Read In the Shadow of the Lamp Online

Authors: Susanne Dunlap

In the Shadow of the Lamp

BOOK: In the Shadow of the Lamp
13.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

SUSANNE DUNLAP

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Acknowledgments

Author’s Note

Also By Susanne Dunlap

Imprint

To my beloved brothers:
Keith, who builds worlds out of words,
and Duff, who builds worlds

C
hapter 1

I was only fifteen when I went into service. Scullery maid first, but the master thought me too pretty to hide away in the kitchen. Anyway, that’s what Will, the valet and my friend, told me later. So when I turned sixteen they made me an under parlormaid. Instead of washing dishes, I cleaned grates, mended linens, and swept the stair carpets.

I got higher wages—four shillings and eight pence a week—and could take more home to my mum in the East End so she could get shoes for the little ones. That made her proud. And the work wasn’t nearly so hard as scullery maid.

At first it was me and Janet. But then Janet got diphtheria.

Poor Janet. She was the same age as I was and she died. Cook blamed it on her coming from the country estate where the air was fresh, and said the London fog didn’t suit her. No one would go in and see her while she was so sick. Except me. I couldn’t bear to think of her suffering all alone. She could hardly draw breath her throat was so swelled up, and the room smelled horrible.

They said to stay away, but something about Janet pulled at me. I didn’t know what it was then. I went up to her room, just as bare when she was sick as it was before, only with some sweet-smelling oil in the lamp so the stink wouldn’t be too awful for the doctor.

“You awake, Janet?” I asked from the doorway. Her eyes were open, but she was out of her head a lot, so it didn’t mean she was really awake. I walked over to her. She opened and closed her mouth like a fish just caught, or like she wanted to say something, only she couldn’t. Her neck was so swollen it was hardly there. I felt my own throat, skinny enough to almost circle with one hand, and thought how painful it must be for her.

I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached my hands out and put them against her throat. Softly, like I was holding a butterfly. I felt her warmth, a high fever they said, and was sure the cool of my hands might make her feel just that bit better. The corners of Janet’s mouth stretched a little wider. Seemed like a sort of smile. Then she said, her voice all scratchy, “Thank you.”

I didn’t know if what I did was any help, but it surely didn’t hurt her. I would’ve stayed, but Collins, the butler, opened the door all sudden-like. “Get away from there, Fraser!” He said it like I was touching a burning stove.

I jumped I was so scared. I’ll never forget the look on Janet’s face. It turned from light and calm to hopeless and scared, and her mouth closed into itself like she’d never smile again.

The doctor came the next day and bled her, but it didn’t do a bit of good. She died just the same.

I was ever so sad about Janet. Not like I knew her well, but she was sweet and helped me learn my duties. It was different doing them all alone, not having someone to point out where I missed a speck of dust or hadn’t piled the coals up so they’d catch proper.

At first I took no notice when Mavis Atkins started in on being jealous of me. I was too busy learning what to do, and then all worried about Janet. Mavis worked in the kitchen as Cook’s maid, which wasn’t such a good job as mine, and she was desperate to get out. She had dreams, she told me. She said, “A girl with ambition could go far in a ’ouse like ours.” Mr. Abington-Smythe, the master, was in Parliament, and men came to dinner and talked about important things over brandy and cigars. Mavis wanted to be under parlormaid so she could clean up after the gents, maybe get someone to notice her.

“It ain’t fair!” she said every time she saw me after I changed my position. “A smart uniform and all. I say it ain’t fair!” I couldn’t believe she wished for the black dress that itched so, and the white apron and cap I had to clean and starch day after day.

“They’ll probably give you the position soon too,” I said, trying to make her feel better. “It’s a big house. They should have two parlormaids. They did, till Janet got sick.” Mavis and I’d been friends when she was above me and I was just a scullery maid. We even brushed each other’s hair at bedtime. Hers was light brown and straight, down below her waist. Mine was thick auburn curls that didn’t seem so long because it kinked up that way.

But then Mavis said, “There’s no room for another parlormaid. Not unless you get diphtheria, like Janet.” Seemed to me like she wished I would. I tried not to think anything of it, just got on with my work and hoped Mavis got on with hers.

I should have known Mavis wouldn’t just let it go at that. First she stopped brushing my hair of a night. I tried to be friendly and nice, but she ignored me. She was up to something, I thought. But when I discovered what, I couldn’t believe she had such a mean spirit in her.

It all came out when we were getting ready for bed one night.

“Fraser!”

Mr. Collins’s harsh voice yelled from right outside our bedroom door. He never talked soft and nice, but I’d not heard him so cross before. “Yes, Mr. Collins,” I said, opening the door.

“Stand over there, Fraser.” He pointed to the window. I looked at Mavis, but she wouldn’t look back, so I just did as Mr. Collins said.

“Atkins, kindly show me the evidence you discovered.”

Evidence? Of what? I didn’t know anything then and I thought they’d gone stark mad. Mavis pointed under my bed. Mr. Collins got down on his knees, moved my valise aside, and started pulling out bits and pieces of things from all over the house. He stood up with his hands full of silver and trinkets. “What do you have to say for yourself, Fraser?”

“I … I don’t know. I never seen those things—’cept where they was s’posed to be.” My mouth went dry, and I could feel the heat rising up into my face.

“I must inform the master and mistress that we have a thief in our midst. Be ready to leave in the morning.”

No!
I wanted to scream out that it wasn’t fair. I hadn’t done anything. I reached a hand toward Mavis, not threatening exactly, but she clutched her robe around her and turned her shoulder to me like she thought I was going to hit her.

“If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Collins,” Mavis said, her voice high and quaking, “I’d rather not stay here with Fraser.”

“There’s a cot by the coal hole. That’ll do for you,” Mr. Collins said to me.

Still not believing this was happening, I got my things. He went so fast down the stairs I could hardly keep up with him, then he pointed to the cot, with its dirty old blanket. It was where they sometimes put beggars to sleep when they knocked on the door in the midst of a storm or something.

The dust made me cough all night. I was too angry and upset to sleep, so I spent my time thinking of ways to get back at Mavis. Now I could see she must’ve been up to that mischief ever since Janet died. Perhaps even before, when I first got my new position. I wanted to creep up on her while she slept and cut away a chunk of her hair that she was so proud of. Or maybe put salt in the sugar bowl, so she’d get in trouble. But it wouldn’t have done any good.

The next morning they made me stand up in front of all the servants while Mr. Collins accused me and lectured everyone. My knees felt weak. I tried to say I didn’t do it, but no one listened. After all, things only disappeared after I started working upstairs. I tried to tell them I’d have to be stupid to keep things I stole right where they might be found by anyone, but nobody’d let me say a word.

Only Will spoke up for me. Will was tall and straight, and he had kind eyes. He didn’t treat the rest of us like we were dirt, like Mr. Collins did. Perhaps that was because he wasn’t much older than us, maybe eighteen, maybe twenty, and he came from London too. He helped me lift the heavy coal buckets sometimes, and always asked after my mum and dad when I came back from my half days. He didn’t have a mum and dad. They died of the cholera a few years back.

“This is just circumstance,” Will said, the only one brave enough to answer Mr. Collins. “Molly’s never done anything dishonest before. We should hear her side of the story.”

I wanted to thank Will. I looked at him, trying to push how grateful I was through the air so he could feel it. I don’t know if he did, but I saw just a bit of a smile on his face. I knew then he’d say something reassuring to me if he could get a word in.

Since Will couldn’t get them to listen I thought I’d best pluck up the courage to defend myself. “I ain’t no thief!” I said, lifting my chin and staring down my nose at Mr. Collins. I’d no intention of giving Mavis the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

“See! That just proves what a devious chit she is!” Mavis practically screamed. Even Mr. Collins flinched. No one wanted to believe anything but the obvious. What a drama! After a bit I felt far away from it all, like it wasn’t me they were talking about and I was looking in the window watching everyone’s mouths moving and their hands and arms waving about. Mavis played shocked and innocent quite well, her eyes open wide and eyelashes fluttering.
Practicing to go on the stage
, I thought. She had apparently got over how nervous she was the night before.

I don’t know what’s become of her, whether she stayed on as parlormaid there in Cadogan Square or ran away herself and put her play-acting to good use on the stage. I don’t know, and I’ve come so far myself since then that I don’t much care now.

Fact is, when I think about it, in a way I owe everything to Mavis and her scheming.

C
hapter 2

I soon enough found myself out on the street, with only the clothes on my back and a small bag with a few bits and pieces—a hairbrush, clean underthings, some ointment my mum made in case I got chilblains. I’d walked around London often enough on my half days, from Knightsbridge to the East End, down Whitehall across Trafalgar Square, past St. Martin-in-the-Fields and St. Paul’s. I crossed over Fleet Street where the newsboys cried out the headlines—I couldn’t read then, so it was only gossip and the other servants talking and what I picked up on the street that told me what was going on. Right then, the news was all about the war with Russia, in the Crimea.

I remember that day like it just happened. It was just about the end of the second week of October. The air was chilly, but I wasn’t cold in the coat my mother made for me. It’d be no match for a real icy winter, though, and I knew I’d be wishing I could’ve stayed on at Cadogan Square and earned enough for Mum to make us all new coats that winter. As it was, I’d probably have to work in one of the dark, cold factories, feeding cloth through a sewing machine, like the girls in the house next to ours, with their pale faces and hollow eyes. No one else would hire me without a good character—now that I’d been named a thief thanks to Mavis. At the factories they didn’t check. They took you if you were young and healthy enough to stand up twelve hours a day.

“You’ll be lucky if they don’t send the police after you,” Mr. Collins said just before he shut the door behind me. That gave me a chill. It was one thing to lose my position. Another thing entirely to go to Newgate.

BOOK: In the Shadow of the Lamp
13.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

A Game For All The Family by Sophie Hannah
Paxton's Promise by L.P. Dover
A Holiday Proposal by Kimberly Rose Johnson
The Smoke Room by Earl Emerson
The Untamable Rogue by McAllister, Cathy
The Tin Can Tree by Anne Tyler
Acts of Love by Emily Listfield
Mandarins by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
The Firebrand by May McGoldrick