As soon as she walked into the Dining Hall she realized her mistake. Diana and Madame Marryanne Le Testhmus were already there, sitting prim and proper at the table, though Diana did sneak in a half-wink that she didn’t finish, for she, too was staring at Belle like her great aunt was.
“Belle...” Marryanne Le Testhmus managed to splutter, after quite some moments of silent shock. “You shall not come into the Dining Hall like that.How absolutely shocking! Do you not realize we have guests? Go back and change into proper attire!”
Guests! Belle suddenly saw that there were two other fine beings in the room. One very much looking like Diana. They were sitting, backs straight, though the girl about Diana’s age was frozen in the act of talking to Diana, her hand cupped against Diana’s ear, mouth frozen, eyes swiveled towards Belle.
Hastily putting the plates of food on the table, Belle backed out of the room, hands on her apron, covering up the messy splotches of food that had fallen onto it.
As she left, she heard the prim girl whisper to Diana: “Really, the nerve of servants these days. They should know their place, especially mute ones.” She said the word with scorn, and Belle understood: after all, what good was a servant who could not talk?
She went back to the mess. Her state of enlightened happiness at serving at the table just this once was diminished. If she knew the table could be so harsh, she would have never volunteered.
Cecil was still there, trying to clean up the remains of that horrible accident. Belle suddenly felt guilty at leaving her to clean it up herself so suddenly.
Hearing Belle come back into the room, Cecil looked up from her crouched position on the ground. Brushing her hair behind her ear, Cecil sat up on her haunches. “Belle! What are you doing back out here?”
Embarrassed, Belle took her hands off her apron for a moment - just a moment - to let Cecil see her accident. Cecil nodded knowingly. “Ah, they’re always peculiar about looks, especially when the Testhmus family and their servants are on display. Even the servants are expected to dress properly, and live up to expectations, no matter how lowly they may be.”
Belle took her slate out of her pocket. Would you like me to help you clean up?
Cecil shook her head. “I’m sure they told you to change, so you better do that before someone comes out here and gets you in trouble. I can cope with this mess myself.”
Guiltily, Belle nodded, and let Cecil clean up the mess. It wasn’t even her mess to clean up! As a second thought before she left, Belle quickly wrote: Oh, and there was this horrible girl whispering to Diana. That was another good thing about writing: no-one could hear you.
“I know who she is,” Cecil said with disgust. “She’s that girl who was Diana’s playmate.” And, seeing Belle’s shocked face, she added; “Diana despised her. It wasn’t her fault that they were playmates: it was forced upon her. She comes from Lord Tricker’s family, the horrible bunch.”
Will it interfere with our plans?
Cecil shook her head hopefully. “I sure do hope not, otherwise I will personally go and kill that silly girl.”
Shush, there’s someone coming.
Cecil looked briefly at the disturbance, then continued on as if nothing had ever interrupted her. Belle knew that on the inside, Cecil’s heart was pounding madly.
Marryanne Le Testhmus swept into the room with a flurry of skirts. She looked down her nose at them, and continued on, her regal eyes not deserving to be punished by such ugliness. Diana walked in behind her, her skirts not sweeping so dramatically. She whipped out her slate: Please don’t be angry at me.
I will never be. Belle replied.
Nodding happily, Diana hurried after her great aunt. As soon as Belle felt content, that horribly prim girl walked in after Diana, all innocent eyes and bouncing golden curls. However, when she passed Belle she gave her a look of such disgust that Belle had to turn away to hide the tears welling up in her eyes. It seemed Belle cried a lot these days.
When the guests had finally glided regally out the room, Cecil came over to Belle and comforted her.
“Next time she does anything like that to you, give her such a look of disdain that she screams and runs away in fright. Okay? Can you do that for me, Belle?” Cecil smiled, and for a moment Belle looked like she was going to hiccup out a giggle, but, of course, no sound came out.
The plan. Will she ruin it?
“And why on Earth would she ruin it? Anyway, haven’t I already said? She wouldn’t ruin the plan.”
But what if Diana becomes attached to her? What if she doesn’t want to leave?
“Nonsense! It’ll just give her all the more reason to leave! I mean, imagine having a stiff girl whispering to you all day about mute servants and fashion and this and that... Really, Belle! Get a grip on yourself!” Then, turning pink, she said; “But don’t ask me how I know what they talk about. Sometimes, things like that just need to be left alone.”
Belle smiled and touched a finger to her lips: no asking.
Then suddenly the dam which contained her emotions broke, and Cecil jumped up and down. “Oh I just can’t wait for tonight! I can feel the excitement in the air, can’t you? Oh, Belle, oh Belle! We’ll be free! Imagine that!” She grabbed Belle’s hands and started jigging up and down. “Imagine the wind in your hair for the first time in twelve years -- I was born into servantry, you know -- ! And the singing song of the birds and the trees swaying ... oh, how beautiful that would be!”
Belle didn’t mention that they would have to get respectable jobs, otherwise they would have no chance at all of surviving. Anyway, if they were truly free they wouldn’t be wearing maids’ dresses. If they jumped in the grass and sang the song of the birds just like Cecil had imagined, they would be found too quickly by Madame Le Testhmus, and they wouldn’t get very long a time free.
Yes, very beautiful indeed, Belle wrote encouragingly. I hope we see the Lorikeet Bird, for I read about it in a book.
“Oh, I hope we do! I hope we do!” Cecil was altogether far too happy.
Hush, Cecil. Do you want that horrible Madame Le Testhmus hear you?
Cecil shook her head happily. “Ah, well. I’m only hushing up because it will wreck our chances of escaping. Once we escape, and are working for someone else, though, I’ll scream and yell and laugh and sing and not care how much noise I make!”
If you want to, Cecil.
“I want to, alright.” Cecil sighed, looking dreamily at the clock perched on the wall. “Oh, Belle! Look at all the time we have left to ourselves once this cleaning is done! We must get packing right away. We are so lucky it’s a Sunday!”
We are, Belle agreed. We’d still have Dinner to do, though.
“Yes, yes,” Cecil said rather impatiently. That can wait. We must get ready. Oh, where is Diana?”
Don’t worry, I’ll find her. Belle promised.
“Now you go and clean yourself up, Belle, while I finish up this mess.”
I feel so guilty, letting you clean up my mess.
“Don’t worry, promising to find Diana and getting out of here is good enough for me,” Cecil assured her, shooing her out of the room.
Belle let herself be shooed out, then ran for her room. She only had two sets of clothes, and because she had gotten this one soiled, there would be no other clothes for her to take on the Escape: washing days were on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Rightfully they were meant to be on Sundays, doing the counting rule of once every two days, but no-one really worked on Sundays, so Marryanne Le Testhmus had ignored the fact that washing wasn’t being done on Sunday.
Belle ran up the steps two at a time, even though she knew that was forbidden, because it was dangerous, and besides, no respectable woman would do that, but she was too excited to care.
When she reached her room she swung open the door and quickly changed into a newer set of clothing. This would make her more neat and respectable, hopefully. Maybe it would even double her chances of being employed!
Then Belle suddenly realized that she did indeed have time to wash her set of soiled clothes. What did it matter if her new employers gave her more clothes? She’d have to bring a spare pair.
Belle picked up the grubby dress with the tips of her fingers and carried it downstairs to the laundry. There she scrubbed it clean and hung it out to dry. Hopefully it would dry by the time she came back from doing Dinner Duty with Cecil. It was actually only Cecil’s job to do Dinner Duty with Mrs Anderty, but Belle liked to help, because it helped make her less lonely. She just loved rolling out the dough for the apple crumble in the evenings and getting her fingers floury while she listened to Cecil’s nonstop chattering. It also helped that Mrs Anderty was on the other side of the kitchen, so she couldn’t really listen in on their conversation, or barge in unexpectedly. It was a fun time, Dinner Duty.
Belle wondered what to do next. Would the guests have gone yet? Would it be safe to go see where Diana was? The slamming of a door answered Belle’s question. The visitors had just left, leaving Belle with enough free time to find Diana.