Like any girl, I want to fall in love. But things like that doesn’t happen to me. I’m at the bottom rung at my master’s house. Love is forbidden for the household maids and I’m lower scum than that–I’m the cook’s help. However, even with this complication I still dream of that love, the love that the master has for his wife.
“Marge, stop ‘er dreaming and get on over here and stir this pot. The master won’t appreciate his stew burned.” The cook, a red-faced, round woman yelled at me from across the room. I started from my daydream and shuffled across the room. The stifling heat of the stove blasted me and I nearly recoiled. I go\t a box on the ears from the cook. “Move faster you dimwit,” she shrieked. I nodded my head and began stirring the stew pot. The delicious smell of stew made my stomach growl. “You best be not eating any of that there stew, Marge. I won’t be giving you any supper if ya do.” The cook eyed my stirring for a minute before leaving.
I sighed and began that daydream about falling in love. I did have one person that I found the most handsome and the most out of my reach. The master had a son and every maid had fallen in love with him one time or another. I had only seen him from a distance, but he did look handsome with his raven black hair and green eyes. I wished that he would come down to the kitchen. I just knew that if he took one look at me that he would fall madly in love with me. Yeah, right. I smirked at my daydream. I needed to get into reality. Mr. James Zander would not look at me any other way than contempt, just like all the other help looked at me. I swiped a tear away from my face before the cook could see it. She would just box me on the ears for spoiling the stew.
“Are done with the stew, cook?” A woman appeared at my side and gave me a cursory glance. That is all that she could afford a person in my position. Her dark purple gown and the fat keys around her waist showed her as the housekeeper. She was in charge of all of us.
“Madame, it’s here and ready. The master will love it there stew.” The cook was flustered that Mrs. Green was down here. She never came down.
“We need to get the stew on the table now. The master received news of unexpected guest. His son has returned.” Ms. Green gave a cursory glance over her spectacles at the kitchen with distinct disdain. Her overdone makeup made her look clownish.
The cooks eyes got real big and she bustled around. “I need to make a pie for master James. Marge, get ‘on over here and find me a’ pie. I obediently found where the pies were and brought one out. I always made a few pies just in case. In fact, I cooked most of the food because the cook was never inclined to cook much. The cook eyed the freshly made pie, “That’ll have to do.”
I nodded and started to put it on the counter. Someone jostled me and I toppled over and the pie fell right on my head. “Look what er done!” Shrieked the cook. “All mine hard work squandered.” She hit me across the face.
“Someone jostled me,” I cried out.
The cook gave me a mean look. She didn’t like me talking too much. She said that I had too civil of a tongue for her. My parents had forced me to learn to speak properly before they died. They both had been quit wealthy at one time. She hit me again.
“Don’t talk to er elders like that. Stop blamin’ others and get ‘in up.” I staggered up just to be knocked down again by the cook. She glowered at me and started pounding her meaty fists into me. “I told you good-fer-nothing to get up!” she was yelling at me. I cringed and shrank back, trying to get away from her flailing arms. “I took ye in and this is how ye act?” She hit me again. Blood was spewing from my mouth. “You wanna make me look bad?” She raised her fists–
“Stop!” A man’s voice broke through the kitchen. Mrs. Green, who had been watching the fighting, stiffened and curtsied to the shadowy figure in the doorway. The cooks red face turned abruptly and her jaw dropped. She curtsied. The cook kicked me when I made no move to get up from her pommeling. I couldn’t get up even if I wanted to. I saw two polished shoes stop in front of me. “Miss, are you all right?” I glanced up into the face of Mr. James Zander. It was my turn to fumble and try to bow before him. “You needn’t do that,” he whispered. He gave a stern look at the cook and Mrs. Green. “What happened here?”
“She dropped the pie,” stated Mrs. Green. She gave me a cruel look. “She’s just a lazy girl, sir. I wouldn’t trouble yourself with her.”
“Hmmm..” He turned back to me. “Bring her up to my father’s study.” I felt the dread curling inside of me. Nobody goes up to the study unless they were being dismissed. The cook dragged me across the kitchen floor and up the flight of steps. I tried not to cry out in pain at every jostle. Tears came unbidden to my eyes. The cook paid no mind to me as she unceremoniously dropped me in the study. “You may leave.” The cook gave me one more look and then left. I tried to stand up in front of Mr. Zander. He was looking at me curiously. “You didn’t stand up for yourself down there. Why?”
“I felt no need to. I am the lowest in the kitchen. Whatever I say is of no importance.” I swayed on my feet. He gestured to the chair and told me to sit. I sat hard and glanced up again.
“You speak very well for the kitchen help,” commented the master’s son.
I lowered my eyes as the moisture came to them. “My mother taught me before she died, sir.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” James Zander shifted. “When I came down, I was shocked to see you in the kitchen.” He fingered the books that were near him. “I remember your mother quit well. I’m not sure you would remember me.” He hesitated. I looked at him confused.
“Sir, I’ve never seen you, but from a distance.”
“Not true.” He gestured to a letter that he placed on the study desk. “I didn’t know that you were working here or else I would have had you come up earlier.”
I looked at the letter. My mother’s beautiful handwriting was on the letter. It read:
Dear Mr. James Zander Sr.,
I am very ill. I don’t think that I will make it through this illness. You were always so nice to me and my husband, especially when we fell on hard times. I am sorry to ask this, but will you please take my daughter Margaret Robert in and treat her like your own. Please tell my daughter that I am so sorry that I let her down.
I blinked at the letter. “Your family knew my family?”
“Yes,” James Zander smiled.
“Ten years have gone by. Why didn’t you keep your promise?”
James frowned. “We looked everywhere for you, but couldn’t find you. Your mother’s sister refused to tell us where you had gone.”
I sat back into the chair in wonder. James looked at me with uncertainly in his gaze. “As I said, we knew each other as kids.” He looked away embarrassed. “I told you something once.” He cleared his throat.”I love you.” He raked his hand through his hair and sighed. I sat dumfounded. James was in love with me.
“We were betrothed as children.” James explained. “When you disappeared it became my obsession to try and find you. That is why I left for so long. If I had just gone into the kitchen, I would have seen you.”
He grabbed my hand. “I know that it is a lot to think about, but I still am in love with you. I am more in love with you than ten years ago when we were children.”
“That is not possible.” I took my hand from his. “I don’t even know you or remember you from before. How can we talk of marriage?” His face fell. “I know that in your mind that we are in love, but I’m just the kitchen help, I’m not the girl that I was ten years ago.” I looked down at the letter that was between us. Tears blurred my vision. If only things had been different.
“I’m not going to give up on you. Not when I just found you again.” James whispered. “I wasn’t planning on this. Falling in love with you was the last thing I wanted. Because I know our time would have to come to end. Yet, here I am, begging you not to turn the page.” I looked away flustered. “Will you at least give me a chance to win your heart?”
He grinned and scooped me up and twirled me around.