Charlotte meets a ghost and goes on a quest for biscuits.
For past episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.
London – 1840
I thought the idea of hide and seek was self-explanatory, but it seemed not. I was standing at the bedroom window looking down into the garden at Bran and the eldest two girls, Merry and Millie, playing a game that involved them hiding and Bran looking for them. He was a vampire and they weren’t very good at hiding and yet he wandered far and wide looking for them while they huddled in their hiding places giggling.
I supposed that was why they didn’t call it hide and find. The only one that seemed any good at hiding was Mary, the youngest, who’d disappeared. I leaned closer to the window to peer further to the sides wondering where she’d got to. Bran had to know with his vampire senses but I only had my human ones to go on.
‘Mummy!’ Mary shouted behind me. ‘I’m a ghost!’
My hand went for the forearm sheath I wasn’t wearing. It seemed safer not to with children in the house who had a tendency to jump out. I took a moment to recover before turning to face a four year old covered in flour.
‘Whooo!’ she said, waving her arms and leaving clouds of white powder in their wake.
I stared at her.
‘Am I in trouble, Mummy?’ She lowered her arms, clasped her hands behind her back and gave me the big watery eyes that said, ‘You can’t be angry at me, I’m all small and sweet’. ‘I got hungry but I couldn’t reach the biscuits so I climbed up and it just fell, Mummy.’
I really wished she’d stop calling me ‘mummy’, it was terrifying.
I picked up a towel and started rubbing flour from Mary’s face. She squirmed but seemed to find the whole thing funny. She poked at my face, probably leaving dusty finger-marks, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’d had on my face.
‘Can I have a biscuit?’ she asked.
‘I suppose,’ I muttered, trying to wipe the flour off her hands but she wasn’t cooperating. I had no idea what to do about the flour in her hair, if she got wet it would turn to glue. Where was Mrs Stapleton when I needed her?
I gave up, took her outstretched hand and followed the trail of flour back downstairs to the tune of her chuntering on about everything and anything without appearing to take a breath.
The door to the larder was in the kitchen by one of the back doors, how she’d managed to open both doors, which were heavy wood, was anyone’s guess. Mrs Stapleton kept the larder well organised, she had lists of everything in there, which seemed a tad overzealous given that she did all the cooking. Everything was in place except a box on the floor surrounded by an explosion of Mrs Stapleton’s best flour.
‘Ooopsie,’ Mary said.
I set the box back on the shelf but didn’t bother scraping the flour back into it, if I was going to have to ask Mrs Stapleton what to do about the flour in the girl’s hair she’d know I’d taken her best flour off the floor and put it back in the box.
I reached the biscuit pot and supposed I should’ve been thankful Mary hadn’t knocked that off, the flour might be messy but blood was worse. I pulled the lid off and released a scent of ginger so strong it was enough to make my eyes water.
When I turned back to Mary she had her hands over her eyes.
‘What’re you doing?’ I asked.
‘I’m hiding, Mummy. You can’t see me,’ she said.
I sucked my teeth, I was fairly sure that wasn’t a valid hiding technique. ‘I suppose you don’t want a biscuit then.’
She grabbed a biscuit in each hand, considered, then shoved one in her mouth and grabbed another. I had to admire her ingenuity, as long as she didn’t choke. I replaced the pot on the shelf before she could try to find out how many biscuits she could fit in her mouth.
‘Not having any, Mummy?’ she asked around a mouthful of soggy mushed biscuit.
‘No, thank you.’
She put her arms out and when I didn’t do anything she commanded, ‘Up.’
I lifted her and set her on my hip as I’d seen Bran do and carried her out the kitchen wondering what I was supposed to do.
‘I like biscuits,’ she said. ‘Do you like biscuits, Mummy?’
‘They’re alright,’ I muttered, considering whether to take her outside and pass her to Bran or to go and find Mrs Stapleton.
As if my thoughts had summoned her Mrs Stapleton came into the kitchen, which wasn’t so surprising as it was her domain. ‘Oh, what’s happened you, poor little pumpkin?’
I stared at Mrs Stapleton.
She took Mary off me to coo over her. ‘Have you been after the biscuits again?’
‘Mummy let me have…’ Mary frowned at her last biscuit. ‘One… One biscuit.’
‘That was mean of her,’ Mrs Stapleton said, as if Mary could count passed one. ‘Do you want some more?’
‘Yes!’ Mary squealed.
I blinked, that girl was a confidence trickster in the making.
‘Fancy only giving her one biscuit.’ Mrs Stapleton said, taking Mary back into the larder.
I went back to the bedroom, picked up the book I was reading and climbed out of the window onto the roof. I doubted even Mary could get up there.
For more short fiction see my Short Stories or Weekly Serial page.