Work in progress ……
The journey to Willow Oak Farm, a little place tucked away on the Hampshire dales is long and tedious.
A young woman sits uncomfortably in a neat blue suit – as if she is uncomfortable with the kind of outfit. She looks out of the window at the passing countryside – a sea of green meadows, trees dotted with sheep.
“What was she like when she was young?”
The older woman’s clothes are not as well-tailored as the young woman’s but they are neat, clean. She also looks like a woman who is more used to dressing casually. Her grey hair is scraped into a severe bun under the black little hat. A black suit accompanies this with sturdy black boots. She smiles at her niece, “Just like you Ruth. Very beautiful, all the men wanted her but she was having none of it. Wanted to go to the big city and make something out of her life she was the one with the brains. The rest of us were happy on the farm. I used to look at her growing up – and knew that our little village wasn’t going to be enough to hold her. She had a mouth on her too, just like you. Quite the little madam.”
Ruth sighs and looks down at her hands snug in her pale blue gloves a last treat from her mother. “I’m sorry I said mother hated you and the rest of the family.”
“Like I said your mum was always one for speaking her mind. I guess she probably meant it at the time. When she turned up at the farm, I thought mother was going to faint. She called to me and said Cath…darlin’…see what the winds brought back to us. She was so happy and I ran in from the fields …cow muck all over me and I saw your mum all pretty and smart-looking like Ava Gardener in this smart red coat and little black hat. Like something out of one of the films she was. I was ever so proud. She must have been around 23 at the time.” She coughs and looks out of the window. “Then we brought her in and put the kettle on and she took off her coat. Then Mother did faint……when she came to, she asked your Mother how far gone she was.”
There is a knock on the carriage door and the porter pokes his head round the door. Did they want anything? Yes please. Two teas and sandwiches would be lovely. The two women are silent as he pours the brew.
Ruth clutches a torn diary full of old letters.
The porter took his leave and the two women sipped their tea.
Aunt Catherine sniffs. “We were horrified….It was the early 40s and girls from good God-fearing homes just didn’t off and get pregnant.”
Maybe mother wanted something of her lover to remain with her….just in case he never came back. “So what happened?”
“You have to understand …things were so different back then – it’s not like now with women bold and brazen, wearing trousers and running around with men on motor bikes. It was a different world.
“We arranged with her to go up north …there was a convent there. The sisters were used to dealing with things like that. We weren’t. It is such a small village. People talk.”
“So you sent her away.”
“It would have killed our father if he knew then. When you were a bit older – mother broke it to him.”
” So that’s how I got my name then…something biblical ….from the nuns.”
“I guess so. Edith wasn’t an overly religious woman.”
“What about Lord and Lady Waverley…..did she ever tell them?”
“I told her to. Said it was your rightful heritage as the daughter of their first-born son but your mum wasn’t having any of it. Said that the family was poison and that your dad was the only good thing to come out of it. Besides she wasn’t prepared to take the whole thing through the courts should they want to contest whether he was really your father. She said she didn’t need their money – by this time she had a good job as a teacher in a Girls grammar school in London. We got the odd card at Christmas and birthdays she didn’t really want much to do with us. I think she was a bit hurt about how we handled her getting pregnant.”
Ruth stares out of the window again. ” It all happened so fast. One minute she is kissing me goodnight and saying she is going out to the pictures with a friend and the next, there is this policeman with a red face standing in the sitting room next to our landlady Mrs Summers. She was wailing like a banshee so I knew it had to be something terrible. The bobby was so young. I think it might have been the first time he had to tell someone their mother had got knocked down on her way home.”
Ruth knew she hadn’t cried. Displays of emotion weren’t the done thing in her family. She had realised that when her mother’s sister had turned up in the dressed in the same black suit she had on now and looked at Mrs Summers, who had been dabbing at her eyes.
“Is this the young lady then?”
Mrs Summers had nodded. “The poor girl has refused to eat anything for the past few days locked herself into her room reading some kind of diary. I’ve had the doctor in….that’s how I got your address. She had you down as next of kin.”
“That was sensible of her.” Blue eyes harder and smaller than my mothers had glanced in my direction. “Hello. Ruth.”
She had barely looked up.
“The poor thing must still be a bit shocked.”
Her mothers elder sister bustled in and went to the kitchen. “I daresay we could all do with some kind of a meal – and you too Madam. You’ll be needing some energy in you to sort out all your mums stuff. Anything you don’t want to keep…goes to charity, and mind you – don’t pack too much. You wont have need of anything fancy up on th’ farm.”
Ellie picks up the diary.
I now live with my Aunt and my grandmother.
I hate it.
I’m not used to having anyone tell me what to do except my Mother and she had been quite a liberal parent. She didn’t let me smoke and warned me to be careful around men but she allowed me to express my feelings and talk about the kind of things that most girls of my age knew nothing about. Knowledge is power she said. I’m 17 and some say too young to have opinions about the sex, the Pill, Macmillan, the Korean War, communism, capitalism and a lot of other things that would have had Ms Johnston my Head mistress back in London, quite horrified. Not that my mother minded – she often shared some of her opinions with some of her colleagues. Some laughed politely and others kept what they thought to themselves.
Looking back now I realise my mother was a creature before her time. She was born in a period where a woman’s main function was to follow the footsteps of her gender before her – marriage, children and domesticity. If she had lived any longer I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had found her way into politics. She felt really strongly about the social conditions that we faced along with the rest of the country, after the war.
I remember her sitting down watching the box and shouting at it.
“Some things never change. We go to war and the class divide disappears …all men are one in the trenches then in peacetime the upper classes want to erect it again.”
She turned to me…I must have been about thirteen at the time and wagged a finger at me. “You are going to University my girl. I don’t want you have to be a victim of the class system.”
I have my own plans although they don’t know yet. I want to go to two places that were a part of my Mothers life. I hadn’t lost her – I still carried so much of her within me. It was like a yearning, an unfinished business.
I want to visit the little convent where she stayed for eight months before and after I had been born and Waverley where she had met my father, William. All I know about him are the entries in her diary and the old tattered picture and letters, I found out in her wallet, that I got back from the police.
She must really have loved him. I don’t know many boys but I can think of any I would want to keep in my purse, should I get killed and someone find and say – oh look at that – such a nice bloke.
My dad looks like a nice bloke.
William Waverley is film star handsome in his military uniform, a cap over his head at a jaunty angle in a photo taken a few months before getting shot to pieces somewhere over Europe . Mother hadn’t mentioned exactly where in the diary and since she and the Waverley’s were not in contact and it wouldn’t be the proper thing to write them after he’d died and say – where exactly in Europe had he been killed she had just left it. His parents hadn’t forgiven him for joining up to fight – it wasn’t expected of the privileged elite of that day but he’d gone any way against their wishes. Mother had mentioned one day that she didn’t think they had forgiven him for dying as well.