Disciplining the Maid

By: Zoe Blake


The New Maid

"We run a strict household here," huffed Mrs. Oliver as she marched up the back staircase to the servant's quarters.

“Yes, Madam,” Lily replied, following the elderly housekeeper down a long narrow hallway with small doors on both sides. Mrs. Oliver opened the third door on the left and motioned for Lily to enter.

"Your wages will be eight pounds a year plus board and a tea allowance. Male visitors will not be tolerated," Mrs. Oliver warned sternly. "You are required to attend services every Sunday evening. You will have one half day off each month. We have a small household - just myself, the butler, a cook, a footman, Lord Stockton's valet of course and you."

"Yes, Madam,” Lily dutifully answered, looking about the small room containing a bed, a bureau and a spindly chair.

"The blue uniform is for morning duties, the black for afternoons while serving tea. I expect both aprons to be crisp and clean at all times."

"Yes, Madam."

"His Lordship will determine what you shall be called when you are presented to him later this afternoon."

"Yes, Madam," answered Lily automatically. She was used to being arbitrarily renamed, as it was the custom of the aristocracy to give servants the names of their predecessors so they’d not have to learn new ones. It was how she’d come to be known as Lily. Having come straight to service from an orphanage where no one had bothered calling her by her Christian name, she’d quite forgotten it

"I understand your previous positions were with families," Mrs. Oliver droned on. "This is a bachelor household. Lord Stockton keeps later hours and entertains more often, and as he is a member of the peerage, there will be many influential and powerful guests. Your discretion will be expected."

"Yes, Madam,” Lily softly replied as she placed the small valise containing all her worldly possessions on the bed. Sadly, despite her eighteen years, she had only the dress on her back, a tattered book of romantic poems and a few underthings to call her own.

"Leave your things and come along." Mrs. Oliver interrupted Lily's musings. "His Lordship insists that all staff be cleaned inside and out before beginning work in his household." Mrs. Oliver led her back down the staircase until they came to a large room. Inside was a massive enameled cast iron tub, and at the far end and along the side wall a long table covered with a rubber mat.

With quick efficiency, Mrs. Oliver turned the spigot on the tub, then crossed to the table with the rubber mat to begin to pull out various strange looking items. Watching as steam rose from the water pouring into the tub, Lily realized this must be one of those fortunate London homes with a heated water tank on the roof, which would make her maid-of-all-work position much easier.

"Alright then, off with those clothes," instructed Mrs. Oliver as she rolled up the long sleeves of her starched dress bodice. Lily stood and stared, not sure she heard the housekeeper correctly.

"I do not like repeating myself," said Mrs. Oliver with a great deal of annoyance. "Take off that rag you call a dress."

"Yes, Madam," Lily said with trepidation, not wanting to anger the formidable housekeeper on her first day. "If I could get some privacy?"

"You are in service," barked Mrs. Oliver. "There is no such thing as privacy. Now I am fully aware you were dismissed from your last position without a reference because the housekeeper thought you were too cheeky with that quick temper of yours. You were very fortunate to find yourself having met Lordship's special requirements. Had you not, you’d be out on the street. Now get out of those things!"

Lily bit her tongue, resisting the strong urge to defend herself with the truth. She’d not been dismissed from her previous position for cheekiness. She’d been dismissed from her because the lady thought her husband was taking too much notice of Lily, although if she were honest, her temper did not help. The end result was the same – she’d been turned out without a reference, which made it next to impossible to find respectable work. Lily knew Mrs. Oliver was right; she’d been fortunate indeed to find another position. And she could not afford to lose it. Resigned, Lily slowly started to unbutton her simple linen gown.