When the toffs dance the night away, they spend the morning in bed. The folks who run about to take their coats, clean their spills, and carry trays laden with delicacies—not to mention deliver their billets doux and right scandalous invitations—have no rest at all.
Harold Randal woke at dawn, stuffed his rumpled shirt into his trousers—no need to look sharp during cleanup—and gulped down coffee from a tavern on his way to work. He didn’t worry about being late; that snake Fowler wouldn’t waltz in before ten. Harold prided himself on being better than that. He would have to get the lazy Forster twins moving on his own or they would be at it all day.
He found the key in its spot under a brick by the tradesmen’s door and let himself in. The caterer’s kitchen looked well enough. They always take their glassware and leave their bill. He wandered down the servants’ passageway, under the stairs to the musicians gallery, and into the Octagon. Sun streamed through the east windows, and he wished it didn’t. They had a long day ahead.
A soft sound from the ballroom startled him. He thought he was alone. He peeked around the door to see Maudy, the shy little maid of all work, scrubbing away at a doorknob with an odd little scrap of flannel. Pretty little thing was Maudy, but how did she get in?
“Good morning, Mr. Randal,” she said twinkling up at him and not pausing in her work. She peered closely at the brass handle and rubbed it harder. Harold stood transfixed by the sight. Pretty and industrious. She glanced up and blushed. “I ’spect you’re wondering how I got in so early.”
“The thought did come to me.”
“I never went home,” she told him. “I fell asleep under the counter in the cloak room. Thought I best get to work.” She stared down at her dress. “Sorry I’m so wrinkled up.”
Harold laughed at that and pointed to his own clothing. “No need to look fine for cleaning,” he assured her. “Have you had something to eat?”
“I found a half-eaten cake on a plate on the counter when I crawled out. I hope no one minds I ate it and all.”
“What were you doing under the counter, Maudy?” he asked.
She stared at her feet.
“Hiding from Fowler,” she whispered, glancing furtively around. “It doesn’t do to get cornered by that one, and he was in a taking last part o’ the night. Frightens me, he does.”
“Dirty bounder,” Harold muttered. He groped for something else to say. “What’s that you’re using to clean with? Looks finer than our usual.”
She held up a piece of flannel, cut in a neat square with embroidery clear around the hem. “I found it on the floor of the cloak room. It’s perfect for shining brass. I can clean it if you think someone will come looking for it.”
Harold’s brows came together. The edge looked fancied up, but who would care about a scrap of flannel left on the floor. “Keep doing what you’re doing. We can clean it if they ask, like you say.”
He fetched a mop and began cleaning the floor to the ballroom, moving chairs back as he went. In a half hour, he had a pile of dust, used tokens, and crumpled valentines fetched up in the middle of the floor. At least four of the gents had their sentiments rejected, near as Harold could see.
By that time most of the crew had wandered in. Most needed no direction. They set about dusting, scrubbing and polishing as needed. He reached the rows of chairs where the dowagers and wallflowers generally sat and began moving chairs so he could mop. He hadn’t gone more than a row deep when he heard a scuffle in the Octagon room.
To be concluded next week.
This Teatime Tattler post is the Afterword from the Bluestocking Belles’ new book, Valentines from Bath. We’ve already given you the Foreword, in an earlier Tattler piece, Will You Be My Valentine.