I looked at the paper clutched in my hand again and back up at the house. This was it. I walked around to the servants’ entrance and knocked on the door. It was opened by a buxom woman with glossy brunette hair, pale brown skin, and brown eyes.
“You must be Harper,” she said cheerily, pulling me inside.
She’s friendly, I thought as she closed the door behind me and pushed me into the kitchen. It was early morning, so the servants were sitting around a wooden table in the middle of the kitchen. A pretty woman with dirty blonde hair and olive skin was at the stove. I looked over the others. There were two girls my age. One was downright stunning with dark brown hair, honey brown skin, light brown eyes, a petite nose and high cheekbones. Her rosy lips were full and she had a nice figure. The other girl was a bit plain with mousy brown hair and dark brown eyes. The men were handsome. One had blondish brown curly hair, hazel eyes, and a chiseled face. His uniform fit him perfectly. The other had black, cropped hair, piercing dark brown eyes, but his face was a bit softer, friendlier.
“Everyone,” the lady said. “This is Harper and she’s going to be joining our staff.”
The stunning girl stood up and walked over to me. She shook my hand.
“I’m Aileana and that’s Betsy. We’re maids.”
“That’s Kate, the cook and Leigh,” the lady pointed to the one with hazel eyes before pointing to the one with dark eyes, “and that’s Edwin.”
They were giving me appraising looks and I bit the corner of my bottom lip nervously.
“Two more girls are starting today as well,” she said. “Oh, I forgot one person. I’m Mrs. Tabard, the housekeeper. Edwin and Leigh are footmen.”
There was a knock on the door and Mrs. Tabard went to get it. She came back a moment later with two girls that looked alike with the same raven black hair and skin and dark brown eyes. I guessed they were sisters.
“This is Imogene and Lenora,” she said.
She went into her introductions again including me. More people came into the large kitchen which Mrs. Tabard took the care to introduce me and the sisters to. I didn’t remember everyone but I was sure over the next few weeks I’d learn their names. We sat down for breakfast. I sat my suitcase in a corner.
Once breakfast was over, Mrs. Tabard put us to work. She put me with Aileana, the stunner. Since Lenora was a scullery maid she’d be with Suzanne and Imogene was with Zelda once we put our things away.
“She is going to be with you in your room. I am sure the sisters will want to stay together. Before you start on your duties cleaning the bottom level until the master and mistress of the house are awake, show them to their rooms so they can put their belongings away.”
Aileana nodded and motioned for the three of us to follow her. We climbed the stairs to the first level. She continued to the main stairs. We took five flights of stairs to get to the attic. Aileana showed the sisters into their room and then told them where they’d be able to find Zelda and Suzanne. She led me to our room. There was a window that let in a decent amount of light and two nice size beds with a table between them.
“That’s your chest and bed,” Aileana said, pointing to a chest under the window. “You can put your underthings in there. You can hang your dresses in the armoire.”
I nodded and put my suitcase down on top of it. I’d put my things away later. I looked at the armoire that was on the wall in front of the bed.
“The armoire there holds our uniforms. Let’s change into them.”
She walked to the armoire and pulled out two uniforms. They had skirts that stopped at the knees and were short sleeved. Aileana stripped off the plain brown dress she’d been wearing. She was standing in only her shift and underthings. I averted my eyes but didn’t pick up my dress.
“Get changed. There’s a lot to do today,” she commanded, pulling her dress on.
I took off my dress and quickly pulled on the uniform. As we left the room, I thought about my mother who sent me to work here. I just turned eighteen last week and she already had a job lined up so she could have me out of the house. I missed my sisters and brothers and living in the country. I didn’t know how I was going to feel about being in a city.
Aileana started telling me where I can find the cleaning supplies, snapping me out of my thoughts. The day went quickly and was very busy but I did not see the master or mistress all day. Ilene and Jonah took breakfast up for Lord Greyson and Betsy took breakfast for Lady Greyson.
“I haven’t seen the viscount or the lady of the house all day. Is that normal?” I said to Aileana as we worked in one of the rooms on the second floor. She was in the bathing room and I was in the bedroom, changing the bedsheets.
“They will be gone for a couple of weeks to visit with their parents in Coveport. They left after breakfast”
“They are siblings? I thought Lady Greyson was his wife.”
“He’s not married and we call her Lady Delilah.”
She smiled and went back into the bathing room. I went back to cleaning the room. We did not talk anymore other than to discuss what I was expected to do. Since our employers were gone, we did not have to worry about serving them. Kate cooked us a simple dinner and we ate in the kitchen. I got to know the rest of the staff better and told them things about me as well. Everyone was here except for Temperance, the lady’s servant, and Jonah, the viscount’s valet. After dinner we were dismissed to go to bed.
“There’s a bathing room down there,” Aileana said and pointed to a door at the far end of the hall. “There’s running water and we have electricity up here as well.”
“That’s unusual, right?”
“It is. The viscount and his sister treat us well and in turn we do the best work we can,” she said. “There are three tubs, three sinks and three toilets. The tubs have curtains around them for privacy. I don’t think anyone is in there now so you can bathe. I’m sure you’d want to after traveling and working.”
I did want a bath. I traveled five days to get here by train from my hometown of Voxhagen. I thanked her and went into our room. Before going to the bathing room, I decided to put away my clothes. It only took me a few minutes since I did not have much. I guess once I was paid I can go shopping for more clothes. I grabbed a nightgown, drawers, and my robe that my parents bought for me from a fancy shop in Belcrest, a bigger city not far from Voxhagen, when I was sixteen. I went to the bathing room at the end of the hall. It was very spacious and empty. Three tubs sat in the middle of the room. Sinks lined the wall by the door and at the back were covered areas that I assumed was where the toilets were located. I liked that this house had modern plumbing and I wouldn’t have to clean out chamber pots. The bathing room was spotless and smelled amazing. There was a window on the far wall. I could get used to this. I went to the tub furthest from the door and it took me a moment to figure out how to work the knobs. The curtain billowed around the tub to allow privacy when dressing and undressing. I placed my clothes and towel on the stool by the tub and undressed. I folded the uniform on the floor before sinking into the luxuriously hot water.
When I finally climbed out, I felt refreshed. I dressed in my drawers, nightgown, and robe. Zelda was standing at the sink undoing her braid in front of the mirror.
“You can leave your uniform in that basket. The laundry service comes twice a week. Lenora or Suzanne will take it down,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said and dropped the uniform in the basket.
Zelda was a pretty girl with sandy brown skin, raven black eyes, and brunette hair. She had a nice smile and seemed friendly enough.
“There’s some mint in the cabinets,” she informed me.
“This one?” I said, pointing to the one that held the towels.
She nodded and I walked to it. I hadn’t noticed the other things in the cabinet. I pulled out a few sprigs of mint and walked to the sink. I braided my long, curly ginger hair so that it could dry and not tangle in the night. I rinsed out my mouth before chomping on the sprigs of mint. I said goodnight to Zelda and left the bathing room. The sisters, Imogene and Lenora, along with Betsy were headed into the bathing room. I said goodnight to them as well.
“Harper,” someone said from behind me.
I turned to see that Leigh was standing there. He smiled at me and it was an amazing smile that revealed his dimples. I bite my lower lip.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” he said. “You’re very beautiful.”
“And you’re very handsome. I’m going to go inside now. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He laughed and I pushed open the door and closed it.
“Leigh?” Aileana said from the bed.
I took off my robe and put it into the armoire on a hook inside the door. I climbed into my bed by the window. There were night tables on either side of our beds but not in the middle so we could see each other.
“Did you hear him?”
“Yeah, he’s a charmer so I’d be careful with him. We’ve lost a few maids after they had relations with him and he refused to talk to them anymore.”
“I’ll be careful,” I said. “So I wanted to ask you something.”
“How old are you?”
“You’re right between my two older brothers.”
“I’ve been working for the Greyson’s for years.”
“That’s nice. And they are nice?”
“Very, Harper. Now let’s go to bed.”
She turned off the lamp that was on her side of the bed and I turned off mine. I turned onto my side and stared out the window. It was cloudy so the moon was covered but the stars gave off some light.
“Goodnight, Harper,” Aileana said. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Lady Delilah lives here with her brother? And their parents live in Coveport?”
The viscount and his sister were coming back late tonight. We were already in bed even though it was early because we would not be able to sleep in like we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks. I was expected to meet both Lady Delilah and Lord Greyson in the morning. Aileana and I were turned facing each other in the dark; talking across the space between our beds.
“Yes. It is her brother’s house that their parents gave to him when he came of age. They retired to their estate in Coveport and usually only come up here a few times a year.”
“And neither of them is married? How old is Lord Greyson?”
“And Lady Delilah?”
“She’s twenty-five,” Aileana said.
“Have they ever been married?”
“No. Lord Greyson is content to whore around and play cards and drink. He spends a lot his time at The Whistling Ghost which is a tavern that offers a lot of fun for the nobility. I guess he has not found anyone for him yet.”
“And the lady?”
“Well, the lady is, well,” Aileana said, stammering.
She never stammered and she was always sure of what it is she wanted to say and do. I admired that about her because I’m not that sure about myself. I waited patiently. She turned her head and let out a loud breathe.
“I don’t want to tell you and you think differently about me. Not many people know.”
“I would not think differently of you but you do not have to tell me how you know whatever it is you may know, Aileana. I will not push you.”
She nodded and took in a deep breath before letting it out again. She faced me again. Her beautiful face was bathed in moonlight making her appear angelic. I waited.
“She does not like men. She enjoys the company of ladies.”
“Oh,” is all I said.
And then it hit me. Aileana must like the company of ladies as well. That would be how she knew. I knew that it was something that happened but it was frowned upon in our society. I know some employers will sleep with their servants. Some are horrific and force themselves onto the help or threaten to fire them if they do not comply. But others just seduce the person they want to have relations with. My older sister, Roxie, told me that the manor house she works in is fraught with the earl sleeping with the maids and the lady sleeping with the manservants. Roxie isn’t having relations with the earl but she is having them with one of the manservants.
“Yeah. So she hasn’t married but she thinks her parents are going to start forcing her soon and she’d be expected to have children. She isn’t attracted to men at all.”
“You’re her mistress?” I said.
“You’re too smart for me.”
“My mother used to say it like it was an insult,” I said. “I figured it out because of your behavior and that you know. I am sure this is not something that she tells everyone.”
“No,” Aileana said. “I’ve known Delilah since we were was twelve and thirteen years old. My mother worked for them at the home in Coveport. I started working for them when I turned sixteen and moved here when they needed staff.”
“How long have you and Lady Delilah been intimate?”
“For a couple of years.”
I nodded. “So can I ask you something?”
“Will you go with her if she gets married? I mean to work at the house she ends up in.”
“I would like to. She’s asked me to.”
“Why are you not her personal servant?”
“That wasn’t my duty when we were in Coveport. Temperance has been working with her since she was sixteen. I’m fine with my job.”
I nodded. “This does not change things for us.”
“You don’t want to move in with Lenora and Imogen now?”
I chuckled. “No. I like the room I’m in and the roommate I have.”
She smiled brightly. “I did fear you’d want to if you knew I preferred women to men.”
“Like Lady Delilah?”
“How do you know your preference if you only have relations with women?”
“You do know I could ask the same of you.”
I nodded in agreement. “That’s true.”
She looked at me for a long moment before turning over to face the other way. She said goodnight and I turned to face the window. I wondered if I’d offended her. I hoped not because I did like Aileana and her sexual preferences did not matter to me in any way. I heard her breathing even and grow heavy and knew she was asleep. I stared out the window for a long time until my eyes started to droop and sleep claimed me.