Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Seventeen



I left the dining hall and turned to enter the kitchens.  They were clean but not the type of clean that I was used to seeing in Mrs. Cooksey's domain.

I saw her before she saw me.  There was no laughter or singing as I was used to hearing and when she did spy me she stopped for a moment and then raised her apron to her eyes and started crying.

"Oh Mrs. Cooksey," I said rushing forward.

"Marta said thee vould come but I vas afraid to believe it."

"Well I am here.  Not even the Hammers of Destruction could keep me away once I'd heard she'd asked for me."

"Ja, ja ... and now that thee are, vee vill get this messy Hall in order.  Yoost look at my kitchen, yoost look."

"Actually is looks like you've done marvelously under the circumstances that I've heard of.  I'm more concerned at the moment with the larder."

"It is a terrible mess," she said banging pots and pans around.  "A terrible, terrible mess."

"Is it difficult ... well not difficult exactly as I've seen you make a meal fit for a Great Council banquet out of the rudest of ingredients ... is it more challenging than you would feel is appropriate to put together meals?"

"Ja, ja ... there are many thinks vat needs to be replenished.  Soom will come viff the harvest but soom need to come from the towns."  She looked at me then around and whispered, "They've not been listening to Mr. Tosh."

"Them?"

Mrs. Cooksey nodded.  "And him being how he is ..."

"I'm afraid you'll need to speak plainer for me to understand."

In an even quieter whisper she said, "They are taking only coin in and not the guuds ... for the income and taxes."

It was my turn to blink.  But I didn't need to say anything as Mrs. Cooksey just nodded.

A girl I didn't recognized came into the kitchen and then stopped when she saw me.  Mrs. Cooksey smiled and said, "Alyce this is thee Vidow Linder.  Vidow Linder this is Alyce, she is a very goot girl.  She has been much help viff Marta."

"How do you do?"

If possible the girl's eyes got wider and then she smiled shyly.  "Fine thank you ma'am."  She turned to Mrs. Cooksey and said, "Mizz Marta is ready for her tray."

"Hah.  You mean she is vedy to pick at her tray."

I asked, "She is not eating properly?"

Mrs. Cooksey rolled her eyes.  "Vould that voman eat a bit more she vould get vell faster.  But no.  She vorries and vorries for the rest of us and tinks nuffing for herself."

Mrs. Cooksey threw up her hands and I decided to see for myself.  "Alyce, have you had your breakfast yet?"

"No ma'am."

"Then please why don't you sit and have a bite and let me surprise Mizz Marta by being the one to take her tray in."

Mrs. Cooksey nodded, "Ja, ja ... surprise the voman.  Maybe she vill forget her troubles long enough to eat rather than simply push de vood around on her plate."

I picked up the tray and went down another hall and stopped in front of a door once clearly labled "Housekeeper's Quarters" but the brass plate was now missing.  I tried not to but I got a mean feeling for a certain woman that I'd only just met.  Setting that aside for the moment I turned the knob and walked in and set the tray upon a small table.

"Thank you Alyce.  Go eat dear.  I'll be out in a moment."

"Actually, Mrs. Cooksey thinks I should watch you to make sure that you eat rather than just push the 'vood' around."

I heard something fall and rushed through to the sleeping chamber to find Mizz Marta sitting up with a very surprised look on her face.  I don't know who opened their arms first but we wound up in an embrace.  It terrified me to feel how thin she was beneath her uniform and to see how truly pale and ill she looked.

"Well this is completely out of bounds.  Has this household not been seen by a doctor at all?  First Mr. Holman nearly coughs up a lung last night and now you looking so pale."

"Do not start Leeda ... uh ..."

I sighed.  "I know protocol requires you to call me Widow but could we at least dispense with it in private?  I know it's true but ... it still bothers me to be called that by people who knew me before."

"Remarry and no one will need to."

"Nat told me the same thing and I will tell you what I told him ... yuck."

She patted my cheek.  "Perhaps with time your 'yuck' will pass."

I surprised her by saying, "Perhaps.  But that is not what I wish to speak of.  I've come to do the job you've set for me and ... oh Mizz Marta ... I had no idea things were so bad.  The Sheriff spoke of there being problems but this is ridiculous.  Half the staff at less than half strength.  No schedules.  And those that are up and about seem to be at cross purposes.  What were they thinking trying to integrate so much at once?"

"It is really only a few of the staff from the other holding causing the worst of the problems on this level."

"Let me guess, that Mrs. Kinsey is one of them."

Marta nodded.  "She has some sway it is true."

"She's about to sway herself out of the top of a tree.  She disobeyed a direct instruction from me ... in front of the entire dining hall."

Marta gasped.  "Surely not."

"Surely she did.  I don't have much time to move.  I am going to use that Dr. Cummins to block her access to the Guardian's wife.  I would love to stay - and I will be back later in the day if you are up for it - but ..."

"Go.  And hurry.  I believe she listened to the Widows Ceena and Tonya more than was healthy.  She rather doted on them."

"Hah.  That explains it more."

I kissed her cheek and secured a promise ... a real one ... that she would at least try to finish most of what was on her tray and then bolted in the direction I knew the upper staff offices to be.

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