The Mystery Of Anna Grace – Episode 10

Charlie went back to her cottage on the estate much later than she’d intended that night, owing to the excitement of Dean’s arrival.

When her head hit the pillow, all she could think about was Anna. She wondered what Anna would have done with a teenage runaway on a winter’s night.

Realising that sleep was not going to come, Charlie got up, made hot chocolate and settled down with another few pages of Uncle Tom’s typescript, wanting to learn more of Anna’s story.

We spent such a lovely day picking blackberries. We took our bounty back to our housekeeper, Mrs Fanshawe, and she said that there would be enough to make a few pots of jam. She had also preserved the raspberries from the canes I had planted in the spring.

I said that perhaps we could start to pick the apples in the orchard when the time came, but Mrs Fanshawe asked leave to discuss employing a girl from the village.

Apparently this girl has not the means to purchase a proper uniform, but Mrs Fanshawe assures me she will pay off her uniform from her wages. She is a good worker, she says. Her grandmother, who reared her, recently went to the Good Lord.

I agreed that a maid would be a godsend, and asked that the girl come to see me. I assured Mrs Fanshawe that she would have no need of a grand uniform.

Mrs Fanshawe smiled and I knew I had her approval. I know that in employing her I had made a good decision, and trust this new girl will prove equally valuable.

*  *  *  *

The new maid, Lily, is indeed a godsend. I showed her to one of the attic bedrooms, which Mrs Fanshawe and I had furnished as best we could. It was as if I had shown her a palace.

She does the work of several maids, cleaning out grates, lighting fires and bringing up pails of water for the bedrooms.

Lily is a wonder with the children. She told me that, to earn a little money, she minded the children of women who worked in the new mills.

There is a woman who comes every Monday to help with the laundry. She is fond of gossip and brings plenty of it from the village.

I know that I must mind what I say, but I have never had a problem guarding my tongue. She looked at my waistline with suspicion today.

I took the wind out of her sails by asking her if she could tell me where I could obtain a few chickens, as I wished to have my own eggs.

It was as if I had asked an encyclopaedia! She explained all about the importance of a good hen-house to guard against foxes, then told me which breeds did well hereabouts and all sorts of old wives’ tales about getting them to lay.

The next day, the woman’s husband called with half a dozen hens!

I negotiated a price then remembered my want of a hen-house. He indicated that he, too, could take care of this problem.

I told him to come back the next day while I discussed it with my husband. In the meantime, the chickens would be secure in a corner of the barn.

I discussed the matter with Jacob that evening. He was tired and distracted and simply said that he’s sure I know best.

My heart goes out to Jacob. He has inherited debts and none of his uncle’s business acumen.

When we first met, he told me he would love to have a living in the church, but as the first-born son he would inherit his uncle’s estate.

Yet when Jacob’s uncle died, just after Lottie was born, all that was left was this big house with a new wing recently built. We had a string of creditors calling at the door, demanding payment: the stonemason, the labourers, the carpenters and the glaziers.

We could no longer afford our town house, nor its staff, and we sold furniture to pay the debts. The strain on Jacob has been tremendous.

However, when I saw the house, with its beautiful sash windows and simple façade, I knew we could make something of this.

I also knew in my heart that I am my father’s daughter. He was a successful silk merchant, and I was always good with figures; my dear mother taught me household management.

This is a modest country house. We are not as grand as the titled folk.

John has started to go to the village school and seems to have settled well enough.

*  *  *  *

Charlie smiled as she put down the typescript. She felt a connection with Anna and imagined that the grand ladies who came to call might have got something of a shock if they knew that the lady of the house picked blackberries and supervised the laundry woman.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.