About to begin the work that leads to breakfast, she is
having a few minutes. The calendar up on the wall at the
side of her bed tells her it is Monday, April 23, 1900.
“My goodness,” the young maid sighs. The calendar,
two hatpins holding it firmly in place, has only one page,
and not any months but April and May and not all those
Just nine days of April, with five nights added to the
calendar for May.
Lucy drew this April-May calendar yesterday having the
inspiration because all the house is going to be busy as
flower-season bees in the next many days.
Lucy reaches for the pencil on the side table, drops it,
has to fumble under the bed until she finds where it’s rolled, picks it up, stands both hands against the wall, and then
with one hand makes a big cross firmly over Sunday. X
The first day has gone.
One of the days, the last day, has little flowers around
its borders, May 5. One week past this coming Saturday is
when Miss Annabell and Mr. Edward are to be married.
Another day, the first of May, Mayday, she’s placed a pole
with flowing garlands.
Only eight days to go for Mayday and Weatherby village
fair! All the handsome young men! Lucy shivers. Tom is
going to race the Point-to-Point from St. Brannoc’s. Just
Why only on Friday a young foreign lady came by the
door. A lady with a strange single earring on one side. A
tiny bottle of wine she held, all togged in bright red and
green crepe. “To celebrate luck,” the young woman says. “Just a silver shilling from the Miss.”
Lucy only has a few shillings, and why she don’t know,
but she rushes to her room, brings one down, gives it to
the lady who hands the brown small bottle of wine to her.
And then something else is placed in her hand, an amulet,
pink with speckles of yellow.
“Charmed is the stone,” the lady says in her foreign
way, “to bring you luck, place it around your neck.”
A silver shilling is a silver shilling, and Lucy is not in
the habit of being extravagant, but there was a feeling.
From the start of January, from the start of this whole
new century Lucy has taken to the idea that this is to be a
special year. For her and for all of them at the Manor.
Not to mention that itch in her right hand that won’t
seem to go away. Everybody knows an itch in the right
hand means changes.
Lucy back under the sheets, turns towards the stone
that lies on her stand by her pencil. She reaches out, gives a
quick touch. She is so glad she has the stone. Jimmy Briggs,
the farm boy across the way, knows a fellow in Weatherby
who will come and make a necklace to fit the stone.
She showed the amulet to Jimmy yesterday when he
came around with Tom. Jimmy is going to see this fellow
Wednesday night and he might charge as much as a shilling,
Jimmy says, to make a necklace. Lucy screws up her face. Another shilling!
Yes indeed, this is the new century. You have to be
Lying back stretching herself upon the narrow single
bed, her fancies begin to return. Lucy has some of the
most powerful fancies. Reading a book before she sleeps, a
glance at any picture, a pirate ship, a foreign island covered
in tropical trees, and she’ll be right there on the ship, upon
the island. A patched ruffian will have captured her, will
be having his way with her to do she knows not what, and
not a moment of fear about it, not one.
Just one more minute in bed, she thinks. Tom will be
up milking the cows. Farmer Hopkins, Tom’s dad, will be
having his blood pudding. Tom has said he is going to win
the point-to-point. Both Tom and Jimmy Briggs say they
are going to win the race.
Tom is sixteen, seventeen in three month. He is staying
nights in the stables here at the Manor. Some wrangle with
his dad that is what Mrs. Minton, the cook says. Tom
won’t stay at the farm house, though he does go back to
milk the cows.
Cook said the Squire has told Tom he can work in the
stables for the time being, and help Mr. Entwistle the
gardener if Tom has a spare moment.
The Squire is the local magistrate and he owns Stonebridge Manor, or at least half of it. His brother, who is coming back from India on a steamer for the wedding, owns the other half.
Lucy thinks Tom and his father have almost come to
blows. Tom won’t talk of any of it to her, but they do
need a young stableman to help Fred. Olath, from some
country up north of Scotland, had been helping to care for
the horses. When Fred the stableman went back to his wife
Betty at the cottage, Olath would be in charge. But Olath
received a letter. He had to go home, his father was not
Fred had been coming back after dinner but now Tom
is here staying all night. Lucy sneaks off to the stables in
the evening to cheer him up.
Lying comfortable in bed, Lucy imagines all the people
in the Devonshire countryside beginning to stir: Farmers
taking benefit of the spring light; wives in farm kitchen
placing bacon in pan. Black sausages that need stopping
from getting burnt.
Lucy can picture the farmer’s wives making the yellow
eggs look just as they should be, as Mrs. Minton in their
kitchen will be doing soon. Lucy wonders if she could ever
be a farmer’s wife. Tom has rights to his father’s farm,
she’s heard. Rights that even if Tom and his father have a
real barney, cannot be removed.
Lucy shoves the bedclothes from her. Breakfast! She
has to get up. Cleaning!
There’s the fire to be made in the stove. Coal will need
to be brought from the shed, something she hates. She’ll
have to put the water pans on, fill the copper kettle used
for tea. Her work is never done.
Miss Annabell, her Mistress, she likes to wake at seven
these light mornings. Meg, being the senior parlour maid,
will take up the tray: Oolong in a fine china pot, with milk
and three biscuits on a plate. Lucy must get everything
Lucy unbuttons the top of her bed-chemise, pulls it off. Her cotton knickers she slips off next. Standing naked,
she shivers. Dancing across to the faded walnut
dresser, she quickly takes out fresh drawers, stepping into
them, pulling on the white thin string.
Having a thin waist, these drawers need a lot of pulling if she’s to stop them from slipping. Wrapping around the corset she picks off the chair, she tightens that. Next it’s buttoning the corset-cover.
His Nibs, Mr. McBride the butler, will be fritting around
this Monday morning. It’s always, ‘Do this, do that, Lucy! Haven’t you finished yet!’
Fritting’s the word she likes to use for His Nibs in the
morning. With his irritations and his agitations and the
weird squeak he makes down his throat when he first gets
up. It’s a wonder anyone can listen to it. Every time he talks he sounds more like he’s spitting
than speaking, at least for a couple of hours.
Dressed in her corset and underwear, Lucy sits on the
small upright chair by the bed, begins to stroke in a soft
way her pleasing-to-the-eye legs.
Miss Annabell’s friend, Miss Emily, will be here this
afternoon, or maybe not until this evening.
Lucy carefully raises her white lace stockings from the
tips of her bare feet up to her knees.
Lady Middleton will be arriving tomorrow. Lucy gets
up from the chair, makes a mock curtsy. “Yes, Milady! No,
Milady! Three bags full, Milady!”
Mr. Hews will be down from the north. The Squire’s
friend is staying at the Manor through the wedding. And
Mr. George Bexfield, the Squire’s brother who owns half
the Manor, he will be here all the way from India.
According to cook, a woman from Australia is coming. Mrs. Minton says she’ll help with everything. Lucy has all
kinds of questions to ask about Australia. Has she seen
a ruffian? How about the...what are they called... Roos?
All that kind of thing, Lucy’s been there.
She’s been everywhere in the books. Captured by a
ruffian so many a time on a pirate ship.
Nudging first one breast then the second into place,
making sure everything feels right, she gives one last quick
pull on the corset before tying a bow pretty to make sure
it all stays.
Feeling very light-hearted Lucy skips across to the pine
wardrobe she and Meg share, to take out her petticoat.
Squire Bexfield is very fond of Lady Middleton. Meg
and she like to giggle about that. Meg is twenty-seven,
been here since the ark, well at least since she was sixteen.
Lucy at nineteen is the youngest of the servants at the
Nelly don’t count.
Nelly the scullery girl is younger, but she lives out.
Reaching for her dress with its sprig-print that hangs
crooked in the wardrobe, Lucy takes her time slipping it
over her slender shoulders. Only April yet. Mornings still
nippy the dress feels warm as she pushes it down over the
petticoat. She grabs for her fresh apron.
Staring at herself in the mirror on the wardrobe door,
she thinks she’ll ‘pass muster’ as the soldier boys say. All
ready but for the mob cap.
Mrs. Minton will tell her if she looks not right. Mrs. Minton
likes Lucy. Lucy knows she does because Mrs. Minton tells
all the secrets about how to prepare and look for signs that
the dish she’s cooking is cooked.
Cook never has a go with Lucy, but she will tell
Meg if something is not quite right and then Meg will keep
on at her.
Mrs. Minton knows a lot and she will always try to
answer Lucy’s questions. But she won’t if Lucy is asking
Don’t matter! If some scandal is happening
at the big estate, Mandalmane, where juicy bits mostly come from, Mrs. Minton will tell Meg, but not Lucy. But Lucy can always
wheedle it out of Meg.
Mob cap on, then back off, then back on, Lucy turns
herself as she stares in the mirror. ‘You’re a right young
gal.’ Lucy gives a little giggle at her daring.
Now a quick search of the room, old clothes in the corner
as they should be. Meg carries on something awful about
Lucy’s clothes, but she mostly don’t mind if they’re piled
in the corner.
Glancing at snoring Meg in the iron bed across from the
room, Meg’s nose puckered as it gets when she makes her
quiet snore, Lucy skips over to the window to fumble with
the latch. A loud screeching as the window is forced open.
“Shut that bloody window!”
“Meg, did I wake you?”
“Shut that bloody window, you cow!”
“Gives me the death of a cold,” Lucy sings as she leaves
the window open as she waltzes towards the door. “Can’t
open the window. Can’t do that! Gives me a death of
“Meg’s lazy as a sunning cat,” is the last insult as she wafts the bedroom door a few times before closing it.
Treading down the back servant’s stairs, happily she
sings. “Yes, Milady. No! Milady. Oh! I’m sorry! Three
bags full, Milady, I mean.” Laughing as she moves her skirt
. . .
McBride rummaging through the kitchen top cupboards
is about to swear but stops himself. “He’s got the belly,
“What’s that, Woolly?” Mrs. Minton at the stove turns
to see him rearranging all her herb bottles.
“Bloody peppermint.” McBride shouts across to her.
“I can’t find where I put it.”
“We moved it?”
“You moved it?”
A cooking pot about to bubble over, Mrs. Minton quickly
picks up the thick cloth tucked into her apron, wraps it
around the handle, slides it a distance.
“Cupboard was in right state. Nothing where it should
be. Tonics underneath counter where should be. Middle
shelf on left!”
McBride, sputtering incoherently, gets off the stool opens
the lower cupboard door. “Found it, Missy.”
Mrs. Minton breathes a sigh of relief. “I don’t know
who placed them up top.”
“I did,” McBride answers.
“You did, Woolly!”
McBride is not about to get into any argument with
Missy, so he falls silent. Scottish, on occasion he will show
his colours, exhibiting his highland accent when he does
so. But his tongue now is mostly London with some Devon
thrown in, and age has mellowed the ‘fierceness’ as he’ll
sometimes speak of his former self.
Early in life his ‘penchant for the London chorus ladies’
dragged him ‘down to the heathen lands.’ The girls and
he both were doing fine until weakness in his chest and a
fog from the Thames with all that chimney smoke mixed,
the ‘pea-souper’ of ‘79’ lasting from November to March,
four months of endless gloom, drove him to seek a warmer
climate and the countryside.
The agency sent him to Devon to the Manor.
Squire, after his interview, sent him to have a meal
cooked by Missy. Squire knew what he was doing. It wasn’t
only the food. Something about the widow he didn’t quite
understand himself. She wasn’t one of the girls. But that
A full butler’s wage he was given, though he was working
in name as under-butler, Feeney refusing to retire.
Biddiford didn’t have the ‘the real lookers’ but what
there was sufficed. He could trot off to spend company on
a day off.
Once Mrs. Minton and he started to get cosy, he gave
up going to Biddiford. At the beginning of spring, he would
take a few days leave. This year was the same. Augusta
Minton was wise enough to encourage it. “I know you and
the girls,” Missy said. He always came back feeling guilty,
and she didn’t mind that.
McBride clutches the peppermint bottle grimly as he
searches for a spoon from the drawer. “He’s not coming
down. ‘Get me the tonic,’ he keeps ranting. You know how
“And I did want to talk to him this morning about the
“Feeney, the poor sod, they worked him to the ground. Now he’s doing it to me.” McBride holds up the dark brown
bottle. In the light he can see it’s half full. “Wedding’s
creeping up on him, that what’s causing his belly’s doing. Nerves always give him wind.”
Mrs. Minton stops at the pantry door about to get eggs
for the custard tart, “I’ll have tears myself. Please tell his Lord Justice that the wedding breakfast has to be made
final. Tell him the grocer needs time. Tell him!”
“I will, Missy,” McBride smiles in a most delicious evil
way. “It’ll help his digestion. Better than a day at court.”
The peppermint bottle placed on a tray with the spoon
next to it, McBride turns for a response only the lady has
gone, disappeared into the pantry.
A clatter as the back door of the kitchen is pushed
open. Young newsboy from the village runs up to McBride,
hands him yesterday’s London broadsheet. Reaching in his
pocket, all he has is sixpence. McBride seldom offers a
perquisite, and three farthings would be his preference, but
he tosses the silver over to the boy. “Mind, don’t expect
similar again,” McBride cautions, glancing at the paper’s
The broadsheet added to the tray, McBride pushes open
the kitchen door leading into the servants passageway. Out
into the main hallway he goes, up the wide stairs, the small
brown bottle of liquid wobbling upon its tray.
Reaching without the bottle’s harm Squire’s rooms at
south corner, McBride knocks, steps inside. “Here is the
McBride considers the green tinge around the fangs as
the liquid from the peppermint bottle is poured into a
“Mind! Look! You’re spilling it, Horace!” The spoonful
quickly gulped, the bottle is pulled from McBride’s hand.“ I’ll do it!”
As the Squire licks the second dose of peppermint off
the spoon, McBride holds his tongue.
A small hand mirror is pointed to on top of the dressing
table for McBride to fetch.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” the Squire sticks out his tongue. In
the mirror he can see the white coating mixed with pink. “What do you think?”
In disgust, the mirror is dropped to the bed, the sheets
thrown back. “I’m going to take a good long stroll, Horace,
something to get the blood flowing. Skyler and me.”
“Yes sir.” McBride hands the Squire his dressing gown.
“On my return, I’ll be needing a bath.” Stepping over
to the water stand, the Squire pours from the jug, pats his
face, then dabs with some soap. Rinsing that off, he dries
himself. “Make sure the water is hot, Horace.”
Grabbing for the towel McBride is now holding, the
Squire adds, “Keep the kettle boiling.”
“I always do, sir.”
Ignoring that remark, the dressing gown is discarded
and then the outer night clothes.
“Mrs. Minton says she must speak with you about the
wedding arrangements, sir, the grocer’s list, I think.”
The Squire emerging from the dressing room, buttons
up his jacket. “All right! Tell her I have to speak with Miss
“I will, sir.”
Downstairs, the cane is taken from the hallstand, the
front door opened then closed. Brisk is the walk alongside
the front of the manor house towards the stables.
At the carriage house door, Fred Enlem the stableman
touches his cap. “Morning Squire.”
“How is she, this morning?”
“Right vit” Fred answers. “Tak’n ‘er over to pastures
vir morning. T’vit to be indoors.”
“Good girl. Good Hasty! I’ll take her out this afternoon
if weather holds.”
“Mr. Hews will be arriving tomorrow. Mandalmane, as
we discussed, will be bringing a horse for him. If you would
send a message to their stableman, Joshua Shenton. You
can use the telephone. That is what we have it for.”
“You might also have the horse for my brother brought
over at the same time. How’s Tom doing?”
“Good as gold, Squire. Lad likes ‘osses. Does a fine job
cleaning of stalls.”
“Miss Emily, Miss Annabell’s friend will be arriving
this evening. The pony from the Hopkins’ farm should be
brought over. ”
“Tom bring’er ‘round moro, Squire, after ‘er milk’s cows.”
“Good. Seen Skyler?”
“Weren’t two minutes I’d bin a feeding ‘er, sir. Should
be chew’n bone a’kennel.”
The Squire whistles and out from around the side of the
carriage house the dog bounds.
The Great Dane makes for a big dog, but the Squire has
never had favour with keeping either man or animal on a
tether, unless needed, so there is no leash carried. Except
for upsetting the cows, a play the dog performs as he never
gets near to them, the dog is as soft-hearted a creature as
you ever could wish.
Past the stable grounds the Squire proceeds. The stream
that flows through his property from John Hopkins’ land is
At the stone bridge he stops. The bridge built centuries previous and likely even older than that is they say of some ancient stone. This is the original Oath Highway, the old pathway from the moors to the village of Weatherby and then on to Biddiford.
That was before the common land was taken from the ordinary folk, became enclosed by the nobles and the estate by the moors established.
The Squire stalled mid-way across the bridge, stands
and looks down at the stream. Enchanted, the bridge is
supposed to be, this bridge that gives its name to the manor
house. The old tale of the bridge comes to his mind: