Flowers for the Drawing Room
Gamilla knocked on the nursery door, and, hearing no response from within, walked into the room. The day nursery was empty, so Gamilla peered around the corner into the door of the adjoining night nursery where she spotted the soft glow of an oil lamp through the slightly-open door. On the low chest next to the night nursery door sat Miss Barrett’s dinner tray—untouched. Gamilla lifted the tray and, using her foot, opened the door all the way.
“You’re gonna have ta eat some o’ this, Miss Barrett.” Gamilla grinned as she came into the room.
Ellen looked up from the chair next to Colin’s crib where she sat working on her embroidery. “I’m really not hungry Gamilla.”
“Now, I don’t believe that,” Gamilla shook her head. “I done heard the noise from in here today and I know that Master Colin was none too happy not seein’ his pappy all day. I reckon you done had your hands full. That’s gotta make a girl hungry. Don’t it?”
Ellen nodded. “I just couldn’t.”
“You don’t want His Grace to hear you ain’t been eatin’. You know how the Duke likes to make sure we all is well fed. Even he, lowly as he was today, just ordered dinner on trays for hisself and for the doctor. Mrs. Pepper’s already beside herself what with folk not eatin’ on time. You ain’t gonna go an’ make it worse by havin’ me bring this tray full of perfectly good food all the way back down to her, is ya?”
Ellen chuckled. “Maybe a bite.”
Gamilla set the tray on the poof in front of Ellen and cleared away the governess’ embroidery.
“Mind if I done sit wit’ ya for a spell while ya eat?”
“I’d hope you would.” Ellen nodded, glancing over at Colin who slumbered in his crib.
“However, there’s a price.”
“You’ve got to help me eat this.”
“No, no, Miss. I already done eat. Ain’t no use in me getting’ fat. Gerard says he don’t…” She paused.
“Some extra rice and cheese straws won’t make you fat, Gamilla,” Ellen winked, lifting her plate to offer the food.
“Maybe a little,” Gamilla smiled, reaching for the cheese straws. “I did work powerful hard today.”
“I’m sure you did.” Ellen nodded absent-mindedly.
“We missed ya downstairs.” Gamilla continued, taking a bite of Mrs. Pepper’s cheese straws.
“As you said, I had my hands full today.”
“Things was funny today what with His Grace stayin’ all alone, not playin’ with the baby nor Dog Toby nor even his puppet. Mr. Speaight done said that the master cheered right up ‘gain when Dr. Halifax came home. Reckon he missed the fella. They’re awful close, them two.”
“They are.” Ellen smiled gently. “I’m sure that was it.” Ellen wanted to mention the threatening letter that the Duke had received, but she didn’t dare break the Duke’s confidence nor did she see any reason to frighten or upset Gamilla. “I’m sure His Grace missed Dr. Halifax.”
“Must be nice to have someone to miss.” Gamilla continued.
“You’ve never married?” Ellen asked. “In America?”
“No.” Gamilla shook her head sheepishly.
“Such a beautiful girl?”
“Aw, well, thank ya, Miss. Ain’t no men back in Louisiana wanted me.”
“What about Gerard?”
Gamilla’s eyes widened.
“I don’t mean to be too personal, Gamilla.” Ellen said quickly. “It’s simply that I couldn’t help but notice that you seem to have a soft spot for Gerard and vice versa.”
“He’s a nice fella.” Gamilla said firmly. “I like him, but, ain’t nothin’ there. Wouldn’t be fittin’.”
“Well, for one, Mr. Speaight—he don’t cotton to us havin’ romances downstairs.”
“But, you and Gerard have known each other for awhile. Much longer than you’ve both worked here.”
“Still. Wouldn’t be fittin’.”
“Because of your…different races.”
“Yes, Miss.” Gamilla sighed. “In Louisiana, it ain’t allowed for an African and a white man to marry.”
“I see.” Ellen replied. “Nevertheless…if you were Caucasian or Gerard were African…”
“Maybe.” Gamilla looked away.
“You know, Gamilla,” Ellen began softly, “it’s for the best that you and Gerard can’t…engage in a romance. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Is it, Miss?” Gamilla tilted her head to one side. “Seems to me that it’s a fine thing. Havin’ someone there to always count on. Knowin’ that someone loves ya, that you’re safe…”
“That’s not always the way it works out,” Ellen shook her head.
“You ever had a fella, Miss?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t ask.”
“No, you may ask. We’re friends, you and I.”
“Yes, I’ve had a fella—as you say. However, rather like you and Gerard, it wasn’t possible to…” She trailed off.
“Was you in love with a man of a different race?”
“No.” Ellen shook her head. “But, I may as well have been. You see, he was of a different class—which is much the same thing.”
Gamilla frowned in sympathy. “Was it your master?”
“Let’s just say that it wasn’t meant to be.” Ellen answered.
“I’m sorry.” Gamilla nodded.
“Do you think of him much?”
“Every day.” Ellen replied.
“What was his name, if I may ask? I won’t tell no one.”
“I know that you won’t.” Ellen took a deep breath. “His Christian name is Victor.”
Gamilla thought about that for a moment. “Wasn’t them flowers you done got from a fella named Victor?”
“Did he come here?” Gamilla asked, wide-eyed. “Is he lookin’ for ya?”
“I thought, perhaps.” Ellen sighed. “However, it wasn’t him.”
“How you know?”
“Jenny described him as being fair, ginger.” Ellen explained. “The man I knew was dark like Dr. Halifax.”
“Oh.” Gamilla squinted. “Don’t you know anyone else with that name?”
“No.” Ellen responded. “My brother, Roger, had a friend once, but…” She shook her head “I’m sure that it was just one of the boys from one of the staffs of another nearby household. You know how everyone talks downstairs. It’s the same in the other houses. Everyone always knows everyone else’s business. A new governess at a neighboring home, especially one of this caliber, is something to talk about.”
“Still, it’s sweet.” Gamilla nodded. “Ain’t no one bringin’ me flowers. Every day, I go buy flowers for the drawing room and the library and the hall and the dining room. The flower girl, she looks at me with them big sad eyes and we both know that even with all them flowers, ain’t no one buyin’ for us.”
“Gamilla,” Ellen smiled. “Tomorrow is my afternoon out.”
“Do you know what I’m going to do?”
“I’m going to bring you back some flowers.”
“Oh, I couldn’t let ya, Miss.”
“I’ll do as I please,” Ellen winked.
“I do like roses, Miss.” Gamilla said quietly.
“Roses, it shall be, then.”
“See, now, eatin’ made ya feel better. Didn’t it?”
“Yes, Gamilla, it did.” Ellen grinned. “Eating and your companionship. Thank you.”
“Maybe we ain’t got fellas, but we got good friends. It’s all the better.”
“Now, you’re smilin’ and His Grace is smilin’ and everythin’s good here at Number Six Five.”
“Yes.” Ellen nodded.
“And, we ain’t gonna let no one make it otherwise.” Gamilla giggled.
“No, Gamilla. We are not.” Ellen sighed.
Did you miss Chapters 1-19 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 21.