1890

ALICE AND THE LADY'S MAID.

Mary, the kitchen maid, stood behind Mrs Broadbeam the cook in the kitchen. His Lordship wants to see me? Mary asked, looking at the cook's broad hips and behind. That's what was said, Mrs Broadbeam replied, rolling out pastry on a huge table. What's it about? Mary said. How would I know, the cook said, I'm in no position to ask that. Mary wiped her damp hands on her apron. Steam rose from pots on the stove. Who asked for me? Did he come down himself and ask for me? Mary said, standing beside the cook, looking at her worriedly. No, his Lordship didn't, that new nanny, Miss Spingle, came down. Said it was to do with the child, Miss Alice, the cook said, giving the maid, a hard look. You best get up and see his Lordship, I need you back here; there's lots to be done. Mary felt a cold finger run up and down her narrow spine. It wasn't her fault the child had crept into her bed the other night, it wasn't her fault that the child had asked her to be her adopted mother. The child must have spoken. Unless someone had seen the child leave her room the other morning, or saw her creep into he room during the night. Mary felt nauseous. She was done for. Out of a job and home. Who'd employ her after this? Shall I go now? Mary said anxiously. The message was for you to go see his Lordship as soon as you were back, the cook said. There was an annoyed tone in her voice. Mary hesitated, looking around the kitchen as if for the last time. Go on then, the cook said firmly. Mary wiped her hands as dry as she could on the apron. Am I all right as I am? Mary asked.   His Lordship wants to see you about something, he's not taking you out to dinner, the cook said. Mary limped out of the kitchen reluctantly. The corridor from the kitchen to the stairs up the next landing, seemed like a walk towards doom. She pushed her fingers through hair, adjusted her apron and dress. She climbed the stairs slowly. Another maid passed her by, carrying laundry, she nodded, walked on and away. Mary felt as if her whole insides were about to drop between her thighs. She limped onwards and pushed open the door that lead to the upper landing. The floors smelt of polish and flowers. Everything looked as if it had been polished to a bright shine. She limped nervously across the floor, looking at the paintings on the walls, vases with flowers. When she came to his Lordship's room she stood and waited. She ought to have emptied her bladder become coming, she felt full and on the edge. Mr Fedge, the butler, opened the door before her. Ah, Mary, you are here; right his Lordship is waiting for you, go on in, he said, his dark eyes moving over her as if she were a young puppy with wet paws. Mary entered the room. The butler closed the door behind her. She stood looking at the room. His Lordship was sitting at a desk at the far end of the room, the new nanny was by the window looking out. Mary stood with her red hands in front of her. Her hip ached. Her bladder seemed about to explode. His Lordship looked at her over his desk. Ah, there you are, Mary, he said, come up here and sit on the chair. I want to talk to you on matters concerning my daughter Alice. Mary felt herself go red in the face; her limbs stiffened. The child had talked. Now she was done for. She limped towards the desk, her hands shaking at her sides. The nanny didn't look around, but gazed out the window. Sit here, his Lordship said, pulling out a chair, beside him. Mary limped to the chair and sat down. He studied her deeply. Now, since my wife and Alice's mother is unwell and in a place of safety, I am hard pressed to keep the child happy and at the same time out of my hair. Nanny Spingle, here does her side of things, but I need someone to be with the child at other times when she is not at her school work and seems to wander about the house like a street urchin. Mary looked at his Lordship's face. He didn't seem angry with her or anything, but why was he telling her about needing someone for the child. The child was not her concern. She was just a kitchen maid. I can do my best to discipline the child and Nanny here does her work, but I cannot spare time or energy chasing after her all of the time. The nanny turned around, her eyes settled on Mary, then on his Lordship. The eyes mellowed on meeting his. Alice needs a lady's maid, the nanny said. Yes, that's it, his Lordship said, a lady's maid.  Mary stared at them both. Were they going to ask her if she could recommend someone? One of the other maids? I'm not sure I know who could do the job, your Lordship, Mary said. The nanny gazed at her, her eyes darker, less friendly. We thought you could do it, the nanny said. Yes, Alice seems to have taken to you and that is a good start, his Lordship said. Mary stood open mouthed. Me? she said softly. Yes, you will be ideal, he said, smiling, eyeing her. Of course you would have to sleep in her room and be there most of the day and some of the night, the nanny said. And of course a new uniform and an increase in your wages, his Lordship said. Mary pushed her knees together. Her bladder seemed about to explode. I would love to, Mary said, do my best for her, she added. I've no doubt you will, he said, looking relieved, wiping his hands together as if a dark deed had been done. When shall I start? Mary asked, thinking of the cook waiting for her below stairs in the kitchen. Nanny looked at his Lordship. I will ask Fedge to look around for a new kitchen maid, she said. His Lordship nodded agreement. Next Sunday you will begin, his Lordship said, taking Alice to church and keep her near and well behaved. The nanny looked at Mary searchingly, then at his Lordship. She smiled at him. Mary sat waiting; her stomach turning over. Right, that's settled, nanny said, you may go now. Yes, Mary, thank you. I will inform the child of your employment, he said, his eyes looking her over briefly, then back at the nanny. Mary stood up and bowed her head and limped from the room, self conscious of her being stared at. She went out the room and closed the door behind her. She stood there vacant. Her mind was rushing with words and ideas and visions and her bladder about to burst. She limped away from the door, along the polished floor, through the thick door separating the upper rooms from lower orders. She limped slowly towards the staff toilet on the second floor, her mind in both a state of joy and at the same time feeling out on a limb, out of her depths. She entered the toilet and shut the door. Footsteps moved across the room above. Voices called from along the corridor. Some one laughed. She sat and closed her eyes; her bladder emptied, her heartbeat slowed, her nerves calmed. A lady's maid. She repeated it in her mind; turned the phrase over and over in her mind like a boiled sweet. What would Mrs Broadbeam say? How would the other staff be with her now? She saw the child in her mind. How had she crept into her bed? And why? Suddenly, unexpectedly, Mary began to cry.

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ALICE AND THE NEW DAWN

Mary wakes from
her, troubled, uneasy
sleep. She turns and
sees Alice behind her

 

looking at her. What
are you doing here?
she asks, sitting up,
looking down at the

 

child. Wanted to be
near you, Alice replies.
You can't come into

my bed, what will

 

they say if they find
you here? Mary's voice  
rises higher than she

meant. They won’t,

 

Alice says, no one
knows. They'll miss
you, Mary says, look

for you, and if they come,

 

what then? The child
sits up, rubs her eyes.
I'll hide, she says. Mary

sighs, lays back on the

 

bed, looks at the ceiling.
The child lies next to her,
head on her thin shoulder.

You can't do this, Alice.

 

But I have, the child says.
Your bed's lumpy. If they
find you in here, I’ll lose

my job and God knows

 

what'll happened then.
There is black spider
creeping along the dull

ceiling, slow movements.

 

We mustn't tell them,
Alice says. She runs a
small finger along

Mary's arm. You can't

 

stay here, Mary says,
you must go back to
your own bed before

they find you've gone.

 

Don't you love me any
more? Alice softly asks,
looking sideways at the

maid beside her. Yes,

 

of course I do, but this
mustn't happen again.
I'll be gone, then who

will you have to love,

 

now your mother's ill
and locked up? Alice
frowns and looked at

her hands, small, white,

 

pink. Mother used to
let me into her bed and
cuddle her. Her pink

fingers join and she

 

makes. I'm not your
mother, Mary says,
I’m just a maid who

wants keep her job.

 

Alice looks at her.
You said you'd be my
adopted mother. Mary

looks at her biting a lip.

 

Yes, I did. She looks
away, at the window
where lights begins

to show. All right,

 

but you must go back
now, before you're
missed. Can I come

another time? Alice

 

asks, her bright eyes
gazing. Yes, if I say so,
no creeping into my

bed at night unless

 

I know, Mary says.
Alice nods her head.
Best get back then,

she says. Be careful.

 

I will. And if I’m seen,
I’ll say I was sleep
walking, Alice says.

You mustn't lie, Mary

 

says. Should I tell them
the truth then? Alice asks,
smiling, getting down

from the bed. Be careful,

 

sleep walk just this once.
The child nods, opens the
door and closes with a

click. Mary gets out of

 

bed, opens the door, looks
along the dim passage.
The child has now gone.

Silence. Cold morning

 

air. A hard frost maybe.
What if she's seen? What
then? She shuts the door,

pours cold water from a

 

white jug into a white bowl.
Morning wash. Hands
into the water and throws

into her face. The coldness

 

wakes her. Far off a bird
sings. What if she's found
out of bed? What a turn up.

Poor kid. Me another mother

 

Nearby a church bell rings.

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ALICE AND THE STABLES.

The stables
where horses
snort and move

 

and grooms work
and sky dull
and greyish

 

Alice walks
holding on
for dear life

 

to the hand
of Mary
the one she

 

has chosen
to be her
new mother

 

fingers red
with washing
chores and things

 

but it's warm
as she holds
the hand tight

 

Mary talks
of cold nights
noisy bed

 

attic mice
and spiders
in corners

 

of the room
Alice says
I could stay

 

in your room
keep you warm
cuddle up

 

hold you close
as I did
with Mother

 

in her bed
before she
was locked up

 

with illness
of her brain
Mary sighs

 

feels the hand
in her own
small and warm

 

small fingers
tiny nails
pink and pure

 

different class
than her own
we will see

 

Mary says
stable sounds
horses snort

 

their large heads
looking out
big black eyes

 

large white teeth
busy grooms
at their work

 

Alice looks
inner fear
but draws near

 

wants to stroke
Mary lifts
Alice up

 

her red hands
wedged beneath
small armpits

 

mother's love
smells the soap
in the hair

 

on the blue
pinafore
Alice smiles

 

feels the horse
smooth and hot
on her hand

 

Mary holds
feels the heart
beating soft

 

as she holds
Alice up
to the horse

 

secret child
adopted
in her heart

none must know
of this love
secret pact

 

lift her on
a groom says
Alice thrills

 

lifted there
Mary holds
the groom laughs

 

in loud barks
in the blood
this horse love

 

the groom says
Alice smiles
happiness

 

shining out
of her eyes
Mary holds

 

her tightly
keeps her there
on the horse

 

safe and sound
then later
after that

 

lifts her down
to the ground
as the horse

 

with the groom
walk away
come on then

 

Mary says
let's go back
your father

 

will wonder
where you are
Alice nods

 

holds the hand
soft and warm
wants to be

 

close to her
but she sees
by the house

 

Nanny stand
arms folded
grim features

 

dressed in black
Mary holds
the child's hand

 

tighter still
walking back.

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