A loud knocking broke the silence of the large manor. It was instant and echoed throughout the house, the noise finding its way through the very bricks and mortar to sound within the many rooms and hallways. The lady of the manor looked up from her reading, this even slightest of movements irritating the black cat on her lap that stretched and jumped onto the floor, all the while exuding the certain air of indignation that all felines have mastered.
"What on God's green earth is taking that butler so long?" the lady muttered.
As if in answer to her question the knocking was silenced. The lady sighed and returned to her reading.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the manor, thing were, perhaps, not so relaxed. While overseeing the cook and her preparations of the evening meal, Mr Evans had failed to hear the sound at the door amongst all the clattering of pots and pans. When the booming noise finally permeated through to the kitchen, Mr Evans, forced down to his shirtsleeves by the heat, had had to rush post-haste up several small flights of stairs, up and down a few hallways and finally into the front hall, pulling down sleeves, donning jacket and tying cravat as he went. Mr Evans, professional as he was, took a moment to look over himself, everything seemed to be in order so he took a breath and opened the door, wondering who would be standing on the step as no-one had sent around a visiting card earlier.
To his shock and irritation, Mr Evans discovered an unfashionably dressed young girl standing in the doorway, her diminutive size making it hard for him to believe that it had, indeed been her knocking.
"The tradesmen and servants entrance is around the back" He said curtly.
The young girl appeared quite taken aback, her eyes grew round and her lower lip trembled,
"I'm terribly sorry" she replied in a tremulous voice, "but I was unable to find any other entrance, leaving me with no choice but to try the one door I could find"
Mr Evans arched an eyebrow at her,
"You had better explain what you are about before I am forced to throw you off the premises, the lady does not look kindly upon trespassers or those who waste her time"
The girl's eyes darted left and right,
"I thought you would have been informed… I wrote to apply for the position of lady's maid – I was instructed to arrive before dinner?"
The girl was clearly starting to panic – her voice had managed to rise several octaves and she had barely uttered three sentences. This time it was Mr Evans' eyes that widened, of course he had forgotten, he had written the reply himself and had he not just two days prior instructed some of the maids to start preparing a room for the newcomer?
"Of course you are" Mr Evans bowed slightly in his embarrassment, a flush beginning to creep up his neck, "I had momentarily forgotten we had been expecting you in all the rush my dear…" he cast about, trying to remember what the girls name was,
"Beatrice" the girl supplied, "Beatrice Campbell"
Mr Evans snapped his fingers in irritation at his own forgetfulness,
"Well you'd better come inside now that you are here," he sighed, "next time however, do be careful to use the servant's entrance, I'll have someone show you where it is for your future reference. It is most unbecoming in a young woman for her to act above her station and I would not wish for any of my lady's illustrious guests to think that they may be treated as equal to a mere maid"
The girl, Beatrice, nodded as she stepped inside, looking around her. The entrance hall was large and beautiful; the paintings that hung on the wall however made Beatrice's skin creep however. Mr Evans noted her discomfit.
"My… Our mistress has some rather eccentric tastes, both in art and her hobbies" He provided, hoping to make the girl feel more at ease. Beatrice took a deep breath to steady her nerves,
"I have heard-"
"Do not believe all that you hear" he cut across, "Milady might have some interest that could be considered vulgar in a woman of polite society, nonetheless she is a good mistress and there is no other I would rather serve than her"
Beatrice snapped her mouth shut and walked alongside the butler in silence, head bowed in submission. She followed Mr Evans to the kitchen where he handed her over to the housekeeper who had taken over proceedings in his absence.
"So you are the young one lucky enough to be our lady's maid" The housekeeper bellowed over the noise,
"Yes mam" Beatrice replied quietly,
"What's that girl? I can barely hear you! Oh blast it, come on, I'll show you to your quarters and let you get settled and out of those clothes"
In great contrast to the silent Mr Evans, the housekeeper kept up a fast-flowing string of conversation from one end of the manor to the other, even climbing so many stairs the woman barely paused to breathe. Beatrice, gazing in wonder at the rich house around her, let the chatter flow over her like a stream, only catching a few names here and there – the housekeepers (Ms Anne Howard) and the name of the lady she would be working for – Natalie Caraway.
"How odd!" Beatrice was forced to exclaim. She had, of course, known the lady's name before and there was much about her in the papers but still, it was hardly the type of name one came across every day, it made her sound like an actress. Ms Howard sniffed,
"Yes well, milady is an odd sort of person, but I am the last person you will hear such talk from"
Beatrice paused, trying to think of something that would direct the housekeeper's anger away from her. She remembered something else the woman had said,
"What was that other name you mentioned? Sam? Who is that? One of the lady's admirers?"
Mrs Howard laughed, a great raucous sound that echoed on the narrow servants stair.
"Oh goodness gracious no! That monster, one of milady's admirers? I never heard anything half so funny!" she wiped tears of mirth from the corners of her eyes, "no my dear girl, Samuel is milady's cat and a right terror he is too! Loves no one but himself and maybe the mistress though sometimes I'm not even sure he likes her all that much. Well, I suppose that's cats for you, mangy little fur-balls the lot of them, give me a dog any day"
Finally, the two stood outside the door to, what Ms Howard cheerfully announced, was Beatrice's room.
The room turned out to be relatively small, but neat and with a gently sloping roof. It was furnished well enough, with room provided for a few personal touches. Her uniform had been laid out on the bed.
"You are expected to keep your own room neat and tidy" Ms Howard huffed, "there will be random checks and if your room is not up to par then there will be… consequences"
Beatrice gulped nervously, she had heard the stories – the housekeeper had no need to elaborate. Ms Howard brightened again,
"Well then, I shall leave you to settle in and get changed. I'll be back in one hour to show you around the house and introduce you to milady, so make sure you are presentable"
Beatrice nodded. After Ms Howard had shut the door with a snap, the girl flopped down on the bed, her uniform sliding off onto the floor. Hurriedly she sat up and pulled the dress back onto the bed, smoothing out any creases before sitting back again, taking more care this time to look where she lay.
She must have fallen asleep because the next thing Beatrice knew, she was being wakened by a loud purring. Looking around for the source of the unexpected sound she saw a black cat looking up at her with large, crimson eyes. That gave the girl pause, she had never seen a cat, or any other animal really, with such deep red eyes. Something about the animal made her skin crawl and she shuffled sleepily away from it. The cat followed her however and rubbed its head against her knee, purring even louder.
Beatrice looked over and noticed that there was now black fur all over her grey uniform. Sighing with irritation she stood up, disregarding the cat trying to climb onto her lap that had now been dumped unceremoniously onto the floor at her sudden movement. The cat yowled balefully at her.
"Oh shush" Beatrice admonished.
The cat stared daggers at her and sauntered over to the door where it sat. It didn't seem particularly eager to leave so Beatrice, unsure of the time, decided to put on her new uniform before she let the cat out. She felt uncomfortable changing in front of the cat, she couldn't help but feel that it was watching her.
As Beatrice finished dressing and was adjusting the dress so that it fell properly, there was a knock at the door.
"Come in" she called, looking up
Ms Howard came bursting in,
"Oh good, you're ready! I informed milady of your arrival and she wishes to see you immediately so I shall have to show you around the manor later" She looked the girl up and down, "yes, I suppose that'll have to do" she sighed.
Beatrice, who had thought herself quite presentable, drew herself up in indignation at this slight on her appearance
"Come on!" Ms Howard said, "I shall take you to meet your new mistress"
Beatrice deflated somewhat under the command and meekly followed the housekeeper out of the room. In the doorway, she turned to say goodbye to her feline companion, only to find that it had disappeared. Her eyes widened in surprise – she was sure she had not seen the thing leave, but then she decided, it was the nature of cats to slip in and out of places without notice. Gathering herself, Beatrice shut the door behind her and went to greet her new employer.