Authors: Flowers for Miss Pengelly
Table of Contents
AGAINST THE TIDE
THE TREGENZA GIRLS
FROM PENVARRIS WITH LOVE
A CORNISH MAID
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9 – 15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited.
Copyright © 2013 by Rosemary Aitken.
The right of Rosemary Aitken to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Aitken, Rosemary, 1942-
Flowers for Miss Pengelly.
1. Lady’s maids–Fiction. 2. Social status–Fiction.
3. Criminal investigation–Fiction. 4. Cornwall (England :
County)–Social conditions–20th century–Fiction.
5. Love stories.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8229-5 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-381-5 (Epub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For my neighbours
Angela and Pat
When Effie saw the policeman outside the Westons’ shop, under the sign saying ‘High Class Haberdashery and Subscription Library’, she almost turned and ran. Her heart, which had been pit-patting happily under her neat grey housemaid’s uniform, lurched suddenly to the bottom of her buttoned boots. She knew what this meant, of course she did. They’d found out about that business with Lettie and the books.
So what would happen now? They wouldn’t send you to prison for a thing like that, would they? Or would they? Even if not – think of the disgrace! Once Mrs Thatchell knew the police had been involved she’d very likely turn Effie out at once, and then whatever would become of her? It was no good hoping to go back to Aunty Madge; Uncle Joe had made his feelings clear on that. ‘Girl is old enough to make a living now. You done your family duty, Madge, giving her a ’ome when her poor Pa couldn’t cope, and now it’s time to think about yourself. Besides, we need the bed. Young Sammy’s getting that much bigger now, it’s time he had one to hisself.’
And Pa couldn’t have her – even now. He’d gone into lodgings after Mother died and he shared his bedroom with another miner as it was. And there was precious little hope of finding another live-in job – no-one would take a girl without a character. So would it be the workhouse? Probably it would, and that was almost worse than prison, in a way – great grey walls – and if you were in jail there was at least a chance you might get out again! Oh, glory! Why had she let Lettie talk her into this?
Suddenly her job with Mrs Thatchell seemed a precious thing. Most other girls she knew were either (like her cousins) working down the mine, breaking the tin-stone so it could be crushed; or if they were in household service, it was in humble downstairs jobs, like laundry-maids and kitchen-hands or simply scrubbing floors. But the sewing teacher had heard about the vacancy for a general maid through that same Miss Blanche Weston who was looking at her now – who kept the haberdashery and subscription library – and had been persuaded to put in a word because Effie had won the leaver’s prize for ‘outstanding needlework’.
It must have been a good word, because it did the trick. When a nervous Effie turned up for interview, Mrs Thatchell had asked a hundred questions (none of which Effie knew the answer to!), found a hundred faults, taken a long, hard, disapproving look at her, and then – just when Effie was sure of being sent away – suddenly decided, ‘Well you’re no worse than the others, and at least you’re half-polite. Since you come recommended, I suppose that you will do. I haven’t found anyone else remotely suitable and I hear you have one talent, if it’s only sewing hems. You will be living in, of course. No drink, no followers. If you suit, I can offer you your keep, one half-day off and three and nine a week.’
It was less than lots of servants got, but Effie knew when she was fortunate. She nodded wordlessly.
‘Then you can start next Monday; report to Cook six sharp and don’t be late. We’ve got a uniform: had it for the last girl, but she didn’t last a month, so it is hardly worn. It will need alteration, but no doubt you’ll manage that, if you’re as good as sewing as they say you are. And a good thing too. Material costs money and it’s too good to waste.’
Even then Effie could hardly believe her luck. Perhaps it was because – as she discovered as soon as she moved into the house – Mrs Thatchell liked to do needlework herself. Lovely things she’d made, as well – not common things like skirts and bloomers, like you made at school, but tapestries and cushions and embroidered chairs. It was a pity no-one ever saw them, Effie thought.
She’d said as much to Mrs Lane, the stout cook-housekeeper, that very first day she was there. The cook had been rolling pastry for a pie, while Effie made a last adjustment to her uniform. It had belonged to Daisy – the one who had lasted no longer than a month – ‘a flighty piece’ according to the cook, and evidently a large girl, judging by the uniform she’d left. It wasn’t easy doing the alterations on your own, with no-one to pin and mark the darts for you (Aunt Madge and the cousins hadn’t had the time), but Effie thought she’d managed beautifully – until Mrs Thatchell saw her, said the hem was far too short and had sent her downstairs smartly to let it down a bit.
‘That better?’ She twirled around to show the cook.
Mrs Lane looked up from flouring her board. ‘Better than on Daisy – I’ll say that for you. But don’t you take my word. You’d better show the mistress when you’ve done your chores.’
‘I’m half-ashamed to show her when she sews so well herself. Lovely things she showed me that she made. I only wish the ladies from the Haberdashery could see – show them what real needlework can be.’
Mrs Lane flicked salt and pepper on her pie. ‘Well don’t you say so to her, my girl, that’s all I can say, or you’ll be out of this house quicker than you came into it. The mistress doesn’t care for company.’ She must have realized that she sounded sharp, because she added in a gentler voice, ‘Shut herself more or less away, she has, ever since her husband was lost in the Boer War. And she never knew until his ship came in. Went all the way to Plymouth to meet the boat, poor thing – wanted to surprise him coming home, I suppose – and when she got there, just found he wasn’t there.’
‘And the army never even let her know?’ Effie was appalled.
‘Letter never reached her, see – though ’course they must have wrote. Before my time, all this was, but from what I hear of it, you never saw a body change so much. Used to be a proper beauty, by all accounts, and full of fun – lunch-parties and all sorts. And now look at her. Never a guest invited in all my years with her, apart from a yearly visit from her bank, not even for a single cup of tea. Stiff as starch, poor woman, and bitterer than sin.’ She glared at Effie and brought herself up short. ‘Still, she pays our wages and we mustn’t judge. Now, since you have finished fiddling with that blessed hem, are you going to stand here gossiping all day or go and do the grates?’
So Effie had scuttled off to do her chores and – although she’d tried to raise the subject since – that was all that Cook could ever be prevailed upon to say. It was intriguing though. Strange to imagine Mrs Thatchell as a lively bride, instead of a sour woman sitting in a chair, shut up in the gloomy morning room, making tapestries that nobody would see.
Even on Coronation Day it had been just the same. There were parties and pageants and dancing in the street, but Mrs Thatchell didn’t put bunting round the door, like everybody else, or even stand in the window with the curtains back, to see the pageant procession and the marching bands – though she let the servants have a half-hour to watch. She herself just sat in the morning room and sewed, as usual.
But it was that same stitchery which brought Effie to the store each week, to buy new silks and also to return the books which her mistress always had from the subscription library. Improving sermons, mostly, though why she chose those, when there were hundreds of lovely things to read – Conan Doyle and that Mr Dickens whom they’d learned about at school – Effie could not see. She would have loved to borrow a few of those herself, but of course a penny was far too much to spare when she was saving every farthing towards a pair of boots, and there was a half-a-crown to give to Aunty Madge out of her meagre wages as it was.
All the same she loved to come here to the shop. Usually Tuesday morning was the highlight of her life – the Haberdashery was like a coloured fairyland: not only silks but reels of ribbon too, racks of cottons, trays of beads and sequins, hanks of wool displayed on hooks and shelves, cards of buttons hanging on a stand, spools of lovely lace and even a few bolts of plain material. It reminded Effie of a story Mother used to tell, about a boy who found a cave full of enchanted things.
And as for the little back room with all those books in it! The first time she saw it she could not believe her eyes. She had not known that there were so many books in all the world; she had only had one in her life – ‘for good attendance at the Sunday school’.
That and the precious sewing-box, which had been her needlewoman’s prize, were the only things she’d ever really owned. Everything else, from the camisole and nightshirt in the drawer to these much-mended boots, was a hand-me-down and had once belonged to either cousin May or cousin Peg. Not even the name ‘Effie’ was properly her own. Mother had named her Ethel, after her own Ma, but when Effie went to live with Aunty Madge the youngest boy was small and couldn’t say ‘th’, so Ethel became Effie, and the name had stuck. Only Pa, when she saw him, ever called her ‘Ethel’ now.
She had tried to change it back when she first went to work – ‘Ethel’ seemed more fitting for a maid somehow – but Mrs Thatchell had waved the suggestion loftily aside. ‘I was told that you were Effie, and that suits me very well. My first maid, as it happens, was called Effie, too – Ephegenia, I believe she was. So I am used to it. Besides, I like the name. It sounds “efficient” and it’s easy to recall. I never could remember what half those other girls were called, Daisy and Susie and all the rest of it. No, Effie will do me very well indeed.’