Authors: Margaret Muir
THROUGH GLASS EYES
Copyright © Margaret Muir 2012
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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Heaton Hall, North Yorkshire – 1896
‘Yes, Mrs Gresham?’
‘Your shoe is still squeaking! Didn’t I tell you about that yesterday? And the day before?’
Lucy Oldfield nodded resentfully. ‘I tried to fix it, honest I did. I tried whale oil like you said, but it didn’t work.’
‘Then I suggest you wear another pair.’
‘But I don’t have another pair, ma’am.’
‘Then you had better do something about it. I will not have you walking these corridors when every step you take sounds as though you are squashing a mouse. We must have quiet in the house! Do you understand?’
As Lucy’s chin dropped, she leaned forward and watched her toes disappear beneath the broad frill of her apron. Why had she listened to her mother and bought the new pair when there was nothing wrong with the old ones? Soft as velvet, they were, and comfortable. And, as she never walked outside in them, except to the pump across the courtyard, it didn’t matter that the soles were thin as parchment. If she’d had any sense she’d have had them re-soled. That would have saved her a few pennies which she could have sent to her mother.
Lucy shook her head. The thought of her mother’s advice aggravated her at times. Always telling her what to do, insisting she knew best, and treating her like she was still a child. Even after six years, her mother’s words rang in her head: ‘Mind you always wear your own boots and bloomers!’ It didn’t matter that Heaton Hall supplied its maids with everything from stockings to caps, and lengths of cloth to make their own under-garments, Lucy’s mother would hear nothing of it. ‘Your own boots and bloomers! No one else’s!’ Being reminded of this and a dozen other things, every year when she went home for her holiday, Lucy soon realized it was easier to bow to her mother’s wishes than remonstrate. If she ever did speak out, she was accused of being ungrateful, told in no uncertain terms, how very fortunate she was to have a good job in a fine house – and was made to feel guilty.
But on the subject of shoes, Lucy knew she should have spoken out. The new ones had been uncomfortable when she first tried them on, but, as always, mother knew best and had insisted they would soften, wear in, mould to her feet. But they never did! The leather was tough, and despite the grease Lucy had rubbed into them, the right shoe still squeaked and the stitching pinched her toes.
Though she loved her mother, Lucy wished she would listen to reason and realize she was no longer fifteen years of age. She hated the new shoes. And what made matters even worse, now Mrs Gresham hated them too.
‘No point feeling sorry for yourself!’ the housekeeper said. ‘You can take that glum expression off your face. You have a lot to be thankful for, girl. Now get downstairs and fetch some hot water. Nurse is waiting.’
Lucy bobbed, turned and tiptoed towards the back stairs which led down to the kitchen. Behind her the sound of Mrs Gresham’s heels echoed from the corridor’s polished boards,
clack, clack, clack, clack
. When the housekeeper reached the main staircase the sound stopped, her footsteps muffled by the
‘Damn!’ Lucy said, as she flopped down at the table.
‘There will be no blaspheming in my kitchen, Lucy Oldfield!’
‘Sorry, Cook, I didn’t mean that to slip out, but it’s Mrs Gresham. She makes me mad complaining all the time about my shoes creaking. I’m sure she thinks I do it deliberately.’
‘She’s got a lot on her plate at the moment,’ said Cook. ‘And it’s the little things that rattle her.’
‘But why pick on me and my shoes? Walk on any of the corridors in this house and the floorboards creak. The stairs creak. The doors creak. In fact the whole damned house creaks. I bet if Mrs Gresham leaned over she would creak too! Mrs High and Mighty, she is!’
Cook thumped her fist on the table. ‘Have you quite finished with your speech-making?’
Unfastening her right shoe, Lucy kicked it under the table. ‘It’s her fault if I fall,’ she mumbled.
Cook wagged her head and pointed to the kettle. ‘You bide your temper, girl. And don’t forget what you came down for.’ Brushing beads of sweat from her forehead, the woman turned to the brace of game sitting head to tail in the baking dish. ‘Think about that poor little mite upstairs,’ she said. ‘God help her! Trouble is, the little lass being ill is getting to all of us. Even down here in the kitchen.’ She glanced across at Lucy. ‘You must feel it. You’re up and down to the red room more than twenty times a day. And Mrs Gresham spends more time in there than anyone. I tell you, it’d wear a body out trying to behave like there’s nothing wrong.’
A blast of hot air hit the woman’s face, as she opened the oven door. ‘There,’ she said, sliding the baking dish onto the top shelf. ‘His lordship is partial to a bit of pheasant and if he don’t start eating soon, he’s in danger of fading away too.’
Lucy trickled the boiling water into a china bowl, added a jug full of cold and tested it on her wrist.
‘Best get up there before they start ringing the bell.’
As Lucy climbed the steps, she was conscious of the odd sounds her feet made with only one shoe on. From the kitchen she heard a bell ring. It had a distinctive sound, different from the others – brighter, clearer, and louder. Lucy didn’t know if that was because it was the smallest bell on the line or because its brass was shiniest, but she knew it was summoning her and that Nurse would probably scold her for taking so long.
‘I’m coming as quick as I can,’ she murmured, balancing the bowl carefully so the water didn’t slop out.
The nursery was at the far end of the long corridor. Lucy knocked on the door and took a deep breath before entering.
How the room had changed since 1890 when she had first arrived at Heaton Hall. How bright it had been in those days with its broad south-facing window - the vibrant velvet curtains and matching strawberry drapes adorning the four-poster bed tied with cords whose silk tassels were formed into tiny balls which hung like bunches of ripe cherries. Everything had glowed with the same succulent shade – cushions, chairs, even the bell pull. It was no surprise to Lucy it had been called the red room before its role was changed to that of the children’s nursery.
That was how she had known it, its door always open, light and sound spilling out into the corridor. Inside, the
walls echoed with the high pitched sounds of children’s voices, the floor littered with toys and pretty children.
But in the last few weeks, since Miss Beatrice had become ill, everything had changed. Now the door was kept closed. The room silent. The toys gone. Even the rocking horse had disappeared. The floor was bare to the boards. Even the carpet had been removed. There were no ornaments on the mantelshelf or dresser. No mirrors or pictures on the walls. The heavy velvet curtains were tightly closed, to block out any evidence of day. From the table, a single lamp flickered, its wick turned down so low any movement of air threatened to snuff it out. The pale light it cast did not penetrate the confines of the big bed, its four turned posts and heavy canopy reflecting only the
darkness of the room’s walnut
‘Set it down there,’ the nurse whispered brusquely, as she twisted the top from a glass jar and sprinkled a generous serving of green crystals into the steaming water.
Although the air hung heavily with the smell of camphor, the pungent odour caught in Lucy’s throat. She coughed.
‘I hope you are not coming down with a cold,’ the housekeeper said disdainfully.
‘No, Mrs Gresham, it’s just the salts. I shouldn’t have breathed them.’ Lucy sniffed and waited. ‘Is there anything else?’
‘Doctor Thornton has been sent for. Make sure Simmonds brings him up as soon as he arrives. And for goodness sake, girl, put both shoes on before you fall and break your neck! I don’t need any more problems!’
Lucy nodded and tiptoed from the room.
Outside, the corridor was cold, the air still, but fresher than in the nursery. Lucy breathed deeply and shivered. She hated the smell of camphor, the smell of salts and above all, the smell that always came with sickness in a house.
A feather duster flicked across the small squares of glass in the bay window.
Lord Farnley stood for a moment looking up at the swinging sign:
Terry’s Toys for the Discerning Child
And beneath it in small gilt letters:
Proprietor – J G Terry Esq.
It was the first time he had visited the shop.
The bell above the door tinkled, but the diminutive lady wielding the duster didn’t turn. ‘Mr Terry will be with you in a minute,’ she piped.
Lord Farnley gazed around. In his opinion the shop was a veritable Aladdin’s cave for any boy or girl, discerning or not. Packed with all manner of playthings, there was barely an inch of spare space for dust to settle on. Even the floor was cluttered. Behind a solid wooden cart, the battlements of a castle rose two feet from the ground, its drawbridge suspended on two lengths of bronze chain, its mesh portcullis raised. A doll’s pram large enough to accommodate an infant stood against the wall, while a hobby horse with plaited mane leaned against it. Taking pride of place on the glass-fronted counter was a doll’s house, its front wall hinged open to reveal a stately interior. All four floors, from basement to attic, were filled with fine furnishing, each piece, standing no more than an inch in height, perfectly crafted. At the other end of the counter a regiment of toy soldiers was assembled in formation, in front, a row of archers kneeling, behind them two lines of infantrymen and, at the rear, mounted cavalry, swords drawn, poised for the charge.
After a few moments, the shopkeeper emerged from the back of the shop blowing his nose loudly. On seeing his customer he stuffed the red handkerchief into his pocket. ‘How can I be of assistance?’
Lord Farnley stumbled over his words. ‘A doll,’ he said. ‘For my daughter.’
‘What sort of doll, sir? Terry’s Toys stocks quite a selection.’
The proprietor was not wrong. Dolls were the predominant items on the shelves. There were dolls of every description: rag, wooden, felt and fashion dolls with heads of various compositions. There were Japanese dolls, leather dolls. Dolls with fixed eyes and feathered eyebrows. Sleeping dolls. Talking dolls. Teddy bears. Golliwogs. Even a doll with a string-pull arm capable of throwing kisses.
Being little more than five feet tall, Mr Terry regarded his customer from over the top of his gold-rimmed spectacles. ‘Might I enquire how old the child is?’
‘She will be eight on her next birthday.’
‘Ah,’ the man said, his face broadening in a smile. ‘Then this will be a birthday present.’
Lord Farnley ignored the comment. ‘I want your very best.’
‘The best doll you have.’
‘Sir, I can boast a small selection of dolls from the finest workshops in France. Bru, Jumeau, Thuillier and Steiner. But I don’t display those particular items on the shelves. Too valuable.’ He paused. ‘If you would excuse me for a moment.’ Without waiting for an answer, he shuffled towards the door and after a whispered word with his wife, the pair scurried into the back room.
Lord Farnley admired the metal soldiers while he waited.
Mrs Terry returned first. After hurriedly clearing the counter, she flicked over it with the feathers. Her husband followed carrying a long box.
‘What I have here,’ he said, as he laid it carefully on the counter, ‘is probably one of the finest fashion dolls in the world. A truly exquisite French Bru doll, from the atelier of Paul Girard. It only arrived last week.’
‘Then I would like to see it.’
The shopkeeper stroked the lid affectionately, before lifting it. Inside, the printed label confirmed the toy’s French origins. Mr Terry appeared nervous, when he carefully peeled back the layers of paper.
Lying on its back, the doll’s eyes were tightly closed. The upper lids, framed beneath feathered eyebrows, were shadowed with a hint of blue. Thick dark lashes rested on delicately blushed cheeks. The round bisque face was full, the mouth, as if preparing to smile or speak, slightly open. The rose coloured lips turned upwards softly at the corners. Beneath the hat, trimmed with feathers, dark locks fell in soft waves. The doll’s expression was wistful and gentle.
‘Real human hair,’ the wife said. ‘And pearls,’ she added, pointing to the tiny ear-rings hanging from the pierced lobes. ‘Perhaps you would like Mr Terry to take it out so you can see it properly.’