of admonition in Mary Kenworthy’s voice. ‘If you read what it says, you can give up your margarine coupons instead – till the proper ones are issued.’
‘But how can anyone do that? We need the margarine to eat! What a stupid idea!’
‘So how about waiting like we’ll all have to do? Then the minute you get your hands on the coupons you can nip off to town and hunt down a wedding dress – though how many coupons you’ll have to give up to get one, heaven only knows! There’s a lot of material in a wedding dress,’ Meg cautioned. ‘It seems that a dress is going to take seven coupons, but I don’t think it applies to long wedding dresses.’
‘I think what Meg says makes sense.’ Mary Kenworthy stared pointedly over the top of her reading glasses. ‘And if the worst comes to the worst, do you have to have a white dress?’
‘But every bride has one! It wouldn’t be like a wedding without one!’
‘Then it would seem to me, Polly, that you are more in love with the idea of walking down the aisle in white than you are with Davie!’
With a scraping of chair legs Polly flung from the table, to run sobbing across the courtyard.
‘I’d better go –’
‘No, Meg. Leave her. If she loves Davie as much as I’m sure she does, then she’ll see how unimportant it is. Come to think of it, there’ll be a lot of shattered dreams, this morning …’
Polly returned ten minutes later, tears still wet on her cheeks, her expression contrite.
‘I’m sorry – I truly am. Forgive me? I acted like a spoiled brat. As if it matters what I wear! When I thought about it, I realized that if Davie turned up tomorrow on a week’s embarkation leave, I’d marry him in my best cotton frock and Sunday hat!’
‘You’d marry him, girl, in an old sack with a pan on yer ’ead,’ Meg grinned.
‘Yes, I would. It isn’t what you wear at a wedding, but how you say the words.’
‘And never forget, darling girl, that I know what it is like to have the man you love away at war. So don’t worry, you will wear white when you marry Davie – how ever many clothing coupons it takes. I promise.’
‘That’s settled, then,’ Meg beamed. ‘And we’d better listen to all the news broadcasts so we won’t miss bein’ told how we get the dratted coupons. And when we do, you can be off to the shops for a weddin’ dress – if they haven’t all disappeared under the counter, that is! An’ you must go with her, Mrs John. I’m not taking no for an answer. No excuses. I’m here now, and a day out at the shops will do you both good – even if there won’t be a lot to buy. Now what do you say to that, eh?’
‘I’d say,’ Polly smiled, tears gone, ‘that if I’d been lucky enough to have a sister – well, I wish she’d have been exactly like you!’
Indeed, it had been the matter of the unfairness of clothes rationing that gave strength to Meg’s suspicions about the true state of Nanny Boag’s mind the next day.
‘Awful, isn’t it, Nanny, and Polly so wantin’ a white dress and white shoes and some pretty nighties and things for when she gets married?’
‘That, I suggest, is Polly’s worry and not yours! For my own part, I have worked it out that I can manage quite well for the rest of my days on what is in my wardrobe and drawers. I don’t go out, so I won’t need new shoes nor a winter coat – that’s nineteen coupons saved already,’ she smiled smugly. ‘And I have enough knitting wool put by for the odd cardigan and slippers. Oh no, clothes rationing won’t worry me at all!’
‘Then you can give them nineteen coupons to Polly! If she can’t get a proper weddin’ dress she’ll have to have one made for her. At two coupons for a yard of white satin, that would be nine and a half yards – more than enough!’
‘Them nineteen coupons? Don’t you mean those nineteen coupons? You speak so badly, child. And if you have come to play with Polly, then she’ll be at church with the family, so I suggest you collect your nanny from the kitchen and go back to where you came from!’
‘Polly isn’t at church. You know they went yesterday – Sunday.’
‘Don’t argue! What Nanny says in the nursery is never to be contradicted. Now be off with you, little girl!’
Strewth! At it again! Meg closed the door behind her. When something didn’t please her, that one could change from sane to silly at the drop of a hat!
And wasn’t that it? Nanny had read about clothing coupons in the paper; was even able to calculate how many she would be saving. Yet the moment it was suggested she give some to Polly, the daft look had come back on her face and she was in another world again.
Yet the truth was as plain as the nose on your face, Meg thought triumphantly as everything clicked into place. Nanny Boag was as sane as most folk, given her age, and it was only when something didn’t suit her did she start her gaga act! She didn’t need her coupons, but no one else was getting their hands on them, so pull down the shutters and act stupid!
‘Gotcher, you crafty old biddy!’ Meg gloated. That one was as normal and nimble as need be, all things considered, but she’d got the Kenworthys fooled! From now on, though, she would have her work cut out pulling the wool over Margaret Mary Blundell’s eyes!
Though something Nanny had said was right, Meg sighed. No denying it: she didn’t speak properly! She got her thems and thoses wrong, and dropped aitches and spoke with a thick Liverpool accent – which was all right for Liverpool where most people she knew spoke the same and understood each other perfectly well, but it wasn’t right for Candlefold. She must ask Polly to help her. It was the only way she would ever learn to talk proper like Ma!
The second incident to give strength to Meg’s suspicions was two days later when the death of Kaiser Wilhelm II was reported, taking only four lines in the daily paper, which was all he deserved, come to think of it. She had been on her way to collect Mrs Kenworthy’s breakfast tray when dreadful wailing came to her from the floor above.
‘Oh, my goodness!’ Meg had taken the narrow nursery stairs two at a time to stop, breathless, outside the open door.
‘And thank God you are dead, you pig! It was you caused my John to be wounded! If you hadn’t started that war he’d be alive today! You should have died in those filthy trenches and not lived another twenty years! But I hope you died in pain, you evil bastard, and I wish I’d been there to see it! I’d have stood and cheered!’
‘Nanny! What’s to do?’ Meg pushed the door wider. ‘You’ll do yourself an upset, carryin’ on like that!’
‘Like what?’ The old women turned, eyes wide, lips relaxed in a smile, looking so cherubic that it was hardly possible to believe the venom in her words, nor the swearing either.
‘The Kaiser, I mean. Him bein’ dead.’
‘Dead, is he? Well, fancy that, now. I once heard it said he had a funny left arm – withered, you know. Must have been a great trial to him!’
‘It must have.’ Yet that same Kaiser with whom Nanny now sympathized had, only seconds ago, been loudly cursed by that apple-cheeked, smiling old lady! ‘Is there anything I can get you, Nanny?’ she said quietly.
‘No, thank you. Pop off and play. I’ll ring for one of the maids if I want anything.’
She had beamed again, the two-faced old cat, Meg fumed; changed from her cursing and swearing to a soft-voiced, gentle old woman and all because she had realized she might have been heard!
My, but she was going to take some watching, though how she was going to convince Mrs John and Polly about Nanny’s deceiving ways Meg sighed, was altogether another matter!
Meg had brushed the worn stone floor of the entrance hall and was dusting the panelling when Mary Kenworthy said, ‘Do you wonder as I do, Meg, how many people have dusted and polished and touched those panels?’
‘Thousands, I reckon. I like touching them. Silly, isn’t it, liking the feel of wood under your fingertips …’
‘Not at all. I feel the same way myself. And be sure that the long-ago woodcarver would be pleased to hear you say it.’
‘How long ago?’
‘About five hundred years, I would say. It was the third Kenworthy who had this hall panelled – to proclaim his growing wealth, I suppose. When the Lancastrians ruled England, it would be. Y’know,’ she smiled, ‘hand-me-down talk has it that Richard Kenworthy – he was known as Dickon – wanted his great hall embellished with linenfold carving, but the artisan who did it didn’t please Master Dickon. It’s said that he told the woodcarver it looked more like drips of tallow down the side of a candle and that he would be the laughing stock of the Riding, with such a shoddy job! Whereupon the crafty carver told him that he would be the envy of all, being the first gentleman to benefit from the new candlefold panelling. And Dickon believed him, and paid him well for his pains. I think that is how the house got its name.’
‘You’re lucky, Mrs John – bein’ able to tell family jokes about all them – those – years ago. Don’t you feel proud – special, sort of?’
‘I’m not a Kenworthy, Meg, though I married into it and helped carry on the line and the Kenworthy pride too. And Polly – who is adopted as you will know – is the most devout Kenworthy of us all!’
‘It must be something about this place,’ Meg said softly. ‘It takes you over.’
‘So you like being with us, Meg? Your two weeks are almost up. Are you going to stay?’
‘Are you askin’?’ Meg smiled.
‘I most certainly am!’
‘Then if it’s all right with you, Mrs John, I’m stoppin’.’ She held out her hand. ‘And I hope I give satisfaction, I’m sure.’
‘I know you will. I’ve got used to having you around. But you haven’t taken the time off due to you. Why don’t you go home for a couple of days? There must be things you need to see to?’
‘We-e-ll, I’ll have to get my new address put on my ration book and identity card. And there’s the house, an’ all. I’ll have to ask next door to keep an eye on it; send on any letters that come.’
Letters. From Kip. They might be there, waiting for her. Yet she had hardly thought about him, so charmed had she been with her new life! Nor had she sent him so much as a picture postcard of Nether Barton, which, despite the shortage of such things, could still be bought at the pre-war price of tuppence at the post office.
‘Then shall we say you are on a forty-eight-hour pass, as Mark would call it. Will that suit, Meg?’
‘It’ll suit very nicely indeed.’
A pound a week, and all this? Oh my word yes, it would suit!
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