Belle was walked into the room escorted by the coach. He was still wearing his livery, but had taken off the outer jacket to reveal a quite comfortable looking cream shirt underneath. His hard boots clicked on the smooth floor.
"I have a new servant, Mrs Anderty."
"A new servant, you say?" an old-looking woman stood by the door to the servants' quarters. She was broad-shouldered, and had an enormous grease-stained apron spread over her massive bulk. Her grey hair was pulled back into a tight bun, but whisps of hair kept on falling out, only to be swept back again by Mrs Anderty's huge, coarse hand. "Just when you need one, what do you know?"
The coach just gave a quick, sharp nod. "I trust I can leave her with you?"
"Of course you may."
"Good." The coach strode away, leaving Belle alone with Mrs Anderty.
"Well? What are you waiting for, girl? Let's get you suited out and going! We'll be ready in no time at all!" Then Mrs Anderty started walking up the rickety staircase leading to the servants' quarters. "Don't warry, yer first day's always hard. 'appened well right to me, too, so don't you go stressing yer pretty little head off," she rattled off.
Belle followed her up the rickety staircase. Each time it made a creak or groan she got extremely worried, but Mrs Anderty seemed not to notice, or care.
"Tis because Madame Marryanne Le Testhmus isn't wanting to care for that girl all by herself, she ain't. No, she has to get some ruddy girl to go and do it for her."
Girl? Belle's heart beat. No, she couldn't survive, the girl might not like her at all! As if to answer her question, Mrs Anderty said: "There's a girl, just ol' 'ag Marryanne don' like people talking about it. She's got a great granddaughter, you see, or somefin like that anyways. She's related to her in some way, that's all I know. Anyways, this girl has always been on the queer side. She ain't speak. She hadn't talked a single word since she was born, no she hasn't. Bit strange if yer ask me."
Belle's heart jolted. Mute? Just like her? What would happen?
"So 'ere's yer room, girl," Mrs Anderty opened the door to reveal a plain, flat mattress and a plain, ordinarily bland room. Belle busied herself to making it her own: fluffing up the mattress, moving furniture here and there. In fact, there wasn't much furniture at all: just a wooden table which Belle supposed was her bedside table. There was also a space underneath it to store her clothes.
"I made me room a bit more 'omely. Got Bernie ta make up a plaque that said ma name. 'ung it up above me bed, me did. Talking about names," Mrs Anderty paused, "I don't recall yer ever telling me yer name. What name did yer farther an' murther give ye?"
Belle looked up sharply. She gulped. In fact, the truth was that she didn't know what name her mother and father had given her, but she had discovered the name Belinda Typewriter, Extra-Smooth Transition on a dropped newspaper one day and liked it. She had decided to use that name and had even developed a nickname: Belle.
"Girl? Stop looking at me like that an' just tell me yer flamin name!"
Belle gulped. She had to try. It was her only chance. She moistened her lips and tried to summon up her voice. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. She tried again, but it wouldn't work. She was the girl with no voice.
"Oh my flamin' knickers. The tide must've changed. Look'e what 'as happened 'ere, employing No-Voiceys 'ere are we, now?" crooned Mrs Anderty. "Well I suppose we must get yer a slate or somefin ta write on, shall we? Or we shall almost certainly never solve the mystery of your name."
Mrs Anderty had bustled out of the room. Belle was sitting in the room all by herself now. She stared up at the blue, blue sky. There were limitless possibilites there, in heaven, where everyone could be normal, even the disabled and the lame. Belle felt hot tears starting to rise up in her eyes. She blinked them away, but could still feel them trying to come back. She had never tried to talk before, after she found out that she couldn't. If she did, she would just be more devastated than she usually was. She never tried because she kept the hope in her that she might actually have a voice, that she could speak like everyone else. Now she had tried, and now she knew. She couldn't talk. The illusion of being normal disappeared.
Mrs Anderty pushed open the door and handed Belle a slate and a piece of chalk. There was a cheeky look in her eyes. "Stole this slate right from 'er room, I did. Won't do no 'arm not knowing, will it? The girl's out at a fancy funct-yon wiv 'er great aunt. Won't be back for ages. Now, you go write yer name an' anything else ye wanna write an' then I'll be returning it to Madame Diana's rooms, shall we? No," Mrs Anderty's eyes widened, "you shall be the one to take it to 'er room. After all, you are the one usin' it."
Belle groaned inwardly. "Yes," Mrs Anderty rubbed her palms together. "Yes, that is how it shall be. Now, write yer name."
Belle stared at the blank slate. What was she meant to do?
"Yer saying you can't talk an' can't write? Useless girl. Go and scrub dishes."
A look of joy came into Belle's eyes. Mrs Anderty smiled ruthlessly. "After you do yer duties to Madame Diana's slate."
Belle's shoulders dropped. She had hoped to get off the hook. Mrs Anderty pushed open the door and led the way.They went down the rickety staircase again, and through a hallway, then they went up a flight of stairs and into a spacious room that opened out onto a verandah. It hung over the tops of many slum houses, and had a spectacular view. The slum houses reminded Belle of Beggar Boy, and with a guilty feeling she wondered what he was doing now.
"Madame Diana's quarters. Take the slate up ter the fancy-lookin' door on yer left an' put it on the bedside table. Yer got that?"
Belle nodded hurriedly: the quicker they got this done, the better. "Then go, an' prover yerself worthy."
Belle scurried into the room, clutching the slate to her chest. She looked around and instantly spotted the huge bedside table made of rich-coloured wood. She plopped the slate and chalk down on it and quickly ran back out of the room.
"Good, yer took only two minutes longer than I expecterd. Let's get goin' an' flee."