Diary of a Scullery Maid – May

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Written by Sienna James

Finally, I bought a summer hat.

The washed out jam jar labelled ‘hat fund’ has been in my bedroom ever since August last year. You see, I wanted a summer hat then but firstly didn’t have enough money to spare, and also thought that by next spring there would probably be a new fashion anyway. So I was patient and waited until now to buy a gorgeous new straw boater.

As it turned out, Nancy also had a half-day off as well. I wasn’t too pleased about it at first, but it worked out very well. It was a warm afternoon, the type that makes you think summer is just around the corner, and the sun was a bright orange orb, high in the sky.

We jumped on the bus and leapt off again at Bury, and it was just when I was feeling independent and free that I realised I had no idea where to get a summer hat! I knew each and every store in Bakewell but didn’t know the shops here in Suffolk well at all.

“Nancy,” I began quietly, then explained the tricky situation and ended with, “So do you have any idea where I could buy a summer hat on my wages?”

She considered it seriously and we both paused in the middle of the street.

“I have it!” Clasping my hand and pulling me along, Nancy began to gabble excitedly. “Oh, Arianna, I have just the store. It might cost you a penny or two, but nothing that is unrealistic. After all, you have been saving for this, haven’t you? Goodness, I can’t wait to see you in some delightful creation of a hat. I have half a mind to cancel my date this afternoon just so I can make sure you pick the right one.”

I giggled a bit at this. Soon enough Nancy was leading me through a door that jingled at our arrival and she began showing me around the store.

“Now, if I remember, the hats are just over here…” She made a grand flourish and swept her hand in front of all the summer hats.

There were so many I couldn’t help but gape – I’d be here until midnight choosing! Hats with short brims and hats with wide brims; hats with blue or pink or yellow ribbons; hats with a flower or two woven into the trim and hats with garlands of roses. They looked like they should be worn by fairies, and not a girl who spends most of her day in front of a sink.

The next few minutes were filled with, “How about this one?” and “Arianna, this one would look wonderful on you!” or “You just have to buy this one.”

I couldn’t decide – I was caught between a long brim with curling yellow ribbons and a shorter brim with a smart navy coloured trim. Nancy was in favour of the navy one, but I wasn’t so sure. In the end it was a young shop assistant who made the decision. He couldn’t have been much older than John, the hall boy at Ickworth, but he was rather tall and gangly.

“May I be of assistance, ladies?”

I was about to refuse but Nancy jumped in and replied bluntly. “Yes. If you wouldn’t mind, which hat do you think Arianna suits most?”

He regarded me earnestly and I flushed under the inspection. At long last he made a decision and said simply, “The navy. It suits Miss Arianna’s lovely shining hair very well, if I might say so.”

Nancy nudged me and winked cheekily. I couldn’t help but blush. Nevertheless, the nice shop assistant made my decision and I bought the navy one after all.

When we had left the store and were strolling along the sunny streets, Nancy began to tease me about my ‘lovely shining hair’.

On the subject of beaux, I suddenly remembered Nancy had a date this afternoon. “Don’t you have to be somewhere with a young man?”

She shrugged in reply. “I preferred shopping for hats with you.”

I paused in the middle of the pavement. “So you stood him up?”

“Yes, I suppose so. But not because of selfishness but because of friendship.” She linked her arm through mine. “It’s nice spending time with you – you’re good company.”

I was flattered by that. She hadn’t been on a date because of me! After that, we spent the afternoon in the Abbey Gardens with an ice cream each before catching the bus back to Ickworth. I had a glorious time and now also have a summer hat. Of course, my jam jar is empty now. I’ve crossed out ‘hat fund’ but am unsure what to re-label it. What should I save up for next?