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The International Writers Magazine
: 1905

I Blotted me Copy Book
Christine Churcher

t’s so cold, and dark, the darkness competing with the cold to penetrate to my very bones. My hands are numb and cannot feel the buttons on my boots as I fumble to dress myself. Hurry! Hurry! I panic as I tumble down the attic stairs, trying in vain to make no noise as I fall.

I run through the welcome warmth of the vast kitchen, trying to breathe in the aromas of delights I will never have in my belly, into the damp chill of the scullery, my domain.
"You’re late!" snaps Betty, the under-parlour maid. I know she’s got it in for me. I duck my head out of her reach, but she hasn’t taken a swipe at me this time.

Quickly I gather up my tools in the holdall, light a candle, and stagger back up the stairs to the main entrance hall. I stand a moment and can feel the silence of the house, still in darkness, just the ticking of the grandfather clock standing against the far wall.

I take a moment’s breather and then start on the day’s work of cleaning the fireplaces, and lighting the fires ready for when the Master and Mistress come down. As I work, I have a warm feeling in my chest of anticipation of what the day may bring. Today is special, my once a week half day; I have to finish all my work by 3 o’clock, and then be back by 6 o’clock to scrub the floors below stairs again before going to bed.

At last it’s time to go. I take off my cap and rough apron, don my black bonnet and cape, and soon am walking down the path that leads to the village. As I pass the church on the left, I can hear the sound of pigs squealing from the back yard of the Post Office – Mr. Faithful must be slaughtering again – fresh pork for sale tomorrow!

I walk on down West Street until I reach our home, a low thatched cottage with tiny dormer windows. Through the side gate and down the garden path, ignoring the kitchen door, I go straight to the workshop.

As I enter my father looks up from his work, a leather shoe in one hand, a hammer in the other. The smell of leather and glue fills the air, a lovely, homely smell. His eyes light up when he sees me, but I can see behind the light a troubled shadow. We exchange greetings; I kiss him fondly on the cheek.
"What’s the matter?" I ask.
"I’ve blotted me copy book with the squire." he replies. "He came in here with a pair of boots needing mending and wanted ‘em done by Sunday afternoon. Well, you know I never work on the Sabbath day, so I put his nose out of joint by telling him no, they won’t be ready til Monday. Well, he had no choice, being as his regular cobbler is in London and would take twice as long to get ‘em there and back. Then, when he comes to collect them I told him the cost was half a crown. "He baulks at that saying he can get them done in London for 2 shillings! ‘Well’, says I, ‘take ‘em to London then!’

He went off in a foul mood at that; then today I gets this letter from the land agent, telling me that me tenancy is terminated, with seven days notice! After 300 years of my family living here, I can’t fathom it."

I can hardly believe it either, and spend time talking round in circles, trying to work out with father what we can do about it. How can a Christian soul put out a man who has lived and worked all his life here, giving service to the community, and all the while being crippled after an accident, when he was just a small boy working in the Estate wood mill.

Two hours later, I begin the walk back to the House, my heart heavy. There’s nothing to be done, I know. Father will have to move out and there’s nowhere to go. All our family are dead but me. Father tells me that he’s relieved that at least I have a roof over my head in the big House, and that he’ll be all right whatever happens. I know what that may be – the only thing left for him to do – take himself off to the Workhouse in town. There at least he’ll have food and shelter, and with his skills as a cobbler, he should be able to survive.
Will I ever see him again?

© Christine Churcher November 1905 (2005)
Christine is a graduate of the Creative Arts programme at the University of Portsmouth

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