Alexis woke, as usual, long before dawn and dressed quickly in the cold room. She always hated leaving her nice warm bed in the morning. It always seemed like she'd just gotten to sleep. As she crept down the dim servant staircase, she paused briefly outside of Mrs. Hawthorne's room. She could hear the housekeeper snoring loudly through the closed door. At the bottom of the stairs, she opened the cabinet full of candles and lit one off the candle that was kept lit for safety reasons. As Alexis crept down the hallway past the servants dining hall to the kitchen, she could hear a soft shuffling noise.
'There must be another mouse in the kitchen.' She thought, setting down her candle before the door. Picking up a broom leaning against the wall, she snuffed out her candle and slowly opened the door. Hoping to spot the mouse before it saw, Alexis crept toward the middle of the room. With her only source of light being a candle across the room on the mantle, the room was very dark. Alexis slowly raised the broom. The door behind her closed. She froze, contemplating whether she should turn around or just run away screaming. 'It could've been a draft.' She thought, relaxing slightly. 'That would be comforting if there were drafts in the basement.' She could almost hear breathing behind her. "You're just imagining things.' She told herself, raising the broom higher.
Suddenly, a hand slipped over her mouth. Another hand snatched her broom and tossed it beyond her reach. Alexis tried to scream through her gag but she quickly felt an arm slip around her neck. It tightened and she heard a hoarse whisper.
"Stop it!" With her air supply being threatened, Alexis stopped struggling for a moment. "That's better." The whisper continued "Now, if you utter a single sound, I will kill you." Alexis could feel the strangers' heart beating. Her own was racing wildly. "I'm going to take my hand off your mouth. If you make any noise, I will strangle you. Understood?" Alexis nodded. The stranger, keeping a good grip on her neck, removed his hand. Alexis felt a compelling need to yawn but as she opened her mouth the arm tightened. "You have my permission to answer my questions as long as you keep your voice is a whisper. What is your name?"
Alexis could feel him searching around in his pockets. Pulling out something she assumed was a piece of rope, he commenced tying her hands together behind her back. He was tying them so tightly that the rope was surely going to cut her skin. This required him to remove his arm from her neck. She considered running but a sharp pinch on the arm deterred her. He was much taller than her, from what she could tell, and probably had longer legs. She wouldn't get very far.
"Well?" He asked as he tied her wrists.
"Alexis." She said quietly.
"Age?" Alexis decided to add a few years.
"19." He seemed to accept her answer.
"What is your position here?" Thinking quickly, she replied
"Under-house parlor maid." He had finished binding her wrists and now stood with his hand on her shoulder. She wiggled her fingers to make sure the rope was not cutting off circulation. Using his free hand, the stranger grabbed one of her wiggling fingers.
"Don't do that. I wouldn't want to have to break one of your lovely little fingers." Alexis quickly clenched her hands. "Now, Alexis, what are you doing down here?" As she opened her mouth to tell him, she remembered the lie about being an under-house parlor maid.
"Um . . . " She stalled for time to think. His grip on her shoulder tightened as she did not reply. "Our scullery maid is sick so I came down to light a fire so Cook can prepare breakfast." The silence that followed was unnerving.
"That's very interesting." He said after a long pause. "But what I'm wondering is why doesn't Cook's helper light the morning fire?" He tapped his finger on her shoulder. "Why would the under-house parlor maid be degraded to the level of a scullery maid? Don't you think that's a bit peculiar?" She could hear the skepticism in his voice and she doubted that he believed her.
"Well," She stammered "No. You see, Cook's helper is visiting her sick brother and helping his wife take care of their children." Her excuse sounded legitimate.
"Oh, I see." He said slowly. "So you had to take over being Cook's helper and still fulfill your duties as under-house parlor maid. That certainly must be a lot of hard work. Do you also have to fill in for the scullery maid by washing the dishes?" Hoping to lead his away from the topic of work, Alexis changed the subject.
"Cook should be coming down soon." Grabbing her arm, he spun her around to face him. In the dim light of the room all Alexis could see of his features was his height.
"When will Cook be down?" He gripped both her shoulders and shook her slightly. She could sense an urgency in his voice.
"Soon." She replied casually.
"Well, that means that I should just be going soon." He put a strong emphasis on the word. "However," He said looking down on her "if you ever tell anyone that I was here, don't bother hiding. I will find you wherever you go." He was squeezing her shoulders and she tried to squirm away.
"How could I tell anyone? I don't even know who you are." Instead of turning her around, he just reached around her to untie her wrists. Her head was forced into his shoulder and she turned her head away from his. It seemed to take a bit longer that necessary for him to undo her bonds. She could feel his warm, gentle breathing on the back of her neck. She tried to move slightly but he had her locked in his unintentional embrace. Finally, the rope loosened and fell away. He straightened up and Alexis rotated her wrists, making sure they still worked. The deep red mark from the tight rope would probably stay for days.
"Well, I must be off. It was very nice meeting you, Alexis, and as long as you don't tell anyone, I should never see you again. Goodbye." He walked across the kitchen to the door, opened it, and left. Alexis locked the door behind him and quickly started a fire. Soon after she completed her task, Cook entered the kitchen.
After the strange event in the kitchen that morning, Alexis seemed rather preoccupied. Elizabeth, the real under-house parlor maid, had to ask her three times for the tea cup that Alexis was washing.
"What's wrong with you today?" Elizabeth asked, snatching the cup away and leaving in a huff. Alexis continued walking around in her haze until Cook yelled at her for not getting all the cooking dishes cleaned before it was time to prepare lunch. She guaranteed that Alexis would be washing the floor at the end of the day as an extra bonus. Alexis thanked her politely and continued washing the dishes. At least she couldn't mess up while washing the floor. Besides, it would give her time to think.
Her day continued uneventfully, only getting moderately interesting after lunch when Mr. Hobbs, the butler, made her clean the grates in the kitchen and servants dining hall. While in the dining hall, she got to listen to Fred, Mr. Samson's chauffeur, instruct Stewart, the stable hand, in how to play poker. Apparently, Stewart was losing horribly. Luckily, they weren't betting anything. Fred kept repeating all the different rules and hands you could possibly have. By the time Alexis finished the grate she figured she could play poker without ever seeing what Fred was talking about.
She returned to her sanctuary soon after tea was served. Alexis stayed in the scullery until after dinner, only stopping to have a quick bite to eat. After finishing all the dishes, she scrubbed the kitchen floor as best as she could with everyone else walking around on it. She had to clean part of it again after Fred came through with muddy boots. He laughed as he did a little dance around the room, spreading the mud. Cook finally chased him out because he was getting in the way. Alexis was very grateful when Stewart, after coming in from the stable, wiped his feet thoroughly before venturing across the kitchen. She finished the floor at about eleven-thirty and, after asking Cook's permission, went to bed.
Alexis was roughly shaken awake about two hours later.
"What is it? What's going on?" She mumbled sleepily. Someone, who she soon recognized as Mary, the laundry maid, was bustling around her room.
"Put these on." She said, pulling some clothes out of the dresser and throwing them at Alexis. "Come downstairs when you're done."
Mary lit the candle on the table next to the bed and left. Alexis dressed quickly, wondering what was happening. It couldn't possibly be morning yet. What was going on? Grabbing her candle, Alexis opened her door and started down the stairs. As she walked down the hallway after the first flight of stairs, she could hear movement in the other bedrooms. Fred and Stewart, who share a bedroom, came out with candles.
"Do you know what's going on?" Alexis asked them Stewart just shook his head but Fred told her a wide array of scenarios as they continued down the stairs. After another flight of stairs, they walked down another hallway. Fred was still creating his gruesome stories when Mrs. Hawthorne came out of her room, still wearing curlers in her hair. Mr. Hobbs came out behind her, Fred stopped his stories and Alexis suppressed a giggle. Mrs. Hawthorne gave them a stern look and they all continued down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, the usually dark passage to the kitchen was completely lit. Alexis, Fred, and Stewart all blew out their candles and put them away in the cabinet. They all stood there a moment, wondering what to do. Mary came down the stairs behind them and said quietly
"We'll be meeting in the dining hall, Mr. Hobbs." Mrs. Hawthorne led the way to the dining hall where the other servants were waiting. Mr. Hobbs closed the door as everyone took their places at the table.
"Now," Mrs. Hawthorne said, clearing her throat. "We have called you down here because something terrible has happened." Fred, who was sitting across the table from Alexis, looked at her and winked slowly. "Less than an hour ago, Mr. Samson was murdered."