As the pony and trap turned to enter the long drive of Beauford Manor, I couldn’t help but catch my breath. Despite the fading afternoon light, I could see the house was exquisite; both beautiful and terrifying in equal measure, with its tall brooding turrets and dark shadowy windows that no doubt hid a multitude of secrets just waiting to be discovered.
To whomsoever may be reading this,
I was nineteen years old when I first entered Beauford Manor and I would be nineteen still when I left for the last time, but I was not the same sheltered, innocent girl that I had been when I arrived; I’d never be that girl again.
My tale is not one that I tell lightly; I have been ridiculed in the past for revealing it, especially as the family involved are so well known in English society and have, as is their right, dismissed what I say as pure folly.
Perhaps, in hindsight, I was wrong to reveal my story publicly, but I was assured that the matter would be handled sensitively, and I only did it because the family dismissed me without a reference, and I therefore knew I would have great trouble finding alternative suitable employment quickly. My family was not a wealthy one; my dear father passed away many years ago and being as yet unmarried, the burden fell to me to try and support my mother as best I could.
I was approached by a man from one of the large daily newspapers who sympathised with my plight, and told me he could pay handsomely in return for printing my story. He assured me of anonymity and that no detail could lead to the identification of the Beauford family or myself, but looking back I was naïve to believe his promises. Once the story was published it became immediately apparent that he had only made only a thinly veiled attempt to disguise those within the story, and I was horrified to discover that even a modestly educated person would be able to identify the family involved.
I tried in vain to keep the publication of those terrible happenings from my mother, but our maid, who was a common sort of gossip, happened to ask her if she had read the story in that day’s paper about the anonymous ‘lady’s companion in haunting drama’.
Of course, my mother knew what had occurred to me at Beauford Manor, as I had confided in her after I had left. I had no choice; for reasons that you will come to understand at the end of my tale. I contemplated telling my mother a falsehood for why I had left Beauford Manor, but in honesty she would have unlikely believed me, and I felt the truth would be the best policy in the end. Therefore, when she heard about the newspaper story, there was little chance for her to think it could be about anyone else but her daughter’s experiences at Beauford Manor.
Now that twenty years have passed since those events I finally feel able to write a frank and full account of its occurrences in my own words, and I hope that any who read my tale may not think badly of me, and perhaps will understand the reasons for my subsequent actions. I can assure you my motives were not to cause the Beauford family any ill will, and I hope that by reading my tale you may consider both sides of it equally before passing any judgement.
As I descended from the trap I noticed the staff lined up to greet me beside the great front entrance, but also something else; an immediate atmosphere of… hostility? Or just indifference? Whichever, I had no chance to notice more as an austere-looking woman was striding towards me with such a fearsome expression on her face I felt myself physically shrink back. As she drew level with me though I swore I saw a flicker of panic flash across her eyes before she regained her previous hard-faced appearance.
‘Miss Ludlow? I am the housekeeper, Mrs Burnett. Welcome to Beauford Manor. I trust you had a pleasant journey.’
I made ready to reply, but Mrs Burnett had already turned away and gestured to one of the footmen to pick up my cases. The young man caught my eye as he straightened up with my bags, but when I smiled and thanked him he looked away quickly.
I took a moment to stand and gaze upwards at the imposing frontage of Beauford Manor, distracted briefly from the matter in hand, until Mrs Burnett restored me to reality.
‘Miss Ludlow; this way please.’
The entrance hall was truly magnificent with its sweeping staircase and gleaming wood panelling that somehow managed to look both old and new at the same time. There was an overwhelming smell of wax which could have been polish or more possibly the candles in their huge floor standing candelabras, as well as silver candlesticks on every surface. I presumed the candelabras to be decorative as I could see electric lighting installed, but I didn’t query it further; I didn’t dare.
‘You’ll be wanting some refreshment,’ she told me, rather than asked. ‘Agnes will show you to your room, then you’re to ring for her when you want to come down.’
Before Mrs Burnett and the other servants had all gone back to their business I stated loudly;
‘I would like to thank you all for my welcome, and tell you how happy I am to be amongst you here at Beauford Manor.’
‘Yes Miss,’ Mrs Burnett stated emotionlessly, and turned to head through a door that I could only suppose led to the servants’ hall.
As Agnes ascended the staircase ahead of me and showed me to my room, I asked her what position she enjoyed in the household.
‘Under housemaid Miss,’ she replied, as she straightened the bedspread.
The room was exquisite; gleaming oak furniture stood proudly, and a beautifully ornate night stand held a Bible and, strangely for a house with electric lighting, candles.
‘Agnes, why are there candles when the house has electricity?’ I asked, curious.
‘It’s for the night-time Miss. The electric is funny at the best of times, but woe betide us if we use it once the family are in bed.’
She turned to leave, bobbing a quick curtsey.
‘Stay Agnes; you may as well wait up here while I quickly freshen up, otherwise you’ll have to climb all these stairs again in a few minutes,’ I offered, smiling.
Agnes seemed to recoil as if I had struck her.
‘Mrs Burnett wouldn’t like that, Miss,’ she said quietly, before scuttling away to descend the staircase.
I dismissed Agnes’ manner as shyness around a new member of the household, and set about taking in my new environment.
My room was large and attractively furnished, without any hint of over-extravagance or vulgarity in the décor. The walls were a powder blue paper with white vertical pin-stripes, and there was a thick pile rug on the floor in an attractive shade of cream that complemented the rest of the room perfectly. There was an ornate chandelier that sparkled every time the daylight caught it, and two shaded sconces on each wall that would ensure no corner of the room would remain in shadow. There was a pair of portraits on the chimney-breast that could well have been ancestors of the present Earl, and an enchanting landscape by the window that was the very view of Beauford I had been presented with as I advanced along the driveway.
Compared to my sparsely furnished top floor room in the modest manor house of my previous employer this room was pure opulence, and I hardly knew how to begin believing it was my new home. I had been truly happy in my last position, but once the young lady I was governess to had gone off to ‘finish’ in Germany there was no need for me to remain in her father’s employ, though there had been mutual sadness at my leaving, I felt.
I freshened quickly and rang the bell for Agnes, as I did not want to keep Mrs Burnett waiting. I honestly felt I would be a little afraid of her for the whole of my time living at Beauford Manor.
As I followed Agnes into the servants’ hall, I noticed a hush descend the room and several gazes that had been trained on me all averted quickly. I took a deep breath and walked into the centre of the room where Mrs Burnett was standing.
‘Miss Ludlow; I see little point in telling you the names of every servant as you won’t stay long-’ a small gasp came from behind me, and Mrs Burnett seemed to briefly castigate herself while throwing a sharp look to whoever had made the noise.
‘What I of course, meant Miss Ludlow,’ she attempted a thin smile, ‘was that you’re not here for long and you’ll never remember everyone’s names; besides, you’ll have little call to deal with most of them anyway. Your place in the household will see you down here fairly infrequently as you’ll take your meals with Lady Sophia in the dining room or upstairs parlour.’
As the Housekeeper paused, it seemed to me, to compose herself, I looked around the room and smiled, but no-one returned my greeting. I wondered why Mrs Burnett’s statement had caused such a reaction; I had only been engaged until September when Lady Sophia would be going to Geneva to ‘finish’, so it was accurate to say I wouldn’t be there long, but three months in fact. However, the terms Mrs Burnett used were a little strange; to say I wouldn’t stay long was not the same as I wouldn’t be resident long, but I decided not to dwell on small details when there was so much else to learn in such a short time.
‘We are,’ Mrs Burnett continued, ‘an old-fashioned household Miss Ludlow. We observe a lot of the old rules and ways here that are perhaps out of style in the smaller households and the big cities,’ she fixed her gaze on me so sternly that I felt like apologising, but for what, I had no idea; ‘to the extent that we do not indulge in idle gossip,’ her voice began rising at this point, ‘we do not say or do anything that could be misconstrued as disloyal to our ancient and noble family,’ I heard a sniff behind me as if someone had been reduced to tears by Mrs Burnett’s terrifying manner, ‘and, most importantly of all, we occupy our correct place at all times.’
I was at a complete loss as to how to respond to Mrs Burnett’s speech, so I ended up saying nothing, yet I also felt rather annoyed. Had I already given the Housekeeper cause to think I would not occupy my place? Or did she give this address every time a new member of staff arrived? Either way, it quickly became evident that the only way for me to observe Mrs Burnett’s terms was to try and stay out of her way as much as possible.
As I sat in my room later I thought about what Mrs Burnett had said. I appreciated that I perhaps occupied the most difficult place of all in the household; after all, I was neither ‘up nor down,’ as my mother had warned me when I had first told her I’d gained employment as a young lady’s companion.
‘I would strongly advise against it Jane, I really would. You’d do much better to look for employment in a fine hotel or shop rather than be the ‘in-between’ in a household like that. It’s not so bad if you remain in a smaller house but woe betide ever entering a large, grand household in such a position; you’ll be shunned by everyone there, believe me.’
I hadn’t paid much heed to my mother’s words; after all, she had never been in service so how could she know? When she had met my father he was just a poor cleric, although she’d known that one day he would rise to better things. Indeed, my father enjoyed the position of Archdeacon of the diocese before he was prematurely taken by the scarlet fever, aged just forty-three.
I tried to look on the bright side of my mother’s words; I decided that I would be the exception to that out-dated rule and Lady Sophia and I would become more like best friends than companions. Even as I thought it though, I knew I was fooling myself a little. No matter how friendly Lady Sophia and I became, she was the family and I was in the employ of the household, and that meant we could never be close like true friends should be. I resolved however, to be as friendly as I could, and make things as fun and interesting as possible for Lady Sophia when she returned from school, despite what society, and my mother, thought. I also decided that I would try and engage with the servants downstairs a little more and see what they thought about things in general. They seemed a little afraid of Mrs Burnett, and I couldn’t blame them, after all so was I. However, she could not watch them all day every day and I resolved there and then to try and be friends with the servants too, not just Lady Sophia. Feeling better about my position already, I decided to venture once more to the servants’ hall to see if I could be of assistance to Mrs Dawson the cook. After all, in my previous position I had taught the young lady of the house how to make gingerbread, which our maid at home had taught me to make many years before when I was just a small child.
(c) Sarah Butcher, 2015.
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