In the Kitchen
"Mistress says that we're waiting no more for dinner, Mrs. Bates. Master can fend for himself, she says, and there's no point in letting good food be ruint for him." Stevens stood carefully - he'd gotten soot on his livery before now, and felt both Mistress's and the housekeeper's tongues on him before spending a night brushing it by hand - after doing his other duties. Molly was not pleased at that, no. It was hard, though, in the damp of February, to stay away from the heat of the hearth.
"As if any food I serve will ever be ruint, no matter how long the wait." Mrs. Bates filled the platters and bowls that Molly held out for her, waving her hand over them so the dishes would stay just right for the eating. "But do you know why Master is so late? It's almost four in the afternoon. 'Tis not healthy to eat so far in the day."
Stevens carefully balanced the food on his tray, tapping each one so it wouldn't spill off. "It's the doings in the Lords, of course. My lord is keeping Master while they have that vote on the king, poor soul - getting his son as regent and all."
Molly wiped her hands on her apron. "It's hard, it is. I wouldn't want to make that choice if I were of the lords."
"Off with you, lad. Mistress'll want you now." Mrs. Bates shooed Stevens off. "As for you, you'd best be taking care of them pots. Lords isn't the place for you or me or any of our kind. Leave it to them who has no other power."
Molly gave a sniff before taking the pots and spoons to the sink and causing the water in the kettle to heat as hot as her hand could take. At home, she'd have just done them all, but things had to look right here.
Stevens and the others came in when dinner was over. "Master showed up halfway, but he hardly ate nothing - young Master's wife ate more'n him."
"Young Master's wife needs to eat more in her condition and all." Mrs. Bates made sure the dishes would stay sound until breakfast, leaving out the platter of raguot from last night's joint for the servants to finish. "I'll give you something to slip into her tea at supper, shall I? Might ease the way a bit."
Stevens nodded. "It's not my place and all, but I like her - she'll do for the next lot. Master was that angry, though. He came in and even before I could help him to something, he started talking. My lord isn't happy - the lords are putting the Prince as regent. He said my lord called them 'sheep' and they'd regret this. That we shouldn't fool with royalty and the Prince of Wales'd be the ruination."
Molly put her spoon of ragout down. "If the king, bless his soul, had died, Prince'd be king now - true?"
"Yes." Stevens filled a bowl and settled next to Molly, careful of his livery. "Master said that to young Master's wife - Mistress Ann is sharp even when she fells unwell. But then it would have been as the Lord - the Lord, not my lord - commands. It's unnatural for a son to rule the father while the father yet lives. Young master laughed at that one and promised never to do so."
"Even if the king has no wits to rule?" Mrs. Bates poured them out mugs of ale for the scullery maids, and took one herself. "This is a pretty problem, then."
"That it is. And it's got Master and my lord all upset, those good men." He put down his bowl. "Mrs. Bates, is there ought we can do? I know we do not act outside ourselves, but it is the land we live in, too. They know so little of medicine and how the body is - they might kill the king or leave him to live in madness all his days, and no proper king for them."
Mrs. Bates closed her eyes in thought. "I must consult on this. The others must know. Let me be." She took three deep breaths and her body became still and empty. The others continued their meal and their work - the family would want a supper soon enough. It was an hour or more before she moved again. Only Molly and Stevens remained.
"Is there an answer, Mrs. Bates?" Molly stood next to Stevens, as close as maybe.
"The king's illness is in his blood and cannot be cleansed forever, but we can help for a time - a time that may be years. So, we shall, in the hopes that his life will end before the madness returns. One of us is hidden among his servants now, and the deed shall be done. Now, how is Master's supper coming along?"