© Janet Scrivens
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Ada has been married to Ernest for just over two weeks. She is almost three months pregnant, but hasn't yet told anyone. Her mother-in-law is causing all kinds of problems within her family (six sons and one daughter) and expects Ernest, Ada's new husband, still to give her money from his weekly wages. Ada hadn't anticipated this. Just one week after they were married, Ernest mother, Sarah Forrester, paid them a visit and created havoc. Ada hasn't spoken to her since.
Street End Chapter 2
The weather had turned. Ada flung her everyday shawl over the black woollen coat for extra warmth before pulling the felt hat over her ears. The flesh around Ada’s waist had begun to thicken. The coat would soon be too tight to fasten. She would wait until after Christmas before making her condition public. She was dying to tell Ernest.
Ada picked up her basket, full of empty beer-bottles. She had hidden them beneath a large tea-towel. It didn't do to let everyone know her business. She would receive a refund from Mrs Hodgett, of one penny for each bottle. It wasn't much but any contribution was gratefully received.
The sky was leaden and frost clung like a second skin to everything, turning tree branches and hedges into a fairy-land. The ground beneath Ada’s boots crunched. When Ernest had opened the back door, that morning, light from the lamp had shone out from the scullery window and across the garden, causing the frosty earth to sparkle. “Too cold for snow,” Ernest had said.
Ada’s thoughts were interrupted by an uncommon, but not unfamiliar, sound. She picked up her skirts before jumping up onto the grass verge. She was excited to see, just a few yards behind her, a black vehicle, sporting brass headlights. Its horn began to honk noisily as it slowed down. A familiar face emerged from the dark interior.
“Charles, how wonderful to see you. This is the first motor car I have seen in Swepstone.”
Charles grinned as he climbed out. “I believe Mr Stevenson owns one, although he hasn’t quite mastered the art of driving it and still uses the horse and trap to go to his business.” Charles came towards her, leaning heavily on a stick and limping badly. “My dearest Ada, how well you look.” He took her hand and kissed it, pausing slightly on spotting the gold band. “Mother's in the car. We can’t stop now, as my brother is waiting for us, but Mother says please will you call? We haven’t seen you in ages and we need to catch up with your news.”
Ada saw the hatted lady waving a gloved hand, barely visible through the somewhat dusty car window. She walked towards her. Mrs Townend wound down the window. She reached out. “My dear, it is so good to be back in Swepstone. Please, do call on us soon. Both Charles and I have wondered where you were and how you were getting on.”
“Have you only just returned?” asked Ada, “just this minute?”
“Yes, indeed we have,” replied Charles, “we have been visiting in Devon, but Mother was determined to come home and celebrate Christmas in St Peter’s together with her ever-increasing number of grandchildren.” He grimaced and rubbed his knee.
“How did you come by that?” Ada asked.
“It’s an injury he sustained whilst in the army,” replied his mother. Charles looked a little sheepish.
“You didn’t tell me about it in your letters.”
“It’s nothing, except it hurts when I drive. Now, please excuse us, we must be off, but be sure and visit. If you don’t I will kidnap you.” The grin on Charles' face disappeared as he bent down to restart the car. It was an effort. He didn’t appear to be able to bend his leg and looked most ungainly clutching the starting handle. On the third attempt the engine fired. He walked painfully round to the driver’s door and hauled himself inside. With a great deal of hooting they moved forwards, waved and sped off to turn into Church Street. Ada stood at the junction and watched as they disappeared towards Swepstone Hall and home. Ada was most perturbed by Charles' limp and vowed to call as soon as possible after Christmas.
Another few steps and Ada reached the village shop. It was the last property on the end of a row of terraced cottages, and known locally as The Odd House. Ada noticed a new sign above the door. It read, ‘Post Office and General Store.’ The building was deceptively large with all manner of extensions added at the rear. Mrs Scarlett had said there was a proper brewing facility there, and some of the older men had told tales of when it had been both a public house and a brewery. It would certainly be a God-send to Ada if they resumed the brewing. Both Ernest and Jarvis were partial to a glass of beer. Mr and Mrs Hodgett were approaching their new enterprise in a most business-like manner, and to add to its advantages, was more conveniently situated than John Booton’s former establishment next to the Church. It saved Ada several minutes on her journey.
Mrs Bull was struggling up the hill. She stopped to rest a moment; her breath coming in gasps. Ada waited for her to negotiate the last few yards. Mrs Bull lived in the cottages converted from what was still known as The Late Elephant, the old coaching inn which had been Ada’s childhood home. To Ada’s horror, the building was now inhabited by no less than four families. Each had their own living room with a means of cooking and heating water. They also had one bedroom allocated, per family, but any extra children who could not be accommodated in that space were forced to sleep at random in whichever room there was a vacancy. Ada shuddered at the thought. She was well aware that poor Mrs Bull didn’t get on with several of the other tenants, some of whom were none too particular about cleanliness. She had a constant fight against bed lice and nits.
“Good Morning, Mrs Bull. A pleasant enough day for the time of year, I feel.”
“Good morning Mrs Forrester.” The title was still new and Ada blushed. She stood back, allowing the older woman to enter first.
“Was that Mr Charles I saw you talking to, with Mrs Townend?”
“It was indeed. Back from holiday.”
Mrs Bull pushed open the door and stepped down into the already overcrowded shop. The chatter stopped until both women were safely inside and the door firmly closed. Mrs Hodgett, a most agreeable lady, was, as usual, serving at the grocery counter, whilst Mr Hodgett manned the Post Office.
Mabel Forrester stood at the counter. She didn’t speak as Mrs Hodgett prepared her pound of bacon. Mabel was married to Ernest’s eldest brother William. They lived only a few doors away and she was heavy with child. Ada smiled to herself, wondering what Mabel would say if she knew her child had a little cousin growing within a few feet of her. Ada stood patiently, watching the slicing machine, listening to it purr as it slid backwards and forwards. Mrs Hodgett turned the handle with her right hand and with her left, caught sliver after sliver, depositing them, one on top of the other, to form a tidy heap. It was mesmerising. Mabel took the carefully wrapped package of ham and laid it on top of her basketful of potatoes, counted out her money and turned to leave. She managed a watery smile and a muttered. “Good Morning Ada,” pushing her way through to the door, before Ada had a chance to reply.
The smell from smoked gammon, mixing with the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans, took Ada right back to Burley-on-the-Hill. She could feel the kitchen table beneath her fingers as she rolled out the pastry and heard the sound of her girls as they chattered endlessly. The strong feeling of nostalgia took Ada by surprise. She shook her head as if to rid herself of the memories. Her life here with Ernest was perfect, except for the question of his wages. She had guessed it was to do with his mother, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask the relevant and, which was more to the point, searching questions. The visit from his mother hung between them; undiscussed and therefore unresolved. Apart from having glanced at each other in Church, Ada hadn't been in her company.
The shop boy was weighing potatoes on huge scales suspended from a beam. The women were having to constantly shuffle around to make room for him to pass and tip his load into the appropriate basket. “Will you be requiring potatoes, Mrs Forrester?” He asked.
Ada thanked him and declined. She had no need to purchase potatoes, as Ernest had made sure they had enough in the clamp to last through most of the winter.
Mrs Benson, one of Mrs Bull’s more unfortunate neighbours, took her few purchases and placed them in a battered shopping bag. As she did so, a sneer spread across her face and she deliberately looked Ada up and down. “Good day to you Mrs Forrester,” she said with more than a touch of malice.
Ada held her breath. She was aware that, if Bertha Benson had been given the choice she would have been wearing Ernest’s ring on her finger, instead of the one she had.
The doorbell clanged. All chatter stopped. Ada gasped on seeing her mother-in-law stepping gingerly inside. Ada could taste the silence. This was the perfect opportunity for Bertha to make a comment. It would have been naïve not to expect some criticism, considering Ernest had, on numerous occasions, stayed with her until very late into the night. Those suffering sleep problems would, no doubt, find themselves gazing through the window in the middle of the night; a perfect position to spot an itinerant lover scuttling home. In addition to that, village women would often recognise when a woman was with child, even before the prospective mother herself was aware of it. It would be disastrous if word was out before either Ernest or his mother were officially informed.
Ada acted quickly. “Good morning to you, Mother-in-Law. A turn in the weather, I see. I do hope it finds you well.” Ada forced herself to smile, holding her breath in anticipation, lest her mother-in-law declined to answer.
Sarah Forrester, after the briefest of pauses, replied, “Indeed it does.” She stepped back a pace, looking Ada up and down. “I have to say, Ada, you look in remarkably good health.” Ada uttered a sigh of relief.
Losing no time, Bertha Benson added, “She certainly does. You’ve put weight on. It shows in your face.”
“It shows that marriage agrees with you dear,” from behind the counter came the much-needed intervention of Mrs Hodgett.
A decidedly scruffy woman, wearing a grubby shawl, left the Post Office counter and sidled up to Bertha Benson. She whispered something. They giggled. Ada felt the heat flood into her face and her heart began to race. Again, the amicable voice of the proprietor saved the moment. “I believe you’re next, Mrs Forrester.”
In her confusion Ada paid no mind to protocol. Her face was red with anger and she needed to escape. Instead of stepping back to allow Mother-in-Law to be served first, Ada dived forward and hauled the heavy basket onto the counter for Mrs Hodgett to empty, and in the process inadvertently dropped her shopping list. She bent down to retrieve it only to see it had become so crumpled, she had to smooth it out for Mrs Hodgett to read.
Ada placed the bag of sugar and pound of lard into her basket and was about to take her leave, praying there would be no further mention of her health after she had vacated the shop. She now regretted not having delayed her departure. It would have been better to stay, until the two troublemakers were out of earshot. At least then Ada would be present to stand up for herself. As her hand clutched the door knob ready to turn, Mr Hodgett’s voice boomed out from the far end of the shop, “Mrs Forrester, Mrs Ernest Forrester, that is, there’s a letter for you. I almost forgot. It is from London I see.” The Postmaster seemed overly nervous this morning. He wore a monocle. His hair was plastered with massacre oil and he was constantly touching it with his hands, stroking it as if to keep it in place. The oil was often transferred to the postal orders and it did give a rather shabby look to everything.
“Thank you, Mr Hodgett.” Ada folded the envelope in half and put it into her coat pocket. The disagreeable women took their leave, but Ada’s discomfort continued. Three more days, she thought and it would be Christmas day. Any time after that I can tell them. By her calculations, she would then be at least three months with child.
Ada began her walk back up the hill. She moved her thoughts to the festive season, determined to block out the unpleasantness. Ada was well prepared. Jars of mincemeat stood on the larder shelf, next to two Christmas puddings, and a good-sized ham hung from a hook in the scullery ceiling. Nelly, George and three-year-old Francis were to join them for dinner. Mrs Scarlett and Tom would come in time for tea, no doubt anticipating a game or two of dominoes. Ada had purchased a jigsaw puzzle as a surprise treat. She planned to unfold the card table and place it in a corner of the sitting room. It would be something to occupy the ladies, leaving the menfolk in peace to enjoy their beer and dominoes. She had been surprised to see cardboard puzzles on sale, but Ada didn’t think they looked sturdy enough so had chosen a wooden one of three hundred pieces. It would show a scene of the seaside complete with sand and rolling waves. Ada shivered, imagining the temperature of the water in this weather, but she thought it would give Francis some idea of what the ocean was like. The child could perhaps help to find some of the blue pieces which made up the sea. Failing that, they would resort to how Ada and her siblings had amused themselves at such times. She would give Francis the kitchen scales to play with, together with Mother’s button tin. They would pretend Francis was Mrs Hodgett at the shop and Ada would find her some paper bags to weigh the buttons into. The child would be fast asleep and tucked up on the sofa well before supper-time. George would wrap her in a blanket and carry her home to bed.
Ada inserted the paper knife into the envelope, anxious not to disturb the carefully scripted name and address. Her hands were shaking, partly from the climb back up the hill and partly from excitement.
Mrs Ernest Forrester
19th December, 1908
My dearest Ada,
I am so excited, I can hardly believe I am actually writing to you. I simply couldn't just send a Christmas card, as I have so much to tell you. I miss you so very much, my dear. There is no one here I can talk to, like I can you. I do see Victor of course, he is still Mr Guest’s valet and am happy to say that James is not far from us. Would you believe he is in the employ of Mrs Edith Finch? She has taken up residence at 61 Princes’ Gate, just a stone’s throw away.
I expect by now you are well and truly settled into married life. I do hope all goes well for you both. I regret not having been able to attend the wedding and thought of you constantly, all through your special day. Please write and tell me all about it. Did you wear the cream dress and hat? Was it very cold in the church? I remember it was freezing when Eliza and Bertie were married.
I have so much to tell you, dearest Ada, I am fairly bursting with news. I only returned from Europe, a few days ago. Mr Guest apologised to us all for leaving it so late in the year to cross the channel, but he had business in Paris. Madam was out and about the whole time. I swear, there was neither a single building of interest that she did not visit, nor a restaurant of repute in which she did not dine. I was kept on constant alert as to which ensemble she would wear next. However, Victor and I managed to leave the house one day, after Madam had left to keep a luncheon appointment. James and Grace, Mrs Finch’s new maid, came along too. They all raved about the food at a place called Le Café Julien.
James, Victor’s friend, explained that Monsieur Julien opened the café in 1890, when the construction of the Metro first began. He recognised both the need for the workmen to be fed and the need for the food to be affordable. His creations are so good, people eat whatever is offered. Every morning he visits Les Halles, a huge covered food market, purchases anything least costly, and cooks it. This way he is able to keep down the price and everyone is happy. The exciting part is that among his patrons are many artists. His most famous one (or so I am told), now sadly deceased (may God rest his soul), was a gentleman by the name of Monsieur Toulouse Lautrec. Monsieur Mucha; a gentleman in his late forties, (I would guess), together with a Monsieur Manet are regular visitors. After hearing it was frequented by poor, aspiring artists, often accompanied by their models, I wondered what kind of place it was going to be; a greasy spoon, I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The day we visited, Monsieur Julien cooked Beouf Bourgignion and it was truly delicious.
The building itself is most interesting. All around the walls of the café are the most beautiful arched mahogany frames. Each one alternately surrounds either a floor-to-ceiling painting or a mirror. I am not sure which artist is responsible, but the whole affect is superb. The fact that dozens of grubby, noisy men sit gossiping in loud voices, does not deter at all from these extraordinary surroundings, or I have to say, from the deliciousness of the food. None of us could understand a word anyone said, but there is much joviality as they all clink glasses full of red wine, each and every time they raise them to their lips. It is fascinating. However, I doubt it is a place Madam will ever be tempted to visit. Victor is amazed by the fact Monsieur Julien employs only two waiters; they wear white aprons, similar to the ones the footmen wore when cleaning the silver at Burley-on-the-Hill, except they reach right down almost to their ankles. They have to work very hard to keep everyone served. They don’t have time to make out a proper bill, so they scribble it on the back of their hands, (having sucked the end of the pencil first), I might add. Mind you, French people on the whole do not scurry around like we English. Oh no, they take their time. I think I could become quite used to it. For the price of just a few centimes, the four of us ate the beef, consumed a half carafe of wine each and for pudding, enjoyed a pancake, (they call it a crêpe), with syrup and cream. Excellent value. You would have loved it, Ada.
Speaking of food, I wonder if you can guess what we eat for breakfast, in Paris? Croissants with a choice of either coffee or hot chocolate. It reminded me of our days at Burley-on-the-Hill and Monsieur Claude. Oh, what a character he was!
I digress! Paris is a beautiful city, but not as clean as London. Eaton square had been cleaned and refurbished by the time we returned. The stonework on the buildings is so white it looks like new. As it turned out, despite the time of year, our return journey across the channel was relatively calm, but still I was forced to adhere to my usual custom of taking brandy to quell the sea-sickness.
The most beautiful country I have visited so far is Italy. Ada, my dear, if you ever get the chance, do visit. Rome was spectacular, but Venice and Florence are so romantic. Did you know that in Rome there is a place called the Trevi Fountain, into which people throw coins? One to return to Rome, two to find a lover and three for a wedding? A perfect place for you and Ernest to spend a late honeymoon. It is huge, with all manner of sculptures surrounding it. I fear, my lovely friend that you will have to leave behind any moral judgements you may still have, as most of the statues are of men wearing no clothes. Really, Ada, nothing at all! Even I have to admit to blushing, but they are everywhere in Italy and one soon becomes used to it.
Now I have saved my really exciting news until last. I will shortly be travelling to America with Mr and Mrs Guest. Just imagine that! I am not sure how I will manage the Atlantic crossing. Six weeks or so in all. Madam says I will get used to it, that the effects are not so strongly felt on the bigger ships. I do hope that is true. If I am sick all the time, who is to look after Madam? I am wondering how James will fare when Victor sails with us for America.
I often look back on our days at Burley-on-the-Hill and wonder what happened to the rest of the staff. Do you hear from any of them? I half wondered if Mr Neville would try to follow you. If ever there was a man besotted, it was he.
It is certain that Mr Guest will return to England, for of course, he is still in the service of Mr Churchill, but Mrs Guest is another matter. She is anxious to revisit her home. I am more than a little concerned that she will not wish to return to England. That, I am afraid is in the lap of the Gods.
Madam is allowing me the time off over Christmas, to visit my family and to say goodbye, although she has promised we shall come back to London at some point. I have been wondering if perhaps you and I could meet before I leave? I will see about trains to Leicester. Perhaps you will meet me at the station? We can lunch together, then I will catch a return to St Pancras. I seem to remember, in the old days, you took the train to Oakham. I often think back to the time we spent in Melton Mowbray, visiting Miss Turnbull’s dress shop and trying on the clothes. Then the lovely coffee-shop and those huge cream cakes?
I had hoped to see a little more of the Paris fashion houses, although it is my opinion that the Italian ladies have the edge. I would have given my eye-teeth for some of their creations and the lace is superb.
Good gracious, I have written reams. I must stop now. I have to attend to a whole closet of gowns. They have been crushed together in the trunk for days. Goodness knows how they will be after six weeks, for that is how long it will take us to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
I do so miss you Ada. Please write back soon, my dear and tell me all about Swepstone.
Your loving friend for ever,
PS. When you write back, please remember to put C/o Mr. Frederick Guest.
PPS. Almost forgot. I wish you and Ernest a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and may God bless you both, which I am quite positive he will.
Ada sat on her rocking chair next to the fireplace. She had read the letter, poured a second cup of tea and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Ada had, for a few precious moments immersed herself in the luncheon party, imagining Christina in a room full of Frenchmen and their reactions to her beautiful chestnut curls and coquettish manner, a charm which sat so naturally. Her audience would be totally smitten by the beautiful Englishwoman.
Ada was pleased to hear Victor and James were able to spend time together. Ada wondered if the laws in France were different; she hoped so. Victor and James' relationship was certainly made in Heaven. There could not be a more devoted couple.
Ada hadn’t realised just how much she missed both her friend and her life at Burley-on-the-Hill. A response to Christina’s suggestion of their meeting will have to be carefully thought through and a reply composed. Ada closed her eyes and willed Christina to be sitting in the chair opposite, chattering away, lifting the atmosphere and bringing a smile to everyone around her. Alas, Ada's humble surroundings would not do justice to the silks and satins worn by the fashionable lady's maid who moved in such elevated circles.
Ada’s heart was heavy. Her world now couldn’t be more different from the one she had left behind at Burley-on-the-Hill. Her main occupation in life had been to concoct and cook tempting meals using top quality ingredients. Ada had of late been cooking cheaper food, buying lesser cuts of meat and making better use of leftovers. It had taken some of the magic out of her world. Ada felt cheated; let down. She should have made her monetary expectations clear to Ernest from the beginning. He was seven years younger than Ada, but even so, surely he should understand his duties as a husband. Unless Ernest allowed her more money, the silk purse would never be replenished. It seemed so unfair. She felt vulnerable, out of her depth, frightened of the future because she was no longer in charge of her life. Ernest’s and Jarvis’ contributions barely covered the cost of food plus the two shillings and sixpence she paid rent. It certainly hadn’t been enough to finance Christmas. Ada had kept a barrel of hedgerow beer on tap through the summer, but since the winter had arrived and there were no longer plants to pull from the fields, she had been buying bottles of beer from the shop. The silk purse had been visited again and again. At this rate, the savings wouldn’t last much longer. They needed to have that talk. She would wait until after Christmas and use the news of the baby to introduce the delicate subject.
So, that was it! Ernest owed the cost of his three-piece wedding suit, his shirt and his new shoes, which he was paying off weekly to his mother. When Ada had asked the total cost, he said he didn’t know, that Mother had arranged for himself, his father and brothers: Alfred, Percy, Arthur and Frederick, to visit the shop together one Saturday morning.
Ada slowed her pace as soon as she was she was clear of the village. She wasn’t used to this tiredness and shortness of breath, but her visit to Newton Nethercôte had been urgent. She had been to settle Mr Thomas’s bill. The offer to pay for the carriage had been Ernest’s only offer of help towards their wedding and it had come as an almighty shock to Ada when she discovered he hadn’t settled his bill. Father would be turning in his grave if he knew Ernest had failed to settle a debt with one of his dearest friends.
Ada had reached The Crown. The front door was closed and she could see no sign of life. It brought back memories of The Late Elephant and the carefree days of her youth. Ada turned right into Swepstone lane. The weather had reverted back to how it had been on the morning of her wedding. She shook her head. This was not the time to reminisce about their wonderful day; something which, at the time had seemed so right.
Apart from the odd moo from a cow, it felt as if the countryside had fallen asleep. The earth smelled damp, almost a little mouldy. The fields had been spread with manure and the smell lingered in the air. It was chilly. Grass verges were a mass of uneven clumps of wilting vegetation; too tired to stand up straight but not weak enough to die off to allow new growth. Everywhere was covered in moisture as the morning dew still clung stubbornly to everything. They needed some good hard frosts. Something to kill the germs. Ada placed her foot on the wooden step and hauled herself up onto the style, settling herself for a moments respite. She stroked her belly where her baby would be sleeping.
Ada had been mortified when Ernest said, "We all hand our wage packets to Mother."
"On a Friday night?"
"What, all of you? Your brother, too?"
"All of it? I mean, you give her all of your wages.?"
"Yes." His eyes had looked back at her as if wondering at her need to even ask the question. Apparently, Sarah doled out pocket money to each of them, enough for a drink on a Saturday night together with tobacco and papers to roll up their cigarettes. That was another thing Ada was angry about. His need to smoke! None of Ada’s family had smoked cigarettes. Well, except brother George, but that was different. He had served in the army. Most of the soldiers had partaken. It was expected. Father had smoked a pipe, which, in Ada’s estimation, smelled a darned site better than cigarettes. After Christmas dinner Ernest had offered Jarvis a smoke. Ernest had placed his metal contraption on the table and showed Jarvis how to place the cigarette paper onto the rubber, fill it with tobacco and roll it. Jarvis had been a little too adept in this practice for it to have been his first attempt.
Ada’s biggest disappointment had been Ernest’s reaction on hearing her news. He had opened his eyes in shock rather than joy. He’d always said how much he looked forward to their having babies. He had certainly taken no steps to prevent it. Her bottom lip began to tremble, but not for long. She couldn’t sit there crying like a ninny. She stepped down from the style, hitched up her skirts and picked her way through the soggy grass and back onto the road.
Apparently, anything the Forrester boys needed in the way of clothes was ordered, by their Mother, from Mr Wade at Measham and paid for weekly, on the never-never. Ernest had no savings at all. Even worse, his mother still expected him to continue paying her money, even though he was married and had left home. Ada wondered how much Sarah’s wedding outfit had cost. So much for the fox fur. She had probably ordered that on tick! Had Ada known any of this, there would have been a bare-bones, Monday morning wedding, and Ada’s hard-earned savings would still be safely deposited behind the brick.
William, the eldest Forrester son, had left home years ago and was raising a family of his own. It was quite obvious there had been some sort of family disagreement between Mabel and Sarah! They had hardly spoken to each other at the wedding. William and Mabel already had four children and another expected at any time. William too worked in the pit. Ada had heard they had indeed purchased 32 Street End; a most impressive property; they called it 'Church View', not surprising since it stood directly opposite the junction of Church Street. One couldn’t help but look straight at it when walking home from evensong. There were drapes at all the windows, upstairs and down, and they all matched. Mrs Scarlet wasn’t certain if they had paid for the house outright, with help from Mable’s family, or if indeed, they had borrowed it from the Friendly Society. It was inconceivable to even consider he was still paying towards his mother’s excesses. Mabel had always been distant, but nevertheless, Ada would have a word and try to find out what had happened.
Alfred, the second eldest son, still lived in the Forrester household. He was wedded to Emily, formerly the Forresters’ housemaid. Gossip had it that, on discovering Emily was with child, Sarah had given her both a scolding and a scathing interrogation which eventually led to Emily bursting into floods of tears and confessing that indeed it was Alfred who was the father. Alfred loved Emily, but having constantly been told it was beneath any of Sarah’s sons to marry a servant, he hadn’t dared show his feelings. It was only after a rare intervention from his father that things calmed down.
It came to light that Sarah herself had worked as a servant in a household in Burntwood, Staffordshire; a twenty-three-acre farm owned by William’s grandfather, no less. When she had declared herself in the family way, Grandfather had told William that if he married the hussy (his words), he would have to leave the house. Grandfather said she was only after his money. William didn’t believe a word of this and his mother begged her father to let them stay. William eventually found work in Swepstone and the couple left, but not until after William, Alfred and Sally had been born. Ada wondered how Sarah had managed then, with three small children and no family to help. After this disclosure, Alfred and Emily were married quietly at a chapel in Ibstock, just weeks before the due delivery date, and it was agreed that they would continue to live in School Cottages, along with their baby daughter Beatrice. Five years later Percival Arthur was born. Ada had a problem with that little chap, or rather the look in his eyes. Sarah berated him every chance she had. Ada hardly dare imagine what happened behind closed doors, especially as there was now baby Charles to consider.
Ada couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that Alfred worked down the pit, as did Percy, Arthur and even young Frederick who was now turned sixteen. They all brought in a good wage, as of course, did Mr Forrester. He was Head Shepherd at Tempe. Surely, that too was well paid, especially when one took into account the free milk, butter, eggs, game and poultry which found its way home. No wonder Sarah Forrester could afford the best of everything. There were, as Ada’s father had predicted, photographs all over the house, on every shelf and table top, mostly of Sarah, sometimes with other members of her family, either sitting or standing, posing in their latest outfits. Ernest had said she purchased only the best cuts of meat and even brought home fresh fish from Ashby market on Thursdays. This of course, necessitated travelling in Mr Thomas’s coach, especially in hot weather, to guarantee the fish stayed fresh; altogether an expensive venture. Ada had occasionally done similar herself in days gone by, but with her own money, not money which morally belonged to someone else. What was the woman thinking of, not encouraging her children to save for their future?
When Ada had dared question why a maid had been employed at all, Ernest reply was, "Well, with all those mouths to feed and the laundry to deal with Mother needs a maid. She can't be expected to cope with it all on her own." Ada was quick to point out, "Mrs Godfrey from Spring Cottages is rearing eleven children and she manages. Most households will settle for a woman, one or two days each week, to help with the laundry."
Ada had seethed. She yelled at him, "Well, there's not going to be a situation in this household where money is always owing. If we don’t have enough, we will not purchase. That is something which Father instilled into all of us."
Ernest didn't argue the point. It was in Ada's mind to pay off his debt and start again with a clean slate, but first she needed to know how much. If this situation was to go on ad infinitum, then Ada’s dreams of one day owing their own cottage were in tatters.