Sunday, February 8, 2015

Help(less) Chapter Two

In this Chapter, Stephanie gets a tour of the house and a run down of the rules, courtesy of Mrs. Downy, the cook.

As Stephanie entered the kitchen, a short woman with greying, red hair looked up at her. The woman put aside the loaf of bread she was shaping. “Stephanie, isn’t it?” she said, brushing her hands on her apron. “I’m Margaret Downy, you can call me Maggie.” She didn’t smile but her voice and face had a warmth that put Stephanie at ease.
Maggie looked Stephanie over and nodded. “Come with me,” she said, walking to the door. The door swung back and forth through the doorframe when she released it. “This house runs on routine, or that’s the idea. Don’t always go that way, but never you mind that. Here’s the china and silverware for the table. Linens in the drawer.” She opened the cabinet doors to show the stacks of plates and bowls and shut them again. Opening the opposite door, Maggie continued the tour. “Breakfast is at seven, lunch at twelve, tea at three and dinner at six. You set, serve, clear and clean.”
Stephanie stepped into the large, open dining room. A long dark table sat in the centre with eight, high-backed chairs surrounding it. A long, laced cloth ran the length of the table with an empty, glass vase in the centre.
“Mrs. Callowell sits here,” she said, gesturing to a chair in the middle of the opposite side. “Set the table for one and remember where she sits.”
Stephanie nodded.
A grander door than the one they’d passed through lay in the far wall. It connected with the foyer. Maggie closed the door behind them, once Stephanie was through.
“Is the missus particular about keeping the doors closed?” Stephanie asked, shyly.
“Closed and locked in some cases. But you don’t have to worry about the locked ones. There aren’t many and you’ll never have to use ‘em.”
Stephanie followed Maggie up one side of the rounded staircase. “The house is large so you have to work fast to get your work done. That bein’ said,” she turned on Stephanie, “she don’t like lazy work either. Make sure a room’s clean before you leave it. Hear?”
Stephanie nodded quickly.
“Good.” She turned and continued up the stairs. “There used to be more maids but’ll have to do it yourself.”
“What happened to the other maids?”
“They left. While ago.”
“Did the gardener leave too?”
Maggie stopped and turned to face her, her eyes seemed to re-evaluate her a moment. She turned away again, continuing up the stairs. “Aye. Most the staff’s gone now.” They reached the top of the stairs and gestured to the right. This is the South wing of the house,” she continued quickly, before Stephanie had a chance to question her further. The hallway was wide with paintings and portraits lining the walls and a large, open window at the end. They walked to the very end. “There are five bedrooms and two bathrooms. Clean the missus' first,” Maggie said, gesturing to the last door. “No one’s stayed in the others for months, so they don’t take much cleaning.” Maggie turned on her heel and started back down the hall.
Stephanie scurried after her, keeping close and her voice low. “And what about the North wing?”
Maggie stopped suddenly. The seriousness in her gaze made Stephanie instantly regret the question.
“The North wing is strictly off limits.” Maggie took a step towards her.
Stephanie swallowed hard, cowering under the intensity radiating from Maggie’s face. She nodded, clasping her hands tightly behind her.
Maggie sighed. “I’m sorry,” she chuckled. “I don’t want to frighten you, but Mrs. Callowell is very private and very particular.” Maggie put a hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. “Hate to see you get the boot for something silly like satisfying your curiousity, huh?”
Stephanie forced a smile she didn't feel.
They descended the staircase and Maggie gestured to the right. “You’ve already seen the salon,” she said without breaking stride. They turned sharply and continued down the long hallway lying between either arm of the staircase. They came to a round antechamber. A small stone table drew the eye the centre of the room. Its smooth marble surface was empty.
The rounded walls offered three doors. The one in the centre covered in bright green fabric. It would be the door to go back to the kitchen. Maggie pointed to the left, “Here’s the study."
Stephanie's heart skipped a beat. A study should have books. The Burbanks never had books in the house.
"It’s kept locked at all times. You don’t have to bother yourself with it.”
Stephanie’s shoulders slumped again and she nodded. “And that room?” she asked, pointing to the right.
“That’s another sitting room. Smaller, but it isn’t locked.” Maggie started crossing the room again, reaching for the far door. “And this door leads back to the kitchen. But we servants use the other door.”
Stephanie followed Maggie as they retraced their steps back through the dining room, into the kitchen. Maggie walked across the kitchen, to the cloth covered bowl. The dough created a round peak, pushing against the cloth. She lifted the cloth and nodded.
“Does she spend a lot of time in the study?” Stephanie asked.
Maggie looked up at her. “Much as she can."
Stephanie walked up to stand beside Maggie, as she flipped and kneaded the dough.
Maggie stopped, mid-knead, glancing at Stephanie from the corner of her eye. “Dinner isn’t served ‘till six. Your time’s your own.” She went back to working her dough.
“I sometimes helped the women in the kitchen with the Burbanks. When I had some time.”
“You’ll see soon enough how little time you have to relax in this house. You should enjoy it while you can,” Maggie said, shortly.
“Oh,” she said, a little deflated. “I’m sorry, I’ll go.”
Maggie sighed. “Here,” she said, handing her a bunch of carrots. “You can start with these.” A simple, slight smile threatened the hard woman’s stern facade.

Stephanie burst through the servant’s entrance to the kitchen, grasping the empty silver tray. Her lip trembled as if it had a life of its own.
“My goodness, Stephi,” Maggie exclaimed. “What’s happened?”
She stuttered and burst into tears. Leaving aside her sauce, Maggie went to her. “There, there,” she said, patting the young woman’s back as she engulfed her in her large, soft arms. “Now, tell me what’s wrong, hm?” She lifted Stephanie’s head up and patted her tears dry with a corner of her apron.
Her eyes glistened with tears as she trembled. “I forgot the serving spoon,” she practically yelled. “I was thinking so hard about not tripping, and which side to stand on and spoons and cloths that I completely forgot the serving spoon.”
“That’s not so bad-”
“I left the soup on the table,” Stephanie blurted out.
“I wasn’t thinking. I just set it down. You should have seen the way she looked at me when I put it on the table.”
“Still, it’s not so-”
“When I came back, I was so flustered that...” Stephanie stopped to bite her lip.
“What?” Maggie asked, cautiously.
“I called her Mrs. Carrowell.”
Despite biting her lip, Maggie let out a small laugh. Stephanie’s eyes grey wide and desperate at the slip. “You certainly know how to make an impression,” Maggie said, laughing and breaking her stony exterior.
“It’s not funny,” she cried, hiccupping.
Maggie patted her on the shoulder and turned back to her sauce, waving her hand as she chuckled. “Don’t worry yourself. Mrs. Callowell is particular but she’s not a tyrant.”
Stephanie set the tray on the table. “I’ll bet she’s already regretting taking me on.”
Maggie turned, pointing to the tray. “That goes in the cabinet in the other room. And phooey; she’s not regretting anything!”

Stephanie huffed, dragging the tray off the table and sulking towards the door. Maybe Maggie is right, she thought, wiping her eyes. After all, Stephanie did have a tendency to overreact. She took a deep breath and replaced the tray. Overreaction or not, it was going to be a long evening.

So that's it for this chapter. What do you think is happening in the North Wing of the house? And where have all the previous servants gone? A better question might be why?

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