Nellie stirred the soup; tried not to listen to Mrs Tard, the cook, moan from over by the sink. The soup was bubbling slowly; she could smell the onions. The large wooden spoon seemed heavy after a while; her right hand ached. Her mother had a big wooden spoon like the one she held; her mother used to hit her with it when one of her dark moods came on, until finally they took her off to the asylum. Nellie sighed. Shooed the memory as if it were a stray cow in the field of her thoughts.
- No point in sighing, the works has to be done, Mrs Tard said, her voice booming across the kitchen like a cannon going off.
- I wasn't, Nellie said, well, not because of the work.
- I don't know what you and Edna get up to, I really don't, Mrs Tard continued, I'm calling out for you all day.
- I was just thinking that's all, Nellie said, looking over at Mrs Tard, huge in her white apron, like Moby Dick, Nellie mused, taking in the sight, trying not to smile at the thought.
- Think? Mrs Tard muttered, you're not here to think, you're here to work, and work hard, too. What do you think Mr and Mrs Topdraw pay your for?
Nellie looked away from Mrs Tard; stirred the soup again. The voice continued in the background. Nellie gazed out at the window. The gardener was pushing the wheelbarrow towards the backdoor. Come for his tea no doubt, Nellie thought, taking in the man's cap on the side of his head clinging on for dear life. Him and Mrs Tard up to something; too friendly; too close. More than a cuppa, he's after. Dread the thought, Nellie smiled, paused stirring.
- And another thing, Mrs Tard said; keep that bed of yours quiet at night. I can hear it going off as if you were on a trampoline in there.
-It's the springs, Mrs Tard, they're useless, Nellie said, pushing away the memory of her and Edna hugging and tickling in the single bed the night before. Always comes in my bed because she's cold, daft cow.
- Lucky to have a bed, there's some that don't, I can tell you, Mrs Tard said, wiping her huge hands on her apron. Her grey hair sticking out of her white cap; her eyes peering at Nellie and her sulky face.� - Many a girl out there'd be glad of your bed, and be prepared to work for it, too.
- Yes, Mrs Tard, Nellie said, thinking of Edna squeezing her stomach, touching her thigh, so that she had to struggle not to giggle out in the dark attic. - I am glad of the bed, I was just saying.
The gardener came in the kitchen rubbing his hands.
-Wash your hands first, Mr Burt, Mrs Tard said, letting a smile form on her lips like�a snake awaking.
- Glad to, Mr Burt said, going to the sink, turning on the tap; scrubbing his hands with the huge brush and green�soap. - Fresh out there, he said, his back to Nellie, his broad backside like a bull's arched over the sink.
Nellie turned; gazed at Mrs Tard who was carrying a towel over to the gardener at the sink. More than tea he's after, she mused, holding the huge spoon above the large saucepan. Him and her in bed; what a thought to make you want to be a nun, Nellie mused, keeping a smile in check, just in case she broke out in a fit of giggles.
- Them roses are coming along well, Mr Burt said, taking the towel from Mrs Tard, their hands touching Nellie noticed, but pretended not to see;� looked away; stirred the soup. - Mr Topdraw'll be please with them. Likes his roses he does.
The kitchen door burst open; Edna came in with her duster and polish. She hurried to the cupboard and put them away.
- Hope you've done that polishing properly, Mrs Tard said, giving Edna a stern glare.
- Yes, Mrs Tard, of course I have, Edna said, closing the cupboard door;� standing with her hands folded in front of her.
- Well, when Nellie's done stirring that soup to death, you and she can prepare the dinning room for luncheon, Mrs Tard said, looking over at Nellie who was holding the wooden spoon in mid air.
Nellie put the spoon down; wiped her hands on her apron. Edna smiled.
- We'll do it now, Mrs Tard, Nellie said, looking briefly at Mr Burt, who stood wiping his hands on the towel.
- And do it properly, you've been here long enough to know how it's to be done, Mrs Tard bellowed, as then two maids made their way out of the kitchen, like two school girls, their backsides swaying excitedly.
- Yes, Mrs Tard, Nellie said, putting her cap on level, pulling at her apron.
- And when that's done come back here, Mrs Tard demanded.
- Yes, Mrs Tard, Edna said, poking out her tongue as the kitchen door closed behind them. She grabbed Nellie's hand; pulled her across the hall towards the door that lead out to the passageway to the dining room.
Nellie shook her head as she followed Edna across the hall, taking in Edna's backside swaying sweetly; her warm hand in hers; the light from the huge window causing patterns of sunlight to dance across the hall like ghosts making merry in May; the eyes of Mr Topdraw's father peering down at the maids as they ran out of the door and out of sight with their small giggles echoing behind them along the passage and away.