tagNonConsent/ReluctanceThe Under-footmen of Harvey Hall

The Under-footmen of Harvey Hall

bydavidmuleguy©

David Donaldson was eighteen years old today. But there wouldn't be much in the way of happy returns.

There would be no gift-wrapped presents, for David. There would be no birthday cake, adorned with eighteen candles. No birthday card, with flourishingly penned sentiments of congratulation from family and friends. Not even a coming-of-age celebratory tankard of the rough, farthing-a-pint cider in the bawdy local tavern, with his two brothers and his dad, would wet his lips.

In the Donaldson household, where there was never enough food on the table, there was simply no money to spare for such frivolities.

David, along with his two, older brothers: Simon, twenty, and Martin, twenty-one, were of the fourth generation of dirt-poor, tied-cottage dwelling bondsmen attached to the privileged, filthy rich, mansion housed Harvey family.

At the head of the Wessex County branch of the Harvey family, was the 'dashing' Jonas Harvey, MP.

Jonas had been happily married for twenty-five years now to his heartstoppingly beautiful Italian Countess wife, Sophia.

The outstandingly attractive couple's eldest offspring, and heir, twenty-four-year-old Maximillian, had also recently become a member of parliament.

Inheriting his parents' good looks, Maximillian (no one called him Max) was being described in Westminster circles as 'The darling of Parliament', and political commentators were already tipping him as a future Prime Minister.

Jonas was further blessed, with three extraordinarily beautiful daughters: Marisa, eighteen; Francesca, twenty; and Louisa, twenty-one.

The apples of his eye, not only had Jonas's daughters all inherited from their hot-blooded, Neapolitan mother her olive-complexioned, smouldering Latin looks, but also her fiery temper.

And now, just like his brothers before him, David Donaldson, son of Donald Donaldson, had reached the age at which he also must now fulfil the most dreaded of the obligated conditions of his family's bonded, passed down ties: Serve the female members of the Harvey family, as an Under-footman.

* * *

The day had dawned freezing-cold, in Wessex County, south-west England, on 15 February 1832.

In the icy grip of that winter's morning, such was the meagre and ineffectual heating of the Donaldson family's tied cottage that even after breakfast time the insides of the living room's small square windowpanes were still skimmed with fantastically patterned ice.

David Donaldson stared at the frosted marvels in awed wonder. Amazed at their individuality, he could almost appreciate Mother Nature's artistic hand as he admired her crystallised creations; each one of them a unique, glass-canvassed masterpiece. For a few distracted moments, David didn't notice his exhalations vapourising in the parlour's frigid air.

David's father claimed the temperature inside their austere dwelling, with its bare stone floor and walls absorbing the intense cold, was even lower than outside. And no one gave him an argument.

David, having finished his bowl of thin and unsatisfying porridge on the morning of this, his eighteenth birthday, rubbed the pads of his fingers against the ice crystals on one of the small glass panes, clearing a blurry peep-through.

Outside in the farmyard, the frozen mud would be treacherous underfoot, thought David. And even from here, he could see that the thick layer of ice on the big water trough the farm animals drank from was going to take some breaking today.

"While it's your birthday, David," said his mum Eileen, joining him at the window, "you can scrape the porridge pan."

David wasn't too old to hug his mum and kiss her on the cheek. "Thanks, Mum," he said affectionately.

Neither David's mum or his dad, his older brothers Simon and Martin, or his younger sister Maureen (who served up at 'The House' as a maid), alluded to the inception of David's new, coming-of-age duties, as an Under-footman.

*

The sound of the horses' hooves was loud on the frozen ground, and the four male members of the Donaldson family, just out from breakfast, paused in their farmyard chores to watch the approach of the four returning horsewomen: Countess Sophia, accompanied by her three daughters, Marisa, Francesca and Louisa.

The four magnificent horses soon thundered to a stop, great plumes of vapour billowing from their flared nostrils as they stared down disapprovingly at the frozen-over water trough. Even more disapproving, were their four magnificent female riders.

The youngest of the three Harvey sisters, eighteen-year-old Marisa, stared down imperiously from her mount at the youngest of Donald Donaldson's three sons, eighteen-year-old David. "So now, at last, you are of age, David! And this evening you will serve me, as an Under-footman."

David said nothing in reply, just stared respectfully down at his new personal Mistress's scuffed muddy riding boots in their stirrups; boots that, as one of his routine chores, he would soon be cleaning and polishing, along with the three other Harvey women's riding boots.

Miss Marisa Harvey was positively gloating.

It was David's birthday, but Marisa was the one receiving the present: him.

David knew that Marisa had long looked forward to this day: the day of his 'coming of age'. And now that day was here, she couldn't keep the smug, gleeful, proprietary smile off her face.

As it happened, the ages of the three Harvey sisters mirrored the ages of the three Donaldson brothers. David's two older brothers, Simon and Martin, served as Under-footmen to Francesca and Louisa, respectively, who were the same age as themselves.

In a further coincidence, Donald Donaldson was the same age as the lady of the house, Sophia Harvey, to whom he also served, as Under-footman.

"In fact, the timing of your eighteenth birthday couldn't have been better," Marisa informed David.

"Miss Marisa," said David respectfully.

"My cousin Isabella is arriving from Italy today with her parents. She's never been to England before, and she's staying with us for a week or so while her parents conduct some boring old business in London. And, my goodness, I can't wait to see the look on her face, when she finds out about our Under-footmen! Especially you, David Donaldson, who have just today, come of age.

"During Isabella's stay with us, naturally I shall have you serve her, too, as an Under-footman. During tonight's banquet, Isabella and I may very well take turns with you.

"And I am warning you now, David: if you give Isabella the slightest cause for complaint, I'll have you taken outside and stripped, and we shall both horsewhip you. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, Miss Marisa," said David respectfully.

"Oh, and talking of riding equipment: I want you to polish up one of the spare saddles. Mother tells me that Isabella is a keen rider too. It's a lot colder here than she's accustomed to, living in Naples. But she'll still probably wish to accompany my sisters and me on our morning rides."

"Yes, Miss Marisa," said David respectfully. "I'll do it as soon as I've finished cleaning and polishing your riding boots, Miss Marisa."

"No! I want you to polish up the saddle first, and the tackle to go with it. Perhaps Isabella may want to go riding today. I can put up with dirty riding boots for once if it comes to it."

"Yes, Miss Marisa," said David respectfully.

"Donaldson!" shouted Countess Sophia, at Donald Donaldson, who, standing at one end of the big water trough, was ineffectually chipping away at the thick layer of ice. "The horses must drink! What in the name of the Madonna are you doing, you foolish man?"

"Forgive me, Your Ladyship," said Donald Donaldson, turning around and standing erect, to respectfully address the lady of the house. "But the ice is very thick today, and ..."

Countess Sophia murmured something to her horse, and obediently it ambled up to the abjectly apologetic, cap-in-hands respectful Donald. The lady of the house then removed her right foot from its stirrup, and she slammed the sole of her riding-booted foot into Donald's chest.

To his helpless, horrorstruck despair, David watched, as the backs of his father's helplessly backpedalling legs came up against the water trough; his dad's momentum tipping his body, full length onto the thick layer of ice behind him.

Crack!

The sound of the thick layer of ice breaking was like the sound of a pistol shot in the cold still air.

The distressed David immediately rushed to help his semi-submerged father. "Dad! Dad!" shouted David, pulling at his father's pants braces in trying to haul him out of the water trough's freezing-cold embrace.

The cold still air was then rent with another pistol-shot-like sound, and David's right hand went to his right cheek. "Aaah!" he cried out in shock and pain.

And then with another cry of pain, David's left hand went to his left cheek, upon Marisa Harvey striking that side of his face too, with her riding crop. "Get out of the way, cretin!" Marisa told David. "The horses must drink!"

David could have sworn he could see his father's face turning blue right in front of him.

But there was nothing David could do, to help his now violently shivering father until the four horses, indifferent to his father's plight, had duly drunk their fill, and slaked the thirsts brought on by their hard-riding Mistresses.

Nothing he could do, as he watched the four horses' long pink tongues thirstily lapping up the refreshing ice-cold water; the thick layer of ice, now just so many mini bobbing icebergs for them to easily avoid.

Nothing he could do, as with her eyes Miss Marisa Harvey dared him; just dared him, to intervene on behalf of his freezing father again, without her or her sisters' or her mother's expressed permission.

"This will teach you to be so remiss, Donaldson. So neglectful of your duties," Countess Sophia admonished David's stone-cold father, sitting and shivering in his ice-cold bath.

After what seemed like hours to David, the four horses were finally satisfied, and they moved away from the water trough.

Countess Sophia said: "Simon and Martin. Get your father out of there, before he gets pneumonia. I don't want him further neglecting his work; especially his daily duties to me, as Under-footman. Take him up to the house to dry off and get warmed up. Take some dry clothes with you. And tell Cook, I said to give him a bowl of yesterday's leftover beef broth."

"Yes, Your Ladyship," said Simon and Martin together. "Thank you, Your Ladyship."

Wheeling her horse around, like the skilful young horsewoman she undoubtedly was, heading over towards the stables Miss Marisa Harvey's parting shot was: "And unless Isabella and I go riding this afternoon, I'll see you this evening ... Under-footman David!"

*

Later, that afternoon over a cup of unsugared black tea at the rough wooden table in the barely thawed out kitchen of the Donaldson family's tied cottage, David said plaintively, "Dad, I don't want to be Miss Marisa's Under-footman!"

"Son," said Donald Donaldson exasperatedly, "do you think I want to be Countess Sophia's Under-footman? Do you think Simon and Martin want to be Miss Francesa and Miss Louisa's Under-footmen? No, we don't. But, thanks to your great-grandfather, it's our bounden duty!"

"But why?" cried David, his eyes glistening. Glistening, at the thought of what lay in store for him that evening.

"It goes all the way back to the tied cottage's original tenant: your great-grandfather, Maurice Donaldson. He agreed to become, with immediate effect, the Harvey family's first ever Under-footman.

"It was something your great-grandfather had to agree to, and enshrined in law, if he was to take on the cottage's tenancy: that upon their eighteenth birthday, every male member of his, and the following generations of Donaldson families would serve the female members of the Harvey family, as Under-footmen."

"Don't think too ill of your great-grandfather Maurice, David," said David's mum Eileen. "Things were bleak, back then."

"No, he didn't have much choice," agreed Donald Donaldson. "It was either that or the workhouse, up in London. In Maurice's place, even though I know exactly how he must have felt when his sons reached their eighteenth, coming-of-age birthdays, I would probably have done the same."

David's brother Simon said, "And make sure you harken to Miss Marisa's warning, our Davie: Don't give her cousin Isabella any cause for complaint."

"Yes, our Davie," agreed David's other older brother Martin. "Not only will Miss Marisa horsewhip you, but you'll just make things worse for the rest of us, as well."

"You'll soon get used to it, David," soothed David's mum Eileen. "Serving as an Under-footman to the Harvey ladies will soon become just another part of your daily routine, like cleaning and polishing their riding boots. And at least, it's warm, up at the house. And sometimes Cook, who's a kind woman, will sneak you a nice bit of something to eat."

"But I don't want to be an Under-footman!" wailed David. "I don't want to!"

"But you have to!" said Simon sternly. "You heard what Dad said!"

"Yes, our Davie!" said Martin. "Now let that be an end to it!"

"Well, I'm certainly glad that I don't have to do it!" said David's younger sister Maureen, unhelpfully.

"What if I refused?" said David, pouting sullenly. "What if I just left, or ran away from home?"

Donald Donaldson put his tea mug down on the rough wooden kitchen table, and he regarded his youngest son somberly. "Son ... we would lose the tenancy."

* * *

"We have to go in through the back entrance, our Davie, through the kitchen," Martin Donaldson told his youngest, still reluctant but now resigned brother as the three bonded brothers and their bonded father walked up the gravelled driveway to Harvey Hall.

Donald Donaldson and his three sons had to stand aside, for a third time now as another two-horse carriage's almost head-high spoked wheels threw gravel up at the Under-footmen as it sped by.

"There'll be a lot of guests in attendance tonight, with Countess Sophia's sister Luciana's party in residence," said Donald Donaldson as the four of them resumed the driveway to Harvey Hall.

"Luciana?" said David, staring ahead at the looming edifice that was home to the Harvey family, with local dignitary Jonas Harvey MP, at its head. "Have you met Countess Sophia's sister before, then, Dad?"

"Well, I don't think that 'met' is quite the right word, son. But yes: I've served Countess Luciana on numerous occasions, as Under-footman."

"Dinner always starts at seven o'clock, Davie. And we are usually dismissed by nine o'clock; sometimes as early as eight o'clock," David's eldest brother Martin informed him.

"Well, that doesn't sound too bad, I suppose," said David grumpily.

"But tonight," Martin went on, "there'll be a banquet in Countess Luciana's honour. And, like Dad said, a lot of rich, and important people, will be invited: nobles, gentry, and other, well-to-do ladies and gentlemen. There'll be entertainment, going on for hours; probably until well after midnight. All kinds of revelry: jesters, music, singing, dancing, drinking ..."

"Come on, Davie ... through here," said David's other older brother Simon, having now reached the back entrance door through which menials such as himself must enter.

After the bitterly cold, and already fast-plummeting evening temperature outside, the sudden enfolding warmth of the kitchen was most welcome, to say the least.

"Young Davie!" exclaimed Cook, taking his cheeks between her thumbs and forefingers and pinching them affectionately.

"Aaah!" cried David.

"Whatever's the matter, Davie?" said Cook, all concern now.

"I'm sorry, Cook. But my face is still sore, after Miss Marisa taking her riding crop to me this morning."

"Tut tut, first your dad, frozen solid, and now you, young Davie ... what am I going to do with you?"

"I don't know, Cook," said the despondent David, who, not used to such kindness, looked on the point of bursting into tears. But that would be too unseemly, and he'd never hear the last of it, from his brothers and his dad.

"So, Davie ... today's your big, coming-of-age day, heh heh heh," chuckled Cook, not unkindly.

"Yes, Cook," said the downcast David: Now, Under-footman David.

"Well, never mind. Here's a nice piece of venison pie. I'll leave it here for you, shall I, Davie?" she said, putting the greaseproof paper wrapped treat on the countertop. "Don't forget to take it home with you."

"Thank you, Cook," said David. "You are very kind."

"Happy birthday, Davie."

This time, his bottom lip trembling uncontrollably, David would have given way to his emotions, had not the Head Footman chosen that very moment to pop his head in the door and say: "Come through now, Under-footmen!"

*

Father and sons, the four Donaldson's followed the bewigged figure of the Head Footman along the service corridor from the kitchen.

David had never set eyes on the Head Footman before.

Observing the senior position lackey's splendid uniform: black, silver-buckled shoes; gold-braided red trousers and coat; and powdered wig - despite himself the new Under-footman was suddenly awed by the occasion of his initiation. The same, bonded-tie initiation, that his older brothers Simon and Martin, his father Donald, and the other, earlier generations of male Donaldson's, going as far back as his great-grandfather, Maurice Donaldson, had duly all undergone before him.

The Head Footman led the way through another service door, and then suddenly and for the very first time David beheld the chandeliered grandeur of Harvey Hall's sumptuously appointed dining hall.

David Donaldson had never imagined such splendour. Had never conceived, of such opulence. Even his two brothers' and his father's most marvellous of descriptions, he now saw for himself, had not been the extravagant exaggerations that he'd always supposed them to be.

All set up for tonight's banquet, in honour of Countess Sophia's sister, was a very long, white linen covered table, with sparkling crystal glassware and polished silver cutlery at each place.

There looked to be about fifty places on either side of the table, thought David, and there were two places at each end. Along the two sides of the very long table, the ladies and gentlemen were attired in such finery as he'd never before seen.

Seated in the two places at one end of the very long table, oozing self-confidence, and resplendently dressed for the occasion were Jonas Harvey MP, and his son and heir, Maximillian.

Seated in the two places at the other end of the table, were Countess Sophia, and her youngest daughter, Marisa. In the nearest two seats along to them, sat Countess Sophia's daughters Francesca and Louisa.

David had never seen the four Harvey women so glamorously dressed, or looking so radiantly beautiful. Especially Marisa.

Standing to attention, David saw, were an abundance of Footmen.

They were all dressed like the Head Footman, but without his distinguishing powdered wig, gold braid, and silver shoe buckles.

The Footmen (David counted twenty of them) were all just silently standing there, looking straight ahead. Waiting to be told what to do.

A movement off to his left caught David's eye.

Now descending a broad, elegant stairway were a party of three gorgeously attired, olive-complexioned people. Instantly captivated, by the three extraordinarily attractive and charismatic people, David thought there was an almost halo-like aura of presence, about them.

Upon seeing them himself, the Head Footman inhaled a great, chest-expanding breath. He then boomed, announcing grandiloquently: "My lords, ladies, and gentlemen: Count Antonio, Countess Luciana, and Isabella di Napoli!"

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