Chapter Three, Stepgate’s School.

In the playground a teacher rings her bell, playtime is over, the children troop back to their classrooms. The school nurse is waiting for Deirdre and Iris in the big girl’s part of the school. Nurse Ayres has a kind face, but she is smiling a sad smile, her arm goes round Iris, pulling her close to her, and then she takes both the girls to her clinic. Deirdre, the sensitive one, feels that same unease well up inside her, she feels sick, she knows something bad has happened.

The clinic has a strong smell of Dettol, sitting in the corner is Bernard, he is holding a bowl on his lap, he looks very pale. Miss Payne, his teacher is beside him holding his hand.  Miss Slaughter the headmistress, comes into the clinic with Chrissie. She sees the fear in Deirdre’s eyes, how is she going to tell her what has happened, something that she can’t believe herself. Bernard’s sickness is a blessing in disguise.

‘Your brother has been very sick, and we must take you all home in case you have the ‘flu again, and we don’t want that to spread around the school. Miss Payne will sit Bernard on her bicycle, and we will all walk home together.’ 

 The children leave the school walking hand in hand; the two teachers are talking quietly. Deirdre is trying to hear what is being said, she can tell by the sadness in their voices that something is wrong. They are too far behind to know what they are saying. As they pass Tommy Garretts shop, she hears something that she can’t understand. Miss Payne is very upset, and she says sobbing loudly. 

 ‘Poor Mrs. Weguelin what a terrible thing to have happened, he was such a young man’. 

It’s all that Deirdre needs to hear, the noise of the children screaming, running down the road, is heard before they are seen. Followed by Miss Slaughter who is finding it impossible to keep up. Miss Payne stops to put Bernard back on the saddle, he’s been sick again.

 As they turned the corner near Mrs. Parker’s house, they see the crowd of people, some of them are holding their hands out to stop the children from stumbling. They push through the crowd and up the steps.  

As if to keep time with the drama of the moment. St Peter’s church bells ring eleven o’clock. It’s five hours since Ethel wiped the mist from the window and waved goodbye to her darling husband. The fears she had earlier were for her children—never for her fit and healthy husband. Influenza can strike down the strongest.

 Miss Slaughter, a strict—some would say a hard—woman is trying not to cry. To see six young children climbing over their distraught mother is too much for her. How could she have been able to tell these children they would never see their father again. Sergeant Reynolds goes to the front door, standing on the steps he reads from his notebook.

‘This morning our dear friend, Charlie…’

He pauses—for a long moment. Mrs. Salmon steps up and takes the notebook from his trembling hand and finishes reading the policemen’s note.

‘Mr. Charles Luz Weguelin, from this address, was in a fatal accident this morning. The cause of his passing is unknown.’

A low murmur and then sobbing from the crowd, all holding each other for support. How could such a thing happen to such a young family? They had thought it would be just an accident. They slowly walk away in little groups. How wicked life can be. The doctor leaves after making sure there was someone to look after the family.

There was Mrs. Phillips, she was a St John’s Ambulance Nurse, and of course Mrs. Salmon. The washing is finished and hung out to dry. Another pot of tea is made, and some biscuits are found for the children. Everyone is weeping except for mum; she is just sitting in the chair watching everything going on around her. The pills that the doctor had given her must be very strong.

Charlie’s father, who works in the drawing office starts work later than the other workmen. He would have no idea of what has happened. It will be a difficult thing for someone to tell him of the accident. He is taken to the hospital in the company car with Mr Titler, the Chairman, only to be told his son had died.

 The sad news had already gone around the workshops. Taffy and Mr Sewell had stayed with Charlie until the ambulance came to take him to hospital. In the canteen they are telling everyone how it happened, the men are listening quietly. Taffy is having a hard time reliving the last few minutes of his friend’s life. 

‘We were only halfway up Woburn Hill when Charlie said he was out of breath. We got off our bikes and walked over the top while the others raced off. Charlie seemed alright as we coasted down the other side of the hill. He was just behind me as we went over the little hump-backed bridge, and we were talking as normal. Then I heard his bike hitting the railings and crashing into the road. I stopped and looked back; he was just laying still on the ground. I went over to help him up, but he was completely knocked out. I couldn’t make him move.

 ‘I ran to the Main gate to get some help, just as the works Nurse arrived. We ran back and saw people trying to bring him round. The nurse took his pulse, but I could see she knew it was serious and needed a doctor. Some of us stayed with him until he was taken away in the ambulance. Then we all walked into work, everyone was very quiet, we knew it was bad, and later in the morning we heard the news.’

The men in the canteen sat at the tables quietly talking about Charlie and saying what a nice man he was. There is a sick club most men belong to. But it had already been used up with so many claiming it with the ‘flu. They said they will have a collection on Friday when they are paid.

  1100 words

Chapter four. Money.

Author: madeinchertsey

Born in 1932, this is a collection of stories of my childhood growing up in Chertsey, and some stories of my later life.

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