I apologize for the delay on this post, but my limited writing time lately has been devoted to finishing the von Burlau outline, which is not really bloggable. Nevertheless, I’ve promised myself I’ll finish that outline before the start of NaNoWriMo next month and it’s a promise I intend to keep. That said, I’ve been working on the second chapter of the first von Burlau manuscript. Here’s a first look, hope you enjoy it.
Amelia Schwarz set her heavy bag down and glanced around. The garage to her left appeared deserted and a tall hedge to her right hid her from view of the main gate. Confident in her apparent solitude, she quickly hiked up the edge of her long skirt and adjusted the garter that had been digging into her thigh for the last twenty minutes.
Before she could complete the task, however, a metallic clank from within the garage made her start. She dropped her hem at once and took a cautious step in the direction of the noise. She caught sight of a grubby chauffeur, who had evidently been peeping at her from behind the car. “You there,” she shouted, “come out here at once! How dare you sneak around, spying on a lady like that.”
The man stood, his eyes still fixed on the point where her long, slender leg had just disappeared beneath her skirt. “A lady?” he repeated, finally meeting her gaze. “Is that what you call yourself? What kind of lady exposes herself in public?” His clear blue eyes were playful and provocative, his smile seemed more like a smirk, and his hair was a tousled drift of loose, blond curls.
Her face flushed red, more from rage than embarrassment. Such a frank reply from a man of his station made her gasp, as though she’d been hit with ice water thrown from a bucket. “I did no such thing,” she stammered, “I was simply-”
“No such thing?” he interrupted. “I could see well up your thigh.” He flashed another of his smirk-like grins and gave an approving nod that clearly said he’d enjoyed the view.
“How dare you speak to me that way. I’m warning you. I am right this very moment on my way up to meet with the Baroness von Burlau. I’ll be telling her all about you. I’m sure she wouldn’t approve of her chauffeur skulking around, spying on young ladies, and she certainly wouldn’t approve of your insolence.”
If anything, his smile grew broader still. “No,” he said, “I don’t suppose she would.”
She glared at him, her jaw clenched. “You, sir, are a pig,” she finally fumed. “Worse than that, you’re about to make me late for my appointment with the baroness.” She snatched up her bag and hurried up the drive in the direction of the enormous Schloss von Burlau.
“Be sure to give her my regards,” he called after her.
The von Burlau castle had been built, Amelia knew, in the early seventeenth century, atop the ruins of an even older fortress. It was triangular in shape with slender, round turrets at each of its base angles, and a stout, shorter turret at the vertex. It was painted a bright, golden yellow with windows trimmed in white and had a ceramic tile roof of deep, rusty red. It had been in the von Burlau family for more than a century and the menacing structure served as a constant reminder of the enormous wealth and power of her new employer. They were not mere socialites, as her last employers had been. They were true aristocrats, descended, it was said, from royal blood, however distantly.
Overcome by a sudden bout of nerves, Amelia stopped and set down her bag.
“May I help you, miss?”
Amelia spun around, startled. The young man who’d spoken was no more than sixteen or seventeen and was carrying a basket of freshly cut spring flowers. “I’m Amelia Schwarz,” she said. “I’m the new nanny. I was just on my way up to the castle.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said, flashing a shy smile and wiping his dirt-stained hand on his trousers before extending it. “I’m Georg Lindhorst, an undergardener here. The servant’s entrance is around back.”
“Yes, I know,” she said. “I remember. I was just taking a moment to steady my nerves.” The confession made her feel foolish and she blushed.
“There’s no need to feel nervous. You’ll never meet a kinder woman than the Baroness von Burlau and Miss Viktoria-the girl you’ll be looking after-she’s very sweet, honestly.”
Amelia raised an eyebrow, looking skeptical. “Really?” she said. “I’ve heard she’s a bit of a handful.”
Georg stifled a knowing smile. “I don’t know if I’d take it that far,” he said. “She’s a free spirit, that’s all. I’ll give you the same advice I’ve given to all the other nannies who came before you, perhaps you’ll be the first to listen.”
This was not encouraging to Amelia, who’d never been told about ‘all the other nannies’.
“Don’t fight her free spirit,” Georg said, “embrace it. Let her be who she is and you’ll do just fine.”
Amelia seemed to consider this for a moment. “Thank you, Georg. That seems like good advice. I’ll keep it in mind.” She bid him farewell and continued down the right flank of the castle to the servant’s entrance in the back, where she encountered a tall, balding behemoth of a man, smoking a cigar and wearing an apron. Amelia guessed him to be in his early forties. His smile as she approached was surprisingly warm and inviting.
“Hello,” he said, “can I help you?”
“I’m Amelia Schwarz, the new nanny.”
A man she recognized as the butler, Mr. Reblin, appeared in the doorway. “Thank you, Mr. Conti,” he said to the balding man, “I’ll take it from here. Please come in, Miss Schwarz.” He stepped aside to allow her to enter. “Surely that’s not everything?” he asked, indicating the bag in her hand.
“I’ve arranged to have the rest of my things brought over this evening, after Viktoria has gone to bed. I wanted to minimize the disruption to her routine.”
He nodded his approval, then led her down a short corridor and into the kitchen, where several servants were gossiping over their morning tea. When she entered, they stopped talking and looked up. “Everyone,” Mr. Reblin said, “I’d like to introduce the new nanny, Miss Amelia Schwarz.”
Before she could speak, Amelia felt a large hand push her gently through the doorway and further into the room. She turned to find the large man in the apron smiling down at her as he made his way past her into the kitchen.
“Mr. Conti you’ve met,” Mr. Reblin said, nodding to the big man. “He is, of course, our cook. This is his assistant, Ursula Stauber.” He gestured to a young, mousy woman with straw blond hair and thin lips.
“Call me Ushi,” she said.
“This is Miss Gisela Baumung,” Mr. Reblin continued. “She’s lady’s maid to the baroness.” Gisela was a stunningly pretty woman with sunny blond hair and a disposition to match. Amelia liked her at once.
“This is Mr. Voss,” the butler continued, turning to a smartly dressed man in his early twenties. “He’s our chauffeur.”
Amelia stared blankly at Mr. Voss, who had sandy brown hair, steel gray eyes, and a lithe, lean build. She cast a quizzical glance back at Mr. Reblin, as though afraid she’d misunderstood his introduction. The chauffeur, meanwhile, was extending his hand to her. She shook it and asked quietly, “How many chauffeurs do they have here?”
Mr. Voss laughed and leaned in to respond, but Mr. Reblin had already introduced the next servant, a freckly faced boy named Fritz Bauer.
“Nice to meet you,” Amelia said to Fritz.
“And you,” he replied.
“Mr. Bauer, would you be so kind as to take Miss Schwarz’s bag to her room?” Mr. Reblin asked.
“Certainly, sir,” Fritz agreed at once. He took the bag from Amelia and disappeared up a dark staircase.
“Now, if you’ll follow me,” Mr. Reblin said, addressing Amelia, “I’ll introduce you to Miss Viktoria.”
She followed him up the stairs and onto a gallery lined with towering portraits of long-dead von Burlau ancestors. Their faces were solemn and, it seemed to Amelia, judgmental. She could feel their frozen stares as she bobbed along in the butler’s wake. They glared down at her like an imperial guard sent to expel a foreign invader. She wondered if their presence in that particular hallway, which divided the servant’s quarters from the main residence, was by coincidence or design. Whatever the intent, the effect was intimidating.
At the end of the gallery, Mr. Reblin rapped lightly on the first door to the right. A soft voice from within invited him to enter. They did, and a tall, dark-haired woman of late middle age stood to greet them.
“Miss Amelia Schwarz, might I introduce you to Miss Erma Stieber. She is Miss Viktoria’s governess. He turned to address the dark-haired woman, “Miss Schwarz is the new nanny.”
Before either woman had a chance to greet the other, a much younger woman, a child in fact, forced her way into the conversation. Although she was barely six years old, Miss Viktoria von Burlau was no less intimidating than her regal ancestors. She regarded Amelia with ill-disguised disdain.
“Miss Viktoria,” the butler began, “this is…”
“Yes, I heard,” she broke in. “It’s very nice to meet you.” The sentiment of her greeting was not reflected in her tone.
“It’s very nice to meet you too, Miss Viktoria” Amelia replied, curtsying ever so slightly. There was an awkward silence before she added, “I look forward to getting to know you better.”
Viktoria offered no verbal reply, but a slight arch of her eyebrow implied the feeling was not at all mutual.
“Well, we’ll let you get back to your lessons. I’ll be taking Miss Schwarz down to meet the rest of the family and then to her room to settle in. Please let me know when you’ve finished for the day.” Mr. Reblin gave a slight bow and began to withdraw from the room. Miss Stieber cleared her throat and the butler stopped short.
“Is it true what they were saying downstairs?” the governess asked.
Amelia dared not ask about the subject of the recent gossip, but the butler’s solemn nod left little doubt about its grave nature.