Lady Paine Remembers.
My name is Lady Paine. That is not the name I was born with, of course, but everyone now uses that name. No-one now remembers that I was once Amelia Caldicott. I am Lady Paine now and shall be until I die, which I think will be soon.
I was born just over 80 years ago, in 1887. My family lived just outside a small village in Sussex, not too far from Brighton. We owned a lovely Georgian mansion, set in over 20 acres of garden and woodlands. It was an idyllic place, and I loved it. My father was comfortably off, and I had a privileged upbringing. Servants, nice clothes, everything a young girl could ask for. Although I had no brothers or sisters I was not lonely, as the neighboring gentry families would often visit. Then, when I was 9, my brother was born. I loved him from the moment I first saw him.
We grew up in that late Victorian and Edwardian world that seems so strange now in this modern world of electricity, motor cars and televisions. I remember the first motor car which came to Caldicott Place. It caused a sensation and was talked about for weeks. I celebrated my 18th birthday with a grand Coming Out Ball, and went to London for a ‘Season’. My parents hoped I would meet someone who wanted to marry me, and that is what I hoped for too. I didn’t really want to leave Caldicott place, but I knew I would have to one day as it would all belong to my brother, but I hoped I would still live nearby. And I was lucky; I got my wish. I met Andrew, who lived only 10 miles away, and after a suitable engagement we we married. Our happiness was complete just over a year later when our son was born. Year followed year; they all seem perfect now, looking back; endless summer days, crisp snow at Christmas, the magic of Spring. Then, after one last perfect summer, the world exploded.
War. It started so slowly, but gradually the whole world seemed to be sucked in. Village lads joined up, many in the initial enthusiasm that it would be ‘over by Christmas’. It wasn’t, of course. It dragged on, and in 1915 my brother, too, joined the army. He came home once, on leave, visibly changed. He never returned. He lies somewhere in the Flanders mud, one of thousands with no known grave, leaving us to mourn, silently, like many other families up and down the land. My husband became ever more silent, withdrawn, and one morning he disappeared, reappearing that afternoon in an officer’s uniform. 1916 passed, and the war showed no sign of ending. 1917, 1918, the Germans made one last push for victory but were thwarted and the tide turned. But before victory was assured, my Andrew fell. My world had ended.
But I had to continue living, of course. I moved back into Caldicott place with my son, and tried to comfort him and my parents. My son would now inherit the estate, and it gave me some joy to see how he loved the place, as my brother had done before the war. He wanted more than to be just a country squire, though, much as he loved the estate. So he joined the Navy and did very well. I was so proud to see him in his uniform. We had fought the ‘war to end all wars’, so I thought he would be safe. But war clouds gathered again during the 1930s. And before we knew it, we were at war again. I tried to take comfort from the fact that my son’s ship was nicknamed‘ The Mighty Hood’ and was seemingly invincible, but the German battleship Bismarck didn’t believe this, and HMS Hood sank only 3 minutes after it was hit. Only 3 men survived, and my son was not one of them.
And so for a second time my world came to an end, and this time I had no comfort. I ran the estate as best as I could, as my father was now old and had lost interest after my son was killed. He and my mother gradually withdrew from the world, but I decided I could not do the same. I became involved in voluntary work to help the war effort. Others shared the same grief but we coped. We had no choice. And gradually life improved. Towards the end of the war I met the man who was to become my second husband. He was a good, kind man, and I was grateful for a second chance of life. He was a wealthy man, and when the war was over we moved to London. My parents remained at Caldicott Place, cared for by a nurse, but we visited often, and after they died we continued to use it as a weekend retreat. The 1950s were good to us, and my husband was knighted for ‘services to industry’. That was when I became Lady Paine, but my husband was still alive to call me Amelia, and his nephew called me Aunt Amy. But my husband died five years ago, and my step-nephew moved to New Zealand, and I was alone again. But I was determined to enjoy the rest of my life as best as I could. I moved to a town just outside London, and enjoyed the social life it offered to ‘Senior Citizens’. I sat on fund-raising committees, opened charity events and generally kept myself busy. I employed a chauffeur to drive me around. He was a good, reliable man, but one day he was ill, and I hired someone from an agency. He drove much too fast for my liking, and didn’t take due care. He drove straight out of the drive without looking, and hit another car. He was killed outright, and the driver of the other car was badly injured. I suffered a broken leg and other internal injuries. They say I am on the mend, but I feel tired, and I find it hard to breathe. I was 80 just before the accident, and I think my time has come. I have only one thing left to sort out; my will. I am a rich lady; my husband left me well off, but it was understood that his money would go to his nephew after I die, which is only right. But I still own Caldicott Place. I have worried for some time over what will happen to it. If I leave it to my step-nephew he will have to sell it. I have tried to maintain it in reasonable order but it still needs a lot of work doing to it. It would be difficult to sell and I am told the most likely outcome is that it will be pulled down and houses built on the estate. I hate the thought of that. The woods are beautiful with many birds and other wild animals. The villagers also hate the idea of any development. I could leave it to a charity but they would face the same dilema. But today I have had an answer to my prayer and I have found a solution.
I have had very few visitors in the 5 weeks I have been in hospital. My housekeeper has been to see me several times, and my solicitor has been in once, but that is all. I have been bored and lonely as never before. But today I had another visitor, quite by accident. He was trying to see his father, who was injured by my chauffeur. His life has been turned upside-down, and his father is still very ill. He is a lovely lad though; he seems to like nature and growing things, but he was heartbroken at being parted from his dog due to his father’s illness. That I can understand only too well. So my mind is made up. It may seem a strange decision, taken on a whim, but I think it will work. Tomorrow I will send for my solicitor and tell him I want to leave Caldicott Place to the young lad who has just left my bedside. It is a gamble as people will try to persuade him to sell the house, but somehow I don’t think he will. It will be just the place for his father to recover, and maybe others too, and I think he will be a good custodian. And finally, he shares a name with my brother, and my son. Tim.
I don’t think he will have to wait long to enjoy the house.