Here at Verlesk Manor, we all had our own secret recipe for pancakes. Every Sunday it was someone else’s turn, and the day after my double encounters with Carson, it was mine.
“Everybody, out!” ordered Nell, clapping his little hands. “Abby’s making pancakes!”
We smiled endearingly at him. he was the only one allowed to call me Abby, and he made good use of the privilege. One by one, everyone filed out, and he smiled at me before closing the door behind him. I knew he would keep even Mindy from entering, darling as he was.
I cracked two cartons of eggs into a humongous twelve-gallon mixing bowl, poured in three jars of milk. Next went in a bag and a half of flour, four cups of baking powder, and six cups of sugar. I only needed a cup of oil. I mixed everything together, which took near to twenty minutes, and took a taste. It was still a bit watery.
I reached into the jar on the counter for another scoop of flour. My cup hit something near the bottom, inhibiting me from getting out my flour until the thing was removed. i bit back a twinge of annoyance. People had to learn not to leave the measuring cups in the flour jars.
I reached down, my whole arm disappearing through the narrow mouth of the jar. My fingers closed around it.
It wasn’t a measuring cup.
In my hand was a perfectly round, red tablet with an embossment on it. I rinsed the flour off, and found that it was of a fat, winged naked child that took up most of the space. The disk itself was about five inches in diameter, and almost a centimetre thick. I stared at the object, my mind going blank. a zigzag line ran behind the child, and one end of it stuck out. It made it look like it had a tail.
What was it doing in the flour jar?
I flipped it over, cautious now. The backside was perfectly smooth. I took a knife and tapped it; it neither chipped nor scratched. Eyebrows scrunched, I studied it for a minute longer, before recalling that I was supposed to be making breakfast. Conspiratorially, I pocketed it and dumped in my extra cup of flour.
“Okay, Nell.” I opened the door to let everyone in. I caught sight of Mindy rounding a corner and disappearing. “Are you going to help me cook these things?”
My recipe made about three hundred pancakes, enough for everyone to have about twelve each. Though, nobody ever ate more than three, except Luke, who normally ate his quota. It wasn’t polite. The extras were smuggled to the homeless people who waited on Sundays outside the estate gates. I was glad that it was my turn to deliver them today.
We put the two-hundred-fifty extras in thirteen wicker baskets, and put the seventy-five that would actually be eaten on the rolling cart with the butter and syrup.
I piled the baskets onto another bigger cart that was excellent for manoeuvring on rough terrain. I stole out the front kitchen door, as breakfast was being served in the dining hall. The twenty paces to the edge of the woods flashed by in my headlong sprint to avoid being seen. Once in the cover of the trees, though, I slowed my pace and once again gazed thoughtfully at the strange ceramic disk I had found. I shuddered at the sense of doom I suddenly had. It reminded me of an epiphany of Armageddon.
I pocketed it again and pulled at the cart. A wheel of it caught a root in the otherwise smooth path. Before I could do anything, the whole thing tipped over, and the pancakes spilled all over the ground.
“No!” I cried, falling to my knees I had no time to blow off the dirt, so I just shoved them back into their baskets frantically.
Swarms of insects came out of hiding from underground. “Go away!” I cried. But it was too late. If I put more in now, that would just infect the others. I was forced to leave the rest behind.
Now I only had five and a half baskets, for a hungry crowd of normally a hundred.
Slowly, I shook my head. Good morning, Abigail.
Too soon, I found myself pushing open the secret gate that everyone knew about. Guilt gathered in all my pores, and I prepared to face the crowds of potentially furious homeless people.
Since the Verlesk’s property extended almost to the edge of town, there were no trees beyond. Nothing but a strip of summer green grass separated the estate wall and the city of Euhalot at the foot of the hill. Lying in casual positions in the grass in their threadbare clothing were not a hundred people, but closer to a hundred-fifty. Someone gave a shout, and all at once the murmurs stilled; all eyes were turned on me.
As per usual, Jonathan came forward with a big smile on his face. “Abigail!” he said. “So nice of you to come today. And thank you,” he added, eying the baskets.
Jonathan’s face always caused me to cringe when I saw it, bony and gaunt as it was. the paleness of his skin lent his hands a horribly skeletal appearance, and his feet were dreadful to even catch sight of. they were always dirty, often scratched, and as bony as the rest of him. I forced a returning smile upon my face.
“Good morning, all.” I gave Jonathan a basket, and people lined up behind him to start handing them out. Before Jonathan left, I caught his arm. “Why are there so many people today?”
“Word got out about the pancakes,” he whispered.
I swallowed again. “Great. Umm, about that.”
His smile froze on his face. “Yes? What is it, Abigail.”
“Well, you see, something happened on the way here. the cart overturned, and I lost most of the pancakes, and I only have four baskets, you see, and it’s not enough, and I don’t know what to do—” I stopped, peering at his face. He was frowning now.
“Well.” He said tightly. He opened the lid of the basket to look at the dirt speckled pancakes. “I suppose we’ll just have to make do.”
I nodded guiltily, shuffling my feet on the grass. It didn’t take long to empty the baskets, and I left without another word.
“So how’d it go?”
Lily was the only one in the kitchen when I at last made it back. I could see she was mixing together ingredients for a cake, which was unusual. The Verlesk’s hated cake.
“Great,” I lied. “Did Mindy miss me?”
Lily nodded. “Yes, twice, to make the beds and help me with dishes. But it’s been taken care of.”
“Swell. What’s the cake for?”
Lily made a moue. “Luke is having company,” she confided. “Apparently this is the main course, and her poor heart will be dessert.”
“Now, Lily. You and I both know that Luke doesn’t eat hearts. He likes to leave them with his victims to cry over.”
“True. Too true.”
I licked a bit of batter off the side of the bowl, rewarding me with a frown from Lily. “So what are my tasks for today?” I asked her with an impish smile.
“You may begin by changing the linens in all the bedrooms,” Lily suggested. “There’s a fresh basket behind the door. and when you’re done that, there’s weeds that need pulling in the vegetable garden, oh, and don’t forget…”
When I passed the master bedroom with the laundry hamper on my hip, Mrs. Verlesk called out for me to come to her.
She smiled at me, and commenced staring at her hands in thought.
“Yes, Mistress?” I prompted. “Do you require assistance with something?”
She looked up at me, finally. “Well, Abigail, I… you know I’ve always trusted you most out of all my servants, right?”
I blinked. “Um…no, ma’am I didn’t.”
She smiled sadly. “Well, Abigail, I do, and I have noticed how incredibly intelligent you are.”
“Yes, Abigail. And as my most trustworthy servant, I would like some counsel.”
“Concerning what, madam?”
She picked at her dress. “Abigail, I have a feeling Mr. Verlesk is not being faithful to me. and, as my most trustworthy servant, and, might I add, the most tactful, I would like you to keep an eye on him when I go out tomorrow. If you see any suspicious behaviour, make a note of it and tell me.” she nodded to herself. “Do you understand, Abigail? I must know; it has been weighing heavily on my mind for the longest time now. And…well, that’s all you need to know, I suppose. You may go, now. Oh, and since you have agreed to aid me, tomorrow you may have the entire free day to keep my husband in your sight. I will let Mindiache know as well.”
I giggled in the hallway. Mindy’s name sounded just the way it was spelled: Mindy-ache. Because she’s a butt-ache. Her parents must have hated her. I was still laughing when I pushed open the door to the fifth bedroom and walked in on Carson, stretched out on the bed, reading.
“Oh, hello, Miss Charlotte.” He wore trousers and a button-up shirt that made his eyes look like the sky. I right near dropped my hamper.
“Carson,” he corrected, rising from the bed. “So what brings you here, Miss Charlotte?”
I looked at the floor. “Changing the linens,” I mumbled.
He moved closer. “What was that?”
I flinched, and this time I did drop my hamper. He was standing right in front of me.
“I’m changing the bed linens,” I said. “But I will come back later for these ones.”
I bent to pick up the linens that had been spilled, at the same time that he did. Our hands brushed as they reached for the same bedspread. I pulled away, refusing to have one of those moments akin to romance novels, where the heroine and the hero reach for the same flower/book/dangerous weapon, their eyes meet, and they fall in love. I was a sucker for that sort of thing, and the quickened pace of my heart was not a good sign.
And then, of course, there was Paul.
I glanced at Carson once, though, and found him gazing at me thoughtfully. It was all I could do not to run.
“Good day, Master Gregory.”
I dipped a curtsy with the speed of light, which nearly tipped my basket again. my hand fluttered uselessly as he righted it, and then I was gone.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I muttered to myself.
The rest of the day passed without incident. I did the laundry, the weeding, scrubbed pots. By suppertime, I was able to convince myself that this morning had been a terrible dream. Except for the fact that after supper, he never seemed to disappear.
“Hello, Miss Charlotte,” he said when I closed the door to the cellar on a fresh bag of potatoes.
“Carson,” he said charmingly.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he said in the empty dining room around ten of the clock when I came in to sweep the floor.
“Master Gregory,” I replied politely.
He watched me the entire time I worked, unnerving me to no end.
“May I help you, Miss Charlotte?” he asked me when I went to the vegetable garden to get some carrots for Lily’s stew.
“That’s quite alright, thank you, Master Gregory.”
“Carson. Does my name repel you, Miss Charlotte?”
I blushed. “Of course not! I quite like it, sir, it is just not the way I was trained.” I raised my chin. “But, sir, I am only sixteen. Why do you call me ‘Miss?’ when you call me Abigail, I will gladly call you Carson. If it pleases you,” I added.
But he smiled, of course. “Is that a deal, Abigail?” he whispered, rocking back on his heals.
“A deal? I suppose.”
He grinned even wider. “Abigail.” he repeated.
I gritted my teeth and took a deep breath, fighting against my years of scrupulous apprenticeship. “Carson,” I got out, making a terrible face.
He laughed softly and tipped his hat to me before walking away.
The woman he had been sitting with at the tea on Friday met him at the gate, and they strolled arm-in-arm toward the house.
I had never been more confused in my life.
My, but I must have been sulking madly, for even butt-ache Mindy asked me if I was alright. I was coming back with the carrot bucket when she passed me. the joyous cries of the late-night cricket players were almost lost on the blowing wind. She said, and I quote: “Miss Charlotte, what is the matter with you? Buck up, right now. Are you alright? Yes? Then hurry up and make some butter! And when you are done with that…”
“What? Did you say something, Master Luke?” I interrupted. I stretched up on my toes, looking over her head.
“Master Luke?” she squeaked, whirling around. “Where?”
“Nowhere,” I said quietly as I stole into the night. “Nowhere at all.”
Problem one: solved; butt-pain cured. But, what to do with Master Gregory?
And by that, of course, I meant Carson.