MDwM #13: Molly, Holy Terror, and Helvstead Housekeeper Emeritus, Enters the Picture

The author and friend
The author and friend

Ohio Edit is pleased and privileged to be publishing Gilmore Tamny’s novel, My Days with Millicent, in serial form.


I’d discover, as the weeks passed, that tales of Molly’s domestic achievements preceded her all over the county. Tales of accommodating twenty-seven guests that arrived during the soup course on a New Year’s Eve without a pause in service; popping a glass eyeball in the socket of the Earl of Twickam; shooting Lord Jacob Clive’s favorite horse after it had broken a leg in a fall, as well as the dog that had provoked the trouble, when his courage had failed; removing a two-hundred-and-fifty year old stain from a christening dress; the legendary ire roused to fever pitch and lead her to break the fingers of a servant girl who’d left a soiled sheet on a Marquise’s bed; insisting a cook remake a batch of currant scones fourteen times; fixing a Swiss clock, a sump pump, and the wife of a Spanish diplomat’s antique ivory hair notion in less than half an hour. Innumerable royals, dignitaries and millionaires had tried to lure her away from Helvstead.

Lucy had joined this chorus of admiration.  “With what she whips up from the pantry to clean the silver when we’re out of polish, or can do to get a stubborn fire to light, or what she knows about stains—it’s a wonder. George—my fiancé—says it’s a good thing she never turned her mind to making bombs.”


My first impression when I finally did see Molly was, oddly, one of youth.

Millicent was visiting friend, and after a solitary breakfast, I went through the hallway to fetch a pullover. The rooms were dark, clouds having gathered imminently to pelt the countryside with cold rain. I stopped my progress, unsure if I was actually seeing the slim, girlish figure in the dim, wearing an old-fashioned uniform and what looked like a soft white cap, flitting in the living room. The figure moved closer. What I’d thought a cap was actually hair, growing in abundance, and swirled in a great soft bun, like a dollop of cream. The purity of that white hair made her red-rimmed eyes, an azure colour, particularly bright. She stood perhaps five feet and wore a neat blue frock and white apron, the style fifty years earlier, the very picture of elderly decorum.

“Hello, Molly,” I said.

“Well. If it isn’t Ramona Bright.” Her voice quavered with age, but still carried.

“Yes, Molly. I hear you’ve been unwell. I was sorry to hear of your stint in hospital.”

“Yes, yes. Gall bladder. Filthy things. Well, it’s been many years since your lot have been here. Troublesome mite you were, scuttling around like a mouse. Never did know where I’d find you, under a table, in the closet. You don’t look much better fed. Puny as you ever were.”

She returned the candlestick to the mantel, her hands, although small and contorted by arthritis, retained their thickness of muscle, the tops covered in raised white scars. I’d forgotten about Molly’s hands; they’d frightened me as a child.

“Lye,” Molly said, catching my eye. “Started me in the laundry when I was but a tiny girl. We worked our fingers to the bone. But you won’t hear me bellyaching, like the useless chits of today.” She plucked up a letter opener, curved, like a scimitar; I had always imagined it in the hands a Turkish assassin.  “I heard of your family’s misfortunes. And the accident. But I suppose it was a mercy for your mother.”

“That was some time ago, Molly.”

“Mmm. Old sins cast long shadows. Well, I don’t mind saying I was wondering how your coming to stay here had come about.”

“Millicent very kindly invited me to stay.”

“Probably up to no good, I’d say, asking you here.”

I felt my eyebrows raise, but let it pass.

“We shall see. I come by often, be warned. She says not to trouble myself, but I’ll keep my hand in as long as I draw breath.”

“Must be wonderful to have seen Millicent have grown into such a—much-admired person,” I faltered over this inanity.

Molly chuckled. “I known that one was trouble from when she was in her nappies. I’m immune to that wayward charm of hers. Most aren’t, despite of that nasty way of talking she has—foul words, smart remarks—oh, it’s something terrible, isn’t it, and always has been—but people were fond of her, found her a pert little beauty. But I knew from the moment I laid eyes on her; ‘Watch this one Molly,’ I says to myself, ‘you’ve got yourself a bad ‘un, and make no mistake about it. One of the Satan’s own’ ”

I swallowed my surprise, an attempt to politely change the subject dying on my lips as she continued:  “I’ve had the whole of St. Agnes praying for her since she first threw her milk-cup. Devilish girl! Headstrong, willful slattern! I keep my eye on her—she doesn’t like it much I can tell you that! But Christ will have his vengeance,” She chuckled. “The worthless slut.”

Lucy walked in, eyes widening.  “Er—Mrs. Molly, I wondered—”

“What is it, girl?” Molly asked, without embarrassment. “You can get that cow-like look off your face. I haven’t said anything you haven’t heard or don’t know firsthand. Tea’s ready? Well, then say so, girl! I hope you’ve finally learned to make proper tea, despite of that last post of yours. Can’t make a decent cup of tea if you’ve got Popish ways, I don’t care who’s trained you. The Lord won’t have it.”

“I’m sure it will be lovely,” I said. “It always is.”

Lucy darted me a grateful glance.

“I best attend to a few things,” I said rising from the sofa and fled upstairs.


Gilmore Tamny is a writer and musician who lives in Somerville, MA. She has a tumblr of line drawings here: