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U3A Writing: The Well: 4 Sarah

Paddy Webb continues her account in verse of the life of her great grandfather John Charles Ayling, the first of three generations of elder sons of that name.

This story, set between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Centuries, is based on the recollections of Paddy’s grandmother.

I was washing up when Mum knocked at the kitchen door.
I knew it must be
Something bad if she had walked all
The way to the Hall, wearing her best dress and shawl.

Cook quickly had her in and sat her at the table. Make your mother some tea, Sarah, and then you may sit and talk. Mum and Mrs Johnson know each other from being in service, That's how I got my position.

Mum cried when she told me about Jack, Twisting her hands and wiping her eyes. But I did not know where he was.

When she had gone I went back to the dishes But I kept sniffing, thinking of Jack being lost. You may take half an hour and go to your room, Sarah, Mrs Johnson said.

Thank you Ma'am, but may I go outside? She paused, then said I could go for the vegetables. We kitchen girls are not allowed in the garden, Even the gardeners must not be seen from the house. Cook knew Will Angel worked in the walled garden.

I fetched my bonnet and walked down the steps Into the kitchen yard, mossy, cool and in shadow. Then I followed the path to the wooden gate in the wall. I love the world of colour and scent inside, fruit trees Spread eagled against the wall, neat rows of vegetables And of fruit, glasshouses with their warm damp smell, The beds of coloured flowers to decorate the house, And smell of fresh turned earth, the scratch of working hoes. I could see Will weeding onions and gave a little wave. He winked at me. I like Will Angel. He's older than me. I'm fourteen, since I had my last birthday.

I carried the vegetables back in a basket, tiny carrots, Green peas, small pearly potatoes and red strawberries. When I went through the gate Will was waiting for me. He popped a strawberry in my mouth and the juice Ran down my chin in a tiny crimson river. Back in the kitchen the washing up was done. Cook said I could make scones with her. Some cooks sell recipes But ours teaches us girls and makes us write them down. Afterwards, she said Not bad, which is the best she gives. They wouldn't do for upstairs, but I could put them On a tray when she and Mr Walker took tea. In our house Cook and Butler take tea in the afternoon.

Staff that serve dinner get a bite in the servants' hall, but The rest of us have supper when all is done, cheese mostly. I've taken trays to the nursery, but not to the drawing room. But when Sally leaves to get wed, Mr Walker says I may be considered, on days when there's no visitors.

When Sunday came Cook said I could visit Mum, when The lunch things were washed, gave me some jam to take. But I had to be back by the time evensong was over. It's a long walk. I saw Will sitting on a wall. He asked If he might go with me, and I said Yes, if no one saw. When we were almost there he promised to meet me When the church bell rang and see me safely back.

Mum was sitting on the garden seat when I reached home, Dark smudges under her eyes. Dad was heaving up Great clods of earth. You could see the devil was on his Shoulder and they had had a row. The little ones Were playing fives tones in the sunshine on the step.

Inside the room was just as I remembered, Though smaller, after being at the Hall. The fire was smouldering in the range A big black kettle steaming on the hob. Mum's tea jar was still on the mantelpiece. There was a smell of stew, and musty damp. Dad's high backed wooden chair was pushed Hard against the cupboard, which he does to annoy. The blue rag rug was in front of the fire, How I hated having to help, bodging the strips Through the sacking till my fingers hurt.

The scullery was cold and dark and damp. I took a scoop of water from the bucket by the door. We have fresh water at the Hall, comes in a pipe All the way to the kitchen, and proper toilets Even for the servants. I share a room with Cissy But we have our own beds, not top and tail With the little ones like I had to do at home.

After a bit Dad scraped his spade till it gleamed,
Put it in the shed and headed for the river.
The little girls trailed off to swing on the gate.
I made a cup of tea for Mum, sat and talked.
Be good, she said when the bell started for evensong,
Don't bring me no trouble, girl.
Nellie walked with me a bit. Told me that Mum
Had thrown a pan of sausages at Dad.
They picked them off the floor and ate them for lunch.

When she was gone Will appeared again. It was exciting having someone walk me back With the birds singing, honeysuckle in the air. The low sun made our shadows long on the ground And when Will Angel took my hand, I could see it In the shadow picture, though I dare not look at him. That's better, said Cook when I got in. The walk has given you a bit of colour, girl.

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