Mrs. Clutter.

  • March 4, 2006 at 4:47 am #1837

    ?Get yourself in there, girl, ?fore it goes cold.? Mrs. Clutter, with a name to belie her, finished pouring the last bucket of steaming water in the metal tub placed before the hearth in the kitchen. A screen blocked most of the view, though she never worried overly much of anyone walking in. Only herself, Marianne, and Riley spent considerable time in the kitchen. Rare for the bishop to present himself in there, especially after supper. Now she looked at the girl standing in a thin white chemise with her black hair bound up in a sloppy twist. Watched her shivering with bare feet on the stone floor. Her slender hands toyed with the thin ribbon decorating the neckline. ?Well? You?ll be a sight warmer in there than out here, I wager.?

    ?You never wagered a thing yourself, Mrs. Clutter.? Green eyes tipped up, merry despite it all, and the wide straps of the chemise slid over the girl?s shoulders before the entire thing puddled to her ankles..

    ?Ah, and you?d know how?? Mrs. Clutter took stock of their second maid. She remembered when Bishop Southwell brought her back on a dreary December night. Months ago, only. A few weeks before the new year. Scrawny thing, she thought then when the girl was thrust into her care. Scrawny and sick with fever racing through her body. Nothing much more than frail birdbones and skin white as the snow outside. And the hair, of course. A dull sheet of it in greasy curls draped down as if she were Lady Godiva without her horse or bells. She worried then for the poor creature. Felt sure as earth she?d not see the year turn over.

    Riley surprised them all, save perhaps the bishop praying for her soul and recovery, when she began slowly to heal.

    Started to look a proper girl now. Filled out a bit, though Mrs. Clutter imagined she?d always remain a slight thing. Those gray dresses, white aprons, and the like gave little hint to the figure underneath. Slim as a willow wand. Waist nipped small enough a grown man, no doubt, might easily span it with his hands. Hips to jut with sharp bones. Legs long for a petite frame. And when she finally cleaned up and the bruises of abuses she never spoke of (and Mrs. Clutter wondered about but never asked) faded, she was once more crowned in the rich glory of her hair.

    Mrs. Clutter liked doing nothing more than combing it out, twisting it into a neat plait, and feeling the heavy silken weight of it. Any woman?d turn jealous for such curls and inky black that shone blue in the sunlight.

    When the personality broke through, which came at a slower pace than the girl?s body did, Mrs. Clutter decided her first impression right. She liked Riley Mor with her lilting voice that rolled into faraway places when she spoke dreaming into the fire. Or the way her hands moved so very quick with a needle, a knife, any task they were set to do. Always neat and polite. Why, if she didn?t know better, she would never imagine Father Southwell?s urchin ever was an urchin at all.

    ?You?re a servant of the Lord,? replied the girl as she stepped into the bath with a hiss. ?Bloody mercy, it?s hot.?

    ?Watch your words, duck. By the time you stop with your lollying about it?ll be fine enough for you.? She couldn?t help but smile. Marianne, the other maid, thankfully excused herself earlier for bed. Bad blood brewed between the two of them, her and Riley, and Mrs. Clutter liked to run the bishop?s home without quarrels. For not only was she the cook, but housekeeper as well. Silently, she often thanked the Lord for bringing them Riley as the girl surely lightened the load of her work.

    Riley sank down with lashes falling toward her cheeks. Obviously very much enjoying the warmth now that it surrounded her. Heat flushed her lily skin pink. ?Ah, you?re so good to me, Mrs. Clutter.?

    The smile softened. ?Well, we take care of our own. I?ll only be at the table making the list for next week?s meals. Call out when you?re ready for me to help you with your hair.?

    ?I will.? The smile returned to her. ?Thank you.?

    ?Saved you a slice of cake from tea. Remembered you saying you so liked chocolate.?

    The girl?s eyes opened again with true delight. ?Oh! You didn?t have to do that.?

    ?Maybe not, but it?s done. Shame for it to go to waste.?

    Bubbling laughter while her fingers curved over the side of the bath. A small slosh of water, but no mind. Mrs. Clutter?s bath came last so the floor would need mopping up by the time everything finished. ?Thank you again. So very much.?

    She touched Riley?s cheek lightly, somehow always surprised at how truly thankful the girl was for everything given to her. A rare trait in folk. Many merely feigned it. ?You?ll do me thanks by not making a mess.? She meant to sound gruff and didn?t wait to see if she managed it as she stepped out from behind the screen while she spoke. Then she heard the gentle ripple of water and the voice she hoped for lifted not much louder than a whisper.

    ?Be Thou my vision, o Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me save that Thou art. Thou my best thought by day or by night, waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.? The melody haunted her. A deep ache of longing from a truly pained soul. A sweet soprano voice. A pretty sound in her clean kitchen. Bright as any of her copper kettles. She felt a prick of damp in her eyes, glad Riley couldn?t see her, and smiling still, set herself down to the task at hand.

    Now the kitchen held peaceful silence while Mrs. Clutter enjoyed her last cup of tea. A ritual she held for years under various employers and none yet intruded upon her. A time she took for herself to reflect and relax over the day?s events while preparing for the next one to come when dawn pinked the sky. Though she would be up before that even happened. Everything washed up and clean again, save for her cup. Earlier, Riley chatted with her, bright as a lark over the small slice of cake she saved. If sorrow lingered anywhere under the words, Mrs. Clutter found a difficult time in detecting it. True, she heard about the strange happenings at the museum and knew the bishop brought her home in a glassy sort of state, but that seemed to have faded. She was a young thing after all. All of that glamour more than likely got to her coupled with a cruel hoax.

    Mrs. Clutter snorted to herself. The things people did to each other.

    ?Ma?am, may I talk to you?? A rough-shod voice creaked from the backstair. A voice so very different from the one she listened to a few hours ago. First in song, then in conversation, and finally for a half-hour while she helped Riley go over her letters and penmanship. She?d have a pretty script if she?d concentrate. Of course, there was a bit of trouble with wanting to use her left hand as well, but that could be corrected.

    In the doorway stood Marianne with her wrapper pulled tight about her thick body. She looked nervous if anything. One hand kept tugging at the tail end of her pale blonde braid.

    ?Of course, m?dear, of course. Come and sit down, do.? Mrs. Clutter smiled to welcome her, though didn?t rise. Manners suggested she should, but truly she endured a long day and heard the grandfather clock tolling the hour as nearly eleven.

    ?Thank you, ma?am.? Marianne shuffled over the stones with a slight hunch to her shoulders. Not so much scared, Mrs. Clutter realized over the years, but tensed and ready. For what never became very clear. She sat without much grace.

    ?Is there something on your mind? I thought you went to bed hours ago.? She sipped her tea. Her peace now broken.

    ?It?s,? a long pause, ?it?s her, ma?am.? The other woman?s face would never be considered beautiful. Or even passingly pretty. Shame, really. Her eyes were, though. A tranquil sort of gray mismatched with pudgy cheeks, a puggish nose, and no chin to speak of.

    ?Oh, Marianne,? sighed Mrs. Clutter. For weeks this went on. Marianne calling out Riley?s faults. Riley never said anything that she heard, but it seemed words were often crossed and not all of them polite. ?She?s a slip of a thing. More child than anything else. You only need to be patient, as the Bishop is with her.? And she herself for that matter.

    ?Ma?am, we?ve nothing but a poxed whore under our roof. Why, I?m surprised the good silver's not vanished out the door.? Marianne glared at the embers in the hearth as if she could make it burn high again.

    ?That?s not very charitable. It doesn?t matter what her life was before she came to us. She?s with us now.?

    ?There?s talk, ma?am. I heard it at the market. Why, they talk about her as if she?s still strolling. She?s no innocent, mark me. Her and all her flimflam.? Marianne?s voice trembled. Her fingers gripped her wrapper tight. ?No amount of prayer?s going to bleach her soul clean.?

    ?You should know better than to listen to gossip. Honestly. She?s not the only girl to come off a street and find a place in a good home with decent, good work.?

    ?She?s Irish. You can?t trust the Irish at all. They?re worse than the Scots, barely better than the Welsh?why, they might as well be French. I suppose you?ve never heard her jabbering in her pagan tongue, have you??

    ?I?ve heard her sing it. I?ve also worked with others from Ireland and they?re just as fine to work with as a good London girl or a chap from Cheshire. You should watch what you say. That tongue of yours is liable to find your trouble one day, Marianne.? Mrs. Clutter sighed with a shake of her head. She found little problem with anyone. There were classifications of people, but none that she met ever fit into it. Perhaps some did somewhere. She rathered to judge of the person rather than an entire people.

    ?She was in Newgate. For whoring and thieving. What?s that say, ma?am? Think of the danger we could be in.?

    At that, she did blink. Father Southwell never mentioned Newgate Prison and Riley surely never uttered a word about it. No wonder, what poor girl would? Such horrors she must?ve witnessed there. She couldn?t imagine what horrors she might?ve endured. ?No one is without fault. The Bible tells us as much.?

    ?And she?s a Catholic!? The other exclaimed this, some sort of heresy of the worst sort. She turned her pale eyes to the older woman. Desperation hung in the air. ?A Catholic in a fine house like this! Bringing her idolatry with her. Why, just before I heard her praying to?? But the sweep of Mrs. Clutter?s hand stayed her words.

    ?My dear,? began Mrs. Clutter patiently, ?this does not seem to bother the Bishop in the least. Don?t you imagine he knows? Perhaps he finds it enough that she knows the Lord and the rest will come with time. Truly, Marianne, I could despair of you. I doubt much the Bishop would allow a harmful creature into his home.?

    Marianne scraped the chair back as she rose to her feet. ?She?s nothing but a cheap slattern. You wait, ma?am, and see if I?m not right. That doxy will cause nothing but problems. Acting as if she?s a lady. Putting on airs. Why?I hope she has a jolly time making her way to hell where she belongs.?

    ?That?s quite enough.? The words came with stern iron. While Mrs. Clutter held no actual side, she wouldn?t listen to such slander. ?You?ve had your say, Marianne. More than your say, I should think. I suggest you find your way to bed and I want to hear nothing more of this or I shall bring it up to the Bishop. I?ve an idea he?ll be less pleased than I am to find such unchristian talk in this house. Now, off with you.?

    ?Yes, ma?am.? The other woman?s voice turned meek. Small. She shuffled to the backstair and looked over her shoulder.

    Mrs. Clutter shooed her away with a wave of her hand. When she heard the thread of footsteps climbing she sighed heavily to herself.

    Well, one more cup of tea wouldn?t hurt. She surely did need it.

    be thou my vision: 8th century irish hymn

    March 4, 2006 at 5:09 am #2408

    tea? no no no … hot chocolate next time.


    March 4, 2006 at 6:48 am #2409

    An excellent post, as ever! Tsk. Such goings on.

    March 5, 2006 at 1:09 am #2410
    Jeff Crowley

    ::smiles:: I enjoied the glimpse into the household. Thank you for sharing once more.

    March 5, 2006 at 9:45 am #2411

    I really enjoy reading your stuff. Please write more!

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