We called them the dickie birds. Thick as thieves they were at school. Today people would say they were BFFs, but then that’s just another example of the Fall of Mankind as far as I’m concerned…where was I? Oh yes. Peter and Paul, the dickie birds – what? You know, two little dickie birds…no? Two little dickie birds, sitting on a wall, one named Peter, one named Paul. There’s more but I’ll be drummed out of the golf club before I sing anymore. You can just look it up. Listen, stop distracting me. Peter and Paul, both of them had brains the size of planets…no I’m not interested in your diodes. What diodes? What are you blithering on about? Look, stop interrupting. If you haven’t got anything sensible to say…
Right. Peter and Paul. Great friends. Oxbridge bound both of them, although that’s not saying much when you think about it. Anyone who went anywhere else was thought a bit of a duffer really. One chap went to Imperial. Nearly had to return his school tie. And then there was what’s his name…went to a redbrick. We don’t talk him.
Not sure what went wrong, but back then they had this plan of changing the world. They tried to come up with a new model of taxation. Do you know Income Tax was brought in originally to pay for the war against Napoleon? Oh! You did? Hrmph. Well, there are lots of examples like that. Lots of things that don’t really make sense. Lots of times when you hand over money, you’re paying for something completely different, like a road of a hospital. But what about all the things that you end up paying for that have nothing to do with you. Robbing Peter to, heh, pay Paul, so to speak.
Anyway. They had a plan to make things more equitable. Problem was, one would suggest something and then the other would say something like “are you MAD, if you do that, then what about the consequence for the widget industry”. Completely beyond me of course. This went back forth for the whole of the Summer Term when we were in the lower sixth. When we came back after the Hols, the two weren’t speaking. Tricky to be in a school together, especially when you’re studying the same subjects. Still Peter was a Dry Bob, and Paul was a Wet Bob, so they had plenty of opportunities to avoid each other. After school, we went our separate ways. I headed to Sandhurst actually, but we’re talking about the dickie birds. One went to Oxford and the other Cambridge, both studied Economics, both got Firsts.
Peter followed an academic path after that. By all accounts completely brilliant, although poor as a church mouse by all accounts, at least until he won a Nobel Prize. Not a lottery win of course, but still, not to be sniffed at. Paul went into the City, made a packet like they all do, got into politics. Bit of a wunderkind, was in the Cabinet in record time. He was angling to be the next Chancellor, except he made a bit of a faux pas. Don’t really understand what he did but apparently he pushed for cutting some tax or another back and as a direct result three hospitals had to close. Didn’t play well with the voters, I can tell you.
© David Jesson, 2019
“Just look at it! What am I going to do?”
Julienne dabbed at her eyes with her lacy edged handkerchief while Aurora looked in horror at the piles of stuff covering every single surface.
“It’s William you see, he didn’t have a practical bone in his body, just leaving his books everywhere, always losing pens and notebooks, his pipe still burning, put down on all old surface. The burn marks on our furniture …”
Julienne’s voice rose steadily both in pitch and volume, until it finished in a strangled sob. Being the practical sort, Aurora had patted Julienne’s hand, before settling her into an armchair. Not quite the straightforward task she’d first envisaged, having had to first clear away several newspapers and – oh – a number of women’s periodicals, together with a pair of large wooden knitting needles with a few rows messily completed and trailing a ball of fluffy wool which had shed all over the armchair’s upholstery. Making a note she’d have to thoroughly de-fluff the armchair later, Aurora made Julienne a cup of tea and wasted a good few minutes rummaging in the kitchen for the biscuits which Julienne had requested in that little voice she used sometimes.
Aurora worked steadily, sorting the clutter in the living room into piles on the dining room table – she’d find out where everything went in one go rather than bothering Julienne with constant questions. Julienne had always been fragile, Mother Francine had said so when first placing her into Aurora’s charge all those years ago. Aurora was tall and strapping, ungainly Mother Francine had called her, while Julienne was petite and blonde, with the palest watery blue eyes. She had a way of looking up at you through long lashes, which only enhanced the impression of helplessness. She’d proven completely incapable of ever the least task, with Aurora having to work for two – lucky she was so strong and capable as Mother Francine was heard to comment.
But the the young men all adored Julienne, so there was never any need for her to learn how to do things. She only had to select carefully to ensure she picked a man with prospects, who would ensure she’d have a life of comfort and staff. And so transpired. William was lively, clever and awfully ambitious. He seemed to have the right connections and Julienne was wafted away to his family estate on a cloud of white lace – her wedding gown having been crafted entirely from the lace the nuns were famed for.
Aurora went on to become a governess, travelling the world with her charges. She was paid well and, having few indulgences and even fewer costs, had been able to return home with sufficient funds to buy a little place in the country to call her own. While signing the papers to buy a small cottage on the edge of a large estate, she was surprised to discover the estate belonged to William – or rather, now to his widow – her old friend Julienne. Aurora’s cottage was one of many on the estate being sold to clear William’s debts – which were quite substantial according to her solicitor’s clerk. Kind, generous-hearted Aurora had, of course, hurried to the big house to offer Julienne her sympathies.
It had taken her the remaining weeks of her leave to get everything straight. The staff had all left – due to unpaid wages – and Julienne seemed to have no idea at all where anything went. Luckily Aurora was competent and experienced in the ways of a well-run household, so simply made decisions on her behalf. She took pride in her work, but was disconcerted to find, as each room was made straight, it took only a matter of days – hours sometimes – for it to return to a cluttered mess. The kitchen was the worst, for there was a never-ending stream of cups & saucers strewn across the counters. Julienne never seemed to drink more than once before taking out a fresh one. Aurora tried to have her set a tea tray and use a teapot, but after finding four trays of complete tea sets left in the kitchen one evening, she began to realise that the problem may not have been just William after all.
She’d sat down and tried to explain to Julienne the changes which would have to make in her straitened circumstances, but Julienne either buried her face in those absurd little lace hankies, or looked mournfully up through those lashes, a tear theatrically escaping from the corner of an eye.
“I simply cannot stay here and take care of you Julienne – no, it’s no good you doing that, I cannot. I have obligations and a family to care for in Hong Kong, and I shall be leaving at the end of the month. You are going to have to make other plans.”
Near hysterics having followed, Aurora had been forced to use her most stern governess voice – the one she saved for frivolous parents when they upset the routine of her young charges. Not that Julienne didn’t tried her best, pulling out every trick in her substantive arsenal, but Aurora had been firm, instructing her “to save those tricks for catching yourself a new rich husband – and you’d better be quick about it.”
Before leaving England, Aurora instructed her solicitor to find a buyer for her little cottage. She’d not live in it now and would select somewhere else on her next home leave. It would be best for both of them if she were living not quite so close to her old friend.
© Debra Carey, 2019
The uber-talented Stuart Nager has already written & published his great response to this prompt on his site – do visit, there’s loads of excellent writing to be found there.