Authors: Carl Leckey
He adds proudly. “Do you know I can now shoe a horse, prune a rose, de-bollock a ram?”
I have to smile he is evidently proud of his new skills. I enquire. “Where is Tom the coachman?” He informs me. “He’s shoeing horses at the big farm the smithy is down there. He helps out on the farms when the Ladies don’t require him.”
I remark. “Your house is down there isn’t it? Remind me Toot how many kids have you got?” He replies. “Only three now we lost our littlest one Bella in that flu epidemic. Don’t you remember me getting sent home on compassionate leave?” I reply glumly. “I remember alright. Do you know Toot everyone I meet seems to have lost someone either as a result of the war or that damned flu?”
Changing the subject I recall. “I remember you going home when you lost the little one. When everyone else began going down with flu I was left in charge of the ambulance pool, and I don’t mind admitting I made a right cock of it. Bloody paper work! I still hate office work despite having this big organisation.”
He points out with a laugh. “Well you chose the high powered life my boy. How do you enjoy sitting behind a desk all day now?”
I confess. “To be honest Toot I didn’t choose the life it kind of crept up on me. I am lucky I employ reliable people to do the office work for me. You would not believe it at my age I am semi retired I passed most of the organisations responsibilities over to my colleagues? Whenever I get the opportunity I get behind the wheel and do what I enjoy doing, truck driving.” I laugh and reprimand him. “It’s entirely your fault you know? You taught me to drive. I was quite happy pushing my hand cart about full of body bits until you made me drive them bloody awful trucks.” He responds with. “Yeah pull the other one.”
“Look Toot I want to invite you and your family over to France as soon as you can make it? Our new house will be ready shortly. There is a lake for fishing and boating, we have horses and the beach is only half an hour away the kids will love it and they can keep little Daisy company huh and not forgetting my little fella.”
I add proudly. “Could you come out for the Easter holidays? Of course as you are coming at my invitation I will pay the fares and any other expenses you might incur?”
He replies with a smile.
“Thanks for the invitation I would like to see France again now there is peace over there. I’ll have a word with the misses and see what she says. You know Audrey has a number of commitments beside the school. We have only lived here for five minutes and she is involved in all kinds of other things.”
I am enjoying the chat with my old pal. What a relief that things are still the same between me and Toot. He was always the person I could take my troubles to while we were in the army together.
“I want you to take me to Dover at eleven o’clock. I’m meeting my misses off the twelve o’clock ferry. I will be taking my Son with us so I might need some of your Fatherly advice if I get into trouble. In the meanwhile will you introduce me to your Misses?”
He replies regretfully. “I would if she was here but she teaches at the village school. Audrey won’t be home until after four o’clock.”
“Well I tell you what, why don’t you and Audrey come to the house for dinner tonight?”
He gives me an odd look and replies. “I don’t think so Adam.” His refusal shocks me. “Why not Toot? Denise will be here by then. I know she will love to meet you and you’re Misses. I have told her how you looked after me during the war.”
“I am sorry mate, it would not be appropriate. Could you imagine Lady Emily’s face if we turned up for dinner? I don’t think so. I tell you what though when you settle in you and Denise come to our house for dinner? Thanks for asking but no thanks.”
It is at that moment I realise how my new position in life is driving a wedge between us.
Without speaking both of us lost in our thoughts we wander into the coach house, the gleaming Rolls and landau coach stand side by side.
Toot informs me proudly. “I can even drive that thing with one of those horses dragging it about.” He indicates the Landau. Amazed by his declaration I retort. “Bloody hell Toot you’ve change haven’t you? I recall how my mate Toot hated the horses when we were in the army. How did you refer to them when I transferred to the ambulances?”
He laughs. “Food in, shit out and a bloody good kicking if you don’t watch the buggers.” We both laugh at our memories. Fags are lit we sit on a couple of boxes I remark. “I didn’t know your Audrey is a school teacher Toot?” He confesses. “I’ll tell you something I have never admitted to you before.
When I met her I could barely read or write myself she taught me everything. That’s why I was so pleased to help the lads out in our unit with a bit of teaching after Sandy left.”
After finishing our cigarettes we wander around the estate still chatting when I remark. “I am glad we met Toot I don’t know where I’d be today without you and Sandy? As a matter of fact I have asked Cecil Humphrey to prepare a list of the staff that can’t read and write. I want to offer them the opportunity to learn. Maybe your Audrey would be interested?” He replies. “Good idea Scouse but you would have to ask her yourself. I have to tell you she loves teaching in the village school, all my kids attend there except my eldest, which I must admit is very convenient.”
Toot smiles. “I believe you met our Sheila yesterday? She told us all about it last night at supper, we had a good laugh.” I reply with a laugh. “I did myself Toot she is a nice looking kid. Did she tell you about pulling faces in the mirror?” “No what’s that all about?” He enquires. “I’ll leave her to tell you Toot ha, ha.” I glance at the stable clock. “Oops! Toot, time marches on I have to go shortly and make sure they have the baby ready.”
Toot informs me in a mock subservient manner. “The Rolls is fuelled up and ready to go instantly at your command my Lord.”
Embarrassed I reply “Don’t be daft Toot.”
I begin walking away stop turn about and approach Toot. I confess hesitantly. “To tell you the truth I am shitting myself, you know I have to tell my misses about the baby? You might have a murder on your hands.” I add sentimentally. “Don’t change pal. I’m still not sure about this Lord business. To be honest I miss the old days when I was thick and poor without a worry in the world except old Fritz and his attempts to blow me to kingdom come.” Toot assures me. “I will always be here if you want a chat Adam. It’s strange how quickly we forget the bad times we experienced in the war but remember the good times? If I recall there was more bad than good at the time. I don’t know whether it happens to you but without warning I have flash backs to some of the horrors we saw. You know what is my worst nightmare? That time we got caught in a bombardment by that church and that awful tree. “What did that Pioneer fella call it? Oh yes the body bits tree. He was a hardnosed bugger but I supposed nothing shocked him.”
He shudders. “I was lucky in a way I had seen action in the Boar war. I thought I was prepared to face anything after my time in South Africa. But that sight lives on with me I can tell you. I don’t want any of my kids to go through anything like that.” He pauses and we light another fag. “Now let’s get back to you. Like it or not you have responsibilities now. If it means me playing along with all the upper crust nonsense when other people are about, so be it.” As we wander around the side of big house we arrive at a newish looking building with a tall chimney stack. Toot explains. “This is the boiler house. Tom told me the General had it built to central-heat the house and to power the electric generator. There is a laundry attached and all the water is drawn from artesian wells by an electric pump.
Over behind those trees is a sewage farm for processing all the waste from the house and stables the residue goes onto the fields as fertiliser. He was a very modern man the General your Granddad. Did you know he was an engineer and designed everything himself?”
I am learning more and more about my remarkable Grand Father I regret not meeting him.
Toot gives me more information about the house. “Here is something that will interest you?” He adds with a smile “You being the cave man of dressing station thirty three fame.”
Of course he is referring to my discovery of the cave system under the farm where the dressing station was located.
He continues. “Under the house and buildings are vast cellars cut out of the chalk. I had a look with Tom one day but they seemed to go for miles, we only saw the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Rumours are there is a tunnel leading down to the sea the smugglers used, but I don’t know if it is true or not.”
As we continue our walk around the boiler house he explains.
“This place is amazing the estate is more or less self-contained I’m still learning things about the place myself.” Referring to the building I inform him. “Hmmm I saw this place when I was here last but it was all boarded up and the doors were locked at the time. These are the kinds of things I want at my place in France. The house in France is located in a pretty remote site and I reckon we will have to be more or less self sufficient. I definitely want electric lights in the place.” I make a note to contact Marcel as soon as possible. Maybe I will get him over to examine the wonderful innovations on the estate.
Around the other side of the building we detect the sound of a shovel being used. On turning the corner we are confronted by a big surly looking individual. When he sees us watching him he stops shovelling coke through a hatch and straightens up.
Toot introduces me to the middle aged man with the name of Joe. He touches his forelock and without a word he disappears through a door leading to a cellar.
Toot explains. “Joe is the boiler and generator man. He originally came to the estate to help install all the equipment and stayed on to run it afterwards. Joe was an engineer in the Royal Navy during the war I heard he got torpedoed a few times. They tell me he was a normal fella when he worked here before the war, you wouldn’t think so now. He never speaks to anyone keeps himself to himself. He always seems to be on duty whatever the hour day or night.
When he joined up the boiler wasn’t used during the war because of the shortages and no one knew how to operate the thing anyway. I believe it became neglected and was in a right mess when Joe came back. Within a week he got the whole caboodle working again.” I remark.
“He sounds a good man Toot where does he live?” He informs me.
“Well according to Tom and he allegedly knows everything about everyone around here Joe is a widower and has a place in the village. But I have only seen him here on the estate he never goes into the local pub either. He doesn’t even eat with the rest of the staff Mrs Humphreys sends his food over to him. The maid leaves it by the door there and he takes it to his place down below she picks the empty dishes up later.”
I enquire. “Has he got a room down there?” Toot shakes his head. “If he has I’ve never seen it so I have no idea what it’s like in his little kingdom, he won’t allow anyone else down there you see? I have tried making conversation with him but he doesn’t want to know.”
Joe appears to be yet another victim of the war.
I inform him with concern. “I’ll have a word with Cecil and find out what I can about him. I have a lot to learn about the goings on in this place I rely on you to help me out here Toot”
I remember Gunter’s request and hand the piece of paper to him. “I have a job for you Toot, will you see if there is a field of these dimensions on the estate, it has to be clear of trees and pretty level. Before you ask, a friend of mine is thinking of landing a plane here. Mad eh? But do your best pal. He is convinced we will all be flying about in those crazy machines in a few years. Not me though.” I add with a shudder.
As we part Toot reassures me I can go to him anytime he then adds something that makes me shudder. “I have every faith in you sorting things out with you Wife Scouse. But if you do bleed please don’t do it in the Rolls. We know from experience how difficult it is to shift blood stains.” We shake hands Toot is still chuckling as I head for the house.
When I emerge from the house carrying Mathew accompanied by the trio of fussing Ladies Toot is waiting with the Rolls ticking over.
Toot loads the carriage into the car. I take Mathew wrapped up like an Eskimo onto my knee and we set off followed by all kinds of advice from the trio.
We arrive at Dover with quarter of an hour to spare. Toots parks and we transfer the baby to the perambulator I wait impatiently and nervously as close to the ferry exit as possible. The ferry is right on time and Denise is amongst the first to emerge down the gangway.
She sees me and races into to my arms. Oh the joy of having my Wife in my arms again feeling her body close to me. Unashamedly despite the people surrounding us I smother her in kisses until she prizes herself away and looks into the Perambulator. As soon as she sees Mathew is awake she removes him from the perambulator and hugs him close while kissing his cheeks.
She whispers. “My boy, My baby, My Little Mathew.”
She repeats this over and over again.
It is with great difficulty I persuade her to return Mathew to the carriage for the walk back to the Rolls. Even then I notice she doesn’t take her loving eyes off Mathew as I walk alongside carrying her bag.
At the car I introduce Toot she hugs him and says. “I feel I have known you forever I am so grateful to you for looking after my Adam during the war.” Toot, embarrassed by her praise mumbles a reply and helps load the carriage into the car. Mathew is wide awake he sits happily on Denise’s lap gurgling away as we set off for the journey home.
We travel with my arm firmly encircling my dear Wife enjoying having her close to me but dreading what I have to reveal. Should I confess now before we arrive at the estate? What if she rejects me and wants to return to her family in France what would I do then? No I dismiss that idea I only hope there is no mention of my secret before I have the opportunity to confess to Denise myself. All these thoughts plague me on the way home to St Margaret’s. Denise giggles and remarks. “I didn’t expect to be transported by a chauffeur driven Rolls. Did you see the other passenger’s faces when Toot saluted me? I must say he looks very handsome in his livery he even has those shiny gaiter things on his legs. He looks like a figure from a film show?”