THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Fifteen. Jane Summers
Twenty-seven pounds, ten shillings and sixpence isn’t as much as I thought, muttered Jane to herself as she handed the bulk of it over to a greasy-aproned middle-aged woman who emitted an unsavoury aroma that could only possibly be comprised of stale urine and under-arm sweat. She felt what she looked: soiled, weak and tearful and any port would suit her, for the storm she had found herself weathering was unbelievably powerful.
London wasn’t as shiny as she’d thought it would be and here, in a run-down borough that still showed the scars of war damage, what with gaps in rows of terraces like missing teeth in an ugly brick mouth, home and mother with her knowledge of Heaven and Hell seemed a suddenly preferable place.
Nothing seemed to be going right. To start with, she’d spent the best part of a day looking for somewhere to live. She needed a roof over her head, and when the dark shadows of night at the end of that first day fell and she was homeless she knew that she had to find a park bench because park benches were where homeless waifs like her might spend the night. Even that was harder that she’d thought it would be. Back home the park was overflowing with benches where people sat with their families on cosy Sunday afternoons and listened to brass bands playing military and majestic romantic melodies as if music was about to go out of fashion. Here there were parks, of course, scruffy almost green corners with no park benches, and that first night she found herself sleeping on the ground, tucked away from public view by a row of bushes that reeked of dogs and their urine as well as other unmentionable things.
If anyone’s going to have a low-point then this is mine, she thought, shivering – not that it was cold: it wasn’t. But she was shivering with an all-enveloping fear of what the night would hold and whether she would ever see the dawn. The world is full of night dangers, she knew that and was scared of the thought, and now she was forced into facing them on her own. So it was only natural for the main fear to shake her being should be a night with no dawn.
But that dawn did come, and she was still awake.
I’ll never sleep again, she almost wept, I wish I hadn’t come down here! Everyone always says the place to be is London, but from what I’ve seen of it, it’s the most horrible place in the Universe, and nobody wants to offer a room to a single girl … they maybe think I’m a bad lot, they maybe even think I’m loose and horrible … a pros… pros…but she couldn’t finish the word.
I’m not one of those!
The next day she found the room and handed over the biggest part of her fortune to a grotesque and repulsive woman whose eyes gleamed when she saw the contents of her purse.
“Two months in advance,” dribbled the woman through brown-stained teeth with their attendant black stumps.
“All that much…?” she asked, horrified.
The woman cackled and held her hand out.
She was barely left with enough to live on. She needed a job. She needed a wage or she wouldn’t eat. The room came without any meals.
So a wage was the next obstacle.
Nobody wanted to employ her once she’d given them her new address. It was as if it was tainted, as if it carried with it the foul scent of the woman who owned it. And she did try. She spruced herself up, put on her polka-dot dress, sprayed herself with sweet perfume, and then mentioned her address.
Is that where you live? Is that your address? Are you sure you want to work here? I’d have thought there were other avenues for someone in your line of work…
And they would peer at her over horn-rimmed spectacles and frown and turn a shade greyer.
No, they would say, potential employer after potential employer. We don’t want your sort here…
“What sort?” she asked one of them, and he leered and said “I know what goes on down there, young lady, excuse me for mentioning it, but we all know and it’s disgraceful!”
I’m not disgraceful, she almost wept, but out of pride kept her eyes somehow dry. I’m a decent girl…
“I’m a decent girl!” her words echoed her thoughts, but to no avail.
In the end, with most of her money gone and a great hopelessness opening like the gates of her mother’s hell in front of her, she even thought of buying a train ticket home and suffering eternity being lashed by that tartar’s tongue.
There was one thing she did know: she couldn’t stay here and there was nowhere else to go.
“Can I have my money back?” she asked the smelly woman who had charged her for two months up front. “I’m going home…”
“Non-returnable!” the creatures had snapped, and flapped her arms like the threadbare wings on a desolate swan at the end of its life, and steered the stench of her unwashed body over her.
“But…” began Jane.
“But nothing, you trollop!” shouted the aromatic witch. “I took you in in good faith and if you want to insult me by going before your time’s up that’s your affair and nothing to do with me!”
“I’ll fetch a policeman…” she almost whimpered, but there was no threat in her voice and the landlady knew it.
“You can fetch a dozen policemen: see where that’ll get you and see if I care!” she snapped.
“I’ll get a job … or something…” she whimpered in an irrelevant reply.
So Jane intended using the remainder of her money for a train ticket home, but the fates hadn’t finished with her yet.
“Did I hear you were looking for employment?” said a voice, a cultured question in a cultured voice over her shoulder as she turned from the lodging house almost in tears.
She looked to see who’d spoken.
“And you can keep out of it, father!” snapped the closing front door, and it slammed with a bitterly perfumed cloud of dust.
It was a holy father! Young, admittedly (though not as young as she), smartly dressed in a charcoal suit and with a shiny white collar.
Maybe the Lord’s sent me a saviour! Maybe my mum was right all the time and He watches over us, protects us, guards us from evil…
She looked miserable and less than pristine as she nodded her head and let it hand down submissively. He stood there, gazing at her, at the soiled polka dots of her expensive dress, at the streaks of tears that had run down her cheeks, at the disarray of her hair, at everything.
“I might be able to help you,” he said with the sort of smile that was regularly attended to by dentists. “I might be able to offer you what you need… Tell me, child, what line of work can you do?”
“I worked at the mills, sir, at hosiery,” she stammered. “I was a checker…”
“I left, sir. I left my home.”
“Oh dear, child. Was there something wrong?”
She nodded, but wouldn’t say. He was a stranger, albeit a holy father stranger, and she couldn’t go round bad-mouthing her own mother to strangers, not even this one, however holy he might be, and to not any.
“Could you manage household duties, child? For little more than your keep, admittedly, but a roof over the head and food in the stomach must amount to something. My last housekeeper just left me over a misunderstanding … they can occur, don’t you think, misunderstandings? You see, being a priest I am forbidden a wife so I need to employ a … woman … maybe a young lady … to fulfil those functions usually performed by wives. Light duties only, of course. A little dusting here and there. Cooking the odd meal, nothing special, we must leave space in our flesh for the Lord to enter and not fill it with chips!”
He smiled and nodded slowly.
Yes, yes, yes!She sang in that silent part of the mind that sings to an audience of one, the Lord has sent this holy Father to save me, and I willbe saved!
Then: “I am looking for a position as it happens,” she said to the priest. “I came down to London yesterday, and since I arrived everything’s gone wrong…”
“Maybe you don’t know the streets, child,” he murmured, “for there are streets and there are streets, and the one we are on now is a very inferior street!”
“Can I … will you let me…?” she asked, hesitating because she was beginning to have a real fear of rejection.
“Come with me, child, and we will see what you can do. Can you make a nice cup of tea, for instance?”
She nodded, almost enthusiastically. Surely everyone can make tea? Boil the water, heat the tea-pot, ladle a scoop of fragrant tea into the pot and fill it with gurgling, boiling water… surely everyone can do that?
“Then come with me, child, I live down the way, next to the church of St. Barnabas, and we will arrive in time for tea and prayers…”
His smile persuaded her. It had to, for she needed both smiles and persuasion. She needed to place her hopes and her future onto a trustworthy shoulder.
The trouble is, she was placing it, in ignorance, on the shoulders of Father Damien Crudleigh, and they were far from trustworthy.
©Peter Rogerson 31.07.13
This is the fifteenth chapter of a little love story I’m quite enjoying writing (not very manly is it, to admit that?) and because Gather is in a parlous state these days here are links to the first 14 chapters in case you’ve missed out.