Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 26


“Hurry up with the hamper, girl. We are to be out on the back steps at six o’clock sharp. Some of us will go in the dray and the rest will take the carriage when Robert returns from taking the family.”

Jenny packed the last of the pies into the hamper and fastened the leather straps. It was tradition for all downstairs staff of the guests to bring their own refreshments to the autumn ball. This way, the kitchen staff at Clarence Hall could enjoy the festivities themselves.

Elsa sat at the large table, her arms folded across her chest and her lips pinched.

“What’s the matter with you?” Jenny asked, lifting the hamper on to the floor.

Elsa scowled at the serviettes in front of her. Taking the flat iron from the hearth, she spat on it then ran it over one of them.

“She’s sulking because the mistress has asked her to stay here with her.” Mrs Banbury picked up a large flagon of cider and with a grunt carried it outside. “That’s the price you have to pay for being a lady’s maid, my girl.”

“Jenny don’t have to stay behind.”

“That’s because Miss Belinda is going to the ball and might need her hair re-dressing,” Mrs Banbury said, putting on her best hat. Come on, everyone, we don’t want to be late. I’ve heard John English’s footman has been practising his fiddle.”

With a jaunty wave to Elsa, Jenny followed the cook out to the back courtyard where the dray was waiting. She climbed in beside Mrs Banbury and the undermaid, Charlotte, took her place beside her.

As the driver clicked on the horse, Jenny felt a frisson of excitement pass through her – tonight there would be music and dancing in the barn behind the hall and maybe Robert would take her in his arms as he used to before Elsa had arrived at Babcock Manor.

“Now make sure you two girls behave yourselves. I’ll not have any shenanigans tonight.”

Jenny and Charlotte giggled.

“No, Mrs Banbury.”

It was still daylight, and as the driver urged his horse up the steep track that wound its way around Babcock Hill, Jenny rested her head against Charlotte’s shoulder and breathed in the early evening air.

Ahead of them, she could see the hall’s tower and ornate chimneys, and it wasn’t long before they were trotting down the long driveway lined with poplars.

Carriages were lined up in front of the grand house and Jenny stared wide-eyed at the women in their silk dresses and the men in their top hats who climbed the steps to the front door. The driver steered the dray around the side of the house towards the stable block where a collection of dog-carts and wagons were parked.

“Look, there’s Robert!” Jenny cried, waving her arms. “He’s here before us. Let’s go and meet him.”

The girls lifted their skirts and jumped down from the dray then ran across the cobbled yard towards the barn, where the sound of a fiddle could be heard.

****

Lizzie clutched Emily’s arm.

“Oh, Miss Osbourne. This is the most beautiful room I have ever seen!”

As Dr Craven led the way around the edge of the ballroom to their seats, Emily had to agree. Between the tall columns, the walls were panelled with large friezes depicting Grecian scenes, and from the high ceiling, with its delicate plaster mouldings, hung a crystal chandelier.

When they reached a small table in the corner, Dr Craven went to greet some neighbours while the women settled themselves on the crimson velvet chairs. The orchestra was playing a Polonaise and many of the couples were promenading the room to the music and making the acquaintance of the other guests.

Belinda opened her dance card.

“The polka is soon. It is my favourite dance.” She craned her neck to see beyond the promenading couples. “I hope that someone will ask me for it.”

Emily laughed.

“I am sure you will have many admirers tonight, Belinda, for you look beautiful.”

And she did. The young woman’s gown was of pale lavender tulle with an edge of fine lace that set off her delicate complexion, and her fair hair was pulled into a small back bun, the side ringlets adorned with simple sprays of violets. She clutched her dance card to her chest and looked around the room with shining eyes.

“I shall not dance with anyone old.”

“You shall dance with whoever asks you, Belinda, unless you want the whole of the county to think that you are rude.”

The girl pouted.

“Then if I do, I shall not encourage him to add his name to my card a second time.”

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”.