She would have managed to lose track of her own packing, were it not for the fact that everything she owned fitted into her tiny suitcase, with space left over. She kept looking down and feeling sure something was missing, or she’d taken something that was not hers to be so free with. After a few moments of absent mindedly smoothing the front of her dress, casting her eyes around the room then peering back in at her things, she sat next to the case on her little bed, felt her heart as it fluttered away, and smiled.
She’d just come from the little Master’s room. They had finally succeeded in filling all his luggage for school. The list had seemed endless and required days of preparation and work. Her thumbs were calloused now, as she had been given the job of sewing his name into every cloth thing that he owned. She’d hardly seen Eileen since the weekend, as her sister had been sent to the kitchens. More hands were needed down there if they wanted to ready all the preserves, sweet treats and comforts the little Master was to take up with him.
She tutted out loud at the end of this last thought; Not Eileen! They were away from this place in the morning and she could call her own sister as she wished now. So when she next saw her sister’s tired face, she would say to it ‘Merrow’, without fear of censure. And as if her thoughts had been given strength by her happiness spilling into them, or by the magical creatures to which the name referred, her very own sister unlocked and thrust open the door that very second. ‘Hurry!’ But what Roisin had to hurry for she had first to wait for, as Merrow spent a few seconds clutching at her side and leaning on the bed frame, gasping for breath. Roisin stood and fanned at her sister’s flush face with her dress apron. ‘Her <i>Ladyship’s</i> sent <i>things</i> to the <i>quarters</i>!’ Merrow finally said and the two girls dashed off at once.
They clattered lightly into the room where the staff were allowed to gather after hours and found a tray of hot nuts, some very fine white bread and a new pot of plum jam. The girls gasped at all this, then noticed there was a jug of fizzy ginger and they let out squeals of high excitement and delight. ‘You’d think it was Christmas’. Mrs Buxton, the Housekeeper, made her way round the door and sunk heavily into a chair. She sighed and rolled her eyes at the pair, but they knew she was being fond. Everyone seemed to be tired and kindly at the minute. There was a feeling of accomplishment, of regretful but necessary work done well, now that the Little Master was all ready for the off. The loss of the little one made them pull together. Then there was the two of them going off on a holiday back home. The house was very keen to hang together this last night.
‘Her Ladyship said seeing as how you didn’t have any supper, and that it’s your last night, we could hardly let you go without or your Ma’d get it into her head we was starving you. And then she’d never let you near the boat back!’
‘It does <i>too</i> feel a touch like Christmas, though. Doesn’t it Merrow?’ Merrow, who was rolling some of the hazlenuts between her palms for warmth, looked briefly annoyed at being addressed so. But it was only brief, as she always seemed pre-occupied now, even when she was sitting at her leisure with food on the table. Mrs Buxton had pursed her lips at the name, and there was no fondness in the gesture this time. Roisin’s chin rose a little, an involuntary show at defiance grew out of her hurt at having been the cause of vexation. ‘Oh dear, <i>someone’s</i> getting silly in the head’. Roisin glanced round quickly to see Elsie, the scullery maid, winding her way through the half-open door and round the untucked chairs along the table. She had half a smile on. ‘Either that or they’re <i>forgetting themselves</i>…Oopsie!’ She said this last word as she snapped forward and snatched a handful of nuts from the tray. ‘If you mean to say your Whopsies about me Elsie Hackett then let me warn you that I certainly haven’t been forgetting anything whatsoever. And I shall thank you to be minding your own business if you please!’ Just at this point, as Elsie’s smile was growing wider and her eyes narrower, as Roisin’s face was getting redder and redder, a certain rushing of air made itself heard. This was Mrs Buxton’s Grand Sigh, given extra force as she folded herself forward to reach for her glasses, which was warning enough to the room at large that it should drop that kind of carry on immediately. Roisin busied herself with the bread and jam, while Merrow seemed hardly to have noticed anything at all. Elsie seemed satisfied with her work and only a few moments silence followed this breaking of tension. Soon enough Mrs Buxton was talking through the itinerary for the morning, and about the week just gone, and about how it didn’t seem to fit – the little Master leaving already. Roisin was caught up in stories of the little Sir and all the little brood from before she’d arrived. Cara joined them before long and so absorbed was Roisin that when there came a strong wrap at the door she half jumped out of her seat. Cara found this hilarious, so of course, soon so did Roisin and the knocker had to try again because no one had remembered to answer. ‘Come in if you’re coming in then.’ Mrs Buxton called.
‘Beg your pardon Misses. A-and Mrs. I’m awfully sorry to have to disturb you in the ladies quarters, but the housemaids are needed above stairs’. Roisin and Cara made sure to have one last gulp of their fizzy ginger, then rushed away.
It was half one in the morning by the time she felt her way back along the damp, uneven passage that led to her and Merrow’s room. She opened the door as quietly as she could: moving it slowly at first then very quickly to avoid it squeaking at the certain angle it didn’t like. It struck her that, little though she thought it ever could have when she’d arrived, the place was almost like a home to her now. At least, she quickly corrected, she knew it almost as well as you know your own home. She moved her hand slowly, slowly through the air above the dresser and was able to touch upon the clock without knocking it over. It’s more than likely, she though as she checked with deft fingers that Merrow had wound it, that I’m only thinking these sentimental thoughts because I’m really going home tomorrow. And all my homely feelings are spilling even over this grand, cold, Ocean liner of a house. She was out of her dress with barely more sound than a draft and crawled bit by bit in next to her sister. I have an inkling that Merrow is a little different now, she thought as sleep rapidly got hold of her. When I compare memories from long ago, they don’t fit with how she is now. I wonder if it’s just time. If I’ve changed too, and everyone back home. And then she was asleep.