Copyright ©2017 Camille Oster
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the work of the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Heels clicking in rhythmic percussion, Dory ran along one of the platforms of Victoria Station, foreseeing the gaps between moving people as she made her way out. Gripping her suitcase firmly, she cursed the cool May wind that tugged on her hair and chilled her legs. It was just about summer. Why was it still so cold?
Grabbing the lapels of her coat, she made her way out onto the streets of Westminster. The walk to Euston would take some time and she couldn't afford to miss her train. Aunt Gladys would not be happy if she arrived late. The call she'd received had conveyed clear desperation. Her help was urgently needed at Wallisford Hall.
Green Park and Pall Mall resembled a construction zone ahead of the new king's coronation. Seating and stands were being assembled, and flags hung. People milled, watching the spectacle before the actual procession. Dory didn't have time to watch any of it.
Checking her watch, she winced. It was a rush to make the twelve-thirty train north. Aunt Gladys’ face would crumble in disappointment if she didn’t come on the expected train, although Dory didn't entirely understand the reason for the rush. Something about being ludicrously short-staffed for a Coronation Ball.
Dodging buses and motor cars, she weaved through Piccadilly and up along Regent Street. Beautiful frocks lined the shop windows. How she wished she could spend some moments perusing the windows, but it wasn't an option. So rarely did she get a chance to spend time in London, and today, it would simply pass by as she ran from one train station to another.
Going to Quainton to help Aunt Gladys would also make her miss the street party they had planned in Swanley. They had been preparing a whole month for it, and then this call had come—Gladys begging her to come. Mother would not hear a word otherwise, so off Dory went first thing this morning, with barely enough time to even consider that she was packing up and moving. This was the first time Dory left home and it was a shame everything was in such a rush. Maybe not a shame. This way, she didn’t have to think about what a momentous change this was. She was growing up—officially leaving her childhood home. Dory didn’t have time for tears or worry.
There was probably a more direct route to get there from Piccadilly to Euston, but she only knew the main streets, and could ill afford to get lost. Regent Street led all the way up Euston Road, but there wasn’t a single blasted underground station she passed along the way that went to Euston.
People were preparing in the streets here as well, a celebratory mood having settled over the whole country—sponges being baked, sausage rolls, drizzle cake. All that work she had put in at home and she wouldn't partake in any of it.
Her heart beating, her heels clacked down the pavement, which became more navigable once she had passed Oxford Street, finally running past the gorgeous, uniform and white houses of Park Crescent. The minutes of her wristwatch kept ticking by. The game was not up, however. There was still time, but not if she dawdled.
The red brick of the University College Hospital came into view and she knew she was getting close—just a little further and across the road. Euston Station.
Running across the pedestrian crossway, she passed an Indian fellow with a turban. It wasn't every day one saw a turban back in Swanley, she thought, heaving her bag which only seemed to grow heavier. By the time she got to the ticket office, she was so winded she could hardly get the words out. "Quainton Station, please."
"One pound, five shillings," the man said behind the brass bars of the ticket office, a small, green cap on his head.
"Alright," Dory said, taking out her purse and pulling out a crumpled pound note, and fished for the elusive shilling coins. People were gathering in the line behind her as she finally handed them over. The ticket slid to her and she took it.
Everything was fine. She had a ticket and the train wasn't here yet. Still, it would be coming any moment, and it didn't take long until she heard the steam whistle of an incoming train. The concourse was long and brightly lit from the steel and glass roof over the station. Wasn't it marvelous—such a wonderful structure. It still flabbergasted her how large the London train stations were. Everything in London was on a much larger scale than anything back in Swanley.
By the time she reached the right platform, the train was there with the post compartment open, where heavy satchels were carried out onto large four-wheeled carts. The postmen were still laboring so there had to be a little time before the train left.
Taking a moment, she stilled and tried to recover her breath. Her hair had to be a mess from all that running, but that couldn’t be helped. She was here; she was on time. All the rushing had been worth it. There would be no awkward phone call to her aunt saying she had missed the train.
After the disappointing end to her last employment at the Swanley Insurance Office, she couldn't bear to dishearten her family with yet another failed employment attempt. One simple spill had proved unforgivable, but then it had been tea onto the lap of one of the company executives visiting from London, who had received burns severe enough to require a trip to the hospital. No, that had not ended well. She had been dismissed the next day.
A quick look down her legs, she assured herself that her stockings had survived the ordeal of getting here and she couldn't see any runs. All in all, the day was not turning into a disaster.
The postmen were just about finished, so it was time for her to find her seat. Car C her ticket said and as they were lettered in sequence, it wasn’t difficult to find the right one. She passed by the fine car with the velvet seats to her second-class car, which had more modest green leather seats and scratched wood panels. The floor had wooden slats along it and she had to watch her heels so she didn’t topple.
In her compartment were an elderly couple, the woman in a heavy, dark coat and the man in a beige one. Neither had taken theirs off, obviously feeling the cold on this wintery spring day.
"Some weather we're having," Dory said brightly as she entered.
The woman shuddered. "One gets so tired of winter. It never seems to end."
"I'm Dorothy Sparks," she said after putting her suitcase on the netting above her seat and holding her hand out to the elderly couple. "It seems we will be companions for this journey."
They both shook her hand and she seated herself. "Mr. and Mrs. Albert and Flora Clover. Would you like some tea? The thermos is still warm."
"I would love some. Hadn't a moment to refresh myself running here. I had to rush from Victoria Station. I came from Swanley, you see." Pulling out her compact, Dory checked the harm to her blond hair and lipstick. Nothing outright embarrassing, so Dory snapped the compact shut and let it drop into her handbag.
"Yes, we passed there once,” Mr. Clover said. “Nice little town. We drove down to the continent. Didn't stop."
"Never been to the continent. I must have been marvelous."
"Oh yes. Strange food, though," Flora pointed out with a serious expression.
"You can't be heading home if you're on this train. This one is going north. Norwest, actually." There was a moment of concern on the man's face, worried that she had gotten herself onto the wrong train.
"I am going to Quainton. Wallisford Hall. I am to be employed there."
Albert looked mollified. "The Fellingworths live there, I believe."
"Oh, you know them?"
"Well, we know of them," Flora responded. "Not really the type to mix, if you know what I mean, or so I have heard." She poured some tea into a small paper cup and handed it to Dory.
"Good land for hunting," Albert said. "Both forest and parkland."
Flora shoved his arm as if he was being silly. "Fairly certain Dorothy here doesn't care a whit about hunting."
The sentiment seemed to surprise Albert, but he didn't say anything.
Dory finished the cup, being more parched than she’d realized. "My aunt works there as the cook and they are short-staffed at the moment. I’ve had to drop everything and get on the next train. With the coronation coming up… "
"Oh, the coronation. So lovely. They are a lovely family, stable after all that hoohaa about that woman. What was her name?"
"To give up a kingship for a divorcee, and an American… " Flora drifted off with a look of consternation.
"One cannot account for love," Dory said, who had always thought it was awfully romantic. In truth, she wouldn't have minded an American divorcee for a queen, but others found her marital status objectionable. Or even the fact that she was foreign. And Edward was so handsome and Mrs. Simpson divinely smart in her excellent clothes. They would have made a marvelous king and queen. Maybe it was a little more that they broke rules and traditions that Dory admired so much. But not everyone agreed.
It started raining as they left the outskirts of London, streaks of wetness smeared diagonally across the window, which was fogging with the occupants’ warmth. It certainly was a dismal day for being May. Hopefully, the king would have better weather tomorrow.
With a sigh, Dory stared out the window, wondering what she was heading off to. She hadn't had time to get used to the idea that she was leaving home. Technically, she was going to live with her aunt, so it was an intermediary step, perhaps. Remembering her hat still on her head, she pulled the pin out and placed it on the empty seat next to her, checking her hair underneath was still relatively tidy.
The Quainton train station was a small, simple brick building with a parapet painted white and green. Someone had hung strings of union jacks along the edge of it, which were soaked in the rain that hadn't appeased throughout the journey.
With a loud whistle, the train moved with great, heaving chugs of the engine, the steam billowing. Mr. and Mrs. Clover waved through the still foggy window and Dory waved back. The wind was cold out here, the train station exposed to the flat countryside around them. In fact, at first glance, there didn't appear to be a village, only fields, but she must be facing the wrong direction.
Dory didn't know which way to go. Only one other person had gotten off here and she followed him, hoping he knew where he was going. The station building led through to an entrance leading to a street and she followed her fellow passenger out. A few buildings ran along the street, but she didn't know how close she was to the main street, or if this was the entirety of the village. An old green lorry with a large grill stood waiting, the wipers trying to deter the rain.
"Miss Sparks?" a young man said, popping his head out of the driver's side.
"In you get. Quick, quick."
Dory ran to the passenger side and got into the door being pushed open from the inside. The man took her suitcase and put in behind the seat. It wasn't a large compartment, so she sat close to the man who quickly ground the gears into first. "I'm Larry," he said. "One of the gardeners. Mrs. Moor asked me to come fetch you. You're her niece, I understand."
He seemed to watch her for a moment as he pulled out on the road, the engine whirring. "Welcome to Wallisford Hall."
"Thank you, Larry. That is very kind." They drove out of town and down tight country lanes. Wallisford Hall seemed about ten miles from Quainton. "Much to do in Quainton?" she asked.
"There's a pub. There's a windmill."
"Excellent," she said, barely hiding her disappointment.
"Course, there's a picture theater and shops in Aylesbury. Got just about anything you need there. There's a bus that goes every morning and evening if you like." That did sound promising. "I sometimes go myself on a day off. If you wish to go to the pictures, I'd be happy to take you."
"That is a very generous offer. Not sure what my schedule will be like so can't make any such plans just now." And she certainly wasn't going to be stepping out with some young man a moment after meeting him.
Wallisford Hall was grand, bigger than anything she had ever seen. Brick with great, straight towers at each side and large windows throughout the facade, which looked almost a little Elizabethan. There was a bell at the center and the Hall itself had four stories including the towers. It was the grandest house she had ever seen, let alone been to. She couldn't stop staring as Larry pulled the lorry in by one of the adjoining buildings.
"Wallisford Hall is a working farm, of course," he said. "Extensive lands."
"So I’ve heard. Parkland and forest," Dory said absently.
"That's right," a pleased Larry said, shutting the lorry door with force. "I'll take you to the kitchen entrance. It goes down to the basement where the kitchen and all the facilities are." He led her around the side of the building to a set of stairs which ended by a glossy black door with glass and a brass handle. This was her new home and her new employment. Heat met her as she walked in.
"Dory," Gladys called, coming out of a room. "You made it." Gladys came forward and enveloped her in an embrace. She smelled like butter and flour, but then Gladys always did.
"Aunt Gladys, it's been ages. Well, since New Years. So this is Wallisford Hall. It is nothing like I imagined."
"Oh? How did you imagine it?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe a little more gray and stone."
"Like a castle?"
Dory felt ashamed for a moment. Why would she have assumed that? It seemed ridiculous now.
"Now, let me introduce you to Mrs. Parsons, the housekeeper. She is actually the one employing you. I hope your journey went well."
"Nothing to complain about. Met a lovely couple who plied me with tea." They walked down a hall built with white tile and stucco walls. Everything was bright and clean, much more than she'd expect in a basement. To her surprise, she saw what looked like a policeman in one of the rooms as they passed. How strange.
"Mrs. Parsons," Gladys said once they reached a small room with a desk, making up a kind of office. A woman with faded brown hair looked up, her face lined with age and maybe even disapproval.
"Dory Sparks." Shifting her suitcase to her left hand, Dory held out her right.
"Dorothy," Gladys corrected.
"Miss Sparks. We are so pleased you could come on such short notice. I understand you have little experience."
"Well, I've done my fair share of cleaning and bedmaking."
Mrs. Parsons looked unimpressed. "Being a maid in a fine country house takes more than 'a bit of cleaning.' You will have to have impeccable attention to detail, show the utmost respect and also be unimposing. Do you think you can do that?"
"I believe I can manage."
"Dory performed very well at school. Finished all the way through," Gladys added as if she was trying to sell Dory's potential. Dory hadn't realized she'd come all this way simply for an interview. Surely that could have been managed over the telephone. It would be dreadful if she had to make her way home again—and costly.
"I will keep an eye on you and give you direction," Mrs. Parsons said as she rose from her desk and checked the small watch pinned to the lapel of her jacket like nurses have. "For now, perhaps you best settle in your room and then we'll talk about your duties." The dismissing nod was clear.
"Mrs. Parsons runs most of the staff and duties, except the family and the gardens. Mr. Holmes, the butler, takes charge of those. In fact, you should not engage with either unless, of course, one of the family members specifically asks you for something. Do not speak unless you are spoken to, and also do not look people in the eye as they pass. You stand back and wait for them to pass. Understood?"
"Uh huh." Dory was ashamed to say that she was only half listening. There was so much else to pay attention to. Everything here was new, and she desperately wanted to confirm whether it had been a policeman she’d seen in the servants' area of Wallisford Hall.
They walked past the same door and indeed, there was a blue uniformed man scribbling in a small notebook. His policeman's hat was tucked under his arm as he wrote.
"Is that a policeman?" Dory asked, knowing full well it was.
"Yes, nasty business. There was an incident and they are investigating."
"Oh, that's awful. I hope no one was hurt."
"Killed, actually. Your predecessor, Nora Sands. Poor little pet." The concern was evident on Gladys' face as she distractedly wrung her hands.
"You didn't tell me this job was hazardous."
"Being a maid rarely is, but Nora always seemed to attract trouble. She certainly did in the end." Gladys walked ahead to a staircase, obviously unwilling to speak about this subject further. "I'll take you to your room. Can you manage the suitcase or should I get one of the boys to help you?"
"I can manage," Dory said, making her way up the twisting staircase that spun around and around, taking them high up into the house. Probably the fourth floor, which effectively was five floors up, emerging to what was clearly the servants' quarters.
"You have your own room. Not every house has that. Quite a few require the maids to share. Clara and Mavis, the other two maids also have rooms here. I, however, live downstairs, along with Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Parsons, which is a blessing because I don’t think my knees could handle all these stairs. I'm no spring chicken anymore."
"Gladys, you are as young as the day you left home."
"You always were a sweet girl. A bit absent-minded sometimes, but sweet. Now unpack and then return to Mrs. Parsons, who will give you your duties."
"Of course, Aunt," Dory said and placed her suitcase on the small bed, glad to finally be relieved of the burden. Her shoulder ached and so did her feet. Gladys left Dory to familiarize herself with her new lodgings. The walls had pink paper and there was a small window that could be opened to let in some air. Once summer was here, Dory could well imagine this room could be stifling. Taking off her shoes, she stretched her aching arches, the bare floorboards cool on her sore feet. But the room was clean and there looked to be fresh linen on the bed.
Suddenly, it occurred to her that this could well be that girl's room—the unfortunate one who had been killed. Poor girl. Her effects must have been packed up and sent off to her family. Although the fact that there was a policeman downstairs investigating suggested that there must have been more to this than a simple accident. Gladys hadn't mentioned any of this on the phone, but it was obviously the reason they suddenly needed a new maid. Poor girl.
The reason for the rush in getting a new maid was made clear. There was to be a ball for the coronation and house guests remaining for a few days after. The next morning was a rush of activity. Seemingly all the bedrooms in the house needing airing and dusting, and clean linen put on every bed. Dory didn't have a moment to herself from when she woke at dawn. She missed entirely the actual coronation—too much to do to sit by the wireless and listen to what was happening at Westminster Abbey.
Not knowing where things were was her biggest headache and she often had to run and find one of the other maids to tell her where to find soaps, towels, or cleaning products. By the time she was done with her pressing duties, her hands were red and streaked with black from the coal and wood she’d brought up after everything else was done.
"The family will be arriving soon," Mrs. Parsons said, appearing on the family floor to inspect their work, seemingly going over every detail. She corrected a few corners of the bed and then sighed. "It will do. Take yourself downstairs to help Mr. Holmes prepare for supper."
Behind the closed door of the large and fine dining room, they polished and laid out the table with fine china and silver for supper.
"Traffic was hell," a man said outside. His accent had that bored nasal quality of someone who likely lived in this house, a breed Dory knew little about. Mr. Holmes walked out to greet whoever it was and Dory had the chance to briefly see a young man with wheat blond hair. Handsome and dressed in a finely tailored suit. "Is Mother back yet?"
"Not as of yet," Mr. Holmes responded.
"Good. I have a smashing headache. I think I will take a kip before the festivities start."
The door closed and Dory could only hear mumbling.
"Vivian Fellingworth," Clara said quietly. "The youngest son. Trouble since the day he was born, that one."
"How many children are there?" If he was the youngest, then there were naturally other children. By the look of him, he was well into his twenties, so there weren't any actual children in the house.
"Three, two boys, Cedric and Vivian, and then Livinia. Vivian and Livinia are twins, but Vivian is still seen as the youngest."
"Then there is, of course, Lord and Lady Wallisford. They are all coming back from the coronation. They were there in Westminster Abbey, I understand. And the guests." Clara rambled off names Dory didn't know, all sounding very aristocratic. "They are staying, but heaps more are coming for the ball tomorrow night."
"I've never actually seen a ball."
"Well, you won't be seeing this one either," Clara said tartly. "You're here to work, not daydream about balls."
That was a rather unjust accusation, Dory felt. She'd only mentioned she'd never seen a ball. It was a far leap to assume she would be daydreaming about it. "And what of Nora?"
"What of her?" Clara said, her mouth going tight.
"No one has told me what happened to her."
Clara's eyes searched around to see if they were observed. "Killed," she said in barely more than a whisper. "Murdered."
Dory gasped, even though she had been expecting something of the sort.
"Stabbed right in the main foyer. They found her at the bottom of the stairs."
"In the family area?"
"Yes. There was blood in a big pool on the floor. Mr. Holmes cleaned it himself after the police came and took her away. Normally, he makes us clean, but I think he felt it would be too horrible for us. Too right there."
"That is kind, I suppose."
"But what was she doing there? She could have been cleaning and polishing, I suppose, but Mrs. Parsons hadn't given her a specific task to. From what the police said, she was… died in the afternoon. She wasn't far from the main door. Anyone could have come in and… " She drifted off with a worried look on her face. "Anyone. Hopefully, they're long gone by now. I'm scared of going outside, I don't mind saying."
"There are policemen here," Dory pointed out. "I'm sure no one would slip past their notice."
"Of course," Clara nodded. "I think we're done here. We should go downstairs. Cook will need some help."
Dory hadn't seen Gladys all day, so it would be nice to see her. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite time to put their feet up because they were required to help Mr. Holmes serve supper.
The calm silence of the family floor gave away to the more turbulent environment downstairs. Clara walked away to do something and Dory thought she'd go find Gladys, maybe even grab something to eat in the process. She was famished and her supper wouldn't be until after the family had dined, from what she understood.
"And who are you?" a voice said and Dory turned to see a man with brown hair and brown eyes, a handsome, chiseled face. By the look of him, he was not a servant, certainly not a gardener. He wore a coat and a suit underneath. Black shoes, quite worn.
"Dory Sparks. Who are you?" He wasn't the uniformed man she had seen here the day before, but she would bet her shirt that this was a policeman of some variety, probably the one responsible for investigating this case. He had that look about him as if he'd seen too much of humanity.
His eyebrows rose at her directness. "Detective Inspector Ridley. Where do you fit into the scheme of things?"
"I am the replacement that arrived today."
"So, you do not know Miss Sands."
"No, I never met her. Never heard of her before today."
The detective watched her for a moment as if to see if he could spot a lie. Dory crossed her arms and he waved her away. He was a bit rude, she thought, waving her away like some naughty child. She threw a look back at him as she walked. His back was to her and he didn't look her way. Broad shoulders and a straight back. By the look of him, a man who spent most of his days on his feet.
"I just got interrogated by that man out there," Dory said as she reached Gladys in the kitchen, who was spooning broth along a fish poacher. "I'm sure he suspected I was lying. Suspicious lot, aren't they?"
"Comes with the job, I think. Not much good if they can't spot a liar. How are you?"
"I'm knackered and the day isn't even over yet."
"It's usually much calmer than this, but when they wish to entertain, the workload triples. It was why we so desperately needed you to come."
"I understand. Got anything I can eat?"
"Cut yourself a slice of bread over there," Gladys said and Dory walked over to cut herself a slice before spreading butter over it. It was heavenly, or maybe she was simply very hungry.
"Clara, the other maid, thinks someone came into the house and murdered that girl," Dory said between bites.
Replacing the lid on the poacher, Gladys visibly shuddered.
"It's never simply madmen running around the countryside murdering people, is it, though?" Dory continued when Gladys didn’t respond.
"What are you saying? Can't be anyone here. Everyone loved Nora."
That wasn't exactly what Gladys had alluded to the day before when she'd said Nora attracted trouble. "But you said she was one to—"
"Off you go," Gladys said sharply, just about bundling her out of the room. "Can't you see how busy I am?"
"Sorry," Dory mumbled through her mouthful of bread. Then she found herself out in the corridor again. That man was still there, DI Ridley. He looked over her way again and dismissed her as unimportant. To him, she probably was completely unrelated to his investigation. In truth, she might be the only person who was.
Poor girl. Stabbed. How awful. This man was now here to find out what had really happened to her and to cart away the person responsible. Dory did feel better having him here. Unfortunately, she couldn't bring herself to believe the theory that some stranger had come and randomly murdered someone. It never happened like that, did it? Not really. Someone was responsible and chances were that it was someone she knew. Maybe that was why DI Ridley was here in the house, questioning everyone. He obviously believed the culprit was here as well. That thought was certainly disturbing.
There wasn't time to dwell on it for much longer as the family and some guests were arriving and Dory had to unpack their belongings. It was strange taking someone else's belongings and putting them away. Dory was assigned to a Miss Alsaze, who had the finest things Dory had ever seen. Nightclothes made of the softest silk and brushes with fur bristles and gilded handles. Golden-cased makeup and the most wonderful clothes and shoes—quite a world away from her own wardrobe. This was more like what Mrs. Simpson wore. Gorgeous things that each cost more than Dory’s worldly goods.
Once everything was hung away and placed out, she built a fire in the room before leaving. Now onto the supper. It would be well past ten in the evening before she had her own. She was actually starting to regret losing that job in the Swanley Insurance Office where they got to go home at five-thirty every day. Domestic service seemed to be much more demanding for roughly the same pay. Maybe she should consider secretarial school.
© Camille Oster. Camille Oster and C.G. Oster is managed by Carbon Method Ltd.