Blanche and Helen - 7 Aftermath and the Nightingale
It was after seven when I returned to the house.
“Sorry, sir, to be late,” I said to Mr. Warrington, “but I was at the Compstall Festival and had ever such a good time and I lost track of how late the hour was, so I ran all the way back, and am fair puffed.”
“Never mind, Blanche. Perhaps we can have a simple supper. I don’t mind if you do an omelette and perhaps some fried potatoes and a salad. Just the thing for a hot evening. Could you bring me the sherry? Thank you. I will sit and read the paper while you get on with your kitchen activities.”
I was still in the afterglow of my afternoon, but managed to get the meal ready, and had put it all on the table. He said, “I doubt if you’ve had time to eat yourself, with you running around in Compstall all day. Why don’t you sit and have a glass of wine and share my meal with me? You would be doing me a favour, as I hate to eat alone.”
“Oh, I couldn’t sir. It wouldn’t be right.”
“And who is to know? I’m not going to tell my wife or the Allsopps, are you? And it would make a pleasant evening for me after such a lovely day. You do look very comely now in your white dress with the blue ribbon, and with the roses in your cheeks from the summer sun.”
“Oh, don’t go be making me blush as well, sir. Well, if you are sure, I will get another plate and silverware and a glass, and I will join you. I must admit I’m fair parched from all that running, and haven’t had a bite since lunch.”
I went into the kitchen and came back with my things on a tray.
“I’ll only have a small helping, sir, as I wouldn’t want you to go without.”
“Nonsense, Blanche. I had quite a hefty tea on my own, and am quite willing to go halves with you on this food that you have served me.
“Let me pour you some wine. It is quite a good bottle this. Do you drink wine much?”
“Not very often, sir. Mostly we have ale at home, and I sometimes have a Gin and It when I go out, but mostly it is beer. I had some ale at lunch time today.”
“Do have a sip and tell me what you think of it.”
“Oh, it is very nice, sir. Very smooth. I could easily get to like this sort of drink.”
“Tell me Blanche. You are such a lovely young woman. Do you have a regular fellow?”
“Well, if you mean am I engaged, the answer to that is no. But I do have a fellow now, who is quite special to me, and I am hoping more will come of it.”
“Tell me more about yourself, Blanche. And let me refill your glass, while I’m at it.”
“Well, what’s to tell? I was born in Bollington and have two brothers. Fred, or course you know, but my other brother is Harry and he’s the oldest. He had problems with Pa who beat him when he was drunk, so he ran away. But after Pa died, he got in contact again. And my sister Charlotte is two years older than me. She’s married now, as is Harry, but Fred always wanted to be close to me, so he brought me over here shortly after our Pa died. The Allsopps adopted me.”
“And where do your sister and other brother live now, and what do they do?”
“Well, Harry married Emily, who lived in Nantwich, so he went there to live as she wanted to be near her parents. They have two children, Walter and Edith. I haven’t seen him since the wedding and have never seen the children. And Charlotte worked as a maid like I do, for Mr. Jackson, from Bollington, and then she got married, too, a few years ago, but I haven’t heard from her since. I don’t even know where she is living now. But it was Fred who was the one I'm close to. I am so glad that he lives near by.”
“This is a wonderful meal, Blanche. I don’t suppose you had time to make any pudding or dessert, so I think I will have some cheese and biscuits and some port. I hope you will join me.”
“Oh, Mr. Warrington. I am already fairly squiffy from the wine, and I thought port was only for gentlemen.” I was having trouble even getting my words out by now.
“Well, if you wish, you can have some cherry brandy. How would you like that? It would be almost like having cherries for your dessert.”
“Oh, I like the sounds of that, but just the smallest glass.”
“Well, you get the cheese and I will see to the drinks.”
“Now then, which will you have - Cheddar, Stilton or Cheshire?”
“I must be loyal to my roots and eat Cheshire,” I said giggling, as somehow the idea came to me of me eating the county. My head was spinning.
“I agree, Cheshire cheese is very fine. I am partial to a bit of Stilton myself - this comes from Hartington, just south of Buxton. Have you ever been to Buxton?”
“No, sir. I don’t have time to go much anywhere on my days off.”
“Buxton is a lovely spot - up high in the hills - with interesting caves and all sorts of things. You should go up on the train sometime. Have you travelled on the train much?”
“Well, not so much now, except I have been to Manchester around Christmas time.”
“What do you think of that cherry brandy then?”
“It is so nice, but it is making me feel a bit squiffy. I will have to make myself some strong coffee before I go home tonight, or Mum will wonder what’s up with me.”
“That’s a good idea. I’ll have some coffee with you.”
I got up and started to go into the kitchen to make some coffee - but as I got close to the door, I could hardly walk and lost my footing, and would have fallen except that he caught me. He lowered me gently onto his lap, and I just sat there for awhile, not quite comprehending what was going on. Then, although I tried to protest, he kissed me gently, and then said, “I like cherry brandy too, and I am getting the taste second hand, from your lips - which makes it a double treat.”
“I shouldn’t,” I started to say, but he put my finger on my lips and said, “Yes, you should.”
With that, he carried me to the couch in the front room, and gently lay me down. By this time, he had managed to undo several of the buttons on my dress, and sat beside me, undoing the rest.
“All right?” he asked me.
I tried to say, “No, Stop it,” but I guess I was so inebriated that whatever came out he took as assent.
I was squirming now and trying to get away from him, but he was very strong and my actions were totally ineffective. I can’t say what happened next, because I was in such a fog about everything, except that when a few minutes had gone by, he said, “I’ll just go and make that coffee, as I think we might both be in need of it.”
He went off to the kitchen and I realised that my opportunity to escape had finally come. Having been somewhat sobered by what happened, I managed to put myself back together and rushed to the front door hoping that I would be able to get home and to my bedroom before Mum saw me and started asking me what sort of afternoon I had had.
Somehow I managed to get through that next week, keeping out of Mr. Warrington’s way whenever possible. He seemed to want to avoid me too, so it wasn’t too difficult. But here it is now, the day of the party for Mr. Wainright. I had provided Mr. Warrington with a cold tea, and told him that I was leaving early as I had another engagement. He said he too had another engagement, little thinking that we both were going to the same place.
Fred had been invited to the meeting too, but he didn’t really want to go, so made some excuse to Helen.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Earle had the job of opening the door and taking coats from the guests, so I didn’t see either Helen or Mr. Warrington until after everyone was settled in the front room, waiting for the lecture to start. We had jobs setting out the food in the kitchen but we told that when we were finished, we could listen too, until close to supper time when we would again be needed.
The kitchen was huge and very modern in its equipment. The cook had done most of the work, so we just needed to set out the trays and make sure everything was ready.
When all were settled we snuck into the back section of the lounge, which was 20 feet by 14 feet and going into a large bay window. There were perhaps a dozen guests in the room and I saw both Helen and Mr. Warrington, sitting next to each other. I’m sure neither had seen me.
“What a wonderful house, Mr. Wainwright,” said Mr. Warrington. “Please can you give us some of the background and detail of this room, for instance.”
“I would be delighted to. First of all in here, can I call your attention to the window seat. Much of the wood in the house is carved as this is, and I have had inscriptions and pictures of birds included in many areas. Notice the stained glass windows - with the birds and flowers featured. Can you read the inscription? Well, I will read it for you. ‘My pretty window that commands those meadows green and wooded lands so sunny that the last ray its panes receive of parting day.’ And of course this is where the sunset is the most glorious.”
“That is so poetic,” said one of the women. “Did you write the words yourself, Mr. Wainwright.”
“Indeed I did, Mrs. Bailey, as I enjoy playing with words. Now if you look at the fireplace with its ornate brass canopy. By the way, did you notice as you were coming into the entrance hall, the carving there? No? Well it says, 'There is an eminence of these our hills. The last that parlays with the setting sun.’ There are bird scenes in stained glass in all the downstairs windows.”
“It you would care to come with me into my office, I will show you the carved archway over my bookshelf. It says, ‘The pen rules the world,’ and how true that is.
“On the landing there is a Georgian style window, again with a bird feature in the stained glass. And you can see the name of my house picked out - FINCHWOOD - and also the four seasons are portrayed there.
“Now if we go into the morning room, you can see the door there that leads to the servants’ part of the house. The saying there is, ‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.’
“I won’t take you to see the references to ornithology in other parts of the house, but take it from me, there are many of them, not the least of which are in my summer house. There again the stained glass picks out the four seasons.”
“Truly remarkable,” said another woman. “What a joy it must be to live in a house like this.”
We settled back down in the lounge and Mr. Wainwright started his lecture on the Nightingale.
THE STRINES NIGHINGALE
I will start with a quote from Coleridge.
'Tis the merry Nightingale
That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates
With thick fast warble, his delicious notes,
As he were fearful that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love chant, and disburden his full soul
Of all its music.
“No greater sensation was ever created by a little thing than was caused by the arrival of the Strines Nightingale on the 3rd of May, 1862. I was the first to hear it, as it selected for its preliminary song, a bush at the bottom of my garden at "Whitecroft "
"That garden with its neat little shrubbery lawn,
"From the noise and dust of the highway,
"A furlong perchance withdrawn."
“Excuse me, Mr. Wainwright, but I don’t recognise that quotation. Who wrote it?”
“I did, Mr. Warrington, I did. But now to get on with my talk.
“In fact during its carols it was never at any time more than an arrow's flight from my home. It began its song, now plaintive, now joyous, at ten o'clock every night, and continued almost without interruption until three o’clock in the morning. I sent word to Mr. Sidebotham on the following day, and he came to hear it at night. On the third evening he brought down Professor Williamson who was perfectly familiar with its beautiful notes. He pronounced it next day in the Manchester papers the veritable nightingale, and thousands of people from all parts of the country came to be charmed with its exquisite melody.
“No one who has ever heard the nightingale properly in the still calm night could ever mistake its notes for those of any other bird.
“I had a busy and happy time while this distinguished visitor remained with us, resulting in a great number of other visitors who compelled us, not unwillingly, to keep "open house" for a fortnight, often finding ourselves having tea parties at one or two o’clock in the morning; after which our friends had many miles to walk home."
(to be continued)