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Honey Brown is Married
By Sara Judge
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2012 Sara Judge
All rights reserved.
March 1950 – it's a Monday but I don't know the date!
I am so wonderfully happy! I cannot believe I am still ME and all these things are really happening.
Mrs August Blake. I write the name over and over again and every time my heart jerks and I can feel my lips smiling.
Stupid, I know, and I'll come out of this dream presently and learn to be a proper farmer's wife. My dear mother-in-law is going to teach me. I am just not good enough for her beloved son, but she will do her best to improve on such bad material, I have no doubt.
However, up till now there has not been a cloud on the horizon and after one blissful week in Wales on honeymoon, we are now home and I've taken this exercise book which I found in the cupboard under the stairs, and am going to write in it regularly and make it my diary.
I need to talk to somebody and as August is out so much during the day I shall write down all my thoughts, and all the day's happenings. I expect I shall be lonely at first, although my husband, August Blake Esq. (I can't resist that!) insists I'll soon make friends down here in Sussex. He knows enough people – the church was packed for our wedding and I know my lot only numbered about six.
I'll do my best to be friendly when I meet anyone, and give and accept invitations, but until then this book will keep me company.
Who would have thought, a bare two years ago, that I would now be sitting in this large old drawing room (not sitting room, please, dear. M.I.L.) with a wide gold band upon the third finger of my left hand, married to August Blake Esq?
'Don't forget the Esq, dear. You don't address any man on the envelope as plain Mr unless, of course, he is one of the trades people.' M.I.L.
Sorry, I didn't know that, and a lot of other things as well, but I am GOING TO LEARN.
Who would have thought that little Annie Brown, an orphan and probably illegit. living in a Home for the first fifteen years of her life, then performing on stage with the stunning name of Honey Brown (my idea), would end up leading such a respectable existence?
Who would have thought I would have been capable of attracting such a man as August? And that he would have fallen in love with me and vice versa – but oh, so vice versa! And that I would have achieved the unbelievable and become his wife!
Still can't believe it – neither can my mother-in-law, but she puts on a brave face at present. Hope it lasts. I'm quite prepared to be agreeable. I don't say I'll love her as my own, but I will like her with determination if she will leave me alone and not interfere too much.
Luckily she lives down in the village and the farm is some three miles from there. But Mil is a devil on her bicycle and I rather dread hearing the bang of the kitchen door and her voice raised in greeting.
I know I'm pretty dumb and I've a lot of learning to do, and I'll accept criticism and knowledge gracefully so long as it's not doled out in large amounts. And so long as she is kind. A cruel tongue is very hard to forgive.
Matron was kind and meant well, I can see that now, but she had such a biting tongue, such a sharp and sarcastic way of saying things, we were all scared of her and longed to be 'grown up' and allowed to leave the Home.
I was lucky with my dancing. And with Auntie. They got me out of that bleak red building and, apart from being a healthy and interesting pastime, dancing gave me the training for a career later in life.
I went to Miss Griggs' School of Dance all through the war years. Her first studio was only ten minutes' walk from the Home and I went on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and had to hurry back before the blackout, with my gas mask banging against my thigh in its canvas box. Such annoying things – we never had to use them but always had to carry them with us.
The bigger girls used to stay on later for their classes but Matron expected me back before the lights went out, and I never dared to disobey her although I longed to stay on after my class and watch the more difficult exercises at the barre and the enchainement of the elementary students.
It was also VERY annoying when a bomb fell right next door to Miss Griggs' studio. Luckily it was at night, she didn't sleep there and the folk next door were down in their Anderson shelter in the garden so no one was hurt.
But there followed weeks of boredom and frustration for me as Miss Griggs searched for new accommodation and I tried to practise in the bedroom, with little space. There was also no music, no one to watch me and nobody giving me orders. Eventually, to my joy, Matron told me that another place had been found, still in Earls Court but further away from the Home.
I remember Auntie coming to collect me. I think everyone was glad when I went back to my classes, and after showing me the way to and from the Home, I was then allowed to go on my own as before.
How I loved those hours spent at Miss Griggs', and how I hated having to return to that cold building for high tea of bread and marge and warm milk.
It was awful leaving the brightly lit studio, with the tinkling magic of the piano, the human smell of the dressing room and the laughter and chatter of the other girls.
She helped me a lot, Miss Griggs, in those early years and so did Auntie. Kind old ladies, both of them, and both at my wedding on Saturday, 11th March – I won't ever forget that date! They made me feel I did have some family. And Lyn came, and Mrs Goddard, and Henry. But Matron didn't come. I suppose she was too busy but I'm glad I sent her an invitation. I got a jolly nice vase from her (probably from Woollies) and brought down by Miss Griggs. It has fresh clean colours – blue and white and splashes of yellow. There's a big bunch of daffodils sitting in it today, found beside the track leading up to our house, and so golden and bright I couldn't resist picking them.
Funny, really, after being a dancer at the Windmill Theatre and happily taking off my clothes and wearing loads of make-up and ostrich plumes and high heels, I now sink into the cosy warmth (in the kitchen) of farmhouse tranquillity with no audience to impress, just a tall quiet man whom I adore.
And I am stirred by the bold splash of gold in the grass. Oh yes, and the cats! More of them later.
God must laugh sometimes at the strange complexities in our characters; to see how often we try to be what we are not whilst He sees everyone and everything in its true colours and shapes.
I'm rambling now – I always know when I should stop talking, or writing – that's when I get onto religion. I'm a religious person in a way, I suppose. I believe in God and say my prayers most nights (when I'm not too tired) as we were taught to do in the Home. And I believe most firmly in Heaven and a lovely get-together at the last.
I must believe this because I have to see my parents. I have to know what they were like and whether I take after my mother, or my father. And did they have any other children? Have I got brothers and sisters somewhere out there in the world? I wish I knew. But as I do not, I just have to believe in the Hereafter when all will be made clear to me.
I am not particularly churchy, though. That all depends on the vicar. But I haven't met an attractive one yet. And if a man doesn't attract me I don't see why I should go to his church and sit for an hour on my bottom listening to dull words spewing out from a dreary personality. That has nothing to do with God, I'm sure.
I really will stop now. They used to call me Mrs Billy Graham in the theatre, because I was always getting involved in religious tirades about Jews and animals. Cruelty to defenceless creatures really makes me wild.
One Sunday in Leeds when we were rehearsing for the Christmas panto of Mother Goose, three of us girls were playing cards in the dressing room during a break. Then there was a knock on the door and in marches an R.C. priest. Did everybody's face get red!
But I don't know why, because we weren't sinning even if it was a Sunday. Anyway, I invited the Father to join us. He was nice, good looking and young and didn't seem upset by my dressing gown hanging open and showing my bra and fishnets. But he said he wouldn't butt in, just wanted to know if there were any R.Cs present. There weren't.
This annoyed me. After all, they are against the colour bar and that kind of prejudice but if you aren't of their faith, you are nothing. I asked him a lot of questions in a rather belligerent tone – I nearly said I was an orphaned bastard and how did he feel about that? But I didn't.
It can't have been easy for him with Bella and Josie sitting there grinning, and me smoking and coughing, and the air all heavy and fuggy. And all kinds of clothing and underwear scattered around the hot room.
Make-up, powder, removal cream, cotton wool, all mixed up with cigarettes and ash trays and pieces of wet soap. Rather different to a presbytery, I should think. We offered him a chair but he remained standing, a slight, pale figure in black, with a face like a Renaissance knight. Then he went away.
I know all about the Renaissance – something else people aren't going to believe. Because August is very interested in that sort of thing, and when we were in Wales he had a book with him with lovely pictures and engravings. He used to read me bits at night when we were snuggled up in bed.
It sounds silly but I enjoyed it. He has a nice voice for listening to – quiet and deep, and he explained as he went along so I was with him most of the time and not falling asleep from boredom.
Fancy taking a book on honeymoon! I can just imagine what cracks the girls would have made about that. But they will never know and that week was bliss. Just him and me and bits of the Renaissance.
I'm stopping now, I really am.CHAPTER 2
My mother-in-law popped in this afternoon. She had cycled up from the village. That's something I must learn soon – how to ride a bicycle.
I asked if she would like a cup of tea but she said she'd just had one. She had a little poke around but I didn't mind much. I've changed nothing so everything is more or less as she left it.
I asked her what I should call her and she said 'Mother' in that brisk way of hers. But I can't do that. She isn't a bit like I imagine a mother to be. I'm quite sure mine wasn't like her. So I speak in careful sentences and have avoided the issue so far.
I could call her Mil, but I don't suppose she'd like that. Or Doris. That's her name but everyone calls her Mrs Blake – except August, of course. He says Mother, but it sounds awfully stiff to me. If a mother is really warm and gentle and loving she'd have to be Mum, or Mam, or Mummy. Mother isn't right at all. But it does suit Mil so perhaps I will call her that after a while.
I'll practise first and then it might slip out without me even thinking about it.
Mil wanted to know what Mrs Stow is doing each day. Am I keeping an eye on her? Giving her enough to do?
The answer is No, but I didn't say that.
We marched into the kitchen together, Mrs Stow goes off at 12 o'clock and doesn't come in again until 8 o'clock next morning. Then Mil inspected the stove and sink, saw that there was enough wood and coal in the box for the range and trailed her inquisitive finger over the dresser and table top. No dust. Mrs Stow was in luck.
I like her and often go in and have a chat and a coffee at around 11. I bring my tin of Nescafé with me; Mrs Stow had never seen instant before. There's none down here so I'll have to think of a way to get some more.
When she makes coffee there's all that palaver of coffee beans and having to grind them, and pour boiling water over them in a jug, and all that waiting. And it's always too weak and watery because of the rationing and coffee beans are scarce, etc. etc. I do like my coffee strong and instant, and lovely Nescafé is all that. But how do I get hold of some more?
I hate tea. Well, I don't mind it at tea time but that's all, thank you very much.
Anyway, I can't imagine inspecting Mrs Stow's work and telling her this is wrong, or that could be done better. How could I? She doesn't even call me Mrs Blake – it's either Mrs August, or sometimes it's duck.
She and I have a good natter at the kitchen table and a smoke. She has her Woodbines and I've brought my Peter Stuyvesant with me, but am going to run out soon and must see if they are available at the village store. Mrs Stow seems to think they are but very expensive, she says.
She makes delicious scones and pastries, I must watch my weight, and always leaves us some home-made goodies in the larder for our supper, as well as cooking our lunch before she goes.
Yippee! I'm not exactly a dab hand at cooking although I do roast for August on Sundays. The roast midday is easy and I don't believe it can go wrong. Mrs Stow has told me exactly what to do and so far I haven't made a mistake and August is pleased.
I'm dying for some mushrooms. August says I must go out into the fields in autumn and pick them early in the morning. Home-grown mushrooms – now that's a thought! But not for breakfast. I'm not a breakfast person – Mrs Stow does that for August when she comes in at 8. But I'll cook them for supper and we'll have them with bacon. Yum.
Mrs Stow is a clever cook and makes everything go a long way. Of course, living on a farm we are lucky with eggs and butter and milk. But sugar is a problem and Mrs Stow is very cautious with that. Thank goodness I don't take it in either coffee or tea.
When Mil asked where my Menu Book was, I looked at her blankly and said I didn't know.
'You don't know, child? What in the world have you been eating these last days? I had it all written up for you and left it in the pigeonhole in your writing desk. Haven't you looked?'
I didn't know I had a writing-desk and certainly hadn't peered into any pigeonholes.
We marched back into the drawing room with Mil leading and me following. There Mil advanced on a nice little antique desk which had a key sticking out of the top sloping area. I had never dared to open it, but apparently this is now mine and I was shown writing paper, and envelopes, all nicely headed with the address of the farm.
I must write to Matron – it'll kill her!
And there was a row of pigeonholes with places for bills and receipts, address book, telephone book, an account book (???) and, of course, a scarlet bound volume marked Menu Book, in Mil's neat writing, with various headings for Visitors, Overnight Guests and Weekly, plus normal daily variations.
She showed me a batch of stiff white cards.
'I write these up every Sunday evening and give one to Mrs Stow on Monday morning. Then she knows how to cope and budget for the entire week. Pay close attention to your accounts, dear. With so much produce from the farm there is little that needs to be bought. Phone your order through on Monday morning and Mr Williams' van delivers each Tuesday. The store's telephone number is here, dear.'
I thanked her, casting a nervous glance at her capable square-tipped hands, which were shuffling and setting to rights the paper in those gaping pigeonholes.
No more ready-for-the-oven pies left by Mrs Stow, I said to myself. You'd better spend the morning sitting at your desk and playing at being mistress of the mansion.
It all seemed so unnecessary. August and I had been plodding along quite happily with Mrs Stow's cooking up till now, leaving her to do whatever she wished. But I didn't want to antagonize Mil so nodded gratefully and said I would arrange the menus for the following week according to the instructions in her smoothly scarlet book.
'Engagements are written in here.' A dark blue leather volume was thrust at me. 'I don't suppose you will have any just yet but you would do well to keep track of anything August has on. He is hopelessly vague at times, and needs a practical wife to see he doesn't forget anything. Jot down any meetings, market days, vet's visits, etc. and I'm sure he'll be delighted when you remind him of something he might otherwise have forgotten.'
She asked if I wound up the grandfather clock in the hall and seemed satisfied when I said No, I left that to August.
Yes, Mil, no, Mil, three bags full, Mil. You old bag.
I mustn't be nasty and really am grateful that she is taking an interest in me but I don't want her to visit too often.
What I like best is lying on my bed with a good book, a packet of cigarettes and the company of a cat, or two, if they can make it up the stairs without Mrs Stow seeing them.
Excerpted from Honey Brown is Married by Sara Judge. Copyright © 2012 Sara Judge. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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