I had never been out to service before, and I thought it a grand thing when I got a place at Charleston Farm. Old Mr. Alderton was close-fisted enough, and while he had the management of the farm it was a place no girl need have wished to come to; but now Mr. Alderton had given up farming this year or two, and young Master Harry, he had the management of everything. Mr. Alderton, he stuck in one room with his books, which he was always fond of above a bit, and must needs be waited on hand and foot, only driving over to Lewes every now and then.
Six pounds a year I was to have, and a little something extra at Christmas, according as I behaved myself. It was Master Harry who engaged me. He rode up to our cottage one fine May morning, looking as grand on his big grey horse, and says he, through the stamping clatter of his horse’s hoofs on the paved causeway—
‘Are you Deresby’s Poll?’ says he.
And I says, ‘Yes; what might you be wanting?’
‘We want a good maid up at the farm,’ says he, patting his horse’s neck—’Steady, old boy—and they tell me you’re a good girl that wants a good place, and ours is a good place that wants a good girl. So if our wages suit you, when can you come?’
And I said, ‘Tuesday, if that would be convenient.’
And he took off his hat to me as if I was a queen, though I was floury up to the elbows, being baking-day, and rode off down the lane between the green trees, and no king could have looked handsomer.
Charleston is a lonesome kind of house. It’s bare and white, with the farm buildings all round it, except on one side where the big pond is; and lying as it does, in the cup of the hill, it seems to shut loneliness in and good company out.
I was to be under Mrs. Blake, who had been housekeeper there since the old mistress died. No one knew where she came from, or what had become of Mr. Blake, if ever there had been one. For my part I never thought she was a widow, and always expected some day to see Mr. Blake walk in and ask for his wife. But as a widow she came, and as a widow she passed.
She had just that kind of handsome, black, scowling looks that always seem to need a lot of black jet and crape to set them off—the kind of complexion that seems to be playing up for the widow’s weeds from the very cradle. I have heard it said she was handsome, and so she may have been; and she took a deal of care of her face, always wearing a veil when there was a wind, and her hands to have gloves, if you please, for every bit of dirty work.
But she was a capable woman, and she soon put me in the way of my work; and me and Betty, who was a little girl of fourteen from Alfreston, had most of the housework to do, for Mrs. Blake would let none of us do a hand’s-turn for the old master. It was she must do everything, and as he got more and more took up with his books there come to be more and more waiting on him in his own room; and after a bit Mrs. Blake used even to sit and write for him by the hour together.