tagNovels and NovellasThe Sacred Band Ch. 06

The Sacred Band Ch. 06

bypotsherd©

There is explicit sex in this chapter. Just a reminder. Chapters written in the first person are generally sexual accounts. Chapters written in the third person have no explicit sex in them.

Sorry there has been such a delay in getting this on the site. I have been having trouble with html coding and finally given up in despair. Is there anyone out there who can help me?


Chapter 6. Laura and Philip - Laura meets her Pasha

June 1955

Growing up in a small market town has its disadvantages. Yes, knowing everyone and having gone to school with your entire age-group, at least up to the age of eleven can be nice, and there is something comfortable in knowing that you can't walk down the street or go into a shop without meeting people you sang in the choir, or played netball with.

On the other hand, everything you do gets back to your Mum and Dad. You can't go into the bakers and buy yourself a surreptitious cream cake without someone saying;

"I saw your Laura filling her face again outside Smithard's. She'll come out in spots as sure as my name's Gladys Watson."

Believe me; you don't have to go all the way to East Berlin to live in fear of the Secret Police.

Another problem; although it takes you a while to realise it; is that you grew up with all the eligible males from the time they were out of nappies. The boys a couple of years older then you, who are just starting to get a little bit interesting suddenly disappear into the Army and they are out of circulation for two years.

As often as not, when they get demobbed, they're looking around for a bigger pond to swim in, and move to Nottingham, or London, or even New York.

Yes, Ashby is a small town, with all the limitations of a small town. My father was Chief Accountant for the Bardon Hill Quarries, a well-known local business. Mother had her church activities at St. Helen's and both of them were dedicated – and very good – bridge players who played three or four time s a week.

Mother has her own private income, which, she promised, would one day come to me, and we lived in one of the large early Victorian houses on Upper Packington Road, with the gardener, Mr. Ashe who came to work each day on his bicycle, and Despina, our live-in maid. Despina, who came from Greece, was a sweet person who called me kukla mou. She was always the one I ran to as a little girl, when I fell down and grazed my knee, and always the one I took my problems to when I was in my teens.

***

It was the middle of Wimbledon fortnight 1955. The world had gone tennis mad and we were all wondering if Jaroslav Drobny would win for the second time, or if one of the Americans or Australians would beat him.

I was just leaving school and I had been accepted for a place at Leicester University to read history and literature, starting in September. Mum and Dad had arranged for me to live with my aunt Hilda in Stoneygate, and I was feeling a bit resentful because most of the girls I knew were going into Hall for at least the first year. Much as I love Aunt Hilda and her five cats, I had a sinking feeling that I was going to miss out on all the fun.

I was at the club, or to give it its proper name Ashby Lawn Tennis club, playing a singles game with Jill Packe, and had just won, two sets to one. I came into the clubhouse hot, sweaty and very satisfied. Jill ordered two large lime and lemonades and we stood against the bar, looking around. Across the room I saw a familiar face.

Philip Cheshire had already left school, and was just getting ready to leave the Youth Choir, when I was just starting as a ten-year old. A whole group of us used to cycle the five miles to Coalville and five miles back each week, and Philip impressed me right away, when he made the older cyclists wait for us young ones.

At the time he was a tall teenager, skinny and large-jointed, with straight black hair usually hanging in his eyes; his pale face lit up with a bright, cheerful smile.

Seven or eight years later, his smile was still just as bright and warm – and aimed directly at the middle-aged man who sat with him at the corner table. They were clearly discussing business, and Philip was well-dressed in a formal dark suit, shoes you could see your face in and a red, white and blue striped RAFA tie.

I felt my mouth go dry as I looked at him, and I couldn't help noticing that several of the girls and women in the club were looking at him in the same way. For the next three-quarters of an hour I went on watching him surreptitiously, whilst pretending to be looking everywhere else.

When I could see that his meeting was drawing to an end, I caught his eye and we smiled at each other. I picked up my drink and walked over to greet him.

"Phil Cheshire, I haven't seen you in ages. What are you doing in Ashby?"

"Laura. Grand to see you. May I introduce Jerry Wainwright? Nowadays I work as a financial analyst and Jerry, here, is one of my customers. Jerry, this is Laura Fisher; we knew each other as children when I lived here."

"Hello Jerry; pleased to meet you. I've a feeling I've seen you around the club once or twice."

"Lovely to meet you too Laura, but I must rush away. I've got to be back home in half an hour to mind the baby, so that Junie can take the older children Summer holiday shopping. Why don't I leave you and Phil catch up on old times?"

Soon Philip and I were deep into one of those, "whatever happened to Sally and Trish", conversations, laughingly reviewing our old childhood friends. From there we went into his RAF days, and my years at the Girls' Grammar school "with absolutely no time off for good behaviour."

All the time I could see him sneaking looks at my long legs, well displayed in my short tennis skirt; smiling his wide smile, showing his lovely even, white teeth. Philip, I decided, had gone from gangling teenager to a handsome, confident and very sexy man in the years he had been away. He was what we grammar school girls called a 'dish.'

Philip bought more drinks, a straight tonic and ice for me, and a large Beefeater and tonic for himself. He settled back down and started to bring me up to date.

"Whilst I was in the RAF, my dad died and my mum moved back to Leicester and bought a house just off King Richard Road. When I was demobbed I moved back in with her and since then I've been trying to establish myself as a financial analyst. So far it's all working out very well; touch wood."

Philip and I might have gone on talking all afternoon, but Jill came over and reminded me that it was two o'clock and we had a court booked for mixed doubles. I quickly wrote down my phone number, invited him, to ring me around teatime, and departed.

My competitive spirit took me over and my partner and I started to give Jill and Chris a hammering. Changing ends I looked up at the window but Philip was gone.

My game went to pieces as all I could think of was hoping that he liked me, and that he would ring. You could call it love at first sight if you like. All I knew at that moment was that, if he chose to, he could transform my life for ever.

***

Flashback - May 1950

From the age of thirteen I had been leading a secret life, concealed from my parents, my friends and everyone.

I got two pounds for my thirteenth birthday; a pound from Aunt Hilda and one from my parents. This was the most money I had ever possessed, and I was determined to make the most of it.

On the Saturday morning I went into Leicester to have a look around. After looking at the shops in Charles Street and walking up High Street towards the big Co-op emporium, I turned left towards Silver Street to look in the Arcade.

There was a rather dusty second-hand shop there and I could see tennis racquets in a box at the back. They turned out to be ancient fish-tails, as heavy as lead and no use to man or beast, but then I started looking at silver thimbles, found a very sweet one with tiny roses embossed all over it, and decided to have it.

Then I found a silver vesta box that still had some original waxed matches in, and thought I would buy it for my Dad. Idly looking along the shelves of old, scruffy books, I saw a title Loves of the Harem, and my heart leapt with excitement.

I took it down. I had been vaguely excited by the thought of life in a Harem for a while, whilst not really knowing anything. I suddenly knew that I had to have the book although it was marked two and sixpence and all the other books were thruppence and sixpence.

I took my finds to the fat old woman sitting in the corner and paid for them, six and sixpence. I didn't really want the old lady to see what I had chosen so I held the book open at the flyleaf with the price pencilled in, but she scarcely glanced at it. I went back to Aunt Hilda's house where I was spending the day, and showed her the vesta box and the thimble; but hid the book carefully away.

"What on earth do you want to spend your money on that junk for?" she grumbled. I kissed her, thanked her again for my present and took my book into the garden.

That afternoon I was transported to Constantinople and the Ottomans, Agra of the Moghuls, and the slave-market of Tunis, the lair of Barbarossa and the Moorish pirates of the Mediterranean.

I was scarcely old enough to know what love was, but that afternoon I desperately wanted to be an odalisque, locked in the Seraglio and guarded by Eunuchs; a prisoner of love; the plaything of some Sultan or Pasha.

That night as I lay in bed in my Wincyette nightie, I imagined myself waiting with the other concubines in filmy, revealing silks, hoping to win the favour of the Sultan. In my fantasy we were paraded before him and I must have stared too directly instead of keeping my eyes averted. Far from attracting him I annoyed him. Immediately I was turned over and a fat eunuch was beating the soles of my feet with a strap - the dreaded bastinado.

The Sultan took pity on my tears and cries, and I was taken, undressed by scented attendants and laid on his divan to await my fate. I fell asleep with feelings coursing through my body that I could not describe or understand.

Oddly, I didn't dream of being Roxalana, 'She who makes me smile,' the concubine who captivated Suleiman - I was just the naughty slave-girl.

I hid the book in my bedroom at Aunt Hilda's; putting a brown paper cover on it. I wrote 'Physical Geography' on the spine, and put it in a row of other books she had given me. I knew I could not take it home and hide it from my mum, but Aunt Hilda was blessedly incurious about me, and in any case she did not climb the stairs more often than she had to.

Three weeks later I was again spending a weekend with Aunt Hilda. I rode into the centre of town on my bike and this time I went to Edgar Backus the well-known second-hand bookshop. I had a tissue-thin cover story about a project for school, and I was ready to run out of the shop if questioned.

Behind the counter there was a cadaverous, elderly man, with piercing eyes shining out from under bushy grey eyebrows, and a shock of white hair. He wore the working costume I was to see him in for the next decade; a dark grey apron over his cardigan, a shirt with a narrow navy tie, moleskin trousers, and large, voluminous oversleeves, of a cloth looking for all the world like old blackout curtain, to keep his cuffs clean.

At the time he was serving another customer, and I took the opportunity to look around me, but all unsure how what I wanted would be classified and where it would be shelved.

After a few minutes he turned his attention to me.

"Are you looking for anything in particular, young lady?"

"I am doing a project for school on Harems and Harem life in the Middle East. I wonder if you have anything".

I later realised that to a bookseller, any interest that led people towards reading and acquiring books was a precious gift. To booksellers, people are divided into two camps, Book People and the rest who are not even dignified with a name.

"I think there may be something in the store-room if you'll just wait a minute".

He came back ten minutes later, by which time I half way through the opening chapter of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. He looked at me with a small smile of approval, and handed me a small thick book with a leather spine and corners and embossed green cloth sides. He smiled gently and spoke in a soft lowlands accent.

"This is the History of the Ottoman Empire by G.W.M. Reynolds, from the 1840's. I think it may be just what you are looking for. Not the most scholarly history, I'm afraid, but full of lively stories about the Seraglio and the Sultans' wives and concubines."

My heart thumped. It was just what I wanted. But how much did it cost? I scarcely dared look. The price was thirty shillings, just within my reach so soon after my birthday. I bought it and my fantasy world grew so much richer, deeper and darker.

After a year or two my secret library at Aunt Hilda's house had grown and grown. Before long the man at Edgar Backus had become a secret conspirator and a dear friend.

His name was Jamie Gillespie. He had come down from Fifeshire to work as a coalminer in the South Derbyshire coalfield, but after finishing the war as a checkweighman he found that he preferred the peaceful drudgery of selling books.

I am sure he knew perfectly well what he was doing as he fed me books and discreetly directed my reading. He had his own secret passion. One day I went into the shop and found him like a dog with two tails.

"Look at this. Laurie my dear," he gloated, "Francis Barratt's The Magus - there was only ever the one edition – it's a fine copy in the original strawboards. I've been after it for thirty years, and I never thought for a moment it would ever be mine."

It was a beautiful book to be sure, with its delicate hand-coloured plates of most horrifying faces of Demons and meticulous setting out of the spells and arcane knowledge of ceremonial magic and the Kabala.

Mr Gillespie, I learned, had spent a lifetime studying and practising ritual magic, and his own secret life made him a happy conspirator in mine. So, when a huge tome like the History of the Rod came along in my GCE year at the Grammar School, more or less at the same time as I became Captain of the Hockey team, Mr Gillespie knew perfectly well that at three guineas it was beyond my reach.

He had a solution, and I agreed, at his suggestion, to pay five shillings every other week until the debt was cleared. It became a little ritual for us both, making the book even more precious to me, and our fortnightly meetings over a cup of strong, mahogany coloured tea, were the basis of a strong friendship.

I had known from the beginning, beyond any doubt, that my secret library must be kept concealed from everyone. Some of the books were not deemed suitable reading for anyone, let alone an adolescent girl. I felt that I should have died rather then let anyone but Mr Gillespie into my secret. I was gaining a lot of sexual knowledge.

Whilst physically I was an innocent; in my mind I was just waiting for the man to arrive. It was certainly going to be a man, of that I was in no doubt. And when, several years later, I saw Philip that Saturday in June, I just knew that my wait was over and that he was the man.



Wimbledon Fortnight - first Saturdauy 1955.

At the end of that momentous first Saturday afternoon of Wimbledon, I was home at four, listening to the tennis on the wireless and waiting within earshot of the phone. Four times in the next hour the phone rang and I snatched it up, only to be disappointed. Then, finally it was him.

"Hello Laura, it's Philip. It was so nice seeing you today. I was wondering if we could get together soon."

I was too excited to play it cool.

"Yes, when are you free? Would tomorrow afternoon be any good? I could come over to Leicester on my bike."

"Even better. You come on the bus, I'll pick you up at St. Margarets bus station and run you home later in the car. Can you arrange to be home at around ten?"

"Later if you like. There's no school now I've taken my A levels and I haven't started work yet."

That morning I had put on a summer dress in a bright cotton print, buttoned all down the front, with a crisp white collar and open v-neck, and a jade green cardigan. I had put on white cotton ankle-socks to emphasis my schoolgirlishness, and, of course, I was wearing my best white cotton bra and my prettiest yellow knickers. Despina, who knew what was in the wind, had say me down and brushed my reddish-blonde hair until it shone. I could see from the way men looked at me that I looked really good.

As the bus pulled into the Bus Station I could see Philip standing, waiting, in white short-sleeved shirt and khaki slacks; his black hair, parted on one side, hanging down over one eye.

He looked so handsome that I was unable to believe for a moment that he was there for me. Was he really the man I was looking for? Soon, very soon I should find out. I knew I might have to be patient if I wanted to get close to him, but I was prepared to wait.

He greeted me with a kiss on the cheek, and suggested that we walked the mile or so to his home, just off King Richard Road. As we were walking past the ancient Norman church of St. Nicholas with its fragment of Roman wall, he was explaining that his mother had the ground floor of the house, as she couldn't manage stairs.

They had put in a downstairs bathroom for her, and he had the whole top floor. I said I should love to see his flat, and we went to the house. By the time we crossed the Soar and started heading towards the Hinckley road, we had changed the subject.

Do like living in Leicester Philip? It must seem humdrum after Hong Kong."

"Humdrum? Never! I love every inch of the place. It was the happiest day of my life when I came back to live here again. I lived in Highfields until I was twelve when we moved to Ashby. I've nothing against Ashby, but it was the hardest thing I ever had to do to leave all my friends behind, and change schools and home all at once.

Ashby Grammar was small and shabby compared to Alderman Newton and the teaching was none of the best. The best teachers were a couple of ex-servicemen who were invalided out of the Army in the first years of the war. They were still young enough to remember what it was like being a boy in war-time.

The other thing about it was the strangeness of making a new set of friends. In Highfields I grew up with a street-full of kids like myself. Girls played girls' games, boys played street football and cricket, but we all knew each other as friends.

We were in and out of each other's houses all the time. By the time I was ten I had a sweetheart named Lily Saltmarsh. If I'd stayed in Highfields we would probably have got married and have a handful of kids of our own by now.

Then I was transported to Ashby, and the only people I got to know were the boys in my form at the grammar. I've always been an easy-going sort of bloke, but they did not make it easy for me to fit in.

It was the first time I met real, crude, unthinking snobbery and political prejudice because of my parents' trade union and labour connections.

The odd thing is, when I was in Hong Kong, I found it was like Ashby-de-la-Zouch writ large. Social status was everything, and knee-jerk toryism ruled."

Naturally I had to ask what he meant by "knee-jerk toryism". I was learning so much that I didn't want the conversation to end.

"What I found is that people with strongly entrenched right-wing views do not think that they are political at all. They just believe that what they think is what all right-thinking people believe, and what everybody really believes in the back of their hearts.

They simply cannot believe that people who think differently from them sincerely believe what they are saying. There have to be ulterior motives, Bolshevism, anarchism or whatever. Winston Churchill was the saviour incarnate, and anyone who thought otherwise was mentally sick or hopelessly corrupt."

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