Edith's New Governess

By HandPrince

Chapter 11.  Lily Tells A Story

   With a stubborn groan of metal upon metal, the dumbwaiter mechanism slowed, then stopped.

   Edith tugged upon the cord with all her might but to no avail.  Clearly the hoist in this unused section of Wippingham Manor's east wing had languished long without its pulley axles receiving so much as a drop of oil.  Stifling her rising sense of panic, she cast her eyes about in hope they might land upon a source of inspiration.

   They did.  Flinging aside the sheet covering a wicker chair, she quickly dragged it next to the dumbwaiter cord, stood upon it, grasped the cord, leapt free of the chair and hung upon the cord with her full weight.  After a few moments of faint creaking the mechanism yielded, lurching the rising compartment of the dumbwaiter sharply upward, and landing Edith disheveled upon the floor.  She quickly regained her footing and pulled several times upon the cord until the dumbwaiter's compartment rose into view and- "Miss Edith!" "It worked, Lily!" boasted Edith, giving no indication of how closely her plan had come to disaster, "just as I knew it would!"  Edith helped Lily, curled up in fetal attitude, to squirm her way out of the compartment, onto the wicker chair and onto her feet.

   After a hasty curtsy to Edith, Lily wonderingly surveyed the richly-carpeted room filled with sheet-covered furniture, and lined along its walls with sheet-covered paintings.  "Where are we, Miss Edith?" she exclaimed.   Edith explained that they were on the upper floor and that no one ever comes to this section of the house so the two of them needn't fear discovery.  She then led the little scullery maid to a sheet-covered sofa and bade her sit.  First Lily spun herself around once, and chirped, "Look at me new frock, Miss Edith!"

   Edith, who had a wardrobe filled with dresses equaling or exceeding it, nodded indifferently.  Lily, disappointed at Edith's response, said, "Miss Field 'ad it made for me special.  Powerful kind lady she is!"

   "Miss Field is wicked and cruel!" snapped Edith.  "Just yesterday she made me eat every bit of awful cold ptarmigan or she said she would given me an awful smackbottom.  And when I got sick and vomited it all up, she told nanny I mustn't have a bite to eat until breakfast so I went to bed with an empty stomach.  I've never been hungry like that before!"

   "I 'ave," murmured Lily pensively, almost to herself, as she took her seat towards the opposite end of the sofa.

   "Well you shan't be hungry this afternoon," announced Edith, who then reached into one of her voluminous hair bows and drew forth from concealment several purloined sugarplums.  She set them on the sofa between them, and handed one to Lily, who devoured it with delight as Edith consumed one of her own.  "You are fortunate to have no governess, Lily.  Governesses are all horrid creatures.  Just last night, I had to get all frocked up for a fancy lord and lady Mama had over for dinner. That grand lady told me that when she was my age her governess used to lock her in a dark closet and whip her with a birch rod so hard she bled."

    "But Miss Field wouldn't never do nothin' like that, now would she!" asserted Lily, indignant at the suggestion that her adored Miss Field could ever qualify as "horrid."

    Aside from what she had already experienced first hand, Edith knew nothing of Miss Field's capabilities with regard to punishments.  She dearly wished Lily right, but longed to know with certainty that no locked closets or birchings lay in her future.  Should Edith ask?  But what if Edith's query provided Miss Field with novel inspiration for trying out such methods on Edith, methods she might otherwise never have thought to employ? 

    Banishing thoughts of birches and closets from her mind for the time being, Edith asked, "When did you last have to go to bed without your dinner?"

    "It weren't long ago - just 'afore I came to work 'ere it was. Me mum an' me we were-" Lily checked herself.  "I'm sorry Miss Edith. I'm not allowed to talk 'bout before we come 'ere. Me mum'll gi' me a leatherin' just as sure as it's Sunday!"

   Gazing longingly at the little cache of sweets spread on the sofa, Lily asked if she might have another one.  Edith sniffed haughtily as she had oftentimes seen her mother do.  "Servants should be grateful for whatever members of the family give them.  It is most improper for them to ask for still more," she declared, helping herself to another sugarplum.  Lily sighed dejectedly, looked down at her lap, then wistfully at Edith, then back to her lap again.  An awkward silence of several seconds followed, broken only by the faint sounds of Edith chewing.

   "You can tell me, Lily," prompted Edith once she had swallowed the last nibble of her sugarplum.  "I shan't tell your mother.  You know I shan't.  I've never even met her!"   Lily merely shook her head, plainly in no mood to place herself at risk in the interest of extending to sugarplum-hoarding Edith any special favor.  "If you tell," wheedled Edith, holding up one of the uneaten sweets, "I shall let you have this."  After several assurances of utmost secrecy on Edith's part, Lily accepted the confection and promptly consumed it with relish while Edith did likewise with yet another sugarplum of her own.

    "It were a few days 'afore me an' me mum first come 'ere.  We was under a bridge for the night on account of it were rainin' see?  And we didn't 'ave no blanket nor no food neither."

    "Oh!  Lily!  That's perfectly dreadful!  Why didn't you and your mother go home?"

    "Run away from 'ome, we 'ad."

    "What on Earth could have possessed you and your mother to run away from your home and sleep under a bridge?" exclaimed Edith in astonishment.

    "We 'ad to says me mum.  Thems as lived there 'ad a plan for me that me mum said were a very bad one, and she wouldn't stand for it.  But they told 'er she 'ad to let them put me into their plan and mum 'ad no say as it were bound to 'appen whether she'd like it or not, says they."

    "What sort of place was it??"

    "A gentlemen's 'ouse it were.  Mrs. Baudelaire were the missus, an' there were two other ladies as lived there aside from me and me mum.  I can't remember when I didn't live there."

   "So the lady of your house was French?" asked Edith, and then, "how many gentlemen lived there?"

   "Oh there weren't no gentlemen as lived there, just ladies.  And Mrs. Baudelaire would talk all French-like when one o' them gentlemen come to visit.  But the rest o' the time she'd just talk regular.  When a gentlemen would come, mummy and them other two ladies would sit in the parlour and 'e'd choose one of them, or sometimes two, and then they'd go upstairs."

   "What did they do upstairs?"

   "I don't rightly know, just that they made gentlemen 'appy, and them gentlemen paid good coin to get themselves all 'appy-like.  Me mum said I weren't to ask 'er no more questions about that as I would learn all I needed to whens I gots older."

    Edith frowned with puzzlement, keen to tear aside the veils shrouding this mystery, but at a loss as to whom and in what manner she might inquire without opening herself to questions which might reveal her current illicit liaison with Lily.  "Were the other ladies nice to you?"

    "Nice enough I s'pose, just as long as I did me work and didn't slack off and get me bum skelped.  I 'ad to scrub floors and wash dishes an' such."

    "Much like the work Cook makes you do now," observed Edith, starting on another sugarplum.  "But why did you and your mother run away, and sleep under a bridge with no food??"

    Lily looked longingly at the dwindling supply of sugarplums.  Then with a twinkle in her eye, she declared, "I can't rightly remember just now.  But another one 'o them sugarplums'd jog me memory right proper I'd wager!"

    "I don't believe you," scolded Edith sternly.  "I think you remember perfectly well and you just told a deliberate falsehood simply to try to make me give you something which isn't rightly yours!"

    Lily shrugged her shoulders in a parody of helplessness, then made her eyes cross while scratching her head in an absurd impression of someone at a loss to remember.  Edith began laughing in spite of her intention to remain stern, quickly followed by Lily as well. Once the children's mirth subsided, Edith handed Lily one of the sugarplums, took one for herself, and motioned for Lily to continue.

    "It 'appened one evening when I'd filled the coal scuttle in our cellar and I'd taken it up stairs one step at a time, it bein' 'eavy and all.  It were bound for the fire in our parlour.  And when I went in wi' the coal, me mum and the other ladies were all there and a gentleman I 'adn't seen before were there too, lookin' them over and decidin' which of 'em 'e would take upstairs to make 'im 'appy.

   "Then 'e looks at me, 'is eyes all wide-like.  Says 'e, "'is she on offer?"  Me mum shouts at 'im, "no she ain't no how!"  Then she turns on me, 'er face all angry-like and yells at me to go to me room right now an' get in me bed."

   "So you were in trouble?" asked Edith.  "But why?"

   "I didn't rightly know," replied Lily sadly.  "But I run off to me cot like she told me to do, and lay there a-cryin' on account of I thought I would catch an awful whippin' soon, but I 'adn't a notion as to what I 'd done wrong to make mummy so cross wi' me.  All I knew was it 'ad to 'ave been something awful bad I done."

    As mysteries coalescing around Lily's story multiplied, Edith imagined herself lying on her feather bed in the night nursery, knowing that Miss Field would soon arrive and whip her, and her heart went out to poor Lily.  At least Miss Field always told Edith beforehand what she had done to earn her chastisements.

    "I got out o' me clothes except for me shift for sleepin' in.  And then I 'eard shouting.  I quit me crying and poked me 'ed out the door to try an' make out what they was all a-shoutin' about, but I couldn't 'ear no words, just voices.  And me mum's and Mrs. Baudelaire's were loudest of all. 'Avin' the collie shangles they were!  And they kep' at it and the more they kep' at it the angrier they got.  Then I 'eard fast footsteps comin' me way and I thought me mum was fixin' to tan me bum so I run back into me bed an' put the covers over me.

    "So in she comes and I never seen 'er so mad 'afore. Powerful scared I were!  But she didn't whip me.  Instead she leaned the back of a chair 'gainst the doorknob so the door couldn't push in.  And then they was a-knockin' 'ard on the door and tellin 'er to open up but that chair stopped them.  She pulls me covers off and whispers that we gots to be out of there fast and to look smart."

    Edith was on the edge of her seat.  What a ripping yarn - just like in books!  But in a book Edith would have had a better understanding of why such drama was unfolding.

    "She 'elped me back into me frock an' apron and then she starts yelling towards the door "y' can't 'ave 'er! I'm 'er mum and I says No and that's an end of it! And I don't care a pin if that toff offers the crown jewels, I don't!"  She shouted them words as she were liftin' the window sash so's they couldn't 'ear 'er doin' it.  Then Mrs. Baudelaire was sayin' 'think o' all them nice new frocks an' toys an' pretty things y' could buy 'er wi' yer share o' that 'undred pound note Lord Reddend says 'e'll pay. Don't ye want that for 'er?'"

    "Didn't your mother want you to have pretty frocks and toys?" asked Edith, puzzled, and wondered what Mama's dinner guest of the previous evening could possibly have wanted with Lily.

    "Not if it meant lettin' them put me into their plan wi' that posh gentleman she didn't.  So as she were liftin' me out o' the window, she yells "me sprog'll 'ave a better life than mine if I gots to die makin' that 'appen." Then she climbs out after me, picks me up on 'er back and takes off runnin', faster than I ever thought me mum could run, 'specially carryin' me and all."

    "You must have been so dreadfully scared!" gasped Edith.

    "Actually, I weren't much scared 'cause I'd worked out by then as it weren't meself mummy were cross with, but the Missus.  So I wasn't 'bout to catch a whippin' from 'er after all."

    "Where did you go next?  Your father?  Your grandparents?" asked Edith, and began nibbling on one of the last sugarplums.

    "I never knew me dad.  Me mum says 'e's a deceitful no-good and 'e's gone away permanent since 'afore I were born and not to ask 'er no questions 'bout 'im.  And me mum's mum and dad don't want 'er no more on account o' 'er 'avin' me when she weren't all proper married like."

    Edith then remembered her original question which had first set Lily's story into motion.  "So that was when you and your mum slept under a bridge with no dinner!"  Lily nodded.  "Weren't you cold??"  Lily nodded again.   "And then you came here?"

    "Oh no," replied Lily.  "Early next morning me mum carried me on 'er back to the work'ouse.  I tried to walk but stones in the road 'urt me feet."

    "Because," concluded Edith aloud, "you hadn't time to put on your shoes, because Mrs. Baudelaire and those other ladies were after you."   At least one piece of Lily's puzzle had fallen into place.  Edith had heard of workhouses, although she had never seen one.  By all accounts they were grim places and kept that way so only the most desperately poor would resort to going there.  "So you lived in the workhouse?"

    "I thought we would, especially when I spied a man as looked familiar and who seemed like an important fellow in that place.  Then I recognized 'im as one of them gentlemen as come to our 'ouse regular.  I 'adn't recognized 'im first off without 'is mustache.  An odd mustache I always thought it were, as it were almost the same colour as 'is 'air, but not quite.  And 'e were dressed as a vicar now, wi' a backward collar and the lot!  I were powerful glad to see 'im on account of 'ow 'e were always kind to me when 'e would visit; and e'd pat me on me 'ed and give me a sweet every time he came and tell me to make certain I always said me prayers.  I thought for sure e'd be our friend an' look after us proper.  But when I let on as I recognized 'im, 'e looked at me and me mum all 'orrible like. Says 'e, 'be off and never come back!'"  Lily stopped abruptly and hung her head, her eyes moistening.

   "Don't cry, Lily!" urged Edith.  "Here. You may have the last sugarplum to cheer you up!"  Lily smiled weakly as she accepted the treat and began to slowly nibble on it, making it endure as long as possible.

   Once the last of her sugarplum had gone, Lily continued, "we was both of us powerful 'ungry.  But me mum said she weren't about to go beggin' as she still 'ad 'er pride and that.  I 'ad me shift on under me frock that I'd 'ad on the night before for going to bed in. Mummy got it off me, tore it in strips and wrapped it 'round me feets so's I could walk, on account of how we's got to hoof it to the work'ouse at Cherrybun Crossing which were nigh on twenty miles away.  Mum reckoned as no one would likely know us there."

    "Oh dear me," exclaimed Edith, "such a frightfully long way.  And you without proper shoes and nothing to eat!  At least you had plenty of daylight ahead of you.  Were you able to get there before dark?"

    "We never did get there," Lily replied.  "We'd gone 'alf an hour on the road when this cart come by 'edding into town.  And drivin' it were a gentleman as come to the 'ouse and always liked me mum best for makin' 'im 'appy upstairs.  When 'e learned what as 'appened to us, 'e said 'e'd 'elp us.  So 'e turned back round and 'edded back to where 'e'd come, and me and me mum 'id under potato sacks so we wouldn't get 'im into no trouble.

    "Where did he take you?" asked Edith excitedly, wishing she could have thrilling adventures like Lily's, aside from the barefoot and hungry and cold parts.

    " 'E were stable master at a big country 'ouse, and 'e took us to 'is cottage.  Powerful kind 'e was.  Fed us 'til we was fit to burst.  And that night 'e fixed me up wi' a cot close by the fire all warm and snug like.  And 'e were even kinder to me mum!  'E even let 'er sleep in 'is own bed wi' 'im!"  Lily hopped off the sofa and dashed to the window to scan the surrounding countryside.  After a few moments, she pressed her left cheek to the glass and looking as far to the right as possible, pointed and exclaimed, "There it be!  That's were we come from that day!  Come 'av a look Miss Edith!"

    Edith rose from the sofa.  "Step away from the window!" she commanded with a frown.  "If someone in the park looks up and sees us together and tells Mama, I shall be punished!"  Looking a bit hurt by Edith's sharp tone, Lily murmured an apology and stepped away.  Pressing her cheek to the window as Lily had done, Edith saw at once that she had pointed to Sternburne Place, the nearest country house to Wippingham, atop a knoll two miles off.

   Edith regained her seat on the sofa and urged Lily to continue once she had regained hers.

   "Next day the stablemaster gentleman were fixin' to ride us to Cherrybun in 'is cart, but then 'e 'eard from 'is groom as 'ow the scullery maid 'ere at Wippin'am got the chuck on account of 'er and that groom bein' caught kissin' in the garden."

   So that must be what "spooning" means, thought Edith triumphantly.

   "Then 'im and me mum set to makin' up a letter sayin' as 'ow we was first rate scullery maids wi' loads of 'sperience an' 'ow we was of good character and 'ard workers 'an honest Christians and that.  And then 'e pointed Wippin'am to us and tol' us to start walkin' as 'e couldn't be seen droppin' us off 'ere.  So we sets off, straight through the fields until we-"

   Two heads wheeled towards the sound of the door opening.  And there, to their horror, regarding them both with consternation, stood the terrible presence of Miss Field.


  <---Chapter 10            Chapter 12 --->

(c) Copyright 2024 by HandPrince
This is fiction. Please don't discipline
your children this way.

 For permission to reprint:
handprince at hush dot com


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