Saturday, February 14, 2015

Help(less) Chapter Three

Hello Current Reader!

Thanks for sticking it through to the next chapter, or starting with this one! I hope you like it :)

Stephanie is still trying to find her place in the house, but it isn't easy. The rest of the occupants aren't making it easier.
Stephanie meets Charles, the man who is taking care of Victor. They don't exactly hit it off.
Eloise and Charles have a late night quarrel about the new maid's mere presence.
Finally, Stephanie, left alone to finish working in the kitchen,  is introduced to another, more frightening aspect of the house.

The rest of the dinner passed without another incident.
Between clearing the table after Mrs. Callowell ate and washing up, Stephanie ate her own dinner. She sat at the kitchen table, hovering over her own meal, fretting over whether Mrs. Callowell’s silence was a good thing or a bad thing.
“You gonna eat that or just push it ‘round till it gets bored and walks off yer plate?” Maggie asked, wiping the corners of her mouth with her apron.
“I’m afraid I’m not very hungry.”
“All the same, you better eat up.” She stood, carrying her dishes to the sink. “You got yer work cut out. See you in the morning.”
“Goodnight,” she said as Maggie left. She turned her attention back to her plate. Her stomach churned at the notion of eating. She forced a spoonful of peas into her mouth and swallowed them down. She sighed, evaluating the ten or so bites she had left.
“Don’t be so excited,” came a deep male voice. Stephanie jumped, sending a forkful of peas flying. The man standing in the doorway grinned, leaning against the frame. He was tall with black hair that fell around his face and dark, piercing eyes.
She faltered under his gaze but recovered, rising to her feet. “Sir,” she said, curtseying. “I didn’t realize anyone else was here.”
The man laughed.
Stephanie flinched, his laughter grating on her already raw nerves. Eyes down casted, she said “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
The man stifled his laughter, content to merely shake his head and chuckle.
Stephanie looked up at him. Being ignored and unappreciated was one thing, but being openly mocked was quite another. She didn’t even know who this man was.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, forcing her voice and lip not to tremble. “But I don’t see what’s so funny.”
“It’s not you,” he said, launching himself away from the door. “Not to worry.” He walked to the stove where the remnants of the dinner lay.
“You must find something funny."
He turned back to her. “Well, do I look like a sir to you?” he asked, gesturing to his clothes.
She looked him over again. He was right, his brown trousers and faded white shirt didn’t look very proper, let alone noble. But there was something in his face that implied nobility. Arrogance, maybe.
“Who are you then?” she asked.
He turned back to the stove and began serving himself. “I’m Charles.”
“Oh, are you Mr. Callowell’s nurse?”
“His nurse?” His eyes wandered about the ceiling momentarily before landing back on her. “Is that what she’s calling me?”
“What do you call yourself?” she asked, trying hard to hide her curiousity behind a veil of indifference.
He chuckled again, setting her teeth on edge. She’d just met this man and already she hated him.
He turned towards her, bowl in hand. He shovelled a spoonful into his mouth before answering. “I’m a man of many roles.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes away and lowered herself back into her chair. She’d rather face the last of her dinner than hear anymore from Charles.
Charles drained the rest of the soup from the side of the bowl and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He left the bowl on the table and walked back towards the door.
“I thought the servants used the other doors,” Stephanie asked him.
He stopped midstep and turned. “What makes you think I’m a servant?”
“If you’re not a sir and you’re not a servant, who are you?”
“I already told you. I’m Charles. Who are you?”
She faltered. “I..I’m Stephanie.”
He tilted his head to the side. “Stephanie? A word of advice, Stephanie.” He took a step forward and leaned over the table. “Don’t get too comfortable around here.” He winked and pushed himself away, walking backwards towards the door.
She could only seethe in quiet anger as he winked and disappeared behind the door.

Charles rounded the corner towards Victor’s bedroom. Eloise’s dark, straight form sat opposite his door, her hands resting in her lap.
“Has he eaten anything?” he whispered.
She shook her head, her eyes keenly focused on the door in front. Her watery eyes betrayed her calm, hard exterior.
“Did something happen, Ellie?”
She looked at him starkly. “Of course not,” she said, deep furrows creasing her brow. She stood to face him. “And how many times must I ask you not to call me that?”
“Would you prefer I call you Mrs. Callowell, pretend we’re strangers?"
She answered him with a hard stare.
"It’s not as easy for me as you.”
She scoffed, waving a hand. “Eloise would suffice.”
He laughed quietly, bitterly. “So, rather an acquaintance than a stranger. A vast improvement.”
“It’s a lie.”
“It’s appropriate.”
“And Ellie isn’t? Since when is it-"
She stopped him. “It is inappropriate when I’ve asked you not to.”
“Fine,” he said, coldly. “Mrs. Callowell.”
She sighed. “Must you be so dramatic?”
“Why shouldn’t I be? Isn’t this an act?” he asked, looking around. “Aren’t I keeping to my character? The nurse,” he spat.
“I have work to do,” she said, straightening the wrinkles from her dark dress. She brushed passed him, moving back towards the staircase.
“About the maid,” he called after her.
“What about her?” she asked, clearly ready to be done with the conversation.
“You shouldn’t have hired her.”
“What concern is it of yours?”
“She doesn’t belong here.”
“Do any of us anymore?”
He took a step towards her. “A girl like that, she’d be better off...elsewhere.”
She paused before answering. “I hardly have the time to go about looking for young women for hire.” He saw her eye twitched in the dim light of the hall. “Unless you feel better qualified to find such a person, she will have to do.”
Clenching his jaw, Charles looked away, pushing his breath out through his nose. He threw himself into the chair and listened as her footsteps retreated down the hall.

Stephanie leaned over the basin, washing the dishes. She was almost done. Only a few pots to go and she could sleep. She was saving the largest pot with the hardest, stuck on food for last. She marvelled at the state of the pots. Old grease and heat charred the bottoms. Her forehead was damp with sweat as she scratched at it.
The house was quiet. She barely noticed the darkness creeping in around her, held at bay by the flickering lanterns. Scratching echoed through the room on the otherwise still air.
Stephanie’s mind was elsewhere, lost in her own dream world, while she worked. It was the only way for her to pass the time. If nothing else, her new position supplied her with a fresh fantasy. The library. She imagined leather bound books, worn from use; yellowed pages that crinkled when you turned them; running her fingers across a line up of book spines.
She wiped her brow. Her back ached incredibly. Driving her shoulders back, she tried to stretch the kinks from her spine. Without the continuous scratching, a strange sound drew her attention. A soft squeaking. She scanned the kitchen. The periphery of the room throbbed between darkness and dim light as the lanterns flickered.
She put the pan down and dried her hands on her apron. Reaching for the lantern, she stepped forwards. As she stepped towards the spring door, the sound grew louder. Holding her breath, she pushed the door open. The sound stopped. Shining the lantern into the room, she saw it exactly how she left it. Nothing. She looked back into the kitchen. Nothing.
The house was silent again.
Releasing the door, she walked back to the washing basin. The door swung noisily on its hinges, its sound and movement gradually ceasing.
Her heart beat faster as the sound and movement of the door gradually waned. She scratched harder at the pot drowning out the sound and the impending silence.
The light from the lantern weakened, allowing the encroaching darkness to creep closer. Of the two lanterns, only one burned brightly. The other’s pale blue flame struggled for life. As she reached for it, the light snuffed out, leaving only one lantern to fend off the darkness. The empty canister rattled as she shook it.
She sighed and moved the other lantern closer. Appraising the work she had left and the amount of time she’d take, she considered doing a moderate job on the last pot and waiting for the morning to clean it properly. The idea was abandoned, regretfully. It would never do to leave half done.
With darkness hanging about her shoulders and over her head, she grit her teeth and cleaned the last pots.
When she was finally finished, she regarded the cleaned dishes. Even in the dim light of the lantern, they looked ten years younger. She hoped Maggie would be pleased. It might take time for her to master the art of serving, but she was already a master at cleaning up after people.

That's it for Chapter Three. What do you think? Charles was one of my favourite additions to my little cast of characters. What do you think of him so far? Let me know in the comment below!

Thanks again,

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