Author's note: This book is part of a trilogy called Maid For Majesty
Book 1: Forbidden Fruit
Book 2: Absence...
Book 3: Black Swan
Forbidden Fruit: A pleasure or indulgence regarded as illicit.
“Blast! Michel, you’ll have to finish this pudding. I have to get going,” Madeline said as she undid her apron.
“Are you mad?” he said, dropping his whisk in a bowl. “I need your help, The party—”
“Getting Lady Watson ready is going to take hours,” she interrupted, putting her hands on her hips. “If you’d like we can switch places. You can cinch up her corset, get her dressed and ready. I can finish preparing tonight’s meal.”
The rest of the servants in the room stopped to stare at them.
He said nothing. No one wanted the duties that Madeline Black had. If Lady Watson was in a bad mood, doing her make-up and hair would be a nightmare.
“Well, I am the chef,” he said as he slowly picked up his whisk again, “I know best how to prepare the puddings and cakes.”
“Don’t forget she’ll want them on the Wedgwood platters,” she said, pointing to a large china cabinet full of dinnerware and silver platters.
“Tonight’s important to her and her reputation. We’ll all pay if something isn’t perfect.”
“Tonight’s only about impressing the King,” one of the servant girls whispered. Madeline rolled her eyes as she walked out through the kitchen corridor. It was true. The Watsons had invited everyone at court over for a dinner party to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary, but they had only been married for eighteen years.
Aside from trying to impress the nobles, Lord and Lady Watson felt it would be an opportunity to climb the social ladder at court. Their titles wouldn’t change from Baron and Baroness, but Lady Watson felt that, if everything went as planned, the party would be one of the biggest social events of the season. This would lead to a plethora of invitations to other occasions. If it didn’t, she would delight in all the anniversary gifts received.
She entered the main hall, where other servants were busily decorating every corner of the room. Upon seeing her, Will eagerly walked over to her. “What do you think? Will this be up to Lady Watson’s standards?”
She looked about, tapping her finger to her cheek. The crystals hanging in the chandeliers sparkled like new; the pillars were wrapped with garlands of silk flowers. Oversized gold silk festoons hung from the large windows and gold, silk furniture, imported from France for the event, was randomly placed around the room. The tables were all cloaked in cream taffeta and silk petals were strewn amongst the gold china place settings.
“Looks good,” she said, walking through the room, with Will following her about, “But these statues need to gleam as I walk by them. Did you dust all the wall panels and ceiling moulds?”
“Yes, we did. Got every nook and cranny.”
“Waxed the floor?”
“Why are the silver vases empty? Where are the flowers?” she asked, looking about the tables.
He raised his brow. “We had sent for someone to drop them off this morning. They arrived, but, uh … I’m not sure where they have gone.”
“They’ve disappeared? Who was sent to get them?”
She pressed her lips together, “I’m guessing Lady Watson didn’t like them?”
“She never likes anything Sissy does. You know that.”
“Funny how Lady Watson didn’t tell me or anyone else she didn’t like them. She just threw them away.”
They exchanged dark expressions. “Lately, things always seem to be difficult for Sissy,” he commented. His voice dropped to a whisper, “I think Lady Watson has it in for her.”
She nodded in agreement. “I’ll be sure to go to town to get some flowers.”
“Will you have enough time?”
“I may have to rush to get myself ready, but if I don’t, well, God only knows what will happen to Sissy.”
“Just get the flowers. I’ll make time to put them into the vases so you can get yourself ready for tonight.”
The organization of the event seemed never-ending and making time to thwart Lady Watson’s plans to punish Sissy made it worse.
She pressed on into the entrance with its marble floor, statues and oversized paintings. Unfortunately, much of the decor was borrowed from noble friends or businesses in downtown London. It was going to be a lot of work returning to the businesses what the Watsons couldn’t afford to keep. It was also going to be annoying to hear all the knocks on the door in the following weeks. She had a suspicion that the Watsons had no intention of returning their friends’ possessions. Strangely, many of the gentry whom they borrowed from were not invited to the party.
The Watsons never returned anything. Over the years there had been numerous times that nobles would stop by and politely remind Lord and Lady Watson that they wanted their things back. This was met with a couple of well-practiced lies by the Watsons; they either claimed that they had already left it with their friend’s servant (who must have stolen it) or pretended they thought it was a gift and acted insulted by the request to return it. Embarrassed, most of their noble friends wouldn’t question the matter. In time, when Lady Watson became bored with what she had stolen, she would gift it to higher nobility to win favour or try to make new friends.
Because of the constant borrowing and gifting, the Watsons hardly knew what was in their home. It didn’t take long for Madeline to figure out that she could pocket small trinkets or figurines from time to time, which she sold at shops in London. However, learning that Lady Watson didn’t know what was under her roof was not an easy lesson.
On her first day as a servant, she was brought to the main hall to wash the floors and dust the mantles and tapestries. The Watsons were holding a party that evening to celebrate the homecoming of Lord Watson, who had been away in the Caribbean. While dusting the mantles, a beautiful figurine of a woman with dark hair, glowing olive skin and a white dress was knocked to the floor where it shattered into tiny pieces. She swept up the figurine, and headed to the kitchen to throw it into the trash. But a brash older maid barked, “Girl, are ya mad?”
“Uh, well um, I’m not … sure what you mean … mad?”
“If ya don’t cover that up with somethin’ that Lady Watson will find it, and she will ‘ave yer head.”
“Well, I have to tell her, don’t I?”
“If she sees it missin’. Otherwise, I wouldn’t.”
Madeline was an innocent, honest girl, she didn’t cover it up. At the time, it seemed unthinkable that Lady Watson wouldn’t notice such a beautiful figurine missing. Until that day, she hadn’t seen any home as magnificent as the Watsons. It seemed that the logical thing to do was to tell the truth. It was better that Lady Watson knew now, rather than discover its disappearance later.
As she re-entered the main hall to get back to work, Lady Watson was there, surveying her cleaning job. “Did you wash the floors?” she asked, her eyes narrowing on her.
“Beat the dust from the tapestries?”
“And the drapes and windows?”
“—’Well’? WELL WHAT?”
“I … I” she stuttered.
“WHAT IS IT, GIRL? SPEAK UP! THE MANTLES? WHAT OF THEM?”
“There was a figurine. A figurine of a dancer with dark hair and— “
“—Where was she? Which mantle?”
It was at this moment that she realized what the older servant woman meant. The Watsons had so much around the house the figurine could easily be overlooked, or forgotten. But she had already mentioned the statue. There was no backing out.
“It was the on the mantle on the east wall,” she said softly.
Lady Watson raised her hand.
Despite the ringing in her ear, Madeline managed to hear her next words. “A whipping will serve you best, it will teach you to be careful, not a daft, clumsy girl.”
After smacking her, Lady Watson pulled her by the ear outside. Being dragged to their mews was one of the scariest experiences in her life. Imagining the impending pain sent tears of terror down her cheeks.
“You pathetic girl. Crying won’t help.” She let go of her ear and pulled her by the hair into the stable. There were several horses in different stalls. The wooden walls between the horses seemed dilapidated and in need of repair; the horses were scrawny and malnourished.
“Alfred? Alfred?” Lady Watson called.
An old man with grey hair appeared from around one of the stalls, a brush in one of his hands.
“Alfred, I need you to whip this incompetent girl.”
His eyes widened as he saw Madeline. “My lady, she seems quite young. I’m guessing that this is the new girl? It is her first day. She is just learning.”
“Who is the master? Who is the servant? I ordered you to do something. Are you incompetent too?”
He knew that defying Lady Watson would end with more punishments and whippings for Madeline and himself. With a heavy heart, he dropped his brush and removed a whip hanging on the wall.
“Outside!” Lady Watson shrieked, “I want the servants to see from the windows of the manor. If they see it, it’ll encourage them to focus and work harder.” She grabbed a length of rope, and they followed her through the stable doors. She tied Madeline to a lone wooden pole sticking up from the ground.
Seeing it, Madeline shivered. She could see some blood stains along its sides. It was obvious that whippings were a regular occurrence at Watson Manor. After tying her to the pole, Lady Watson began unbuttoning the back of Madeline’s dress .
“I’m sure you thought you could put a sweet smile on your pretty face and get away with this,” she whispered. She pulled apart the dress, popping the buttons off, exposing her back. “But that’s not how things work around here, missy.” She stepped alongside Alfred. “Get to it then!”
Madeline held her breath and squeezed her eyes shut. She could sense the whip fly up through the air. It landed on her back, a soft sting with a little numbness. The experience of being whipped was indescribable. It was painful but not as terrible as she would have imagined. The first few lashes she was given were light and brought a tingling in her body that made her feel alive. However, this didn’t last long.
“Alfred, you must be joking! What a shoddy job! Argh! Why is it I have to do everything myself?”
She tore the whip from his hands and threw it up. This time it made a whistling sound as it cut through the air. Madeline clenched all her muscles in fear and it relentlessly cut into her back,
Several more shrill cries were followed by the whip’s thunderous cracks. Warm blood trickled down her back, and tears streamed down her cheeks. When it was over, a group of servants ran from the house to untie her.
“She doesn’t get out of work tonight,” said Lady Watson evenly, “I expect you all to see that she does her fair share.”
The entire night of the party, Madeline had the sympathetic eyes of all the other servants. They tried to assist her while she slowly worked in excruciating pain. The lashes had cut deeply. Although the other servants did a decent job of tending her wounds and applying her bandages, every step she took she could feel her flesh on fire and her eyes welled up. But, she refused to cry and she refused the help of the other servants. She knew that, if she did, Lady Watson might see her as weak and beat and whip her regularly. Before selling her, her father, Isaac Black had played similar mind games with her. He had a dangerous temper and if she showed any disrespect or weakness of character, he’d hit her with whatever object was within reach.
It was six years ago, but the scars from the whipping were still visible. It was a reminder of what failure to meet expectations meant in Watson Manor. Nonetheless, it didn’t deter her from taking valuables from the Manor and selling them. If anything, she got pleasure out of doing it. Seeing the scars on her back angered her and getting her own little private revenge felt good.
Since the incident with the figurine, she would not allow herself to make mistakes. From time to time, the Watsons made up excuses to punish her, but that wasn’t unusual, it happened to everyone at Watson Manor.
She meticulously checked over her work, paying particular attention to little details. Eventually, Lady Watson noted that she barely made mistakes in her daily chores and she was punished less and less. Soon all the servants asked her to check over their work.
She was given more responsibilities; dressing Lady Watson, powdering her wig and applying her make-up. In time, she unofficially became the head maid. No one questioned her when she delegated work to other servants. The servants treated her as if she was the authority on Lady Watson’s particular ways. Lady Watson had a belief on how every chore should be done, and Madeline innately understood these quirks. So much so, she was left in charge of the occasion that evening.
But what Lady Watson said would be an evening soiree snowballed into a seven course meal, including some theatre, music and of course dancing.
Though planning the party was a burden for her, it was also an opportunity. With the mountains of gifts the Watson’s would receive, it would be easy for her to nick a few for herself to sell.
She reached the end of the hall and stood at Lady Watson’s door. Inside, Lady Watson was taking her afternoon nap. She dreaded waking her up. While Lady Watson was somewhat attractive in her waking hours, she was a drooling, snoring animal in her sleep. Once awake, she was somewhat incoherent for some time and grouchy. Lord Watson never slept next to his wife. Though he said it was because of her sleeping behaviours, everyone knew it was just an excuse. He didn’t like to be in his wife’s presence, which was why he worked abroad.
She tiptoed up to the large four poster bed with is canopy. The silk drapes were drawn to a close. She pulled them back carefully and began to rub circles into her mistress’ back as she coughed and snored.
“Miss?” she began, speaking in a normal voice. She always called Lady Watson, ‘Miss’. Once she overheard her tell a friend that she preferred being called ‘Miss’ because it made her feel younger. It was silly. Lady Watson was married and in her forties, and being called ‘Miss’ was not going to change that. But Madeline did it anyway. Swallowing her pride and doing so had given her favour over many of the other servants.
“Miss?” she spoke a little louder.
“Miss?” she said as loud as possible without yelling.
She stared slack jawed at her, picturing herself smacking the cruel woman hard across the face. It exasperating trying to get her up. Slowly she began to rock her back and forth on the bed.
“Miss!” she nearly yelled. Lady Watson’s eyes finally fluttered open. “Wha- Oh- right,” she said softly and began to drift of again.
“No, Miss!” she began shaking her hard, “You’ll be receiving guests in a few hours!”
“Oh! Guests! The King!” She sprung up from the covers.
She should have mentioned him earlier. Though getting gifts and gaining popularity amongst nobles was important, the biggest highlight of the evening for Lady Watson was the fact that King Alexander had accepted her invitation. He was quite a bit younger than Lady Watson. He was only twenty-four. He was quite popular with his female subjects. According to Lady Watson he had a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.
Aside from being handsome, he was also was a military genius and a good match’ politically speaking. Often, there were princesses from other European countries visiting his castle, falling all over themselves hoping he’d ask for their hand. Because of this and all the other noble women he surrounded himself with, he gained quite the reputation.
He was often the talk of the London. Whenever Madeline went to town, she would see articles written about him on the front of the society pages, noble girls and ladies gossiping about what he did, how stylish he dressed or their latest conversation with him at court. Of course, any little excursions or gifts he gave were always bragged about and sometimes this would lead into catty fights amongst them. Then the girls would get physical.
But to her, he sounded like a scoundrel with a crown. Conquest after conquest. None of the women at court seemed to know that he was seeing several of them at a time. Naturally, servants of different households compared notes in the market place. On the other hand, the women probably did know, they just didn’t care.
Despite knowing so much about him, she had never laid eyes on him. She had no idea what he looked like. For some reason, King Alexander had banned all publications from publishing any likenesses of him. In all the images, he was portrayed as tall man with a wig and crown. No details were drawn on his face. Though she knew she wouldn’t be impressed by him, she was curious.
Lady Watson had rushed over to her vanity stool and sat looking up at her eagerly. This was unusual. She wished King Alexander came every day. Lady Watson’s vanity was white with and had drawers with silver handles. There was a matching white and silver pitcher and basin. Madeline poured some water into the basin and began,
“We will start with your hair. Would you prefer to wear a wig?”
“A wig is suitable for the occasion.”
To Madeline, a wig was not suiting to any occasion, she thought it looked like Lady Watson wore fluffy clouds with curls on her head. She was not a fan of her own jet black hair, but a powdered wig full of pomades and ornaments was literally a pain in the neck. To Lady Watson, pain was nothing in her quest for beauty. She liked to think she was keeping up with the trends, but many of her styles were outdated. They were all styles she wore as a young debutante, which was more than twenty years ago.
“Get the one with the big poof in the front and the dangling curls in the back. It’s my favourite.”
She wished her mistress was like most other English women who powdered their own hair. Wigs were dirty. Not many ladies wore them anymore either. She turned on her foot and stiffly walked over to Lady Watson’s armoire full of wigs and searched for the white ball of hair. She took it along with its stand and placed it on the vanity table and with a put-on grin, began powdering it.
“How’s that Miss? More or less powder?”
“I think more.”
She slowly sprayed on more powder.
“Whoa! That’s it. Stop!”
Madeline always felt that it was senseless to spray the wig before adjusting it to Lady Watson. But again, this was one of her ‘particular ways’ the servants referred to. She liked it sprayed before, and after it was adjusted.
“Now give the powder time to set,” she instructed.
“Right. Let’s move on to your make-up then?”
It always took some time to get Lady Watson primped. Like her wig, her make-up application also had an odd routine. It started with washing her face with a cloth and primrose water. Twice. Then patting her face dry, and applying lotion. Twice. After the lotion, Madeline lightly patted a whitish base onto Lady Watson’s skin. Twice. White foundation was also an outdated trend, like the wigs. But making suggestions was out of the question.
She pressed the first layer on her skin lightly with the powder. Lady Watson would throw a tantrum if she wiped it on. After applying her face twice, she continued applying the white base to her neck, back, shoulders and bosom.
“All right, the foundation is on. What kind of colours would you like to use?”
“I think the Parisian rouge and that Egyptian kohl, oh and why don’t you get that beautiful red lipstick Lord Watson just got from the Caribbean? Tonight is a special occasion after all.”
Many of Lady Watson’s beauty products had come from other parts of Europe and the Caribbean. Lord Watson spent much of his time abroad and never came home without heaps of beauty products. Some of her make-up did come from shops and boutiques in London, but she preferred her imported make-up for her parties. For tonight’s occasion it seemed that she was only requesting the most expensive and rare products she had.
She brushed on the rouge, outlined Lady Watson’s eyes with a light hand and dabbed on the lipstick. Its colour was vivid and brought life to Lady Watson’s normally thin, pale lips. She adjusted and attached the wig to her head and sprayed it again.
Sissy, entered the room.
“Good timing Sissy,” said Lady Watson curtly, “We were just about to get my garments, you can help get me into them.”
It was not good timing. Only Madeline was allowed to see Lady Watson without her make-up and hair. She would throw a fit if anyone else entered the room. Madeline had instructed Sissy to be there at one thirty in the afternoon. Though Sissy was a bit of a scatterbrain, she had remembered to peek through the chamber door to see if Lady Watson was prepped.
It took them almost an hour to help Lady Watson put on her dress. Throughout, Sissy was harassed for everything she did; from the way she tightened the laces to how she presented Lady Watson her shoes. After several mistakes, she slapped Sissy and sent her away, which left Madeline to continue to work alone.
When Lady Watson was finally ready, she swayed in front of her full length mirror admiring her reflection.
“Miss?” Madeline began timidly.
“What is it?”
“Would you like me to head to the market to get any last minute things for the party?”
“Yes. That would be a good idea. Anything you think we may need for this evening, I want to be prepared for any mishaps. You know where the change purse is.”
She did a quick curtsy and left the chamber smiling. She was finished much sooner than she thought. It was only two thirty. Not only did she have time to get some fresh flowers, she could sell some goods too. She collected the change purse then hurried through the servants’ common room between the men’s and women’s bunks.
The common room was full of rickety old wood chairs, a beaten couch, and damaged tables. It had a pantry, full of bland or nearly rotting food. Sadly, Lady Watson starved servants if she felt they were being incompetent, which was most of the time. She always had a complaint about something or someone.
The women’s bunk room was a simple room with walls of brick and several piles of folded blankets laying on the floors at the walls. There were no beds. They used the blankets and slept on the cold stone floor. There were two mirrors and two dressers on the opposite wall from the blankets. The men’s bunk room was the same. Unless ordered, there were rules that Lord and Lady Watson had about men entering the women’s room and vice-versa.
She quickly ran over to the wall where she hid her valuables. When she first came to the Watsons she discovered a loose brick by her pile of blankets. She removed it to uncover a hole. The breach was quite deep, and she often wondered if other servants that had worked there before she did hid things in there. She reached into the wall, grasped her bag and put it in her dress pocket.