Jasmine Springs had had to get out of bed early, as usual, to start her work. It was five-thirty when she managed to drag herself from sleep, and the tangle of old blankets on the narrow bed in the spare room above the inn. She had little furniture or personal belongings. The spare room had been used for extra storage, but instead of being paid or her job as barmaid, cleaner and cook she got the room for free.

It was small, with bare wooden floorboards that were badly varnished and always creaked. It contained the narrow single bed on one side of the square window, a little wooden table with an inkwell and a slot for holding paper on the other, with a three-legged stool tucked underneath. The round leather seat was flat and shiny from use. On the wall next to this was a big wooden wardrobe with one door slightly bigger than the other, the door and then the last wall was occupied by a large tapestry of a flower garden.

All her things - though there weren't many - were hidden away in the wardrobe. The broom she used to sweep all the floors was next to the dark-grey woollen fleece outdoor cloak which hung on a brass hook on the back of the door. In Jasmine's world everything was kept in its proper place.

She made the bed, smoothing the blankets and straightening the cushion. She dressed in her usual attire: a dress with a long black skirt, a cream-coloured bodice with short puffed sleeves, covered by a black corset laced up the front with black velvet ribbon. It was the most expensive thing she owned. The velvet had cost five pounds, which was more than she would have earned in the inn after a year's work. Jasmine had taken it from her mother's wardrobe before she left her own village far away and came here to find work.

Her parents had disappeared one day almost a year ago and not come back. After a week the town council came to reclaim the house so they could sell it on. Jasmine had no choice but to pack her things in a sack and leave. She raided the house fist, taking anything that might be of value. She had packed some food that she found in the kitchen. She took her mother’s jewellery in a little embroidered cotton bag, and some of her mother’s clothes, a little too big but useful, and her father’s hidden money supply under the mattress. All of this plus her own things, her slate and chalk and charcoal for drawing, the clothes that still fitted, and the lavender wool blanket she’d had since she was a baby. And so with her heavy sack slung over a shoulder she trudged out of the town and never went back.

She had arrived on a cold stormy night in the middle of last winter, and though she had been fifteen and therefore too young to go into a pub, the owner had let her in and given her a bed for the night when he saw her snow-coated hair, soaked-through clothes and bundle and blue fingers. The owner had introduced himself as Mr Holborn, a middle-aged man who looked much older thanks to his drink habit. His hair was as grey as his face, but more silver, his joints so stiff he moved jerkily, and his eyes quite hazy even when sober. However he was a kind man and when Jasmine told him her story after a glass of brandy offered to warm her up, he took pity and offered her a job in return for a room above the pub, permanent as long as she worked there. With little options she had unsurprisingly accepted.

Jasmine picked up the brush lying on the little desk and quickly brushed her auburn waves back into a ponytail which was kept in place with a purple rag. She put on her favourite necklace which she wore every day without fail. She believed it brought her luck. It had been an anonymous present at her christening, her mother had told her when she asked of the person who gave it to her.

Jasmine went out onto the landing. There were four rooms up here - her own, a guest room up for rent which was currently unoccupied next to it, and on the opposite side Mr Holborn’s bedroom and another guest room which was occupied by a rich young man travelling through. She could hear Mr Holborn’s long drawn-out snores through the closed wooden door as she descended the uncarpeted wooden stairs which led down to a back hall. On the right was the kitchen and pantry, on the left the door that led to behind the bar in the main front room, straight ahead the doors to the Ladies and Gents, which were accessed by a short hall round the left corner and the customers’ door from the main room. Round the right corner was the Games Room, where the men came to gamble playing cards or poker.

Jasmine went down the corridor and left, through the customer’s door and into the bar room. There were tables all around the walls except where the bar was, separated from each other by carved wooden walls. More tables were set in the centre of the room. The bar was rectangular with curved corners turning to meet the wall so you couldn’t get behind it except through the door at the back, unless you climbed over the polished mahogany bar top. The shelves behind and under the bar housed the bottles of beer, ale, wines and the expensive champagne and kegs, and glasses for each. The tables were littered with these glasses from the previous night.

She propped the broom against the bar and collected the used glasses from the tables, carrying them through to the kitchen and washing them in the metal basin before drying them with a checked rag. Then she returned them to the shelves under the bar. After this she used another rag to wipe down the tables and the bar. Then she used the broom to sweep the floor. She lit a fire in the large stone fireplace to warm up the room, and put up the wire mesh guard around it which was used to stop drunkards falling into it. This was her routine, what she did every morning with dull regularity. But she never complained, for what else could she do?

Jasmine surveyed the room and wiped a trickle of sweat from her forehead. For now her work was done. She drew back the bolts on the heavy oak front door, one at the top and one near the floor, and used the key which she kept on a loop on her belt to open it.

There was a drunk peasant man hunched on the step. As soon as the door creaked open he leapt up and tried to push past into the pub. The stench of his soiled clothes and smoke-and-ale breath made her recoil in disgust, but she grabbed the cloth of his flour-sack shirt with one fist, the broom in the other and half-pushed, half-swept the beggar out onto the street.

''And stay out!" she yelled, sticking her head out after him to make sure he left, but he was already staggering drunkenly away down the street.

Jasmine felt compelled to look up - as she did she caught the eye of a girl by Mrs Frollie’s fruit stall. There seemed something familiar about her to Jasmine, though she was sure they’d never met, so she smiled. For a fleeting instant the girl smiled back, then disappeared into the crowds of shoppers.

Disconcerted, Jasmine touched the silver locket around her neck. Sometimes she imagined warmth from the emerald inside it which comforted her.

She shook her head to clear it and soon forgot about the girl as she hung the painted wooden ‘Open’ sign on the nail on the door, and went inside to await the regulars that would soon come stumbling in.

The End

1 comment about this story Feed