- 4 . At Bowerly Hall – 04
- 5 . At Bowerly Hall – 05
- 6 . At Bowerly Hall – 06
- 7 . At Bowerly Hall – 07
- 8 . At Bowerly Hall – 08
- 9 . At Bowerly Hall – 09
- 10 . At Bowerly Hall – 10
MY, what an appetite you have, miss.” Peggy grinned as Mary tucked into her late luncheon with enthusiasm.
I had asked for eggs and bread and Peggy had brought them to the nursery. She lingered to chat.
“Peggy, do you know of a way down to the beach from the cliffs?” I asked.
The maid nodded.
“Yes, it’s easy enough if you’re local. I daresay you missed the stairs, not knowing the area.”
She laughed and her bright curls bobbed under her cap. She pushed them up out of sight and winked at Mary, who giggled and popped another spoonful of egg into her mouth.
I was pleased to see such a good appetite after our exertions. She was still pale but I had high hopes for more such outings, in spite of her father.
“Yes, stairs. Not real ones, of course, like in a house nor nothing. They’re made out of stone. Someone a long time ago cut them out. Must’ve been hard work chiselling them out, right enough.”
“Where are they? We walked along the cliff edge but couldn’t find a way down.”
I didn’t mention that I thought we might have found them just as Lord Bowerly interrupted us. From Peggy’s answer I realised I was right. We had been just about at the top of the chalk “stairs”.
“But you must be careful, Miss Thorne,” she said, her usual cheerful face for once solemn. “There’s more than one villager lost their lives over those cliffs.”
“But the stairs are safe?” I persisted.
I wasn’t sure why. Only that it piqued me to be forbidden to go there.
The viscount had given no reason for his command. Unfortunately, that made me only more determined to find the beach and see what the fuss was all about.
“Oh, yes.” Peggy nodded. “Once you’re on the stairs they’re wide and flat. There’s no rail but as long as you take them slow, you’re fine.
“The danger is in the cliffs themselves. It’s so difficult to see the edge. That’s why most folk around here avoid them.” She smiled. “There’s a much nicer beach a mile or so along the coast. It’s flat there with no horrid rock faces to climb down. On my Sunday off, if it’s a dry day me and my sisters walk there with a picnic. Lovely, it is.”
I envied Peggy. Although she was a maid and poorly paid for her drudgery, she had a family with which to enjoy her leisure hours. She was rich in the ways that matter.
“Please, Miss Amelia, are there more eggs?” Mary said.
“You’ve eaten every last one, but we can order more from the kitchen.” I smiled.
Peggy rubbed the back of her neck.
“If I’d known you liked them eggs so much, I’d have asked Cook to make you some long ago. It was always milk puddings every day − that was your favourite.” Mary made a face.
“I hate milk pudding.”
“It is good for you,” I rebuked her mildly, “but eggs and vegetables are good, too. Now, eat up your dessert apple and see if that fills you up.”
I could guess who had ordered the daily milk pudding. Mary’s nanny, no doubt.
Yet in this I couldn’t fault her. It was a staple of the nursery diet and of benefit to delicate stomachs. However, I decided if Mary liked eggs, then eggs she would get from now on.
I was glad to see her with an appetite.
The door opened and Mrs Dane came in. Her expression changed from carefully blank to disapproving when she saw Peggy.
“There is dusting to be done in the bedrooms. Go along now. It won’t wait on you all day.”
Peggy scuttled off, eyes downward.
“Can I help you, Mrs Dane?” I asked politely.
Her steely glare didn’t waver.
“Lady Bowerly asks for your presence in the drawing-room.”
I followed her ramrod-straight back down the staircase until our paths diverged.
Lady Anne rose gracefully from her chair when she saw me. There was a square of embroidery draped on a small occasional table at which she must have been working.
“Ah, Amelia. How are you settling in? Is everything to your liking?”
I was touched that she should care. I think that the link between her, Mrs Bidens and my dear mother helped.
I was deeply aware of the strange division between the family and their staff that I appeared to straddle precariously. Mrs Dane clearly disapproved of me coming to the drawing-room to talk to her Ladyship.
“I am quite content, thank you. Mary is a wonderful little girl and I am sure we shall get along very well in our lessons.”
She looked mildly surprised at my enthusiasm. I realised that, despite her obvious fondness for Mary, she probably had little to do with her on a daily basis.
I knew that since Mrs Smith had left, it was Peggy’s job to get Mary clean and fresh to be presented to Lady Anne and his Lordship before their dinner.
The impression I got from Peggy was that Mary wasn’t downstairs for very long each day. That didn’t mean she wasn’t much loved, I reminded myself. It was simply the way grand families lived.
How different it was from my own country upbringing.
“That is very good news indeed.” Lady Anne smiled. “I hope you will be happy here, Amelia.”
She sat down in the armchair and picked up her embroidery. I hesitated, unsure whether I had been dismissed or not.
She looked up as if she had remembered something else she wanted to say.