The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom, Episode 9: Polly Is Ready for a Risk

We’ve had eight episodes of The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom since our launch on Feb. 15, 2013.  Time to take a look back at the story so far.

The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom

Lots of secrets are swirling around the village.  Miss Prudence Newton guards her ambitions behind a facade of propriety…a façade which might be breached before long.  Major Monty Twydall has been keeping his fiscal difficulties close to his vest …and the French émigré artist Pierre Tournell is consumed with his undisclosed ambitions in all their varieties. Lionel, Lord Bloxley needs to protect several casual encounters from his wife’s knowledge, and in turn, Elizabeth, Lady Bloxley has surprises of her own  she may yet share someday.

The Bloxley daughters, Daphne and Valeria, shared a secret about their grandmamma, the Dowager Baroness – and also about their parents, which they found delightfully romantic. Aurelia and Millicent enjoy collecting tidbits of gossip, secret or not, and sharing them with everyone.  Miss Anne Humphrey, companion to the dowager baroness Bloxley has a deep and significant secret she will guard with her very life.

Whilst it is no secret at all that Lady Louisa openly organizes many of the village’s concerns, people would be amazed to know how the Dowager honors the many secrets of others. And what she has in store for Prudence. Exactly the same is true of her dear friend, Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington.  Like Lady Louisa, the Duke knows when to watch his words.

The only resident of the village who appears to be entirely without secrets is the large and decidedly odd looking stray dog called Spot, although no one has a clue where he came from.

We hope you are enjoying our blovel – a serialized story  The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom. A new episode will appear each Friday.  We will shortly putting a link to the Bloxely Bottom page in our sidebar. Be sure to look for it, as it will contain links to every chapter, as well as brief biographies of the principal characters.

Please share your comments on The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom and tell us what you think of the story so far.
 The  Secrets of Bloxley Bottom
 Episode 9: Polly Is Ready for a Risk
Polly Sawyer, maid of all work at the Crowing Cock, tucked the package addressed to Mrs. Oldstead-Parker into her wide apron pocket and began walking. At times like this she wished she had a wagon with a quick-stepping mare to hurry through her deliveries and chores. 

Today she was eager to talk to Aurelia Gammersgill, a lady who was always kind and often offered her excellent advice. Because this time Polly’s problem was more than just a small question of how best to deal with her grandfather’s cantankerous moods or the unwelcome advances of men in the tap room. Today Polly had questions she was completely unprepared to answer. She had the feeling the requests of the artist, Mon-sir Tournell, would not be easily answered. Whether she said yes or no would have consequences far beyond her ability to see. But she yearned to say yes to him. Polly’s large green eyes and masses of curly, copper coloured hair usually brought her more attention than she wanted. Not to mention her generous curves. She knew the gazes of many men came to rest upon on the scarf she crisscrossed over her chest or the sash of her apron as it hung over her bottom.
Mon-sir Tournell was the first person from France Polly had ever spoken to and she had to listen carefully when he spoke, for though he had a rich deep voice, his words were not pronounced quite as she expected them to be.
He’d been at the inn for several days, eating alone some nights, others with Major Monty and his friends. He was always polite and smiled at her. Mam-zelle, he called her.
She trudged up the gentle hill, past the
bower of pink roses on a thatched cottage. A cat sunning herself on the stone wall raised her head and opened one eye for a moment before stretching and curling back into a ball. The street was quiet. Only a few ladies stood near the linen draper’s store and they were women who would not especially appreciate her greeting, so Polly kept her eyes on the road.
This morning she’d brought Mon-sir a pot of strong coffee and a pitcher of warm milk along with a large cup and he had encouraged her to try his combination of part coffee and part milk. It was not half bad. He drank several before he wanted her to serve his morning bread and ham.
When she set down the tray, Tournell had spoken companionably to her, asking after her health and that of her grandfather. Maybe Mrs. Winston, proprietor of the Crowing Cock, had told him about her grandfather and how he sometimes wandered off.
“Perhaps you might tie a little bell onto his hat?” Polly had smiled at the suggestion. “Mam-zelle,” he’d said. “I would very much like to paint you.”
She thought she’d misheard him. “Paint?”
“I mean, make a picture of you.”
Polly felt her cheeks warm remembering the way he’d looked at her when he said it. But she couldn’t tell Mrs. Gammersgill that. Aurelia Gammersgill did not approve of men who grinned at young gels and made them blush.
Once at Aurelia’s kitchen door, Polly’s knock was answered by Bess, Mrs. Gammmersgill’s maid of all work, who stuck her head out the door and tried to grab the package.
“Miz Winston sez I gotta give these into Mrs. Gammersgill’s hands,” Polly said. Actually she’d said nothing of the kind, but if Polly let her, Bess would keep her from seeing her friend and valued advisor.
“Wait here.” Bess trudged into her kitchen.
In moments, Aurelia drew Polly around the house to enter by the front door.
“I saw you coming up the hill, my dear Polly,” she explained. Aurelia bustled Polly into the parlour and dispatched the sulky Bess to brew a pot of tea.
Aurelia took the package and carefully inspected the information written there. She was always curious about Millicent’s mail order purchases, but would never stooped to unwrap one of them. Millicent would want to open it herself. She and Millicent Oldstead-Parker rubbed along very well, and Aurelia had no intention of rocking the boat. Only by sharing expenses could either of them live in a home as nice as Hilltop House, where they could enjoy all the privileges of a comfortable home, membership in a comfortable parish, visits with comfortable friends and a full gamut of comfortable gossip about the other residents of the comfortable neighborhood. There would be no boat rocking on her part. As intriguing as it looked, this package was Millicent’s and Aurelia now set it aside.
Polly wore her white mob cap, the cap that Aurelia had advised her to change every day, along with her apron, which was always to be washed and carefully pressed. The sign of a good worker is a well turned out mode of dress. Like all her suggestions, Polly followed Aurelia’s advice faithfully.
“Mr. Tournell asked if he could draw my picture, or paint me.”
Aurelia immediately heard alarm bells ringing in her head. “He wants you to be his model?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And where would he paint you? At the inn?”
“He didn’t say, but he usually paints at Major Monty’s, don’t he?”
Aurelia was more than suspicious. But she did not want to frighten Polly. She was hardly more than a child. Only a Frenchman would be so wicked as to risk a young gel’s reputation, even a maid’s.
“Now Polly, my dear, I would not recommend that you comply with the painter’s request unless he agrees to take your image at the inn, where you work and where there might always be others in close proximity. Under no conditions should you go to Major Monty’s to sit for him. Worse yet, do not have him come to your house. Think of how he would upset your grandfather.”
Polly sat in silence for a few moments, thinking about what Mrs. Gammersgill said. “So you think I should agree if he does my pitcher at the inn?”
“I think you might like him to make a picture of you. Am I correct?”
Polly nodded. “I don’t know of anyone in Bloxley Bottom who wuz in a pitcher.”

“I daresay you do not. I understand that you would like to see a picture of yourself, and I cannot say I blame you. Just be very careful, my dear. Mr. Tournell is from France and more than that need not be said.” 

After a cup of tea, her head spinning, Polly departed on her next errand for Mrs. Winston, heading to Hammersley’s farm to pick up a few skinned rabbits for the inn’s stewing pot.