We were greeted by Father Sebastian's cook Margaret. She was as all cooks should be, rosy cheeked, wide hipped and smelling slightly of burnt sugar. She bustled us into a large, airy kitchen with a well-scrubbed wooden table and black leaded stove.
“Well my dear, let's have your shawl, I've a small fire going in the drawing room so you shan't have need of it.”
Slowly, I unwrapped my shawl and handed it to her. To give her credit she didn't flinch, but I saw her hazel eyes widen fractionally when she glimpsed my face. We stared at each other for a second and I thought I saw pity in her expression, but then it was gone and she smiled broadly at us.
“Now then, shall we get Mercy's bag up to her chamber first? I've made up a bed in one of our small attic chambers. There are no other servants here but me, and a man from the town who comes weekly to do the garden. The last girl we had left rather suddenly like, so Father Fannon has been doing what he can to keep things tidy but you know what men are like,” she rolled her eyes, “Them's idea of cleanliness is not that of a woman's.”
“Where is Father Fannon?” said my mother expectantly, “I thought he would be here to greet us himself.” Margaret waved a hand nonchalantly as she hefted my bag with ease up the kitchen staircase leading to the first floor.
“Oh he'll be off communing with nature on a fine afternoon like today,”she said, “The back of the house opens out onto a field so he often takes walks, sketches or sometimes he holds informal bible studies.”
I felt rather than saw my mother raise her eyebrows at this, but to me Father Fannon sounded rather interesting. Perhaps he wasn't an ancient stick-in-the-mud as I had thought.
We reached the top of the stairs and I saw that an intricately woven Turkish runner stretched down the hallway to the main stairwell. My mother remarked on its fineness.
“Oh yes, Father Fannon got that from his last trip to Turkey. T'were a present from some high falutin member of royalty. Don't ask me who,” huffed Margaret as she proceeded up the next flight of stairs.
I lingered behind, seeing a large number of framed pictures were mounted on the left-hand oak panelled wall. I looked closer and saw they were all pencil sketches of plants and trees. The right-hand side of the hallway was taken up with several mullioned windows which looked out over the open field Margaret had described.
I peered through and thought I saw a figure moving briskly through the grass towards a large weeping willow. The glass was so smeared and grubby though I couldn't be sure. I made a mental note to put cleaning the windows at the top of my list of jobs.
My chamber was up a winding, very narrow flight of stairs. Despite being under the eaves it was much brighter and more comfortable than my dark, poky chamber at home which, although it had been scrubbed thoroughly and all my clothes and bed linen burnt, still held the memories of my sickness. Something I would much rather forget.
“This is nice,” said my mother as we looked around. The chamber had whitewashed walls and a sloping ceiling that, had I been taller, would've caused me to constantly duck my head. It was clean but sparsely furnished with just a small oak dresser, a hard backed chair and a single bed made up with a plain white coverlet dotted with small scarlet roses. A fitting coverlet for one such as me I thought, ruefully, bouncing on the bed to test the mattress. It was firm but not too hard.
I crossed to the window which looked out onto the gravel path below and beyond to the road. I realised I would be able to see anyone who approached the house and them not see me if I kept myself concealed behind the soft, blue curtain.
A door slammed somewhere below in the main part of the house and Margaret started.
“Lord love us, that'll be Father Fannon come in for his afternoon tea, and here's me not even with the tea kettle on the stove. Mrs. Graham, you'll be in with me for t'night in my chamber off the kitchen, shall we get you settled in down there? Mercy, we'll see you in a while dear, just come down when you're ready for tea. The drawing room's down the hallway, opposite the dining room, the first door on the right.” I nodded.
“Don't say much, does she?” I heard her whisper to my mother as they went out.