Well sorry about my silence over the past few days. I was working all through the weekend.
By the time I got home on both Saturday and Sunday I pretty much did nothing but eat and then hit the hay.
Things are just mad at work and no end in sight.
It was very hard to go back into the office this morning after not having had a weekend :-(
Well now to this week's Hilda scene. Hilda arrives back at work after her afternoon off only to have to answer an unusual request from one of Lord Shirley's guests.
As usual the kitchen was dim as Hilda came in, Mrs Garraway sat at the kitchen table, but close to midnight she was the only person in the kitchen. ‘Making the most of your afternoon off Duck?’
‘As usual, we works hard enough and I’s always back before the strike of twelve.’
‘I know, and I used to do the same when I was young. It means you’ll be tired when you’re doing breakfasts, and we’ll have extras with the guests.’
As apprentice cook Hilda usually found herself starting the staff breakfasts on her own, with Mrs Garraway appearing in time to supervise the family’s and guests morning meal. Monsieur Glanville was seldom seen in the kitchen before noon. Hilda didn’t mind, even with breakfasts she usually managed at least two hours more sleep than she had as the scullery maid.
‘It’s not a big party is it?’
Mrs Garraway counted mentally, ‘No, just eight officers from the Warwickshire Regiment.’
‘And they’ll be gone before lunch. Not a bad day then.’
The sudden jangle of a bell nearly made Hilda jump out of her skin, Mrs Garraway glanced at the board where the bells for each of the rooms upstairs hung, ‘That’s the blue guest room, a Lieutenant Tilley. Could you go up duck? Leeanne has just gone up to Captain Rogers and I don’t want to be climbing the stair tonight.’
'I'm not in uniform.'
'I won't say anything if you don't pet.'
Hilda sighed, she didn’t particularly mind, but it was Leeanne’s job really. ‘I’ll leave my hat here then.’
Dropping her hat on the table she took one of the candle sticks from the mantle, leaning the wick against a candle on the table until it caught. When they were working the kitchen was brightly lit by paraffin mantle lamps, but late like this a candle or two was sufficient.
Shadows rippled up the servants’ stair, following her candle. Kat swore she had seen a ghost on that stair, but Hilda had no time for ghosts. There was enough in this world to be concerned about without imagining entities from another.
The blue room was the last guest-room but one from the far end of the house, Hilda knocked before turning the knob and going in. A large comfortably furnished room, two candles burned on a writing desk to one side, a figure at the desk casting a looming shadow across the room.
Hilda raised her candle and stepped across the room. The figure shrank as her candle cast its light onto it. A young man, certainly less than twenty-five, dressed in an army shirt and tie, presumably his Sam Browne and jacket were safely stowed in the wardrobe. Such a look of anguish on his face as she came in, Hilda nearly gasped. Hesitantly, she found her voice, ‘Can I help you sir?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
What should she do? ‘You rang? ‘Sir?’
‘What’s your name?’
What an odd question, a guest in a house he might never stay in again, why did he need to know her name? Still there was no likelihood of harm in answering, ‘Hilda, sir.’
‘Well Hilda, I can’t sleep, do you have any suggestions?’
She stumbled, at a loss, she’d never been asked such a question before. She lifted her eyes to his, not something a servant was not generally expected to do. It suddenly came to her, this man was frightened. Frightened almost beyond bearing and alone.
Gently does it girl, she thought. ‘I could fetch you something to drink, a whiskey maybe? Or, a milky hot cocoa?’
‘Cocoa?’ His laugh was bitter, ‘Like Nanny used to make me?’
‘I don’t know what your nanny made, sir.’
‘No, I suppose you don’t. How old are you Hilda?’
What did he want from her? Comfort? What on earth could she offer? Nothing but a kind word, and she guessed a serving girl wouldn’t be thanked for that, ‘I’m sixteen.’
‘Sweet sixteen, I’m twenty-three Hilda and I don’t expect to see twenty-four.’
What did she say to that, ‘The war?’
‘The war, all my brother officers are excited at the prospect. They think it’s going to be all brass brands and glory. I might only be a subaltern but I’ve learnt enough to know an awful lot of our lads are going to be killed before the end. And I’ll be out the front of it all!’
‘They say it’ll all be over…’
‘Before Christmas. It won’t, nor before the Christmas after! It’ll be a bloody mess!’
She couldn’t help her exclamation at his language, ‘Sir!’
He clapped his had to his mouth, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’m saying.’
She had to do something, she couldn’t leave him in such a state. But he wouldn’t want her calling anyone, for a man, a soldier being considered a coward, would be worse than the fear. ‘Don’t let it worry you sir.’ A moment to think that was what she needed, ‘You get yourself ready for bed. I shall fetch a nice warm cocoa, then if you likes I can stop and chat for a bit.’
He looked as relieved as if she had thrown him a lifeline. ‘Yes, yes alright.’
She almost fled from the room. It seemed she was almost halfway back to the Kitchen before she drew breath. How could she go back? But, how could she just abandon the poor soul?
‘One step at a time girl.’ She whispered.