Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 03

“Doctor Craven has asked if someone can be spared to take these lozenges to Bethany Gilbert in the village. I told him that I would give you the time off to do it. You’ll be back before the light fails.”

Jenny took the package from Mrs Banbury and put it in her apron pocket. It would be good to have some fresh air after a day in the hot kitchen.

“Mind you don’t go dawdling. There will be pans to scour when you get back.”

Jenny took her coat from the back of the door and let herself out. The air still had a warmth to it, but the shadows were long across the lane. She would need to put her best foot forward if she wanted to be back before sundown.

She climbed the stile into the field that led down Babcock Hill to the village of Wenton. If she took the shortcut, it would save her at least 30 minutes.

The land belonged to John English. She had heard Mr Thomas say that he’d made his money on the railways, and the newly built Clarence Hall was certainly the grandest in the area with its elaborate brickwork and pointed arched windows. As she walked across the field she could just see its belvedere tower – it had been the talk of the kitchen for weeks.

Ahead of her was a small copse. As she reached the first tree, she felt a wave of tiredness come over her. With two guests to prepare for, Mrs Banbury had awoken her at four-thirty to clean the downstairs grates. The sun was still above the treetops – a short rest wouldn’t harm.

Leaning her back against the silver bark of a birch tree, she tipped her head to watch the skylarks hovering in the clear sky, and as the breeze shook leaf patterns across her face, she felt her eyes flutter and then close. Just five minutes, she thought. What could be the harm in that?

When she awoke, the rooks were cawing in the trees. At first Jenny wondered where she was. The birds sounded like they were chiding her. It reminded her of Mrs Banbury each time she curdled the eggs. With that thought, her mind returned to her errand.

“Oh, my!” She gasped, standing and shaking the dirt from her clothes. Lifting the hem of her skirts, so as not to trip, she ran the rest of the way down the hill until she reached the stile at the bottom.

Bethany Gilbert lived at the far end of the village. Pleased to find her home, Jenny handed over the lozenges and, after refusing some cordial for her pains, started the walk back to Babcock Manor where she knew Mrs Banbury would be waiting to give her a good scolding.

The sky was turning from blue to indigo and a slip of moon was starting to rise as Jenny passed the Dog and Duck. As she walked by, she noticed a handsome bay tied to a tethering post. She stopped to stroke its nose and as she did so heard a voice behind her.

“His name is Prince. It suits him, don’t you think?”

Jenny turned to find herself face to face with the most handsome man she had ever seen. His eyes were the colour of Mrs Banbury’s molasses and his smile made her forget the chill of the early evening air. The smell on his breath reminded her of when the drayman delivered the ale to the Manor, and as he stood before her in his tail coat, a top hat in his hand, he swayed slightly.

She gave a quick curtsey.

“Pardon me, sir. I like horses, is all.”

The gentleman raised his hand and lifted a curl that had escaped from her hat.

“We all appreciate fine things,” he said.

Jenny took a step back, confused by the touch of his hand as it brushed her cheek.

“I must go, sir,” she said. “Cook will have me guts for garters if I’m late back.”

The young man’s smile was amused.

“Will she now? Then maybe you’ll accept a ride back to save you from a chiding.”

For a moment Jenny imagined what it would feel like to have her arms around his slim waist, then just as quickly she remembered herself.

“No, thank you, sir. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll walk.”

“As you wish,” the gentleman replied. “Good evening to you, pretty one. I imagine we will be seeing more of one other in the near future.”

As he mounted his horse and galloped away down the lane, Jenny felt a mixture of excitement and dread fight for space inside her.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.