Two sides of a misunderstanding
I met her on the stairs. Pausing briefly, she gave me a small smile as she passed me and greeted me with a quick good evening. Of course, she wasn’t supposed to use the back stairs and I wasn’t supposed to smile back at her, being a footman, but we had shared moments like this before where I felt that if I had reached out and taken her hand, she would not have pulled it away. Casting my eyes over her attire, I was puzzled to notice that she was wearing a long dark cloak around her shoulders even though the evening was warm. She carried on down the stairs in a hurried manner – brushing the sleeve of her cloak against the arm of my jacket as she went. I felt a tingling sensation in my arm and wondered - not for the first time this week – why she had come down here.
I had known Eva since I was 12 and had come to the house as a mere page boy. Her unassuming beauty captivated me and my stomach ached with yearning whenever I saw or thought about her. But it wasn’t just her beauty. She was different from the other girls. The vanities and privileges bestowed upon her class held little interest for her, the string of pearls around her neck seeming to strangle rather than decorate. She needed someone who understood her, someone who would look after her. Sometimes she would glance at me with such intensity that I knew she was attracted to me. True, I was handsome, and could have my pick of any of the girls from town, but their naivety and silliness bored me. I cared only for Eva and I knew that she cared for me too.
Watching her hurry down the corridor, I made the decision to follow her. Maybe she had been waiting for the right moment to tell me at last, how she felt about me. She walked through the empty kitchen and opened the back door, staring out into the darkness. Leaning back against the wall , I felt in my jacket pocket for a cigarette. I would make her wait. But to my surprise someone was crossing the courtyard to greet her. At first I thought it was the butler Mr Harris, but then I realised it was Thomas, the second footman. I watched as she talked quietly to him and then gripped his arm with her delicate hand. I clenched my fists and willed myself not to rush across the kitchen and hit him with all my strength. How could she do this to me? I had never seen them together before. Had they been meeting in secret? Were they already lovers? Hurrying across the courtyard, they took the path which led to West Leigh, a small village a mile away. It was still light outside so I could see them moving quickly down the path, deep in conversation. I began to follow them, making sure they could not see me. I felt a strange energy coursing through my body. He was going to try to take advantage of her – I knew it – and I would be there to save her. They came to a small run down cottage set back from the path. I would never have brought her to a place like this. How dare he! There was a faint light shining from behind the broken windows. I watched as Thomas knocked lightly on the door calling to someone inside before disappearing into the house with Eva close behind.
I met him on the stairs. He smiled, while his eyes roamed my body in a way that made my skin crawl. I had always tried to be kind and even friendly to the servants in our house, but I would often catch him staring at me in a way that was too familiar to be polite. He moved towards me as we passed each other and let his jacket brush against my arm. Shivering despite the warm weather, I hurried down the corridor, away from him. No matter. I had more important things to think about. I waited in the kitchen for Thomas to come. He arrived looking tired and pale. Trying to reassure him as best I could, we set off for the cottage. We talked along the way and he told me a bit about his family and little bits of gossip from downstairs that I managed to coax out of him. We arrived at the cottage in good time. A quick inspection of the house evoked in me deep sympathy for its inhabitant. The roof was full of holes and the tiny front windows were broken, brambles crawling menacingly through the cracks. Thomas knocked gently on the door and we entered. The smell of damp wood smoking in the fireplace filled the room, mingling with the potent smell of human waste. Thomas’ sister Katie was sat on a shabby armchair in front of the fire cradling the baby. The chair was the only piece of furniture in the tiny room apart from a wooden crate which Thomas kindly offered me to sit on. Red eyed and exhausted, Katie held tightly to the sleeping baby, gently rocking it. The birth had been complicated and the labour had lasted nearly two days. Without the doctor I had sent earlier, she and the baby would surely have died. Thomas had feared for her life and had come to see me to beg for my help. I was relieved that he had, for the girl could not have been more than 15. The father was some boy from town who had flattered her and made promises he clearly had no intention of keeping before having his way with her. Katie hadn’t seen him since but had assured me that he would come back to her. I felt sorry for her naivety.
I hurried up to the door of the house, my hands shaking uncontrollably. I knew I had to wait for the right moment to make my presence known but I was finding it hard to suppress the rage inside me. I moved quietly to one of the broken windows hoping to glimpse what was happening inside, but the window was filthy with brambles taking up every spy hole. I could hear their voices inside. They were talking softly and it was just as I leant so that my ear was nearly touching the glass, that I heard her say my name. She said it like a question – had she seen me? Surely not! Was she calling me for help? Without hesitating, I burst through the door. I was completely unprepared for the scene in front of me. Eva was sat on a box with a baby on her knees and Thomas was stood next to the fire. Both were staring at me in surprise, but it was the girl in the chair I was looking at.
‘John!’ she said, her face lighting up ‘I knew you’d come back!’
I looked at Eva’s face and knew I had lost her forever.