Authors: Shayne Parkinson
Tags: #romance, #historical fiction, #family, #new zealand, #farming, #edwardian, #farm life
‘That’s enough for now. You’ll wear out the
bulb if you play with it like that—no, don’t worry,’ she said,
forestalling Amy’s guilty apology. ‘I remember playing with the
light myself for hours when we first had it put in.
‘The bathroom is down the passage,’ Sarah
went on. ‘I’ll show it to you in a moment, though there’s no need
for a tour of the entire house just yet. You’ve your own washstand,
of course, and if you need any hot water—or anything at all, come
to that—just pull this rope, and one of the maids will come.’
Her gaze travelled the room, clearly
searching for anything else that might be unfamiliar to Amy. ‘Oh,
yes,’ she said when her eyes lighted on what appeared to be a
small, wooden cabinet. ‘I’m sure you won’t have seen one of these
before. If you’re inconvenienced in the night, there’s no need for
you to brave the passage in your nightgown.’ She lifted the top of
the cabinet to reveal a porcelain bowl of unmistakable shape.
‘Oh, it’s a chamber pot!’ Amy said, amazed
to see such a thing appearing in a cupboard.
‘It’s called a commode. Use it as you need.
The maid will empty it.’
‘There’s no need—’
‘The maid,’ Sarah cut in firmly, ‘will empty
it. Now, let’s go and see the bathroom.’
Amy had heard of bathrooms, but found it
difficult to imagine so much space devoted to the purpose of
washing oneself. She followed Sarah into a room dominated by an
enamelled cast iron bath.
‘What a beautiful thing!’ she exclaimed. She
crouched in front of the bath to examine it more closely, and found
its supports were moulded into the shape of lion paws. ‘And it’s so
big,’ she said, awed by the thought of how much water would have to
be carried up the stairs to fill such a huge tub. A bath every week
would seem a dreadful extravagance. Then she noticed the metal
pipes resting on the edge.
‘You’ve got running water! Can I try it out?
Oh, not if it’s a bother,’ she added hastily.
Sarah smiled indulgently. ‘Try it as much as
you like, as long as you don’t flood the bathroom. I expect you’ll
want a bath this evening, after that dreadful boat. I’ll tell the
‘No, I had a bath on Saturday,’ Amy assured
her. She looked up from trying out the fascinating tap, and saw a
smile fluttering on Sarah’s lips; there was a brief, barely
perceptible struggle, then the smile won.
‘I usually have a bath a little more often
than once a week, Amy,’ Sarah said gently. ‘I do understand it
hasn’t been possible for you on the farm, with having to carry
water up from that well, but I hope you’ll take full advantage of
the facilities here. Please feel free to ask the maids to run a
bath for you whenever you want. Every night, if you wish.’
Despite Sarah’s careful effort not to demean
her, Amy felt chastened at the revelation that her standards of
cleanliness might be wanting. She hoped fervently that she would
not cause Sarah embarrassment by any social graces she might
She was distracted from her uncomfortable
thoughts by the next wonder revealed to her. Beside the bathroom
was a smaller room that held a large, wooden-topped porcelain bowl
with a tank suspended above it. A chain dangled from the tank, with
a decorated porcelain handle at its end.
‘Pull the chain,’ Sarah invited. ‘Pull it
Amy did, then let go of it with a startled
squeal and took a step backwards when a rush of water was released
into the bowl.
‘A flush toilet,’ she said, plucking up her
courage to lean forward and peer in. ‘So that’s what one looks
like.’ She frowned, not quite comfortable with the idea of a
lavatory inside the house. It seemed a rather unhygienic
arrangement, though the room certainly smelt more of carbolic than
anything else. The novelty of the flush toilet appealed to Amy; it
also made her realise that she had a need of the lavatory beyond
‘Try it out properly,’ Sarah suggested when
she saw Amy’s expression. ‘I’ll call Nellie back, she can finish
She closed the door after her, and Amy
sampled the delights of the flush toilet in all its glory. The
squares of white paper fastened neatly to the wall were the final
touch of luxury; no re-used pages of the
but paper obviously intended solely for the lavatory.
Sarah was waiting in the passage, and she
led the way back to Amy’s room. ‘That’s enough surprises for your
first morning, I think. I really should leave you in peace to
freshen up.’ Her hand rested lightly on Amy’s shoulder. ‘The
trouble is,’ she murmured, ‘now that I have you here at last, I’m
reluctant to let you out of my sight.’
‘Stay if you want—I’d like you to.’
Sarah’s hand travelled up to brush Amy’s
cheek. ‘Look at those circles under your eyes! I’ve hardly taken
any notice of how tired you look. Was it dreadful on the boat?’
‘It wasn’t specially rough or anything. I’m
not very good about boats, though.’
‘Neither am I, on the steamships. I must get
that from you. Yachts are quite different, of course. I don’t
suppose you got much sleep?’
‘Not really. Not proper sleep, anyway.’
‘Would you like to have a nap before
Amy felt she did not want to waste a moment
of her time with Sarah, but the thought of lying down on that soft
bed was inviting. ‘I think perhaps I would. I’m not going to be
very good company if I keep yawning.’
‘Very well, I’ll just have to do without you
for a little while.’ Sarah glanced around the room. ‘Now, where
might your nightdress be?’
‘I think that girl—Nellie, is that her name?
I think she put it in the top drawer. I’ll get it, Sarah, don’t you
Sarah retrieved the nightdress from its
drawer and placed it on the bed. ‘You must let me fuss over you,
I’m afraid I’ll insist on that. Sit down here, please.’ She
indicated the chair in front of the dressing table, and Amy did as
‘Let me be ladies’ maid, this once at
least,’ Sarah said. She removed Amy’s veiled black hat and set it
to one side, then carefully removed the hairpins.
‘There,’ she said when Amy’s hair, released,
tumbled over her shoulders and down her back. ‘I won’t attempt to
help you undress, though. I’m not really a very good ladies’
Sarah folded back the coverlet and made a
show of smoothing the pillows. ‘You should be quite comfortable.
Now, if you want anything at all, just pull the cord for the maid.
There’s no hurry for you to get up, I want you to rest till
lunch-time at least.’
She drew the heavy drapes together, leaving
the room pleasantly dim, and pulled the door closed as she went
Amy undressed and washed herself, handling
the beautiful china of the wash set with reverence. She put on her
nightdress, then slid gratefully into the bed. It was even softer
than it looked; the mattress was what she imagined a cloud might be
to lie on. She rubbed her cheek against the top sheet. It smelt
faintly of lavender, and the linen was fine enough to have been
made into the daintiest of underwear.
Despite the meagre amount of sleep she had
had the night before, drowsiness refused to turn into slumber. Her
reluctance to close her eyes did not help; the room was beautiful,
even in the dim light. The ceiling was particularly lovely, with
its intricate plaster moulding and the etched glass light fitting
at its centre. Being deserted by sleep was no hardship when it was
delightful just to lie in the big, soft bed in this enchanting
When she reckoned that at least two hours
had passed, Amy got out of bed. The black dress was marked with the
dust of travelling; she left it draped over the back of a chair and
put on her work dress. She opened the drapes and studied the angle
of the sun; well after midday, she judged.
The maid came in while Amy was brushing her
‘Begging your pardon, ma’am, but Miss Sarah
told me to see if you were awake yet, in case you were wanting
‘Yes, I’m quite awake, I’ve had a lovely
rest,’ Amy said. ‘Do you know what the time is, Nellie?’
‘Just about one o’clock, ma’am.’
‘As late as that? What time will lunch be
Nellie looked at her in evident surprise.
‘Why, lunch will be whenever you want it, Mrs Stewart. Can I help
you with anything?’
‘Well, if it’s not too much trouble, could
you get me a clothes brush? This dress could do with a good
Nellie looked more surprised than before.
She frowned slightly, as if not sure that she had understood
correctly. ‘I’ll see to it at once, Mrs Stewart.’ She picked the
dress up and left the room before Amy had time to protest.
She thought of hurrying after Nellie to tell
her that she had not meant the maid to clean the dress for her, but
she was not sure whether she would be able to find the girl.
Instead she finished putting her hair in order, and when that was
done she explored her wonderful bedroom, opening every drawer,
examining the lace curtains, and studying the wallpaper until she
had comprehended how the pattern repeated itself every foot or
When Nellie returned, the mourning dress
impeccably brushed, Amy asked the maid to take her to Sarah. She
followed Nellie down the stairs, along a passage, and into a room
slightly larger than Amy’s bedroom. It was a pleasant, sunny room,
with pretty lace curtains filtering the light and soft-looking
sofas, but the room’s greatest importance in Amy’s eyes was that it
Sarah took Amy’s hand and drew her down to
sit beside her on one of the sofas. ‘A tray of tea in here, please,
Nellie. And tell Mrs Jenson we’ll have luncheon in half an
‘What a pretty parlour,’ Amy said, looking
around the room from her new vantage point.
‘Yes, it’s a pleasant room, though it’s
usually called the morning room.’ Sarah studied Amy’s face with
evident satisfaction. ‘Oh, yes, you look better now—and that dress
is more cheerful.’ She brushed a fold of the pink-striped woollen
gown, and her fingers went unerringly to a worn area near one seam.
‘Though it’s a little… plain,’ she said, frowning. ‘Did you wear
this one on the farm while I was there?’
‘Most days, I think.’ Amy moved her fingers
surreptitiously, trying to hide an even more worn patch on the
other side of the dress.
‘Really? It didn’t catch my attention down
Amy could guess why easily enough. On the
farm, in the plainness of the cottage, the worn, simple dress could
hardly have stood out the way it must in this elegant house.
Sarah studied the dress a moment longer. She
gave a small, thoughtful nod, then seemed to put Amy’s dress out of
her mind. There were distractions enough from so dull a subject, in
the enjoyment of each other’s company.
After what Sarah called a simple lunch, soup
followed by fish, with an apple sponge to finish, taken in the
dining room, she took Amy on a tour of the ground floor rooms.
‘Though I won’t bother showing you the kitchen or the scullery,’
Sarah said. ‘You’ve seen enough of kitchens in your life. And I
prefer to leave Mrs Jenson in peace, to get on with what she does
As well as the morning and dining rooms,
there was what Sarah called a drawing room, more grandly decorated
than the others. The most elaborate porcelain was kept here, and
the plaster ceiling was more ornate than elsewhere in the house,
while the wallpaper had its embossed pattern picked out in gold.
The chairs and sofas were upholstered in deep red velvet, the same
colour as the room’s heavy drapes.
What arrested Amy’s attention the moment she
entered the drawing room was the large portrait above the marble
mantelpiece. She could see that the painting had been done several
years before, but the subject was immediately recognisable as
Sarah. She wore a blue silk gown and held a posy of white roses.
There were matching rosebuds in her hair, part of which was pinned
up while the rest fell in waves over her shoulders. Her mouth was
curved in a soft smile, though the artist had captured the
disconcertingly direct gaze that Sarah’s eyes so often held.
‘Rather too flattering, isn’t it?’ Sarah
said, seeing where Amy’s interest was centred.
‘No, not a bit—it’s beautiful. How old were
‘Sixteen. That was my first long dress.’
Sarah gazed pensively at the painting. ‘Mother had always said
they’d have my portrait painted when I was eighteen, but when I was
coming up to sixteen Father announced he wanted it done for my
birthday. By then we all knew that Father mightn’t be with us if we
waited till I was eighteen. And he wasn’t,’ she added quietly.
Staring up at the portrait was making Amy’s
neck ache. She lowered her gaze to the mantelpiece, and her
attention was caught by a photograph in a silver frame. A
grey-haired woman in a dark dress held a baby of about six months
old on her lap; instead of facing the camera, the woman’s whole
attention was on the child. She held the baby’s tiny hand in her
own and gazed at the little face, her eyes deep pools of love.
‘Mother and I,’ Sarah murmured from close
behind Amy. Her hand rested lightly on Amy’s shoulder. ‘She told me
she’d always been grateful to you. I’d like to think she’d be happy
that I’ve found you.’
The final room on this floor, apart from the
servants’ domain, was Sarah’s study. This was decorated more
soberly than the other rooms, though with no less elegance. The
chairs were of dark brown leather, with the one behind the large,
walnut desk being particularly imposing. Wood panelling came
halfway up the walls, with a dark red wallpaper above it, but there
was little enough of panelling or paper visible. The walls were
lined along most of their length with tall bookcases crammed with
‘Books,’ Amy said faintly, clutching at the
back of a chair for support. ‘Look at all your books!’