Ellis oversteps the mark with Gloria.
I booked on duty at the locomotive depot the next morning to take the test for mainline firing work. I was feeling confident but also a bit nervous.
"Good luck with the test," the foreman said through the booking-on hatch. "I bet you're eager to pass."
"Too right. I'll need the money from the firing pay and maybe some overtime to help pay the finance on my motorbike."
"Didn't know you had a bike."
"Haven't got it yet. The hire purchase agreement has just gone through and all being well I should have the motorbike before the weekend."
The foreman gave a sarcastic laugh. "Maybe you should have passed the mainline firing test before you committed yourself."
There was another reason why I had to pass. I told Gloria only an idiot would fail the test, but the foreman's words reminded me not everybody passed first time and I began to regret mentioning the test to her and bragging I would easily pass.
I met the footplate inspector and we made our way across the rails to the Austerity steam engine. The locomotive was from another depot and not of the type I was used to. The top link driver looked a stern unfriendly man; his mate, a passed fireman seemed as unfriendly as the driver. I knew the passed fireman resented my family moving from Chesterfield. My father was senior to the passed fireman and he took the available vacancy which meant the man would have to wait for another vacancy before he could get his driver promotion. Neither of the crew spoke to me as I got onto the footplate, although they made a great fuss of the inspector.
We set off from the sidings, through the station, and out across the viaduct over the town. I knew things were not quite right. I could not raise the steam pressure. I was not losing steam through the working of the train, but every time I turned the injector on to fill the boiler I would lose steam pressure that I could not make up. The pressure had dropped a lot and I thought it wouldn't be long until I was in serious trouble. I shovelled more coal into the firebox in case I had missed a patch in the fire bed and then I slammed the fire doors shut. That should do it, I thought, but we had started downhill and the driver shut off the power. I knocked the blower handle round a little further to try to disperse some of the thick black smoke pouring from the funnel. The steam pressure was building up, but not as fast as it should. It looked as if the problem was with my firing, but I was sure I had done everything correctly. I put the injectors on again to fill the boiler, but left the dampers open to draw the fire, hoping it would compensate for the loss of steam, but still, the engine didn't steam as it should.
The inspector wanted to get off at a railway station before the train branched off on a goods line. I was to get off with him, but before I did, I noticed the passed firemen looking into the fire and shaking his head, in full view of the inspector, but I was sure I had done nothing wrong.
"I'll have to fail you on that one," the inspector said.
"I thought you might," I replied, resigned to the fact my performance seemed to be a disaster.
"Still don't worry, we'll try again in a few weeks."
I felt depressed as I travelled back on the passenger train, worried about how I was going to cope with the repayments on my motorcycle, concerned my workmates might think I am stupid, and embarrassed because I would have to tell Gloria I failed the test I had been so confident in passing.
I collected my motorcycle from Middlefield on Thursday. I arranged to call round for Gloria that evening and it surprised her when I turned up on the motorcycle. We went off to a small county pub and sat outside on a bench drinking shandy and talking about my new motorcycle, but Gloria soon changed the subject, eager to hear my other news.
"So, how'd it go then?"
"The test, the big green engine test."
"Oh that, I was hoping you wouldn't ask."
"You didn't pass then?" The look on my face gave her the answer. "Oh what a shame, but you can take it again, can't you?"
"Oh yeah, and it turns out it wasn't really all my fault. When the engine came back the driver booked it off. Apparently, even his regular fireman had trouble with the engine on the way back."
"Well there you are then. They can't really blame you if the train was broken." Gloria looked across at my motorcycle. "That motorbike looks really smart," she said.
I felt relief because Gloria decided to change the subject. "I was thinking I could call for you on Sunday morning and we could go out touring on the bike for the day. If it's nice that is."
"I go to church with my family on Sundays, Ellis."
"Oh yeah. I think Gordy mentioned that."
"Yes, I bet he did, and what else did he mention?"
"Nothing really. Tell you what, forget the touring. I'll pop round and go to church with you."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"Of course not, I'm serious. I'm no stranger to singing hymns and things and I'd love to spend some time with you and your family."
She put her glass on a wall beside the seat. "That's really nice, Ellis. I'd like that very much, thank you." She took my glass from my hand and placed it next to hers before turning to me and smiling for a moment. To my surprise, she put her arms around me and kissed me with a passion I wouldn't have expected from her in public, but which was a pure delight.
* * * * *
I pulled up at Gloria's house on Sunday morning and parked my motorcycle on some paving in her front garden. Gloria was at the door to greet me dressed in a tweed suit and a white blouse. I smiled. "You look like a school teacher."
"Well, I can't go to church in a mini skirt, can I? Anyway, we'll look good together. You look really smart in that suit."
I grinned vainly. "Well, shall we get off then?"
"It's a bit early yet. Come through to the kitchen. My mum's just making a brew."
Her mother smiled at me when I walked into the kitchen. "Well I am impressed," she said. "This is the first time one of Gloria's boyfriends has joined us for church."
"Mum, I've not had that many boyfriends, you know."
"Well, you've had quite a few."
I gave a laugh before deciding Gloria might like a change in the conversation. "Where's your dad?" I asked. "Is he not going?"
"Course he is. He left earlier with Evelyn. He's got a bit of trouble with his chest and takes ages to walk up there. Has to keep stopping."
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"He'll be all right, as long as he keeps taking his medicine."
"Bloody smoking, it's a curse," her mother said. "It killed his father and now it's, well it's making him ill and he won't bloody stop."
"Mum, things are different from when granddad died. Medicine and treatment has improved a lot."
"Well, I don't know about that. Anyway, we'd best get going."
We finished our tea and me and Gloria went outside while her mother cleared the table.
"I'll give you a lift up to the church if you like."
"No, you go ahead. I'll have to walk up with my mother."
"All right then. I'll leave the bike on your front and walk up with you."
Gloria seemed happy with that. She smiled at me as her mother closed the front door and the three of us set off for the fifteen-minute walk to the church. I was pleased I had taken the time to join in the Sunday service with the family. I felt as if, in their eyes, I could do no wrong.
I had been in the school choir back in Chesterfield and I knew the hymns that were sung in the service. I noticed Gloria's look of pride as I sang along with her instead of just quietly mumbling the words like so many people did. After the service, we walked off ahead of her family holding hands.
"Thanks, Ellis, it's really nice of you to come to church with me. And not just being there, but actually joining in the service with me. It means a lot to me, you know."
"That's all right. It's nice to be with you, wherever we are. Don't expect it every Sunday though." I stopped walking, reached over and kissed her.
She pulled away from me. "Stop it, Ellis, everyone's watching." We turned to look back towards her family. Her parents were smiling at us. Evelyn was grinning, she gave a wave and then blew a string of kisses, but Gloria looked away without giving any response. "My mum said you can stay for dinner if you want to."
"Okay, I'll have to pop home though to tell my mum or she'll set me a place."
"Are you gonna get changed? You can help me with the garden if you don't mind. My dad can't manage it till he gets better."
"Whatever you say, Gloria, the day is yours, but the evening is mine, and we'll go up the pub."
"Pub, pub, pub, is that all you lads think of?"
"Church, dinner, garden, is that all you girls think of?"
Gloria laughed. "All right, point taken, we'll have a drink later."
* * * * *
We had a perfect day, finished off by a few drinks and a pasty supper in a country pub. When we got back to her house the rest of her family were in bed. Gloria turned the radio on, setting the volume just high enough for some background music. We sat on the sofa and soon began kissing. I put a hand on her breast. Gloria was nervous and looked to the door making sure it was fully closed. She didn't want anyone looking in unexpected. She soon began to relax, enjoying our caresses. She seemed to be totally at ease with me. My other hand brushed to and fro around one of her knees. I felt she was excited as our caress intensified and I was thrilled by the way she let me proceed further than before. I thought I would take our intimacy a step further and my hand moved straight up under her skirt and onto her knickers.
Her reaction was immediate; she pushed me away and with a clenched fist punched me on the side of my face before jumping up and rushing across the room away from me. "How dare you," she yelled. "How dare you do that."
"I'm sorry, Gloria, I just thought..."
"You just thought what?"
I looked at her as if I were a naughty schoolboy, not having an acceptable answer for her.
"All the lads I've been out with, the nice ones as well as the creeps, they all try it on, but none of them, none of them have had the sodding nerve to do that. I think you'd better go."
This was a disaster. I knew I had done wrong and I was worried she may not want to see me again. "Gloria, don't finish with me just for one stupid mistake. Haven't we had a good day? Haven't you had a good day?"
"I'm not finishing with you Ellis and yes I've had a wonderful day. It has probably been one of the nicest days of my life, and it has just been ruined. I just want you to go, please, I'm tired and I want to go to bed."
"Look, I'm so sorry, I know I shouldn't have done that and I don't blame you for being angry, but don't you think you're over-reacting a bit?"
"No, I don't. You've shocked me, Ellis. No one has ever touched me there before."
I picked up my jacket and walked to the door. "Do you want to see me again, or not?"
Gloria looked at me for a moment before answering. "Yes, of course, I do, but you need to think about what sort of girl you want to be with, and don't you ever do that to me again."
"I won't, you've got quite a punch." I put a hand to my jaw, waiting a moment for a response to my light humoured remark, but I didn't get one. "I'll call for you in the week. We'll go out for a spin somewhere."
"Wednesday night," she said.
"Great, Wednesday night it is. You know you look wonderful when you're angry."
I set off home feeling sorry for myself and wishing I had not been so stupid as to expect Gloria to be all right with my action which I realised was a liberty. I hoped she would forgive me because I felt I was very much in love with her.