Authors: Rosie Clarke
She is a servant girl …
When her father becomes ill, Emily Carter finds herself sent into service at Priorsfield Manor in order to provide the family with an income.
He will be the Lord of the Manor …
Emily strikes up an unlikely friendship with the daughters of the house, as well as Nicolas, son of the Earl. But as the threat of war comes ever closer, she becomes even more aware of the vast differences between upstairs and downstairs, servant and master …
If you like Downton Abbey you’ll love this!
Rosie Clarke was born in Swindon. Her family moved to Cambridgeshire when she was nine, but she left at the age of fifteen to work as a hairdresser in her father’s business. She was married at eighteen and ran her own hairdressing business for some years.
Rosie loves to write and has penned over one hundred novels under different pseudonyms. She writes about the beauty of nature and sometimes puts a little into her books, though they are mostly about love and romance.
‘Under there and hide quick!’ Emily’s mother pushed her towards the kitchen table. A heavy chenille cloth hung down over the sides, almost touching the brownish red of the polished quarry-tiled floor and, once hidden beneath its folds, Emily could not be seen through the window. She hurried to obey, knowing that such a warning could only mean that the tallyman was on his way to collect money Ma didn’t have. ‘Don’t come out until I tell you – and keep quiet.’
Emily scuttled into safety beneath the faded cloth she knew had once been her mother’s pride and joy. Bounded by the four legs of scarred pine, she felt safe, securely hidden from the enemy, her senses alert to danger. She heard Ma walk quickly into the pantry and held her breath. The tallyman wasn’t easily fooled. He would guess that they were hiding and he might bang at the door for ages, shouting threats through the letterbox of the ancient thatched cottage that was their home. Emily trembled at the thought, waiting for the ordeal to commence.
‘Mrs Carter, I know you’re there,’ the tallyman’s voice was pleasant at the start, coaxing and friendly. ‘It’s silly to hide, because you know the debt isn’t going to go away. All I’m asking is that you pay a shilling every week.’
There was no answer. Emily’s mother never answered him, even though she could hear him perfectly well in the large, cool pantry. Whether she was as frightened of him as Emily was, Emily could not tell, because when Ma had a few pennies to offer she opened the door and invited him in for a cup of tea and a bun, but too often the jar on the mantel was empty and they had to hide and wait until Mr Thompson gave up and went away.
Emily hated having to hide under the table, because it was stuffy and airless beneath the cloth. Sometimes she felt as if she couldn’t breathe, especially if the tallyman kept on banging at the door and she had to hide for ages. It was during these times that she would try to block out what was going on around her and think of nice things – like the day she’d been taken to see Pa’s rich uncle, Albert Crouch.
Albert Crouch was as old as Methuselah, so Ma said, and when he died he was going to leave them a fortune. At least that’s what Pa had promised her years ago when Ma married Pa, but Uncle Albert didn’t seem to want to die. Ma said he’d taken against them because Ma hadn’t provided him with a male heir to follow Emily’s father. Pa said he could keep his rotten money and didn’t care whether his uncle left him a penny – but then, he didn’t have to hide from the tallyman.
Emily had liked it at Uncle Albert’s house, because it was filled with pretty things, like the clock on the mantelpiece, which Pa said was French and bronze, and the cranberry epergne on the sideboard (Pa had one similar in his barn, but that was cracked, while Uncle Albert’s was perfect). For tea they’d had cakes and jelly with ice cream, as well as ham sandwiches.
Uncle Albert had a housekeeper with a sharp tongue and she’d warned Emily to keep her feet off the antique furniture, because she didn’t want it kicked or scratched. The dining chairs were made of a dark polished wood. Pa had told Emily later that day that the wood was mahogany. The legs were curved inwards in a strange way and the back was square with bits of brass inlaid into the wood. Pa said they were called sabre-legged chairs, Regency, and worth a lot of money, which was why Miss Concenii thought them too good for children to sit on. Ma had taken exception to her speaking to Emily like that and they’d had
, which was perhaps why the invitation for tea hadn’t been repeated.
Emily had thought how smart Miss Concenii was with her long dark hair swept high on her head and fastened with shiny combs. Her ankle-length dress was a pale silvery-grey and made of much better stuff than Ma’s Sunday-going-to-church dress. Her shoes were black and shiny with shaped heels and she wore a huge sparkly ring on the third finger of her right hand. Emily thought it looked pretty and on the train taking them home later that night, she’d asked her mother what kind of ring it was. Ma had sniffed and said it was a diamond and then she’d muttered something strange.
‘She’s no better than she ought to be and he might think he’s fooling us by calling her his housekeeper but we all know the truth.’
When Emily asked Ma what she meant, she shook her head and looked angry. She’d refused to answer even when Emily repeated her question so she’d given up asking. It was just one of those things people thought a nine-year-old child shouldn’t ask. Emily was ten now and she still didn’t know why Miss Concenii was no better than she ought to be.
The tallyman had started banging on the door and shouting at them. Emily put her hands over her ears to shut out the words, which she knew were abusive. Mr Thompson always started out by being polite but then he ended by yelling and swearing. Emily didn’t know what all the words meant, but she knew they were rude. She was trembling and feeling sick but she hunched her knees to her chest and kept as still as she could. If he saw the cloth move he would guess she was under the table and then he would just keep on and on banging. She forced herself to think of other things.
Emily liked being ten. She was ten years old and the year was 1907 so she’d been born in the sixth month of the year 1897; the figures had a sort of ring to them and she was good at sums. She could add up in her head faster than Pa could with a bit of paper and a pencil. It was early October now and she ought to be at school, but her mother often kept her at home to help her, because she said she was having another baby. Emily had noticed she was getting fatter, but she wasn’t quite sure what
having a baby
The vicar, who ran the Church school, charged the families of people who could afford to pay, but took poor children for free. There was a school in Ely that was entirely free, and all children under the age of thirteen were supposed to attend, but it was nearly four miles to walk and the bus fare to get Emily there every day would have been too expensive. Because Pa had a smallholding, he was supposed to pay three pennies a week for her to attend the vicar’s school, but sometimes he didn’t have enough money. If Emily didn’t attend, her father didn’t have to pay the three pennies, so when money was tight, Emily stayed home to help her mother. She wasn’t the only child to be kept off school to help out at home or in the fields, but most of her friends didn’t care; they would rather be at work earning a few pennies than at school.
Emily hated it when she had to miss school. She liked the vicar’s house, which was almost as big as Uncle Albert’s. He had a lovely parlour with green brocade curtains at the windows. His furniture was shabby and old, but it was comfortable and Emily was sometimes invited for tea after school. The vicar’s wife was a plump, friendly lady who had three sons but no daughters and she always made a fuss of Emily. Emily often wished she could live in a house like Mrs Potter’s, but of course she always had to go home to her father’s cottage. She wouldn’t have minded that so much if her parents hadn’t quarrelled most of the time.
Emily didn’t remember it happening so often when she was small but of late they always seemed to be at each other’s throats – and it was always over money. Joe Carter wasn’t much of a farmer, so Ma said, and she let him know he was a failure in her eyes. Stella Black had come from better things. She was the daughter of a Fen farmer. His land was in Chatteris and, according to Ma, much more fertile than the few acres Pa had inherited from his father.
Pa’s smallholding was situated between the village of Witchford and Ely, a small market town, with the status of a city, and famous for its wonderful cathedral and rich history. At the vicar’s school they learned about Oliver Cromwell, who had cut off King Charles’s head in the name of democracy and then become a sort of king himself.
‘He allowed his men to destroy beautiful stonework in the cathedral,’ the Reverend Potter told them in accents of utter disgust. ‘The cathedral was begun in the time of Saint Etheldreda, and is one of the finest of its period. Cromwell was a bigoted man and though he may have been just in many ways, I cannot forgive him for his wanton destruction of such beauty.’
The vicar knew a lot of stuff about history and books, and Emily enjoyed listening to him. Sitting under the kitchen table, waiting for the tallyman to stop banging at the door, she wished she was in class learning about history and sums and all the other things Reverend Potter taught them.
The banging had stopped now. Emily was tempted to peep out from under the cloth, but she knew it wasn’t safe yet. The tallyman was crafty. He would make out he’d gone and then sneak back as soon as they came out of hiding. Emily counted to ten and then twenty. She could scarcely breathe under the table. Surely, it was safe to come out now? He must have given up and gone away, because she’d been here ages.
Unable to bear the tension a moment longer, she crawled out from under the table and stretched, easing her shoulders. She went over to the deep stone sink with its one tap. Pa said they were lucky to have running water in the house rather than having to fetch it from the well. In Uncle Albert’s house there was a bath and a proper toilet with a chain that you pulled to flush it with water, instead of the wooden seat out in the privy that had to be cleared from underneath and stunk something awful in the summer.
Emily thought that if you had to be
no better than you ought to be
to live in a house like Uncle Albert’s she wouldn’t mind being like Miss Concenii and having fancy chairs to sit on and a diamond ring to wear on her finger.