Notes: Written for windandthestars' Kitchen (Fic)athon.
Spoilers: none, except for a small but fairly obvious reference to another show. First to spot it gets a virtual cookie.
There were few things in life Helen loved more than a good hide. Fresh strawberry shortcake perhaps, or sharing tea with father; these would come a very close second. But other than that, no, hiding was definitely her most favoured joy. And, though her mother would likely consider it boasting over a dubious accomplishment, Helen knew she was the best hider in the street. Philip, the boy who lived three houses down (with whom she was forbidden from associating, but did so all the same) would hide the furthest, oven requiring some time for them to trudge to the obvious places he had chosen. And little Helena Wells (or HG as she, oddly, preferred) could certainly hide the fastest, disappearing in the merest of seconds. But Helen Magnus, she could hide the best.
It was all too easy, with her mother trusting her now seven year old daughter to attend to her own duties or lessons, for her to steal away. Abandoning her tiresome needlework or painful knitting, treatises on decorum or elocution, she would scoop up whichever volume her father had slipped her this week (beautiful fairy tales, mathematic primers, or beginner Latin) and take hide, a small bunny in its burrow, until her eventual discovery.
Today's destination had been disarmingly easy to reach, Mary's rotund body providing ample coverage as she had turned to retrieve the bread from the oven. Darting forward on stockinged feet (her mother would be disappointed but not at all surprised when she would later find her daughter's shoes balanced haphazardly next to her crooked sampler on the arm of her prized French settee), Helen dove into the clear space under the cook's bench. Walled on three sides, with the fourth curtained by Mary's swishing skirts, the space created a lovely little hiding cave - one that Helen had been eyeing on her visits to the kitchen for some time now.
Squinting in the dim light, Helen lost herself in her book, the words allowing her to soar away on her flights of fancy while the gentle din of the kitchen, the hollow thuds of chopped vegetables and light tinkling of silver being polished, kept a clear path for her spirit to follow home.
It was, all things considered, a marvellous hiding place. Her mother rarely ventured into the kitchen, not being adept in cooking and taking pride in their good fortune at having a full-time kitchen staff. Her father was the more likely to appear, with his habit of keeping Mary on his good side in order to maintain purchase on any freshly baked biscuits. He, however, was at the hospital today, and therefore unable to discover her any time soon.
Helen's small hands wiped over each page she turned, removing the flour that had slowly been sifted through the gaps in the bench to settle over her in a fine powder. Her fingers toyed with the roughly cut paper, her reading pausing momentarily to consider a crooked page her father's hand had slipped on.
Reaching the end of her story, the princess having met and married her prince, Helen tore the ribbon from her hair (a horrid velvet thing her mother had insisted on) and slipped it in between the pages as a marker. Nestling back into the corner of her den, she listened to the conversations of the staff as they went about their duties. She liked listening to the discussions of the adults who worked in her house, finding the topics of discussion to be interesting and so different from those that filled her day, but she was so often shooed away. Here she was left alone to get her fill and she enjoyed it immensely. It was not long, however, until news of Mary's daughter getting engaged and the ongoing adventures of Susan's clandestine tea breaks with Marcel became too much for her to keep up with and sleep finally took hold.
And so it was Mary who discovered Helen today, in her hides of all hides, when the lady of the house had started to get frustrated in her search. Descending carefully to her knees, creaking and cracking all the way, she drew out the babe and curled her arms around her. Dusting the flour from her face and clothes as best she could without waking the child, she secreted her away upstairs into her room, depositing her into her chair and placing yet another abandoned sampler in her lap.
Mary had a soft spot for the little rapscallion, for she was kind hearted if not attentive, intelligent if not yet quite refined – and above all, she provided much appreciated amusement for the staff with her well intentioned antics. And, Mary knew, if these antics were to continue, it was best for all if her mother found her here instead of playing sleeping scullery maid at her feet. With a final sweep of the hand through her hair, removing more flour residue, she smiled and left her be. Back to the kitchen, there was work to be done.