“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
While she absolutely adored the Strand Palace, spending several days on the trot with Bunty had been tiresome to say the least. To be fair to Robert, Bunty had not tried anything on … at all. Initially she’d wondered if he wasn’t interested in girls but, no, just not her. It seemed he really did just want her contacts and her endorsement.
There’d even been that luncheon at his London flat, which she’d been decidedly unsure about, but he spent the whole time pumping her for advice over a little shindig he was planning to host there. It appeared there was no detail too small over which to consult with her. Being entirely honest, the whole entertaining business really bored her senseless. Of course, she knew how it all had to be done and so he did get the benefit of her experience, but she was glad to be leaving London behind and getting back to her workshop.
Getting out of the taxicab in the yard at Jack’s Theydon Bois home, Michaela looked around with a sort of vicarious proprietryness and thought again how setting up shop here had been the right thing to do. When civil war had broken out in Ireland, Michaela had been protected by her social class and old family money, but there were plenty who’d suffered … and badly.
Parents had done all they could to hide their children, so many ended up as orphans in their teens. Taken in by wider family members who, whilst understanding their grief and anger, were struggling enough with the difficulties of keeping themselves and their own children under the radar, it rapidly became a serious problem in the community.
Like much else, it was Jack who’d persuaded her. Having snorted and insisted that she didn’t have a maternal bone in her body, Jack had persuaded her that was exactly what these wild teenagers needed. Maternal nurturing wasn’t working, but some form of eccentric aunt, who’d provide them with someone to look up to, one of their own …
When Michaela had countered that her family would simply not stand for it – they’d stood by her, albeit with much in-family grumbling – but this would be more than a bridge too far, Jack had – once again – out manoeuvred her “Come live on my Estate. I’ve some out-buildings that would be perfect for you. You could set up a forge and have a proper workshop for a change. As an extra bonus, you’d also be far enough away that you’d not be bothered by family members constantly ‘dropping in’ to lecture you on how to behave like a proper lady and finding a husband. Sleep on it, then let me know what you think.”
She had just that, and in the morning she’d signified her agreement with a handshake. In the years she’d been there, there’d been a steady stream of apprentices. Much to her surprise, Michaela discovered how much she gained from sharing her love of metalworking and everything else. Teaching these troubled youngsters how to harness their skills in the smithy had been both uplifting and satisfying. She could see how right Jack had been to suggest it was the perfect outlet for all that pent-up emotion.
Her workshop had grown steadily and she’d soon had to call for help. The community had responded with Agnarr and Hildr. With no children to lose, they’d poured their efforts into keeping the older members of the families safe. Now, they wanted somewhere new – somewhere safe – to put down roots. Remarkably skilled and patient teachers and, like Michaela, not the traditionally nurturing sort, they combined a gentle manner with an impressive work ethic and high standards. Their shared history and background meant the apprentices felt understood – it had proved to be a winning formula.
But it had all changed the day Jack dropped off Juliet.
The first objection Michaela had raised was about mixing Juliet in amongst the boys “I’m not going to be dealing with a love-lorn girl, let alone one who gets in trouble Jack, that’s not what I signed up for.” He’d laughed “Trust me Michaela, you won’t have any trouble on that score.” Barely allowing her to get out the words “But what if …” Jack countered with “In the unlikely event you do, I’ll pick her up myself. Look, she really could do with a female role model, especially one like you who’s at home being both worlds. You can teach her how to combine ladylike behaviour with doing a dirty job. Just give it a try.”
Although she was just a little thing, Juliet was older than her usual apprentices. Despite being in her mid twenties, she could see why Jack felt she needed taking in hand. Immature and downright clumsy, Juliet had proved to be quite the challenge. Michaela had kept her close-by, but that decision was costing her a lot in re-done work, what with the breakages and spillages. Not that Juliet wasn’t apologetic, in fact Michaela sometimes felt she was overly hard on herself, it was just … she really needed to steady up.
And that’s precisely what Michaela told her. Closing up early, she got Juliet to clean herself up and come out to tea with her. Whilst there she’d talked to Juliet about the sort of behaviour she needed to demonstrate when out of the forge and away from the lads. She offered to help her practice, even though Juliet had wrinkled her nose at Michaela’s talk of ‘wifely duties’. Deciding to leave to another time how difficult it was for her, even when she had her own money, that’s when she’d hit her with the ‘you need to steady up’ lecture. Juliet had looked positively crestfallen until Michaela had offered to teach her to drive when they got back.
After a rather stuttery start, Juliet was beginning to get the hang of it when she nearly ran into Robert who’d driven into the yard at his usual breakneck speed. Unsurprisingly, Juliet had stalled the car, prompting Robert to make one of his typical remarks about women drivers. Attempting to silence him with one of her looks, Michaela had been furious when he’d continued to tease Juliet on the subject of her famed clumsiness.
Bursting into tears, Juliet had stumbled off, rapidly followed by Michaela calling “oh do shut up Robert!” over her shoulder. Unable to find her in the forge or her room, Michaela had asked the lads to be kind to her before returning to give Robert a piece of her mind. She knew he’d meant no harm by it, but his all-boy schooling and the army hadn’t exactly taught him much tact. But Robert was bursting with enthusiasm over his new car and insisted she come out with him for a test drive. Explaining that she’d already driven it was falling on deaf ears, so stifling a sigh, Michaela hopped in to the passenger seat to be whisked away in a cloud of dust.
“Cheer up old thing, I thought I’d pop down and check how things were going with Bunty?”
“Not here to give your new car a test run then?”
“Well, ever since the Feldman when you mentioned it was ready for a test run, I’ve been looking for an excuse. This way I can have a few hours out of the office on the excuse that it’s actually work. I must say, old thing, this is a rather splendid machine …”
“Way more than you deserve too …”
Slipping out of the shadows, Juliet stared at the disappearing dust long and hard. It had nearly been the best day of her life … ever. Michaela had chosen her to take out to tea and she’d been so kind, promising to teach her how to fit in to the outside world. Even the ‘steady up’ lecture hadn’t been too bad, for Juliet knew she needed to. She wasn’t really clumsy, it was just … sometimes her emotions got the better of her and stuff happened. When Michaela had offered to teach her to drive, she’d been so happy and then that Robert. How dare he call her clumsy, he’d nearly driven in to her. She didn’t know how Michaela put up with him. The lads were a bit rough and tumble, but they were like her. Robert wasn’t. He was one of Them. And Michaela had done that car specially for him. If she’d made something for Juliet, she’d treasure it and be careful, not rush around like some idiot.
She heard the car return and Michaela came knocking on her door soon after. She’d sat down and they’d had a nice talk. Michaela’d apologised for Robert’s behaviour and Juliet had just shrugged, like it meant nothing. When Michaela told her there were a few last minute modifications to be made on Robert’s car, Juliet had been quick to offer her help. She’d had an idea of how to teach that Robert some manners.
Working away into the night with Michaela, Juliet had managed to avoid spilling or breaking anything. Asking her to cover everything up while she made the forge safe, Michaela’s heart sank when she heard an unmistakable ‘crack’. Rushing back into the workshop, she found Juliet calmly and carefully covering up all the new parts. Looking up Juliet asked Michaela “I just heard a loud crack. Was it the forge?” “N … no” Michaela had stuttered, before sending Juliet off to bed. Uncovering and checking all the new parts, she had to admit they looked perfect. Deciding it must’ve been the lads playing the fool, she decided to turn in too. Juliet watched her walk across the yard with a small smile on her face. She’d made sure her jinx wouldn’t hurt Michaela. It would only happen when Robert was alone …
© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey