Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 29


“Madam?” Hearing no reply, Elsa turned the handle and looked in.

Mrs Craven was sitting up in her bed, her hair spread out around her on the pillow. She smiled at Elsa and there was an unusual brightness to her usually sad eyes.

“Elsa, come closer, child.”

Elsa took a step forward.

“Is there anything I can get you, madam?”

“Come and sit by me, Elsa. Don’t be afraid, for I have had the most wonderful idea.”

Elsa sat gingerly on the edge of the gilt chair beside her mistress’s bed.

“What is it, madam?”

Mrs Craven’s gave a slow smile.

“I know about the child, Elsa. Your child.”

Elsa’s hand flew to her mouth.

“Mrs Craven, please don’t –”

The older woman touched a delicate hand to Elsa’s wrist.

“Hush, child. I did not mean to alarm you. I have thought about this ever since the drayman told me he had seen you outside your mother’s house with a child in your arms.”

Elsa bit her lip.

“I’ll go and pack me bags.”

“There will be no need for that now, Elsa, but I want you to do something for me.”

Elsa let out a breath.

“Anything, madam.”

“Do you know how to harness the horse to the dray?”

“I think so.”

Mrs Craven nodded with satisfaction and handed her some money.

“That is good. You will take the cart and drive to your mother’s. Give her these coins and tell her that you shall be taking the baby.”

Elsa gasped.

“Where shall I take him?”

“How strange you do not know.” Mrs Craven’s smile was serene. “You shall bring him here, child, for I shall look after him.”

****

The barn was lit by the kerosene lamps which hung on nails from the beams. Streamers had been strung across the room and the sound of a fiddle rose above the voices and laughter.

Ladies’ maids and under-housemaids from the wealthy families attending John English’s ball in the big house mingled with the footmen and stable lads. Even Mrs Peters, the housekeeper, was tapping her toes in time to the music, a glass of punch in her hand.

Jenny sat on a hay bale and watched the young men swinging their girls to the music. Charlotte had gone to fetch some apple-pie for the trestle table, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

She was glad that Elsa wasn’t with them, for the girl had a way about her that made her bite her tongue if she didn’t want a spat.

Pulling a piece of corn from the stack, she twisted it between her fingers; she knew the real reason for disliking the new maid so much was the effect she had on Robert. Perhaps tonight would be her chance to try to win back his affections.

Looking around the barn, Jenny realised she hadn’t had sight of Robert since they had first arrived at the house, and now she thought about it, she remembered that she had last seen him talking to Mr Cooper, John English’s butler.

“Penny for them.”

As if she had conjured him up, the young under-footman stood by her side, grinning.

“Where have you been, Robert?”

But Robert only tapped the side of his nose.

“Fancy a dance?” He grinned. “I’ve two left feet, but I expect you can teach me.”

“And why would I want to do that, Robert Ellis?”

Robert winked.

“Because you’re sweet on me?”

“Says who?”

“Says me!”

He seemed unusually happy and, despite his cheek, it was hard to stay cross with him for long.

Jenny punched his arm playfully.

“Come on, then. You can help me down.”

Robert held out his hand and Jenny took it, lifting her skirts with the other as she jumped down from the hay bale.

The band had started to play a polka and the two of them took their places in the centre of the big barn. Robert put his right hand on the small of Jenny’s back and took her other hand in his own. As the others around them began to dance, he skipped to the side, taking Jenny with him, turning her in time to the music.

“I thought you said you couldn’t dance!” Jenny gasped.

“I wouldn’t believe everything I tell you.” Robert laughed, spinning her faster as the music sped up.

The room passed by in a blur and Jenny threw back her head and laughed as they circled the dancefloor. When the music stopped, she fell against Robert, giddy from all the spinning, and he held out his arms to steady her.

As he smiled at her, she felt her heart start to melt. She had been mistaken – Robert did still like her, she was sure of it. Their easy friendship was just as it had been before Elsa had arrived at Babcock Manor.

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”.