Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 19


As Emily alighted from the dray, followed by Lizzie, Jenny’s mother stepped forward. She gave a small curtsey and her tired face broke into a smile.

“Can this be Miss Osbourne, who Jenny’s always talking about, and young Miss Elizabeth?”

“It is, Ma,” Jenny said, her freckled face beaming. “Miss Elizabeth has promised to read to the little ones from Grandma’s fairy-tale book.”

“Has she now? That’s very kind of her.” Mrs Brooker stepped aside and gestured to the door, where a little girl with dark curls leaned against the frame. “Move out of the way there, Molly, and let the ladies through. I’ve just made some tea. Will you have some?”

“I’d be delighted,” Emily said, stepping through the low door. “Why, this is nice.”

The cottage, though small, was filled with sunlight, and on the window-sills stood jars of late summer roses and sedums. Beyond the small parlour a kettle was singing on the range and Jenny’s mother bustled through and lifted it with a folded cloth, the baby still in the crook of her arm.

“Please sit down and make yourself at home, Miss Osbourne.”

Emily sat on one of the small chairs by the window. Through the muslin curtains she could see Elizabeth pushing one of the twins on the swing that was tied to the low branch of an apple tree.

Smiling, she turned back to Jenny’s mother.

“Jenny says she has another brother, Jed. Is he here, Mrs Brooker?”

“He’s upstairs, miss. He’s not feeling too bright and complains of a sore head.”

Emily’s heart went out to the poor boy, but just as she was thinking of something to say to this, the girls came through the door, the younger children following behind.

“Lizzie’s going to read from the fairy book, Ma,” one of the twins said, hopping from one foot to the other. “I’ll get it.”

He kneeled on the window seat and lifted the book from the window-ledge, handing it to Lizzie with a grin.

She opened the book at a page with a mermaid.

“Would you like this one?”

“Wait, Miss Elizabeth, I’ll go and get Jed. It’s his favourite and he’d hate to miss it.”

Jenny ran up the stairs and when she came down again, a few minutes later, she was followed by a boy of around ten or eleven. His arms were wrapped around his body and his cheeks were flushed.

He sat down on the floor beside Lizzie and raised his face to her expectantly.

“Are you gonna tell us the real story, miss?”

“Yes, Jed. Though it may not be as good as the one Jenny makes up for you.”

Lizzie smiled at Jenny and Emily could see by the tell-tale flush of the young maid’s cheeks that she was pleased.

“Far out in the ocean,” she began, “where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower . . .”

Emily sipped her tea and listened to Lizzie’s clear voice as it filled the small room. The younger children’s faces were transfixed, and the only sound in the room, apart from Lizzie’s voice, was the buzzing of a fat bluebottle and Jed’s muffled cough.

****

Two days had passed since their visit to Jenny’s family, and Emily had been amused to listen to Lizzie’s happy chatter about the children and the beautiful fairy-tale book.

On their return, Emily had described to Dr Craven the unnatural flush of young Jed’s cheeks and the clamminess of his skin, and today he had travelled to the cottage to check on the lad.

But there was no time to think of that now, for the household was excited at the imminent arrival of Dr Craven’s ward, Belinda. She would be arriving in Wenton on the ten o’clock stage and would be staying at Babcock Manor for the coming month.

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”.