Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 04

A SHOUT from outside shattered the moment. Pulling away and looking through the window, Grace tensed as she saw Lord Alderarche climbing from his car. This man was the reason she’d been on edge all afternoon. He and Phil’s mother had gone away immediately after the ball, returning just the previous day. When he’d seen Grace coming from the studio he had clearly not been pleased.

“Does the master know I’m here?” she asked Phil, hastening to smooth her hair and hoping she didn’t look too guilty. Though why she should feel guilty she couldn’t explain, a rebellious voice inside surprised her by whispering.

The door opened before Phil could reply.

“What’s this?” Lord Alderarche demanded.

“Grace has consented to let me paint her portrait,” Phil replied calmly, but his eyes glittered.

“Might it not be more appropriate if you painted her working in the kitchen?That is, after all, what we pay her for.”

“This is my time off, sir,” Grace said, surprising herself again by daring to speak out.

Phil grinned a little but Lord Alderarche frowned.

From outside Phil’s mother could be heard calling for him. With an angry grunt, he stormed back out the door.

“I’d better go,” Grace said.

Phil started to protest, then nodded.

“All right. Don’t worry, I’ll sort this out.”

*  *  *  *

“Ayup, look who’s here!” Mollie, another of the maids, muttered when Grace went down to the kitchen.

Grace was taken aback by the antagonistic look in the other woman’s eyes.

“The master’s been givin’ us hell while you’ve been off posin’.” Mollie turned her back on Grace.

“He don’t like it, my girl,” Mrs Bingham, the cook, added, though not unkindly. “He don’t approve of his sort fraternising with the staff.”

Later, in her room on the top floor, Grace looked out of the small window. The days were long, and Grace felt no need to switch on extra light. Anyway, she had no wish to extend this particular day.

She’d been so happy these past weeks, but now Mollie hadn’t spoken another word to her while they’d prepared dinner, nor had any of the other staff apart from Mrs Bingham.

Was it jealousy, because of her time spent with Phil? Or were they simply fearful her behaviour would continue to put Lord Alderarche in one of his famous bad tempers, for which they would all pay?

She had often felt as though she didn’t properly belong here in the Hall – or anywhere else for that matter. But then she’d met Francesca and Evie, and that had been different. It was different with Phil, too, very different. Despite their backgrounds, she felt they were cut from the same cloth. They had the same sensitive nature and were not afraid to say what they thought.

Through the window she watched the sun sinking, cutting a red gash across the sky that bled on to the distant outline of Two Shires Oak. The tree seemed to be calling to her. She had to go there!

On her way out she heard Phil’s voice coming from behind the door of Lord Alderarche’s private sitting-room.

“I have not been ‘messing about with a servant girl’, as you so crudely put it,” he stated. “I love Grace with all my heart! I’ve never met another girl quite like her.”

Grace stopped in her tracks, then set off at a sprint for the great tree. Phil had said he loved her! He had!

In her turn, she loved Phil. But what was the point? Look at the trouble it had caused so far! Mrs Bingham had been right. Nothing would be allowed to come of it.

She had reached the tree by now. The sun had gone from the sky, but Two Shires Oak remained, standing tall and proud.

Sitting beneath the whispering canopy of its branches, Grace suddenly saw the crux of the problem.

“If only I didn’t work at the Hall,” she whispered. And then she saw an answer.

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 tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.