March 21, 2006 at 11:21 pm #1908LaynaParticipant
?Well now, Emily Clutter, if you?d wanted a way to see me, you needn?t had brought down the shelves like you did,? chuckled Tom Walcott as they sat together at the kitchen table. His thick, blunt fingered hands wrapped about a heavy clay beaker. Steam spun upward from the tea in phantasm shapes bringing the delicate scent of chamomile, mint, and honey with it.
Mrs. Clutter blushed like a young girl. He was one of the very few who used her Christian name. Then, she?d known him for nearly twenty years now, met when they were young and in service of the same house. She merely a kitchen maid at the time and he a groom. More important, he?d been a good friend of her late Harry.
She sniffed once and looked to the pantry behind him with the door slightly ajar. Hours ago Riley tended to everything within. Swept the flour and oats up. Scrubbed the jam and preserves away. Picked up slivers of glass with quick fingers. Saved what she could of the spices. When Mrs. Clutter tried to help, she found herself steered back to her seat at the table with a calm and soft reprimand that she need not bother with such things. Better to get her nerves settled. All of it done without a word of complaint. Even tended to the ruination of the cakes saying the birds would have a lovely feast of it and the ducks as well if it was all right for her to take some to feed them. Mrs. Clutter agreed, a bit surprised that the girl bothered with birds, or ducks for that matter, yet she could imagine her sitting on some pretty green sward with sparrows perched on her fingers like a faery woman from a tale. Then Tom came and the girl turned shy as the moon behind clouds only to flee to other tasks after a quick bob and murmured hello.
?It?s no thing to joke, Tom. Nearly caused my death, those shelves.? She looked down into her tea. More embarrassed now than upset. At least only she and the girls were home when it happened. She couldn?t imagine the humiliation if the bishop had heard her make such a noise. Telling him would be easier as she could smooth it over nicely.
?I?ve no doubt of that, but it?s fixed right for you now.? A smile hugged his mouth. Always a friendly man, pleasant to a fault. Not for the first time she wondered why he never married again. She supposed the loss of his young wife in childbirth years ago wounded him still.
?I do appreciate it. You coming on such short notice.? She lifted her eyes to his. The brown of sun-warmed earth.
He only reached across to pat her hand in reassurance. ?Marianne said you gave her quite a fright. As if Old Scratch himself were in your pantry.?
?I doubt the Bishop would allow for such a gent to step a foot inside,? she said and when he laughed, she surprised herself by laughing as well.
?Needed to be fixed a while back, Emily.? Tom hushed when she held up her hand.
?I know. I know and you told me to do so and I didn?t listen to you then.?
?Nah, nah.? He patted her hand again. ?Wasn?t looking for you to tell me I was right. Even if I was.? He smiled a second time.
?Would you like to have supper with us, Tom? It?s the very least I could do.? Not that she knew exactly what she would serve for supper now. Things remained a jangle in her mind. She lifted her mug and then started when she heard the sound.
Tom did as well. ?The bloody hell was that, Em??
?I?ve no idea,? she said. Carefully, she pushed away her chair and rose to her feet. ?Those girls, they don?t get on, you know. Perhaps one dropped something. Give me more gray hairs than I?ve already.?
It had been an odd sound. Rather muffled with the kitchen somewhat below and behind. She couldn?t tell really where it came from. The dining room stood before the kitchen and even that was separated by a shortish hallway.
?So I?ve heard. Your Marianne speaks a nasty word about your new girl, she does.? Tom stood at her side now. A calloused hand came to rest on her shoulder. A supportive, kind gesture. ?Pretty bit, her. Little I saw.?
?I admit she?s contrary.?
?What woman isn?t it?? He flashed the smile that nearly won her from her Harry all those years past and together went to investigate the cause of the odd sound.
?You stupid cow!? Marianne yelled. Sallow cheeks flushed dark. ?D?ye know what you?ve done, you cheap whore??
The object of her anger lay in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs. Skirts hitched up nearly to the sharp bones of hips. Long legs hidden in sensible black stockings and tied with ribbon to keep them neatly in place were visible. One shoe with a short broken heel was forgotten on its side. The girl?s head was slightly bowed with the spill of ink curls free to tumble. Lithe shoulders hunched forward. Slowly she drew her legs upward and in toward her chest, not bothering to fix her clothing. The action of one preparing to be struck.
Around her and at Marianne?s feet scattered the remains of a crystal vase. Water seeped along the floor. The flowers it held spread in an odd bridal display of ruined white rose petals. Hot house flowers. Costly. The vase as well.
?You horrid little trull,? ranted the older girl. ?Wasn?t it enough to ruin Mrs. Clutter?s pantry.?
She swung one foot out, aimed at Riley?s stomach and the girl shrank back. Before it could connect, Tom Walcott?s hands fell upon Marianne?s shoulders. Mrs. Clutter hurried across the entrance hall to the poor thing. When she knelt, much like Riley did early, she turned a sharp iron gaze up to Marianne.
?That will do from you, miss,? she said coolly.
?Ma?am,? started Marianne, ?ma?am, she did it on purpose!?
?Did what on purpose, now??
?Broke sir?s vase.?
?Why on earth would she do a thing like that?? It made no sense. Carefully she tugged Riley?s skirts down and slipped an arm about her shoulders to ease her up. ?Poor duck. Did you come over faint??
Marianne sputtered. Stout body trembling even as Tom held her quietly.
?I missed the step, ma?am,? Riley whispered, ?that?s all.?
Mrs. Clutter frowned. Something else wasn?t being told but doubted it would be said with Marianne a snarling beast so near by. ?Does anything hurt, dear heart??
?I?? her voice carried such lost notes, ?I don?t know, ma?am.?
She clucked her tongue. ?Tom, would you mind carrying Riley up to her bed? It?s the room at the end of the hall on the third floor.? As their rooms weren?t on the same floor as the bishop's and guests? rooms were.
?Of course not.? But he did give Marianne a long and meaningful glace before letting her free of his grasp. The older girl rubbed furiously at her arms. When he reached Mrs. Clutter, as gentle as he could, he lifted Riley up to cradle her against his chest. ?There?s a good girl,? he chided her. ?Why, you?ll be tucked right in once Mrs. Clutter?s up to see you and no doubt feel better come tomorrow.?
Riley nodded and closed her eyes. Resigned to being carried by a strange man it appeared. Mrs. Clutter watched him go up the stairs with her and then turned her full attention to Marianne.
?You shall explain to me exactly what?s going on with you and that poor child as you clean this up. I?ve enough of things breaking today.? Face set and tone offering no hope of solace, she folded her arms under her breasts as the list of faults began once again.March 23, 2006 at 7:17 pm #2499CatherineParticipant
I do hope you shan't keep us waiting long for the next part!
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