‘I hope you were satisfied with your room’ Emma asked. ‘Yes, very much so, thank you.’ I said a little stiff, and Lilly nodded. ‘You got your own room?’ Julia asked me with huge eyes. ‘What does it look like? Is it pretty? How big it is? If it looks anything like the rest of the house, it must be amazing! While saying that she had been moving so widely that she spilled half of her water on the ground. ‘Julia!’ Lilly said strict. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ Julia looked at her spilled water on the floor and was already on her way out of the chair when Emma stopped her. ‘No, that’s okay, please let me do it.’ She got a towel out of her dress and started mopping it up.
She was only halfway done when the door behind me opened again and two people came in: Ida and the older woman who had introduced herself as Madame Norris early today. Their arms were loaded with silver trays and plates with freshly prepared food. I was just wondering how they were able to carry that much when I felt my mind wonder or to Ida again. I quickly closed my eyes for a second. “No!” I told myself. “No, I have to keep focussed. We have to be careful.” When I opened my eyes again I tried to look at her as little as possible while she and Madame Norris set the table for us. Julia’s eyes looked as if they were going to fall out while she stared at all the foods. I could imagine her having an internal battle with herself on what she was going to eat first. Lilly’s eyes, who normally couldn’t be kept of any kind of food, seemed to be glued to Ida again. For a second I wondered if Ida might have some mystical powers which made as act and feel the way we did. But when I saw Julia again, who had halfway come up out of her seat to have a good overview of all the food, I realized how stupid that idea was.
‘Please, take as much as you like.’ Madame Norris said when they had put everything in place. The three house residents took a few steps back and until their backs where almost against the wall. Julia had already started to load her plate with all that she could, and it seemed like Lilly had finally realized that she was staring again because she suddenly seemed very interested in the food while she scanned the table. I felt a little uncomfortable with the three women standing there, looking at us while we ate. Maybe Lilly thought the same because she suddenly said ‘Aren’t you going to join us?’ I saw her eyes flash over Ida again shortly before she stared at her plate again.
I caught a slight whim of the smell of the food and suddenly realized I actually was kind of in need of some food. I started to scan the table and load my plate. Madame Norris had come forwards again and smiled. ‘No miss, but thank you for the invitation,’ she said to Lilly who was still trying hard to concentrate on the food and her empty plate. ‘As Emma might have told you before, House Howard also provides education. A part of that education is learning how to be a good host but also a good servant to the Lords and Ladies and guests. Seeing as you are our only current guests here at the moment, I thought this would be a good learning opportunity for some of the girls.’ ‘But why does that mean you can’t eat with us?’ Julia said with a mouth half full with egg salad. ‘Because a good servant doesn’t eat with their Ladies or Lords or guest, but stands back and watches for when they might be needed again. And a good guest,’ I followed up while I poked my silver fork into a section of salmon filled sandwich I just cut, ‘never talks while they’re mouth is still filled with food.’ I put the fork in my mouth and smiled at her. Julia’s cheeks flushed a little and she quickly chewed and swallowed. Emma laughed and quickly tried to disguise it as a cough when she saw Madame Norris looking over her shoulder at her. ‘That’s correct.’ Madame Norrissaid smiling.
‘How did you know that?’ Julia asked me. I made a humming sound while I quickly chewed and swallowed my food. ‘I, err, I read it somewhere.’ I lied. Julia frowned and had already opened her mouth again to say something when I felt Lilly move under the table. Julia managed to convert her gasp of pain from Lilly’s kick into a cough quite convincingly and apparently neither the two girl nor Madame Norris had noticed. Julia took another cheese and cucumber sandwich while disregarding her silverware and started to eat again while holding the sandwich. Lilly was finally chewing something as well, and although her jaws seemed to move at quite a pace, she seemed unable to swallow any of it. Maybe she didn’t like it. But when had I ever seen Lilly in a situation where she didn’t like food?
Before I had any time to remember if any such thing had ever happened, Madame Norris started talking again. ‘I do not want to keep you from your meals, but now you’re here all together, I was wondering if I might ask you a few short questions.’ She seemed to feel uneasy with the fact that she was talking and asking us things while we were eating. This made me wonder why she did it anyway. I looked at Julia who shrugged her shoulders with her mouth still full and her sandwich still in her hands. Lilly looked at her plate and frowned. ‘Please,’ I said with my most sugar coated voice, ‘anything you want to know. After all you’ve done for us, that’s the least we could repay you with.’ I tried to smile as innocently as possible. I prayed that Julia would keep on eating so that she wouldn’t be able to say anything and that after Lilly’s kick she wouldn’t try to correct anything I said anymore. Lilly didn’t seem to feel anything for saying something at all. I had a cleared pathway.
Madame Norris smiled again. ‘Thank you. We take pleasure in our service for you.’ she scraped her throat and seemed to get uneasy again. ‘I once again apologize for asking, because I know the indecent nature of my question.’ She took a deep breath and seemed to have re-found herself because she straightened her back and asked ‘Where were you held up resident before your stay at House Howard, if I might ask?’