Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 09


The following morning, Emily woke early. The sound of horses’ hooves echoing in the courtyard below drew her to the window, where in the pink light of dawn she saw Lewis Jupp dismount from his horse.

She had not seen him since the night of the fair, and she remembered clearly how, as they had driven back through empty lanes in the phaeton, her enquiry as to the cause of the livid bruise under his eye had gone unanswered.

Luckily, excited by her evening, Lizzie had seemed unaware of her uncle’s mood, but Lewis’s brooding face had stayed in Emily’s own memory long after they had alighted at Babcock Manor and retired to bed.

Unable to settle, Emily dressed quickly, deciding to take a light breakfast in the conservatory that looked out over the back lawns. She pinned her hair into a neat bun and, opening the door as quietly as she could so as not to disturb Lizzie in the room next to her, stepped out on to the landing.

A pale light filtered through the arched window at the end of the corridor, and the portraits on the walls, in their heavy frames, looked down on her as she walked quietly by.

She knew the downstairs household would have started their day already, getting the coppers boiling for the laundry and blacking the hearths ready for
Dr Craven’s return from the conference.

For the time being, though, all was quiet, save for the loud ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs.

She was just passing the library door when a sound met her ears. At first she thought she had imagined it, but as she moved closer it became clearer. It sounded like the tearing of paper.

The library door was ajar. Pushing it open further, Emily caught her breath.

In the middle of the library floor sat Mrs Craven, her full skirts around her, amidst a sea of paper which she had torn from the books that were scattered nearby.

She watched as her employer picked up another book, feverishly flicking through the pages until she found what she was looking for. As Emily looked on with wide eyes, she took the page between thumb and forefinger, then, with trembling fingers, ripped it from its bindings.

Emily was unsure whether or not to make her presence known, but there was something in the faraway look in the woman’s eyes as she tore at the pages that made her back away, pulling the door closed behind her.

****

When Emily reached the conservatory, she was surprised to find Lewis already there, half hidden by one of the giant palms. He had propped his feet up on one of the cane chairs and a lit cigar was in his hand.

“Well, well,” he said, parting the leaves so that he might see her better. “A vision indeed. I thought you might be a spectre, the way you crept in.”

Not wanting to stay and talk, but aware that she would appear rude if she left, Emily took the chair next to him. Outside the window, creamy roses clung to the stone wall that framed the manicured lawn and in the distance a pale sun was rising over Babcock Hill.

“I shall ring for some coffee,” Lewis said, reaching for a bell pull on the wall. “And then we shall discuss music, or the arts, or whatever else it is that you ladies like to talk about.”

Glad that the black mood that had been upon him when she had last seen him appeared to have gone, Emily smiled.

“It is not necessary to entertain me, Mr Jupp. I shall be quite content to sit and read until Elizabeth is ready to start her lessons.”

“I see you have no book, Miss Osbourne. Maybe you’d like to borrow one from the library.”

Emily thought of Mrs Craven, her blue silk dress spread around her like a lake, and shook her head. Slipping her hand into the pocket of her skirt, she brought out a small book of poetry.

“That is kind, but I shall be content with this.”

“As you wish.” Lewis crossed one leg over the other and balanced his cigar on the edge of a porcelain ashtray that lay on the table beside him.

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”.