Where we left off.. Imogen has spent six weeks working as a school cook and is now heading off to Cornwall to work in a hotel for the season…..
Chapter Fifteen – A Cornish Getaway
The light, streaming through a crack in the curtains, woke me early the next morning. I felt refreshed, and excited about what the day would bring. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so full of anticipation and energy.
Peter and I had travelled all over the world during the last ten years, visiting exotic destinations and staying at the very best resorts and hotels. But, as I looked around my small, brightly decorated kitchen, I would not have swapped it for all the five star hotels I had ever stayed in. This was my home, my future, and both looked a great deal brighter than they had a few days ago.
With at least four hours to go before I had to leave for my long awaited appointment with Andrew, I decided to be very resourceful with the time. I sat and had a bowl of cereal and fruit juice, and dressing warmly, for the cold morning air, I took to the forest path and let my mind travel back to my first full time job in several months.
* * *
I had never heard of Killbilly in Cornwall before, and assumed that it was probably a small village or hamlet. I was more than a little apprehensive about taking the position at the hotel, not because I did not feel that I was more than capable of doing a good job, but because my new employers and myself were taking each other on trust.
I went to lunch with my parents on the last Sunday before my departure and discovered that Peter had been in the habit of telephoning my mother and eliciting information regarding my whereabouts and activities. I was furious with both Peter and my mother. She assured me that she had informed him quite categorically that I had met no one else and missed him dreadfully. That was the last thing I wanted Peter to know. Much better that he should think that I was out every night with a string of wealthy and attentive admirers, rather than stuck in my bed-sit every night. Thank goodness, I was going to be far enough away from both of them to be able to invent any story about my personal life that I liked. In fact, the thought of passing on details of some lurid, imaginary love life to my mother, and therefore to Peter, was suddenly very appealing.
My father pressed me for details of my new job, and was dutifully persistent in his belief that no good could come of a position offered without the benefit of an interview. He felt that, as it was based on the photograph I had sent, that my future employers might have something to do with the white slave trade. On that cheerful note I left, promising to call on my arrival, every Sunday, and to make sure I ate properly. As I had been living away from home for some time now, without too many ill effects, I was slightly puzzled by all the parental concern. Nevertheless, I felt heartened by their uncharacteristic reaction to my departure and vowed to keep in better contact than I had recently.
With my two bags packed, and having made the final reading of the electricity meter in my bed-sit, I headed out for the railway station and my journey westward.
I had been given a timetable for the trains showing the changes I would have to make in order to reach my destination and I was glad that my two bags were neither overlarge nor heavy. Four trains later, I sat on the platform of a country station, waiting for my last connection. The train was late, and it was dark before it shunted alongside the platform. I struggled into a carriage that I presume had been in service since the war, possibly not the last one, and sat on the worn, velvet covered, seat waiting for departure. I waited and waited and was about to stick my head out of the carriage door when we chugged into motion sending me backwards onto my seat. It was now ten at night and I was concerned that the promised taxi that was supposed to collect me at Killbilly, and take me to the hotel, would not be waiting for me.
Half an hour later we pulled into what can only be described as a halt. It consisted of a wooden platform about ten inches off the ground and a leap of faith was required to exit the carriage with two suitcases, and no injuries. I must have been the only passenger for Killbilly, for no sooner had I slammed the door of the train behind me, than it was off, lurching into the darkness. Which is where I now found myself. Alone and in the dark with absolutely no idea, where I was going or who I was going too.
These were the days before mobile telephones, and to be honest, from what little I could see around me, there was little evidence that even the telegraph had reached this remote spot. I sat down on the sturdier of my two cases and ran through some basic Girl Guide survival tactics. As I had been drummed out of the brownies at the age of seven (for jumping out at boy cubs from behind gravestones) my knowledge of field crafts was sadly lacking, so I decide to stay in place for a while and see what transpired. After all where else was I going to go! I shivered despite the warm overcoat I was wearing. The night was cold and a thin mist was swirling around the end of the platform. All the books I had read about Cornwall, about strange animals, and people, out on the moors, came back to me and I clasped my arms around myself anxiously, on the verge of panic.
This feeling of panic was given a boost when suddenly out of the mist an apparition appeared. At least seven feet tall, and dressed in a black cloak, it swirled towards me rapidly. I shot up and backed behind my cases, despite the fact they would have been of little protection against a werewolf. A deep voice suddenly cut through my fanciful imagination.
‘You’re late girl, I’ve been waiting hours, where have you been for goodness sake?’
I could not tell if the booming voice was male or female. On closer examination, I realised that my original estimate of the figure being seven foot high was a slight exaggeration, but not by much. A scarf was unwound from around the throat of my new acquaintance and I saw that it was indeed a woman. Despite a virtual crew cut hairstyle and rather masculine features, the lips were cherry red. You have to remember that I had considerable experience with men dressed as women and I was quite confident in my snap judgement as to the gender of this strange person. Before I could utter a word my suitcases were whipped up, one in each of her hands and she set of marching into the darkness. I had very little choice but to follow, as I watched my worldly possessions disappearing into the night. So, with fingers crossed, I followed the dim retreating figure.
I found myself in a car park, next to a rather battered Land Rover, which was covered in mud and other farmyard debris. My bags were thrown unceremoniously into the back and my companion disappeared around to the driver’s side. I gingerly opened the passenger door, careful to avoid getting my clothes too close to the paintwork. At least the interior of the vehicle was warm and I was grateful when the engine started first time. Before we pulled out of the station, my driver turned to me.
‘My name is Milly Barrow and I run the local taxi service.’ She announced firmly.
‘It will take half an hour to get to the hotel so you better make yourself comfortable.’
With that, we were off, quite smoothly too, much to my pleasant surprise. This was somewhat tempered by the farmyard aroma that filled the now warm cab of the Land Rover and I hoped that my new employers were used to their staff arriving slightly more fragrant than might be expected.
Our journey was silent. I did make an attempt at small talk but only received grunts in reply. Eventually, I gave up and concentrated instead on hanging onto both dashboard and armrests as we careered around narrow country lanes. Speed restrictions did not seem to be in force in this area and a Land Rover is not built for rally driving, but Milly Barrow obviously had not been informed of that particular design characteristic.
Finally, with a squeal of protest from the tyres, we tore around a bend, through an ornate gate, and onto a gravel drive. In the dim glow of the headlights, I could just make out a building looming out of the mist as we slammed to a stop in a spray of stones outside what appeared to be the main entrance. I let out my breath, which it seemed I had been holding since we left the railway station, and hurriedly opened the door, before we could take off again.
Milly Barrow moved quickly for her size, and had my bags on the drive and was in the car again before I could say a word. Spraying me with sharp little stones, she took off into the night without a backward glance.
There were some lights either side of the entrance, and by their dim light I could make out double wooden doors. By now, I was three hours late, and it looked like everyone had gone to bed. I had little choice. It was either stay out here in the freezing cold or ring the bell that hung on the wall at the side of the doors. I crunched across the gravel and up the stone steps, summoning what little courage I had left. I pulled the rope hanging beneath the bell and swung it from side to side. I nearly jumped out of my skin as a loud clanging rang through the night. It was loud to waken the dead! Sure enough, within seconds, lights went on in the hall. They reflected through the glass at the top of the door and, if anything, added even more gloom to the atmosphere.
The door creaked open slowly and my mouth went dry. By this time, I was fully convinced that Frankenstein’s monster was going to loom into view and carry me off to some attic, never to be seen again.
‘G’day, you must be the Sheila whose going to be the new assistant manager.’
In front of me stood a tall, blonde surfer complete with knee length shorts and little else, except for what appeared to be a shark’s tooth on a leather thong around his neck.
Open mouthed I stood freezing on the doorstep while this antipodean looked me over, from top to toe.
‘Don’t stand there all night girl, come on in I’m freezing my ass off here.’
Obviously there was going to be little in the way of assistance with my luggage, so I turned and collected the suitcases, dragging them back across the gravel. I hoisted them up the steps and through the door, which slammed behind me.
‘My name’s Skip, and I’m the hall porter. Don’t say much, do you?’
I stared at his tanned, hairy, chest and clearing my throat, I attempted to get my voice back.
‘Yes I’m Imogen. Sorry I was so late, I hope I didn’t keep you up.’
‘No worries. Me and the girlfriend were watching a horror movie. Kept us busy, if you know what I mean.’
I could only imagine! Never having watched a movie, let alone a horror film, whilst dressed for a day at the beach.
‘Come on, I’ll show you your pit and you can meet the boss in the morning.’
He led the way across the carpeted hall and up the imposing stairs that occupied much of the centre of the reception area.
‘You hungry?’ My guide enquired, as we hauled my cases up the stairs. Thankfully, he had taken possession of one of them at least.
‘We had a barbie tonight and there is some left over steak if you’re interested.’
I murmured that I just wanted to go to bed and he shrugged.
‘No worries, you could do with losing a pound or two anyway.’
I could see that we were going to get on very well. My mind was reeling. There had been far too much, in the way of adrenaline pumping events, in the last few hours. And now to have to deal with an Australian surfer masquerading as a hall porter in a Cornish hotel? I know that staff for these out of the way places must be hard to find but advertising in the Woolagong Advertiser seemed a little over the top. I was sure, however, that all would be revealed in the morning. All that I wanted to do right then was to crawl into a warm bed, and sleep.
We had now climbed three flights of stairs and I wondered if there was a lift for the more infirm guest. I mentioned this fact to Skip who was not even out of breath.
‘Yeah, there’s a lift but I’m claustrophobic, won’t go in the buggers.’
Oh, great! I thought, as I puffed my way up the final flight of stairs behind him, a mountain climber too!
He pushed open a door in a dimly lit corridor and switched on an overhead light. The room was not bad. It had high ceilings and was furnished with a wardrobe, a double bed, a dresser and a sofa. A small television perched on a footstool in one corner, and there was a washbasin on the wall.
‘The bathroom is down the hall, third door on the right. Lock doesn’t work right now; it’s on me list. Get round to it before we open.’ (Right! Chair jammed under the doorknob for the time being.)
He turned to leave, and just before he closed the door, he grinned, showing large, even white teeth. ‘Do you surf at all?’
I shook my head wearily, and smiled somewhat thinly in his direction.
‘Pity. Never mind. Sleep well, breakfast at seven a.m.’
With that, I was alone in my new home. At least it was clean and the bed had been made up. I found a glass on the washbasin and drank a large glass of water before remembering I would have to traipse down the hall to go to the bathroom in the night. Oh well, worry about that later. I hastily unpacked the top of one of my suitcases and found my warmest pair of pyjamas. I checked the radiator under the window and found that it was cold. I bet you anything you like that the heating was off now, until the guests started arriving for Easter. I put on a jumper over my pyjamas and crawled beneath the sheets. At least there were several blankets and curling into a ball, I was instantly asleep.
©sallygeorginacronin- Just an Odd Job Girl 2001
Hope you enjoyed today’s chapter and next time, Imogen will be finding she needs nerves of steel as she takes on the job of assistant manager of the hotel.