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Born to Blush

A Victorian Romance by Fran Connor

By Francis ConnorPublished 2 months ago 6 min read
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Mary gazed in awe at the huge grey stone building at the end of a long drive lined with trees the names of which she did not know. Two massive iron gates on stone pillars topped with bronze pineapples barred the entrance. They didn’t have pineapples on the menu at the Workhouse so she didn’t know what these odd shapes represented.

Higgins, the Workhouse Porter, tapped the chestnut mare on the rump with his whip. The cart carried on past the gates and along the road until they came to a gravel track running at ninety degrees to the road bounded by brambles. Mary knew brambles. Off to her left she could see farmland disappearing into the distance and on her right the long wall that contained Hartford House. Mary would not be arriving at the front entrance. She knew the transport arrangement to get her there was to ensure that she did arrive; with no alternative she had given in and accepted the post. Ordinarily she expected girls being sent to their first employment position had to make their own way. Mary wore the transport like a badge of pride. She rattled the Master and Matron so much they sent her under guard. Maybe she hadn’t finished the job for George’s memory but she’d done as much as she could though the guilt still haunted her when she lay awake at night.

An open gate in the wall gave access to a cobbled stable yard. Higgins pulled the mare up. “Here you are. Behave yourself you little bitch.”

Mary climbed down from the cart. Higgins threw down her blanket wrapped bundle that held her worldly belongings; a second grey dress and a spare pair of drawers. The mare clip clopped out through the gate leaving Mary standing on the cobbles with butterflies in her tummy and her tongue stuck out at the disappearing porter.

“Good day. You the new housemaid?” said a voice behind her making her jump.

She turned to see a man in a pair of brown trousers with string around each leg just below the knee and a red neckerchief above his collarless grey shirt.

“Yes, sir. Do you know which way I should go in?”

“Come with me,” said the man with a smile. “I’m Andy. I’m one of the stable hands. Just a word of warning, the Mistress Lady Glendenning is a good woman, the butler Mr Stevens is a good man, the housekeeper Mrs Jones is a nice person and the Master, Sir Edward Glendenning is a devil and no mistake so watch your step with him.”

“Thank you. Do I call you Mr Andy?”

“No, you call me Andy. What’s your name?”

“Mary.”

“Welcome to Hartford House, Mary.” He pushed open a wooden door and stepped inside.

Mary picked up her bundle and followed him along a spotlessly clean corridor with landscape paintings on the wall. Her ankle boots made a clicking sound on the flagstone floor. A scent of lavender hung in the air from sprigs on the windowsills.

“Better get the metal off those boots or a new pair. Master won’t like the noise,” said Andy as they came to a door on which he knocked with a grubby hand.

“Come in,” came the reply from inside.

Andy nodded at the door, turned, and walked away.

Mary pressed the door handle down and pushed it gently open. A middle-aged woman with a pair of spectacles on the end of her nose sat writing at a desk in the windowless room.

“And who be you?” said the woman.

“I’m Mary Dunsford, Ma’am. The new ‘Ousemaid.”

“Housemaid, not ‘Ousemaid. Good. I’m Mrs Jones the housekeeper and you are to call me Mrs Jones not Ma’am. About names, you will call the mistress Milady and the master, sir. The butler is Mr Stevens and you’ll get to know all the other staff in due course. Now is that all your baggage?”

Mary felt a tinge of shame as she glanced at her bundle and nodded.

“We don’t nod here or shake our heads. We say yes or no.”

“Yes, Ma’am. . . I mean Mrs Jones.” No nodding and no shaking of head. Sound your aitches. This is gonna be ‘ard. . . h…hard.

“Relax girl. I’m not going to bite you. First, we need to find you some decent clothes to wear. We can’t have you working in the house dressed like a scarecrow. Come with me.”

Mrs Jones took Mary to a room along the corridor that held sheets, blankets, towels, white aprons, black dresses, and white caps. A not unpleasant smell of fresh laundry pervaded the storeroom. The contrast with the smelly laundry at the Workhouse could not have been greater.

The housekeeper looked Mary over, selected two black dresses, two aprons and two caps and handed them to the recruit. “Now follow me.”

They climbed a wooden staircase up three floors to the attic with Mary’s ankle boots making a clicking sound on each step.

Halfway up the stairs Mrs Jones turned to Mary. “Oh dear. We can’t have that. I’ll see if Joe, the master’s valet can obtain some more suitable footwear for you.”

Sound your aitches, no nodding or shaking of heads and no noise from boots. Blimey!

The stairs opened out to a corridor that ran the length of the house with windows at each end. Mrs Jones stopped at the fourth door on the right from the staircase, pushed it open and waved Mary to enter.

Mary stepped into the room and saw it had a sloping roof which came down to a window where the height, she reckoned, would just about allow her to look out without ducking. A single iron bedstead with a mattress, pillow, sheets, and quilt lay with the head against the external wall. A wardrobe and a washstand that held a large pottery jug and basin were the only other items in the room. She looked at the bed and tried to hold back a grimace, but it showed on her face.

“What’s wrong?” said Mrs Jones.

“Er. . . ‘ow… how many of us sleep in the bed Mrs Jones because it isn’t very wide.”

Mrs Jones let out a laugh and then stopped. “I’m sorry. It isn’t funny after what I suspect you were used to. This room, this bed is for your use only.”

Mary’s mouth fell open. “Blimey! For me? I am to stay in this room on my own?”

“Yes, Mary. And we don’t say blimey.”

Mary added another word to her list of things not to do or say but she couldn’t keep the beaming smile from her face.

“Now get changed and come down when you’re ready. You’ll start your duties tomorrow morning so today you can get to know the layout of the house and the other staff. And we’ll see if we can get you some shoes.”

Mrs Jones left Mary in the room. She sat on the bed and stared in amazement at the wardrobe and then walked over to the window. She had a view across to the impressive main entrance gates.

“Oh my! If only the Master and Mistress, Bertha and Margaret could see me now!” she said out loud.

You can read the rest of this novel in ebook or print HERE

Vocal Book ClubGenreFiction
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About the Creator

Francis Connor

I am a British author of nine published novels ranging from Historical Romance to Contemporary Thrillers.

Since taking early retirement I moved to France where I find inspiration from the ancient hilltop villages; and the wine too!

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  • Test2 months ago

    Great job! Keep up the fantastic work

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