Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account with £86,400 each morning. It carries over no balance from day to day, yet every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. Surely, the best solution for this would be to draw out every penny. Some of us already do, for there is such a bank that exists, and its name is time.
This was something my mother told me when I was quite young. It surprises me how, to this day, I can remember that despite my early age. It was always followed by "It is in your interest to use those 86,400 seconds you have been credited with, my dear Amelie, unless you're willing to take that loss". I realise now the amount of truth that statement holds, because if I hadn't taken advantage of that time, I never would have met Richie. I never would have explored the area outside the house, but more importantly, I never would have become more aware of how cruel the world actually is. He arrived on an uncomfortably warm albeit cloudy day in mid June, the majority of which I spent finding ways to battle the heat in my bedroom. Opening the window proved to be of little help and removing any items of clothing was out of the question, for I would not be properly dressed. Both parents were occupied with the business of the day and the maids (as far as I knew) had taken to buying the week's food. I remembered how the walk-in freezer had a temperature setting by the opening, and thought it a good idea to spend a while in there. Making sure to shut my bedroom door as quietly as possible, I looked left and right to check that the coast was clear. Thankfully, the corridors were fairly empty and my father was in the study writing up papers so sneaking down to the kitchens was hardly a problem. I was in the process of unlocking the freezer door when I heard a cough from behind me.
"Miss Amelie?" came Thomas' voice. He was one of the nicer servants, usually one to slip me extra sugar for my tea or another bread roll. I knew that I wasn't supposed to be in the kitchens, unless I was sent there for a specific reason. I felt my face flush with embarrassment as I jerked my head to meet his eyes. It was then that I saw him. Tall, smartly dressed, looking straight ahead. His skin was fairly dark, and his hair was cut short. He stood behind Thomas, standing only slightly shorter than him. He looked to be about 18, maybe 19 - though I decided not to make assumptions. During that silence, he never met my eyes.
"Yes?" I said, as if the scarlet on my cheeks was my natural look (of course, it wasn't).
"I'd like to introduce you to the new servant, Richard Cooper. He will be working here in the kitchens alongside myself and the others" he said, gesturing behind him. At the time, I was thankful for Thomas dismissing my presence in the kitchen yet I didn't notice the slight look of disapproval that came over his face when he said Richie's name. As he said that, Richie's eyes averted from whatever he was looking at to glance down at me. He had a nervous look about him, almost like he was waiting for my approval.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Amelie. I hope that I can serve you well during my time here," he said confidently, bowing a little. I smiled at him as he drew himself back up to his normal height, causing him to pause before returning the smile.
"Introductions aside, I believe it's almost time for your afternoon lesson, so it's best not to be seen here" Thomas said as he walked out, Richie following him quickly. I stood there for a moment, simply staring into space before taking Thomas' advice and leaving the kitchen, not any cooler than I had been before.
I usually looked forward to afternoon lessons, though the arrival of Richie left me with questions, all of which I didn't know the answers to. I didn't understand why somebody like him would be asked to work here. Was it by special request, perhaps? Or maybe he has a special skill that had yet to be revealed? As far as I was concerned, the amount of workers here was sufficient without the new addition. I decided to take it up with Miss Hayes during my Maths lesson. As with all Tuesday afternoons, the next hour was spent doing page after page of sums from a textbook. It would usually be made fun by Miss Hayes' warm and lively conversation, but today she sat in near silence, muttering under her breath every now and again. I secretly listened in on these whispers while pretending to study the formula for the area of a triangle. I could not hear what she said exactly, though I frequently heard the words "shouldn't have let him in here..." and "nigger". Whether this was related to Richie's arrival I did not know, so I thought it best to ask.
"Miss?" I asked nervously. She looked up suddenly.
"Yes, Amelie? Have you finished?" Miss Hayes replied, almost a little too quickly.
"Yes, but what were you saying? Who shouldn't have let who in here?" I questioned, as I watched her eyes narrow and her cheeks darken slightly in colour from pale to light pink. She fidgeted with her hands before giving a reply.
"I was referring to the new servant that arrived today. That is none of your business though, Amelie. As I'm sure your parents have told you, you should not be worrying about the lives of servant boys and maids. It is irrelevant to a girl in your position," She said matter-of-factly. I didn't quite know what she meant by that, but I decided to dismiss it as another question popped into my mind.
"What exactly is a nigger?" Her facial expression turned to one of disgust, as if I had just asked if it would be alright to run around in just my stockings. Which, considering the temperature, wouldn't have been too bad of an idea to me.
"Never let me, or anyone else for that manner, hear you say that word. Now, please pass me your work from today and you may go" Miss Hayes answered, her expression remaining unchanged. I wondered for a moment what was so utterly disgraceful about the word, before handing her my work and leaving the room. As I stepped into the corridor, I heard her say "Heavens above, that child...". I couldn't help but feel disappointed as my question had not been answered. I guessed it could wait though.