V0013513 The British Museum: the entrance facade as intended. Wood en

Wellcome Library, London. http://www.wellcomeimages.org

On the first frosty morning of November, Celine and Daniel Johnson moved into their new house on Gower Street. The house looked nothing special, was rented at a rate that Daniel worried would be a burden, but it was theirs. The only furniture they had was a bed donated from their good friends Sam and Maria, a sofa liberated from the Olympia Theatre, and an old hatstand that Daniel found on the side of the road on his way home one evening. As far as moving days were concerned, theirs was the simplest of matters.

‘At least there is a range,’ Celine said, standing in the middle of the otherwise bare kitchen. ‘We’ll need a table, and a bed for Ruth Simpson. I can’t offer her employment and not even be able to provide her with a place to sleep.’

‘Will you manage until tomorrow?’ Daniel asked. ‘I’ll call in at Long Acre on the way to the Olympia. I’m sure I can pick up a bargain or two there. Mrs Simpson is not due to arrive until next week and I’m we can have this looking a little more like a home by then.’ He kissed his wife goodbye and rushed out on his mission.

The house really was a little shabby, Celine thought. She was glad that the front door had recently been painted so at least from the busy thoroughfare outside the house appeared decent. There were no curtains on the windows, only yellowing lace that did nothing to keep out the chill. She walked from room to room, making a mental note of how she could brighten the place on their minimal budget. Daniel had paid six months rent in advance, the advantage of which was that they had some security, though they had a strict budget left to live off.

Should she light a fire? The bare drawing room boasted its battered sofa and a mantel clock: the time was only just after midday. The sky outside was dark, the existence of the sun in doubt. They couldn’t really spare the coal, she decided, though she shivered. Perhaps if she embarked upon her long list of household tasks her mind would be distracted from the bitter climate. Or better yet, curtains were at the top of her list. She could walk to Oxford Street easily from here and purchase some warm and durable material with which to sew her drapes.

She carefully locked the front door behind her, checking four times before her mind was at ease. She had never had to worry about carrying keys before, having always lived in someone else’s house. She made sure of her money, tucking her purse away in case of pickpockets. Daniel had warned her that Bloomsbury was respectable enough but bordered some of the less salubrious districts of the capital.

‘Good morning.’ It was a woman who called out, just arriving home on foot to the house two doors from the Johnson’s. She stood and waited for Celine.

‘Good morning.’ Celine smiled. ‘I’m Mrs Celine Johnson. I just moved here with my husband.’

‘Mrs Edna Carlisle. Pleased to meet you, Mrs Johnson. Did you move in already? I didn’t see a cart before I went out.’

‘Oh, we did not bring much with us,’ Celine confessed. ‘My husband has gone out to purchase us new furniture.’

‘Ah,’ Mrs Carlisle looked at her approvingly. ‘Very sensible. I always think: start fresh. New house, new belongings. Very sensible. We have been here almost a year. Newlyweds. Like yourselves?’

‘Yes. Married almost six weeks now though. We stayed with friends for a while afterwards.’

‘Of course. We went up to my husband’s family in Scotland for our honeymoon. He’s a doctor so it’s tricky now. The patients come first, you understand. And what does your husband do?’

‘Oh, well,’ Celine stammered a little. She knew the importance of this social encounter but she could not lie. ‘He is an actor. He is in steady employment at the Olympia Theatre in Southwark.’

‘Oh.’ Mrs Carlisle’s lips pressed tightly together. ‘A rather…different profession, but surely he must do well for you to have landed in this neighbourhood.’

‘He is very much in demand. His Othello is renowned,’ Celine informed her.

‘Shakespeare? I suppose we have Gower Street’s answer to Edmund Kean then?’

‘Yes, it seems so.’ The two women laughed politely, and Celine breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Now, if you will excuse me Mrs Carlisle, I must get to the shops. I have to buy fabric from my new curtains.’

‘I shall give you some time to settle in but you must call round. I am usually at home on Thursdays.’

Her first invitation! Celine was buoyed by this unexpected development. Perhaps she had bid goodbye to her old life but this could be a fresh beginning, a new life.

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