Sometimes we feel as though time is just passing, leaving it impossible to catch. We watch as the time simply sifts away leaving a blur of hours, months, days, years. But most of the time we can feel the seconds pass by, feeling as though they are hours. They stretch on and on never seeming to stop"For me I feel the time drag on and on. In my life I longed for excitement, for something to happen to set aside my motionless life just for a few minutes and drift far, far away"This I was hoping would happen very soon"I could see it"smell it"but not yet touch it. That, I knew was coming soon"eventually"hopefully.
"Catherine! Catherine, get up this instant!"
My eyes pop open and I find myself staring into the fair face of my guardian (and my almost boss), Elizabeth. Her eyes are squinted and her cheeks flushed a rosy pink. I groan and roll over onto my stomach hiding my sleepy face once again into the wall beside my bed.
"Catherine if you do not get up this instant you'll get a beating you will. I swear it!" With that she stomps out of the room.
I sigh and roll out of bed. It's the beginning of another long day. I stand and light the stub of the candle next to my pallet. I look out the small hole in the corner where the low ceiling of the serving girls' chamber meets the wall and see the first few rays of sun showing themselves on the roof tops of the village. Would this ever end?
I grab my rough woollen skirt and black woollen vest from the crude wooden peg nailed beside my pallet. I pull the skirt over my shift and lace up the vest. It laces up to just below my chest and has gotten snug and I can hardly breathe within in but I can not afford a new one. Even though I work in the house of one of the richest woman in the Kingdom they have taken me in on charity and I do not earn wages.
I walk over to the wash basin and splash water on my tired face. I let the ripples of the water die down and stare at my reflection. My almond shaped emerald green eyes stare back. My skin is tanned and wind burnt from the past, rough winter and my hair, brown as can be, curls down to my waist. My mother used to tell me I was beautiful. She told me I outshone even the queen's ladies, though I never believed her. My sister, Mary and I used to pretend we where princesses in a far away land and dance around without a care in the world. But that was forever ago, a life time it feels since I last saw them.
The fever had swept through our house and taken my beautiful sister, Mary. Then the fever returned and took my father leaving my mother widowed, in debt and also pregnant. A few months later, God took my mother of childbed fever and my new baby brother, Thomas, as well. By then I was seven. I was an orphan, and owned nothing but the clothes on my back, a penny in my pocket and my mothers silver crucifix that hung around my neck. I was set upon the curb as the landlord took away all of our possessions and my one and only home. I had no other relatives, no where to go. Not a single soul cared.
As darkness fell I stumbled out into the street, my face tear stained, my hair a mess. And that was how I was found. I was taken in by Elizabeth Mason and taken to the house of the Duchess Anne, where I was to work.
And now here I am. I am a maid in the house of the Duchess. I am fifteen and am seeing no signs of getting out of here. No one has come to claim me, no one has ever even noticed me I think. I am alone in this world. I long for something big, I long for a change. But now as I pull my cloth bonnet over my head, tie up my apron and blow out my candle, I am here, but I will get out. I must pray, work and deal with my life, at least for the time being.
A couple hours later I am elbow deep in sudsy water scrubbing the marble floor of the main hall when I hear a high pitch screech from the Duchesses room. I stand, confused, and drop my brush into the bucket. I pad my way across the hall in my bare feet and peer around the corner. There, Theresa, one of my fellow maids, is standing chin down with a tear stained face outside the door of the duchess's room. The duchess herself is red faced, ugly as ever, with one hand on her hip and with the other she is pointing at Theresa.
"How dare you insult me in such a way? You shall never set foot in this house again! Do you hear me? Never again! Now go" NOW!" And with that Theresa is running down the hall past me and towards the maid's chambers. The Duchess turns and sees me.
"You! Get out of my sight this instant",
The Duchess storms back into her room, slamming the door.
Distressed, I run to the Maids' chambers, my bare feet slipping across the polished floors I had spent all morning scrubbing.
By the time I reached the chamber Theresa had grabbed her possessions, her eyes red and puffy and face damp with tears was headed for the back door.
"Theresa, what happened?" I ask her reaching out to grab her shoulder.
"It"It was mistake. I didn't mean it. I never should have"" She collapsed in my arms bursting into tears. I sat her down patting her hair as my mother had once done for me whenever I was upset, all those years ago.
"Tell me, what happened?" I ask her gently. She sniffles, wipes her nose on her sleeve and answers.
"It was all a mistake. It is my entire fault" You know the Duchesses son? I have been seeing him secretly all through out his stay here for the past few weeks. Catherine, we love each other so much. He promised to arrange a betrothal to me as soon as he returned from his stay at Merindon castle. He sent me a letter from Merindon today and as I was cleaning out the Duchesses fireplace it slipped out of my pocket and the duchess got to it before I noticed. I was so careless. She found everything out and sent me away. Now she hates me and has sent me away"What shall I tell my parents? What shall I do?" She stood and wiped her tears, looking up at me for guidance. I was speechless. Her face fell.
"Catherine, I am sorry but I must go." She grabbed her bundle of clothes and ran to the door.
"Theresa, wait!" I called out. She stopped in her tracks. "People who are meant to be together always find their way in the end. It is true. Pray Theresa and you prayers will be heard."
Without turning Theresa mumbled "Thank you" and left.
But story had left me open mouthed. I had no idea that perfect Theresa would do such a thing, and to be send away in such disgrace. She will never be hired anywhere again if the Duchess lets the gossip slip.
I stand once again and brush the dust off my skirt. I square my shoulders and head back into the main hall, pushing all I had just heard to the back of my mind.
* * *
That evening as I am headed to the kitchen to grab my supper, Elizabeth, comes rushing up to me from the direction of the Duchess's chambers.
"Catherine, the duchess is calling for you. You must go."
"But, why"? I reply, "What have I done wrong?"
"I do not know. But hurry!"
Confused and worried I rush up the stairwell and down the hall to the Duchess Ann's chambers "till I stood outside her dark wooden door. I can't help but think of Theresa and how she had been dismissed so disgracefully. I look down at my bare feet (I could not afford shoes and the hand me downs from Elizabeth's Daughter are now to small), straiten my cap and apron, take a deep breath and knock on the door. I hear a faint "come in" from the other side.
I push open the door and head down I walk softly into her chambers. I look up through my lashes and see the Duchess sitting on the high backed chair by her fire place. I drop to the floor in a deep curtsy.
"Rise, my beautiful girl." Surprised on her addressing me in such a manner I stumble to my feet, shock written across my face. She continues, "What is your name, girl?"
"Catherine Porter, ma'am" I reply rather shakily.
"And how long, Catherine, have you been employed in this house?"
"Nearly eight years now, ma'am, my bein' fifteen years of age. I've been here ever since I was orphaned at the age of seven. The fever took my family, ma'am."
"Perfect" I hear her say quietly.
"Pardon me, ma'am?"
"Ahem, Elizabeth has informed me on these details. But right now I need you for another task other than scrubbing floors in my home. I need a maid to accompany me to the palace. I am taking up residence there now and need you to help me with some important um, tasks. "
She let these words sink in as I stared open mouthed at her. I collected myself and thanked her dearly for her promotion and generosity. She dismissed me and I swear I was glowing as I walked back to my chambers. But I had a funny feeling this proposition was too good to be true"