Rose washed up well. The next morning I gave her one of my maid’s dresses, which was slightly too tight and much too short for her but would do for the meantime. I watched as she brushed her long thick dark hair, pinning it up into a bun, ready for my second best kitchen cap. She twisted from side to side to see the effect in my looking glass, and I felt a stab of envy penetrate my heart so cruelly that I had to look away to keep from gasping.
Rose was simply stunning, but most of all, her creamy complexion was flawless. I’d never wanted anything as badly as I wanted her skin at that moment. The unfairness of it all took my breath away. We had the same colouring, eyes and hair, except that I was the ugly twin. How could God do this to me? To put this girl who was so beautiful right in front me like He was taunting me with “see what you’re never going to be?”
My life was difficult enough with Jasper at the moment, but to add Rose to the equation was simply unbearable. My mind’s eye travelled into the future, and I could see with the utmost certainty what was going to happen. It was inevitable. Jasper would fall in love with Rose. The fact that Rose was of the serving class didn’t faze my fertile imagination. From what I knew of Jasper, he couldn’t resist a pretty face, and Rose had a spunk that I was sure he’d find irresistible. I sighed in despair.
Rose stopped playing with her hair and looked at me, her green eyes concerned.
“Everything all right, Mercy?” I nodded my head, already resigning myself to what lay ahead. The sooner I accepted it the better I would be able to cope.
“Yes, let’s go down and start serving breakfast,” putting on a bright smile.
In the kitchen, Maggie was putting the finishing touches on the gentlemen’s breakfast of hot rolls, fresh honey, eggs, and bacon. She looked up as we came in.
“Ahh, just in time girls, them’s tray is ready to be taken in. Mercy, do you want to carry, and Rose you can take in the coffee.”
I led the way, feeling as if I was about to go to the hangman’s noose, not sure I would be able to cope with the first moment, when Jasper laid eyes on Rose. But there was nothing to be done. I entered the dining room and both he and Sebastian were there reading their morning papers. Only Sebastian lowered his paper and greeted us, though.
“Hello, Mercy,” he said warmly, “and this must be Rose?”
“Yes, Rose Baker, sir,” said Rose, dropping a small curtsy, “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Sebastian appraised her, taking in the pretty heart-shaped face and blooming complexion.
“Maggie tells me you’re in need of a job and a place to stay for a while. Well, you’re welcome to stay with us for the meanwhile. I’ll make enquiries in town to see if anyone is needing a maid. I hope you don’t mind sharing with Mercy?"
“Thank you sir, and no I don’t mind at all,” said Rose, putting down the coffee jug on the table.
“Well I mind,” said Jasper firmly, finally lowering his paper. “I’m sure I don’t want some half-starved, loose-fingered gypsy in the house, one loose-fingered maid is enough.”
I waited for it, any minute now. He took a bite of his roll and looked up and saw Rose standing there, looking more unlike a loose-fingered gypsy than anyone ever could. Chewing, his eyes widened and slid insolently from the top of her head, lingered on her rose-bud lips, followed the curve of her cheek down to her slightly swelled bosom, continued down to her slim waist and then to the tips of her dainty booted toes.
There was a silence while Jasper swallowed. I’d never seen him look so lost for words, but he quickly recovered his composure.
“Well, well. How do you do, Rose? Forgive me, I can see you’re not a gypsy, anything but,” he chuckled.
Rose grinned and dropped a low curtsy, “Pleased to meet you again, sir. We didn’t get a chance to be properly introduced last night.”
Jasper looked a bit uncomfortable. “Er, no I was a little under the weather last night, do forgive me.”
“Of course,” said Rose, smiling brilliantly at him. He gazed at her, and I groaned inwardly.
Meanwhile, Sebastian was taking in this exchange and met my anguished eye with his sympathetic one.
“Help!” I implored him silently. He coughed, and the heavy atmosphere was instantly dispelled.
“Thank you, Mercy and Rose, that will be all for now,” he said. “I’ve left a list of chores that need doing with Maggie. Mercy, you can get Rose acquainted with the way things are to be done.”
As we left the room I felt Jasper's eyes following us, but it wasn’t my back they were trained on, I was sure of that.