Martha/groundskeeper/disgust

I asked a friend to suggest three things and then wrote a short story  around them. Feel free to do the same =)




“Eulalie! Dash it all, where have they got to?”

Martha Wight strode deeper into the woods, scanning the undergrowth bordering the trail. She stopped occasionally, stooping to fuss with some errant branch or plucking a leaf and tucking it into one of the many pockets that festooned her jacket and breeches. Her scowl remained fixed as she searched for the child.

When she agreed that morning to watch the child for a few hours, she’d had no idea of what a handful children could be. Trees and bushes and brooks had a tendency to remain relatively in place; children did not. Not even a little bit.

“Eulalie! Child, get your bony rump in front of me right this instant or there will be consequences!” she bellowed.

Grouse broke from a thicket, startled by her roar. Still no sign of the child. She resisted the urge to curse the tutor. It was hardly his fault an aunt had fallen ill, and he was to be commended for going to care for her, being the nearest relative to her. Had Martha known that a twelve year old could be the source of such vexation, she surely would have insisted the cook take charge of them.

“One would think a simple admonition to remain on the path was clear enough,” she grumbled as she strode along, “I’m quite sure I understood simple instructions when I was twelve…”

She stopped for a moment, recalling her childhood, and blushed at recollections of some rather outrageous escapades.

“Even so,” she muttered, and continued on. The small copse was thinning out. Martha felt a shadow of concern now. The grounds weren’t so extensive that her task should prove so difficult. Beyond the woods was a small meadow and past that the fence running the perimeter of the grounds. The house was grand, but its lands were relatively limited, having been sold off to the farms hereabouts by family ancestors whose debts had mounted to daunting sums.

Although Martha would have liked the larger grounds, she was content with what she oversaw. She was fairly young, to hold a head groundskeeper position for such an esteemed old family. But they trusted her, and she had lived up to that trust.

Until she misplaced their child. This might put a dent in the good relations she had hitherto enjoyed. She pulled her compact field glass and scanned the meadow. Right across, beside the fence, she could just about make out a huddled form with bright blue boots. Relief flooded her and she hurried across the meadow.

“Eulalie you little rotter! What were you thinking, rabbitying off like that?” she demanded, trying to sound stern rather than hysterical.

He looked towards her, face scrunched up.

“Martha, look. I found a gross thing,” he said, and pointed to the object of his disgust.

She looked down, and sighed. Up against the fence was a mostly-eaten rabbit. A fox must have run it to ground here and killed it. As a groundskeeper she was hardly a stranger to small dead animals but she could understand the child’s objection to the gruesome sight.

“Do you have to clean that up?” Eulalie asked, staring fixedly at it once more.

“Oh it won’t be long before nature takes its course; give it two weeks and there’ll likely be nothing but a few bones and tufts of fur to mark the spot,” she replied matter-of-factly.

He looked up once more, gaping.

“What does that mean?” he asked with equal parts horror and fascination.

She hesitated, considering the pros and cons of explaining the efficiency of carrion eaters, decided an impromptu nature lesson couldn’t hurt.

He listened, rapt, as she explained the eating habits of foxes and crows, and the rapidity with which insects and weather would dispose of what remained. He was especially interested in the beetles, wanted to go hunting for some right there and then. But the shadows were growing longer and the sun was sinking. Only by promising to bring him a jar of the voracious carrion eaters was she able to coerce him into heading back to the house.

“Go on ahead,” Martha told him, “and go directly to the house. I’ll mark the spot and come back later to find you some beetles.”

He headed away across the meadow, making a beeline for the manor.

Martha waited for him to enter the small copse, then rolled up her sleeves. She stretched her arm between the fence and grasped the rabbit corpse, drawing it back through. She’d been hard-pressed to behave in front of the child, but now she sank her needle-sharp teeth in with relish, crunching bones and greedily swallowing the remains. She received a generous stipend for her duties, but no boggart would pass up a tasty snack had they the chance.

Martha hurried after the child once she was done. She had been given very strict instructions by the tutor about when Eulalie was to be put to bed, and which incantations were to be said over the door.

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