Chapter five! I really should learn to be like other writer’s and space out my chapters, but then where would the fun be in keeping everyone waiting when I have the goods? Not fun at all! Thanks all so much for the reviews and messages again it’s been fantastic! Enjoy the chapter! xox
After my meltdown and my talking to from Trey I calmed myself down enough to face the masses. But once I went back inside I was immediately taken into Mrs. Fortenberry’s private room with her and Mr. Dearborn, for privacy.
“Susi, I just don’t understand what made you go in there, now tell me at once.” She said, confused and still clearly flustered.
I looked from her to him, and decided that I didn’t have to save Dawn’s hide. She’d certainly not have done the same for me, that’s for sure.
“One of the staff asked that I retrieve one or two spare silver candelabras that were in that room. I know now that that wasn’t the case, and it was just so that I’d be caught and … humiliated.”
She sighed, “Mr. Dearborn, I’ll take it from here if you don’t mind.”
He nodded, sighed to himself, and made a silent exit, leaving me with the frazzled woman I called my boss.
“Was it Dawn?” She asked, an all knowing look on her cross face.
I simply shrugged. “If it’s that obvious … perhaps it was.”
“Next time she asks something of you, and you know it doesn’t sound right, come see me before hand, will you? Save us all a lot of trouble.”
“Are they furious?”
“Mr. Northman was, Lord Niall was simply in shock, and the guests … well, being truthful I think they enjoyed the excitement.”
“Mrs. Fortenberry, could I request a favour?”
“A favour after all the hassle you’ve caused? You’ve got a cheek!” she grimaced.
“No, that’s just the thing, I don’t want to be the cause of anymore trouble, and so until things … settle, can I work downstairs? Only downstairs?”
She paced the small room and looked at me with tired eyes. “What of Miss Pam?”
“I can still assist her, I just … I need to stay out of his way.”
I didn’t need to clarify who ‘he’ was, that’s for sure.
She thought about it, and then sighed. “Fine, if it’ll keep you and all of us out of trouble, stay out of sight until she calls for you then, for a few days at least.”
“Thank you, really, thank you.”
“Yes, all right.” She sounded exasperated. “We got a delivery this morning. It still hasn’t been stocked in to the right cupboards, and you can start with that.”
And so, for that whole day I managed to stay downstairs, out of sight out of mind – or so I hoped. When Miss Pam requested me for her change of clothes for dinner I steeled myself and made my way to the East wing, hoping against hope that she was the only one of them that I’d see.
When I entered her room though she wasn’t alone. She had Lady Selah there, and they were in the middle of a conversation.
“He wouldn’t go out riding with me today either, have you seen him?”
“No, not since lunch, and even then he was– Oh, hello Sookie, I need your help. I just can’t decide what to wear tonight, and they have several friends of Lord Brigant coming to dine this evening.”
I had heard that through the cooks chatter, more plates were to be placed, more meat to be cooked, all for Army friends of the Lord.
“I see, well, I spied that spectacular velvet dark purple gown, the one with the lace sleeves? Perhaps that and that black diamond necklace and bracelet set?”
She tapped her chin and opened up the closet. “Oh, yes I think this will do just nicely. I’d forgotten I’d packed that. Aren’t you helpful!” She smiled, but Lady Selah on the other hand simply smirked before walking in front of me.
“She is helpful… helpful in causing trouble.”
“Oh Selah, shush,” Pam said, on the hunt for shoes.
“Well what? She’s just a maid, and yet there she was rooting through Sophie’s private things, making Eric madder than I’ve ever see any man. I mean, how dare she?”
I hated that she stood looking right at me, and yet talked about me as if I weren’t there. That was her right I supposed; I was only the help, after all.
“That’s enough, Selah.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t give her her marching orders for a stunt like that. If she’d have been my maid I certainly would have.”
Pam sighed as she came out with a black pair of shoes, with gold detail.
“Well, lucky for all of us, Sookie doesn’t work for you, she works for Lord Niall, and since this is his estate, he knows what’s best for it.”
She rolled her eyes at Pam, and fixed her stare at me. “Servants who think highly of themselves… it’s a joke, and they’ve only got farther to fall when the inevitable happens. They ought to remember their place.”
I wanted to slap her. I wanted to just grab her by her stupidly curled hair and throw her out the door, but I couldn’t. So instead, I stayed silent until she left.
Pam looked at me then. “I told you she was awful. She’s got such a very large stick up her arse, I’m surprised she can walk most of the time.”
That made me laugh, and in turn it made Pam smile.
“Oh, Sookie, you’re still distraught over what happened?”
I shook my head, assisting her by unhooking the back of her current dress, loosening her corset, and letting out the ribbon.
“No, I … well, yes. I’ve tried to shake it, but it’s been a long while since a man … since anyone spoke to me like that.”
She closed her eyes. “I could shake him, I really bloody could sometimes.”
“It’s all right, I will get over it.”
“You must think him so awful.”
“No … I don’t know.”
“Well I gave him a piece of my mind, be sure of that. He has no right speaking to any woman like that, unless she’s his horse and he’s in battle, and even then, it would be wrong to yell at a horse,” she smirked. “But really, he’ll come around.”
“What he does or doesn’t do is none of my business. We’ve had a handful of conversations since I arrived here, Miss, and to be frank, most of them have ended badly on my part or on his. I think it best now if I let the others take care of him, and just stay as far out of his short tempered way as possible.”
She stood again in just her undergarments and garters, no shame, and not even a hint of modesty. She turned to me and touched my face.
“I don’t blame you, not one bit, but he will feel very badly for how he acted towards you. I know him, and he’s somewhere right now beating himself up over how he spoke to you. I’m his friend, so I’m a tad biased, but I do hope one day he’ll find himself again, because this lost version of my friend is unfamiliar to me too… I just want him to be happy, that’s all.”
“Are you … sweet on him, Miss?”
With that she laughed as I held out her dinner gown for her.
“Oh good God no, not at all. Though, my mother would love if I married him, she’d love if I married at all to be truthful,” she sighed. “But marriage means babies and more babies, oh, and a husband, and I want none of those things if I can help it.”
“I see … but do you not inherit if you don’t marry?”
She rolled her eyes. “That is the case most of the time, but my father knew me well. I have enough millions to keep me comfortable. When they run out I’ll be sure to find some smuck for a marriage of convenience to ensure the money and keep my mother happy, but for no other reasons other than that.”
“Because it’s not what you favour?”
I’d met a few people of Pam’s persuasion in London. There was a first for many things I figured, including women who just didn’t want a man, but had everything they needed in a woman, and vice versa.
She looked at me in the mirror for a minute, as if she were trying to figure out what I’d say.
“No, they aren’t what I favour, most of the time anyway. I suppose you think that’s evil and-”
I shook my head. “I think nothing of the sort, Miss. If you ask me, people should be happy, and if being with someone of the same sex makes you happier than that of the opposite sex, then who am I to judge you?”
“Most think it’s wrong, evil and depraved…”
“I am not most, Miss. There was a time that I might have questioned it, and prayed for your soul, but I’ve grown up, and I understand life a lot more now. I try not to judge too much, where I can help it.”
“Have you ever been married, Sookie?”
“Really? You seem so young still.”
“Not by society’s standards, I hear. You’re an old maid now by age twenty if you aren’t careful,” I smiled.
“What happened? Did he die? Is that how you ended up here?”
I nodded, not wanting to fully tell the lie.
“Oh and here I am going on and on about not wanting a husband when you lost yours. Oh my dear, I am so sorry-”
“No, it’s quite all right, I just … mourn the loss of my children more than his loss. Is that evil of me?”
“No,” she said, not waiting a beat. “Not at all. Oh, Sookie, how many-”
“Three. Two were early pregnancies, but one was a birth, three cries and then … nothing,” I said, remembering it as if it were yesterday. “I don’t blame you, Miss, for not wanting to go down that road, of husbands and babies. Nothing’s for certain, not a gentleman’s word nor God’s gift of life. You do right to live your own the way you see fit.” I nodded, delicately placing her hair with her pins, in a different style from the night before.
“You’re a good woman, Sookie.”
“I sometimes wonder that, Miss. If that’s all?”
She looked confused, but she dismissed me anyway, and just as I opened the door to leave Eric walked in, all neat and sleek in his dinner tux, though the beard still left something to be desired. He looked like the deer caught in the headlights, and I was sure I looked no different as we both passed, but didn’t acknowledge each other. I hightailed it down the stairs as quickly as I could, but on passing the drawing room I heard my name called.
It was Lord Brigant.
“Miss Stackhouse, may I speak with you?”
He was a tall enough man, but he also carried himself like a gentleman. Not a slouch in sight and his state of dress was immaculate. His grey hair was short and brushed into a style that suited his face. He wasn’t overly round, but he wasn’t a slim man either, his dark brown eyes and thick brow somehow softened his features and made him appear less severe.
“Come in, sit, please.” He gestured to the royal blue velvet couch where I took my seat.
“I’ve been home a few days now, and I haven’t had the time to have a talk with you. I like to know who is living in my house, as you can imagine.”
“Of course Lord Brig-”
“So you’re an American. Nice people those Americans, no matter what the English say.” His accent certainly wasn’t that of an English native. It was a mixture of what I knew to be Scottish, and it almost had a hint of the same accent Di had, Irish.
“I was born here myself, an English lord for a father and an Irish rebel for a mother. It was quite the scandal in its day, I’ll tell you that,” he laughed, as if it were this big joke. “So, anyone that makes… fun of you for being a Yank, you pay them no mind. It takes all sorts.”
I just nodded as he continued.
“I’m told you were previously a Ladies Maid, is that so?”
“Yes, Sir. I was for a time, in London, but I got positioned here as a house maid, though I like to keep busy where I can.”
“That’s good. I respect a hard worker, and a house this size, it needs a lot of that.” he nodded, pacing the room and then coming back, “I enjoy London, and I am looking forward to going down in a week or so again, for the summer season. I do so enjoy the Opera there. But I love being home too, or at least I used to. I have to find that love again, I fear.” he shook his head as if shaking his thoughts away, “I still have to decide what other staff we’ll be taking, should Eric decide to come this time or not.”
That was news. He hadn’t gone before, but maybe there was hope now that he and Pam were back in touch that he would venture outdoors like a normal person. Then again, who was I to say what was normal?
“I try to be a fair employer, Miss Stackhouse, so if there is anything amiss or anything that goes on where it shouldn’t, I expect you’d let me know.”
“Good. Very good. Now, this run in from the other day.”
“Sir, it was a mistake on my part, I was told to fetch something that turns out wasn’t in there at all, and I should have known, but I…”
He sighed and began to pace a little. “It was his idea to just store the things in there for a time, but a time has turned into just over a year now, and I’m still unsure of how to broach the subject with him. It’s not healthy, that much is obvious judging by how he reacted to you just being there, which, I’m sorry about by the way … that wasn’t right.”
“It’s all right, Sir.”
“No, it’s not. My father ran a cold household Miss Stackhouse, I do not. I do not have my staff treated in such a manner. It’s just not right, and he won’t be doing it again.”
I nodded, unsure of what else to say.
He nodded to himself, looking out the window. “Well, I just wanted to meet you properly my dear, and to apologise again.”
“Thank you, Lord Brigant. I appreciate that, I do.”
“Good, I’m glad. That’ll be all,” he smiled before retuning to his writing. I took a deep breath as I made my way out of library only to find Dawn standing at the bottom of the grand staircase. We simply glared at each other in passing, and I made my way to the kitchen again. Not only was I now avoiding Eric, but Dawn too. Soon, I thought, I’d be sleeping in the barn with the horses and the cat, just to get some damn peace!
The next few days went by incident-less thankfully, and after dressing Miss Pam on my fifth day on kitchen work, I was looking forward to my day off. The others would just have to make do, as I had plans. Not very exciting mind you, but still plans for me, myself, and I.
I wanted to walk into the nearest village. I needed new stockings, and some new undergarments perhaps, and I wanted some new fabric to make a dress or two for myself. I had my first two weeks pay, and I was feeling the need to treat myself. I dressed myself in my normal clothes, just a plain dark brown tweed skirt to my ankles, a crisp white high collar blouse, with my boots and winter coat. It was red, and probably in need of replacing, but I just couldn’t afford another heavy coat, and even though it was early May, I was still in Scotland and for this Louisiana girl, it was practically still winter temperature. So I snuggled into my coat, took one of the larger baskets from the kitchen, and set off for my day alone.
The nearest village was a good six miles from the estate, but the roads weren’t bad and the day was dry, at least. It gave me my first taste of the surrounding countryside, and I had to admit it was simply breathtaking.
By the time I got into town, it was just afternoon, so I stopped for some tea and something to eat to tide me over, having bought most of my goods early on. I was just all set for the walk back when I got outside to see his Lordships car sitting outside the barbers. And just as I was making my way past the fabric store, I saw him, and he saw me.
Eric, exiting the barbers with a fresh face, sans beard and with shortened hair. It suited him very nicely. I didn’t stick around to tell him as much though, I cut down a side street, and back on the path to home. I was enjoying my walk back, my arms a little sore from carrying the now much heavier basket, but still enjoying the little warmth the sun was providing from behind the clouds. It had thankfully stayed dry because if it hadn’t the enjoyment would have been dampened, as would I. I heard a car behind me, and I knew it was him, but I was still determined to ignore him. Inside or outside the house I wanted no more incidents.
“Sookie?” I heard him call as the car slowed behind me, and I continued walking.
“Miss Stackhouse?” The car pulled up beside me, but I quickened my step even more. This seemed to annoy him, as he then hit the horn, making me jump.
“Don’t you honk your horn at me, mister!” I said, turning to face him, and then continuing to walk. The car crawled at a slow pace beside me.
“You are still angry with me. I deserve it.” He said, resigned.
“Hmph,” I said, and kept walking and ignoring his pleas for me to stop.
“Please stop, you’re going to kill the car.”
“No. You’re the one driving it, you’re the one going to kill it. Why don’t you have a driver anyhow?” I said, finally looking at him. He had on a mixed wool tweed suit jacket and trousers a dark tan colour, matching his flat cap. I hated how handsome I found him in that moment.
“I like to drive. It helps me clear my head.”
“Yes, walking does the same for me. Now if you’ll drive on and excuse me I have more walking to do.”
“You are still mad at me, and I do deserve it, but I was hoping since we ran into each-”
“We haven’t ‘run into’ each other, you’re following me, there is a difference.”
Oh God, Sookie, shut up!
He laughed, and then stopped the car altogether, but I kept walking. I heard him slowly jog up behind me, and he grabbed my arm gently.
“Please stop. I wanted to talk to you, but you’ve been avoiding me for almost a week, and I daren’t set foot in the kitchen, Mrs. Fortenberry is very strict on that matter,” he smiled again.
“As she should be, she can’t just be having every Tom, Dick, and Harry pacing her floors.”
“And I’m a Tom, Dick, and Harry then?”
“Well you sure act like one of them, neither Harry nor Tom though.”
With that he laughed heartily out loud.
“You are something, Sookie.”
“As are you, now please … go away,” I said, beginning to walk again, and still he followed. “Just… go away. Whenever you’re around I have this habit of making a fool of myself! Or worse, you turn into an ogre! Please just go.”
“Please forgive me,” he called after me, causing me to stop.
I said nothing, but I did turn to face him.
“Please? I am ashamed, I never should have reacted that way. It was just seeing someone in there at all was bad enough, but having it be you … just … made it worse.”
“Why?” I asked, still cautious on that subject.
He shrugged. “Please let me talk to you, but not on the side of the road. Get in and let me drive us somewhere, peaceful. Please?”
I debated about it, in my head. I knew that I shouldn’t. I knew that I should just keep my distance, and yet there was a pull towards him – one I just couldn’t rightly explain at that point.
I didn’t say anything, I simply nodded, and he smiled, offering his hand to help me into the front seat of the car. It was a fine car, that’s for sure, only the best I imagined would be acceptable for a Lord. We sat in silence for the short amount of time it took for him to drive us both to another side road, one that led to the expansive lake that led the path into town. It was fresh water, and glorious to look at, though I guessed that it was as cold as the nip in the Scottish air. He pulled the car to a halt and took a deep breath. I had thought for a second that maybe he’d brought me there to kill me, with the way his temper changed, one could never be too sure.
“Why do most of our conversations begin or end with an apology?” he asked, and I laughed. It was true, bitterly so.
“I’ve worked there for six and a half weeks, and we’ve had almost as many arguments. It’s why I’ve been avoiding you. Best way to keep the peace, I imagine.”
“And you’re scared of me.” It wasn’t a question, more a statement of fact.
“Yes.” I said looking out at my surroudings, still in the silent car.
He sighed, and tutted to himself.
“Jesus, that’s the last thing I want. I never meant to scare you or to put fear in you…”
“But you did, and I don’t like it. I lived in fear of one man in my life, Mr. Northman, and I don’t intend on doing it again.”
He nodded. “I hope this isn’t out of turn, but Pam mentioned you’d been married, though if she’s broken some kind of confidence, I’ll never speak of it again.” He looked embarrassed to have been gossiping, it was almost sweet.
“No, it’s not something I hide,” at least not entirely. “Yes I was, and it wasn’t the most pleasant of unions. He was a bully and I was … a victim. So you can imagine why-”
“I put the fear of God into you by shouting the odds like I did. I am so ashamed. I just lost my temper, and I’m sorry.”
“I wasn’t doing any harm, you know? It’s just a room, and touched or untouched no one can take those memories from you, Eric.”
He turned to me then, a half smile on his face as he restarted the engine as began to drive us back onto the road.
“You called me-”
“Yes, but don’t go making a song and dance of it. And only this once… Eric.” I smiled. “Or twice.”
“It sounds nice when you say it.”
“I’m sure it sounds nice when Dawn says it too.” I rolled my eyes before I faced him “You are encouraging her, you know.”
“Of course. You’re a flirt, and with the way you make a girl feel at ease around you like you do… Is it any wonder she’s besotted?”
He sighed, “I never meant to encourage her, really, I didn’t. But when Sophie and the baby died, something in me broke, Sookie, and I’m not really sure how to fix it.”
I nodded. “I understand that.”
“I know, Pam told me…again I hope it wasn’t out of place.”
I simply shook my head, it wasn’t though so much out of place but I hadn’t been surprised she told him.
“How old was yours?” He asked.
“A few minutes old, yours?”
He closed his eyes, then opened them, focusing on the still lake.
“An hour or so. She was so beautiful, but so very weak. The complications with Sophie meant that neither of them could have survived no matter what any of us did. It just seems so…”
“Unfair,” I finished for him.
“Yes, extremely so.”
I stayed silent.
“The funny thing is, I question it all the time, you know?”
“What’s real, and what I’ve been making up in my head, just like Dawn. Maybe it’s what everyone does so they can cope?”
“What do you-”
“Sophie, my love for her? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I loved her to be sure, she was a wonder… but after she passed I think I’ve put her, and our relationship on some kind of pedestal just because she died.”
“But you loved her.”
“I did, very much. But love sometimes wasn’t all I needed from her. I wanted understanding, common interests, anything else we could grasp onto other than the idea of being ‘meant to be,’ you know?”
I wasn’t sure I did know, so I stayed silent again.
“What of you and your husband?” he asked, and I found myself yet again unwilling to lie to him.
I thought about that. For a long time I did love him, at least what I perceived to be love. And then it had dawned on me, if he truly loved me, he would have never hurt me as much as he did, no matter what he said.
“I was young,” I admitted. “Very young, and idealistic, I suppose? He was a nice man, at least at first, but soon things turned dark.” He turned quickly to me then, a serious look on his face, though he said nothing. “But no, I thought I loved him for a time, but looking back on it now, it wasn’t love, it was pretend love, whatever the name for that is… but had it been real love things might not have turned out like they had.”
He nodded in understanding, though I gathered he didn’t. How could he understand it when I could barely understand it myself?
“I don’t wish to marry again,” I said, and I looked at him then. “And I don’t wish to turn out like Dawn either,” I added, giving the hint that whatever he liked in me, it was only to stay as innocent as this conversation, and to go no further. I wasn’t to be a distraction for him, at least not physically. “I’m not the play thing of the rich and permanently bored, Eric.”
We were both silent for a few seconds before he smiled.
“You’re a smart woman, Miss Stackhouse.”
“I am, I know that. I’m also a hard working one that would like to keep my job, so I’d like it very much if you and I could try and not … antagonize each other anymore. Accidentally or otherwise.”
He nodded. “I’d like that too. I’d also like it if you’d just embrace my first name. I do like to hear it every now and then.”
“Perhaps, but only when we’re alone and there’s no sense of-”
“Impropriety in it? Of course,” he smirked before he began again. “On a more serious note, I … have asked for help.”
“With your temper?”
“Yes. That, and Pamela has emptied all the liquor accessible to me. It’s been since the day after our run in since I’ve had a drink. I feel a lot better for it. I’ve eaten too,” he smiled.
“And taken care of the dead animal growing on your face. It’s been a big week for you then, hasn’t it?” I smiled back.
“It has. It would top my week off nicely if you’d agree to have dinner with me, in town? It is your day off, is it not?”
“I’m not so sure that’s wise.”
“Pamela will be there. I’ve asked her to come, and she wants a night away from Selah and John, not that I can blame her. It’s this little pub, not far from here-”
“But you stopped-”
“I can enter a public house without having alcohol Sookie, I promise.”
I looked at him then, his big earnest blue eyes and his face now hairless made him look like a teenager. It was amusing how the tables had turned. Now he looked like he was the one that feared me, and not the other way about.
“Fine, I agree to it, but only because Miss Pamela is wonderful conversation.” I said getting into the car.
He gasped. “Are you saying I’m a bore, Miss Stackhouse?”
I smirked, and rolled my eyes, trying my best to hide my smile, “Heavens no, that’s the last thing anyone could accuse you of. Melodramatic on the other hand…”
“Oh, thank you … thanks very much. I’m melodramatic?”
“Just a touch…”
“And you’re not?”
“No, I’m a woman. We have a unwritten law on that sort of thing you know … the mystery of makeup and the trademark on melodrama. It’s a widely known fact.” I smiled big and wide, teasing him.
“Yes, yes … watch the road before we both end up in that icy water!” I said as he swerved on purpose to make me jump.
“Pam will keep this to herself, won’t she?” I asked as we got to our destination a dozen or so miles into the town. “I just don’t want anymore bother with Dawn, that’s all.”
He shook his head, and offered me his elbow, which I admit I was hesitant to take.
“She won’t breathe a word.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that they probably think that we’re-”
“Let people think what they want. We know we’re friends, and that’s how you want it kept, right?”
“Right…” I admitted, now very much unsure.
“That settles it then, we’re friends, and friends dine together all the time. It’s not our fault the rules of the house state otherwise. Now for one night, please just be yourself. Just be the Sookie Stackhouse you were before they slapped an apron on you and made you call me Sir. Tonight I’m just Eric, she’s just Pam, and you’re just you. Sounds like a … what do you American’s call it, a ‘deal?’”
I smiled at his attempt of my accent. It was appalling, and yet so very endearing.
“All right, Eric, you’ve got yourself a deal!”
“Excellent!” he said with a big wide genuine smile as he led me inside.
This would be interesting, that’s for sure.