Flower Of Hope – Episode 03

LUKE felt sick. Following such an ambitious investment, this theft would certainly translate into a financial loss. The business could bear it, but only just.

He looked at Caroline and knew how hard it must have been for her to admit this to his face.

“Will you speak to Father soon?” Caroline pleaded. “Come to the house when you can. I am worried about him.”

“No doubt he’s as disappointed as we are,” Luke said with resignation. “Do not worry, seeds have been lost to clever villains before. And sometimes recovered, do not forget that! Of course I will visit Mr Waters very soon.”

Caroline relaxed.

“Will you allow me to show you the greenhouses before you leave?” Luke asked, hoping to cheer her.

Her smile left him in no doubt about her happiness at the suggestion.

Luke strode ahead, then slowed, clearly forgetting that Caroline never had trouble keeping up.

“Do you miss your adventure when it is over?” he asked.

“Of course. Don’t you?”

Luke held open the door of a greenhouse.

“Always. But here’s some consolation.”

It was spring wherever they looked. Row upon row, the bright tips of leaves were green with promise. As yet there were few flowers, but early shrubs added their colour.

With their heads bent close together, Luke found it easier to talk.

“When I called at Lyon Place last week Mrs Blackett told me you needed a maidservant.”

“Yes. Is there someone you can recommend?” Caroline asked. “I’ve been so used to making shift for myself for the past year, I’d forgotten about engaging a personal maid.”

“I promised my aunt, before she passed away, that I would find a suitable place for the girl she had trained up,” Luke replied, drawing out a tray of seedlings. “I feel Jane Allebone would suit you. Will you see her?”

Caroline agreed to interview the girl the following week.

Having no family, Jane Allebone had been taken into Luke Hathern’s household, even though there wasn’t work enough.

Albert Lea, who was William’s manservant, teased her about her supposed idleness whenever he called at the Hathern household with mail.

Jane took it in good part. She liked Mr Lea. With his soldiering service in the Crimea, he reminded her of her dear father. So, when the position at the Waters’s household was suggested, Jane eagerly agreed.

She arrived early at Lyon Place. Mrs Blackett led her upstairs to the hall.

She told Jane that Miss Waters had asked specially to see her for herself. Jane squared her shoulders and smoothed her plain skirt.

“A girl to see you, Miss Waters,” Mrs Blackett said, opening a door.

Jane took note of how clear and quiet Mrs Blackett’s voice was when she spoke, and resolved to copy this tone whenever she could. Miss Hathern had taught her there was a great deal a servant might learn by listening to the everyday comings and goings of a household.

The door was suddenly pushed wide, and Jane caught her breath. Books of all sizes stood about the room – tall ones, short ones, thick ones, thin ones.

Jane had never seen so many! She hoped she would never have to dust them all at once.

A tall lady with dark hair swept across from the windows.

“You may sit,” she said to the girl, not unkindly.

Jane went to a chair on the other side of the desk.

“I’ve brought me things, ma’am,” she said.

She tugged a small bundle towards her. Mr Luke had advised her to bring anything that might help her application. Albert Lea had said the same.

Jane didn’t have many belongings anyway, so she’d brought them all.

“Do you have references?”

Jane drew out papers.

“I read here you are very clean, a hard worker, and learn quickly,” Miss Waters said. “Is that true?”

“I’ve been trained up,” Jane averred.

She thought of her dear Miss Hathern, and lifted her chin suddenly.

“I’m most particular, ma’am.”

“You may call me Miss Waters,” the tall lady murmured, still reading. “I never could bear to be ‘marmed’ all day long.”

“My last employer said I was stout-hearted, ma’am – Miss Waters.”

“And where were you living before you worked for Mr Hathern’s aunt?”

There was a pause.

“The workhouse, missus.”

Jane swallowed hard. She’d left that chilly, echoing place long since, but could never quite forget its stony grip.

“After me dad died of fever out in the Crimea, there was nowhere else for me and Mother to go,” she said, her throat tight. “Then Mother died.”

“I’m sorry. But the workhouse guardians found you a position?” Miss Waters asked.

“Yes. I was very happy with Miss Hathern.”

She dared to look directly at Miss Waters’s face for the first time, and was surprised to find that, for a lady, she was not beautiful. But not plain, either. Her eyes were clear, and didn’t look as if they’d miss much.

“After Miss Hathern died, you see,” Jane said, suddenly discovering her tongue worked well enough now her first nervousness had worn off, “Mr Luke came. He used to advise his aunt about her garden. Very interesting, that was! Suitable trees and shrubs and whatnot.

“Afterwards, he asked if he should put in a word for me here and Albert Lea added would I mind travelling with a lady and her father. I told them both that’s just what I always wanted, Miss Waters! Travel, I mean.”

“You wrote this application yourself?”

“I learned my letters at the workhouse, missus,” Jane said proudly. “They said I was quick.”

The tall, handsome lady looked from the girl to the letter in her hand, and back again.

“I think you will suit me very well,” she said at last.

“Do you want me, then, missus – Miss Waters?” Jane beamed.

“I do.” The lady pushed back her chair and stood up. “Fortunately, you don’t look to me like a scaredy cat. Not one bit!”

The tall lady’s eyes were twinkling. Jane had to make an effort not to grin back too broadly. She reckoned she’d landed on her feet with this position!

“Would you like something to eat before the housekeeper shows you your room?”

“Yes, please, missus!”

Experience had taught Jane never to refuse food. In any case, the smell of baking bread wafting up from the kitchen had been tormenting her for at least twenty minutes.

“Tell Cook I said you must have something nourishing before you are taken upstairs. You will be my maid, just as you were Miss Hathern’s, so for the moment, at least, the work will be fairly light and your training will stand you in good stead.

“My father and I will be staying here until our next journey. After that, well, who knows?”

Jane took a deep breath.

“Mr Hathern said I should ask about the wages, Miss Waters.”

“Mr Hathern is a most practical man!” her mistress said with a half-smile. “And quite right, too. I will pay you no less than before. But if you decide this is not the position for you, I promise you can change your mind.”

“I won’t, Miss Waters,” Jane said, swiftly gathering her belongings. “Not for all the tea in China!”


Alison Cook