The cook at Passford House in the dying years of the Victorian era was Mary Little 23. Like so many of the Cecil’s employees, she hailed from Scotland. She would have needed to be a good all-rounder – as capable of sending up a dinner of six or eight courses as a plain roast or a covey of partridges. She would have had complete domination over the kitchen and, as far as it was possible, would have kept it impregnable. Its door was a door to be knocked on, even by the butler. Lady Arthur certainly had no business there. The total extent of her involvement would have been a mid-morning glance at the slate on which Mary Little would have outlined the proposed meals for the day.
Cook’s Perks were numerous. Mary Little would have been entitled to sell the household dripping to dealers and to extract hefty commissions from local tradesmen in exchange for her patronage. Whether she suffered from the two vocational failings of cooks – insobriety and dishonesty – we do not know. Provided she did not, she would have been worth her weight in gold. Many a mistress was prepared to put up with a great deal provided she could be confident that the cook would not be found dead drunk an hour before dinner or was not giving away joints of meat to the itinerant woman who made a living by cleaning steps for cooks with hangovers.