The Bleeding Rose
Over the Moorland
A bag had been packed, silently, quickly, in the dead of night. What would she need? What could she need? What could she carry? It was heavy too quickly, and she wondered if perhaps it was the tears that had fallen inside that gave the old carpenter bag such intense weight. Naturally, she stopped packing then. What was forgotten was forgotten, and whatever was inside was coming with her. There had never been such anxiety in her stomach, and her hearing had never been so sharp. Every few minutes she would stop; stop breathing, stop moving, and listen intently for a shift in the air, a foot on the stairs. Ghosts could be so quiet when they wanted to, especially the kind that intended to hurt you. For a moment, she had sworn she felt a breeze, a sign that someone was moving somewhere. Delia clamped a hand over her mouth, closing her eyes, standing as still as was possible for a living creature. The corset made it difficult to breathe, and when the paranoia passed she had trouble catching her breath. Maybe that was why it seemed like a dream, because she had been lightheaded through the whole ordeal.
Once she had been afraid of the dark, but now it was her friend. Stepping out into the black night was like stepping through a door that belonged to an old friend. They were both terribly glad to see each other, even though the circumstances under which they met were grave as they came. She cut straight across the grass, past the beautiful fountain and the roses that had been planted before she was born, straight into the trees. No one would have seen her, if they'd looked out their window. She was just a blur of dark blue fabric and black lace, draped in a cloak the color of midnight with ebony hair to match. Only her face was stark white, lips unusually red in the biting cold, but they were shielded from the moonlight by a wide brimmed bonnet. But just because she could walk away and be far away by morning didn't mean she was free. There was some things you were never free from, things that God witnessed. Things seen by God never quite disappeared.
Her pace had slowed considerably by sunrise. A night without sleep took it's toll, and her body hadn't quite yet recovered from those weeks in bed. The corset was the only thing that kept her outright, while at the same time keeping her entirely out of breath. As a peachy light began to peek over the horizon, the trees broke to reveal the vast, rolling moor. With light usually came warmth, but her breath continued to burst out in a cloud of thick fog, and her fingers were numb around the handle of her bag. As she pushed through the tall grass and made it up her first hill, the burning thirst became apparent. Fire in her throat, frozen by the cold air, begging for a cup of tea or a sip of plain water. It was then she realized that she hadn't packed any water, or food either, for that matter. A humorless, choked laugh escaped from between her dry lips. For a moment it was all too funny, that she would forget the one thing she needed above all else. For a moment she laughed, a hand pressed against her empty stomach. Empty, so utterly empty...and then it wasn't so funny anymore.
The sobs had a way of sneaking up, catching her whenever she made the mistake of believing she was recovering from it all. But there were cracks that couldn't be filled, hearts that couldn't be unbroken. For a moment she tried to hold them in, afraid that someone would hear her. It was a ridiculous notion, but the thought was wired into her brain, sheer instinct. It had been years since she'd been so utterly alone, and it was a relief to cry without anyone around to hear. Delia let herself sink down into the grass, the sobs wracking her body, pain down to her very core. Sadness hadn't been so physical before...but everything had changed. If it hadn't, she wouldn't have been on her knees with the moor stretched out in front of her. It was hard to tell how far it went, a thick fog rolling in, creeping towards her with misty tendrils that pulled it across the hills. And yet, it didn't matter. She would go as far as she had to, the farther the better, anything to leave it all behind.
The cry left her even more exhausted than before, and it did nothing for her dehydration. However, sitting in the grass with her misery would leave her vulnerable. Surely they'd be looking? Maybe on horseback? The thought was enough to force her to her feet, where she found that her bag had grown even heavier. The ache in her chest hadn't subsided, even though the tears had. As she reached up to press her hand over her aching heart, her fingers brushed the silver that rested at the base of her throat. The family crest on a round piece of silver, ties on a black ribbon that she was half convinced kept her head from falling right off. It had been so long it's she'd taken it off, and her numb fingers fumbled with the knot in a panic. Soon she was free, rubbing her bare next, wondering if it looked as naked as it felt. After a moment of hesitated, staring down at the cursed thing in her palm, Delia tucked it into the depths of her bag. She would sell it as soon as she got the chance.
The day was incredibly long, the fog making it impossible to see if she had covered enough ground, or if she was headed anywhere she might want to go. There came no town, no houses, nothing but grass and rock and murky puddles that took all her strength not to drink from. And yet, though she wished for the day to end, the sun set all too soon. Blackness and fog was not so welcome anymore, and the cold seemed to cut straight through her dress. There was no relief in the cover of nightfall, only unadulterated terror. Delia quickened her pace, worried she would go mad, walking towards nothing to escape from nothing. Her head felt light, her clothes were getting damp, and the light drizzle of rain that started did nothing but make her thirst more infuriating. And then, just as she was starting to wonder if she would die on a nameless hill, the world opened up. Or rather, it dropped.
At the bottom of the hill was a vast expanse of land, and peeking out from above the fog was a mansion made of stone. It was large, slightly larger from where she'd come, though she couldn't remember ever visiting. There was a reason she'd taken the direction farthest from down, ventured to a part of the world where no one would no her name. Still, as she stumbled down the hill and walked silently along the edge of the gardens, staring up at the massive structure, there was little she could do to calm her nerves. Even as she knocked on the front door, and waiting what seemed like an eternity, her hands trembled and her throat began to close. The fact that the face of the woman who answered was so unfamiliar was a stupendous relief, and Delia was sure it showed in her face.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
"Yes, hello, I'm Cordelia Scott." The breathless words tumbled out easily, as she'd been practicing them for months. The elderly woman squinted, looking her up and down to see if she was crazy.
"I was told you were hiring."
"The interviews were this afternoon." No. "You missed them."
Delia swallowed hard, throat dry and painful. She had heard no such thing, not a word about a job. She'd never even seen the place before...but to come so close. "I tried to make it, I really did. It was a long journey."
"Yes, well, maybe next time."
"Please. Please, just...consider..."
"It's already been filled."
"I'm a hard worker. I'll work twice as hard as anyone else, I swear. Please."
"We normally prefer staff with more experience."
Of course. She looked to young, too fragile for manual labor. The old woman reached out and took her hand, running her fingers along Delia's palm. Not a callous, not a single one. The old woman shook her head wearily. "I'm sorry dear."
"Please." Had she ever sounded so desperate? The word was on the edge of a sob, low and urgent as she trembled in the cold. "I'll work hard, I won't be any trouble. Please, Ma'am." The woman scrutinized her, brown eyes staring into bright blue, something forming in her features that she had seldom seen. Pity. There was pity there. "Why don't you come in and have a cup of tea, and we'll see what we can do." The relief was immense, and Delia felt her knees go weak. She forced herself to stay upright, nodding gratefully as she stepped over the threshold. "Thank you."
Some would have called it luck, but they would have been wrong. It was fate.
Jonathan Oliver Senior was a late middle-aged man who had been long widowed and had never remarried. He resided in a very lonely manor, which, while not spaced incredible far off from other estates, nevertheless remained set apart by the solitary life which Mr. Oliver lived. His poor dead wife had left him with a five year old son, whom he never took out and often travelled to avoid. Once the boy was old enough for university, off he went, and Jonathan Oliver Junior thought 'good riddance' just as adamently as the senior did. Mr. Oliver traveled less now, usually only sometimes during his son's summer visit. Things were as quiet as ever, although the neighbors heard more of the son than they ever had of the father. They knew he was studying abroad, that he was clever and handsome, and would be a far pleasanter neighbor when the original Mr. Oliver had the good sense to kick the bucket.
The house boasted few servants for its size. They were scarcely needed, thanks to the lack of visitors, and the shut-up rooms. The gardener and his young son lived in a cottage on the land, and the housekeeper only had a few girls to help her with the cleaning. Then a solitary, fat female cook, and that was it. The age disparities between these servants was vast, and only served to exacerbate the sense of loneliness that dwelt on the manor. The servant girls were similar in age, and hung together like a gaggle of quietly-chattering geese. The cook was cross, and not good company for the housekeeper. The gardener was aged, but content to work the land and apprentice his son.
The new hire that day had been another servant girl, but the existing ones accepted her into their clique quite quickly, as they were starved for anyone new of interest. Unfortunately, this friendship did not seem to be extending toward the unexpected newcomer. There was too much intrigue about her arrival, and wagging tongues were not condusive to spending time with the object of their gossip. Besides, nothing makes best friends faster than mutual dislike of another, and thus, in a day, the new servant girl was cemented into the group from which the newer stranger was unjustly ostracized. The housekeeper had indeed had mercy on the mysterious new applicant, and she was hired. She was given a small room in the servant's wing, and she ate with them, and worked with them, and while she was not yet actually victimized, she was certainly shut out. The housekeeper did what she could to let Cordelia know that she was not hated by everyone, but it was not much.
Mr. Oliver was usually shut away in his study, and rarely seen. He had apparently been quite put out that Cordelia was hired without his consent, but he permitted her to remain. Still, he seemed to harbour a special animosity for her, shown in the darkness of his glare when she came to stir the fire or bring him tea. He was handsome, but careworn, and his face had a look of spoilt wickedness. It was easy to imagine him to be the devil, while he glowered beside his red hearth, creased face wreathed in wild black hair. The other servants were half-scared of him, half-in love with him. They heard that the son was coming home for holiday, and it at least provided Cordelia with some relief from their constant torment, for Jonathan Junior was all they could talk about.
Apparently, he was handsome, vigorous, a gentleman, and in every way a complete heart-throb. If their tales were not enough (for which the housekeeper soundly rebuffed them) the portraits of him scattered throughout the house confirmed at least that he had a pleasant visage. He retained all of his father's good qualities, without the bad which spoilt the effect in the older model. He had tidy, wavy black hair, hazel eyes, and was usually painted with an antagonizing half-smirk that suggested that he was mischievious and not entirely genuine.
When his promised carriage arrived, the girls were in a flutter in the foyer, and the housekeeper shooed them away in frustration. She allowed Delia to stay, as she at least knew how to behave according to propriety, the housekeeper thought. The gardener and his son were waiting outside bid the son hello. The young man stepped from the carriage after it drew to a stop, and he fixed the lapels of his jacket while he looked up at the towering, formidable house. He looked not impressed, nor depressed, merely...resigned. He was as attractive as he had been painted, though his hair was more untidy, and he had a loose and lazy way to his movements, as though he were incredibly tired. His eyes held a sparkling life that was surprising, at odds with his grim face and sluggish body language.
Jonathan tipped an imaginary hat to the gardener with his free hand, and his other held the un-donned top hat. The gardener beamed a mostly-toothless grin, and shuffled to fetch the trunk before the carriage trundled back to town. The young man popped his hat back onto his head at a jaunty angle, and took the front steps two at a time with lounging grace, like the spring of a cat. The housekeeper stepped forward to greet him, and Jonathan took her old wrinkled hands in his, and a genuine, but fleeting smile. "Good old Bets," he greeted her very informally, but she seemed pleased.
'Bets' stepped back and waved to Delia. "Our new servant-girl. Miss Cordelia Scott. You wouldn't have met her yet. Just took up her post, what, a week ago? Seems like ages, we were so busy with preparations for your arrival, Mr. Oliver." She described Delia as though there were no other new servant. The other one was plain and had melded into the drab backdrop of the manor as if she had always been there.
"Please, Betsy, Mr. Oliver is my father. It's Jonathan," he insisted kindly, but tiredly, while his near-golden eyes inspected the newcomer. For some reason, she was not what he would have ever expected. She did not look like a servant, although he did not question. He took off his hat and then gently slipped his hand into hers, turning and extending it before bending to drop a quick kiss on the back of it, as if she were a lady. His familiar ways were part of his charm with the house staff. The housekeeper hardly noticed, as she was busy flushing and fussing at him telling her to call her by his Christian name.
"Speaking of," he continued as he straightened, looking down at her only for a second before releasing her hand, and turning to regard Betsy. "Where is the grumpy old devil?"
The housekeeper waved her hand at him and scoffed smilingly. "Mr. Jonathan! Let's hope the master doesn't hear you talking like that! He's through into the library, waiting for you. Delia, help me with the tea, will you?"
The Bleeding Rose
She hadn't taken a drink from a stranger in over six months. Glasses had been left untouched on table, tea gone cold in the china pot, glasses rinsed thoroughly by her own hands because she just couldn't bring herself to take a sip. But that night, when Betsy offered her tea, she'd drained it without hesitation. It had burned her throat, but she was so desperate for water she finished cup after cup, until finally her voice started to sound like her own again. Betsy asked her questions, and she fed her easy lies. She was an orphan, she had been raised in a convent with many other orphans. They taught her Godliness and good sense, and sent her off into the world to work. Yes, she had been a maid once before. No, nobody Betsy would know. No, she hadn't had experience caring for children. Yes, she could wash dishes. Yes, she was fully aware of what her place in the house would be.
Having a servant gave you a good idea of what being one meant. A good maid was quiet, invisible, unseen, unheard, and well mannered when spoken to. A good maid was always wrong, never argued, never spilled, and never gossiped. A good maid was exactly the opposite of the other girls in the house. Delia was so exhausted by the time she was hired, all she wanted was to weep with relief and crawl into bed. But when she was finally left in her room, left at the mercy of her own mind...everything was quiet. Tears would not come, nor would the rush of relief she was expecting. She had a bed, she would have breakfast in the morning, and wages to buy whatever she needed. This was a safe place, somewhere no one would look, shut off to the world from the sounds of what Betsy told her. The room was small, but it was clean and attractive, complete with a bed, dresser, and a small window. She couldn't tell was it overlooked in the dark, but even black as it was, she was grateful. The cover of the bed was emerald green, the rug on the floor a mix of red and gold. It was everything she had hoped for and more...so why wouldn't the relief come?
Because you could only run from people, not from memories. Her hand flew to her empty stomach, chest aching with the weight of it all. Delia sunk to her knees, breathless, holding onto the post of the bed as though it could save her from drowning in sorrow. The wood was thick and dark beneath her pale fingers. Thick, thick, thick as a tree trunk he'd told her. No! "Lord help me..." she prayed, conveniently at her knees. She stayed there for quite some time, begging for peace, begging for numbness if she couldn't have anything else. And like a miracle...it came. Exhausted numbness that allowed her to rise, undress, and crawl between the unfamiliar sheets. Forty eight hours without sleep could put a person out, but as soon as the light shone through the window Delia was wide awake. She dressed mechanically in the plainest dress she could find, a deep green that looked nice with her black ringlets and pale skin. It was her work dress...or, it was now. But as she stared in the tiny mirror atop the dresser, Delia wished she didn't look so nice. So pale, heart shaped face, full lips, wild dark hair, the tiny waist she'd worked so hard to keep...she didn't need them anymore. Servants were supposed to be overlooked, to blend in. These were features that belonged to a different girl, one who had once had prospects and suitors. They belonged to a well bred girl who was made for marriage, not a servant.
And she was most certainly a servant.
The apron covered up most of the dress, which was an incredible relief. That morning she met the other girls, and she'd gone into breakfast with a foolish notion that they would all be polite, that they would play nice, or at least be mildly friendly. Instead, reality hit her full force across the face. "They don't need you." Sally, a blonde with frizzy hair and a wide waist told her, licking a drop of spilled porridge from her thumb. They all had terrible table manners, leaning on their elbows, yawing with their mouths wide open without bothering to cover them. Sally smacked her lips, dipping a piece of bread in her porridge and shoving it in her mouth. "Tha' old maid took pity on you. Can't imagine why. You probably turned your big blue eyes on her and begged like a proper git, didn't ya? Well I'll tell ya, if they cut our wages because of you, I'm going straight to the man." Delia couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. The chef came by and saw her bowl, only half eaten, bread nibbled around the edges. "My food not good enough for you, girl?" No, but her portion was massive, and her stomach felt so cramped already. One glare was enough to make her finish it all, but she'd thrown it all up not ten minutes after she'd left the kitchen.
Betsy remarked that she looked flushed. Delia said the house was warmer than what she was used to.
It only got worse. One day she was sent to the kitchen for tea, only to find Sally and Hattie arranging biscuits on the tray. "I'm tellin' you, she was a prostitute. Probably caught some terrible disease that made it too painful to work."
"Yes! Look at her hands. Not a scar, not a mark on em'. She hadn't been anywhere near a hot stove."
"You really think?"
"Sure. Just look at her. S'not hard to tell what a girl like that's good for."
They only stopped when she was a few feet away from them, but she didn't say a word. Instead she took the tray silently, hearing them continue before she could even leave the room. "You think she heard us?
"I think she's daft."
Mr. Oliver glared at her with contempt when she brought him his tea, and it took all of her strength not to run from the room screaming. She was half convinced he'd hit her as she set the tray down, flinching a little as it clattered against the wood of the table. Betsy was kind when she could spare a moment, though it wasn't as if Delia went sobbing at every horrible comment the girls made. Usually she just stood, listening to the old women rant about the rooms, cleaning whatever she told her to. Betsy would look over and see her blank expression, see how far away from the world she really was. "Come come, it's not all bad." she would tell her, but a pat on the hand was all the comfort she could give. Lucy sat up until well after midnight, praying for sleep. When it came she had nightmares of blood, pain, and tombstones. If she screamed, no one bothered to check.
The routine in the house was the only comfort, the day to day normalcy it provided. Most of the time she was kept fairly busy, and Betsy liked to follow her around when she could and tell her stories. Every time Delia smiled she beamed as though she'd accomplished something impossible, but even when she didn't, the old woman rambled away. As the week came to a close, the conversation among the girls started to shift. She was suddenly much less exciting, as the master's son was coming home for his holiday. There were paintings of him everywhere, a handsome gentleman who looked less than reliable. The other girls seemed to think that he was going to up and marry them, but Delia felt no stir of excitement as she stared at his portrait one afternoon. Handsome, yes. He was probably going to make a huge mess, and she was going to be the one to clean it up.
The other girls were too excited to greet him, which somehow meant she was stuck with the job. He made quite the entrance, greeting Betsy like the old friend she probably was. He charmed her spectacles off, putting her in quite a state of excitement. As Delia was introduced he reached for her hand, planting a kiss on the back of it. The movement was a familiar one, so she didn't resist, falling into the mechanical curtsy that always followed as though it were second nature. Her expression had been vacant up until then, until she realized what a grave mistake she'd made. Servants didn't have their hands kissed. A servant would have been astounded, would have never curtsied. She was an idiot, a complete idiot. Her shocking blue eyes were wide and alert now, watching him suspiciously as though he were a snake that might bite. As Betsy's request, she rushed into the kitchen without hesitation, glancing over her shoulder as if to make sure he hadn't followed.
"So, what do you think?"
"Quite the charmer, isn't he?" The words tasted bitter on her tongue.
"Oh come now, he really isn't so bad."
"Alright." He was, she was sure of it.
"At least he likes you more than the girls." Good old Betsy, with her cold hard truths.
The young man had seen, noticed, and was astonished. Cordelia was not only beautiful, but she was also graceful and well-mannered. The only thing that marked her as a servant was a large apron over a fine dress, and eyes that tried to remain downturned. The surprise on her face showed that she had caught her mistake, and Jonathan watched her with more interest. Tea was called for, however, and he had to go see his father, and the new servant, pretty or not, was rather forgotten.
He moved on into the library, his brushed hat held between his long-fingered hands. He was dressed fashionably as they came. Jacket, cravat, and vest. Creamy white breeches which tucked into two-toned english riding boots, which glowed with polish. Yet as he moved into the library, dark even at midday, he felt inferior and insecure, like a pauper.
His father reclined in one of the two wingback chairs drawn near to the fire. His own black boots were what Jonathan saw first, and he stopped before he could see past the stretched out leg. He knew that his father knew he was there, though they both said and did nothing. Instead, Jonathan watched the reflection of the fire on the black toe of his father's shoe, and the light flicker over the green-panted leg of the cruel man.
"Well, boy, don't you intend to come where I can see you?" Mr. Oliver finally barked, impatience winning out. Even as Jonathan stepped quickly forward, the older man continued to mutter, "...like a coward, sulking in the shadows..."
When Jonathan stood before his father, Mr. Oliver did not rise, did not shake his hand, just looked at him, with disgust on his face, not stirring from where he slouched in his chair. He glared at his son as though he hated everything about him with renewed force, and could not find one redeeming quality in the person before him. Jonathan tried to keep on a brave face, tried not to let his chin tremble, tried not to look like he cared, and squelched the urge to dive forward and pummel his lazy, useless old man where he lie.
"Well. You've come back." Mr. Oliver said, striking upon the most pleasant thing he could say, and shifting to sit more upright.
"Yes. I have," Jonathan agreed, moving his fingertips on the brim of his hat.
"What, just here for five minutes? Or didn't the useless new servant girl take your hat?" He snapped out. Everything about his son infuriated him. If he did one thing, Mr. Oliver would be enraged, but if he didn't do it, the old man would still be livid.
Jonathan moved to sit down in the chair opposite his father's, and set the hat upon his knee, carefully leaning back to not look frightened by his father. He was no longer a young child. "Cordelia? Yes, I'm afraid I may have set her off," he mused thoughtfully, almost barely showing a hint of a smile.
Mr. Oliver just gave a grunt, that plainly said he disapproved of everything and everyone, and he shuffled around for a lighter for a cigarette. "Damn. Left it in the study..." he muttered to himself.
"Here," Jonathan said, fishing one out of his pocket and leaning forward to light it for his father. Mr. Oliver accepted, and then leaned back, puffing on it as he stared moodily at the fire. It was as close as companionship as the two could get. Even though Jonathan smoked as well, he did not do so in front of his father. He did not feel at ease enough, so he slid the lighter back into his pocket, and watched his father. "You know, something seems...off...about that servant girl?"
"Hum?" The wild old man was looking at his son again, smoke coming out of his nostrils.
"Well, she curtsied to me. As if she really knew how to courtsey, you know? She just seems..."
"I'll thank you to let me manage my own household, boy," Mr. Oliver cut him off. "And stay away from her. I'll not have you mucking up my housestaff."
"Yes," Jonathan agreed edgily, though he refused to add 'sir,' and they both knew that he was showing disrespect. Mr. Oliver glared at him coldly for a moment, while his son stared defiantly back, and then Mr. Oliver looked away and to the fire once more.
In the kitchen, Betsy saw that all was right with the tea tray, and then patted Delia's hand. "Since the young master 'as taken such a shining to you, you can go in and serve the tea alone. I'm sure they would much rather look at a pretty young thing like yourself than old me, anyway. Remember, after you serve the tea, stand aside and do not interfere unless called upon. Ring the bell for me if you should need me." The housekeeper gave her an encouraging and guilty smile, for Betsy simply did not wish to be around the old man and his son together.
The Bleeding Rose
There was a very particular way the biscuits had to be arranged. She had watched Sally do it seemingly dozens of times, and Betsy had showed her how on multiple occasions. But for some reason, she could never get it quite right. They always looked messy, off center, more like a pile of sweets than a piece of art. When she set the last one on top, it tumbled off as though it had a mind of it's own. Her hands trembled as she tried to set it back on top, a mixture of anxiety, fear, and sheer stupidity. Was she really so incapable of making a neat pile? Was it as important as she thought it was? Yes, of course. Wealth meant that everything was neat, everything was tidy, everything was routine...at least on the surface. As she finally set it back on top, looking down at the sad pile, Delia wondered if she was losing her mind.
No, impossible. She'd lost it long ago.
Betsy's voice almost startled her, and she looked up like a thief caught red handed in some sort of impropriety. But there was nothing but kindness, and a slight edge of guilt int he old woman's face. She patted her hand as if it would make up for throwing her to the wolves, before fleeing the room. Delia didn't blame her, she knew her expression was akin to what it might have been if she'd held a dagger to her throat. Actually, she might have preferred that. Funny how life could change you, warp you, to the point where delivering tea was preferable to a death sentence. No, it wasn't really funny at all, was it? And yet, she had the strangest urge to laugh. It would have been empty if she had, devoid of humor, painful to her own ears.
So instead she picked up the tray, balancing it carefully. The weight of it was shocking every time she lifted it, the tiny silver handles of the tray digging into her palms, a pain in her back and a trembling in her core that made the pot rattle if she wasn't careful. Callouses weren't the only thing she was missing. Strength came with years of labor, and though it was getting better, making a bed a week ago would steal her breath away like no other. A pot full of hot tea, a line of cups, a tray of biscuits, cream and sugar, the weight added up. For years her corset had kept her back straight, her spine from collapsing, but she needed more than that for lifting. "Look at her." Sally had said, the first time she'd delivered Mr. Oliver tea. "You'd think she was carrying a tray full of cobblestones." And as she got farther away, when they thought she couldn't hear, "I'll bet you it's from whatever disease she caught. Notice how her eyes never really look at you? I think it's eating away at her mind."
Disease. She was cleaner than they would ever be, though it hardly mattered. She couldn't prove it, and if everyone believed she had some terrible disease, then she might as well have had one.
It was a terribly long walk to the library, where Mr. Oliver seemed to spend his days. She might have loved the place if it wasn't filled with his brooding presence, though the books weren't hers to read or touch. Besides, servants usually couldn't read. Picking up a book could get in her in serious trouble, especially after the little curtsying stunt she'd pulled. Stupid, stupid girl. To sad to even pay attention, too daft to save her own hide. This wasn't a game, this wasn't meant to be temporary. This was her last chance.
By the time she arrived she was struggling not to look as though she were struggling, entering the room with her eyes cast down. As she set down the tray on the beautifully carved tea table between them, the top biscuit committed suicide, rolling down and falling to it's death beside one of the teacups. Delia's heart dropped, and she paused for the briefest of moment, lips parted in an expression of despair. He wouldn't eat it if she touched it with her fingers, she was sure of that. There was little to do but ignore it, and so she poured Mr. Oliver his tea, and set it in his hands carefully. Black, just the way he liked it. Black like his soul, was more like it.
"How do you take your tea, sir?" she asked Jonathan, eyes never raising to meet his She fixed him a cup in accordance with his reply, before moving silently over to the wall, wondering how long she would be required to wait. It felt wrong, to stand there, pretending she didn't exist. Maybe she was too accustom to existing, maybe that was her problem. As it was, she longed to take a deep breath, but knew that it would disrupt the uncomfortable silence. Silence was the only solution.
Jonathan had looked at the fireplace, too, after his father had. Once the servant entered, however, his hazel eyes flickered over to her. It was an absent gesture, he would have looked at anyone who had provided some distraction from the featureless room. Still, there was no denying that she was pleasanter to look at than anyone else in the house. He watched Delia while she bent over to lay down the tray, and then his eyes lowered to the tumbling biscuit. She froze, and the corner of his mouth twitched into a smile. Betsy would have just apologized and brushed it off, the other servants would have ignored it or fussed until his father barked at them to shut up. Yet this girl seemed mortified, yet moved on bravely. It made him feel a sort of comradeship with her. He felt the same way around his father. Exactly the same. Damn biscuits, cigarettes, and tea.
He continued to watch her while she poured his father's tea, and Mr. Oliver ignored her, taking the cup as though it was handed to him by thin air. He sipped and made a face from it being too hot, but said nothing yet. Jonathan continued to look at Delia with a half-smile, wishing she would meet his eyes, but she did not. "Just black is fine," he told her, although it wasn't true. He preferred his tea with cream and sugar. His father said only dandies took their tea like that. Not that he believed his father - he drank his tea sweet and creamy at university, and it was delicious, and didn't threaten his manhood in anyone else's eyes. In front of his father, however, it was just easier to avoid getting yelled at.
The young man took the tea cup from her once she had fixed it, not trying to touch her hand or do anything untoward. "Thank you," he responded, although it would have been better to say nothing. He blew on his tea, and when Mr. Oliver glared at him, he took a sip. His face twitched as he recoiled from the taste, and he couldn't help smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It was bitter, as was the glare fixed upon him.
"I suppose her clumsiness is part of some conspiracy plot as well, hmm?" Mr. Oliver baited his son.
Jonathan forced a chuckle. "I doubt it, father." The cup rattled in the saucer in his hands.
"Do you indeed," the father glowered. "Come here, girl," he growled, setting down his cup and beckoning to Delia with his free hand. Jonathan tensed, but said nothing, and if she complied, Mr. Oliver would insist she come closer until he could grab her wrist hard. Whether she did or not, he said, "My son says you curtsied to him upon meeting him. With a certain air of...grace? If I am not mistaken?" His dark eyes roved to his son, who was leaning forward as though he would like to intervene.
"Really, is this entirely necessary...?" he said.
"Yes!" Snarled Mr. Oliver, jerking Delia's arm. He black gaze swept back to her. "Where were you educated? Are your skills above that of a mere servant? Are you a governess, fleeing a torrid romance? Apparently, no mystery is to be tolerated while the young master is in his future home. So speak!" He pulled her arm again.
"Father!" Jonathan said. "Do you still resort to frightening the servants?"
"Do you still resort to sleeping with them?" Mr. Oliver snapped, whipping his head at Jonathan.
The young man gaped, and then said, still obviously stunned, "I don't, I never have...I..."
"Maybe," the father mused, turning his attention back to the girl while he kept speaking to his son. "But I know the way you fritted money away on women while you are at university. My money. It would be easier if you kept a mistress, would it not? Do I not have a say? As it is I who bankrolls your escapades? How about her? She is pretty, is she not?" His hand let go of her arm and reached for her chin, to turn it towards Jonathan.
"STOP!" Jonathan roared, jumping to his feet. The teacup crashed to the floor at his feet, and the hat tumbled off of his knee, rolling to Delia's feet. His hands were fisted beside his legs, every muscle in his body rigid and trembling with his anger at this injustice. Especially as he knew it was directed at himself. His father was glad to have found a new way to irritate his son.
Mr. Oliver was a grouchy old dog, always looking for a fight. Pleased at this reaction, he chuckled darkly and released the girl, leaning back into his chair as if it were a throne, and he were a newly crowned king. "Or what?" he drawled, smiling maliciously.
"I will leave," he said through gritted teeth.
A barked laugh in response. "Is that a threat?" The tone suggested that Christmas had come early.
"I will leave and never come back. I don't need your money, or this damn house," Jonathan growled, still trembling, not sparing a glance for the girl who had brought this on inadvertently.
Mr. Oliver chuckled again. "Think you I care, boy? I have no need of an heir." Jonathan was trembling, and tears were standing in his eyes, and he did not trust himself to speak. "Clean up after my clumsy son, if he still calls himself that," the father commanded the servant girl, never taking his eyes off of Jonathan, as he took another drag of his cigarette.
The young man bent automatically to help her in the task, whether she obeyed or not. The black tea had soaked into the rug, and he began to pick up the shards of porcelain scattered across it. He was still angry, and still trembled, and he did not look at Delia even as he assisted her.
The Bleeding Rose
The younger of the two men thanked her, but Delia didn't consider it genuine. She simply couldn't, not after the way the girls' whispered about him over their breakfast. It was perfectly clear to her what sort of man Jonathan Oliver Junior was, and she wanted no part in it. She couldn't afford to have any part in it. Would he have thanked the other servant girls, with their plain faces and messy hair? Would he have kept his eyes on them as they moved, stared outright so rudely because he knew that they couldn't reprimand him? Maybe it was all in her head, maybe she was flattering herself. After all, she wasn't the object of anyone's affection anymore. No, she was a useful tool to carry the tray and serve the tea. As Delia observed quietly in the corner she looked up at Jonathan for the first time since she'd entered, noticing his expression of distaste as the tea met his tongue. Black wasn't how he liked it, and though he seemed to dislike his father, he had asked for the same bitter black liquid. Family could be so incredibly messy.
Mention of her clumsiness broke her train of thought, but the comment was nothing new. This new life was a place where people were allowed to point out her flaws, to make assumptions about her without checking to see if she was standing nearby. It hardly mattered whether she heard it or not, she was obviously either too stupid or too polite to comment. She was nothing but an empty shell, standing in the corner, waiting to be called on. But then, she'd never expected to actually be called on. Delia look stunned as Mr. Oliver beckoned her forward, but she only hesitated a moment before moving closer to his chair. As she stopped be motioned again for her to move closer, and though every fiber of her being screamed not to, she obeyed. And suddenly, it was all too clear. He reached out and grabbed her wrist, squeezing it hard, tugging her towards him. A sharp gasp escaped her, but nothing more. Her jaw was locked tight, her eyes cast down, face as blank as she could make it while he started to demand answers. It would all be over soon. Everything would be over soon.
It wasn't the first time someone had grabbed her like that. Men like Mr. Oliver were her sick sort of specialty, and she'd been well trained in this dance long ago. When her jerked her arm, pain screaming in her shoulder, her mouth only twitched. When he jerked her again, demanding an answer, her voice was low and soft. "No, Sir." There was an edge of panic, an edge of pain, but she did not raise her eyes and she did not cry out in fear. The crying, the thrashing, the empty threats...they only made things worse. Why, oh why had she curtsied? Why hadn't she been more careful, why hadn't she asked Betsy if she could remain in the kitchen to fix the tea? Why hadn't she put cream and sugar in Jonathan's cup, when he clearly wanted it so badly? Maybe that would have changed the subject?
But Mr. Oliver had his son's promiscuity on his mind, and Delia came to the realization that this had nothing to do with her. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing more than a prop in the argument that this cruel old man would use to prove his point. And there it was again, the idea that she was some sort of two cent whore. Why not her? She felt her stomach roll in disgust, not in Jonathan but in the fact that it could have been true. Servants did it all the time, having bastard children in the privacy of their quarters that ran around with their half brothers and sisters until they were old enough to know the difference. After all, she was a servant now. Servants obeyed, servants did as they were told, servants pleased their employers. If he asked her to take off her dress, would she be expected to do it? Her downcast eyes didn't see the hand coming, and Delia cried out in surprise and pain as he wrenched her chin up, forcing her face towards Jonathan. Her eyes landed on him, and she knew that they must have been wide with fear.
He yelled in the bone chilling way that men could, and Delia felt an involuntary shudder run down her spine. It was clearly visible, pathetic, and Mr. Oliver was no doubt thrilled by her tiny frame shivering beside him. Cruel men liked to watch others tremble in fear, and the gasp of relief she let out when he finally released her was probably equally satisfying. Delia allowed herself to take two steps back, but she didn't let her fingers touch her sore jaw, or rub the spot on her wrist where his large hands had dug into her flesh. Instead she stood in anxious misery, waiting to be excused, praying he'd let her leave. Unfortunately she was not so lucky, as there was a mess of shattered porcelain and tea to be tended to. When ordered forward she did not cower meekly, or hesitate by the warmth of the fire. Instead she moved towards the mess bravely, expression calm as though nothing at all had been unpleasant or out of the ordinary. Her fingers snatched a cloth napkin from the tray, dropping it onto the carpet where the tea had spilled. Jonathan was on the ground in front of her, picking up the sharp shards with fingers that trembled violently.
Delia sunk to her knees directly across from him, pressing the napkin down into the wet spot, watching the brown tea soak the white rag. She was utterly aware of how close she was to Mr. Oliver, knowing that he could easily stick out his foot and catch her in the stomach. Or worse, her face. Yes, he could grab her by her air and slam her face into the table, he could push her back into the roaring fire. She was well aware of the possibilities, but she couldn't allow herself to be truly afraid. Fear left room for mistakes. There was only a brief hesitation, before she reached out and touched both of Jonathan's trembling hands. "Stop." Her own were still, calm, careful as she tipped his over, emptying the shards into a palm that had clearly never seen a blister. The word was barely above a whisper, and though the touch was only brief, he would notice that her hands were steady as could be. It took more than this to make her tremble, now days. The shards were dropped into the napkin, and few remaining picked up and tossed onto it as well. She folded it carefully so that none would escape, rising and clutching the bundle close. "I'll get you another cup." she told him, waiting for some sign that she was allowed to leave the room.
Mr. Oliver was smirking, an expression rarely seen on his blank or angry face. He did not realize that he had pushed the two young people toward each other. If he had, perhaps he would not have minded. He was sick and unhappy, and it would be just like to force them together so that he could rip them apart. Yet his mind was not naturally romantic enough for this, and instead he watched them in silence, enjoying the view of the humbled female as much as he enjoyed the anxiety and pain of his son. He kept smoking and watching them, content to remain in the background, momentarily amused, for once, by the company of others. Yes, people could be quite amusing when they were crawling away from you like cocroaches. So easily stepped on, so easily crushed, so defenseless...
Jonathan looked up at the girl in surprise when she reached to touch his hands, and this uncertainty let her manuever his to give up the pieces of the teacup. Even the way she spoke, it was not typical. With gentleness and authority. He pulled his hands back compliantly, but remained kneeling near her. Tea had begun to soak into the knee of his cream pants, just barely. He stood when she did, and shook his head. "No, I think tea is over," he responded with a dismissive nod, his voice soft when he spoke to her.
His father snorted, and pulled the cigarette from his mouth. He looked at it musingly and blew a copious amount of smoke from between his lips. "Yes, you had better go clean yourself up," Mr. Oliver said sarcastically.
The young man clenched his jaw. He would like to see his old man stand up from that chair and face him as an equal. He could take that coward easily, he thought, and the skin on his knuckles itched to get bloody. Instead, however, all he did was step around to his hat. He picked it up, dusted it off, and set it back on top of his head, even though he was indoors. He did not wait to be dismissed, nor did he say a single word to his father. He simply reached with one hand for the biscuit which had fallen over, and he took a conspicuous bite of it. His father exhaled air softly in another snort, not missing the defiance in his son's act.
With the biscuit still held in his right hand, Jonathan left the room after the excused servant, and once outside the library, he tried to catch up with her. "Miss Scott!" He called, showing a surprisingly accurate memory, when he had seemed as though he hadn't been paying attenion before. He jogged up to her and caught the crook of her elbow with his left hand, although he released her the moment he had stopped her. He was a bit breathless and red in the face, but he looked victorious, and only a little abashed.
"Miss Scott, I want to apologize for my..." he paused for a breath, "for my father's behavior. He is a brute, but he usually isn't so bad when I am not at home. What happened in there, that was not about you at all. He was only trying to embarrass me. I am deeply grieved that it effected you." He swept his hat from his head again, and held it over his breast with his left hand. He still held the half-eaten biscuit in his right. He had somehow manuevered things, intentionally or not, so that Delia's back was against the wall, and he was near to her, a bit nearer than propriety dictated. His breath smelled like tea, and his eyes, up close, were complicated and framed by eyelashes so dark, it looked like he wore subtle eyeliner.
Despite their closeness, the mood he exuded was not seductive. He was breathless from the short jog, and was too exilerated by the fact that he had stood up to his father at all, to be overly distracted by the pretty face below his. Distracted, yes, but not overly so. The darkly patterened floral wallpaper behind her threw into stark relief her smooth white skin, her lips and her eyes.
"I hope you feel safe here," he added, and that tagged-on thought made him take a step backward, having a brief guess at how she must be feeling. This let some of the wind out of his sails, and his face looked marginally more concerned. He had an innocent countenance, a bit clueless to matters which did not immediately concern him, although that did not mean that within his breast was not a heart capable of feeling. He had simply never been taught better than that man in the library, and it was well that he had not had more dealings with him. Jonathan had inherited the spirit of his mother. Bright, rebellious, and affectionate. Quick to love and quicker to be hurt. He had been hurt continuously for so long, and loved so little, that he tended to wear a hard shell, but he could never become like the man his father was. He may be extremely insensitive, and at times even mean, but he would never become truly cruel. His hurt and self-loathing could spoil him, though.
"You can speak frankly to me, Miss Scott," he added, genuinely, although he was not sure why he said it. Perhaps because he was curious about what was going on beneath the surface of this mysterious, lovely creature. The hand holding his hat, lowered, as he came ever closer back down to the earth. He had never had an equal affected by his father, and for some reason, Delia struck him as an equal - in her soul, at least, if not in position in life. That was part of why he had difficulty letting people in. They didn't understand, and never would, the reality of his life. Yet this girl, so new here, was already beginning to.
Last edited by OhGodOfWriting; 03-22-2013 at 02:54 PM.
The Bleeding Rose
The tea had stained his cream pants, soaking one of the knees. A month ago she wouldn't have thought much of it. Either the stain would disappear, or another pair of trousers would be bought. Now though, she had to wonder if she would be the one to scrub it out. The soiled napkin was damp in her hand, and Delia supposed that she would be the one to try to wash the stain out of it as well. Part of her dreaded the idea of laundry, the way the hot water burned the delicate skin of her hands. But then, it didn't seem so terrible compared to delivering tea to Mr. Oliver. She knew that she would have to face him again, but she would most definitely volunteer to plunge elbow deep into boiling water first. Besides, the sooner her hands started to look like a servants, the better. Maybe Jonathan wouldn't have pressed his lips against her knuckles if they had been scarred and rough. Maybe Betsy would stop looking at her like she was hiding some grave secret.
She wasn't, she wasn't, she wasn't...and if she believed it, it might be true.
Delia didn't waste a moment once she was excused. She turned and fled from the room, not daring to curtsy, rushing off towards the kitchen with the napkin and shards of teacup held close against her body. Everything was falling apart. Mr. Oliver disliked her, she knew that, but Jonathan had made it so much worse. Would she lose her job? It wasn't an option for her, she would starve if she did...but of course, that didn't mean it wouldn't happen. Where would she go? What would she do? Set off across the moors again? Die without water or food in the middle of nowhere? Surely they would look for her, and they would follow the vultures that gathered to pick at her flesh. Maybe they would say she had fallen ill. Maybe they'd say she killed herself. It would hardly matter once she was dead, considering she couldn't have set the record straight if she wanted. No, no, she really couldn't be fired.
Was someone yelling? Oh, it was for Miss Scott. No, that wasn't her.
A hand caught her elbow and she recoiled, spinning and stepping back. The wall was in the way of her retreated, and she felt the cold from the stones seep straight through her dress, penetrating the skin beneath it and settling in her very core. Miss Scott. Of course it was her, she'd picked the name herself. When she was a child, a tutor had convinced her that she was intelligent. Over the past few years she had come to the conclusion that he had been terribly wrong. Delia opened her mouth and shut it again, realizing that she had nothing coherent to say, and that she could quite remember the protocol for this. Later she would ask Betsy, "What should you do when your superior sprints after you, and begins to apologize profusely?" But Betsy wasn't there, and he was speaking to her now. All she could do was reply. He was deeply grieved it had...effected her? "I didn't." the words were a little harsh, her expression a mix of troubled puzzlement. "And you have nothing to apologize for." His father was the monster, not him.
Oh, wait, he was a notorious womanizer. No wonder he was...was that the biscuit?
It looked an awful lot like the one that had fell from the top of the pile, and Delia stared down at it, unable to hide her horror. He hadn't, he wouldn't. Was he trying to cost her this job? Did he think she'd been flattered? His father was going to strangle her. His father was going to make her life a living hell. They were standing much closer than they should have been, but Delia didn't feel particularly threatened. She felt certain that she would have noticed if he was harboring dangerous thoughts, but his expression gave no hint that he was the womanizer everyone said he was. Maybe that was how he tricked them, with that honest face and friendly demeanor. They would think they were friends, and then equals, and then true love in it's purest form. Desperate girls listened to lies, and crafty men had a way of convincing them that love and marriage did not always go hand in hand. But then...they didn't, did they? She had been tricked before, played like a fool. This man, handsome as he was with those thick dark lashes and wild hair, he wouldn't get the better of her.
He said that he hoped she felt safe, taking a step back, and Delia's eyes narrowed in suspicion. A few years ago she might have noticed that their hair was a similar shade, that they would have had beautiful children. A few years ago she would have nodded, and smile, and teased him about the tea stain on his knee. A year ago she could still feel, and the ordeal in the library would have damaged her fragile soul. A year ago, she'd still had a soul. He told her that she could speak frankly, which was the worst idea she had ever heard. Servants didn't speak frankly to their employers. Servants didn't have quiet conversations like this, with their backs pressed against the wall. Not unless they were providing more than tea.
A high pitched giggle met her ears, and her her snapped to the right, just in time to see Sally and Hattie climb the stairs. They had been chatting enthusiastically, both carrying sheets and pillows, probably going to make Jonathan's bed. Now of course they stopped, staring at the two of them with disgust, shock, and jealousy. Delia turned her face away, closing her eyes, and for a moment it looked like she might be sick. "If you have any shred of human decency..." the words were sudden, low, intense. Her pale blue eyes turned on him, staring fearlessly into his. It was too quiet for the girls to hear, but her words would meet his ears with crystal clarity. "You won't say another word about me to your father. And...." she glanced at the girls, stepping away from the wall and clutching the bundle more tightly. "And you'll stay away from me."
Jonathan didn't understand. He was bewildered. She claimed not to have been effected by his father's rough treatment of her. It was unequivocally his fault, as he had been fool enough to tell his father about the curtsy, and it was his own sins which caused Mr. Oliver to want to humiliate him. He saw her eyes go to the biscuit, and he blinked at her, lips parting as he breathed steadily. It was too serious, what was happening right now, to smile, glad that she had noticed. It had more been an act of disrespect to his father, than one of solidarity with Delia, though it had certainly had been that, too. What it was not, was a way to flirt with her.
At the giggle, he looked reluctantly away from her, to the plain-faced girls at the end of the hall. He was irritated with their interruption, although he did not show it. Instead he merely bowed his head at them briefly, saying "Ladies," as if they were, albiet unattractive ones. Delia's voice, low and threatening, pulled his face back around to hers, and her eyes, like ice, froze him in place. He looked surprised. Never had a woman reacted like this to him, in all his days. His father might hate him with a fiery passion, but the gentle sex had always had a soft spot for him. This left him utterly confused, and a little bit nettled.
"I see," he said, not trying to keep his voice quiet, although he did not shout, either. He pulled up, looking stiff and affronted, and put his hat back on his head, while the fingers of his other hand tightened on the biscuit. The edges of it began to crumble in his palm. "Thank you for your frankness, Miss Scott," he said formally, and then turning on his heel to walk briskly away from her, toward the stairs. The other servants grew giggly as he approached, and he dropped the biscuit onto one of the pillows and said quietly, "Do something about this, will you?" as he did so. He then took the stairs quickly, disappearing from view, leaving the girls to wonder at his behavior, and Delia's involvement in it.
If they had intended to change his bedding, they would simply have to wait, as he was going to his room to change. He had some time before dinner, and he wanted to go out riding, and perhaps shooting, to work off some of this sudden and inexplicable aggression. It did not make sense to him, as he was angrier at his father, he believed. Yet it was Delia's face that flashed into his mind when he tried to envision what upset him, and he was not gentle with his clothing as he changed. He popped a button off of the cream breeches before they ended up in the laundry, and only just managed not to do the same to his black breeches.
Had his father hired a beautiful servant just to torment him? He would not doubt it. The thing about living with a parent who played mindgames was, anytime anything the slightest bit bad happened to him, even abroad, he wondered if his father'd had a hand in it. Which was of course, exactly what Mr. Oliver wanted. "Sick bastard," Jonathan muttered, before banging his way out of his room again, and going outside into the moor. He went to his stables and saddled up his horse, kept there even though he was so rarely home. He then took his musket, and one of his father's hunting dogs (the one whom had always been most sympathetic to him, or the second most, as the most sympathetic had gone mysteriously missing before his time). Thus aided, he rode out and shot at flocks of birds which rose from trees, never hitting one.
The exercise did not make him feel better. The horse was skittish, feeling his anger, the moor was lonely and taunting, and the darkness that closed in prematurely seemed an ominous omen for his life.
Betsy soon rounded the girls up to help set the large dining room table, where the masters would sit at opposite ends of the opulent room. Not knowing what had happened, the housekeeper asked Delia to help her attend. At least Betsy did not expect her to do it on her own this time, although there was more for both to do. "You serve Master Jonathan, as Mr. Oliver is far more particular..." she explained as they lit long, tapering candles, which shone in the gleaming silver.
When Jonathan came in, he was still in a black mood, and not dressed properly. He had taken off his jacket to expose his vest and shirt, and left on his riding pants and muddied boots. He smelled like cow manure and heather. Betsy made a sour face, but said nothing, more because she was displeased that Jonathan was, and less because she was reproachful. He threw himself into his chair, and when he saw that it was Delia who would be attending him, he gritted his teeth and called, "Bets, were none of the other servants available?" But Betsy tactfully ignored him. Instead of waiting for his father, he began drinking from his already filled water goblet, and beckoned for Delia to fill his wine glass. Mr. Oliver had still not yet arrived, and Betsy was fidgetting, wondering if he would come down at all. He had stormed out of the library and up to the study shortly after his son had left it, and not been seen since.