‘And this,’ said Desmond, opening a gate within the high walls and ushering his new pal Gerald through, ‘is the laundry area. It keeps everything in one place, well away from the main house so that we don’t have to look at billowing sheets or smell soap. Bertha loves it, don’t you Bertha?’
A maidservant, sleeves rolled up over muscled arms and a strand of hair stuck to her sweating face, scowled as she stirred the copper in the courtyard.
‘It’s Bessie…sir,’ she replied.
Behind her, other maids scurried across the cobbles between the laundry rooms and drying rooms under grey unforgiving skies. The steady rain which had been falling since breakfast soaked into Bessie’s cap and her boots were stained dark with wetness.
‘I call all the maids Bertha,’ Desmond said as an aside to Gerald. ‘They don’t mind, do you Bertha?’ He stroked her face.
In silence, Bessie kept stirring the boiling cauldron with a large wooden paddle, her eyes narrowed. From time to time, a fold of white linen popped up from frothing bubbles which were a brownish-pink. The smell of soft soap was less pleasant than Desmond remembered, and some small part of his small mind wondered why she was boiling laundry in the yard rather than inside the building but then – he hadn’t been interested in laundry since he was six and wanting bubbles for his toy pipe.
‘Someone had something of an accident with a tablecloth, what?’ Gerald suggested.
‘Something like that… sir,’ said Bessie.
‘By the way Bertha,’ wondered Desmond. ‘Have you seen Lord Charles this morning? He can’t resist a pretty young maid,’ he added to Gerald. ‘He’ll get himself in hot water one of these days. Ha! Ha!’
Desmond pinched Bessie’s flushed cheek and patted her backside.
Her grip on the paddle tightened, but still she said nothing.
She merely stared down into the copper and with a small smile watched another brownish-pink bubble explode with a malodorous ‘pop’.
Words and photograph copyright 2019 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.