Alexandra was deep in thought when she entered her accommodation.
“It is said,” she spoke quietly to herself, “that too many hands, cooks, or servants, in this case, can ruin the task ahead. There’s no point in me joining the search. I would only be a female nuisance. Christophe and that reliable constable will find the crook.”
She was still musing to herself as she gently pushed open the tattered doors that enclosed her small room: a shabby bed and a chest of draws were all she needed to live by. There was a mirror and sink by her window, luxury because she was more than a chamber maid, and, though vanity was not Alexandra’s style, it helped her to be more successful in the day if she was fresh and shining.
Sighing with fatigue, Alexandra rubbed her eyes, and prepared to settle down.
And there was Rhaïd, pointing the dark diamond of the sceptre straight at her.
“You are here!” she cried.
Rhaïd Mahalle surveyed the maid up and down.
“Alexandra, was it? Scullery-maid-in-chief to the Winters family?” Now Rhaïd’s accent, Eastern and mimicking the sound of chimes on a breezy summer day, was clear and strong.
“That’s correct, Sir.” Despite her confusion and surprise, Alexandra curtsied; after all, Mr. Mahalle was still one of the guests.
“French, I gather. You do not try to hide your accent?”
Alexandra frowned at this unnecessary question.
“No, Sir. There’s nothing to say that I must. I am not treated any differently from the other servants because of my accent. Even the master and his family can overlook my vocal discrepancies or peculiarities.”
“Oh, is that true? They do not make comments and accusations behind your back due to the way you talk?”
“No, this is a compassionate household…in some respects. (Were you there for Miss Daphne’s truths, Sir? I doubt it.) I have not experienced that which you describe, Sir.”
“Desist from the use of ‘Sir’ when you speak, Alexandra, it’s despicable; we are equals, but even with those who consider themselves our superiors, you shouldn’t have to be exposed to that sort of ridiculousness.”
His upper lip curved into a snarl. Alexandra lowered her eyes for a second, watching beams of the lively afternoon sun dance off the pinnacle of the great diamond that was still held in her direction. She wanted to lower it, and tell Rhaïd that he needn’t go to such measures, but she couldn’t, held only by her inhibition.
“Both your parents were servants too, weren’t they? You fit to the image of one who has chosen servitude because she has no other pictures of life.”
“They were…” Alexandra replied. “Please, don’t make such remarks. I find them insulting.”
“Don’t you feel crushed?” Empowerment snuck into Rhaïd’s voice. “All your life, you’ve worked for those people who have never given a moment of their time to think about you, never said a word of thanks in return, and have only bargained to lay more work on your shoulders.
“You’ll work for them your entire life, and die an old maid, unsatisfied, having gained nothing in your service.”
Alexandra looked intently at the man who was sitting before her.
“What have you got against the house? All this afternoon it has been apparent that you have a grudge to hold against my mistress.”
“I glare at her because she is as much my enemy as she is yours. She treats you as though you are the mop and broom, the minder, and the mother to supply your overgrown infants with their treats, as well as their nourishment. You don’t deserve the way she treats you.”
“But it is her right as my director to act in those ways. I am able to stand whatever she tries to throw at me.”
“I glare at her because she is the same as every other mistress; one day or another you’ll find that she is as uncaring as any commander.”
He stared Alexandra down. This time, she held her gaze, her pretty face punctured with the ever-deepening look of displeasure. She opened her mouth again, but Rhaïd viciously shook his head.
“I lost both my parents to their work- mentally and physically. I grew up with a nursemaid, clustered in her measly quarters, not even allowed to play with the house’s children, which the same nursemaid also tried to care for. Of course, despite her efforts, I was neglected.
“I rarely saw my mother, except in passing, for she was forever too busy preparing the next four-course meal, and under too much pressure to love her child; or my father, who was too busy sorting out our master’s business in his lower study (the lazy man had two residences of study). They had no time for me. Ever.
“As I grew, soon they passed away, giving nothing to me, not even a word of goodbye. As a youth, I was devastated. No youth should be left in that situation-”
“I lost my parents when I was younger. There is no need…and, in addition, I…understand. Am I right in supposing that you are a servant, then? Are you a butler?” Alexandra said.
“For the Foresmyths. You’ve heard of them, of course.”
Oh, yes, it was indeed true that Alexandra knew the Foresmyths. They owned the nearest estate to the Winters’, still a good mile away, but easy for any courageous member of staff to breach the gap. Rhaïd could easily have walked from there in the morning. The Foresmyths were arrogant business-climbers, flaunting their money by holding balls and touching upon the backs of high London executives, in order to get richer in return. More oft than not, they got their way, leading to fury rising from the heads of many of the neighbouring families. Alexandra guessed that Daphne would have been more than annoyed at the turn of events.
“They took all their servants for granted, but they disregarded their Indian servants even more. They took us for granted, just because we were from a different place,” Rhaïd muttered, mostly to himself.
“But, you needed an invite to enter my master’s estate. How did you…?”
“I sent a letter in my master’s hand, pretending that I was a newcomer to town. I made it so that he requested that I be invited to the most ‘modish’ upcoming party of the month. It was a letter of the most flattering style. Of course, Mrs. Winters was thrilled to have such silly praise, and wrote back instantly. Being in my position, I was able to intercept my master’s letter easily, and give my affirmative. It had to be done quickly, but it was no hard task.”
“You can read and write-?” Alexandra whispered, suddenly aware that her throat was dry.
“It was necessary for to keep my position. I’ve developed quite a script since many hours I’ve spent pouring over the legible workings of Mr. Foresmyth. We are not all living in the world of the blind like you, Alexandra.”
“What I meant was that I can read and write, albeit not in a fashionable manner. Cook and Christophe have spent some hours trying to educate me in the finer points, but the moments just slip away.”
“That is: they never have time, do they? As a servant, you are not able to have friends and a family, as you must be at the mercy of the family above and their friends.”
Alexandra had to admit: he was right. However, it was a common rule not to know what the letters and numbers of the household above meant. Alexandra had always been taught, had always known those words of her mother: that a maid needs to know her alphabet as much as she needs to know how the planets revolve in the sky. Alexandra was just gratified that she was able to cast her name down permanently onto paper.
But maybe that just proved Rhaïd right. Servants didn’t try to be better than their place. Maybe the dream of bettering one’s self was lost on this class of people.
“So…” she finally said, more calmly than the beating rhythm of her timid heart. “You’re angry, and I can understand why. Maybe it would be appropriate, in your mind, to blame all the mistresses and masters of the world, just to find a way to get back at the ones who scorned you and left you ‘parentless’. It wasn’t their fault though.
“What I don’t understand is why you came here, to my quarters first. Surely you knew that when I would return, you would be caught as the mouse in the mousetrap you are now?”
Rhaïd rolled his universe-dark eyes.