This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 800 words.
Dakin Hall benefited greatly from Aileen becoming the mistress. The staff were given increases in pay, and allowed better food too. They were also called by their names, rather than the use of such terms as ‘Girl’, or ‘You’. Aileen also insisted that they accompany the famly to church on Sundays, and local carters were hired to save them the long walk. Everyone who worked in or around the house had never been more content, and jobs at The Hall became the most sought after in the county.
Aileen’s no nonsense atitude changed the atmosphere in the family too. She allowed Esmerlda to continue to do nothing, and left her to it without complaint or bitterness. James continued to be cared for, and his every need taken care of. Oscar was suitably impressed, and told Abraham what a wonderful job his young wife was doing. And Abraham’s all too brief visit that year left Aileen expecting another addition to the family too. Then Oliver returned from his education, set to study under his father with a view to taking over the business one day. With some of the Dakin men still serving in the military, his once professed desire to follow them was not allowed.
The young man was overwhelmed by Aileen, though she failed to notice his growing obsession with her.
The new mistress was just as popular around the town. Respectful greetings followed her every appearance, and she was always addressed as Mistress Dakin. Her polite manner impressed tradespeople and shopkeepers alike, yet all could see she was no fool, despite her youth. The polite society of the county was less enamoured, and social invitations faied to appear for the daughter of a tavern-keeper. But this was as nothing to Aileen, who was relieved not to have to suffer the boring tea parties and stuffy dances.
In the quiet of her own room, she kept up the journal that she had discovered. Her careful script continuing to relate the day to day life of the family, and the world events surrounding them too. And she was sure to set time aside for little Spencer, delighting in late afternoon play with her son.
That winter was harsh, and continued to be so as the year turned.
One snowy night, Esmerlda went into labour. No doctor or midwife could get up to The Hall in time, so Aileen tried her best with the delivery, helped by two maids, and the cook. But the child was not breathing when it appeared, and no amount of rocking it before the fire or slapping the infant would work. When the town doctor arrived just before dawn, he pronounced the baby dead, and turned his attention to Esmerelda.
She had continued to bleed following the delivery of her stillborn daughter. Years of eating little and taking no exercise had left her weak too, and with no hope of a surgeon arriving from Colchester, Esmerelda died just before midday.
Despite her exhausting night, Aileen immediately wrote letters to Henry and Richard, informing them of the terrible news. Both were unlikely to get leave, and the travel conditions were such that they would be unable to get home in time anyway. Esmerelda was interred in the family plot in the town churchyard the following afternoon. Her baby was named Florence, and buried in the coffin with her.
Ignoring the sadness affecting the family, Aileen determined to not only keep the household running as normal, but also to ensure that the poor people around the town did not suffer due to the continuing winter. She spoke to Oscar and Oliver about deferring some payments due from tenant farmers, and organised the distribution of bread and vegetables to those suffering hardship. By the time the thaw began, and Abraham was able to return home, he was delighted to see his young wife so well regarded by all.
She also remained unaware of the hidden affections of Oliver, and his jealousy at her carrying a child. The young man became withdrawn and churlish around her, causing her to wonder what offence she might have inadvertantly shown him. For his part, he took out his frustrations on the local wildlife, becoming a keen hunter. He also began to associate with some of the town girls, much to the disapproval of his father. Oscar seriously considered sending him off to the army after all, but needed to know he had someone capable of passing on the business to.
By the time Aileen successfully delivered a second son, Oliver hardly spoke to anyone, and spent much of his free time carousing around the town.
The new baby was named George Abraham, and his bright red hair was just like his mother’s.