The bobby escorted me to the door of the police station, obviously wanting to make sure he would be rid of the madwoman, now that she was out of the cell and could start climbing up the walls or spouting feminist nonsense again at any moment. I was more than happy to oblige him and stepped out of the brick building into a glorious Saturday morning. The sun was shining and the fog was only slight today, the wind blowing in the opposite direction from the River Thames, making the morning air comparatively clear by London standards.
I immediately set out towards home. I wasn’t sure what my aunt had made of my overnight absence. She might not even have noticed it. With six of us in the house, and ninety per cent of her brain cells occupied with saving housekeeping money, she sometimes forgot one or another of her nieces. Sometimes I got lucky and it was my turn. Maybe, if I was really lucky, that had been the case last night.
At least I knew she hadn’t completely run haywire and contacted the police, fearing I had been abducted or some such nonsense. If she had, the police would have informed her that her dear niece was perfectly safe, though a bit bedraggled and sitting, dressed in men’s clothes, in one of their cells. If she had heard that, my aunt would have come to get me. And I don't know whether I would have survived the encounter. As it was, I had hopes of escaping relatively unscathed.
As if in answer to my hopeful attitude, the rows of dark houses parted before me and granted me a beautiful view of Green Park. In the warm glow of the sunrise, the small park looked like a fairy kingdom planted between the strict, orderly houses of middle-class London. A few birds were hopping on the grass, and the wind rippled the surface of a little pond surrounded by wildflowers. Through a clump of trees on the opposite side of the park, I could see the houses of St. James’s Street.
My Uncle Bufford had lived on St. James’s Street ever since I could remember, and we had lived with him and his wife ever since I could walk. We - that is my five sisters and I - had had to quit our family’s country estate years ago, after our mother and father died and the estate went to the next male heir of the line. If you believed the stories of my older siblings, who could still remember the place, it had been a veritable palace with hundreds of servants and doorknobs made of gold. I didn’t. Believe their stories, I mean. But I did somewhat resent the thing about this supposedly ‘rightful heir’ snatching away our family’s estate just because he was a dratted man!
Oh well, to tell the truth, I didn’t remember our childhood home in the country well, and I didn’t want to. I was a city girl, and the few trees and lawns of Green Park were as much country as I could deal with at any given time.
Squaring my shoulders, I made my way through the park, enjoying the songs of the birds in the trees and the fresh morning breeze. The country was a nice thing, as long as it was in the middle of town and you could reach a civilized place with shops, libraries and newspapers within five minutes or so.
Five minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, I had reached the wall that encircled our little garden, a rare thing in the city of London. Over the wall, I could see the plain, orderly brick house with its plain, orderly windows, plain, orderly curtains and plain, orderly smoke curling out the chimney in a discreet and economical manner. The flowerbeds around the house were well-kept, but strict and simple. Everything was rectangular and neat. There wasn’t a piece of decoration in sight. Sometimes, when I looked at this house I had been living in for years now, I thought it should have a sign over the door saying, ‘Fortress of the Bourgeoisie, centre of the realm of hard work and stinginess. Beware of the aunt. She bites!’
There was only one bright spot among all the neat tediousness: the window of a first floor room. It afforded a wonderful view over Green Park - which was why, when we had arrived at this house years ago, the room had been dusty and unused, and my uncle had never set foot in it. He had probably been afraid the annoyingly beautiful view might distract him, or worse, tempt him to actually take a walk and thus waste valuable time he otherwise could have spent working.
But that had been just fine with me. When we had arrived at my uncle’s, I had seen the dusty, deserted old room, fallen in love with it and taken possession before any of my sisters could complain. I had defended my conquest with my very life! Only Ella, my youngest sister, and of all of them the one I could stomach best, had been allowed to enter my dominion and make her abode there along with me.
Right now, the fact that my room looked out over the back garden came in handy in a way which had nothing whatsoever to do with the beautiful view. Hurrying across the street, I opened the little door in the garden wall with the key I had secretly ‘borrowed’ from my uncle, along with his clothes and passport. Inside, I quickly made my way to the garden shed. Taking out the rickety old ladder that had been in there since time immemorial, I carefully put it to the wall of the house and started climbing up to the window which I had taken care to leave unlatched. If I was lucky, I would get back into the house without anybody being the wiser.
Climbing up the ladder proved to be considerably more difficult than climbing down had been. My muscles were aching from the night in the cell, and there seemed to be several large lead weights tied to my behind, pulling me down. Or maybe it was just my behind that felt so heavy…
No! It was just generous, after all, not fat. Definitely not fat.
Sweat ran down my face in rivulets by the time I had reached the top of the ladder. I clung to the windowsill for a moment, making sure my aching legs would be up for the task, then I hoisted myself inside and landed rather inelegantly on the floor. Done! I was back home, and nobody had seen me sneak in. I remained kneeling on the floor for a moment longer to catch my breath, and then turned and got up - to find my sister Ella sitting just a few feet away on her bed, staring at me, her mouth agape in shock.
Oh, did I happen to mention she hadn’t known anything of my leaving yesterday?
Blast, blast, blast!
Who He Really Is
‘Where have you been?’ Ella demanded in a breathless voice, jumping up from the bed, where, judging from the dampness of her pillows, she had spent half the night crying in despair. ‘Oh Lilly, I’ve been so worried!’
She definitely looked worried. Her normally cream-coloured face had taken on the hue of a freshly whitewashed wall, except for her large almond eyes, which were shining with suppressed anguish. With both hands, she held a handkerchief to her mouth as if to stifle a scream that was on the tip of her tongue. Glittering tears decorated her face like diamonds. I had to hand it to her: she looked like a perfect damsel in distress. And it hadn’t even been she who had spent the night in prison. How did she do it?