A cool breeze from the open window caused the long peach curtains to gently billow, sunlight filling the room now and again. The breeze had made the bedroom rather cold, and Evelyn who was still in bed, pulled the blankets closer to her chin. She knew that she should probably get up but was in no mind to leave the warmth, well not until her mother swept into the room.
''Evelyn!'' Martha scolded, whipping open the curtains, ''the hour is ten, breakfast is served and you are lying here like a lazy housemaid!''
Eve squinted, the brightness that now radiated through the room stinging her eyes.
''Get dressed at once and join your family, or I shall get the servants to force you!''
''Yes, mother.'' She groaned sleepily, reluctantly lifting her head from the pillow and swinging her bare feet over the mattress. The carpet was soft when her toes touched the floor, and she padded over to the basin to cleanse her face with water from the jug.
''Well have you it in mind to watch?'' she said sharply to her mother, rather moody from having been rudely woken.
Mrs Ainsley stood in the doorway, already dressed in her mauve blouse and floor length skirt. She had grown plumper with age and so liked to refrain from wearing dresses as, according to her, they accentuated her 'more shapely areas'.
''I expect to find you in the dining room momentarily.'' she huffed, and with that left the room.
But not long after her mother had departed, Evelyn was joined by a red haired maid who was to help with the lacing up of her corset. She despised wearing corsets, they were dreadfully uncomfortable and tight but Henrietta always had a clever way of lacing them looser so that at least she could breathe a lot easier. This was not Henrietta though, ''Where is Henrietta Birtle?'' she asked, disappointment quite obvious in her voice.
''She 'ad the day off Miss,'' the red haired girl replied as she placed a pile of carefully folded undergarments on to the bed.
Evelyn was surprised that her friend had not told her and unless she was mistaken, she had not seen this red haired maid before in the manor house, ''I don't believe we have met,''
The maid shook her head as she plumped up the pillows, ''No Miss, I'm one o' the new ones. Only started my duties today, I did,''
''Please, call me Evelyn, has my father employed many other…staff?'' She didn't like to refer to them as servants as she was friendly with a reasonable number of them and found it was improper to refer to your friends as such a thing.
''Oh yes Miss…Evelyn,'' she nodded, ''two in the kitchen, two maids in the house n' three in the gardens,''
''Oh,'' Evelyn was puzzled, why would her father employ more staff when there were only four of the Ainsley family residing in the house? Her brother Arnold and his wife didn't visit very often and when they did it was only for a mere two days, ''do you know why my father would do such a thing?''
''Tis' not my place to say Miss Evelyn,'' the maid replied. She did not want to say much more for risk of getting herself into trouble, especially on her first day, ''what will you be wearin' today?''
Evelyn thought not to pester the girl anymore, ''Something plain, please.''
It was not until she stood there in a lace dress with her brown curls pinned around her head, that she was deemed acceptable to attend breakfast. Having learned the red haired maid's name was Jenny; she thanked her for her help and stepped out into the hallway. A possible friendship, she thought.
The Ainsley manor house was large and Edwardian in style as could be seen by the elaborate mahogany staircase that Evelyn now descended. It had three floors; the very bottom floor belonged to the servants and was also where the kitchen was situated.
The second floor hosted the dining room, the parlour and also the library where Mr Ainsley took pride in his many books.
The third floor, where Evelyn had just emerged from, consisted of a number of large bedrooms, a music room and also a private study.
The manor was surrounded by wide gardens and tall trees and it had a glass house which was perfect for afternoon tea, but the Ainsley children's favourite had always been, and still remained, the lake.
''Good morning, father,'' Evelyn kissed her father on the cheek before taking her seat at the table. The dining room was airy and bright, due to the giant windows, and the table was long and already laid with a variety of food.
Mr Ainsley sat at the head of the table, with his wife and son on one side and his daughter sitting opposite them. Society would have said that Mrs Ainsley should have been sitting at the opposite head of the table, being the Lady of the house, but the family preferred to sit close together.
''Good morning my dear,'' Mr Ainsley folded down his paper, ''I see you have decided to grace us with your presence at last,''
Evelyn poured herself some hot tea into a china cup, ''I'm afraid I don't fare well with mornings,''
''As we are all well aware,'' Martha commented as she pierced a slice of pear with the prongs of her fork.
George cleared his throat, ''Don't I get a good morning, dearest sister?'' He was a very good looking chap, as Evelyn had been made aware from the countless ladies that had asked after him. He had fair curly hair slicked back into a side parting, and his mother's brown eyes, as usual his poetry book was sitting just beside him on the table.
''I do apologise,'' Evelyn smiled, ''good morning, dearest brother,''
''Have you heard of a Mr Darlington, Evelyn?'' Mrs Ainsley asked, giving her a husband a meaningful look.
''A Mr Darlington? I'm afraid I have not,'' she shook her head and took a sip of tea, ''have you heard of a Mr Darlington, George?''
''I cannot say I have,'' he answered with a smirk, ''but I am sure whoever he is must be a real darling,''
Evelyn laughed at her brother's wit and even her father joined in with a chuckle, but Martha did not quite see the funny side. ''George!'' she scolded, ''this is a serious matter. The gentleman shall be staying with us at the manor for a few weeks,''
''What's the occasion?'' Evelyn's brother popped a grape into his mouth,
''There is no occasion,''
Evelyn frowned, ''Well there must be, why else would we be welcoming a strange man, if I might add, that George and I have never heard of, into our own home?''
''Mr Darlington is simply coming to enjoy the Devonshire countryside, and we have plenty of rooms to spare, isn't that right dear?'' Martha asked her husband.
Mr Ainsley was very much engrossed in his own matters, like that fact in less than a week soldiers would be camping in his garden and eating from his kitchen. He wondered if he had hired enough servants for the high demands…
''Dear?'' Martha repeated, noticing her husband seemed relatively distant,
''Hmm? Oh yes that is quite right dearest.''
Mrs Ainsley glanced at her son and daughter with a smug smile, content that they would ask no more questions but Evelyn was not convinced. She thought her mother a predictable woman but this news she had just revealed was most definitely not predictable. Also, she found it peculiar that her mother had not mentioned a word about marriage when the breakfast table was one of her favourite places to reinforce the necessity of the subject.
Mr Ainsley swallowed a forkful of egg and cleared his throat, finally deciding that breakfast time, if any time, was probably the most suitable to arrange a family meeting, ''I have an important matter myself to discuss,'' he began,
''Must it be at breakfast, father?'' George interrupted, ''I was just about to ask Eve if she wanted to go for a stroll in the garden,''
''I have no intention of discussing it now, my boy, but instead I do ask for a family gathering. Mid-day in the parlour should be time enough. I want everyone there, including all servants on the estate,''
Evelyn remembered her previous conversation with the maid, ''Is it something to do with the reason as to why you have hired more staff?''
''Yes, yes, but we shall discuss more later,'' he waved off the question, ''do not let me keep you from your morning stroll. ''