Chapter 1 -"The Letter"
By Winning Author: L.C. Bruce
Tees Valley, United Kingdom
As she walked tentatively down each step into the outside world, Katy knew there was no going back. The heavy oak doors closed loudly behind her and ended the only life she had ever known.
Tyres crunched the gravel as a car pulled to a stop in front of her, Dawson had insisted on driving her to the station. Her small brown suitcase was tossed into the boot of the car and she climbed into the front passenger seat, purposely keeping her eyes downcast as they drove away, to stop herself from looking back at the house as it disappeared into the distance behind them. Katy knew she didn’t belong here anymore but this place had been her home all her life and leaving it and her beloved mother behind was heart breaking. She clutched tightly to an envelope in her gloved hands and tried, with all her might, to do as her mother had asked of her in the letter, that she be the very bravest she could ever be and move on to her new life without looking back. But Katy was only fifteen years old and she was grieving for the loss of her mother. The thought of never seeing her again, or the others, terrified her.
Dawson could see the pain she was suffering. He patted her gently on the knee, in feeble reassurance, and fought back his own tears as he tried to concentrate his attention on the road ahead.
From out of sight, four people secretly watched her go. “No teary goodbyes at the door”, Katy had insisted as she kissed them for the last time, that morning “I’ll not cope if you all start weeping and wailing after me so promise me there’ll be no fuss. I’ll just go, as if I’m going out for the day”. They all agreed but in the end, they couldn’t just let her leave like that, so they’d waved her off from out of sight and when the dust trail from the car had finally disappeared down the lane, the four servants returned solemnly to the kitchen, each of them quietly grieving for the loss of a third member of their household within just a few weeks. First it had been the Master, then Polly, and now Katy was gone, too. It had all happened so quickly.
With heavy hearts, they returned to their work, Mable went back to her place at the oven, Alice returned to her darning, Peter to the shoe-polishing and William headed upstairs to tend to the Mistress. The thought of never seeing Katy again was too much for Alice and she burst into quiet sobs as she tried to thread her needle. They’d all been in Ashdowne Manor together for so long that they were like family to one another, and a happy little family, at that.
Alice was the last to join the household when she’d come into service seven years before at the age of fourteen. Peter had joined the year before her, after Alfred, the previous footman, had died. Katy and Polly had been there for fifteen years, since the day Polly had arrived with Katy just a babe in arms, and Dawson had tended the gardens there for over twenty years. As for Mable and William, well, they must have been there for a hundred years or more between them.
Alice sighed as she picked up her needle and watched as William, still working at 70 years old, slowly started to climb the stairs “You ought to leave the old Bag to rot” she mumbled under her breath. Despite his age, William’s hearing hadn’t gone.
“She’s still your Mistress” he scolded, though secretly he completely agreed with her. Once he was out of sight, Mable joined in. How could the wicked old Bag do that to Katy? This was her home. She’d never known anywhere else her whole life. How could she throw her out, she was hardly more than a child, and so soon after her mother’s passing?
Peter, rubbed heavily at the shoe in his hand. He had his own opinion. It was because of the Master, he reminded them. They all knew the rumours, that Katy was the result of an affair between Polly and the Master and even though he’d denied it, he could understand how the Mistress must have suffered them being right under her nose all these years.
“I don’t believe it, Peter, I don’t” argued Alice, “but even if it was true, how could she do that to her so soon. The Master must be turning in his grave. When he found out Polly was going to die, he promised her that there would always be a place here for Katy.”
“I know, Alice, but then he was killed, wasn’t he, and everything changed. Sad day that” she declared, “sad day for everyone but mostly for poor Katy. He was like a father to her, the way he paid for her education and everything”.
They all agreed that paying for the child of a servant to go to school had looked a bit suspicious but they all knew Polly, and none of them could believe the rumour, though they had to admit that it could be argued that there was an uncanny likeness between the Master and Katy. Sometimes, there was just a little something about the way they both smiled.
“Rubbish, it’s all tosh and nonsense and I won’t hear any more of it”, William had returned to the kitchen “now just get on with your work”. He knew they were all grieving for the loss of two of their own, but there was nothing that could be done and they all needed to trust that the girl would be fine.
Mable wiped a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand and stabbed heavily at the vegetables she was preparing. Peter watched, knowing only too well what was going through her mind. He felt the same bitterness himself.
The bell at the top of the wall rang and William headed back for the stairs. Alice watched him with concern. “She’ll be the death of him, too, having him running up and down those damned stairs after her all day. Is it not enough that she has seen off the Master, Polly and Katy, already?”
“Shush now, child” said Mable “We all miss them but William is right, there is nothing we can do so we might as well just get on with it”. She lifted a ladle and stirred the steaming contents of a large pot on the top of the oven.
Alice burst into tears again “but I can’t Mable, truly I can’t. When I think about poor little Katy, tossed out without a second thought, like that”.
At the sight of Alice in such a state, Mable dropped the ladle onto the worktop and dashed to her side. “Come now, don’t be teary, my lovely.” She wiped the girls face with her pinny and brought her a drink of cold water. She looked to Peter with a face full of anger “Oh my heart bleeds when I think what poor Polly would have thought had she known. I just thank God she wasn’t here to see it”
“But that’s just it, Mable” Alice cried “she did know”. To everyone’s horror, Alice told them how she had overheard the Mistress telling Polly that she’d never wanted them in the house and now that the Master was gone, she wanted them gone, too, and though death would be taking Polly, she wanted her to die knowing that her bastard child would be thrown out on the streets the moment she was buried in the ground.
Polly had been left bereft, worrying so badly for what would become of her daughter when she was gone, she had sobbed and sobbed in her bed that night. Alice had heard her cries and gone in to try to settle her down. She’d promised her that she would look after Katy, she didn’t know how but at least it settled Polly to know that someone knew what the Mistress had said and had promised to help Katy when the time came. Alice resolved to sit with Polly until her sobs subsided, even if it took all night.
As she began to settle, that night, Polly had asked Alice to help her with something “You can write, can’t you Alice?” she asked, weakly, “I need you to write a message to Katy for me.” Alice left the room and returned a moment later with a note pad and pencil and set about writing a letter from Polly to her daughter. The letter told Katy she was sorry she had to leave her and how much she loved her and that it was inevitable that her life would change but she must be the very bravest she had ever been and face the changes head-on. It was signed off with two kisses, one for love and one for luck. When the letter was done and folded Polly asked Alice to retrieve a box from the bottom of her wardrobe. From the box, she lifted an old faded envelope and asked Alice to give the letter and the envelope to Katy after she was buried. “Make sure you give it to her and no one else, mind. It’s very important. Can you do that for me, Alice?” Alice nodded. Polly gripped her hand tightly “I need you to promise me that you will not tell anyone about it. Promise me, Alice”. Alice took the envelope from Polly and promised her faithfully that she would do exactly as she asked. Reassured, Polly closed her eyes and eventually drifted off to sleep.
Alice went immediately to William and told him about the Mistress’s cruel threats to Polly, but he’d refused to believe it and had told her off, good and proper, warning her that if she repeat such nonsense to anyone she would be the one losing her job. William was horrified at Alice for making up such ridiculous claims, the Mistress would never do such a thing, she loved the girl, he was sure of it. Regardless of what she thought she’d heard, she would see, the Mistress would take Katy under her wing and support her through her grief.
Alice thought about it, she knew what she’d heard and she knew how upset Polly had been, but maybe William was right and when the time comes the Mistress will be comforting and forget about her wicked threats.
It was only days later that Polly had finally passed away and only a few more days after that until she was laid to rest in the village church yard. When they all returned to the house after the funeral, Katy had gone quietly to her room. Alice followed her upstairs, she had remembered her promise to Polly. She went directly to her own room and lifted the old letter from the drawer, where it was hidden beneath her nightgowns. She sat for a while thinking how she could explain to Katy how she had ended up with the letter. Better not to tell her the truth, she thought. She left her room and headed along the hallway towards Katy’s room. As she approached it, the door opened and the Mistress came out and closed the door behind her. The grim look of evil satisfaction on her face made Alice’s heart sink. She feared she knew what had just happened. She dashed to Katy’s room and flung open the door. Katy was sat still and silent by her window. As Alice walked in she looked up through teary and confused eyes.
“The Mistress has just told me I have to leave in the morning and never come back” Katy whispered in disbelief. “I don’t understand, Alice. The Master said this was my home. He said I wasn’t to worry but she has just told me I must go. No reason. I just have to go. Oh, what am I to do?”
Alice crossed the room and knelt by her friend. She took her hand, turned it palm upwards and placed the envelope flatly onto it. Katy looked down, still confused. “Your Mum made me promise to give you this after she had gone” she explained, “I don’t know what’s inside but it was very important to your Mum that I gave it to you directly and told no one else about it”.
Katy took the envelope and slowly opened it. One final message from her mother and another old envelope within. She started to read, Alice discreetly backed out of the room, quietly closed the door and made a dash for the kitchen to let everyone know what had happened.
“The evil cow, she’s only gone and done it”. The others had no idea what Alice was talking about. “The Mistress” she explained “she’s told Katy that she has to leave, in the morning. She said she has to go and she doesn’t care where”.
The reaction that rallied around the kitchen was one of pure shock. William came in to find out what all the fuss was about. Moments later, the Mistress strode into the kitchen and coldly announced to the staff the news they had just heard. Mable dropped into a seat fearing she’d fall to the floor. William raced out after the Mistress as she left, pleading with her to change her mind.
“I’m sorry, William, but I will not be swayed on this. There are things you do not know and I have no wish to share them with you. The girl must be gone by luncheon tomorrow and that is final”.
The staff were horrified. Mable was frantic with worry for Katy, she was panicking for the child, unable to catch her breath. Alice told them about the letter and shortly afterwards Katy came down to the kitchen and explained what had happened. She hugged the letter from her mother, to her chest and told the others about the old envelope and how it contained a note from her mother’s former Mistress promising to help if either of them were ever in need. All she had to do was take the note with her and present herself to a lady called Tiggy at Penderly Castle in Kent. Bravely, she tried to reassure everyone that she was going to be fine but mostly, inside, she was trying to reassure herself of the same thing.
And so, she had gone. Dawson was driving her to the station and she was taking the 11 o’clock train to London. And soon after, they had all returned to their jobs, aghast at what had transpired over the past couple of weeks. If only the Master had not been killed in that shooting accident. He would never have allowed this to happen. But what was there to do about it? They had no power to do anything. It was all they could do to keep their own jobs.
A while later, after they’d all settled back into their work, Peter raised the subject of the rumours again.
“Do you think it’s true?” he asked Alice. “It does seem a bit funny, like, when you think about it. Polly arrives here with a new baby in her arms and, I heard, it was news to the Mistress. And then with the Master paying for her schooling and clothes and stuff, well, you can see how people might wonder, like.”
Mable butted in, reminding the youngsters of their place and telling them whether it was true or not, it was none of their business, but that said, she wanted to remind them of Polly’s side of the story. She had always sworn that she was left with the baby after her sister died in childbirth and she had to move jobs, she couldn’t stay in her last post because her old Master was a famous politician and they were always travelling all over the world. She tried to change the subject and lighten the mood a little. “She saw some wonderful places, you know, our Polly did”. Mable went on to tell them all the stories Polly used to recount about the many long years she had worked for Lady Penderly and how they’d visited every corner of the world and seen just about everything – from the Taj Mahal to the Great Wall of China and that big White House place in America. She paused her stirring, deep in thought and a deep sadness washed over her as she remembered her dear friend Polly who, if what Alice said was right, was sadly so unsettled when she died. And all because of that wicked old woman who lived upstairs. But even if she did think that, she couldn’t say it out loud because William might hear her and that would never do.
As the sun began to set that evening, Katy arrived at Penderly Castle. She made her way to the servant’s entrance and knocked on the door. A portly man in his sixties answered and looked down at her curiously.
“I’m here to see Tiggy” she told him. “Tiggy? Goodness me, nobody’s called her by that name for many a long year. And who might I ask, wants to see her?”
“My name is Katy O’Brady” The man stroked his chin as he studied the young girl. “O’Brady, you say?”
“Yes, Katy O’Brady”
“And is ‘Tiggy’ expecting you?”
“I suppose so, she just didn’t know when I was coming”
He continued to study her, looking deeply into her eyes and at the contours of her face.
“I suppose you’d better come in then” he said and let her into the warm kitchen.
The cook made her a cup of tea as she waited for Tiggy. Eventually, a middle-aged woman came into the kitchen and as her eyes fell upon Katy she stopped dead still.
“Oh my Lord. Katy O’Brady, you say. I’m not sure I know who you are or what you want. The only O’Brady I ever knew was a girl called Polly O’Brady but she left a very long time ago”
“I know” she replied “she was my mother”.
The name was a stark reminder of her grief and Katy’s eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, now, now, there’s no need to cry. Well, what can I do for you?”
Katy handed the old letter to Tiggy. She opened it and read it. She looked up at Katy then read it again. She stood for a moment, in thought. Then handed the letter back to Katy.
“I’m sorry, you’ve had a wasted journey, I’m afraid. There’s nothing here for you”
Katy’s heart sank.
“But the letter! Lady Penderly! She said if we ever needed anything!”
Tiggy turned away.
“Well, she says that out of politeness. But dear me, we can’t just take in every waif and stray that crosses the door, now, can we?” “See that she leaves quietly Jameson”.
With that, Tiggy left the room.
Katy didn’t know what to do next. She headed for the door and reached for the handle when Jameson stopped her. Again, he was looking at her closely. “Wait a minute, Miss.” Jameson looked about him and seeing that the coast was clear, he pulled Katy into a small ante room at the back of the kitchen.
“Now look here, I can’t say I’m happy about a young girl, like you, being sent out into the middle of nowhere at this time of night. So I’m going to find somewhere to put you up for the night and we’ll have a think about what to do with you, in the morning. Just keep your head down and don’t let ‘Tiggy’ know that you are still here”.
Katy sighed with relief. “Thank you, Jameson, you are very kind”.
Jameson checked about again and when he was sure there was no one around, he led Katy to the back of the house and up three flights of stairs. He opened an old brown door, that had flaking paint and stepped into what was clearly an old attic room. It had a clutter of old, unused, junk in it, trunks of old clothes, lots of old pictures frames resting on the floor, pictures turned to the walls. There was a moth bitten curtain at a small cob-web covered window and a small bed in the corner with an old thick mattress tossed on top of it.
“I’ll bring you up some bedding and some towels. There’s a pitcher and bowl on the dresser in the corner, I’ll fetch you some water. There is a pee pot under the bed, if you need it. I’m sorry, I can’t offer you anything better tonight but we just need to keep you out of Mrs Carter’s way for now.
A short while later, the bed was made and Katy had fresh water and towels on the dresser.
She opened her suitcase, picked a small picture frame from amongst her clothes and placed it lovingly on the small table beside her bed. A drawing of her mother smiled out of the frame at her. Katy’s heart hurt at the sight of her mother’s face. She pulled back the bed sheets and climbed in. It had been a very long day and she was ready to close her eyes.
The next morning she was wakened by the call of a cockerel in the distance. She woke from her sleep to the dreadful realisation that her nightmare was real. Her mother was really dead, she had really been thrown out of her home and she was here, in this awful attic, hiding from a cold and heartless woman, who she had hoped would be her saviour. Katy laid contemplating her life. She was on her own now. She had to be strong, she had no choice. She rose from her bed, dressed herself for the day, brushed her hair and sat back down, waiting for Jameson to arrive, to tell her what to do. She waited and waited and waited. The sun rose in the east and was climbing towards the mid-day but still there was no sign of Jameson. Katy’s stomach rumbled. She crossed to the dresser and took a drink of water from the pitcher. How long would she have to wait? She had no idea.
To relieve her boredom she started to look through the junk in the room. She lifted a picture away from a box she wanted to look in and rested it carefully against a broken chair. She turned it around and was completely taken aback by the portrait in the picture.
The portrait looked like an old painting of herself.