The Girl From Saddler’s Row – Episode 31

ROLAND’S face was thunderous but Emma had already pushed past and did not see the effect her words had. Her employers she could tolerate but the over-indulged son she could not.

She tried to count her blessings. She had been kept on after her month’s trial was up and was earning a moderate wage. She had much to be thankful for.

Putting up with Roland was small price to pay for all that.

Her stomach growling, since she had been up before five and not a morsel of food had yet passed her lips, she hastened to the kitchen for the crock of pickles and was relieved to see that Roland had gone when she retraced her steps to the dining-hall.

Normally she breakfasted with her employers once the guests were fed. This morning they would have to wait until after their departure. The Chester stage was due at around ten. With the bedlinen to change and rooms to prepare, breakfast this morning would be a sketchy affair.

Here she was wrong. When she returned to the kitchen, the new maidservant that Bertram had engaged had arrived and the table was set for the two of them.

“Emmie, this is Prudence Twosey from the orphanage. She’s to share your room. You may as well eat now, then you can show her what’s what.”

Aggie nodded towards the girl.

“Prudence, this is Emmie.”

“Hello,” the girl said in a nasal voice.

She was thin and sallow and seemed to have a permanent sniff. She did not look Emma in the face.

“Hello, Prudence.” Emma sat down next to her. “Or are you called Prue?”

Before the girl could reply Aggie slammed a plate of bacon and fried bread disapprovingly in front of Emma.

“It’s Prudence, if you please. We had a Prue here once before. She were another one who were no better than she ought to have been.”

Which Emma took to mean that here was another unfortunate victim of the son of the house . . .

“Prudence,” Aggie endorsed firmly. “Like you’re Emmie. We dunna want no high-falutin’ Emmas here!”

Breakfast consumed and the pots dealt with, Emma showed Prudence up to their shared bedroom under the eaves. With an east wind whistling through the cracks in the ill-fitting window and no fireplace, the room was punishingly cold.

“You’ll need to sleep in as many clothes as possible,” Emma told the shivering girl. “This is your uniform.”

She indicated the gown of coarse brown cotton, the starched white pinafore and ugly calico cap that lay on the second narrow iron bed.

“You’ll find a spare sacking apron in the drawer. It’ll keep the white one clean when you do the muckier jobs. All right?”

The girl gave a nod, sniffing.

“Good. I’ll leave you to unpack your bundle, then. Come down as soon as you can. We’re busy today.” Emma shrugged. “Not that that’s anything new!”

Much later, the long day drawing to a close, the two girls sat wearily before the kitchen fire, their hands cradling thick white cups of hot tea, plates bearing wedges of plum cake balanced on their laps. The work might be hard and ceaseless but Emma had to hand it to her mistress, food was not stinted at the hostelry.

She put her cold feet on the fender and as the warmth from the fire penetrated, the chilblains that plagued her during the winter months began to pain and itch.

Aggie directed the new girl an openly inquisitive look.

“What’s your story then, Prudence? Been at the orphanage long?”

“Aye.” Prudence took a slurp of tea, savouring the rich sweet brew as if it were manna from heaven – which, for her, it probably was. “I were left there on the front step as a newborn. I were wearing little knitted bootees. That’s how I come to get my name. Twosey.”

Aggie nodded comfortably.

“Emmie here were luckier. She knew her folks, didna you, Emmie?”

“Yes, I did.”

In order to assuage her employer’s insatiable curiosity, small confidences had been shared during the few weeks she had been here. Emma had spoken briefly of her early years at Parkgate and how she had gone to live with relatives following the loss of both her parents.

She had not given any details of her later life. For now, Chester and her banishment remained her own business.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.