Chapter 4: The Stench of Gossip
“What’s gotten into you?” Ivy whispered against the sheets of Maura’s bed, where she lay on her stomach topless so that Carina could tend to her wounds. “Normally, I would expect you to keep quiet and make your move when no one is watching.”
“Did you expect me to stand by and watch—” Carina’s words trailed off as her hand around the jar of cream trembled.
“To be punished, right or wrong, is normal for a slave,” Ivy murmured.
“When have I ever treated you as a slave? When—”
“I have been very fortunate to have you as my Mistress, but you should not have interfered.”
Ivy’s voice was unusually firm. Carina knew she was worried that Lincoln would retaliate later, a valid concern, but she focused on the crisscross welts of broken skin that marred Ivy’s back. Try as she might to apply the ointment lightly, she could feel Ivy’s pain as the maid dug her hands into the corner of the bed.
“I suppose it’s a good thing we always have medicinal ointment on hand for all my scrapes and bruises,” Carina joked half-heartedly as she covered the last of the frayed cuts that trailed down Ivy’s hip.
Ivy offered a weak smile, but her jaw remained clenched with pain as she breathed unsteadily against the sheets.
Carina looked down at the ointment jar, the once white cream now a muddy dark red, and closed it with shaking fingers. “You will need to lie still for the next few days,” she instructed as she rose from the bed.
“If I take even a day off, I shall be whipped again by either Master Josiah or your brother,” Ivy protested as she pushed herself up. A sharp cry of pain halted her efforts, and she slumped back into the bed.
“Will you never listen?” Carina snapped.
Ivy slowly turned her face away but not before Carina saw the tears on her cheek.
“Look,” Carina spoke softly as she sat beside Ivy upon the bed, “No one will expect anything from you tonight, so stay here and rest while you can. I’ll lock the door when I go down to dinner.”
“But what about you, Mistress?” Ivy asked quickly.
“What about me?”
“Young Master Lincoln whipped you as well.”
Carina sighed as she rose from the bed to check the ripped and stained fabric along the back of her dress in the mirror. “It’s—not so bad,” she noted.
The incredulous look on Ivy’s face reminded Carina how bizarre her immunity to physical pain was.
“Well, there’s nothing I can do. You’re not able to move, and I can’t treat it myself.” Carina set the ointment on her desk and turned to open her closet.
A knock on the door startled them both. Ivy struggled to rise.
“Don’t you dare!” Carina said impatiently as she left the bed. She slid back the bolt, turned the lock, and opened the door.
Carina blinked in surprise when she saw Lady Helena standing there with a distressed expression on her face. “Yes?”
“I came to make sure that you were—recovered,” Lady Helena said stiffly.
“Recovered? I—” Carina hesitated as she tried to make sense of this strange conversation. “We’re managing.”
“Have you treated your injury?”
“Then let me in.”
Carina blinked with surprise. It was the first time Helena had ever shown an interest in her injuries. Certainly, the first time she had ever behaved like a concerned parent to Maura. Although Carina doubted Helena’s intentions were quite so motherly, she opened the door slowly and backed away.
Helena entered and studied the surroundings as if she found them unfamiliar, which she might; it had been some time since any member of the Turnbell family had entered Maura’s bedroom. At least, not since Carina changed the locks to keep her brother out.
“The butler said you already had healing ointment?” Helena commented as her eyes narrowed onto Ivy’s quivering form upon the bed. “What is she—”
“The ointments on the desk,” Carina replied as she shut the door. Her fingers hesitated over the deadbolt, but she left it alone. “Let me get that for you.”
Carina picked up the ointment bottle left on her desk and suddenly froze. Another of Maura’s memories shuddered through her. Carina reached reflexively towards her cheek as she raised her gaze to the mirror.
“It’s just a burn, child—no need to make such a fuss,” Helena said as she stood beside Maura huddled in the corner of her room. “As unfortunate as it was, there is little that can be done for you now. Here—” she grabbed Maura’s hand and pressed a jar of ointment into it “—use that to help with the pain.”
The memory was gone as quickly as it appeared. Carina touched the large brown spot on her cheek where Maura’s burn had been.
‘Right, even if Helena was Maura’s mother, there was no reason to trust this sudden motherly concern of hers.’
Helena sighed impatiently behind her then stepped forward to snatch the jar from Carina’s grip. “Goodness, child, don’t dawdle. Take off your dress!”
With a wary glance at the ointment jar in Helena’s hands, Carina silently obeyed. The task proved difficult as the buttons went down the back, and usually, Ivy would help her with the ones she couldn’t reach.
Carina continued her silent, awkward struggle as her attention drifted between Ivy, who had pulled the sheet over her exposed wounds, to Helena, who was focused on opening the ointment jar. With an impatient sigh, Carina glanced at the mirror and attempted to use its reflection as a guide to finding the elusive button.
“Oh my, Heaven’s Mercy!” Helena cried out as she dropped the open ointment jar. The tarnished red cream dripped out onto the floor panels as Helena stepped back and covered her mouth. “What has—why is there so much—blood?”
“I used it to treat Ivy,” Carina explained. “Some blood got mixed in.”
“I can see that!” Helena replied shrilly. “Though why on earth you would waste such expensive medication on your slave—” she sucked in a breath and pressed her trembling fingers between her brows. “No, nevermind. I’ll have a maid bring up a fresh jar.”
“Alright,” Carina muttered as she bent down to clean up the mess.
“Leave it,” Helena snapped. “Honestly, Maura, you could at least try to act more like a lady and less like a servant.”
Carina sucked in her lower lip and held back a retort.
“See to it the maid treats the wound properly,” Lady Helena added with one last glance at Ivy on the bed. “And have that taken out of your room before she bleeds all over the bed.”
An hour later, Carina’s back had been cleaned, treated with a fresh bottle of ointment, and wrapped with light, clean gauze. The maid, Judith, also helped Carina change into a dress suitable for dinner and tidied her hair.
“All done, Miss,” Judith announced as she set down the brush. “Will there be anything else, Miss?”
Carina glanced at the mirror and noted the look of disgust on Judith’s face. “No, that will be all.”
Judith nodded stiffly, sent Ivy a withering glare, and promptly left the room.
Carina had grown used to being treated differently from Lady Helena’s other children. The servants cowered or fawned over Lincoln and Sophya as their “Young Master” and “Young Mistress,” but Maura was just “Miss.” Even the servants barely saw her as a noble.
Why? Because they all knew Maura was not Lord Josiah Turnbell’s daughter.
While still new to this world, Carina had pieced together the shameful details of Maura’s birth with the help of an old maid named Joy. Before Ivy came to the Turnbell Manor as Maura’s maid, Joy had been assigned the thankless task of looking after the Turnbell’s unwanted daughter. The old maid fulfilled her responsibilities with none of the emotions her namesake evoked.
“From maid of a Viscount’s daughter to nursemaid of a half-blood,” Joy often muttered when she thought no one was listening.
Joy frequently complained, which might have been why Helena traded her in for a younger, brighter maid. And when Joy wasn’t complaining, she gossiped with the other maids that came and went from the house.
Their whispered discussions tended to revolve around the bitter fights between Helena and Josiah, which usually marked the dismissal of yet another maid from the Manor.
When they weren’t discussing Josiah’s roaming eye and hands, or Lincoln’s alarming resemblance to his father, someone—generally a maid new to the house—would inquire about Maura’s parentage.
“Now that is something Lady Helena does not care for us to discuss,” Joy would point out sternly before she snorted out a chuckle and happily shared the sordid details.
Lord Josiah had been a playboy before meeting Lady Helena, whose father was a Viscount. Whether for love or promotion in status, Josiah pursued, wooed, and eloped with her. The result of their dramatic love story ended with Helena being disowned by all her family except dear Aunt Edith.
“And believe you this, if it weren’t for Lady Edith’s inheritance, Lord Josiah might not have lingered around long enough to see Young Master Lincoln born,” Joy stated as she shook her wool gray hair solemnly.
It was clear Josiah had been counting on certain financial profits to come from his marriage. But instead, he found himself with a wife to support and no dowry to help start his trading business. The young couple settled down with their meager earnings and minimal financial support from Aunt Edith, and soon after, Josiah resumed his old skirt-chasing habit.
When Lincoln and Sophya were but four and two, Helena was confronted by a commoner, who claimed Josiah was the father of her infant son and demanded restitution. Overcome by the betrayal and humiliation, Helena left her two young children to seek refuge with a friend in the capital. She would return almost a month later. Whether because of her father’s insistence, the pressure of Josiah’s unending public apologies, or because she missed her two small children was of little consequence.
“When she got back, Helena stood there in front of Josiah, trembling like a leaf and told him, ‘I have been intimately involved with another man for the last two weeks. I do not know his name, so don’t ask, but I have no intention of seeing him again.’,” Joy explained, dramatically mimicking Helena’s voice with a high, dainty pitch.
“What?” “No!” the other maids would gasp.
“And Josiah was so livid I tell you,” Joy whispered with wide eyes. “I thought he might strike her down then and there, but Viscount Gilwern was present, and Josiah knew better than to mistreat Helena in front of her father, no matter how much wrong she’d done him.”
“What happened then?” the maid asked eagerly.
“They slept in separate rooms for three months, and five months after that, Maura was born.”
“Saint’s mercy, so she really is a half-blood.”
“Of course, have you seen those blue eyes and that dull brown hair? She got them from that father of hers, whoever he is,” Joy muttered. “And one can only guess what sins that man committed for Maura’s face to be marked so horribly.”
It was usually around this time the maids would remember that Maura was somewhere nearby within hearing distance. They would murmur sympathetic words, but their eyes rarely reflected human compassion—instead, it revealed their callous curiosity, pity, or, more commonly, their thinly veiled disgust.
Not long after Ivy’s arrival, Joy was demoted further to the position of a housemaid, where her gossiping and complaining soon had her turned out on the street by Josiah himself.
Joy had left with her chin high, her back stooped with age, and never again darkened the threshold of the Turnbell Manor.