“You aren't used to these kinds of clothes,” noted Annie perceptively, catching the expression on my face as I surveyed the array of garments lying on the bed.
“No. No, I’m not.” With a smile, I said to her, “You notice things quickly, don’t you? Very intelligent, I’ll guess. Grace said you were new here—is this your first week?”
“My second day,” she admitted. “I used to work in another house, but they had to lay off staff because of bankruptcy, and so I was asked to leave. It’s taken me three months to get another position, but I’ve managed it at last.” I looked at her in some surprise, since she seemed quite young to me to have been working for so long.
“How old are you?” I asked, as politely as I could.
“Almost sixteen,” she told me. So not too much older than me, and already she had a job, a paid position where she stayed away from home. Of course, people went out to work at the age of fourteen in these times … but it was shock to come across it face to face when I wasn’t used to it.
“Tell me, what year is it?”
Although she stared at me, trying to decide whether to ask me why I didn’t know, Annie told me promptly enough. “1895,” she said, and my worst fears were confirmed. So I really was in the Victorian era, inexplicably and with no warning. That was not a normal occurrence for me, despite my slightly unconventional life and odd hobbies. I decided to try and find out more as soon as possible. “Now come, we need to get you dressed.”
She helped me to slip out of the petticoat and pulled over my head a camisole and pantaloons. These reached below my ankle, unlike the last, shin-length pair, but I guessed that was due to the length of the dress. Over that went a petticoat, another petticoat that started from the waist and one of the wide belt things. I discovered this to be called a ‘waist cincher’, and it was a sort of corset although not so extreme and without the bones.
“Hold still!” she instructed with a little laugh as she pulled the laces tight.
“Do you have to wear one of these?” I asked, wondering how she could bear it if she was working so hard all of the time.
“No, thank goodness.” I began to like this maid, who was not as stuffy as I had feared—she talked to me like an equal instead of like a superior, which pleased me because I couldn’t have borne people curtseying and calling me ‘miss’ when I was just an ordinary girl like them.
“I don’t see why I should,” I admitted, but she just laughed and pulled the laces tighter. I gasped and tried to hold my stomach in to relieve the pain.
Next came the dress, and that was less of an ordeal, since all the hard work was done and over with. Annie skilfully sorted out my skirts so that they fell nicely, and I was ready to be seen in public, or so she said. Looking down, I had to admit that I looked nicer than I had done in quite a while, what with my fondness for baggy, stained jeans and shapeless t-shirts.
“Your hair!” the young maid suddenly exclaimed. “Here, sit down by the dresser and I’ll fix it for you.” This I was only too happy to do, so I sat myself down and let her brush out the tangles, braiding and twisting strands of hair into some complicated pattern. “There you are, all done,” Annie told me, almost ten minutes later. It seemed like a lot of fuss to me, but I was forced to say that it was worth it.
“I think I will return to the parlour to see Grace,” I told her. “Where do you think she will be? Should I call her?”
“I will fetch her for you,” said Annie, looking at me slightly oddly. “Go on down, get yourself settled. I won’t be long.” Gratefully I sat myself down in one of the chairs and for the first time understood the lack of soft cushions. With so many skirts, you didn’t need padding.