Elsie curbed her heartbreak. She had two children to feed and was being evicted at the end of the week. The cottage came with her husband’s job and the landlord was claiming he needed it for the new gardener. With a feeling of dread she started packing their few possessions into the wooden crates. The packing wouldn’t take long. She had sold all her husband’s possessions including his beloved mahogany piano. It had been the only decent piece of furniture they possessed.
The baby was crying to be fed, but she had very little milk. She toasted some bread on the fire with a long handled fork and spread it with butter. Tommy, her three-year-old, ate it without complaint. Baby Martha chewed slowly on bread soaked in cow’s milk. It stopped her sobbing. Elsie toasted the crust and ate it without tasting it.
Her brother, James, was taking them in. She knew he didn’t want to. He lived his life immersed in books researching historic papers. How was she going to cope with looking after his house and stopping the children disturbing him she didn’t know! He would hate her living there, she would hate it and they would probably end up hating each other.
On Saturday morning she looked through the small window of her lovely cottage and saw Jacob, her neighbour, draw up with his cart. Soon he had loaded their few possessions and she was sitting with Martha on her lap and Tommy beside her. They had a coarse grey blanket tucked round them to keep the worst of the cold out.
Jacob whistled as they drove along the bumpy roads, as if the world was still a place for hope. As each mile passed she thought of her serious minded brother and his stern disapproving looks. She compared him to her warm-hearted husband, who had filled their lives with music and laughter. She thought of the beautiful countryside they had left behind as rows of houses were rising in front of them.
The door of the large house opened as they pulled up and James came out. They stood awkwardly looking at each other. Not having seen James for years she was gathering up the strength to thank him for letting them come to live with him.
Tommy however ran forwards and touched his uncle’s leg.
‘Father went to heaven. We living with you now!’ He smiled. James’s face crumpled. He stooped and lifted Tommy into his arms.
‘Your mother is coming to help me get my house tidy and I’m going to teach you to read.’ He looked at Elsie with a stiff smile.
Elsie tried to smile but tears welled up inside her. She longed for her cottage.
As they went up the stairs Elsie noticed the mess everywhere. Books and papers covered nearly every surface. She wanted to turn round and run out.
On they climbed to the third floor. Her brother pushed open the first door. There were two small beds and a large oak wardrobe in the room.
‘I thought this could be the children’s bedroom. Through here could be the nursery.’
Elsie peered round the second door. Sunlight was streaming through the window. The wooden floor had some brightly coloured rugs. In the corner was a rocking horse and under the window was a large wooden dolls house. Tommy’s face lit up as he ran into the room and explored everything. He found a box of bricks of all shapes and sizes and tipped them out.
‘And your room’s in here,’ said James.
Elsie realised what a massive effort her brother had made to make them comfortable. There was even a little dressing table with the mirror against the furthest wall. At that moment the blackness that had held her hostage, broke into tiny pieces. She smiled.
Jacob finished unloading the cart.
‘I’m off now Miss Elsie. I wish you happiness in your new position. Afternoon Sir,’ he said and left.
An hour later the little family were eating bread and cheese around the large kitchen table on the ground floor. Tommy was chattering away to James as if they were the best of friends Martha was content sucking a piece of cheese. Elsie waited for a pause in the stream of conversation.
‘Thank you James. I know we will be happy here. I’ve felt very lost these last few weeks. You’ve made us all so welcome.’
‘My dearest sister, I cannot imagine what you’ve been through, but I’ve rattled around in this big house for years. It will be most agreeable to have your company.’
That night as she lay in her bed with moonlight peeping through the gap in the curtains Elsie cried. She wept for the loss of her husband and the emptiness in her heart. She ached for his strong arms to comfort her and for the sound of music to fill her life again. Now that she was safe in her brother’s home she realised that his stern manner had probably been loneliness. At last it was time to grieve and for the process of healing to begin.