Ryber Fields – 1907-1912
The months passed and Spencer and the children carried on,
but life had turned into existence and laughter had become a
thing of the past.
Polly missed her mother dreadfully, and she often relived
the moment when she had seen her fall into the holly bush.
It had been a perfect day and Polly had been so happy to see
her mother up and about again. How quickly everything had
changed. Even her father was a different man, and now very
often she would find his office door closed. Almost in her teens,
she was already a born nurturer, and she knew that for the sake
of Meg she had to be strong. Since Star’s death, Spencer had
found little time for Meg. Whenever he looked at his young
daughter, it brought back the memories of the struggle to give
birth that had cost Star her life.
The Freeman children were all individuals, and although
they were a blend of their parents, each sibling was distinctly
different from the other.
Spencer Junior, the eldest by several years, was more serious
and kept largely to himself. He had little in common with his
brothers and had little time for his sisters’ chatter.
Lucy was seldom home anymore, as she was working for
Mr. Brown at the chemist shop. She loved her job, and took
pride in making sure that the shelves were stocked and that
re-orders were placed on time. When Lucy was working, she
was away from the pall of sadness that had descended upon her
once happy home.
Simone was now even more withdrawn and reclusive, and no
one could penetrate her shell. She had turned into a beautiful
young lady, but was totally oblivious to the fact. Simone saw
herself as being odd, as she was not able to take part in mindless
chatter or participate in family squabbles. Her serious nature
hid a very tender but confused heart.
Alfred was the joker of the family, and it was his constant
good humor that helped to lighten up the dark days at Ryber
Farm. He had never been close to his brother, Spencer, as there
was a twelve year age difference. He was far closer to Polly
than anyone. Polly had always been his “Poll” since the day
she was born.
Meg was the most perfect cherubic bundle of joy that Polly
had ever seen, and it was soon apparent that there was a special
bond between the two of them. Even though Polly was the
closest in age to Meg, it was as if Polly took over the role of
mother when Star died. It was a good thing that Polly took over
the parenting, as Spencer barely looked at his youngest child.
He had lost all interest in the farm, and in the children, and
indeed in life itself. Spencer still went to church, although it had
now become a duty rather than a pleasure, and he questioned
God daily as to why He had taken away his one true love.
Jane saw to it that the children were all dressed for church, but
now they too sat like statues, and other than Alfred and Polly,
had lost all spontaneity. Jane was doing her best to keep the
household running, but single-handed, this was a chore. She
was not getting any younger, and her considerable girth left her
short of breath and temper on many occasions
Spencer had become almost a recluse, no longer attending
the town meetings, and even his stables had started to suffer
from his lack of attention. Many of the local townsfolk and
neighboring farmers tried to involve Spencer in community
functions and events, but he was not interested in anything. He
was totally unaware that he was now, more than ever, the object
of attention of the widows and spinsters at church. He still had
a nice farm and more money than most. He had kept his good
looks, but now the lines on his face were harsh, and his amber
eyes seemed to bore a hole through anyone who looked at him.
Spencer’s body was still as hard as steel, but he had lost his
iron will, and it showed in every step he took. The sorrow and
heartache he carried within him had only enhanced his appeal
to the opposite sex, as now there was something almost rakish
about his appearance. Spencer was oblivious of any attention
and all that he wanted was to be left alone. He closed his eyes
in church and pictured Star sitting across the aisle when he first
knew her. If he concentrated really hard, he could hear her sweet
voice and smell her perfume of lavender. He always opened his
eyes to reality when the sermon ended and he left church with
his motherless children.
Somehow, life went on at Ryber Fields, and now all but Meg
were working. Spencer still lived reclusively and spent very
little time away from the farm. Polly was working in the service
of Dr. Corrigan, an opportunity too good not to grasp. It was
with mixed feelings that she had left, as she knew how Meg
would miss her and she would miss Meg.
“It’s two and sixpence a week Meg, and I get my own room.
Don’t worry, love, I’ll come back and visit every chance I get,”
Polly tried to reassure her little sister. Meg looked crestfallen
and no amount of explanation was going to make her feel any
better. Polly had known Dr. Corrigan and his wife for as long
as she could remember, and they were good people. They were
only too happy to hire Polly to be their maid. Dr. Corrigan
could remember when Polly used to sit on Spencer’s knee
in the study while the two men were visiting. He had always
enjoyed her banter. Not quite 13, Polly packed a few things
into a bag and hugged Meg goodbye. Spencer did not even see
Polly leave, and it was Jane who gave her a hug and promised
to look after Meg.
The Corrigan household was the closest that Polly could
come to her memory of her own home with Star. It was not like
work for Polly, as she loved every minute of her life with the
Corrigan family. She had a daily list of chores to do and each
day she would pick up her duty sheet and happily tick off each
accomplishment. Polly made sure that the brasses were always
gleaming and that there were always fresh flowers on the hall
table. The doctor’s office was off limits throughout the day,
but after the last patient left, Polly would delight in polishing
the ornate oak desk and sideboard. The Corrigans treated
Polly like family. Polly, however, still desperately missed her
siblings, her father, and Jane. She went home every chance that
she had. Ryber Fields was just as much in her blood as it was
in Spencer’s. Meg loved the times that Polly went home, as
then she knew the closest thing to a mother that she would ever
know. Polly did not get a lot of money for her labors, but what
little she had to spare she would spend on Meg – a ribbon for
Meg’s black curls or a candy treat from the grocer. It was a
long walk home from the Corrigans, and Polly would make
the journey across the fields humming to herself the whole
way. Spencer also looked forward to visits from Polly as there
was still a great bond between the two of them, and somehow
Spencer felt closer to Star when Polly was around.
Simone had always been a little jealous of the affection
shown to Polly and would on many occasions deliberately say
things to upset her. On one of Polly`s visits home, seeing Polly
come out of her father’s office, Simone called out,
“You’d better spend time with him while you can, our Polly;
he’s got a lady friend now and he won’t have any time for you.”
“What are you talking about, Simone?” Polly questioned.
“Mary Lambert has her cap set for my dad, and Jane says that
she means to marry him,” Simone confided.
Polly knew who Mary Lambert was and did not like her at
all. She was the widow who had befriended Jane and was now
spending quite a lot of time at Ryber Fields. Mary Lambert was
dark and swarthy and to Polly looked like one of the gypsy
women that came around each year. There was talk in the
village that she had her eyes on Spencer and that she always
seemed to get what she wanted. Spencer had ignored all of the
advances made towards him in the past, and Polly thought that
this would be the same. Mary, however, was very clever and
had formed a plan to succeed where others had failed. It was
well known that Jane needed some help and that the household
was not running as smoothly as it had in the past. Jane was
pleased with the extra baking that Mary would bring, and she
loved to have someone to talk to who would listen to her tales
of overwork and other troubles.
Somehow Jane was convinced by Mary that if she married
Spencer there would be someone else to help look after the
household, and Jane’s life would become so much easier.
Spencer saw more and more of Mary Lambert as she stopped
to deliver eggs to the farm and to bring pies and baking “for
the children.” Jane did not miss an opportunity to sing Mary’s
praises to Spencer.
“Wasn’t that a nice pie? Mary baked it.”
“Oh, Mary dropped off some scones today.”
Although most of Jane’s comments fell on deaf ears, Spencer
had become accustomed to Mary Lambert being around the
house, and she had gradually become more a fixture than a
visitor. In her own way, Mary was a very striking woman, but
in every way opposite to Star. Where Star had been ladylike,
petite and fair, Mary was statuesque, and her jet black hair and
exotic looks were sensual. Spencer was still a man with needs,
and he did miss the nights of passion that he had experienced
with Star. Over time he began to wonder what it would be like
to have a woman in his bed again. He knew that he would never
find another Star, and that their passion was born out of love.
No one could ever replace Star in his heart, or in his bed, and
Spencer knew this. It was almost as if he deliberately chose
someone as opposite as it was possible to be. He knew that he
could never love another woman as long as he lived. If Mary
Lambert thought that she could use Spencer for his money, he
would be just as much at fault, as he would use her for his
mistress. She would never be a wife in the sense that Star had
been. There was nothing sweet or innocent about Mary; she
was almost feral, and very forward.
Mary’s plans and scheming worked, and after several months
of being a frequent visitor at the home, she knew that she was
close to her goal when Spencer kissed her goodnight one night.
“Come here, woman, and stop playing the temptress with
me,” Spencer slurred. It did not matter to Mary that his breath
smelled of whisky, or that the kiss was far from tender or
loving. All that mattered was that he was a man of means, and
desired by many other widows in the area. Mary returned his
kiss with equal intensity before Spencer broke away and closed
the door behind her. Spencer went into his study, and wiping
the kiss from his lips, he picked up the bottle. His head was
swimming with mixed emotions, and somehow he felt that he
was betraying Star by having needs for someone else. He had
taken to drinking whisky, and he drank his fill before flinging
the empty bottle at the wall. That night Spencer slept fitfully
in his office, and when morning came he was just as confused
The next day when Mary went to visit she was sure that
Spencer would continue the amorous encounter of the night
before, but she was disappointed when she found that he was
not at home. He needed to get his thoughts in order, and had
gone to the graveyard where his beloved Star was buried. Since
Star’s death it had become a place of comfort and refuge for
him. After a while he felt more at peace and believed that Star
would want him to carry on with life. No matter how many
years had passed, he still mourned Star, and Mary would have
to wait until he was good and ready to propose. Spencer was
still a man of God, and much as he needed a woman, he would
not bed Mary unless they were wed. Mary, on the other hand,
tried every trick there was to get Spencer in bed. It was a time
of turmoil for Spencer as he realized what upheaval there would
be when Mary moved in with her brood of children.
Mary had seven children of her own, and they had not had
the same upbringing as the Freeman children. Jane somehow
managed to convince Spencer that with another pair of hands
life would run smoothly if he took Mary for his wife. Even so,
there was no doubt in Jane’s mind that Mary was in no way a
replacement for Star. She was not someone who could ever be
replaced. Jane was an innocent farm girl, though, and she could
not see through Mary’s scheming plans.
After another six months of Mary’s felicitations, baking, and
attention, Spencer gave in. He was just too tired to fight any
more. He sat the family down and announced his intentions to
marry Mary. No one was shocked, as they could all see which
way the relationship was heading.
The wedding was a quiet affair at the local registry office,
much to Mary’s dismay, but Spencer would not give in on this.
He wanted no witnesses other than those required by law. Mary
wore a dress of midnight blue, with a huge billowing skirt and a
hat with a large brim. Polly thought that she looked like a large
raven, and was more than a little scared of what the future might
hold. So it was that Mary Lambert and her children moved into
Mary’s oldest two children, Walter and Chas, were married,
but that still left Floyd, Norman, Cora, Harper and Lance. Ryber
Fields was now bursting at the seams. Mary swept into the house
like an ill wind, and immediately took over the management.
“You girls can sleep in the attic. It’s big up there and there’s
room for all of you. Clean your room out, Polly; you’re never
here anyway. Cora needs a room to herself, so she can have
yours.” Mary issued orders like a prison warden, and the
Freeman children looked at her in bewilderment.
“Come on, I want it all organized before bedtime tonight,”
Mary commanded as she walked out of the room.
“Well she can wait for my time!” Polly said defiantly, trying
to bring a smile to Meg’s crestfallen face. “Come on, Meg, let’s
go and see what we can do with that attic! It might be fun, all
being together up there.”
Polly had no problem relinquishing her room to Cora, as she
was indeed a frail little thing, and it would be good for her to
be close to the main rooms. The attic was very large but had
little natural light. If the girls stood on top of the trunk under
the attic window they could see a little of the farm yard and
the few fields beyond. Gone was the panoramic view of the
moors and the road that wound its way into the village beyond.
Spencer and Alfred both worked shifts, and so shared a room
with Floyd and Norman as they were often on opposite shifts.
Polly cleaned out her room before nightfall, and although she
would miss her beautiful view she knew that she would not
be home often. If it were not for Meg, Polly would stay at the
Corrigans full time.
The next morning Mary came into the kitchen long after
everyone else had eaten breakfast.
“Jane, I want porridge and toast and hot tea. Put three scoops
of tea in the pot. I like it hot!” Jane stood open mouthed as
Mary plunked down at the table, expecting to be waited on.
In all the years that she had worked for Spencer she had never
been spoken to like a servant.
Jane knew that Spencer would be out in the fields by now,
and wondered if Mary would be so bold if he was around.
Polly found Jane clattering around in the kitchen and knew that
something must have upset her.
“What’s the matter, Jane?” Polly said as she picked up a tea
towel to help.
“It’s her ladyship, if you like. Issuing orders already! If she
came to breakfast at the same time as everyone else, she might
get better service,” Jane huffed.
“Don’t worry Jane, we still outnumber them!” Polly winked,
as she figured that with Mary’s two older boys married and gone,
there were only five Lamberts to six Freemans. “Counting you,
Jane, that makes seven of us to five of them!” In spite of her
bad temper, Jane had to smile, especially as she had just been
reassured that she was indeed a part of the Freeman family.
Jane did not like what was happening to Spencer’s family, as
she had loved his children as her own and always would. The
Lambert children were unruly, bad mannered, and greedy, and
not at all brought up in the manner that the Freeman children
had been. The friendship that she thought she had with Mary
soon proved to be a sham. Jane realized that she had been used
by Mary as a means to gain access to the Freeman household.
She was not used to someone giving her orders and treating her
like a servant. Even worse, Spencer’s children were also treated
like lesser beings. Jane tried on many occasions to bring some
of the injustices to Spencer’s attention, but he too had changed,
and no longer seemed to take an interest in the running of his
home. But Spencer was not blind, and although he did not let
Jane know his intentions, he made it a point to speak to Mary.
“Mary, my dear, go a little easy on Jane. She has been with my
family for a long time, and now she has taken on an even bigger
load. We need her help more now than ever. Good servants are
hard to find, and she is one of the best.” Spencer spoke softly
but firmly and Mary felt chastised.
“As long as she remembers that she is a servant and
remembers her place,” Mary snapped back as she stormed off
into the parlour.
Mary was not going to put up with a mere servant having any
influence in the house, and there was constant discord between
the two women. There was only one solution, and that was that
Jane had to go. Several weeks later, when Mary was in an even
fouler mood than normal, she had chastised Meg to tears. It had
all been because Meg did not jump to attention immediately,
when Mary called for a book to be brought to her.
“You’re a lazy, good for nothing girl! If you got up off your
bum more often you would not be so fat!” Mary snatched the
book from Meg and pushed her, almost knocking her over. “Go
and clean your room. Do something for your keep!”
Jane heard the commotion and opened the door just as Meg
went reeling across the room. Throwing all caution to the wind,
Jane went over to Meg and put her arms around her.
“You leave this girl alone right now. I’ll be speaking to Mr.
Spencer about this.”
“Don’t you get uppity with me, Jane Goodall. You’re nothing
but a servant, and you’ve made a big mistake forgetting your
place with me!” The look that Mary gave Jane was nothing less
than evil. “I’ll be having a word with Mr. Spencer long before
you, and you’ll be out on the street!”
Meg was even more distressed, as she could not imagine
being at Ryber Fields without Jane.
“Come on, love, I’ll give you a hand with your room.” Jane
took Meg’s hand and fixed Mary with a condemning stare. “You
might think that you’re high and mighty now, Mary Freeman,
but one day Mr. Spencer will see you for who you really are.”
“Get out! Get out!” Mary screamed as she threw the book,
narrowly missing Jane’s head.
Meg was inconsolable. “Oh Jane, can she really send you
away? What will we do without you?”
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about anything, my
love,” Jane said, with far more confidence than she was feeling.
Jane helped Meg with her room, and then went to her own little
room at the back of the house. She loved her room. It was not
big, but it did have a beautiful window overlooking the stables
and the pasture beyond. Star had sewn the prettiest floral curtains
and put some pictures of the children on the walls. Alone in her
room, Jane looked around her and knew that her time at Ryber
Fields had come to an end. It would break her heart to leave, but
tomorrow she would give her notice to Spencer.
When Spencer came home from work, Mary was waiting.
Before he even had a chance to take off his coat, she gave her
version of the day’s events.
“She has to go, Spencer. I will not have a servant speak to me
like that. She forgets her place. We don’t need her anyway. The
girls can help with the housework.”
Spencer listened with a heavy heart, as he had realized that
this day would come. He had not been as blind as Jane thought,
and he had seen the growing discord between the two women.
“What a damn position to be put in,” Spencer thought to himself,
as he wondered how he was going to break the news to Jane.
After a restless night, Spencer got up to face the day, and the
task of giving Jane her notice. He arose before Mary and the
children, as he knew that Jane would be already in the kitchen
having her cup of tea, before preparing breakfast for the family.
Jane looked up as Spencer walked into the kitchen, and he
could see that she too had spent a troubled night.
“Jane…” Spencer started, but Jane interrupted him.
“Sir, I would like to serve my notice. I’m sure that you can
manage without me now that the girls are all growing up. It’s a
different house now, sir, and I really don’t feel a part of it anymore.”
Spencer sat at the kitchen table by Jane’s side, something he
had never done in the past, and pouring himself a cup of tea, he
sadly had to accept her resignation.
“Jane, you will always be a part of our family and we will all
miss you very much.” Spencer silently blessed Jane for sparing
him the task of firing her.
Jane knew that it would have been difficult for Spencer, and
she had done what she could to make his task easy. Spencer had
seen the tension between the two women, and reluctantly he
accepted the inevitable.
“Jane, I know Mr. and Mrs. Ball are looking for a good nanny.
If you are interested in working for them I’ll have a word with
them both today.”
Mary knew John Ball as he was the local vet and had made
many calls to Spencer’s farm. He had sampled her scones many
a time late at night when he had attended a particularly difficult
foaling. Spencer knew that Jane would fit into the happy little
household of the Balls, and that she would enjoy having a baby
to fuss over again.
“It would be nice to have a young one to look after,” said
Jane, who now looked a lot brighter. She really had not known
where she was going to go, or how she was going to support
herself when she left Ryber Fields.
Much to Mary’s displeasure, Spencer insisted on giving
Jane three months’ salary and a glowing reference for her new
position. It was a sad day for the Freeman children, as Jane had
been there for them since they were born.
“Our dad should send that miserable witch he married away,
instead of Jane,” Polly said to Meg, who was distraught as she
felt that it was her fault that Jane was leaving.
Jane left Ryber Fields with a heavy heart; it had been her
home for as long as she could remember. The children were all
growing up now, though, and maybe her job was done. Alfred
had started to date a girl called Sophie Kane, and it looked like
a wedding might be in the future. Sophie was a perfect match for
Alfred, and she was loved by all of his siblings. Jane had known
Sophie’s family for years, and knew that they were good people.
Simone was also seeing a young man from Loscoe and had
blossomed from a quiet recluse into a bubbly chatterbox over
the last few months. She had changed from a quiet mouse into an
excited puppy, and everyone was amazed at the transformation.
Spence and Lucy were as yet unattached and still living at
home. Polly was out at service most of the time, as she was
happier working than being at home. Meg was the only child
still at school, and Jane would surely miss her sweet nature and
It was a typical misty day on the moors when John came
to pick up Jane. She left with nothing but a large carpet bag
containing her few belongings. The only thing she took with
her other than her clothing was the quilt that Sophie had so
lovingly made and of which Star had been so proud. Jane had
found it in the bin one morning, where Mary had thrown it
together with any other reminders of Spencer’s life before her.
Jane turned to look one more time at Ryber Fields before she
climbed into the buggy, and as she did a shudder went through
her body. The home she had once loved, and which had always
been such a welcoming sight, had changed, and somehow she
felt sorry for all of the people who lived there now.
Mary was glad to see Jane leave, but at the same time she
knew that there would be a lot of extra chores to be delegated.
She made sure that Cora never had to do any chores other than
needlework and light dusting, and as Cora was such a delicate
girl, this was accepted by all. She had a sweet disposition and
was nothing at all like her mother, either in looks or manner.
Simone and Lucy had to do the lion’s share of the housework,
and that meant cleaning the stove, polishing brasses, and
scrubbing the tile floors. Both girls were working, but when they
came home the housework was waiting for them. Mary always
had visitors and would disappear into the parlor with them for
hours. The doors were closed and the parlour was off limits
to everyone. No one minded the fact that Mary had her own
company. In fact, it was a relief for all when she was not around.
Spencer stayed out more and more, working late hours in
the stables. He had taken to going to the local public house,
something he had never done in the past. Somehow even his
study was not the haven that it had been, and he needed to get
out of the house. Mary was running the house just the way
that she wanted, and she was spending Spencer’s money on
new furnishings and throwing out anything that would remind
Spencer of Star. Little did she know that Spencer did not need
any material objects to remind him of his one true love, as her
memory was burned into his heart forever. Mary would never
inhabit that special place, as his heart only had room for one
great love, and Spencer would carry that love to his grave.
Mary was a plain cook, and the meals were more for
subsistence than for enjoyment. The friendly banter over the
supper table was a thing of the past. Very often Spencer was not
present for his evening meal anymore, and would retire to
his study with a slab of heavy bread and a chunk of cheese, only
coming out late at night when the house was again quiet and he
could be alone with his memories. He did not see the way that
Mary gave the best cuts of meat to her sons, and quickly slithered
any extra portions onto the plates of her children. He had soon
realized that this marriage was a mistake, and the initial passion
that Mary had aroused in him now left him with a feeling of
self-loathing and disgust. Spencer recalled the nights of passion
that he and Star had shared. He remembered how after their
lovemaking they would lie entwined and contented, eventually
falling asleep in each other’s arms. Now Spencer tried to climb
into bed when he thought that Mary would already be asleep.
On the nights that she was awake and waiting for him, their
coupling was purely sexual and left him spent and sleepless.
He slept as far away from her as he could, but it was never far
enough to get away from the way that his life had changed.
Alfred and Sophie were like a fresh breeze flowing through the
house when they were there. Alfred’s joking and ever lighthearted
ways were a joy to his siblings. When Alfred announced that they
were going to get married, there was a lot of jubilation. They
all needed something to celebrate. Everyone loved Sophie, so
they were overjoyed with Alfred’s announcement. They would
miss his presence around the farm, but they knew that they had
gained a sister in Sophie. Spencer was happy that Alfred had
found such a nice girl, and he hoped that his son would find the
happiness that he had shared with Star. He knew that starting out
married life would not be easy in these tough economic times.
Spencer went into his study and unlocked the safe, which was
hidden behind a false panel in the wall. He carefully counted
out five hundred gold sovereigns and put them in a satchel to
give to Alfred.
When he came out of his study, Alfred was sitting by the
fire and helping Meg to fold some napkins. Spencer loved the
easy way that Alfred had with his young sister, and knew that
she would miss him when he left. Spencer handed Alfred the
satchel of gold sovereigns.
“Here you go, lad; it is enough to start you off on the right foot.
Don’t go into debt, buy only what you can afford, and start off
small.” Spencer hoped that his gift would let Alfred start married
life a little easier. Alfred was astonished at Spencer’s generosity,
and as was his nature, he gave his father a big hug. He knew by
the weight of the satchel that this was a lot of money.
“Dad, this is a small fortune. Are you sure that you counted
right?” Alfred was almost in tears at his father’s generosity.
Spencer was uncomfortable with emotion and brushed off the
thanks with a brief,
“Don’t spend it foolishly, son.”
This was an enormous amount of money and would make
starting out married life so much easier for Alfred and Sophie.
Alfred had already found a little house to rent. Sophie was a
nice girl, not beautiful, but certainly very pretty with always a
smile on her face. Jane had always hoped that they would get
together, as she knew that Sophie adored Alfred and would
make him a great wife. Jane’s new home was now in the village
not far from where Alfred and Sophie would live, and she looked
forward to being able to see more of them both in the future.
Once Mary found out about the money that Spencer had given
to Alfred, she was furious until her fury gave way to scheming.
Well! If Spencer could give his children money, then he could
give her children the same. She had to have this in writing as
soon as possible to ensure their future inheritance. Mary waited
for the right moment to put her plan into action. One night after
Spencer had come out of his study, having had far too much
to drink, she made her move. She had seen a lawyer and had a
document drawn up for Spencer to sign. It was a bequest that
upon the marriage of each child they would receive a gift of
500 gold sovereigns. Mary thrust the paper under Spencer’s
nose, and in his drunken state he signed his name to it without
a second’s thought. Even if he had read the paper, he would
not have seen anything wrong with it. Spencer was a fair man,
and he would have never treated any of the children differently.
Freeman or Lambert, they were all his responsibility now and
he accepted that freely.
Spencer could never have guessed the rest of Mary’s plan. She
smiled, and feeling very pleased with herself, took the signed
paper and slid out of the room like the snake that she was.