‘I don’t understand,’ said Rose, the cook, ‘the orders Mrs Calder’s given me, they’re a bit odd.’
‘How so?’ said Fred, the butler.
‘She’s given me a list of things to make for the weekend but it doesn’t seem to tally with the number of guests.’
‘Why not check with the new Mrs Cranston, she’s supposed to be in charge now, Mr Cranston made that quite clear.’
‘Mrs Calder said not to bother her with details, said it was something she didn’t want to be bothered with.’
‘Oh god,’ sighed Fred, ‘they’re worse than kids those women, I bet she’s playing some silly trick on Mrs Cranston.’
‘Are you having me on? That woman’s caused nothing but trouble since the poor girl arrived. Make the stuff she’s told you to make but make sure there’s enough to go round should the necessity arrive, we should at least cover our own backs. If we do it wrong it’ll no be Mrs Cranston getting the trouble it’ll be us. Mr Cranston’ll have us out of here before we have time to pack if he thinks we’ve been part of a plan to sink her.’
‘Ay, I’ve heard he’s quite devoted to her.’
‘That’s hardly our business but isn’t that as it should be?’
‘It is but there’s still the question of who the young lady is, little Jess reckons she’s a woman of very loose virtue, she’s seen her all sorts of ways not becoming a lady when she goes in to light the fires,’ insisted Rose.
‘Like I said, none of our business, they’re married they can do as they like. We shouldn’t speak about it even. If Mr Cranston saw fit to marry her we’re in no position to question it.’
‘Ay, ay,’ said Tony, the footman arriving behind them, ‘she’s as bonny a lass as I’ve ever seen, I wouldn’t mind being in the master’s position, I’d take her any day, or night.’
‘Don’t be vulgar Tony, it doesn’t suit,’ said Fred.
‘Suits me, especially if none of them are listening, oh come on Fred, its one of the perks of being a footman. I’m allowed to ogle the ladies, god knows they do it enough to me.’
‘Keep your talk for somewhere else,’ said Rose, kneading dough on the scrubbed wooden table in the bright airy kitchen, ‘I have no desire to listen to the two of you going on like that.’
‘Sorry,’ said Fred.
Tony laughed, ‘you fancy some action yourself?’
‘I wonder why Mrs Calder hates the poor girl so much though,’ she continued, completely ignoring Tony, ‘she seems pleasant enough.’
‘Yeah, that’s the point,’ said Tony, ‘Mrs Calder is a frigid old witch, she hates Mrs Cranston because she’s young, fresh and beautiful.’
‘You better not let the master hear you talk like that,’ said Fred.
‘I’m not that stupid, you think I’d say anything like that to him. He knows we all think it, he likes it I expect! Thinks it makes him a big man. But he’s an idiot, if I had his money I know which man she’d have gone for. She loves his money all right and she probably reckons we’re all the same in the dark,’ said Tony.
‘Enough of that vulgar talk,’ said Fred, ‘keep those opinions to yourself if you want to keep your job.’
‘Speaking of losing your job, did you hear Rob saying that Mrs Calder had interrogated him about the master’s wedding. The idiot was trembling so much it wouldn’t surprise me if he dumped the master right in it. He’ll be packing his bags later I expect.’
‘Why, what did he tell you,’ said Rose, ‘he wouldn’t say a word to us about where he’d been, just said it was somewhere in town.’
‘Never told me anything different,’ said Tony, ‘but I bet he told her. What an idiot. If the master finds out he’ll string him from the roof top.’
Feeling sorry for Rob, Rose went out to find him later, taking with her some offerings from the kitchen.
‘I hear the mistress... I mean Mrs Calder has been questioning you,’ she said, ‘I hope you never said anything you shouldn’t.’
‘Of course I didn’t,’ said Rob, ‘what’s Tony been saying, he just wishes I’d squeal. He wants me to betray the master ‘cause he wants me sacked.’
‘I wouldn’t pay heed to Tony, he’s a bit too keen on himself. So what did you tell Mrs Calder?’
‘Nothing, just that I took the master to church from his lodgings, then brought the two of them back here.’
‘And is that what happened?’
‘More or less, but you know I can’t tell you either. Mrs Calder was quick to pick up every detail though. She asked me what Mrs Katy was wearing, if she changed her dress and where. But the master was way ahead, he told me what to say and I said it. I only hope she believed me, I’m not really sure she did.’
‘Well,’ said Rose, ‘better stay true to the master, he’s the one you have to keep sweet. I guess I’ll have to keep remembering that myself. I’m about to go and prepare the food for the guests, I just hope Mrs Calder doesn’t mind too much. I hate playing their silly games for them. don’t they realise what a difficult position it puts us in?’
‘Of course they don’t,’ said Rob, ‘they don’t even know we exist, we’re just pawns in their little game.’