Love and Prudence
Peace descended as Prudence wielded the irons and Lily, with a thick cloth in her hands, passed her a fresh hot iron as needed, and moved the sheets off the table when Prudence declared them done.
Catching sight of Lily’s muscles as she heaved yet another iron off the fire, and spitting on it to make sure it was the required heat, reminded Prudence of the cricket match on Saturday. She’d been asked to help with the cricket tea and that meant coming close, very close, to Billy Biggs. Her heart spun at the prospect, who’s heart wouldn’t when you thought about Billy; him with the brilliant sparkling eyes, the thick blond hair and the fine figure of a real man, and a man with plenty of dash at that. To see him going in first to bat set all the girls in a whirl. He was only eighteen, bit too young for her but did she fancy him? Yes, she did. Prudence couldn’t decide whether she liked him best bowling or batting. He looked equally wonderful whichever he did.
Slyly Lily reminded her, ‘You’ll be seeing that Billy Biggs.’
‘And all the others.’
‘They don’t count. Billy Biggs, is the best.’
‘There’s Jimmy Glover and their Nathaniel.’
Lily scoffed at the thought. ‘Them? Huh! I saw your Billy coming out of the old hay barn yesterday, Prue.’
‘I did.’ Casually Prudence asked, ‘Who was he with?’
‘Lavender Nightingale. She had bits of hay sticking to her clothes and her hair.’
‘You’re saying that just to make me mad.’
‘I’m not, its true.’ She was grinning all over her face.
‘He’s not my Billy anyway.’ But Prudence was devastated, she and all the girls thought of Billy as hers. He felt like he was but he never said or did a thing about it, but then he was the verger’s son so he had to behave, and he worked in an office in Culworth too. She longed for him to show just one little sign that he fancied her. Just one little sign, a wink or a smile or choosing to sit next to her, or giving her a bunch of daisies he’d picked, but he never did. And now he’d been seen with that Lavender Nightingale from Little Derehams. Fat she was and spotty, and not fit to go in the hay with anyone at all and certainly not Billy Biggs.
Saturday came round all too quickly for Prudence. If she hadn’t heard about Lavender Gotobed and Billy Biggs in the old hay barn she’d have been breathless with excitement.
Prudence surveyed the cricket tea paraphernalia laid out waiting for her, every stick and stone carried out from the scullery in the Big House. Hands on hips she studied the pitch, now almost shimmering in the heat, wondering why men loved such a slow, boring game as cricket, and swore they made up the rules as they chose so their team would win.
Prudence noticed the teams were beginning to stir so she put her mind to sorting the tea things. There were pint pots for the team and cups and saucers for the spectators, along with the urn thingy which she could never understand how to make it work. The footman brought them all out and had the gall to pinch her bottom as he went back to bring the baskets of food out. He was a cheeky devil that footman, broad not tall like Billy was tall, but vigorous with it and a roving eye, but Prudence had her eye set on a better class of target, and flicked her eyes round the field hoping to catch her first sight of Billy Biggs.
She kept glancing across to the cricket hut to see if Billy had arrived. But she’d to finish the table yet, the big teapots to line up, the sandwiches to arrive from the front kitchen and the cakes to lay out on the lace doyley’s covered with the crochet cloths to keep the flies off, and did they have flies this summer?. When you walked across the field and passed a cow pat the blessed things rose up in clouds. The cricket pitch was kept clear of cows with a little fence but the flies took no notice of a fence when cakes and bowls of sugar were about.