Story for the Day: The Scullery Maid Pt 4
Word of Meraliegh’s fancy soon spread within the pleasure house. Smirks were given, mocking assertions were made, but Meraliegh’s sensibilities were impregnable. She could now bear any derision given her as long as she had the Lucentian pirate-thief in mind. He was her shield, and their attachment was her sword. Everyone began to investigate her comings and goings, began to look for hints and signs of this invented and dashing creature. They had seen her empty the washing basin outside, walk to the collection cart, scrape the plates clean in the alleyway, and every time they had expected this illusive hero to appear, their expectation were unfounded. She knew that he should come eventually, and there was all her defense. They began to revel in their larks, telling her that her lover was by the window and that she must hurry to greet him before he should slip into the shrubbery again. They watched as she ran to the front room and stared at the house across the street, but where they had anticipated her indignation, they had only observed her unmitigated joy.
He was there, climbing the lattice and peering through the second floor window of the house. Her Prince of Spies had come, and when he was not looking through the window and making his usual inspection, he was regarding her. She waved and smiled at him, and he, much to everyone’s astonishment, returned the sentiment. She was all elation and pride. She turned to them with a complacent humph and awaited an apology. No apology came, however: the proprietor was coming downstairs and everyone must return to their duties, but Meraliegh returned to the kitchen with a blush in her cheek and smiles on her face. He had acknowledged her before everyone, and now no one could question her affection.
She had met him on a few more occasions throughout the week: when she had been asked to refill the vases on the tables, he was there at the florist and placed a flower down on the counter in front of her before vanishing into the crowded markets; when she had torn a hole in her stockings, he followed her to the haberdashery where her mother was employed, but when she turned to introduce him, he had already gone, shying away from public notice; when she had been prevailed upon to retrieve some fish for the cook, he was waiting for her at the fishmonger’s with the catch of the day already in his hand, holding it out for her to take, but a flurry of traders and children had come in their way, and he was gone before she could claim her prize.
Two weeks had passed and almost every day they had met, exchanging a look or a sagacious smile, and though she did not know his name, she could not help but feel that he was watching over her. He was always there when her glasses would fall or when someone would push her aside in the street. She knew she had not imagined him, for everyone else was seeing the same man, the same cloaked Lucentian, pay her the readiest attention, appearing just when she needed him most. She gloried in their secret attachment and would allow nothing to ruin her spirits.
At last, the day came when she was prepared to throw caution aside and to run into his arms, declaring herself his for however long they should wish to regale in their adventures. He appeared at the top of the high street while she was on her way to work. She stopped, waved at him, and waited for his approbation. He smiled at her and opened his arms to greet her. She leapt in exultation and began running toward her lover, but suddenly, another woman appeared in her path and she was obliged to pause. She remarked the woman, her long raven curls, bright blue eyes, and stunning features, and was about to excuse herself when, to her horror, the woman ran into her lovers arms instead. She thought there must be some misapprehension. She removed her glasses, cleaned them, replaced them and looked again, but it was so: he was catching her up, he was oscillating with her in his arms, he was stroking her shining locks. There must be some mistake; not a moment before was he smiling at herself and waiting for her to attack him with osculations. A sister, she conceived, it must be a sister. How could it not be with their dissimilar looks, differing heritage, different complexions and eye colour? It was a brother and sister from two different sets of parents. It must be, for his putting her down and speaking softly to the woman told her so. She was resolved that it was a mere relation and dared again to approach him when he was suddenly gripping her about her slender waist and professing his love for her with ardent kisses and nestles of his perfect nose. This was unpardonable conduct. How could he pay such addresses to another woman when he had hitherto been so attentive to herself? And the woman responded with the same fervency, touching him suggestively and tugging his long bound hair as if she had been given permission to do so. Highly inexcusable, she thought, and her anger roused, her fists tightening and her lips pursing. She would have an answer, but she was too infuriated to speak with any semblance of sense. She would speak to him when he should come again to her workplace, where everyone would be able to witness the confrontation. She turned her back to her lover, humiliated and enraged, and thundered toward the pleasure house, devising what she might say to strengthen her remonstrance against his most untoward behaviour.
Enjoy the story? Enjoy the first book in the series: