Chapter 4 time!I’m so glad so many of you have latched on to my new baby, it’s been fun for me to write so far! Fans of the other stories don’t worry either, I managed to actually sit down last night and map them out – something I rarely do, so they both have an end in sight at least! I hope some mojo for them comes back soon I hate to be left hanging with stories too! Enjoy the update xox
I made my way into the slightly darkened library, him ahead of me, and I laid the semi-squashed cake on the table in front of me.
“Oh dear…” I sighed.
“It’s not your fault, it’s hers. Her and her melodramatics, and mine, come to think of it,” he sighed. “I’m sure we can salvage it. Besides, the proof is in the tasting.”
“I would say so too if I hadn’t spent twenty minutes making fancy designs on the cream topping,” I sighed again, trying to shape it with a small knife, but to no avail.
“It’s what’s inside that counts, at least that what I’m told in life. Personally, I’d rather apply it to things like cakes, and buns. The inside of them really is what counts,” he smiled, clearly joking.
“It was meant to be an apology, but as it turns out Dawn squashed that idea with her hissy fit.”
He grimaced, “Yes, about that-”
“It’s none of my business,” I said quickly, attempting to keep it that way. “But what is my business is to ensure that you know how sorry I am, about before, I was out of line and-”
“But that’s just it, you weren’t. I was the one that asked for your opinions, and it’s not your fault if I’m not man enough to handle them,” he said, cutting around the cake, and smoothing out the chocolate cream on top to make it look even again.
“I’m the one that should be apologising to you, Sookie. Having talked to Pam, having had time to think it over, it was brash and unnecessary, and I hope it won’t happen again.”
I nodded. I hoped it wouldn’t either, but knowing me and my mouth I wasn’t so sure.
“Sookie, I do want you to know how much I enjoy your candour, and how since you’ve come to be here, I have begun looking forward to our time together.”
I hadn’t known that, and the idea that he acknowledged me at all meant … something.
“Thank you, Sir.”
He nodded somewhat bashfully before eyeing the cake again. He sliced into it with a happy look on his face, and he took a bite.
“I’m sorry?” I smiled. Watching him eat it was like watching a child have his first taste of sugar.
“It’s so good. What do I taste here? It’s all so … creamy.”
“I can’t tell you that, it’s an old family addition.”
“Ah, I see. Well, all women have their secrets I suppose.”
If he only knew, I thought. My secrets had very little to do with cakes and muffins.
He went to reach for the whiskey that sat on his desk to wash it down, and I stopped him, putting my hand over the rim of the glass. He looked at me, confused.
“My cake wasn’t baked to be washed down by booze. There is milk on your tray, and if you’ll forgive me, you could use it.”
“I could?” He raised a brow at me, but he told me to be honest, how could I not?
“Well, you’ve not been eating, and not to sound like a mother hen or anything, but that’s just not right. A man of your size can’t sustain on sweets and alcohol forever. You’re the colour of death, and frankly I’m wondering what sort of luggage you’re carrying around in those bags.”
“Under your eyes,” I smiled. “Now, drink the milk, please.”
He laughed a short laugh before he put the pint of milk to his lips, and rather impressively managed to down the whole thing in one go without spilling a drop.
“What? You asked that I drink it, it’s drunk,” he shrugged.
I sighed. “Yes and I bet you barely tasted it. No matter, it’s done. There might be some hope for those bones of yours just yet.”
He smiled then. “I am glad we cleared the air.”
“I am too…” I said as I stood there looking at him, the dim light provided by the lamps around his library not giving me a clear look at the real blue of his baby blue eyes. A blue that I realized matched my own.
“The others are going hunting today, I expect you’ll be expected?”
He sighed, “Yes there’s nothing like a little senseless murder before dinner to really work up an appetite.”
I just shook my head as I went ahead and pushed open the shutters on the windows, finally allowing some light to flood through. I pushed open the window too, allowing some much needed air into the room in the hopes of getting rid of that alcohol stench. He sat in his overstuffed dark green leather chair, just watching me.
“You don’t approve of my lifestyle, do you?”
What was it with him and the questions? He certainly was a nosy bugger.
“What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know, just a feeling. Do you ever just get a feeling about someone?”
I shrugged. “I do sometimes, I suppose. But my approval of you or not, it doesn’t matter, not really.”
“Why do you say that?”
I turned to look at him, to find him looking right at me with a gaze that would have been a little scary if it weren’t for the soft, somewhat concentrated look on his face.
“Because I’m just the maid,” I said, trying not to sound as bitter as I felt in that moment, but before he could answer me, Pamela sauntered through the door.
“So you are alive. Niall is downstairs making excuses for you. He’s an awful liar, by the way,” she said, taking off her gloves, then taking a seat on the other side of the desk. “Hello Sookie.”
“Miss Pamela,” I nodded, before attempting to make my way out of the room.
“Sookie…” Eric called after me.
“Have Bobby prepare my riding clothes, and the black boots.”
I nodded. “Of course, Sir.”
“Oh, and Sookie?”
I turned again, and I saw him smile.
“Thank you for the cake. It’s wonderful, and Pamela can’t have any.”
I heard her sigh and I just smiled as I made my way out the door, where I stood for just a second when I heard Pam mention my name.
“You apologised, I hope.”
“Yes, Pam, I did. And she did too, hence this delicious cake.”
“I really can’t have any, can I? I know how possessive you are with your baked goods…” she laughed and he simply ‘tutted.’
“We cleared the air.”
“Good, glad to hear it. She’s not like the others, she’s actually sweet. That Dawn girl however…”
“I can’t believe you did that, I mean really.”
“You’re always going on at me in your letters, are you not? To ‘get out there’ more. This was just as much a mistake as that would be.”
“But she’s so … what’s the word … oh, yes, a bitch.”
I smirked to myself. Dawn was a little mean, ruining people’s cakes and what not.
“Enough, I don’t want to discuss my mistakes today.”
“No, let’s discuss mine instead, while you get ready to take me out hunting,” she said happily and I decided that I’d eavesdropped enough for one day, and made my way downstairs with one thought only. He really was such a strange man.
An hour or so later, the house was once again a flutter with activity. Everyone had finally been dressed and ready for a ride, the horses prepared and the pre-hunt snacks distributed. I was tidying up the drawing room at the time of departure, giving me the perfect view from the south window of all the guests in their riding gear, and of course, Eric. He was with Lord Niall, smiling and patting him on the back, both were dressed in their black riding clothes, coats and top hats to match. He looked magnificent, to be frank. In the pure day light in clothes that accentuated his tall figure, he was a sight to behold, that was for sure, and on the horse he seemed so self assured, so confident in his self and he was flirting.
Or what I took to be flirting, with not only Pam, but with Selah as well, and both ladies were enthralled by whatever funny tale he was spinning them. The other men just looked annoyed.
“Sookie?!” I jumped, Dawn was standing at the door, an annoyed look on her face.
“You can’t just stand around all day, daydreaming. Maxine needs you in the kitchen, now.”
I nodded, resisting the urge to tell her to go twitch at someone else, but not wanting to cause any more tension between us. Since the cake issue earlier that day she hadn’t so much as looked in my direction, other than to bark orders at me, that was. I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with her and her issues. Whatever they were, they had nothing to do with me. I was to help in setting the dining room table for dinner, cleaning out the carpets, and tending to the fires before everyone returned, and in an attempt to stay out of Dawn’s way, I managed to spend a lot of time that afternoon perfecting the cutlery just right, as well as the table decoration.
“What on earth is the matter with her? She’s out for your blood today!” Amelia said as we finished restocking the baskets beside the fire, full now of freshly cut fire wood.
“I know, I really wish she’d just leave me out of it.”
“I accidentally overheard her with Mr. Northman, and she didn’t like it. She almost toppled me over on her way out the door too. So rude.”
Amelia’s eyes widened. “I had wondered…”
She tutted to herself, coming closer to me.
“You don’t breathe a word of this, to anyone ya’hear?”
“Well,” she said. “Ever since Mr. Eric arrived here, Dawn has been sweet on him, even when Miss Sophie was still with us. Dawn is a born flirt, and privately would always take the opportunity to discuss what she thought of him and how he looked at her. It was all nonsense of course, Mr. Eric just had this way of wanting to be nice to everyone, overly so. I think he just wanted to fit in at first.”
I could understand that, especially in this house.
“But she always took it as something more, and it became an issue with her and Miss Sophie a time or two. How she’d look at him, or talk to him in a certain manner. Eric didn’t mind it seemed, but Miss Sophie…” she blew air from her lips. “She’d be furious with him, and her.”
“Not while she was alive, I’m sure of that. No matter how hard Dawn tried, and believe me that girl is nothing if not a try hard.” She rolled her eyes.
“And now you think that she and he had some kind of … relationship?”
She shrugged. “She’s overly personable with him. He asks us all to call him Eric, but only she has the gall to actually do it. It tells me she has the gall to do a lot more than that, if you ask me.”
“I’m sure she’s not the first or last to fall for his charms though, or any gentleman’s charms. We can’t really blame either of them, they’re both grown enough to know-”
“Yes that is true, you do so want to see good in others don’t you, Sookie?”
“I try to. I know there is darkness in everyone, but if we’re so busy looking for that we miss the light too, and that’s just a waste.”
She just smiled and shook her head at me.
“The beds need changing. Will you start with Miss Pamela’s?”
“Yes I’ll do the East wing if you’d like, you do the West?
She smiled. “Done.”
Miss Pamela was a neat one, that’s for sure. Her bed was barely ruffled, only in one spot where she’d slept. Her clothes were lovingly placed, her jewellery displayed by colour and by size, and changing her bedding took merely minutes. Mr. Northman’s on the other hand…
I sighed. He wasn’t one for tidiness, and as I discovered, he wasn’t one for sleeping without a bottle under his bed.
Three empty bottles of whiskey were found, and I rolled my eyes at each one. But still I stripped and changed his linens, opened all the windows in his room – much like the library was in dire need of refreshing. I wondered about him as I worked, surrounded by his things, how if this was just his way in general, or if this was his way of dealing with the fact that he lost his wife, his child, and a life that had been mapped out before him. I had fallen into a somewhat similar pattern when I lost my first baby. Not that it was really a baby at that stage, but to me it was. To the doctors it was blood, a lot of blood, and a lot of pain for me physically. Emotionally though, it took me a great deal of time to accept that I had lost the possibility of a new life, and with the others the longer it went on the harder the loss. Perhaps, I thought, this was why he drank, why he indulged in dangerous dalliances with maids at his convenience. He wallowed in this half life because he’d lost his real one when his wife and child passed. I noticed his clothes hung with a disorganization that would surely drive Miss Pamela mad. His cuff-links too were in disarray, and I put things to rights a little, assured though that if I checked again the next day his own version of ‘organised’ would have returned. It didn’t matter, that was my job, to pick up, to organize, and to work behind them as they led their lives. It had taken me a time to get used to that idea too. Being honest with myself, I was not so sure I had entirely embraced the idea that as the help I was to be seen rarely and heard even less. I had gone from a well respected member of my community – I ran a business for heaven sake – to an invisible woman. Sometimes, just sometimes, it stung.
I looked out the window, and noticed that it was starting to darken. That meant that the guests would soon be returning for dinner. I closed up the drawers and shut the windows, stoked the fire, and left the room in a considerably better state than it had been when I entered. It was when I got back down to the drawing room to tend to that fire that I ran almost literally, into Dawn. She looked less angry with me than she had all day, and I took that as a good enough sign.
“Sookie, are you busy?”
“Not right now, why?”
“I … wondered if you would do me a favour. You see I have to help Mrs. Fortenberry with dinner, she and the cooks… everyone pitches in when there are more people. More hands and all that.”
“It’s just they need two more silver candelabras for dinner tonight, Lord Niall requested them. They’re in the locked room on the East Wing. Could you be a dear, and fetch them for us?”
“But-” I found it odd. All dining room garnishing was kept in the cupboard by the kitchen corridor, for handiness.
“Will you just do it and stop questioning me? I have been here longer than you and can you just pull your weight for once?”
I glared at her, but nodded anyway.
“Fine. You know, just because you’ve had some kind of spat with Mr. Northman doesn’t mean you get to take it out on everyone else.”
“What the hell would you know about it?” she said, bitterly.
“Nothing, and that’s how I’d like it to stay. What he does in his own time is his own business, even if it is a mistake.”
She huffed and walked off down the hall, leaving me to head back up from whence I came, again. It was a wonder I wasn’t dizzy from the amount of time I came up and went down those blasted stairs. Walking slowly to the East Wing again, I shuffled the keys out of my apron pocket and tried the one that I knew fit no other lock I was used to unlocking. The click gave way and I turned the glass door handle. It led me into a darkened room. I turned on a large lamp to my left and the room lit up.
It was decorated in a lilac colour, the ornate paper holding a gold pattern through it. There was a large dark wood four-poster bed, made up and left untouched but covered in boxes. In fact, there were boxes everywhere, paintings too. I lifted one from the pile and was stunned by what I saw. It was a family portrait, Lord Niall, and who I assumed to be Miss Sophie. She was a small woman, but not overly so. She wore a lilac dress, her dark brown almost red hair was in soft curls, and she had a full bosom and a somewhat playful look in her eye. She was pretty, and yet there was something overwhelmingly sad about it all. I wondered if it was just because I knew her end, and that’s why it made me sad. It also made me sad to see a bassinet in the corner, covered up. Baby clothes and blankets sat on top of another box. It was just a room filled with memories, ones I imagined were quite hard to bear, which was why they locked them away where no one could be forced to see them. I put everything back in place though, and went in search of the elusive missing silver. I hadn’t been in the room a half hour when it happened.
I heard footsteps coming down the hall and at a hurried pace, more than one set too. Then it happened. He swung open the door, and the look on his face was enough to frighten me half to death. Team that with his raised voice, and I was shocked I didn’t die right there on the spot.
“What are you doing in here?!!!” he yelled, approaching me quickly, and I backed away. A second later Pamela came in, rushed and breathless from having chased Eric from outside, I gathered.
“Eric, please leave her be.”
“No, I want to know what the hell she’s doing in here. Where you not told? This room is none of anyone’s business!” he yelled again, this time getting louder and louder as I just stood there and attempted not to cry.
“I … I was-”
“You were told to stay out of here, but you just couldn’t help yourself, could you? Are you all the same here? Can’t any of you mind your own Goddamn business!?” Again, his voice got louder, so much so that a second after that Lord Niall came around the door, a concerned look on his face. Following him, I saw Mrs. Fortenberry, Amelia, and of course, Dawn. She, out of all of them, had a smug look on her face, very smug indeed. It meant only one thing. I’d been set up for this. She had wanted this, for me to get in trouble. I was in a sea of trouble, that’s for sure.
“Sookie I thought I told you-” Mrs. Fortenberry began, but this only seemed to enrage Eric further. My breathing was shallow, and getting more so by the minute. I was sure I was about to faint. All of their eyes on me, all judging me, and his … Eric’s eyes just so full of hurt and anger, it was all too much.
“Miss Stackhouse, there was to be a stipulation…” Lord Niall began, but I just couldn’t stand it anymore, I dropped the linen sheet that I’d held in my hand and push passed them all, and ran right out of the room. It wasn’t until I got downstairs and out the back door that I recalled taking a breath. With that breath, I began to sob as I slid down the side of the wall, my fear, my embarrassment, all of it coming out in tears.
I sobbed, and I sobbed, so much that I was sure my nose and eyes were red. I was so engulfed in my tears that I didn’t hear footsteps approaching me, not until Trey was right in front of me.
“Sookie? What on earth? Are you all right?” he asked, grabbing my arm and standing me up, making me look up at him, his eyes full of concern.
“I just … can’t do this anymore. I’m constantly walking on eggshells, trying to do my best … but my best isn’t good enough for these people. And Dawn, that … that … harlot,” I sobbed.
“What did she do now?”
I hiccuped back some more tears. “The bitch set me up to make everyone mad at me, in Miss Sophie’s room,” I sobbed.
He rolled his eyes. “She never does know when to leave well enough alone. Come here … it’ll be all right,” he said, hugging me, a hug I welcomed more than air in those moments.
“I never meant to upset him, but oh God … his face.”
“It’s not your fault. You didn’t know what they kept hidden up there, though if you ask me it’s just down right wrong, locking away her memories as if she never existed. It’s wrong of them, and it was very wrong of her to do that to you. What did you do to her to make her so angry at you?”
“Nothing,” I sniffled back tears. “Not that I know of at least. I never work with her, she prefers to work alone, and I’ve not had a cross word with anyone except Mr. Northman since I arrived here. I just don’t know,” I admitted, dejected by the whole debacle.
“Come on, come take a walk with me then, don’t be letting them see you cry.”
I sniffled once more before he extended his elbow for me like a gentleman and we walked towards the east gardens.
“Since you’ve arrived Dawn’s nose has been out of joint, because you’re young and pretty-”
“Amelia is young and pretty and she doesn’t knock her out of sorts.”
He smiled, “Yes, she is, but Amelia is of no threat to her, you see.”
“How am I a threat? I’ve never done-”
“Because he likes you, and he talks to you. He doesn’t talk to anyone else, you see?”
“I hadn’t really thought of it like that. I mean she has a crush, that’s for sure.”
“More than a crush, she’s infatuated with him. It’s a little embarrassing to be honest.”
“Yes…” he sighed as we kept on walking. I spied Nelly in the distance, halfway up a tree, watching something. Some poor bird I’d imagined.
“She came here from London, just like you, just when Miss Sophie and Mr. Northman were courting. She took a shine to him right away and Eric, making us all call him Eric though most of us never do, at least not in mixed company any road, she thought he took a shine to her too. He hadn’t though, he was with Sophie, and they fell in love, and that was that as far as he was concerned.”
“But Dawn didn’t like that idea very much, did she?” I’d surmised.
“No, she’d come from a household in London where she’d been maid for an Earl. She got drunk on punch one night and let slip she was his Mistress. I suppose she’s just going by what she knows. Serve the house, and serve the Master in a completely different way,” he shrugged. “She’s a nice girl underneath it all really, she just hates her lot in life, and strives hard to get out of it. Though her way of attempting to get out of it, it’s getting her nowhere. Everyone knows men never marry their mistresses.”
I nodded. I never had been in the place of a mistress before, and I rather hoped that I would never be. I had been someone’s wife, and that was bad enough. The idea of being a mistress disgusted me a little, not that I cared what or who Dawn did in her spare time, but the treatment of a mistress was never that of a loved one. You lusted after your mistress, and you never really loved her, not while you had a wife that demanded that emotion by law.
“He’s dismissed her more times than I can count, but it makes you wonder just how much strength one man has against a woman like that, one that knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it out loud.”
We stopped by the tree, the same tree I fell from in my search for the cat in days previous. It reminded me of Mr. Northman then, and how he seemed like a different person. I sighed to myself, wondering just how I was meant to exist in that grand house, with all its secrets while holding my own, and still try and keep the peace. I began to question if it were even possible to try. Amelia had been right. I always wanted to see the good in people, but maybe I’d done the opposite of what I had hoped, instead of missing the light for search of the dark I simply ignored the dark in favour of the light. I looked up to Mr. Northman’s library window with a glance and saw him there, watching me, watching us as we talked. Perhaps I was wrong about him. Maybe this wasn’t who he was just because of his loss. Maybe he was just an insufferable man with a temper that swung more times that a clock’s pendulum? Either way, I knew one thing for certain. I wouldn’t be going out of my way to please him, not anymore. I’d been bullied by a man once in my life, and I swore never again. I didn’t leave my family, my business, and my money just to come to some God forsaken windy shithole to do it again, no Sir. I wanted nothing more to do with the illustrious Mr. Northman.
I wondered though, just how long that would last.