Right, time for a new Animas story! This one is not dependent at all on the previous installments, although you can click on the tag at the top of the post for the rest of ’em. This one was inspired by my current read-throughs of Gone With the Wind and Wuthering Heights and feeling really sorry for the servants and slaves that had to put up with their mistresses’ tempestuousness.
Her mistress was in one of her fits of passion again, tossing cushions and the occasional vase or trinket with abandon. When Sal heard the shattering of one vase against the door, she thought, “That would have cost me a month’s wages and I’d be sacked.” She felt the water fill up in her hands as she thought, then banished it away.
There was a time when she would not have allowed more than a ghost of that thought to manifest in her head. She’d been raised to be grateful to have employment, for the chance to support her aged parents and to help her elder brother through his schooling and to keep her younger siblings in bread. (Was she any less intelligent than her brother, she wondered? If she wasn’t, she’d be intelligent enough to have been born first.) To be a productive, helpful member of society. To-
“SAL!” The crash of glass. Another month’s wages. If she can afford to smash so much, she can surely give me a raise. But saying so would only prolong the tantrum at best.
“Yes, mistress?” Sal opened the door, taking the precaution of angling most of her body behind the door in case more was to be thrown. There was – a cushion, this time. Thank the gods for small mercies.
Her mistress breathed in a sharp, exaggerated fashion, her hair and clothing in a frightful disarray. Was she biting her lip? She was. Did she take the cues for this tantrum from a novel, imagining this was how humans ought to act when met with the slightest bump in the road of life?
“Clean this!” her mistress ordered. All of it! I… And tell that rogue Breslock…” Shards of pottery and glass littered the bedroom, not only on the hardwood, but some bits ground into the Telesian rug.
“Yes, mistress?” Why should I tell him anything? I am your maid, not your go-between. Don’t you have any friends to do this for you? (But the mistress didn’t have much in the way of friends, did she, seeing women of the same age and status as competition.)
“Tell him… Oh, I shall tell him myself! You would only make a mess of it!” The mistress stormed off, still in a fury, with black hair and red silk streaming behind her. Sal made sure to drip some water on that silk as she passed, then set to cleaning.
The confrontation between the mistress and ‘that black-hearted rogue’ did not go well. The latter quit the city; the former quit civilization, sequestering herself in her bedroom, refusing all drink or sustenance. “I shall die rather than be happy again – to hope!” she’d declared, then screamed herself hoarse into her pillows.
She is the same age as me. Born in the same month, even. Sal stood at attendance. There had been a tea tray in her hands, but the mistress had thrown a pillow at it. Cream and sugar and tea now stained her apron. I’ve never been spurned by a lover. I’ve been too busy minding her to get one.
She summoned up some water in her hands, setting it to the largest patch of tea on her apron, confident that the mistress was too selfish to notice. But I can do this and she can’t. I’ve god’s bone in me. How is she better?
“Go!” screamed the mistress, beating her fists against the feather mattress. “Away with you! Let me die alone!”
Sal decided then that she was prepared to let the mistress do just that.
Not by her own hands, of course. But that night, tucked in her cot in a cupboard in the attack and contemplating the globe of water she tossed from palm to palm, she considered that there were other possibilities that would leave her conscience clear. She wouldn’t even be touching her at all. Just letting the rain fall where it may. It was hard to sleep, even with how tired she was, from the excitement of it all. It seemed too long a time and yet no time at all before the first rays of dawn poked its fingers through the window.
Her first chance came at ten o’clock, as she dressed the mistress for her typically late breakfast. Silk, silk, all silk again, with that silly girdle. Twenty-two years old and she required help for this? As she slipped the waistcoat over the mistress’s shoulders and buttoned it up, she summoned a hand print-shaped patch of water and… shifted it onto the waistcoat without ever letting more than the tips of her fingers brush the fabric. She stepped aside, allowing the mistress to admire herself in the mirror.
The mistress did so, for a hot second. Then she noticed the handprint. Her chest heaved up with her inhalation of breath. “What… What is this!” she sputtered.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, mistress!” said Sal, chipper as she could dare. “You look right lovely today!”
“You stupid, worthless cur! It’s right here, right here!” The mistress took off her waistcoat and shoved the panel with the wet handprint in Sal’s face. “How can you not see it!”
Sal smiled mildly and shook her head. This prompted such a tirade that Sal’s head ached for hours afterward, but it was worth it. Filled with an unaccustomed job satisfaction, she repeated the stunt as often as she dared without detection – not always on the clothes, but on tapestries, the sheets, the tablecloths, the rugs… But always with a screeching fit that sent the other servants running.
Only a week passed before the mistress summoned Sal to her presence one last time. She seemed agitated – more so than usual – with black circles apparent under her excess of powder. “Sal,” she said, with some softness. “You’ve been… decent to me all these years, but I am afraid you are haunted and I must let you go. You shall have your final month’s wages in full, plus fee for an exorcist. If you find yourself free of this curse, you are welcome to return. Goodbye.”
And that was that. She was handed the envelope with the money. So armed, she packed up the rest of her meager belongings and departed, never to return.
As she walked the road that would eventually lead to her family’s home, she considered the amount in the envelope. It was not much. Not enough for a ticket. But if she worked her way across the sea and used the money to get her by for a week when she arrived…
At the crossroads, she set off in a different direction, with a detectable increase in the spring of her step.
If you enjoyed the story, please consider throwing a tip my way via PayPal or Patreon. Again, if there’s some little aspect of the world you want to know about, put it in a comment and I’ll see if I can’t write something about it. A new story set in this world will be posted on Saturday. Cheers!