I Wrote A Fantasy Romance Short Story!

I was playing around with generative AI images last week and became excited about the idea of illustrating a short story for my blog. Yep, that’s how big of a geek I am. So, I scribbled up a non-AI short story (easy part) and set about creating generative AI images (hard part). I could make all sorts of incredible images with AI. However, I struggled to create ones appropriate to the story and that carried the narrative. So, in the end, I made AI generative cats in Adobe Firefly. It was the best I could do.

Here’s the short story. I’m a lousy proofreader, so simply read over any errors. And, yes, I did use AI to proofread it too.

Enjoy the cats.

The Teashop At The Corner Of Worlds

The teashop was a tiny, cramped establishment compared to its sleek neighbors, a modern furniture store and a day spa. Dusty teapots, old movie posters, and maps adorned its window, and a black cat sporting a blue collar with tiny bells often napped on a 1950s TV tray. Sometimes, I would stop momentarily and glance at the chaotic display, but then I always hurried on. Because that’s what I did until a week ago: hurried on. Hurried on to the corporate coffee chain, where I didn’t have to think about my daily coffee order, and then I hurried on to work and to meetings. I was over-stressed and over-committed, but I was living my dream, right? I had finally found the business success I had worked so hard to achieve.

I wasn’t hurrying today but wandering in my work clothes on this morning of drizzle with an eighty percent chance of storms in the evening. And, if I’m honest, I was slightly buzzed from the shot of tequila that I had added to my orange juice. Something to numb the ache.

Even though I had been down this street probably a hundred times, I felt lost. I stopped before the tea shop and studied all the old stuff. This is me now. Unwanted junk. I’m not the sleek Italian chair in the window next door. I’m this cracked teapot with some old monarch’s face on it. As I stared, the green neon welcome sign behind the glass buzzed to life. Had it always been there? It seemed like it hadn’t. But then, I’ve always been moving so fast that I rarely saw the details in the world around me, just those on a spreadsheet.

 I couldn’t go to my usual coffee shop and have my regular latte. It would hurt too much. Nor could I go back to my apartment because then I would have to explain everything to my roommate. I hadn’t told her or my mom about what had happened. I continued to leave my apartment at seven every morning and returned twelve or so hours later. I guess I’m waiting for the morning alarm to go off and to wake up to find none of it really happened.

Yet it had, even if it didn’t feel real but more like a movie playing in my head. Losing my job wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I was too good. I had worked too hard. Sacrificed too much. I gave my life to my career, and now it had been ripped away. I didn’t know how to live now, deal with the avalanche of what-ifs, or shut off my brain in the wee hours from dissecting every mistake I had ever made.

 Above me, the green welcome sign continued glowing through the drizzle as if to beckon me out of my head into the dry warmth inside. Why not? I had lots of hours to kill. And where else was I going to go?

I opened the door, setting off an electrical chime of Pachelbel’s Canon. A professional had not been consulted on the decor. There wasn’t one distinguishable style, but seemingly every design era smashed together, assaulting the eye. Victorian teapots beside Mid-Century Modern plates beside Art Deco crystal decanters. The tables were black lacquered with Chinese characters, but the counter was Googie Formica. I turned, trying to take it all in, which was impossible because there was so much stuff!

A woman emerged from the back through a threshold of hanging plastic beads. I couldn’t place her age somewhere between thirty and fifty. She wore Betty Page bangs, a vivid red flower kimono, and glossy black lipstick. She sported extremely long lashes that spread like fans above her eyes.

She pressed her hands to her mouth in surprise. “Oh, my goodness, you brought a real book!” She drew a printed menu from the counter and crossed to me. She wore insane high heels that clinked on the wood floor as she walked. “So many people nowadays read books on their smart thingies. Me, I prefer touching real pages.” She drew a long breath. “Smelling them. And seeing all the little smudges and scribbles in the margins.” She made a fluttery gesture with her long-nailed fingers to the room. “Sit anywhere that feels like you! You know, whatever suits your vibe.”

I glanced about. I had made a mistake coming here. My vibe was despondent, and this place required too much energy. But I couldn’t leave now. I was trapped by her expectant eyes. So, I sank into the closest seat.

“Now, what are you reading?” She didn’t wait for an answer but picked up my book and read aloud, “How Not to Marry a Marquess.”

I should be embarrassed. It was a badly torn paperback historical romance with a bare-chested, long-haired male model holding a bouquet of roses. I had bought it from a used bookstore in my high school years. To be honest, my reading tastes—best described as guilty-pleasure or escapist—haven’t changed since then. I’m not the hardback, book club sort. And besides, I was beyond the sting of embarrassment now. True humiliation is crying while shoving the contents of your office desk into a cardboard box as a security officer stands beside you, ensuring you don’t steal a stapler or graffiti “cronyism” on the manager’s office walls. All the while, your colleagues keep their heads below the tops of their cubes. Not wanting to see the fate that they had escaped. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I exceeded my benchmarks and expanded the market. But, in the end, it was a popularity contest when the company’s numbers fell.

The waitress flipped through the pages. I resisted the urge to rip the book from her fingers and scream, Give it back! It’s my special book.

“Ahhhhh.” She nodded. “I have just the thing for this!”

She clinked across the room to shelves precariously stacked with teacups. She hummed as she moved her nail tip along the disordered ware. “Here it is!” She withdrew a cup, careful not to cause an avalanche of porcelain, and crossed back to my table. “I’d say it’s from the early 1800s. When your story is set.” She turned the white cup painted with delicate blue flowers. “Can’t you imagine someone like Jane Austen sipping from it?”  

“Thank you, it’s lovely. But I really shouldn’t drink out of something so nice.” I would be more comfortable with a cheap, unbreakable disposable paper cup today.

She gave a dismissive wave. “I have plenty of old cups. Now, what would you like to drink?” She pointed to the menu, where each tea blend was described in a different font. The menu was as chaotic as the shop. Again she didn’t wait for me to answer. “You need the Dream Finder. It’s this sublime blend of black tea and lavender with hints of chocolate and … ” she winked and shimmied her shoulders, “something special. I already have some steeping, as though I knew you were coming.”

“That sounds great,” I said weakly. I wasn’t in the best mental state to make decisions.

“You read your book, sweetie. I’ll be back with a pot.” She clinked away.

I picked up the teacup. It was so small and exquisite, not like the oversized mugs of today. I could indeed imagine Jane Austen holding it. Or gossipy ladies at a Regency tea party. Or, perhaps, Emily Brontë sipping warmed milk and honey from it to soothe her aching throat.

I heard the jingle of tiny bells, and something soft brushed my leg. I looked down to find the black cat had moved from the window and was now looking up at me with golden eyes.

“Hey, you.” I scratched him under his neck as he made a noisy motoring pur. But after several minutes, he grew tired of my adoration, leaped onto the neighboring chair, and curled up to nap again.

I wish cat was a viable career choice.

I picked up my book. I don’t know why I had grabbed it off the shelf this morning. Maybe I needed some literary comfort food. I opened to the beginning page and quickly sank into the story I hadn’t read in twelve or more years. I had reread it so often in high school that it had dulled, but now the words were fresh again.

London, 1805

Sophia struggled to rein in her hot temper as she surveyed the ballroom. The nerve of Lord Collinswood to call her impertinent. For what? Speaking her mind. No, she wasn’t the simpering type. Nor was she like most of the other young ladies here, so wildly enamored with the lord as to overlook his appalling arrogance and cold manner.

 “I fear we are the only ladies in London who clearly see Lord Collinswood’s heartless character,” she remarked to her friends Constance and Imogen.

“I only know of Lord Collinswood’s heartless character because you harp on it a dozen times a day. Are you sure you don’t feel the slightest affection for him? You are rather flushed.” Imogen waved her fan before Sophia’s face.

“Now, isn’t this lovely.”

I looked up. The woman was back and pouring tea into my cup. How did I not hear her approach?

She set down her pot. “I’ll leave this here. You go back to reading. I’m Thalia if you need anything.”  She walked away in her impossible heels.

I left the tea to cool and resumed reading.

“I assure you it is not affection that causes my face to heat,” Sophia protested, “but vexation that such a man walks the earth with an unwarranted good opinion of himself.”

“I believe you are referring to his appalling character,” Imogen said. “For a good opinion of his face and body aren’t unwarranted.”

“It is not one’s appearance that matters but the contents of one’s mind,” Constance admonished. “Beauty is in one’s character.”

“Is that why you wore your hair in papers all day,” Imogen remarked. “To improve your character?”

I chuckled. Dear, say-it-like-it-is Imogen. These fictional young women composed my friend group in school, which says a great deal about my high school experience. I would take my lunch outside to the picnic tables where no one ate, open the book, and drop into their vivid world and away from mine.

I reached for the tea and took a sip. Dear God! Why had I never come here but suffered that dreck at the coffee shop? This place may look like every Smithsonian exhibit ever, all crammed into a tiny space, but the tea is liquid manna. I drew another sip and another. I shamelessly raised the cup to slurp the rest when something caught my eye. Below the last drops of tea, I could see a tiny painting. It wasn’t there before. The bottom of the cup had been a tea-stained white. I looked closer to make out three women in Regency gowns talking beneath their fans. They were moving as if a tiny film were playing in my teacup!

A bright flash of light burst across my vision, blinding me. I began to feel like I was spinning, as though in the center of a carousel that went so fast everything became a blur of color and sound. Then all the lights went out. I was still turning but in the darkness. I closed my eyes, feeling as though I may vomit.

At that moment, everything turned still.

I opened my eyes. People were dancing in Regency-era clothing beneath a massive candle-lit chandelier. In fact, everyone in the ballroom was in cosplay, including myself. Gone were my gray wool coat, black pumps, silk ivory blouse, and gray skirt. I wore a long cotton blue dress that was considerably plainer than everyone else’s elaborate getups.  

Am I in a dream?

Or maybe the something “special” in the tea is psychedelics or mushrooms.

“It is not one’s appearance that matters but the contents of one’s mind,” said the lady beside me. She wore a tiara-like headpiece in her riot of wild curls. “Beauty is in one’s character.”

Wait? Wasn’t that a line from the book?

“Is that why you wore your hair in papers all day,” remarked a petite, shiny brunette. “To improve your character?” Imogen?

Was I tripping in my favorite book?

“Well, I find his character so appalling it overshadows any good qualities he might possess,” said a woman with honey hair and cat-like eyes. Smart, outspoken Sophia? The character I loved the most in high school. “He has as much heart as he has charm. None. I loathe him.”

Her words, which had set off a delicious rom-com of the enemy-to-lover sort, somehow cut into my heart. I felt that Collinswood wasn’t fictional and that I intimately knew him. Like, really intimately. “You don’t really know him!” I burst.

The three ladies turned. “Pardon me, have we been introduced?” Imogen asked.

“I don’t …” Had we? No, of course not! They are fictional, and this is a f-ed up hallucination.

“What is your name?” Sophia pointedly asked.

“I -I don’t know,” I stammered. How could I not know my own name? Didn’t it begin with an A? No, a G? This is not good at all. That teashop owner is begging for a lawsuit.

Sophia raked me up and down. The edge of her mouth snaked into a smirk. “How quaint of you to wear a dirty plain gown to a ball. Did you accidentally walk through a gutter on the way here?” She flashed her friends a look, and they broke into snickers.

Was Sophia—my literary bestie—mean-girling me? I was clearly upset, and she was behaving like a nasty troll. Uncool.

I had remained mute to my manager’s empty, corporate speak of redundancy and how I would be an asset to any future team I was on. I didn’t respond because I was reeling in a state of disbelief. But as the new reality began to set in, so did the anger. I wasn’t going to be silent anymore. “The only person here with an unwarranted good opinion of themselves is you.”

Sophia’s mouth dropped. “W-what did you just say?”

“He called you impertinent, but, if I recall, you called him arrogant first. And also, is he truly arrogant? Maybe he seems cold and rude because he’s protecting himself because someone … someone….” Heavy aching pain filled my chest. I was sure that somehow I had hurt him. Very deeply. I was the reason for his coldness. This is all crazy. “Look, you will save yourself a world of misunderstanding and hurt if you are a little more understanding and compassionate from the outset. We’re all going through stuff, okay.”

“I’m quite understanding to those who deserve it,” Sophia snipped. My words made no difference. “Why should I feel compassion for a man of wealth and station who has every lady in this ballroom falling over herself for him.”

“Yeah, so, spoiler alert, not everything is how it seems,” I said.

Sophia narrowed her lovely eyes. “How exactly do you know him?”

Wow, that was complicated. Before I could think up something that sounded not insane, a female voice shouted behind me, “Simpson! Simpson! Toss her out. I shall not have an actress tainting these respectable walls.”

I spun to find a thin woman with a lined face, made more severe from rage, glaring at me. That said, she had an excellent Regency look going—a gown of numerous tucks and ruffles that matched the huge red and yellow plumes shooting out from her hair. She resembled an irate, ornate chicken.

The dancers stopped and joined the other guests in forming a semi-circle around me. Everyone kept their eyes trained on me as they discretely conversed beneath their gloved hands and fans. Even my high school ex-besties edged away, leaving me stranded alone amid the hostility.

The name Isobel Germaine rose about the roar of whispers.

Isobel Germaine!

I only remember that evil bitch because I’m a superfan of the book. She was mentioned once in a private letter to Sophia from Collinswood’s female cousin explaining his icy behavior. Isobel was the vile actress from Collinswood’s past who had destroyed his heart. The one who laughed when he begged her to run away with him. He had been willing to give up everything for her, but she had brutally rejected him.

I pointed to my chest. “Am-am I Isobel Germaine?”

“This is not a stage, Miss Germaine,” barked ornate chicken lady. “Your wild antics are not welcomed here.”

So, I guess I’m Isobel. But I didn’t feel like the villain. I would have only treated him with tenderness and a devout love that bordered on idolization.

Yet, I knew I had hurt him. Why? What’s wrong with me? He’s the best man I know. The ideal that no guy in my real life could ever live up to.

A somberly dressed man with a stern face that screamed, I’m a British butler, and his posse of footmen jogged towards me.

“Drag her away,” they were ordered.

Oh my God, I’m being fired again! This time in Regency land.

Can I go back to the teashop now?

What if I can never go back? What if I’ve somehow fallen into some weird Regency blackhole?

No, that can’t be true. This is simply a terrible tea-induced hallucination. Yet everything felt so painfully real.

“I just want to see Lord Collinswood,” I cried for some reason. “I must tell him something!” What? What was I going to tell him? Whatever it was, it felt like it was ripping my heart to pieces to be known. “Please.”

A large, strong hand clasped my elbow. Warmth enveloped me, like being hugged by a loved one. But the low voice that growled, “Come,” couldn’t be characterized as loving. Nonetheless, my heart got all buzzy.

“Collinswood,” I stammered.

This was Collinswood! The man I had adored since high school! He pulled me along so quickly that I struggled to see his face as I tried to keep up with his long strides. All around, I could hear shocked, disparaging whispers. It was like being escorted out of my office building again.  

We passed through a magnificent foyer and then out the door into the night. I wasn’t used to this kind of dark. In the modern city, the night never achieves more than a deep gray from all the light pollution. But here, the flickering torch lights created orbs of golden light against utter blackness.

He released my arm, and I could finally turn to see his face.

So, back in elementary school, I was running on the track for a field day event when the runner behind me bumped into me, and I fell. Unfortunately, I was going so fast that I slid along the rough pavement. When I finally stopped, I felt nothing, just a dazed shock. Then I saw the blood on my palms and legs. Acute, throbbing pain rushed over my body like wildfire. That’s how my heart reacted to seeing him.

He wasn’t how I pictured him in my mind’s eye, nor was he the steroid-enhanced cover model. His eyes were indeed black as “raven’s wings,” but somehow, I knew they could melt to chocolate when he laughed. And those dark slashes for eyebrows could be quite expressive when discussing something he enjoyed, such as a short story he read in a journal or a friendly dog he had passed. I hated to see the harsh, tight line of his lips. I remembered how soft they were when I kissed him.

Wait, I didn’t kiss him! As much as I would have liked to. And I had done nothing to upset him. He had no right to look at me as though I had murdered his favorite pet. I’m his biggest fan. But another part of me—the Isobel part—was growing stronger than the part whose name I could no longer remember. Sickening feelings of guilt and shame burned inside of me. What had I—she—done? “I wanted to see you so desperately,” I said.

“To make a mockery of me?”


“Now that I’m not the poor relation but the Marquess, your feelings for me have substantially changed. Well, save your sad performance for the stage. I no longer find your shabby behavior amusing, Isobel. Neither does London, I’m given to understand. I’ve heard you’ve lost your engagement at the theatre.”

I was trembling. I wanted to sob but forced myself to articulate words. “I came to tell you that my feelings haven’t changed. I have always loved you.” I held up my hand, stopping any disparaging words from him. I didn’t expect him to forgive me. “You are beginning a new life, and I want you to be happy. I want you to find the love I could not give you.”

 “Why are you wasting my time telling me this?”

“Because I was scared back then and chased you away. I wanted to make sure that you never came near me again. You see, you said we could run away together and that I didn’t have to be on the stage anymore. But the stage is all I have. It’s all I am. You asked me to give up the only thing that has been stable in my life. Everyone in my life has always left, and I didn’t see how it would be different with you despite your assurances.”

He stared at me, his jaw working. Poor Isobel, I understood this woman. I knew that kneejerk need to cling to your career.

“There’s a theatre in Bristol that may take me. I’m leaving in the morning. I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. I don’t mean this in any way to make you come back to me. I know it won’t change your feelings. I ruined everything. I’m sorry that I hurt you. Truly.”

I hugged myself, trying to console Isobel. How many relationships had I sabotaged or let drift away because they had gotten in the way of my sacred career? The one constant I had. I had control in my career that I didn’t have anywhere else in my life. And, unlike in my relationships, I had been wanted and appreciated. Until last week, that is. When I wasn’t at my job, measuring my every moment for productivity and sales, all the monsters of my fears returned. I had ignored them for so long that they had grown uncheck. They were consuming me now.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered more to myself and Isobel.

The shadows falling on his face hid his expression. At length, he said, “Thank you, but you are right. It does little to change my feelings for you.”

“I know.”

He remained, watching me. I wanted him to say that he forgave me. That I still mattered to him. But I knew he wouldn’t. And that I didn’t. Finally, he turned and walked to the door.

I took in what would probably be the last time I ever saw him. But then he abruptly turned.

 “I hope you can be happier in Bristol,” he said quietly. “Perhaps you can find a gentleman who could love you.”

“I hope.” But I knew I would never find another man like Collinswood.

He nodded, muttered something, and then walked inside. The enormous door closed with a resounding thud.

Isobel and I were alone in the darkness. We had felt alone for so long. Over two hundred years between our shared lives. Memories began flooding my mind. Images of young Isobel struggling to keep herself safe from treacherous men while trying her best to survive on her own. Ones of my drunken father shouting as the police hauled him away from my high school graduation. How terrified we were of being dependent on someone. Instead, we had clung to false security, and now we had nothing.

I turned, walking into the mist. Where was I going? What happens to minor characters whose stories aren’t written? Was I trapped in some unformed, nebulous world forever?

“Isobel! Isobel!”

I spun. “Collinswood!” I couldn’t see him. The thick mist swirled about, disorienting me.


 “Where are you? I can’t see you. I’m scared.”

“Isobel.” His voice sounded as though it was echoing off distant mountains.

The fog turned opaque. Again, I had the sensation of spinning around and around in darkness. “Collinswood!”  

Then nothing.

Only the sound of my rapid breath and the heavy throb of my hurting heart. I opened my eyes. I was back in the teashop. My trembling fingers clutched my teacup. It was empty. No tiny movie played at the bottom. What just happened?

“Did you enjoy the tea,” Thalia asked.

I lifted my face, tears streaming down my cheeks and dripping off my jaw. “I screwed up everything,” I whispered.

“Oh, dear!” She held up her palms. “You wait. I’ll get another tea. I promise you will love it.”

“I have to go!” I yanked up my purse and stoved the book in it. “H-how much was the tea?”

“I can’t let you pay for something you didn’t like. I’ll get another.”

“Please don’t.” I rushed to the door. Maybe there wasn’t anything in the tea? Perhaps I was having a psychotic break from all the stress, and I somehow managed to intertwine the grief in my life with the story.

Something brushed past my leg, and I saw the cat rushing into the busy street. An SUV slammed on the brakes, skidding on the wet pavement, to barely miss it.  

“Stop, Shamash!” Thalia screamed.

The last thing I needed today was to have the cat run over. It would completely and finally break me. I dashed into the traffic, ignoring the honks and cursing, and chased the animal. He scampered onto the opposite sidewalk, then sprinted a few blocks to turn onto the crowded walking street leading to the university.

I could make out his little paws between the rush of oncoming people. But he had vanished by the time I reached the arched university entrance.

“Shamash!” I repeatedly called as I awkwardly ran in my work shoes along the campus paths between the old stone buildings. At last, I had to stop. I leaned down, putting my hands on my knees, and tried to catch my breath. I was drenched from perspiration and drizzle.

“Have you escaped again?” a man said. The familiar sound of his rich voice sent waves of warmth over my damp skin.

I raised my head. “Shamash!”

The cat was rubbing his side against Collinswood’s navy blue chino pants.

What! No, that’s not Collinswood. It’s someone who simply looks like his in-real-life identical twin—raven’s wing black eyes, slashes for brows, and all. Oh my God, I must go to the hospital and get checked out.

The man spied me. His eyes widened with concern and alarm. I must have looked like an extra from a horror movie.

“I was trying to catch him,” I explained between breaths. “He ran away from the teashop. I was terrified he’d get run over.”

“Shamash, you jerk,” the man admonished while gently picking up the cat, who immediately started his loud motoring purr. “Come, let’s take you back. I’m Colin, by the way.”

No. This is unreal. I’m still in my hallucination.

“I’m Iso … I mean, Aria.” I remembered my name! “Yep, I’m Aria”

“You look very familiar to me.” He arched an expressive brow. “Have we met before?”

“No. We have never, ever, ever met before,” I said, clinging to sanity.

“Hmm,” he nodded to my reply, which sounded really weird in hindsight. “Well, we’ve definitely met now.” He held out his hand while managing to hold the purring cat at the same time. I shook it. My heart got all buzzy, like when Collinswood rescued me at the ball.

“Want to help me with Shamash?” he asked. “I could use some tea on this wet day. But not the Dream Finder blend. We’re not doing that again, are we, Shamash? I think it’s laced with something.”

“What do you mean laced with something?”

“Well, when I drank it, I had this crazy idea that I was in an early nineteenth-century British novel.” He misread the expression on my face and explained, “I’m a professor of modern literature, but I had to cover for a British literature colleague that semester, so I was reading Jane Austen at the teashop. I probably dozed off. No smoking guns, aliens, or hard-boiled detectives. What are you going do, huh?” He flashed an unaffected, almost goofy smile.

I started laughing in relief. I’m not insane. Or perhaps we’re both bonkers. But, at least I’m not alone. For a moment, in this dreadful week, I felt happy, so I continued laughing, holding a little longer to the precious sensation.

“Perhaps for the sake of experimentation, I should try drinking it while reading sci-fi or fantasy,” he added. “That might be interesting.”

Isobel was right. His eyes did turn a luscious chocolate when he was amused.

“In the mean time,” he continued, “What about some uncomplicated Earl Grey or Jasmine?”

“Yes,” I said. “That would be lovely.”

The End

The Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Visits A Turkish Bath

Lady Montagu in Turkish dress. Jean-Étienne Liotard

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a prominent English – Oh, c’mon, it’s the awesome Lady Montagu! Writer, poet, traveler, free spirit, smallpox inoculation advocate. I was skimming through her book Letters Of The Right Honourable Lady M–Y W—Y M—-E: Written During Her Travels In Europe, Asia And Africa on an antique books website when the words “Turkish” and “hot baths” leaped off the screen.

Yeah, I’m going there in this post.

I couldn’t find many images of women by Turkish artists from the 1700s. So, I’ve used some stunning paintings by Swiss painter Jean-Étienne Liotard, who was enamored of Turkey. He painted this post’s feature image of Lady Montagu in Turkish attire.

Adrianople, April 1. O. S. 1717.

I am now got into a new world, where everything I see appears to me a change of scene; and I write to your ladyship with some content of mind, hoping, at least, that you will find the charms of novelty in my letters, and no longer reproach me, that I tell you nothing extraordinary. I won’t trouble you with a relation of our tedious journey; but must not omit what I saw remarkable at Sophia, one of the most beautiful towns in the Turkish empire, and famous for its hot baths, that are resorted to both for diversion and health. I stopped here one day, on purpose to see them; and, designing to go incognito, I hired a Turkish coach. These voitures are not at all like ours, but much more convenient for the country, the heat being so great, that glasses would be very troublesome. They are made a good deal in the manner of the Dutch stage-coaches, having wooden lattices painted and gilded; the inside being also painted with baskets and nosegays of flowers, intermixed commonly with little poetical mottos. They are covered all over with scarlet cloth, lined with silk, and very often richly embroidered and fringed. This covering entirely hides the persons in them, but may be thrown back at pleasure, and thus permits the ladies to peep through the lattices. They hold four people very conveniently, seated on cushions, but not raised.

Jean-Etienne Liotard – A Lady in Turkish Dress and Her Servant

In one of these covered waggons, I went to the bagnio about ten o’clock. It was already full of women. It is built of stone, in the shape of a dome, with no windows but in the roof, which gives light enough. There were five of these domes joined together, the outmost being less than the rest, and serving only as a hall, where the portress stood at the door. Ladies of quality generally give this woman a crown or ten shillings; and I did not forget that ceremony. The next room is a very large one paved with marble, and all round it are two raised sofas of marble, one above another. There were four fountains of cold water in this room, falling first into marble basons, and then running on the floor in little channels made for that purpose, which carried the streams into the next room, something less than this, with the same sort of marble sofas, but so hot with steams of sulphur proceeding from the baths joining to it, ’twas impossible to stay there with one’s cloaths on. The two other domes were the hot baths, one of which had cocks of cold water turning into it, to temper it to what degree of warmth the bathers pleased to have.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – The Turkish Bath 

I was in my travelling habit, which is a riding dress, and certainly appeared very extraordinary to them. Yet there was not one of them that shewed the least surprise or impertinent curiosity, but received me with all the obliging civility possible. I know no European court, where the ladies would have behaved themselves in so polite a manner to such a stranger. I believe, upon the whole, there were two hundred women, and yet none of those disdainful smiles, and satirical whispers, that never fail in our assemblies, when any body appears that is not dressed exactly in the fashion. They repeated over and over to me; “UZELLE, PEK UZELLE,” which is nothing but, Charming, very Charming.

The first sofas were covered with cushions and rich carpets, on which sat the ladies; and on the second, their slaves behind them, but without any distinction of rank by their dress, all being in the state of nature, that is, in plain English, stark naked, without any beauty or defect concealed. Yet there was not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture amongst them. They walked and moved with the same majestic grace, which Milton describes our general mother with. There were many amongst them, as exactly proportioned as ever any goddess was drawn by the pencil of a Guido or Titian,—and most of their skins shiningly white, only adorned by their beautiful hair divided into many tresses, hanging on their shoulders, braided either with pearl or ribbon, perfectly representing the figures of the Graces.

Jean-Baptiste Vanmour: Turkish Men and Women

I was here convinced of the truth of a reflection I have often made, That if it were the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed. I perceived, that the ladies of the most delicate skins and finest shapes had the greatest share of my admiration, though their faces were sometimes less beautiful than those of their companions. To tell you the truth, I had wickedness enough, to wish secretly, that Mr Gervais could have been there invisible. I fancy it would have very much improved his art, to see so many fine women naked, in different postures, some in conversation, some working, others drinking coffee or sherbet, and many negligently lying on their cushions, while their slaves (generally pretty girls of seventeen or eighteen) were employed in braiding their hair in several pretty fancies. In short, ’tis the women’s coffee-house, where all the news of the town is told, scandal invented, &c.

Enjoying Coffee

They generally take this diversion once a week, and stay there at least four or five hours, without getting cold by immediate coming out of the hot bath into the cold room, which was very surprising to me. The lady, that seemed the most considerable among them, entreated me to sit by her, and would fain have undressed me for the bath. I excused myself with some difficulty. They being however all so earnest in persuading me, I was at last forced to open my shirt, and shew them my stays; which satisfied them very well; for, I saw, they believed I was locked up in that machine, and that it was not in my own power to open it, which contrivance they attributed to my husband.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Painting inspired by Lady Montagu’s book

I was charmed with their civility and beauty, and should have been very glad to pass more time with them; but Mr W—— resolving to pursue his journey next morning early, I was in haste to see the ruins of Justinian’s church, which did not afford me so agreeable a prospect as I had left, being little more than a heap of stones.

Adieu, madam, I am sure I have now entertained you with an account of such a sight as you never saw in your life, and what no book of travels could inform you of, as ’tis no less than death for a man to be found in one of these places.

Jean Etienne Lìotard – Portrait of Maria Adelaide of France in Turkish-style clothes

A Girl’s Will

I found this lovely short story published in 1920 in W. E. B. Du Bois’ children’s magazine. I hope you enjoy it.

A Girl’s Will

by Ella T. Madden

LONG the edge of a Southern forest, flows a stream called the Isle of Hope River. Void of the rush and hurry of youth, slowly, silently it flows, with an air of quiet serenity and infinite calm; along the edge of the wood, past the villages of Isle of Hope and Thunderbolt, it flows, until it is lost in the waters of the Atlantic, eighteen miles away.

In one of the weatherbeaten fisherman’s hub, which nestle under the branches of the great, gnarled, twisted, live oaks which grow along the river’s bank, lived Helen La Rose. As the keynote of the stream’s personality was repose, the most striking thing about Helen’s character was its deep unrest and consuming ambition, coupled with a high-minded, lofty idea of the infinite power of the human will.

It was the week of our graduation from Beach Institute. Helen and I were walking along the water’s edge, discussing our future with all the enthusiasm of sixteen. I could talk of nothing but the wonderful career I expected to have in college the next year, for my parents were “well-to-do,” and I was the only child. Suddenly, in the midst of my gay chatter, I stopped and looked at Helen,

“Oh, I’m so sorry you can’t go, too, Helen; what fun we would have together,” I burst out sorrowfully, for pretty, ambitious, Helen La Rose was very poor. Her father had all he could do to support his wife and seven children. Helen had paid her tuition at Beach by helping Mrs. Randolph before and after school and on Saturdays.

“But I am going to college,” said Helen, in her quiet voice. “I am going to college and I am going to become the greatest teacher that ever was, if I live long enough. Booker T. Washington worked his way through Hampton and Robert Dent is working his way and so did Mr. Ross. He told me so himself.”

“Yes, but they were all boys,” I said with emphasis.

“And I’m a girl,” replied Helen, “and as smart as any boy. Dad said so. Besides,” and her eyes grew large and deep and her voice tense, “I can do anything I want to, if I want to hard enough.”

The next week was commencement. Helen was “val,” and looked sweet and girlish in her cotton voile dress, fashioned by her own little brown, work-roughened fingers. For her eager face, lit up by the great eyes and a happy,— though rather tremulous—smile, did not require a fine toilette to make it attractive.

The weeks passed and I did not see, Helen again until the middle of July. We were sitting in my room and I had been showing some dresses I had bought.

“I am going to begin making my things next week,” said Helen, happily. “Daddy has let me keep all the money I have earned this summer and I have put it all in the savings bank. Just think, I have been working only nine weeks and I’ve saved forty dollars. I’ll make forty more between now and October and that will be enough for railroad fare and my first quarter’s tuition. Mrs. Randolph is going to give me a letter of recommendation to a friend of hers in Chicago and I know I’ll get work. Oh, I am so happy! And everybody is so good to me!” Helen danced around the room, hugging herself for very joy.

Early in August, Mrs. La Rose contracted malaria and died after a short illness. Mr. La Rose was heartbroken. There were six small children, ranging in age from three and a half to thirteen years. Quietly, unobtrusively, Helen took her mother’s place in the household. She did not allow even her father to realize what the sacrifice of her plans meant to her. She cooked and scrubbed and washed and ironed and cared for her swiftly aging father and little brothers and sisters with loving devotion. The little house was spick and span, the children happy and contented; and Mr. La Rose, grown suddenly old, became as calm and placid as the river that flowed past his door.

Four years passed and I received the degree of A. B. and soon after was appointed teacher of English in the high school. I lost no time in looking up my old school chum and telling her of my good fortune. She met me with a glad cry of welcome and rejoice in her old, frank, exuberant way over my success. But after the first few moments of greeting, I could not help noticing the change in her appearance.

Her figure had grown thin and old-maidish; and the brown cheeks had lost their soft roundness. The eyes, that had held such a marvelous vision of achievement and such undaunted hope in the future, were as deep and dark as ever; but in their depth brooded a wistfulness and a poignant unrest that made me catch my breath, for there came to me a vague realization of the story those eyes told. Bitter must have been the battles waged between ambition and duty. Not a hint of this, however, was in her demeanor. There was not a trace of self-pity or jealousy in her manner as we talked of the past and the present and drew bright pictures of the future.

Then Mary, Helen’s eighteen-year old sister, finished high school. Mary was not studious and had no desire to go to college.

“Now,” I said to myself. “Mary will take charge of the house and the younger children and Helen can have her chance. It is no more than right.” But I reckoned without my host. Six months after Mary’s graduation, she was engaged to be married.

The years flew by, swift as a bird on the wing, and Helen’s young charges grew to young manhood and womanhood. Mr. La Rose was dead. The baby was in his senior year at Howard University. Tom was in the mail service and Rose was the happy mistress of her own home. Helen, at thirty-five, was free to live her own life. I went to see her one bright sunny morning in June and found her sitting under her favorite oak tree, her hands lying idly in her lap, her eyes looking off across the water. She greeted me with a happy smile and a humorous glance of her fine eyes.

“Elise, do you remember our old saying, ‘You can do anything you want to, if you want to hard enough?’ I am going to college in the autumn!”

How To Victorian Maid Servant

Emily Augusta Patmore wrote accounts of her servants behaving badly in her 1859 book The Servant’s Behaviour Book; or, Hints on Manners and Dress for Maid Servants in Small Households so that others could learn from the mistakes of awkward Anna and uncouth Lucy. Thinking of your sensibilities, dear readers, I did not include these sections. However, I would like to believe that if I were in Patmore’s employment, she would have dedicated an entire chapter to me. It could be titled “Words and Hand Gestures Unbecoming A Maid.”

Patmore and her husband socialized with the Pre-Raphaelites, and Wikipedia describes her as one of their muses. While Patmore’s sisters and nieces would go on to become active suffragists, Patmore believed a woman’s sphere was in the home. Here’s a revealing passage that hints at Patmore’s character:

Ladies have been educated in a very different manner to you. They have read many books, have travelled and seen many sights, talked with educated people, and know a great number of things about which you know nothing. It is not likely that you can have anything to say that will amuse or interest a lady. When she talks to you, it is in kindness, and all the pleasure of the talk is on your side. She talks down to your understanding and knowledge, as you do to the understanding and knowledge of a young child, who does not know a hundredth part of what you know. Were you to listen to the conversation of your mistress with her friends, it would often be very dull to you, because the talk would be of books, people, and events of which you have never heard, and would consist of many words you would not understand. Just as their conversation would be dull to you from its cleverness, so is yours dull to your mistress from its simplicity. Many things that appear to you witty and full of fun, would in no way amuse your mistress, but would seem as dull to her as a child’s wit to you. When a child throws down a doll, and says, “How funny!” you see no fun, but laugh to please the child; and so the joke that is too clever for the child amuses you, but has no fun in it to the lady whose understanding is much beyond yours. I had a servant once who took every opportunity of repeating to me the jokes of the tradesmen and her friends. Some of them seemed to me only coarse, and others stupid; and I never felt the least amused by any one of them, but only annoyed by the liberty she took in occupying my time with such nonsense. Yet perhaps she thought to entertain me.

There is sometimes a mistress rich but ill educated. Such a mistress is almost sure to make companions of her servants, because her knowledge and ideas are nearer on a level with theirs. But a sensible girl will with just cause respect most, and like best to serve, the lady whose superior knowledge puts a natural barrier between them. In any case, a servant must rank below her mistress. How much more pleasant it is to give place to one who is really, and at all times, your superior, than to a natural equal, raised by the accident of possessing more money!

Emily Augusta Patmore by John Everett Millais

Now that we’ve clarified our stations in life, let’s get on with our Victorian Maid Servant training…

Maid with a Dachshund in her arms at an outside tap, anonymous, c. 1900 – c. 1910

ever let your voice be heard by the ladies and gentlemen of the house except when necessary, and then as little as possible.

This piece of advice cannot be too well remembered. It is needed by almost all young girls on their first entering service, and great is the annoyance thus caused to their employers. Every girl who wishes to live in a gentleman’s family must learn, sooner or later, to keep guard over her tongue, and it is best to begin at once, before her neglect has called upon her the reproofs of the family.

Never begin to talk to your mistress, unless it be to deliver a message, or ask a necessary question. Even then, do it as shortly as possible.

I need scarcely tell you never to speak when you go in to take up coals, lay a cloth, sweep up crumbs, or dust, or to do anything else in a room where a lady or gentleman may be sitting, either alone or with others.

There is, however, one little distinction to be made between your mistress and any other lady. There may be many things you need to ask or to tell your mistress, and when there is something necessary to say, there can be no harm in speaking; but it should be done in a respectful way; not while you are kneeling to sweep, or laying a cloth, but when you have done your work in the room, standing by the door, as I shall tell you by and by. It is also better to speak on any domestic matter when your mistress may chance to be in the kitchen—or even in her bedroom, if you can manage it—rather than when she is in the drawing-room. In the kitchen or bedroom she is more likely to have her thoughts disengaged, and at liberty to attend to domestic concerns; but many occasions will arise when you will need to see your mistress without waiting for such an opportunity, and you will then be obliged to go in to her, and it will not signify much, provided you remember to stay as short a time as possible. You should, in such a case, go in and shut the door, standing by it, and it will be well to begin by saying, “I beg your pardon, ma’am, but will you be so kind as to tell me—” Do not fancy that any lady will think this strange, or stare at you for saying it. It is only common civility. The girls I have with me now, always beg my pardon, or use some such words of apology, if they come in and speak to me unasked. I did not tell them to do so, but they are well behaved, respectful servants, and they feel that it is proper to show me this consideration. If you feel shy at using these words of apology, you may still enter and speak in a gentle and respectful manner which shows you are sensible of intruding, a manner which implies an apology. If your mistress should be with company, it is still less desirable to interrupt her; yet there are cases where even this must be done—but they are very seldom. In such a case you should merely say at the door, “Can I speak to you, ma’am?” and your mistress will come out. No questions must be asked before strangers.

Never talk to another servant, or person of your own rank, or to a child, in the presence of your mistress, unless from necessity; and then do it as shortly  as possible, and in a low voice.

When I say ” a low voice,” I do not mean a whisper, which would be worse than the loudest voice, but an undertone.

Nothing can be more ill-bred, than for two servants to laugh and talk in their mistress’ presence…

The same rule applies to children, and to any person of your own station, as a laundress or a charwoman, who may chance to speak to you freely when ladies are present … Children are often very troublesome in talking to servants when they are laying a cloth, sweeping up crumbs, &c. Sometimes, if a child says, ” Look at this, I” or, ” Oh, Mary, mamma has given me this!” you may nod and smile; but if questions are asked you by children, or a long story told, the best way is to appear not to hear. The child will probably receive a check from some one in the room, and will, in any case, soon learn that it is of no use to speak to you at such times. You may also yourself, when alone with the child, ask him not to talk to you when ladies and gentlemen are in the room, saying that you do not like to disturb them by talking yourself.

A nursemaid, when in the nursery, may be much more free in speaking to children with the lady present, as it is understood then that her business is to attend to them ; but her own good sense will show her that she should still say but little, and defer all stories, songs, and noises to the baby, ’till her mistress is gone; and that though she may answer questions, or speak to the children, she should do so in a quiet voice, and keep as much as she can in the background, leaving her mistress to enjoy the company of the children undisturbed.

Never talk to a fellow-servant, a person op your own rank, or a child, in a passage or hall, a staircase, or any such place, unless strictly necessary, and then in an undertone, and as little as possible.

If two servants meet, or are at work together, on a staircase or landing, or any place from which their voices may be heard in adjoining rooms—as under windows, in anterooms, &c, they should never converse. It is excessively annoying to those who are in the house to hear a hum of voices, and still worse, should the talking be nearer, to hear the conversation. When it is necessary to speak in such places, it should be in a low voice and few words. No rule is more often neglected than this by common servants, and no rule more strictly observed by servants accustomed to good places.

In a small house, where the kitchen is within hearing of the sitting rooms, be careful to shut the door before you begin to talk; and even then, avoid loud talking and laughing, as the murmur of it goes through the walls, and is very annoying to the family.

In a small house, remember also not to talk to friends or tradesmen at the street-doors. On opening to a friend who is coming in, say only, “How do you do?” or some few words, and save all talk till you are in the kitchen, and the door is shut. Never go along the hall and stairs talking.

Never call out from one room to another.

It is sometimes very tiresome to be obliged to run up two or three flights of stairs to speak to or call down a fellow-servant or child; but there is no help for it; there must absolutely be no calling: the nuisance of it would be intolerable. If talking on the stairs is bad, calling is a hundred times worse.


Always answer when you receive an order or reproof.

When you are told to do anything, never omit to say, “Yes, ma’am,” or “sir,” in a voice that may be heard. If you do not answer, it may be supposed that you have not heard the order; or what is worse, it may be thought you are unwilling to obey. It is a common thing for ill-behaved and ill-tempered girls to give no answer to an order that they dislike; and it is natural, therefore, for a lady to attribute silence, in answer to a troublesome order, to ill-temper.

It is even more important to make answer to a reproof, as here you may the more easily be suspected of ill-temper. A civil answer generally puts an end to the anger of the person reproving. A girl who replies in an amiable way, “I am very sorry, ma’am, and will be more careful next time,” or whatever else may be suitable (provided that the words are sincere), does her best to mend her fault. Supposing that your temper is too irritable for you to command yourself enough to say so much, you can still say a word or two; as, “Yes, ma’am;” “l am very sorry, ma’am,”—to show that you have heard and understood. Silence at such a time is rude, ill-tempered, and likely to provoke more reproof.

A servant’s voice should never be heard by the ladies and gentlemen of the house, except when necessary, and then as little as possible.

Never speak to a lady or gentleman without saying, “sir,” “ma’am,” or “miss,” as the case may be.

In some houses, the lady will like you to say “Sir” or ” Miss” to the children; but in others this is not done. Most ladies allow the servants to call the children “Dear,” or by their names, in speaking to them. I think, if you are not directed what to do in this respect, you will be safe in saying ” Sir” or ” Miss” to those who are old or well-behaved enough to treat you civilly, as the grown-up ladies and gentlemen do, and “Dear” to those who romp and play with you like children.

Whatever you may call the children, in speaking to them, always speak of them as ” Master John,” “Miss Julia,” and so on; except to the other children, to whom you may say ” John,” “Julia,” &c. Even should the lady or gentleman say to you, “Tell John to come in,” you should still answer, “Master John is in, sir.” Of course, a mere infant will be called ” Baby;” but, however young this ” Baby” may be when another comes to take the name, the elder baby must be called ” Miss ” or ” Master,” when spoken about.

In some houses, the servants call the lady and gentleman of the house “My master” and ” My mistress;” in others, “Mr. Smith” and “Mrs. Smith,” or by whatever may be the surname. I would advise you in this matter to follow the custom of the house you are in. You are most likely to be in families where the first mode of speaking is adopted; but whichever title you may give your master and mistress, in speaking of them, be sure you never address them by a surname; as, “Thank you, Mr. Smith.” This would sound very rude. The simple ” Sir” and “Ma’am “—of which we have before spoken—is always the right word to use in speaking to a lady or gentleman.

I need scarcely tell you that you should never speak of any lady or gentleman, whether friends of your mistress or not, without saying “Mr.” or ” Mrs.” before the name. It is sometimes a habit with tradesmen and others, for quickness, to say, ” Up at Green’s,” ” Over at Turner’s,” &c., in speaking of gentlemen’s houses; but this sounds very unbecoming in a servant.

Never talk to another servant, or person of your own rank, or to a child, in the presence of your mistress, unless from necessity; and then do it as shortly as possible, and in a low voice.

When I say ” a low voice,” I do not mean a whisper, which would be worse than the loudest voice, but an undertone.

Nothing can be more ill-bred, than for two servants to laugh and talk in their mistress’ presence.

Always move gently.

You must never run up and down stairs, unless, perhaps, you can trip down very lightly; but no one can run up lightly enough. However lightly you may go down, it should never be fast enough to make it difficult to stop, or to make it possible for you to knock against anyone at a corner. Your step should never be heard, either on the stairs or elsewhere. Never rush in haste to the letter-box, or go anywhere, or for any purpose at more than a gentle pace.

Always stand still and keep your hands before you, or at your sides, when you are speaking or being spoken to.

This is always a great trouble with a young girl on entering service. When speaking, or being spoken to, she does not know what to do with her hands, how to stand, or how to look.

Woman sitting at a table while a maid pours tea.
Woman sitting at a table while a maid pours tea.  

If you begin by standing quietly, and holding your hands before you, or at your side, or one before you and one at your side, or, when answering the bell, one on the door-handle, there will be nothing to call attention to your position, and you will escape being scrutinized.

It is common to tell servants to meet the eye of their mistress, and look in her face while speaking to, or being spoken to by, her; but it is better not to stare the whole time in a lady’s face, but to look down occasionally, and look up on answering, or from time to time; indeed, to do what seems natural, which a continual stare does not.

On answering the bell, you should generally shut the door, and stand close to it while receiving your order. If no one notices you, stand till your mistress looks round. If she is alone, or not talking, you may say, “Did you ring, ma’am?” but if she is talking, you must wait, be it ever so long, till she has done. It is not likely, however, that you will ever have to wait more than a minute or two, as some one in the room will be sure to see you, if the mistress does not, and to call her attention to you.

There are some cases where it is better to walk up to your mistress’ side, as when she is making tea in a room full of company, or at any other time when you feel that she would not like to speak across the room, or when you have something to say which it is better to say in a low voice. Your own sense must guide you in this.

Sometimes you may be doing something by your mistress’ side, giving her a light, for example, to seal a letter, and she may say to you, “Wait a few moments, and you shall take this.” In such a case you should walk to the door and stand there: but this need not be done unless you will have to wait some moments, as in giving a baby to say “Good night” to its parents, or waiting for a letter to be directed and sealed. In giving a teapot for tea to be put in, or anything else that will only occupy the time that you would take in walking to the door and back again, it is better to stand by the side of the person on whom you are waiting. This is another matter in which you must exercise your own judgment. Even the size of the room makes some difference in the cases where it is proper to go to the door.

If, while you are walking to or from the door, anyone should speak to you, stand still, whereever you may be, turn your face round to the speaker, and remain in the same place till the speaking is over.

by Édouard Menta (not Victorian … but I loved it, so…)

If you join with the family in prayer, always sit close by the side of the door, or if the furniture is so placed as not to allow of this, go as near as you can to the door. Where there are more servants than one, it is usual for the youngest to sit nearest to the door, the next eldest, or next in position after her, and so on, the upper servant sitting furthest from the door: sometimes two servants sit one on each side of the door.

If a kind master or mistress should say, on a cold night, “Come further up, Mary; do not sit just in the draught of the door;” still be careful not to seem to join the family, but go only a little higher. Never draw your chair away from the wall.

The same may be said of any occasion upon which you may enter a lady’s room; as taking a child to see a friend of the family, visiting an old mistress, &c. Excepting in the case of family prayer, you would, however, of course stand up on the entrance of the lady, and sit only at her bidding: and even at prayers, you should not sit at once, unless the ladies and gentlemen are seated when you enter, but stand before your chair till all are seated, and then sit unbidden.

Always stand up when a lady or gentle man comes into the room in which you are.

This rule has, however, some exceptions. If you are at work, and your mistress comes in merely to fetch something, without noticing you, it is scarcely necessary to rise, though were she to have strangers with her it would be well to do so, and to remain standing till they went out, or bid you be seated.

If your mistress comes in, alone or not, and speaks to you, always get up, and stand till she has done speaking: you may then sit down, but not, remember, till she has done speaking to you. I am supposing that, having done speaking, she stays in the room to speak to somebody else, or to do something after having done speaking to you. Should she speak to you again, it is civil to rise again on answering; but there is no need to do this if she speaks again without turning her head to look at you. Should your mistress seldom visit your rooms, I would advise you to rise each time, on her speaking to you, or to stand all the while she is in the room; but if you are one of only two servants, or an only servant, so that your mistress is often in your rooms, she will not expect you to do more than rise on her entering, and stand till she has done speaking the first time, and then sit, without rising again.

Three servants. http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.494762

If you are kneeling down to clean a stove, or sweep, and your mistress comes to speak to you, it will generally be enough to leave off workingand rise half up, on your knees. A mistress who is thrown with you often will not expect more, as getting up, and leaving off your work, would be too great a hindrance: you should, however, do this to a visitor in’ the house, or to your mistress entering with strangers.

A nurserymaid, whose mistress is much in the nursery with her, will of course rise, and give up her chair to her mistress, or place one for her; but she may then sit down again unbidden, at a respectful distance, not on the opposite side of the fire, or at the same table. If her mistress enters the nursery, and begins at once to play, standing, with the children, or goes to a cupboard or the window, so not needing a chair, the nurse may sit still: but should she be occupying the chief seat in the room, which she may always do in her mistress’ absence, she must be sure to give it up at the slightest sign of the lady’s intending to remain and sit down.

Should you ever be required to walk with a lady or gentleman, to carry a baby or a parcel, always keep a few paces behind.

When you open the street-door, do not stand behind it, so that the person at the door has to come quite in before seeing you.

In meeting a lady or gentleman on the stairs, if you are but a step or two up, go back and stand on the landing to give room. If you are too far up for this, stand on one side. Always remember, in meeting, to retire and make way, or to stand aside.

In entering a room to deliver a message, or speak to your mistress, observe the same rule as in answering the bell. In most cases it will be right to shut the door and stand beside it; but when other people are present, and the message is intended only for the lady, go up to her side and speak. Here you must judge for yourself.

In opening the door to a double knock, or ring of the visitors’ bell, be very careful that you are neat. If an only servant, you should ask your mistress to let you have a little looking-glass in the kitchen, that you may glance at your face and hair before going to open the door. It takes but a minute to smooth down a few stray hairs, or wipe off an accidental smut, and it makes a great difference in the notion given to a stranger, of the house, to see a servant without these disfigurements. It is well to have a white apron always at hand, which you may tie on as you are going up stairs, so that very little time need be occupied in these preparations; but should they make such delay as to oblige the visitor to knock twice, even that will be better than going up untidy.

When you open the door you should not speak, for the visitor will do so. Should the person be ever so well dressed, and yet ask only for “your mistress,” or “the lady of the house,” do not ask such a one into a room where there is anything valuable. The hall, if there is no common room at hand, is the best place for those who do not ask for your master or mistress by name. Well-dressed impostors are constantly calling at houses, with the design of pilfering while left alone in the drawing-room; and any friend of your mistress is sure to ask for her by name —”Is Mrs. So-and-so at home?” To any one asking thus, you will say, “Yes, ma’am,” or ” Sir, will you walk in?” The visitor may perhaps say, “No,” and only leave a card or message, and go away. In this case, keep the door open a little while; it is rude to shut it immediately.

If the visitor comes in, you should then ask, “What name shall I say, sir?” or ” ma’am?” and having carefully listened to the name, walk before to the room into which you have been directed to show visitors; should the room be empty, throw open the door, and let the visitor pass you into the room; then shut the door, and go up to tell your mistress who is come. If there are persons in the room to which you take the visitor, you should open the door wide, go just inside, and say the visitor’s name, then stand on one side, let the visitor pass in, and shut the door as before.

Here I must particularly warn you against a common fault of inexperienced servants. All young girls who announce visitors for the first time, are apt to say more than the name. Mary, the first time she opened the door to two gentlemen, came smiling into the room, as if she had a great treat in store for me, and said, in an excited voice, “If you please, ma’am, there are two friends come to see you!” Other servants have said, “If you please, ma’am, Mrs. Thornton wants to speak to you” “If you please, ma’am, here is Mr. and Miss Smith come.” Nothing of the sort is needed. There is one way of announcing visitors in every house; it is by simply opening the door, standing on one side and saying the name or names—no “if you please,” and even no “ma’am,” or “sir,” is to be used on this occasion—say only “Mrs. Thornton,”—”Mr. and Miss Smith,” and then stand back. If the visitor is just behind you, stand on one side, Inside the drawing-room door; but if there is plenty of time, without pushing the visitor, when you have said the name, go Outside the door and stand aside while waiting to shut it.

You will then go again to your work, taking care, however, not to soil your hands till the visitor is gone. The bell may ring for you to take up wine and cake, or for some other purpose; but it is sure to ring at last, for you to open the door. If, on going up, you find the visitor leaving, you will know it was for that you were called, and will walk at once to the door, hold it open till the visitor passes out, and then shut it, as I said before, slowly.


When visitors are expected to dinner or tea, it will be a little different. On opening the door, nothing will be said; for as they were invited, the visitors will, of course, know that your mistress is at home. Should it be a gentleman, you will help him to take off and hang up his coat and hat, and then ask his name: “What name, sir?” As new names are sometimes very difficult to catch, it is a good plan to repeat the name, that you may be sure you have heard it. I make a practice of telling the servant beforehand what names she will have to announce; and perhaps your mistress will not object to doing this, if you ask her; at any rate, to telling any names that may be difficult and quite new to you.

When you know the name—we will suppose it is “Mr. Elliott”—walk before the gentleman to the drawing-room, throw open the door, and stand against it, just inside the room, allowing the gentleman to pass in, while you say, in a clear and rather loud voice, “Mr. Elliott.” You need not now say “sir” or “ma’am,” because you are not speaking to your master or mistress, but merely calling the name out for all the room to hear.

We will now suppose the visitor to be a lady. You will then, on opening the door, ask, “Will you walk up stairs, ma’am?” If the lady says “No,” you will assist her with her shawl or cloak, and announce her exactly as you did the gentleman. Should she say, “Yes,” you will carry a candle before her to the bedroom, and go in with her to offer assistance in any toilet arrangements she may have to make. Should she decline your help, it is best to leave the room, and wait outside, or at the foot of the stairs, that you may be ready to take her candle, show her into the drawing-room, and announce her name, as with the others.

If you are an only servant, and a bell rings while you are with or waiting for the lady, you must, of course, go down; but you should still be on the watch, and take care to.be up in time to show the lady into the drawing-room.

When a gentleman and lady come together, and the lady wishes to arrange her dress, you will show the gentleman at once to the drawing-room, and then take the lady upstairs. Sometimes the gentleman will choose to wait in the hall till the lady comes down; you have only then to remember not to leave him in the dark. Both in this case, will be announced together. There will be no difficulty about which name to say first, as you will say them in whatever order they are told you; as, “Mr. and Mrs. Layton,” or “Mrs. Layton and Mr. John Layton.”

Never take a small thing into the room in your hand. Letters, money, small parcels, a glass, spoon, knife, reel of cotton, folded pocket handkerchief, or any small thing, should be handed on a little tray, silver or not, kept for the purpose. A large parcel, a book so large as to look awkward on the letter-tray, a plate, and all larger things, may be given in the hand. Things handed on a tray should be left for the lady or gentleman to take up, and never lifted from the tray by the servant and given in the hand. Sometimes, when the lady or gentleman does not offer to take it, the servant may take it up and put it down on the table beside the person; but never give it with the hand, or the tray might as well not have been used. Sometimes, in fetching a bunch of keys from another part of the room, or picking up a small thing dropped, a tray may not be at hand, on which to give it; in such a case, do not offer to give it into the lady or gentleman’s hands, but lay it down at the side of the person to whom you are giving it.

Breakfast-Time by Hanna Hirsch-Pauli

Some young servants are puzzled, when taking up food on a tray, to know when a tray-cloth should be used. I think I can give you a simple and sufficient rule. Put a tray-cloth on the tray whenever a cloth would be put on the table to a larger meal of the same food.

You are to take up a mutton-chop with a cloth, because any meal of meat would be laid on a tablecloth. For a cup of tea or coffee, with or without bread and butter, if before dinner, put a cloth, because it may be regarded as a kind of breakfast, and a cloth is spread at breakfast; for the same after dinner, put no cloth, because it may be regarded as tea, and no cloth is spread at tea. Broth, gruel, and the like, should have a cloth; wine, spirits, beer, &c., unless bread and butter not cut are with them, should have no cloth. When you are in doubt, put a cloth; for it is far better to put one unnecessarily, than to take a tray without one when it ought to be there,

If you think for a few minutes Why we ever tap at a door before entering, you will be able to judge, almost without my telling you, when it is proper to do so. We tap to avoid entering suddenly upon a person who may be engaged in, some way that may make our sudden entrance awkward.

It seems hardly credible that a young woman should be so thoughtless as to enter a bedroom in which any one is without tapping; but I have frequently known this to be done. Be sure you never make this mistake; the result may be as awkward to you as to the person inside. Even if the bell is rung, and you are thus expected to go up, yet you are not expected to enter. In answer to a bedroom-bell, you should always tap, and wait outside for the order. If you are told to take up water or anything else, tap again, and say, “The water, sir,” or “ma’am.” You will then be told, “Put it down,” or “Bring it in,” or perhaps the person inside may come and take it from you.

As a sitting-room may be regarded as public, there is no need to knock. Most young servants begin by knocking at every door; this is very tiresome, and quite without use.

Some ladies like the servants to tap at every door, if they go in without being called or rung for; and where this is the custom of the house, you will, of course, do so; but even then it is superfluous to knock in answering a bell or call, as your entrance is expected.

When you tap, do it with your knuckles; for the tap should be loud enough to be heard, without sounding rough and boisterous.

There are some cases, as in a long illness, where a bedroom becomes almost as public as a sitting-room. Here you should use your judgment about tapping. When three or four people are inside, you may be sure you may enter at once; if the invalid is alone, or with one nurse or friend, it is safer to tap. You had better tap twenty times too often than once too seldom.

Tea, Art, and Life

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura, published in 1906, is a joy to read. I’ve excerpted a few passages here with the desire to create a little cyber tea room where you can escape for a few minutes in your busy day. The text is paired with a series of woodblock prints by Mizuno Toshikata from 1897. Enjoy!

Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane. The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers could meet to drink from the common spring of art-appreciation. The ceremony was an improvised drama whose plot was woven about the tea, the flowers, and the paintings. Not a colour to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed simply and naturally—such were the aims of the tea-ceremony. And strangely enough it was often successful. A subtle philosophy lay behind it all. Teaism was Taoism in disguise.

Again the roji, the garden path which leads from the machiai to the tea-room, signified the first stage of meditation,—the passage into self-illumination. The roji was intended to break connection with the outside world, and produce a fresh sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked in the twilight of evergreens over the regular irregularities of the stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles, and passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, became uplifted above ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and din of civilisation. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the tea-masters in producing these effects of serenity and purity. The nature of the sensations to be aroused in passing through the roji differed with different tea-masters. Some, like Rikiu, aimed at utter loneliness, and claimed the secret of making a roji was contained in the ancient ditty:

          “I look beyond;

          Flowers are not,

          Nor tinted leaves.

          On the sea beach

          A solitary cottage stands

          In the waning light

          Of an autumn eve.”

Others, like Kobori-Enshiu, sought for a different effect. Enshiu said the idea of the garden path was to be found in the following verses:

          “A cluster of summer trees,

          A bit of the sea,

          A pale evening moon.”

It is not difficult to gather his meaning. He wished to create the attitude of a newly awakened soul still lingering amid shadowy dreams of the past, yet bathing in the sweet unconsciousness of a mellow spiritual light, and yearning for the freedom that lay in the expanse beyond.

Thus prepared the guest will silently approach the sanctuary, and, if a samurai, will leave his sword on the rack beneath the eaves, the tea-room being preeminently the house of peace. Then he will bend low and creep into the room through a small door not more than three feet in height. This proceeding was incumbent on all guests,—high and low alike,—and was intended to inculcate humility. The order of precedence having been mutually agreed upon while resting in the machiai, the guests one by one will enter noiselessly and take their seats, first making obeisance to the picture or flower arrangement on the tokonoma. The host will not enter the room until all the guests have seated themselves and quiet reigns with nothing to break the silence save the note of the boiling water in the iron kettle. The kettle sings well, for pieces of iron are so arranged in the bottom as to produce a peculiar melody in which one may hear the echoes of a cataract muffled by clouds, of a distant sea breaking among the rocks, a rainstorm sweeping through a bamboo forest, or of the soughing of pines on some faraway hill.

Even in the daytime the light in the room is subdued, for the low eaves of the slanting roof admit but few of the sun’s rays. Everything is sober in tint from the ceiling to the floor; the guests themselves have carefully chosen garments of unobtrusive colors. The mellowness of age is over all, everything suggestive of recent acquirement being tabooed save only the one note of contrast furnished by the bamboo dipper and the linen napkin, both immaculately white and new. However faded the tea-room and the tea-equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean. Not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if any exists the host is not a tea-master. One of the first requisites of a tea-master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting. … Dripping water from a flower vase need not be wiped away, for it may be suggestive of dew and coolness.

In this connection there is a story of Rikiu which well illustrates the ideas of cleanliness entertained by the tea-masters. Rikiu was watching his son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden path. “Not clean enough,” said Rikiu, when Shoan had finished his task, and bade him try again. After a weary hour the son turned to Rikiu: “Father, there is nothing more to be done. The steps have been washed for the third time, the stone lanterns and the trees are well sprinkled with water, moss and lichens are shining with a fresh verdure; not a twig, not a leaf have I left on the ground.” “Young fool,” chided the tea-master, “that is not the way a garden path should be swept.” Saying this, Rikiu stepped into the garden, shook a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson leaves, scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikiu demanded was not cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.

True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the incomplete. The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities for growth. In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total effect in relation to himself. Since Zennism has become the prevailing mode of thought, the art … has purposefully avoided the symmetrical as expressing not only completion, but repetition. Uniformity of design was considered fatal to the freshness of imagination. Thus, landscapes, birds, and flowers became the favorite subjects for depiction rather than the human figure, the latter being present in the person of the beholder himself. We are often too much in evidence as it is, and in spite of our vanity even self-regard is apt to become monotonous.

In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence. The various objects for the decoration of a room should be so selected that no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea-caddy of black lacquer. In placing a vase of an incense burner on the tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in the exact centre, lest it divide the space into equal halves. The pillar of the tokonoma should be of a different kind of wood from the other pillars, in order to break any suggestion of monotony in the room.

The tea-master deems his duty ended with the selection of the flowers, and leaves them to tell their own story. Entering a tea-room in late winter, you may see a slender spray of wild cherries in combination with a budding camellia; it is an echo of departing winter coupled with the prophecy of spring. Again, if you go into a noon-tea on some irritatingly hot summer day, you may discover in the darkened coolness of the tokonoma a single lily in a hanging vase; dripping with dew, it seems to smile at the foolishness of life.

A solo of flowers is interesting, but in a concerto with painting and sculpture the combination becomes entrancing. Sekishiu once placed some water-plants in a flat receptacle to suggest the vegetation of lakes and marshes, and on the wall above he hung a painting by Soami of wild ducks flying in the air. Shoha, another tea-master, combined a poem on the Beauty of Solitude by the Sea with a bronze incense burner in the form of a fisherman’s hut and some wild flowers of the beach. One of the guests has recorded that he felt in the whole composition the breath of waning autumn.

Flower stories are endless. We shall recount but one more. In the sixteenth century the morning-glory was as yet a rare plant with us. Rikiu had an entire garden planted with it, which he cultivated with assiduous care. The fame of his convulvuli reached the ear of the Taiko, and he expressed a desire to see them, in consequence of which Rikiu invited him to a morning tea at his house. On the appointed day Taiko walked through the garden, but nowhere could he see any vestige of the convulvulus. The ground had been leveled and strewn with fine pebbles and sand. With sullen anger the despot entered the tea-room, but a sight waited him there which completely restored his humour. On the tokonoma, in a rare bronze of Sung workmanship, lay a single morning-glory—the queen of the whole garden!

In such instances we see the full significance of the Flower Sacrifice. Perhaps the flowers appreciate the full significance of it. They are not cowards, like men. Some flowers glory in death—certainly the Japanese cherry blossoms do, as they freely surrender themselves to the winds. Anyone who has stood before the fragrant avalanche at Yoshino or Arashiyama must have realized this. For a moment they hover like bejewelled clouds and dance above the crystal streams; then, as they sail away on the laughing waters, they seem to say: “Farewell, O Spring! We are on to eternity.”