Garrison Fields

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Chapter 38 - Telling the boys

It was Ted who was first given the glad tidings, after he had had breakfast; Jane knelt down next to him.

‘Mummy has some good news for you.’ He treated the whole affair in a rather nonchalant manner, perhaps adults attach too much expectation to these events.

‘Will Uncle Derek come and live with us?’

‘No dear, we’ll probably go and live in his house.’

‘Oh good, I like having a pint with Uncle Derek!’, she laughed this was a result of Derek bringing in candy every now and then and when Ted saw him from the upstairs window, he would scoot down the stairs and into the Saloon bar and sit next to him and his mates who would play dominoes. He would as he saw it help Derek, by pointing out every domino that he should play. Thus, Derek never won a game from that moment on, the humour created after a few pints, was sufficient to always guarantee his place around the table. Where he would enjoy his candies and usually some pop in a half pint glass.

Each time the men would raise their glasses he would mimic them, even down to the candy cigarettes that Derek now brought him in. He would place the packet down on the table next to his usual tipple, this was now Dandelion and Burdock. He had changed his drink, not for the taste, but as he told his mother, “Cream Soda was not a man’s drink!” Dandelion and Burdock’s black colour was a closer match to Derek’s Mild and Bitter, so the change was made.

There might have been tears, but Ted had taken everything in his stride. ‘I need to go and tell Matt and Luke,’ he looked at her.

‘Can I come too?’ It was true she could impose on the Dunbar’s and even at the short notice they would not complain. She would need to talk to Albert’s parents, best to sit them down and break the news to them, not just dump Ted on them in a rush.

‘Yes, dear you can come with mummy today. You must promise to be very grown up.’

He nodded in agreement. ‘Now mummy will have to talk to the people where Matt and Luke are, you must be very quiet.’ Nods were given.

‘Uncle Derek will be coming when we close at lunch time, so you’ll need to keep yourself clean once I get you ready today. You can go and sit in the Salon and play dominoes while I am working. Sit with Old George when he comes in, now there’s a good boy.’

He was as good as his word. Jane opened up as usual and began to welcome a number of her regulars. Most knew Ted and as many were of an older generation, were retired from their days of toil. They loved to tell him stories of their days at sea, many of these tales had grown to such an extent, that they were taller than any masted ship they had ever served on. Ted loved every minute of them and sat with eyes as big as saucers, while each story was being told.

The bell for last orders had just been rung when Derek walked into the salon. Ted ran up as always and Derek picked him up and greeted some of the regulars at the same time.

‘We don’t often see you in here at lunch time Derek, business must be good?’

He sent back his usual cheeky smile, ‘You’d be right there, though I’ve just popped in to see Mrs Burns.’ Everyone knew his great friendship with the widow-woman as she was sometimes called. She raised the bar counter for him, and he went through to the back room with Ted to wait.

Jane was already dressed to go. She waited more than patiently, for her last customer to leave, bidding him farewell, as if she had wished he had stayed all afternoon. She threw the bolts across the door.

‘Bye lass, you’ve got the patience of a saint, I would have drunk it for him, if he had stayed any longer!’ She laughed.

‘I would have no customers if you had your way Derek Beech! Anyway, let’s be off’.

They walked down to the corner and seeing a tram coming they waited, time was of the essence to them this afternoon. As the tram progressed on its journey, Derek’s impatience was showing, he looked several times as if he was going to help passengers on or off, that were taking too long. He gripped the grab rail on the back of the seat in front of him until his knuckles turned white, Jane smiled at him.

‘Don’t fret, I’ll tell the boys’. He smiled back.

‘I was wondering what to say,’ she smiled and then looked at Ted.

‘And you’re not to say anything.’

The tram came to a halt just down the road from the Seaman’s Mission Orphanage and they made their way into the office. She had butterflies in her stomach as they walked in and felt quite nauseous. She had been rushing to get here on time, hadn’t eaten all day and now had a sudden feeling of apprehension.

Inside the office, there were no familiar faces as she walked in. She went to the desk, a Woman looked up and over the rims of her half glasses as she continued to thump away at a large black typewriter in front of her.

‘Can I help you?’ She enquired.

‘Yes...’ Jane replied, she then outlined the case in question, of her forthcoming marriage and how she would now be able to look after the boys again.

The woman now rose from her desk and without even a smile and in rather a prim way wished them well. ‘May I congratulate you both... Now I will need to get some papers prepared. May I ask when the happy day is to be?’ Jane stood aghast; she had no idea!

‘It’s tomorrow afternoon at 4 o’clock at the town hall’ Derek blurted out. Jane looked at Derek, how could this be, she knew nothing about it, he thrust his hands into his pocket and brought out two slips of paper.

‘There’s a special license, and there is a set of indentured papers for Matt to become my bound apprentice for seven years’.

She had told him not to speak, but now he had, such was the shock, she nearly found herself unable to. The woman now excused herself, taking the paperwork

‘I’ll need to go and see the superintendent of the orphanage, he’s in his office. I know that the board of governors meets in two days, I’ll be back in a moment.’ The woman left the room and Jane turned to Derek, she didn’t have to say anything he knew some explaining was called for.

‘I had the papers drawn up this morning first thing love, there’ll be a set for Luke as well.’ He could see that his producing these papers had surprised her, but the special certificate for a wedding had shocked her.

‘I popped in and I said that I needed to get wed as soon as possible, as I was a seaman and we couldn’t wait.’ She looked horrified.

‘Do you know what they’ll think?’

‘I’m sorry, the clerk rushed off before I had a chance to explain anymore and each time I tried, they told me, they had many similar requests, and I should be proud that I was doing the right thing!’ He saw the look on her face which now turned to one of mirth.

‘You really are silly, it’s lucky my middle names Mary though isn’t it! Oh, I know you were trying to do things right, and I should have known, especially wanting to make sure Matt came home. I thank you for that Derek Beech.’

They waited approximately five minutes and then the woman entered the office again,

‘Please come with me the Orphanage Superintendent will see you straight away.’

They were escorted past the office where she had told the boys about their father’s death, down the corridor to a large plain office in dark wood where the Orphanage Superintendent sat. She knocked sharply on the door and opened it without waiting for a reply.

‘Mrs Burns and Mr Beech’ she announced as they entered, she withdrew and closed the door as soon as they were in the room.

‘Please Mrs Burns... Mr Beech, take a seat.’ He gestured to the two seats in front of his desk.

‘It really is a pleasure to welcome you with such good news, now I have asked Mrs Cowley to go and get the boys from their lessons, while we do that, I need to get a few facts from you both and let you know the Seaman’s Mission procedure on reuniting families.’ He paused, from a manila folder took a couple of pieces of blank paper and placed these on his blotter on his desk. To the front of his blotters stood a beautiful silver inkwell with two ink pots and a small statue of the boy hero Jack, modelled from the statue in the park in the town. He opened one of the inkwells, but did not pick up the pen in the tray, instead, he leant slightly forward on his desk and began to speak.

‘Before I take any particulars, I will first acquaint you with our procedures and then you may ask any questions you may have. After which I will take down your particulars, and then there should be no reason why you should not see the boys and break to them your happy news.’

The Director talked for what appeared to them to be half an hour, though it probably was not more than five minutes. The procedure was lengthy, but the main points would be, that the boys would be allowed to attend the marriage, afterwards they would return to the orphanage, until the new wedded home was established. Derek and Jane would have to apply to the orphanage, at which time a home visit would be made, establishing that the home environment was fit. The findings of this would be given at the next meeting of the board of governors and they would make their decision, at which point in time a letter would be sent, informing them of their decision. They should then come to the Orphanage office and arrange for a date for the boys to leave.

It was explained that the whole procedure would take approximately a month. Jane looked downbeat at the thought; Derek tried to raise her spirits.

‘It’ll give you a bit of time to turn the house into a proper home, put your touch on it love.’ she smiled thinly. The Director now continued with the other pressing matter.

‘We will arrange with the recruiting sergeant that he will have one less for this intake, there will be no problem we only sign the final paper committing him on the day.’ He unfolded his hands and took the ink pen from the tray, requesting the particulars he required. He was concise and only continued with the next question once he had fully annotated the current, all the answers seemed appropriate.

Derek’s house had an address in a most appropriate area of the town. His owning of his own, now larger vessel, showed a man climbing the rungs of success in the community. The superintendent positively fawned at the idea of the boys being given the chance of a seafaring life, this after all was the seaman’s mission. It was only when reaching the final question, that an eyebrow was raised.

‘Of course, your salary will be more than enough to support your wife and new obligations?’ Derek perhaps gave too much information a simple yes would have sufficed.

‘Indeed, it does sir, Mrs Burns has both an independent and fine mind which I admire, and she currently manages the General Wolf and several other establishments for Mr and Mrs Dunbar, if she wishes, she may continue to do so for as long as the fancy takes her.’

There was a pause, the superintendent placed his pen down on the ink stand. His manner was pensive, he was judging what to say.

‘Please understand that while I have no objections to woman working, the nature of the role may impede the smooth progress of your application with the governors. Let us say taking full control of your lives again.’ He picked up his pen again and held it over the paper.

‘Now my last question was: Are you financially able to support your wife? I require no further information other than a yes or a no.’

‘Yes.’ Came the answer from Derek, the Superintendent gazed at Derek.

‘Please remember to be circumspect in your answers when the home visit happens. We wouldn’t want to be misunderstood.’ They both nodded in agreement, this somewhat took the wind out of Derek’s sails, the remainder of the interview went as planned, when the business at hand was concluded the Superintendent stood up.

‘Now please remain seated I believe the boys are waiting, I shall bring them in and leave you for ten minutes to discuss matters with them.’ He walked to the door and opened it.

‘Burns A and Burns B your mother and Mr Beech are here, come in.’ The boys looked very apprehensive they had been through a similar visit a few years previous; they were hoping that nothing had befell their grandmother or grandfather.

The Superintendent looked at them. ‘Nothing to worry about, in you go.’ He closed the door behind them and as promised left them alone for a few minutes.

They went and greeted their mother and shook hands with Derek. Ted who had been statuesque seated on Jane’s knee was now on his feet and hugging his brothers. There were not enough seats in the room for all to sit so as they were all now standing Jane, started the conversation.

‘Your Uncle Derek has asked me to marry him, and I’ve said yes. It will mean that after the wedding, you’ll come home again and live with us.’ The boys were both shocked and also genuinely happy for them. They congratulated them, kissing their mother and shaking hands with Derek. They knew that since their own father had passed away their mother had had such a hard time of it. They always considered their lot to be an easy one in comparison to hers, they were in an institution, where they always knew when the next meal would be served, whatever the reasons they were happy for her.

Perhaps the only thing which shocked them slightly was the speed of the marriage, but they would be pleased to attend. Then turning to Matt she informed him how this meant he would not have to join the army, neither Luke after him. It was now that Matt spoke and doing so dropped a bombshell into the happy gathering.

‘Ma’ I want to know that you are doing this for the right reasons?’ He paused for a moment and she looked at him, her voice wavered slightly.

‘I am… Yes, you are a reason, but Derek is the only person in the world I would choose to be with now that your father is not here.’ She looked around her, biting her lip and then continued.

‘Derek will never be Albert, he is himself, he can’t be your father. But he can be what he has always been a man that you can respect, a good man.’

There was a small pause, as Matt continued. ‘I can’t come home, not until I am positive, so I will ask the Superintendent to sign my army paper at the end of this. I vowed that I would never do the job that killed my father and made you pace up and down the quay every time his boat was overdue, with your shawl over your head. You would always have a reason to be there, but he always knew, it was because you couldn’t bear to lose him.’

He drew breath for his second onslaught as she slumped into the chair; the tears filing her eyes. Ted, holding her skirts understanding the mood of the room had changed began to sob as well.

‘I know you love us all and I will come to the wedding, and I will come home, but I want to be sure, and I can only be sure, if I do this.’

She looked at Luke, who had always had a gentler disposition. ‘What do you think son?’ She said through her veil of tears. He was now on the spot; he would have rather the floor swallowed him up.

‘I think Matt is right, we need to know, it’s not just for us, you’ve already sacrificed too much for us.’

She gazed at him. ‘And if I didn’t sacrifice for my children, who would I sacrifice for? You’re everything I have!’ Her voice tailed off she did not understand anything anymore, the rush of that day had drained her physically and now this moment had drained her emotionally. She felt that she did not have the strength to carry on, at that moment she just wanted to curl up in oblivion and the world to swallow her up, for all the struggles of life to go.

The room fell into a deadly hush, it was Derek who broke this by going from where he was standing and standing behind the chair Jane was sitting on out his hand on her shoulder.

‘It’s time we were going love.’

She dabbed Ted’s eyes who had just stopped sobbing, getting him to blow his nose into her hankie, Derek turned to the boys.

‘You’re still young, and in a few years’ time you’ll see what you’ve done, I’m not your father so I won’t tell you what you have to do. You’re old enough now to make up your own minds.’

With that he helped her to her feet, she seemed visibly frail the aurora of invincibility that usually surrounded her seemed to have vanished. She turned to the boys.

‘We’ll look forward to seeing you at the town hall tomorrow and after we’re planning on having a little spread at the General for the family, please think things over.’

Derek opened the door, and they made their more sombre way down the corridor back to the office from where they had entered. The woman was still there, banging away at her typewriter. The Superintendent and Mr Wigg were stood up talking, as they entered. The Director noticing their unhappy demeanour spoke.

‘Mrs Burns, Mr Beech is there anything wrong? You look distressed my dear lady!’ she looked up.

‘Derek, if you would be so kind to tell the Director the boys wishes.’ Mr Wigg offered Jane a seat as what had happened was retold. The Director was at a loss for words, and so he used one of his stock replies, when his logic was not up to the task in question.

‘Bless my soul Mr Wigg, in all my years I have never heard the like of it, have you Mr Wigg.’

Whether Mr Wigg had, or had not there was no political expediency in debating the matter and indeed the happy couple did not need cheering up any further. ‘No sir.’

There was a lull, while the Superintendent thought what to do next; so Mr Wigg Spoke ‘If I may suggest Sir, Mr Gregson has a very good rapport with the boys, perhaps if he escorts them tomorrow to Mrs Burns and Mr Beech’s wedding, he might be able to iron things out?’

A pause followed as the Superintendent tried not to stumble for words. He was far more comfortable ordering a boy to do something, this was an odd situation for him.

‘A capital idea Mr Wigg, now Mrs Burns, please try not to worry Mr Gregson will bring the boys tomorrow, and we’ll see if we can smooth this hiccup out.’

He had now run out of meaningful things to say, so rehashed some of the phrases that were commonly coined at the Governors meetings, Mr Wigg observed the wall! When he had finished, as there was nothing more to say Jane and Derek bade them farewell and left. As soon as they had the Superintendent turned to Mr Wigg and the secretary.

‘I have never heard the like of that before in my life, boys refusing to return to a good family home and with Mr Beech becoming a respected member of the local community. Indeed, no we will not have this.’ The Superintendent, as he inflated Derek’s importance by association now began to inflate his own.

‘Mr Wigg would you be so kind as to fetch those boys to my office, I’ll get to the bottom of this... This very hour!’

There would be no use in talking to the Superintendent in his current agitated state and Mr Wigg new that the Director in his current agitated state would not so much find the issue but try to impose his will on them.

Mr Wigg went to get the boys he stopped at the music rooms and climbed the stairs to the instrument store where Mr Gregson had his office. He imparted the tale to him, mentioning that the Superintendent would like him to accompany the boys tomorrow to their mother’s wedding at the town hall. Mr Gregson agreed readily, if Mr Wigg sent them round to him on the pretext of accompanying them, he would endeavour to get to the root of the problem.

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