Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 01


“There it is, miss. At the top of the hill. Babcock Manor.”

The farm hand who had been sent to pick Emily up from the Dog and Duck, where she had alighted from the stagecoach, pointed across the field. She shielded her eyes with her hand and stared at the red-brick house, so different from the little cottage she had left behind in Morsley.

“I’ll get out here, thank you,” she said. “It’s a beautiful afternoon so I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

“As you like.” The man jumped down and offered her his hand. “There’s a stile further down the lane. Once over it, if you follow the track it will take you past the lake and on to the house. Visiting, are you?”

Emily shook her head.

“I am to be governess to Doctor Craven’s daughter, Elizabeth.”

“Ah, Miss Lizzie,” he replied, climbing back on to the dray and clicking to the horse. “Lovely young lady. They’ll treat you well there, though Mrs Craven is a strange one.”

“I can’t imagine what you mean.”

“Don’t take me up wrong, she’s beautiful, but . . .” He shrugged. “Quiet, like. People say she’s like the snow queen, her skin is so pale.”

“I see.”

“’Course, none of my business what goes on at the Manor – as long as I’m paid for mucking out the horses, I’m happy.”

“Then I’ll bid you good day.”

Emily tied her bonnet, trimmed with ribbon, more securely under her chin and picked her way across the rutted path to the stile. In the distance stood Babcock Manor, its tall sash windows glinting in the sunlight. It seemed to beckon to her.

“This is it,” she said to herself as she raised her skirts and placed her laced boot on the stile. “This is where my new life begins.”

****

“Stop jigging around, girl. You’ve been as skittish as a kitten all afternoon. Come and help me roll this pastry.” Mrs Banbury sifted some flour from the enamel dredger on to the table. She pulled off a piece of dough from the china bowl beside her and placed it in front of Jenny.

“But it isn’t half exciting! We don’t get many new faces up at the Manor. Do you think she’ll be pretty?”

“What’s it to you, Jenny? A kitchen maid’s mind should be on scrubbing the potatoes, not worrying about what them upstairs are doing.”

A rough voice cut in.

“She’d have to be a beauty to hold a candle to you, Mrs B.”

Jenny laughed as the cook took a well-aimed swipe at Robert, the under-footman, with her rolling pin.

He jumped back, feigning indignation.

“Enough of your cheek, my lad,”
Mrs Banbury said. “Isn’t it time you were preparing the table in the dining-room? Don’t you let Mr Thomas catch you loitering down here as if you hadn’t anything better to do.”

At the mention of the butler’s name, Jenny gave a squeal.

“Oh, do you think Mr Thomas has decided whether he’ll let us have the evening off tomorrow to go to the fair?”

Mrs Banbury tutted.

“That’s for him to know and for you to find out, young lady. I’m sure he’ll tell us all in good time, but in the meantime there’s pies to be baked or none of us will eat tonight.”

Jenny turned a flushed face to Robert. First they’d had the news that Miss Lizzie’s new governess would be arriving that afternoon, and then the promise of the fair. She closed her eyes and clutched her floury hands to her chest. Maybe, at the fair, Robert would propose. After all, they had been walking out for seven months now.

Robert smiled.

“I’ll buy you a flower for your bonnet, Jen. Blue to match your eyes. I’ll even let you hold my hand on the Big Wheel if you get scared.”

“There’s nothing that frightens me,” Jenny said, rolling out the pastry dough with a strong stroke. Secretly, though, she was pleased at the thought.

“Enough of your daydreaming, girl. Be useful and pick me some sage from the herb garden.” Mrs Banbury handed Jenny a bowl and shooed her out of the back door. “It’ll flavour the pork lovely.”

Jenny stepped out into the small kitchen garden and was just stooping to pick the soft grey herb when something caught her eye. Across the pasture, a figure in a blue coat was climbing the hill towards the Manor. As she watched, the woman bent to pick a cowslip before continuing across the damp grass.

“She’s here, Mrs Banbury!” Jenny rushed back into the kitchen clutching the sage. “She isn’t half pretty!”

Mrs Banbury moved to the window, standing on tiptoe in order to see over the hedge that framed the kitchen garden.

“Let’s hope she has a sensible head on her shoulders, what with Mr Jupp coming to stay.”

Jenny smiled widely.

“I’ve heard the parlour-maids say that Madam’s brother is easy on the eye.”

“If only that were all,” Mrs Banbury muttered, walking away from the window and back to her pastry.

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”.