They think I don’t know. But I do.
I shall not disclose my name. As I despise it. Whatever prompted my dearest mother to afford me such a wearisome name I shall never understand. So I will just wish a good morning to you. I’m not entirely sure why you felt the need to pick up my story today, but I won’t be ungracious and refuse to tell it.
I live with Pappa, a profoundly intolerable man, of whom I have nothing whatsoever in common. He is barely home, and when he is, I can hear his bark from all the way down in the parlour. He’s a Mutton Shunter and don’t we know it? Other than his considerable talent for howling he also has a distain for anything merry, joyous or gratifying. His main purpose in life, it seems, is to remove all such jollities from life altogether. I am not his favourite child. Of this I am aware.
My brother William, on the other hand, is quite the opposite to me. He is dashing in looks (unlike my plain appearance), obedient, fairly likeable even, but certainly not entertaining to me in the slightest. He says I am as mad as hops and need to learn to shut my sauce-box but I don’t care for his opinions. At least I don’t have his parish pick-axe, of this I take great pleasure in reminding him. He spends his days doing absolutely nothing of merit and looking for the “jammiest bits of jam” to spend the night. Pappa has no idea of course. Or so he claims. This is a secret I shall keep reserved for when I can use it to my advantage.
My other brother, Henry, is slightly less disagreeable, but he moved away before I turned 10, so I no longer see him. No-one ever speaks of him and I find that peculiar.
Mother died when I was 4. I don’t remember her. William says she was a wonderful mother but this, I can neither confirm nor deny. So far, I have little admiration for her choice in men, or children’s names. But I imagine I won’t get a chance to share that with her now.
I wonder if she knew.
Sometimes, Uncle Arthur comes to visit. He’s a sailor. He tells me stories of overseas monsters, the wildest of storms and how he’s watched men die in ways I couldn’t imagine. I think hes either half rats or not up to dick. But his visits excite me. He says I’m a “bricky of a gal”. William said that’s not a complement. But I believe it is. I’m no meater. Uncle Albert has a fly-rink head and door knocker the size of the ocean. He has a habitually smiling face. The servants call him “Gigglemug”.
Aunt Bertha puts herself in charge of our home. She’s the dizzy age of 60 and is a bit of a church bell. Whoever she’s just been talking to, they will become the topic of her following conversation. I don’t care for her much. She’s a busybody and the servants don’t like her either. She makes all our clothes. I admit this is a skill I wouldn’t resist to learning for myself. She made Pappa a woollen grey frock coat once. I was very envious. I fancied it for myself. Why do men get to wear the comfortable attire and we have to wear our corsets, bonnets and neck ruffs? None are suitable for climbing trees, or playing rugby. My ridiculous pinned-up braided hair and corkscrew curls are a waste of time on me. I care not for any of it.
Mothers chambers are exactly as they were the day she died. The expensive, lavish drapery hangs at the sash window. A gorgeously three-dimensional representation of the natural world, in warm violets and blues. No-one is meant to enter. But I visit regularly. It is my favourite chamber. My bare feet tip-toe across the sheepskin rag rugs and my toes wriggle in delight at the comfort underfoot. Once I’ve made my careful negotiation past the staggered lightweight tables, cluttered with ornaments, jewellery cases and dried flowers, I gently pull-up onto her soft silk bed, with its deeply buttoned details. A pictorial shrine to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children hangs proudly over the mantlepiece. I wonder if mother adored it here as much as I do.
My only other jubilance is when my chuckaboo Bessie comes to visit. I do love her so. We have a secret hiding place towards the back of the gardens. We snuggle beneath the shielding of the forest, catching glimpses of the bluest sky. We read Black Beauty out loud to each other and play make-believe in our own Treasure Island. We host extravagant tea-parties and imagine ourselves as Alice in our very own adventures of wonderland. Bessie is my kindred spirit. She is the only one in my life who truly understands me. And who loves me for who I am.
I think she knows too. But we mustn’t speak of it.
I long for the world outside. I dream of watching a dramatic play on the theatre stage or feel the vibration of pounding drums at a grand music hall. I yearn to saunter art galleries and meander public museums, learning of obscure existence past and beyond. Bessie tells me all about these intriguing places. She knows so much. I’ve experienced so little.
Yet, I am privileged to have my very own paradise. So many trees, too numerous to count. I think Black Beauty would love it here. She could gallop and gallop for hours. When the weather does not allow for our forest retreats, we spend Bessie’s visits playing charades or enjoying haddock and eggs by the scorching fire in the servants’ quarters. Anna and George don’t mind us being there. I think our visitations are a welcome break from their heavy labour. I cannot imagine the stamina needed to haul coal up from the cellar every day like they do. They don’t get to enjoy a Benjo like Uncle Arthur does. I prefer it here than to be within Aunt Bertha’s hunting scowl. I’m thankful for our mammoth dwellings. I’m harder to stumble upon that way. Although I always have the disquietude that someone is watching. Even when I’m alone.
One day Pappa announced that Uncle Arthur wouldn’t be visiting anymore. He got caught up in collie shangles at a tavern. He said nothing more. We never saw Uncle Arthur again. I heard Pappa and Aunt Bertha arguing that night in his study. “Don’t sell me a dog!” she screamed. I heard a thud and everything went quiet. No-one questions Pappa.
Finally, I had a plan. And I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me. I was invincible today. The sun was shining brightly as a congratulatory reward for my bravery. I ran and ran until I was so far from my world that I couldn’t breath for fear I’d fall off the edge. I’d stripped myself of my restrictive corset and morning dress. I felt so free, liberated.
Bessie will be so amazed and proud when I tell her. Maybe I could find her before dark. I ventured over rolling hills and old farms with fields of cows and sheep. The views were astounding. Like a picturesque description from one of my many fictional books. I was running farther and farther and soon a distant humming became quietly discernible. A train maybe?
I was on fire. I had become like Williams little train set, that keeps steaming ahead without any sign of tiring. There’s no stopping me today. As the train comes into view, my heart leaps within me. I’ve never experienced this excitement before. I come to a sudden halt, as I am blown almost over on its passing, such was its speed. It doesn’t look as I had envisioned. The colours, bright. The design, different. I’m perplexed. Nevertheless, the rush of adrenaline pushes me forward.
From behind, I hear a rustling of papers. As I turn I see a newspaper has escaped it’s journey and found its way to my weary feet. A gift? I decide to treasure this momento. As I turn to the front page, the size of which I am unfamiliar, I collapse to the ground in disbelief.
It reads :
“15th April, 2020”