With the parlor, dining room and entrance way thoroughly dusted and swept, Hannah ventured down the hallway to the bedchambers.
There were three rooms. The first was decorated in beautiful soft shades of lavender and green. A princess canopy perched over the head of a white cast iron bed was draped in delicate lace that cascaded down each side. Across the room there was a vanity with an oval mirror and a matching tufted stool. From the turned down bed sheets, Hannah guessed that Helen had likely spent her nights here. She put the bed back together and dusted the furniture before pausing to glance at an array of framed photographs on the walls.
“I wonder who these people could be.” Hannah thought. There were several family portraits. She had no trouble picking Helen out. Even as a young girl, Helen had that same round face, wild, curly hair and infectious grin. There were always four children in the family groupings. Helen, who appeared to be the oldest, another girl, a few years younger, more petite in frame with straight dark hair, a boy with curly dark hair, a year or so behind her and then there was the youngest, who looked to be several years their junior. His brooding demeanor was in stark contrast to the other’s happy smiles and his jet black straight hair, dark eyes and pale complexion left no doubt in Hannah’s mind that this sour youngster was none other than Mr. Chambers.
“Oh my! What a sad little fellow you were…and, I hate to say it, still are! We will just have to see about that.” Hannah’s father often called her his little ray of sunshine; always barefoot with flowers in her hair. She was never content around anyone who seemed unhappy, making it her personal mission to cheer them. True to form she mused, “You, Mr. Chambers, might be my greatest challenge yet!”
Hannah moved swiftly through the next room, or the “Red Room” as she decided to call it. It was decidedly more masculine in its furnishings with a tall wardrobe on one wall and an assuming full canopy bed, set in the far corner, adorned in soft red velvet.
Finally, she entered the master room. Its walls were painted a cool teal; the ceiling, doors and window frames ornately set in gold leaf. The centerpiece of the room was the bed, draped in a full, four post, canopy arrayed in valances and panels of cobalt blue silk. Despite the room’s elegance, it was clearly in need of tidying. Soiled clothes covered the floor and seating. Hannah gathered the garments to launder and opened the drapes to let the afternoon sun in while she put the rest of the room in order.
As she prepared dinner, Hannah thought about the photographs, and about Alice, speaking to her out loud as if she were in the room. “I wonder how you were able to get Mr. Chambers to smile, Alice. I am assuming of course, that you did, because I am certain that no woman would even think of marrying such a petulant man as I have witnessed these last few days. At least I would like to think there is another side to him. And I believe it’s totally understandable that he is likely heartbroken to have lost you! Oh Alice, you can be sure that I will take good care of your Henry. Don’t you worry.”
Mr. Chambers would be returning home soon. Hannah decided to freshen up before dinner, starting with brushing the dust and cobwebs from her hair. She applied a hint of rouge to her cheeks and lips and pulled her hair up into a soft swirl tying it in place with ribbon. Finally, she selected a modest tea dress to wear. “It’s going to be a lovely evening,” she told herself.
The front door opened just as Hannah returned to the kitchen. She glanced through the doorway to see Henry’s back as he took off his coat. For the first time Hannah noticed his tall frame and broad sturdy shoulders. “If he wasn’t scowling all the time, some people might even find him quite attractive,” she thought. When he turned around, Hannah, who had lapsed into a mindless stare startled, and then quickly regained her composure.
“Oh! Good evening Mr. Chambers.” Hannah’s face flushed red. “I hope you had a good day. I’ve prepared dinner.”
Henry looked at her and shook his head with his usual grim expression. “You’re still here I see. Well, at least I won’t have to deal with my sister this evening! But Miss…Hannah is it?”
“Yes sir, it’s Hannah.”
“Well, Hannah, I thought I made it clear that there would be no cooking for me in this house. As I said, I take my meals out.”
“Sir, I have strict instructions from your sister …”
“She is an infuriating, old bag of meddlesome trouble. That’s Helen. I would prefer, Hannah, now that she has gone back to where she belongs,” Henry let out an exasperated sigh, “I would prefer that you take your direction from me. I can see that you could be useful to me here. I don’t have time to keep this house in order. And Helen mentioned you were a gardener. I would very much like someone to take the time to revive that eyesore into something, anything green.”
“I am happy to help in any way that is useful. And yes, my father taught me gardening. Have you had dinner yet?” Hannah wasn’t going to let him rush out like the night before. “You might as well have a seat and let me serve you dinner here. By the looks of it,” Hannah glanced out the window, “we are in for a bit of a storm tonight.”
“I think you’re right. About the storm.” Henry walked into the dining room. “Now don’t think for a moment that I’m going to make a habit of this. However, I am not in the mood to get caught in a downpour.” He sat down. “I only see one plate. You are going to join me, aren’t you?”
“No sir!” Hannah blurted. “I mean, I assumed I would have dinner in the kitchen.”
“Nonsense! I detest eating alone. Why do you think I eat at the pub?”
Much to her surprise, Hannah noticed the corner of Henry’s mouth curving upward ever so slightly and his eyebrow lifting. “A smile! Could it truly be, or am I imagining it?” she wondered to herself.
“Well I don’t like eating alone either,” Hannah responded, “I certainly do understand Mr. Chambers. I’ll have dinner served in just a minute.”
Hannah began to think that she may have misjudged Henry Chambers; that he might not be as surly and unsociable as he seemed. She quickly arranged roasted vegetables and beef and a loaf of bread saucer of butter onto a large serving tray, grabbing a plate and extra set of silver for herself.
Meanwhile in the dining room as Henry waited, he thought about the last time he had sat like this, warm aromas wafting from kitchen, his beloved wife chattering happily as she served him dinner. A dark cloud of melancholy overtook him as the storm outside began to worsen.
By the time Hannah returned he was pushing himself away from the table.
“Please sir, just have a bite or two. It saddens me to see you suffering so.”
Henry fumed, “What makes you think I am suffering? You probably don’t know the first thing about suffering, Miss! This was a bad idea. A very bad idea!”
Hannah set the tray on the table and slumped into the nearest chair. She would not beg him. What a fool she had been to think that this evening would be any different from the night before.
The steaming food on the platter caught Henry’s attention, “Maybe I will have a bite.”
Hannah looked up, smiled and began dinner service when a monstrous bolt of lightning ripped through one of the trees in front of the house. The lights flickered for a second, before going completely black. As thunder shook the house, neither of them moved, sitting there silently in the dark.
Part 11 in a continuing series prompted initially by Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. While I still try to incorporate the wonderful artwork that Jane presents to us each week, this story has taken on a life of its own and I am rarely able to limit the word count. I hope you don’t mind. I will continue to link it here because many of you are following along. If you’d like to read other chapters, I have assembled them HERE. Thank you Jane for the inspiration and encouragement to keep this little story alive. I’m sure I’m doing this all backwards, but I am loving the ride! 🙂