It Started With An Apron
by Monica Graz
It was 6.30am on Friday morning. Betty switched off her alarm and got out of bed immediately, as she had done on the previous mornings it had called her. But this morning she felt somehow different. Something was missing and she felt very strange. Nevertheless she enjoyed preparing herself for work, taking morning tea to her Mistress and serving her as personal maid until she was ready to go to work. Before she went out Anita told Betty that there would be some fish for her to cook in the evening, under supervision, as part of a programme of training. In that way Betty would soon learn to cook their meals as a matter of routine. There would be occasions of course, when special preparations would be required, but instructions for those would be given as necessary.
Anita's departure without ceremony implied that she expected Betty to get on with her work without any further instruction and Betty did so, first the daily chores and then the rest of the week's chores. Whilst working Betty mused on the strange feeling she had. She remembered the thrill of her trip with Jennifer the day before, her first time out as Betty, her introduction to Jennifer's friend Mrs. Howells and her interview with the Solicitor, Mr. Arkwright. She remembered how eager she had been to take her mother's name, so eager that she had not thought much about her abandonment of Bob's name. Now, the significance of that was coming home to her with the realisation that whatever might happen she would have to face it as Elisabeth Martin and as Elisabeth Martin only. It was really frightening. But, as Elisabeth Martin she had her mother's name and if she was able to face any situation with determination to think and act as her mother would have done, she would not go far wrong. Anita let herself in when she returned that evening. Her soft house shoes were already awaiting her in the living room, as they had been the previous day and Betty brought in her usual drink and set it on the small table beside her with a quiet 'Good Evening, Ma'am' to which she responded 'Thank you, Betty'.
Jennifer came shortly afterwards and Betty similarly served her with a drink, for which she received similar response and no further conversation. As she moved back to the kitchen, she couldn't stop herself thinking that being a servant means that she was mostly treated as if she was a house object. It was something still producing mixed feelings to her. On one hand she was getting a sinister pleasure from being a female servant, on the other though she was hurt from the attitude of Anita and Jennifer. But it was only the beginning, it was only a matter of time now to get used to her lowly status, she was firmly trapped in! Anita interrupted her thoughts as she joined her in the kitchen and directed the cooking, but left her to dish up and serve the meal. As soon as Betty had served them with their coffee in the living room, Jennifer brought in from her car a number of parcels and showed Anita her purchases. Later, when Jennifer had gone, Anita told Betty she could take the parcels to her room. She said there were a few more items to come, including shoes, which Miss Armstrong would bring in tomorrow, then Betty would have a complete wardrobe of clothes and accessories of her own. But when she tried to thank her for them, Anita stopped her, saying, "They are your own clothes, due to you as of right. When you were a man you had a man's wardrobe, suitable for a man of Bob's standing. It was taken away with the rest of his possessions when you stopped being a man and now you are completely changing over to the position of my maidservant, his things have been sold and replaced by outfits suitable for you in your present situation. You will have some free time on Sunday and then you will be able to sort out all the items and try them on, in readiness for work from Monday onwards. When you have dressed yourself as you will be dressed on Monday morning, come down and let me see how you look."
Changing the subject, she then said to Betty, "Thanks to the great help Miss Armstrong has given to me this week and to the extraordinary aptitude you have shown for your maid's duties, I can go to work tomorrow, instead of having to stay here trying to catch up with the housework, so I shall want my tea at 7.30 again in the morning. Also, I expect to be able to go to work every Saturday in future. That, together with my arrival fresh and sharp to time every morning, will give a considerable boost to my importance and to my earnings in the Company." Betty was quite surprised and very pleased with this last comment, because it softened the rather harsh way she had been excluded from any discussion relating to Anita's business, or Bob's affairs, since she had become just a servant. Saturday was very much like the day before, except that Jennifer came in during the morning with some shoes for Betty to try them on. Thanks to the similarities in size and shape of their feet and Jennifer's good judgement, they fitted well and were then put aside to await Anita's approval.
For the evening meal that day, Anita had told Betty what she wanted as regards of vegetables and slow cooked pudding for the sweet, but that was all. Perhaps she had intended to bring in something from the delicatessen. Jennifer had some idea of her own, however. She checked that Betty already had the pudding slow cooking, told her to carry on preparing the vegetables as directed and went out saying she would soon be back with 'something special'. And she was, with a duck and some oranges for making sauce. Then, during the cooking, she showed Betty how to make notes of what she had done, so she could refer to them in future. She recommended the making of notes about all the cooking Betty did under supervision.
Anita came in a little later than usual, obviously tired but also obviously thankful that she could sit down and be waited on and when sufficiently relaxed, be served with a pleasant meal by her own maidservant. Betty's reward was in knowing that she had already made herself extremely useful and in being complimented for her part in the preparation of the meal.
When, after the meal and the coffee which followed, Betty returned to the living room to collect the coffee things, Anita told her that as tomorrow would be Sunday she would not require her morning tea until 8.30 instead of 7.30 and then added, "But since you now have to get up early every morning throughout the week, it is only fair that, except for any special occasion which might arise, your daily duties will end with clearing away these coffee things and you will be off duty until you start again the following morning. I will not order you to go to bed at any particular time, unless some special reason should arise, but I do think you should generally go to bed not later than 11 o'clock on Saturdays and not later than 10 o'clock other nights, so please let me know whenever you wish to stay up later."
"Yes' Ma'am, thank you Ma'am," Betty replied. She looked somewhat glum however, until Anita went on, "Probably you are wondering about spending your evenings in your room with nothing to do, but you will have plenty to do. Except on the occasions when we are otherwise busy, Miss Armstrong will give you a couple of hours tuition on knitting on Mondays and I will give you a couple of hours tuition in dressmaking on Thursdays and you will need the other evenings for your 'homework'. We shall keep you busy!"
"Thank you Ma'am, thank you Miss Armstrong," said Betty as she picked up her tray and returned to the kitchen. She finished her washing up, checked that everything was tidy and went up to her room. Her work was easier on Sunday. Although Anita expected her maid to be properly dressed when serving her morning tea, she did not require much assistance with bathing and dressing herself. The daily chores list, as such, was suspended and items such as clearing up the bathroom had to be dealt with later on week days.
So Betty was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast of cereal, toast and a boiled egg, similar to that she prepared for her Mistress, and after that to deal with such clearing up as was necessary. Before the end of the morning, therefore, she was able to return to her room and very eagerly she started unpacking her parcels.
The first item to come out was her overcoat, which she liked so much that she hoped the weather would soon go cold enough to justify wearing it. Next she unpacked her raincoat, which was very practical in appearance, fitting closely on her shoulders and flaring gently over the whole length, giving her a very feminine silhouette. Then she sorted out her dresses. They also were of better quality than she had expected, but she could see that they were not comparable with the dresses worn by Anita or Jennifer. Even her inexperienced eye could tell that the materials and finish were inferior.
After her dresses she found her overalls and aprons. First three pastel coloured wraparound overalls of blue, green and yellow with three quarter sleeves and white piping around the sleeves and collar, very serviceable. She found also coordinating aprons and cups. She liked the aprons very much. They were large with a bib and straps crossing in the back and two large front pockets, very practical indeed. The same white piping was bordering the bib and pockets of the aprons. She also found two smaller white aprons without a bib, obviously serving aprons and two pretty flower patterned pinafores with halter neck bibs. Next she came to her nighties. They were full length, warm to the touch, frilly at bodice and wrists and she thought they looked both comfortable and pretty. Then the underwear. The petticoats and knickers were of heavier material than she had expected. The petticoats were quite pretty and the knickers were of the directoire style she had asked for, but as Jennifer had told her, not as pretty as those she had remembered her mother wearing. The brassieres were much more substantial that she had worn so far, with moulded cups which she realized would, with a little discreet padding, enhance her figure. Then she had a big surprise. Instead of a supply of panty hose, she found corsets and stockings. The corsets were light but strong and drew in her waist, but not restrictively and the stockings were thicker than the tights she had worn.
She took off the clothes she was wearing and dressed again very carefully in her new clothes. She judged the feel of each new garment, as she put it on and was pleased with every one. Then, when she fastened her dress and had her shoes on, she wriggled her body around a little and smoothed the clothes down with her hands. She had never felt anything like this before! It was as though everything had been specially made for her and for her alone. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and was so pleased that she retouched her hair and the very light make up she used indoors.
She still had a few parcels unopened, so she opened them and found they were mostly very welcome accessories. She also found some housemaids' caps matching her overalls and aprons and put one on. Then she selected the appropriate overall and put it on as well. Finally she put on the last item of clothing that was missing, the item that started it all, the apron. As soon as she did the straps an extraordinary feeling of shyness had come over her. She dreaded presenting herself for inspection, but knew that she had to do so and therefore almost crept down the stairs. She found Anita drinking coffee in the dining room with Jennifer and knocked timidly in the door. "Come in, Betty," called Anita, "and let us see what you look in your own clothes."
She went in and stopped as soon as she was in full view. They looked at her, then at each other and then at her again.
Anita spoke first. "You look like a real working girl now! Do you feel like one, too?"
"Yes, thank you Ma'am," replied Betty blushing all over. Anita then adjusted Betty's cap slightly, saying, "That, I think, looks better, but of course you may please yourself how you wear it, provided it covers your hair to keep out dust and cooking smells while you work." Then Jennifer spoke, "Take your apron off and open your overall Betty and show us how your dress looks on you."
Betty did as she was told and Anita commented, "It is exactly right for you, modest but trim and tidy."
Betty started to close her overall again, but Jennifer stopped her saying, "I spent a lot of time getting your underclothes for you, so let me see that you are wearing them!"
The shyness which had come over Betty, as she came down the stairs, came all over her again, but she lifted the hem of her dress to reveal the petticoat beneath. When Jennifer went on, "Yes, that's all right, now the knickers and stocking tops please!," she uncovered only one leg nearer to Jennifer and looked at Anita as if asking her to say, she had seen enough.
But Anita only said, "Show both legs please, while I remind you that any orders given to you under my authority must be obeyed immediately and without question, otherwise you will be punished." There was no anger in her voice, only calmed authority, as she waited for Betty's answer which was a simple "Yes Ma'am."
Then she continued, "All right, you may straighten your clothes now and put back your apron on. We are, however, surprised by your sudden shyness. Can you explain it?"
"I am not sure if I can Ma'am," answered Betty "except that since I have realized how much my change of name and especially my renunciation of Bob's name, has undermined my self confidence, I feel I have only my mother's example to follow and I have become very sensitive to anything which might be thought to be poking fun at her, such as laughing at me wearing directoire knickers."
At this, Jennifer was quick to say, "I was not laughing at you wearing those knickers, in fact they are absolutely right for you and look nice on you. Nor would I dream of poking fun at your mother, but in her day they used to make some very nice ones, with pretty embroidery on them, which you cannot get now."
During this exchange Anita had been looking Betty up and down in a professional way and then said, "Your corset and other underwear have much improved the set of your dress, but perhaps you should have a little more fullness over your hips. We could get that by padding the corset, but probably you would be more comfortable and look more natural with an under petticoat of underskirt bouffant with flounces. We can make that your first dressmaking job, with plenty of sewing practice for you!" This helped to clear the troubled look on Betty's face and Anita continued in her business style manner, "Coming back to the issue of your new outfits and the way you should wear them, I must tell you that in warmer days you can put on your overall and apron without the dress, provided that you maintain your feminine appearance. You must have noticed also that among your new clothes there are two smaller white aprons. You will wear one of those only when you serve us dinner or coffee, but you will change back to your standard apron as soon as you go back to the kitchen. I will be very crossed if I ever catch you washing up or doing other messy jobs, wearing the white apron!" And she concluded in a less formal manner, "You better go and make yourself some tea and have some cake, then come back here, I have some news for you which should please you."
When Betty returned, Anita had her business case open on the table and her copy of Betty's Contract of employment in front of her. She said, "This is official, so I better address you by your proper name, Miss Martin - Elisabeth Martin. Please, go and fetch your copy of the Contract and also bring your purse."
Betty wondered why Anita had told her to bring her purse, for there was nothing in it.
But Anita explained, "You have had just one week's training, but you have done so well that you deserve a reward, so I am making a bonus payment of 30 Pounds to you."
And with those words she passed an envelope over to her, saying, "Please, open it and count it in front of me, and put it in your purse." Betty hesitated and Anita added firmly, "Do as you are told!" So the maid, opened the envelope and counted out 30 Pounds in mixed notes and coins and put it into her purse.
Anita then went on, "In fact, you have done so well, that I have decided to start you on paid employment under the terms of the Contract as from tomorrow Monday, 19th of September 1983. You will be my living in maidservant, with free board and lodging and a weekly cash allowance which will be paid to you each Friday evening. To start with, the cash allowance will be provisionally 30 Pounds a week, to be adjusted as necessary when we have obtained all information about deductions, National Insurance etc. In addition to that I will replace worn out overalls, aprons and working clothes in general, but you will have to buy personal clothing and other items. You can be sure that I will carry out my commitments under the Contract, whatever happens and of course I expect that you will carry out yours."
Anita paused to have a sip from her drink and continued in a business like manner, "Now, I am putting a note on my copy of the Contract, "Elisabeth Martin commenced paid employment under this Contract on 19.09.83, and I suggest you write on your copy 'My paid employment under the terms of this Contract commenced on 19.09.83'. Your employment as a maidservant and your entitlement to free board and lodging is guaranteed therefore, for a minimum period of three years from that date. You will be earning your own living, doing the kind of work you love and are ideally suited for, and I am certain you will be happy in your new life. By now of course, you must have had time to study the contract in detail. It is not possible for you to object to any of its terms, but if there is anything in it which you do not understand I will explain it to you."
"I don't want to object to any of the terms of the Contract," replied Betty, but there are two things I don't understand. At the end of the Contract there is a clause which says that in return for the guarantee of board and lodging included in it, I waive any right I might otherwise have to make any claim whatsoever against you, Mrs. Anita Burns, in the name of, or for the benefit of Robert John Burns. What does that mean, Ma'am?"
"You will remember," replied Anita, "that when you changed over from Robert John Burns to Elisabeth Martin, you gave up any rights or privileges you had as my husband. Now, under the Contract, you have a guarantee of free board and lodging for at least three years and in return give up any right whatsoever you may had have to make any claim of any sort against me in Bob's name. It might become important to me if I should decide to divorce him."
"I understand Ma'am," said Betty in a cautious way. She could not visualize herself as ever wanting to make any claim against her Mistress on Bob's behalf, so thought no more about it. "What was the other thing you could not understand Betty?" Anita then asked.
"I could not find anything to tell me how to hand in my notice, if I should want to," replied Betty.
"I am afraid there is no provision for you to discharge yourself from this Contract," said Anita. "You have contracted to serve your employer with diligence and obedience to lawful commands for as long as you remain under Contract, whilst I have contracted to guarantee that you will be so employed for a minimum period of three years." Betty knew that she would never want to discharge herself from service with Anita, but was afraid that she might be very unhappy if she should find herself under the same Contract with someone else. But the Contract gave her no option in that respect.
The telephone rang. Anita looked at Betty and said, "Let me hear you answer it, please."
So Betty picked up the receiver and in the lightest tone of voice she could manage said, "Highfield 4228, this is Mrs. Burns residence." ..... "Yes Ma'am." .....
"Yes, thank you Ma'am," and turned to Jennifer and said, "Mrs. Howells is asking to speak to you, please, Miss Armstrong." Whilst Jennifer took the phone and talked with her friend from the Solicitor's office, Anita said to Betty, "I shall expect you to be dressed as you are now when you bring my tea tomorrow morning, but now, run upstairs, take off the cap, overall and matching apron and put on one of those pretty flowered pinafores for me to see.
Betty was back very quickly, obviously pleased and Anita said, "Yes, you look really nice like that. You may keep that on until you go to bed tonight, in one of your own nighties, of course."
Jennifer returned from the telephone and said to Anita, "Margaret thought Betty sounded quite well on the phone," upon which Anita said turning to the maid, "Right, from tomorrow onwards Betty, answering the telephone will be part of your job. But you must always be careful." "Yes Ma'am," answered Betty, hoping that she would be able to repeat that light tone in all her speech.
Anita added, "It will be very useful for me to be able to call you and to have you take messages for me."
Then she picked up Betty's copy of the Contract and handed it to her saying, "Keep it somewhere safe. You may need to refer to it sometimes. In any case your life will be in accordance with its terms for at least three years and probably much longer!"
Then, in a surprised tone, Oh! Look! Your purse! It won't be long before you will need to spend some of your money!"
Taking the articles gracefully, Betty said, "Thank you very much Ma'am, perhaps I had better go on sorting out the rest of my things Ma'am?" "Yes," "replied Anita, "but remember that you must look after them and see that you are tidy and properly dressed at all times. You will have to be a credit to me when I bring important business guests, sometimes without warning, as I am likely to be expected to do." When Betty returned to her room, Jennifer told Anita that Margaret had asked if she could have Betty for a couple of hours on Wednesday afternoon, to clean up the attic which David, her husband, had converted into a playroom for the children. It would be a brushing down, washing down and scrubbing job. If Betty was willing to do it, they would be very thankful. Also, they would be interested to see if the children should get to liking her. Anita knew Margaret and readily agreed to send Betty out to her. The experience of working to the orders of another Mistress for a couple of hours would be good for her.
Then she said, "Did you ask Margaret if she had any news about the house in Maple Road we have been hoping to rent?"
"Yes," replied Jennifer "but she thinks, that the old lady who owns it is considering selling it instead of re-letting it. If she does re-let it, we will be Margaret's most highly recommended applicants, but she suggests that we look at the prospects of raising a mortgage to buy it." And she continued in a rather excited manner, "See if you can work out how much cash you could raise towards a deposit and I will find out how the different Building Societies are granting loans." When Betty went to bed that night just before ten o'clock, in one of her own nighties, she picked up and hugged little Emily with a smile and was soon fast asleep. She had not heard Jennifer leave the house, nor she had heard Anita come upstairs, but she realized that she was expected to be in bed before they moved.
She was up in good time next morning, put her working uniform on and rushed down to the kitchen to start breakfast. She brought tea to her Mistress with a gentle "Good morning Ma'am" and began laying out the outfit she knew Anita would wear that day.
She was about to go and run the bath when Anita caught her attention and said, "I only want to tell you how pleased I am to welcome you on this first day of service with me, as an employee maidservant, with excellent understanding of what I require of you and complete obedience to my orders. This is a special day, of course, but I am certain only one of many to come. And before I forget, have you a cigarette?" Surprised, Betty answered readily, "Yes, Ma'am!" and ran to her room to fetch the packet. It contained the last one of the seven. Anita had given her instructions to smoke one per day, before giving up altogether.
"No!" said Anita, "I wasn't asking for it, but now I know that you have been smoking one per day, as instructed, and today is a special day in that respect also, being the last day you are allowed to smoke at all! It must have been a difficult test of obedience and I congratulate you." "Thank you Ma'am" replied Betty, "I was strongly tempted several times but I knew that if I took as much as one puff, I wouldn't be able to face you without shame."
"Good! That is as it should be! But hurry with my bath now," said Anita reverting to her normal businesslike manner.
Betty wasted no time in getting the bath ready and soon Anita was ready for work, feeling very pleased indeed, with her household arrangements. After her departure, Betty had her breakfast and went about her work, feeling that it was indeed a special day! She revelled in the feeling of her working clothes and in the glimpses she caught of her reflections in mirrors as she passed them.
It was her first day as a real maidservant and she was certain that there would be many, many more. It was also the first day she was shown how to knit, for Jennifer came in the evening with wool and needles and started her on knitting a scarf. Betty's enjoyment of this was twofold, first the pleasure in the learning and secondly the pleasure in being allowed to sit in the living room once more in the course of the lesson, even though she was not included in any general conversation and no longer felt 'at home' in the room.
She remembered that it was in this room that her fantasy of becoming a maid had turned into reality, in a matter of only 10 days! What had started with an apron, apparently in fun, had developed into a whole new way of life, because of Jennifer's perception for Bob's inclinations, but also because of Anita's extraordinary adaptation in this new style of relation with her husband turned maid!
At one point Jennifer said to her, "If I am available to give you another lesson next Monday and if you have used your spare time to complete the straightforward knitting I will show you how to finish of." Betty thanked Jennifer with a very warm "Thank you Miss Armstrong for your time," then Anita who was sitting in her usual armchair reading said to her, "Now that you have finished your knitting lesson I must tell you something. There will be a job for you to do at Mrs. Howell's house on Wednesday afternoon. Your general chores list may have to be rearranged to fit it in. It will be a rough job, not very pleasant, but within your duties as a maid and good practice for some of the jobs you will have to do when we move house. You are to be there at two o'clock and as you will have to walk, you had better leave here at 1.30. Go to her side door, not her front door and then take your instructions from her." She paused for a moment, as she often did when she was lecturing Betty, and then continued, "Remember, you are not allowed to take any payment or gift from her. Now to change the subject, I will add more duties to your chores list. I don't think a Mistress who is paying a maid to work for her should have to carry domestic shopping, so I am going to reorganize that. On Friday evening, when I will be paying your wages, I want you to have ready a list of all the household items used during the week, plus items of food consumed. That will help me to compile shopping lists for you. You will be able to shop for most of the items in the supermarket shop, but until we move house your shopping excursions will have to be limited to the late evening shopping hours, during which daylight will have given way to dusk or darkness."
Betty had not been out of the house since the changeover, except for the afternoon when Jennifer had driven her to the Solicitor's office, so the prospect of being sent out on her own was both exciting and scarifying! When the alarm went off this Wednesday morning Betty instantly remembered it was her birthday. She was 39 today! But it was her first birthday in her new station in life.
She was wondering if her Mistress was going to mention something. She took her tea upstairs on time. She knocked at the door and heard Anita's voice, "Come in birthday girl!"
She blushed all over as she entered her Mistress' bedroom. Anita was sitting on her bed with a big smile in her face. She had a sip form her tea to clear her throat and said to Betty, "You thought I was going to forget, because you are a maid now, don't you Betty," she said in a nearly accusing tone.
Betty managed to say in her soft voice which she managed quite well by now, "I don't know Ma'am, after all I am only your employee now and I don't know if it is correct...."
Anita interrupted her with her hand, "Stop blathering girl, of course I am going to wish you 'happy birthday', you are thirty nine today, halfway through your life and look at you, at the beginning of a new life as well. So this is the first birthday of many more to come hopefully of my maid Elisabeth Martin!" She stopped to have another sip of her tea and then picked a small parcel form her night table, "and this is your present Betty."
Betty was very touched, she approached the bed and picked her present with a small curtsey, "Thank you Ma'am, I am honoured Ma'am" she managed to say.
Anita said impatiently, "Come on girl, open your present, we don't have all day, I have to go to work and you have your chores to do." Betty said a quick, "yes, of course Ma'am", and started undoing the small box. She opened it and found inside a silver bracelet, she looked at it more carefully and realized that something was written inside, she managed to read the small letters, 'Betty, 21.09.83'. She instantly tried it in her write hand, it fitted perfectly. Nothing fancy about it, but quite elegant looking in her wrist. She said in a too eager tone of voice, it is lovely Ma'am, thank you so much, I will certainly cherish this present Ma'am."
"I am glad you like it girl, now run off to start my bath it is getting late." She started getting up form Bed and then she remembered something because she said, "Come here please."
Betty approached a bit hesitantly, Anita was standing now and suddenly grabbed Betty and gave her a kiss in the mouth, a kiss that Betty remembered very well form her past as John, full of passion and promises. She reacted like an inexperienced schoolgirl and let Anita do the kissing. She was tremendously excited and the only thing she could think of was what a third person could thing seeing that scene, a lady in her night gown, kissing passionately her maid in her working uniform! Anita released her as abruptly as she started it and said, "Don't have any naughty thoughts Betty; it is still early to invite my maid to bed, now run my bath please."
That brought Betty back to reality and she started acting as an efficient maid again. Soon Anita was out of the house, reminding Betty that she had to go to Mrs. Howell's house in the afternoon, something that of course Betty remembered with anxious anticipation.
When she set out on her walk to Mrs. Howell's house it was raining, so with raincoat and umbrella, she felt reasonably confident. When, after her rather timid knock on the side door as directed, it was answered by a large man who said, "Hello, and who are you and what do you want?" She was taken aback. But she managed to answer, using her soft voice. "I'm Betty Martin, Mrs. Burns' maid Sir and I have been sent here to do some cleaning for Mrs. Howells."
"Fine! Come in," he said. "We will make good use of you!" Mrs Howells then appeared, accompanied by a girl aged about five and a boy aged about three. As she greeted Betty they were asking "Who is this lady, Mum?" "This lady is Betty Martin" she replied "and Mrs. Burns has sent her over to clean up your new Play Room."
"That's the room Daddy has been altering for us!" they told Betty
excitedly, and she learned that the girl was 'Patsy' - short for Patricia
and the boy was 'Rodge' - short for Roger. Then they began to pester their mother with questions of the type, "Where did she live? Had she walked far in the rain? Why did Mrs. Burns sent her?" Finally Mrs Howells calmed them down saying, "Now children, you must let Betty get on with her work" and showed Betty where to hang her raincoat and stand her umbrella. She waited whilst Betty opened her holdall, took out her overall, apron and cap and put them on, then took her upstairs to the room she had come to clean. It was an additional room made in the attic space with partitioning, with a new window at the end wall. It required much brushing, washing down and even scrubbing in parts. Betty's heart sank! She had never had to face a job like this before. But Mrs Howells gave her clear instructions regarding what she wanted done and by her diligence Betty succeeded in getting it done well. While she cleaned up the bucket and utensils Mrs. Howells took her husband and children up to the room to see it. They were delighted and chattered about the games they would have in it.
Mrs. Howells insisted on Betty having a cup of tea before she went and with the children calling out their goodbyes, she set out on her return walk.
There were more people about in the streets at this time, but she was as careful as before to appear to be going normally about her business and nobody showed any interest in her, until an elderly lady suddenly crossed the road straight towards her.
"Excuse me dear, but do you have any 10p pieces?" I must phone my daughter but I have only a 50p piece."
Betty smiled at her with relief and took out her purse and offered four 10p pieces and some coppers in exchange. She gave silent but heartfelt thanks to her Mistress for her forethought in providing her with change. The lady thanked her and then added, "I have been waiting by the phone box for some time, hoping that someone would come along whom I could ask for help and I knew the moment I saw you that you would help if you could. I do have intuitions about people you know!" Betty smiled at her again and murmured, "I am very pleased," and as the lady went back to the phone box, she walked on, wondering if her situation in life was reflected in her demeanour.
Later that evening Anita told her that Mrs Howells had telephoned and was so pleased with her that she would like to have her every Wednesday afternoon, to help her in many different ways. Betty didn't make any comment, but she was secretly pleased that she could manage working as a maid, outside her environment.
The following day she was alone in the house about mid morning when the telephone rang. She picked up the receiver to answer it, but before she could speak, the voice of George Holt, one of Bob's old colleagues, came booming over the line saying, "It's your lucky day today Bob! Astra Control Systems want an electronics engineer and the job is right up your street and certain to lead to higher things! Well, what do you say about that, old boy?"
To be continued
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