- 1 . At Bowerly Hall – 01
- 2 . At Bowerly Hall – 02
- 3 . At Bowerly Hall – 03
- 4 . At Bowerly Hall – 04
- 5 . At Bowerly Hall – 05
- 6 . At Bowerly Hall – 06
- 7 . At Bowerly Hall – 07
I DISCOVERED the stairway down to the servants’ hall and found myself in a long dining-room. There was a polished wooden table and enough chairs to seat quite a number of people.
It was empty and silent but beyond I heard talking.
Following the sound, I went into a large kitchen, low lit by oil lamps and a good range fire. There were two women there. The older one turned and frowned at the sight of me.
“Yes?” she said, rather abruptly.
“I wondered if I might have some dinner.” I smiled politely. “I arrived this evening. I am to be governess to Miss Mary.”
“I know who you are. I’ve finished making meals for the family today. There is hot chocolate on the side there. You may help yourself,” she said begrudgingly.
She turned to her companion, who was dressed in a maid’s uniform.
“Peggy, that’s me away. Turn down the lamps and put out the candles before you go for the night.”
Ignoring me, she brushed past and disappeared, her footsteps slapping on the stone stairs.
“Don’t mind Mrs Bell. Her bark’s worse than her bite − at least, usually. I can get you some bread and butter to go with your hot chocolate, if you like?”
I was grateful for her friendliness.
“Have you come far?” Peggy asked as she poured the thick brown liquid from a silver pot into a cup.
The sweet aroma made my stomach growl.
“From London,” I said, then asked what was on my mind. “Mrs Bell seems to have taken against me. I wonder why?”
For a moment, Peggy looked awkward as she spread the butter on to a thick slice of bread and passed the plate to me.
“You mustn’t take it personal, like. But you see Mrs Smith, who was Miss Mary’s nanny, is Mrs Bell’s cousin.”
“What has that to do with me?” I was bewildered.
Peggy sat with me as I ate. She was a rosy-cheeked young girl with red curls escaping from her cap.
A scattering of freckles graced her nose and she had the look of someone who laughed often.
“Mrs Smith was let go, and Mrs Bell was very unhappy about that. She says her cousin has not been able to find employment locally and will have to move away.”
“Isn’t it normal for the nanny to leave when the child is old enough for a tutor or governess? Miss Mary is seven years old. Too old for a nanny, surely?”
“Mrs Smith hoped to be kept on in another position. I’m sorry to say that Mrs Bell is furious on her cousin’s behalf and she blames you. She thinks if you hadn’t come, Miss Mary would have done with a nanny for longer.”
“His lordship is somewhat . . . absentminded when it comes to his daughter. He might have let things go on the way they were for quite some while. Or so Mrs Bell believes. You coming along has put the cat amongst the pigeons, you see.”
“That’s rather unfair,” I said without thinking.
Then I flushed. I didn’t want to appear to criticise the cook. After all, I was new here and I must try to fit in somehow.
But Peggy didn’t seem to mind. She chuckled and nodded.
“Aye, it is that. Never you mind. Keep your nose clean and keep out of Cook’s way. You’ll be all right.”
I wanted to believe her. At least in Peggy I now had a friendly face amongst the servants.
Feeling much better for the food and hot drink, I took my leave of her and stepped quickly back upstairs to my rooms. They already felt like a sanctuary.
I awoke the next morning after a most unsettled night. I had wild dreams where dark figures chased me across shadowed landscapes and I had tossed and turned in twisted sheets until I was exhausted.
It took all my resolve to ready myself for the first day of my employment.
Mary was waiting for me in the nursery. It was all dark wood panelling and high ceilings at the top of the house. The long windows looked out to the back of the house and had much the same view as mine.
I could see meadows and fields and the sea, today much more blue than grey and considerably calmer.
“What will I be learning?” Mary asked eagerly.
Her little feet danced in excitement and I thought how lovely it was to have such an attentive pupil.
“Perhaps we might start with spelling,” I said, “then I will read you a story and if I am happy with your progress we will do some painting with watercolours. What do you think of that?”
Mary was happy with my suggestions and we set to work. The morning flew past and we got along well.