"A Distant Memory"
Almost entirely off-topic, this one - but fun IMO. Tell me in the comments if you think otherwise
I recently rediscovered this short story, which I wrote as English homework on 1 November 1969, when I was eleven. Miss Thomas gave it an A minus minus and a "Quite good".
The piece has everything that still obsesses me: domestic servitude, uppity maids, precarity of employment, plus crime, punishment and rehabilitation. My present work in progress is an historical novel featuring a servant, a dead mistress, a trial and imprisonment.
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Clearly, the plot should have been workshopped.
Note: At the time of writing ‘3d’ was threepence or thruppence; there were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. I have no idea how we coped with this, but we did.
Apologies in advance for the ageist and ableist terminology.
Spelling and punctuation mistakes are as in the original.
And yes, for those who don’t know me, my name was, and is, Naomi Klein. Sadly (for me), Another Person of the Same Name made it into print before I did, so…
A Distant Memory
When leaving the house Elizabeth pondered on the thought of seeing the old disabled cripple on the main road singing for his bread. Liz picked up her long gowns and stepped daintily over a large puddle lieing straight in front of her. She opened her small purse and looked longingly at her few coppers. At last she resolved in sparing 3d for the old man and keeping 9d for herself.
She reached the main road just in time to hear the man’s best ballard. He stood in the dirty gutter, his long grey beard hanging down to his waist, his old floppy blue hat fell over his face With is mouth organ in his mouth he played a few notes. The old man lifted his wrinkled heavy head up, smiled and began to sing with very much vigor and enthusiasm as though it was his own victory…………
“We shall overcome,” he sang.
“Sir” Liz asked “May I please hear that wonderful song again?” She dropped 9d in. The old beggar mumbled a few words of thanks and began again.
“Oh Liz, Liz” cried her fellow parlor maid. “Lady Katherine is dead! We shall all be out of work. Work is so hard to find now.” Mary-Jane fell into Liz’s arms weeping. “My poor sons and husband” she wailed. Liz consoled her for a while and went on working and going about her chores. Elizabeth found work two weeks later at a large mansion in the country.
“Hertfordshire is a beautiful place,” she kept telling herself. “You should be glad you live here”. Elizabeth, however much she consoled herself longed for the smog and grit of London. A year later she left this situation and went back to London.
10 YEARS LATER
Elizabeth now was married and had two children 8 and 4. She was still a maid but of higher rank (just below the cook). Her husband was an engine driver, was fat, well meaning, understanding and kind. Liz did not take up residence with her mistress but lived nearby in a poor district.
After a hard days work Mrs. Dutton (or Liz) came home exhasted. She pulled her bonnet off and collapsed into an old beaten up arm chair. No-one was at home. She kicked her old walking shoes off and thought back to when she was a young girl at the tender age of 25…………….
Mrs. Dutton remembers that she went out one day to go to the butchers for Lady Katherine. She remembers putting 9d in old George White’s hat. George White, George White, George White………… hadn’t she heard that name some where before?
Yes! George White had been found! She grabbed an old newspaper. Yes, there the headlines.
“George White, Millionaire Found!” it [said]. George White, the Millionaire, missing for several years, but not proclaimed dead returned to his London home yesterday as a tramp! His friends and relations regconised him but when they tried to find out where he had been he turned vicios. The only money he had on him was ninepence. He said that was precios and were given by an admirer of his songs!
Liz jumped up ran to the door still clutching the news paper, pulled on her coat and flew down the street. She caught the next cab that came down the high street and directed the driver to the address given in the paper. She reached the house just in time to see George White’s butler close the door and then lock the door. She shouted at him and with great ease opened it again.
“May I please see George White?” she asked him.
“The master has retired ma’am” he answered.
“The master has retired m'a’am He is not to be distirbed. Now if you please ma’am I want to lock up.” Liz turned slowly out of the hall. Looked back and realized it was no use. Mrs Dutton paid the cab driver and she was just walking down the street when she had a magnificent idea. The ground floor windows were very low and one was open! Slowly, cautiously she, with care stepping into the large window closed it behind her. The large cold mosaic marble floors stared coldly at her. With her toes pointed Liz climbed the stone stairs. Liz, without knowing opened the right door and tip-toed into George White’s chamber. It was softly furnished room. She roused the sleeper gentley.
He sat up in bed, startled. “George White? Welcome home. Do you remember me? The giver of that precios ninepence?”
“Ninepence Woman, whoever you are what are you talking about? As for welcome home, I havn’t the slightest notion of what you mean. I have lived here all my life. I wonder, are you a servant? Are you.”
“Well, then I shall certainly arrest you and charge you with breaking and entering!”
“Then you are not George White?”
“Were you not a tramp?”
“Oh I pray forgiveness. I have committed a terrible crime.”
“Indeed you have. There will probably be 4 or 5 years waiting for you at the end of your trial.”
He rang the bell for Andrew the butler who took Liz downstairs and tied her up.
Next morning, the police came and took Elizabeth away. Her testimony was heard, she had a fair trial but was guilty. The judge was very kind and understood her situation. She had 6 months imprisonment and was let off on paroll. This memory still haunts her but for the rest of her days she remained a true British subject.
You got this far! I am impressed.
I have another early oeuvre, Exiled, from which I have so far protected the public. It’s a seven-chapter adventure set in the Georgian era. The writing is slightly better, and certainly longer, than the above, and it is fully illustrated in colour. The hero likes a drink and is very fond of Lady Marie, who ‘wears her ringlets high’.
I think I’ll keep that for another day. In the words of Mr Bennet to poor Mary on the piano in Pride and Prejudice, ‘That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough.’
Next time: Highbury Barn - where the dancers exhibited ‘themselves’ to the delight of the audience and the outrage of local magistrates
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All you need is a husband who is 'an engine driver, was fat, well meaning, understanding and kind.' Thanks for sharing this gem
After a disaster in French class I think I was trying extra hard with the handwriting. Sometimes I miss Quink and blotting paper, but mostly not.