When she had finished tugging at my hair and pulling my tunic straight, she stood me before my mirror and we looked at the reflection. To my surprise, I did not look nearly as poorly turned out as I had feared. I smiled at my reflection and said, “I think this is the nicest I have looked in months. Thank you, Mistress Careful.”
I think my words shocked her. She had been crouching beside me. Now she rocked back on her heels and stared at me, her large brown eyes gone very wide indeed. “You wait here,” she told me abruptly. “You wait right here.”
I obeyed her, and before I even had time to wonder why I was doing what a servant told me to do, she was back. “Now, I shall want these back when you are finished with them. They cost me a pretty penny, and I’ve worn them less than a dozen times. So keep your wrists well away from anything sticky. Do you think you can do that?”
She hadn’t waited for an answer or permission. She fitted cuffs of cream lace to the wrists of my underblouse, and then added a collar that matched. They were a bit large, but she took a threaded needle from beneath the collar of her shirt and quickly took them in. She stared at me when she was finished, her brow creased. Then she gave a small sigh. “Well. I wish the daughter of the household, placed in my care, were better turned out than the kitchen girls, but this will do for today, and before the hour is out I will be letting Revel know what I think! Off you go to breakfast now, poppet. Doubtless I shall have an hour of tidying to do in Lady Shun’s room. Every morning it’s the same, a dozen skirts flung about the room, and as many pretty blouses. You, now, you keep your things neat as a pin. I don’t think I’ve ever needed more than ten breaths to tidy your room.”
I kept to myself that I had not even known she was supposed to tidy my room. I had accepted without question that someone took care of my washbasin, ewer, and chamber pot, just as I accepted that my bed linens were laundered once a month. “My thanks for the care you take of me,” I said, as it came to me that those were not particularly pleasant tasks.
Again, her cheeks pinked. “I’m sure you’re welcome, Lady Bee. And off you go now! I hope your lessons go well.”
Anticipation warred with dread. I wanted to go directly to the schoolroom. I wanted to run and hide in my special place. Instead I went down to breakfast. My father was there, waiting for me. He was not seated, but wandering about the room, as if he, too, were nervous. He turned to me when I came in and his eyes widened. Then he smiled. “Well. You certainly look ready to begin your new studies!”
“Careful helped me,” I told him. I touched the lace at my neck. “The collar and cuffs are hers. She was surprised I had no earrings. And then she said she would not let the kitchen girls outshine me.”
“They could not possibly do so, even if you were in rags and dirt.”
I just looked at him.
“Not to say that you look ragged or dirty! No. No! I simply meant that no matter …” He stopped, and looked so comically woeful that I had to laugh.
“It is fine, Da. It is not as if they do not see me every day, dressed as I ordinarily am. I will fool no one.”
My father looked mildly alarmed. “I do not think our aim is to trick anyone, Bee. Rather, you dress in a way that conveys respect to the scribe who teaches you.” His speech slowed as he added, “And to convey your proper status in the household.” He halted and I could see he was frantically considering something. I let him, for my mind was suddenly just as occupied.
A dreadful thought had come to me. Lessons were to be something I did four of every hand of days. Did that mean that I would be dressed like this every day? Did it mean that every morning Careful would invade my rooms to prepare me? Slowly I understood that it would be a full four days before I could next do as I wished with my morning. No more riding in the morning. Not that there had been any since I’d had my falling-out with Perseverance. But I thought that eventually, somehow, I would mend things with him. My mornings being taken out of my control, though, was a permanent change. Almost daily, I’d be forced to deal with people I disliked in the schoolroom. And even at the breakfast table …
“Well, Bee, such a surprise! You’ve combed your hair. You look almost like a girl this morning.”
I turned at Shun’s greeting. Riddle had followed her into the room. She was smiling at me. My father looked uncertain, while Riddle’s eyebrows had risen nearly to his hairline. I smiled back at her and carefully curtsied. “Why, thank you, Shun. You yourself look almost like a well-bred lady this day.” I kept my voice as smooth as sweet cream. It would have been almost comical to watch my father’s expression switch from uncertainty to alarm, had it not been that Scribe FitzVigilant had entered just in time to hear my words. And only my words, not the comment that had provoked them. He gave me a look that a nasty and disrespectful child would merit, then greeted Shun warmly and escorted her to her chair at table as if he were rescuing her from a small, ill-tempered animal.