Evangeline the scullery maid had a Cinderella ending to her story. But where did it begin, and when did Mr. Brown capture her heart? This is her memoir. Read for a sweet love story even if you haven't seen "Nanny McPhee."
I was greeted by nothing but silence when I first entered the Brown household. I crept inside, gripping my small bag in both hands. My rough shoes clunked against the boards of the entry way as the door drifted closed behind me.
No one answered. I tucked a strand of dark brown hair behind my ear, wondering how it had managed to escape the tight bun I had so painstakingly fastened this morning.
I ventured into the larger room in front of the main stairs. Absently, I noticed that I liked the room—it was a bright blue, which was unusual, but cheerful. The vestibule remained empty.
"Hello?" I called, raising my voice.
"Hello, good day," came a voice to my left. I jumped. A gentleman strode out of a study to meet me. He wore a green velvet coat, a beige waistcoat and trousers—a fine wardrobe. But his collar hung askew, and the buttons of his waistcoat were undone. He hurriedly pushed a lock of curly brown hair away from his forehead.
"So sorry no one answered the door right away," He sounded out of breath. His dark brown eyes met mine, and he smiled. My breath caught. I knew that kind of smile. It was a shattered one that just barely got pieced together, and would not hold.
"I'm…I'm Mr. Brown. Cedric Brown," he said, gathering himself.
"Evangeline James," I answered. Mr. Brown reached toward me for an instant, then hesitated and withdrew his hand.
"Well," he sighed shortly, glancing around. "I'll…Well, I'll show you around, shall I?"
"Whatever is convenient, sir," I said.
"Right. Um, I'll show you to the kitchen. You can meet Mrs. Blatherwick."
He headed off toward a set of steps leading downward, just off to the right of the main stairs. Keeping my bag in my hand, I followed him.
The pokey staircase led to a single glassed door, which hung ajar. Mr. Brown led me into a broad, stone-floored, warm kitchen with a large wooden table, pots and pans hanging from an iron chandelier, and three ovens.
A frizzy ginger-headed, stoutly-built woman with a flushed face, an army cap and a well-worn apron stood at the table, rolling out pieces of dough.
"Mrs. Blatherwick," Mr. Brown said. "This is Evangeline, our new scullery maid."
Mrs. Blatherwick glanced up. Her mottled brow remained creased, and her blue eyes stayed cool.
"How de do," she nodded at me. "Sorry I can't stop to chat, but the little ones' dinner is already late, what with the trouble this afternoon and all."
"That's quite all right, Mrs. Blatherwick, you just…Thank you," Mr. Brown clasped his hands and bowed slightly, backing toward the door. He touched my elbow, indicating I should follow him.
"I'll take you to the nursery now, and you can meet the children," he decided, trotting up the stairs.
My feet lagged. I could see it in his frame—he was tired. But for purposes of politeness, he was striving to be chipper. And it was taxing him. I cleared my throat.
He turned on the landing and raised his eyebrows.
"I am very tired," I bluffed. "Would it be too much trouble for me to…rest a wee bit? I can meet the children at dinner, if you like?"
Relief swept across his brow for just an instant.
"Oh, of course! Of course. How thoughtless of me. You've had a terribly long journey from Devonshire and here I am jabbering away and dragging you to every corner of the house." His broken smile was back, a strain in his voice. "Certainly, I'll show you to your room. Just come with me."
I trailed after him up the narrow stairs, passing into shadow, since evening had fallen and no light came from the windows.
We entered a long, winding hallway—blue walls hung with crooked portraits, and red carpet on the floor.
Mr. Brown halted. The female tones had come from our left. I peered into the room. The door sat open, and I could see the furniture of the master bedroom beyond. I quickly averted my eyes.
"Yes, dear?" Mr. Brown leaned toward the door.
"Who is with you?"
"Er, Evangeline, our new maid."
"Bring her to see me, would you dearest?"
Mr. Brown's brow knit.
"Right now? Are you certain? After what happened this afternoon?"
"Yes, quite," the voice said firmly. Mr. Brown glanced at me, then nodded and pushed open the door. I entered after him, hesitating.
A lady lay on the bed, swathed in red sheets. The whole room, in fact, from the fireplace to the chair to the four-poster bed, was done in red. The lady on the bed looked pale to me, but she was very pretty, with bright blue eyes and long golden hair that spread out over the pillow. She was clearly with child, and rested both graceful hands on her belly. She smiled tiredly at me.
"Evangeline, this is Mrs. Brown," Mr. Brown said.
"Jane," the lady corrected, holding out a hand to me. "Thank you so much for coming so quickly, Evangeline."
"No trouble," I assured her, stepping toward her and clasping her hand. Her fingers felt cold.
"Cedric worries overmuch. I had a little fainting spell this afternoon, and they insisted that I go to bed. I hope that he has given you the grand tour of the house," her eyes sparkled at her husband. I shook my head.
"Cedric?" Jane looked at him.
"Oh, I was!" Mr. Brown said quickly.
"He was," I nodded. "But I was just—"
"Tired. She was tired after her journey, and asked to be shown to her room." He clasped his hands in front of him.
"I see," Jane's smile was soft, and as she glanced at me, I knew she saw the same weariness in her husband that I had. Jane adjusted her head on her deep pillow. "Well then, be sure to come visit me after dinner, will you Evangeline?"
"Whatever you like," I said.
"I would like that," Jane told me. "But go and get some rest for now—freshen up."
"Thank you, ma'am," I curtsied, and hurried out of the room. Mr. Brown came after, and shut the door. Pretense of joviality fell from his face, and for an instant his expression became stark.
"It was not just a fainting spell," he said in a low tone as he stepped down the hallway. I frowned, keeping next to him.
"No?" I prompted. He shook his head, glancing at the doors we passed.
"No. She had…pains," he put a hand to his own stomach. He glanced at me. "Pains in odd places. And she's been weak, and sickly. That's never happened before."
"She is due any day now, though, I'm sure," I supposed. He stopped in front of a little yellow door and turned the knob.
"Yes," he murmured. "That is what worries me."He stepped back, and gestured for me to go ahead. Ducking a little, I entered the small chambers.
It was a white room, with a small bed to my right and a fireplace to my left, and a window right in front of me. The drapes and bedsheets were a soft shade of yellow, and the mantelpiece had been decorated with simply elegant candles and dancing glass figurines.
"What do you think?" Mr. Brown asked.
"It's a charming room—it has to be a guest room—surely these aren't your servants' quarters!" I turned to search his face.
"Oh, no, no, we wouldn't dream of installing you in those dreadful apartments," he shook his head, his hand on the doorknob. "No, they're drafty and have no windows. No one is using this room, see, so why let it go to waste?" He smiled briefly, then backed out. "I shall see you at supper, then, yes?"
"Yes," I said. "Thank you, Mr. Brown."
"Thank you, Evangeline." He glanced toward his wife's bedroom. "You don't know how much your presence here puts my mind at ease."
"I shall try to be as much help as I can," I promised.
"Thank you," he said again, and left me there alone.