The morning came all too soon and I found I was behind my work from the get-go.
Once the fires were done I simply dashed to the woodshed. I was lucky Gladys hadn’t come for the wood already!
“Mornin’!” Tomas greeted me “What’s up?” He asked with a grin.
“I came for the wood of course, could you please give me a hand? I’m running a little late”
“It’s already been taken in.”
“Oh, Tomas, thank you!”
“Don’t thank me, I didn’t do it.”
“That friend of yours.”
“Frankie?” When on earth had she found the time to slip away and do that?
“No, from upstairs. The pretty one with fair hair and blue eyes.”
“She did! Come down this mornin’ when I was only just started readying it. Said she just come out for some exercise and thought she’d make herself useful.”
“Well, that catches me up, I’m not running late any more! Jo, well I never! I’ve never known her to even get up on time, let alone early!”
“I’ll walk you back to the house.” Tomas offered.
“Thank you.” I said.
We saw the postman stop on the way and Tomas ran to meet him to take the letters from the first delivery.
“Might as well be useful.” He said, but he looked through them and a grin spread to his face as he pulled one out. “Here!” He handed the rest of the bundle to me and tore it open.
He didn’t take long to read it but he gave a cheer and spun me around.
“What is it?” I asked. “Good news?”
“Yes, and I have to tell someone, but you must promise not a word to anyone. Not now not never.”
“Cross my heart!”
“I’ve just been accepted into night classes.”
“Yes, I’d loose my position if anyone found out, but I can’t stay here for the rest of my life. I’ve not got much educationbut I can read and write and figure well enough and I’ve a quick mind, that I know. But you don’t get nowhere if you don’t have the education. One day I could go in for a clerk or something. Anything, just not here! I’ve been saving up my wages for years, you see, I never wanted to stay where I was. That’s the thing, Miss, if you’re not happy where you are or where you’re headin’ you’ve got to take the bull by the horns and get yourself out. No one else is going to do it for you. Use your head and do what you can, that’s the trick. Just get out.”
Tomas and I parted ways at the back door and I set about my daily tasks. Tomas’ happiness must have been contagous because I felt a lot better than I had when I’d woken.
Some days there was a lot of work to be done in the afternoons. Other days there was more. But every once in a while there was an afternoon that left just enough time for a sit down and a cup of tea at three o’clock, even for the likes of Frankie and me. This was one of those days.
But the Devil makes work for idle hands, As Mrs Roberts told us, and she sent us out on an errand. Going out required a fresh apron so we had to change out of our soiled ones.
Once cleaned up and presentable we took a shortcut across the entrance hall and who should come out of the front parlor but Miss Jane and gentleman!
Frankie and I froze, knowing we’d be in trouble for taking a short cut but Miss Jane was showing the gentleman out, and wasn’t too polite about it either so she didn’t see us. I got a good look at him and wasn’t sure he was a gentleman at all. His hat and waistcoat told he was, as did the glint of gold from his watch chain and his monocle but his suit was of quite a lower class and his tie was all wrong.
“Come on!” I whispered to Frankie as soon as Miss Jane’s back was too us. “Lets slip into the kitchen while she can’t see!”
Frankie did not move, she just stared at Miss Jane.
“Come on!” I grabbed her hand and we just made it in the kitchen. “You almost got us caught, what is it?”
“Nothing… I just thought—” Frankie shook her head. “No, nothing.”
“Now, somethings up, you tell me right away Francesca Cooper!” I mock scolded her.
“What did you call her!” Miss Jane had at that moment entered the kitchen and was frowning down at us.
“If you please Miss Jane.” Frankie said. “It’s just my name, I know I’m Frankie below stairs but Bobbie was just pretending to be cross with me so she used my full name, she didn’t mean anything pretentious by it!
“Oh, I mean Bertha, I beg your pardon Miss Jane.
“Y—yes?” I said, but Miss Jane wasn’t addressing me. She was looking from me, to Frankie and back to me again.
“Bobbie, Roberta Hilton. Bobbie Hilton. Frankie. Francesca Cooper.” The only word I could think of to describe the look on her face was to say she was flabbergasted. Miss Jane’s face must have been what they had in mind when they came up with the word in the first place!
“I— I—” With that Miss Jane turned on her heel and strode out the door back into the entrance hall.
“Well I never!” I said. “What on earth could that have been about? But come on, we need to get away or we’ll be late getting back and will go hungry again tonight!”
Our errand didn’t take us long and we hurried back. We returned to the kitchen to find it empty but for Gladys.
“Where ‘ave you two been!” She burst out, her obvious anxiety bringing out her Highlander accent all the more strongly.
“Mrs Roberts sent us—”
“Never mind that, there’s no time!” She knelt down and lowered her voice. “I don’t know what you’ve done but list—” The kitchen door opened.
“Ah, they’re back, are they?” Miss Jane strode through.
“I— Yes Miss Jane. I was just about to fetch you.” Gladys threw us a look and I got the impression that had been exactly what she hadn’t been about to do. My stomach felt sick.
“You naughty children!” Miss Jane yelled at us. “Straight to your room, now!”
“But Mrs Roberts sent us out!” I cried, but Miss Jane would have none of that.
She grabbed our arms and pulled us out of the kitchen and right into the front entrance hall. “But she did!” I explained. “We’ve done nothing wrong!”
“Oh yes you have, upstairs, now!”
“But what have we done?”
“You’ve been very naughty little girls and I saw a man today and he is to come back tomorrow to take you away forever!”
“NO!” With a shriek Frankie twisted away from Miss Jane’s Grip and made for the front door.
“Run!” I didn’t know what was happening but I’d heard the fear in Frankie’s scream.
But Miss Jane was too quick for her and before Frankie reached the door Miss Jane grabbed her and pulled her back.
“Come with me!” She yelled as she pulled Frankie up the stairs.
“Run Bobbie!” Frankie called back to me, but before I could thing where to run too Miss Jane had me thrown over her shoulder and was marching my up the next staircase. Frankie pulled at Miss Jane’s legs but she, the faithful little thing, did not run while I was in the enemy’s clutches.
Miss Jane must have realized this as she continued to carry me through the servant’s halls and corridors. Finally we reached the room that contained the twisting stairs up to our own little attic room.
“You can’t make me go up there!” Frankie Screamed as Miss Jane alighted the stairs. Frankie threw herself at Miss Jane’s Legs trying to pull her down.
Miss Jane dumped me on the stairs in front then turned, grabbed Franked and dragged her up the stairs and pushed her to where I was. Then she grabbed me again and forced her way up, pushing Frankie ahead of us.
Next thing I found myself on the floor of our room with all the breath whooshed out of me.
“Bobbie!” Frankie ran to help me up.
“You won’t leave this room until tomorrow, you bad, wicked girls! Then the man will come and take you away from here!” Miss Jane stepped back down the stairs.
“Nooooooo!” With a, anguished cry Frankie launched herself across the room but with a thump a trapdoor I’d never seen before slid across the top of the stairs sealing us off. Frankie grabbed at it but with a clunk a bolt underneath slid into place and Frankie may have well been pounding upon the solid floor for all it budged.
“Frankie!” I raced to her and threw my arms around her. “Whatever have we done? What man, who is he?”
“It’s the man.” She sobbed. “It’s him!”
“Who? What man?”
“The watcher. I don’t know who he is but I’ve see him so many times, peering in the windows and hanging around. I always hide because he reminds me of something but I don’t know what. Something bad. I saw him again today, He was the one Miss Jane was showing out when we were in the entrance hall.”
“But what has he to do with us?”
“I don’t know and I don’t like to know. But if he’s in with Miss Jane then it can’t be better than here, can it?”
“I don’t know.”
“No, I expect you don’t know. Oh Bobbie. There’s far worse situations for a girl than as a scullery maid under people like Miss Jane and Mrs Roberts.”
“But if you’re not— if we’re not registered with the agency, then there will be nothing to protect us here. Like what Henri said with food and wages an—”
“There’s worse that can happen to a girl than not enough food and wages.” Frankie hugged her arms over her knees. “And if we’re not registered with anyone, there’s no one to notice if we go missing. To wonder where we are and what we’re doing. And if they are, well, people go missing. Girls, in our situation. Sometimes. It’s why I always hid from him.
“I—” I thought back to this morning. “He spoke to Miss Jane then just after that something about our names made her hurry off.”
“Maybe he was asking for us, making a deal to take us away but—”
“Take us away where?”
“There’s all sorts of bad work out there. They want new workers all the time.”
“But who is they?”
“Are you talking about slaves?” Frankie was right, I didn’t know what ill could befall a girl in the world.
“Maybe. But what use is it wandering now? There’s nothing we can do, no hope. We’re locked in here, an attic room with no windows, no way down, the chimney’s too narrow, I’ve thought about that already, no hope of escape. Whatever he wants with us… we’ve got no choice. We’re doomed, Bobbie, Doomed.” And with that she buried her head in her arms and her tears came as a flood.