Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 02

Emily at first thought that her knock had not been heard, but as she bent to wipe the mud from her boots with her handkerchief the door opened and she saw before her a girl of around twelve or maybe thirteen. Her white lawn dress was tied with a blue sash and her ringlets fell to her shoulders.

“You must be Elizabeth.” Emily held out her hand. “I am Miss Osbourne, your new governess.”

The girl gave a bright smile.

“How perfectly lovely to see you. Mama doesn’t like me opening the door. I have been so bored since my last governess left and couldn’t wait to meet you.”

“I am very pleased to be here also, Elizabeth.”

“Oh, call me Lizzie – everyone else does. Except for Mama, that is.”

“If you wish, Lizzie. Now, we should go inside and you can let your mother know that I am here.”

Emily picked up her travelling bag and together they went into the oak-panelled hall. Lizzie rang the bell for Mrs Peters, the housekeeper, and as they waited Emily studied the portraits on the wall. Directly in front of her was a painting of a woman with porcelain white skin. Her coal-black hair was twisted into coils at the side of her head and decorated with silk flowers. Her fragile hands, as delicate as a child’s, lay still in her lap, and at her feet sat a small girl.

“That is Mama, and that was me when I was very young.”

“You mother is very beautiful,” Emily said, admiring the woman’s blue eyes and alabaster skin. There was something haunted in her expression, as if she were looking for something. Emily turned back to the girl. “I see she has passed her beauty on.”

Lizzie blushed and pointed to the picture next to it.

“That is Father, and that . . .” she looked towards a small portrait by the stairs “. . . is Uncle Lewis, Mama’s brother.”

Emily studied the face of the young man. His brown hair curled on to his high collar and his claret cravat was tied with a flourish. The dark eyes that stared out from the portrait were unlike his sister’s, but they were framed with the same long lashes.

This is a man who thinks a great deal of himself, Emily thought, straightening her bonnet.

As she was studying a picture of a white stallion, the housekeeper came down the stairs.

“Oh, Miss Osbourne. I will tell Mrs Craven that you are here. I hope you had a comfortable journey.”

“Yes, thank you. I found the company in the coach very amiable.”

“I am pleased to hear it,” Mrs Peters said. “If you will follow me, I will take you to Mrs Craven. I will come back shortly to show you to your room.”

Bidding Emily stay in the hallway, the housekeeper opened the door of the drawing-room and Emily heard her speak to her mistress. After a moment she appeared again and beckoned her to follow.

“Mrs Craven will see you now.”

Emily followed Mrs Peters into the drawing-room. It was a pleasing room, with its walls covered in green flock print and the rays of the late evening sun casting small squares of light from the windows across the oak floor.

“Mama!” Lizzie cried, following her in. “Miss Osbourne is here at last.”

Mrs Craven turned from the vase of flowers she was arranging.

“Cream is such a serene colour, don’t you think, Miss Osbourne?” she said, lifting the rose she was holding to her nose and breathing in its fragrance. Her voice was low and had a singsong quality to it.

“It is indeed,” Emily replied, taking in the beautiful, well-proportioned room.

“I hope you will be very happy here at Babcock Manor. As I said in my letter, Elizabeth will have lessons every morning until noon, and then the afternoons will be for more creative pursuits, sewing or painting, perhaps . . ..” She walked to the open window and stood with her back to the two of them.

Emily waited for her to continue, but the sentence remained unfinished. Mrs Craven remained where she was, as still as the statue on the lawn, staring out into the distance.

“If you could just tell me where I am to take my meals, Mrs Craven.”

The woman at the window gave a small shake of her head and then turned back to the room with a faint smile.

“You shall eat your meals with Elizabeth in the nursery, but you will be welcome in the drawing-room with the family after she has gone to bed. My husband, Cedric, will be back from his rounds and will be pleased to meet you.”

Emily nodded.

“There is just one thing. My brother will be joining us this evening as well.”

Emily found herself more than a little intrigued at the idea of meeting the dark stranger in the portrait.

“I will be happy to make his acquaintance also. Now, perhaps Lizzie might like to show me around the house.”

“Oh, yes!” Lizzie said, giving a twirl so that her ribbons flew out from her dark hair. “Then after supper, I will show you the grotto and the walled garden. It looks so pretty in the evening.”

She took Emily’s hand and with a wave to her mother, led her across the room and back into the hall.

“Where shall we start?” she said.

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”.