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Authors: Audrey Howard

All the dear faces

BOOK: All the dear faces
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Chapter
1

The kitchen at Long Beck Farm trembled into the nervous activity the arrival of Sarah Macauley always produced. Cook, who had been about to sit down in her favourite rocking chair, the one in which no posterior but her own was ever allowed to settle, hastily put away the mug of hot, sweet, strong tea she was sipping appreciatively and with a skilful and fluid movement which belied her years and the 'bad back' she purported to have, dipped a spoon into the enormous la pot' which simmered on the fire, stirring vigorously before lifting it to her lips.


A smidgin more thyme I think, Dolly, and mind it's no more than a smidgin. Too much can spoil a decent soup." "Yes, Cook."


And when you've done that get out the flour and sugar, some butter and eggs. I've a mind to make Master Reed a few biscuits. Lemon, I think, so you can squeeze me a couple while you're at it, and don't throw away the peel. He likes my lemon biscuits, does Master Reed. Oh! there you are, Madam . . ." starting visibly as the grey-clad figure of her mistress appeared at her elbow. "I didn't see you there. I was just about to . . "


Yes, Mrs Lewis, I can see exactly what you were doing so don't let me stop you." Mrs Macauley moved towards the fire on which the pan was kept simmering at all times, summer and winter, for there were men, her husband's shepherds and yardmen, who might be in need of a bit of something inside them, especially in the winter. Since this was her kitchen and her soup she took a spoonful and, like Cook, lifted it to her lips. She tasted it thoughtfully and the whole kitchen held its breath. If it was not to her liking she would say so, offending Cook, who was good at
her job. If Cook was offended, indeed put out in any way, it would be they who would he made to feel her displeasure
.

She was a tyrant, was Mrs Macauley who, until her husband had prospered on his farm, had been a true farmwife, working in her own kitchen with a young maid to fetch and carry and a woman to scrub. She herself had done all the cooking and baking, the making of bread, the pickling and preserving and salting, only allowing — and that thoroughly supervised — the maid to perform the task of making the soap and the candles and any task which, in Sarah Macauley's opinion, any fool could do. Her life had been busy, hard and busy, but she had found it satisfying since she knew nothing else. The day on which her husband told her he was to entertain a wool merchant from Yorkshire had been a shattering one for Sarah since it was the last one in which she was a true farmwife.


I don't want you fiddling about in the kitchen, my lass. Your place is at the head of the dining table. You're mistress of this house and as such you must help me to entertain this fellow-me-lad and you can't do it chained to the kitchen range. Get yourself a cook and another maid. One that can wait on at table."


A cook! What do I want with such a thing? I can do my own cooking and I'll have you know there's not a better one in the whole of Bassenthwaite parish." She was scandalised and not only that, affronted, but her husband was adamant. He was moving up in the world and his hill farm, which stretched as far as the eye could see from his farm gate, was growing and thriving. This bit of business with the chap from Yorkshire could lead to even greater things and it would not do to have one's wife mucking about in the kitchen, running backwards and forwards, flushed and perspiring, from there to the table and back again
.

It was only a step from employing a cook to having not one kitchenmaid to help her but two, then three. A scullery maid, a dairy maid and the woman whose sole task it was to scrub the kitchen floor, the pantry floor, the dairy, the buttery, the back step, the front step and the long,
stone-flagged 'hallan' which led from the front of the house to the back. It had been hard, harder than anyone realised, since she was a woman sparing of words, for Sarah to 'sit about on her behind', a phrase she used only to herself, and it had altered her subtly from a woman who, though sharp-tongued and exacting was always fair, to one who was shrewish, grim, testy, fault finding and not well liked by her servants
.

They all waited, Mrs Lewis the cook, her expression one of guarded effrontery, Josie the parlourmaid, Dolly the kitchenmaid and Prudence whose job it was to be everyone's slave. Even the tangle-haired woman on her knees at the bucket by the door leading to the hallan rested back on her heels. There was a child beside her, a young girl with her own bucket and brush. She was no more than ten or eleven years old, scrawny and thin-faced, and she watched, open-mouthed and with keen interest, the very evident contest of wills which was taking place between Mrs Macauley and Cook. Mrs Macauley would have the last word, the girl knew that, for didn't she always, and Cook would be furious, no doubt holding back the leftovers of food, perhaps a mutton chop or a knuckle of bacon, a spoonful of jelly or a broken biscuit which were nothing to her and which, in an off-handed kindly way she would often pass on to herself and her mother. It was a shame for they had lived on nothing but turnip bread for the last week. The juice from the turnip was pressed out, flour and salt added to the mixture and the result baked on the 'bakstone' over the fire. Tasteless and unsatisfying, but it filled an empty stomach and the hard work she and her mother did gave them a sharp appetite. And those tit-bits were a blessing on a tongue which needed something to taste now and again. She'd miss them tonight if Mrs Macauley got the better of Cook, which she was bound to do for this was her kitchen
.

It was a big room with tables of yellow-white sycamore which stood up to years of pounding, chopping and scrubbing and from its ceiling hung hams and bunches of herbs, crates of bread, kept there since Sarah Macauley
had come as a bride to Long Beck for there had been rats and mice then. Besides the iron pots and pans there was a vast array of highly polished copper utensils. The walls were whitewashed every six months for the climate in the room was always intensely busy, blasted by fires and ovens and rendered moist and murky by steam and smoke. Cook and the kitchenmaids worked flat out from breakfast to supper time. It was a proud boast of Sarah's that everything her family ate was produced in her kitchen and dairy, and even now a leg of pork was being spit-roasted over the open kitchen fire. The farmhouse was old and many of the things in the kitchen had been used by Sarah Macauley's mother-in-law and hers before that, dating way back into the last century, but beside the huge open fire which was set in the wall behind strong, horizontal metal bars was an equally huge enclosed range, blackleaded, glowing and dark and cleaned each morning by Prudence
.

Set neatly on shelves attached to the spotless walls were trivets and skillets, toasters and grills, tongue presses and beef-warmers. There were jelly moulds of earthenware, copper and glass, for Sarah Macauley prided herself on her good table; copper pans, earthenware bowls and wooden ladles, all playing an essential role in the endless round of preserving, boiling, baking, roasting and toasting, culinary activities which had been carried on for the past thirty-odd years by Sarah herself. The two kitchen dressers of oak were crowded with a blue-and-white china tea set, dozens of cups and saucers, plates, cream jugs and sugar bowls in a delicate willow pattern, and beside them was blue and white dinnerware in the same design. Enormous meat platters, vegetable dishes, soup tureens, dinner plates and ladles. They had been in the Macauley family for fifty years, come from the Staffordshire potters Josiah Spode and Thomas Minton, and it was woe betide any luckless kitchenmaid who touched any part of them unless supervised by her mistress. About the room were several beautifully carved and well-proportioned Windsor chairs, again old, cherished, well polished, but not meant
for sitting on, for Sarah Macauley's servants were here to work not loll about, except for the brief period in which they ate their meals.


Hand me that skimmer, if you please, Dolly," Mrs Macauley said, and the child on her knees held her breath for, on the action of the woman who, if only temporarily, was her mistress since Annie and Lizzie Abbott were `casuals', depended the left-overs she and her mother would take home with them that night
.

The skimmer was slid delicately into the soup. Carefully Mrs Macauley lifted it out again, scrutinising it minutely as though she fully expected a cockroach to raise its ugly head. Cook watched her, her face devoid of all expression, but in her eyes was a gleam which said if looks could kill her mistress would be lying dead at her feet. Cook was a woman in her late fifties, too old to be taken on now in any of the grand houses in which she had once worked and where she had received her training. She was an experienced and imaginative cook and though she was not awfully sure why Mrs Macauley seemed to have it in for her, since it was Mrs Macauley who had employed her in the first place, she was well aware that her mistress did her best to find fault
.

The skimmer came out clean and fatless. There were tiny, plump onions, shreds of cabbage, slivers of beef, slices of mushroom and carrot in the skimming spoon but nothing else
.

Mrs Macauley was clearly annoyed. She would have liked nothing better than to have given Cook the length of her tongue for in that way it would have bolstered her own waning belief in herself and her talents in her kitchen where, since her husband had gone up in the world, it had melted slowly with her self-esteem.


It'll do," she said ungraciously and was vastly put out when Cook smiled complacently. "Now then, let's see to those biscuits for Master Reed."


Nay, Mrs Macauley, I'll make them," Cook said ill-advisedly. "You go and sit yourself down and put your feet up.

Sarah was incensed. Put her feet up indeed, and to be told to do it in her own kitchen by a woman who had no right to be there in the first place, in her view.


That'll be enough from you, Mrs Lewis, and what are these girls doing standing about with their mouths open? Have they no work to do? Really, I've never seen such an idle-handed lot in my life and likely to continue to be so, it seems to me, if I'm not here at their backs. They are in your charge, you know, and I expect you to oversee their work in a more appropriate manner.

She turned away from the thunderous face of Mrs Lewis and right behind her Lizzie Abbott's bucket seemed to leap up and catch her in the shins. She stumbled, the water slopped on the hem of her gown and it was as if a knife had struck her in her side, a knife with a serrated edge which not only sliced into her but turned its blade a time or two for good measure. It was the worst pain Sarah had ever experienced since the first one had struck her over six months ago, and it almost brought her to her knees.


Get out of my way, woman," she screeched and in her senseless agony she lifted her hand, striking the woman – who was she? – so hard she fell sideways, her arm going up to the elbow in her own bucket. The child who knelt beside her – who was she? – went with her and the pair of them sprawled on the wet floor they themselves had just scrubbed. The woman began to cry weakly, the sort of tears Sarah often felt like crying herself, despairing tears, hopeless tears, but the child leaped to her feet and for a minute Sarah thought she was about to strike her, then, after carefully lifting the weeping woman to her feet, where she stood, humble head bowed, the girl ran past Cook and the astonished maids and out through the kitchen door into the yard
.

The bright sunlight of the early spring day was in Annie Abbott's eyes as she scrambled over Mrs Macauley's threshwood, and across the cobbles where hens pecked and a rooster strutted. There were a couple of young Border Collie dogs fastened by a chain to the wall,
sheepdogs who were not yet fully trained to herding and they stood up, wagging hopeful tails. This was a working farm and up on the fell Alistair Macauley and his shepherds were 'raking in' the heavily pregnant ewes for it would soon be lambing time. But not Alistair Macauley's son. Not his fine, twenty-three-year-old son, Reed Macauley. The young, black mare he rode, dashing, wild and as handsome as himself, skittered madly out of control as Annie came through the kitchen door and, in her haste to get away from her own black rage at what Mrs Macauley had done to her mother, almost went under the horse's hooves. The mare was tall, blotting out the sunlight, crashing her hooves in alarm on the cobbles and rolling her eyes in fury as the child and the hens scattered about her
.

Reed Macauley scarcely seemed to notice Annie Abbott. She might have been no more than a wisp of straw which had blown from his father's stable. She was there in his vision but of such little consequence he did not see her. His vivid blue eyes looked directly into hers but his gaze moved on impassively as he guided his restless animal towards the open stable door.


Albert," he shouted, "rub Victoria down, will you, and give her a handful of oats," then he was gone
.

It was their first meeting
.

It was October, six months later, when she saw him again, and as at the last time he rode by her with as much interest as he would show a kitten which frolicked in the grass. The track at the back of Browhead led up to Long Beck and he and his mare moved easily along it, his gaze passing over her and her father as if they did not exist. Annie watched him go then bent down, doing her best to lift the swill basket which was filled to its brim with newly picked potatoes, the ones she herself had lifted that morning, and though she heaved and strained until the sweat broke out on her childish brow and ran down her cheeks, she could not move it. She straightened up, rubbed her hands together as she had seen her father do, spat on them then bent down again, gripping the basket at its rim where holes had been left to fit each hand. The basket,
crafted by her own mother for this very purpose, was not heavy in itself, being made from split hazel rods woven with white willow, but its contents weighed over twenty pounds and were too much for a child.

BOOK: All the dear faces
11.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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