The day dawned when I was to leave my home in Chelmsford. The advertisement that my mother had placed in the Chelmsford Chronicle had been answered by the rector of Braintree, a small market town just north of us.
Father Sebastian Fannon said in the letter he wrote to my mother that he wished for my services to begin immediately. He sounded ancient, and I could only imagine what kind of disarray I would find. It was arranged that my mother was to accompany me to the rectory and stay overnight to help me settle in. She was then to return to Chelmsford the following day.
My mood that Friday morning was dark. I embraced Anna briefly and lifted my small bag into the cart, which was tethered to an impatient horse. The local boy we had hired for the journey was having trouble restraining it from tossing its head about, but once we got moving it calmed down and took pleasure in snorting streams of hot air into the cold autumn morning. Summer was well and truly over and, so it seemed, was my childhood.
We made slow progress down the narrow country lanes and I kept my grey shawl fastened tightly round my head so it covered most of my face. It made conversation impossible but served to keep me warm and also protect from the curious glances that we received from passersby.
Mother tried at first to make small talk about how wonderful it was that I was going into paid employment. But as she would be getting the majority of my wages I couldn't share the sentiment. Unable to contend with my monosyllabic grunts she lapsed into silence and we clopped along steadily, stopping only for a quick lunch of bread and cheese on the roadside.
It was early afternoon when we reached the outskirts of Braintree and I felt lightheaded with fear. I was neither emotionally or mentally prepared for what lay ahead.
“Well, here we are then,” my mother said brightly, looking around with interest as we passed some small thatched cottages which were hardly any different to our own town. The grey clouds that had been overhead all morning had dissipated and I felt the sun warming my head and spirits somewhat. Perhaps, just perhaps I would cope.
We clopped through the quiet streets, it was much less busy than Chelmsford but I kept my head down anyway. The rectory was the last property of the town, situated away from the main thoroughfare in its own grounds. It was an imposing three-storey red brick structure with two large bay windows out front, and two smaller dormer windows upstairs. A carefully groomed gravel path, bordered by an equally carefully clipped box hedge, wound its way up to a black oak front door. Beds of white dahlias bloomed beneath the bay windows.
The place was certainly bigger and grander than I had expected. For my mother also, by the way she was gaping with an open mouth. We had expected Braintree's rectory to be on a par with our own poor parish but it appeared we were wrong. At least I wouldn't have to worry about getting paid, I thought.
We got out of the cart and stood there for some minutes, before the horse decided it had had enough of us and started wandering off back the way it had come. Since Mother had arranged a lift home with a Braintree local farmer she called out to the boy that she would pay him when she returned. He raised a hand as they ambled off down the road.
As much as I wanted to walk on that nicely raked gravel drive, we found the servants’ path and made our way round to the back door.