Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 08


Emily was tying a shiny red ribbon, bought from one of the fairground stalls, into Lizzie’s hair when the young maid from the house stumbled past, her dress spattered with mud and her face wet with tears.

“My dear, whatever is the matter?” Emily asked, catching her arm. “It’s Jenny, isn’t it?”

The young girl pulled away.

“Yes, miss. There’s nothing the matter.”

As she spoke she looked over her shoulder towards the fairground tents, and Emily saw the way she twisted her skirts into a bunch in her fists.

“I’m not sure I believe you, Jenny. Something has happened. Won’t you tell me what?”

Jenny looked at her shoes – they were caked in mud.

“I can’t tell you, miss. Really I can’t. If I do, I’ll lose my job.”

Beside her, Lizzie’s face was creased in concern. She reached out a hand.

“I am sure that isn’t so, Jenny.”

The young maid flinched at her touch, but undaunted, the girl carried on.

“Whatever you have done, it can’t be that bad. Shall I speak to Mama when I get back?”

Jenny shook her head, her eyes earnest.

“No, Miss Lizzie. Please don’t say anything to Mrs Craven.”

Lizzie was going to protest, but Emily stopped her before she could speak. It would do no good to press the girl further; there was something in the pallor of the maid’s skin and the unnatural shine of her eyes that worried her.

Giving her brightest smile, she took Lizzie’s hand.

“I am sure that it is something and nothing, Lizzie. Certainly not anything for you to be worrying yourself about.”

She turned to Jenny again.

“Dry your eyes now or you will be having Mrs Banbury asking questions.”

At the mention of the cook’s name, Jenny rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand.

“I’d better go now, miss. She said to be back at nine-thirty sharp.”

“Well, then, why don’t you travel back in the carriage with us? I’m sure Mr Jupp won’t mind.”

At the sound of Lewis’s name, Jenny’s face crumpled.

“I can’t!”

“Why ever not, Jenny? It will save you a scolding from Mrs Banbury.”

Shaking her head, Jenny lifted up her skirts and, without another word, turned on her heels and disappeared into the crowds, leaving the two of them staring after her.

****

“What’s the matter with you? You’re as jumpy as a pail of frogs!”

Jenny scowled at the cook and banged another pot on to the wooden drainer. She had slept little since the night of the fair and found it hard not to jump every time one of the little bells on the wall rang, imagining it to be Mrs Craven summoning her upstairs to hand her her notice or, worse still, that it was the mistress’s brother.

“She’s sulking because the new maid’s going to be arriving tomorrow,” Robert said, draping an arm around Jenny’s neck and kissing her cheek.

She pulled away, pretending to wipe some soap suds from her eye. What would Robert do if he knew how foolish she had been, allowing Mister Jupp to sit next to her on the fairground ride?

Now, though, there were other things to think about. In all her worry, she had completely forgotten that there was to be a new member of the downstairs household.

“You mind you make her welcome, now, girl,” Mrs Banbury said, dredging flour into a china bowl. “She’ll be here before supper. Don’t forget she’ll be sharing your room, so you’d best make sure it’s tidy before she gets here.”

Jenny thought of the little attic room under the eaves, with its iron bedstead and simple table and chair in the corner. The small window looked out over the fields, and after her work was finished she liked to press her forehead against the cold glass and stare at the trees, silhouetted against the moonlit sky.

The thought of sharing her precious space made her sad.

“I wonder what she’ll look like.” Robert dipped a finger in the pudding mixture and Mrs Banbury cuffed him. Rubbing his head, he winked at Jenny. “Two pretty maids in the kitchen – won’t that be something!”

Although she knew it was just his way, Jenny pressed her lips together. She hated it when Robert said these things. If Dr Craven hadn’t required his help packing for his medical conference on the night of the fair, they might now be betrothed.

She banged another pot on the drainer and Mrs Banbury looked at her sharply.

“All I can say is that she had better be good at her work. I haven’t time to be coaching people in their duties. Now, think what you’re doing with those pots, Jenny. If you scrub them any harder there will be nothing left of them.”

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”.