Mrs Tard, the cook, looked up from her chair by the oven in the kitchen, gazed at Edna and Nellie, the two maids, as they entered.
- All jobs done now? Mrs Tard asked, wiping her brow with the back of her hand.
- All done, Nellie said, walking over to the oven, putting her hands out for the heat.
- Done and dusted, Edna said, sighing, moving around the huge table, sitting in one of the chairs.
- I suppose you'll want some cocoa, Mrs Tard said, eyeing each girl in turn.
- That'd go down a treat, Nellie said, rubbing her hands together, flesh against flesh, looking over at Edna in the chair, giving a wink and smile.
Mrs Tard rose from her chair, wandered over to the saucepan on the side of the oven and taking two white mugs from the shelf, poured the girls their cocoa. She placed the mugs on the table, walked back to her chair and sat down.
Night. Stars and moon out and could be seen from the window over behind Edna. Nellie walked to the table, picked up a mug, and sat down next to Edna. Edna sipped her cocoa slowly, letting the warm liquid enter her, feeling Nellie next to her, sensing her knee touch hers, her arm prodding hers gently.
Mrs Tard began to drift off to sleep in her chair, her head leaning to one side. Her arms folded like sleeping babes, her eyes closed, and her breathing becoming deeper.
Nellie gazed at the cook, nodded at her to Edna. Edna smiled. Nellie sipped her drink, watching the cook's head go further to one side, her body shifting like a ship in rough seas. She felt tired, too. It had been a long day. She turned, looked at Edna, who was gazing at her mug. She put her left hand on Edna's thigh and squeezed. Edna jumped suddenly, almost spilling her mug.
- Silly fool, nearly spilt my drink, Edna said, tapping Nellie's hand, looking over at the cook to see if she had woken; she hadn't, she slept on.
- Couldn't resist it, Nellie said, holding Edna's thigh tighter, making her squirm, giggle and moan.
Edna wriggled, hitting out at Nellie's hand and arm. - Let go, you cow, Edna said, trying to get off the chair, but failing and struggling to sit upright.
- What are�you two up to, now? Mrs Tard said, her voice gruff, her eyes trying to focus, and her head shaking itself to alertness. - Always mucking around you are, always wasting time.
Nellie released Edna's thigh and grabbed her mug. - Sorry, Mrs Tard, thought I saw a spider on Edna's stockings.
Edna pulled a face, sat upright, pulled at the hem of her dress, then picked up her mug and began to drink.
- A likely story, Mrs Tard said. You two are�always messing about with each other, you better not let Mr Topdraw see you or you'll be for it. He won't have his staff larking about when there's work to be done or any time come to that.
- Sorry, Mrs Tard, said Edna, holding her mug with both hands, putting on her innocent face, biting her lower lip. -We were only having a laugh.
- There's place for fun and this isn't the place; this is a respectable house; not some circus or public house, Mrs Tard said, crossly, putting her hands on her hips. -Now, finish your cocoa and get off up to bed; and don't make a noise on the stairs or start giggling or what have you. She glared at the two girls, shook her head and sighed deeply.
Nellie and Edna finished their cocoa. They looked over at Mrs Tard who was eyeing them sternly. - Just going, then, Mrs Tard, said Nellie, taking the two mugs to the sink to wash them up.
- Didn't mean to get you angry, Edna said childishly, holding her hands together as if she was going to start praying.
-Off you go, Mrs Tard said, and make sure you are quiet. I don't want Mr Topdraw moaning to me tomorrow about you two making a noise going up or having fits of giggles.
- No, Mrs Tard, Edna said, nodding, walking backward toward Nellie at the sink.
Nellie wiped up the two mugs and took them to the shelf. - See you in the morning, Mrs Tard, Nellie said, wiping her hands on her apron, backing away, putting on a mournful look.
- Goodnight, Mrs Tard said, off you go. See you up and early. She looked away from the retreating girls, began to think of her own bed, wondering if Mr Burt, the gardener, would bring her flowers from the garden again the next day, thinking of his hands as he held his mug in the kitchen, the look in his eyes. She smiled. Another day. Who knows, she mused, what it will bring. She walked across the kitchen and taking a last look around, turned out the light and went out the door.
Nellie held Edna's hand along the passageway, sensed her warm skin close to hers, the slight pulse, the softness.
Edna walked beside Nellie as they climbed the stairs to their room; she sensed Nellie's hand hold hers, her flesh against hers, the closeness of her, the night ahead, the bed and hugging against the cold air of the attic, beneath a chilled night, with stars and pale moon.