The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom – Episode 18 – A Stream of Words

          Having stumbled upon Prudence, so to speak, in the stream as she bathed Spot, Tournell now cleared his throat, hoping the sound would alert her to his presence so that she wouldn’t be startled.
         “Mr. Tournell!” she said, “I didn’t hear you coming.”
        “You were too busy laughing.” Prudence was almost as wet as the dog. Her hair was damp, as was the bodice of her gown, which clung wetly to her bosom. “It is good to see that Spot is getting a bath. He was beginning to stink.”
      “Mr. Tournell! How would you know whether Spot smelled or not?”
      Tournell shrugged. “I may occasionally find myself with a spare bit of meat and, keeping in mind that old adage, waste not, want not, I may throw it Spot’s way.” This was true enough, although Tournell often fed Spot with else besides meat. A few days ago it had been a bit of fruit cake, which the dog had seemed to enjoy.
     Prudence looked at the artist with new eyes. Why, Mr. Tournell was human, regardless of his being a man and being French. “That’s very good of you. I thought I was the only person who fed Spot.”
    “Well, now you know that you are not alone.” He smiled easily at Prudence. “You look quite lovely like that,” he told her.
     She gave him a level gaze. “I’m not lovely at all. Please do not mock me.”
    Tournell placed his palm upon his breast, “You wound me. To think that I would mock you! You are quite lovely, whether you choose to believe so or not. In fact, I am going to sit here and sketch you while you finish with Spot.” With that, he dismounted the horse and pulled his drawing tools from the saddle bag.
     “I’m a mess!” she protested.
      “Ah, but you are a glowing, lovely mess, little one.”
      Prudence sighed, “I wish I were beautiful, then I would have a hope of marrying well. I wish I could go to London and have gowns made and have my hair done and go to fabulous balls and mingle with sophisticated people.”

      Tournell raised an eyebrow and stopped his sketching. “That’s rather a broad wish, non? Still, it is not impossible. Although, I don’t know how much you would like the reality.”
      “What do you mean?”
      “Oh, just that society is very shallow, ma petite. It is comprised of many people, all of whom believe that they are the most important creature in the universe and who live their lives as though they were. It’s all quite superficial. French gowns and fripperies do not a nice person make. That’s it, Miss Newton – the sort of society you so envy is filled with people who, underneath, are not very nice. At least that is the way I see it.”
     “Perhaps you are right, but I would like see it all, just once.”
     “So you shall.”
     “How do you know that?”
     “If you wish a thing, you can make it so. If you set yourself a goal in life, whatever it may be, you need only to keep an eye upon that goal and then to make the choices in life that will bring you nearer to it.”
     “You make it all sound so simple.”
     “Alors, it is not difficult! What is it that you really want from life? Beyond a silk embroidered ball gown?” As Tournell waited for her response, he sketched Prudence with sure strokes. The scene before him now would be used in one of his `daily life’ paintings for certain.
    “I suppose what I want most is to leave Bloxley Bottom.” How could she explain to Tournell, or to anyone, that she simply knew that she was destined for a bigger life than could be found here?
    “And so to London, hhmmm?”
    Prudence stood and filled a jug with water and began to rinse Spot’s coat. “It will never come true,” she sighed.
   “You give up too easily?”
   She sighed, “I cannot speak French.”
    Tournell laughed aloud. “It is not funny!” Prudence told him. “One must speak French if one is to be thought well educated and a lady.”
     “Who told you that?”
     “I read it in a magazine.”
      “You do not need to speak French to be thought worthy of membership in the bon ton.”
      Prudence looked at Tournell doubtfully. Surely The Lady’s Magazine knew more about the subject than he?
      “But just to put your mind at ease, Tournell will teach you to speak French.”
      Prudence dropped her water jug into the stream. “Oh, will you? Is it very difficult? How long will it take for me to be able to speak it properly?”
      “Oh, be calm, Mademoiselle Prudence, you are kicking up the water and getting my sketch pad wet! Sit, sit. Now, it would take you years to learn the nuances of the French language. I am not going to teach you the entire French language, feminine
verbs, nouns, plurals. . . . There is no need for it, no matter what your magazine advises. All you will need are a few phrases you can use to pepper your conversation at the appropriate moments.”

    “Do you think?”

    “Non, I know. I am certain, ma petite.”
   “Non, is that French for no?”
   “Oui. Which is French for yes. You see, it will not be difficult at all.”


The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom, Episode 17: The Perfect Subject

Prudence Newton assembled her trapping tools and hid them in the cart. She had only a few egg deliveries to make, but she had a further task to perform and she was determined to accomplish it. The major enticement was a large and meaty bone she had begged from the cook who’d been saving it for stew. Just a little fib, it was, to tell Mrs. Parr that she needed it for the poor White family in the hollow. The soap flakes had been easy to purloin from the larder, along with a set of large flannels that had been destined for the rag bag. No one had seen Prudence as she performed her thievery and she glowed with satisfaction as she kissed her mama goodbye.
“I will return well before dinner, Mama.”
Mrs. Newton exhibited her expertise at the deep and dolorous sigh. “My dear, take care. It has been uncommonly wet…” Her voice trailed away as she raised her handkerchief to her nose.
“Yes, I will.” Prudence hurried away before her mother could repeat the long list of discomforts she suffered in the damp weather.
Now, the compliant donkey pulled Prudence in the cart as it ambled toward the village, and Prudence began her search for that hulk of an odd creature, the dog everyone called Spot. He often lurked about the rectory or the churchyard of an afternoon, but today there was no sign of him.  
“The beast is an enigma,” Prudence murmured to herself, putting to good use the latest word she had looked up after finding it in a novel. She rather liked the notion of an mysterious puzzle. “Enigma,” Prudence repeated aloud, in a veddy grand tone. “You are an enigma. It is certainly an enigma. Such an enigma!” Prudence was fond of words and tended to repeat them when first found, so that she would not forget them. How she longed to pull out such a word in the course of conversation, but sadly the sort of conversations she was involved in did not call for such sophistication. Oh, how she longed for more distinguished company; for sophistication and access to a life that would allow her to display her hidden allure. “A most alluring enigma,” she said aloud as, on impulse, Prudence guided the donkey towards the river lane, leading beside the stream from the mill through the wood, eventually toward the pond on the village green. It was usually deserted and it felt more than a little queerish as she felt the canopy of trees closing above her head.
She whistled softly and called Spot. The land rambled alongside the stream, a perfect spot for Prudence’s plan. And suddenly, with a yelp of surprise and pleasure – or so it sounded to her – the dog appeared from the woods. 
If anything he looked worse than he had last week when the artist, Monsieur Tournell, had been so appalled at his appearance. Leaving the bone in the back of the cart, wrapped in an oilcloth, Prudence hopped down to receive Spot’s excited slobbers upon her cheeks. The animal was almost taller than she was when he raised up on his hind legs and placed his filthy paws on her shoulders. She pushed him down and wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Where have you been, you smelly creature?”
The dog snorted and tried again to lick her cheeks, “Stay down. You’re covered with mud.” Prudence shredded the burrs and weeds out of the long hair on his head and neck, combing them into the water with her fingers. “Have you been rolling in rotten fish innards?”
Soon after Spot had appeared so mysteriously in Bloxley Bottom, Prudence had appointed herself as his mistress. Mama would never allow her to have a pet, as animals in the home were seen by Mama as being not only dirty, but the carriers of all manner of illness. Cats, in particular, were a horror, as Mama believed that they both sucked the breath from people as they slept and were the cause of a host of respiratory ailments. Dogs were not so much harbingers of illness, in Mama’s estimation, but were simply filthy creatures who could not help but breed all manner of vermin in their coats. Horses, on the other hand, were not to be trusted at all, which was why the family had to make due with a donkey, instead. Donkey’s were bad enough, but they were dumb creatures after all, rather than determinedly devilish. Why Papa allowed her mother’s unfounded fears to rule their lives Prudence could not understand, but that was the way of things and there would be no changing them.
Therefore, when Prudence had learned that Spot had no home, no owner, indeed no past as far as anyone could make out, she seized the chance to finally have a pet to call her own. She took it upon herself to squirrel away food from the larder and from scraps in order to feed him for, if she did not see to this necessary task, who would? She was convinced that Spot’s very existence depended upon her love and charity. It worked to Prudence’s benefit that these kindnesses did not seem to serve to make Spot beholden to her. Whilst she viewed herself as Spot’s mistress, he did not see things quite the same way. Spot did not attach himself to Prudence nor insist, as most stray dogs were wont to do, upon following her home and quickly taking up residence inside. He was content to come whenever she called, to spend time with her and then for them to go their separate ways. This consequence suited Prudence’s needs down to the ground and so the two had gone on since then, she an occasional mistress, he an occasional pet and both exceedingly happy with their lot.
Another task Prudence had long ago set for herself was the occasional grooming of Spot, who seemed not to mind her ministrations in the least though, apparently, he would have happily settled for being a tangled, stinky mess had she not insisted on these forays into beautifying him. He seemed to see these encounters as some sort of extended manner of play and he now entered into the sport with gusto, yelping and giving little growls, but pushing ever closer to Prudence and never stopping his attempts to reach his tongue to her face. Slowly she wrestled him toward the water, tying up her skirts as she did. But by the time she managed to wet him down, she was nearly as wet as he. Prudence rubbed the soap flakes into a thick lather, and Spot leaned into her hands as she tried to knead away the dried dirt and whatever else was causing his infernal stink.
She couldn’t help laughing as the two of them slipped and slid in the mossy stream-bed.


Pierre Tournell rode upon a borrowed horse, really more than a handful, it was. But his friend Major Monty had no tired nags or even quiet cobs in his stables. So he was hoping to find a very quiet route on which to test his mettle aboard the tall chestnut. Tournell had never cared much for horses of any kind, but the smaller the better, and this one was, well, très gigantesque.
Nervously, Tournell watched the horse’s head as it pricked up its ears. There was something ahead along this quiet lane. And then he heard a girl’s laughter and the yelps of a dog. Was it ominous or just merriment?
Tournell drew on the reins to stop the horse as the noisemakers came into view. “Magnifique!” he whispered at the sight of the girl, wet skirt clinging to her legs, and the large dog encased in soapsuds. “A worthy scene! Worthy of a great picture!”

The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom – Episode 16 – A Cracking Ride

During the normal course of events, the Duke of Wellington would not have been termed a goggler. Ask anyone who knew him, whether during his illustrious military career, in government or as family or friend and not one man jack amongst them could have recalled an instance in which the Duke had goggled. But he was certainly goggling at Captain Hugh Bradley-Smythe, who was standing upon the threshold of Walmer Castle now.
Mrs. Allen, the Duke’s housekeeper who stood beside him, put a hand to her mouth in response to the sight before her eyes. Hugh’s dress uniform was covered in road dust, as were his boots and hair. A trickle of blood had dried in a line from his left brow to just below his ear. His right eye was almost completely swollen shut and surrounded by a blue and purple raised bruise. Hugh’s left arm was tied up in a makeshift sling and Hugh himself stood at a sort of bent angle, as one who was favouring one leg was wont to do. Oddly, the Duke and Mrs. Allen both detected the smell of fish about the Captain’s person.
“Good God, man, what in thunder happened to you?” asked the Duke.
“Never mind that now, your Grace, let’s get the boy inside first.” Mrs. Allen went forward to assist Hugh, causing him to flinch.
“If you put your good arm around my shoulder and lean on me, could you make your way into that room there?” asked the Duke.
“I don’t have a good arm,” said Hugh. “I have an arm that’s less damaged, but I’ve got cracked ribs on that side, so I can’t use it very well.”
“Were you involved in a brawl?” the Duke asked.
“No! Of course not, your Lordship.”
“Do you think, if you walked very, very slowly with the Duke and I on either side you could make it into the study?”
“He’s going to have to try, woman, he can’t stand in the doorway all night.” And so the three began the agonizingly slow walk across the foyer to the Duke’s study. Finally, they settled Hugh upon the sofa and the Duke went to the sideboard for the brandy decanter and a glass. He poured Hugh a hefty measure and handed it to him. “Get that into you, lad.”
Using his good hand, Hugh accepted the drink gratefully and drank it down in two swallows. The Duke poured him another.

“What you need is a hot bath,” Mrs. Allen said.
Hugh shook his head, “Please, no. I don’t think I could manage it. I’ve been through enough as it is.”
“Well you’ll allow us to take that filthy coat off your back. Your boots, as well,” Mrs. Allen told him. She carefully untied the sling and then tenderly supported Hugh’s arm as the Duke peeled Hugh’s coat off. That done, Mrs. Allen turned her attention to Hugh’s boots.
“You’ll have to be careful of the right ankle. It’s sprained.” Hugh told her.
“Demmed fine boots,” the Duke commented.
“Hoby,” Hugh said. “To your specifications.”
“I can see that.”
“Not a bit of it,” Mrs. Allen scoffed. “A lashing of spit and polish and they’ll be good as new.” Hugh gave up a few groans as Mrs. Allen eased his boots off as gingerly as one could. “I think you gentlemen will be eating your dinner in here. I’ll go and see to it.” Before she left, Mrs. Allen unfolded the blanket that was kept on the sofa and used by the Duke occasionally during a nap and laid it over Hugh, who collapsed into its warmth with a sigh.
Once Mrs. Allen had gone, the Duke sat in an armchair across from Hugh and said, “Well?”
“Two days ago, your Grace, I was riding my horse when it got spooked and threw me from the saddle. My foot got caught up in the stirrup and I twisted my ankle. I cracked some ribs, as well, when I hit the ground.”
“But you should have written, man, we could have postponed your visit.”
Hugh gave the Duke the ghost of a smile and shook his head. “Begging your pardon, your Grace, but one doesn’t allow small inconveniences such as a sprained ankle and cracked ribs to keep one from a answering a summons by the Duke of Wellington.”
“Not to mention a bad arm and blackened eye.”
“Oh no, I hadn’t either of those before today. You see, I had to take the coach early this morning. I couldn’t have ridden here what with the ankle and ribs.”
“When I got into the coach, there was a very large woman inside, along with a young girl and her brother and an older gentleman. Somewhere along the route, I’d fallen asleep and the next thing I knew, we were being jostled about, all manner of articles were being tossed willy nilly and then the body of the coach fell over on its side, with the large woman landing directly on top of me, her blasted fish paste sandwiches crushed between her body and mine. The old man was on top of me next and then the two youngsters.” Hugh shivered. “It was ghastly and it seemed an age before the coachman and guard got the door to the carriage open and began hauling everyone out. When it came to the fish woman, she kept putting all of her weight upon my arm in an effort to gain purchase and something, a valise or some such, must have come into contact with head and cut my scalp. I cannot for the life of me account for the black eye.”
“Tell me, are you usually so accident prone?”
“No! No, your Grace I am not. I had been riding with a few of the men from my regiment and they were giving me grief over your invitation. They’d been taking the mickey with me for days, saying as how you had no doubt summoned me to Walmer in order to personally court martial me for being such a dismal failure at soldiering. You know the sort of thing. Well, I was giving it right back to them and not paying attention so that when the horse bolted I was easily thrown. And then the spring, and afterward the braces, on the one side of the carriage broke and I found myself buried beneath four strangers.”
“Quite. Were you seen to
by a medical man? What did he say about your arm?”
“Oh, the arm is alright, just bruised” Hugh said, wiggling his fingers and rotating his wrist. “The fish woman insisted on fashioning the sling from her petticoats when I mentioned that she’d stepped on my arm. It’s a good thing she didn’t snap it in two. Or three, for that matter.”
“Well, Mrs. Allen will get a hot dinner into you before long,” the Duke told him as he got up from his chair and walked to his desk. “You close your eyes and rest for a few minutes whilst I attend to one or two letters.”
Hugh obeyed gladly as the Duke dipped his pen into the inkwell and wrote, “My Dear Louisa – Due to unforseen circumstances, Captain Bradley-Smythe and I must delay our visit to you . . . . . . “

The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom, Episode 10: The Late Bloomer

There was no question of Captain Hugh Bradley Smythe’s missing his visit to the Duke of Wellington. Wild horses could not have kept him from his appointment, though they had tried their level best to do so. Or at least one had. Blast, his ankle was devilish sore.
“Are you certain you won’t have a bit of fish paste?” asked the rather buxom woman seated next to him in the coach. There were, in addition to Hugh and the fish lady, a very plain looking girl of about seventeen years of age who was traveling with a lad of about four years and an elderly and so far silent gentleman, soberly dressed, who was seated on the other side of the boy. Hugh had the very dubious privilege to be seated across from these three and beside the fish lady, the odor of whose sandwich now fully permeated the interior of the coach and threatened to upset Hugh’s stomach Really. How much was one man expected to bear?

The coach encountered a rocky patch of road that wrenched a groan from both the great springs beneath the carriage and from Hugh, who felt a stab of pain through his right ankle and side. 

A naturally kind, not to mention well-mannered young man, Hugh still felt compelled to reply to the woman’s offer through gritted teeth, “No, madam, I thank you, but I’m rather tired and believe I’ll try to nap. Thank you.”
“Sorright, pet, there’s more where this come from if you change yer mind. You have yerself a nice doze.”

Being that the weather was mild and rather fine, Hugh was able to use one hand to let the window of the coach down a bit in order to dispel the reek of fish. He leant his head a bit to the right, closed his eyes and settled down for a nap. Not that he thought it would be at all possible for him to sleep, but his closed eyes might keep the fish lady quiet for a few miles, at the least.
Hugh had looked forward to this journey ever since the invitation to Walmer Castle had been issued to him upon fairly short notice by the Duke of Wellington himself. A note written in the Duke’s own hand. Imagine. Hugh could not fathom why the Duke should have singled him out of a literal army of officers of much higher repute who were, no doubt, more worthy of the honour. Regardless of whether or not Hugh felt he was entitled to such notice, he was bound and determined to go to Walmer. And to do himself and his regiment proud. He’d dashed straight down to Hoby’s and had ordered new boots, telling Hoby that he had but a week to delivery. Hoby had, of course, scoffed at such a rushed order, but had agreed to work himself and his assistants round the clock upon hearing that the boots were to be worn by Hugh at Walmer Castle. In fact, the Duke being one of Hoby’s regular and long standing customers himself, Hoby and brought out the drawings for the Duke’s personal boots, upon which Hugh had ordered that his pair be made as closely as possible to the Great Man’s preferences. Hoby had delivered and now, with his ankle relentlessly throbbing within the confines of his brand new, unforgiving boots, Hugh wished instead that he had ordered Hoby to fashion him a pair of soft, comforting house slippers. 
Another jolt shot up through the carriage, racketed around Hugh’s ankle and then delivered itself up to play havoc with the two broken ribs. Hugh wanted to cry. He longed to cry; not in pain, so much, but in frustration. Of all the times to take a tumble from a horse! And what a tumble. Hawkins had, in fact, described it as nothing short of spectacular. The horse had come out of the accident unscathed, thank God, though Hugh’s pride had been dented. No matter, being singled out by the Duke of Wellington more than made up for the teasing he’d taken at the hands of his fellow soldiers.

What the deuce could the Duke want of him? What was the nature of this summons? Hugh had served under Lord Fitzroy Somerset, who himself variously acted as Wellington’s ADC and military secretary, but surely there was nothing in that rather routine service to distinguish Hugh in the Duke’s eyes. Otherwise, the time Hugh had so far spent in the military had been fairly uneventful. Might the Duke have career plans for him? If so, they might change the entire course of Hugh’s life. The mind boggled and, as it did, the eyelids, encouraged by the rocking motion of the carriage, began to fall and before long Hugh was fast asleep beside the woman with the fish paste.

Elizabeth, Baroness Bloxley, had not revealed her excitement at her artistic commission to anyone. Her daughters were fairly wrapped up in their own lives, preparing for their portraits. Andrew was away at school and she did not think he’d consider her little achievement worth writing about. What did he care that the earl wanted his mother to illustrate his wildflower book? He’d much rather hear about his mare’s new colt, born just last week.
As for Bloxley himself, he’d been preoc
cupied of late. Even more distant than usual. Perhaps he had another paramour, although Elizabeth doubted it. His last mistress had caused much too much trouble for him. He had no idea Elizabeth knew about his dalliances, but then he paid no attention to the conversation of the servants — conversation she pretended not to hear but conversation she had often found informative about all sorts of matters at the hall, on the estate and in the village. She’d learned to listen discreetly to servant gossip from her husband’s mother, the dowager baroness, when she’d asked her, many years ago, how she managed to keep up with the doings of the families in her neighborhood.
So for the moment, Elizabeth kept the contents of the earl’s letter to herself. He lived far enough away that not even the Dowager would pick up the scent.
Elizabeth felt decidedly, if secretly, triumphant. Her drawing and painting were the perfect occupations, everyone said, for a lady of her standing. Her artistic talent had in the past been viewed by all who know of them as nothing but a diversion, as harmless and diverting as embroidery or knitting. Through all the years of patronizing remarks and gentle teasing about her attention to her pens and brushes, Elizabeth had smiled and kept her skills sharp.
And now she had actually been given a genuine artistic comission – an assignment for which she would be compensated. She knew what Bloxley would say when she told him, as sometime she would have to do. She could hear him in her head. “If you need money for anything, my dear, you have only to come to me.”
How could she explain her feelings to him? It had nothing to do money. It had everything to do with her work being worthy of appreciation and being deemed as serious talent. She knew exactly what she would do with the money she earned. She would buy herself a little brooch or a ring as a memento of her achievement and then she’d put the rest of the money in the poor box at church. In amounts small enough to  deflect curiosity or interest. 
Elizabeth sighed and set her mind to thinking about how she could gather the first specimens the earl wanted her to paint. She rather liked having this little secret for herself. It gave her a warm feeling inside, filling her with a shivery sparkle that resembled how she’d sometimes felt after – oh no, she would not think such thoughts. That too could be part of her secret.

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.