Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Character Showcase - Daisy and Ruby Mallard

Well, aren't we just having a very chilly and snowy January? Fortunately, my new release SLOWLY FELL is on its way to cheer you up next Wednesday the 24th.

The first character showcase for this book is being shared today by two sisters - Daisy and Ruby Mallard -  household servants with a dark secret.

Daisy, the elder sister, is the stillroom maid on the Bramley estate where the Mallard family have lived and worked for generations. She is a quiet, shy, hardworking, conscientious young woman who, amongst other duties, makes excellent jam and marmalade from the bounty of the estate. (For an image of Daisy I pictured the character of Dorothy, played by the lovely actress Sophie Thompson in Gosford Park -- a little nervous, devoted, never wanting to draw much attention to herself.) But lately Daisy's work has begun to suffer, because there is something preying on her mind, and Lady Bramley -- who has noted the lapsed quality of her preserves -- means to find out exactly what's going on. There must be more to Daisy's strange behavior than that pair of too-tight, expensive kidskin boots  she's suddenly taken to wearing.

Lady Bramley soon discovers that Daisy's anxiety stems from the antics of her younger sister Ruby - a much livelier and more restless girl, who left the Bramley estate some month ago to work at a very old, mysterious house in Slowly Fell. And who hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Daisy is certain that her sister has been carried off by witches. After all, everybody knows about the curse on Slowly Fell and the macabre history of the Wilding family for whom Ruby went to work. Could it be that Ruby's rebellious temperament has got her in trouble one time too many?

Lady Bramley must get to the bottom of Ruby's disappearance -- not only because she was responsible for writing a reference for the girl and finding her the new place, but also because she doesn't want her breakfast to suffer any worse depreciation in quality, and its clear Daisy can't concentrate on her work until she knows what happened to her sister. Lady Bramley might only be the dowager now and no longer mistress of the house, but she still considers the staff her responsibility and she won't let anything bad happen to a girl in her charge. Or to her strawberry jam.

The life of a household maid in England during the Regency period was one of constant toil. Of course, in the hierarchy of servants, there were different maids with different duties, some of them slightly more appealing, but --in a time before electricity--all of them back-breaking and endless. At the bottom of the rung came the scullery maids and laundry maids, while at the top sat the housekeeper, who may have, long before, started at the very bottom of the ladder and worked her way up. A stillroom maid was one of the most coveted positions in the house and not far beneath a housekeeper. They distilled perfumes and herbal waters, concocted medicines and soap, mixed spices, dried flowers and made candles. On many estates a housekeeper was the stillroom maid too. At the Bramley estate -- which is vast -- they employ a separate, dedicated stillroom maid in Daisy Mallard. She is, therefore, one of the topmost  servants on the staff. Perhaps this has rankled slightly with her younger sister, who is ambitious but sees that at the Bramley estate there are too  many talented, hard-working and loyal servants ahead of her to make much room for advancement. Out on her own, in another house, it's likely she hoped to escape her sister's shadow and make something better of herself. Perhaps.

Moving from a large, efficiently run, well-staffed estate to a smaller house with only three servants and a very demanding mistress, Ruby certainly finds herself noticed more often. But that's not quite such a good thing as she always imagined it to be.

So where is she now? Is Ruby Mallard at the bottom of the village pond, along with all the other lost souls that wandered in and were never found again? Has she been spirited away by the Wilding witches of Slowly Fell? Or has she -- as the cook suggests -- run off with a young man, who lured her with seductive promises of a better life?

Looks like you'll have to read Slowly Fell to find out!


(Images used above: Sweeping the Feathers, by Victor Gabriel Gilbert 1847-1933; Young Woman Ironing, by Louis Lepold Boilly 1761-1845; and a regency kitchen illustration  from Google images)

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