JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -1

27 Jul

This is based on a small thought that may or may not go somewhere. Not even I know!

JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -1

The Great War was over, her dad had returned home, wounded but alive (though he was dead now), and Maria Bigelow hummed happily to herself as she walked down the cedar-lined avenue that led to the Big House. It’s as well she didn’t know that the Second World War was just round the corner, but then, few suspected the horrors that lay ahead…

But now she was after a job in service. Her mother worked at the Big House, had done all her working life as had her mother before her. Now it was Maria’s turn to donate her life to the Benson Family.

Mr Benson (head of the Big House) had made his fortune in cotton. His factories (he had more than one) churned out all sorts of cotton-based things and he had grown exceedingly fat on the fabric. And he was fat. It was said that the recent widening of the Big House doors was to permit his passage through them. His wife was a contrastingly little lady with a fierce temper and a scowl that could freeze anything liquid in the least of moments. There were also the Benson offspring, Luke who found it difficult keeping his tackle in his pants and Jenna who was said to be simple, and proved it to the satisfaction of all who knew her often enough.

Maria knew all that as she walked along. Her mother had kept her fully aware of the inhabitants of the Big House, and as a long-standing and senior (though part time, being a mother) member of the kitchen staff she knew more than her employers suspected anyone knew.

“Keep away from Master Luke,” she advised Maria as she set out for this interview, which was really a sinecure. The job was hers whether she liked it or not, but the Bensons liked to seem ordered and have things to be done properly, so there was an interview.

“Why, Ma?” asked Maria, knowing the answer. Everyone knew the answer to that particular query. Master Luke was famous in more than his home, his notoriety having spread for miles around, as had his semen.

“He’ll put you with child, and then you’ll be for it,” replied her mother, seriously. “I know it’s not easy to say “no” to the master’s son, but you’ve got to learn to keep your knickers on…”

“I’ll be all right, Ma…” assured Maria, exuding more confidence than she felt because, in truth, she had no real idea what her mother was talking about. She’d heard things, of course she had, but her awareness of the biology of humanity was, to say the least, sketchy. There were things that grown ups didn’t like to talk about, and she was mature enough to know that even though she wasn’t properly adult but she felt uncomfortable when Luke Benson’s antics were mentioned. Yet what those antics were she could only guess, and a more thorough knowledge of biology was needed for that guess to be anything like accurate.

It was a lovely morning as she walked under the cedars. The sun flickered and skittered as it found its way to the ground, the shadows it cast being almost hypnotic as they danced around her. She felt happy. At last she’d be able to put money into the family purse, pay her way in the world. She’d be living in at the Big House, which would cut down on Ma’s expenses at home but she’d still be able to walk the two or three miles home on her weekly half-day off, and keep in touch with her own flesh and blood.

“I wouldn’t be going there,” said a voice that made her almost jump out of her skin. A big car had glided up to her, its engine as near to silent as an engine can get, and a gentleman had wound down the window to address her. And “I wouldn’t be going there,” was what he had said.

“Pardon?” she asked, polite as ever because anyone who drove a car like this was definitely her better.

“I wouldn’t be going there if I were you,” repeated the man in the car. “You’re going for work, aren’t you? You need the money and you’re about to start on your first job, and you want to earn your pennies by serving the Master and his grotesque family, don’t you…?”

Grotesque family? She hadn’t heard they were a grotesque family before! Nobody had dared to suggest such a thing. They were the Bensons, and next to the King they were closest to God of anyone she’d heard of.

“They’re the Bensons,” she said. “They’ve always been here and my folks have always worked in the Big House. My father even worked in the gardens before he passed on…”

“I heard,” nodded the man in the Rolls Royce (for that’s what the car was, a Rolls Royce in the days when that meant something really special). “I even know where they laid him,” he added.

“What you mean, where they laid him?” asked Maria.

“Well, they didn’t want any kind of outcry… I mean, it might tarnish their cotton if the world got to know, so they buried him quiet, like, near the Rose Garden, where he could sleep in peace for ever, or until the worms got him…”

Maria shook her head adamantly. “He’s in the church yard!” she insisted. “We go there with flowers of a Sunday, we speak to him and in his own way he answers us from where he sleeps…”

“They told you it was your dad, but it wasn’t,” grinned the stranger. “He passed on, all right, in the gardens of the Big House, but they never put him in the church yard, though they put somebody there. Some other person, some other dead person, in his stead. That’s what they did. It’s the sort of things fat men like the Benson porky can do quite easily. Bury the wrong person in the right place… I suppose if we knew the truth of everything we’d discover that it happens all the time.”

“How…” stammered Maria, suddenly aware that a world existed outside the tiny place she’d inhabited all her life. “What are you saying?” she added, lamely.

“There are many stories I could tell you, but the truth’s an easy pigeon,” said the man, edging his car forward to keep up with her when she started walking again. “Your dad, that would be Mr Bigelow, died in the garden where he worked. He passed away quite sudden, with a spade in his chest and blood gushing all down him. It was old man Benson who put the spade there… he had to, see, because your dad had seen too much…”

“I don’t…” she wanted to say she didn’t believe him but she couldn’t quite bring herself to. He had a Rolls Royce and men with Rolls Royces were rich beyond the dreams of avarice and very, very much better than she could ever be. If there was a life-chain they were up the top whilst she lingered in penury near the bottom. She knew her place, and it wasn’t gainsaying a man in a Rolls Royce.

“If you’re wanting a job, young woman,” continued the man, “I’d work for anyone but a Benson. He’s no good, his kin are no good, and they’ll be the death of you like they were of your dad… if you really, really want a safe job … safe, mark you … then you could do no better than work for me…. that’s it, work for me. You’d be safe doing that, so think about it…”

Suddenly a need to fly seemed to erupt inside her when he came out with those words, but at the same time she was rooted to the spot. Fear, tinged with curiosity, did it.

He held a piece of gold-printed card out to her.

“It’s a lot to be thinking about here and now,” he said, “in just a moment, I mean. Take this card. It’s got my name and number on it. If you want to work for me, if you want a truly safe job, without a Benson in sight then give me a ring. Any time, but soon. I like the looks of you just like I liked the looks of your poor father when I knew him…”

She took the card, and ran.

The man in the Rolls Royce wound the window down, grinned broadly to himself, and drove off.

© Peter Rogerson 27.07.15

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One Response to “JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -1”

  1. georgiakevin July 27, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    Wow!

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