Day after Day 2
Holding a copy of Berrow’s Worcester Journal under her arm, May knocked on the door of Muriel’s house. Both girls lived in Lansdowne Crescent, an area where there were large houses owned by the wealthy of the city.
May (pictures above) lived with her parents, Eliza and Tom, and her brother who was also called Tom, at No 9. Muriel, an only child, lived with her parents, George and Louisa at No 7.
When Emily, one of the servants opened the door, May hurried inside, saying “I must show this paper to Muriel. Where is she?”
“I will inform Miss King that you are here,” said Emily, trying her best to be formal and proper. She ushered May into the drawing room and took her coat. May was wearing a pale-green daytime dress with straight sleeves which developed into bloused effects gathered into wrist bands.
Minutes later Muriel appeared, very pleased to see her friend again. It had been several days since the Queen’s funeral service. She was now eager to plan a campaign to marry the the young man she had seen in the cathedral.
"Look what it says here,” said May, showing the report of the Queen’s funeral service in London. “This was written by the man who was in charge of the procession.''
She proceeded to read aloud.
"February 2, 1901, was a bitterly cold day with some snow, and the gun-carriage, under the charge of S Battery, Royal Horse Artillery and under the independent command of Lieutenant M. L. Goldie, had been kept waiting at Windsor Station, together with naval and military detachments, etc., for a considerable period. The Royal House Artillery were posted in the Long Walk ready to fire a salute of 81 guns, commencing when the cortège left Windsor Station for St. George’s Chapel, at about 3 p.m.
"Lieutenant P. W. Game was placed in command, and proceeded to the station to ensure that
signalling arrangements were perfect. When the Royal coffin, weighing about 9 cwt., had been placed on the carriage, drums began muffled rolls, which reverberated under the station roof, and the cortège started. Actually, when the horses took the weight, the eyelet hole on the splinter bar, to which the off-wheel trace was hooked, broke. The point of the trace struck the wheeler with some violence inside the hock, and naturally the horse plunged.
"A very short time would have been required to improvise an attachment to the gun-carriage. However, when the wheelers were unhooked, the naval detachment promptly and gallantly
seized drag ropes and started off with the load. The gun-carriage had been specially provided from Woolwich and was fitted with rubber tyres and other gadgets. This was due to Queen Victoria’s
instructions after seeing a veritable gun-carriage in use at the Duke of Albany’s funeral, as also was the prohibition of the use of black horses.
"On February 4, in compliance with the command of King Edward, the royal coffin was conveyed on another carriage, from Windsor to the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore by means of the same detachment of men and horses. A few days later King Edward said that no blame for the contretemps was attached to the Royal Horse Artillery by reason of the faulty material that had been
supplied to them.''
“How humorous,” said May. “To think that our glorious Queen almost didn’t make it to her own funeral.”
“I don’t think you should make light of it,” said Muriel sharply, “and I am very pleased that those brave men did the courageous thing and took the place of the horses to make sure it all went to plan.”
Despite her levity, May was invited to stay to tea. Muriel was eager to begin discussing a plan.
“I must learn something of that young man who spoke to Eveline Duncan after the service,” she said.
“Why are you so concerned about it? Of course, he was young and good looking, but he said he was off to Oxford, so he won’t be around here very often.''
“He spoke of an Aunt Dot, didn’t he? How well do you know Eveline Duncan? Can you get her to invite us around to her house for tea?”
“It would be easier to ask Charlotte Walker to make the arrangements. She is very friendly with Eveline. I hardly know her. I would be uncomfortable, barging in on some false pretext. And I still don't understand your interest in that young man.''
“I knew from the moment I saw him that our destinies were entwined. That I couldn't rest until he spoke to me in those dulcet tones.''
"That's rather dramatic,'' said her friend. "I don't understand why he should appeal to you so.''
"Why don't we go now and call on Charlotte Walker? I need to have my plan is under way.''
“Yes. I plan to marry him.”
“Oh Muriel, how silly you are. Anyway, he smiled just as brightly at me. Perhaps I shall marry him myself. Has this got something to do with that claim you made in the cathedral of being of royal blood? Do you think you can command whomever you wish to marry you?''
“I said I would tell you more about my royal lineage. Wait here. There are letters I will show you.''
So May sipped her tea, enjoying the fire, for it was a bleak day. Muriel returned within five minutes.
"My father’s grandmother was called Elizabeth Burgess King,'' she said. "His half-sister from his
father’s first marriage, Fanny Wood, had this letter from her cousin, Mary Michelle, and Fanny’s daughter Edith sent a copy to me. I’ve marked the important phrases. I will read them out to you.
"This first one was written in 1894. 'If the tradition in the family is true, our grandmother also came from noble lineage being the descendant of the Marquis of Winchester. I have an old book said to have belonged to that family. £50 and a share of his library books were left to each of those who could claim and prove their cousinship to one of the family. Grandmother Burgess proved and received £50 and the books. My mother said that Aunt Eager had a ring, which she told me Lady Elizabeth Paulet gave to her, saying that she, Aunt Eager, was her granddaughter'.'''
“That’s very interesting, but hardly proof of royal blood.”
“Here’s the other letter. This was written in 1899. 'Our grandmother was Sarah, 5th daughter of George and Elizabeth Burgess who had a farm at Nuthurst not far from West Grinstead Park. The mother of Elizabeth Burgess was the daughter of Lord Peter (5th son of the Marquis of Winchester) and Lady Paulet, who married a Mr. Bates. Mr. and Mrs. Burgess had six daughters and
'The eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Burgess was first married to Mr. Edward Michell of Hermanger, Guildford, Sussex and secondly to Michael King of Linacre, Cranleigh, Surrey. (We actually called our house Linacre, because of him.) The fifth daughter married B. James Robinson of West Grinstead.'”
“So what do you intend to do with all this information?'' asked May with a wry smile.
“I will compile a family tree. List all the names. Then write letters, trying to discover where that rings is. I would like to have that ring.''
“First you say you want to marry a stranger who spoke just one sentence to you. Now its a ring which belonged to royal ancestors. Really Muriel!''
“I usually get what I want,” said Muriel firmly, bringing the conversation to a close.
Thereupon the girls donned warm woollen coats and set out to see Charlotte Walker who lived with her family at 26, Lowesmore, in the commercial area of the city. Charlotte's father, who had spoken so eloquently at the funeral service for Queen Victoria, ran his business from the premises next door to the family home.
Charlotte, although a dynamic and obviously talented individual, had not married. and Muriel suspected this was because of Charlotte's elder sister, Mary. The Walker parents were getting on in years, and neither of them were in very good health. Mary, the oldest of the Walker children, who had always lived at home, seemed to be slow-witted and was of little use in helping run the household.
There were two other Walker daughters, both of them older than Charlotte, but they had left home under strained circumstances. They had departed without telling their parents where they way going, communicating by letter when they had found work. Lilian Elizabeth was a nurse at St. John’s Westminster Hospital for Women in London. Lucy Marion had gone north to Kirby Lonsdale, there
to become a teacher at the Clergy Teachers’ School.
Local gossip had it that Mr Walker was very angry with the two daughters who had gone away, so much so that he had cut them out of his will. So that left Charlotte to try to please her father, caring for him and her mother, and also her sister Mary.
“I often wonder if my fate will be similar to Charlotte’s,” said May. “If my father died suddenly, as I am
the only daughter, I expect Mother will want me to live with her and care for her.”
“You must not do it,” said Muriel. “You must make your own life. Daughters should no longer be regarded as unpaid servants to their parents. I will not let you ruin your life like that. I will personally see that you marry. When I get to meet my mysterious stranger, I expect he will have a friend who will do nicely for you.”
May couldn’t help but smile at the determination of her friend. She would willingly go along with Muriel’s plans. At least they brought some excitement into both their lives. And maybe she would meet a suitable man. She could but hope, and she did find the young man they had met at church handsome.
So far men had not featured highly in her almost 19 years. She found herself unable to converse with them easily. Although not a great beauty, she was not altogether unhappy with her appearance. She had rather pretty hair, chestnut brown with natural curl. Her features were regular and her eyes a sparkling blue. She was not of great stature, measuring only five feet two inches, but she was slim and well proportioned.
Her friend Muriel, who would soon be twenty one, was a much more impressive individual. She was confident and determined. Muriel was the taller of the two, perhaps five foot five, and her dark brown hair was swept dramatically on her head, held in place with sparkling combs. Her eyes were hazel, sometimes appearing green. One almost felt those eyes were boring into you.
Muriel always took part in school plays, and inevitably she always had a leading part. She was quick to answer questions in class. She studied art and architecture, and had many books on those subjects. It was as though she was in waiting for an exciting life to come along and sweep her away.
May was equally clever at school, gifted at music and languages.
When they reached the Walkers Muriel asked the maid who opened the door “Please could you ask Miss Charlotte if she could see us. We are not expected, but if she could spare a few minutes we would be most obliged.''
Taking Muriel’s card, the maid told the girls to have a seat in the front hall. Charlotte soon appeared. She had been reading, and was glad of a diversion. She recognised the girls, ushering them into the morning room so as not to disturb her mother and elder sister who were embroidering in the parlour.
“May I offer you some tea?” Charlotte asked.
Muriel declined, saying they had just had tea. She launched immediately into her mission. “I know this is enormous cheek, but we have come to find out from you whether you will do us a
great favour. We would like to visit your friend Eveline Duncan, and we didn’t think she would know who we were or be willing to see us on our own. We wondered if we could impose upon you to take us with you when you next visit her.”
“How intriguing” said Charlotte. “Why do you suddenly have this urge to get to know Dot, if I may ask?”
Muriel looked a bit uncomfortable, but decided honesty was the only answer. “Well, it isn’t Eveline or Dot, as you call her, at all that we want to know better. It's one of her relatives. We would very much like to make the acquaintance of her nephew, who spoke to us briefly the other day.''
“I know little of her nephew. Only that he and his family used to live next door to Dot in Little Perdiswell. I don’t see why you shouldn’t have your wish. I will write to Dot and suggest that I bring you both with me and go to visit her in the near future. Would any day suit you?”
“I will make sure that I am available whenever you say,” said Muriel. “I will let nothing get in the way of my quest.”
Charlotte gave her a strange look, and she wished she had chosen other words. She hurried on “I would be most grateful to you for your help in this matter. I look forwards to hearing from you.''
Their task accomplished, Muriel and May made their goodbyes, calling into the parlour briefly to say hello to Mrs. and Miss Walker, and then did a bit of window shopping as they wended their way back to Lansdowne Crescent.