Under Pressure


Blindingham Hall
August 26th 1852

This has been a monstrous day, the like of which I hope never to endure again!

I have been concerned that word of Cook’s fancy and aspect had got to the village – I have received some strange glances on my way around the place lately – and this afternoon I was proved tragically right.

As I walked with Cook in my small garden this afternoon, we thought we could hear whispering and laughter – at first I thought it must be Nurse since she has such an engaging nature and is often to be heard showing her amusement at Josiah’s instruction. Indeed I wish it had been them, for then the rest of the day’s dreadful events would not have taken place….

I looked up from helping Cook to sit on my iron reading seat and was truly shocked to see before me a gaggle of smudge-faced boys staring at us over the hedge. I knew them to be village boys at once – there is a certain physiological similarity about many of the children in Blindingham -there can be no questioning their parentage when so many of them clearly come from village stock. I moved towards Cook to protect her from view, but too late I realised they had seen more than enough. Emboldened by the dividing hedge, these boys began to jeer at poor Cook and some of them even threw small apples at her. She stood up and smiled at them, offering a sight gruesome enough to frighten even the hardest of ruffians, I should have thought. But at her stumbling approach, the boys grew more confident in their chanting and fruit tossing. So there she was walking unsteadily towards them and there they were, encouraging her with open disdain, which she appeared to take as confirmation of her status as Mistress of the hall. I was frozen with horror.

I called to the boys to desist and to go home before I reported them to their fathers, who would have been powerless to stop them I am sure. The boys were not surprisingly quite fearless at the thought of being chastised by such a collection of wastrels and redoubled their jeering at Cook and, now, at myself.

After a few more minutes of this I began shouting for the staff – they did not hear me at first, which is precisely why we were in that section of the gardens to begin with – and it was not until I shouted “Help, we are overrun with boys!” that salvation came in the form of Villiers who appeared, breathless in our midst. I have never been so pleased to see him, I do not mind confessing.

Villiers walked calmly towards the boys, who all stopped shouting and stared at him. He was silent for a while, looking at each boy in turn as if sizing him up for work, and then he said “Is there any one of you who wishes to come further into the garden and meet this fine lady, who has served The Hatherwicks royally and who is known fondly to your parents, even if you are not.” I was struck with admiration for his poise, and the boys themselves were open mouthed in awe of him. He paused for a mere moment and then whispered ” Now, which of you would like to come forward?”

All but one of those urchins turned and fled.

Cook whimpered a little at their flight and started to ask me where her subjects had gone. I did my best to soothe her and help her back into the kitchen, hoping that this sorry and frightening episode was ended. I hoped too soon. The next thing I heard was a tiny, terrified voice pleading not to be hurt. I turned and saw the most alarming sight – Villiers was dragging the boy in through the window to the garden room, brandishing one of Josiah’s paperweights and bellowing that the boy was about to receive the hiding of his life! I concerned myself with making sure that Cook was safely returned to her rooms – interrupting Josiah and the Nurse as he was teaching her the appropriate way to arrange patient’s clothing should they become distressed whilst in her care. He is a very thorough employer, I must say, so he was irked at having to leave his instruction to go downstairs and deal with the situation. Nurse then helped me to get Cook into bed and I went directly to my dressing room to calm down.

I understood at dinner tonight that Josiah and Villiers have ensured that the boy, and probably his entire family and friends, will never return. I do not know exactly what they did and have no wish to be enlightened further. It is enough for me to know that I am protected by a brave servant and a commanding husband. That is more than I could wish for. I shall sleep soundly in my bed tonight and I trust the same can be said for Cook and for Villiers. The boy, I’ll wager, will not sleep soundly for some time.

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