Wednesday, September 12, 2012

1820's Maid Thing

June 6, 1820 My family is a family of servants. The boys are sent to serve the Queen, and the girls are sent to serve the Duke. It’s been this way for ages. The boys wait until they are eighteen, and then ship off to wear the Queen’s insignia on their breast as they march with their rifles. The girls needn’t wait quite so long, as the Duke’s always had need for more servants in one of his households; we make the journey up north when we hit thirteen. My three sisters have gone already, and both of my brothers have gone as well. I turn thirteen tomorrow. The day after, my father will take me north. I do not want to go. I have no desire to serve the Duke, regardless of his sizable monetary support to my family. I know what goes on behind his walls. They say he is a traitor, that his entire employ is treacherous. They say that people disappear in his house. Maybe that is true, but even if it is not, his reputation as a cruel master precedes him. My eldest sister will not even speak of him when she comes home for holidays any more. I can hardly wonder why. June 7, 1820 I have turned thirteen years old. My family prepared a great party, and it was much fun, but I know what is to happen tomorrow. They know as well. My mother held me tightly tonight. She was crying. She told me that this was the way of our family, that we have always been servants of the Ducal house, that Father’s line went far back into that history. She told me that I should never be afraid of things, but that if I ever was unsafe, I should run away. She whispered these things to me, perhaps for fear that may father might hear her, or perhaps for fear that the Duke’s ear might catch these breathed warnings. I know she does not want for me to go. I share her dislike of the idea, but if I were to not go, the Duke might send a caller to see what is keeping me, and his generous gold chain might be snipped off. Though I loathe this duty, it is a duty I must bear for my mother’s sake. Wish me luck, dear pages, all the luck you can muster. I fear I will need more tan just luck, tomorrow, though. June 8, 1820 My father and I sat in silence inside the coach for the entire duration of the trip to the common house in Kettering. He bought me a new pair of shoes when we arrived here, and though he said little, I could see in his eyes that he, too, dreaded my departure. I write tonight from the hearth in the common house, the cool stone reassuring on my skin, but nothing else to convince me of any virtue in living in the Duke’s house. On the morrow we will hire another coach, and take the rest of the trip. By this time tomorrow I will have arrived at that accursed house, and my father will have left me there. At least my sisters will be there, and, God willing, unharmed and unchanged. Tonight is the night my freedom dies. June 10, 1820 Tonight marks my second night under this roof. I would have written last night had I not been so exhausted! My first day in his employ, and the head maid put me to such work as I have never been prepared to do! In the interest of keeping a record of all the things that happen to me here, I will tell you what occurred yesterday. Father and I arrived on the grounds of the manor in the late morning, and were met by a tall, elderly gentleman in a smart black jacket. He told us that the master was out, but that he had left instructions to be followed on my arrival. He took my things, and beckoned me inside. My father made as though to come into the manor as well, but the elderly gentleman stopped him. “Master’s instructions only allow for the girl today,” he told my father, who looked visibly shocked. Our goodbye was cut short, father promising in a whisper to see me again soon, and I was ushered into the foyer. My quarters, I was told, would be with two other maidservants in the east wing, on the ground floor. He took my trunk off down a hallway, instructing me to wait where I was until the Head Maid came to explain things. I waited a few moments, nervous and quite upset about my father’s sudden removal, before the woman I know as the Head Maid appeared. She ushered me without more than a “Come with me” into the north wing, and handed me a parcel wrapped up with string. “Put this on. We will fit you into a proper uniform later,” she said curtly. She crossed her arms, and waited. She expected me to just strip in front of her! I protested, but she brushed that idea to the side. “Why waste time you could be listening to the instructions I will give you by hiding away while you change? You must be more conscious of your use of time, child.” She began to tell me of the rules and standards of the manor, while I sheepishly changed into the uniform she had given me. She remarked briefly on my stay, saying I didn’t need such a thing yet. The nerve of this woman! I turned away from her to finish changing while she continued to explain in her monotone, teacherly voice that as a maidservant in the Duke’s house I was subservient to not only the Master himself, but also to any guests he would welcome, and to the older serving staff, most especially herself. If she were to give an order, and I were to disobey, I would be punished harshly. I was not working a normal job, she said. I was essentially the property of the Duke, thanks to my family’s relinquished me to him. I was so angry, I wanted to box this woman’s ears! How dare she even insinuate that my family sold me? And yet, I could hear in her voice that she had told many others these same things, and perhaps meant them. She both frightens and angers me. My uniform is too big. The bodice does not fit, and the hem drags along the ground. I tripped on it twice walking to my room behind “Miz Weatherby,” as she is called. She showed me to my room, which had two beds. “But I was told, Miz Weatherby, that I was to stay with two other girls,” I had said, and she simply nodded. “That’s correct.” “Where will I sleep, then?” “Sort that out between the three of you tonight.” A great, big mansion like this, and they somehow do not have the rooms for their workers to have their own beds? Preposterous. I know I am being bullied, because I am the newest girl. I knew this was going to be a terrible place. It was not long until Miz Weatherby had given me my duties. I was to clean the baseboards on the long staircases that led up to the mezzanine in the foyer. She gave me a pail and a brush, and told me to get to work. Just like that! And I spent the next three hours scrubbing those baseboards until they shone. They did not, however, shine enough for Miz Weatherby. I would have expected that she would have been disappointed, but never that she would make me do the whole thing again! I was exhausted by the time dinner came about, and stumbled back to my room shortly thereafter. The other two girls in my room are May, who is fifteen, and Julia, who is eighteen. They both seem nice, though Julia does not much care for conversation. It was decided that since I was small and May was the smaller of the two, that I would share her bed. I gratefully accepted this offer (as I would have slept in the cupboard just then, how tired was I!), and dressed for bed. I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow. The morning came all too quickly, and we were awoken by a small bell I had failed to notice that hung by the door, attached to a string that terminated in a loop outside. Miz Weatherby comes by in the mornings at around six and yanks on that string at every door, a not-so-gentle wake-up call that left my ears ringing and my head still half-asleep as I got dressed. May and Julia were both used to it by now, and had become incredibly efficient at getting into their uniforms. May helped me lace a little tighter into mine, but no amount of tight lacing would fix the sleeves that were too long or the hem that dragged and tripped me. I still have not yet seen the Duke himself, yet, even all of today. I worked with Julia waxing the wooden floorboards in the ballroom all morning, and during the afternoon, I was shown all the rooms in the north wing that would need attention by the maidstaff. Guest rooms that were covered in dust, long unused; a wardrobe room on whose hooks hung only one old dress, moth-eaten and riddled with holes; seemingly endless hallways. The north wing, Julia quietly explained, had been unused of late due to the master’s recent habit of not taking callers. He seemed to be taking them again, however, and that necessitated us polishing the whole wing to a sparkle. I only ran into Miz Weatherby once today, which was refreshing. She seemed too busy to say much, other than a scathing “We simply must put you in a better-fitting uniform,” before bustling off on her way. I agree with her on that point, because it is hard to do any work with sleeves three inches longer than my arms! Today was less tiring than yesterday, thank God for that. Dinner for us maidservants is held in a small room off the side of the main dining room, and is, to be honest, quite good fare. I was seated across the table from my sister Mary Ann, who was delighted to see me, but our eldest sister was busy helping in the kitchen and did not eat with us. Mary Ann promised to tell me everything she could about everything here tomorrow, when she had time. When we parted after dinner (as she still had unfinished work to get done), she planted a kiss on both my cheeks, and squeezed me nearly in half. I suppose one must get stronger when one does this sort of work, but she could have perhaps been a bit more gentle! I write all this by the candle that is in my room. May has gone to sleep, and Julia reads behind me, sitting cross-legged on her bed. I suppose I had better retire, as well; I have already taken up more pages tonight than I had thought to. Good-night!