Elsie propped her bike up against the station wall and noticed the waiting taxi with some dismay. Did the company have to supply Ben of all people for this trip? As Aunt Mary had said, it was unlikely that any one but the Sunhaven visitors would arrive at this time of day, so Ben must be waiting for them.
Aunt Mary was probably the sweetest, most understanding person in the world, except on the subject of Elsie’s shyness. She dismissed that as, “Nonsense pretty girls have no business being shy.”
To Aunt Mary there would be no problem in meeting people vaguely described as, a Lady Somebody or Other, a civil servant and another man. To Elsie it was an agonising experience. A representative of ‘The Friends of Sunhaven’ had been invited to attend, Elsie happened to be the only available representative.
She would have preferred to cycle out to Sunhaven but Aunt Mary had insisted, “The ‘Friends’ are a local body, therefore it is only courteous for our member to join the party at the station.”
“Are you one of the group going to Sunhaven? I understand a taxi will be waiting to collect us.”
Elsie took an involuntary step back, away from the apparition that suddenly confronted her. “Err, yes. I’m treasurer of ‘The Friends of Sunhaven.”
Elsie suppressed a giggle as the lorgnette through which her ladyship had peered was let free, to dangle on a gold chain. The lorgnette seemed to be self animated as it jiggled about on the ample tweed clad bosom, conducted in a dispirited fashion by the feather that drooped from the Robin Hood hat. “I’m Miss Stillman representing The Friends of Sunhaven. I believe there are two gentlemen to come yet.”
“So I understand. I presume they were on the same train as I. Uncomfortable journey, but one must do one’s duty. I must say they are taking their time.” Lady Bedlemine tapped her foot impatiently and gestured with her umbrella. In any one else the movement would have seemed theatrical but Elsie realised they were as natural as her Ladyship’s stout brogues and thirties style suit.
“Perhaps I had better see what’s keeping them? Ben can be a little difficult about taking passengers to Sunhaven.”
“If Ben is the driver of that decrepit looking vehicle mislabelled taxi he should be grateful to have any passengers at all.”
Wait till you see Ben himself, thought Elsie but was spared the need to reply by the appearance of two men. “Excuse me, are you gentlemen here to visit Sunhaven?
“Yes, I do apologise4 if we have kept you waiting. A slight altercation with the Station Master on the subject of time. Why , Lady Bedlemine, I hadn’t realised you were one of our little party. You may recall we met at a charity show last year. Brown’s the name. A preliminary report for the Ministry ---well you know the situation no doubt.” He tucked his bulging briefcase under his arm, gestured Lady Bedlemine towards the taxi and trotted after her without so much as a glance towards Elsie.
“Crossman’s my name if you care to know. Reporter for the ‘City News’ Frankly I haven’t a clue why I have been sent here.”
Elsie acknowledged the young man’s self introduction with a nod. Something about him irritated her. Perhaps the bored expression on his too thin face, the casual disarray of his well cut fashionable clothes? What ever it was he made her feel gauche, self-consciously she began to wonder if her outfit, carefully chosen for the occasion, was right after all.
It was one of those exceptionally warm days that occasionally blesses the English countryside in April. Ben was not the man to make any concessions to the weather, he always wore mittens and a muffler until the last day of May, and he always would. He sat hunched up in the driving seat, staring straight ahead, totally ignorant of the glowers directed at his back by Brown as that gentleman ostentatiously held the passenger door open for Lady Bedlemine. Crossman performed the same service for Elsie, much to her embarrassment she managed to trip on the loose carpet that covered the taxi floor.
“You owe me for fifteen minutes waiting time” With a clash of gears Ben started his ancient vehicle in the direction of Sunhaven.
“Miss Stillman is the treasurer to ‘The Friends of Sunhaven’.” Lady Bedlemine’s tone made Elsie feel as if she had been condemned rather than introduced.
“Then you can tell us a great deal about Sunhaven, Miss Stillman” Brown flicked an invisible piece of fluff from the cuff of his well pressed pin stripe suit.
“Well no, I’m afraid I can’t. The only reason that I am treasurer of ‘The Friends’ is that I keep their books in order during my vacations. It’s my aunt, she’s on most of the local committees and as she brought me up, and I’m studying accountancy, well it seemed natural…”
Surely then, some other member of the committee would have been more appropriate. I personally inspect any beneficiaries of my late husband’s foundations.” Lady Bedlemine once again peered at Elsie through her lorgnette.
“Lady Bedlemine, we of the press can endorse the fact that you have been indefatigable in pursuit of your duty these past thirty years.”
Elsie felt herself blushing on Lady Bedlemine’s behalf but the baroness seemed completely oblivious to Crossman’s sarcasm. What had her aunt got her into this time? “Dr Scott likes to keep visits down to the minimum. It seems that this was the only day convenient to both Mr Brown and yourself Lady Bedlemine. Unfortunately all the other committee members are involved in a flag day, I shan’t be needed until totalling up time this evening.”
Ben brought the taxi to an abrupt and noisy halt outside the gates of Sunhaven.
“Inefficient, no one here to open the gates.” Brown peered in a disapproving fashion through the grimy taxi window.
“No need, I don’t go in there.”
“But the drive must be at least half a mile long.” Lady Bedlemine indicated the distance with a dangerous wave of her umbrella.
For a second the look of weary boredom on Crossman’s face was replaced by a smile.
“Maybe, I wouldn’t know. Do you want me to wait or call back for you?”
“Come back in two hours please Ben” To Elsie’s relief Dr Scott had arrived seemingly materialising out of thin air. Before any argument could develop between Ben and his passengers the director of Sunhaven had helped them from the taxi and ushered them through a small gate set in the main gate.. “If you would follow me ladies and gentlemen. I must apologise for asking you to walk but some of the guests are disturbed by vehicles. We are rather proud of our grounds and I think you will agree that it is an exceptionally pleasant day in which to view them.”
Elsie could not help but admire the man. He is about as sincere as the proverbial crocodile tears. How ever he is moving us along as if we were a piece of well oiled machinery, it is no wonder he acts as his own and Sunhaven’s public relations man.
“Why the locked gates? I understood the patients were here voluntarily.” Lady Bedlemine was not to be swept along that easily.
“Indeed all our ‘Guests’ are free to leave when they wish. You will appreciate though that their relatives need some assurance that their loved ones are not left to wander the countryside on impulse.”
“If the institution is to receive government help the Minister will need a report on security.” Brown approved.
“Not to mention lulling the fears of the local populace.”
“That’s not fair! The town has always supported Sunhaven.” Elsie felt the hateful red tide crawling up her neck again but she was darned if she was going to let that sarcastic newsman get away with an unjustified slur on the town.
“I beg your pardon Miss Stillman. I just assumed from the attitude of the taxi driver that a mental institution was not a welcome part of the community.”
“Ben is rather a character, Mr Crossman. Sunhaven is not a mental institution as you call it, rather a refuge for those unable to cope with the complexities of life for a variety of reasons. Often a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, or a prolonged period of stress related to work. Our aim is to return our ‘Guests’ to society as the fully functioning confident contributors they once were.” Dr Scott hastened to emphasise the appellation Guests.
Not quite the image given to Elsie by her aunt who described Sunhaven as “A home for eccentrics, one of the less expensive places to hide the family skeletons. Though they also have a good record for helping people suffering nervous break downs, depression and such like. ‘The Friends’ help support worthy cases who can’t afford the fees. We also support such initiatives as the arts and crafts centre.”
Dr Scott’s pride in the grounds was justified. Pleasant walks amongst well tended flower beds. A croquet lawn and tennis court that could be watched over from the large Georgian house that somehow exuded an air of security. The men and women strolling around or sitting on benches strategically placed under shady trees would certainly have passed for average citizens on any busy street. As the tour continued it became obvious to Elsie that Dr Scott, while showing them the facilities supported by the ‘Friends’ and Lord Bedlemine’s Foundation, was neatly steering them away from contact with any of the Guests . He also managed to avoid the white coated attendants or perhaps they avoided the party. Frequently a turn would bring a Guest or an attendant in to view yet never within speaking distance. Lady Bedlemine it would seem had also spotted Scott’s evasions and waved he umbrella at the first person she judged to be within hailing distance.
“You there! If you could spare me a minute, I would like to talk to you.”
The elderly gentleman (who reminded Elsie of the cobbler in an illustration from Grimm’s Fairy Tales) looked around as if to be sure that the umbrella was pointed at him, smiled sweetly, turned smartly on his heel and walked away.
“I had anticipated that you might wish to meet some of the Guests Lady Bedlemine. Perhaps we will find some one in their bed sitting room. You will understand our Guests tend to feel more secure in their own domain, as it were.”
“There won’t be much time for chatting. I must catch the next train back.” Brown inspected his watch intently. He appeared to find the idea of talking to the Guests less than enchanting.
“Perhaps just Timothy then. Please do not be alarmed by the fact that Timothy’s door is locked, it is for his own protection.
“Suicidal?” Crossman’s tone indicated a complete lack of interest in any answer.
Elsie wondered at herself. Why, having decided that she didn’t like the man did she keep noting his actions? What did it matter to her that he had asked permission to use his cassette recorder and yet so far hadn’t even switched it on? With an effort she turned her attention to what Dr Scott was saying.
“Timothy is a rather special Guest one might say some what arrested in his development. Definitely not, how ever, suicidal. His main problem is a passionate desire to fly. He has frequently found his way to airfields and on one occasion smuggled himself aboard an aircraft. Fortunately he was found, being in the luggage hold he was in considerable danger. Thankfully both the police and the magistrates court were prepared to be lenient and placed Timothy in our care.”
“I hope you are able to justify that decision. I’m not sure that protecting young criminals should be a function of Sunhaven.” Lady Bedlemine was well known for her views on law and order.
“The staff have made great progress with Timothy He now understands some of the commercial aspects of life and knows that when he has saved enough money he can buy a ticket and go on a trip legally”
“How does he earn money if he is kept locked up in his room all the time?” Elsie noticed that Crossman had switched on his tape recorder .
“He is not kept locked up all the time he only has to use his intercom to request an escort when ever he wishes to leave his room. As for earning money he makes rather nice models which we allow him to sell. If you purchase a model I must ask you not to give him more than fifty pence.”
“In a couple of years time he should manage to save enough for a train ride.”
“Precisely Mr Crossman, we can’t allow Timothy to go out into the world until he is more able to cope, can we now?”
The room was as pleasant as any other they had seen but the bars over the window made it appear some what smaller. The walls covered with pictures and posters depicting aircraft seemed to crowd in on Elsie. The neat utilitarian furniture seemed lost under a mass of split cane, raffia and models in various degrees of completion. A fair haired man in his late twenties, early thirties, sat in the centre of the room working on a model of the Taj Mahal. He seemed completely unaware of their presence, even Brown’s loud nervous cough failed to disturb him.
“Customers Timothy.” Dr Scott’s voice triggered awareness. Timothy licked his finger and touched the picture he had been referring to, as if marking his place. He turned to regard them placidly through bright blue eyes, staring at each of them in turn in the direct manner of a small child.
“These are well made. Where did you learn to make them young man?” Lady Bedlemine picked up a leaping porpoise.
“I didn’t learn miss.”
“Nonsense, somebody must have taught you.”
“I don’t know sir.” Timothy shrank away from the harsh note in Brown’s voice.
“No matter, I’ll have this.” Lady Bedlemine picked up a model of a prancing Pegasus.
“Not that one. that one’s special” Timothy snatched the model from Lady Bedlemine’s hand and cradled it defiantly against his chest.
“Well really” Lady Bedlemine marched from the room. Brown backed out after her.
Elsie looked after Brown in surprise. Thinking to herself, the man’s frightened, can’t he see that inside Timothy is a small boy? The old battle axe is right though, that Pegasus is exquisite. Carefully she picked up several models and turned to Timothy. “They are all so lovely I don’t know which ones to have. Will you help me chose?” Timothy shook his head but at least he seemed to relax a little.
“How about this ship? I bet I could go places in this.” Timothy took the fifty pence proffered by Crossman who seeing that Dr Scott was busy trying to placate Lady Bedlemine winked at Timothy and slipped a further pound coin into his hand.
More surprises, our hard boiled newsman really seems to understand. Thoughtfully Elsie selected three models and handed Timothy the appropriate money for which she was rewarded with a shy child like smile.
They said their good byes and Dr Scott locked the door before leading them to a well equipped surgery. “As you can see we can look after all but the most serious of physical ailments our Guests may have. I think that concludes your visit. Lady Bedlemine had been ominously silent ever since Timothy’s refusal to sell her the Pegasus. Brown had also been silent. Probably embarrassed by his show of fear, thought Elsie.
One of the ubiquitous attendants approached Dr Scott excused himself and moved out of ear shot after a short discussion dismissed the attendant and re joined them. Smiling and as urbane as ever Dr Scott ushered them through the grounds towards the gate. Elsie had the feeling that every one was as relieved as herself to see Ben’s taxi waiting outside the gate. The whole uneasy experience would soon be over. In future she would be more careful about undertaking little tasks for Aunt Mary.
Sounds of breaking twigs and violent movement amongst some bushes beside the path. Suddenly Timothy stood up in front of them the model Pegasus cradled carefully in his arms. With a shy smile he held the model out towards Elsie.
“For me? What a wonderful gift.” With tears in her eyes Elsie moved forward to accept the Pegasus.
“How did you get out young man? Where is your escort?” Lady Bedlemine’s shouted questions startled Elsie. They obviously terrified Timothy. He looked wildly around, at the thick bushes, at the people blocking the drive. He took off in the only possible direction, towards the gate. For a portly, middle aged man Brown showed a surprising turn of speed as he dashed after Timothy. Obviously his fear of the young man forgotten.
“It’s all right Timothy. Please Mr Brown leave him.”
Brown either didn’t hear or chose to ignore Dr Scott’s shout. He reached Timothy and brought him crashing to the ground with a flying rugby tackle. “Haven’t lost my wind. I was a blue you know.” Brown got up and brushed himself down, then looked at Timothy. The smile on Brown’s face could only be described as triumphant. Timothy lay still, the Pegasus crushed and broken beyond recognition beside him.
“Really Mr Brown, there was no need.” Dr Scott seemed to be having trouble maintaining his smooth manner.
“No need! He would have escaped but for Mr Brown’s prompt action.” Lady Bedlemine beamed her approval of the action.
“The gate is locked and I was aware that Timothy had left his room unattended. Still no doubt you acted with the best of motives. No real harm done.” Dr Scott had recovered his composure.
“How did he manage to leave his room unattended I saw you lock his door. Some one has been careless.” Brown was not to be easily placated.
“Hmm, ah yes, I suspect Timothy slipped away while Mr Robins was distracted by another Guest. Timothy is usually very good about obeying the rules. Did you have a special reason Timothy?”
“He didn’t come and I wanted to give it to the pretty lady. It’s the best I ever made” Timothy sat on the ground rocking back and forth, tears streaming from beneath the lids of his eyes closed tight in emotional pain.
“I think you can make another one, even better. When you do I’m sure the pretty lady will come back for it.” Gently Crossman persuaded Timothy to his feet. “There now, no bones broken but I expect you will have a few bruises.”
“I will come back to see you again Timothy.” With an effort Elsie checked her own tears and smiled reassuringly.
“I’m sure Timothy would appreciate another visit Miss Stillman. Now Timothy back to the house with you Mr Robins is waiting.” Dr Scott hastened after Lady Bedlemine and Brown who had continued towards the gate.
Startled Elsie realised that Timothy had disappeared. Crossman laid a gentle retaining hand on her arm. He too had noticed Timothy’s vanishing act. “I think Timothy is a story I would not care to write, even if I thought any one would believe it. Certainly those two would not have even had they witnessed it” He nodded in the direction of their fellow visitors.
“I agree. Just what story were you here for Mr Crossman?”
“My editor wanted material to mount a crusade against private asylums. He said in the name of public safety but I suspect he was hoping for some celebrity scandal. Seems to me the people here need protection from the sanity on the other side of that gate.”
Elsie mentally kicked herself. Any one but a self conscious fool would have realised that the boredom and the sarcasm was an act. He didn’t want to be there any more than she did or at least not for the job assigned him. In approximately ten minutes he would be getting on a train and she would never see him again. To late to realise he was really very attractive. She made to hurry after Lady Bedlemine and Brown the latter standing by the taxi and impatiently tapping his wrist watch.
Again Crossman gently detained her. “Look, it really isn’t far to the station. I’d sooner walk and catch a later train. I don’t suppose the pretty lady would care to keep me company?”
Elsie smiled. “The pretty lady would.
For several years I have enjoyed meeting with fellow poets and poetry lovers every other Monday at the Bear in Wantage. There we discuss both our own work and that of other poets both well known and obscure. Many of the poems in the category Wantage Poetry Club were first presented at the Club. That category dedicated to friends in the Club contains the poems which I have not as yet published in a collection.
Copyright © 2013 by Pamela Boal. The moral right of the author has been asserted. All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval systems, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Please feel free to utilise my poems in your projects but do give accreditation in an appropriate manner and make a charitable donation in recognition of the fact.