by Jackie J
Rosemary stood awkwardly in her maid’s uniform, her fingers fidgeting nervously at her apron, and listened passively to Miss Nightingale’s veiled tirade. What was happening? She felt submissive, subservient to this woman, who had proclaimed herself Rosemary’s Mistress and who now demanded her unquestioning obedience from her for the training to continue. Unique and unfamiliar feelings surged through the young woman following her chastisement.
Rosemary could have, indeed should have called a halt to this masquerade there and then, strip of these vestiges of servitude she had been dressed in, reassert her ownership of her own home, send this woman packing! Why had she been thinking of agreeing to all this nonsense? Should she? No!
Her timid and conciliatory response even surprised Miss Nightingale and her fate was sealed.
“Sorry, Mistress, I understand demarcation must be maintained and reinforced as you say, I won’t question you again, Mistress.”
Miss Nightingale, emboldened by Rosemary’s overly submissive response, pressed home her assertiveness.
“Good, I am glad we are clear, you may go and fix your hair and take those clothes with you, we won’t be needing those, will we? Then return here.”
Miss Nightingale waited and showed no emotion when Rosemary gathered up her discarded clothes, dropped a curtsy, and mumbled the words that would become her mantra, before turning to leave the study.
Rosemary awkwardly hitched her skirts and apron, clutching the bundle of her fine clothes, to ascend the staircase, her heavy boots heralding her progress. Inside her bedchamber, she hung her dress in the closet and placed her underwear into the laundry skip before rummaging for her hair slide comb.
Two pins and the comb held up and controlled her hair and she sat before pinning her lacy maid’s cap in place.
Catching her reflection in the mirror, Rosemary sighed at the uniformed maid that stared back at her but reconciled that if she was to have a Stephenson’s maid at Malangton Hall she would need to accept the conditions laid down by Miss Nightingale, her Mistress.
Returning to the study Rosemary stood in front of Miss Nightingale, who was sitting at her desk, and dropped a curtsy.
Miss Nightingale smiled.
“That’s much better Rose, we are making progress.”
Miss Nightingale turned a large piece of paper around to face Rosemary and Rosemary moved to sit in the chair facing the desk bringing a curt response from Miss Nightingale.
“No, heavens no, Rose! A Stephenson’s maid would never sit in the presence of her Mistress. Remain standing.”
Rosemary withdrew and was about to question this but thought better of it in view of what had transpired earlier.
Miss Nightingale continued.
“This is your roster; Stephenson’s maids follow a strict regime which they follow diligently. This allows the Mistress to know exactly what her maid is doing and when. My initial visit to Malangton Hall allowed me to prepare this roster for you covering all the core requirements of the maid. Of course, there will be other duties added to this regime and the spaces on the chart allow that when required. Should no other duties have been determined the maid will approach her Mistress and seek guidance on how she is to serve her Mistress.”
Rosemary stared down at the comprehensive chart prepared by Miss Nightingale for each day, detailing an extensive list of duties for the maid starting at 6 am through to 4.30 pm in the afternoon with a break for lunch at twelve for half an hour. This excluded the preparation and serving of dinner each evening. A full six days with Sundays being left free apart from meal preparation and serving.
Scanning over the listings Rosemary looked at Miss Nightingale.
“This is some listing, Mistress. I would not have thought, there would be so much to do for the maid.”
Miss Nightingale sat back.
“Like I said, a Stephenson maid is meticulous and thorough in her work and keeps her residence pristine for her Mistress's pleasure and comfort. A place for everything and everything in its place and woe betide the maid who errs from her duties.”
Miss Nightingale smirked.
“You will accept that this particular residence has not benefitted from any organised domestic attention for some time, to be frank, the place is a mess, some would say disgustingly so.”
“But we are going to change that and prepare the residence for a Stephenson’s maid to assume responsibility for it. By working through the roster you will become acquainted with each aspect of it and thereby, with my guidance, know how each task will be performed to the high standards of a Stephenson’s maid.”
Miss Nightingale stood from behind the desk and walked beside Rosemary and smiled speaking in a soft but assured tone.
“You see, Rose, I have never failed to prepare a residence and more importantly its Mistress for the introduction of a Stephenson’s maid to be employed within it.”
Rosemary was uncomfortable at having her home labelled a disgusting mess but it was true, the residence had been neglected over an extended period with her social activities and travel. If a Stephenson’s maid could transform the place, like had been done at Westbury Manor, then following Miss Nightingale's instructions would be a price worth paying, wouldn’t it?
After slightly adjusting Rosemary’s lacy cap and tucking in some loose hairs Miss Nightingale stood back.
“So shall we begin, Rose?”
Rosemary forced a weak smile and dropped a curtsy.
Miss Nightingale picked up the roster and had Rose scurry behind her to the kitchen where she pinned the roster to the wall.
“There, pride of place, Rose. The Kitchen is the centre of a maid’s activity, should the mistress seek her maid this is where she will be found, the roster identifying where she should be, and at what task and, if at any other time, her maid will be here awaiting her Mistress’s pleasure.”
“Now you will gather all the cleaning equipment you have for your Mistress’s inspection.”
Rosemary dropped a curtsy eager to please.
Miss Nightingale folded her arms and stood back against the large stone sink and smiled watching Rosemary retrieve various brushes, mops and buckets, rags, dusters, soap blocks, dust pans, wax, etc.
Miss Nightingale surveyed the assembled items tut-tutting at their condition as she did.
“Well, I see why things are in such a parlous state here. The Mistress will regularly inspect her maid’s equipment and renew as required.” I will arrange for new materials to be brought here but for now you will have to manage with what you have.”
“The entrance to a residence says much about the Mistress so we will start there. Bring your things and follow me, Rose.”
In the hallway by the door, Miss Nightingale pointed out the order of work and left Rose to her labours.
Rosemary wanted to show Miss Nightingale it was not a lack of knowing what to do with regard to cleaning more the lack of inclination and time in the past.
Two hours solid, her apron soiled and looking somewhat bedraggled, Rosemary entered the parlour to find Miss Nightingale and curtsied.
“Mistress, I have finished.”
Miss Nightingale slowly raised herself from the comfort of the sofa and followed Rosemary out into the hallway.
It was tidy, it was clean it looked much better than before but was it to a Stephenson’s maid’s standards?
Miss Nightingale then criticised almost every aspect of Rosemary’s work.
The lamp wicks had not been trimmed and the shades merely wiped leaving soot smears. Whilst the tiles had been scrubbed no polish was evident and the grout of the tiles to floor and wall had not been drawn. The table top gleamed but the table legs did not. The large rug had not been beaten adequately. Rosemary’s shoulders and head slowly sagged as the list of errors went on and on.
Miss Nightingale stood by the door and sighed.
“Oh, dear Rose, how could you supervise a Stephenson’s maid at her chores if this is your standard?”
“I have told you what is wrong and I now expect you to put things right, do you understand, Rose?”
Rosemary was crestfallen, she had toiled for over two hours but the justified criticism levelled by Miss Nightingale had highlighted her inadequacies.
A customary curtsy and Rosemary spoke timidly.
“Sorry, Mistress, yes, Mistress, I understand and will do better.”
During her second attempt the cumbersome nature of her maid’s uniform became more apparent but she laboured on and after what seemed an age her nails chipped and broken, her hands reddened, and knees sore, she again sought Miss Nightingale's approval.
This time Miss Nightingale was more constructive with her comments on how to achieve the best results. Rosemary was instructed to use vinegar in the rinse water and roll the rugs before beating, as well as told how to apply polishes and waxes for the highest sheen. She nodded and listened intently to the generosity of the advice being given.
“Well, Rose, much better. There is still room for improvement, of course, but much better.”
Rosemary felt quite pleased with herself and the conditional compliment forgetting that she had spent a large part of the day cleaning just the hallway which she would normally have given a cursory dust over in a few minutes.
Rosemary dropped her curtsy.
“Thank you, Mistress.”
Miss Nightingale started at the bedraggled Rosemary.
“ Rose, tidy away your cleaning equipment then get yourself cleaned up and put on a fresh apron. I think, then you can start to prepare dinner and we can assess your culinary skills.”
Another bobbed curtsy, which, surprisingly for Rosemary, was becoming second nature.
“Yes, Mistress, thank you, Mistress.”
Miss Nightingale smiled, a level of control over Mrs. Worthington starting to be established and returned to relax in the parlour.
Rosemary returned to the room that had been prepared for a maid’s quarters and removed the soiled apron before drawing a fresh one from the drawers. The tapes of her clean apron tied behind her she headed out to the kitchen. Rosemary was feeling quite hungry following her exertions and of course having missed lunch. What to prepare? Rosemary looked through the pantry, Rosemary kept a well-stocked larder and soon vegetables were on the boil and she stood slicing generous portions of ham. Rosemary wanted to please Miss Nightingale knowing she would be judged on the fare she was to provide.
Rosemary often took her meals in the kitchen but she couldn’t ask Miss Nightingale to dine there. No, she would set the dining table.
Setting out two place mats, cutlery and condiments, Rosemary deliberated where each of them would sit. She chose seats opposite each other at one end of the large table. All was ready and Rosemary entered the parlour to let Miss Nightingale know she was ready to serve dinner.
“Mistress. I am preparing to serve dinner if you are ready.”
Miss Nightingale looked up and smiled.
“Thank you, Rose.”
Entering the dining room Miss Nightingale noticed that two places had been set at the table.
“You will remove that second setting, Rose.”
Rosemary looked at Miss Nightingale questioningly. Miss Nightingale continued.
“Rose of all the households I have worked within I have yet to visit one where the maid dined with the Mistress. I am here to show you how to supervise a maid and the preparation and serving of meals are a major part of that. How can I give such instruction if you, the maid, are to join me, your Mistress, at the table for dinner?”
Rosemary thought for a moment. What Miss Nightingale was saying made sense, a maid would not dine with her Mistress. If she is to know what is to be expected of a housemaid at meal times, how better to learn than to merely prepare and then serve the meal to her Mistress?
Rosemary began to remove the second sitting she had prepared for herself.
“Sorry, yes you are right. I understand. I can eat in the kitchen, I often do anyway.”
Having returned to the kitchen Rosemary placed two split serving dishes on a large tray - one with potatoes, the other containing a mix of cabbage, carrots, and peas. A plate of sliced ham completed the menu and she carried the tray into the dining room and placed it adjacent to where Miss Nightingale was sat.
“I hope the meal is too your liking.”
Rosemary turned to leave.
Miss Nightingale halted her in her tacks.
“What? That was so slovenly, Rose. Appalling! No curtsy! and just dumping the food on the table in front of your Mistress? Come, come, Rose, that will not do at all! Remove the tray and we will start again. When a maid enters the dining room she will curtsy and announce that the meal is to be served. She will approach the table and describe the meal fully, then offer the tray and wait for the diner - your mistress in this case - although it will not always be so, to select. The maid will then serve, from the tray to the plate as required. After serving the maid will withdraw and stand discretely toward the edge of the room but in the line of sight of your Mistress should I require more from you.”
The subtle change in moving from the third person to directly implying that, Miss Nightingale was Mistress, Rosemary’s Mistress, and Rosemary the maid passed without comment and acceptance from Rosemary.
“So, Rose, before the meal is chilled please proceed.”
Rosemary followed her instructions to serve the meal then stood awaiting her Mistress’s direction.
The meal devoured, Rosemary was given further instruction on how to correctly remove the used plate, cutlery and leftover food. Back in the kitchen, Rosemary sat at the table and was picking at the cooling leftovers when Miss Nightingale appeared at the doorway.
“Tomorrow I will draw up some menus for you, Rose. Your Mistress is not a big eater but she does like variety and a maid’s place is to please her Mistress, isn’t it, Rose?”
Rose instinctively replied.
Was it the wearing of the maid’s uniform or the matter-of-fact, assured tone of Miss Nightingale or perhaps the naive and misguided belief that is was all necessary, a means to an end, so she would be able to correctly supervise a Stephenson’s maid at Malangton Hall or, a combination of all this that had Rosemary willingly compliant to this woman's will? Whatever it was, Rosemary’s first day as a Mistress's maid was drawing to a close.
Miss Nightingale told Rosemary to join her in the parlour when she had washed the pots and plates and tidied the kitchen.
Entering the parlour, Rosemary curtsied.
Miss Nightingale pointed to the chair opposite the sofa on which she was sat.
“Take a seat Rose, are you exhausted?”
Rosemary flopped down into the chair and forced a smile.
“Yes, a little. I didn’t realise what would be involved. A good night’s sleep and I should be fine.”
Miss Nightingale leaned forward.
“This is why it is so important Rose, you being my maid, the maid of your mistress and carrying out all the duties. You should feel tired. All maids are tired at the end of the day and a Mistress must know just how this truly feels. You appreciate that, don’t you, Rose, that you need to know how a maid feels?”
“Yes,” Rose responded.
Miss Nightingale’s expression quickly brought Rosemary back into her role.
“Sorry, I mean, yes, Mistress.”
Miss Nightingale’s expression softened into a weak smile.
“That’s better, Rose. Respect for your Mistress at all times. I am glad you appreciate that; you see the Mistress can enjoy all the comforts of the home whilst the maid’s privileges are restricted and quite rightly so. But how do you think that makes a maid feel seeing her Mistress at leisure whilst she toils at her labours?”
It was a rhetorical question and Miss Nightingale continued.
“Impossible, absolutely impossible, how could you possibly know, do you agree?”
Rosemary pondered Miss Nightingale’s words before responding. It was impossible: she had never been a maid and had always enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle.
“Yes, Mistress, impossible, how could I possibly know what it is like to feel the emotions you alluded to.”
Miss Nightingale leaned back into the sofa.
“And there you have it. Rose, how did you feel today dressed in your uniform scrubbing the hallway under the instruction of your Mistress and then serving your Mistress her dinner?”
Rosemary for some strange reason smiled. She could not help herself. She had felt the emotions of a maid. Remembering her mixed emotions of anger, frustration at her inability, the veiled chastisement, then a sense of pride when she was complimented seeking the praise of Miss Nightingale, the praise of her Mistress!
Miss Nightingale grinned with satisfaction seeing the penny had dropped and continued before Rosemary could answer.
“You see, this is the very thing that Miss Stephenson made clear to you; to supervise a maid you need to fully understand every aspect of a maid’s life. Appreciating the demarcation, the lack of privilege, the labour, the perceived and actual injustice of it all, and, of course, the tiredness a maid must endure; to live only to serve.”
“We have begun your training today and I would be doing you an injustice if I do not make your experience as my maid realistic. This so you learn not only the tasks required of a maid but how these tasks must be completed by a Stephenson’s maid. But most importantly of all how the maid will feel about her work and her Mistress.”
Rosemary sat listening to Miss Nightingale and nodded her agreement being drawn slowly and unwittingly deeper into the sticky web of servitude from which there will be no escape.
Miss Nightingale yawned for effect and then stood.
“Well, time for bed, I think, Rose. We can continue in the morning and start to work from the roster, I am sure you will be comfortable in your room and handy for the kitchen in the morning.”
Rosemary looked questioningly at Miss Nightingale.
“What? My room, what do you mean, my room?”
Miss Nightingale looked at Rosemary no less quizzically.
“Why, your quarters, the maids quarters of course, where else would a mistress's maid live? You have just agreed the necessity to fully understand the life of a maid. Living in the maid’s quarters is an essential part of that. You surely did not think that it would help for you just to return to the luxury of your bed chamber in the evenings? That would make no sense at all, would it?”
Rosemary was tired and wanted the comfort of her soft feather bed but she considered what Miss Nightingale had said. It was true, how could she fully understand the life of a maid, which was the whole purpose of this exercise, if she retreated to the comfort and luxury of her bedchamber each evening. Rosemary sighed, looked at a stern looking Miss Nightingale and, under a weak protest, acquiesced.
“Well, I am not happy with his arrangement, it was never mentioned before but I want this training to be a success and have a Stephenson’s maid at Malangton Hall so, as you say, I will stay in the maid’s quarters. But I will need to bring down my things from my bed chamber, won’t I?”
Miss Nightingale swiftly rebuked her maid.
“What things? We have just been through this haven’t we? What would a maid possibly need from a Mistress's bedchamber? A maid would not share the comforts and possessions of a mistress, would she? No, of course everything that a maid requires you will find in your room, Rose.”
Rosemary looked at Miss Nightingale having sensed a degree of frustration in her tone. Miss Nightingale was right of course. If she was to fully experience the feelings of a maid she could not expect to bring the trappings and creature comforts she was accustomed to into the maid’s quarters, could she?
“Sorry, Mistress, how foolish of me. I wasn’t thinking.”
Miss Nightingale smiled having Mrs. Worthington, Mistress of Malangton Hall, first convinced to dress in a maid’s uniform, then willingly scrubbing and cleaning before preparing and serving a meal to her and now, with only a token protest, agreeing to live in the cramped maid’s quarters and foregoing all her possessions. The journey of Mrs. Rosemary Worthington into a life of domestic servitude was progressing well.
“So to your quarters then, Rose. A busy day tomorrow.”
Rosemary instinctively dropped a curtsy.
Walking into the maid’s room fatigued from her day’s exertions, Rosemary stripped from her uniform and slipped into the plain cotton nightdress she found in the drawers.
It was not the soft comfort of the large, sumptuous bed of her chamber, but pulling the sheets and thick woollen blankets over her, she pondered what would lie in store tomorrow under the tutelage of Miss Nightingale before drifting off to sleep.