It was ten o’clock. Could it be Mr. Elliot?
It was long dark by ten o’clock, and the dinner had been eaten, when the knock on the door announced a visitor. In the servants’ room, every one had just sat down to eat the remains of the Elliots’ mutton and potatoes, along with a few side dishes the cook had contrived from the miserly allowance permitted by the mistress.
“Hark!” said Mrs. Mills. “Beasley, get your jacket on and run answer that.” The foot boy took his face out of his plate, and scrambled away.
“Who ever can it be at such an hour,” said the upper housemaid, Sally, eating busily. Mrs. Mills and Harris the butler exchanged knowing looks.
“Looks like you’ve an idea, why don’t you tell us?” asked the under girl, Lily, inquisitively.
“That’ll be enough, curiosity killed the cat, my girl,” replied Mr. Harris, reluctantly pulling on his own jacket and heading for the stairs.
“We aren’t saying because we know, so there’s no need,” said the cook. “But since you’re so interested, impertinent miss, it’s that Mr. Elliot.”
“Oh him,” said Sally, disgusted. “Horrid man.”
“Now watch your tongue, Sally. You might have to eat it up again, if he ever becomes your master.”
“And how would he do that?”
“Never you mind, it might very well happen,” nodded Mrs. Mills significantly.
“What, do you think he’s likely to marry Miss Elliot? Ha, he’ll never. I’ve seen him look at her. He can’t stick her at all.”
“Why, he’s always here, and he talks to her ever so much.”
The butler returned, looking tired. “Yes, it’s Elliot. Drat the man. Now we can’t go to bed until he’s been and gone. And they want tea for him, Mrs. Mills. Sorry, nothing to be done about it.”
“Not your fault,” said the cook, hauling up her considerable girth. “Lily, put on the kettle. I’m thankful we have some of those lemon biscuits left. That wretched man is a right epicure, always having a fancy word to say about every last least thing he eats. And if he says one word too much to Sir Walter, who knows if we’re not all chucked out on our ears.”
The bell from the dining-room was heard.
“What does his nibs want now, I wonder,” muttered the butler, leaving the room again at speed.
“Here, stop a minute. You can take up the tray, and make only one trip of it. Not that they’d think of your convenience.”
The butler left and the others turned glumly to finishing their plates. Sally and Lily were beginning the washing when Mr. Harris returned, looking agitated.
“What’s the matter?” asked the cook.
“The matter,” he said in an exasperated tone, “is that Sir Walter has got a spot on his silk waistcoat!”
Everyone fell silent, impressed by the seriousness of the matter.
“Yes. He only just noticed, it was chicken-grease, and he is in a right taking about it. One ruffle is all folded down, like a rabbit’s ear. That waistcoat will have to be washed to perfection, this very night and no other, and he’s not taking it off for another hour at least. Not much sleep for the likes of us.”
“I’ll do it,” said Lily gamely.
“That’s lovely of you, dear, but no one dare touch such a particular garment but myself,” said Mrs. Mills. “It’s as much as our places are worth.”
“I can’t help thinking,” ventured Sally, “that Mr. Elliot may be a better master, whenever the title does fall to him. I suspect he’s a hard man, but any thing would be better than that fussy old fop.”
“Keep a respectful tongue in your head,” admonished Mrs. Mills, but without conviction.
“Yes, better not to talk of such things, Sally,” added Mr. Harris. “Elliot’s got servants of his own, and patronage of all sorts to attend to; there’s no reason to think he’d keep any of us.”
“Oh, don’t take such a gloomy view,” Mrs. Mills put in. “Likely he’ll marry Miss Elizabeth and she knows the value of servants who know the family’s ways.”
“Tosh,” said Sarah positively. “He’ll never marry her.”
“And how come you to be such an authority on the ways of the gentlefolk, my girl?” asked the butler.
“I know what I know. And what I say is, he’ll marry Mrs. Clay.”
“Mrs. Clay!” the others all gasped together.
“Utter nonsense! Where do you get such terrific ideas? You think too much, Sally, when you ought to be attending to your duties, as I’ve said many a time.”
“Yes, what dubious authority have you for saying such a thing?”
Sally paused for dramatic effect. “I have seen him making love to her,” she announced.
“You never have!”
“I did. I had to go up to the attic to fetch Miss Elliot’s old pelisse, you remember that afternoon when they wanted to go walking, and were waiting for the rain to stop – and Mr. Elliot had excused himself from the tea-table and gone upstairs – and – “
“And what?” her auditors asked breathlessly.
“I saw them. They didn’t see me.”
“Oh, well, what did you see,” said the butler indulgently, “did he kiss her? I can imagine he might do that; fine gentlemen have their little pleasures. Make very sure he doesn’t kiss you.”
“Kissing! Hah! No, sir, she was lying on her back with her skirts up, that’s what I saw!”
“Silence!” The cook slapped the table. “Don’t you ever dare to say such a thing again! You’ll have us all out on the streets, with such talk, do you hear?”
“Yes’m,” said Sarah meekly, lowering her eyes, the picture of innocence.
The bell rang again. Mr. Harris, looking rather shaken, hastened back upstairs.
“It sounds as if the man’s leaving. You girls and Beasely go to bed at once. And no talking, mind. Not a word! I’ll wait for Harris to bring me down Sir Walter’s waistcoat,” ordered Mrs. Mills.
Soon the cook and the butler were alone, while Mrs. Mills worked on the stain, and Harris put the dishes away.
He looked around cautiously. “Do you think it’s true?” he murmured.
“Hush! I fear so. Sally doesn’t make up stories.”
“I know she doesn’t,” he added, and shook his head with foreboding.
Persuasion Special Soap – Vote #2!
Want to win a bar of our special Anne Elliot soap? We’ll be giving away two bars at the end of the month courtesy of Evie Cotton, owner, Shirley’s Handicrafts (US only). See our January 2nd post for more info about this contest and Evie and her soap making business. You can enter to win the soap by using Rafflecopter, which you’ll find included on most days this month with the “Jane in January” logo. Click here to go to one of the dates, log in, and then click that you commented.
Last week, we voted on which character from Persuasion the soap would be named for. Readers chose Anne Elliot. Today, we’re asking you to help choose the type of soap. The poll will be open until midnight on the 13th. Results will be displayed here after that and also posted on the Austen Variations Facebook page.
Here are your options for the base of Anne’s soap:
1. Shea butter – soft, highly moisturizing
2. Goat’s milk – vitamin A and alpha-hydroxy acids which gently exfoliate
3. Olive oil and Aloe – hyper moisturizing, rich in anti-oxidants and contributes to smoother skin with better elasticity (in other words, wrinkle reduction)
4. A combination of #1 and #3 (shea butter, olive oil and aloe)
5. A combination of #2 and #3 (goat’s milk, olive oil and aloe)