Welcome to WipItUp Wednesday and a sneak preview of my new book, due out soon.
21st Century Kelly is masquerading as a maid in a Victorian household. She’s stuck and can’t get back to her own time for a month. Sir Henry has told his housekeeper to watch Kelly closely. Mrs Collins has a little notebook to keep track of things for him.
Kelly examined the raw palms of her hands. She scrubbed and scrubbed the floor of the scullery, and still Mrs Collins wasn’t happy. Her first day at Howegarth house as the maid-of-all-work and she’d worked pretty damn everything into that day, including sweeping, dusting and ironing. She’d sweltered before the stove, helping cook and polished the silverware until her fingers ached. Yet, she’d screwed-up in nearly all departments: rising late, failing to light a fire in one room, then lighting a bonfire in the next room, as if to make amends. She’d thrown a pail of water over the blazing coals, and the splash back had landed on her white apron and black gown, covering it in soot.
The laundry maid, Martha, who came every morning, had laughed for minutes as Kelly dripped over the cobbles of the laundry.
“Mrs Collins only gave me the dress this morning,” Kelly whispered in a horrified voice. One of two new gowns to wear.
“Oh, give them both here,” Martha said, “I’ll wash it, and you go like lightning to the attic and change before she notices.”
Martha was friendly and chirpy. She didn’t know how to read or write, she had stated enthusiastically.
Kelly had dashed up the back staircase in her shift, her heels clattering on the stone steps. Her baggy drawers swirled around her thighs, while the bodice with its taut lacing squished her ribcage.
Following that debacle, things hadn’t improved. She’d burnt the breakfast buns, spoilt the ham with sugar, having assumed the sugar cone in the pantry was salt, and she had melted the butter by leaving it by the stove.
Cook muttered, shaking her head in despair. “This girl will be the death of me,” was a frequent exclamation.
Mrs Collins wrote it all down in her notebook.
It wasn’t as if things would improve. Kelly had underestimated the amount of dusting required in old houses. The fireplaces pumped out soot while the chimneys outside pumped out dirt. The wind blew it in whenever a door or window was opened, and it hung in the air, drifting around the house, landing on everything it touched. The curtains and rugs had to be beaten, making her sneeze, the marble hearths washed down, the windowsills wiped and the glass polished. Her back and knees ached.
Accustomed to handling ornaments in cotton gloves, it was one area at which she had thought she might excel: dusting objects.
“You’re too slow,” Mrs Collins harangued. “What keeps you? Have you never touched such things before?”
“No, Mrs Collins,” she lied. “I don’t want to break anything. It isn’t through lack of care that I take my time.”
“Lack of vigour, more likely,” grumbled Mrs Collins.
Kelly was close to screaming. She was trying damn hard to please the woman.
“Well, instead of standing around and criticising, you could help me—” Kelly halted. The look on Mrs Collin’s irate face was enough. “Please don’t write that down,” she said sweetly.
Mrs Collins wrote it down.