- Vol. 09
- Chapter 01
An Ill-Considered Thing
Anna ground the salt with the pestle, ready for Cook to crust the fish with later. Jonah said there would be thirty guests for supper. As the youngest maid, she was always given the simplest jobs. Beating carpets, feeding Miss Bella’s too-stout cat, emptying the chamber pots. But, before she fell ill, her mother had taught her well. Needlepoint, how to dress hair, and—her greatest accomplishment—reading and playing music. Anna’s own voice was meagre, but she had learned to accompany her mother’s rich contralto on the pianoforte that had formed part of her dowry, along with the cottage which had once housed her grandparents’ own staff.
Anna’s parents had never hidden from her the fact that her mother had married beneath her. Theirs was what was known as a love match, something which— despite the softness in her father’s face as he nursed his sick wife, and the extra work he did by candlelight when he thought they were asleep—Anna could not wish for herself.
“Are you going to stare at that salt until it blinds you?” said Eliza.
Anna placed the mortar on Cook’s table, and hurried upstairs to air the rooms now everybody was at breakfast.
She thrust her fingers under the levers of the sash window in Miss Bella’s room, heaving it upwards so that it rumbled like a train. The air was so fresh and the sun so bright that she couldn’t resist removing her hat and inserting her torso into the gap. She hung her head down so that the blood rushed to it, and she could feel the air on her scalp. As she opened her eyes, she saw Jonah grinning up at her. She pulled her head back inside, bashing the top of it on the window.
An Ill-Considered Thing
“Curses on you, Jonah,” she said to herself. She hastily covered her hair and rushed to Miss Henrietta’s room. This time she gave the window a peremptory shove.
Back downstairs, she was beating a rug on the stoop when Jonah appeared carrying two buckets of coal.
“You look good upside down,” he said.
“And you look hideous from every angle.”
“You haven’t seen me from every angle. Yet.”
The very cheek of the lad!
Jonah set down the coal and performed a cartwheel. Then he picked up his cap, and the buckets. “What did you think I meant?” he said. He headed off before she even had a chance to retort.
As he rounded the corner, Anna tried not to think about Jonah’s dark curly hair, how it had bounced in the sun, parts of it glinting copper. She tried not to dwell on the shelf of his cheekbones. She tried not to contemplate his blue eyes. Eyes that flashed like a jay’s wing.
For a girl in Anna’s circumstances, a girl with her accomplishments, a love match would be an ill-considered thing indeed.
Anna took up the rug and beat it and beat it until her head was quite straight again.