Polly stood outside the door; listened. Knocked wooden panel; waited for voice of Lady Elmore. Stared up passageway in case Dudman had followed; no sign, good, she sighed, scratched backside, sighed again. Door opened; her ladyship stood; gazed mood-faced, hair on end with drag through look.
"There you are, Perkins," said Lady Elmore, backing away into the room, allowing Polly to follow. "Cannot abide time wasting," added she, peering around at the maid.
"Had Master George's room to prepare, Madam," Polly said, brushed hair with fingers of right hand.
"Why couldn't Simmons do that?" Her Ladyship moved to the dressing table; plonked down with resigned sigh. "Told Dudman I needed you. The Simmons girl's a fool," muttered the lady to her reflection in the mirror.
"Sorry, "Polly said," Mr Dudman didn't say until afterwards." She stood behind the lady; stared at the face gazing back at her. Corpse like, Polly mused, holding back a smile, picking up the hairbrush. Brought back hair from sour featured one's forehead; leaned over shoulder, smelt odour of sleep and scent. Brushed hair slow. One hand combing fingers through hair, other hand holding silver brush; bringing through hair like a ship through roughs seas.
Lady Elmore felt her head dragged backwards with each brushstroke. Sensed the girl's fingers through her hair. Carbolic smell filtered her nose; closed eyes; wondered how often the girl washed; and her hands seemed soft; working hands for all that, she mused, letting her head go back and forth like so much flotsam on wave's motion.
Polly stared at closed eyes and drained features; brought brush back; let fingers seep through like a swimmer beneath water. Lowered eyes. Hands of ladyship delicate; like the china down stairs; thin and pale as bone. Nails long; fingers ringed with wealth.
The lady mused in the tide-like motion. George home. Company at last. Didn't want to lose him; yet, she knew some young girl would have him; the right sort, of course; no seekers of wealth, not those he mixed with at those parties. Opened her eyes. The girl had stopped brushing. She stared at the eyes and young features. Fingers were undoing her gown. Such softness, she thought, the gentleness of a child's hand. "Forget that, Perkins." Sat upright, moved around, and pointed to wardrobe. "The green dress, I think," she muttered, inclining her head to one side like a dog waiting for a bone.
Polly nodded. Went to the wardrobe. Opened up. Searched amongst a sea of dresses for a green dress. Pulled out the nearest green. Held up with one hand, the other hand resting on hip.
"No, "the lady said, "the dark green, with the small flowers."
Polly replaced; pulled out requested dress. She smiled. More choice than I'll have in a blooming lifetime, she mused, holding out the dress.
"Yes, that's the one." Lady Elmore stood up; took dress. The girl needed better stockings; hole there, she thought, watching Polly close the door of the wardrobe. "See Dudman about new stockings. Those are a disgrace," she stated stiffly.
Polly looked at her stockings; pulled uniform over offending hole. Blushed. Stood stiffly. Hands held awkwardly at sides.
"Here, Perkins, help me," the lady said, face stern. The girl's slow, she thought, holding out the dress. The girl's hands are red and rough. Yet, seemed so soft through hair, she remembered, watching Polly lay the dress on the bed.
Polly helped undress the lady. Watched the face in the mirror of the dressing table; saw the unloved breasts droop; wondered who saw and cared now. Well fleshed. The body held so. The hair silk-like from brushing. The hands held in front of her as if waiting to be loved. Polly sighed softly. Laid gown on the bed. Watched the nakedness. Wished she hadn't.
The lady searched through draws for underclothes and such. Once she would have had had her own personal maid, but times were such that she had to make do with the Simmons girl and Perkins, she reminded herself, looking at Polly brushing the dress on the bed caringly with fingers. The War and war work had taken the rest. George out to France soon. She dreaded the thought. Bit lip. Stared at the Polly in the mirror; watched the fingers brushing. Her own daughter, Anne, married to Captain Stockbridge, hardly seen. Off up country. Missed her. Sighed, gazing at Polly, putting on her undergarments and the rest as the girl stood opened mouthed.
"Master George be here long, madam?" Polly asked, suddenly as thought escaped into words.
Lady raised eyebrows. "No, idea."
"Just wondered," Polly muttered shyly, wishing she hadn't.
"Have you a brother, Perkins?"
Polly replied. Watched the anxiety in the features. Lifted the dress from the bed; began to prepare for dressing of the strained- faced one. Poor George. She mused; hope he's here a few days at least. Just a night or two. She wanted the feel and kiss of him. She watched as she dressed. The flesh smooth and scented. The flesh of aristocracy. Lines in the features. Ringed with wealth, the hands, she mused, looking at the nails, remembering George's on her flesh. Closing her eyes momentarily, she buttoned up the back of the dress with the skill of her class, sensing fingers undressing her and the long lingering kiss of her master's touch.