Polly put the kettle on. Black kettle on the black hob. Black against the black and white of her uniform. Maid of the house. Servant of all. She put the kettle down carefully, not wanting to burn or scald as she did as a child. Her hand, seven year old hand, burned, pink to red. Her mother put butter on it. Her father moaned about the expense, said, "Oughta mind where she put her damned hand." Gone now. He died. Good riddance. Polly smiled and stood back.
Listened for sounds. None yet. Too early. Upstairs slept late. Downstairs, she, Mrs Gripe, and Dudman each did their thing in a dull silence. She moved around the kitchen keeping her eye on Gripe, whose mouth moaned constantly like a dripping tap. Fat woman Gripe who ate as she cooked for those Upstairs. Lazy gits, Polly mused. Mistress Elmore, Lady of some sort, dull-witted as a broom, nose bird-like, mouth yakked like silver spoon type. Polly touched a cup. Felt the smoothness of the whiteness and the flowered pattern. It sat in a saucer of said pattern. She lifted them to her lips and held out her small finger. Gripe in the larder. Lifted to her lips and poured daintily imagined tea with her finger outwards. She smiled and put down the cup and saucer gently and looked at the teapot. Bone china. Expensive. Cost a year's wages no doubt she mused. She lifted the lid. Tea leaves waiting for hot water. She looked around her. Gripe still out of sight. Polly spat in the teapot and put the lid back on.
"Don't stand about, girl," Gripe moaned, waddling back from the larder, her bust three steps ahead of her nose. "Plenty to do," Gripe added pointing about with her stumpy finger.
Polly nodded her head, her white cap moved slightly. Her hands folded against her stomach waiting for work. "Just waiting," Polly said.
"For what?" Gripe said.
"Water to boil," Polly said. Gripe pulled a face, looked at the kettle, black against the hob's blackness. "Make her tea," Polly said.
"Her?" Gripe said. "Her? Lady Elmore is not a her." Gripe heaved up her bust and waddled of to the cupboard for something. "Where's that Susie?" Gripe asked, back turned, backside like a bull.
"In the scullery," Polly replied, "preparing something or looking for something." Polly pulled a face at Gripe's backside. Stuck up her fingers.
Susie was called. Gripe's voice like foghorn in a mist. Dudman trots in as if he's got haemorrhoids. Stared at Gripe and glared at Polly. Looked around the kitchen. Nose raised for smells. Ears cocked for sounds. Hands held church-like over his chin thinking.
"Polly," he said, "idle hands, make work for the Devil." Scanned his eyes over Polly's attire. The white cap hanging out of place. The hair dragged together hastily as if straight from bed without brush or care. His eyes ran over her, taking in her eyes, her chin, her still hands, her legs shapely beneath the black and white uniform. "Get that teapot warmed. Cup and saucer ready?" said Dudman, moving away from Polly searching for Susie.
Gripe dragged a huge saucepan to the hob, her muscled arms like a labourer's. Polly went to the kettle and felt the side. Steam beginning to ease from the spout. She looked at Gripe. Fat cow, mused Polly, preparing to move the kettle to the teapot. Hot handle. Decided to hold with a cloth.
Susie entered the kitchen pushed in by Dudman, his finger poking her back. Susie took off the kettle and looked at Polly." Make the tea," bellowed Dudman, pointing to the teapot. Polly removed the teapot lid and Susie poured in the steaming water to mix with the tealeaves and spit.
Gripe moaned. Dudman listened. Sounds from Upstairs. Voices from afar. Susie put the lid on the teapot. Polly placed it on a tray with the cup and saucer and sugar bowl and milk jug and silver teaspoon.
"You, girl," Gripe moaned, pointing at Susie," take the breakfast tray up presently. Polly can take up the tea." Susie nodded, stood back arms folded. Polly lifted the tray and walked to the door. Dudman glared at her. Gripe stared at Susie. "Open the door for her," Gripe said. Susie came to life, ran to the door, and opened it. Polly winked. Susie nodded. The door closed as Polly ascended the stairs the back way, the servant's staircase. The Below stairs way.