After the wake many guests had decided to stay the night in the many spare bedrooms of the castle. The butler and housekeeper had all hands on deck when they found out five rooms hadn't been cleaned, beds made and stocked with soaps for the morning. One maid had been taken ill and had neglected to inform Mrs Andrews that no-one had done her duties so she had had to do them herself. Joan flopped onto the high backed hair in the dining room while Agnes and her son John cleaned the table.
"You couldn't go and get me a glass of sherry or something nice and strong could you?" He reached over and touched the boys hand.
"Yes, Mrs Andrews. But I don't think we have any glasses, so will a mug do?"
"It'll do as long as it's strong and here soon. There's a good lad." John picked up his collected plates and glasses and walked back to the kitchen to get the drink for the housekeeper. His mother came in shortly after.
"I can't find the sherry Mam."
"It's on the top shelf behind the flour, I hid it there after one of the scullery maids started pinching it. Went to get meself a small glass one day and found it nearly empty."
"Thanks. So who's staying tonight?"
"About seven people, those gentlemen by the fire, so Mr Parks, Mr Kingsley, Mr Deaton, all their daughters and that lovely pastor, Mr Gibbons."
"Gotcha." John reached up and knocked the bottle into his waiting hand, poured a hefty mug and walked out the door.
"Ah, thank you - John isn't it?"
"Yes, Mrs Andrews."
"Call me Joan. I am complely knackered my lad. Five rooms I had to do, each of them a double four poster with those finicky curtains. So many little clips and ties. My poor fingers." She stopped and too a gulp of the drink. "Ah good stuff. Your mothers own?"
"Yes, she makes a nice gooseberry wine too."
"I know, Michael and I get a bottle every christmas from her, and one of her elderflower liquer too."
"I'll tell her to save some christmas cake for you, that's always a treat."
"Oh you must." She too another from her mug. "Got a fag on you?"
"A few rollies I made earlier although they might be a bit bent, they've been in my pocket for a while."
He passed her a cigarette from his shirt pocket. "Ah they're fine? Got a lighter?"
"No, just some matches."
"Ah," She rummaged in her shirt pocket. "Try this, it's wind-resistant so if you're out walking you don't have to put your hand up."
"Clever." he took the offered ligher and hastily sucked on the cigarette. He offered the still burning lighter back. She lit her own cigarette and blew the smoke loudly into the air. He flicked the lid back on. "Get awfully hot though doesn't it?"
"Hmm... oh yes." She took it back and popped it back into her pocket. "Thanks by the way."
"Anytime. So is there anything else that needs to be done."
"Just somethings for the maids but I think the best thing for you is to get home, have a good nights sleep and come back with your mother in the morning and help her with the breakfasts."
"Righty-ho. Well I'll grab the ashtray from the lounge and we'll finish these up and I'll go then."
"You've helped a lot tonight."
"Well I try." He went and brought back the ash-try. They finished their cigarettes in relative silence, just listening to the dull clatter of plates in dishwater and the distant bark of a dog. "I'll be off then."
"Night Mrs Andrews."
He stepped out of the room, said a short goodbye to his mother and went out into the night, lantern in hand. It was just a fifteen minute walk to the cottage from the castle. About five minutes down the road he stopped. There was a sound that wasn't quite the usual night-time noise.
"Who's there?" He called out into the darkness.
"Sorry. It's just me."
"Who would that be?" The girl from earlier came out from the dark towards his lantern. "Miss Parks, what are you doing out. It's late." her make-up was smudged across her cheeks, and her face was reddened. "Are you ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Then what are you doing out here then eh?"
"I'm just walking, I like the night."
"You cry when you walk?"
"Fine, I'm not ok, when Mr Farringley died it made me think of how my own father will not be around forever. Then I won't have anyone. Today just made it a bit more real."
"It's ok. Do you want me to take you back to the castle. If Mrs Andrews or your father find that you're out they'll both be fuming."
"I suppose so. Can I have a hug? You were the only person that actually spoke to me at that wake you know." She grabbed him round his middle and buried her face into his chest. He put a hand on her hair gently held her to himself. "No-one else spoke to me, they spoke near me or grouped me in but they didn't speak to me. Thanks." She pulled away and wiped her face, creating more smudges.
"Come here." John wet the edge of his sleeve and wiped her face from the make-up. "All clean. And don't worry, you won't be alone as long as there's someone in your heart to keep you strong and someone by your side to hold you up."
"Thats sweet." He held her arm as they started back to the castle. "But I haven't got anyone at all after my father dies, every courter is another waste of time, I don't seem to relate to the girls who I'm supposed to get on with. I just feel lonely I guess."
"We all do, when I get in a bad way I take the dogs out for a walk. If you'd like You can come with me."
"I don't live far, when do you walk them?"
"Five in the morning, just after lunch at two and sometimes I'll take them out at night. And no - I'm not always upset or angry or something like that when I walk them, it's part of my job." He let out a quite chuckle at the end, just to lighten the mood.
"I guessed. Men don't get sad often."
"We do, we just don't show it. Anyway - we're here now so, goodnight Miss Parks."
"Goodnight Mr Clemens."
"You remembered my name."
"Of course, I always do. I remember everyone. Anyway, night - sleep well."
"You too." She scurried up the stone steps into the house, quietly closed the door behind her and he himself turned to go again.
'Actually I could go see if Mam's ready to leave.' he thought. So he walked the cobbled path to the kitchen backdoor. She was putting on her overcoat as he arrived.
"Ah - what're you doing here then?"
"Just thought I'd wait and escort the lovliest lady in the world to her humble abode."
"You seem happy."
"Just out here cold but happy I suppose."
"Give us a fag then while you're in this mood." He passed her a cigarette and his box of matches then lit up himself. "Thanks lad."