I'd designated one of the former sitting rooms that now served as a Hutch workroom to be where we would carry out the interviews and decision making process for filling Mr Stevenson's request for a bookkeeper in his printing establishment. Arriving there early the next morning, all smiles and tingles at the prospect of finally getting one of our most difficult to place men an enviably good position, I was surprised to see Pritchard sitting alone in the room, his lips pressed together and eyes wide with worry.
My heart stopped.
"What is it? What's happened?" I asked, praying I wasn't going to be met with another disaster the moment I'd come crawling back out into the daylight. I reached out and placed my hand on the door jam for support.
Pritchard shook his head. "No applications. None of the-the men want the job."
He shrugged helplessly.
It only took seconds for the fear to turn into anger. Fierce, face-flushing anger.
"Why the bloody hell not? Have they no idea what a godsend that position is? How many people do they think are out there willing to employ a man in a wheelchair?"
Pritchard stuffed his hands in his pockets and started to rock a little bit back and forth. I knew I had to mind distressing him too much, but the anger was seething to the surface so quickly I could barely reign myself in. If I stayed there any longer, I'd explode at the poor man and what would that bring us?
"Fetch them. All of them. I want to see them in here as quickly as possible. I don't care what they're doing, they're all to report here." I turned around and left, barely hearing Pritchard's yes ma'am as I made my way to the side door.
The sun was out, the back garden basking in spring light and warmth. I hardly noticed. My feet took me to the vegetable garden where a few men were working, hunched between the rows pulling weeds. I paid them no mind as I walked rapidly along the stone-slab walkways, focused entirely on what I was going to say to the men.
Cowards! They had no inclination to leave the warm cocoon I'd created for them. Going back out into the world was too frightening of a prospect! London! Terrifying! How dare they turn down such a good opportunity! I'd thought giving them an extra day to think things over would have allowed them time to get over their initial surprise and hesitation to the idea of re-entering the job market. Obviously, I'd thought wrong.
Chewing on the side of my thumb, I walked round and round the vegetable garden. How was I going to get them to take that step forward? Push their chairs all the way up to London myself? Mostly likely. James said that I could kick a mule to death and perhaps that's what I would have to do here. Kick as low and as painfully as I could. If the carrot didn't work then the whip would have to, wouldn't it?
One of them would have to take that position, even if we had to throw a sack over his head and trundle him up there strapped to the top of the car like a piece of luggage.
I thought I heard my name being called but had my mind so much on the men whose heads I was going to knock together that I didn't register it until I was out of the garden again and charging back towards the Hutch. Whatever it was, it wasn't my priority at that moment.
Pritchard had done what he was told and the men were assembled in the workroom, wheelchairs parked haphazardly around the central table. I stood rooted just inside the doorway with my hands on my hips, glaring at them.
They all kept their heads ducked and refused to look me in the eye, finding the carpet or their own laps more interesting. None of them made a sound.
YOU ARE READING
England 1921. For fifty handicapped veterans left without home or job after WW1, the only person standing between them and utter destitution is Olivia Altringham. Lacking sufficient funds and a support network, Olivia has managed to keep her vetera...