Alice held her breath and scullerymaid Dorie peeked out from behind her. Even Mr Runciman’s mouth twitched as Mrs Wiggan placed her hands on either side of the copper mould. Only the hiss of the range filled the silence as she lifted the dome aloft, revealing a fruit-studded jelly that glistened like a jewelled castle.
“Well done, Mrs Wiggan!” Mr Runciman’s face broke into a rare smile as he gazed at the masterpiece. As far as he was concerned, the elaborate champagne creation that would be served to the family seemed a waste of good bubbly and couldn’t compare with this.
“Is it really for us, Mrs Wiggan?” Dorie breathed.
Mrs Wiggan stood back, her face flushed with heat from the range.
“Well, there’ll be no servants’ party until you finish those potatoes, my girl. We have supper to serve above stairs afterwards, so look sharp!”
Alice gave Dorie a wry smile of encouragement and rolled her eyes, hoping to lighten the girl’s mood. Alice’s own work as a housemaid was very hard, but nothing like the drudgery that Dorie faced every day in the scullery.
Runciman had missed nothing, and peered sternly over his spectacles at Alice.
“Mrs Wiggan is right,” he said. “On no account must we keep the family waiting.”
Hester, Lady Farrington’s maid, shot a look of annoyance towards the scullery.
“If Dorie isn’t finished we should start without her.”
“The party is for us all, Hester.” Runciman peered over his glasses, and she bristled, turning away.
Alice frowned. Why did Hester have to be so high and mighty all the time?
Alice made her way through the archway, to find Dorie in tears over the pile of potatoes.
“I wish I could go home!” She sobbed. “I haven’t seen Mum in ever such a long time.”
“I know, I miss my family, too.” But Alice had got used to her homesickness, and having Emily for a friend helped, too. “Most of us are staying, Dorie. The family needs us. And don’t worry about that Hester. She’s mean to Emily, too, and to me.”
“Now, what’s all this?” Mrs Wiggan appeared, hands on her ample hips. “I always say, Christmas brings as many sorrows as it does joys. Alice, find Dorie a handkerchief.” Then she picked up a potato and a knife and as the peel fairly flew off she smiled. “When I first went into service I thought I’d die of homesickness. But it will all be quite jolly here, you’ll see. Now gather up those peelings, the rest of the staff have arrived.”
Mr Runciman cleared his throat.
“Are we assembled? Where is Emily?”
“Run off her feet with both ladies to look after – worse than ever at Christmas.” Mrs Wiggan shook her head. “I can’t think why Lady Farrington doesn’t do something about it.”
“The decisions of the family are not for us to question,” Runciman said sternly. “In any case the Marchioness has been very busy since her return from London. Perhaps she will rethink the situation in the New Year.”