Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 18


Jenny scratched her cap.

“Maybe on my half day?”

Lizzie’s eyes lit up.

“Yes! We can meet here in the orchard and I can teach you your letters.”

“It can’t be every week. Often I go to my mother’s house. The little ’uns would be disappointed if I didn’t come.”

“Then maybe I could come with you, Jenny. I should like to meet your family. I shall ask Miss Osbourne if I may. I could read to the children.”

Staring at the book in the girl’s lap, Jenny frowned. Miss Elizabeth coming to her mother’s little tumble-down cottage? Jenny would be too ashamed. Then she thought of the look on the children’s faces if the mistress’s daughter was to read from the fairy-tale book.

“I’d like that,” she admitted.

Jenny picked up the basket of apples, then stood up from the bench and walked back through the apple trees towards the house, a feeling of contentment inside her.

****

“Thank you, Miss Osbourne,” Lizzie said, “for persuading Father.”

Emily looked across at the two girls who sat beside her in the dray. When Elizabeth had first asked her if she might visit Jenny’s cottage on the maid’s half day, she had been surprised. She knew that Mrs Peters frowned upon her staff being too friendly with members of the household, and was certain her parents would not approve of the visit.

But then Lizzie had told her of the afternoons she spent in the orchard teaching the young maid to read; how Jenny’s eyes shone with every new word mastered. Maybe this was the way to convince Dr Craven that the visit would be a valuable one.

“By teaching Jenny her letters,” Emily had said one evening as they sat in the drawing-room, “Lizzie is learning the importance of altruism. An important lesson for a doctor’s daughter, don’t you think?”

Dr Craven had looked at her over the top of his newspaper.

“Indeed.”

Emily had hurried on.

“I believe that Elizabeth, as a doctor’s daughter, would benefit from seeing how those less fortunate than herself live. By visiting Jenny’s mother, she will have a better understanding of your work in the community.”

“I believe you are right, Miss Osbourne, as you often are in these matters. I would expect you to accompany her and make sure she gets up to no mischief, though.”

Emily had happily agreed. She was interested herself to meet the family Jenny talked about so often.

Now, as the red brick house grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether around a bend in the road, she was pleased to see the girls’ excited faces. The farmhand clicked the horses on up the steep track that wound its way around Babcock Hill.

Keen to learn more about the family, Emily turned to the maid.

“What is the name of the baby, Jenny?”

“Why, he’s called Hector, miss. It means ‘holding fast’ – he didn’t want to come out, that one!” Jenny carried on. “Then there’s Peter and Simon, the twins, then there’s little Molly and my brother Jed. That’s it, apart from me.”

Emily looked at Lizzie who was silent for a moment, staring wistfully across the fields where a plume of grey smoke from the ornamental chimneys curled above the hill – the only sign of the big house they had left behind. It was clear she was thinking of her own younger brother and his tragic death.

The horses slowed.

“We are here at last,” Emily said, swallowing a lump in her throat. “And look, Jenny, your mother is here to greet us.”

Jenny jumped out of the dray, not caring about the puddles that filled the hollows of the rutted track. She rushed to the small-framed woman who stood beside the gate, a baby in her arms and two identical red-haired boys clutching at her skirts, and kissed her. The woman’s hair was prematurely grey and her clothes, although clean, had seen better days.

She stared at the cart with wide eyes.

“I am sorry we have arrived without prior notice, Mrs Brooker,” Emily said. “We do not wish to put you to any trouble.”

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”.