Story for the Day: The Scullery Maid Pt 2
Only once did of the more humble clients had asked if she were available for the evening. He was a large man, probably a farmer come to the capital for an evening to himself. He had a gentle face, soft voice, and was pleasant in his address. She believed she should go with him. The manner in which he took her hand, held it to his lips, and regarded her with a quiet eagerness in his eyes had made her heart flutter. She thought they might sit together and speak with one another over mulled wine and a small meal to become more reasonably acquainted. She might, after a few more kind words, bring herself to understand that she could share an evening with a man who seemed so desirous her company, but as he was leading her over to one of the tables and ordering a dinner for two, the proprietor of the establishment hastened toward them to correct the man’s judgment. He had been under a mistake to think that one wearing an apron and plain dress could be available for the evening. He directed the man’s attention to one of the more experienced women in the parlour and took Meraliegh aside, reminding her of her place, telling her to “keep to cleaning tables instead of dawdling about with clients who could not be interested in such a shapeless and plain-looking woman.”
“Yes, sir,” was Meraliegh’s mortified reply. She fixed her glasses and scurried away to the kitchen to hide her colouring cheeks and welling eyes. She wished to thank the stranger for his gentleness in his addresses, but she should be harangued for speaking to clients again and therefore she remained at the basin, resigning herself to lingering thoughts of the stranger and hoping for his eventual return.
After seeing Meraliegh enter with flushed cheeks and red eyes, the cook shuffled from the her place at the cutting board to scullery entrance to give some words of consolation to the poor child. “Don’t take it to heart, girl,” she said in her coarse voice. “I know what you want.”
Melaligh was silent and stopped washing.
“What you want is love. Well, girl, I can tell you, there ain’t no love in this place. The men who come here are just beggin’ for a rut. They ain’t here to propose or nothin’.”
Whether those who came were merely in want of an evening together or were desirous of claiming the women of the house for their own mattered little; someone had at last taken an interest in her, someone had approached her without provocation, had taken her hand, had entreated her with all due civility, had granted her a glimpse of gallantry, and here it had been all undone. She thanked the cook for her advice and continued her washing. She stared into the waters and began to have base cogitations: she doubted herself, despised herself for being awkward and straight; she was sorry that her conversancy was all she had to give, wished she had something to offer a man other than her gangling limbs and pale appearance. The waters below confirmed her aspersions: there in the warped reflection, she saw there was much to dislike, and when she could bare herself no longer, she left her washing basin and went to the kitchen door to hide in the alleyway behind the house until she could dry her tears and forget the stranger who had given her so much in so little a time together.