Long before the sun crept ever so slowly above the horizon, the noble estate had burst into life. In the wee hours of the night, or morning depending on how one wished to look at it the great house began to stir. Servants throwing their legs over the sides of their small and creaking beds. Dragging themselves from the comfort, from the escape of their dreams they sprung to action. Fires needed tending, curtains drawing, pillows fluffed, and of course their own breakfast consumed. Time marched forward regardless of their feelings, of their aches, their pains. As time lurched toward the beginning of the day for a family with whom they could not relate, so too must they work ever harder. The small army of staff moved through the house near silently, or at least as silently as they could muster. To disturb a member of the family while they slept would be met with cruel punishment.
As each minute past the day grew longer, closer to the reality of the family rousing, of the family and their excess, their false or misguided piety lording over every element of their existence. Yet as though they were directed by God (or the Lady of the House, for them who was to say there was a difference?) when the clock struck half past five, the servants of the regal house filed into the chapel for morning services. For most all of them, this was the rare occasion in which they had the privilege of occupying a place nobility, of a station above theirs. With the best wishes of the Duchess herself, they were permitted to use the same chapel the family used, though never at the same time. Heaven forbid the nobility should be confronted with the total mass of those who served them hand and foot day in and day out. The grandeur of the chapel was awe inspiring, the stained glass windows displaying images of the passion of Christ. They were meant to strike fear in the hearts of those who wavered, or that is what some supposed. The Butler and the head Housekeeper kept their eyes out, looking for those who seemed not to be praying, not to be uttering the words of reverence to the holy on high. One must be actively engaged in a religious life.
When services came to an end, they returned to their assorted tasks throughout the home, or to the servant's dining if breakfast had still yet to be eaten. The cooks had now turned their attention toward the family's breakfast. A meal which may or may not be eaten. A meal which if abandoned would go to waste, as it was not proper for a servant in this house to disgrace themselves by eating second hand. It was at this long table that the young Alice Sutton sat, hands folding tightly laying flat against the rough wood. She sat staring across the length of the great table to the wall on the opposite end. Along that wall roared a fire, and above the mantle were a plethora of bells with elaborate name plates above each one. Each bell corresponded to a room within the massive estate, there were dozens of them. The nightmare began when the bells started to ring with the rise of the sun. Even with their curtains drawn the Duke and Duchess seemed to arise at the same general time each day. Alice would hesitate to say she waited in fear for the bell, but in reality this is what it was. Alice was new to this house. It would be accurate to say that she and the Duchess to whom she was a ladies maid had not yet found their rhythm.
As Mary, one of the chamber maids came skittering across the floor, Alice stared her down as if willing her to stop, and Mary feeling the eyes upon her ceased her movement. "Yes, Alice, she was still asleep." Mary said before beginning to move, only to be interrupted by a rather hesitant, almost tense voice "Are you absolutely sure?" Alice asked holding in a sigh, eyes now returned to the wall of bells. Mary could only roll her eyes, she had her own tasks to worry about, and for the moment she had escaped with her job and limbs intact. "If you stopped worrying about your job and focused on doing your job the Lord might look favorably upon you." Mary swiftly returned to her own duties, leaving Alice anxiously waiting until it finally happened. The bell beneath the placard that read 'Queen Caroline' rang, and as if possessed she shot out of her seat standing straight up as if to steel herself. "Oh God, Oh God." Alice spoke as she now somewhat frantically looked about her.
"Alice!" Mary called, chiding in tone. As though to remind her that she mustn't take the Lord's name in vain. Alice could only shake her head and set off toward the kitchen to collect the tea which freshly brewed was ready to be taken to the Duchess. "Well, the beast is awake... no time like the present." She spoke somewhat unconsciously to which the Butler, just behind her took note. "Clean your tongue, clean your tongue!" He spoke, somewhat harshly, though inwardly he was sympathetic to the girl's plight. The Duchess could be icy, but there was no worse time than the morning. It was in the early hours she tended to be at her coolest. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Just nervous." Alice confided, letting out a sigh. The few days she had been here felt like an eternity...in absolute hell. "Calm yourself and do not keep Her Grace waiting. You can do this." He was reassuring, while the others hide twisted smiles and withheld their own snickering, all keenly aware of just how difficult life could be for young Alice.
Taking the tray with a single cup of tea and steaming bowl of water covered in cloth in hand, Alice made her way toward the servant's staircase that would take her to the appropriate corner of the sprawling home. The stairs were small, narrow, with uneven rises that left one in an awkward position to climb them, sort of at an angle, or on one's side, attempting to move quickly but no quickly that one would trip and risk their own death or even worse, the anger of those they served. Who designed these things in such a manner? It was like those who had designed the grand staircases for the Uppers to use had taken the day off and a child stepped in to complete the designs. Alice finally emerged from a door that when closed looked just like another portion of wall in the ornate hall, the walls lined with delicate wallpaper, massive portraits of assorted family members or royals hanging there with eyes all staring. It wasn't more than a moment later Alice arrived at the end of the corridor, two massive wooden doors with intricate carvings before her. With some dexterity she had balanced the tray in one hand long enough for her to open one of the doors with the other. It was darkness, the only light coming from the hall which had recently been electrified with the rest of the estate. That a scandal in and of itself.
Alice quickly hurried inside, using her foot and the cover of darkness to close the door behind her, extinguishing all light. This was her first test. She was still learning the layout of the room and she had to successful place the tray on a table before making her way to the great windows to draw the curtains open. It was of course, without saying that she collided into something, likely a chair. Alice held her whimper of pain within until she finally had set the damn tray down and rather carefully limped her way to the windows where she pulled the curtains open, and moving to tie them at each end to keep them that way. "Good morning, your Grace." Alice spoke turning her attention toward the bed where the Duchess remained still, silent. Of course, it finally dawned on Alice that she had made a mistake. Do not speak unless spoken to. It was too late now, there was nothing to be done. The girl wanted to sigh, to go limp in her own disgrace. Alice had collected the tea cup and held it carefully, standing perfectly straight.
"What is it you think you're doing, Sutton?" The voice that came from the bed was soft, though seemingly accusatory in both message and tone. In that moment Alice felt overcome with guilt, or something akin to it. "I apologize your Grace, I did not mean to speak out of turn." Alice swallowed hard on her words, just watching the bed as a pale, slender hand emerged from beneath the bed clothes. The delicate fingers wrapped around the fabric, pulling it down the Duchess finally emerged, moving to sit up in the bed. "Ah, of course. Is that all then?" The Duchess asked, an inquisitive look on her face. Alice thought much as she always had, the Duchess was striking in her beauty. The woman was ghostly, haunting almost, but ever so delicate not unlike a porcelain doll. Alice stepped forward with her head bowed and moved to hand the teacup and saucer to the Duchess who readily accepted. "Yes ma'am, apologies again ma'am." Alice reiterated and stepped back with head still bowed.
"Perhaps..." Arabella began, her attention completely focused on the young maid she had been saddled with. "There has been a misunderstanding." she completed the sentence, bordering on sweet, saccharine almost in tone. "Why exactly have you come to this room?" Rather than explaining her meaning like a reasonable person, Arabella felt more contented in belaboring the point, playing the long game waiting to see if this Alice would be able to figure it out on her own. "Pardon, your Grace?" Alice asked rather confused before clarifying. "The bell rang and I thought you summoned me ma'am." Alice did not have the slightest idea of what was happening or what was to come. A chill ran up and down her spine like electricity, to say now that she was nervous was an understatement. "You thought?" The Duchess nodded, and for a moment even seemed understanding despite her mocking question. "It appears thinking might not be your forte, Sutton. Not at all." Arabella shook her head and wagged her finger in disapproval, rising now out of the bed and too her feet. She was a vision of beauty as society outlined, thin from fasting, every feature delicate, every single inch of her skin unblemished. The braid of her blonde hair, even after a full night of sleep rested perfectly against her back. Her green eyes beaming with all the warmth of the forest they looked like, though there was no warmth. Any perceived warmth faded into a cold stare as the Duchess stepped closer to Alice.
"I did not summon you." The Duchess remarked rather flatly, seeming less and less amused by the second. "Care to take a look on the other side of the bed, with the cord?" Arabella inquired, the cord being the device that when pulled rang the bell in the servant's hall. Motioning with her free hand in that direction, she waited. Alice hesitantly did as told, and when the full picture came into view, her eyes widened and heart sank. As the warmth of the light of morning illuminated the opulent bed chamber, all the gold glittering and dancing in the light it grew clearer still. One of the family dogs, Olivier, a rather feisty King Charles Cocker Spaniel sat, resting on the edge of the very same cord. The creature looking up, showing its guilt with those big sad dog eyes of his. "Oh... my..." Alice began in a slow manner.
"You do not want to finish that sentence." Arabella reminded her rather sternly. Letting out an exaggerated sigh the Duchess simply allowed the cup and saucer to fall from her hand, crashing to the floor and shattering. Taking great care to step around the liquid now soaking into the rug and dripping off the edges to the wood floor, she simply stared at the helpless servant. "Come here. Please." Arabella requested of Alice, and Alice obliged. The Duchess looked the figure over, and threw her hands into the air as though she were at a loss. The woman's body was clad in a flattering but not too tightly fitting simple white night gown that left most to the imagination. "What am I to do with you?" Arabella asked in a half serious manner. "Right." Arabella said aloud and quickly raised a hand and without missing a beat struck Alice clear across the face as hard as she possibly could, leaving a very clear impression of her. hand on the girl. Alice shrieking for a moment before silencing herself through the pain. "Do we understand each other now?" Arabella asked rhetorically before sighing as Alice slowly corrected her posture.
"Clean this mess up... and I suppose now that I am awake. I'll need to be dressed for prayer. We wouldn't want to disappoint His Grace, now would we?" There was a distinct coldness in her voice. She cared not that she struck another human being, she cared only for her own duty, her own well being. Alice, in part, having heard tales of what could happen supposed she was lucky, at least for now.