Morning comes and I rise disappointed. My bed is empty again. I go downstairs. There is much to do and Victoria is late. She is often. I remind her that breakfast must begin at six. The master and mistress eat promptly at seven. She nods; however, I know she does not care. She is leisurely and even though I am unhappy with her performance, help is hard to find in these times.
I feel a sense of excitement as I prepare the breakfast for serving. Meals are the few times I can be certain to see him. It is these moments I treasure – hearing his laugh, seeing him toss his hair. I serve first the Master, then Mistress, then him, then the youngest son. I steal glances at him, but do not look in his eyes and he does not acknowledge me. His family must never know and I am committed to this. I see Victoria pouring the juice quickly for the Master, Mistress and youngest son, but at Him, she smiles and pours slowly. My breath catches in my throat. I go quickly to her and tug her dress to move on.
Back in the kitchen, I chastise her. She insists it was innocent. He smiled at her. She smiled back. I remind her of her place and that it was not to happen again.
It has been three weeks and Victoria's laziness is worsening. She is insolent and arrogant. I spoke to her this morning.
"Victoria, you are to be in the kitchen by six o'clock. I cannot endure these late mornings and continued laziness. You must improve your performance or you will not keep this employ."
"Esther, I'm sorry that you are bothered. You will not have to worry about me in your employ much longer."
“Have you sought other employment?"
Victoria smiled at me. I did not like it. "I suppose you will know soon enough. I will no longer be a servant in this house. I will soon be a mistress here."
I could get no breath and the sides of my eyes blurred. "What are you saying?" My voice was a whisper even to my own ears.
In an excited schoolgirl voice, Victoria sang, "Phillip and I are in love. He will be telling his father in a few days. I will no longer have to work this drudgery."
My anger rose as a windy storm. How dare she speak his name. He could not be in love with this ridiculous girl. Victoria smirked and walked out to the garden. I tried to remember when last he visited my room. It had been less frequent as of late, but I presumed he was tired. Now, I thought of those nights when I had been certain of his footsteps, only to be disappointed that he did not come. Victoria's room was near my own. It must be her youth. He visited me often in my youth. He could not love her for his heart was mine only. Certainly there must be a reason. She must have a threat on him that he is desperate to keep hidden. I must know his will.
I send Victoria to the market in Sommers. It is a day's trip and she will not be back until tomorrow. I lie in bed, waiting. In the wee hours of twilight sleep, my door opens and it is him. He is beautiful as always and comes to me boldly. We are one through the night. Laying in moonlight watching his slumber, I know what I must do. He need not ask. One must protect love at all costs. He needs me and I am here for him. He leaves at dawn with his still unspoken request resting upon me.
Victoria returns from the market in the afternoon. She is weary and I am kind.
"Victoria, had you something to eat today?"
"I had a bit of croissant this morning."
"You look a sight. Go rest for a short time and I shall prepare you something to eat."
I smiled at her surprise. "Thank you, Esther."
I nod and wait while she goes upstairs. It is now that I walk to the gardener's shed.
"Mr. Tuttle? May I have some arsenic? Ants are in the kitchen again."
"Certainly, Miss Frawn. Ants you say? I have not seen any around the garden in weeks."
"Yes it is strange. Please give me a large lot so I don't have to trouble you so frequently."
I continue to stir the soup. I expect Victoria will like it. The arsenic blends nicely with the butternut squash and yams. I have made a large pot
I know he will be relieved it is done. It is a burden to be in his position with many responsibilities. Soon, he will take over the family estate and he will be grateful that these girls were not absorbed into his family. As I spoon the lovely soup into a bowl, I feel bad that the Master and Mistress will be disappointed that yet another girl has run away without notice. But, while he has his responsibilities to the family, so do I. This is my destiny. I do what I must to protect him. Climbing the stairs with my special meal, I remind myself, this is what one does for her soul mate when she is in love.
Ginger Cardinal resides in Ramona, California.