Written by Sienna James
I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in all my life. It was definitely worth missing my half-day off. By the time I stopped laughing my stomach ached and I felt exhausted!
When Nancy came up with the idea it was the last day of March. Lily and I were just getting to sleep and we heard the creak of footsteps nearing our bedroom. Nancy poked her head around the door and giggled.
“I’ve got a smashing idea,” she whispered to us. “It’s the first of April tomorrow and you know what that means, don’t you?”
I bit my tongue sharply, wanting to remind her that if she was caught creeping about then Mrs Seddons would be onto us all like a vulture.
“It’s April Fool’s Day!” Lily murmured excitedly, crossing her arms tightly across the covers, eyes shining in the dusky light of the attic bedroom.
Nancy beamed, dimples deep in her cheeks, and nodded approvingly as if we were her wards. “Exactly. And I know precisely what fool we’re going to play…”
The following morning I was giddy with anticipation and also nervousness. Would we get in serious trouble for this? Probably. The senior servants do not like to be made fun of, and I was reminded of how strict and stern the butler is here at Ickworth.
“Are you looking forward to it, Arianna?” Nancy asked when she leant over to give me a dish to wash up.
“Yes,” I admitted. “I can’t wait to see his face.”
“Me too. Of course, we’ll get into trouble. We always do. I played a similar joke at the kitchen where I worked previously and-”
“You’ve worked in kitchens before?” I was so surprised, I interrupted her.
She laughed at my face and continued preparing breakfast. “Of course – I worked there for two years as a scullery-maid before seeing this position at Ickworth.”
I paused for a moment. “But you’re only fifteen.”
“Yes, I started at thirteen. You see, my mother is an invalid and so we needed money for food and medicine. She cannot work.”
“Your father?” Nancy grimaced and shook her head, curls bobbing. “He’s rarely at home and if he is, he’s drunk.”
“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed, as I barely knew what to say. As it happens, I couldn’t have said much more as a footman knocked on the kitchen door and Nancy was away, sidling up and flirting outrageously.
It was about an hour later when we servants sat down for breakfast. Nancy and I kept catching each other’s eyes and giggling, the seriousness of our earlier conversation forgotten.
As a scullery maid, I sit down with John the hall-boy at the bottom of the table and so Mr Fox seems miles away at the top. But that moment when he lifted his spoon to crack open his boiled egg… I bit my tongue and made a funny gurgling sound. I was laughing already. Mr Fox didn’t find a firm, warm egg inside the shell. He found a pool of runny and revolting egg white! The uncooked egg had not only splattered all over his plate and the table, but even left a dribbling mess all over his smooth, starchy coat. He turned red in the face with indignation and reminded me of a ripe radish plucked from the garden. I covered my face with my napkin and gave in to laughter – I chortled just as much as Nancy, and didn’t even stop when Cook shrieked at us.
“Nancy! Arianna!” She shouted so loud I feared Lord Bristol would have heard her upstairs. “Why on Earth is poor Mr Fox’s egg not cooked? Did you just fling it in the cup without boiling it in the saucepan? Girls, return to the kitchen immediately!”
Nancy’s eyes turned wide in mock horror. Muttering something about oversleeping and footmen, she pulled some endearing ringlets down about her cheeks and looked up at the senior servants. But even that didn’t melt Cook, and we escaped from the servant’s hall with no half-day off for this week. And yet as Nancy, Lily and I fell into the kitchen in hysterics over the look of sheer outrage on Mr Fox’s face, I knew it was worth it.
Goodnight, and Happy April!