As soon as they were back at the city house, Lady Abigail and Sarah changed. It was with a sigh of relief that Sarah exchanged the corset for a plain jacket. Court attire was hot and restrictive. Lady Abigail too showed signs of relief, whether it was because she changed or because her son hadn’t been kicked out of the Scouts, Sarah wasn’t sure. For Sarah though, both were a relief. Except, Sarah thought with slight nervousness, she still had to take the trials; trials that she had no clue to what was involved.
“Come on to the dining room Sarah,” Margaret broke into Sarah’s thoughts. “There’s a light lunch there for you and the Lady.”
Joining Lady Abigail in the dining room, Sarah ate. Their talk, for once, was not about etiquette. Instead Lady Abigail discussed what they would serve Scout Troop Phoenix. Of course Margaret hadn’t gotten enough food at the market, which meant she and Sarah would be going down to the lower levels in search of more meat and produce.
The sky was cloudy, threatening rain, as they made their way down the hill. Sarah was glad to have Margaret for company. Greeting just about every Scout they passed by name, Margaret led them to market. Sadly, for Sarah, there was no one on guard from Phoenix troop this trip. It was all too soon that their baskets were full and they were lugging them back up to Lady Abigail’s.
Depositing their loads on the Kitchen table, Sarah and Margaret took off their jackets and set to work. After days of helping in the kitchen, Sarah felt odd to be giving directions. Yet directions she gave, while Lady Abigail watched the whole proceedings from a high stool in the corner. It was a matriarchal perch, Sarah thought, wiping the sweat from her brow. She wondered how often Lady Abigail had sat there watching other women work as Sarah did now.
At last the stew was moved off the fire and onto coals to keep warm. The breads were popped from their Dutch ovens and placed into baskets; the towel linings being pulled over them like blankets. Sarah tasted the stew one last time and sighed.
“What’s wrong child?” Lady Abigail descended from her perch.
“I’m still not used to the herbs and spices that are garden grown here,” Sarah explained. “I really wish I had a bay leaf or two, but I think it is okay.”
Margaret snorted as she headed out to set the table. “For one who claims she can’t cook she does good.”
“May I?” Lady Abigail asked.
Sarah handed her the spoon. Watching Lady Abigail was like watching a food critic, and Sarah found herself holding her breath. The woman took her time to waft the vapors up to her face before carefully dipping the spoon into the stew. A stir from the bottom of the pot and Lady Abigail drew out a comprehensive selection of the ingredients. This too she held under her nose for a moment before blowing on it to cool it down. So slowly did the lady chew that Sarah nearly had to let out her breath before the verdict had been reached.
“Perfect.” Lady Abigail smiled.
“Really?” Sarah was surprised to hear such praise from the woman who had no mercy when she forgot the slightest nuance of etiquette.
“Yes truly.” Lady Abigail nodded as she went to one of the loaves.
Sarah had added cheese and beer to the bread since she didn’t have any rosemary or thyme. Margaret had protested and looked to Lady Abigail, who’s only response had been to flourish a hand her direction. Now it was judgment time on Sarah’s unconventional bread. Lady Abigail lifted the corner of one of the towels and broke off a small piece. Again she wafted the scent of the warm bread. Sarah smiled as Jason’s mother was unable to hide her surprise at its aroma. Cheddar Beer bread had been a specialty of Sarah’s father, one that brought smiles to everyone in the family. He had taught her the recipe only a week before his death.
“Amazing!” Lady Abigail stated as soon as she had swallowed the bite of bread. “I’m beginning to think a Royal Cook’s position would suit you better than being a Lady.”
Sarah laughed. “That’s what Martha said.”
Before Lady Abigail could ask who, a knock resounded at the front door, accompanied by the chatter of men. We are here, Jason’s thought confirmed Sarah’s guess.
“I will let them in.” Lady Abigail waved Sarah to the back stairs. “Hickory will have set a basin for you upstairs. Go on,” she shooed Sarah again, “freshen up.”
Sarah hastily ran up the back stairs, having made sure to gather her skirts out of the way of her feet.
Sarah? Jason queried after her.
I was sent upstairs to freshen up, she thought back as she dashed into her room. Sure enough Hickory had left a full basin of water there for her. Taking what amounted to a spit bath, Sarah changed her chemise and put on a fresh skirt. Jacket left in the kitchen she pulled out the only other one she had.