Barton Lacey, Dorset. England
The mournful sound made by the train as it pulled out of Waterloo Station was the saddest sound Shelia had ever heard. She bit her lip, trying hard not to cry as her home in London disappeared into the hazy afternoon sunshine.
Mrs Hicks the foster officer assigned to deliver Shelia to her foster-home was a big woman. The buttons on her blouse in were in danger of flying off as her large bosom heaved with each sigh she made throughout the long journey. But eventually the train pulled into the station at Barton Lacy.
“So here were are then Shelia, I’ll take your case; you make sure you leave nothing on the train my dear.” said Mrs Hicks leading the way onto the platform.
Shelia felt scared but held out her chin and said a prayer as Mrs Hicks lead her to an imposing yet tight-lipped lady there to receive them. Mrs Hicks introduced herself and as they chatted Shelia took in the lady’s stylish outfit. From the high-heeled brown and cream shoes up to the jaunty brown velour hat, spiked with a long feather; she looked a movie star. Indeed the face beneath the hat could have been that of the female actress yet somehow it was neither charming nor kind. Shelia’s heart skipped a beat as the woman’s hazel eye’s had scrutinised her own and although Shelia had tried to raise a smile the woman looked away with indifference. Mrs Hicks turned to her now asking, “How old are you now Shelia?” “I was fourteen last month Mrs Hicks.” “Have you started your period’s yet dear?” Shelia’s face blushed. “Yes Mrs Hicks.”
Mrs Hicks took her by the shoulder saying, “Now Shelia your a very lucky girl to be taken in by Mrs Marina Carroll your benefactor here so what do you say to her?” “I’m very grateful miss.” The lady gave a slight nod. “That’s right Shelia and always be on your best behaviour at Squires Lodge.” “Yes Mrs Hicks.”
Marina Carroll now address Shelia, “Follow me to the car would you child.” She turned and with her heels tapping the concourse and hat-feather bouncing, it seemingly beckoned Shelia to a waiting grey limousine. Following obediently she shied as the chauffeur leaped forward to open the door. “Please don’t loiter; get into the Bentley.” Marina Carroll softly scorned.
The unfamiliar smell of leather combined with her gnawing hunger made her feel faint as she huddled into a corner and closed her eyes on it all.
“Go strait home Jackson.” Mrs Carroll ordered. The car soon picked up speed upon leaving the village and Shelia now looked out at the passing countryside. “Your very quiet for a teenager,” said Mrs Carroll as she lit-up a cigarette she had fixed into a green onyx holder. She inhaled with obvious pleasure and exhaled slowly as she replaced the gold cigarette case and lighter into her bag.
“Well” Mrs Carroll shot her a sideways glance. “Have you lost your tongue girl?” “No miss, I’m just a bit nervous miss.” “Your a bit small for your age, and you should call me Ma’am not Miss.”
“Yes mi – ma’am.”
Mrs Carroll continued to smoke in silence, occasional tapping the ash into a secluded ashtray.
Remembering it was rude to stare Shelia gazed at the passing hedgerows and fields of ripe corn that were spiked with scarlet poppies and blue corn-flowers. She had read about the countryside and even seen the flat fields of Essex; from the train window on a family holiday to Southend but these rolling hills of Dorset were so beautiful. Later they sped passed a field of cows grazing on rich green grass. Eventually though the car slowed and turned into the entrance of Squires Lodge.
Lowering the passenger windows, Jackson then drove the Bentley sedately along the tree-line drive. It so impressed Shelia she forgot her shyness, “ This is just like the botanical gardens in London ma’am!” “Oh really.” replied Mrs Carroll sarcastically.
Shelia smiled at having got a response from the movie queen. She spotted a small lake with an island in the middle and marble statue thing on a gentle slope. It was all so trim and green and posh! But Jackson bought the car to a sudden halt. A clatter of hooves came with the appearance of a horse alongside Shelia by the open window.
A loud snort came from the horse as its eyes rolled and nostrils flared causing Shelia to scream in terror thinking the animal was about to bite her. She covered her eyes and screamed again. “Good grief, who have you there mother?” The strong voice came from a well-spoken young man although Shelia did not dare look up.
“Guy! This is not the wild west. Get that beast away from the Bentley before it does some damage.” Marina screeched. Guy chortled, “Why mother! you’ve kid-napped a girl! I thought you hated children!”
Shelia, having risen before dawn to leave home; having eaten next to nothing through a day’s travel, simply fainted in the car.
Closing the door of the night nursery where Shelia was now peacefully sleeping Guy made his way down to speak with Mrs Toon in the kitchen. “Let the girl sleep an hour or so before taking her some supper Mrs Toon. The tumbler of water I made her drink made all the difference and I laced it with a mild sedative. She was mostly dehydrated and exhausted.”
Doing as Mr Guy had bid, Mrs Toon had gently awoken Shelia over an hour later. Shelia sat up in bed and gazed in wonder at her comfortable surroundings.
Mrs Toon explained how she had passed out upon arrival from fatigue. How Mr Guy had carried her up here to the Nursery accommodation; how he’d given her something to help her rest a while. Placing the tray on Shelia’s lap Mrs Toon then left her to get on with the meal. Shelia, eagerly enjoying the rich soup and bread, realised someone must have undressed her before putting her to bed. Who? It was just one of so many questions that were spinning in her mind.
The following morning saw Shelia being called formally before Mr and Mrs Carroll in the library. Mrs Carroll introduce her husband as Mr Edwin who simply smiled from his chair saying welcome to Squires Lodge.
Mrs Carroll went on to explain that her son Guy now managed much of the estate.
There was also her daughter Mrs Pamela Carroll-Rice; mostly in London with her husband and little son Rupert. However, when Mrs Pamela was here, young Rupert required two nurse-maids. A day-nurse who came in from the village and a night-nurse who slept in the nursery. A night-nurse’s duty could begin after five in the evening round to nine in the morning.
She put a question to Shelia, “ Did you find the night-nursery accommodation comfortable?” “Oh, yes ma’am, very comfortable, thank you.” “Could you manage looking after a two year old as our night-nurse here at Squires Lodge?”
Shelia’s eyes widened in surprise but a smile broke across her lips. For the first time in her life she was being offered a responsible job; and furthermore by Mrs Carroll no less!
And so, when Mrs Pamela Carroll-Rice and Rupert arrived at Squires a week later, it was Shelia who was reading a bedtime story to the toddler in the nursery.
When she awakened the next morning Shelia pulled aside the yellow cretonne curtains that floated in the breeze from the open window. The Beatrice Potter prints on the walls made her smile and she was amazed at the silence of the household. The nursery night room was on the back of the house overlooking the wide sweep of green lawn and a mirror like sheen came from the lake between a stand of silver birch trees and dense shrubbery.
A movement caught her eye as a hand shook a yellow duster from a window and was then withdrawn. She slid off the bed and wandered into the bathroom with its huge cast iron bath with claw feet; a wash basin big enough to bathe in and a willow patterned lavatory.
She set about dressing. In the wardrobe were a selection of clothes that were all her size? She later discovered they had been Mrs Pamela’s teenage cast-offs.
Shelia was use to cast-offs but never had she known quality such as this.
Wondering what she should do now and with her tummy rumbling from hunger she ventured down the three fight of stairs to the kitchen. A wave of sound enveloped her as she opened the door and Violet barged passed her with a dust-pan and brush. “Better keep out of Mrs Toon way kid, she’s on the warpath this morning!” She disappeared as the heavy baize door slammed; shutting out the din from spoiling the genteel calm of above stairs. “Oh it’s you – well I can’t be doing with you under me feet today; so much to do; there’s porridge on the Aga and all the rest on the sideboard – you’ll just have to help yourself.”
Shelia cautiously approached the Aga and handled the huge ladle before tucking herself into a corner of the kitchen with her breakfast. She watched in awe as Mrs Toon barked orders at two women who appeared from the scullery at intervals with huge pots. Olive burst in, her arms full. “I hate bloody shooting parties!” she spat. “Language!” piped Mrs Toon. “You best keep something hot for Mr Guy; he’s still not back from his morning ride.” Mrs Toon gazed at the ceiling with despair. Shelia took her bowl into the scullery and made her escape out into a cobbled yard surrounded by out-buildings. A familiar smell of course soap and soda billowed out in clouds of steam from the washhouse bringing a lump of nostalgia to her throat as the sound of women laughing and joshing while they worked. She went to the entrance but hesitated but longing to go inside and find a motherly sole who would love and cuddle her; but they were too preoccupied to notice her.
Then she notice a gate that led to the stable-yard. The smell of horse dung, damp straw and leather was more pleasant than she may have imagined. Suddenly she realised she was close to a horse! As it munch on hay it’s teeth seemed they could take your hand off! There was a sudden shout from Jock the stable lad and she ran through the yard past the carriage house and hid in a clump of bushes. A pigeon panicked next to her and she screamed at the noise its wings made. Her feet crunch the gravel as she ran along the drive but too late she became aware of horse’s hooves and a warning shout. The horse reared before she fell into a sea of darkness.