Last week, on this blog I released Chapter One of my debut novel, The Gisburn Witch which will be released on June 1st.
Today, I am pleased to share chapter two with you and will finish with chapter three next week.
Anyone interested in ordering the book can get it from the following retailers: Amazon UK / Amazon / Smashwords / Kobo
Westby Hall, Gisburn
Jennet mopped her damp brow with the back of her hand as she bustled around the kitchen. The weather outside was unseasonably warm and in the kitchen, next to the fire, it was stifling. She was tired too; her day had started even earlier than normal, so early in fact that dawn hadn’t even been on the horizon when Goodwife Robinson had woken her from her sleep, summoning her to begin her duties. Fatigue and heat were not a good combination and Jennet found herself in an irritable mood, venting her frustration on the bowls and spoons she was using. Goodwife Robinson, secretly pleased to find the girl less withdrawn that normal, did her best to lighten her spirits, but with little success.
“Cheer up, Jennet! It’s only a day or two more and then the house will begin to return to normal, you’ll see,” Goodwife Robinson said gently.
Jennet shrugged. “I think this is harder than Christmas,” she muttered. “I don’t remember it being so hot in here at Christmas.”
Goodwife Robinson chuckled. “Of course it wasn’t, it was the middle of winter! As I said, it’s only a couple more days. Goodness, when I was a girl the festivities lasted much longer! Alas, those were the old ways; we’ve less holy days now.” Jennet was too cross to notice that the old cook’s tone almost sounded like a lament. “So cheer up, and get on with your work. We’ve a lot to do and a great many guests to feed,” she said sternly.
Jennet sighed. She knew that Goodwife Robinson was right, a fact which made her words all the more irritating. After the sombre piety of Holy Week, the Listers always held a grand feast on Easter Monday, a day traditionally reserved for festivity. Indeed, as a girl growing up in the village, Jennet couldn’t recall a year when there wasn’t some sort of celebration held in Gisburn. If the weather was favourable, like today, the Easter feast could even rival the summertime festivities. Jennet sighed again, wondering what she was missing in the village today, missing home for the briefest of moments before returning to her kitchen duties. As she worked, her mind continued to wander. Goodwife Robinson had said there would be a lot of guests today, which was undoubtedly true, and Jennet speculated to herself as to which of their family and friends would be in attendance. At least some of the extended Lister family would be there, as well as some of the Mistress’s Houghton relatives and members of other notable families from the area. She wondered if Tom’s bride-to be would be there. She hadn’t yet set eyes on Jane Greenacres and she had to admit she was curious about her; like many of the other maids she wanted to see whether she was pretty and if her clothes were very fine. However, as she prepared the sweetmeats she had to admit to herself that there was another element to her curiosity, a sort of spite and dislike which made her wish the girl to be ugly and her dresses plain. Ever since Tom had told her about his impending marriage these feelings had crept over her, confusing and alarming her. Such emotions were sinful, she was quite sure of that, but they were also irrepressible. Try as she might, Jennet had come to realise that she struggled to bear the thought of a beautiful girl hanging on to Tom’s arm, gazing lovingly into his eyes. She shook her head, trying to suppress her thoughts.
“We’re getting there!” sang Goodwife Robinson. Jennet scowled, the cook’s cheeriness continuing to annoy her. “Now, don’t let me catch you disappearing off to the banquet later, my girl. I know you like to see the young Master, but I daresay Jane Greenacres will be here today and no doubt both families will want them to spend time together. Besides, you know what the Mistress is like, if she catches you…”
Goodwife Robinson’s voice trailed off, but Jennet understood her meaning perfectly. The Mistress of Westby was a stern, forbidding woman who did not take kindly to behaviour which she considered unbecoming of a servant. Jennet had been wary of the Mistress for as long as she could remember. She could recall quite clearly the look of disdain on her face as her precious Tom ran off to play with the local children, and how badly she scolded her boy when he came home with scraped or muddy knees. She was fiercely proud and protective of her son, and Jennet was fairly certain that if it had been her decision, Tom wouldn’t have been allowed to play with the local children at all. Fortunately, his father had the final say on such matters and he was a far gentler, far more amenable sort of man. Jennet’s father had always said how good the Master of Westby was, what a fair landlord he was, how kindly he treated his tenants. Neither of her parents, however, had ever had much to say about his wife. Since coming to work at Westby, Jennet had tried to give the Mistress a wide berth, endeavouring to be always obedient in her presence but never drawing too much attention to herself. She was always careful to ensure that her meetings with Tom took place away from her watchful eye, knowing that the Mistress would disapprove of her son continuing his friendship with a mere maid. Goodwife Robinson was right; she would be best advised to stay in the servants’ quarters, well away from the festivities. She knew that, but she also knew that she would struggle to resist seeing Tom and perhaps sneaking a peek at his betrothed.
“Of course, Goodwife Robinson,” she replied obligingly.
Jennet had intended to heed the Goodwife’s warning and keep away from the feast. Indeed, once all the food had been prepared and served she immediately set about her cleaning duties, scrubbing pots and tidying up with enthusiasm. She worked so hard that evening that Goodwife Robinson heaped praised upon her, filled with glee at the thought that they might finish their duties so quickly that they could retire early to bed. In truth, Jennet hoped to keep herself so busy that she wouldn’t have the time to be tempted away. Her plan might have worked, had it not been for Tom. As she walked along one of the many corridors she felt someone grab hold of her hand, surprising her and almost causing her to drop the bucket she was carrying. Without saying a word, Tom led her along towards the great hall where the banquet was taking place, stopping at the top of a narrow set of stairs, looking through a doorway which gave them a full view of the room.
“I thought you’d want to see. You usually do,” Tom said in a low voice, taking the bucket from her hand and setting it down on the floor.
“Tom! I’ve work to do. Goodwife Robinson will be wondering where I am,” Jennet whispered softly in reply.
“You can take a moment, surely?” Tom asked. “I thought you liked to watch the dancing.”
Jennet looked back into the hall. It was true; she loved to see the courtly dances, to admire the graceful movements of the ladies in their fine dresses. Often she would try to memorise the steps and later, when everyone else had gone to bed, she would twirl around with her eyes closed, pretending that she was the daughter of a gentleman, just returned from the Queen’s court. As she danced, she would imagine herself in the middle of one of the Listers’ feasts. She could feel all eyes upon her, the ladies watching enviously and the young gentlemen admiring her. In the midst of this spectacle was Tom, his gaze affectionate and intense…
“Are you looking for Jane?” asked Tom, his tone slightly mischievous.
“Is she not here?” replied Jennet simply.
“She was,” said Tom with a wry smile. “However, she is a delicate creature and too much food and wine and dancing makes her feel unwell. I was told by her mother that she has retired to her room for the evening.”
“Do you miss her?” Jennet asked, realising as she spoke how foolish the question sounded. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to know the answer. She didn’t want Tom to tell her how lovely she was and how much he was looking forward to spending the evening dancing with her.
“Not really,” Tom shrugged. “We’ve never had a proper conversation, you know. We’re never left alone for long enough! And tonight, she doesn’t stay to dance, but goes to her rooms instead and sends a message to me via her mother. She doesn’t even bother to tell me herself,” he finished.
Jennet looked at Tom quizzically. She couldn’t tell if he was disappointed because he wanted to get to know Jane Greenacres better, or if the courtship simply irritated him because he found it farcical. She stayed silent, unsure what she could say that would soothe him. She tried to ignore the fact that his dissatisfaction pleased her, that secretly she was glad that he hadn’t yet fallen madly in love with his bride-to-be. She didn’t like that she felt this way; Tom was her friend, she should want him to be happy in the company of the young lady who would be his wife soon.
“I suppose I must let you go back to your duties,” said Tom, changing the subject.
Jennet nodded and turned back towards the stairs. As she did so, Tom reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her back slightly. “I wish we could dance together, you and I,” he said simply. Jennet found herself locked into his gaze, unable to turn away. As she stood there and looked at him for what felt like an eternity, it dawned on her that she would like nothing more than to dance with him, to feel his touch as they twirled around the Listers’ great hall. Her face grew hot as she was confronted momentarily with the strength of her desire, before she suppressed her feelings once again and gently removed her hand from his grasp.
“As you said, I have work to do,” she replied softly, turning away immediately so that Tom wouldn’t see that her cheeks were flushed and her hands were trembling. As she headed back down the stairs she heard another voice behind her and instinctively she froze, but she did not turn around. She knew the voice immediately; it was Tom’s mother.
“Who are you talking to?” Jennet heard the Mistress ask her son, her tone typically stern and suspicious.
“It was just Jennet, mother,” replied Tom, his tone guarded. “It was my fault, I asked her up here,” he added defensively.
“Jennet, come here for a moment,” called the Mistress, ignoring her son’s words.
Jennet closed her eyes and bit her lip. Her heart was pounding so hard that she thought it might burst from her chest. Composing herself with a deep, considered breath, Jennet slowly turned around and walked back up the stairs. “Yes, Madame?” she asked, trying hard to keep her voice steady.
“What are you doing up here?” the Mistress demanded. “Do you not have enough work to do? Do I need to speak to Goodwife Robinson about keeping you busier?”
Jennet looked down at the floor, avoiding the Mistress’s hard stare. “No, Madame,” she replied.
“Well then, back downstairs and on with your duties,” Tom’s mother instructed her.
Jennet turned quickly and walked away. She clasped her hands together in front of her to stop them trembling. Behind her, she could hear the Mistress giving her son a few whispered words. Despite her fear of the Mistress, she couldn’t help wonder what she was saying to Tom. She sounded angry; even though she kept her voice intentionally low, Jennet could still make out her harsh, chastising tone. What angered her more, she wondered; the fact that Tom was not with his betrothed, or the fact that he preferred to fraternise with the maids? Jennet bit her lip as she turned a corner and the noise of the feast became a distant hum. Tom spent time with one maid in particular, she realised. Just one maid and that maid had come to the attention of the Mistress now. She wrung her clammy hands together one more time as she reflected that she would have to be more careful from now on.
“I know your game, and it won’t work,” said a voice behind her. Jennet immediately spun around, alarmed. She had been so absorbed in her own thoughts that she hadn’t heard anyone following behind her. Now she was confronted by the Mistress once more.
“I beg your pardon, Madame,” Jennet replied, with a brief curtsey.
“You will remember that you are a maid here, Jennet,” said Tom’s mother, her tone typically forbidding and authoritative. “Whatever intentions you have towards my son, you will forget them. I know that he is kind to you, but do not mistake his kindness for any deeper affection. His only affection now must be for his bride, do you understand? Keep yourself busy with your duties, and keep your distance from my son,” she instructed.
Jennet looked up and caught the Mistress’s cold stare, wondering what had provoked this outburst. She had only gone upstairs to watch the dancing at Tom’s behest. She would have understood Tom’s mother chastising her for overstepping the mark in that sense, but no other. What did she mean by intentions? She didn’t have intentions towards Tom; she knew that such ideas were futile, that Tom was destined to be a grand and powerful gentleman whilst she would always be a lowly maid. She knew that their friendship was barely permissible, never mind anything else. She knew all this, yet she also knew that when she thought about Tom her stomach fluttered a little and her face grew red. She knew that seeing him was the highlight of her day; indeed, sometimes she sought him out when she thought he might be alone, just so that she could spend time in his company. She didn’t have intentions, but she had to admit to herself that she had feelings, stirrings which she always suppressed because she knew that there was no point loving a man she could not have.
“Yes, Madame,” Jennet replied obediently.