The Waiting Game

I had a bit of time this weekend so thought I’d write. So I headed over to DeviantArt and found the image below. My flash came in at about 950 words, about a 6-7 minute read, so be warned!

“Have a look, Mrs Brennan, is he coming yet?”

Without even glancing up, the rotund cook replied to the small boy instantly. “Heavens, no, Master James. He only left half an hour ago, he’ll be a good hour yet. Now, be off with you. Go back upstairs, play with your toys. And don’t let me catch you down here in less than an hour, or I shall be telling tales to the duchess about you, when she and his lordship arrive home”.

“Yes, Mrs Brennan.”

“What time will an hour be?”

The boy studied the large grandfather clock standing free against the parlour wall, twiddling the braids of his navy blue sailor costume. He wasn’t particularly good with times yet, but this one was easy. The big hand lay squarely on the six, so James knew it was half past the hour. The smaller hand, between the eleven and twelve.

“Half past twelve”, cried a triumphant James.

“Good boy. Now, away with you and I don’t want to see you before half past twelve. If Mr Ledsom arrives back earlier, we will send someone up to find you.” There was always a footman around for such tasks. “Take yourself back upstairs and let me carry on making everybody’s lunch. Go on now, I don’t want to see you for at least an hour.”

In truth, running the kitchen was far easier with the bulk of the family away. With no great luncheon to prepare for them, Mrs Brennan was confined to ensuring that the staff lunch, an altogether less grand affair, ran smoothly.

Lunch was indeed being prepared, smoothly, when Mrs Brennan saw the shadow.

“I can see you, Master James. There’s no point you hiding. Come out where I can get a proper look at you.”

James emerged sheepishly from behind the clock.

“Master James, what time did I say you could come down?”

“Half past twelve.” He looked uncomfortably at his feet.

“And what time is it now?”

James was stuck. He hadn’t learned his in-between times yet. His response was more of a question than a statement.

“Half past twelve?”

Mrs Brennan scolded.

“Did you not hear the clocks strike twelve, just a few seconds ago? How can it be half past already? It’s five past!”, she chided the boy. Trying another tack, Mrs Brennan addressed James. “Look, you’ll know it’s half past, the next time the clock chimes for the half hour. You know what that sounds like, don’t you?”

“Yes, miss”. James forgot his environment for the moment.

“I’d like you to go back upstairs, and don’t come back down until then. Can’t you see, I have work to do?” She swatted at the boy with a tea towel, chasing him out of the kitchen.

And there the boy remained. Until twenty past twelve, when Mrs Brennan found him skulking once again. Having just taken the fresh bread from the ovens, and pleased that lunch – a rabbit hotpot, which the staff would welcome on such a biting day – was on course, Mrs Brennan soothed the boy.

“Well, he’s not back yet, Master James. He had four or five messages to do in the village, so he might have been held up. But don’t worry, he knows that we are serving lunch at one o’clock sharp. I tell you what, Anthony is working in the pantry at the minute, I’ll send him up to find you as soon as Mr Ledsom gets back. Anthony, the second footman, had indeed been in the kitchen just a few minutes earlier. Here,” she whispered, “would you like a small taste of my stew?”. She moved towards the stove, “It’s delicious. And it’ll taste even better when it’s had a bit more time to absorb the flavours. You’re eating lunch down with us today, don’t forget.

“So, go on upstairs and when you next come down, it will be ready for us. And we have some nice, fresh bread to go with it.”

At about a quarter to one, Mr Ledsom returned from the village. An ageing, elegant man whose gait betrayed a lifetime in service, his brisk excursion that crisp, foggy morning had built his appetite. He seated himself in the staff dining room, studying a newspaper as he waited for lunch. Good to her word, the kindly Mrs Brennan dispatched Anthony.

They heard the boy long before they saw him. Taking three steps at a time, each crash announced his arrival. He tore into the dining room, causing Mr Ledsom to look up. “Good afternoon, Master James. Will you be joining us for lunch today?” The man appeared to return his attention to the newspaper.

“Mr Ledsom, did you get the chance to go to the model shop?” Ledsom feigned surprise, then winced. “Dash it all! I knew there was something else.” Mrs Brennan, who had seen the gift and who was now standing in the doorway, then scolded Ledsom.

“Now, now, Mr Ledsom. Don’t tease the boy.”

After a second, Ledsom’s face broke into a smile. “Of course, Master James. How could I forget my most important errand? Mr Cuthbert told me that yes, the model you ordered had arrived, and asked me to give you this.” Ledsom reached down, and lifted a box, wrapped in brown paper, from the floor.

Pushing the gift towards the boy, James seized the box from Ledsom and began to tear at the wrapping.

“Careful, Master James. Don’t you go making a mess of the place right before lunch”, but the child didn’t hear. As he finished unwrapping the parcel, Mrs Brennan entered the room fully.

“Now, will you show me what you’ve been waiting so impatiently for?” She feigned exasperation.

Beaming, the boy thrust a box at Mrs Brennan, who studied the name on the label. Ah, yes, White Star’s newest liner, the largest ship afloat: RMS Titanic.

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