“The carriage is ready. Get miss Rose, if you would, Christina,” the mistress ordered while taking her seat on the wooden bench.
“Right away, ma'am.” And she ran to search her.
Usually, maids weren't allowed to run in the corridors. This was an exception, however. The mistress and her daughter would go to see the baron and his wife, and the whole villa was a nest of commotion. Maids were running everywhere, searching for dresses and shoes, panicking and hurrying.
And Christina was one of them. She sprinted up the grand stairs, to the rooms of miss Rose - the mistress's daughter.
Arriving at the overly decorated door, she tried to hide her panting and knocked.
“Come in,” she heard faintly, the voice muffled behind the oaken wood.
She opened the door and sneaked inside. As a maid, the first thing you learn is not to draw attention to yourself, and to be invisible.
As she took in the enormous chamber, she detected miss Rose sitting on a small chair in front of her mirror, binding her beautiful blonde curls together. And she couldn't help but think of her own dark brown hair, that was hidden under a black scarf. It wasn't half as stunning as miss Rose's shining locks. A quick sting of jealousy went through her chest, but she hastily extinguished it. She was a maid. She had no right to feel envy.
“Yes, Christina?” Miss Rose asked her, sounding uninterested and bored, while leaning closer to the mirror to inspect her eyebrows.
“The carriage is ready, ma'am,” she informed her in a quiet and humble voice.
Miss Rose sighed and stood up. “Good. I have been waiting far too long.” Gracefully moving, she deliberately stepped out of the room and through the corridors. And Christina hastily followed her.
* * *
“Help me, Christina, will you?” miss Rose asked, her voice nice and sugary. As a maid, Christina wasn't allowed to think bad about my mistresses. But at that moment, she just couldn't help it. Miss Rose was so spoiled!
But Christina grimaced almost unnoticeably, and did as she was asked. Then she went to the front of the carriage to sit with the coachman.
She wrenched open the iron door, which was surprisingly hard to do, and prepared to jump on. The stile was too high to be able to just step on, to her inconvenience.
“You okay down there?” she heard someone ask. Christina looked up. The young coachman was leaning over towards her, not looking worried in the least.
Also, he was looking very handsome. His dark blonde hair hung just above his chestnut brown eyes, his pale lips smiling halfheartedly.
She felt a blush come up. Her cheeks heated involuntary, and she diverted my eyes from his.
“Yes. I'll just... jump on.” she said quietly. Oh no. What would he think of her when she fell? Biting her lip, she bowed her knees.
She heard the coachman chuckle. “Don't be silly. I'll help you on. Wait a minute.” He got out of the carriage swiftly, and walked around the front.
When he stood beside her, she offered him her hand like a proper girl should, even if she was a maid. But in spite of her gesture, he ignored the etiquette and took hold of her waist with both his hands, which made Christina gasp. Then he lifted her to her seat, closed the door and went back to his side of the carriage.
Christina was left speechless. How dares he touch me like that? It just wasn't decent!
The moment he jumped on, she glared at him and opened her mouth to speak. But he was faster and clarified, “It wasn't going to work any other way.”
“And that gives you permission to touch me like that? It's not decent!” she phrased her thoughts indignantly.
“Yes. It does,” he claimed. The he shouted something to the horses so they began to trot.
While they jolted up and down, Christina disagreed with a “It most certainly doesn't! You can't just go around lifting people! Especially not women!” She had to yell to be heard over the sounds of the horses and the wheels on the cobblestones.
He turned his head to look at her, and grinned. “So that's what you call yourself? A woman?”
This man just kept offending her! “Of course! What else would I be?”
“Well, I'd think of you more as a... girl. A small one.”
Well, at least he didn't call me a boy. “I am not small! Stop insulting me!” she yelled.
But he just laughed at me. “I'm not insulting you. I was just... stating the obvious.”
That made her boil of anger. But instead of yelling at him some more, she just leaned against the carriage door and looked out the window with an enraged expression on her face. Even though she was a maid, she still possessed some dignity.
Landscapes rushed past her, the carriage rocking back and forth violently. Christina didn't say a word, and the coachman kept quiet, too. Fortunately.
But after a while of silence, she heard him clear his throat. “Are you... angry?”
Christina stared. Is he a complete simpleton? Of course I'm angry!
He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. His expression faded into a mix of involuntary amusement and – was it possible? - a tiniest bit of regret. “Uhm... I suppose that answers the question...”
What was he trying to do? Put up a conversation? First throwing insults everywhere, and then trying to have a nice talk isn't really the best tactic. Her anger boiled up again.
When his mouth opened again, Christina already knew what he was going to say. And she didn't want to hear it. “Hold your tongue! Save your nonsense for someone who does want to listen. And just so you know, that's not me!”
The carriage stopped. She didn't know whether they had arrived at their destination, but she flung the door open and jumped off her seat.
Oh, that was just perfect. Mud and dirt were all over her shoes and skirt. But Christina didn't stop, she kept striding away from the carriage, away from him and his insults.
It was unbelievable. He was unbelievable! He had never seen her before, never talked to her. And then he just lifted her by her waist and harshly offended her? How dare he!
Wind tugged at Christina's clothes. Her hair, that had been so carefully tucked under her maid scarf, started to loosen – as if the moving air was trying to take it with him. You don't need mine, she grunted a thought, Take miss Rose's. She has pretty hair. Not even in the mood to feel bad about such disrespectful thoughts, she took off her scarf. For once, she didn't care about her profession.
Her appearance must have been quite the view. A maid without scarf, mud all over her shoes and the edge of her skirt. Her features pulled in a vicious expression, daggers shooting out of her eyes.
The dark scarf slipped from her grasp. She didn't even try to catch it, the wind just blew it away, over my head, back to where she came from. Christina's eyes followed.
When she watched it float to the carriage, she noticed the coachman had left his seat and was standing next to the horses. Has he been watching me?
But he was looking at the scarf, too. When it reached him, he stretched his arm out to the sky and caught it.
His face lifted, and even with such a distance, his eyes drilled into her own. Christina glared back. He smiled faintly.
Reluctantly, she walked back to the carriage. She was a maid. She needed her job, and she had to serve the mistress and her daughter. No matter how pretty hair miss Rose had. And she needed her scarf, too.
Christina stopped in front of the coachman. When he didn't move but only watched, she stuck out her hand in demand.
He put the scarf in it, but instead of pulling away, he pressed his hand to hers through the black fabric and shook it. Like men did.
Who did this man think he was? First, he lifted her to her seat. Then he threw some insults at her. After that, an attempt at conversation, and now he was shaking her hand? Unbelievable.
Christina jerked her hand away, taking the cloth with her. Responding with only a piercing glare, She marched to the carriage door, opened it, and jumped in. See? She didn't need his help.
But that thought didn't counteract the lingering feel of his warm, brown eyes. Their trail burned as a flaming path, devouring every other feeling on its way.