Running to Paradise

Running to Paradise by Virginia Budd Page B

Book: Running to Paradise by Virginia Budd Read Free Book Online
Authors: Virginia Budd
the War came, Mr O gave two more to the army.’
    ‘ Do you remember someone called Hubert Stokes?’ I asked.
    ‘ Bless me, I remember Mr Stokes alright, poor devil. He was always there; he and Mrs O they were, well they—’
    ‘ Were lovers,’ Sophia prompted gently.
    Mr Gilles shook once again with laughter. ‘I don’t know about lovers, Ma’am, but I well remember coming back one night; quite late it was. I’d had a few, I don’t mind telling you, but not enough not to know what’s what. Well, I took a short cut across the rose garden to the stables, where I had my room. Usually I’d never walk past the front of the house, I’d have lost my place if I’d been seen, but it was late and I was a bit “how’s your father”. Well, I was halfway across the garden and suddenly, there they were.’ He paused dramatically.
    ‘ Naked as the day they were born — Mrs O and Mr Stokes, playing leapfrog round the sundial! I just took to me heels and ran and lucky for me they were too busy to see me. The gentry didn’t half get up to some larks in those days, you’d never believe. Talk about permissive society — my eye!
    ‘ He were a good bloke, Mr Stokes, all the same, though I don’t hold with canoodling with someone else’s missus, never have. Many’s the time he’d climb the ladder to my room for a chat. “Gilles,” he’d say, “I’ve come to hear some sense talked. Get the glasses, will you?” And he’d bring out a bottle of brandy and light up his old pipe and there we’d sit jawing away till gone midnight sometimes. He was all for the working man and a lot of what he said made sense to me then and still does now. It was him that put me on the right road.’ He paused again.
    ‘ How was that?’ I asked softly. I didn’t want to break his train of thought. ‘Well, he made me understand there was more to life than just being a servant, I suppose. And when I came out of the Army in 1918 I told myself I’d never be one again, no matter what, and I never was. Got a job in a garage, learned the trade, and in 1925, when the missus and I were married, I’d saved enough to buy a garage and have my own business. Had plenty of ups and downs mind you, but I never regretted it. Then in 1960 I sold out for a tidy sum and the missus never wanted for anything till the end of her days.’ He was silent again, his blue eyes staring into space, then: ‘Ay, it were your Ma, Ma’am, and Mr Stokes, they started me on the right road...’
    ‘ My mother, Mr Gilles?’
    P. E. Gilles’ gaze focused on a rather vivid view of a Cornish fishing village hanging on the wall opposite, as though seeking inspiration. ‘It were different then, you see. My dad had been a strapper in Lord Hanton’s stables; my mum were in service and it were the natural thing like for me to go into service myself. I wanted to better myself, of course, but it were always them and us. You’d never speak to gentry — never think of it — they spoke to you; told you what to do. They might ask you how you were getting on, or how your family were, that kind of thing, but you’d never talk to them.
    ‘ Then along comes Miss Char, and she don’t seem to understand all that. I remember as though it were yesterday, when I first saw her. I’d only been at the job a week or so. I was in my harness room, cleaning tack like and this head comes round the door. “Can you help me with Rags, Mr Gilles, he’s got a thorn in his foot and he won’t let me get it out.” In she comes, carrying the dog in her arms. Tiny little thing she were, freckles all over her nose, mud on her cheek and a red knitted beret on her head. Well, I managed to get the thorn out and somehow we got chatting.’
    He stopped, trying to put into words how he had felt. ‘It was like talking to one of my own,’ he said simply. ‘No side, just interested in everything I had to say. After that, she’d come most days when she were at home. It was Miss Char who brought Mr

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