"Shall I make her something to eat?"
"That would be best, Jane. She's a mousy, pale little thing. When I first looked at her, I thought she might collapse! God bless her heart, the poor thing is an orphan, and even worse, at the mercy of Lady Dorothea. Can you believe the child is twelve years old?"
My cheek stings from the piercing cold of the window pane. I squeeze my eyes shut, willing myself to dissolve into the Persian rug I lie sprawled on, listening to the animated conversation that rises and falls from behind the silk curtain. I want to disappear into oblivion. Perhaps, if I forget my circumstance, I will simply fade away. The room reeks of furniture polish and chimney smoke. It is dimly lit, and even the slightest amount of light that manages to slip through the glass window gets swallowed up by the overwhelmingly dark red drapes. As I move my hand, to my delight, shadows dance upon the ceiling.
The inviting scent of warm porridge makes my stomach churn, and as I pull my knees gingerly to my chest, the cheery housekeeper with ruddy cheeks and a wide face places a tray in front of me, pulling her lips into a gentle grin. A hushed wave of voices washes over the hallway, and Mrs. Potter fidgets with the silk curtain until it hangs over me like a veil. She sighs in frustration, deserting the task and narrowing her eyes at me.
"Hello dear," she gushes, patting my arm affectionately, "Well, I tried to convince Lady Dorothea to allow you a little more than porridge, but she says that you're only to be fed what the servants leave behind. I don't quite agree that a fragile child should be treated in such a way, but, oh dear - perhaps I shouldn't have said that. Not to worry though, dear, this porridge is less than a day old, and fit for a young lady, I dare say."
When I don't utter a reply, she examines me, eyes roving across my face beneath an intent, furrowed brow.
I wonder what she sees.
"You're a shy one, now aren't you?" She sings, cupping my face with leathery, weathered hands, "Tis a part of the grieving, I suppose. You have a right to be sad after losing your parents. Now, don't make that face at me. Don't sulk. You're going to have to learn to accept life's challenges. I've been one of the help since I was a wee girl, like you, and I don't complain about that."
"Yes ma'am," I reply, mustering a timid nod and hugging my knees.
"That's better. Now wash your face. Lady Dorothea is expecting a clean, prim little lady when she meets you at dinner."
I trail Mrs. Potter, the cheerful housekeeper, as she marches down the corridor, grasping my arm so tightly that my flesh turns a ghostly white. Portraits of white haired men and high cheek-boned women glare down at me, their stares imposing and cold, lacy cuffs and embroidery trimming their collarbones, shoulders, and arms. I remember seeing them before, when Mama and Papa brought me here to visit Papa's brother. My uncle was a jovial, kind man, who would always offer me treats and candies as he bounced me on his knee. He was kind to my papa, and told me that I would become a great beauty like my mama.
I do not recall his wife, Lady Dorothea, nor do I remember my cousin Susanna. I only recall my father speaking of her in a sense of disdain, but I was never sure if I were to regard him as joking or honest. He was a jolly man, with a great humour.
"Do not speak until you're spoken to, and be polite and graceful. Your guardian will take Kindly to you if you heed my advice." Mrs. Potter urges. She pinches my cheeks and before I can stop myself I squeal. "Helene, I'm only trying to brighten your complexion. One would think you'd seen a ghost. You must learn these things, you see. Tis another world you've entered into."
The butler swings the door open, with a slight nod of the head, and I find myself facing a grand dining room with high ceilings. Never have I witnessed such glorious architecture, at least, not that I remember. Papa did not care much for splendour or frivolity, he preferred to spend money on things that he considered important, such as books, new spectacles, and armchairs for reading.
YOU ARE READING
The House GuestHistorical Fiction
REGENCY ROMANCE: When Helene Lovell finds herself a penniless orphan, she is swept into the world of manners, money, and etiquette, where her cruel Aunt Lady Dorothea is the ringmaster, and never ceases to remind her of her burdensome existence. The...