Song of songs, p.1
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       Song of Songs, p.1
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           Beverley Hughesdon
Song of Songs


  Song of Songs

  Table of Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Part I

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Part II

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Part III

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Part IV

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Part V

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Part VI

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Part VII

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Copyright

  Song of Songs

  Beverley Hughesdon

  To Adrian

  Part I

  OCTOBER 1895 TO AUGUST 1909

  Chapter One

  I was very small and the steps were very steep, but Ena clasped my hand firmly and steadied me as I climbed laboriously up them. At last we reached the top and I stood, panting, surveying the challenge of the long shadowy passageway. When the shadows shifted, and grew taller and more menacing, I shrank back against the warmth of Ena’s skirts. Her voice was comforting.

  ‘Nearly there now, Miss Helena.’ She tugged my hand. So I squeezed my eyelids tightly together and stepped forward. When I opened them again the shadows had backed away a little, and we ploughed steadily on until we reached the door of the nursery.

  Ena turned the knob and I came out of the icy corridor into my warm safe haven, running eagerly around the screen towards the figure sitting beside the flickering firelight - anxious for the reassurance of Nanny’s enveloping lap. But I stopped, suddenly, confused - there was no lap, only a large white bundle in Nanny’s arms, in my place. My lip trembled. Then warm and welcoming came the loved voice:

  ‘Have you had a nice walk, Miss Helena? And, do you know, a present came for you, just while you were out - fancy that, a present for Miss Helena! Come and look ar it now, dear.’

  As she spoke the white bundle was transformed; magically it became exciting, intriguing, special. Ena picked up Nanny’s footstool.

  ‘Up you get, Miss Helena.’

  She swung me on to it, and kept a steadying hand at my waist. I gazed intently at the white mass on Nanny’s lap. Nanny raised her plump hand and very gently lifted one corner of the shawl, and as I watched a soft black down appeared, then two perfect half-moon fringes of lashes, a small nose, a tiny curved pink mouth. I gasped and leant forward, but Ena pulled me gently back, and I saw that Nanny’s hand was moving again, and to my astonishment she unveiled another black fuzz of hair, another pair of crescent lashes, a second nose, a second mouth! I reached out a tentative hand, feeling that I would burst with pride.

  ‘Kiss your little brothers, Miss Helena - but gently, now.’

  Ena held me as I leant over and pressed my lips against one soft warm cheek, and then the other. And as I raised my head the dark lashes fluttered, first one pair, then the other, and I stood gazing down into four bright eyes, which all seemed to be looking straight back into mine. Joy and pride surged through me. I tore myself free from Ena’s restraining hand and flung myself forward, arms reaching out, to burrow into the soft breathing, living whiteness, determined to grasp them, to hold them to me for ever - and all the time I cried:

  ‘Hellie’s! Hellie’s!’

  Chapter Two

  ‘Out you get, Miss Helena.’

  The warm towel enveloped me as Ena’s strong hands swung me over the rim of the bath. Behind the crisscross mesh the flames leapt and spurted, but I stood obediently still as Ena briskly rubbed me dry. There was the familiar moment of panic as the heavy flannel engulfed me, then my head broke safely through and I could see again, and Ena’s sure hands were tying tapes and fastening buttons.

  ‘Now, hold still while I brush your hair.’

  The brush caught and tugged, but I stood bravely still, basking in the warmth of Ena’s ‘There’s a good girl now.’

  At last the brush stopped.

  ‘Miss Helena’s ready for her bread and milk, Rose.’

  I clutched the warm cup to my chest and dug my spoon into its white depths, savouring each sweet, satisfying mouthful as I watched Rose lift the brown- lidded can and pour more hot into the bath water. Ena’s elbow dipped in, and Rose tipped the can again before calling,

  ‘Ready, Mrs Whitmore.’

  I turned my head to watch Nanny lead my brothers round the screen. They tumbled on to the rug, giggling and pushing at each other. Robbie rolled over and bumped into the leg of my chair. For a moment his soft dark hair tickled my bare toes, then I felt the tug at my nightdress as he hauled himself up and hugged my knees. Eddie pushed his way in, trying to climb on to my lap, and my bread and milk tilted dangerously as he grabbed at my spoon.

  ‘Now now, Master Eddie, where are your manners? There’ll be none for you if you can’t behave.’

  Eddie slid reluctandy down, and I carefully inserted my spoon once into each waiting mouth, as four hands clung to my knees.

  Nanny briskly wiped the milk from Robbie’s chin and swooped down; Ena was only seconds behind. I watched as each wriggling body was swiftly unwrapped and swung into the round bath, leaning forward for my nightly glimpse of the fascinating extra between their legs, that Ena said made them boys. It was still there; I leant back, satisfied. My brothers, mine.

  As soon as they were being buttoned into their nightdresses I slid down and ran across to Nanny’s big chair, climbed up on to the seat and waited. First one warm body and then the other was tucked in beside me, and each round mouth fed with bread and milk. I watched anxiously as the bowls emptied, but Nanny and Ena always remembered. I held the last spoonful in my mouth, unwilling to let it go.

  ‘Come along, Miss Helena, you can’t sing with your mouth full.’

  I swallowed quickly as strong arms bore
my brothers away and left me bereft. But Ena soon came back for me, and took me into the shadowy night nursery to kneel beside Nanny’s bed.

  ‘God bless Eddie and Robbie, and Nanny and Ena and Rose - and Guy and Alice and Miss Walker’ - I thought again - ‘and Mama and Papa - and Jem!’ I finished triumphantly.

  Ena laughed. ‘I’ll tell Jem you remembered him, when he comes up with the coals. Up you get now, Miss Helena, and we’ll sing the boys to sleep.’

  Nanny bent over the cot and tucked the blankets tightly round the twins. Ena swung me up on to the low stool. I clasped the wooden bars and looked down into the two pairs of dark eyes, gazing straight up into mine. I swelled with love and importance.

  ‘Ready now?’

  ‘Now the day is over,

  Night is drawing nigh,

  Shadows of the evening Steal across the sky.

  Now the darkness gathers,

  Stars begin to peep,

  Birds, and beasts, and flowers Soon will be asleep.’

  As I sang with Ena I thought of the bright shining stars glinting in the dark velvet sky outside the nursery window, and of the horses in their warm stables, heads drooping sleepily over their mangers. I sang on, picturing the jolly sailors we had pasted on the nursery screen now tossing on the deep blue sea, and the angels in our prayerbook spreading their wide white wings over my brothers, keeping them safe.

  When at last we came to the final, unimaginable:

  ‘And to Thee, Blest Spirit,

  Whilst all ages run’

  my brothers’ eyes were closed.

  Ena held my hand as I tiptoed across to my bed in the soft glow from the night light. She tucked me in and I felt her warm kiss and Nanny’s quick hug, and then I lay still, listening to the murmur of their soft voices next door, and the even breathing of my sleeping brothers. I knew I was safe.

  Chapter Three

  Robbie’s fingers under mine clung to Dapple’s grey mane as I hung below the flaring nostrils and round, rolling eyes. Then, far above me, Eddie jerked at the long tail and I pressed my chest against Dapple’s hard wooden head as I soared up and up until Eddie’s dark hair dipped to the floor far below me. We hung poised for one dizzying moment, then I was plunging down again in silent ecstasy, while my brothers squealed with excitement above me.

  All at once Nanny was beside us; Dapple juddered to a halt. She lifted a protesting Robbie from his perch while Eddie and I stumbled off the rockers.

  ‘Quickly Ena, Miss Helena’s hair.’

  I stood mute while Ena knelt to pull up my socks and tug my sash straight, then gasped as the heavy bristles came down on my scalp.

  ‘Sit down now, and don’t move a finger - there’s a good girl.’ Ena’s starched skirts bustled away and I sat still, watching as my wriggling brothers were tidied in their turn.

  We sat in a row, waiting. Then the door clicked softly and the lady called Mama glided across the nursery linoleum in a whisper of silk. Nanny prodded us to our feet and I clutched my brothers’ hands as cool lips brushed my cheek. I gazed in fascination at the slim bronze feet, so different from Nanny’s big black boots.

  ‘Don’t stare at the floor, Helena - it’s time you learnt to stand up straight.’

  Slowly I raised my head. Mama’s dark eyes appraised me.

  ‘I hope she doesn’t pick at her food, Mrs Whitmore.’

  ‘Certainly not, my lady.’ Nanny’s voice was ruffled. ‘There’s no daintiness in my nursery. What’s not eaten at dinner comes back at teatime.’

  Horrible, horrible sago; my stomach lurched.

  ‘Look up, child.’

  My head jerked up again. Mama’s glance flicked to my brothers, her face softening.

  ‘The twins look sturdy enough.’

  ‘We’ve had a little trouble with Master Robbie’s chest, my lady, but a good rub with wintergreen and a cottonwool jacket soon put him to rights.’

  ‘I’m sure I can rely on you to take care of him, Mrs Whitmore.’

  Nanny’s broad bosom swelled. Mama’s dark eyes were on me again.

  ‘Such very straight hair - perhaps you could do something about that, at least, Mrs Whitmore.’

  ‘Yes, my lady.’

  ‘Lord and Lady Pickering will wish to see their grandchildren while they are here - have them ready to come down to the drawing room after tea tomorrow.’

  The tiny bronze heels tapped away in a parting rustle of silk.

  That night Ena and Rose bathed the twins. Puzzled, I watched Nanny tear an old strip of sheet into neat lengths.

  ‘Hold your head still now, Miss Helena, there’s a good girl.’

  My hair was twisted and tugged as she wound it up round the white strips until my face was stretched tight. The twins were round-eyed as I ate my bread and milk.

  ‘Knobs,’ Eddie demanded. ‘Knobs for Eddie and Robbie.’

  Nanny smiled. ‘No, Master Eddie, only girls have their hair curled. We want Miss Helena to look pretty tomorrow, don’t we?’

  I glowed.

  My pillow was full of wooden bricks: their sharp edges dug into my head. But as I woke and dozed and woke again I thought of my beautiful curls and was content.

  *

  Ena threaded pink ribbon through my Sunday-best frills. Layer after stiffly starched layer crackled scratchily over my head, to be held in place by my beautiful pink sash.

  ‘Now, don’t lean back, Miss Helena, else you’ll squash your lovely bow.’

  I perched on the edge of the chair, gazing down at my feet, so closely enfolded in the soft sheen of my best ‘glassy kid’ shoes, fastened, oh joy, with a narrow elegant strap.

  I heard Jem come in with the coals as I sat waiting. I raised my eyes from my toes and looked up at him, expectantly. He put the hod down beside the hearth and stood inspecting me, mouth pursed in concentration. I held out my feet and he gave a long ‘ah’ of admiration.

  ‘Fancy that, strapped shoes and all! Well, don’t you look smart, Miss Helena, with your hair all in curls too. My, ain’t you a pretty girl today.’

  I gazed up at him adoringly.

  Jem bent down confidentially. ‘You and Ena must be the prettiest girls in the whole wide world!’

  Ena glanced up from Eddie’s buttons, her face flushed.

  ‘Go away with you, Jem Barnett - you’ve been at the honey pot again.’ But she laughed as she spoke.

  Jem grinned. ‘It’s Miss Helena who’s got the sweet voice - have you got a song for me today, then?’

  I slid off my chair and stood up straight with my hands behind my back. Could I remember ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’? I bit my lip, not quite certain, then Jem winked at me and I knew I could. I began to sing.

  Jem’s ‘There’s a clever girl now’ rang warmly in my ears as I climbed back on to my chair. Today was a special day.

  Their hair brushed and shining, the twins climbed up beside me. Not daring to move we sat in a row in front of the fire.

  I whispered, ‘When are we going, Nanny?’

  Nanny creaked over to the mantelpiece. ‘When the hands stand quite straight, Miss Helena, that’s when Jem’ll come for you. Now, sit still and see if you can see it move.’

  I glued my eyes on the clock. At last it was one long line. I held my breath. But the door did not open, and the top of the line began to bend - it moved on. I turned and looked at Nanny, aghast.

  ‘Well, now, maybe her ladyship’s busy for the moment.’ I breathed out, slowly.

  The hand moved inexorably on, and now there was a thin black corner etched on the clock’s face, and a tiny frown on Nanny’s. Ena began to tell us about Tommie, the Boots, how he had kicked a ball right over the kitchen garden wall into Mr Parton’s best cabbages, and how Mr Parton had been so angry he had chased Tommie, so Tommie had climbed a tree and put out his tongue at Mr Parton. ‘Just fancy that, put his tongue right out - wasn’t that naughty!’ The twins giggled; Ena was smiling. I tried to smile back, but the two hands had met now, and one had disapp
eared.

  Then, at last, the door clicked and Jem came in in his best striped waistcoat and green jacket. I jumped down off my chair, but he did not look at me.

  ‘Mrs Whitmore, her ladyship says to tell you she forgot about the nursery and it’s too late now. Get the children ready tomorrow, maybe then, she says.’

  I could not believe it.

  Nanny said calmly, ‘Thank you, Jem.’ Her stays creaked as she bent over me. ‘We’d best get you undressed, then, Miss Helena - it’s nearly bedtime now.’

  I hid behind my beautiful useless curls as my shiny shoes disappeared in a blur of tears.

  That night I twisted and turned my bumpy head, vainly searching for a smooth place on the pillow. Dreams and memories became confused in my aching mind: huge hands picked me up and tossed me into the air, laughing as I screamed. I woke panting, and fixed my eyes on the faint glimmer of the night light and the shadowy mound that was Nanny’s body. But when I fell asleep again I still dreamt. I had shrunk down on to the floor, surrounded by endless black legs and looming muffling skirts. Great staring faces swooped down on me, cold mouths sucked at my cheeks while long hard fingers stroked my hair and became entangled with it and tugged and tugged - until I woke again, shaking and frightened. I did not want to go down to the drawing room now.

  At last Rose padded in and I slipped out of bed and ran to lean against Nanny’s white counterpane, beside the shiny black tray. Nanny, little finger crooked, held her cup to my lips so that I could sip a little of the sweet brown liquid. My dreams faded in the light of the new day.

  Ena unravelled the tormenting rags and delicately combed and brushed, but the curls fell limp and sad on my neck. My throat closed against the porridge, but I knew I had to swallow it, all of it.

  Outside the sky was grey. Nanny called the twins from the wet grass. They ran ahead, then the two dark heads dropped suddenly down. Eddie poked with his stick at a small brown bundle on the ground.

  ‘Look, Hellie, bird!’

  I looked down. A wing fanned over the gravel, two fragile feet stiff below it. The tiny black bead eyes were dulled and empty. I clutched Nanny’s skirt, shivering.

  ‘It won’t hurt you, Miss Helena, it’s only a poor little bird.’

 
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