“Mr. Miller, our caretaker, will get your bags for you,” Victor said, motioning toward the front door where an elderly man hustled down the entry steps.
“Thank you,” Ruby said, popping the trunk. Then she took her backpack and nursing bag from the backseat and closed the car door.
Mr. Miller, dressed in khaki twill work pants and a matching long-sleeve shirt approached. He stopped in front of Ruby and respectfully bowed. “May I get your luggage, madam?”
Ruby was pleasantly surprised by the gentleman’s formality. She was not used to being treated with such politeness. Typically, she would be schlepping the heavy bags herself. Mr. Miller avoided eye contact as he waited for her response. She did not want to make the frail looking man carry her suitcases, but he seemed happy to assist. “Thank you, Mr. Miller. They’re in the trunk.”
Mr. Miller’s shoulders rounded forward as he carried Ruby’s belongings back to the house where two women stood at the open door. One of them had to be Lady Beth, Ruby thought. The older woman had her gray hair pulled up in a bun, and her knee-length dress looked formal and business-like on her grandmotherly frame. Next to her stood a middle-aged woman with black hair, streaked with gray, pulled tightly under a white bonnet. Her shin-length black dress and white apron made it clear she was the maid. Neither were smiling.
Ruby stood next to Victor as they followed Mr. Miller, who moved past the two women at the door with Ruby’s belongings. They stopped at the entrance.
“This is my mother, Lady Beth Vrolok,” Victor said, gesturing with an open hand.
“Hello,” Ruby said, smiling.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Rush,” Lady Beth said, still standing in the doorway as she seemed to scrutinize Ruby with a critical eye. “I trust your trip was uneventful.”
“It was,” Ruby said, hoping she was making a good first impression. “It was a beautiful day to ride the ferry over to the island.”
“And this is Mrs. Reinhardt, our housemaid,” Victor said, as the woman bowed just as Mr. Miller had.
“Nice to meet you,” Ruby said, not sure whether she was supposed to bow back or merely nod. She would need to get a book on etiquette if the formality continued.
“Please, come in,” Lady Beth said, finally stepping away from the door. “We have many items to discuss. Please follow me into the little parlor.”
Ruby walked inside and stopped in the central passage, shocked by the elegant interior. Past the paneled walls was an open staircase, that apparently reached up through the two floors above, ending in the cupola. The doorways to the rooms around the foyer had broken pediments of the Tuscan order. It seemed more like a museum than a place where people lived. But then, she thought, there were no children, as far as she knew, in the house.
“Are you coming, Ms. Rush?” Victor said, turning to look at her.
Oh, how embarrassing. She was acting like a child who had just walked into a carnival, admiring the colorful lights, spinning rides, and carny game booths full of huge stuffed animals and cheap toys.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Ruby said, following them into the first room on the right.
“Please, have a seat, Ms. Rush,” Lady Beth said, motioning for Ruby to sit at the round table across from her. “Victor will take your backpack and bag.”
Victor helped Ruby remove the backpack and took the nursing bag from her hand. “I will put these in your room, if you don’t mind.”
“No, that’s fine,” Ruby said, sitting down in front of a small notebook placed on the table in front of her.
“Would you care for some tea, Ms. Rush?” Lady Beth asked.
“Yes, that would be fine.”
“I’ll prepare the tea,” Mrs. Reinhardt said, with an accent that was different than the British she had been hearing. It must be German, she thought.
“If you don’t mind,” Lady Beth began. “I would like to go over the rules of the house and your nursing duties. First, the notebook in front of you, and the one in your room, have everything spelled out, but I will give you an overview.”
“Sure, that sounds good,” Ruby said, opening the notebook.
“We are all happy to have you here to help care for my husband, Lord Andrei Vrolok. So that there is no misunderstanding, we are to be addressed as Lady Beth and Lord Andrei. Mrs. Reinhardt is to be addressed as such, and she will be the person to whom you should direct your questions and concerns. She will show you the parts of the house where you are allowed and instruct you in the areas you are restricted from visiting.”
“Okay,” Ruby said, feeling more like a stranger than before. “I’ll certainly respect your wishes.”
“That is critical,” Lady Beth said. “We are a private family, as I am sure you are aware, and will not tolerate disrespect of any sort.”
“Mr. Miller is our handyman, and he can help if something is not to your satisfaction in your room.”
Ruby flipped a page in the notebook. Handwritten rules were inside plastic sleeves and were legible for the most part.
“The notebook you are looking at will need to be left here, in the house, when you leave.”
Ruby looked up as Mrs. Reinhardt returned with a tray of tea, milk, and sugar. She poured them each a cup from the pot and stood by the table.
“Is there anything else?” Mrs. Reinhardt asked, clasping her hands in front of her prim white apron.
“Not at this time,” Lady Beth said, adding a scant spoonful of sugar to her cup of tea. “I will ring for you when it is time to show Ms. Rush around.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Mrs. Reinhardt walked out of the room.
Lady Beth sipped her tea and then said, “Your agency highly recommended you for this position. We are rather particular, and they assured me that you were professional and would obey our rules.”
Ruby looked at the painted violets, on delicate stems, adorning the cups and teapot, thinking, for only a moment, she wished it was the Styrofoam cup of iced tea she had at Inky Fest the other day. She picked up the fragile looking gold-rimmed cup, sipped, and then said, “I have no problem following the rules that you have and giving . . . Lord Andrei good care.” Ruby was not used to addressing anyone as lord or lady. It made her feel as though she were a child again, playing house.
They spent the next fifteen minutes going over the pages in the policies and procedures—for lack of better words—in the notebook. Supper is always served at six and Patty would be around to care for Lord Andrei from six in the morning until six in the evening. Time off for either Patty or herself would be at the discretion of Mrs. Reinhardt, mostly because she would be the one relieving them both. In other words, Ruby would be trapped in the mansion until she had permission to leave. That does not make finding Alan easy at all, she thought.
“There is a nursing record in our lord’s room where you can record the medicines, his blood sugar, oxygen level, and things like that. Mrs. Reinhardt will show you. Do you have any questions?”
Ruby finished the last of the tea in the tiny cup. “I don’t believe so. I think Mrs. Reinhardt will be able to answer any questions I do have.”
“Very well,” Lady Beth said. She picked up a hand bell that was sitting in the middle of the table and flicked her wrist a couple of times, causing the clapper inside the metal cup to send out loud high-pitched rings. Shortly after, Mrs. Reinhardt came into the room.
“Yes, my lady.”
“I am finished with Ms. Rush, could you please show her the bedchamber in which she will be staying and then introduce her to Lord Andrei?”
“Of course, I would be happy to,” Mrs. Reinhardt said, placing the tea set on the tray. “Would you please bring the notebook and follow me.”