'Mrs Pemberton's Mistake'
By Phineas Redux
Summary:— This story is set in Great Britain in 1943. Flying Officers Claire 'Ricky' Mathews and Gabrielle Parker—lovers, pilots, and members of ATA, Air Transport Auxiliary, and the highly secret SOE, Special Operations Executive,—come across someone with an outdated social attitude.
Disclaimer:— All characters are © 2020 to the author.
Warning:— There is some light swearing in this tale.
Mrs Pemberton was having trouble; it was still only 9.30am on the morning of June 14th 1943, and she had just finished, for the fourth time in the last week past, making her own breakfast and washing-up the dishes. And for the umpteenth time in the last month she paused to ruminate on the amazing amount of messy work involved in what she had come to call the hidden dirtiness of everyday life.
Cynthia Pemberton was the widow of one of those business-men who did something in the City; in Alan Pemberton's case, something that had brought in a great deal of money which, on his death five years ago, had come to herself. Her villa in Norwich, Norfolk was in the best social district; she owned it outright, and for the last twenty years she had enjoyed a social life in the highest circles of local society. Her domestic arrangements had been taken care of by a group of servants who knew the intricacies of looking after a large establishment, while making sure the Lady of the house was waited on from dawn to dusk for every action or wish.
Cynthia's life had been safe, quiet, unremarkable, and pandered to by all those around her. She also had a very well pronounced bump of social class, as the old-time Phrenologists would have said, about her outlook on Life. She, being socially superior as of due right, and wealthy as well, could do as she chose. Those she looked on as of her own class she was all gentleness and jollity with; while those she distinguished as beneath her social standing she either suffered, as being necessary to a lady's ongoing comfort, or ruled over with a rod of iron as being mere servants.
This latter attitude, sorely battered in recent years, had now come back to not only haunt her but to actually bite her on her butt. To put it succinctly, all her servants, men and women—heavens, young girls, too—had gone off to help with the War effort, leaving her servantless, and in a pickle. I mean, she had found herself asking early on in this recreation of Hell, how do you actually boil an egg; and why was such a simple task as making a cup of tea from scratch so time consuming and annoying in its complexity?
And then things, unbelievably, got worse; the War, so long a mere shadowy chimera on the borders of her consciousness, came home to roost with a vengeance. Her Bank in London was obliterated by a bomb, necessitating an amazing series of meetings, discussions, and paperwork dealing with a bureaucracy she had never previously known existed. Then came the fact that, literally from one month to the next, her whole staff took off for pastures new, in armaments factories or various off-shoots of the Armed Forces, leaving her destitute as far as help went. Ruminating, as she had at the time, on Saki's famous story she realised that, though as good cooks go, cooks went, it was hardly fair that her entire staff, from tweeny to housekeeper, should jump ship altogether. I mean, as she had also ruminated, how unfair of the lower classes, but just what ought to have been expected of them—she, in her own mind, putting such callous behaviour down to the Education Act 1880, and its influence on the wholly unnecessary schooling across the board of children from the lower ranks of life!
This state of affairs had not happened all at once, of course; it had, in fact, been like a subtle disease, creeping up on you unnoticed till too late. First her upstairs maid, of all submissive empty-headed nothings, had expressed her desire to go off to an armaments factory nearby and earn precisely five times in a single week what Mrs Pemberton paid her a month. Then the under-maid had left without notice, except for a short precise and shockingly impolite note, to join the WAAF's, whoever they might be. Her own personal maid, the worst stab of all—she then realising just how Caesar felt about Brutus—had abandoned her to see Life in the NAAFI, whatever the damn that was.
At this juncture, as a sort of intermission to the more serious disturbances of Life, rationing had caught up with her. To be told, by some anonymous Government Department that she could only eat and drink what they allowed her to she rightly viewed as an appalling intrusion into her personal affairs, indeed actual privacy. That her very bread, butter—she had never admitted to the existence of margarine,—tea, and eggs and bacon, should be held back from her, as of a naughty child, was wholly outside her capability to understand. That from now on she should present her grocer, butcher, baker, fishmonger, and others, with ration books and silly stamps seemed, to Cynthia, a personal assault amounting almost to battery.
From one month to the next she found herself virtually cut-off, temporarily her secondary Bank Manager in Norwich assured her, from her funds; losing servants like rats on a sinking ship, and held to an unwanted diet by Government regulations which quite clearly impinged on a lady's private dealings and were obviously illegal to anyone with sense to consider them. And then her house-keeper, a woman who had been with her for seventeen years, one morning said that next week she intended taking a job as a typist in the Ministry of Information in London. A job providing a salary almost three times what Mrs Pemberton allowed her, and that the job was Secret, so there was no sense in querying the matter, which shocked Cynthia to the core. And now, just yesterday, her last domestic, her former tweeny now jumped-up to a position as general maid which was obviously quite beyond her capabilities, finally rumbling the simple fact that life outside in the real world held possibilities far brighter and more interesting than staying with Cynthia, had upped sticks and walked out with her pert twenty-one year old nose in the air, leaving Cynthia abandoned by one and all, in a now empty house.
It was at this point Cynthia finally came to understand that Life, far from being the easy-going pastime she had up till then understood it to be, was in fact a ravening voracious wolf, always scrabbling at the door. She was going to have to, horrible thought, go out into the wilderness which was the High Street and communicate and associate with actual shopkeepers and counter staff. The very thought of trying to make head or tail of these multitudes of ration books, while mingling with the common herd, appalled her delicate sensibilities to the point where she nearly felt one of her migraines coming on.
Why, even such a trifle, as it had been when the servants undertook the matter, of opening the blackout curtains on all the windows in the vast mansion each morning now appeared to Cynthia as one of Hercules' more exacting tasks. Not to mention the time consumed each following evening in closing the damn things properly—she having three times on separate days been yelled at, actually yelled at from the street outside, by air raid wardens telling her to close that bl—dy curtain an' make it snappy!
What was she to do? She had gone for succour, of her own volition, to the Women's Job Association in the Main Street looking for new retainers, only to find it now closed. She had asked acquaintances, of her own social class, of course; only to be told they too were suffering the same problems—butlers were not be found for love nor money; maids were as rare as Unicorns' horns; and tweeny-maids were apparently now an extinct species: why, Mrs Robertson told her, she had been searching, like Livingston for the source of the Nile, for a Boots for over three months, and nary a sighting anywhere, yet.
Battered by the slings and arrows of Life, almost demented at the impossibility of finding new servants, and harangued from pillar to post by Government regulations and damn ration books, Mrs Pemberton found herself, later that morning, walking down the High Street in Norwich; and here it was she finally went that step too far and made her crucial mistake.
25 year old WAAF corporal Mona Miller had been in uniform for a little over six months now; and was already highly regarded by her superiors. Before this period she had spent five years as tweeny rising to upper-housemaid for Mrs Pemberton in her huge mansion on Highthorpe Road on the outskirts of Norwich. Finally rebelling due to the unavoidable nature of changing Society all round her, she had mutinied to Mrs Pemberton's face and jumped ship from the servant's quarters in a musty attic to the high shenanigans and devil-may-care comradeship of Barrack 09, RAF 1093 Training SQD., Earlham, Norwich. Now on furlough for three days she was swanning along High Street in the town like a Princess through her domain; life amongst her comrade WAAF's having matured her outlook remarkably in a short space of time. And here it was she bumped into her former employer, who recognised the mutineer instantly.
Having just come from an eye-popping encounter with her Butcher, who had outrageously harangued her for not having the correct amount or type of ration stamps for her purchases, Mrs Pemberton was in that mood which she had come over the years to title 'The Dooms'. From youth liable to moods of overbearing depression, when presented with one in full flow Mrs Pemberton became the actual embodiment of Stevenson's tale of Jekyll and Hyde; though her own irrational, if not wholly warped, persona more fully resembled Mary Shelley's Monster than otherwise. Now faced with a cherished member of her former staff, who had for no good reason in her opinion deserted her, Mrs Pemberton's animal nature, wholly unrestrained by moral sensibilities, came to the fore.
"Mary!" Mrs Pemberton, in the peak of her power over those beneath her social standing, and to servants in particular, generally using this motif to her underlings in order to bypass the hard work of normal memory, engaged the unfortunate girl with battle-flags flying from her mainmast. "Just who I wanted to see. You had the audacity to leave my employ what, seven months since? Without bothering about contracts or terms of service, or anything legal of that nature. Well, let me tell you, young woman, I intend to consult my solicitor; who I am sure will acknowledge I can have you out of that silly uniform and back under my control within another few weeks. What do you say to that, young woman?"
Mona, now far from the nervous untutored girl of Mrs Pemberton's memory, but instead a new sharp-edged young woman of the modern era who understood exactly what was what, eyed her former employer with a cold stare.
"Mrs Pemberton, there's a war on; something I know you've never cared to acknowledge, but there it is. I'm in the Armed Forces now, an' that's where I'm staying. You carry on your legal actions, and just see what happens. Can you imagine the heavy weight the W.D. will throw in your direction, if you try to impinge on their authority?"
"W.D, what nonsense is that, girl?"
"Oh, the War Office ain't nonsense, not by a long way." Here Mona, for the first time in her life, openly laughed in her late employer's face. An act she found curiously satisfying on every known level. "You go ahead, dear, do your worst—after all, that's what you've been doing to your servants, or should I say slaves, for the last twenty years. Goodbye."
With this flourish Mona walked on along the pavement; out of Mrs Pemberton's existence, though the latter didn't yet realise this, almost but not quite for forever.
"That wasn't nice of her." Gabrielle, in the Nissen Hut shared with her secret lover Claire Mathews, had just listened to Mona's tale of her visit to the High Street earlier that day.
"Yeah, sounds like a right harridan. Bet you're glad you don't work for her anymore?" Claire nodding in agreement with her partner's view of the matter; especially as Mona was one of their closest friends on the RAF base at Little Lanning, Norfolk, where the WAAF had been seconded for duty. "What d'ya make of her threats?"
"And what kind of a woman is she, personally speaking?" Gabrielle intent on picturing the female tyrant as clearly as possible.
The three were sitting drinking fortified cocoa that evening at the long table in the private Nissen Hut given over to Claire and Gabrielle in their personas' as SOE specialists, though this was kept secret from everyone, including Mona.
"Well, she's had a life that'd have made Cleopatra jealous." Mona trying to find ways of describing her former existence. "Pandered to from morn to night, never doing anything practical for herself; probably still doesn't know how to make a ham sandwich, never mind boil an egg."
"Eggs' sort'a hard t'come by these days, anyway." Claire interjecting with the contemporary facts of life.
"Which is another thing that's probably causing Mrs Pemberton some trouble." Here Mona broke out in an infectious grin. "She doesn't usually shop, for daily comestibles at least, herself. Wouldn't know how to order bread at the baker's, nor haggle for sausages at the butcher; nothing of that sort. So, these rationing books and food and clothing stamps are annoying her something awful, I bet."
"By the sounds of it, just what she deserves." Claire taking no prisoners on merely moral principles. "Where's she live; that she needed a whole dam' army of slaves t'cater t'her existence? An' what about Mr. Pemberton?"
"Oh, Mr Pemberton was something big in the City; made mountains of money." Mona shrugging gloomily at the good luck of those who didn't deserve it. "He kicked the bucket on Norwich Golf Course just before the War; apparently after making a six on a easy green, an' missing his seventh putt by half an inch. Apoplexy, on top of a short temper, y'know."
The three ladies contemplated this sad tale for half a minute, then Gabrielle brought things back to what mattered.
"And her house? A palace, or what?"
"Pemberton Mansion, it's called. It is!" Mona seeing the disbelieving stares of her comrades. "Cut in a wooden sign by the stone pillars at the front gate. It's a Victorian mansion, standing alone in its own grounds; servants' basement with kitchens, washrooms, parlours, an' storage rooms; three floors above, with attics where the slavey's lie their weary heads of a night. All very richly decorated; except for the servants quarters, of course."
Claire and Gabrielle had, during this description, suddenly sat up on their hard chairs and taken more notice then previously of their friend's words.
"How many rooms does this joint have?" Gabrielle all ears as she rested her elbows comfortably on the tabletop. "Just, y'know, curious."
"How many? I never counted, t'tell the truth."
"How about an approximation?" Claire interested for her own reasons, too. "Go through the various rooms, what they're used for an' all; then meb'be a guess as t'the general total. I findin' the hovels of the rich an' languid of some social interest, y'see."
Missing the quiet sarcasm inherent in this last remark Mona fell to thinking about her former place of work.
"Lem'me see, the basement where I spent a lot of my time, of course." She flicked a finger across her chin, deep in memories. "Big kitchen, separate wash-room, two large pantries for storing food, a wine-room, and three or four other small rooms used for various things. Upstairs, in Mrs Pemberton's personal domain as you might say, oh, umpteen rooms. The long high Hall, for starters. Living-room on the left, with a large study behind it; on the right, the drawing-room, with a retiring-room behind that—Mrs. Pemberton using this as her own private space. A couple of other spacious rooms to the rear used for entertaining visitors; and, of course, the dining-room behind Mrs. Pemberton's study."
"Spectacular!" Gabrielle unable to refrain from commenting. "Sorry, go on."
"On the first floor, to the left, Mrs. Pemberton's drawing-room." Mona continuing her depiction of the vast mansion. "Behind that, a Tea-room, where she played hostess to her more socially important guests and friends. On the right Mr. Pemberton's Drawing-room, and behind that the room where he entertained his guests. A couple of other small rooms, with doors on the landing, used as places to store coats and boots and umbrellas and such like."
"A room for every need, eh?" Gabrielle bowing to a remaining jealousy inherent in her lesser social origins.
"Yes, yes, umm." Mona, slightly put off by this remark organised her points again, then returned to the fray. "On the second floor the bedrooms; they had separate bedrooms.—"
"Oh?" Gabrielle suddenly attentive as all get-out.
"One doesn't enquire about these things, you know." Mona showing how she had absorbed some of the moral outlook of those she had served for so many years. "It just was that way, is all. Anyway, behind the bedrooms, were more drawing-rooms; Mrs. Pemberton used hers as the place she put on her make-up in front of a large dressing-table with three mirrors; Mr. Pemberton's, when he was, er, there, was usually a wasteland of scattered clothing and abandoned golf-clubs and similar nonsense: wouldn't let the servants, or Mrs. Pemberton, clean the place up for love nor money."
"Anywhere else?" Claire still as interested as the audience at one of Jung's lectures.
"Just the attics, is all."
"You say attics, in the plural?" Gabrielle taking note of the nuances involved here. "Why so?"
"Well, they were actually another series of large rooms." Mona nodding as she recalled the layout of the virtual palace she had spent so much time in. "On the left side of the building the original two long chambers had been divided into numerous servants' rooms, using thin plyboard. If a man sneezed quietly in his room at the other end of the attic, fifty feet away, your bed shook under you; that kind'a thing. The attic on the right side of the building had been left as it was; two long echoing spaces used from Time immemorial as lumber-rooms, stacked t'the ceiling with all sorts of rubbish from ages long gone by. There you are, Pemberton Mansions as it is t'day. What d'ya think, ladies?"
It was quite clear, from the long silence which ensued, that the ladies' thought a great deal about what they had just discovered.
"Mona, that's all very interestin'." Claire musing over the details with frowning brow.
"Yes, very nice." Gabrielle no less attentive. "Very interesting indeed. Thanks."
"And we won't lose track of Mrs Pemberton's legal comings and goings either, Mona." Claire breaking out in a warm smile. "Don't worry on that account; she, nor her solicitor, ain't got the fangs t'injure the jolly ol' W.D. So, another shot of this very nice cocoa? What d'ya fancy as a vitamin back-up in it this time? Whisky or rum?"
"Ha-ha!" From Gabrielle, who couldn't restrain herself.
"Decisions, decisions." Mona in her element. "OK, rum this time, please, Miss."
"Har!" Claire no less happy with the situation. "On it's way, dear, comin' up!"
"Sounds just like what we want."
Squadron Leader Galleish's office, on RAF Little Lanning airfield the next morning was sunny, bright, and full of three people discussing something very secret indeed.
"Due to this upcoming plan to operate undercover agents' from here, it's exactly the place we could stow the various men an' women while they undergo trainin'." Claire nodding along with her commanding officer.
"From what we've heard, from Mona Miller who worked there, it's built like a palace, in its own grounds." Gabrielle also certain of the house's universal appeal to the need in hand. "Easily secured, with a few innocuously placed guards; lots of rooms on each floor, for lecture's an' so forth. Out of the general Public way, and lots of garage space in the old stables behind in the rear yard. Could'a been specially built for this one purpose."
"And what do you think about Mrs Pemberton?" Squadron Leader Galleish raising dubious Scottish eyebrows towards this minor problem.
"Ha!" Gabrielle taking no account of such a difficulty. "Requisition's the name of the game, sir. The W.D., bless their cotton socks, will come to our defence via Yellow Form RQ DBT 1476-QD9B without turnin' a hair—then it'll be our property for the duration, t'do with as we see fit."
Galleish, having this very form on his desk before him as they spoke, regarded this piece of paper—manna from the Place Up Above, as far as the Military Forces were concerned—with some satisfaction, then asked the next question on his list.
"And who's going to break the Bad News from Ghent, to the householder, then? Shall I sent a couple of squaddies' with the Form, or do you both have other ideas?"
Claire and Gabrielle glanced at each other, then gave their commanding officer the brightest smiles he had been exposed to for several months.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Gabrielle hammered the brass door-knocker for all it was worth, the next morning, as they stood before Pemberton Mansion's front door.
"If she's in her bedroom on the second floor, makin' up her bed, it'll take her, oh, around four days t'come down an' answer." Claire being facetious as hell.
"Har! Wouldn't be surprised. Wonder if we'll need to break in?"
But this necessity, scion as it was of Gabrielle's rather too adventurous spirit, did not need to come into play as the door opened to reveal the mistress of the premises, Mrs Pemberton in person—and none too pleased at this interruption to her day.
"What is it? What is it? If you are from Harvey and Pressinge, I'll have the unutterable clothing stamps ready tomorrow; now go away."
Her attempt to bring this unwanted conversation to a swift conclusion by shutting the door was hampered by Claire stamping her RAF issue shoe over the threshold, thereby halting Mrs Pemberton's retreat in its path.
"Mrs Pemberton? Mrs Cynthia Pemberton?"
The lady in question, looking at her visitors for the first time in detail, they being in full ATA uniform even down to holstered side-arms, slowly began to realise that something big, something perhaps even Military, was in the offing—her offing. She thereby beginning to feel decided quivers of unease.
"Aah, and if that is so?"
"Come along, Mrs Pemberton, everyone an' their grandchildren knows who you are." Gabrielle losing her short allowance of wartime tranquility in an instant. "We're here on a significant, a business, a War matter. How's about us finishing this little conversation in the living-room, eh?"
"And, Mrs Pemberton, don't say no." Claire looking mean as Christmas Past. "That wouldn't be helpful at all."
The living-room that morning was not looking its usual pristine best. The lack of servants having allowed dust to accumulate at a rate Mrs Pemberton had quickly found impossible to keep up with; so various pieces of furniture, those with large flat tops, showed a dull matt effect not conducive to overall cleanliness. Mrs Pemberton had also made no attempt to offer her visitors tea and cakes; as she knew very well, now, such an enterprise would probably take her at least an hour to accomplish. They made do, as in wartime was vitally necessary to the Home Front effort anyway, by simply sitting on the long sofa while the Lady of the House took up residence in a chintz armchair.
"So, er, so, umm—?"
"Mrs Pemberton, this is a fine establishment you have here. Own it outright, do you?" Claire all professional estate-agent straight away.
"What? That is hardly a matter to—"
"Mrs Pemberton, the W.D, the War Office, is involved in this here, now." Gabrielle coming out with the name of that Department which must not be named in vain. "Your house, this here Pemberton Mansion as we speak, is of some, in fact, a great deal of interest to the Whitehall mandarins."
"Mrs Pemberton, who lives here?" Claire again hitting hard, where it hurt.
"Live here?" The Lady was nonplussed, having still no idea where the conversation was heading. "Why, I alone, if you must know. What is thi—"
"Do you have any live-in servants?" Gabrielle coming down to the practicalities. "Or, any servants, at all?"
Mrs Pemberton, still in the dark though now harbouring fearful apprehensions, took a few seconds to consider these questions.
"I do not see what my servant problems have to do with Military matters." She regaining a modicum of calm, if not serenity, as she continued. "Perhaps I should—"
"Mrs Pemberton, you live alone here, don't you?" Claire cutting to the quick for the first time. "If so—which is the actual case as we already know—then the W.D., the War Office, has something to tell you. Your house, this here Pemberton Mansion, is being requisitioned, without legal comeback on the requisitionee's part, as of today. You got a week t'vacate the premises; or be removed forcefully, with legal expences following."
For the first time in her life Mrs Pemberton was struck dumb; actually dumb, finding it impossible to utter a single word in reply. Here was she, an upstanding member of local Society, being removed from her lifelong house like a tenant in some hovel being evicted for not paying their rent; she sat appalled by the suddenness of the whole tragic scenario, hardly yet understanding what had happened.
"Aah-aah-ah, can you do such a thing?"
"Oh, yes." Here Gabrielle produced that piece of paper which, unlike a similar but differently coloured one a few years earlier in Public knowledge, had presently all the legal back-up to enforce its terms of reference come what may—the dreaded Yellow Form RQ DBT 1476-QD9B, that Act of Requisition against which no member of Society may stand in opposition. "Here, read this, it tells you all you need to know."
"We've been investigatin' your antecedents, Mrs Pemberton." Claire here giving forth with the results of some fast, though all-encompassing, inquiries on the W.D's part. "You have a great deal of available cash; own a series of properties across the South of England you receive rents on, and several large buildings in various parts of London, most still standin'. You're income's vast, by modern standards; so findin' another place t'rest your weary soul won't be difficult."
"This Requisition Form makes it legal as all get-out." Gabrielle coming in for the deciding blow. "If you vacate the premises within the next week, everyone'll be very happy. If you don't; well, Wartime Government Regulations are very clear on the matter. You not wanting, I'm just guessing here, to take up residential rights in a cell in Holloway Prison in London anytime soon?"
Mrs Pemberton, who that morning had risen in quite a good mood, now looked from her visitors to the yellow flimsy form in her shaking hands, then back to her obviously dis-interested visitors; realising, finally, that a change in her circumstances and a move in an wholly unexpected and unwanted direction socially speaking was unavoidable. Suddenly, the question of vanished servants seemed remarkably insignificant in view of the overall and far more manifest tribulations of Life.
Squadron Leader Galleish's office, later that afternoon, was as bright and cheery as ever.
"So, what was the outcome? All chipper, are we?"
"Oh, yes, sir." Gabrielle hardly able to restrain her high spirits. "Went like a dream; Mrs Pemberton's out, an' we're in."
"Ha! Good work." Galleish relieved the matter had been dealt with positively. "How long's she going to take to disappear?"
"We told her, a week; but we can easily give her ten days." Claire considering the technicalities. "It's a big house; take all of that to shift the furniture—a lot of it antique, you see, sir."
"Ah, well, there ain't any pressing need." Galleish nodding happily as he counter-signed the invidious yellow form, preparatory to pigeon-holing it for the rest of the War. "The, ah, agents aren't scheduled to roll up till sometime next month."
"Give us time to renovate the place, sir." Gabrielle happy as a blackbird in Spring. "Put in all the appointments we need for lectures and training, an' what-all."
"Just so; well, very nicely done, ladies'. When's your next drop over France?"
"Tomorrow night, sir." Claire on top of their schedule of taking secret agents to France. "Nothing in between."
"Well, take leave till tomorrow evenin', then." Galleish coming over all philanthropic, against his usual nature. "Right, dismissed."
In the Nissen Hut, that evening, all was happiness and tranquility. Along the table's side sat Gabrielle, Claire and Mona; all once more with steaming mugs in front of them.
"I can't believe you did it?" Mona as pleased as punch, and slightly astonished at the same time. "You've kicked the old harridan out'ta her palace, an' taken it over? Ha-ha!"
"Well, to be exact the W.D. have taken it over, for purely nominal Military purposes, you understand—a large mostly unoccupied mansion not being something to be sniffed at, in these hard times when flocks of loose military officers are scrounging for places t'rest their care-worn heads." Gabrielle being facetious for the fun of the thing. "She'll be gone by the end of the week."
"An' good riddance to her." Claire not finding any need to hold back. "Seems t'have been a real piece o'work, in her prime; but that's all over now. Bet when she tools up in London she'll find the locals rather more difficult t'handle than she's been used to."
"Can you imagine a Cockney housemaid putting up with Mrs Pemberton's airs an' graces for more than an hour?" Mona grinning at the vision this thought conjured up. "If she tries such on, what I wouldn't give t'be there t'see it."
Inside the Nissen Hut there now unfolded a not dis-similar scene, in many ways, to the Three Witches cauldron scene in 'Macbeth'; several of the same stage appointments being to hand. A hot stove crackling merrily in the corner, mugs steaming while Claire stood over them adding unknown but highly esoteric and exotic ingredients in the way of cinnamon, pepper and highly illegal strong waters in the form of single malt whisky from the Hebrides. A relaxed, comfortably on-leave dismissal of all military discipline, and the evident endeavor to make the most of a great result and a free evening.
"Here's to us, ladies'." Claire giving a universally satisfactory toast.
"Too dam' right." From Gabrielle, now on her third mug of doctored cocoa.
"Love ya both." From a highly satisfied Mona, drinking deeply from the Fountain of Happiness in the form of her brimming mug.
Three days later Mrs Pemberton walked out the front gate of Pemberton Mansion for the last time; she at the moment not knowing she would never set foot in the premises ever again. Having seen to the arrangements for the Removers, and overseen the taking away of the most valuable of her furnishings, she now left the remainder of the house-clearing to the experts; of whom there seemed to be a more than adequate number of representatives in these days of general upheaval. Arriving for the last time in the High Street, Norwich, she found however that Fate still had tortures in hand for her; just outside Berkington's Butchers, a shop she would, thankfully on her part, never darken the doors of again, she bumped into Sally Morgan, one of her erstwhile downstairs maids—one who had taken the King's Shilling just over a month ago and now worked, for high wages, in an armaments factory on the outskirts of the town.
Whereas before, in her self-aggrandizing prime, she would have metaphorically speaking grasped the girl's ear and given her what-for verbally for her desertion of a caring mistress, now the two women glanced at each other, recognised they were players on a far more level playing field, and turned away, ignoring each other with mutual distaste. So far had the mighty fallen; a quotation, from who knows where, which the defeated Mrs Pemberton found echoing round her mind, like a cold breeze on a Summer's day. Two hundred yards down the street an even worse confrontation took place; Mona Miller, in uniform, the same person she had earlier threatened with legal action to return the girl to a lowly position in a mansion she no longer had responsibility or rights over, faced Mrs Pemberton from amongst the passing throng. Mrs Pemberton remained silent, but Mona had something to say.
"Ah, how nice to meet you this morning, Mrs Pemberton." Mona keeping a stoical, almost Spartan, hold of her tumultuous inner feelings. "I'm not sure, but I don't think that legal matter you spoke of, a few days ago, is going to come to anything. Isn't it a nice day? Oh, must rush, important military matters to do with my War work, you know. Goodbye."
A moment later the happy WAAF was gone, leaving Mrs Pemberton an empty shell of her former self; defeated across the board and with no other outlook but to reach the railway station and so brush the dust of Norwich from her shoes for evermore.
And what of the unhappy Mrs Pemberton, staggering under the weight of her unhappy Mistake, in future years? Who knows!
Another 'Mathews and Parker' story will arrive shortly.