I finished the rewrites for Ch. 1. I read part of them aloud at my conference and got some good feedback, but I want to know what you ladies think. Enjoy!
How it all Began
“Sophia, hurry along now.” Mr. Quibble, the head of the household, said, prodding the maid along with a gloved hand.
Sophia hauled her basket of laundry higher onto her hip and picked up her pace. She brushed some escaped strands of ebony black hair behind her ear. Her feet caught themselves under each other and she stumbled. Mr. Quibble sighed.
“Really now,” he scoffed. “Is that all you do? Trip and stumble? Straighten up and try to be a good maid.” He walked away muttering under his breath “Clumsy, clumsy, clumsy.”
Sophia frowned and continued on her way. She kept her glance cast towards the floor. She avoided the glances of other servants that passed and they seemed to not notice she was there. After all, she thought, who cared about an orphaned maid.
It was true. Her parents had died long ago when she was just a little girl. A count had taken her in and given her a job as a maid in his house. From then on her fate was fixed and sealed. She was set to live a life of serving.
She eventually found her way to the washroom. Strewn among the throngs of wash buckets, maids chatted and giggled like school girls. The air was littered with slurred sentences and babble that sounded like nothing in Sophia’s ears. The other maids stopped chatting momentarily as Sophia walked into the room. She tried not to blush. The moment of haunting silence dissolved into the steady buzz of murmurs. The orphaned maid didn’t join in.
Sitting herself down by a vacant, Sophia took to washing the basket of linens. The chilling water cut into her hands and she scrubbed the linens, wrung them out, then scrubbed them again.
One of the other maids, laundry basket resting on her hip, passed by Sophia.
“Well, look who it is,” she said, tossing her hair. “Short stop came down to join us.”
Sophia rolled her eyes. All the other maids were older, not to mention taller, than her. This particular maid, Jennifer, was one of the tallest. Short stop was one of her favorite nicknames for Sophia, that, along with “Tiny”, “Junior”, and “Little lady”. Jennifer always called her one of those names, no matter how many times Sophia tried to tell her that her name was Sophia.
“Hello Jennifer,” she said quietly.
“What’ve you been up to? Haven’t seen you around the mansion lately. The count keeping you busy?”
Sophia shrugged and dipped another piece of laundry in the water. A few of the other maids picked up their baskets and left with Jennifer. The few that remained continued to talk quietly before leaving themselves. Once Sophia was alone in the wash room, she sighed. Resting one hand on her cheek, she lazily scrubbed the linens that remained. No one cared about an orphaned servant girl.
When she had finished, she carried the basket out to the pavilion where she slung the sopping wet laundry over the line to dry. She made the quiet walk back inside the mansion by herself.
The hallways were not the hive of activity that they had been that morning. The swarm of servants had vanished and dispersed throughout the mansion to attend to their various chores and tasks. Sophia found herself wandering the stretched corridor alone, as usual.
“Sophia,” a voice called. “There you are my dear.”
Sophia smiled. She recognized that hardy voice. She pivoted on her heels to face the count as he approached her.
The count simply brimmed with glory and respect. His smooth hair was slicked back as always and his short brown beard was neatly trimmed. He clutched at the collar of his finely tailored suit. He bright eyes glistened.
“Good afternoon my lord,” Sophia said with a curtsy.
“And a good afternoon it is my sweet. I must ask a favor of you.”
“Yes, my lord, anything you ask.”
“I’m having some guests over for dinner and ask if you would be so polite as to serve us this evening.”
“Yes, of course.” Sophia nodded. “As you wish.”
The count laughed his thick laugh. He patted her shoulder with one gloved hand. He said nothing more than that and walked away. Sophia continued her work with something to look forward to.
When that evening arrived, she reported to the cook at the kitchen, who gave her the trays of food and drink to take to the count and his guests. Straightening up, Sophia entered the dining hall.
The table was nearly filled completely with dukes, duchesses, knights, and other nobles. The count sat at the head of the table, with his wife on his right. Smiling slightly, Sophia tried not to hesitate to serve them. She served the count first, as he was her master, followed by the lady of the house them the rest of the guests.
When Sophia handed him his drink, the count said “Thank you Sophia.” When she had finished serving the rest of the table their drinks, he continued “You’ve all met Sophia before, if I recall.”
This was not unusual of the count. He was always introducing her to dinner guest and visiting nobles. She assumed most of the providence knew her by now.
The night carried on. Sophia served the dinner party, one course following, always serving the count and countess first. When she was not needed she waited to be called to refill a glass or take away an empty plate. Finally, the count said that she had done a fine job, that she was no longer needed there that evening and to go get herself some dinner.
She got her dinner from the cook, who gave it to her without even looking in her direction. She ate in solitude in silence, then continued to bed after the other servants had left for home. It was the evenings she felt the most alone.
A few weeks past and the count had no more dinner guests which was unusual for him, for he was a very social man. Guests seldom came now, or didn’t come at all. It confused the maid greatly. It was not until an evening a few days later the cause of the mystery became to unfold before her curious eyes.
The last of the maids was heading for home.
“Good night Sophia,” she said. “Get a good night’s sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Good night Evelyn,” Sophia replied.
Evelyn was in her mid thirties. She was slender and trim with straight blonde hair and stunning hazel eyes. A few freckles dotted her nose.
“Give my sympathies to the countess will you dear?” Evelyn pulled on her coat.
“Why,” question Sophia. “Is something wrong?”
“Haven’t you heard darling? The count is awfully ill. I thought you of all people would have heard. I mean, you are the count’s favorite.”
“The count’s favorite? Me? Oh, no, no, I’m not his favorite, it’s just that he—“
“He took you in after your parents died, raised you, taught you, and gave you work. Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the story deary. And now, if you’ll excuse me, if I stay any longer, Harold will worry. Ta, ta!” Evelyn walked out the giant French doors and vanished into the dark night.
Sophia had always thought of Evelyn as too elegant and sophisticated to be a mere maid. She carried the countenance of a duchess.
Sophia continued to bed, but not before giving Evelyn’s sympathies to the countess.
What happened the next day or the day after that, or the day after that isn’t important. What is important is what happened the following week, which brings us to the events of this evening.
Sophia had been asleep until the sound of footsteps and voices down the hall from her room woke her.
“Thank you for coming at such a late hour doctor,” came the voice of the countess. “My husband’s condition has only grown worse since you last visit and I felt in necessary for you to examine him.”
“No trouble at all milady,” answered a voice Sophia assumed to be the doctor. “You made a wise decision calling for me.”
Sophia swung her feet out of bed and onto the wooden floor before she listened to anymore of the conversation. Her door was already opened a crack, but she opened it more anyway. Peering though the doorway, she could finally see the doctor.
He was a short man with long lanky limbs. The dim candle light shone against his short black hair. His bag hung loosely from his left hand. His back was turned to the servant girl so Sophia couldn’t see his face.
Sophia crept out of her room and followed the two as the countess led the doctor down the hall to the count’s chambers. As he turned to address the countess, the doctor caught sight of Sophia out of the corner of his eye.
“Well hello there little one,” he said turning to Sophia. She could now see his soft rounded and clean shaven face. He then turned to the countess. “Your daughter I assume.”
“Heavens no,” replied the countess. “She’s just a little orphaned servant girl,” she turned to Sophia. “Who shouldn’t be out of bed.” She growled.
“I just wanted to know what was wrong,” Sophia said innocently.
“Nothing is wrong, now go back to bed.” The countess said stiffly. The last words were almost sneers. She and the doctor entered the count’s chambers and shut the door behind them.
Sophia waited and waited. No words reached her ears, not even a hint of a voice. The clock chimed one, still no sign from within. She waited more. The only way she could pass the time without worrying too much was by playing with the fringe on the cuff of her white nightgown.
Another half an hour passed and the fringe was not worth playing with anymore. The hallway remained silent aside from the constant ticking of the clock. Sophia turned to the chamber door. It remained closed. She curled and uncurled her bare toes nervously and waited some more.
As the clock struck two, the doctor finally reemerged. Sophia approached him.
“Well,” she asked glancing down to look him in the eye. “Is the count going to be alright?”
“The count,” he replied gravely. “Is dead.”