Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 23


Taking a cloth, Jenny lifted one of the copper pans from the heat. She scraped the bottom with a wooden spoon and thought about the day to come.

Outside the window the sky was already promising a fine day. Although still early, the sun cast squares of light across the flagstones. It was Jenny’s favourite time of day. She would help prepare the breakfast and then step outside with the first of the day’s washing, hanging it out while the air still had a chill in it and the grass sparkled with dew.

Today was her half day and after lunch she would sit in the orchard with Miss Elizabeth and practise her reading. She had promised to bring a new book for her to look at.

“How are you getting on as lady’s maid to Miss Belinda?”

For a moment, Jenny had forgotten where she was. Mrs Banbury was giving her a sharp look. Thinking of the morning’s conversation, she felt her cheeks redden.

“It’s all right, I suppose,” she said, adding a pinch of salt to the porridge. “But Miss Belinda makes such a lot of work. She drops her dresses on the floor and it takes an age to iron out the creases.”

“She’s a flighty thing, that one.”

“The house seems all topsy-turvy at the moment,” Jenny continued. “What with Miss Belinda drifting round and the mistress so quiet and . . .” She stopped quickly as Mrs Banbury gave her a stern look. “At least Miss Lizzie hasn’t changed.”

“Haven’t you heard?” Robert strode into the kitchen, carrying a tea tray. “Miss Lizzie’s poorly. Doctor Craven thinks it’s typhoid, but Doctor Upton isn’t so sure. I heard them arguing about it when I was collecting the tray.

Jenny’s hand rose to her mouth.

“Typhoid!”

Robert put the tray down on the table and took the tea things to the sink.

“That’s what the master said. She’s got a raging temperature and complains of a sore throat.”

“Jed had the same,” Jenny said, flinging off her apron. “Mrs Banbury, I must go home at once.”

“Now, now, girl. Calm yourself.” Mrs Banbury led her to a chair and sat her down. “Doctor Craven went to see your brother only yesterday. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”

“But typhoid!”

“We can’t be sure it’s that. You heard what Robert said.”

Jenny thought of the young doctor who had arrived at the house with Dr Craven on his return from the conference. It must have been his voice she had heard in Miss Elizabeth’s room.

There was something about the young man’s serious expression that she trusted. She knew she would have faith in whatever he told her – if only there were a way to ask him.

****

“I’m sorry, Cedric, but I think you’re wrong.” James Upton pressed the stethoscope to Lizzie’s chest and listened. “I do not think it is typhoid.”

Emily looked at the two men who stood either side of Lizzie’s bedside.

When Dr Upton had arrived, she had felt a huge sense of relief. He’d taken Lizzie’s temperature, checked her skin and then told Dr Craven that he would stay until Lizzie awoke so that he might ask her a few questions.

“But she has all the signs, James – fever and muscular aches.”

Dr Upton shook his head.

“Her skin shows no sign of a rash and you say she complained of a sore throat. This does not point to typhoid. Fetch me some cool water and a sponge if you will, Miss Osbourne.”

Emily rose from the chair beside Lizzie’s bed and hurried out of the room, pleased to be doing something useful. It had been a long, worrying night.

As she hurried along the corridor, she heard a noise. It was coming from Mrs Craven’s room and it sounded like crying.

Stopping outside the door, she hesitated. Should she fetch Dr Craven? She lifted her hand to the door to knock and then stopped. Instead, she took a deep breath and turned the handle.

Although it was daylight, the heavy velvet drapes were still drawn across the windows and at first Emily could see nothing. As her eyes adjusted to the half-light, she could just make out her mistress sitting in the rocking chair beside the fireplace.

“Mrs Craven?”

Moving closer, Emily could see that she had not changed from the dress she had been wearing the previous evening.

Her face was turned to the fire, although it was not lit, and in the dim light Emily could make out the trace of tears on her cheeks.

“The child will die just like dear Freddie.” Mrs Craven’s eyes never left the cold hearth. “I know she has typhoid.”

Emily took a step towards her.

“We do not know that. Doctor Craven –”

“My husband is a good man, but he likes to shield me from the truth. What is the truth, Miss Osbourne?”

Emily’s heart went out to her.

“I cannot say, but Doctor Upton is here and he says your husband is mistaken. You must not give up hope, Mrs Craven. Please come to Elizabeth’s bedside, for I am sure she will want her mother’s comfort when she awakes.”

Mrs Craven shook her head and continued to rock by the cold fireplace. Her voice was little more than a whisper.

“He told me Freddie would be all right. That’s what he 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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.