It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
The huge mirror sat at the far end of the long hall, between the doors to the dining room and kitchen, its reflective surface containing more area than the two doors combined. It stood taller than a man and wider than the most opulently fed creature that its owner, Doctor Henry Grey, would ever have the pleasure of seeing.
Doctor Grey clasped his hands together behind his back, admiring both the fine workmanship that surely went into the fine carvings caught within the frame, and the grand image of himself reflected back, a respected Doctor in his lavish surroundings. Behind him were the oriental vases containing honey coloured blossoms that stood either side of the painting his wife had produced with such elegance three years before, and, on the other side of the hall, book ending his mirror image, was the Persian divan that they simply hadn’t the room for in the drawing room.
He smiled at his reflection; a living painting that mirrored the luxurious ease for which he had worked so long, under the harsh conditions inflicted upon him by the inane whisperings of the medical profession.
Behind him movement caught his eye, ruining the symmetry that the picture-mirror supplied, and Doctor Grey span on his heel and whipped out his reed thin arm, catching the maids face with the heavy gold wedding ring that hung on his third finger. She shrieked, a sound that cut through him like a shard of glass, as her chocolate coloured cheek split, spilling blood.
The Doctor looked on in horror as the darkies blood dripped onto the deep weave of the shaggy carpet.
“Look what you’ve done!” He bellowed, catching her by her long black hair and bringing his closed fist in a clumsy arc into her face. His bony hand slamming into her full lips, breaking the lower open like a grape, her legs gave way beneath her and she fell, clattering against the varnished pine table, the vase nearest to her tilting, threatening to topple. It rolled, its base grinding over the polished wood before, mercifully, coming to a halt.
Silently, the seventeen-year-old girl offered a prayer of thanks to whatever god’s were listening and awaited the inevitable beating.
Grey stood over her and raised his puny fist above his head, preparing to bring it down with all the force he could muster when the door to the dining room opened and Gweniveve, his wife, stepped into the hall, peering around for the source of the commotion.
“What on earth?!” She exclaimed. “Henry! What are you doing to the poor girl?!”
Her long legs carried her four steps to the maid’s side with such grace that all thoughts of pain was instantly banished from the beaten girls mind. Her face lifted for her kindly mistresses examinations.
Gweniveve shot her husband a look to cut glass and helped the servant girl to her feet, leading her from the hall into the buildings large kitchens.
Gweniveve mopped the blood from the girls face in shamed silence, her diamond earrings and satin skirts out of place in the kitchens that she held dominance.
“What is your name girl?” She asked with the air of those used to obedience.
“Anetta, ma’am.” Anetta muttered back.
“Speak up girl!”
“Anetta, ma’am.” She repeated a little louder. “How often does Doctor Grey beat you Anetta?”
“Only when he feels I deserve it ma’am.” She began, intending to say more but silenced by a stern look by the lovely woman.
“I asked ‘how often’ Anetta.”
“Two or three times in a week”, she answered meekly, avoiding the other woman’s eyes, “but I’m trying to learn Lady Gweniveve I truly am.”
Gweniveve s skirts rustled as she rose from her seat and walked to the water basin in the corner of the room, watching the water turn a muddy red, as the cloth was washed clean. The woman closed her eyes and thought of fields of wheat as a warm summer breeze brushed over them, like a river of gold.
“How long have we had you Anetta ?” She said, her voice carefully moderated.
“Since I was twelve Ma’am.” The girl answered carefully.
“Five years?” Gweniveve said softly and shook her head. “It doesn’t seem so long. It seemed much less to me.”
“Yes ma’am.” Anetta answered automatically as Gweniveve turned and returned to the seat, the cool cloth again against the wounded girls face.
“I was against your purchase Anetta”, the older woman began, “and I don’t believe in forced servitude, there’s enough of it in England of late without finding a whole new race of people to sell into slavery.”
She withdraw the cloth from Anetta’s face and, grasping the young woman’s chin between thumb and forefinger Gweniveve turned her head this way and that, nodding subconsciously at her work, she dropped the cloth onto the table beside them.
“But Doctor Grey wanted you, and a woman has little to say concerning her husbands purchases.” She leaned on the table, the tip of her polished index fingers nail lightly touching her chin as she spoke. “In fact it seems we have little to say about anything that is deemed important. It seems that my view holds little more weight than your own Anetta.”
Her puppy dog brown eyes wide, Anetta watched the woman as she spoke candidly concerning her situation, every word setting new levels of fear in the young girl’s heart. A girl with no rights shielded by a woman with none either.
“Walk with me.” She simply said and made her way through the winding corridors of the large house to the conservatory that led to the gardens outside.
The dazzling summer sun blinded her momentarily as she stepped out into it, glancing at the woman who seemed to glide along ahead of her. Anetta blinked into the sunlight, letting her eyes wander over the patchwork of many flowers and shrubs, waiting for the woman of the house to continue.
“Do you know of your homeland Anetta?”
“This is my homeland Ma’am” ,Anetta answered quickly, “I’ve never known another.”
“Are you sure of that Anetta? I’ve seen the drawings and paintings that you keep in the servant’s quarters; they suggest to me that perhaps you know more than you wish to admit.”
“No Lady Grey”, Anetta prayed the misuse of the honorific would ease her mistress’s emotions, “I know very little.”
“So now its ‘very little’, perhaps if I press further you would admit to more?” Gweniveve said dryly.
Meekly Anetta dropped her gaze to the shiny tips of her own small shoes.
“I do know a little, but it is so little Mistress, I didn’t mean to deceive you!” Anetta could feel her voice rise in distress, a sharp pain dragging at the back of her throat.
Gweniveve placed a protective hand on the young girls arm, leading her deeper into the huge gardens, the house falling further behind them.
“I’m sure you did not Anetta, deception is not a requirement of your breed it seems.” She paused a moment, the air silent but for the twittering of birds and buzzing of the occasional insect. “But I have heard of things Anetta, other attributes your people possess that my own breed have let time take from them.”
“What things Ma’am?”
“When Doctor Grey travelled to the America’s last year, he came back with tales of strange barbaric rituals that new world slaves had taken with them from their native land.” The woman’s voice changed, it seemed to Anetta that a bitter sense of longing had crept in, half hidden. “Things he said ‘that were not for a woman’s eyes.’ “
“Ma’am, I don’t know what you mean.” Anetta slowly said, fearing that, in fact, she did.
Gweniveve stopped, turning, her long skirts brushing over the short cut grass, the sunlight glinting off the tight curls of her impeccably styled hair. She looked at the younger woman, her property, and marvelled at what that would allow one creature to own another before she answered the girl.
“I’ve been planning a special dinner party for a few very select friends Anetta, and I have been told that a local lady”, she paused, thinking a moment, “I believe you may know her as Mama Lucrese.”
Anetta held her breath as her fear twisted within her, becoming something cold and quiet in her stomach.
“I know her.” Anetta could feel her voice wavering as she fought to keep it steady. “She is the old lady who was Mrs. Apple-tons maid wasn’t she Ma’am?”
Gweniveve stared at her, Anetta feeling the glance call her the liar she was.
“Yes she is Anetta,” She said and the feeling Anetta had passed,” but she is also known for the exotic concoctions she sometimes can be convinced to make.”
A sudden, strong breeze pushed through the gardens, bending the branches of the willow tree under which they’d paused, sending a ripple like water throughout the flowerbeds.
“Later I shall write you a note to take to Mrs. Appleton,” Gweniveve continued, “and you’ll return with such a mixture of things that I might try, and perhaps place an order for.”
Without waiting for any answer, Gweniveve turned on her heel and walked steadily toward the house, calling over her shoulder; “Now if you could clean the hallway carpet and change your uniform I will write that letter.”
Anetta found herself alone and confused in the centre of arguably the finest gardens in the young town of Blackbridge.
The sun hung low in the sky, painting the horizon a deep red behind the freshly built ebony bridge that spanned the Oak River. Its thick girders riveted in a low arc over the chasm below, huge stone steps cut into the rock with elephantine stems of steel penetrating the abysmal depths of the earth.
The bridge was a feat of engineering that everyone was sure would one day put the fledgling town on the map, if only as the birthplace of its designer, Nathaniel Appleton.
Anetta walked up to the last house on Bridge Street and quietly walked around to the servant’s entrance, knocking on the door timidly. She waited, looking over the magnificent view the Appleton’s had of their crowning achievement before the door was answered, the door opening a crack and the face of the Appleton’s current housemaid was thrust through it.
“What do you want girl?!” Heather Wilde said with certain distaste. Anetta knew that Wilde didn’t like what she called ‘darkies’, blaming them for the lowering of her own wage and treatment by her employers.
“Mrs. Grey wants Mama Lucrese to make her something Miss Heather.” Anetta always called free people Mister or Misses, even though they seemed to have little more freedom than she did, they were temperamental and often hated her for no reason that she was aware of.
Heather Wilde pulled the door open and stepped aside without a word, but with her head raised and a scowl on her lips.
“Well you know where it is girl,” The woman barked, “get on with it and get out of here, its bad enough having her here.”
Anetta, clutching the list her mistress gave her to her chest, scampered past the odorous old woman and made her way out of the kitchen and down the cellar steps into darkness.
Anetta heard Mama Lucrese before she saw her, a low, quiet singing that sounded like a lullaby in the darkness, a sound that Anetta found calming, a lullaby of warmth that increased as she grew nearer, pulling aside a heavy piece of cloth and stepping into the light.
Mama Lucrese was older than any woman had a right to be, far older than anyone Anetta had ever seen. Her hair hung down to her knees, tied into a huge knot halfway down rather than the use of any tie or braid. She wore simple clothes of soft reds and browns that were kind to the eyes. The only word that Anetta could ever connect with the old woman was the word ‘gentle’.
“Mama?” Anetta said and the woman seemed to rock as she walked across the small cellar room, glancing up and smiling a toothless grin.
“Netta?!” She cried back with a kind of shrill joy.” You come an’ see your ol’ friend Lucky Lucrese ?!”
“Missus Grey sent me Mama.” Anetta said back, hearing her speech break up into the lazy drawl that she always adopted around Mama Lucrese. “She sent a note; she wants you to make something for her.”
One soft-claw hand emerged from the folds of brown and red and grasped at air and Anetta pushed the note into it. The old woman squinted into Gweniveve’s flowing script by the light of twenty-four flickering candles.
Anetta looked on in amazement, Mama Lucrese was the only slave woman the girl had ever met that could read the spidery scrawls of this western land, and she was in fact the only one who could read any kind of writing. The old woman was a walking miracle that even the Heather Wilde’s of the town had to respect, or fear.
Lucrese looked up from the note with a frown, one eye half closed, she pursed her lips and rocked around in a little circle until she faced the table of herbs and desiccated insects in the corner.
“What she want this for?” She muttered over her shoulder.
Quietly Anetta moved across the room and peered over Mama Lucrese’s shoulder at the mess of stone bowls and the charcoal fire that rested in a brick furnace next to the table.
“She says it’s for a dinner party.” She mutters back, her lovely brown eyes on the many coloured dried flowers and herbs.
Lucrese snorted a dry laugh, and grinned her famous toothless grin again before answering; “It be a short party with this as a meal, eh?”
Anetta watched as Lucrese mixed and ground, heated and drained with hands that belonged more to a child than to the oldest woman she’d ever seen. Within minutes a fine dust had been separated from a mixture of natural ingredients of which Anetta could never fathom, an eggcup full of grey dust that looked for the world like soot that Lucrese tipped into a small wax-paper envelope.
“There you go girlie,” she said, sealing the envelope with a dollop of candle wax, “tell your Missus to be careful and to send you in two nights for the other half.”
“Other half?” Anetta asked, receiving the tiny package.
“Yes, you don’t think that little thing can do all she wants does you?!” Lucrese said and doddered over to the other side of the room where a smaller table and large chair sat. Anetta quickly moved over and helped the old woman sit in the rickety seat. Lucrese looked up at her thankfully.
“Thank you sweetheart, you be a good girl.”
“Is that it for now Mama Lucrese?”
“Sure ’tis.” Lucrese screeched back, smiling. “Be careful on your way back see?”
It was dark when Anetta got back outside, the bridge almost invisible against the sky, the sound of the river far below the only indication that she was anywhere near the bridge at all. The young woman picked her way down the long Appleton drive to the gas lamp lit street and set off down the road toward the Grey house, the envelope clutched protectively in her hands.
The town of Blackbridge consisted of three roads, Oak view, Bridge Street and Oak River Road, and to get home Anetta had to travel the total length of all three to the point where Blackbridge was no longer Blackbridge, but just a dirt path that led off into the wastelands of the north east.
Anetta’s shoes clattered on the cobblestones, the sound echoing of the huge darkened buildings that stood around her, each one occupied but still, at this hour, quiet as the tomb. Anetta neared the end of Oak view and turned into Oak River Road, spotting the Grey residence at the far end, a hundred yards away.
Anetta looked down at the package she held in her palm, and wondered where her mistress had learned about such a thing. Gweniveve Grey had, to Anetta’s knowledge, always been a socialite, never thinking about any matter that didn’t solely consist of pleasure, or the pursuit of pleasure. Where such a person had learned such knowledge boggled the mind, unless Master Grey had told her more about tribal rites than she’d allowed Anetta to believe.
The wrought iron gate squealed as she pushed the rusted contraption open and stepped through, and squealed again as she closed it behind her. Anetta made her way around the building to the block containing the servant’s quarters that stood a little apart from the main building.
“You’re back in late Anetta.” A voice said from behind her and the small dark skinned girl stifled a scream, pushing her knuckles between her teeth to force herself quiet.
She span on her heel and would have fell if it weren’t for the taller woman’s quick thinking.
Gweniveve Grey caught the girl and held her upright until she regained something that resembled control, shivering with fear against the door to the servant’s quarters.
“Did you get what I asked?” Gweniveve asked a hand still pressed protectively to Anetta’s shoulder, feeling her quake with poorly contained fright.
“Yes Ma’am.” She answered, holding the package with a trembling hand. The lady took it from her and peered inside, the blob of wax that sealed it closed broken off.
“Good girl,” she smiled, “and did she say anything?”
“Yes, yes she did,” Anetta paused and placed what was said so as to be sure to get it right.
“She said to send me in two nights for the other half.”
The taller woman looked down at her, nodding. Anetta’s words tumbling out of her like a flood in an attempt to end this creepy, confusing encounter, Gweniveve nodded once more and closed herfingers around the tiny envelope. Slowly she held out her closed hand out to Anetta, pushing the small package into the younger girl’s palm.
“In the morning place it in his tea,” her words were spoken so quietly Anetta found herself leaning in to catch what she could, “be careful to stir it in completely with the leaves, you understand?!”
Anetta’s dark tresses shook as she nodded her head animatedly.
“Good.” Gweniveve said, and without another word she turned and walked toward the house.
Moments later Anetta found herself alone on the gravel path that led from the servant’s quarters to the main building.
As always she was the first awake, as was fitting for the lowest person on the pecking order. She was washed, dressed and the food for the other servants prepared before any of the others saw the light of day.
While they ate, Anetta found herself sat in the small room she shared with two others, her bed propped up only inches above the floor so that two other beds could be between hers and the ceiling. On her lap, open, was the small envelope of grey dust, looking so much like soot or fine tea that anyone passing by would have wondered why such interest was being taken in it.
Such thoughts occupied Anetta’s mind as she stared into the grey dust. She had never heard of psychology or psychiatry, such a thing would never have occurred to her, but she did wonder if doing what she’d been asked was a rational thing to do.
What if it killed him? She thought. What if it did and she was convicted of his murder? She would die; they would put her down like a horse with a shattered leg. A gun barrel to her head would be the last thing she’d ever experience.
Anetta remembered the look in Gweniveve’s eyes the night before, the interest she’d taken in the slave girl she hadn’t even wanted to buy. Anetta knew that the woman had trusted to her something most important, perhaps something that only she would ever understand the significance of.
In the hall that separated the two rows of servants rooms the bell rang to signal the Doctors waking, and Anetta slowly stood and made her way out of the servants quarters and over to the main house.
Anetta spent the next ten minutes in a daze, her hands doing their duty with little encouragement from her consciousness, the breakfast made and arranged on the tray without the slightest thought of how it got there. It wasn’t until her legs had carried her halfway up the long flight of crimson-carpeted stairs that Anetta thought of the envelope of dust. Balancing the tray expertly on one hand she searched her pockets, finding nothing but lint.
The young servant girl stood on the eighth step and looked up the remaining nine, shifting the trays weight back to both hands.
What if it kills him? She thought again.
Slowly she stepped forward, counting off the remaining steps as she neared the top and the master’s bedroom at the far end of the hall. Passing the mistresses paintings on the walls either side of her.
The door to the Doctors room opened without a sound, and Anetta stepped through.
The day consisted of her normal chores, not in the slightest modicum out of the ordinary, another day identical to every other since the day she was led, in shackles, onto their land.
Lady Gweniveve, as always, made herself scarce, hidden in her studio where she created all her fine art. The Doctor on the other hand loitered around his servants constantly, never giving a moment’s peace to their insect like lives.
Anetta watched him all day, trying vainly to find some hint of difference in him, finding none that she could uncover.
It was midday when he moved through the hall to his usual place before the huge mirror between the dining room and Kitchen doors, staring into the reflection of his image like it was some talisman against the empty sumptuousness of his life. His eyes glazing over and his head drooping to one side as his mind began its wanderings in the space behind the glass.
Anetta cleaned from the top of the stairs to the bottom and the man had not moved, stood like a flesh statue, one hand raised almost to his face, as if he were about to salute.
The young maid tried to keep out of his reflected view of the room, hiding behind the stairs or the divan, rushing back and forth between hiding places like a soldier on the battlefield, knowing that any moment her presence would have to be noticed.
Suddenly he moved, his left hand whipping out, catching her face, ripping open the day old wound in her cheek. Anetta pulled back from him struggling not to cry out, hoping that he would sink back into that world inside the mirror.
Almost imperceptibly his arm wound back in to its half salute, his eyes like glass baubles in his head again.
Anetta crouched on the floor, the thick cloth of her uniform twisted tightly around her legs, one shoe lay a little distance away from her, cautiously she leaned over and scooped it up, sliding it back onto her foot, and she slid backward over the carpet, away from the bizarre mannequin of flesh and bone.
The night came and went to be greeted by a new day that was indistinguishable from the last even to the twisted tableau vivant at midday. Anetta stumbled through the day, trying to keep her distance from the master of the house while simultaneously watching his every move, waiting for the time when Lady Gweniveve would call to her and send her on her errand to the mysterious Mama Lucrese.
Mama Lucrese was born almost a century before, in the native land of her people, and she had never forgotten the lessons that her land had taught her as so many of her kind had.
Her old fingers added the remaining ingredients to the ground mixture in the stone pot as she allowed her mind to wander through its many years, sifting through experiences and times that only she would ever know.
It was late for her; she could see the sunset of her life in the skies of her heart, knowing that darkness would fall someday soon. Hoping that when it did, her soul would not be found wanting for any experience or any need for more faith, but knowing that even her full and honourable life would have to be found wanting for something. She had watched the regret in too many dieing eyes in her years on the planet to think otherwise.
She heard the door upstairs open and hard soled shoes culottes down the stone steps, knowing instantly who it would be.
Anetta’s lovely young face peered around the corner and seemed to light up the room, Lucrese laughed her manic laugh and doddered over to the little beauty.
“Netta?!” Lucrese crowed. “Come to see your Mama Lucrese?
“You told me to collect the second half of….
“Ah, yes,” Lucrese cut her off, “so I did Netta.”
The old woman turned and walked to her medicine table, her body rocking back and forth like a penguin. She collected the bowl filled with herbs, spices and ground bones and began to grind it all together with a stone pestle, making her way back to her large chair as she did.
“Almost done Netta,” the woman said as she struggled into her chair with the youngsters help, “sit with me a little time, ’till I’m done, yes?!”
Anetta nodded politely and Lucrese smiled toothlessly.
“Mama Lucrese?” Anetta asked shyly. “How does Lady Grey know about us? How’d she know about you?”
“White folk are a strange bunch Netta.” Lucrese began. “They take something and change it to suit them, and then mourn for the very thing they’ve destroyed.”
The old woman coughed into one closed fist, passing the bowl over to Anetta with her other hand.
“Grind that for me Netta,” she asked and obediently Anettadoes, “that’s good girl.”
“Now what did you say?” Lucrese said after her little coughing fit had passed. “Oh, yes.
“Your mistress and mine used to be good friends some years ago Netta, way back before yours was married. They both fell for the same man you see, Nathaniel Appleton was the apple of many a girls eye I can tell you.” She laughed her manic, barking laugh. “It was my mistress who finally caught him though, and that’s why they no longer talk to each other girl.
“Sometime later Henry Grey came into town, opening a practice though I never understood why they call it that, and Gweniveve DeuVo as she was called then came to me for help capturing his heart, not that such a pretty girl needed my help.”
Mama Lucrese paused and shrugged her rounded shoulders. “That’s why she knows me Netta, its no real secret.”
“But why’d she want him?” Anetta blurted before she realised how rude the question was. “What I mean is…
“I know what you mean Netta, ‘why’d she want such a horrible man?’ Is what you want to ask, yes?”
Anetta nodded shyly, glancing around her as if others may see
“Men here haven’t the respect for women that those in our homeland do. “ Lucrese begins. “Here they seem to be merely ornaments to be worn when the need comes up rather than wives and mothers to children. They like to pretend they’re civilised, but they’re not.
“The Doctor was already rich when he’d arrived in town, and Miss DeuVo wanted his riches to support her in her old age, it was as simple as that Netta.”
“That’s it now,” the old lady said, pointing to the stone bow
, “now if you look over on the table you’ll find a basket with what looks like mint in.”
Anetta peers over the table and reaches into the basket, pulling out a handful and showing them to Lucrese with a questioning look on her face.
“That’s it, now put seven leaves in and keep grinding.”
The young woman does as she’s asked and returns to Lucrese’s side. The old woman watches her as, tongue slightly protruding from the side of her mouth in concentration, the girl mixes the potion.
“Can you read Netta?”
“No.” Anetta answered, embarrassed.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” the old woman said, genuinely sorry, “you should try to learn, every pretty girl should be able to read her mans love letters, no?!”
“I haven’t a man.”
“Double sorrow.” Lucrese sighed as if she had heard a great sin from the youngster. “It’s not right to be by your self you know. Lady Gweniveve would help you if you asked.”
Mama Lucrese watched Anetta grind the contents of the bowl into a mealy paste, and then she searched the smaller table beside the large chair for a container, finding something that looked to Anetta like a tiny pickle jar. Anetta accepted it and carefully scooped the paste into it as Lucrese fumbled for a sheet of paper and a readily cut pen.
Mama Lucrese scribbled down her instructions and folded the paper, sealing it with another blob of wax; she traded it with the bowl that Anetta still clutched in her hand.
Anetta looked down at the items, letter in her left hand and pickle jar in her right, then back up to Lucrese.
“Is that it now?” She asked the old woman, and received a smile in return. The oldest lady Anetta would ever see nodded once.
“That’s it all now Netta dear.” Lucrese answered. “You go back to your mistress and give her the jar and be sure she reads that letter. Make sure she does as it says, you understand?”
Obediently Anetta nods vigorously to the wise old woman, and Mama Lucrese reaches up with one incredibly steady hand, touching the young girls forearm lightly.
“Go now.” She said softly. “Be a good girl.”
Anetta left Lucrese’s basement room, her hard soled shoes clattering up the steps for what would be the last time.
Gweniveve was waiting for her when she stepped through the gate, her hands readily outstretched for the items Anetta held.
“This is it all Anetta?” She asked, taking the letter and jar. She glanced up from them in time to see the pretty girl nod.
“Mama Lucrese said for you to be sure to read the letter.”
“She did, did she?” Gweniveve said coolly.
“Yes Ma’am.” Anetta replied meekly.
Gweniveve turned and carried the letter and jar into the main house calling over her shoulder to her maid; “‘Night Anetta.”
Anetta lay awake until the early hours of the morning, the two people suspended on the creaking wooden scaffold twisting this way and that, like some bizarre symphony.
Sounds moved through the building like whispers spoken in a language that she only half understood, no matter how she tried to break down the curtain of enigmatic noises. Anetta twisted the rough covers around her, the thick braid of her hair hung over her shoulder, a length of off cut velvet pilfered from the linen basket securing the end.
Morning came without a moment of sleep being found.
This day ran like all the others, starting in the kitchen with the Doctors breakfast and working its way to the dreaded dusting of the hallway ornamentation via the laundry and cleaning the windows.
Anetta worked as slowly as she dared, hoping that by the time she managed to get to the hall the Doctor would have moved on from the inevitable mirror staring, but when she walked out onto the landing outside the master bedroom, she found Lady Gweniveve waiting for her with a deep sadness in her eyes.
“Anetta?” She asked gently.
“Yes Ma’am?!” Anetta answered quietly, reluctantly.
“Heather Wilde has just been here.” The woman began. “She asked if you were close to Mama Lucrese, I said you were.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Anetta repeated, feeling a hard clod of fear lodged in her throat.
Gweniveve took her by the arm and led her into her private room, a bedroom that not evens the Doctor was allowed. Anetta was led to a chair were she sat, looking up, eyes following Gweniveve as she paced back and forth.
“There’s no easy way to tell you this Anetta.” Gweniveve began. “Mama Lucrese died last night, from what I can gather a little while after you left her.”
Anetta’s jaw moved soundlessly, her breath suddenly coming in sharp little gasps; she coughed, sobbed and cried with such force that tears actually erupted from her eyes.
Gweniveve stood and watched the girl cry, feeling for perhaps the first time in her life that she was out of her depth.
“I’m sorry Anetta, I didn’t realise you were that close.”
The woman walked over to her dressing table, picking up a brown paper wrapped package and carrying it over to where Anetta sat. Gweniveve sat on her heels before the servant girl without any self-consciousness. She held out the package to the girl.
“Heather Wilde said that Mama Lucrese left this for you.”
Anetta peered up; eyes puffed out with her tears, and slowly slid her hands around the parcel, pulling at the cord that held it closed, pulling the paper free.
Inside were a book, the oldest book Anetta had ever seen, and by far the most beautiful. It was bound in scarlet dyed leather, its corners secured with steel triangles of beaten metal, shapes stretch into the thin steel at the spine and clasp.
Anetta stared at it, fumbling for the clasp, unlocking it and pulling the heavy cover open to reveal packed writing that looked like so much spidery scrawling, indecipherable to her eyes. Anetta looked up helplessly to the older woman.
I can’t understand.” She sobbed, fresh tears falling, and Lady Gweniveve did a thing that should have been unthinkable to either of them. She slid her arms around Anetta and held her as she cried pain riddled soul-drowning tears.
Neither woman knew how long she cried, Gweniveve showing no pressure for Anetta to stop, but eventually she did.
Gweniveve unwound her arms from round the girl and, using the arm of the chair as leverage, pushed to her feet.
“I have been meaning to speak with you about another matter Anetta,” Gweniveve said businesslike, “and this may be the perfect time.
“It has come to a time when I feel it necessary to let some of the housemaids go, at the moment there are eleven people in this house and only two of them aren’t servants. In two months time I intend to have only the personnel that I genuinely need.
“Starting next week I’m hiring a personnel tutor to teach you and perhaps one or two of the others, what you are taught will include literacy and etiquette. Do you understand me Anetta?”
The young girl’s tears had subsided enough for her to nod slowly at the woman. Anetta sniffed and took a deep breath.
“Why are you cutting the staff?” Anetta asked.
Gweniveve stared at the young girl a moment, her unflinching gaze telling Anetta more than words ever could. It told her of an uncommon strength that all the course bravado of Heather Wilde could never match; Gweniveve Grey was a living embodiment of wise power. It struck Anetta for the first time how she admired the woman
“Well Anetta,” Gweniveve began, her voice lowering, “I don’t expect Doctor Grey to still be living here next week.”
The woman stared at Anetta, leaving the young woman no room to impersonate ignorance of the situation.
“Go on with your work Anetta,” She said softly, “if you keep yourself busy you’ll feel better.”
Anetta rose from the chair, the large book in her arms, pressed to her chest like a shield. Gweniveve reached out and took it from her.
“You can leave that with me for now Anetta,” Anetta’s hands slipped from the books smooth cover, Gweniveve putting it on her bedside table, “it’ll be safe in here. When we thin out the staff you can put it in your own room.”
Taking Anetta by the arm once again, Gweniveve led her from the room into the hall, where her duster still sat on the unit that sat beneath one of Gweniveve’s paintings, Anetta picked it up and the older woman pointed around the hall down the long flight of stairs.
“Do your normal duties Anetta, but when you get to the bottle of the stairs I want you to immediately clean the large mirror at the far end of the hall, make it spotless do you hear?”
Anetta nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
Gweniveve stood beside her a moment, silently, looking over the plush furnishings of the hallway, Anetta thinking she looked like a queen surveying her kingdom.
The woman slipped from Anetta’s side and gracefully strolled down the stairs, disappearing into her studio, leaving Anetta no choice but to continue her work, haunted by thoughts of Mama Lucrese voodoo and unknown futures.
On her way down the stairs Anetta found herself cleaning everything twice and still moving too rapidly through the work, travelling towards some kind of crossroads to her life hidden at the foot of the stairs. She looked at the grandfather clock that stood beside the front door, the brass pendulum in its casing swinging in a steady, unstoppable rhythm, the time on its face read eleven fifty-five.
Anetta stepped onto the hall carpet and turned to face the huge mirror that was her master’s pride and joy, watching herself as she approached it, the clock behind her ticking its way backwards.
The frame of the thing was a finely carved rectangle of wood no thicker than her wrist, delicately raised swirls and curves sweeping around the mirrors circumference in such a way that it draw your eyes inward like a whirlpool, forcing your gaze into its centre. Anetta thought of the book she’d left upstairs, the pages of spidery writings inside that looked so much like the carving around the mirrors frame.
Anetta walked over to it, close enough to touch the cold glass if such a thing didn’t repulse her so deeply. Dark smudges ran around the glass, between it and its frame, a thick, paste like substance that was exactly the same colour as the contents of the jar she’d brought back from Mama Lucrese’s the night before.
The girl tore her eyes from the mirror and walked past it into the kitchen, trading the duster she held with a cleaning cloth and returning to the hallway with it.
She reached out with the cloth wrapped securely around her hand like a mummies shroud so that the foul thing couldn’t touch her, her covered fingers pausing half inch from the reflective surface of the mirror as if refusing her command.
With an extreme burst of wilful, she pressed the cloth to theglass and began to wipe away the mealy smudge, her heart threatening to rip through her chest as with each beat she found herself surprised to be alive. Her hands moved quicker over the surface of the mirror, cleaning as quickly as they were able, hungry for the job to be over, and when she finally stood back and saw the mirrors glass clean and free of smears, she let out a long kept breath.
“What are you doing?!” Rang out a mans voice. “Step away, don’t touch it!”
Anetta turned as Doctor Grey ran toward her, the red of his smoking jacket looking like a wound against his cadaverous, pale flesh, one of his thin arms raised to strike.
Anetta dropped to a crouch, her arms, reflexively, covering her head like a protective umbrella, catching a sight of Gweniveve as she stepped silently out of her studio.
The girl felt the mans blows fall on her arms, his shadows decorating the floor to which she looked, looking like a crow fluttering on a tombstone and Anetta felt her fear turn to horror as a sudden certainty struck her, becoming stronger with each blow.
They would do away with her somehow, Gweniveve’s overtures of friendship were false, she and her husband would do away with her like they must have done away with Mama Lucrese.
A second shadow joined the first, a shadow dressed in the beautiful full skirts of a Lady that carried in its hands something that looked like a parasol.
Anetta stole a glance upward and saw Gweniveve swing the brass poker from the fire in her study. It connected with her husband’s head, splitting the skin and making him reel, but not doing serious damage. Another blow pushed him back, in the direction of the mirror, his arms flailing to ward of the weak, but persistent swipes with the deadly length of metal. He overstepped and fell, colliding with the glass of the mirror.
Anetta sat crouched in shocked horror at what she saw next, a vision that would haunt her as long as the memory of Mama Lucrese
Doctor Grey collided with the mirror but it didn’t break, instead he slipped through the glass like it was impossibly still water, leaving not a ripple when he landed on the mirror carpet of the mirror hall, forever separated from the real world.
He jumped to his feet, his confused, reeling mind unable to grasp what had happened as he ran at the mirror glass, his palms pressed flat and bloodless against it, his lips curled back in silent vicious curses.
Gweniveve walked forward to a spot beside Anetta as the younger woman slowly stood, her face a mask of fascinated fear. Grey continued to slam his fists silently against the mirror, not the slightest vibration reaching the woman’s side.
Anetta felt the other woman press the brass poker into her hand, the weight re-assuringly heavy as she hefted it experimental Gweniveve nodded to the mirror, then to the poker hung in Anetta’s hand and Anetta raised it above her head. She stood there for a moment, thinking all the thoughts that had been running through his mind since the beginning, then flung the poker at the thick glass mirror.
Doctor Henry Grey has enough time for one last silent scream before the mirror shattered, sending bloodless shards of her across the plush crimson carpet at his wives and maids feet.
Anetta stared down at the many triangular sections, each one mirroring only what it saw now and nothing more, the girl’s gaze didn’t waver, even when Gweniveve walked away and returned with a dustpan and brush to clear the remnants away, nor when her mistress knelt and began to do the chore. The girl only showed signs of life when every sickening shard of the dreaded mirror was hidden from her view, and only the empty frame with its somehow magical carving remained.
Gweniveve led the girl by her arm into her studio, sitting her in the chair where her models often sat.
“Well,” Gweniveve began as Anetta slowly woke from her waking nightmare, “I’ll need to get a new chief maid, she’ 11 need to be a good woman, young, with a fine temperament.”
The mistress of the house walked over to her desk and looked through the drawers, finding what she was looking for and returning to Anetta as the girl blinked her puffy eyes at her.
“There’s one thing I must insist upon however,” Gweniveve said as she handed Anetta two old, yellowed papers she had found with her husbands belongings a few weeks before, along with a third more recently penned paper that bore a surprisingly good imitation of her husbands signature at the bottom, “that all my helpers must be free women.”
Anetta looked at the papers in her hand, three of them, one newer than the others. She didn’t understand that the older two’ were a sales slip and a receipt for a twelve year old slave girl dated five years ago, neither did she understand that the third piece of paper, the one with a surprisingly good imitation of Henry Grey’s signature at its bottom, was another sales slip for the sale of the same slave girl, to a Miss Anetta Grey.
Slowly Anetta looked up, confusion in her puppy dog brown eyes as the woman before her knelt on the carpet of the studio and, following the words with one perfectly manicured nail, began to read them aloud.
Before long she was blessed with the light of Anetta’s broadest smile.