"Not a single one. Not a single blasted one! All the way up there and for what? Absolutely nothing!"
I'd rarely seen Brooks in such a temper. He'd forgotten all about his tea sitting untouched on the table in front of him. His hands jerked and flew as he spoke and his face was was flushed in a most unhealthy fashion. He still had on his travelling coat and cap, as he'd not even bothered to take them off since he and Morris had rushed into the house a few hours after dinner and demanded to talk to me immediately.
I'd still been upstairs, plotting our future and had quickly thrown on the first dress I could lay hands on, slapped some make up on my face and rushed down the stairs. I hadn't expected them back for days and I was eager to see, or at least hear about, our new men. What aid would they need? We'd have to send for the doctor, certainly, but would they need new crutches or a wheelchair or . . .only when I'd arrived in Edward's salon did I realise I was still in my slippers and had forgotten my stockings altogether.
Neither one of them seemed to notice.
Morris sat staring vacantly at the sugar pot, taking occasion sips from his cup. He seemed dazed from the journey and I wondered if he'd had to listen to Brooks' raging all the way down from Hertfordshire and at some point had just shut off entirely.
"It's not like we don't have anything to tend to here! Surely not, what was her Ladyship thinking? Just sent up any spare men you might have lying about to tend to my dreadful problem! And be quick about it, if you please. Damned toffs."
"Brooks, please. Do calm down. Now, the other servants, I'm still not completely clear on what they said. No Tommies had ever been by?"
"That hysterical, miserly sow of a cook! I wish you'd been there, Olivia, you wouldn't have believed your ears! Only one Tommy comes to the kitchen door asking after scraps and suddenly it's the Somme! They're overrun! Beggars everywhere aiming to make off with the last ham in the larder and leave them to starve. Judging by the size of her, I'd say she's the one aiming to make off with not just the ham, but half the larder when no one's looking!"
Morris snorted. Ah, so he was still with us.
I let Brooks rage for a little while longer. There was no use in stopping him until he'd blown off most of the steam. Although, if he'd been like this for hours. . .
From what I could piece together out of the tirade, it sounded as if Elizabeth had taken the exaggerations of her cook literally and called in the cavalry without bothering to look into the situation herself. Either one or no Tommies had ever been on the Boyd-Scathby estate, let alone hoards of them dossing under her raspberry hedges.
When Brooks paused for breath, I turned to Morris.
"What was your impression?"
Brooks snapped his mouth shut and jerked himself around on his chair to stare at poor Morris, as if daring him to contradict what he'd just said. Morris took a deep breath, and looked to be judging his words carefully before he spoke.
"I see it similarly to Mr Brooks. There was never an onslaught of roaming Tommies on the estate, nor in the village. That we got confirmed by an number of old boozers at the only pub. They could only remember seeing one vagrant in a scruffy Army coat come through and that was ages ago. Hard to say if that one ever went up to the estate or not. None of the other servants could remember anything or didn't have time to talk to us."
"Too busy scouring pots to spare a minute! Elbowing us out of the way as if we were annoying children getting underfoot," Brooks piped in, waving his hand about. I was afraid he was going to slam his fist down on the table and slosh the tea, but he didn't.
YOU ARE READING
England 1921. For fifty handicapped veterans left without home or job after WW1, the only person standing between them and utter destitution is Olivia Altringham. Lacking sufficient funds and a support network, Olivia has managed to keep her vetera...