Author’s Note: Yay! It’s here! Part two at last! Thank you all for your patience. I hope it’s worth the wait!
I was given a day’s grace.
But I don’t remember it.
The first think I remember after tumbling into the small bed I shared with Frankie that fateful night was her shaking me awake.
“It’s too early.” I moaned.
“Come on Bobbie, you can’t be still tired.”
“What time is it?”
“Just gone half four but there’s plenty to be done.”
Half past four! What sort of an hour was that?
“Oh but you can’t be! You slept all last night and all yesterday and all the night before.
“It’s not tomorrow?”
“It’s the day after tomorrow, you didn’t have to work yesterday but there will be no excuses today. You’re over rested, that’s what it is.”
“What’s over rested?” I sat up slowly and rubbed my eyes.
“It’s when you get so much sleep it makes you even tireder. The only thing to do then is to set about being busy and that will wake you up. Being busy works for grief too, that’s what Mrs Roberts says. Nothin’ like hard work to take the troubles off our mind. Come on, here’s some water, wash quickly then dress and I’ll show you about your work.”
I padded over to the bowl of water and had flung a good amount over my face before I registered it was cold. I let out an involuntary shriek.
“Whatever is the matter?” Frankie asked.
“It’s cold!” I said.
“Well, of course it is, we don’t have time to warm it, unless you want to get up even earlier tomorrow. Come on!”
I hurried myself and was soon dressed.
Frankie showed me down to the cellar where the coal was kept. She showed me the coal hole it came through when the coal man came. She showed me the copper and the range. She even tried to be patient with me. Even in summer there were fires to be lit and things to be warmed up.
Frankie left me with the fires in the scullery while she ran up to rouse Gladys and Dorcus— it was only a quarter past five but it seemed we were running late already! Though the fires in the bedrooms weren’t routinely lit in summer we were still required to supply each with fresh wood and kindling. The older girls were especially fond of brewing tea or cocoa in their rooms. It was usually Gladys’ job to take it into the rooms but not her job to bring it into the house, so I was sent out for it.
I found Tomas at the woodshed already.
“Mornin’ Miss. First day at work then?”
“Yes. I’ve been sent out for wood.”
“Right you are. Now I’m not supposed to go traipsing into the house but I can help ye as far as the door, what do you say to that?”
“Thank you.” I said, because what else was there to say?
Tomas helped me to the door and I hauled the wood inside on my own and stacked it up ready for Gladys to take upstairs.
Frankie and I then went into the scullery where we began laying things out for the breakfast preparation. The growling in my stomach reminded me I hadn’t eaten yet. When did we get to eat? Surely even servants had to eat sometime.
“Now who hasn’t put the water on yet?” I lifted my at the unfamiliar voice.
“Sorry Mrs Roberts.” Frankie said, rushing to fill a large kettle.
“And who might you be?” Mrs Roberts asked me.
“Bobbie.” I answered.
“Bobbie, Mrs Roberts.” She corrected me. “And who said you’re to be called Bobbie? What’s it’s all coming to I don’t know.”
I didn’t know either but I refrained from asking what was it all and just answered.
“Yes Mrs Roberts. I— no one said, it’s just what I’m called. Short for Roberta—”
“We had a Bobbie below stairs once. A boy. It doesn’t suit. You’ll be known as Bertha below stairs. Are all the preserves laid out? Have they all their spoons? Yes, then best take them up.”
“I’ll show you where to go.” Frankie offered while I just gaped. Who was she to call me Bertha? “She doesn’t know yet, Mrs Roberts.”
“I daresay she doesn’t.”
I’m Bobbie!” I said as we made our way through the servant’s hallway with the jams and honey and all manner of yummy things.
“You don’t alway get called your name below stairs.”
“Really? How horrid!”
“Didn’t you ever wonder why you never get a servant named something fancy?”
“Well, no, but… Bertha!”
“You best mind Mrs R.” Frankie said “Hand in hand with her ladyship she is.”
“She made shortbread for me my first day here.”
“And any day since?”
“There you go then. I’ll wager it was just to impress your parents.”
My stomach dropped. My parents. I hadn’t spared them a thought all morning. They’d just been torn from my life, would I forget them so soon?
“Oh, I’m sorry Bobbie— I mean Bertha, but we have to keep moving. Keeping busy will be good for you too!”
“Can’t you call me Bobbie?” I asked as we hurried back to the kitchen. “At least when no one else is around to hear.”
“Well, if it helps. Just when no one else is around, mind!”
We reached the kitchen at the same time as Gladys.
“Is the water boiling yet? I need to make some tea.”
“Oh I’d love a cup ducky.” Mrs Roberts said.
“Not for you, for Miss Jane and her Ladyship!”
“Gladys always wakes them up with a cup of tea.” Frankie explained to me.
“When do we get breakfast?” I asked Frankie, but it was Mrs Roberts that answered.
“When you get it is if you’re lucky.” She said. “But if you make me a cuppa then you can have one yourself.
Unfortunatly Gladys was already on her way out with her tea and I’d missed seeing her make it. I looked at Frankie.
“Oh Bo— Bertha, tell me you at least know how to make tea!”
“I know how to pour it!” I said.
It turned out that making tea was easy so it didn’t take Frankie long to show me.
“I thought it was more complicated than that!” I wined as she laughed at me.
“Is that tea ready yet?” Mrs Roberts asked.
“Yes Mrs Roberts.” I answered.
Mrs Roberts took her tea with lemon so I had mine black, not daring to ask for milk as there wasn’t any on the kitchen table.
There was a knock at the kitchen door.
“Frankie, that will be the baker with the bread, would you see to him?”
“But it’s Saturday Mrs Roberts, you’ll need to fix up the bill.”
“Blast, and so I will!” Mrs Roberts sighed as she made her way to see to the baker.
“Mrs Roberts bakes the bread in the cooler months.” Frankie explained to me. “But she says it’s a waste of coal to bake it when it’s warmer.”
Gladys came rushing into the kitchen.
“Oh that Dorcus Dun!” she said, wiping her brow. “Frankie, can you lay out the napery and crockery for breakfast? You best take Bobbi with you, it goes faster with two.” She patted some creases out of her apron. “Oh blast!” Her hand dove into her pocket. “I’ll be back.” She said. “I forgot to take this to Miss Jane!”
“What is it?” Mrs Roberts asked.
“That gentleman’s card, the one wanted interview with her ladyship, she said to pass it onto Miss Jane as she didn’t have time. I were meant to leave it with her tea this mornin’!” Gladys shook her head then she was off again.
“Come on.” Frankie said.
“But I haven’t finished my tea yet!”
“Then drink faster!”
“But it’s hot.” With no milk to cool it, it was still very hot.
“Then pour it into your saucer.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Frankie showed me how to pour my tea into my saucer to cool and I giggled as I slurped it down. Then we were off once more. Laying a tablecloth is a bit like putting a sheet on a bed, only it’s a lot longer. We each took and end and shook it out and soon got it in place. Then the napkins the cutlery. The preserves We’d taken up before sat waiting on the sideboard and we added a stack of plates beside them.
Back to the kitchen and it was all a bother and a hurry with eggs to be cooked, bacon to be fried and bread to be toasted.
I had spoons thrust into my hands with an order to “stir that” and taken out just as abruptly with a “oh, it’ll be quicker to do it meself”.
After the breakfast went up we had to clean up the mess we made, by which time the dishes upstairs were ready to come back to the kitchen and the tables needed to be cleared. The good part about having to bring the dishes downstairs is what wouldn’t be kept for later, we could eat. I had a breakfast of cold toast and eggs and it was the best breakfast I’d ever had in my life.
After breakfast, the work started again. There was the rest of the dishes to be washed.
There were floors to be scrubbed and banisters to be polished and all manner of things to be dusted.
By night time we trudged up the stairs and through the corridors to our little attic room and fell into our small bed exhausted.
And thus followed every morning and so continued every day.