Life At Babcock Manor – Episode 30


“How about we have a breather?” Jenny said. “It’s getting hot in here.”

Robert took her hand and led her out of the barn and into the still night. An owl hooted and a little breeze rustled the leaves of the oak tree that stood at the edge of the field.

“Let’s walk a bit.”

Jenny glanced back at the barn.

“I shouldn’t.”

“Come on, Jenny. I’ve something important I need to say to you.”

A knot of excitement formed in her stomach. Maybe Robert had chosen this night to propose.

She took his arm and smiled.

“All right, but we’d best not be long.”

They took the path that led from the barn to the kitchen gardens and then through a little archway to the rose garden. The branches of the rose bushes were bare now as autumn had taken its hold, and the place felt sad and neglected.

Robert found a curved stone bench and sat down, patting the place beside him. Jenny sat, the cold stone finding its way through her heavy cotton skirt.

Robert turned to her and his face was white in the moonlight. For once he looked serious, his smile having slipped from his face.

“I’m not sure how you’re going to take this, Jen.”

The look he gave her made her happiness wilt. It was not the look of someone who was about to suggest marriage.

Jenny forced herself not to cry.

“What is it, Robert?”

“I’m leaving Babcock Manor.”

“Leaving? What for?” The night air felt suddenly cold and Jenny shivered.

Robert shifted on the stone bench, picking at a loose thread on his jacket.

“Mr English has offered me the position of first footman here at Clarence Hall. It’s more money than I’ve ever earned, Jen.”

As he spoke, his face lit up and Jenny could see how excited he was. It was clear their friendship meant nothing.

“Then you should go.”

“Don’t you mind?”

Jenny drew herself up.

“Why would I?” Willing the tears that had stung her eyes not to fall, she stood up. “Whatever you thought, you thought wrong.”

Wrapping her shawl around her, she walked quickly out of the rose garden. She would go back to the barn and pretend that nothing had happened.

Taking a shortcut across the lawn, she heard the strains of the orchestra float through the open French windows of the big hall.

As she hurried past, she could just make out the dancing couples in their finery as they circled the ballroom, but it was not this that made her stop in her tracks.

The moon had drifted out from behind its veil of clouds and, as a shaft of moonlight lit up the terrace, Jenny saw the slim figure of Belinda.

She was standing beside a dark-haired man in a silk-edged frock coat and, as she watched, he placed his arm around Dr Craven’s ward and pulled her into an embrace.

****

Five weeks had passed since the excitement of the ball and normality had returned to the family and staff at Babcock Manor once again.

Elizabeth and Emily sat on one of the settees in the library, a leather-bound encyclopaedia open between them.

“Oh, can you believe that Dr Livingstone travelled all the way across Africa? He even saw the huge waterfall. He named it after our queen, you know. How I would love to be an explorer, wouldn’t you, Belinda?”

Dr Craven’s ward stood looking out of the window. Beyond the panes, the trees shook orange and brown leaves on to the lawn and the flower-beds looked bare.

“I’m sorry, Lizzie. Did you say something?”

Laying the book on the table, Emily joined Belinda at the window.

“Elizabeth was just asking if you’d like to be an explorer. The fact that you seemed a million miles away gives us the answer, I think. Is there something wrong, Belinda?”

Since the ball, the girl had been out of sorts, unable to settle to anything and for ever looking out of the window as if waiting for something.

“I cannot understand it, Miss Osbourne,” she said, wringing her hands. “I would have thought I would have had word from Mr Jupp before now.”

Emily was surprised, for she had made it quite clear to
Mrs Craven’s brother in the ballroom of Clarence Hall that he was not a worthy suitor for Belinda. She hoped she had not been wrong.

“My dear. I am sure there are many things you could be doing to occupy your mind. Why don’t you come with us for our afternoon walk?”

As she spoke, there was a knock on the door and Mr Thomas came in.

“Excuse me, Miss Osbourne, but Doctor Upton has just arrived. He wishes to see you. Shall I tell him that you are otherwise occupied?”

Belinda turned to Emily.

“Of course you must see him, Miss Osbourne, for he is always busy with his rounds and it may be a while before he is able to visit Babcock Manor again. Why don’t I take Lizzie for her walk and you can invite the doctor in for some tea.”

Emily’s pulse quickened. She had to confess that the thought of seeing James again was not an unpleasant one.

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”.