“oh, nothing, miss. mister devereux has an account with the company, to deliver all guests and all new governesses up here.”
all new governesses? amanda wondered. and the term “deliver” had a slightly sinister sound to her ears, but she did not suppose the cab driver meant anything by it.
amanda got out of the cab. she looked up the long driveway at the big dark house. there were no lights showing.
“i would take you closer to the house, miss, but mister devereux gets upset if we so much as nick the flower beds.”
“that’s all right,” amanda murmured. “i am sure i can manage.”
“you can see the house is dark. if you bang on the door someone will hear you. mrs watchworth, the housekeeper, is dead drunk half the time but if you just keep banging she will hear you.”
“thank you. you have been very helpful.”
the cab driver smiled. “it’s my job.”
as amanda had all her earthly belongings in one small bag which she carried, the driver did not have to get out to open the trunk for her. he turned the cab around and sped off back down the hill.
amanda wondered if she should have tipped him. he had not seemed annoyed, and in amanda’s experience, servants - or “service people” as they were supposed to be called now - let you know when they were displeased.
but amanda was a servant - or “service person” - herself now.
she walked up the long driveway. she did not notice any of the flower beds the cab driver had mentioned.
as she approached the house, she realized for the first time just how big it was.
it towered over her, blotting out the moon.
the oak door was wide enough for three people to enter side by side.
there was a brass knocker on it in the shape of the face some hideous leering god. bacchus? moloch?”
when amanda struck the door with it, the door opened at once .
the woman who opened it, whom amanda assumed was the housekeeper, glared at amanda with empty eyes like an alligator’s.
“is this - is this the devereux residence?” amanda asked timidly.
“of course it is the devereux residence,” the woman answered. “what else would it be?”
amanda did not answer the question, but blurted out “i am miss arbuthnot, the new governess.”
“of course you are miss arbuthnot, the new governess. who else would you be?”
amanda managed a smile. “may i come in?" she asked politely.
“no, stand out here all night with your thumb in your mouth. of course you can come in.” and the woman stood aside to indicate that amanda should enter.
the woman had not identified herself either by her name or title.
“you are mrs watchworth, i presume,” amanda said as they proceeded down the hall - the very dark hall.
“mrs watchworth! no, i am not mrs watchworth, what gave you that idea?”
“i am sorry, “ amanda stammered. “i - the cab driver said the was your name…”
“you mustn’t trust these rascally cab drivers. mrs watchworth is the housekeeper at broken ferns, on the other side of the hill.”
“well - i am sure it was an honest mistake on his part,” amanda laughed nervously.
“honest mistake! all these cab drivers are spivs and villains and white slaving scum! they lie for the sake of lying. was this cab driver a blackamoor?”
“was he a blackamoor? a colored fellow? a negro? or perhaps he was a lascar, or a chinee?”
they had almost reached the end of the end of the hall. a faint light showed beneath a door. but the housekeeper, or whoever she was, had stopped in her tracks and amanda stopped beside her.
“i don’t think he was any of those things,” amanda answered. “ he seemed - he seemed quite - “ amanda groped for words - “quite normal. in fact he was very polite - he was almost - almost a gentleman.”
“a gentleman! a gentleman indeed! did he try to sell you any drugs?”
“oh, no, nothing like that.”
“did he… intimate that perhaps he knew a better opportunity for you than being governess here at red chimneys? an opportunity that involved travel to foreign lands? hmmm? ”
amanda was bewildered by all this. “oh no, no, he … hardly spoke at all the whole ride, until we reached here.”
“hmph! well, look here, if anyone in the neighborhood tries to sell you any drugs, just remember that mister wood and myself have better dope than any of the riffraff about.”
and with this curious pronouncement, the woman reached for the door under which the light was shining.
“excuse me, but i didn’t catch your name,” amanda blurted out before the door opened.
“you didn’t catch my name? maybe because i didn’t throw it at you. my name is mrs biggs and i am the housekeeper here.” the woman stared at amanda with redoubled ferocity. “surely you did not think i was anything other than the housekeeper?”
“oh no, no, i knew that right away…”
mrs biggs flung open the door, and amanda followed her into it.
the room was lit only by a low fire, and by a single candle on the mantelpiece above it.
the room had one occupant, a tall, gray faced man seated comfortably in an armchair in front of the fire. amanda surmised right away that he was the butler, although seated in what was undoubtedly the master’s chair. this did not surprise amanda as she knew this was the way of the modern world, where jack is as good as his master.
“this is mister wood, the butler,” mrs biggs announced. “don’t trouble yourself to rise, mister wood. it is only the new governess.”
“i had no intention of rising, mrs biggs, thank you very much,” the butler intoned in an impressively deep voice. he stared rudely at amanda. “ugly little thing, isn’t she?’
mrs biggs sniffed. “not quite as ugly as the last one, though.”
“you don’t think so?’ mister wood replied. “a slightly healthier complexion, maybe. but look at that figure - like a telephone pole. no curves, but no real slenderness either.”
amanda did not know how to reply to this. should she ignore it - or should she try to be “feisty” or “spunky” as she knew was expected of a modern girl?
but before she could frame a reply the butler spoke.
“may i ask you a question, miss?”
“of course, sir.”
“do you like to have a good time?”
the housekeeper and the butler both laughed at amanda’s confusion.
“i hope, sir, “ amanda finally managed to say, “that i will give satisfaction -“
at the word “satisfaction” her two tormentors burst into fresh laughter.
“and that i will indeed have a good time,” amanda continued - “with the children.”
“the children?” asked mister wood. “what children? what are you talking about?’
“but, sir, i am engaged as a governess, am i not? perhaps there is only one child? i was not clear about that…”
suddenly the housekeeper shrieked - “she doesn’t know! ha, ha, ha!”
“no, she must not!” the butler brayed. “ha ha ha ha ha!”