He held back from visiting Orion as long as he could, which was about two weeks, although he had intended it to be longer. One morning, however, woken by gulls squalling on the roof of Pennance cottage and invigorated by his early morning swim, he dragged his bicycle from its shed, dusted off the accumulated cobwebs and set out for the cottage.
A ride of around eight miles but along an earth road that twisted between narrow hedges, dipping steeply and then rising again, every breathlessly ascended hill leading to a summit from which another was visible. The hedges – ancient stone walls, earth-covered and topped with shrubs and trees – grew voluptuously outwards, except where the regular passage of a farm cart had snapped branches and torn back the growth and, despite the dust of the roadway which clogged his nostrils and the smell of his own sweat as he wiped his arm across his forehead, he caught the musty scent of earth and grass, the glorious aniseed of wild cicely and the tang of alexander leaves, overlaid as he passed a farm by the stench of dung from cows herded to and from the milking.
Such a glorious morning, he thought, giving up on yet another hillside and dismounting to push the heavy bike instead. Where else in the world would he want to be, sweating and breathless as he was, his hair, stiff with salt from his swim and dishevelled from the ride, standing out around his head?
Another mile or so along a more level gradient, the sun higher in the sky and beating down almost violently, although Henry with his sea-tanned skin barely felt it, he turned into the shady tunnel of trees that led down towards Orion’s cottage and dismounted, the rough stone track being, he well knew, an uncomfortable ride and a sure way of tearing his tyres. The pink pink of a chaffinch in the hawthorn bushes and the shrill alarm call of a startled wren accompanied his footsteps and the rattle of his bicycle until he came out onto the stretch of grass above Orion’s shallow cove when they became lost under the more familiar wails of the gulls soaring on the thermals – and the clattering of stones from the back of the cottage.
“Orion! Is that you flinging stones about?”
And, as he leans his bike against the front wall of the cottage, Orion appears round the side, spade in hand.
The sunlight is dazzling after the shade of the trees. Henry blinks, pushes his damp hair from his forehead and holds his hand over his eyes. The boy – his boy, he cannot help thinking, – is as beautiful as ever. His hair is bleached almost white and his face and arms are tanned to a deep and healthy-looking brown. He wears a rough cotton shirt, open down the front and with the sleeves pushed up, and it is obvious that the body Henry has always admired has become in the past months more muscular still.
But he has never been a great talker and Henry has taken him by surprise. And now, unlike Henry’s friends of his own class who greet his arrival, however unexpected, with a warm handshake, perhaps a slap on the back and some comment on his absence, his appearance or some remembered item of news, Orion can only stare silently down at his dirt-encrusted boots as if they may inspire him.
“You’ve been busy. All these flowers…”
Orion’s awkwardness – or perhaps it is his pleasure at seeing him after so many months – affects even someone as articulate as Henry, who looks round for something else to comment on, until Mary appears in the doorway and gives him something to think about – if something on which he cannot possibly comment.
“Mr Tuke! You’ve never rode out ‘ere in this ‘eat! Come on in an’ cool down now. Fetch some fresh water, Ori, there’s a dear.”
Her chatter leads him into the cottage, where she settles him into the one armchair while Orion hastens round to the pump in the back yard.
“You sit there while I fetch ‘ee some food. You’ll be worn out after that ride,” and she goes into the back kitchen, leaving Henry feeling elderly and somewhat discomposed
For the girl is clearly enceinte. With not many weeks to go, if he is any judge – which he is not, being a bachelor, who knows little enough of these matters. On the other hand, wives of various friends – and indeed his own sister – have given birth and although they tend not to appear in public at this stage he cannot help but know that by the time the front of a woman’s dress is pushed so prominently upwards and outwards she is nearing her time. The thought is unsettling and he fidgets in the chair, which is too small for a man of his height, as his mind throws up a still more unsettling thought – that his boy is to become a father. That he will, inevitably, move further from him than ever.
Mary, returning with a mug of cold water, shows no sign of fragility.
“Some ‘ot init?” she comments. “Even the hens is ‘iding. It don’ worry Ori though. ‘E’s digging a new bed for gooseberries an’ the ‘eat don’ bother ‘im any.”
“Yes I found him digging out stones as I came in.”
The mention of gooseberries further discomfits Henry, recalling childhood tales of the origins of babies.
“Ground’s full of them. Stones an’ slates. Ori says ‘e could easy build another ‘ouse the number he’s taken out.”
Mary excuses herself and goes back to her kitchen. As Orion comes in – he has removed his boots and appears to have shoved his head under the pump – she follows with a tray of saffron cake – fresh-baked from the smell – buttered scones and what Henry recognises as her best china.
“Let me!” Impossible to stay seated while she carries a heavy tray but Orion takes it from her and Henry, subsiding into his chair, prepares to be waited on.
“I’ve not done much drawin’ lately.”
Scones and saffron cake have been eaten and tea drunk and Henry and Orion are in the second bedroom which serves as Orion’s studio. Which will perhaps, Henry thinks, be put now to a new use and the restraint which has eased over the tea is back between them.
“You’ve been busy.” Which could be interpreted as a comment on the subject which he, as a male visitor, cannot possibly raise. “The garden looks fine,” he adds quickly. “And you’ve been working on the roof I see.”
“There was leaks in the bad weather. I put new slates on.”
Orion has always been a literal person.
“That’s good. Still… you mustn’t neglect your art. Remember our plans? For an exhibition of your work?”
“I dunno.” Orion has never liked this idea. “Why’d people wan’ look at my stuff? It’s nothin, special.”
“But it is, Orion!” They have had this argument before, many times, and Henry feels the old enthusiasm take over. “Your work is… different. New. Exciting. It is what we need in this new century. Artists are breaking away from the old constraints. Seeing things in a new light. These French painters… Those they call the Impressionists….”
But Orion’s simple works are not impressionistic, nor are they abstract. They are plain representations, almost childlike, of the world around him – Mary, his garden implements, his cottage, the outhouses… And yet they have an honesty that speaks, Henry is convinced, to the beholder, even if they are a world away from Henry’s own paintings – the tall sailing ships he loves, his boys, clad and unclad, swimming or wading or lying beside sunlit waters, Georgie Fouracre with flowers around his forehead, raising his arms in joy amidst the birch trees…
Orion does, as it happens, know about ‘these French painters’. Did he not go to weekly lectures, two years ago, in Falmouth’s Polytechnic Hall, where he learned about Pissarro, Cezanne and Matisse? From them he learned that an artist is allowed his own vision, his own methods of expression. That he does not need to paint in the same way as those other artists whose works hang in galleries.
This does not mean he is convinced of the value of his own work.
And there is something else. Soon there will be another mouth to feed. How can he spend time on pictures when he should be digging vegetables and seeing to his hens?
The little room is hot, even though Orion has opened the window, and dust-motes swirl in the light like living creatures. In these cottages the dust falls from the ceiling and seeps from the stone walls and the calls of the interminable gulls come remotely, as if through a fog. In the room below Mary sweeps her hard broom across the stone floor.
“There’s summing else…” But this is hard to speak of, especially when Henry, who has been examining a sketch of the back-yard pump, turns his dark eyes towards him and raises his eyebrows.
“There’ll be a babby,” he manages at last.
Left under a gooseberry bush, Henry wonders, but conceals his amusement.
“ That is good news. Excellent news!”
He thumps Orion across the shoulders. Making the best of it.
“I know. An’ I’m glad. But I d’need earn more. Get more veg growing – an’ more fruit… ‘F’ I c’n get more currants planted…” It is so much easier to talk about fruit and vegetables than about babies. He knows so much more about them for a start. “I was thinking… if I clear that patch by the near out’ouse – it gets the morning sun almost all year round an’ if I get it cleared and manured this summer I can plant…”
He talks on and Henry, pretending to listen, thinks that currants sold at market for tuppence a box for one or two months won’t make a fortune or even a reasonable living. Whereas, if Orion’s artworks became popular, he might make as much selling two or three of these as he could make with his fruit and veg in an entire year.
Perhaps, of course, they will not become popular; Henry knows his market and knows how changeable it can be, how easily reputations are made or lost, but he isn’t thinking about this now. If Orion’s work should become – he winces at the thought of the word – ‘fashionable’, if only for a short time, it would give him, and his young family, a far better chance in life.
Soon it would be the end of term and in the boarding house girls were filled with excitement at the prospect of six weeks of freedom.
Amy’s mama had written to ask if Faith could stay with them again for part of the holiday but Papa had refused the invitation.
‘We all look forward to your homecoming,’ he wrote to Faith. ‘Your mama is especially eager to see you. Also I am not convinced, from what I have heard, that Amy Pearce is a suitable friend.’
What, she wondered, folding away the letter as if hiding the words might cause them to vanish, could he have heard? And from whom? She had been cautious in her letters not to mention any activities of which he might have disapproved – this had seemed to include almost everything but she had made as much as possible of healthy walks along cliff paths and a visit to Pendennis Castle, where they had been shown around by the custodian.
But what she had not been able to describe, of course, had been any sort of religious observations, not even at Easter. On Good Friday they had, in fact, gone in the horse-drawn buggy across to the Helford river where, at the season’s lowest tide, they had joined dozens of others in the activity of ‘ligging’ – digging in the mud for cockles and other shellfish, which they had gathered in buckets and taken home for their supper.
As Quakers, the Vigos did not celebrate Easter, or any of the great festivals of the church, such celebrations being part of the sort of ceremonial fripperies against which George Fox, founder of the Society, had originally rebelled. They did, however, mark the holiday in their own manner with the usual Meeting for Worship on the First Day and quiet activities – reading suitable books or texts, visiting the elderly or bedridden, even making music of the more sober kind – when others observed Good Friday. Digging for cockles would not, Faith was certain, be considered suitable.
And her father might, she supposed, have made enquiries of the Pearce family among the many Friends who lived in Falmouth, who might have known of them and that they were not connected to any of the local churches.
Her father, strict Quaker though he was, made no objection to her attending church, even though he did not agree with this form of worship. If he had felt otherwise he would never have allowed her to go to her school. Her older brothers had both attended Bootham, the Quaker school in York, but he had not considered it appropriate to send his daughters such a distance and felt there was no harm in their experiencing the faiths of others. It might even, he thought, increase their Quaker convictions. (Not all Redruth Friends agreed with this but there was no doubting William Vigo’s faith and commitment and no-one commented.)
He would have been less happy, Faith thought, to discover that she had been living with a family who had no discernable religious beliefs.
`Lord dismiss us, with thy blessing…’ they sang in the final assembly of the term and, standing between Amy and Magel Rusco whose voices chirped merrily into the sound rising to the ceiling, Faith found that she could hardly sing for the tears that clogged her throat. And when they reached the lines,
‘Those who here will meet no more,
May their seed times past be yielding
Year by year a richer store,’ she gave in and wept as the great girls who were leaving school for ever today were already weeping, and even though she would be back here with Amy and Magel in September.
Later, back at the boarding house, she watched rather sadly in the hallway as girls hugged and kissed before flinging themselves into the arms of mothers and fathers – sometimes, brothers and sisters as well – and being driven off, waving from their traps or carriages or, in the case of the wealthy Rodda sisters, from the back of their motor car.
Papa arrived late in the pony trap, driven by Cyril who also worked in their garden. He had been kept on business at the works, he said, and it seemed to Faith that they left in unnecessary haste, Papa barely exchanging a word with Miss Crabbe and giving her no time to say goodbye to Matron and the maids who had lined up to wish everyone happy holiday. William Vigo was not a rude man but he was a plain one and had little time for what he considered to be unnecessary social niceties. Besides, he said, her mama was impatient to welcome her home.
Henry Falmouth. August.
He was working on a portrait of a little girl, Miss Peggy Hatch, for her grandfather who lived above the beach at Gyllyngvase. Peggy, a delightful young lady, enjoyed the sittings and Henry, enjoying her company, was pleased with the progress of the painting. This one at least, he thought, would meet with Charles’ approval.
It was at an evening party, given by Peggy’s grandfather, eager, perhaps, to show off his acquaintance with the famous artist, that he met the solicitor Edgar Pearce, who, sharing the same sociable temperament, invited Henry to luncheon the following Sunday.
This was the kind of family occasion he enjoyed, relaxed and informal with none of the conventional stuffiness that he so disliked. Mrs Pearce – he was invited, almost immediately, to call her Hetty – was a charming woman whose strong views were tempered with a sense of humour and a keen enjoyment of her young family, who were all present. Little George and Thomas, aged seven and five, were active, inquisitive creatures who soon discovered that Papa’s new friend could be counted on to give horseback rides or join in wheelbarrow races around the lawn, and their older sister, Amy, aged fourteen, was a pretty girl, eager to impress as a young lady until she forgot herself in the heat of an argument or was caught up in her brothers’ romps.
Her friend, introduced as Faith Vigo, interested Henry still more. A quieter, altogether more serious girl, although this might just be by contrast with the noisy Pearces, with dark hair and dark Cornish eyes, she and Amy were, according to Hetty Pearce, ‘best friends’ at school and the whole family had loved Faith when she had stayed with them at Easter.
“We invited her to spend part of these holidays here as well,” she said. “The poor girl comes from Redruth – such a dreary place, blighted with mines and smelting works. It cannot possibly be healthy for a growing child but her father said he did not wish to impose on us further and refused the invitation.”
“But she is here now,”
Lunch over, the adults sat in the sunny conservatory at the front of the house, while the children, including the girl Faith, played a somewhat unruly game of croquet on the lawn. Beyond the heavy blue and purple blooms of the hydrangeas that bordered the garden, it was possible to see the sun-tipped crests of a swell in Falmouth bay where several boats, including Flamingo’s rivals Stork and Syrinx, he recognised with the slightest pang, raced well reefed in a strong south-westerly.
“Indeed – but not staying with us. Apparently her elder sister is visiting friends in Florence Terrace and dear Faith came with her, since her mother does not travel. We were surprised but delighted when she appeared on our doorstep just before you arrived.”
Henry looked out at the group on the lawn. Amy, prettily dressed in white muslin with
a lace-edged pinafore, her hair tumbling over her shoulders, was arguing with her brothers about a disputed hoop. The girl Faith stood watching, one hand on her mallet, her appearance a contrast to her friend’s. She wore a dark pinafore over a plain white dress and her hair, which appeared to curl naturally, was held back by a dark ribbon as if to restrain it as much as possible.
She had, he had noticed at lunch, unusually solemn eyes for so young a girl.
“The family are Quakers.” Mrs Pearce confirmed what he suspected. “She came to us after attending their Sunday Meeting. I suspect her Papa would not approve if he were to see her playing croquet….”
The children’s dispute became noisier, the smaller boy burst into angry tears and his mother went outside to establish some sort of order.
“ It is too hot,” she said, returning with the weeping, wriggling child, “to play outside and time in any case for your rest.”
She rang the bell for the nurse and called from the doorway to the two girls who were continuing their game on the lawn.
“You should come inside too, girls. Come and find some cooler activity indoors.”
“I wonder…” Henry’s fingers felt a familiar itching sensation. “I have a sketch book with me. Would you mind very much if I drew your daughter and her friend?”
Another sunny day and another day of insufferable boredom.
Perhaps, after the surprise of her brief visit to Falmouth, it seemed worse than ever. For Redruth, for all its fine buildings, reflecting the past prosperity of a town which had rightly claimed to be the mining capital of Cornwall, was a dreary place to live.
The industry on which that prosperity had been based disfigured much of the surrounding landscape, with stacks, pumping-engine houses and headgear – many in ruins – as well as disused mine shafts already overgrown with brambles. In what must once have been a pretty valley a tin stream, red like all the rivers hereabouts, ran for several miles, built around with sheds, conveyors and the dozens of slime pits and rag frames that were used for dressing the tin. These covered almost the whole valley floor and were worked by men, women and even children, eking out a poor living in this way.
Another cause of the town’s dreariness – for, in spite of the prosperous appearance of some inhabitants, visiting shoppers and the men who crowded the town for the fortnightly auctions of ore, known as ticketings, most people in the streets were grimy, poor and ill-looking. In the case of miners or ex-miners suffering from the common lung disease, they were ill-sounding as well – lacking in nourishment, in decent clothing and, it seemed to Faith, who shared the sentiment, lacking in hope.
Which was not surprising when the mining industry was in such disastrous decline. In the past thirty years almost a hundred mines had closed and men had left in their thousands to work in the lead, copper and silver mines of America, the rich copper mines of South Australia or the diamond mines of South Africa, often leaving behind wives, elderly parents and children who, if their men did not send home regular remittances, fell quickly into poverty
The air, in spite of the winds which blew continuously across the town, was generally overcast from the steam and smoke of the remaining mines and fouled by the stink of sulfurous fumes and Faith’s memories of the salt air gusting in off Falmouth bay, the bright flowers and exotic trees, the elegant clothing and healthy cheerfulness of the fortunate holiday-makers or residents who strolled about admiring the bay, the gardens or the beaches seem to come from another world.
Nevertheless those few days had been a gift and now, sitting with Mama in the gloomy morning room from which any sunshine that managed to penetrate the clouds was excluded by tightly-drawn Venetian blinds, there was some comfort to be gained from those memories.
It had all been so sudden. Until the evening before the visit her mother had intended to accompany Elsie to visit Esther Thom, sister of the elderly Silas Thom from their Meeting, but had decided at the last minute that she was too unwell.
“Esther Thom is too infirm to accompany Elsie if she wishes to go out,” her father had explained, “I feel that it will be in right ordering for you to go with her.”
‘In right ordering’ was Friends’ way of stating that some principle of Quaker practice had been adhered to and it was strange to hear it applied to a point of social etiquette but she was to go to Falmouth so what did Faith care?
Better still, Elsie, much to her surprise, had agreed that she might visit Amy’s family after Meeting for Worship on Sunday.
But this was all in the past and now she was imprisoned at home with little to occupy her time, other than sitting with her mother, whose health had improved slightly but who still did not venture outdoors.
It was hard, Faith felt, not to feel resentful as they sat together in the morning room before lunch and, later, in the drawing room when the sun had moved round to that side of the house. Not, she couldn’t avoid thinking, that it made any difference where the sun was shining or whether it was shining at all, since the blinds were always drawn down and they sat in a sort of underwater half light without so much as a glimpse of the outside world.
And not that the outside world – the granite, grey-roofed houses opposite, a few half-grown trees and, should the haze permit, a distant view of Carn Brea across the valley and beyond the stacks of a dozen mines – was worth looking at. Certainly not compared to the sparkling water of Falmouth bay studded with the sails of fishing boats or the great three or four-masters making for the horizon.
I am so bored, she wanted to tell Mama, who seemed content to lie on her couch, occasionally adding a few stitches to her embroidery and who did not, in spite of what Papa had said, seem to gain any pleasure from Faith’s presence. I do not want to sew a nightshirt for some poor person’s child. I do not want to read The Water Babies or Comfort in the Wilderness or listen to visiting Friends describe the progress of the children in the First Day School. I want to gossip with Amy in her pretty bedroom or play with her and her brothers in their garden or hunt for crabs or sticklebacks in the rock pools…
I want to have fun!
How hard it was, sitting in her dress and overall, heavy petticoat and cotton stockings in this stuffy room, to remember the taste of salt water against her face or the feeling of her hair blowing loose in the breeze or the sand drying on her bare legs.
And what else was there for her to do?
In the early afternoon, while her mother rested upstairs, she went out but none of her school-fellows lived nearby, there were no other children of her age in Meeting and few enough in Clinton Road, where the houses, often called Clinton Castles since only the wealthy could afford them, belonged mostly to older people
There were shops, of course, especially in the long hill that was Fore Street – bakeries, drapers’ shops, shoe shops, grocers, butchers, confectioners and tea rooms not to mention a market hall and a department store – but there was little pleasure in staring into windows on her own. There was the Passmore Edwards Library further along Clinton Road, but who wanted to spend a summer afternoon in a library? There was Victoria Park, laid out with shrubs, pathways and turf lawns, with elegant timber and metalwork seats for ladies and gentlemen or nursemaids with perambulators, but where was the fun in walking along a path or sitting on a seat?
In the event the decision was made for her;
“The dear Lord be praised, if it isn’t Faith Vigo! Just when I need your strong, young limbs!”
Myra Yelland, at the top of the library steps, held out both arms – one clutching several books in a leather strap – in her direction. A large, round-faced woman, her piled-up hair escaping into a grey halo around her head, she looked quite intimidating in her dark coat and skirt.
“Good afternoon. I was on my way home. Mama isn’t…” It was wrong to lie – and she was facing in the wrong direction – but Myra Yelland rarely listened to what anyone else might say.
“This’ll take no time at all. Just come up here,” and Faith climbed gloomily up the steps and into the narrow lobby where a bulging bag was about to tip its contents over the floor.
“Just a few things for the Urens, down Penryn Street. Arthur’s laid up with his old trouble and I don’t want those kiddies going without. If you just pop them down there, it’ll be done in no time and I’ll rest easy tonight.”
The bag was heavy and hard to manage and as she struggled down the steep hill past the meat market and the fair meadow Faith could not help but wonder what Arthur Uren’s ‘old trouble’ might be and whether she would be expected to observe it. For experience had told her that it was never a case, when visiting the poor and needy, of just ‘popping’ something in. You were expected to go inside, sometimes into the most horrid houses, be stared at – possibly pawed at – by grubby children with runny noses and all the indications of lice and ringworm and thanked, effusively but generally resentfully, by some exhausted-looking woman who would insist on offering a cup of dark, foul-tasting tea…
Why, she thought crossly, almost dropping one handle of the bag in her annoyance, should she be expected to go on such errands? Wasn’t her life miserable enough?
But at least Papa would be pleased with her. The Yellands were prominent members of their meeting, where Myra was much admired for her good works, and Foster Yelland’s works supplied a number of items on which Vigo’s depended.
Mrs Trembath was entertaining again. Another evening party, which was tiresome, since the girl Clarice, who was walking out with a young man from Spooner’s Drapery in Market Street, was more concerned about this Edwin and his possible intentions, not to mention the fashions and accessories available in the shop, than in learning to do her job properly.
“I don’t ‘ave time to keep showing ‘er ‘ow to do ‘er work as well as doin’ my own.”
Ida broke in on her mistress’s recital of all that would be needed for tomorrow evening’s party. The card tables, she was saying, must be placed here. And here. And over there. With the unbroken packs, the pencils and the notebooks in the centre of each…
“Last time they were placed all anyhow. I was appalled when I came to check the room before my guests arrived.”
“Well I did tell Clarice but ‘alf the time she don’ listen…” ‘Half the time’ was generous. Clarice listened to one word in twenty – unless, as Ida had already commented to Edie Teague, who did the rough, one of the other words was Edwin. “An’ I’m too busy to do no more.”
Mrs Trembath, she thought resentfully, could try training her own parlour maid.
“And these ‘ere fancies…”
Another cause of resentment.
When Ida had first been taken on as cook-housekeeper there had been none of these profiteroles and petits fours. Good, plain cooking was what had been required – a substantial breakfast followed by a still more substantial lunch, bread and butter, sandwiches and cake for tea and cold meats or perhaps some tinned salmon for supper. But Mrs Trembath had recently made new friends, a Major and Mrs Henry, who had brought with them from their former home in Salisbury a lot of ideas Ida could well do without.
‘The Henrys always have four courses at luncheon, even when they have no guests.’
‘Mrs Henry prefers a light, clear soup.’
‘The Major must have his savouries at supper…’
It was not the sort of cooking Ida was used to and the additional responsibility of ensuring that Clarice prepared the drawing and dining room suitably for Mrs Trembath’s increasing entertainments was getting wearing.
“You’re a good enough cook, Ida. Surely a few fancies aren’t beyond your capabilities?”
Ida’s brain lacked the subtlety to recognise faint praise and she thought irritably of the new-fangled cookery book with which her employer had presented her the previous week.
Reading was not something she did for pleasure – or with ease. Nor was it something she was often required to do. She had known all the hymns they sang in chapel, for example, since childhood and had no need of the hymnal she held open purely for form. Mrs Aubrey’s book of Recipes for the New Century was a different matter entirely.
For Mrs Aubrey, it was obvious from the frontispiece, lived a life remote from Ida’s. (And, she thought privately, Mrs Trembath’s.) Her picture – slender, upright, her hair built into a mound of plaits and curls with an artfully-placed spray of feathers – showed her beside a table laden with elegant arrangements of tiny morsels of food. There were quails’ eggs, portions of caviare on little biscuits, vol aux vents decorated with piped swirls of something unrecognisable – not enough to keep a canary alive, to Ida’s way of thinking – and nothing she could imagine eating herself.
“Your guests always enjoy my cakes…”
“But not at this sort of party, Ida dear.” Ida recognised the ‘dear’ as a sign of her employer’s exasperation. “As Mrs Henry says, it’s a new age and we must follow new fashions, even if we are so far from London society. We read in the papers, after all, of the dishes our new king enjoys – very different from his dear Mama’s regime.”
The new king, from what Ida had heard, enjoyed a great deal too much food – but would probably, she thought, like her fruit tarts and saffron cake as much as Mrs Trembath’s guests had always done. She did not argue, however, but waited to be allowed to go back to her kitchen, where she was boiling a ham for the cold cuts to go with the boiled chicken and for the ham, egg and potato pie she would make this afternoon. The precious Henrys might not appreciate them but she was sure the other guests would.
When Clarice flounced in with her outdoor cloak over her shoulders to fetch a shopping basket she looked up from her pastry board in surprise.
“Madam wants me to collect a s’lecsh’n of fancies from Miss Clare’s.” The girl named the shop that had opened recently at the bottom of High Street, its windows draped in lace and with tiny cakes – no more than a mouthful each – displayed on silver doilies on engraved glass plates. “She says she can’t go on giving her guests saffron buns and heavy cake….”
She grabbed the basket, tossed her head in Ida’s direction and went out, slamming the back door.
Ida, mouth open, her strong arms white with flour, stared after her. The draught from the slammed door stirred the still air of the kitchen and the scent of, yes, saffron buns mingled with that of the ham that stood cooling next to the window.
She felt tears of anger and humiliation fill her eyes. That Mrs Trembath should have sent Clarice on such an errand, without telling her first. That she should have made so cruel a remark about her food. And that she had no idea what she was meant to do now.
Was she to go on with her preparations, assuming that Miss Clare’s fancies were simply an addition? Or should she clear her kitchen and go home? Leaving Clarice and Mrs Trembath to cope as best they could.
A tempting thought but one that would almost certainly lose her her job.
If only, she was thinking… If only Bea were still alive. Then – even though it was not her night for visiting – she could have walked across town to visit her in the little house in Railway Terrace. Bea would be there, after all, since she never left her bedroom, let alone the house, and Ida would have been able to unburden herself of the injustices she was expected to bear.
But Bea was dead and there was no one else and this was another cause for tears.