Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Twenty-Three

Overset nerves or not I could not just "find my bed" as the Sheriff had suggested because I still had no bed.  In fact I hadn't even had time to unpack any of my clothing beyond what had been in the satchel I took on the train and that needed more than a shake out and sponge bath.  I needed more than a sponge bath for that matter.  The last few hours had reminded me of that fact rather forcefully.  All of the running around during the heat of the day, then cleaning up the good doctor, and then the brawl with the ne'er do well ... I had sweated through my black cotton blouse several times and, despite it being one of the most expensive items left over from the widow's wardrobe chosen for me at my husband's death it was beginning to show wear and now it had salt rings.

After filling the downstairs bathing container with fresh, cold water I divested myself of all my outer wear and set it to soak.  I added a little vinegar from a supply I found in the main pantry and hoped that would be enough to keep the black from staining.  I did not want to have to spend any more of the stipend that I was contracted for than necessary, certainly not on clothing when I already had a case full.

Just relieving myself of the blouse and skirt made me feel better but if I wanted to truly be clean I would need to dig out my clean underclothing and bathe which I proceeded to do with relish.  Even my hair I am ashamed to say required several buckets of water and vigorous scrubbing to get the final load of coal dust out.  My effort made my scalp tingle and the vinegar rinse I used at the end made it tingle a little more than was comfortable.  In the future I will be more cautious if I ride the rail and keep my hair under a solid snood or chappone.  As it is I have decided to use a crocheted snood to capture my hair over the next few days until I can find the time to iron the curls into proper behavior.  Braids may have sufficed while I lived in Harper and kept mostly to myself but for every day wear in company they make me appear far too young and I will need all the maturity I can get in my current position, so a snood it will be ... and black to match the rest of my ensemble.

Unfortunately my clothing trunk I discovered to be at the bottom of a stack of other trunks that were too heavy for me to move.  I berated myself for not having left clearer instructions and wondered what to do when I glanced in the direction of Ceena and Tonya's bedrooms.  It certainly wasn't my first choice but Ceena and I, though over two decades different in age, were much the same size.  Resolutely I headed to her lair to see if there was anything left that I could use.

In the pale light afforded by the candle lantern I held I could see the room was in disarray but not badly so.  But it did bother me that no one had tidied up at all before closing the house down.  It bespoke of two possibilities.  Either so many had been ill they hadn't even been able to take care of the most common of courtesies for the dead; or, the courtesies were intentionally ignored for some reason.  The first was upsetting, the second rather sad.

Seeing no clothespress in the room I stepped over to one of two doors.  The first opened onto a room which was an indoor privy that needed serious cleaning.  I didn't even want to imagine what all the filth was from as it made me feel like I needed another bath.  But it also explained the slightly sour odor that the bedroom had.  The other door led to a small room that had another door which led into Tonya's sleeping chamber.  It too was in disarray though not as much as Ceena's.

The small room itself was a changing room and I shook my head at the wasted luxury of all I saw.  It was like being in a room full of fancy black crows.  There was no way that they could have possibly worn half of what was hanging since in full mourning socializing was very much frowned upon.  Shaking my head at the unexpected foolishness, especially after remembering the scene they had made with the Guardian's secretary over the coin being spent on my own funeral garments, I reached out and took down a couple of the plainest blouses and skirts to piece out what I had in my satchel until I could get to my own clothing trunk.  Looking at my bare feet I turned and grabbed a pair of half boots from what was obviously Tonya's side of the room.  My figure may have been much like Ceena's but my feet were far larger than the two dainty knobs she had been proud to call feet.  Thank goodness Tonya's shoe size was more reasonable.  I also added to my pile a pair of what appeared to be never-used house slippers and two pairs of stockings.

I felt like a pirate with all my booty but I was taught the dead had better things to think of than the disposal of their earthly goods so ghostly superstition didn't bother me in the least.  To be honest I could have cared less if the two harridans were spinning in their graves at the thought of me getting some benefit from what they could no longer use.  There is a point that compassion and commonsense must meld and Nat, nor any other that raised and educated me, would have accepted that a whole room of clothes was to go to waste over outsized sensibilities.

Since the bath had re-energized me somewhat I carried the clothing to a small room off the kitchen which would have been allocated to a domicile staff person but which Mizz Marta had said had never been filled.  They had taken their meals with the family until their banishment and after it they had taken most of their meals al fresca in the garden gazebo, waited on by Hall staff or Mrs. Kinsey.  After illness struck Linderhall they became one of the first to fall ill and pass.

Laying my burden down I pulled on a lightweight robe and decided to investigate the house more thoroughly than I had up to that point.  I started at the top and worked my way down.  The third floor was completely empty and barely touched by anything but time.  There were cracks in the walls, cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, and serious scuffs in the floor.  I'd never been inside while I was married so have no idea if the damage pre-existed the redecoration by Ceena and Tonya or was more recent.  The second floor was comprised of six bedrooms and one full bath and three indoor privies.  I shook my head over the potential problems such luxuries could bring, the waste of water being only the first of many.  Two of the bedrooms belonged to my sister wives but the other four looked meant for guests as they were decorated finely but had absolutely no personality and everything was covered in dust sheets to save on cleaning.

The first floor consisted of an entryway and cloak room, a main dining room that could sit sixteen - and why they would have such a long table set when they never ate in the house themselves was a mystery of arrogance - a smaller room likely meant for breakfasts and meals with fewer guests, the kitchen, a sitting room and music room which could be opened up by way of sliding panels to make one larger entertainment area, two indoor privies and another full bath, and finally a library that also appeared to be meant as a small office.  The whole of the downstairs save the kitchen and staff room was decorated handsomely rather than frilly showing considerable good taste.  Having spent time with my sister wives I shouldn't have been surprised but somehow I was.  I thought their efforts in the Hall were for the Guardian's pleasure alone but it would appear that it was their own pleasure they were tending when such purchases were made.

Looking around me for some reason the memory of a row that had occurred when Ceena and Tonya had found out that The Linder had hired a comportment teacher for me flickered through my mind.  It had been terrible and Ceena had slapped me and Tonya had kicked me so hard I could barely walk.  I don't know who carried the tale to our husband but the doors and windows shook with the shouting of the three of them.  Nothing else was ever said and he'd barely looked at me for a month.  But the comportment teacher did come and between her and Mizz Marta my life became somewhat livable again.  I shook my head.  Neither of my sister wives ever struck me again but they tried to make my life as close to hell as they could manage in other ways; like with their gossiping and turning the neighbors against me.

Strange, the memories no longer had any power to depress me even though I was back at Linderhall and living under the roof of a house they had claimed as their own.  And since they didn't depress me I decided to ignore the memories for a while.  I was beginning to get tired again but after looking around the kitchen more thoroughly I knew I needed to take a good look in the pantry and go down to the cellar.

The kitchen was devoid of anything of practical use.  I don't know if it is because Ceena and Tonya had not got around to acquiring the appropriate inventory or if they figured they never would need to because they would eventually be moving back into the Hall.  Either way it was a good thing I had my own housegoods or I'd have been begging Mrs. Cooksey for a few of her pots and pans.  There wasn't even any cutlery or dishware in the cabinets which seemed very strange and I made a note to ask Mizz Marta if it had been removed prior to the house being closed up.

The pantry was another matter.  There were a few basic staples but nothing of any substance.  That I could understand.  Neither Ceena nor Tonya kept up their housewifery skills and in fact looked down in distain at anyone that did despite being able to afford staff for those purposes.  As much as the idea of it bothered me I was going to have to go to Market and acquire a few things ... more than a few things.

Then I went down to the cellar and met a challenge.  The door was locked.  Not just locked but padlocked.  Thankfully I had run across the ring of house keys while searching for matches the first night and was able to retrieve them.  It took several tries but I finally found the right one and got the door open.

It was pitch dark so I had to walk completely in for my lantern to do much more than keep me from tripping.  The first thing I found was a well-stocked wine cellar.  No surprise there as both sisters considered themselves connoisseurs and drank for sheer pleasure, or so they said.  Once beyond the wine racks I did nearly drop the lantern.  I was sure I had found at least some of what the Chancellor had thought was missing.

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