Read The Mysterious Maid-Servant Online

Authors: Barbara Cartland

The Mysterious Maid-Servant

THE MYSTERIOUS MAID-SERVANT

But now he realised that she had a grace that made her figure, thin though it was, an undeniable enticement, and that her big eyes filling her small pale face were beautiful rather differently from the way he had interpreted beauty in the past.

All his women had been, he thought, like full-grown roses, big-breasted, seductive and voluptuous. In contrast Giselda was the exact opposite.

Author’s Note

The descriptions of Cheltenham in 1816 are as historically accurate as possible. The Montpellier Pump Room was pulled down and rebuilt the following year. The Weighing Machine from William’s Library is now in the Cheltenham Museum.

The Duke of Wellington paid three more visits to Cheltenham in the post-war years, but he was not the only illustrious visitor to the beautiful Gloucestershire Spa. In 1823 the visitors included four Dukes, three Duchesses, six Marquises, ten Earls, fifty-three Lords and seventy Ladies!

The Duc d’Orléans stayed for three months and later became Louis Philippe, King of France.

Colonel Berkeley lived with Maria Foote for several years. She bore him two children.

Always flamboyant in his behaviour, when the Editor of the
Cheltenham Chronicle
criticised his conduct, he was furious and, when the newspaper went on to make uncomplimentary remarks about the ladies of the Berkeley Hunt, the Colonel with two friends proceeded to the Editor’s house. While his friends guarded the door, the Colonel horsewhipped the wretched man.

But Colonel Berkeley was a great benefactor to the town. He helped start the Cheltenham Races and he was later made Lord Seagrave and then 1
st
Earl Fitzhardinge.

Berkeley Castle is still one of the most beautiful castles in England. To find money for its preservation and to restore it to its former grandeur, Berkeley Square and the estate in the heart of Mayfair were sold in 1919.

Thomas Newell became Surgeon Extraordinary to King George IV.

CHAPTER ONE
1816

“Damn and blast! God Almighty, you curst fool – take your clumsy hands off me! Get out – do you hear? You are sacked – and I never want to see your ugly face again!”

The valet ran from the room and the occupant of the bed continued cursing volubly with soldier’s oaths that came easily to his lips.

Then, as he felt his rage abating a little, he saw a movement at the far end of the big bedroom and realised for the first time that a maid-servant was attending to the grate.

She had been obscured from his view by the carved foot of the big four-poster bed and now he raised himself a little higher on his pillows to demand,

“Who are you? What are you doing here? I did not realise there was anyone else in the room.”

She turned and he saw that she was very slight with a face that seemed unnaturally small beneath her large mobcap.

“I – I was polishing the – grate, my Lord.”

To his surprise her voice was soft and cultured and the Earl stared at her as she moved towards the door, a heavy brass bucket in one hand.

“Come here!” he ordered abruptly.

She hesitated a moment.

Then, as if forced to obey his command, she walked slowly towards the bed and he saw that she was even younger than he had first imagined.

She stopped at the bedside, but when he would have spoken she stared down at his leg exposed above the knee and at the bloodstained bandages, which the valet had been in the process of removing.

The Earl was about to speak when she said, again in that soft but undoubtedly educated voice,

“Would you – allow me to remove the bandages for you, my Lord? I have some experience of nursing.”

The Earl looked at her in surprise and then said ungraciously,

“You could not hurt me more than that damned fool I have just driven out of my sight.”

The maid drew a little nearer and, putting down the heavy bucket, she stood looking at the Earls leg.

Then, very gently, she moved a piece of the bandage to one side.

“I am afraid, my Lord, that the lint that has been covering the wounds was not properly applied. It is therefore stuck and will undoubtedly be painful unless we can ease it off with warm water.”

“Do what you like!” the Earl said gruffly, “and I will try to restrain my language.”

“Forget I am a woman, my Lord. My father said a man who could endure pain without swearing was either a Saint or a turnip!”

The Earl’s lips twisted in a faint smile.

He watched her as the maid went to the washstand.

Having first washed her hands in cold water, she emptied the basin into a slop-pail. Then she poured some of the hot water with which his valet had intended to shave him into the china basin.

She brought it to the side of the bed and with some cotton wool, she began deftly to ease away with the soaked wool the bandages where they had stuck to the innumerable scars that had been left by the surgeon after he had removed the grapeshot from the Earl of Lyndhurst’s leg.

He had been shot at close range immediately above the knee and it was only by a tremendous effort of will, and because he used all his authority as a General that his leg had not been amputated immediately after the Battle of Waterloo.

“It’ll become gangrenous, my Lord,” the surgeon had protested, “and then your Lordship will lose not your leg, but your life!”

“I will take a chance on it,” the Earl had replied. “I am damned if I will go through life
“dot-and-carry-one”
, unable to even mount a horse in comfort.”

“I am warning your Lordship – ”

“And I am disregarding your warning
and
rejecting your very debatable skill,” the Earl had replied.

It had however been some months before he could be brought home to England on a stretcher in considerable pain.

After enduring what he considered indifferent treatment in London, he had come to Cheltenham because he had heard that the surgeon at the Spa, Thomas Newell, was outstanding.

The Earl was indeed one of the many hundreds of people who visited Cheltenham entirely because of its exceptional doctors.

Although Thomas Newell had made his Lordship suffer more agony than he had ever encountered in the whole of his life, his faith in him was justified, for there was no doubt that the scars on the leg were in a healthy condition and beginning to heal.

He did not swear again, even though he winced once or twice as the maid removed the last of the bloodstained lint and looked around for fresh bandages.

“On top of the chest-of-drawers,” the Earl prompted.

The maid found a box containing bandages and some lint, which she looked at critically.

“What is wrong?” the Earl enquired.

“There is nothing wrong, except that there is nothing to prevent the lint from sticking to the wounds again. If your Lordship will permit me, I will bring you an ointment my mother makes that is not only healing but also will prevent the lint from sticking.”

“I should be glad to receive the ointment,” the Earl replied.

“I will bring it tomorrow,” she said.

Having arranged the pieces of lint on the wound, she secured them in place with strips of clean linen.

“Why must I wait until tomorrow?” the Earl enquired.

“I cannot go home until my work is done.”

“What is your work?” he asked.

“I am a housemaid, your Lordship.”

“You have been here long?”

“No, sir, I came here yesterday.”

The Earl glanced at the brass bucket on the floor beside the bed.

“I imagine you have been given the roughest and heaviest jobs,” he said with a frown. “You do not look as if you are capable of carrying such a heavy burden.”

“I can manage.”

The words were spoken with a note of determination in the maid’s voice, which told him that what she had had to do up to now had not been easy.

Then as he watched her fingers moving deftly on his leg, the Earl suddenly noticed the bones of her wrists.

There was something prominent about them, something that commanded his attention and made him look even more searchingly at her face.

It was difficult to see her clearly, for her head was bent and the mobcap obstructed his view.

Then, as she turned to choose another bandage, he saw that her face was very thin, unnaturally so, the cheekbones prominent, the chin-bone taut, the mouth stretched at the corners.

As if she realised she was being scrutinised, her eyes met his and he thought they too were rather large for her small face.

They were strange eyes, the deep blue of an angry sea, fringed with long eyelashes.

She looked at him enquiringly and then a faint colour rose in her cheeks as she continued to apply the bandages.

The Earl looked again at the prominent bones of her wrists and knew when he had seen them last.

It was the children in Portugal, the children of the peasants whose crops had been destroyed! They had been left starving by the warring armies who lived off the land and who, especially the French, left nothing for the native population.

Starvation!

It had sickened and disgusted him, even though he knew it was one of the inevitable horrors of war. He had seen too much of it to be mistaken now.

He realised that while he was thinking of the maid she had finished bandaging his leg with a skill that his valet had been unable to command.

Now she pulled the sheet gently over him and picked up her coal bucket.

“Wait!” the Earl commanded. “I asked you a question, which you have not yet answered. Who are you?”

“My name is Giselda, my Lord – Giselda – Chart.”

There was just a slight hesitation before the last name that the Earl did not miss.

“This is not the type of work you are accustomed to?”

“No, my Lord, but I am grateful to have it.”

“Your family is poor?”

“Very poor, my Lord.”

“What does it consist of?”

“My mother and my small brother.”

“Your father is dead?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Then how have you lived until you came here?”

He had a feeling that Giselda was resenting his questions, and yet she was not in a position to refuse to answer them.

She stood holding the brass bucket which was so heavy that it pulled her body down on one side, making her seem too fragile and too unsubstantial for such a heavy weight.

Now the Earl could see the hollows at the base of her neck beneath the neat collar of her print dress and the sharp points of her elbows.

She was suffering from starvation – he was sure of it – and he knew the whiteness of her skin was a pallor that indicated anaemia.

“Put down that bucket while I talk to you,” he said sharply.

She obeyed him, her eyes wide and apprehensive in her face as if she was afraid of what he was about to say.

“It is a waste of your talents, Giselda,” he said after a moment, “to be polishing grates and doubtless scrubbing floors, when your fingers have healing powers.”

Giselda did not move or answer, she merely waited as the Earl went on,

“I am going to suggest to the housekeeper that you wait exclusively upon me.”

“I do not think she will allow that, my Lord. They are short-handed below, which is the reason why I was able to obtain employment here. The town is filling up because of the opening of the new Assembly Rooms.”

“I am not concerned with the housekeeper’s problems,” the Earl said loftily. “If I want you and she will not agree, I will take you into my own employment.”

He paused.

“Perhaps that would be better anyway. I require you to bandage my leg twice a day and there will be doubtless many other services you can render me which a woman can do more effectively than a man.”

“I am – very grateful to your Lordship – but – I would rather refuse.”

“Refuse? Why should you wish to do that?” the Earl asked in astonishment.

“Because, my Lord, I cannot risk losing the employment I have here.”

“Risk? What risk is there?”

“I would not wish to be – dismissed as you dismissed your valet just now.”

The Earl laughed.

“If you imagine I have dismissed Batley you are very much mistaken! Even if I meant it, I doubt if he would go. He has been with me for fifteen years and he is used to the rough edge of my tongue. I will try to be more careful where you are concerned.”

Giselda linked her fingers together and looked at the Earl even more apprehensively than before.

“What is troubling you now?” he asked. “I cannot believe that you would not find nursing me more congenial than being ordered about by a horde of servants.”

“It is not – that – my Lord.”

“Then what is it?”

“I was wondering what – remuneration you would – give me.”

“What are you receiving now?”

“Ten shillings a week, my Lord. It is a good wage, but it is well known that they pay well here at German Cottage. I might not get the same elsewhere.”

“Ten shillings?” the Earl said. “Well, I will give you double.”

He saw the look of surprise light the dark blue eyes, and he thought too that there was a sudden gleam of excitement in them.

Then Gisela’s chin went up and she replied,

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