March 16, 2006 at 12:20 am #1889LaynaParticipant
Sunshine turned the kitchen to an artwork of gold and copper. The clean scents of soap, new linen, and sweet cake baking drifted through the air welcoming any and all who entered the well organized land where Mrs. Clutter ruled. Of course, she ruled the entirety of the house from the topmost dormer attic with wedged and peaked roof to the herb and flower gardens outside waiting for the weather to warm that planting might begin. While her own little sitting room held a good many comforts with her collection of pretty china ladies in ruffled dresses and the mantle cloisonn? clock decorated with sprigs of pale violets and jonquils, the kitchen remained her favorite place to be.
The morning, so far, fell into happy routine. The less uneventful the better. Marianne and Riley normally succeeded in crossing words before the breakfast things were washed and somehow today managed to avoid their typical row. The lack of bickering between the maids allowed for peace to flow through the house. Everything was better when the girls kept their manners and tempers under control. Often Mrs. Clutter thought they were much like having two cats forever hissing and spitting at each other. Yet today came with quietude.
Because of this, Mrs. Clutter sang to herself as she peeked into the oven, checking on the cakes there in. A pretty rise of saffron in the cake-pans. The debate turned to whether she should ice or merely glaze. Everyone liked their cake different ways. Perhaps glazed would be best. Filled with marmalade. Though, she did have the strawberry preserves from Mrs. Coombe. Shame to waste those as Mrs. Coombe put up some of the finest preserves to ever pleasure her taste. Yes, indeed. She could certainly layer the cakes with strawberry between.
Humming, she drifted into the pantry passing her heavy oak table cleared and cleaned of any previous bowls. Copper pots gleamed from their hooks. Two heavy iron skillets hung as well, black as midnight. The walls shone, newly whitewashed only last spring and the stone under foot could have been the finest marble as far as Mrs. Clutter was concerned. Since the kitchen served doubly as their small servants? hall it deserved extra attention. Even the high windows, always open so the heat could escape, offered a cheerful comfort.
On the middle shelf of the tiny pantry?s back wall waited a fat glass jar labeled in Mrs. Coombe?s looping scrawl. ?Strawburie Purserves,? it read, black ink on white paper. Right there with the raisins, dried winter apples, and currant jelly. A bit farther down bags of flour, barley, and oats rested. As well as the sugar she needed for the glaze. The clever tins of spices the bishop gave her three Christmases ago and she used as carefully as she could. A variety of fruits and vegetables sealed and ready in their stout jars with her script instead of Mrs. Coombe?s naming their contents.
She reached for the strawberry preserves, the sugar, and her spice tins. Then she paused when the noise of the girls arguing in the dining room reached her. The ?what? of their heated words escaped her, but she heard Marianne?s voice wheedling upward toward a pitch.
?Those two,? she sighed to herself, hand dropping to the shelf?s edge, ?shall be the??
What they would have been never found voice as the shelf, secretly in rebellion for near a year, decided then to give way. The support, never truly stable in the beginning, snapped with the dry autumn sound of twigs. The thick oak plank tilted down, wobbled for a moment then continued with gravity while bringing along the two shelves below it.
Mrs. Clutter screamed.
Crockery shattered on the stone floor when the trio of shelves crashed and white clouds of flour burst up like smoke from musket fire. Jars of preserves, jams, and jellies exploded in a sticky mess of clotted reds and oranges. Oats and barley scattered no better than chicken feed. Shards of glass sparkled in the husks of murdered tomatoes, green beans, and pears that she?d put up the year before. A mingled sweetish scent with the underlying notes of dill and vinegar made her stomach roil and lurch.
She put a hand to the heart rapidly thudding under her ribs. The world suddenly began to narrow. Everything grew distant. From far away she heard voices.
She took a deep breath and forced herself to step out of the pantry. To do that much at least. When she did, not noticing the sticky trail of mashed pears, syrup, and oats in her wake, her heart strained with its second shock of the morning.
Marianne and Riley stood shoulder to shoulder in the kitchen, not two feet away, with large frightened eyes and each clasping tight the hand of the other. The lightheaded feeling swam up to threaten again.
?Oh, girls,? she managed somehow and realized she was on the brink of tears.
Marianne recovered first. A look of shocked horror and disgust passed in her eyes. With a tight, thin mouth, she shook free of Riley?s lily-white hand. Her long skirts swished as she reached Mrs. Clutter and then she paled upon seeing the disaster just beyond.
?Goodness ma?am,? Marianne breathed over her fingertips. ?I?ll help you clean up.?
Mrs. Clutter saw the sidelong look cast in Riley?s direction. Swaying on her feet, she edged toward the kitchen table and grasped the side with a trembling hand. ?Fetch Mr. Walcott.? She kept wanting badly to look toward the mess. Her stomach twisted into knots just with a glimpse. ?Yes. Mr. Walcott at once. If he?s free for it, ask him to come straight away.?
Riley crept closer to them both, closer to Mrs. Clutter really. Bee-stung lips pressed together in worry if the faint drawing down of her fine brows gave anything away. ?Let?s have us a sit, Mrs. Clutter,? she suggested.
?You?d best,? agreed Marianne. ?I?ll fetch him right quick, I will.?
With those words, the fact the two girls saw eye to eye on one thing, heralded the third miracle. Mrs. Clutter stared in surprise as Marianne swept out of the kitchen once the pair of them maneuvered her to a chair. The good Lord no doubt meant to come soon and redeem the faithful to heaven for such a thing to take place.
Riley knelt in a puddle of gray skirts and crisp white apron at Mrs. Clutter?s feet. Her hands took the older woman?s. Such nice hands the girl has, Mrs. Clutter found herself thinking. Firm and gentle together, and such long, delicate fingers?a lady?s hands, not a maid?s. And lovely green eyes. If it wasn?t for the mess lurking like a dark haunt, she probably wouldn?t have paid so much attention. Riley was sweetly distracting. The daughter she always yearned for and never had.
?Is there nothing I can do, ma?am?? Fey eyes held only compassion and a desire to help.
?Oh, Riley,? her breath caught, ?Riley, I believe the cakes fell.? As soon as she said it she broke into sobs as she?d forgotten about the cakes in her anxiety. Now they were the most important thing in the world. ?Our lovely cakes ruined.?March 16, 2006 at 2:50 am #2467AnnabellaParticipant
That sort of read like a Victorian something or other. Weird… an era piece.March 16, 2006 at 9:50 am #2469CatherineParticipant
Looking forward to the next part! Don't keep us waiting long!
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