by Pam Sears
Wide eyed innocence at it’s humorous best.
“Why, no, Mother. I have no idea how a jam stain got on your scarf!”
Meredith examined herself critically in the mirror. No. Not quite shocked enough. Momma would never believe Meredith had nothing to do with the stain on her favorite silk scarf if she didn’t look both shocked and innocent. Best to try again.
“A berry stain on your silk scarf? Why, no, Mother, I have NO idea what happened. I haven’t seen your scarf for ages until today.” She tried again, tilting her head to emphasize her shock.
Mmm… no, not quite. Momma was good at figuring out which of the girls had been naughty. She often said God had given her eyes in the back of her head so she could keep a closer watch on the three of them. Meredith wasn’t entirely sure she believed it -she’d tried looking closely under Momma’s hair but hadn’t seen anything resembling her usually warm brown eyes- but Momma did seem to always know when any of them were up to something.
Meredith thought she heard footsteps outside the closed door to the room and glanced nervously over her shoulder, holding her breath. No. No one knocked or opened the door. She was just nervous.
Glancing at the brown, red and white silk scarf she held she sighed. It was Momma’s favorite. Papa had brought it back for her from his visit to India and she wore it whenever they had special company for dinner. Usually the people who worked for Papa.
Meredith loved it, too. The colors were what Momma called rich and the material so soft against her skin that Meredith loved rubbing it against her face. But what Meredith loved best was how it smelled like a combination of her Momma and Papa. Whenever Momma wore it Papa would snuggle up behind her and nuzzle her neck, making Momma giggle. The smell and the memory always made her smile and feel secure knowing Momma and Papa loved each other as well as her and her sisters.
She’d needed that today, that special feeling. Their neighbor’s son, Toby, had teased her about her hair being mousy. She knew he meant it wasn’t pretty and it hurt her feelings. She’d snuck into Momma’s room and found her scarf, just wanting to sniff that special scent that belonged to her parents and rub it against her face.
She forgot she’d just had tea and that Cook had sent up a special treat of berry jam for their scones. There had been a smear under one side of her mouth that Nurse hadn’t managed to wipe away. Of course, Meredith had snuck out before tea was over and while Nurse was busy with her youngest sister, Lisle.
When Meredith had seen the smear of jam she’d panicked. What was she to do!? Momma loved this scarf and had always told her she was to leave it alone unless she was with Meredith.
Meredith had thought about trying to clean it herself but didn’t know where the servants kept the soap for washing clothes. Besides, Mrs. Hinkley, the housekeeper, would want to know why Meredith wanted it. And she was sure Mrs. Hinkley would find her if she tried to sneak downstairs to get it herself. She’d found Meredith when she’d tried sneaking into the kitchen for a snack.
Again, Meredith looked in the mirror over Momma’s dresser. Her only hope was to pretend to be as innocent as possible when Momma came to ask if she had anything to do with ruining the scarf. Maybe Momma wouldn’t know about it for a long time. Long enough to give Meredith time to come up with a better answer. She didn’t think there were any special guests coming over soon. Momma always had the servants cleaning the house top to bottom and the gardeners checking for the perfect flowers the whole week before they had guests.
Carefully folding the scarf to match the way she’d found it Meredith turned it so the stain didn’t show and laid it back in her mother’s dresser drawer. Then, holding her breath as she tiptoed across the room, she eased open the door to peek carefully into the hallway. It appeared empty for the moment and she tiptoed out and pulled the door to her parent’s room closed with a quiet “snick” before scampering down the hall to the nursery to find Nurse looking for her.
That night, after she’d climbed under the covers of her bed, but before Nurse had blown out the candle, the door opened and her Mother entered. She checked on each of her children at bedtime, listening to their prayers and reading to them if they wanted her to. Sometimes Papa would come with her and sit in the chair quietly listening as Momma read. It was Meredith’s favorite time of the day.
Tonight, though, she jumped slightly in guilt when Momma entered.
“Thank you, Nurse Walters. You may go have your evening tea.” Momma smiled at Nurse and that woman nodded her thanks as she always did.
Nurse always told the housekeeper this was the best home she’d ever worked in because all three girls were easy to work with and the Smythe-Wittington’s the most pleasant of employers. She hoped she could remain here for a long time.
Momma sat on the bed next to Meredith and smiled at her, gently brushing back a strand of hair that had escaped it’s nightly braid.
“Did you have a good day, Dear One?” She asked softly. Meredith smiled because, as the oldest, Momma called her Dear One, Sarah as the next oldest Dear Two and Lisle as the youngest, Dear Three. The girls all loved it and giggled whenever their parents used their pet names.
“It was a normal day, Momma. Nurse taught us our lessons and we had our tea.” Then she bit her lip because she didn’t want to mention the jam Cook had added and she almost had. Best not to give herself away so she smiled at Momma with as much innocence as she could.
Momma cleared her throat and seemed to pull her lower lip into her mouth for a moment, then smiled again. “That sounds pretty typical. Anything else happen?
“Not that I can think of, Momma.” Meredith made her eyes as big as possible while chanting “innocent innocent innocent” over and over in her head.
“Oh, that’s nice, dear. I’m so glad it was a quiet day for all of you. Papa and I had a very busy one.” She added.
That was something else Momma did. She would share about the day she had, too. Letting her daughters know what was going on around them even when they couldn’t be right there.
“Really? What did you do, Momma?” Meredith forgot to worry as Momma continued their normal bedtime routine.
“Well, I had to talk with Cook because Papa decided to surprise me by asking the Hendricks from work to come to dinner tomorrow night. It was rather unexpected but it seems that Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks will be celebrating having been married for six years and Papa does like to encourage his employees by being kind to them. So I had to discuss a menu change with Cook and then speak with Mrs. Hinkley about making sure the front room and dining area are properly cleaned and aired.”
“Oh, that’s a lot to do.” Meredith’s eyes were now round with awe at how busy her Momma was and how she always got everything done so perfectly. “I’m sure it will be a lovely dinner, Momma.” She exclaimed.
“I’m sure it will be, too, Dear One. Mrs. Hinkley and Cook are excellent at their jobs. They always manage to accomplish whatever is asked of them.” Momma smiled.
“Of course,” she went on. “I also had to spend a considerable amount of time with Danvers to choose just the right outfit. I want the Hendricks to feel welcome and comfortable and not out of place. It was quite the process.”
“Why is it so hard to choose clothes for a grown up?” Meredith frowned in confusion. “Nurse just chooses play clothes or company clothes for us when we need to get dressed.”
Then Meredith brightened. “Maybe you could borrow Nurse to help choose your clothes, Momma!” She exclaimed. “She’s ever so clever about picking just the right thing.”
Momma made a strange choking sound, shoulders shaking, one hand pressed to her mouth and one to her chest. After a moment she put both hands back in her lap and nodded.
“She does have quite the knack for choosing just the proper garments for you and your sisters, doesn’t she? Well, I appreciate your offering Nurse’s services but Danvers has been my ladies maid for far longer than we’ve had Nurse and knows both my taste and my clothing very well. I think I will stay with her for now. If, however, she gets stuck, I will certainly send her to Nurse for advice. Thank you, Dear One.”
Meredith beamed at her mother as she gently patted her cheek. “Now, then, Dear One, I have a question. Do you happen to know if anyone saw a person sneak into my room today? It might have been around tea time, so I’m sure most everyone was busy, but I have a bit of a mystery on my hands and I need help solving it.”
Meredith swallowed. “Ahh, why, I don’t think… I mean, I don’t know, Momma.” She made her eyes large again, working to keep her face innocent like she’d practiced. “Why?” She squeaked.
“Oh, it’s nothing too frightening, Dear One, but it looks as if someone may have moved some of the things in my dresser around. Danvers pulled out the scarf Papa brought me from India and it appears to have been used as a napkin. There’s a rather large stain on one corner.” Momma smiled.
Meredith gave her best gasp, hand to chest, eyes large, and nearly choked when she also inhaled some spit. Eyes now watering she wiped at them and shook her head.
“Why, no, Momma. I don’t know how a berry stain would have gotten on your scarf. I’m so sorry to hear about it.” She gasped past the coughing.
“I see.” Momma looked disappointed but smiled still. “Well, it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out. You sleep well, tonight. Papa and I will see you girls tomorrow morning.”
Leaning down Momma kissed Meredith’s forehead, tucked the blanket close, and blew out the candle. “Sweet dreams, Dear One.” She whispered before closing the door.
Meredith sighed, telling herself she was relieved. Then why did she feel like someone had poked her too hard in the tummy? Frowning, upset, she finally drifted off to sleep.
“Good morning, Dears.” Momma sang as she swept into the Nursery the next day.
The girls had already had their morning lessons and it was now time for tea. One of the kitchen servants followed Momma with the tea tray. Momma gestured to the small table near the window and the servant set the tray there, curtsied and left quickly.
Momma turned to the girls and smiled. “Well, since Papa and I have guests for dinner tonight, I decided to take the time for tea with my Dear Loves this morning. Would you like to have your tea with the rest of the staff, Nurse?”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Nurse nodded and smiled. “Be good for your Momma, girls. I shall return for our afternoon lessons after tea.”
Smiling, the girls nodded before grabbing Momma’s hands and pulling her, laughing, to their tea table. Momma, and sometimes Papa, loved having tea with their children and would make the time whenever they could. The girls loved it.
As Momma seated herself, the girls taking chairs across from her, she handed each a small plate. Meredith and her sisters were staring at the tray, thrilled to see that today Cook had included not only jam for the scones but little finger sandwiches like Momma would serve for the grown-up guests.
“So, today is, as you see, a treat.” Momma smiled. “Here are your tea cups.” And she handed each girl a pretty little cup and saucer. “Now give me your plates, please, and I will give you the rest of your tea.”
Soon, each girl had two small sandwiches -the kind with cucumber- and a scone with their favorite jam. Lisle loved blueberry, Sarah the peach and Meredith the berry. As the others all began to eat Meredith could only stare at her scone, heaped high with the berry jam, and swallow in a suddenly dry throat.
She raised her eyes to Momma and saw her looking at her curiously. “What’s the matter Dear One? Does it not taste right?”
“I… I don’t know, Momma. I haven’t tried it, yet.” She replied miserably.
“Oh. Well, do try it, Dear One. Cook well be disappointed if you don’t. You know how she loves giving you girls the treat from her jam preserves.” Momma encouraged, taking a delicate sip of her tea.
Meredith nodded and lifted the scone to her lips. The jam, piled so thickly on top, suddenly slid and plopped into her lap. Meredith froze, staring at the stain right in the middle of her lap. Right on her favorite pink dress. She felt tears well and gave Momma an anguished look.
Momma set her tea aside and nodded. “Yes, it’s difficult to see, isn’t it Dear One?” She asked softly.
Meredith’s lip trembled and tears slid down her cheeks. “Momma… I-“
“I know, Dear One.” Momma cut in, glancing at Meredith’s sisters. “We are very lucky that Danvers has a family recipe for getting out difficult stains. You won’t even know it happened.”
“She… she does?” Meredith gulped. “It works?”
“It works best when the stain is brand new, but it still does the job.” Momma nodded, eyes on Meredith.The two younger girls glanced at each other, not sure what was going on, but knowing Momma was making some sort of point.
“I’m sorry, Momma.” Meredith dropped her head. “It won’t happen again.”
“Oh, I’m sure it will, Dear One.” And Meredith glanced up to see the amusement in Momma’s eyes even as she nodded at her. “Children are *supposed* to be messy, it’s how you learn. Today’s lesson is, make sure you’re always honest, even when you make a mistake. Especially when you make a mistake.”
Meredith nodded before jumping up and rushing around the table to hug her mother. Momma hugged her tightly then shooed her to her room to change.
“We mustn’t keep Danvers waiting if we want to get that stain out.” Momma winked.
Meredith raced for her room, knowing everything would be alright. Momma always knew which one of them had been naughty, even by accident. But Momma always still loved them.