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The Girl and the Pearl Earrings (cont.)
My father died when I was thirteen along with my two older brothers. My mother was devastated and eventually lost the business with their absence. It was just my mother and I now, the only way we could have something to eat was for me to become a maid. Something my mother never wanted. She had always told me that she never wanted me to be like her, but neither of us had a choice. I was fourteen when I left home for the first time. As she did, I was to work as a maid at their house for the exception of Sundays, when I was allowed to come home and see my mother. My mother told me about those days when she was a maid to Vermeer, the painter that she almost fell in love with, while in love with my father. Of course, this was all before she had me and my brothers. She told me everything, even the earrings, which she sold to a trader after given to her. But from that day, when she told me that story, I couldn’t believe it. I never told her that I didn’t believe her, but I listened to it as if it was a bedtime story.
Now three years later, I am still the maid to Cornelia, who is my mistress. She has two children and one along the way. I know little about her and her husband, they only speak to me whenever they need me. I don’t have a usual routine as my mother said she did. I sleep in a spare bedroom. My mother says I’m lucky, she had to sleep in the basement at first, and then she slept in the attic, but never in a room. I only speak to her two daughters Rachel and Catherine. One is twelve and the other, eight. They’ve warmed up to me over the years but still don’t trust me. “Mother told us all about maids.” Rachel would say. “She says that maids are to not be trusted, because they steal and lie.” Then Catherine would join her. “Yes, she says that grandmother’s maid always stole from her and lied all the time.” I ignored them.
Mistress called me from upstairs. “Girl.” She never called me by my name, only the daughters did. I walked up the stairs quietly. Mistress used to never call me upstairs until she was with a child. “Yes madam?” I came in as usual but then was surprised when I saw her husband and another man staring at me as my eyes lowered not looking at anyone but the floor. “Get some wine.” She spoke sternly. I could feel her stare as I mistakenly looked up to meet it. “Yes madam.” I said walking back down the stairs leaving them stare at my back and then starting to speak again when I was out of sight. I walked into the kitchen taking a bottle of wine and some glasses, putting them on a tray and walked back up the stairs again. This time, the men did not stop talking but stared at me, as I poured the wine in their glasses, still speaking. Mistress just listened to them while staring at me. “Who is this?” the man sitting across from Thomas, Mistress’ husband, said now putting all of the attention on me as I refilled Mistress’ glass. “She is our maid.” Mistress said sternly again, before Thomas could answer. “Ah, a beautiful one she is.” He said with a smile as I looked down at the glass and handed it to Mistress, walking out. They were silent as I went down the stairs. When reaching the kitchen I heard their muttered voices again.
I was still in the kitchen, chopping vegetables for dinner’s soup, when the man walked down stairs with Thomas and Mistress following. The man’s attention, was again, drawn to me as a smile appeared on his face still walking but passing the kitchen and into another room. Thomas followed as they went on with their discussion as I received a dirty look from Mistress. I looked down at the vegetables I was chopping, to look away from her. She followed the men as she continued listening to their discussion and her muttered voice was rarely heard throughout it.
I was called into the room once again but instead it was Thomas’ voice. I wiped my hands on my apron and walked in. He spoke before I could. “More wine.” He raised his empty glass. I nodded retrieving the bottle of wine and then refilling their glasses. “So girl, what is your name?” the man said looking at me as I refilled his glass. “Isabella.” I didn’t meet his gaze. “Ah, Isabella.” His hand brushed across mine when handing the glass back. I flinched at the touch but tried not to make it noticeable as I refilled Mistress’ glass. “She’s been our maid for two years now.” Thomas said. “Three.” Mistress corrected him before the man could speak. They said nothing more until I left the room
A month has passed and Mistress’ stomach is getting larger. She has asked me to do more for her now. She is having troubles getting up and down the stairs, so she has stayed upstairs mostly. One morning when I was outside hanging the wet laundry, Rachel called me from the door way. “Mother wants to see you.” She said quickly and then went back inside. I nodded and went upstairs. “Yes madam?” I said smoothing my apron. “Go to Market Square and get these things.” She said sternly handing me a piece of paper with several things written down. I nodded and walked out of the room putting the list in one of the pockets of the apron. I smoothed my apron and checked my cap for any loose hairs. I always hid all my hair under a cap, as my mother did. I walked out the door passing Rachel and Catherine carrying the shopping pail.
Taking the list out of my apron pocket I started to get the things off of the list, first to the Meat Hall, then to the baker’s. I was waiting on the baker to give me the bread that Mistress wanted when I suddenly felt a stare and turned to meet it. It was a boy; he was taller than I and had brown wavy curls, one covering one eye slightly. The baker smiled. “Edward, this is Isabella, Cornelia’s maid.” Edward nodded politely. The baker handed me the bread. “Isabella, this is my nephew Edward.” He smiled proudly as I glanced over his shoulder at Edward that again nodded and went to his duties. I nodded politely to both of them. “Thank you, sir.” I said to the baker and walked towards the Meat Hall again, realizing I forgot something. “You forget something?” the butcher said happy that I was buying more. “Yes, I need one pound of tongue.” I said quickly. I listened to the gossip, suddenly hearing my mother’s name from two women standing near me. “What about Griet?” I said as they both turned to look at me and then gasped obviously realizing I was her daughter. “Oh my, you don’t know?” one woman looking at me concerned. “No I don’t, what is it?” I was now worried. “She has past away.” The woman said.
A month has passed since my mother’s death. On Sundays, I went to the church my mother and I went to, while Mistress and her family went to their church since they are Catholics. I always get stared at, when sitting alone. But one Sunday a boy sat next to me, and to my surprise, it was Edward. “Isabella.” He said happily. “It’s nice to see you again.” He was wearing nicer clothing that he was wearing at the baker’s. The baker sat next to him nodding politely to me over Edward’s shoulder. “Yes, it’s nice to see you too Edward.” I said looking forward at the service that was beginning. He was speaking in a whisper now. “I heard the news of your mother, I’m very sorry.” He said glancing at me sympathetically. I nodded not wanting to speak of my mother. She was the only family I had left, and now she was gone.
After service, Edward and his uncle walked with me. “Again I’m sorry for your loss Isabella.” Edward said coming to a stop. I nodded as he continued. “I know she was all you had left.” His uncle spoke before Edward could say more. “And if there’s anything we can do for you then please let us know.” He patted my shoulder. “Thank you.” I said. Edward took my hand and kissed the top of it gently. “I hope to see you again Isabella.” He smiled releasing my hand and walked away with his uncle.
It was unusual staying at Mistress’ house on Sundays. It was my home now, but I couldn’t get used to it. Sunday afternoons were usually the time my mother and I caught up on all the things that we missed of each other throughout the week. Now that I was here, I could catch up on some uncompleted duties without being interrupted. I was now going to the baker’s often to visit Edward. We talked about our childhood, and our parents. I told him of my brothers and father but never of my mother. Sometimes he would speak of her. “So, didn’t your mother tell you her childhood stories?” he said one afternoon. “Yes, she was a maid, as I.” I said. I didn’t like to speak of my mother, but he had told me so much of his parents that there would be no reason for me not to tell him of mine. “Ah, I see.” He looked away from me. “What is it Edward?” I looked at him curiously. He held out a folded piece of paper. “It’s from your mother.” He said softly not meeting his eyes with mine. “My uncle told me to take some bread to her one evening and she told me to find you, and give you this.” He continued. “I suppose she knew she was soon coming to her death.” He had sadness in his voice. “When I saw you standing in the bakery talking to my uncle, I couldn’t believe it was you, I never thought I’d find you.” I was staring down at the paper, not opening it. My voice was scratchy. “Thank you Edward.” I said standing. “I better go now.” I said turning my back to him, leaving, neither of us saying another word.
I didn’t read the letter. It sat on the table in my room for two weeks until I decided to read it one night.
I’m sorry I couldn’t give this to you in person, and I knew that this
young man would find you eventually. I know now that I am going to die soon,
and you need to know a few things. Cornelia, your mistress, was a
daughter of Catherine and Vermeer, the painter I was a maid to, as I told
you before. At first I didn’t think it was possible that you could be her
maid, but once putting thought to it, it is true. Please be careful, I love you
dearly, and I will miss you.
I had tears rolling down my cheeks when I heard a muttered voice. “Girl.” It was Thomas. I walked out of the room seeing Thomas, his hands bloody. I wiped away my tears. “Yes sir?” I said quietly. “I need some towels and some wine.” He said calmly while cleaning his hands. “Yes sir.” I retrieved a bottle of wine and some glasses as Thomas took the towels. I followed him with the wine. Once upstairs, I heard a baby’s cry.
Pouring Mistress’ wine, she was holding her baby as Thomas watched quietly. “Our new son, Robert” She said proudly taking the glass of wine that I handed her. I was about to leave when my attention was drawn to the earrings that were sitting on a table near me. I stared at them for a minute; they were pearls just as my mother described the ones she sold. “Madam, were these your mother’s?” Thomas and Mistress looked at me stunned that I had spoken without being spoken to. “Yes, I got them back from the disgusting maid that stole them from her.” Mistress said sternly and aggravated. “Cornelia, you know that your mother told you that the maid didn’t steal them, they were given to her.” Thomas corrected her. “Madam, was the maid’s name Griet?” I said before she could speak. Mistress glared at me. “Yes, it was.” I glared back at her but spoke calmly. “Griet is my mother.” Thomas and Mistress were silent and shocked.
It’s my eighteenth birthday today. Birthdays have never been special to me, but Mistress still let me off for the day. As if it was a Sunday, I went to the baker’s to see Edward, who was standing outside of the baker’s with flowers in hand. “Happy Birthday, Isabella.” He smiled handing me flowers and kissing my hand. “You didn’t have to do that.” I liked it that he did, but I didn’t think it was necessary. “Of course I did.” He took my hand. “Follow me.”
We walked for a long time. He came to a stop, there weren’t any buildings or people around but instead there were flowers covering the whole area, and the sun was setting perfectly in the sky to make the scene beautiful. “I’ve wanted to take you here, but then I decided to wait until your birthday.” He smiled watching me. “It’s beautiful.” I said looking at the scenery. His finger touched my chin lifting my face up to his as his lips touched mine for a moment that seemed to last forever. We spent most of the afternoon watching the scenery that day and then he told me he wanted to marry me.
We spent every Sunday, planning our lives together. One evening I was called upstairs by Mistress. “Girl.” She said as usual. I walked upstairs. “Yes madam?” I said softly. “Help me with this.” She was trying to put a necklace on. “Yes madam.” I helped her with the necklace and my attention was again drawn to the pearl earrings that were sitting by her jewelry case. I glanced back at her. “That is all girl.” She said sternly seeing that I was not leaving. I didn’t move for a moment until I jolted over to grab the earrings and then I ran. “No!” was all I heard when running. I continued to run, down the stairs and out the door. I ran all the way to the baker’s where I saw Edward slicing bread. “Edward, I am ready.” I was panting with the earrings in hand. I was ready to get away from Cornelia and her family, to stop being a maid, to forget the past, and start my new life with Edward.