The Great Cley Floods 7
Saturday February 5th, 1853
Rebecca was very pleased that her daughter Rachel had managed to come home this weekend, but even so, she had her friends to call on, and so her Saturday, as always, was devoted to whist. As she got ready for the afternoon she wondered how much she would tell her companions about
what had happened to her just a week ago.
When they arrived and had settled in, Rebecca couldn’t wait for the coffee and cake break to share her news.
“Last Saturday, after you had all left, I felt restless and went out for a walk just to clear my head. I hadn’t gone very far down the road when I saw something in the bushes at the side. As I went closer, it turned out to be a young woman, and she obviously had been struck by the huge branch which was there on the ground next to her. She appeared to have lost consciousness and was now slowly coming too, but was not hurt other than a graze on her leg and a cut on her forehead. The bleeding had already staunched so I knew she had lain there for some time. She didn’t seem to be
hurt seriously, at least not at first glance.”
“Oh, that was very brave of you Rebecca. I don’t think I would know the first thing about helping someone who was hurt, so I probably would have passed her by,” said Hannah.
Rebecca continued, “She tried to sit up, and with my help was eventually able to stand. She seemed very confused and worried. She said she lived on High Street, and then when she looked down towards that road, she became very agitated, as the flood had come up and she saw that she couldn’t get back to her house through the high waters.
“She was most upset and I did the only thing I could do. I invited her back to my house for a cup
of tea. I decided, if I found her acceptable, I would invite her to stay the night. The flood waters would be sufficiently down the next day for her to get home, and I expected a very wet and muddy house
would be her lot.”
“You brought her in here? A complete and very odd sounding stranger? I am not sure if that was
very wise of you, Rebecca,” said Judith. “She might have been pretending all along and just wanted to rob you of your beautiful things.”
“I wasn’t in the least bit frightened of her. In fact I warmed to her in a rather strange and
inexplicable way, but let me continue with my story.
“She looked very strange, and she was wearing men’s clothing, or so I thought to start with, but her hair was bobbed and curly, so I didn’t mistake her for a man. She spoke in a strange dialect, English but not as I normally hear it, even from the uneducated peasants in the village. She had quite a vocabulary so I knew she was educated, but there certainly was something strange about her, both in looks and in manner.
“When I got her home, and she had taken off her jacket, her clothing was even more odd. She didn’t
wear a dress at all, only these strange bloomers and a bulky knitted garment, very ugly and unfeminine. I told her so too. She said she thought my clothing equally strange and impractical. Very forthright she was, but then, I am rather like that myself. But then when she told me of the work she had to do, she obviously and rightly said that I wouldn’t want to do all that she did wearing the clothing that I wore. She was so outspoken in her attitude. She didn’t give me the deference that I would expect for my age, and my obviously enhanced status.
“She said she had walked by our house before, and knew the village, although she admitted they were only leasing and hadn’t lived here long. But she got all the names of the shopkeepers wrong. What’s more she contradicted me when I told her, as she had asked me to, who did what job in the village. She talked about strange buildings in places where there obviously are none, and she talked of strange things, vehicles that moved without horses but by using some chemical. She mentioned something else, I can’t now recall the name of it, for talking to someone a distance away through a wire. Surely her fall must have dislodged her brain.”
“How dare she treat you like that, questioning your knowledge of Cley. You have lived here all
your life, and she admitted she was new to the area. I really think you were unwise taking her in, Rebecca,” pitched in Anna Marie.
“When she took off her outer clothing, I noticed that she was increasing. But then she boldly told
me all about it, to me a stranger saying such personal and intimate things. She actually talked about the baby kicking! I was most shocked. But the more I thought about it, the more involved I became, and I surprised myself by almost insisting that she bring her new baby, when it is born in June, here for me to see. She looked at me most oddly but agreed she would. There seemed to be a sort of unexplained bond between us, as if somehow our fates were linked. I am getting silly in my old age.”
“Yes, I think you are,” said Hannah stoutly.
Rebecca went on, “However there was something about her I was drawn to. It was almost as if she
were a relative, a cousin or such like. I felt an affinity for her that I couldn’t understand or explain. I could talk to her more easily than I had ever talked to anyone, even my daughter whom I love
dearly. She seemed to find the same of me and we chatted on like long lost friends, telling each other all about our families and our lives.
“Eventually it was time for her to go to bed, and I had arranged for Polly to light a fire in the best guest room for her. I put out my fine silk and lace nightgown for her to wear. But as I left her for her sleep she asked me the oddest question. 'What year is it?' she asked. And then when I told her, she insisted that she belonged to another century completely, and she began to cry as if her heart would break. What could I do? I thought that a good night’s sleep would be what she needed. I had told her I would get my dressmaker on the next day to make her something decent to wear. I went to bed more pleased and excited than I had done in many a year.”
“Is she still here?” asked Judith. “Oh surely not, the flood waters were well down by Monday.
Have you continued to see her?”
“If you would stop interrupting me and let me get on with my story, you would soon know
all about it,” said Rebecca crossly.
“I slept well, not hearing Mr. McGilivry when he finally made his way home in the early hours. I had asked Polly to make a special breakfast for our guest: bacon, eggs, kidneys, porridge, toast, jam
and tea. It had gone nine and still there was no movement from her room. I wondered if she was shy about coming out to face me again after all the strange things she had said. I went to her room and
quietly knocked on the door. There was no reply. I knocked a bit louder, still nothing. I softly opened the door just slightly, and then opened it fully. The room was empty. My nightgown was on the bed
neatly folded, just as I had left it for her. The bedclothes were pulled up as if the bed had been made fresh. There was not a sign of her, except I noticed that she had taken writing things out of the desk drawer. The pen was there, and some blotting paper, so she must have written me a note. I looked around the room for it, but found nothing. And of course her jacket had gone too.”
“You mean she just went off like that without so much as a thank you? What a selfish woman. I
hope you won’t have anything more to do with her, Rebecca,” said Anna Marie.
“I agree with you. That is just what I thought. How rude she was to leave without a word,
without thanking me for my care of her. I had rescued her from a very cold and unpleasant experience. I had offered her my food, my bed, my fire, my friendship. How had she repaid me? By sneaking off before I was awake. My entire impression of her had changed. She was selfish,
inconsiderate and no one that I wished to know. I decided to put the whole experience from my mind.”
“About time, if you ask me,” said Judith.
“Of course, I couldn’t do that. I questioned Mr. McGilivry about whether he had locked the door
when he came in, and he swore he had, and it was still bolted when I got up. How had she got out? She must have left before he came home at four a.m. or else the door would have been unbolted. And it would have been pitch black and still badly flooded at her home. What could she possibly accomplish by leaving at that time of night?”
“So that was that then. Is that the end of the story?” asked Hannah.
“Well not quite. During the week, as the flood went down and things returned to normal, I still
couldn’t get her out of my mind. I went and knocked on the door of Mallard Cottage, where she said she lived. The woman who answered looked nothing like her, and when I asked for Mrs. Mary Gardner by name, the woman said she had never heard of such a person.
“Perhaps I had imagined the whole thing. But no, my maid, Polly backed me up in the facts as they
happened that night. We had had a young woman for tea and to stay the night. She had never seen her before either, nor since in her walking around the village.”
“And what does Rachel think of all this?” asked Hannah.
“I told Rachel all about it when she got home last night, but she dismissed it as a figment of my
imagination. She had to admit that something had happened, as Polly verified someone had come in that night, but she thought I must had got mixed up on the details and that was why I couldn’t now trace her. She didn’t seem worried about it other than to wonder if perhaps I shouldn’t go to my doctor to get something for my nerves.”
“Seems a good idea to me too. You are not getting any younger, Rebecca, and although you have many years before you get as old as I am, at least I have all my wits about me,” said the elderly Judith.
“Well, I have my wits about me now, and I must get the cards and scorers out so we can begin. Now
let’s see who will be partners, and who will be the first to deal.”