I didn't think it would be this hard to adjust to the life of a commoner. Of course, I no longer expect anyone to help me dress or serve me my meals or tidy my room, but on the third day of my arrival Alistair came upstairs to my room and announced to me that if I was to be living in his house I would have to work for the rent. He told me that I was to be working as one of the Gibson family's maids in exchange for my meals and room. The rules were that I would have to be downstairs in the kitchen by five-thirty every morning and the other maids would give me instructions on what I would be doing, since I am the only one of them who has been accustomed to an easy lifestyle until now and doesn't know a thing about cleaning and serving and such. I would eat my meals in the kitchen after serving the main family, along with the rest of the servants, and be in my room at eight o' clock. Any servant caught out of their room after eight, Alistair said with no change of expression, would be fired immediately. I only acknowledged him with a nod, but inside I was screaming.
It is now the second week I have lived here. For some reason Alistair has been avoiding speaking to me privately; it seems that as soon as I see an opportunity to ask if everything is still all right between us he disappears. But I know that he didn't love me just because of my status, it can't have been possible, so I am not very concerned. For some reason both brothers seem determined to confine me to the kitchen, although the three other maids whose duties I am supposed to share go scrubbing floors and wiping windows all throughout the house, I am always stuck helping Cook. Cook is a very kind old man, but I am not suited to the tasks he gives me. I have cut myself while chopping vegetables seven times already and somehow if he leaves the kitchen in my attendance for even a little while, he comes back to find at something either spilled or in flames. He has been mostly sending me on errands now, errands to the market for ingredients or to buy flowers for his wife or candy for his grandchildren, who live with him in his two rooms on the first floor. Once, he dropped a few coins into my hand and told me to get something nice for myself. Since all my work was being traded in for my food and lodging I had no actual money of my own, and happily spent it on a new bonnet at the market after thanking him fervently. I don't think of myself as a lazy person, but it seems that every time I sit down someone is telling me to get back up again. Usually it's Missy, the oldest of the help, who has taken it upon herself to instruct me on how to be proper, hardworking help. Ha. Only two weeks, yet it seems like my old life was so long ago. Clarence is constantly out, and doesn't usually come home until late at night. I see him sometimes, while serving supper or a glimpse through the window, but he's made it clear that he's distancing himself from me. I still don't know what he was thinking, that one day. Was I really so pitiful? I get the feeling that he would completely cut me off if not for the fact that Papa is still paying him for the expenses my work does not cover. One of the only things Clarence has spoken to me about these past two weeks is about Papa. Papa, he says, hasn't completely abandoned me. He is very stressed and just needs time to come to his senses. Clarence says that he is positive Papa will come to get me. The question is just when. I want to believe him, but remembering the look in Papa's eyes the last time I saw him just leads me to think that he's just waiting for me to get back on my feet and support myself full. Because of course, Papa isn't that cruel.
"Roslyn, more water please."
I look at Alistair through lowered eyelashes. He recently cut his hair, and now I don't have to struggle to catch a glimpse of his strong jawbone. I stretch my arms over his shoulder and tilt the pitcher I am cradling over his glass.
"That's enough," he tells me.
I clasp my arms back against my body and try not to meet Missy's scrutinizing eyes. Am I still enough? Is my back straight enough? Am I standing the appropriate distance away from the table? Perhaps not, but I don't want to know so I keep my gaze fixed on Alistair's back. This is one of the rare nights that Clarence is home in time for supper, but he's not really eating, just picking at a loaf of bread. He's been looking pale lately, and even thinner than usual. I avert my eyes; it is none of my concern. Clarence has apparently noticed me looking, because he glances up.
"Roslyn, I have something to speak to you about. Do you mind?"
He stands. I shake my head,
but being with him has gotten so uncomfortable that had I not known it was a rhetorical question I would have said yes. I follow him as he leads me into the hall. Everyone watches as the door slams shut, their ears already straining.