Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Lovers' Reunion

by Sarah Begg

Kaelly woke before dawn in that hour when the roosters would just be stirring outside, preparing to greet the morning and wake the manor to a new day.

At first she lay still, her eyes wide, and then she allowed a small smile to creep over her face. Today was the day!

She sprang out of bed, ignoring the early morning chill, and threw on her dressing gown. Slipping out of her bedroom, she ran lightly down the servants staircase and out into the dark courtyard. Looking up, the sky was just beginning to lighten.

She had already planned this morning so many times in her head, to think the day was here was strange. She hurried around to where the water pails waited and was glad to see the one she had carted up yesterday evening, together with the bar of soap she had hidden, were still in place. There was a small alcove here, as the men sometimes had to wash themselves off after working in the stables before they were allowed to enter the manor.

Glancing furtively around, even though she knew no one would be there, she quickly stripped off and began washing herself.

The cold water was chilling but she grinned to herself regardless – she was going to be clean today when Jack arrived.

It had been a few days ago when she heard of his impending return. Of course it wasn't him exactly that the other servants were talking about, as he was simply a valet. But word had gone around the castle that Duke Holland would be returning today, and not only that but there would be a wedding to celebrate upon his arrival!

The Duke and his retinue had been gone from Greyshore Manor for half the year – they had moved to London for the summer season and because the Duke was of an age to begin courting ladies of noble birth. How fortunate that he had found one in only one season! It was well known that the Duke's family did not have a lot of money left, having made some bad investments recently, however his title would still attract many women.

Kaelly was pulled out of her daydream when she heard the first rooster crowing. Cursing her slowness, she threw the rest of the water over herself, wrapped her gown around her and raced back in through the servants doorway and back up to her bedroom. Luckily she made it back before the first door opened and the other staff began sleepily emerging. She quickly dried and dressed herself in her cleanest, newest uniform, adding a touch of rose essence she had saved especially for this occasion to her neck and wrists. Smiling again as she left her room, her sense of anticipation began to grow.

The morning passed quickly as the servants raced around preparing the manor for the Duke's arrival. Kaelly barely paid attention to the others around her and she could hardly wipe the smile off her face. More than once she was shouted at for milling around like a loon.

The others didn't know – she and Jack had been very careful to make sure their love affair was kept a secret. Just before he left to go to London, they had made promises to each other in the dark of night – that when he returned they would announce that they intended to marry. How perfect that the Duke would also be wedded this year – for she knew that Jack and his lord were much closer friends than was appropriate for a servant and his lord.

At midday there were shouts outside that announced the carriages had been spotted in the distance. The servants worked themselves into even more of a flurry than they had already been in – all racing to finish their tasks before they were expected to line up outside to greet the party.

Kaelly was first out the door and in line, eagerly peering down the long driveway towards the dust cloud approaching.

She barely noticed as the other servants emerged and lined up, didn't listen as they whispered about the Duke's arrival, the upcoming wedding and the bride-to-be who would also be arriving.

The carriages pulled in as Kaelly watched, bouncing slightly on her toes, and she spotted the Duke's carriage at the front.

Yet when the carriages halted, Jack didn't emerge from that first carriage as she had expected – he emerged from the carriage that was behind. She held her breath as he stepped out and then stood tall, straightening his top-hat and glancing up and down the line of waiting servants. She grinned at him when he looked, but his eyes slid right past her.

She tried to quell the small alarm that seemed to have rattled her stomach – did he just not see her?

Then she watched with foreboding as he turned back to the carriage and held out his arm.
A gloved, delicate hand appeared and placed itself on his wrist, and then out stepped a girl dressed in fine silks and laces.

Kaelly heard the collective gasps of the other servants down the line, as they whispered.

“There she is!” the kitchen maid beside her whispered, nudging Kaelly painfully in the ribs. “That's the bride!”

Kaelly ignored her, staring dumbfounded at the scene before her. Why was Jack now walking arm-in-arm with the prospective bride, instead of the Duke? And why was he standing so tall and proud, blatantly ignoring the glances of the other servants?

Jack walked right past her, his eyes staring straight ahead, but the girl looked. The girl looked right at Kaelly, swept her gaze up and down Kaelly's finest, cleanest servant whites, and then turned back, a fine eyebrow arched, and leaned in to whisper something to Jack.

Kaelly felt her heart splinter. It was only then, as if the very action of her heart breaking was opening her ears, did she listen properly to the whispered conversation of the servants around her.

“Such a scandal!”

“And why not? A wealthy lady like that can choose anybody she wants to marry!”

“But he's just a valet!”

“Didn't you hear the Duke has raised him up, made him one of this confidants now. Good for him! Jack's done extremely well for himself, hasn't he?”

The girl on Jack's arm suddenly laughed at something he had said, and turned back to look at Kaelly again with a grin on her face. It was like a stab in the chest.

But then something hardened inside her. The tears in her eyes dried and she managed to take a deep breath.

Let them have each other, she thought. Never would she shed a tear for him, for what he had promised her. She would be better than them – one day, she would be.

As the party disappeared into the castle and the servants dispersed, Kaelly forced herself to smile at the others, forced herself to walk normally and to talk. None had known of what had been, and now she would pretend it hadn't happened either.


Only that scar on her heart would remain.

2 comments:

  1. Great piece, Sarah - it made me sad!!! I like how you have woven the concept of 'the servant' into the narrative but still kept it in the background. Clever writing.

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  2. 'Kaelly felt her heart splinter.' Mine own splintered long ago.

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