World #2: Noblesse Oblige
Piper sat in the dining room, taking a breath before returning to work. The servants had a few chairs to sit on around the perimeter of the room, which was a fairly recent addition to the décor. The doorbell rang, and her senses perked as the butler walked to answer it. The door was never for her – why would anyone come to visit a gardener? – but despite her irritation with the higher class, it was always interesting to see who showed up.
The door opened, but the person was standing just far enough back so that Piper couldn’t see them. “May I help you?” the butler intoned in his usual flat voice.
“Yes, the young lord of the house should be expecting me?” Ah. The prim and proper female tone gave it all away; this must be one of the ladies coming to attempt to woo the “young lord” of the house.
Piper shook her head as the butler escorted the girl to the drawing room, and then vanished to fetch the master of the house’s son. The courting procedure was entirely backwards in this household. Lord and Lady Dawes were two of the most powerful and affluent people in the city – and quite possibly the country. Who knows, maybe the world. Thus, one would expect that their son would be the one – like all the other rich boys – to go out and charm the ladies.
And charm them he did, but Alan Dawes wasn’t the courting sort, apparently.
She slipped into the kitchen, falling into her secondary duties as a kitchen maid, and readied a kettle of tea with two cups. Not born into higher class, but with a mother that did and coming up on a year of practice at the Dawes mansion, she knew exactly how the scenario would go down.
With a quick check to ensure she had everything, Piper straightened her apron and went into the drawing room. The girl this time could have best been described just with the word “too”: too blonde, too made-up, too pretty, too skinny, too straight-laced. For just an instant, it was easy for Piper to feel diminished – with her curves and unruly red curls and lack of excessive decorum – but she shrugged it off. She didn’t need to be one of them.
“Tea, miss?” Piper offered, keeping her voice soft. When the girl nodded, she set the tray on the table near where the blonde was sitting and took a step back. “It’s an orange mint tea, prepared from leaves here in the garden.”
“Really,” the blonde mused, her voice matching the rest of her perfectly. Too soft, too high, too ineffectual. Piper waited until the girl had prepared a cup, sipped it, and given her a nod before vanishing again. This time, she picked a new seat to wait in – because seeing what Alan would do could be fascinating.
She wouldn’t say that she and Alan had gotten close, because that wasn’t something Alan did. He kept everyone at an arm’s distance, especially the staff. But with Piper, he was just a half step more relaxed, more willing to speak his mind…more human. It was odd, and the gardener didn’t quite know what to do about it. But she’d take it. Out of her league or not (and personality notwithstanding) Alan was still exceptionally handsome.
He came down the stairs a moment later, paying Piper no mind as he did. The conversation was fairly standard – she’d brought him roses, which he complimented. Mine are better, Piper thought to herself. She asked after his various social and intellectual endeavors. He answered in generic terms, not giving anything too interesting away and yet still answering her question. He asked where her chaperone was. She said that she’d refused one. That struck both Piper and Alan as odd, and he said as much. She explained that she didn’t seen why it was necessary for her to have an escort; she’d known Alan their whole lives and since clearly the courting was a formality to their eventual marriage, she didn’t require one.
If Alan had a response to that, Piper didn’t hear it. She’d stood and left.
It was irrational, it was stupid, it was childish and foolish. She knew that it didn’t make sense, because Alan hated red roses and that had been what the blonde had brought, and he didn’t want to have a wife chosen for him – she’d figured out that much on her own – and he wasn’t acting like he did when he was actually enjoying himself…
But the fact of the matter remained. Eventually, Alan Dawes was going to be arranged off to some useless waif of a rich girl, and Piper’s irrational dream of him becoming his own person and maybe…just maybe…seeing something in a farm girl like her would be dashed to pieces.
And more than the loss of a potential boyfriend, the loss of Alan himself distressed her more.