At Bowerly Hall-16

HOW exactly can you help?” Mrs Dane asked stiffly. It was too much to expect that she’d welcome me warmly.

“Peggy has explained that there’s a fever going round the staff. I’m offering to help look after them. Miss Mary is with Lady Anne and I am free for a few hours. Let me tend to Edna and Lil. That way you can pursue your other tasks.”

She pursed her lips as if she’d refuse and looked at me suspiciously; then, to my relief, she nodded.

“Very well. You may nurse the maids. If they show signs of improving, please send them downstairs. I am extremely short staffed.”

Once I had reached Edna and Lil in their small attic bedroom I knew they were not going to be going downstairs for a while. They tossed and turned, moaning. Their faces were shiny with sweat.

I opened the window to let in fresh air. I didn’t want them to get too cold, yet it was vital that I bring down their temperature.

It was a long morning of carrying up fresh bowls of water. The two maids were no better and I heard from Peggy that one of the stable hands was sick now, too. I made very sure that I scrubbed my face and hands well before I joined Mary for lunch.

She was sitting, kicking her heels on her chair and reading a book. I frowned and she stopped her kicking.

“That’s better,” I said approvingly. “Did you enjoy your morning?” She nodded.

“Yes, Grandmamma told me stories and showed me her new tea set. It’s got pink roses on it and gold paint on the rims. She’s going to give it to me when I’m a grown lady.”

“What’s the matter, then?” I asked, seeing that she wasn’t in the best of moods.

“I was meant to stay until luncheon, wasn’t I? But Grandmamma sent me away early because her head was sore. Did I do something wrong?”

“No, of course not,” I said, gathering her to me for a cuddle. “When someone has a headache they need to be quiet and lie down.”

I prayed that Lady Anne was not succumbing to the fever.

“When am I going to get my food? Why isn’t Peggy here?”

“Peggy’s very busy today. You stay here and I’ll go and fetch our luncheon from the kitchen.”

The kitchen was unusually quiet. Mrs Bell was stirring a large pot of steaming soup. She rubbed her forehead wearily and glanced up at my footsteps.

“What do you want?” she said rudely.

“Miss Mary is hungry. I’ve come to fetch us something to eat.”

“There’s soup and bread, that’s all. I’m on me own today, there’s no-one else to help with the cooking and preparing and chopping and whatnot.”

“Where’s Peggy?”

She snorted and made a sour face.

“How would I know? Mrs Dane’s gone and taken her for other chores. Cleaning upstairs, I should imagine.”

Poor Peggy. The other maids’ sickness meant extra duties for her. I hoped she wouldn’t get sick, too.

“You’ll have to help yourself. There’s a ladle there. Plates on the rack. Cutlery in that drawer.”

Her tone was barely civil.

I felt like snapping back at her. It wasn’t my fault that I’d been hired in place of her cousin. She shouldn’t hold a grudge against me.

I remembered Sarah’s warning about Mrs Bell’s husband. It was best that I didn’t engage too much with this woman.

“Thank you so much,” I said calmly.

She looked briefly surprised then narrowed her eyes. She couldn’t fault me for manners, even if she suspected I was  being ever so slightly sarcastic.

Without further ado, I took hold of the enormous, heavy ladle and managed to fill two plates of vegetable soup.

There was a wheaten loaf on a board. I took up the knife that lay beside it, and cut two slices. They were uneven but would be tasty nonetheless.

“It’s like an indoor picnic,” I explained to Mary. “That’s why it’s just soup and bread.”

“No cake?” she asked dubiously.

I’d forgotten to ask Mrs Bell for a pudding. I didn’t feel like venturing back to the kitchen.

“No cake, unfortunately.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” I called, thinking it was Peggy.

Mrs Dane entered, her black dress rustling with starch. I stood up.

“Mrs Dane, is everything all right? Is there more sickness in the house? Can I help you?”

She smiled. She actually smiled!

“You’ve been a big help to me already, Miss Thorne. I think I may have misjudged you. I hope you will accept my thanks for your work today. Peggy tells me that Edna and Lil are much calmer than this morning. All down to your care.”

It was the longest speech I’d heard her make. My heart lightened.

I smiled back at her.

“Not at all. It was my pleasure. I’m glad to hear the maids are improving. Although I’d caution against them getting up too soon.”

“Have no worry. I am quite aware they need to recuperate. The doctor made that clear. It looks like we will have to hold the fort for a few days to come.”

It warmed me to hear myself included.

“I’m sure we can hold the fort admirably. I look forward to it.”


She was all business-like once more, as if embarrassed at her loose tongue. But I sensed the change in her. We were perhaps not friends yet, but allies or acquaintances. On the same side, at the very least.

“I will look in on Edna and Lil before I go to bed tonight,” I said, “and if there is anything else you need me to do, please let me know.”

“Very well. I’ll leave you to your charge now. I know you will be busy until the evening.” She swept out of the room. Mary and I exchanged a glance.

“She likes you now,” my charge said happily.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!