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Love and Prudence

   Prudence pleaded with him to stop but he wouldn’t. Herbert shouted, ‘He deserves it. And another, and another!’
     ‘Stop it, Herbert, please. He didn’t mean anything. Stop it.’
     ‘Didn’t mean anything? Of course he did. I know exactly what he was after. Come on, get up. Come on.’ Herbert gave him another sharp kick in his ribs and Billy came to with a roar. Quicker than it takes to tell he was up on his feet chasing Herbert round the scullery. Twice he got him and punched him but Herbert was resilient and prised him away, and then, trapped in the corner by the stone sink, Herbert turned to fight and grabbing the iron ladle left in the sink by Prue, hit Billy hard over the head. This time Billy really was unconscious. They both stood silently waiting for Billy to surface but he didn’t, so Herbert grabbed his feet and hauled him, with Prue’s help, through the door onto the path outside. Taking the ladle, Herbert scooped cold water out of Prue’s laundry bucket and poured it over Billy.
     Prue, thoroughly flattered at the idea of two men fighting over her, was at the same time horrified at what had happened and she muttered, ‘We haven’t killed him have we?’
     ‘Course not. He’ll have a bit of a headache tomorrow but he’ll come to no harm. Come inside, you’re as white as a sheet. He’ll think twice before he comes after you again.’
     Herbert put a warm comforting arm around her waist, sat her on a bench inside the scullery and gave her a cup of water. ‘There, you sit down till you feel better.’
     Prue thought if that was loving Billy then she didn’t think she wanted him.
The way he’d forced himself on her wasn’t right. He was good to look at and very pleasant to admire from a distance but. . . . . . .her disappointment at Billy’s behaviour made her contemplate Herbert.
     ‘Herbert, how old are you?’
     ‘I’m twenty two and only on the first rung of the ladder.’
     Twenty two, that was just right, then she asked, ‘What ladder are you talking about?’
     ‘The ladder of life. Don’t think I’m stuck here as a footman all the rest of my days. I’m heading for butler and then, well, the sky’s the limit.’ Herbert pointed to the sky through the scullery window and turned to laugh at her. ‘See, some titled family ‘cept not a sir and a lady like here, maybe an earl or a duke you never know. But that’s where I’m heading, to work in a really posh household.’
     ‘Oh! Herbert. You are exciting thinking like that. Won’t your mum be proud?’
     ‘Would you be proud? Of me?’
     ‘Oh! Yes, I would.’
     ‘London’s the place for progress. Would you come?’
     Herbert took her hands in his and examined them. ‘We’d move and you’d turn into a lady’s maid so your hands would be smooth and beautiful. No more slaving head down in steaming tubs of water, heaving hot kettles about, and pegging out the clothes, so there’d be an end to wrinkled hands and broken nails. You’d be with me, the two of us. Mr and Mrs Herbert Jones, eh? Nothing to stop us, is there now?’ He gently kissed her cheek and looked down at her with loving, admiring eyes.
     Prue was dazzled with excitement about Herbert’s vision of the future. She could see everything he talked about in shining heavenly colours. To be a lady’s maid! In London! Where everything happened. Where there was life! How incredible he was to have ambition, to fancy working in a stately household in London of all places. That was more like it, a man with ideas! She loved the thrill of it all racing through her veins. A whole dazzling new world opened up for Prue. She looked him up and down as he stood in front of her holding her cup of water. He wasn’t all that bad wasn’t Herbert, in his own way he was quite dashing.
     Still feeling shaky after her experience with Billy, she managed to take a deep breath and whisper softly, ‘Oh! Herbert, that sounds wonderful.’
     This is a story about a girl, Prudence Wright, who worked as a laundry maid at Turnham House for the Templetons in the last decade of Queen Victoria’s reign. Her admiration of Herbert’s ambition to work in London in a ducal household became true due to Herbert’s determination. Prudence eventually became a lady’s maid and gloried in the possession of the soft genteel hands Herbert so longed for her to have.



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