I spent the rest of the afternoon simply drawing whatever my mind fancied - this was mostly images of the world far beyond the ground's gates. On some days, I'd think of how I could run away and live somewhere with excitement and without restrictions. I had read books that told of Wonderlands and Neverlands that I could only dream of. The fantasy worlds within those pages left me looking for white rabbits in waistcoats and waiting for flying boys outside of my window that never grew up. One day, I thought. One day, it will happen. I'll have an adventure of my own. However satisfying the mental image was, I knew that it would take forever and a day to get a couple of feet from the house, let alone outside the gates. It passed the time though, and that was all that mattered. I was so caught up in my daydreams that I barely noticed how dark it had gotten outside, or how my name was being called.
"Miss Amelie! It's time for your dinner!" came the voice of one of the maids. As much as I didn't want to go downstairs, I knew that I had to. Besides, it was getting hard to ignore the rumbling of my stomach. Apparently, a day of trying to cool off, sums and drawing made you hungry. Upon entering the dining room, my mouth watered as I saw the food that lay on the table. The centerpiece was a beautifully roasted chicken, which gave off the faint smell of sage. Steaming boiled potatoes were drizzled with garlic butter and topped with a sprig of mint. Small pots of sauces were dotted around the table, surrounding another pot of fresh garden vegetables. I took my seat inbetween my mother and father as a plate of food was placed in front of me, causing my mouth to water further. Looking to my father, he smiled, which meant that it was okay to begin eating. I began shoveling forkfuls of meat and carrots into my mouth in the most ladylike manner I could. It was fair to say that I didn't do as good of a job of that as I could have. When I went to reach for the potatoes, I saw Richie's hand dismiss my own as he piled more potatoes onto my plate.
"Richard, this chicken is delicious. How did you get it so perfectly cooked?" My father asked as he helped himself to a third portion of meat. Richie chuckled quietly.
"My mother taught me to cook. She wanted me to become a cook one day. May I take your plate, Madam?" He said, gesturing to my mother's plate, which had long since been emptied.
"Why thank you," She replied. She made no eye contact with him as he took her plate, and mine too once I'd finished. When he had left the room, she scowled. My father looked at her disapprovingly as she did so. I didn't understand why everybody seemed to dislike him; he seemed rather nice if you asked me. Yet my mother had been busy for most of the day, so maybe she was just suffering from a headache. The meal started to take its toll on me, and so I excused myself to go to the bathroom. As I came out of the bathroom door, I heard the angry voices of my mother and father just down the corridor. I tiptoed around the corner quietly as their voices grew louder.
"It's disgraceful to this household, I tell you. He's a decent cook, but that's as good as he gets. I don't know why you let that nigger in here" came my mother's voice, in a tone I had rarely heard her use. It was sharp and spiteful.
"I won't have you saying such things about one of my servants. I'm aware that he is... black, but there is no reason to use that word to describe him. You're the one who's disgraceful, making such horrible remarks" My father's voice was loud and clear, it was a surprise that no servants didn't rush to break up the quarrel. In honesty, the hurtful tones they used against each other made me uncomfortable, but I couldn't help but stand there and continue to eavesdrop on their argument.
"How dare you! You'll realise soon enough, you old fool. That good-for-nothing is going to bring shame upon us. What ever will your colleagues have to say? I dread to think how you'll get out of this one, when you've got a nigger living under your own-"
"ENOUGH!" My father shouted. I was quite scared now. Peering cautiously around the corner, my mother's face was scarlet with rage and my father's glasses had slipped much further down his nose than they usually did. The affection for one another had left their eyes. They now stared at each other coldly. As if suddenly sensing my presence, they simultaneously turned and saw me standing there in fear. My heart began to race - would they be irritated with me for listening in?
"Amelie, what are you doing just standing there? Come on, you'd best be getting ready for bed. Have you brushed your teeth?" My father said calmly. I hadn't brushed my teeth or even thought about it, as I was occupied with hearing them get at each other's throats. I nodded anyway, wanting desperately to leave and think about everything they had said.
"Well, off you pop then. I'll get one of the servants to make sure you're settled properly," He continued, whilst my mother stormed off. Richie appeared by my father's side suddenly, almost too suddenly.
"I'll take care of Miss Amelie, sir. I believe your wife needs your attention," He commented quietly. Looking from Richie, to me, then back to Richie again, he nodded and went off in search of mother. I glanced up at Richie. His face was hard, though it softened as he looked down at me.
"Come on, let's get you sorted for bed," He smiled, walking me into my bedroom. His smile wasn't genuine, I knew that for sure. When he placed my nightgown on the bed, his hands shook slightly and his breaths were shaky. Something was quite obviously wrong, though I didn't mention it until I had gotten into bed and he was tucking me in.
"Richard? Did you... hear what mother and father were saying?" I asked anxiously. I saw Richie's eyes fall to the floor.
"Yes, I did. But don't you worry, Miss Amelie, I'm used to that sort of thing being said about me" He said slowly, meeting my eyes. I couldn't bring myself to maintain the eye contact, and so I looked instead at the patterns on the curtains. Then, my question from earlier on in the day came back to me.
"Can I ask you something?"
"...What is a nigger? And why did mother call you that?" Again he looked away, before looking up at me again.
"A nigger is what you call someone like me. People like you use it so freely, but it's an insult to people like me. You white folks call us black folk niggers all the time, while we've got to brush it off. They say that all people are equal, but what they mean is that some people are more equal than others. White folks always get more privileges than we do, and we've always got to work for a few pence more," Richie explained. I sat there trying to take in what he had said to me. Now that I thought of it, it made some sense.
"I never looked at it like that. It's not nice, the way they treat you though is it?" I replied.
"At least you seem to understand. Hell, I wish other people could too," He said, standing up carefully.
"Well, good night Miss Amelie," Richie made his way to the door. Before he left, he turned and said, "For the record, you can call me Richie".