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Chapter Twenty-Three: Francesca Cooper

20 Mar

Author’s Note: Please excuse the random costume change near the end of this chapter. I had to use reset sim and didn’t notice it changed her clothing until a few days ago!

Chap23-01

I soon begun to understand the natural order of things downstairs. We all had our set jobs, but if you were busy you’d pass some work, naturally your most disliked chores, down to the next person beneath you in the hierarchy.

Of course, Frankie and I were right at the bottom.

Chap23-02

We washed plates, we scrubbed pots, we polished floors, we kept the fires in the kitchen going and a hundred things besides.

Chap23-03 Chap23-03a Chap23-03b

The work soon reinforced what I’d learned the day I’d cleaned the art room with Jo, Henri and Marjorie in what seemed to be another life; cleaning wasn’t hard, but it was hard work. Frankie sometimes helped with the rooms upstairs, but I never ventured into what I now had to call “a young lady’s room”. I think this was partly because they didn’t want me talking to my old friends and partly because I was far too low down now to be considered suitable for a “young lady’s room.” Even Frankie was only considered fit for the younger girl’s rooms and only when absolutely necessary.

Chap23-04

We didn’t even take our meals in the kitchen with the other servants. We, the lowest of the low, ate on a little table in the scullery.

Chap23-05

There was a lot to learn, and not just about the work. I had to lean new ways of behaving and speaking to people. To eat fast when we had our paltry meals rather than to take dainty bites in between conversation. I even had to look at people different. I saw almost nothing if my classmates at first and never got the chance to speak to any of them. I began to understand how Frankie, having spent most of her life in the scullery, didn’t know how to speak to us “young ladies” when she first came. Frankie tried to be as patient as she could in teaching me everything but I earned more than one cuff about the ear from Mrs Roberts. That was another thing new to me.

Within a week my dress was no longer tight. The hard work aside, I wasn’t eating half what I used to. If we were late for meals, even if it was because our work had kept us, then we didn’t eat and there was no kind servant to sneak you up a feast to your bedroom.

Chap23-06

One day Frankie and I were almost finished the entrance hall floor when Mariah and Valerie happened to walk by. It was the first time I’d seen either of them since… since my world had turned upside down and inside out.

Chap23-07

“I don’t know what’s happened to the standard of domestic help.” Mariah said in a voice that carried to us. “It’s dropped dramatically of late.” I ducked my head so she couldn’t see my face reddening.

Chap23-08

“Just ignore her.” Frankie muttered out of the corner of her mouth.

“Trying too.” I muttered back.

Chap23-09

“I say, you two missed a spot all the way over here. Come clean it at once.” Mariah demanded.

Chap23-10

“Just do as she says and don’t argue back.” Frankie whispered to me as we stood. “She’ll tire of it eventually.”

So she did. Unfortunately for us she tired of it after we’d redone almost the entire hall.

Naturally we were late to our lunch and had to set about our afternoon chores with grumbling stomachs.

Some days there was a lot of work to be done in the afternoons. Other days there was more, and this was one of those other days. The range wasn’t drawing well and and it was all hands to the pump getting the evening meals out on time meaning our usual miserable supper took the form of a few hurried mouthfuls of hard bread and cheese.

Chap23-11

We climbed the stairs that evening, long after every one else was abed. My back ached, my knees were rough and sore, my hands were red and blistered and felt like they’d never be soft again.

Chap23-12

“Tell me it gets better.” I said as Frankie and I wound up the rickety stairs to our little attic room.”

“I could.” She said. “But…”

She didn’t need to finish. It didn’t get better. Was this my life now? How had it come to this? I thought of every time I’d turned my nose up at food. The scone that had broken, the slightly mushy berries, the fatty bit of the meat and a million other times besides. The times where I could have, should have been in bed but laid awake or lit my lamp to get an extra half-hours reading. Oh, what wouldn’t I do for an extra half hour sleep a night, a broken scone, some mushy berries and the fatty bit of the meat.

Frankie had some salt and grains squirreled away in our room for emergencies. If we were very, very hungry, we could cook little hard, flat, tasteless biscuits on the hearthstones. We didn’t want to do this too often as we could only take supplies, including firewood, up in small amounts when it wouldn’t be noticed and Frankie wanted to stockpile a good supply for winter.

Chap23-13

We reached our room and I collapsed on our bed.

“I’m too hungry to sleep and I’m too sleepy to try cooking something.” I said. Our fire was, of course, unlit and after lighting it we’d have to wait for it to be hot enough to cook anything.

Chap23-14

“Well, you can start by changing into your night dress. That dress will be fit for nothing in the mornin’ if you sleep in it!”

Chap23-15

I sighed and sat up. She was right of course, and we still had to clean our aprons and collars. We had two apiece but if we were to venture out of the scullery then clean ones had to be donned. This meant that any dirt had to be cleaned off at night and left to dry for the next day.

Chap23-16

We changed into our nightdresses and I set to work washing our collars and spot cleaning our aprons and Frankie worked on the fire.

We were both too exhausted to talk so when the stairs beneath us creaked under a footstep we both heard it clearly.

“What was that?” Frankie whispered. Was someone coming to check on us? Would we get in trouble for our fire? Would our pilfered food be found?

Chap23-17

I made my way to the edge of the stairwell and looked down. Four points of white light looked up at me.

“Bobbie, is that you?”

“Jo!”

Chap23-18 Chap23-19

It was! She reached the top of the stairs and I threw my arms around her. Henri too.

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you two!” I said.

Chap23-20

“I’ve been wanting to come up every night.” Jo said. “We only worked up the courage tonight, but look, we’ve come bearing gifts!” Jo opened a large handkerchief with a selection of goodies inside. Biscuits, fruit and a tin of sweets. “The sweets are from Henri.” Jo said. “But I promise the next I get I’ll save for you!”

Frankie and I saved our grains and feasted on fruit and biscuits. Jo and Henri waited until we’d finished eating before they talked.

“I thought you might be hungry.” Jo said. “I can’t imagine you get as good dinners below stairs as we do upstairs.”

“You have no idea.” I said.

Chap23-21

“But now the important news.” Henri said. “I’ve written to my brother, I don’t know where to reach my parents right now. I’ve told him everything about it and I know he’s far away at the moment but he knows people, so he might be able to help.”

Chap23-22

“And I’ve written to Michael, the very night everything happened, in my bed by the light of a candle. I put blankets against the door so the light didn’t show underneath it because Miss Jane was prowling like anything! I didn’t even wait to put it in the school post at breakfast, I got up early and placed it in Glady’s hand when she came in the morning and she made sure it made the first post. I’ve had a reply already. He says that our home is out of quarantine, has been for almost a week, can you fancy that? Nobody ever told me, I should think they would have! I’ve written home today and between Mother and Father and Henri’s brother and her parents, when we reach them, we’ll sort something out. Things are not right and we’ll fix them, for you too Frankie.”

Chap23-23

“What can you fix for me?” Frankie asked. “Do you know of another position?”

“No.” Henri said.  “But I wrote to my brother when the mailboat strike ended and I had a reply the other day. I mentioned you—”

“But why?”

Chap23-24

“Because you’re not registered with the agency and you should be as they protect you and make sure you receive proper wages and days off and get treated right. Don’t worry, he won’t say anything about you to anyone, but he says to hold tight for now and he asked me a few questions which I answered in my last letter—”

“Including what your name could be.” Jo cut in.

Chap23-25

“My name…?”

“Yes.”

Chap23-26

“Really?” I sat forward.

“My name’s Frankie!” Frankie said. “Short for Francesca.”

Chap23-27

“But you don’t know your last name.” Henri said.

“Don’t have one.”

“Yes you do. Everyone does. My brother said a baby born on a big estate to unknown parent will be given the name of the estate or sometimes the family that own it instead of the name of he father. Sort of like you belong to the state.”

“So you are either Francesca Cooper or Francesca Braklesie. Probably.”

“Francesca Cooper.” Frankie said. “You thought she was the daughter of the Coopers’. I thought she didn’t exist. Is it me, and if so, how and why?”

“Maybe.” Henri said. “Maybe you’re Francesca Braklesie-”

Chap23-28

But Frankie was shaking her head. “I’m older than Braklesie estate. When the Coopers moved there it was just the Coopers’ winter house. It didn’t have a name until they decided to stay there.”

Chap23-29

“Francesca Cooper.”  Said. “I like thinking you have a real name.”

Chap23-30

“Yes, well, my brother says don’t do or say anything, just sit tight and he’ll investigate what he can without making too much noise and I think Bobbie will have to do the same. Lady D’Winter hasn’t registered you, has she?” She asked me.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, then, I think you’d know if she had. We’ll see what my brother says, we shouldn’t cause any trouble because we don’t want things getting worse for you.”

“I don’t know that they could.” I said. “But tonight they’ve sure got better!”

Chap23-31

“Well, that’s something. Now Jo and I should get back to bed, I don’t know what will happen if we’re caught up here!”

Chap23-32

“We’ll keep you posted.” Jo said. “We’re doing everything we can and you just need to keep strong.” She threw her arms about me.

“Thank you.” I said. “We need to get to bed too, we wake up even earlier than you do!”

“Goodness, do you really?” Jo said.

“Who do you think brings the wood in in the morning?” I asked. “Tomas chops it but I have to carry it into the house.”

Chap23-33

“Well I never.” Jo said. “That just won’t do at all. No wonder you were so hungry! I imagine carrying wood is hungry work!”

Chap23-34

“Jo, lets go!” Henri said and Frankie and  I watched as the two wound their way back down the stairs.

Chap23-35

“Oh! I forgot” Jo ran back up. “I know how much you like reading, so I brought you this!” She thrust a book into my hands then caught up with Henri waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Soon I heard the sound of the door below softly close.

Chap23-36

I looked down at the book in my hands. It was a poetry book. One of mine, but not one I’ve read much I opened it randomly and read.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

I didn’t recognise the poet’s name.

I flipped to the front page and saw the inscription.

To Darling Roberta, many wishes on her second birthday. With lots of love from the entire Cooper family.

Of course, another present from the Coopers. Strange thing to give a toddler a book of poetry. I closed the book and put it beside our bed.

Chap23-37

I thought I’d never sleep that night, but as soon as my head touched the (rather lumpy) pillow my exhaustion took over.

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7 Comments

Posted by on 20th March, 2013 in Future's Present

 

Tags: , , , ,

7 responses to “Chapter Twenty-Three: Francesca Cooper

  1. caterpillar

    21st March, 2013 at 03:38

    I knew eventually we’d see Mariah lording it over Bobbie.

    I’m so happy Jo and Henri were able to sneak upstairs to see Bobbie and Frankie. Hopefully what they’re doing won’t get them into trouble, and will actually help Frankie and Bbbie’s situation as unregistered servants.

     
    • kathleen

      22nd March, 2013 at 09:53

      Yes, indeed! My plan actually had Bobbie doing the girl’s rooms in occasion in the mornings and a chapter devoted to this which involved Jo treating her nice ad chatting and giving her food and Mariah being a bitch. But I had to scrap it as we see Jo helping and remaining a friend in other ways so it was a bit of a redundant chapter, but I had to keep in Mariah lording it over Bobbie sometime.

      And yay for Jo and Henri! Hopefully they can help and not get caught, but we’ll see!

       
  2. darksideofkate

    24th March, 2013 at 02:16

    I’d forgotten about Mariah and how nasty she could be! You think she might be able to feel just a little bit of sympathy, but no!

    It was great to see Jo and Henri again though. They’re such loyal friends! I hope they can do something to help Bobbie and Frankie!

     
    • kathleen

      27th March, 2013 at 16:40

      Mariah? Sympathy? Naaaaa! hehe. Yay for loyal friends though!

       
  3. ghekate

    14th April, 2013 at 00:59

    Ughhh Mariah gets me so angry! “and Frankie wanted to stockpile a good supply for winter.” Oh my goodness like squirrels! That’s so sad. 😦 I’m so glad her friends haven’t forgotten about her. And ahhh the Coopers. Now how did they get a poem from the future? So many secrets!

     
    • kathleen

      15th April, 2013 at 23:35

      Oh, Mariah! Doesn’t she just! Yeah, like squirrels I suppose! Winter can be harsh and even harsher without enough to eat. Yay for friends 🙂 And hmmm… a poem from the future? The Coopers have given a few odd things to Bobbie, haven’t they?

       
      • ghekate

        16th April, 2013 at 00:16

        Yes! And it drives me crazy wanting so badly to know what is going on. You’re very good at doing that. Haha.

         

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