Barsetshire in the war years. Growing Up is the story of ladies, gentlemen, and their irrepressible children keeping the war at bay in their country town. Trying to do their part as the Second World War ravages Europe, Sir Harry and Lady Waring open their estate to convalescing soldiers - bringing romance, drama, and subtle life lessons to the Warings' young niece and her friends.
Release date: November 3, 2016
Print pages: 416
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Though Mr. Beedle the station-master no longer appeared to Tony and his contemporaries as a demigod, ten feet high, endowed with miraculous powers and if not wearing a halo, at least surrounded by a golden effulgence, it was the fault of the times. Gone were the happy days when Mr. Beedle, born of a line of railway men in a tradition of faithful service to the Best Line in England (and hence in the world), was proud to touch his gold-laced cap to the local nobility and gentry, who had an equal respect for him, taking at Christmas the form of game, cigars, bottles of wine and treasury notes. Gone were the days when he could usher old Lord Pomfret who hated motors, returning from a visit to General Waring at Beliers Priory, into the first-class smoker which he had kept locked for his lordship. Old Lord Pomfret was dead, Sir Harry and Lady Waring now used their local station of Lambton, changing at Winter Overcotes for the main line. Both these changes grieved Mr. Beedle, a staunch upholder of the old order, but even more was he grieved that first-class carriages, except on a few longdistance trains, had been abolished. England was at war; English locomotives, unable to voice their dislike of the sea and foreigners, had been sent abroad; porters had been called up; no longer was the station after dark or on foggy days a great beacon of light on the high level platform; all this Mr. Beedle hated, but understood. In moments of stress he had helped to sort luggage and unload goods vans with his own sacred hands; he had even swept the up platform in a moment of emergency when five of his six porters had gone; for to him nothing connected with what he proudly called Our Line was below his dignity. But the abolition of first-class carriages struck to his heart, and Mrs. Beedle was able to state with truth that he hadn’t never seemed to fancy his supper since. Mr. Beedle was loyal to the core. What Our Directors did was right, but his personal sense of shame at having nothing better than third-class to offer to his own local magnates did not lessen with time. In fact, so unhappy did this change make him that he was, as it were, made immune to any further bludgeonings of fate, and when two women porters were appointed for the duration of the war, he made no sign of disapproval, though Mrs. Beedle knew that his uniform hung more loosely about him and he did not sleep well.
Here fate was kind. Doris Phipps and Lily-Annie Pollett, though they looked incredibly plain and depraved in oyster satin blouses, tight-seated, bell-bottomed trousers, red nails on dirty hands, greasy curls hanging on their shoulders, a cigarette for ever glued to their lips, were really very nice, kind girls. Their families lived at Worsted, a few stations down the line, and the two girls bicycled in summer and came by the local train in winter. The summer route had the advantage of taking them past a large aerodrome, but on the winter route they could shout at friends out of the carriage window at every stop, besides having more time to make up their faces.
When Doris and Lily-Annie had been at the station for some months, and doing very well, a new porter was sent to join them.
“It doesn’t seem natural,” said Mrs. Beedle to Mr. Beedle while he was having his tea. “In my young days the girls liked to have a boy about, but Lily-Annie ran in for a talk in her lunch hour and she and Dawris don’t seem at all keen on your new young man. What’s his name?”
“Bill Morple, from Melicent Halt,” said Mr. Beedle. “His mother was old Patten’s niece, Mr. Patten that’s station-master at Worsted, but his father—well, Ed’ard Morple was a foreigner.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Beedle. “Loamshire?”
“Not so bad as that, Mother,” said Mr. Beedle. “But somewhere the other side of Barchester. A talking kind of man he was and a one-er for an argument. Young Bill’s like that. Talk the connecting-rod off an engine he would.”
“I do feel sorry for those girls,” said Mrs. Beedle with unfeigned sympathy. “Argument’s no use to girls. What they want is a nice talk like, and if Bill Morple did happen to kiss them it wouldn’t break any bones.”
“More likely they’d slap his face,” said Mr. Beedle, as he girded on his official coat preparatory to returning to the station. “That Lily-Annie’s as strong as a man any day and Dawris is getting quite a hand with the milk cans. When I see her putting them in the van, it makes me think of our Henry.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Cheer up, Dad,” said Mrs. Beedle, clattering the tea-things together in a noisy way unusual in her, for she was a very neat, quick, quiet woman. “You’ll see the war’ll be over by next Christmas and we’ll have Henry back in the station.”
“It doesn’t seem right him being a prisoner,” said Mr. Beedle, looking out of the window. “Him being so fond of the country and christened after Sir Harry and all.”
“Don’t you worry, Dad,” said Mrs. Beedle, carefully not looking at her husband. “He said in his last letter that he was liking the land-work fine. It’s not as if he was an officer, having to sit about and read a book all day, poor gentlemen.”
Mr. Beedle picked up his gold-laced cap and left the house, concentrating his mind fiercely on the new regulations about bombs that were high-explosive as well as incendiary, and rather relieved that the latest ruling was to the effect that the less civilians did about anything the better. And in any case the air-raid warden for the station was his own booking-clerk in whom he had great confidence.
His first duty, after unlocking his office and reading a couple of letters, was to walk about on the platform when the 6.25, the down train from London, came in. As it was mid-November it was by now almost dark. A faint light came from the booking office, and the red and green of the signals glowed in the north-east. Two points of fire revealed themselves as Doris Phipps and Lily-Annie Pollett smoking cigarettes while waiting for the train. Mr. Beedle thought of the days when his station was what a station ought to be. He saw in his mind’s eye the bright electric lights, the gaily coloured bookstall, the brilliant scarlet cigarette and chocolate machines, the round-faced weighing machine, the well swept platforms watered in elegant patterns, the shining brass handles on waiting-room doors, the refreshment room with its stacks of crockery, its piles of sandwiches, pies and cakes under neat glass domes, the neatly painted seats. It was his great grief that a garden was not possible on the high level platform, but he had at his own expense put green window-boxes outside his office and the booking office. His porters were the liveliest and most willing on the line. No wonder they had won the silver cup for the best-kept station on that stretch three years running, with the right to keep it.
Now the lights were removed or dimmed to darkness made visible, the bookstall was only open for an hour in the morning with little or nothing to sell, the penny-in-the-slot machines were battered and empty, the platform dusty and strewn with bits of paper and cigarette cartons which their owners had flung there sooner than use the wire baskets provided, the brass dull and tarnished. In the refreshment room he knew there would be a few heavy little pasties with nothing particular inside them and some dyspeptic buns made from the vitamin-stuffed and indigestion-producing Government flour. Cups there were few and saucers none, for travellers stole them to that extent that the Catering Department had stopped replacing. Only sugar remained for some mysterious reason abundant, so that travellers who said “No sugar, thank you” from motives of taste or patriotism found themselves provided with a nauseously sweet draught by the scornful middle-aged woman in charge who saw no reason to pay any attention to national economy or anyone’s likes and dislikes. The window-boxes had so often been rifled that Mr. Beedle had with his own hands removed them and Mrs. Beedle now grew mustard and cress in them outside her kitchen window. Where his porters had stood, alert for the down train, were two girls in trousers, smoking; good girls, but no pride in themselves nor in the station.
As for the silver cup—but of it Mr. Beedle could hardly bear to think. Placed upon a fretwork bracket, in a glass case which was fixed to the wall, it was the pride of Mr. Beedle and his staff, the admiration of all travellers. Every week Mr. Beedle would unlock the case and his senior porter would lovingly polish it. In the first days of the war Winter Overcotes was invaded by a crowd of unruly London evacuees. Big loutish boys and equally loutish girls made the station arches, the station approach and finally the station itself their playing-ground. In vain did Mr. Beedle use his authority, in vain did he appeal to their schoolteachers. The boys and girls defied him with malicious words and deeds, the teachers were powerless or unwilling to interfere. More damage was done to the station in a few weeks than had been done since the line was opened. After a very unpleasant incident when spoons were stolen from the refreshment room and the benches in the waiting room hacked with knives, Mr. Beedle decided to remove the cup. But when he approached the case on the following morning the glass was smashed, the cup gone and in its place a dirty piece of paper on which were scrawled the words, “Old beetles a fool.” Mr. Beedle had said nothing in public. His friend, the chief inspector at the police station, caused inquiries to be made, but though he knew within twenty-four hours where the cup was, there was not enough evidence, as he regretfully said, to hang a louse. Mr. Beedle ordered his son Henry to take down the shattered case. Then Henry went into the Army and was made prisoner before Dunkirk.
Though Mr. Beedle was a gentle man, no one dared to speak to him of his losses except General Waring, under whom Mr. Beedle had fought in the last war and who had consented to stand godfather to Henry Beedle.
“I take it kindly of the General,” Mr. Beedle had said to his wife, “to speak to me about the cup and ask about Henry, him having lost his own son. And it’s worse for him, for young Mr. George won’t ever come home and our Henry will, when the war’s over.”
To which in a general way Mrs. Beedle agreed, though she privately wished sometimes that her Henry had been killed, sooner than have to live with foreigners for years on their nasty foreign food and not enough of it and no one to look after his socks, besides his poor dad worrying his heart out all the time. Then she would blame herself for ingratitude, cry quietly, and get on with preparing Mr. Beedle’s next meal.
The tide of evacuees had surged back to London, with the exception of a certain number of the younger children whose parents were not disposed to tempt a Providence which had made it unnecessary for them to take any further financial or moral responsibility for their offspring, and a small gang who found it wise to keep away from the London police. Foreign regiments from counties beyond Barsetshire had been billeted in the town or put in camp in the neighbourhood. The volume of traffic through Winter Overcotes increased as the staff diminished; Mr. Beedle’s gentle face became more lined; but the war showed no signs of ending.
His brooding thoughts were broken by the whistle of the 6.25 from the beginning of the viaduct.
“Here it is,” yelled Doris Phipps to Lily-Annie.
Mr. Beedle shuddered. That anyone should be unconscious of the pervading femininity of a fast passenger train was to him almost criminal and certainly showed a feeble intellect.
“I hope Sid’s in the van,” yelled Lily-Annie to Doris. “He’s a lovely man.”
Mr. Beedle shuddered again. No porter he had known would ever have dared to speak of Sidney Crackman, with thirty years’ service behind him, honoured guard of the Line’s best passenger trains, as anything but Mr. Crackman. And here were a couple of silly girls, wearing trousers too, calling him Sid. If it had been light he would have Given them a Look. But it was dark and he was honest enough to own that if it had been light they probably wouldn’t have noticed the Look, and would only have thought he had indigestion if they had. And after all they were good girls, calling the name of the darkened station loudly and as clearly as it was in their nature to do, answering questions with uncouth goodwill, helping mothers to drag children and suitcases out of the train, and now rallying at the guard’s van where Crackman seemed to be giving them as good as he got. It was a funny world. He moved towards the booking-hall to keep an eye on Bill Morple who was acting-ticket-collector, very much under protest, for at Melicent Halt he had been in the booking-office, and though he had doubled this duty with porter, he felt that he had lost status and that things would have been better ordered in Russia.
This evening all was going smoothly, though Mr. Beedle could not help contrasting the passengers with his pre-war friends. When cars and petrol abounded Winter Overcotes had been the distributing centre for some fifteen miles round. Lord and Lady Bond at Staple Park, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer at Worsted, Sir Harry and Lady Waring at Beliers Priory, Mr. and Mrs. Middleton at Skeynes, all the best people in fact, were as apt as not to use Winter Overcotes, for there was even before the war only one through train a day down the local line which runs to the small junction at Shearings. Now all Mr. Beadle’s friends got out on the high level, stumbled downstairs in the blackout to the low level, waited for half an hour, and steamed slowly and jerkily in cold dark carriages to their various stations. The people who passed through Mr. Beedle’s booking-hall would always be treated courteously, for he knew what was due to himself and to the Line, but they were an alien race without the law, and very often on the shady side of it, trying to use a day return after the legal hours, or get away with a last month’s season ticket, thus driving the new ticket-collector to pale-faced frenzy.
On the other side of the barrier a tall, good-looking, grey-haired woman was waiting for the crowd to go through. Mr. Beedle recognized Lady Waring and touched his cap.
“Good evening, Beedle,” said Lady Waring. “I’m meeting Sir Harry for once, because I’ve been on Red Cross business all day and have a car. Do you think he has forgotten and gone down to the low level?”
“I will go at once myself and see, my lady,” said Mr. Beedle. “Will you wait in my office? I have the stove going.”
“Thanks, Beedle, I’d love to,” said Lady Waring, “but your platform ticket machine is empty.”
“That will be quite all right, my lady,” said Mr. Beedle, shocked that Lady Waring should assume herself to be as other mortals. “Come through. Morple, don’t let that happen again.”
Ever since the staff had been called up, the question of whose duty it was to look after the platform tickets had raged, dividing the remaining staff vertically, horizontally, sideways, causing friction at least twice a week. Willingly would Mr. Beedle have attended to it himself, but none knew better than he the exact point at which prestige is impaired. He could help with parcels, he had even as we know once swept the platform; but the line had to be drawn somewhere and the platform ticket machine was the limit. Unfortunately, Bill Morple also felt that it was the limit. A man who had (to help the war effort) taken a position far below his proper rank and what was more had to put up with sauce from people who thought themselves someone just because they had an out-of-date season to London; such a man, if he had any proper pride, would not fill the platform ticket machine. But unfortunately Mr. Beedle was his superior officer and could be quite nasty (by which Bill Morple meant that Mr. Beedle never lost his temper) if crossed. So as the last passenger had gone, Bill Morple, whistling the “International” rather badly to himself, went and did as he was told, while Mr. Beedle conducted Lady Waring to the station-master’s office, handed her to a chair, and went to look for her husband.
By this time the 6.25 had gone and the station appeared empty. Fearing that Lady Waring might be right, Mr. Beedle walked down the platform towards the steps which led to the low level, when a group detached itself from the darkness and came rather noisily towards him. To his horror it consisted of Sir Harry pulling a large porter’s truck, Doris Phipps and Lily-Annie Pollett, with cigarettes in their mouths, pushing behind.
“Evening, Beedle,” said Sir Henry, “I found these young women in difficulties, so I’m giving a hand. All these heavy cases are too much for girls. What’s in them, eh?”
Mr. Beedle turned a small torch on them.
“Stationery, Sir Harry, for the Barchester Life and General Assurance,” he said. “Their office in Barchester was taken over by the Ministry of Textile Shortage, so they took the Old Court House here where the Town Council had its offices, and the Town Council took over Woolstaplers’ Hall that had been got ready for an army convalescent home, and——”
“Oh, that’s why they took my house for a convalescent home,” said Sir Harry. “I always wondered. Still, I don’t see why an insurance company needs all this stationery when there’s a paper shortage. Well, well. Is her ladyship anywhere about?”
“In my office, General,” said Mr. Beedle.
Sir Harry gave the trolley a strong pull to get it going again. Doris and Lily-Annie, who had been sitting on the back of it, were violently jolted and screamed with delight.
“There you are, girls,” said Sir Harry, stopping suddenly outside the station-master’s office, so that both girls screamed again. “Run along and don’t smoke too much. Bad for you.”
“Thanks ever so,” said Lily-Annie.
“Isn’t he a lovely man,” said Doris Phipps, loudly and admiringly.
“Now then, you girls,” said Mr. Beedle. “That’s enough. It’s Sir Harry Waring that’s been kind enough to help you. Time you went off duty now.”
Both girls said “Ow,” and Lily-Annie remarked that she’d laugh fit to die if she called anyone Sir Harry, to which Doris Phipps answered that it was reelly Sir Henry, but people called him Sir Harry because he was a Bart.
“What’s that?” said Lily-Annie.
“Ow; just what they are,” said Doris. “Come on, or we’ll miss the train. Sid Pollett’s in the van to-night. Hullo, Bill. Lazy boy you are. Why didn’t you give me and Lily-Annie a hand with the truck?”
“Old Beedle made me fill the platform ticket machine,” said Bill Morple. “If we was in Russia things ’ud be different. In Russia they’re all alike and no one gives orders. If we was in Russia old Beedle’d get the Order of the Boot, coming it over me the way he does.”
“There’s plenty of help for them as asks,” said Lily-Annie. “Dawris and me got a ride on the truck. Sir Henry Waring gave us a ride with the parcels.”
“And he’s a Bart and a reel gentleman,” said Doris Phipps.
“He’s a lovely man,” said Lily-Annie. “Quite my ideel.”
“In Russia,” said Bill Morple, “both you girls would be in the Red Army and a good job too.”
“If we was in Russia we shouldn’t be here,” said Lily-Annie, “and then we shouldn’t see you, and that ’ud be a blessing. Come on, Dawris.”
With loud laughter both girls clattered down the steps, leaving Bill Morple to hang angrily about till the 7.5 up had come and gone and he could go off duty. Mr. Beedle put the Warings into their car and retired to his office and his papers, somehow cheered by the meeting.
Beliers Priory, towards which the Warings were driving through the dark, was built near the site of a pre-Reformation abbey of which little now remained but the ground-plan, exquisitely inlaid in green turf by H.M. Office of Works just before the war, and a string of pools known as the Dipping Ponds, probably stew ponds for the abbot’s table. The Priory, so called for no reason, unless the proximity of the abbey ruins was one, was built some seventy years ago by Sir Harry Waring’s grandfather. His wife, a City heiress of considerable beauty, had persuaded him to employ an architect much in favour in her circles. The result was a pile which combined inconvenience and discomfort in the highest form. It was built round a central hall into which a skylight gently dripped whenever it rained, so that Sir Harry’s earliest remembrances were of bowls and basins on the floor tripping up the unwary. The bedrooms on the first floor were approached by a dark corridor, only lighted by leaded casements opening upon the hall. The kitchens were down several hundred yards of stone passage, the housekeeper’s room looked north into a fine laurel hedge, the kitchen, like the hall, was lighted only from the roof and badly at that. Guests, ladies’ maids and valets were often lost for a quarter of an hour at a time. The one bathroom in the original plan was about twenty feet by thirty and fifteen feet high and the bath a massive affair in a wide mahogany surround on a kind of dais, with an apse over the round end. Sir Harry’s father had divided the original bathroom into cubicles for his hunting friends and sacrificed one or two of the smaller dressing-rooms to make bathrooms for the ladies, but the original water system which burnt about twenty tons of coal a week was still in full fling, copper pipes and all.
When the war fell on England the Warings were at their wits’ end and saw themselves reduced to living in the staff quarters and letting the rest of the house decay, so they were on the whole grateful when, as we have heard, the army convalescent home that was to have been in Woolstaplers’ Hall was transferred to the Priory. The owners found themselves indeed living in the servants’ quarters, but though a more lavish age had thought them poky, they were far more comfortable than the great cold suites of rooms in the house, and the War Office, while putting in central heating and several dozen fixed basins, saw no objection to running the heating across to the servants’ wing and installing five surplus basins, two baths and an up-to-date gas cooker. An elderly kitchen-maid and an elderly housemaid were saved from the wreckage of the staff. Lady Waring’s ex-nannie who had been retired on a pension (there would never be any grandchildren for her to spoil since George Waring was killed just before the Armistice) ordered her widowed daughter to leave London and those nasty raids and come to her ladyship as useful maid. Selina Crockett came on approval. A pretty, plump creature, nearer fifty than forty, with uncontrollable tendrils of dark hair streaked with silver, and liquid eyes which filled with tears on the slightest provocation, she was as mild as her notable old mother was fierce and snappish, and being immediately approved, slipped into the life of the Priory as if she had always been in service.
Lady Waring sometimes wondered whether she ought to be so comfortable, but as Sir Harry worked in town four days a week on matters connected with regimental charities, spent two days’ hard work on county jobs and was rarely free on Sundays, besides doing a good deal of the gardening, she hoped her comfort would be forgiven, wherever these things are judged, because it made a restful home for her husband. Sir Harry in much the same way felt that his lines had fallen in far too pleasant places for an old soldier, but was thankful that his wife, who between Red Cross, Girl Guides, Working Parties, Women’s Voluntary Service and a dozen other activities was as busy as he, besides less often having her evenings free, had a safe refuge for her brief leisure and Selina to look after her.
Lady Waring drove the little car straight into the garage. Her husband locked it and they walked over to their own quarters. It was a cold raw evening and as Sir Harry opened the front door the blast of superheating which the War Office bestowed on them was extremely welcome. Selina Crockett came hurrying into the sitting-room to take her mistress’s coat and parcels.
“What’s the matter, Selina? You’ve been crying,” said Lady Waring.
“Oh no, my lady,” said Selina, crystal drops welling in her large eyes, “it’s only I was upset about Matron.”
“What has Matron been up to?” asked Sir Harry, amused. “By Jove, it’s nice to see a fire. I get sick of all these offices with nothing but central heating. Been pinching the nurses’ rations?”
“Oh no, sir,” said Selina wiping her eyes. “It’s her cat she was so fond of. It’s dead. She is so upset, my lady.”
“Dear, dear,” said Lady Waring, not much interested in a cat with whom she was not personally acquainted.
“It was dreadful, my lady,” Selina continued, again shedding a few lustrous tears. “Private Jenks borrowed a gun from Mr. Margett after tea to shoot a rabbit and he saw pussy climbing a tree and thought she was a squirrel, so he shot her, and it was the first time he’d got a squirrel and he was so pleased, and then he went to pick it up and it was Matron’s cat. He knew pussy at once because she was quite a favourite and only the day before some of the boys put her in a gas-mask and took a snap of her with her little face peeping out. Private Jenks was so upset, my lady. He wrapped her up in his handkerchief and brought her to Matron and said, ‘You’ll never guess what I’ve got here, miss,’ and Sister said Matron was so upset. And she’s coming in after dinner, please, Sir Harry.”
“Who? Sister?” asked Sir Harry.
“Oh no, Sir Harry. Matron,” said Selina. “She wants you to speak to Mr. Margett about letting the boys have guns. She says they’ll be shooting each other next, though that’s not so bad, she said, as a poor innocent little cat. Poor pussy looked so lovely when she was dead, Sir Harry. I know I oughtn’t to cry about a cat, my lady, but I am so upset.”
She wiped her eyes apologetically, picked up coats and parcels and left the room.
“Wonderful the way that woman can cry without sniffing,” said Sir Harry.
“Dear Sophy!” said his wife.
Sir Harry looked up from his evening paper.
“Only literature, Harry,” said Lady Waring.
“That’s all right, my dear,” said Sir Harry admiringly, and Lady Waring felt for the many thousandth time since her marriage what a prig she was and how little was the value of all the books she had been brought up on and lived by, whose people and phrases coloured her daily thoughts and modes of speech, compared with the honesty and common sense of her husband and his unfailing sense of duty. She wished, as so often before, that sh
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