Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Tales from Norlandia, Part 4

Here is the third vignette for The Rocks of Aserol. It concerns a character that may or may not be in the novel. If you want to know more, you will have to wait and see.


Grace Fallowfield walked slowly down the High Road, her curls rippling in the light breeze. It was a warm summer’s day and all around her the shops and stalls were full of the bounty of the fields and seas. To her left was a low wall and beyond it the sands of the bathing beach. There were a few brave souls frolicking in the sea, Grace was not keen on the idea of sea bathing, despite the exhortations of popular magazines as to its health giving qualities. Her mother reckoned that it would do her no good and so far she had kept her health without it.
Grace was happy, for today was the first at her new employment; gone was the drudgery of washing clothes in the steam-filled laundry by the High-Top Local. The place had been a form of purgatory for her, the huge copper tubs full of scalding water and lye. The steam-driven mangles were a constant threat to squash fingers and on her breaks (which were few) emerging into daylight the coal dust from the power generators of the Local stuck to her sweat-soaked clothes and made her look and feel permanently dirty.
Her brother had got her the job in the hotel. He drove an Exo for the mine and came home covered in dust himself, on him it had never seemed like dirt though, just a natural thing, after all, he had followed their father and most of the family into the mine. And Grace had been used to seeing her family arrive home from the mine with blackened faces and clothing since she had been a little girl.
She turned right into Military Crescent, away from the sea and up a small incline. The houses here were grand and had walled gardens with enormous wrought iron gates. Many had small gatehouses manned by servants, mostly those crippled by warfare. The wages were small but the work gave them dignity. Also folk, in general, were grateful for the servicemen’s sacrifice and looked after the veterans. They all spoke to Grace as she passed and she chatted with them, exchanging comments about the weather or other trivialities.
At the top of Military Crescent, there was a Local, with a queue of coal lorries outside. The chimneys of the Local and the lorries combined to set a pall of dust in the air, reminding Grace of her previous situation; smiling to herself at the thought of her escape from the dust clouds she strode on.
Ahead of her was a terrace of grand facade, curving away in both directions. At the apex were a flight of steps and a door bearing the words ‘Provincial Hotel.’ This was her destination and she crossed the road to it.
The door was opened by a porter. Grace stood back, thinking that someone was emerging. “Come on in, lass,” said the man in a kindly voice. “I won’t hold it open for you all day.”
“Why thank you, sir,” Grace replied. “I’m unused to such politeness.”
The porter looked at her attire and saw a pretty girl in a well-used dress and shoes. He noted the absence of gloves or hat. “I think you are suited to this place,” he remarked dryly, “for it has lost whatever grandeur it once had, but you add to its beauty.”
Grace was flustered, she did not understand, was he complimenting her or merely teasing her. “I have to see Miss Faith,” she said, “about a position.”
“Ahh,” said the man, “then we are to be colleagues.” He bowed slightly and offered his hand. “I am Maloney.”
Grace took it in hers; unsure how to respond. In a panic she saw that his left arm was missing below the elbow, the sleeve pinned up. He must be a war invalid. “Honoured,” she stammered, “Grace Fallowfield at yours.”
“Better get in,” Maloney advised in that soft kindly voice, “or your employment will be over before it’s begun. Miss Faith’s office is behind the desk.”
Thanking him, Grace moved into the building. The plaster was peeling on the walls and the carpet clean though threadbare. It had the same pattern as the one in her home.
She found the office and knocked. A voice that would not be out of place on a parade ground bade her enter.
Miss Faith was a large lady of middle years, she peered at Grace over half glasses, her expression stern.
“Good day,” said Grace nervously. “I’m Grace Fallowfield, for the job.”
“Ahh yes, the recommendation, well then my dear, can you serve at table and make beds?”
“I can,” replied Grace, “and I can work a speaker and write a neat ledger.”
“Very good, these skills will all be useful if we employ you,” her eyes narrowed, “and can you keep away from menfolk? We have no fraternising here; your predecessor learnt that the hard way.”
Grace was unsure what she meant but nodded. Looking at Miss Faith she imagined that she had no problem with ‘menfolk’.
“Very well then, we will get you a uniform, you start after the Sabbath.”

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