After seven years alone in the nursery, Sophie was delighted. Unlike the other children in the district, she was never invited to local parties and events. No one actually came out and called her a bastard– to do so was tantamount to calling the earl, who had made one declaration that Sophie was his ward and then never revisited the subject, a liar. But at the same time, the earl never made any great attempt to force Sophie’s acceptance. And so at the age of ten, Sophie’s best friends were maids and footmen, and her parents might as well have been the housekeeper and butler.
Sophie gulped, not exactly certain where she was meant to stand. Everyone else seemed to have a designated place. The servants were lined up according to rank, from the butler right down to the lowliest scullery maid. Even the dogs were sitting dutifully in the corner, their leads held tight by the Keeper of the Hounds.
And then finally the butler –Rumsey was his name– presented the lowliest of the lowest of maids, a scullery girl named Dulcie who had been hired a mere week earlier. The earl nodded and murmured his thanks, and Sophie was still waiting, completely unsure of what to do.
“Coming, Rosamund! I’m coming!” Sophie hitched up the hem of her coarse woolen skirts and hurried up the stairs, slipping on the fourth step and only just barely managing to grab the banister before landing on her bottom. She should have remembered that the stairs would be slick; she’d helped the downstairs maid wax them just that morning.
Sophie assessed Posy’s mermaid costume. The cut wasn’t quite right for Posy, who had never lost all of her baby fat, but the color did indeed bring out the best in her complexion. “It is a lovely shade of green,” Sophie replied quite honestly. “It makes your cheeks very rosy.”
Sophie sighed. She’d been reading about the upcoming masquerade for weeks, and even though she was nothing but a lady’s maid (and occasionally a housemaid as well, whenever Araminta decided she wasn’t working hard enough) she couldn’t help but wish that she could attend the ball.
But that four thousand pounds was Araminta’s, not Sophie’s, and Sophie hadn’t ever seen a penny of it. Gone were the fine clothes she’d used to wear, replaced by the coarse wool of the servants. And she ate what the rest of the maids ate– whatever Araminta, Rosamund, and Posy chose to leave behind.
Sophie’s twentieth birthday, however, had come and gone almost a year earlier, and here she was, still living at Penwood House, still waiting on Araminta hand and foot. For some unknown reason –probably because she didn’t want to train (or pay) a new maid– Araminta had allowed Sophie to remain in her household.
Sophie forbore to point out that at least Araminta didn’t have to pay for a lady’s maid. In fact, until Sophie had turned twenty, she’d received four thousand pounds per year, just for
“Mrs. Gibbons, you…” Sophie’s mouth fell open, and her words trailed off as she took in the scene in her bedroom. A steaming tub of water lay right in the center, and all three housemaids were bustling about. One was pouring one last pitcher of water into the tub, another was fiddling with the lock on a rather mysterious-looking trunk, and the third was holding a towel and saying, “Hurry! Hurry!”