Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 22


“But surely she will find out in the morning and she might hear Doctor Upton’s arrival,” Emily said. “We cannot keep it from her.”

“We must,” Dr Craven said, staring down at his empty hands. “For it was in the small hours that little Freddie lost his battle. The crisis came and when it was over we thought he was sleeping. He looked so peaceful, like an angel, but gradually we came to see that he was no longer with us.”

He took one of Lizzie’s hands and pressed it against his cheek.

“So you see, Miss Osbourne, my wife must know nothing of this until the night is done. You have seen how fragile her health is.”

Emily nodded. She looked at Lizzie’s slight frame under the coverlet.

“Of course, Doctor Craven, I shall say nothing tonight.”

****

The early morning sunlight filtered through the fine lace curtains, casting a pattern of flowers on to the white counterpane of Belinda’s bed.

“Can you keep a secret, Jenny?” Belinda’s eyes were bright. She looked at Jenny in the mirror. “I am engaged to be married!”

Jenny’s hand slowed, the hairbrush resting in the young woman’s thick blonde hair.

“Engaged?”

“He is the most wonderful, charming and most incredibly handsome man I have ever met!” Belinda gushed, her cheeks flushing a delicate pink. “And when he dances, and I am in his arms, he makes me feel so safe. Have you ever been in love, Jenny?”

Jenny thought of Robert – the way he teased her and made her feel so special. She had expected his proposal on the day of the fair, but instead he had stayed behind to help Dr Craven with his packing for the conference.

“I’m not sure, miss,” she said, setting down the brush.

“Oh, but it is the most wonderful feeling in the world!” Belinda got up from the dressing table and hugged her arms around her. “By next year I shall be a bride!”

“Does the master know of the young man’s intentions, miss?”

Belinda’s smile slipped a little.

“I haven’t told him yet, but I am sure that when he meets him, he will love him as much as I do. Now promise me, Jenny, that you will not breathe a word of this to anyone. I want it to be a surprise, for I have invited my fiancé to the autumn ball at Clarence Hall.”

“I won’t say a word, miss. Now, if you please, I have to help prepare the breakfast.”

One of Belinda’s dresses lay on the floor. Jenny picked it up and folded it over her arm; the silk would need careful cleaning and she knew one of the buttons was loose.

As she left the room, she heard voices along the corridor. They seemed to be coming from Miss Elizabeth’s room. One of the voices was Dr Craven’s, but the other, younger than the first, she did not recognise. The door was closed and the voices muffled.

Jenny shrugged and went downstairs.

“There’s something going on upstairs,” she said as she reached the kitchen.

Elsa was sitting at the kitchen table polishing the silver napkin rings. She looked up.

“Oh, haven’t you ’eard? Robert says Miss Osbourne rang for him in the night and asked him to fetch Doctor Upton.”

Jenny bit her tongue. Only a few weeks ago, Robert would have been sharing the gossip with her. The smug look on Elsa’s face told her that she was aware of it, too. Pushing down her jealousy, she tried to keep her voice even.

“Is the mistress unwell, do you think?”

Mrs Banbury, the cook, was at the range, her face damp from the steam that curled up from the pan in front of her. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand and gave the kedgeree a final stir before looking over her shoulder at the girls.

“What goes on upstairs is none of our business, girls. Our job is to make sure the house runs smoothly whatever’s happening. If they want us to know, they’ll tell us soon enough. Now make sure that porridge isn’t sticking, will you, Jenny?”

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”.