Chapter 5: Day 1 – Morning
That was the first night I slept in such an uncomfortable bed. The mattress was lumpy and deformed, and it protruded somewhere nearing the centre which strained my back in a weird way. I tried to remove the linen sheets to find that the bed was just a stack of straws and dried leaves, the kind of bed my ancestors would sleep on. I had the itchiest urge to shout ‘It wasn’t a woodwork bed?!’ but that would be bad for others to hear.
The social hierarchy was more lenient than usual because our surnames were not revealed to maintain the young lord’s integrity… I understood the reason behind it, or so went the whole freedom of choice, that he would not feel obliged to marry an influential lord’s daughter. But one might imagine that with so many potential candidates serving around the house, the Greyfields would accommodate to the welfare more liberally.
But it’s not like blaming them was any good. To begin with, most servants were commoners so these accommodations were likely prepared with that in mind. I imagined the beds to be more comfortable, or proper furniture at least, but restructuring the household was likely a big mess so they didn’t have the resource or time to handle it efficiently. It’s bad enough that the Greyfields only had one son, so their circumstances were understandable.
No time to waste, though. I tidied my hair and attire briefly, being careful with my braid so it kept together at the back of my head in a low ponytail. As a brief test, I tried shaking my head repeatedly and looking behind me, to find that it stayed in place pretty well. The figure of myself in the cracked mirror looked plain when the wavy hair’s volume was reduced by the hairband, but it was passable in terms of presentation. The presence of a defined uniform seemed to be absent, since the uniforms of the other maids seems to match in colour, yet not in style.
I headed over to the baths through the dark servant hallways and started hauling water into the tank with the allotted bucket. The magical device had a hammering mechanism for its design – Simply put, the spell’s cylindrical diagram was already inscribed onto it, so pulling the lever down would make the mechanism clamp against the water tank.
Next, the lever was locked in place with a wooden sheathe so the heating element would stay clamped onto the side of the tank. The heat gem was then inserted into the socket, and the water would boil from the machine. Finally, the process was reversed when everyone was done using the hot water. The only difficulty was filling the tank with water, but that wasn’t too bad.
With the simple matter resolved, I hurried towards the privy next to the dining hall. That was the first privy I cleaned with Francesca yesterday, and I thought going through them in order would be better than extending the neglect period on them. But I finally noticed a fundamental problem right as I began to replace the waste bucket.
I didn’t know anything. Where would I get the replacement buckets from? Where would the waste go? Where were the stores for the dried straws, flower petals, and oil for the sconces? It seemed so trivial a job yesterday as I unpacked my belongings in the room, that I never thought to consider that the things I had to replace needed to come from somewhere. It most likely slipped Francesca’s mind too.
I walked briskly around the dark corridors to locate Francesca, starting from upstairs and sweeping downward without much regard for the rooms themselves. I eventually found a gathering of three maids in the pantry busying themselves with chores. One had a high ponytail to keep her black hair away from her hands, the memorable maid Etoile; one had a simple bob cut whose name I couldn’t recall, and the last had a braid parted to the side, Francesca.
Etoile hurried with preparing meals for everyone, while Francesca and the bob-cut maid were sweeping the floor to collect fallen flour into a bin. Her name was on the tip of my tongue, somehow. She was the maid in charge of the parlour and laundry, which made her Etoile’s helper, but my mind was drawing blanks for some reason.
“A pleasant morning to you all, everyone. Might I ask you some questions related to my task, Dame Francesca?” For now, just play it cool, stay confident and avoid dialogue that required addressing her by name. Maybe somewhere down the line she’ll be mentioned in a conversation, and the name would connect in my head. Here’s hoping Etoile would call her out to perform an errand in her stead or something.
“What concerns you with such importance, Dame Laila?” Francesca unconsciously stole a glance at my hands before putting on a wayward smile that was more of a wince. That somehow confirmed my theory on their prejudice towards the chambermaid role, but it wasn’t as though I actually touched the unpleasants directly. Or, at the very least, I hoped that it would be minimal.
“Might I ask if there is a storage for the hay, oil and flower petals to replenish the privies with?” I didn’t think I was that bad at remembering names, though. The head maid Lady Linville’s brown hair was shaped to resemble the white wigs barristers in illustrations wore, while Desiree was the only maid with dark skin and freckles. Etoile had black straight hair which made her head resemble the night sky, Francesca had blond hair and she was the tallest, while Kelly was the shortest and somehow also had the most well-endowed of breasts among us.
“Certainly. The oil is stored in a utility room connecting the guest room to the garden. The hay is dried in the garden shed, and as for the flower petals, there are flowers in the garden which may be plucked and used.” Was I seriously forgetting her name?! Oh, no! She can’t be that, that unmemorable! I felt bad that the bob-cut maid was the only person whose name I forgot.
Oh, wait, there’s one other thing I forgot! “Thank you kindly, Dame Francesca. If I may, would you graciously inform me on where I may obtain the buckets for the waste?” Thank Shulvi I remembered to ask, or that would have secured a return trip! I somehow heard Alnus nagging at me in the background shouting ‘check everything’, even though that was just my imagination.
“The buckets are located in the same place as the oil, but please use the old equipment first. Do not use the new ones unless necessary.” Whew! Glad that’s over. I gave a brief ‘My utmost gratitude for your assistance’ and proceeded onward to the garden with haste, determined to move away from the group.
In just one morning, I used as much pompously polite speech as I did in a week. Was this going to be my everyday routine? My mouth felt tired already thinking about how I should greet the next person, and I hoped I did not have to meet with any of the Greyfields today. Well, being a tailor was not an etiquette-intensive job to begin with, and it probably took time before I adapted to the new environment… or so I believed, against my better judgment.
I topped up the hay and replaced the colourful mess with tulip petals roughly the same amount as the ones on the floor. It was a bit tricky getting the water bucket upstairs to the privy on the second storey, but thankfully that was the only one upstairs. The last bucket of waste was then carefully carried to avoid smudging anything, brought downstairs and placed outside the manor in a small cluster of similar buckets. By Shulvi’s grace, as if a single bucket’s stench wasn’t bad enough!
This was what the waste of rich people looked like… It smelled really foul, far worse than the privy I had back home. Ew. As for why that was, a diet consisting primarily of peas, corn and bread (no thanks to my lack of funds to purchase even the cheapest of salmons) had mostly solid waste which dried easily in a couple of hours, compared to the waste-ridden water mixture currently stirring in the buckets.
Not to mention – at my unfortunate expense – that Desiree called for me to replace the chamber pot Lady Greyfield was using. Unlike the servants’ buckets, that chamber pot was a whole other level of grotesque. It was a literal slosh, the likes of cement used for house construction, which only made me wonder what would happen should her posterior fail to contain it. Goddess Shulvi, please send that imagery awash from my senses. Please, bury that imagery to the very depths of a faraway cave and may it never be unearthed.
There was only one thing left to do for the morning. I headed back to the manor and asked Francesca for further instructions on what to do with the buckets. But to my dismay, she didn’t know where the waste should be disposed at. It further supported the argument that the waste was managed by the commonfolk hired from town, which complicated matters for me.
And so here I was, standing in front of the housekeeper’s office, alone. Anxiety aside, I didn’t have to worry about appearing too unsightly as long as it did not sully the image of the Greyfields. Though, I should have washed my hands at the very least before knocking on the door… Would they complain about any lingering smells on my hand? I can’t really tell; my nose might be burnt out.
“Enter.” I opened the door on her prompt, and greeted the housekeeper who was managing some documents. It was a small office with a plain bookshelf and desk, along with a simple sconce on the wall for lighting. Lady Linville was handling a quill proficiently and continued scribbling away while I waited for her to be done.
“What troubles you, Dame Laila? Here to inquire about the visit next week? I do hope the breakfast was to your liking,” as she continued writing and calculating without even looking at me. Breakfast? Oh snap, I completely forgot about breakfast! In a noble’s household, the servants were to attend meals at the hall together according to rank, as far as I knew. It might be applied differently here, considering how the maids were also nobility, and Etoile might also make the servants’ meals based on some other factors.
Honestly, after getting my own house, I was so used to skipping breakfast that I just went ahead with work without realising. Yes, it was poor practice, and I had been chided by Alnus more than I could count, but there were days where I simply didn’t feel hungry, and questioned if breakfast was even necessary. But this was no longer my own house. I shouldn’t be allowed to eat without regard for time.
“Thank you for the concern, Lady Linville. I was hoping to inquire about the handling of the waste buckets.” The head maid gave this brief snort that ruffled the quill briefly, before coldly dismissing me. “For matters pertaining to your work, please consult Dame Francesca. I’m in the middle of delicate work which requires my undivided attention.” I figured this was the expected response, but they started an imaginary game of ‘pass the basket’ all on their own, where nobody wanted to invest any effort into resolving the problem. It would be entertaining as a play, if only I weren’t in the crossfire of it all.
“I apologise for my intrusion during such an important time, but as a matter of fact, Dame Francesca actually directed me here. It’s come to my understanding that the residual wastewater from the privies have been managed by external help prior to my arrival, so it is a pity that the others do not know how it ought to be handled.” I tried to make the sentence sound as formal and eloquent as possible. A part of me was panicking internally, worried that I might have screwed up somewhere that made the housekeeper take offence.
“One moment, if you please.” She continued scribbling and mentally calculating the numbers before writing the sum and adding a small dash to the right of a row of numbers. Ah, she used dashes to mark checkpoints. Alnus liked using a tiny triangle instead. It’s like a note to the next person who picked up the book saying ‘Hey, Gryme did the accountings to this point’ or something. But what would happen if they used the same symbols by accident?
Lady Linville looked to the side with a frown for a while, pondering over my words in her head. It somehow made the atmosphere more tense, seeing how serious she was while contemplating my opinion. Given the limited resources we had in a manor so removed from town, the choices were probably conflicting and bared their own brands of troubles each.
“… Yes, it is a real pity indeed. For now, carry the wastewater to the back of the manor and into the forest. Dig a hole near the base of a tree before dumping the waste inside. Make sure it’s far removed and deep in the woods, may the masters raise no complaints. Use the wheelbarrow and shovel behind the garden shed if you must, but be careful not to spill any of it.” Behind the shed?
“As you wish,” I gave a brief curtsy before she continued, “One more thing, Dame Laila. Should you find any of the foresters along the way, tell them to inform Roneil that I wish to meet with him post haste. The job is too taxing and time-consuming for an individual to handle, so I want them to liaise with you on various matters.” Oh! That collaboration was probably established outside of the other maids’ knowledge, and Roneil was likely their representative.
That was a surprisingly self-sufficient system. After the waste was removed by external workers, they would be given to the foresters for use as fertiliser. It both saved them the trouble of transporting it, while allowing selective trees to flourish for harvestable fruits or to feed wild game. It reduced spending on importing manure from the farms too, though the wastewater might not contain as much nourishment. As to which trees needed the nutrients, well, I didn’t know. Best to leave that to the foresters.
“Understood.” I bid my farewells and headed towards the garden shed immediately.