How to Impress a Gentleman (15 page)

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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“Well, I mightn’t be thinkin’ of such things, as it is not my place to find the present location lackin’, but...if I were required to update the space, as you say, then I s’pose I’d be startin’ by buildin’ a connection from the main house to the kitchens. I’d plaster and white wash the walls-add shelves and cabinets for the spices. I’d tile the floor and replace the stove. The pots and pans are in good shape, but the utensils and serving dishes need replaced. Oh, and some glass and curtains in the window might not be amiss neither.”

“Thank you, Betsy! You are a font of wisdom. You would not happen to know anyone who might be skilled at completing painting, plastering, and simple construction, would you? With just you, Bernard, John and me to tackle the grooming, cooking, cleaning and repair, I think we shall never make progress. I would like to start by hiring a gardener, a maid, and a carpenter. Do you know of anyone local in need of work?”

After a searching look at her employer, Betsy nodded, “Aye, and I might Missy, but let me be straight with you. The folks around here haven’t the time or blunt to be waistin’ by workin’ ‘ere and not gettin’ paid. They’d all need a week’s pay up front and a place to stay, too, I’d wager.”

Lindsay had never before had control of anything more than her pin money and found, while she knew the value of a book, a perfume, or a reticule, she was abysmally ignorant, when it came to wages and day-to-day living expenses. With a bold stroke of daring, Lindsay nodded, “Thank you, Ms. Thomas,” and headed for the attic.

After climbing three flights of rickety stairs, Lindsay was out of breath and patience. “Oooh!” she screeched, vexed at finding that her new husband had left the tiny chamber door locked. With eyes narrowed, Lindsay contemplated the door before her. “You should know better than to keep me out by locking a door, Charles,” she said to the empty landing.

Turning a full one hundred and eighty degrees, she stomped down the narrow staircase and directly to her trunk within her room. Digging for what seemed ages, she finally recovered her precious pick set and returned to her roost on the landing. Within five minutes the door stood ajar and Lindsay was at the tiny desk. Bending over the treasure, Lindsay ran her hands across the black leather bindings before opening the broad, flat ledger.

Only a few pages of entries greeted her and she felt relieved for that. Lindsay’s tutoring had focused on the lady’s arts, leaving her knowledge of accounting sorely lacking. Pouring over the figures and symbols, Lindsay soon discovered that the house had been inherited free of debt, as it is entailed, but free of any active profit as well. Charles had entered several small ‘+’ amounts for she knew not what but the reason for his lack of progress on the house was apparent. Her dowry would be enough to hire help and replace the windows, of that she was certain.

Yet, Charles had said that he had gone to the neighboring manor to purchase farm equipment, had he not? She had some pin money saved up, but she doubted it was enough for three new employees. Frustration soared. Why had Charles not sat down with her to discuss a plan, so they might both use their time more wisely (and so she could give him a piece of her mind)? Yes, that was it, exactly. Charles was avoiding her and the consequences of his actions.

“Well, he might be cutting off his nose to spite his face, but I will not let him leave me to flounder. I shall use my pin money to hire a carpenter and enlist the help of John. Betsy and I will simply have to work methodically, to stay ahead of the construction. Thus decided, Lindsay shut the ledger, returning it to its former position on the desk and then spent several minutes convincing the lock to slide back in place behind her.

Lindsay had seen that Charles had paid both Bernard and Betsy for one quarter of the year’s service. By dividing that figure by three, and lessening slightly, she had estimated a monthly wage for her new employee. By means of her last tour of the house, she was certain that bell pulls had yet to grace this antiquated abode. Completely abandoning her well ingrained manners, Linnie leaned over the main stairwell and belted out, “Bet-sy!”

“Yes’m?”

“May I speak with you in my chamber, please?”

“Yes’m.”

Returning to her chamber and pulling out her reticule, Lindsay sat on the corner of her bed and waited. “How may I assist you, M’Lady?”

“Do you know of a handy man we might hire to help about this place?”

“I wouldn’t be knowing about any
man
but my seventeen year old nephew is good with ‘is hands and is free o’ work at the moment. Seeing as if you ‘ave the money to pay him.”

“And a place for him to stay, I know, Betsy. This is what I would like from you. Move Mr. Andrews into the guest room to the right of the stairwell. I know, I know, there is no bed, so, for now, move the cot from the attic.” Lindsay silently dared Betsy to say anything indicating Charles’ preference for sleeping there, but she merely nodded.

“Then, move your nephew into the area above the stables. He can take over the care of the horses, for the present, then report to me each morning after breakfast. If you will simply tell John the direction, I will dispatch him to fetch, what did you say his name was?”

“Bobby, Mum,”

“Very well. Will this be a suitable arrangement, do you think?”

“Yes, Mum.”

“Please clean the guest bedroom as well as you can, then assemble the least damaged dresser, wash basin, and chair. When Bobby arrives, feed him and John their noon meal and then set Bobby to work on mending the furniture and moving the cot. John can move his personal things from the stable and ready the space for Bobby. Have you any clean linen?”

“No, Mum, I normally do wash on Thursdays.”

“Well, some will need to be done early, I fear, with more persons in the household we shall require another maid as soon as possible, but for now, we will have to make do. Let us just air out the linens and sprinkle them with rose water for today. Have you any rose water, Betsy?”

“Ay, Mum, but we’ll need to make more this fall.”

Once Betsy had left, Lindsay realized that she had locked the attic room. Sighing, she turned to retrieve her pick set and trod back up the stairs. Upon entering the attic room, Lindsay collected the ledger and trudged down the stairs. Placing the ledger safely in the bottom of her trunk and locking it, she returned to the attic to gather her husband’s things. “His trunk will not fit in the tiny bedroom,” Lindsay sighed. Taking out a night shirt, a change of clothes, and his personal items, she returned to their temporary chambers.

If she could clean out the study at the back of the billiard’s room, now that would be a sensible act. She could show Charles that she cares and is willing to forgive without risking getting her heart broken by fixing up an overly personal space, such as the master bedroom.
Besides,
she thought,
the study requires little to get it in working order, other than a lot of scrubbing, that is
.

After dispatching John upon his errand and straightening her tiny chamber one last time, Lindsay headed down to find Bernard. “Bernard!” she called in the entry way. No answer. Following her instincts, Lindsay coasted through the dining room and walkway to the small vegetable garden at the back of the kitchen. There, silent, serious Bernard knelt, stooped over his sagging tomato plants, weeding for all he was worth. Slipping on the coarse gloves she had seen resting on the back stoop, Lindsay knelt and joined in pulling up the errant, seeding grass.

Bernard glanced up and then looked up again, shocked at who had joined him in his toil. “M’Lady, whatever are you doing? I am not so old yet as to be derelict in my duties.”

“Oh, so it is ‘Lady’ now, to remind me of my station? Sincerely, Mr. Bullworth, I am more than pleased with your efforts. Clearly you are a rare and excellent butler. It is I who wish to be of use. As you can see,” she said, pulling off the too large leather glove, “these hands are unused to work. I intend to change that. With your help, I intend to become a necessary and useful member of this household.”

Bernard sat back on his aching feet and appraised his mistress. She was a beauty, this much he had noticed despite his rheumy, watery eyes. Apparently she was also made of some substance. No, not a cream puff, as he had first estimated. Perhaps she was more like a piece of cinnamon toast-sweet and appealing, yet filling. He might actually like having this female around. Yes, he might indeed.

Gifting her with a rare grin, Bernard returned to his weeding with renewed vigor. “Jest wot did ye’ ‘ave in mind M’Lady?”

“Well, I can definitely help with the vegetable garden, if instructed in how the general maintenance is done. Also, I was hoping to set up a schedule for renovating the rooms. As you were here when the household was properly maintained, I was hoping for your advice on how to begin, as well as an account of how the rooms were arranged.

“I feel the charm of this place seeping into my bones and I would love to restore it to its former glory. I realize that my husband and I haven’t yet the funds to do so all at once, but with some smart planning and hard work on our part, I believe the place could again be presentable by next fall.”

She knew she was rambling but she wanted desperately to achieve a connection with this man. Lindsay was lonely, and beyond that, Bernard seemed to have a close bond with this house. Somehow, she felt, if she could connect with Bernard, she could also come to feel at home here. Lapsing into silence, she continued to weed, moving away from Bernard as she crawled to the cucumber vines.

“Alright.”

“Alright?”

“Aye. I have to begin supper. But if you would follow me into my ‘relic’ of a kitchen, I might be able to answer your questions about the home’s former decor.”

“Oh, thank you, Bernard! I really appreciate it. Let me help you. I will just wash up at the pump and be right in.”

Shaking his head, Bernard climbed the stoop to the kitchen. He grinned despite himself.
This is what it must be like to have a daughter
, he thought, and then felt foolish. The silly young chit warmed his heart.

Returning to the coal darkness of the kitchen, Lindsay began slicing the loaf of bread that Bernard had laid out for her. “As I have shifted the living arrangements to make room for Bobby, I thought that I might as well ready the attic room for a maid. This will require me to prepare the study. Is the desk in the study repairable?”

“I suppose it might be made to function, temporarily, until a new desk can be purchased. You’ll no doubt want to keep the small desk in the attic for when the nanny uses that space.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose so,” Lindsay’s cheeks pinked at the reference to children. She quickly changed the subject.

“Bernard, could you direct me towards the cleaning supplies, so that I might prepare the study? I would like to have it habitable by this evening, if possible.”

“There is a room to your right, Mistress, with most of our rags and buckets. There is a broom in the corner that you can use as well. Lye soap, what’s left of it, is on the top shelf. We will have to make more this fall.”

“Yes, I see that it will be a race to get ready for the winter.”

“Also, have we any feathers for a mattress for John? The new maid will be needing the cot, once she’s hired and I know it is too early for straw.”

“We’ve barely enough for a pillow, M’Lady, but I’ll wager I could purchase some at market this Saturday. I have a mind to set up the old hen house again, if the master agrees. We’ve only the two hens left and we’ll need some brood hens and a rooster, if we’re to feed the six of us.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely! Bobby can help you with the repairs first thing tomorrow. What should I use to put the dust in, once I have swept?”

“There is a dust bin beside the mop, bucket, Mistress.”

“Bernard, I do not mean to seem impolite, but have I noticed a marked change in your dialect? How is it that you seem to flow back and forth from the colloquial to the more refined?”

“Oh, I was raised by poor country peasants, M’Lady, but I have book learnin’. I have more often reverted to those ‘colloquial’ intonations, as you call it, since I have had less contact with society.”

“I see,” Lindsay smiled. “Thank you for your help, Bernard.” Loading up with rags, broom, and dust bin, Lindsay headed up to the study. Shoving the door open, she sighed. The ceiling was luckily low but she still could not hope to reach the eight foot height. Setting down her burden, she turned to fetch a ladder when she heard a thumping outside of the billiard’s room.

“Oh, Bernard, thank you!” Lindsay gushed, her eyes filling up with tears. It was silly of her to be moved by Bernard’s thoughtfulness. It was a simple gesture; one she had come to expect at her old home. Here, away from comfort and wealth, Bernard’s willingness to carry a heavy wooden ladder up a flight of stairs for her proved tantamount to slaying a dragon.

Following him into the study, she tied a rag about her face and climbed to the corner where he leaned the ladder. Linnie immediately became so absorbed with her task that she did not even notice Bernard’s departure. Dusting, then washing, Lindsay removed buckets full of dirt by the time the lunch bell rang.

Feeling not at all like eating in her newly clean dining room, Linnie breezed through, grabbed a plate and made a sandwich. Filling a simple tin cup with tea, she walked through the music room, then, paused briefly to set down her repast, she pulled two loosened boards away. Having thus cleared the exit, she regained her lunch and stepped out to the garden.

Setting the cup beside her, Lindsay sank into the wrought iron bench and, wheezing, sucked in her first rattling breath of fresh air all day. Silence surrounded her. She found the touch of the breeze and the rustle of the leaves soothing and invigorating. Closing her eyes and leaning her head back, Lindsay was asleep before she could form a conscious thought.

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
3.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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