“Annie Wood! I demand you wipe that ridiculous smile off your face. Immediately.”
Annie yanked her gaze away from the view out of the carriage, and pressed a hand across her mouth to erase the offending smile.
But as soon as the attempt was made, she knew it was impossible. The grin returned, as did her gumption. She addressed her
accuser sitting across from her. “But, Miss Miller, how can any of you not smile? We are in New York City! We are in America!”
The lady’s maid sighed with her entire body, the shoulders of her black coat rising and falling with the dramatic disdain she seemed
to save for Annie. She granted the street a patronizing glance. “It’s a big city. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Looks like London,” said the younger lady’s maid, Miss Dougard. She allowed herself two glances. “A city’s a city.”
If Annie could have done so without consequence, she would have made them suffer her own disdain by rolling her eyes. Instead
she said, “If you’ll pardon my directness, how can you be so indifferent? We’ve just crossed an ocean. We’re in a foreign land,
“Hmm,” Miss Dougard said. “I much prefer France.”
“Italy is the country of true enlightenment,.” Miss Miller added.
Show- offs. For they had traveled with the Kidds to many far-off places.
But Annie could play this game. “I happen to prefer China.”
She earned their attention. “When have you—?”
“I haven’t, in body. But I have visited China in my mind. Multiple times. Multitudious times.”
“Multitudious is not a word.”
Annie rearranged her drawstring purse on her lap. “I am excited to be here because I’ve never traveled five miles beyond the
village. Even when the Kidds travel to London for the social season I’m left behind at Crompton Hall. ”
Miss Miller smoothed a gloved hand against her skirt. “You wouldn’t be along on this trip, excepting I knew her ladyship would get
Miss Miller’s left eyebrow rose. “Don’t look surprised, girl. Even though you’re traveling with the two of us, you are still just a
housemaid, here to do our bidding as much as the family’s.”
Annie was tempted to let loose with an indignant “I am not ‘just’ anything.” What about all the special sewing and hand work she
did for the viscountess and her daughter? She had assumed they wanted her along because of her talent.
“Pouting does not become you,” Miss Miller said.
Annie pulled her lower lip back where it belonged, hating that they’d witnessed her pain. Searching for a comeback she bought
me by yawning as if their assessment of her position meant little. Then she had it: “Considering her ladyship kept the contents
of her stomach contained on the voyage, is it fair to assume my duties are now over? Am I free to enjoy myself at the Friesen’s’?”
“Don’t be daft,” Miss Dougard said.
“Or impertinent,” Miss Miller added. She flashed a look at Annie over her spectacles. “There will be chamber pots aplenty wherever
you go, Annie Wood.”
Annie felt her cheeks grow hot. Under-housemaids had the burden of emptying chamber pots. As an upper-housemaid Annie
claimed cleaner duties that involved changing the linens and dusting the fine bric-a-brac that couldn’t be entrusted to lower maids.
Except on the ship, when she had endured pot-duty. Grotty.
She drew in a deep breath, willing her anger to dissipate. As it waned, her determination grew deeper roots. Someday she’d rise
high enough in the household that the Misses wouldn’t dare make such a comment. Someday she’d be their equal.
Until that day . . . Annie revived her smile and returned her attention to the city passing by. She was in America and she was
not going to let anyone dampen her pleasure. No one in her family had ever even hoped to travel so far. When she’d told her
parents about her opportunity they’d scoffed. “Who would want to go there?” She should have anticipated their reaction, but
refused to let their naysaying ruin the adventure. She wanted to go to America. She wanted to experience everything. If they
were content to live in the cottage where Ma was born, taking in laundry or doing odd jobs to get by, let them. Annie had dreams.
The progress of the carriage was slow amid the teeming streets. On the ship Annie had been astounded at the number of people
gathered in one place. That number was a mere handful compared to the throngs capturing the streets of New York City. Everyone
was going somewhere in the middle of amazing missions. “They’re so alive,” she said, mostly to herself.
Miss Miller allowed herself a quick glance. “They look like ants rushing about, dizzy over a bread crumb. They don’t realize life is
ready to squash them. Like this . . . .” She pressed her thumb against her knee and gave it a maniacal twist.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but if not for those busy ants, who would have built these enormous buildings? Who would grow the food
that will be in abundance at dinner tonight? Who would do all the work a day requires? And if the truth be told, are we not ants,
doing our work for the Kidds?”
The wrinkles in Miss Miller’s face deepened. “I am not an ant!”
“Nor am I.” Miss Dougard flipped a hand at the window. “If you can’t see the difference between those of us who serve with dignity
and those . . . those . . . “
“People who also work very hard?” Annie offered.
Miss Miller hovered a finger in the air between them. “Never group the two of us with laborers who toil.”
Two of us. Not three.
“We do not toil,” Miss Miller said.
“Never toil,” Miss Dougard said.
As those who did not toil discussed the correct answer, Annie let herself enjoy the sight of others like herself who did.
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