By Kathy Sharp
a cup of soup
“I never expected to find nothing!” wailed the cook. “Nothing like that!” She was struggling to contain the tears, but she couldn’t and they dripped off her nose into the pan.
“There, there,” said the housekeeper, “there, there. You’ll over-salt it.”
“But to find such things in my poor mother’s house…” The cook shook her head, showering the kitchen with salty droplets.
The housekeeper sighed and put the lid on the soup pan. No need for it to taste like the English Channel.
The cook blew her nose on her apron and wiped her eyes. “But it looks… it seems…” She took the lid off the pan and stirred inattentively, splashing the range with gelatinous spots.
“It looks like your mama was up to no good. Could have got herself into serious trouble,” said the housekeeper, replacing the lid firmly. “And so shall we be if you spoil the soup. Leave it alone.”
“Needs more salt,” said the cook, waving the ladle. “But it’s a shock to find your mother were involved… She told me she were a midwife!”
“She was a fool!” said the housekeeper, confiscating the ladle and putting it out of harm’s way. “If you take part in such things, then keep it a secret, I say. Writing it all down in diaries like that!” The housekeeper shook her head.
It was true, the cook acknowledged. Every detail of every desperate girl, written in her mother’s shaky copperplate and shakier spelling. All the herbal recipes. What worked. What didn’t. And who had died. It was shameful. A spot on the family reputation if it got out – rather like the spots of mock turtle soup congealing on the range. The cook dabbed at them with a cloth. “What shall I do?”
“Burn them,” said the housekeeper. “Let that be an end to it.”
The cook hesitated, and then took out two roughly-bound books from her pocket. She looked at them for a moment – after all, they were her mother’s only legacy to the world – and then she stuffed them into the fire where they flared briefly and were gone, now no more than a contribution to the soup making. “Are you sure it doesn’t need more salt?” she said.
About the author
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Whales and Strange Stars. Lovely historical novel set in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.
‘The sense of place is perfectly captured, and the writing just dances off the page. Highly recommended.’ myBook.to/WhalesAndStrangeStars