A story in five parts from Blushes Supplement 5
Night was beginning to fall and the rain, which had been falling in a fine drizzle for most of the afternoon, was intensifying, adding to the misery of a lone figure stumbling down a country lane.
It was the figure of a young woman, wearing only a cheap print dress and thus soaked to the skin. She was hatless and carried neither luggage nor a handbag. From time to time she would look behind her, then break into a trot. She was panting and tears mingled with the rain on her soft young cheeks.
‘Ooohh…. how much further?’ she moaned to herself, gazing left and right into the gathering gloom. She was terrified of the dark and decided, if she didn’t reach her destination soon, she would simply go and lie in a ditch and await the end. Life held very little for her, she reckoned, so what did it matter?
The girl breasted a little rise in the lane and then hope burgeoned again when she saw a break in the hedge on her left. It could be a lane. Yes… they had told her it would be on the left. Oh, thank the Lord, it was a lane! The figure peered down at the arrowed sign set low amidst dank, wet grass and leaves. Bowden’s Hall, it read in faded black letters partially obscured by green fungi.
She had found it! She was there! There was no longer any need to die in a ditch. Life could begin again. But what sort of life, wondered that bedraggled figure as she ran up the lane. A couple of hundred yards further and she came upon an iron grille gateway, the gate being held by two crumbling stone pillars. Peering through, she saw a large stone-built house with mullion windows. It looked most sinister. Not a light was to be seen. It was an early Victorian dwelling, but in her ignorance, the girl did not know this. In fact, she knew nothing at all about big houses. They scared her. She was far more used to — and at home in — a broken-down hovel in a half-forgotten Irish village.
The girl pushed open the gate. It was heavy and rusted, giving out a long, creaking sound as if it were in pain. Then her feet crunched on the gravel of a driveway as she approached the front door. She rang the bell and waited, tense and nervous. She could hear the rain pattering around her and the pounding of her own heart.
Surely there must be someone there, she told herself. Surely they would not have sent her all this way for nothing. The girl rang the bell again. And waited.
Then the door opened with a suddenness that was startling. A man who was of middle age was peering down at her with some disdain. ‘Yes?’ he queried.
‘I… I’m Maureen O’Connor…’ said the girl breathlessly.
‘Yes. They s-sent me… from that Social something-or-other place. You know. They must have written.’ The Irish accent was quite pronounced.
‘Indeed?’ said the man in the doorway again. He was looking the soaking figure up and down appraisingly.
‘You…. you must be Mr C-Cameron…’
‘No,’ said the man. ‘My name is Proctor. Mr Proctor to you.’
‘I see. Mr Proctor, is it. Can I come in Mr Proctor… I… I’m soaking.’
‘So I observe.’ said the man called Proctor dispassionately. He was unhurried and unconcerned. ‘Luggage?’ he asked.
‘I… I lost it… Mr Proctor…’
‘Lost it!’ Eyebrows went up. ‘How on earth did you do that?’
‘I… I’ll explain… if you’ll let me in…’ The girl gave a glance behind her, as if she expected to see someone following through the gate.
‘You’d better do that then,’ said Gavin Proctor. He motioned the girl to pass him. As she did so he got a closer look at her figure, well-delineated on account of the clinging tightness of her wet dress. In the half-dark his eyes could not be clearly seen, but they gave a little approving gleam.
‘Where… where shall I go?’ How pathetic she looked, how pathetic she sounded, he thought. A true orphan from the storm, rather like someone out of a Victorian melodrama. Penniless, baggageless, helpless. Just as Gavin Proctor would have wished it. There would be no trouble with this one, he could sense that already.
‘Along to the end of the passage, girl,’ he said. ‘Then up the stairs you’ll find there. The bathroom’s third on the right. Go in there and take your clothes off.’
Maureen O’Connor scurried off thankfully. At least she was safe at last. Under a roof. Soon she would be dry. Perhaps she would get some food. Oh, how hungry she was. But what, she wondered as she went into the bathroom, am I to change into? She was beginning to pull off her dress when the door she had closed but not locked now opened. As quickly as she could, Maureen pulled the dress down again. ‘Ohh… I didn’t… know you… I mean… that you…’
‘Get on with it, girl,’ said Gavin Proctor briskly. ‘We don’t want you getting pneumonia just when you’re starting here.’
‘But… but I can’t… I mean… you’re still here…’
‘It… it’s not r-right,’ Maureen flushed. The man’s eyes were hard upon her. She wasn’t frightened of him but she didn’t want to upset him right at the start of this new life. What should she do? What could she do? All her young life seemed to have been spent having unhappy decisions to make.
‘Don’t tell me what’s right,’ rapped out Gavin Proctor. ‘Not in this house. Get that dress off now!’