Mistress and Servant Part 1
The white house it was always called. Not because it had any particular connection to government but because years ago when it was built it's stark façade, the sheer whiteness of it was astonishing.
Since then , and having gone through a vertiginous number of owners, it had become a shade of grey. There were some vestiges of former grandeur but essentially now it was another country house.
Augustine's aunt had left the house to her. She really did not know why, Augustine didn't really care for her, or for anyone for that matter. However she was delighted to have been left it, but equally Augustine, who had had quite a privileged upbringing, did expect such things to happen to her.
She needed, firstly, to find a housekeeper. Augustine didn't care for gardening and that could wait, in any case the garden would need a team.
She didn't mind the odd domestic duty, dusting, re arranging object or even making a diner (for one) but there was no way that she was going to indulge in such activities on a regular basis.
She placed an advert in The Lady, and decided, much as she disliked the idea, she would interview candidates herself rather than get her solicitor to do it. It was be a totally new experience for someone who was not at her best with other people.
Augustine was very surprised at the number of applicants. She managed to narrow it down to four ( the process she used was had she heard of the family? What sort of school did they attend?).
The night before the first interview she stayed in the white house. She had paid a local firm to clear it ( the house was internally in good order anyway, her aunt being quite fastidious), and they had been mercifully quick.
She had started moving some of her own furniture in and in what she arranged as her room she put in a single bed and a double.
She slept fitfully and got up at around 2, and looked across the garde. The moon was full and it seemed to fill the bedroom. She remembered one of the nuns at her convent school talking of moon washed rooms and she never really realised how pertinent the statement was until now.
She became suddenly excited at being completely alone. It was not something she had been accustomed to , years at the convent school and then a finishing establishment at Gstaad. Following that there was sharing a flat with Gwenny and Marion in London whilst she worked for Sotheby's. Oh the people at Sotheby's! No quibbling about money, and the evening sales with the excited telephone bids from New York.
Alas those days had gone, Gwenny and Marion with their more extrovert natures had brought a string of eligible young men back and where both now married to members of the lower aristocracy. Gwenny was now the Honourable Mrs Gwendoline Holme for God's sake!
Augustine suddenly realised that she had been standing naked at the window for nearly an hour.
She walked across to the mirror and looked at herself. I am good for my age, flat stomach, neat legs and firm breasts large enough to excite anyone. Yes, she she said, I would be a good catch, I would be a good catch to someone worthy of me.
Feeling satisfied she went back to bed.
As is so often with these occasions it was the last candidate who appealed to her the most. A young lady of twenty eight named Celeste who had been to a good finishing school. She seemed very quiet and submissive. She wanted a change after a broken engagement and that attracted Augustine's attention.
'Who did your fiance run off with? A grubby little tart who worked in an ice ream van?'
Celeste was taken aback by the question and despite her quiet manner contained herself to reply with a smile
'Oh he was a title chaser, he found out that my best friend was going to have some connections following her mother's remarriage.. so he soon dispensed with me'.
No wonder he left thought , thought Augustine. A decent title in the family!
There was a pause and Celeste thought she had better say something.
'Do you want to see my references?'
Augustine shifted uneasily yet with a sensation of enjoyment. Yes Celeste as quiet but there was some steel there.
'No, no I think I have enough'
'When could you start?'
'Would three weeks be OK? I am renting from a friend in Putney so there is no problem with me getting ready'
'There it's settled, three weeks'
'There is one detail though, there is no separate bedroom..you will share with me'
The next three weeks were spent doing what was necessary to the other rooms, she ordered a vast mount from Peter Jones, if only to make it look a little more modern.
The garden was still in a state so she rang her brother Ivan in Dublin. There was only one land line in the house, She liked that and used any of the half dozen unregistered pay as you go phones she had. She liked to keep people guessing and only Miriam who had got back in touch after the death of her aunt knew any of the numbers.
'Who is this?' asked Ivan
'Oh hullo you, how are you enjoying being lady of the manor?'
'What to do about the garden, I really need a firm'
'Well I know a few people here, you could put them up maybe?'
She ignored the chuckling at the other end and continued
'Anyone over here you could recommend?'
'August darling I have been over here for too long, what about the estate agents?'
She grumbled and hung up. Ivan was too busy leading his own life now and was never thinking of others. His second wife was to blame, dominating him and forcing him to have children and move to Ireland.
She decided that she would call Miriam, but be careful not to offer an invite to stay.
Celeste enjoyed the train journey but the taxi to the white house seemed to take an age. She had resisted the temptation to ask about the house but the taxi driver, a veteran of the business for twenty years and two failed marriages and three children ( all this volunteered in barely three minutes), gave her a brief resume.
It had been empty for six years before an old lady had bought it and attempted a lot of internal restoration, she had just started on the grounds and the external features before she passed away and left it to a relative.
The run up to the house was rough and Celeste guessed that the drive would have to be relaid. The garden was not too overgrown and would need tidying rather than any massive alteration.
Augustine was waiting at the main entrance, the bright lapis lazuli blue of her dress cut a stark contrast to the bright ivy surrounding the doorway.
Celeste didn't expect her to help with her cases but she did think she may have offered.
'Welcome' said Augustine and turned immediately. Celeste followed into a small drawing room and was tempted to sit down but soon thought better of it.
'Some rules first.. No men , no giving out the number and you do as I say'
Celeste nodded and was left bereft of any words at the next sentence
'You will be treated sharply and abruptly, maybe even cruelly, and then after a month we change roles..is that clear?'