|Pretty, fair-haired Rosalie Dene looked very trig as she boarded the tube at Wood Green station that would take her to Holborn Kingsway. It was an exciting new beginning, she told herself, quelling the butterflies which were disturbing her recently consumed breakfast, and attempting to emulate Miss Annersley, her favourite teacher, and appear as calm and efficient to the outside world, regardless of any turmoil within, as she had when she was Second Prefect dealing with unruly middles at the Chalet School. Now 18, she had left school just over a year ago when her parents had returned to England from the West Indies. She had spent most of the intervening time at home, helping her mother, but was now striking out for an independent life.|
Her parents had been remarkably encouraging, she reflected, when she had first tentatively mentioned her ambition for wider horizons than the small Devon town where her father, Canon Dene, had his living, and her mother was involved in all the duties pertaining to a busy parish. Her father had extra duties at the Cathedral, too, but those did not impinge on his family except on the occasions that the Bishop decided to make a Visit. Whilst her help at home had been welcomed, they seemed to understand her desire for something more than home could provide, and she had been surprised at their positive reaction. They had talked through her options, and once she had decided on Secretarial training, had insisted that she go to the most prestigious available — the Pitman College in Southampton Row, London — and had arranged for her to lodge with the vicar of a North London parish, whose own children had grown up and flown the nest, for the three months that the course would last. From there it was a reasonably easy journey of nine tube stops each day, with no changes.
Later she would discover that a large part of her parents’ reason to let her leave home was her mother’s recent diagnosis of cancer. Canon and Mrs Dene did not want their daughter to watch her mother’s decline, and in sparing her that, had unwittingly put her in the way of an even greater distress.
As the college classes did not start until half past nine in the mornings, Rosalie was spared the worst of the rush hour, but she had been advised that even so, Holborn Kingsway would be the better tube station to use than Russell Square. The escalators at Holborn were nerve-wracking enough, but she certainly did not like the sound of having to pack into a crowded lift, or, despite her youth and vigour, tackling the climb of one hundred and seventy-seven steps up a spiral stair! So although the walk, once she came up into the September air and turned north again up Southampton Row, was a little longer than if she had left the underground at Russell Square, it must, she thought as she swung into an easy stride along the pavement, be an easier journey this way round. She could always try going down the staircase one afternoon, or even brave one of the lifts; though she disliked being enclosed in such things, and was uncertain whether it would be worse to be in one alone — what would happen if it failed? or find herself in it with someone unsavoury — what did other girls in London do?
Resolutely banishing such thoughts, she approached the big college building with rising excitement, and soon found herself in a beginners class learning her basic hooks and the twenty-four consonant symbols. At mid-morning break she found herself in the canteen queue for coffee with a dark-haired girl of about her age whom she had noticed in her class. This damsel introduced herself as Jill Murray, and the two chattered companionably until it was time to go to the typing class, where they found themselves at adjacent desks, chanting ‘A S D F G ; L K J H’ along with the rest of the class, as they learnt their first row of letters and how to find the home keys. All in all, thought Rosalie, as she sat down that evening to the kippers her landlady, Mrs Ellis, had provided, it had not been a bad start.
Term had begun on the Tuesday, and by the end of the week she was into the swing of things. The journey had become almost second nature, her friendship with Jill was progressing nicely, and several other girls in the same ‘cohort’ of beginners were starting to be pally as well. After lunch on Saturday, the morning having been spent at college, Mrs Ellis asked if she had any plans for the afternoon; it was understood that Sunday in the vicarage would be quiet. It being her first weekend, Rosalie had not known what might be expected of her, so although Jill had asked her to look round the shops, she had postponed that pleasure until the following weekend, when she could warn Mrs Ellis of her intentions, and had gone home after college had ended at midday.
“I hadn’t any plans,” she confessed. “My friend from college asked me to go out with her, but I wasn’t sure — I mean I didn’t know if you’d want me to do anything for you —” she faltered to a close.
“Bless you, no!” replied her landlady. “There’s nothing I need doing; and I’ll warrant you haven’t any mending yet yourself. No, I thought you might like a little walk round the area. There isn’t much to see — most of it’s a fairly ordinary area — but I’m sure it’s fresher air than you get down at Russell Square. There’s a nice park, for instance, if you turn the opposite way up High Road from the way you go to get to the tube station, and it’s a pleasant walk if you cross the road here and go along the path under the trees.”
Rosalie thanked her, and put on her hat and coat, and enjoyed a pleasant walk round Woodside Park. She spent a little while looking at a game of bowls on the green, and then watched children on the swings. But eventually she felt chilly, and returned to the warm kitchen of St Michael’s vicarage, with flushed healthy cheeks. As she walked in, a young man who had obviously been there some time, got to his feet. “Don’t go, Ronald, dear.” Mrs Ellis obviously knew the lad well. “Rosalie, this is Ronald Morris from just along Bounds Green Road. His mother is a leading light in the Mothers’ Union, and a great help to me.”
Rosalie knew how valuable such a neighbour would be to the vicar’s wife, and smiled shyly at Ronald, who insisted that he must be leaving; he had only popped round to deliver a message from his mother, and he hoped he’d see Rosalie again. Meanwhile he was going out this evening to a meeting, so they must excuse him. And he beat a hasty retreat.
“He’s a Scout or something,” Mrs Ellis said fondly. “Nice lad; shame about his father.”
Rosalie looked a question and her landlady sighed. “He was gassed in the War. Never really got over it. Ronald was only a baby when he left — he’s twenty now — and Jack couldn’t seem to settle when he got back. Jealous of the boy too, because Ann Morris had given all her time to him. Anyway, he never managed to keep a job for long, though eventually he got a War Pension — and he had to fight for that — but he died in ’29; the drink did for him in the end.”
“Surely not?” Rosalie was shocked.
“Oh my dear it’s quite common. Particularly some of them who came back to find no jobs. At least Jack Morris had his own house — it had been his mother’s — so he didn’t have to find rent. And Ann is quite comfortable; she has a part-time job in the grocery shop, and the Government pay her a widow’s pension. . . and Ronnie’s doing quite well — but I must remember to call him Ronald, he was always Ronnie as a boy; probably always will be to his Mum, but he doesn’t like it now — Ronald, then, works as a clerk in the Treasurer’s Department in the Council Offices,” Mrs Ellis continued. “He seems a good steady worker, and of course he pays his Mum a nice bit from his wages — salary I suppose it is, working for the Council! And he runs a sort of Scout group; and belongs to another, his Mum says. But it isn’t the local one. He goes to his meetings on the tube — now then, I thought we’d have a nice bit of ham for supper, how does that sound?”
And Rosalie replied that she thought that sounded very nice indeed.
originally posted to CBB March/April 2008