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Home Features The talkative Miss Olive Bainton! Enter Sgt. Enright!

The talkative Miss Olive Bainton! Enter Sgt. Enright!

From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama - a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan

Chapter 14
About the time Pauline was undergoing the tribulations of her love life, Lucille Enright nee Hendricks came to live in the town as the bride of Neville Enright, newly appointed Station Sergeant of the Police Department for that district.

Although Lucille was six years my senior, we were on first name terms. I mention this because manners in those days would have dictated greater formality, but she was relaxed and down to earth, with her own style, and paid little attention to current fads, fashions or manners. Our family knew hers from the time we lived on the same street and attended the same Anglican parish church. Her father was in the lumber business and, when he had had three prosperous years in a row, they had moved away into a large, new home built at the request of her mother, although they still attended the same church. She was the only girl and the youngest in a family comprised of mother, father and two older brothers. She and her father were always civil and courteous to everyone, but her mother and brothers were proud and distant even before Mr. Hendricks’ business success, after which they only became more so.

As our family grew larger, a lady named Miss Olive Bainton came on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays to help my mother with the washing, shopping and ironing. She was a pleasant soul, without a malicious bone in her body, but who talked from the time she came into the house at eight o’clock in the mornings until she left at five in the evenings: giving information, jokes, descriptions and commentaries on people, events and her own experiences, expressing sympathy, censure, pity, pleasure or ridicule, with few pauses, during the whole time she performed her tasks.

Mama accused me of giving her encouragement by lending a willing ear, and there is some truth in this, but, as I said in my defence, to which she had to agree, the only way you could silence Miss Olive would be to gag her. She was always cheerful, and laughed at herself as easily as at others, starting most conversations usually with: “Hear whe’ happen!”

One day she came in with mud on her skirt and, changing into work clothes, laughing all the while, she told us how she fell down because of “interfering in people’s business!”

“You should have seen me,” she said. “I have this neighbour that love to beat her two daughters, for joke. The woman only ignerant! And when ah tell you ignerant, I mean ignerant, ignerant, ignerant! If you wahn start commotion all you have to do is lodge a complain’ to her about them. Withouten any question, ‘e gone fo’ ‘e broom – no lis’n to no explanation, jus start to beat dehn. Dehn cyan’ run fas’ enough or far enough. Wherever dehn go, she is right behin,’ an if dehn try hide under de bed, well! Dat is fiel’ day! ‘E juk dehn out ‘til you see dehn appear wid dus’ all over, all bruise up. Well! Dis mawning tings change up. You know whe’ ol’ people se: Every day bucket go da well, one day i’ botttam wahn drap out? Well, dis was de day! De bigger one say ‘no’ t’day! ‘ an dive fo’ de broom-stick befor ‘e Ma could reach it. An den de fun start. De two gal peppah dehn Ma good and proper an de more ‘e bawl, de more dehn fling lick eena ‘e skin. Finally, police an’ all come! You shoulda see how ah jump down from mi granstan view ‘pon top a wahn ol’ barrel an’ take off as fas’ as lightning. Nex ting ah know, ah feel meself di slide! Kyah, kyah,kyah! Ah slip down eena di muddy yard jus as de PC say, ‘Da you, Miss Olive? I could’n believe da you eena dis mix-up.’ All I could do was dus meself off, say how ah late fo work an move out under speed.”

And this was her regular practice! Nearly every week there was something to report. I was always interested in hearing about different people’s experiences and she was a gold mine who kept me well supplied.

One story I never forgot concerned the family I just mentioned. The episode was about the little son of their servant, Miss Isolene, who worked with them until now, and included Lucille only indirectly.

Miss Olive related how at the time there was a large governor plum tree in the Hendricks‘ yard. Her asides were informative: “some people call it hog-plum – mek nice jam.” Nobody in the house ate the plums, so that every morning Miss Isolene had to sweep up the droppings off the ground and dump them in the trash. Well, early one morning her little boy was with her and he started to pick up some of the better ones to eat, when who should be standing at the top of the back stairs, looking on, but Mrs. Hendricks, who called out to mother and son to come upstairs. After giving the child a scolding for taking what did not belong to him, she called him into the dining-room and told her younger son to take off his belt and give the child eight cuts (she had counted the discarded seeds).

Miss Olive had cried shame on them for making such a fuss over “some lee green plum!” Lucille’s part in the incident was mentioned because of her kind gesture in consoling the little boy with a gift.

At a later time, I had been given the background to this story by Lucille herself, who did not get along with her mother at all, but was very attached to her father, who was the only member of the household to sympathise with her when Mrs. Hendricks, who was famous for standing up for her sons and shunning her daughter, was giving her a hard time.

As told by Lucille, that morning she had come down from her bedroom in the attic, the stairs from which led to the dining room, to check on what was going on, as she had heard sounds as if someone was running. She and her mother had both appeared in the room just in time to see her brother put something in the hand of a young woman, urging her to go away before anyone saw her.

This brother was her mother’s favourite and her spoilt and pampered pet. His bedroom door opened into the dining-room, which led to the back stairs by way of the kitchen and porch. Mrs. Hendricks watched as the young woman was hurried out of the house, following as far as the top of the stairs as she left through the back gate. Believing that the servant and her little boy must have seen what had taken place, to cover her shame and embarrassment she shifted attention to the alleged dishonesty of the innocent child.

Lucille, who was her father’s confidante at the time, knew where he kept cash in the house for emergencies. She was aware of her brother’s weakness and of her mother’s indulgence of him. The scene was a familiar one, and she had only to check her father’s desk drawer to know that the woman had been awarded $20.00 for her services – a good “bundle,” as Creole would say.

While the lashing was taking place, she stood in the room glaring at her brother, until he asked if she wanted some too. Knowing that her mother would be only too happy to condone such an act, she had cut her eye at him and walked into the kitchen to console the servant. When the lashing was over and the child ran crying to his mother, Mrs. Hendricks followed him there, warning him to “hush it up,” instructing the mother not to “pet him up” and, thereby, encourage him in wrongdoing.

Stung by her mother’s brazen hypocrisy, Lucille had raised her eyebrows sneeringly in her direction, hugged the child, took a five-cent coin from her skirt pocket and handed it to him, telling him that right around the sidewalk, at Miss Janey’s, he could spend one cent out of the five and get ten good plums and didn’t have to poison his insides with the dried-up, rotting ones off the ground!

Acts of defiance like these were frequent on her part and only served to aggravate the already strained relations between mother and daughter, but Lucille could never resist righting wrongs and was totally unrepentant.

By the time I was given the details of this story, she and I had long become good friends, which came about due to our association in church activities. Nineteen years at the time we first became acquainted, she was the group leader of five other young ladies who, after church on Sundays, went out visiting “shut-ins,” so-called because illness, old-age or disability had kept them from attending service. I had just turned thirteen at the time, was proud of joining this group, and found Lucille to be kind and tolerant of a novice’s awkwardness.

She was very different with the others in the group, however, who were all over fifteen and took part only reluctantly in the activity. She and I were sincere in what we were doing and she, particularly, took a serious interest in the welfare of the various people we visited, going out of her way to offer help and advice whenever and wherever possible. Her father’s doing business with most of the merchants in the city afforded her the opportunity of using his influence in obtaining help, favours or jobs for the shut-ins or their relatives. Remember that at that time there was no Social Development Department to cater to the poor and indigent.

What we mostly did was pray and read the Bible with them, converse and listen to their problems, sometimes taking them for short walks. As leader, when some members of the group were impatient, patronized them or even made fun of them behind their backs, she would not flinch from correcting their behaviour. Of course, this did not make her popular with them and they criticized and gossiped about her inability of getting on with her own mother, predicting that she would meet her “gallo” with the “Corporal.” The gallo (Spanish for what we called “rooster,” meaning she would meet her match) referred to Lucille’s admirer, an ambitious member of the Police Force, who had a reputation for being ruthless, brutal and authoritarian. It was the practice of those times for admirers to write to a young woman’s parents for permission to pay her court and declare honourable intentions, and this police corporal had “written in” for Lucille.

/////

Lucille mentioned once that she had wanted to become a nurse, but her mother had refused to allow this, claiming that she did not need to earn a living as her father was a good provider. After she had completed her secondary schooling, therefore, she had been sent to learn “fancy work” (embroidery, crochet, etc.), things she detested, in preparation for presiding over an “up-to-date” household. After only a short while, however, the Elliott sisters, who tutored the classes, discouraged her mother from wasting her money for her to continue as, according to them, she was inept and uninterested.

Next, she had spent months doing nothing, being banned from household chores by her mother who would not allow her to do any work in the home on the grounds that “that is what we pay servants for.”

Frustrated and with nothing interesting to put her mind to, she had offered to help her father with the accounts of the business, which he was very happy to accept, as he needed the help and neither of his two sons showed any interest except for spending its profits. She enjoyed the work and soon developed a method that facilitated her father’s tracking the progress of the business more easily; and although it was unorthodox, her father’s bookkeeper, Mr. Pepitune, was impressed with the system she had devised, and suggested to him that he let her attend the part-time classes he conducted at his home, recommending that she would be a valuable asset to his business if she got professional training in this field.

When Mrs. Hendricks heard this she had flatly rejected the idea, discouraging her husband from what she called wasting money on training a woman who, in all likelihood, would get married and leave him in the lurch; and urged instead that he invest in their eldest son’s further education by sending him abroad for advanced studies.

Lucille was outraged at the position taken by the very person who had confined her to frivolous, inane matters because of her father being such a good provider; while her argument that the sons would become breadwinners and the heads of families prevailed and Mr. Hendricks, as usual, took his wife’s side.

Thus, she lost a major adult battle with her mother, which did nothing to improve their relationship, but she absorbed the disappointment, attended classes with the bookkeeper, continued to help her father, at the same time maintaining an overview of the business.

Lucille tried to explain to me how precarious the lumber business was, one which needed careful monitoring. The profits were large but the elements for success required continuous oversight, complicated by the unpredictability of the weather and market. Care had to be taken to maintain at all times the right balance between investment and liquidity as a protection against loss; and the history of the business was rife with reports of lumbermen who had scored big one year only to go under by the next. She seemed to have a good grasp of the situation, which held a great fascination for her; but I did not retain much of what she said because of her explanations being too technical.

Mr. Hendricks paid his workers well and spent long stretches in the bush keeping watch over the “works.” At those times Lucille was entrusted with funds to purchase supplies and make disbursements on his behalf. There were times when he instructed payment of funds to her mother far in excess of regular household expenses and which, in her opinion, were unwise. However, he denied his wife nothing whatever, and she was extravagant in spending money on her sons.

She also resented her daughter’s position of “purser,” a title her father conferred on her, complaining regularly about the indignity of having to go to her for money. Lucille, on the other hand, was often appalled at her father’s freehanded behaviour where her mother’s demands were concerned, which often threatened the stability of his operations, requiring great sacrifice on his part. The rest of the family knew nothing of the workings of his affairs, or, if they did, were not concerned as long as their wants were satisfied.

/////

Through association with her father’s works, Lucille came to know Virginia, the young wife of his mechanic, who lived in the camp along with her husband until she came to town to give birth to the couple’s second child. On a few occasions she had had to take funds to her home from her husband’s pay and they had become good friends.

Her story, which she shared with Lucille, was one of equal parts of hardship and enterprise. She and her husband had met in the small town in the interior of the country where she lived with her father and stepmother, her mother having passed away in childbirth. Her father’s second wife had brought her up along with her two half-brothers and a half-sister. She had some primary schooling – not much – but she was bright and willing to put her hand to anything. At only sixteen she had got the job as cook at the Hendricks’ lumber camp where Lincoln Holder was the mechanic, married him at seventeen and had her first child at eighteen.

Lincoln Jr., the younger of the two sons of Lincoln Holder, Sr. and his wife Ida, independent owners of a well-stocked and thriving grocery shop, rejected higher education after completing secondary school and, instead, found work with a mechanic and spent his time fixing motors and consuming liquor. He eventually found work at Mr. Hendricks’ lumber camp, repairing and operating the various machines and, after work, drinking any liquor that was available. The truth is that he was drawn like a magnet to anything mechanical and, according to his “Virge,” was a wizard at it.

His parents had saved for and longed to send their two sons for higher studies abroad, but Lincoln was neither at home or sober enough to listen to their dreams for his future. Fortunately for them, his older brother had been steady and ambitious and they had reconciled themselves to promoting his academic success while, at the same time, never giving up hopes for a change of heart in their younger son and kept putting money away for his education.

One of Virginia’s many talents, taught by her father, was playing the guitar and, after serving supper in the evenings at the camp, she often passed the time before bed playing the guitar and singing the romantic songs of the day. Linc, (her name for him), who could be charming when he was sober, was entertained by her performances after working hard all day and soon began to show interest in her. Very naturally, she accepted his attentions, and, in due course, they fell in love.

They brought out the best in each other, she caring for him and making no demands about preparing for a glorious future by studying today, and he, basking in her support and finding interest in something other than the bottle, sobering up.

In the meantime, Lucille, who was disappointed at her father’s acceptance of her mother’s ruling, was sorrier for him than for herself, she said. She recognized that by nature he was too humble and too quiet to fight her mother. He was satisfied with the title of “good provider” for his mate, able to purchase for her whatever she wanted, and left the running of the house to her without interference. Managing the children came under that heading, which left Lucille at the mercy of her mother.

According to her, Mrs. Hendricks was old-fashioned when it came to the male-female relationships, except where that of she and her husband was concerned. Other males took precedence over the female in her eyes, so that the sons had the right to control the daughter – and not only because she was younger than they were. Lucille was forced to give the appearance of cooperation since she could not expect help from her father, so she found ways of coping with her mother while biding her time.

When Mrs. Hendricks told Lucille about the interest of Neville Enright in becoming a suitor, therefore, she contemplated the idea that this might be a means of gaining her independence. After all, getting married was one way of achieving adulthood, and she would also be free of her mother’s tyranny.

As she had told me later, this had been a great mistake, as she had soon found out that she had simply exchanged one bad situation for a worse one. But Neville had been tricky! In front of her parents, particularly her father, he was the perfect gentleman, showing such consideration for her that the myth had been created that Lucille was lucky to have finally found the right man!

She noticed when they were at dances that he seemed to be well-acquainted with the ladies, although he made certain to take her out for the first piece and the midnight waltz, regularly sending over refreshments to her mother and herself throughout the night and presenting himself to escort them home at the end. It sometimes did seem suspicious to her how he mysteriously appeared on the scene, claiming precedence, when some other males of her acquaintance approached her for a dance.

Although the foxtrot, one and two-step, and the waltz were popular by that time, dances like the quadrille and mazurka, referred to as “sets,” were still featured on the programmes. Orchestras knew the special music for these dances, as well as the local tunes called “brukdowns,” which were introduced for the “Number Six,” when the dancers broke away from the pattern of the set and danced with their own lively and innovative steps.

Not many young people liked the sets, but the older heads were inclined to favour young men for their expertise at this kind of dance; although they frowned on those dancing the Number Six, seeing it as rebellion against the established way.

To no one’s surprise, Lucille preferred the modern dances, but looked forward with delight at hearing the orchestra strike up a brukdown whenever a set was in progress. On the other hand, Neville Enright never failed to escort her to her seat at the first sound of the music for the Number Six, although she often overheard people praising his dancing, especially at the brukdown, which made her aware that his performance at shunning it publicly was for her parents’ benefit.

During their courtship she had discovered other inconsistencies between his alleged and his actual tastes, yet she had become engaged to him eventually, still believing it to be a way to freedom. In any case she did not have much time to contemplate her decision as, shortly after the engagement, he had been selected for training in the U.K.; so that when he returned eighteen months later, preparations began for them to be married as soon as he had saved enough money for purchasing the necessary household equipment and furnishings.

/////

While her fiancé was away, Lucille spent a lot of her spare time visiting Virginia Holder, who remained in town after the birth of her second child. Lincoln rented a small house for his family, not being able to afford much since he had become the sole breadwinner when Virge left the camp.

His parents had learnt about the marriage through rumour and, being distressed at their son’s discourtesy, kept their distance. When Lincoln came to town on business some time later, however, and notified them of his marriage and the birth of their two grand-children, they had patched up their relationship and both visited and entertained the children and their daughter-in-law.

In the meantime, Virginia and the babies lived in a small space with only the bare necessities and her guitar. Lucille, a regular visitor, brought gifts purchased with the stipend from her father. Virginia taught Lucille how to cook and bake and, even, how to sew, on an old sewing-machine she had inherited from her stepmother, a generous soul, who had passed it on to her with regrets that she could not afford a decent wedding present. What particularly appealed to Lucille about their friendship was witnessing the simple, happy and uncomplicated life of the young couple. When he was in town they played with and hugged and showered affection on the children and each other, joked about and overlooked each other’s shortcomings, did the housework and everything else together, having great fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Mrs. Hendricks, on the other hand, disapproved of the friendship, criticizing both Lucille and the young couple for what she called their happy-go-lucky ways. “People like that will never make any headway in life,” she predicted. “They take no responsibilities, just living from day to day – no proper clothes, no decent furnishings, nothing! Just eating, drinking, and merry-making! I suppose that is the kind of life you admire. Well, I can tell you, you’d better pull up your socks and get ready for when Neville Enright comes back. All this visiting, and playing, and talking and laughing like little children will have to stop! Mark my words!”

When he did return, she was at Virginia’s home one day when he appeared at the gate to the yard but did not come in. Her friend had enquired whether he was her intended and, if so, to invite him in. She had walked to the gate and delivered the message, but to her surprise he had refused to come in, saying that her mother had sent him to bring her home so she should hurry as he had an important appointment to keep and had no time to waste.

Affronted both by his manner and refusal, she had returned to Virginia, bid her goodbye, and, promising her an explanation at another time, she had joined him. He had stiffly offered his arm and walked in the direction of her home without saying a word. When they reached he had opened the gate, let her by and walked in behind her, followed her up the stairs and to the veranda where her mother sat in a chair waiting.

“I brought her home safely, Mrs. Hendricks, and will be back at 8.30,” (consulting his watch and turning to Lucille), “to spend some time with you before leaving at 10.00 o’clock,” pronounced the good gentleman.

“Why not go straight home after keeping your appointment? I’m tired and not in the mood for conversation tonight,” his lady friend had replied ungraciously.

“But I have something to say to you,” had been his rejoinder, “so you can wait to get your rest afterwards.”

Lucille had taken note of the satisfaction with which Mrs. Hendricks had observed this exchange and, turning towards her when they were alone, had informed her that she would have to receive and pass on the message when her fiancé returned, as she was going to bed.

In discussing the situation with Virginia afterwards, she had apologized for Neville’s behaviour, and informed her of what had transpired when he returned to her home that night, as told to her by her mother:

Sergeant Enright was being promoted to Station Sergeant of the southernmost district at the beginning of the next June, and her mother and he had therefore decided to bring forward Neville’s and Lucille’s wedding to just prior to his departure from the capital to take up the new post. This had been the momentous news he had had to give her, which she had received second-hand because of what he later called “her disrespectful attitude.”

/////

I was not, but my parents were invited to the wedding, which had been a grand affair and had taken place at the Cathedral Church of the Diocese, included his uniformed colleagues, bridesmaids galore, flower-girls, a ring-bearer, lavish food and drinks, the Police orchestra, and numerous friends and acquaintances of her mother.

Lucille and I spoke after the last service she attended at our parish church before the wedding, and I could not help noticing and commenting to her that she did not look like someone who was marrying her Mr. Enright, an attempt at a pun on my part.

“Is there some special way I’m supposed to look?” she had asked in her no-nonsense way. “My mother said the same thing to me,” she had continued, “and I told her she is the one who should be pleased, as she is getting her wishes. The whole thing is a new experience to me, so I have to wait and see how it turns out.”

She had told me later that when she had discussed the situation with Virginia, who had made the same observation as I, she had advised her against taking a big step like marriage without being sure it was what she wanted. Her reply had been that it was not so much what she wanted as what she did not want: to go on as she had been doing, with her mother running her life, and had decided that any change was better!

Lucille described how her mother spent her father’s money like water: outfitting her as if she were going to live in a city and not an outdistrict town which was little more than a large village, and consulting her son-in-law’s tastes rather than her daughter’s. In short, Lucille had played only a small part in the proceedings, while her mother and her husband-to-be had made all the decisions.

(Chapter 15 in next Tuesday’s issue of Amandala)

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