A Regency lady searches for her missing shawl and makes a delightful discovery.
|‘I wonder where my shawl can have got to,’ Lady Noel mused.
She had made the most of a sunny interlude between April showers to take a walk in the rose garden, only to return to find her workbasket empty. There was no trace of the sea green, delicately worked shawl that she had been crocheting.
She had been hoping to have it finished for tonight’s dinner party as it would have complemented her gown so well. Her friend, Mrs Endford, had given her the pattern and she had been looking forward to showing Mrs Endford her completed handiwork.
For the umpteenth time, she checked under the armchair with is gilt legs ending in griffon feet. There was no sign of the shawl there, nor under the worktable or side tables that furnished her sitting-room.
Lord Noel was out riding and she could not believe one of the servants had taken up the shawl. Still, she rang for Mrs Early, the housekeeper, just to make sure.
Whilst she waited for Mrs Early to appear, she called to her spaniel, Tospy. The dog, normally so eager for attention, did not come. Instead she paced the room, occasionally stopping to scratch at the rug. Lady Noel reprimanded her, surprised by this odd conduct in her normally well behaved dog. Perhaps she was jealous of Rufus, the other spaniel, who had ridden out with Lord Noel.
‘Have you seen the shawl that I have been working on, Mrs Early? I left it with my workbasket, yet now it has gone. I thought perhaps one of the servants might have been in here and moved it.’
‘Not that I know of, Ma’am. The housemaids have been busy with their needlework these last two hours. The kitchen staff are hard at work preparing dinner and Mr Smith and James were busy looking over the wine glasses and silver when I passed the butler’s pantry.’
‘How odd! I do hope the shawl is found soon. You don’t suppose there is anything the matter with Topsy? She’s been behaving strangely of late and has grown oddly plump.’
‘It will be the cream that the dairymaid gives her most likely, Ma‘am. She’s such a muddle-headed girl. I’ve told here time and again not to feed Topsy. She just can’t resist giving the dog a bowlful of cream when she comes fawning with that handsome feathery tail of hers wagging faster than you can whisk eggs.’
Suddenly the door was opened by Jenny, Mrs Early’s niece, who had been taken on as a still-room maid earlier that week.
Seizing her chance, Topsy scurried out.
‘Aunt Esther, I wondered whether I should add some apples to the chutney mixture? Mother always does at home.’
‘No, there is no need for that, Jenny. It might spoil it. Just follow the recipe that I gave you.’
Jenny made to reply but Mrs Early hurried her away, curtseying to her ladyship.
Once they were safely out of earshot of the sitting-room door, Mrs Early berated, ‘what do you mean by coming in like that? You know you aren’t meant to enter any of the upstairs rooms when the family are there without an invitation, and certainly without knocking.’
‘I’m sorry. I only wondered…’
‘You do too much wondering, my girl, that’s your problem. If only you had less of your fanciful ideas and could keep your mind to your tasks then you’d find them far easier. Now, perhaps you could help me get up a tea tray for her ladyship. Then I’d better search for that missing shawl.’
In the still-room, Mrs Early busied herself rummaging through the pile of best table linen in case the shawl had somehow found its way into there. ‘Funny. I’m sure the table cloth for the card table is missing. I remember seeing it on top of the pile, waiting to be washed.’
‘I wonder if Prudence took her ladyship’s shawl thinking it was a table cloth for the card table. She’s been making the drawing-room ready for the guests.’
‘I doubt it, Prudence is a sensible lass. Now instead of loitering about wondering why don’t you get on with that tea tray. Remember, Lady Noel likes warm cream with her coffee.’
Jenny dragged a stool towards the still-room dresser, its legs making a grinding screech over the flagstones. Mrs Early huffed in exasperation.
Reaching for the cake tin and a couple of plates, Jenny said, ‘I wonder what they’ll be having for tea back home? Jim will be back from his carpenter’s apprenticeship. I do hope he’s done well. I bet Mother will make him something special. Perhaps it’ll be a pound cake. Though I’m sure it won’t taste as nice as these seed cakes you’ve made her ladyship. Shall I help you with the Savoy cake after I’ve done the tea tray?’
Jenny guessed from her aunt’s distracted air that her search for the shawl had been fruitless. ‘Perhaps her ladyship took it up to her room and forgot she’d done it.’
‘I doubt it but I’ll look there.’
‘What’s that noise?’
‘I can’t hear anything.’
‘It sounds like something scratching and I’m sure I heard whining too.’
‘Most likely the wind. Now, have you done that tray?’
‘Yes.’ Jenny presented it to her aunt for inspection, feeling proud of herself. ‘This is how I do it at home. Everyone has their own way,’ she said to break the silence as Mrs Early stared at the tray in Jenny’s hands.
Plates and bowls were stacked on top of each other with the fruit bowl on top. One plate held a loaf of bread with the bread knife stood up in its middle. Cutlery was piled like an unruly catch of sardines about a jug of coffee set on the pristine white serviettes and the cakes were mixed with the cold meat and pots of pickles on the three-tiered cake stand.
‘Honestly, Jenny, what can you be about! If that had gone up to her ladyship you’d be in great trouble. As it is I hardly know what to do with these cakes now they’re spotted with pickle and those napkins are covered in spilt cream. I’ll make another tray myself. You get on with the sugar.’
Fetching down the sugar loaf from where it hung from the rafters, Jenny unwrapped the thick brown paper and set about pounding some sugar, rolling it with a bottle to make it fine enough for use.
Mrs Early looked flustered as she returned from seeing her ladyship.
‘What’s wrong?’ Jenny inquired.
‘Topsy’s gone missing. Her ladyship and the butler have been searching high and low. The dog didn’t even appear for her dinner and you know how greedy she is.’
Jenny was distraught for she was fond of the pretty, cheerful spaniel.
‘I’ll fetch my cloak and bonnet and go and search in the grounds,’ Mrs Early said.
Jenny caught the mysterious sound again. A mewling this time. It sounded to come from behind the servant’s staircase. ’I wonder…’
‘No Jenny, I can’t do with more of your wondering. Now get on with making that cake. I expect the mixture to be done by the time I get back.’ Mrs Early bustled away, her chatelaine making the familiar jangling that haunted the corridors of the servant’s quarters.
Jenny paused, her arms aching from whisking the egg white to a stiff snow. The sound came again, louder this time. She was sure it was a dog.
She scurried into the servant’s hall, peering under the staircase. In the corner was a furry bundle. ‘Topsy! So you’ve taken her ladyship’s shawl,’ Jenny exclaimed.
The dog was snuggled into a nest consisting of the shawl, card table cloth and the dairy maid’s spare apron. Jenny gasped, noticing that Topsy was not alone. Nestled beside her were five tiny puppies with sweet stubby noses and stumpy tails.
‘Oh, how lovely!’ Jenny laughed, clapping her hands as the puppies gambolled at her feet.
‘Jenny, what on earth are you doing under there?’ Mrs Early peered over the banister.
She was joined by Lady Noel. Her face lighted up in amazement. ‘Topsy! I never thought I’d see you again. Look at those adorable puppies! Thank you for finding them, Jenny.’
‘I’ve found your shawl too, Ma’am, though I’m afraid you won’t be pleased to see it as the puppies have been chewing it and it‘s a right state.’
‘No matter! It’s a delight to have Topsy back and see her beautiful pups.’
‘I was wondering how you’re getting on with the shawl that I gave you the pattern for. I notice you are still wearing your cashmere tonight,’ Mrs Endford said, settling beside Lady Noel after dinner.
‘I would have finished it had it not been for Topsy’s puppies playing with it. It’s quite unravelled.’
‘Puppies! Oh, how wonderful. May I see them? You know how I miss Molly so much and I would like Pip to have a companion now that she’s gone.’
Beaming, Lady Noel rang for Mrs Early to bring in Topsy and the puppies.
‘For once Jenny, I’m glad that you got to wondering,’ Mrs Early smiled.