There was once a girl who lived by the riverside with her grandmother and her older cousin. She had no mother or father, for they had died long before she had grown to understand that. Her mature and arrogant cousin, Genevieve, had a similar fate. And so the two orphans were taken under the care of their wealthy grandmother whom, I must tell you, believed in mature and well-mannered young ladies. That is why she was so proud of her Genevieve, and still working on her Miranda.
And that was the girl’s name, Miranda Patient, (a last name that had been in the family for years). Even still, this young girl did not go by Miranda, but M.—plain and simple M. She chose the nickname for herself because she disliked the fact that it took 0.5 seconds longer to say ‘Miranda’. Why waste that much time, M. thought, when you could just say “M.” and get it over with? “M.” was quite simple, and not to mention not very hard to pronounce at all.
On this particularly sunny day, M. was roaming about the garden behind the tall house that sat near the riverbank. She was pacing along the paths of appealing and sweet flowers, the hedges that were trimmed so precisely. Edwin, the gardener, was in the distance working at his spade in another part of the garden. M’s brown hair flew back in the faint breeze when it decided to come, and her pink, frilly dress fluttered behind her. The neighborhood was quiet, for the most part. There were seldom faint noises coming from the park, and an occasional automobile riding noisily down the street. Big, powerful, and overall exciting, the automobiles were extremely loud and gave M.’s grandmother a headache. They had just come out with the newer models a couple years before, so everyone had some getting used to do, M. supposed.
Everything was quite still, and though she had been warned to do otherwise, M. kicked at the dirt with every step she took. She did not like the idea of keeping clean every minute of the day. She was sure that in some way, her lace-ups could be cleaned before she dressed for dinner. But sneaking past her grandmother in the parlor was another matter.
As other times when she walked in the garden, she soon grew tired of seeing flowers and impatient with the cook, Mrs. Anntrove. She was almost sure that the kind lady would offer her a snack while she paced through the garden, (as the cook rarely did, but it didn’t hurt to hope). So M. decided to go and ask for a snack herself.
She slid the glass door open and stepped inside a small sitting area. Thankfully, her grandmother was not there. She took a quick short-cut to the kitchen, which was dreadfully messy. The counters were caked with crumbs or spills. Canisters or packages of foods and ingredients were spread everywhere for who-knows-what. Steam came soaring out of the pots on the stove. And it smelled like cooked vegetables. M. inhaled it with quaint satisfaction.
Out of the pantry came Mrs. Anntrove, the elderly widowed cook. She was a short, stout lady with frazzled red hair and a pinched up freckled face. She had been a cook for M.’s grandmother ever since M. could remember.
Mrs. Anntrove didn’t seem to notice her at first. She had come out with a sack of flour and slammed it on one of the counters. The cook then grabbed a vast bowl from one of the cabinets. She glanced up while mopping her brow. She spotted M. standing in the back doorway.
“Well, come on then,” she said, grabbing for an ingredient sheet. “If it’s what you came in for, the apron’s where it always is.” M. laughed.
“Oh no,” she corrected, smiling. “I was just coming for a snack.”
“Well I’m certainly not giving you one,” Mrs. Anntrove snapped. “That dinner party of your grandmother’s is tomorrow night. Head starts are the only things that can get done around here, and you know that!”
She disappeared in the pantry again. M. shrugged, picked up an apple from a fruit bowl, and skipped out of the doorway.
M. spied her grandmother in the parlor, making slow but sure progress on her sew-ing project. M.’s grandmother was a tall woman with hair between gray and white. Narrow eyes and high expectations, she was a very mature woman. She always sat up straight, as if a wooden board was propped behind her. She never worked too fast or too slowly on any project. She always seemed to get them done no matter what they were. Her long, fancy dress covered her feet as she sat stiffly and serenely on the elaborate sitting chair.
M. glanced down at her lace-ups. Up to the ankle there was dirt that covered up the shiny white surface. Hiding stiffly behind the door of the parlor, she wished desperately that her grandmother would leave her spot. Her grandmother kept her stern eyes fixed on her sewing, and never looked anywhere else. Unfortunately, she did not make a sign of leaving any time soon.
M. had been waiting for a LONG while, (it had only been thirty seconds). She started becoming quite impatient. If she had not been trying to hide, she would have stamped her foot and let out a big “humph”. But she didn’t.
“What if Grandmother never leaves, but stays there forever and ever?” M. thought. “What if I never get this wretched dirt off my shoes? Suppose Grandmother stays there until I HAVE to go into the parlor and let her see them! What if she takes away all my dolls and forbids me to leave my room and go outside as long as I live!”
Thinking this over for a very long time, (fifteen seconds), she decided to not cross the parlor to walk up the main set of stairs, but simply sneak around to the back stairs. She crept up softly. She passed over the one creaky step near the middle that her grandmother was sure to hear, and then she came to the upstairs hall.
Passing elaborately decorated rooms, she soon came upon one of the guest rooms, where Ella, her favorite maid, was folding laundry. She raced up to the dark-headed, dark-skinned maid in uniform and bust out, “Oh Ella! You must help me find a way to clean them before supper!”
She was pointed to one of her shoes, which was dirtier than the other, so that Ella would take more sympathy than she would the other shoe.
The slender maid in her black and white uniform looked down in shock and disappointment. Her hair was back in a bun that day. And she looked exhausted.
“Miss Miranda! What on earth d’you do with them shoes?” she sighed.
“Oh please help me clean them!” M. pleaded. “Grandmama cannot see them!”
“Now Miss Miranda you know I don’t have no right to go doin’ things behind your grandmama’s back. I gots enough to do without you comin’ in with more mud and whatever else you track’d in here. You was the one that got ‘em dirty. Now you march right upstairs and clean them shoes—”
“Ella please!” M. interrupted.
Ella furrowed her brow with confusion. “What’ch’you so worri’d ‘bout? You can clean, can’t you?”
“But if I do—Grandmama’s sure to notice!” M. stated despairingly.
Ella cracked a smile. “Well.” She turned back to her laundry. “That ain’t my fault. I didn’t go out there and play in no flowerbed.”
“I wasn’t playing in the flowerbed!” M. said defensively.
Ella smiled and softened her voice. “I know,” she said calmly. She sighed and wiped her forehead. M. waited.
“Alright,” she sighed. She put a pair of bloomers down on the couch. “Come on in here,” she nudged M. toward the powder room. “I’ll get you clean’d up—”
“No you won’t!” boomed a voice near the doorway.
M. jumped and turned around. She let out a groan and put on a stubborn face.
Britta, the grumpiest maid in her grandmother’s house, always spoiled everything for her. It was quite irritating, really. Britta was stout. She was the second-to-head maid in the house, (or so she insisted), and she always had her brown hair frizzed up around her head. Her forehead was shiny. She looked tired too. She had a dust feather in one hand and an oiled rag in the other. Her raven black eyes narrowed at Ella, who stood quite still, staring back.
M. looked back and forth—from one to the other. Britta and Ella never got along well. Her grandmother had always said it was prejudice, which was a big word simply pointing out that Britta had skin like she and her grandmother—very fair and light—and Ella had a very dark brown complexion. M. never saw why this would be a problem. Ella was M.’s favorite maid. Britta was ill-tempered anyway. Now, though, Ella seemed to make her even grouchier, for no particular reason.
Britta stepped in the room, still glaring at Ella.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in the bedrooms?” she snapped.
“Mrs. Chester want’d the laundry done first, Ms. Collins,” Ella answered in a solemn tone. (Mrs. Chester was grandmother’s top house cleaner).
“When did she tell you that?” Britta inquired.
“This mornin’,” Ella responded. “She said the bedrooms could wait.”
“Well Mrs. Abilene Chester is out for the afternoon. I am in charge for the rest of the day, and I say the bedrooms have to be done! We’ve got guests coming tomorrow, Ella!”
“They ain’t sleepin’ here, Ms. Collins,” Ella quietly remarked.
“It doesn’t matter!” Britta retorted. “I said get to the bedrooms!”
There was a pause. “Yes ma’am,” Ella pronounced, in a deep voice.
As feared, Britta spun her glaring eyes at M. next.
“And you,” she said between her teeth. “You know good and well that Ella can’t be messing with you. She’s got work to do!”
“But my shoes, Britta!” M. cried. She was now quite scared that she wasn’t going to get help after all.
“I don’t care about your silly shoes! We maids have got other things to worry about. Maybe you should just become a maid and I’ll tell you to do my hair! Now get out of here—we got work to do!”
Grumpy. That was the only word that entered M.’s head.
She walked slowly past Britta towards the doorway. She made her feet drag as her head hung low and innocent-like.
“Go on!” Britta pushed.
M. turned her head and gave a pitiful look to Ella, who returned it, but mentally urged her to do as she was told. Britta was getting impatient now.
“Do you want me to tell your grandmother you’ve been dressing the cats up again?”
M. dashed away as quickly as she could, the apple still in her hand.