Wednesday, 23rd of November, 1870
The usual noise and chatter waned into a murmur as cooks, maids and footmen interrupted their tasks and turned their heads to take a look at the lady of the house gliding through the servants’ quarters, silent and serious, clad in a olive green day-dress and with her black hair interwoven in a long thick plait. Normally, the noblewoman troubling herself over the issues of the servants would have been bizarre, but no-one was truly surprised at the sight: Lady Hartwood’s behaviour had been strange during the last three weeks and everyone in the household had sensed that, although nobody would dare to say it aloud.
A portly middle-aged woman in a long grey dress and with a long severe face was preceding her. ‘This way, m’lady,’ said she, inviting Amelia to follow her up the steep spiral staircase leading to the bedrooms on the uppermost floor. People returned to their duties and their gossip as the two disappeared up the steps.
‘Here, this is her room. Do you wish for me to help you?’ asked the housekeeper in her hoarse voice, stopping in front of one of the doors and pulling a key out of a pocket, her voice reverberating in the deserted corridor
‘Thanks, Mrs Reed, but no,’ answered the lady, ‘I will take care of it myself. Now leave us alone, please.’
‘As you wish,’ said the housekeeper, putting the key in the lock and turning it open.
Amelia slipped inside the room, closing the door behind her. It was a small bedroom, with a slanted ceiling and simple furnishing: a chest of drawers and a washstand on the wall to her left, a bed alongside the wall to her right, a small window in front of her as the only source of light. It was raining outside. Sitting on the bed with her head lowered and her eyes staring at the floor was a young girl with a small chin and an aquiline nose.
‘Good morning, Cynthia,’ greeted the lady
Her personal maid remained silent and motionless, seemingly not even noticing that her mistress had entered her room. She was still in her night-dress and night-cap, having not bothered to put on her uniform. The permeating sound of the rain tapping on the roof was almost soothing and the lady waited for nearly a minute, hoping to hear her maid say something; Cynthia barely moved. Finally the lady decided to break the silence herself. ‘So, this morning I was expecting you to come with the breakfast, as always,’ she began, taking two steps forward, ‘but instead of you, Mrs Reed came. She said that a ‘regrettable incident’, as she called it, had took place in this house. An incident involving you and another maid. What happened?’
No answer came, mere authority would not work. Amelia slowly approached and sat beside the girl. The bed creaked and the bedclothes rustled, but the maid remained silent, with her head lowered, her elbows resting on the knees, and her eyes fixed on the grey tiles of the floor.
The lady shook her head, ‘Cynthia, Cynthia…’ she said in a tender tone, putting her arm around Cynthia’s shoulders, ‘How many years have you been in my service? Tell me, how many?’
The maid answered in a feeble voice, ‘Six, maybe seven. Since I was seventeen.’
‘And during all those years, have I ever treated you badly?’
‘I want to help you, but I need to know what the problem is. So, tell me: what happened this night?’
‘Why would you want to help me?’ sobbed the maid, turning her head away, as if she was afraid of meeting her mistress’ eyes
‘Because I owe you that,’ answered Amelia, ‘You served me for all this years and then you attended me and kept me company after… whilst I was recovering. I would struggle to find a better maid than you. Your problems are mine too and I want to help.’
‘Didn’t Mrs Reed tell you what happened?’
The reticence of the maid was getting annoying but Amelia did, in fact, know what had happened. The housekeeper had already told her how she had found Cynthia and one of the parlour-maids scuffling in the kitchen during the night and how she had confined them in their respective rooms as punishment. She had not said anything else, though, and the lady wanted to know more.
‘Mrs Reed told me you and another maid were fighting in the kitchen. I want you to tell me why.’
Cynthia closed her eyes and took a deep breath, recalling her thoughts, then began. ‘It was the new footman, the one which entered the the household at the start of September. The tall one, with the dark hair and the big jaw. Like everyone else, I found him very handsome, but I never had romantic intentions on him. But Rachel wouldn’t believe me, no matter what.’
‘I guess Rachel is the girl you got into a fight with.’
‘Yes, she is. Had that been the only problem, nothing would have happened, I know how to deal with jealous girls. But then, she starts going around telling people that I am a… that I am taking advantage of my position to spite her and all those sort of things.’ Cynthia’s tone, until then quiet and almost melancholic, was now growing increasingly angry. ‘So, the days pass, I continue not caring about him and Rachel continues to talk behind my back, until one morning at the end of October I leave your room and run into her in the corridor. I can’t recall the exact words, but at one point I tell her to stop acting like that and she retorts that she’ll claws my eyes out if I get near him again. The discussion turns ugly, names get called and since by then it had been going for almost two months, we are so exasperated that we decide to settle things that very night.’
‘You said you did not care about him.’
‘And it’s true. But after all those insults and insinuations… it’s a matter between me and her, now.’ She exhaled, then continued, ‘Anyway, this happens during the morning. We avoid each other for the rest of the day and the other servants even comment on how we look more calm than usual. And then, that afternoon, you give everyone four days off, Rachel included. When she returns three days later, I am too busy assisting you to think of fighting her. And by the time I am free enough, everybody in the household has realised how we are at each other’s throats and thus keeps us chaperoned, so to speak.’
‘Until last night…’
‘Until last night. It is around eleven and I am carrying some dirty crockery to the scullery. I enter and there I find her.’ Cynthia clenched her fists, ‘We don’t even need words: I put down the tray and lock the door behind me, she stops whatever task she is busy doing, we pull up our sleeves and prepare for the fight. It is the perfect opportunity: no-one is there to see us and no-one will be until morning.’
In hearing those words, Amelia felt a blush rising from her chest and realised how her heart was racing, beating in her throat. She swallowed and tried to keep a dignified appearance, hoping for the maid to not notice the excitement rising inside her mistress.
‘We are a second away from leaping at each other,’ continued Cynthia, ‘when suddenly we hear someone entering the kitchen. We think it’s just some other maid coming and going, so we wait a bit, but the noises continue and the tension for the fight turns into fear of being discovered. So we decide to do it some other time. And while we try to slink away, Mrs Reed catches us. You know the rest.’
‘I…’ began Amelia, the words choking in her throat. She raised and quickly left the room without saying anything more, leaving the maid alone and puzzled by the queer behaviour of her lady. She faltered to the corridor, blushing red and breathing heavily, leaning on the wall to stop the dizziness. A lace handkerchief appeared in her hand, pulled from a sleeve, and she wiped her sweating forehead.
‘Is everything fine m’lady?’ asked the housekeeper, whose presence the lady had forgotten
‘Yes, I just… I have remained inside too much, I hope for the weather to improve enough for me to go walking outside again. I need fresh air,’ the lady hastened to answer. ‘Bring me to Rachel. I want to hear her version too.’
Rachel’s room was two doors down the corridor and, upon entering, the lady found it almost identical to Cynthia’s, except for the presence of two beds instead of one. The maid sprang to her feet as soon as she saw Amelia crossing the threshold. Judging by the appearances, she was no more than a year older than Cynthia, with a square, freckled face and deep blue eyes. She was wearing her uniform, a black frock and a white apron, with a white cap.
‘M’lady…’ she greeted, doing a curtsy
The lady acknowledged the greeting with a nod of her head and let the door close behind her before speaking. ‘I have listened to Cynthia,’ she said, ‘she has told me of your quarrel and of your attempts to have a fight. Do you have anything to add, Miss…?’
‘Moore, Rachel Moore. And yes, I have. I guess she told you about Stephen,’ whereas Cynthia’s voice had been insecure, Rachel’s one was firm, almost fierce, ‘Did she also tell you about how she was planning to accuse me of stealing from the silvery?’
Amelia was aghast. She had never thought Cynthia capable of using such foul stratagems. ‘No… she did not, actually,’ she answered.
‘Well, angry she was that Stephen was rejecting her. So she set out to ruin the life of the one girl he actually liked. And she even had the gall to tell it to my face, that cu–’ the maid cut off mid-word and lowered the head, visibly embarrassed. ‘Sorry m’lady, I…’ she continued in a lower voice and a calmer tone, ‘It’s just that a false accusation is exactly what made me lose my previous job.’
‘I understand. What about?… what’s his name?…’
‘Stephen? Stephen is a good person and a good servant. But also a complete fool, as I had the displeasure of discovering. She can have him for all I care.’ She snorted and her voice became full of loathing again, ‘But I won’t forgive her for trying to take him from me. And I still want to smack her face for what happened during those two months. And if Mr Collins hadn’t caught us…’
‘Does that mean that you will find a way to fight, if I let you two go?’
‘At this point is inevitable, I think.’
Amelia felt another blush and her heart began to race again. Curiosity got the better of her and she could not resist asking, ‘How do you think it would have ended? I mean, you obviously thought you would have won, but what kind of fight do you think it would have been?’
Rachel cocked her head, astounded. Maybe the maid found strange for a lady to be interested in such vulgar matters, maybe Amelia’s face was betraying how unusually keen her interest was, or maybe the girl was just surprised by her mistress addressing her in such an informal way. ‘Not easy,’ was the answer, ‘Cynthia is no frail butterfly. Other maids have tried to threaten her physically and she had never shied away from hitting them back.’ The traces of a proud smile appeared on her face, ‘But I grew up with three older brothers, I know what to do when blows start flying.’
‘And how were you two planning to conceal the bruises and the cuts?’ the lady asked, raising an eyebrow
‘Well… we didn’t think about it, actually. We weren’t particularly lucid anyway.’ There was a little pause, then the maid asked, in a lower voice ‘We are going to be expelled, isn’t it?’
‘Nothing has been decided yet,’ answered the lady. Both remained silent for a minute, the maid waiting for a question or a command, the lady unable to think of anything to add, then Amelia turned with a swirl of her skirt and left the room. And as the fabric of her undergarments slid on her skin, she suddenly became aware of the wetness betwixt her legs and not even all those layers of skirts could stop her from feeling embarrassed. The housekeeper was waiting for her in the corridor, unaware of Amelia’s arousal.
‘I have heard enough. Mrs Reed, what were your intentions?’ asked the lady, her countenance as solemn as ever
‘Fighting on the premises is prohibited,’ was the firm answer. ‘I was going to dismiss them both, but Cynthia is under your authority, not mine. That’s why I informed you and asked for your opinion.’ She looked around the corridor to see if anyone else was there, before adding, ‘And with due respect, m’lady, you should make your decision quickly. The other servants are…’ she cleared her throat, ‘…making wagers.’
Amelia paused a bit, pretending to ponder her answer, before saying, ‘Keep them in their rooms for another hour. Let them think about what happened for a little more. Then bring both to the Eastern Hall. I will be waiting for them there.
With its thick walls covered in beige wallpaper and its large fireplace, the Eastern Hall was one of the oldest chambers of the manor; of modest size for a ballroom, but nonetheless an ample space, made bigger by the lack of guests crowding it. At the centre, the big chandelier was hanging unlit, like a greyed skeleton, over a wooden floor honed and dented by years of use. Shafts of pale light were shining through the high and narrow windows of one of the long sides. Closed and mute, the grand piano which had kept Amelia company during a lot of lonely days stood at one end of the room; the hall may had been difficult to truly heat and somewhat remote compared to the other drawing-rooms, but the lady had always liked it for the acoustics provided by the high and slightly vaulted ceiling.
Somewhere in the house a clock was striking ten when the housekeeper walked in with the two maids, like a gaoler carrying her two prisoners. They found Lady Hartwood seated with her legs crossed, on an old wooden armchair before the unlit hearth, looking around absently whilst humming a tune resembling a waltz. At the sight of the trio, Amelia stopped to recompose herself and turned, ‘Thanks Mrs Reed, you can go now,’ she said, uncrossing her legs.
‘M’lady… are you sure?’
‘Yes, I am. You may leave us alone. Make sure no-one disturbs us.’
‘As you wish.’
The woman left, shutting the door closed behind her, the clack echoing through the hall and fading into the low rumbling of the rain tapping on the glass panes. Cynthia, now donning her uniform, a black frock with a white pinafore and a white cap, was standing next to a similarly dressed Rachel. No more than six feet were dividing the two and the prolonged, hateful stares they were exchanging showed clearly how Amelia’s presence was the only reason they were not already fighting. Indeed, even whilst looking at the lady, the two were constantly on guard, almost like each of them was expecting to be assaulted by the other at any moment. A behaviour the lady found anything but surprising: an entire morning spent alone, brooding over a fight they were so close to start, could only have embittered them and sharpened their animosity.
‘I have spoken with Mrs Reed and she said that I should expel you both,’ began Amelia, studying the two girls’ faces and noting how, judging by their expressions, the fear of losing their job was all but a shallow nick on their desire to fight. Curiosity and a touch of malice prompted her to see how much she could play with the maids’ fears. ‘Indeed, that’s what the rules of this household say,’ she continued, ‘and such a despicable behaviour should not be tolerated in any case.’ She found amusing and somewhat admirable how both girls were so engrossed by their feud that they were barely listen to her words, even less feeling threatened by them. ‘But, there is a problem: I really can’t bring myself to send Cynthia away, not after all those years of faithful service.’
Cynthia could not help but fling a catty smile at Rachel, who in turn inhaled sharply and stiffened her body, trying to refrain from attacking her rival, seemingly unconcerned by what Amelia had just said. The lady continued, ‘At the same time though, you are both equally responsible for what happened and expelling only one of you would be unfair. Also, technically no fight took place, although certainly not for want of trying on your part.’
Under the cold appearance, Amelia was already tingling with excitement, savouring each second of growing tension. She looked at Cynthia, then at Rachel, and noted how their breathing had increased in rhythm and how their fingers were subtly flexing in anticipation. Indifferent to what was about to happen, the low growl of a thunder joined the omnipresent sound of the rain tapping on the panes.
‘Are you two still determined to fight?’ the lady finally asked
The maids answered in unison, ‘Yes.’
It was what Amelia wanted to hear. ‘Then do it, now and there. I will not stop you, nor I will punish any of you for it.’ The chair creaked under her as she leaned back into her seat whilst crossing her legs, a sly smile on her face. ‘As long you don’t tell about it to anybody, obviously. In which case, I would have to deny everything and dismiss you both, sending you away with a letter of recommendation. Or without one.’ The lady did not like to be so callous, but the two maids were both guilty of having disturbed the peace in the household with their squabbles and thus in need of a suitable punishment, or at least that was what she had convinced herself of.
For a moment both girls looked surprised. Until an hour before they were fearing of being thrown out of the household, now their mistress herself was asking them to do the very thing that had put them in trouble. Then the mutual hate which had consumed them for so long overwhelmed them again. Amelia made herself comfortable in her chair. She could not negate her simpaties for her trusted Cynthia, but was resolute in not interfering and in remaining neutral, expressing no preferences for any of the two.
‘Fine enough for me,’ said Cynthia, turning completely towards Rachel, with both hands on her hips and a look of disgust on her face, ‘but I think she prefers to talk behind people’s back instead.’
‘Oh shut up, you jealous bitch!’ snapped Rachel, turning her face full of contempt towards her rival
‘What did you called me?’ snapped back Cynthia, clenching her fists, flushing red with rage
‘Bitch I called you. Because that’s what you are. A petty, insufferable bitch who has never met anyone standing up to her.’
Cynthia’s hands went to her back, to untie the strings of her pinafore. ‘Stupid dollymop, I’m going to rip off that lank mop and use it to choke your foul mouth,’ she shouted, snatching the garment from her body and throwing it on the floor
‘Just try it, slag!’ shouted back Rachel removing her own apron and pulling her cap off her head, revealing a fiery auburn mane.
And with a scream that echoed in the hall, Cynthia darted towards her foe.
The redhead shrieked and almost fell backwards from the fury of the assault; three steps were separating the two and Cynthia had crossed them almost in a single leap, catching her unprepared. I didn’t took long for her to recover from the surprise but, by that time, Cynthia’s hand were jerking her had left and right, tightly clamped on the red locks on her temples. Unable to see clearly, Rachel flailed her arms in the general direction of her enemy, searching for something to grasp. Her fingers found Cynthia’s cap, seized it and wrenched it off, freeing a mass of curly dark brunette hairs. Finally able to respond in kind, the redhead roared and buried her hands the dark mane, and began yanking. Grunts, screams and the erratic tapping of their shoes on the wooden floor filled the chilly air of the hall, as the two pulled each other around in circles, their skirts flapping and swirling around their legs.
‘Let me go, bitch!’ snarled Rachel, releasing one hand and flinging a slap
Cynthia winched but did not let go. Rachel flung another slap, then a third. Cynthia continued to held. At the fifth or sixth slap the brunette finally reacted, releasing her foe’s hair and blocking Rachel’s incoming arm, clutching it tightly. Rachel attempted to hit with the other, only to have that stopped and caught as well.
‘Now what, slut?’ taunted Cynthia, half of her face reddened
She yelped as Rachel’s knee hit her in the hip, weakening her grasp enough for the redhead to get out of the hold, and in a moment Rachel’s pale yet rough hands flew forward towards her neck. Not fast enough, though, to stop the brunette from parrying the attack. Two couples of arms slid inside each other and their bodies slammed together, hugging tightly. Grunting and moaning, the two girls began grappling, clumsily punching at each other’s backs. Frustration rapidly grew inside the two, each so close to her rival and yet incapable of hurting her effectively. It looked like the two had reached an impasse, when both had the same idea at the same time. All four hands stopped striking and went to the back of the heads, clasping at hairs and pulling downwards.
It was not lost on Amelia how the two maids were now in the same situation she had found herself during her duel with Helen. She felt sweaty despite the unheated air of hall and realised how she was biting her lower lip and nervously shifting her legs, like a young girl ardently gazing upon her lover. Clutching the arms of her chair, she took a deep breath and concentrated again on the fighting couple.
In the meantime, the struggle was proving itself inconclusive. For a minute the two spun and stumbled around in a precarious balance, jerking their heads, their skirts flapping around their ankles with every yank. Then, after a quick glance, Rachel realised where all their staggering had carried them. She let out a yell and pushed with almost all her strength, slamming Cynthia against the wall and pressing her body against the brunette’s one. The maids ended up betwixt two windows, although for a moment the lady had feared the two were going to hit a window and crash through it, so strong the push had been. Cynthia felt her breath pressed out of her chest as she slammed against the wallpaper and yelped from the pain in her back, unable to keep her hands on the red mane anymore. And in seeing her foe vulnerable, Rachel released her grip as well and grabbed the brunette by the collar. She wanted to slam Cynthia’s head again, but before she could do it, a pair of arms coiled around her own, stopping them and shoving her back. Both girls tightened their grip and pushed, Rachel trying to pin her enemy against the wall, Cynthia trying to move the fight away from it.
‘Hussy!’ spat the brunette
After some seconds of stalemate, the redhead’s shoes finally slipped and forced her to step back to avoid falling. Cynthia did not waste the chance and freed her hand, flinging a punch straight at Rachel’s cheek and sending her back another few steps. She dashed forward and tried to fling another one, but this time the redhead blocked it and answered in kind, hitting her right in the mouth. Cynthia lost her momentum and, before being able to regain focus, another punch caught her in the chin, making her lose balance and fall backwards. Rachel quickly approached with the intention of kicking the helpless and sore brunette, but as her feet left the floor to launch a kick, Cynthia promptly seized the other ankle, and pulled. The redhead yelled and threw her arms in the air as her stomach raised to her throat and her back hit the hardwood floor.
The battle ceased temporarily, both combatants laying besides each other, their chests raising and falling visibly, and both groaning from the pain of the impact. Then, remembering their fight was nowhere near its end, the two girls scrambled to their feet and faced each other again, bent forward and breathing heavily. Beads of perspiration were dribbling down their foreheads and a red trickle was trickling from Cynthia’s cut lip. The lady was expecting for them to resume immediately, but the two maids began circling instead, reaching for the centre of the hall again.
‘I’m going to ruin you and your ugly face,’ snarled Rachel, ‘Then you can have him, for all I care.’
‘You must be stupid if you still haven’t understood it,’ snarled back Cynthia, ‘I never cared about him, you jealous wretch!’
For a moment both stood silent, with their eyes swollen with rage staring into one another, before quickly coming together, slaps and punches flying in all directions around them, aimlessly hitting at their faces and necks, shoulders and ribs. There was no method or logic in their moves, only the fury of two angry girls lashing at each other. Amelia could not restrain herself from clapping her hands and stomping her feet with childish glee, the sight filling her with excitement.
Meanwhile, in the centre of the room, the maids were too focused on their fight to notice their lady’s actions. Rachel threw herself at Cynthia, wrapping her arms around her enemy’s chest, and the two fell on the floor again, this time they seemingly unconcerned by the pain. Grunts and insults punctuated a minute of chaotic grapple, until Rachel managed to climb on top of Cynthia, trying to pin her down. The brunette had still enough energy to not be subdued and pushed her to the side, in turn rolling atop and attempting to immobilise her adversary, only to be pulled to the side as well. On and on they rolled, their legs entangled through the fabric of their skirts, until finally one of the legs of the piano blocked their way.
There were some seconds of tangling during which Cynthia managed to put her foot on the belly of her enemy. She let go a guttural scream and pushed the redhead away. Rachel fled backwards, yelling, and fell on her arse, but not before being able to grab and cling to one of Cynthia’s sleeves. Seams failed to endure the strain and with a sharp ripping sound, a black tube of fabric got torn from the rest of the dress, tearing a gash down the side of the frock from the armpit to the waist and exposing the white beneath. Quickly raising to their knees, both immediately launched at each other again, not even bothering to get to their feet.
‘You ripped my dress, bitch!’ snarled Cynthia, as the two locked arms
Cynthia answered by pulling one of her hands free. For a moment, Rachel was surprised enough by the move to stand still. She got even more surprised when neither a slap nor a punch followed. The brunette’s hand instead grabbed her collar and brutally ripped it, buttons flying away in every direction.
‘Now we are even,’ she said, nodding at the now exposed chemise of her enemy
‘Tart!’ shouted Rachel as she attached her foe’s clothes, prompting Cynthia to do the same. Tugging, tearing and ripping were certainly less fatiguing efforts than grappling and thereby the fight reignited with renewed frenzy. Buttons got torn free from the threads holding them, sleeves found themselves sliding down to the wrists, and the sound of the fabric being shredded blended with the grunts of the two fighters, echoing in the hall. And when their black outer clothes were left with nothing more to rip away, the two aimed their fury at their white undergarments. Amelia was sitting on the edge of her seat, unable to divert her gaze from such a display of unbridled savagery. She felt her heart beating in her throat and swallowed. Piece by piece, the two maids proceeded to uncover each other of what was covering them and only upon reaching their skin they decided to stop, mostly due to the lack of further clothes to ruin. All they could do then was stare, seated on their heels and breathing heavily, their reddened faces and bodies covered in sweat and wads of ripped hairs, little shreds of white fabric still clinging on their skin and black scraps disseminated all around them. Still gasping for air, both raised to their feet and slipped off the tatters of their now useless dresses; only their drawers and socks had managed to remain somewhat intact. They stood, their slender and wiry bodies naked above the waist and the nipples of their small, perky tits hardened by the chill.
Rachel smirked spitefully. ‘You know, I’m starting to think that maybe you were sincere and you really don’t care about him.’
‘So, if neither of us wants him, why are we still fighting?’ snorted Cynthia, pulling a strand of dark hair away from her face
‘Because you are a prissy cunt, that’s why.’
‘Well, at least now you are saying that to my face, slag!’ shouted the brunette
‘And at least this time you are not using tricks, tart!’ shouted back Rachel, launching forward
The two hugged and thumped to the ground and, after a brief tangle, Cynthia found herself under and held by the temples, with the weight of the redhead pushing her down. Her hands quickly fastened on the hairs on Rachel’s nape, trying to pull her away, but with little results. She freed one hand and cracked a slap. Rachel winched and retorted by freeing one of her hands and flinging a slap as well. Unable to move away, both remained there, continuing to exchange blows, although with more anger than force. Their faces were throbbing when Rachel instead of striking, decided to grab her foe’s jaw, sinking her nails into the soft cheeks. Cynthia yelled, her voice muffled by the rough hand pressing on her mouth, and her nails went to the redhead’s neck, raking four nasty red trails down on the pale skin. Rachel squealed and slung a punch on the side of the brunette’s head.
Cynthia moaned and went limp, stunned, but the pause lasted only for a handful of seconds. As soon as she recovered, her hands went around Rachel’s throat; the redhead gasped and tried to grab and pull them away, but the brunette had still enough strength in her to resist and squeeze. In reprisal, her own flung to Cynthia’s neck and coiled tightly around it, pushing it down against the floor. The gagging sounds from their throats were a clear indication that the two were actually trying to strangle each other and the lady did not like that new development, at all. She did not want to lose a maid; she would go and separate the two.
She was on the verge of raising, when a shriek signalled her it would not be necessary. The redhead had twisted her head and somehow managed to bite one of the brunette’s wrists and Cynthia had yelled in pain, forced to release her grip. Even on the awkward position she was in, though, she found a way to punch Rachel, catching her right on the ear, the shock making her loosen her bite. With what must have been her last energies, Cynthia bent towards and clasped her hands behind the redhead’s neck, rolling to the side and pulling her down to the floor. The two ended up laying on their sides, in front of each other, confusedly flaying their hands at each other’s faces and kicking at each other’s legs. Judging by their snarls and moans, the hits still hurt, although less than they would have wanted.
And in the confusion, one of Cynthia’s hands ended up on one of Rachel’s tits. Immediately knowing what to do, she brought the other on her enemy’s chest as well and her fingers dug into the warm, sweaty flesh, eliciting a long, high-pitched scream from the redhead. But with both her hands busy, she could not stop Rachel from retorting in the same way, and her screams of pain joined those of her rival as each concentrated her efforts on burying her fingers even deeper into the adversary’s breasts.
‘You first, cunt.’
Tears began running down their reddened cheeks and soon the kicking resumed. Awkwardly positioned, with little strength and no clear direction, their legs and feet ended up hitting mostly the air or the floor, but after each movement the two found themselves pushed a bit further apart, until the distance became enough to allow Rachel to firmly put a foot on Cynthia’s stomach.
The redhead pushed and the two slid in opposite directions, separating. Both were quick in raising to their knees, too tired to stand. They exchanged hateful glares and stumbled toward each other again, meeting in a embrace, and punches thumped on their backs as each began striking. Both were truly spent now, their blows weak and barely effective, and yet neither was willing to give. They stood there, leaning on each other and barely moving, grunting, snorting, but clearly unable to accomplish anything else.
The lady had seen enough, her thirst for excitement had been quenched. ‘That’s enough. Stop it!’ she ordered.
Her voice faded into the sound of the rain as the two maids ignored her and continued in their futile grapple, either refusing to obey the order or unable to hear it.
She raised from her seat. ‘I said stop it, now!’ she shouted again, her imperious voice echoing in the hall
Cynthia had spent almost seven years as Lady Hartwood’s personal assistant, Rachel barely three as a parlour-maid with only occasional interactions with the lady. Upon hearing her mistress’ commanding voice, Cynthia complied with the order immediately, almost by instinct. Rachel did not. And in seeing her enemy with her guard down and open to attack she buried a punch in the belly of the brunette. Cynthia exhaled violently and bent over, falling breathless on the floor. In a moment the redhead was over of her, slamming her almost unconscious head on the wooden boards.
The lady darted forward and rushed towards the maids. ‘Let her go! Didn’t you hear me?’ she shouted, genuinely worried
‘Leave her!’ she shouted again, grabbing Rachel under the armpits and pulling her away.
The redhead was still too frenzied to stop writhing and too focused on the fight to think lucidly. Upon feeling grabbed and yanked away, she quickly disentangled from the grasp and turned, flinging a slap to Amelia. The lady’s reaction came faster than her sense and, like a whip, her hand cracked on the maid’s cheek. Before any of the two could understand what had just happened, a flurry of flailing arms and open palms filled the space betwixt the two. The girl tried to throw a punch but, after all the fighting with Cynthia, she was too exhausted, too weak and too slow. Amelia grabbed the arm without difficulty and slammed her fist on the maid’s left cheekbone, sending the girl tumbling on the floor, and launched herself on Rachel, only for the girl to roll to the side. The noblewoman landed on her stomach and the maid climbed on top of her, grabbing her wrists and attempting to pin her down.
In the tangle, Amelia lost the string holding her plait and her hair began to unravel, but it was all the maid could accomplish. The lady freed her hands without difficulty and brought them behind her head, burying them in the girl’s disarrayed mane. She arched her back and shook the maid off her, but instead of launching on the girl, she simply stood up and stepped back.
Snarling, the redhead promptly got to her feet again and rushed forward, trying to charge at her mistress, only to be grabbed by the hair again, yanked to the side and dragged for half a circle before being released. She shrieked as she almost flew, falling ruinously and loudly some feet away. Neither made any other move and it looked like the fighting had finally ceased, with a woman breathing heavily, another raising to her shaking feet and a third one laying motionless, coughing and gasping shortly distant. The sound of the rain returned to be the most audible one.
Rachel was preparing for another charge, when she suddenly became aware of who she was fighting against. Her face blanched and all combativeness flushed out of her, immobilizing her body. Her angry face instantly turned regretful, it looked as if she was crying. ‘Sorry. I’m sorry m’lady. I’m sorry,’ she said with agitated fear, suddenly straightening and lowering her head, her hands clasped in front of her half-naked body, ‘I acted without thinking. I’m sorry.’
Amelia should have been relieved, but she was instead almost annoyed at having to stop. She nevertheless regained her composure. ‘Apologies accepted,’ she said, straightening as well and rearranging her dress, ‘Although I must admit that it was my fault too. I should have called someone to help me separate you two instead of putting myself in the middle of an ongoing fight. You felt attacked and attacked me back, nothing but a spontaneous reaction. I should have known better.’
‘Th– thanks, m’lady.’
‘As for you and Cynthia, I presume we can consider your clash to have ended in a tie. Now–’
‘A tie? But–’
‘She got distracted by my order to stop,’ snapped Amelia in a tone as severe as her stare, ‘An order you did not comply with.’
‘Yes, m’lady,’ the maid lowered her head, looking even more sheepish
‘I hope that’s enough for you both. Now go and help her,’ said the lady, pointing her finger at a still suffering Cynthia. ‘Oh, and one last thing: this was a special case. If I find or hear that you two have got into a brawl again, I will let Mrs Reed do whatever she thinks is more appropriate. Is it clear enough?’
‘Yes m’lady,’ answered Rachel, doing a nervous curtsy and moving to reach her colleague.
Lady Hartwood turned and left the room at a steady and dignified pace, she had no intention of staying to supervise the two. The hallway outside was silent and deserted, anyone who may have been there eavesdropping or spying through the keyhole was already gone. The lady closed the door, gathered her skirt and began running, recklessly dashing through the gloomy corridors and up the winding stairway, almost colliding with a young maid carrying a bucket of coal upon turning a corner, until she finally found the door of her chambers. She entered and locked the door behind her, leaning for some seconds on its white-lacquered wood, gasping for air.
Her head felt both empty and heavy at the same time as she slowly approached the bed. She shook her hair, letting her still dishevelled dark mane completely cascade on her shoulders. It was as if her body was acting on its own and she did not fight against it. Her breath was shallow and she was almost stumbling when she turned and let herself fall on the sheets. She lifted her green skirt, then her underskirt, then her white petticoat and as her mind began recalling the fight of the two maids, her hand finally found a way inside her drawers and betwixt her legs.
Amelia arched her back and moaned as her slender fingers slid gently into the moist inside. Her breath grew faster and louder with each caress, until her dress began feeling too constricting. She unbuttoned her front and her hand slid inside her blouse to caress the warm and damp flesh her heaving bosom. Again and again the lady writhed and squirmed on the sheets, moaning and puffing at the mercy of her lust, the orgasm growing in her heralded by increasingly powerful spasms of pleasure. Her wrist was aching and the final release came sooner than she would have preferred, all her energies flowing out of her with it. She closed her eyes and let her exhausted body finally rest, her untied hairs veiling her panting face and her mouth curled into a satisfied smile.
‘M’lady, are you well?’
Amelia gasped and hastily covered her legs as the voice of a maid reached her from behind the door, wrenching her from the slumber she was slipping into.
‘M’lady? We have seen you running. Did something happened? Do you need help?’
‘No, thanks, I’m well. There is no need to be worried,’ she answered
A gentle rustling accompanied her as she slithered out of her bed and got back to her feet. She adjusted her skirts and tucked her hair behind her ears, walking towards the mirror. She was intent on weaving her mane back into a presentable shape, when something in her reflection made her stop. At first she could understand what it was, then she realised: her body was beautiful again. For the first time in three weeks she noticed how all the signs of her fight with Lady Withersby had disappeared. The red marks had faded away and her skin was smooth again, swellings and bruises were not there anymore and her hair had grown back enough to look good. She was just like she had been before that fateful afternoon.
Except for the eyes. Her eyes had never changed since that day: they were still eager to fight like they had been that late October morning, still craving for revenge over the received humiliation like they had been that evening. And still lusting for more. Indeed, the lady had hoped that watching the two maids fight would have satiated her desires. If anything, it had made them even more intense.
She stared at her image in the mirror and giggled. ‘You are really wicked, aren’t you?’
Yet another letter wishing her a quick recovery, yet another answer thanking the sender for the concern and detailing how her conditions had improved and how she would soon return attending balls, parties, gatherings and all the social events befitting a lady of her stature. Lady Hartwood yawned. Reading and replying to a month worth of correspondence was a tedious task, especially when compared to the exciting spectacle which had took place that morning, but after three weeks of self-imposed seclusion it was time for her to stop feigning illness. She was sitting at her desk, dealing with the umpteenth missive, when the clock chimed four. Three knocks at the door followed shortly after.
‘Come in,’ she said, her head still bent over the paper
Mrs Reed appeared, carrying a silver tray with a cup and a teapot. She curtsied, placed the tray on the desk and remained there in silence, standing at attention like a soldier.
Amelia stopped writing and lifted her eyes, looking across the table. There was a curious nervousness in the stiff behaviour of the housekeeper. ‘Yes?’
‘M’lady… What have you decided regarding Miss Dale and Miss Moore?
The lady put down the pen and took off her round spectacles. ‘I have decided to keep them both,’ she answered, rubbing her tired eyes, ‘And to give them some days of leave so they can recover. With their pays deducted accordingly, of course.’
‘But, m’lady, if you–’
‘You know, Mrs Reed,’ interrupted Amelia, ‘I have compared all the various versions and I have found that there are some… inconsistencies.’
The lady leaned forward and poured herself a cupful. ‘Exactly. For example, you told me they were fighting, whilst they both said they were interrupted before they could began. Then each of them gave me a different name for who found them. Every person I asked told me a different story. Maybe you could help me understand what really happened, starting by telling me…’ she lifted the cup before her smirking face and drew back into her seat, looking the housekeeper in the eyes, ‘What were you and the butler doing, in the middle of the night, alone in the kitchen?’
It was quite the sight, to see the ever severe Mrs Reed blushing like a shy débutante. No wonder the woman was so eager to have both girls out of the household as soon as possible. Amelia suppressed a laugh and took some sips of tea, slowly, and for half a minute she amused herself by watching the housekeeper futilely trying to came up with a retort, before finally saying, ‘You may go. I will pretend that in these two days nothing happened, neither to you nor to Cynthia or Rachel.’
‘As you wish, m’lady,’ said Mrs Reed, leaving the room, her face still red from embarrassment.
Amelia cast a glance at the desk: unopened and unanswered, no less than a dozen letters were still waiting her attention. They could wait some more. She raised from her chair and walked to the nearest window, the steaming cup in her hand. Outside it was still raining, an insistent drizzle pouring down from a leaden sky. She gazed through the rivulets of water running down the panes, upon the park swept by the rain, and her mind began to wander. How many tiffs had taken place just outside her sight in the past? How many other maids had quarrelled and fought among those old walls? How many other ladies before her? And why couldn’t she stop thinking about it now? What had changed in her? Even accounting for her verbal spats with Helen, her life had always been quiet, mostly uneventful and almost banal, yet now she was desiring nothing else but to find an adversary just to feel the thrill of competition. Could Cynthia be persuaded to be one, once rehabilitated? Could some other servant become one? How would she fare against any of them? Who would win?
Lady Hartwood frowned and her mind went silent. Stumbling upon that thought had reminded her the uncomfortable truth that, despite her overwhelming desire to fight, she still had no victories to brag about. Lady Withersby had defeated her and her brief scuffle with Rachel ultimately meant nothing: shoving away an already exhausted maid was no accomplishment. What she needed was to face another lady in a fight of equals, a challenge allowing her to earn her victory. She shook her head and sighed, before finishing her tea. What she was fantasising about was outright impossible and too risky anyway. Another duel would bring too much attention to her and attention was the last thing she wanted in that moment, with the written account that she had been forced to write still dangling over her reputation like a Sword of Damocles and the horrid prospect of its contents creeping into public knowledge still keeping her awake at night.
‘No,’ she thought out loud, ‘I will not tempt fate any further.’