She took the knocker in her hand and knocked twice, then counted up to ten while she waited for the door to be answered. The door swung open to reveal Johannes the butler. She’d met him at the interview, but they hadn’t had a conversation yet. The serious expression he wore was undoubtedly a job requirement and not necessarily a reflection of his temperament. Once they got to know each other, as they were sure to do since they would be working so closely together, she sensed they’d grow close. She looked forward to having a new big brother.
“Why have you come to this door?” Johannes scowled at Maria like she was a stray dog begging on the porch. “The servants use the back door. I’ll let you in here this once, but you must use the back lane in the future.” With that greeting, he stepped back, she stepped in, he shut the door and walked away.
Maria shuffled behind the butler trying to not make a sound in this, her new and suddenly uninviting home. So much for the welcoming flowers and front fence she’d grow to love. Not to mention her plans for turning Johannes into a big brother.
As he pushed open a heavy wooden door at the back of the house which clearly separated the living area from the kitchen, Johannes curtly announced, “Here she is. Please make sure she learns the rules of the house. I found her lurking on the front porch.”
The cook barely acknowledged Johannes’ presence and he walked out with no civilities exchanged.
“Right then.” The cook looked up, brushing off her hands as soon as the butler was out of sight and earshot. “We’ll have to get you settled, won’t we. I’m Gerta and I know you’re Maria unless that oaf has kidnapped some poor waif off the street.”
It was hard not to giggle, but with Johannes’ scowl so fresh in her mind Maria managed. “Yes ma’am.” She curtsied and continued, “I’m Maria and today is my first day in Service in this home.”
“Gerta is good enough for me. You’ll be ma’amed out, what with the Mistress and the little Ingrid expecting such treatment. I’m the cook here, and you and I will spend many an hour together. I think Gerta and Maria will serve us well enough.” Gerta crossed her big, beefy arms across her chest in a challenge. “If you require more formality you’d better speak up now so that we get things started on the right foot.”
“No. Gerta and Maria are fine with me. In my family we aren’t as formal as some, so I’m comfortable with using first names.” Maria smiled to make sure Gerta knew she was friendly.
“That’s good. It sometimes can be a problem for new girls who have been raised right proper and can’t get the hang of working for a living. They try to cling to their customs and remind us of their status.” Gerta went back to chopping up turnips. “I understand you’re one of the lucky ones that doesn’t need this job and only is dabbling at earning an income.” Gerta may not like standing on formalities, but she seemed to have no problem with class distinctions. This was going to be trickier than Maria had hoped.
“I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but I do need this job. I’ve been living with my sister and her husband on their generosity, and one can’t expect such generosity to last forever. True, I haven’t been thrown out but if I waited till that day, then I’d be in a bad way and I’m smart enough to avoid calamities that can be side-stepped.” Maria felt a twinge of guilt because she knew she gave the impression that her brother-in-law was about to toss her onto the street when she had no real fear of that, but she wanted to start off on the right foot with Gerta and so she was prepared to stretch the truth a bit to do so.
Gerta gave a curt nod of approval and said, “Let’s get you out of your coat and your street clothes, and then I need you in here. Tonight we’re having guests and there’s much to be done. You’ll have plenty of time to get settled and find your way around tomorrow. The housekeeper, Mrs. Schneider, will show you the ropes later, but normally you’re to help me in the kitchen in the mornings and her in house in the afternoons. For the present, things have been thrown into a right old mess because the last parlor maid left a week ago and we’re having to do as best we can.”
With a rough map of the house in her head and an even rougher description of the route to her bedroom provided by Gerta, Maria made her way up a very narrow and dark staircase to her room. She had to close the bedroom door to find her cupboard standing behind it. Removing her coat, she hung it on a hook and placed her battered tan case beside the wardrobe.
As she pulled off her gloves and untied her bonnet, she turned to survey her cramped room. It was at the back end of the top floor and the ceiling sloped as a result. Besides the cupboard where she’d hung her coat, her room held a tiny desk, really a table, with a sturdy looking chair in front of it and a single bed with an old, scratched frame standing under the small window. The window let in a bit of light but was too high to allow her to properly see out of it. Well, she’d clean it as soon as she was given free time, and that was bound to brighten up the room. Maybe she’d be able to stand on her bed to look out if she wanted to see whatever it looked on to. But now was no time for her to start her daydreaming. She had to change into her work clothes and rush back down to the kitchen. Gerta had told her not to waste time unpacking, just to change out of her good clothes quickly. She resolved to be so quick that Gerta couldn’t help but be impressed.
“I hope your hands are tougher than you look as you have a bucket of potatoes to peel,” was Gerta’s welcome when Maria rushed back into the kitchen. “Here’s the bucket and a place for you to sit. This is where we keep the knives and all the sharp things. Let me know if you can’t find something you need.”
With that, Maria’s life in Service began.