Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 07


With a grunt the man continued to deal the cards and the game began. As the money began to pile up in the middle of the table, Lewis’s eyes shone with excitement. He called to the serving maid and ordered another round of ale for himself and his fellow players.

“This time I’ll be lucky,” he whispered to her. “Good health,” he said, turning back to the men and raising his tankard. “Tonight you will all go home with light pockets.”

The man to his left sniggered, his face as pinched as a weasel.

“Not me,” he said. “I’ve got the luck of the Irish.”

Lewis gave his slow smile as he showed his hand with four kings.

“Four aces!” The farmer shoved his cards under Lewis’s nose.

“You’re a cheat,” Lewis shouted, throwing his cards on to the beer-covered table.

The man’s face grew redder. He stood suddenly, shoving back his chair and upturning the table as he did so.

“No-one calls me a cheat!” He grabbed the lapel of Lewis’s coat.

Lewis tried to wrestle from his grip but the man was stronger. He swung back his arm and the blow Lewis received sent him back into the arms of the watching crowd. They pushed him forward and the man grabbed him once more and twisted his arm behind his back.

“I won’t waste my time on a toff like you,” the man said, pocketing the money from the table.

As Lewis stumbled across the room and out of the public house, the men’s jeers followed him. He breathed heavily and dabbed at his face with his pocket handkerchief, his face red with anger.

He straightened his waistcoat and was just about to leave the fair when he caught sight of the two young maids from Babcock Manor.

****

The candy floss was pink and sticky and Jenny pulled at the bits that had attached themselves to her hair.

Even without Robert, the evening had been wonderful. She had thrown balls at the coconuts and won a trinket, ridden a white horse with a flowing mane on the carousel and had her fortune told by a lady in a black headscarf and hooped earrings, who had told her that she would meet a handsome dark-haired stranger.

She linked arms with Charlotte, the undermaid.

“Coming on the Big Wheel?”

“Oh, no. I hates heights. You go on, though, Jen. I’ll see you after at the Punch and Judy.”

Jenny walked to the latest attraction and joined the queue. She looked up. The striped canopies of the seats passed lazily in front of her eyes in a never-ending circle, making her feel dizzy. When at last the ride slowed to a halt, she paid her pennies and took a seat, sad to be sitting alone rather than with Robert.

“Last chance for the Big Wheel!” the fairground hand called.

“I shall take this last seat, if the young lady doesn’t object.”

Jenny felt the seat sway and bit her lip as Lewis Jupp took the seat beside her. His hair was plastered to his face and there was the unmistakable smell of liquor on his breath. At the side of his cheek, just below his eye, a bruise was blooming.

Before she could answer, the organ started up again and the wheel started to turn. As the chair lifted and the stripy awnings of the fairground stalls dipped away from them, Jenny caught her breath. Her stomach gave a sickening lurch. It had been a mistake to come on here, but it was too late now.

As the sweat on her brow chilled in the night air, her teeth started to chatter.

“It’s all right, little one. You don’t need to be scared.”

Jenny felt Lewis take her hand in his, but was too frozen with fear to do anything about it. As they swooped upwards the stars glittered above them, but Jenny was unaware of their beauty. She closed her eyes tight, wishing Robert was there to reassure her.

Eventually the wheel slowed to let people off, but her ordeal was not over yet. Their swinging chair came to a standstill high above the fairground. She gave a shudder and Lewis put his arms around her shoulders, pulling her tightly to him. Despite herself, she felt comforted by the warmth of the man’s body and she allowed herself to relax against him.

For several minutes they stayed there, suspended from the great metal frame of the wheel.

Just as she felt she could bear it no longer, the wheel moved again and at last the chair reached the bottom.

Jenny’s legs felt weak as she stepped off the ride, relieved to be on steady land again. She looked around for Charlotte but Lewis took her arm.

“Not so fast,” he said. “You weren’t so keen to get away a minute ago.”

Jenny stared at him. His gait was unsteady and the tails of his coat muddied.

“I must go, sir,” she said, but as she made to leave, Lewis’s grip on her arm tightened.

She tried to pull away, but he pulled her close.

“Get off me!” she cried, but her voice disappeared into the noise of the crowd.

Lewis’s voice rasped in her ear.

“Not if you want a job to go back to.”

Summoning all her strength, Jenny shoved him and Lewis stumbled back, grabbing at the tent pole to steady himself. Jenny picked up her skirts and ran back into the crowds, refusing to listen to the words that echoed so loudly in her head.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.