Jobs Galore

The front door slammed just as my eyes had started to droop and the girl’s eyelids half opened. I patted her on the shoulder and said there was nothing to worry about, that her father had come home; she closed her eyes again. Seeing that she was once more sleeping I rose gently from the end of the bed, just as the bedroom door slowly creaked open.
“Ellie? What are you doing here this time of night?” was the gruff whisper,
It was Sir, standing halfway in the doorway, a riding hat in one hand and riding crop in the other.
“She couldn’t sleep, so I made her a hot drink” I whispered back,
“Right! Jolly good show, thank-you. You can get along home now.”
I stared at the riding crop that swung from his fingers. Following my gaze he continued to whisper,
“Just sorting out my riding gear, only a couple of months and Ill be chasing old foxy again”
My flesh crept at hearing those words. Hub and I are opposed to fox hunting, finding it a barbaric, so-called ‘sport’! I didn’t answer him, only to say a curt goodnight and made my way down those creaking dark staircases and round the dimly lit pathway and across the shadowy garden to the cottage. As expected, Hub had dozed off in front of the TV!
The following day Sir had gone out to lunch and the girl had taken her pony for a ride, so Jane and I set about tidying and polishing the large main sitting room.
Although I was aware of the baby grand piano that stood centre piece in the room, its surface covered with family photos, I had never touched the keyboard. It really was ‘grand’ and it didn’t belong to me. I hadn’t played piano since we had left Len and Joan’s villa in Algarve and my fingers itched to play once more but I hadn’t had the nerve to touch this lovely instrument.
I polished the surface and the lid, then, on impulse I raised it and gently stroked the keys. It was a little out of tune. Jane came out from the adjoining study,
“Do you play Ellie?”
I nodded “Just a little. Does anyone play in the family?”
“Not really. The girl has lessons but she doesn’t seem very interested. Play something”
I didn’t need asking twice and pulled out the piano stool, sat down and ran my hands over the keys. Although I was taught classical music and have a love of Mozart and Schumann, I like the music of the 20s and 30s; mostly Cole Porter and George Gershwin compositions and I have a love of jazz too. So I played a Porter number, a popular song and as I did, Jane started singing! We carried on like that for about half an hour, with Jane waltzing around the room, feather duster in hand as I thoroughly enjoyed myself running through a few old songs, making the odd mistake as I didn’t have my music with me. It didn’t matter, we were having fun laughing at ourselves. But we had work to do and as I continued to dust and polish I saw the framed photo of Sir on horseback and he was wearing the riding pink of a huntsman.
“Is that right Sir goes hunting?” I asked Jane.
“Well you could say that” she replied and fell about laughing.
I couldn’t see anything funny in hunting foxes and asked why she was laughing?
“He’s always falling off his horse!” she answered and roared with laughter once more.
Her laugh made me laugh.
“He’s always coming home with his arm in a sling, or something bandaged up. I’ve never yet seen him come home without his either broken, or bruised something. He spends more time on the ground than on his horse!”
“Poetic justice” I said, and with that, we both collapsed onto the armchairs, laughing our heads off, till tears streamed down our faces.
Her ladyship was due home on the Sunday; she was motoring back from their Spanish villa and all had to be prepared for her and the oldest girls return to the Manor.
I was very nervous about this. Although Sir and his son were quite fussy about their meals they didn’t seem to take much notice of the ‘housework’ in the Manor house, but having the lady of the house at home would be different. From what old Bob told us, she was extremely fussy and checked all surfaces to see that they were dust-free. I also heard from Jane that she was quite an expert cook; I didn’t need to hear this and I knew by Sunday I would be a bundle of nerves!
I have to say here, that although we had to work hard at the Manor, doing ‘jobs galore’, we did have our fun moments and being a terrible giggler I was often caught off my guard and the giggles let me down!
For example, one day, I was wandering round the grounds dead heading plants, when, I stood up and looking around me, I saw Sir, swinging his long shepherd’s crook through the air, as he proceeded to point out various things he wanted done by old Bob. Bob was hobbling around carrying out his wishes, when Jane, who must have been 70 if she was a day, suddenly appeared with a large basket of washing and sort of limped towards the washing lines outside the kitchen door. I started to giggle, then laugh. There were these 2 elderly folk running around after this man as he swung his stick through the air and continued to call out his orders. He saw me and looking puzzled, asked me what I was laughing at? I made up some cock and bull story about a funny incident I was thinking of,
“What? Oh well, glad to see you happy in your work” he replied with a smile.
That made me laugh even more, it was like being in the middle of a comedy sketch and I remember hurrying into the kitchen to get a glass of water; I had laughed so much I had the hiccups! I really do think it was our sense of humour that kept us sane in those days. Everything seemed so dated at the Manor and the people ‘eccentric’, almost like living in medieval times, with the master and his servants, but I could see the comical side of it all.
Sunday arrived and Hub and I had made sure everything was spic and span in the big house but I was nervous and needed something to occupy my mind. So we set to and started to weed the flower borders leading up to the Manor doors; it was early afternoon on a warm summer day. Suddenly there was the roar of an engine and a bright red Porsche sped through the wide open gates, sending the gravel flying as it came to a screeching halt just a few metres from where we were working.
An elegant silver haired, quite young looking woman climbed out from behind the steering wheel… her ladyship had arrived!
Wiping our hands on jeans, we shook hands, just as the back door of the car opened and a tall dark-haired teenager got out; the older daughter. She just about muttered ‘hello’ and stalked off into the Manor.
“Would you fetch my things from the boot please Hub?” the lady of the house requested.
I followed him and while he struggled with her luggage, I took out a large picture covered with a cloth and we followed her ladyship into the house. A couple of trips back and forth fetching more pictures and bags then the boot was finally emptied.
I saw the small study door open and on looking inside found her ladyship in front of the blazing fire; hands stretched out towards it!
“Nice to see a good blaze Ellie”
I was quite astonished but then realised, that although it was July in England, it was nowhere near as hot as the temperatures she had left behind in southern Spain and that she probably did feel ‘cold’! Nevertheless, I was finding all the family somewhat quirky.
I asked if she would like some tea and she replied that would be lovely then,
“Could you fetch it up to me please Ellie. I have a slight headache and I’m going to have a lie down”
This was another job I would be doing, taking tea up 3 flights of stairs; not just today but every day, early morning tea for her and his lordship whilst they were here.
Of course Jamie was on school holiday now and his lordship surprised him one day. He asked Jamie if he’d be willing to do some little jobs around the grounds and that he would give him weekly pocket money. Of course Jamie jumped at the chance; I wasn’t too sure about it, after all, the family had Hub, me, Jane and old Bob running around after them; they also hired local help at times, when there was a party laid on or for an extra hand with the garden work, but I didn’t like the idea of my young son working for them as well. But I gave in as Jamie was keen to earn some money.
Up until the mother had arrived, I had been on call to the youngest daughter each night. The child was obviously afraid of being in that large gloomy house late at night and who could blame her? So I made hot chocolate each evening, took it up to her and usually sat with her till she went to sleep.
One particular night, she scared the wits out of me. As usual, she called me and I went over to the Manor kitchen, making the hot drink and as usual I found ‘stores’ of chocolate bars ‘hidden’ away in drawers (the child seemed to exist on chocolate, for I never saw her eat much at mealtimes).
I made my way up the dimly lit staircases and after knocking I walked into her bedroom. She was sitting up in bed and looked terrified. I asked her if anything was wrong?
“I saw something on the stairs”
She had come back from the bathroom and seen a grey shape going round the turn in the staircase. I said it was probably her father; she replied that her father was still out. Now she was frightening me! I said it was probably one of the cats and she said, no, it was something larger. I shivered inwardly.
I had asked Jane about the Manor. It was an old building and I jokingly asked her one day “Was it haunted?”
She hesitated before answering then,
“Well, the oldest girl often says that she has seen a person, a shape sometimes in the shadows but I’ve never seen anything”
Jane’s words came back to me, as I sat on the bed. There was no telephone in the girl’s room, so I couldn’t call Hub and I started to feel afraid. I was still getting the sense of ‘someone’ or ‘something’ in our cottage. I still woke in the middle of the night and felt a ‘presence’ in the room. I never did sleep well in that place.
I felt very nervous when I left her room that night, switching on every light on each landing as I went down the staircases and fled round to our cottage. When I told Hub he said it was probably the older girl telling the youngster ‘ghost’ stories and putting ideas in her head. But I wasn’t convinced and I felt that the big ‘lonely’ Manor and the old cottage held a slightly sinister atmosphere; later on, something was to happen in the Manor that persuaded me I was right.
As usual, my weekly telephone calls to Maria lifted me from gloomy thoughts. I so enjoyed our talks and she always managed to make me laugh, though I did feel a little sad each time she asked ‘when are you coming back?’
I can’t remember exactly which week it was, but during one of our telephone chats she said they had taken their boys to Silves castle one Sunday, after having had a meal in the City. That brought back nice feelings. I always loved the drive to Silves from our workshops; I don’t know why, but somehow it always seemed I was going somewhere ‘special’, as we rounded the bend in the road and saw the red-walled castle that dominates the green shallow valley.
Being a lover of medieval history, I loved the stories of the Moors and their dominance of Algarve; of the Crusaders sailing the Arade in their ships from Portimao; of how they were ‘stunned’ by the beauty of Silves, the former capital of Algarve, with its white Moorish houses and fruit orchards set in the lush green valley. How Dom Sancho of Portugal with the help of passing English and German crusaders took the City of Silves from the Moors in the fierce battle of the 12 century. I loved the atmosphere of that city and its castle, with its legends of ghosts. I believe that Silves still retains a lot of its ‘Moorish’ past.
As always, talking to Maria, I longed to be back there, not just for her company but to feel at home again in the lovely sunny atmosphere that is Algarve.
With all the family now in residence at the Manor, Hub and I hardly at a moments rest during daylight hours. It was hard work, especially with her ladyship wanting the bed linen changed every day, plus she wanted all of her own summer clothes: blouses, dresses, underwear etc, washed by hand and carefully ironed. Sometimes at the end of each day, Hub and I were so exhausted, we would fall asleep in the armchairs in front of the TV.

One Friday morning as we were about to go shopping, the Lady of the house came round and told us they were having some friends around for lunch the next day and would like it to be served outdoors; then handed me a list. I always felt nervous of these occasions as some of their friends were ‘high ranking’ and I worried about the cooking of special meals. But the event turned out different to my expectations!...