The stained glass on the doors was green and gold laced with hints of red. No particular image was displayed, just the blocked and running colours. The doors themselves were a beautiful red wood carved with intricate lines.
These doors weren't the only pieces of art in the house. Almost every window was stained glass, some with pictures of food or flowers, some just a net of colour. Even the wine cellar had high up windows that glittered the floor with a stunning motley when the sun began to set.
My family all lived together in this big house. My parents and my two siblings, my uncle, his wife and their three children. We were considered high society by other in the community, and I suppose they were right. We had wealth, a nice house, we operated several charities.
We even took in boarders from time to time when they had nowhere else to go. The house was certainly large enough to accommodate. The dining room itself had an enormous table long enough to seat about fifty people but most nights it was just us.
One night, while we were all seated to dinner, there was a knock on the door. This wouldn't usually be out of the ordinary but it was pouring rain outside. I excused myself from the table from the table to answer the door.
As I came down the hall I could see the silhouettes of two people through the glass. One was tall and looked like he might be wearing a hat and the other was either short or hunched over. They appeared to be attempting to hold an umbrella but in the weather I doubted it would last long.
I opened the door and immediately let the pair inside out of the weather. They quickly came in and I noticed the taller man was Martin, a man I knew well. He ran the homeless shelter nearby and we often helped his organisation through donations, fundraising events and helping with the soup kitchens or repairs.
The woman next to him looked tired. She was in a dress that was wet at the bottom and had a few holes in the hem. Her coat was far too big for her and old by anyones standards. She wore a pair of shoes with a small square heel. These too were in disrepair.
"I'm sorry to barge in, Jessica, especially on this awful night" said Martin, putting down the bedraggled umbrella and removing his hat. "This is Helen" he gestured towards the woman and started fiddling with his hat. "It's just the shelter is full tonight.
I don't mean to impose but would you have any rooms available for the night? I'm sure I can find a more suitable arrangement by tomorrow". His request was not unusual, though we normally had more notice before receiving guests.
"Of course we have the room, it's no trouble at all. It's nice to meet you, Helen" I replied, offering my hand to Helen. She looked at me with a kind and thankful face and smiled. "Thankyou dear" she said "I won't be any trouble, though I think I'll need a wash if that's alright"
"Of course it's alright. I'll have someone run you a bath and then you can join us for dinner. Martin, everyones already seated in the dining room if you'd like to join us as well" "Thankyou Miss, that would be wonderful". He smiled, took off his coat and headed down to the dining room.
Helen looked around the foyer in wonder at the glass. "This way Helen" I said and I led her down the hall a ways to the bell service. I rang for Sophie, one of the maids, and once she arrived I sent Helen off with her to bathe before rejoining the group at the dining table.
The next morning was sunny and warm, as often happens after a storm. I got dressed and headed to the dining room for breakfast. To my surprise, Helen was serving brother and sister their breakfast, dressed in a white skirt and shirt with a pale blue apron, the uniform our staff wore.
"Good morning Helen" I said as I sat next to my sister, Adrian. "Good morning Miss" "Sophie's not well this morning" said Adrian "Helen has taken her place for the day and says she won't hear of us telling her 'no' after offering our hospitality" she turned back to her eggs and coffee.
"Well thank you Helen, that's very kind of you" I said and she nodded as she headed back to the kitchens.
By the end of the day Helen had been offered a job. She moved her belongings from the guest quarters to the servants wing with a smile and a skip in her step. My father called Martin to thank him for bringing Helen to us. Sophie sent in her resignation three days after Helen started work.
She stated her health had become of some concern and she wished to leave to spend more time with her family. Helen became part of the household, greeting everyone with a smile and a well-practiced curtsey. She waited on us at mealtimes, organized the kitchens and even helped us to dress for fancy occasions. After six months, we couldn't imagine life without her.
I came home late one night. Everyone had already headed off to bed so I went to the kitchens to make myself something to eat before turning in. As I walked toward the kitchen I heard voices coming from inside. "She's a bit strange I must say" "Did you hear she locks the cellar now? She doesn't own the wine!"
"Well thank God I had this bottle stashed under my bed then!" The two girls laughed at that. They fell silent as I knocked and walked through the door. It was Lacey and Genie, two of our younger members of staff. They were drinking a bottle of wine I recognized from the collection stored in the cellar.
They looked shocked to see me and Lacey tried to hide the bottle behind her back. "It's alright girls I'm just getting something to eat. Will you pour me a glass of that?" They hurried to the cupboards to get a glass and clumsily went about pouring the wine. "Pour another for yourselves, I'll sit up with you a while". They looked relieved, taking a breath each and sitting down at the island bench once more.
I sat down next to Genie with my sandwich supplies and Lacey handed me my glass. I took a sip and felt the liquid slide down my throat and calm me almost instantly. "So who are we talking about?" I asked as I buttered the bread. "Oh Miss, we didn't mean to speak ill of anyone" "That's alright, Lacey, we all need some gossip sometimes and I'd love to hear it".
Lacey looked across to Genie and she gave a subtle nod. Genie turned to me. "We were talking about Helen, Miss. She's a little... odd" "Odd?" I asked, cutting some tomato "I thought she got on fine with everyone. Though I only know one side of the story, I suppose"
"She's been doing some strange things Miss" said Lacey "she's taken to locking the cellar and does her own stock take of the wine. I know it's quite the collection but we've all been here for years and never had cause to lock it"
"She's really private too" Genie interjected "we all need our own space from time to time but unless she's working she's nowhere to be found and doesn't speak to anyone". I nodded, adding cheese. "That does seem a little strange, especially the locking of the wine cellar. Do you think I should say something?" Both girls shook their heads.
"She'd know we were talking about her and she has a temper on her. I don't think there's really anything to worry about Miss". "Alright but if anything changes be sure to let me know". My sandwich completed, I took my glass and plate and left to eat in my room.
The following night I headed down to the dining room. On my way I decided to go to the cellar and select a bottle of wine. Partly for a drink with dinner and partly to see if the girls had been right about it being locked. As I approached the door, it opened and Helen rushed out locking it behind her.
"Helen?" I called "is everything alright? You look flustered" "Oh Miss! Everythings fine, just fine. It's been a busy day is all" "Why are you locking the door?" "Oh" she seemed to collect her thoughts for a moment "I didn't want to alarm anyone Miss, but some of the wines been going missing. I've been locking it for safe keeping."
"Well, Helen, this needs to be reported my father. If anyone is stealing we need to know about it. Now, I just came by to fetch a bottle for dinner so if you'll kindly unlock the door" "Of course Miss I'll make a full report for Master Peter. I'll get the wine for you Miss. I wouldn't want you tripping down all those stairs and cracking open that lovely head of yours!" She turned and unlocked the door, giving me no chance to respond.
She turned and unlocked the door, giving me no chance to respond. She opened it only enough to fit through then closed it behind her with a snap. A minute later she appeared with a bottle of merlot and a smile across her face. As she shut the door a puff of air followed her out and I noticed it smelled strange.
"Thank you, Helen. Is there rot in one of the barrels again? It smells odd in there" "Oh yes, Miss. I've called Winston to come and remove it but he says he could be a few days. Now come along, dinner won't wait forever". I followed Helen into the dining room where everyone was seated. I took my place between Adrian and my brother Geordie, still holding the bottle of wine.
"Don't hog it!" said Geordie and Adrian grabbed the bottle out of my hands and poured the three of us a glass each. "Have we ever locked the cellar?" "I don't think so" said Adrian "it would prevent me from getting to the wine" she grinned. "Why is that; is it locked?"
"Yeah, some of the staff told me about it and I just caught Helen locking it as she came out. When I told her I was getting a bottle she went and got it herself and wouldn't let me down there. She said it was because someones been stealing wine" "That would actually be a tragedy" Geordie chimed in. He took a sip and shook his head. "Not a good year, that one".
Adrian looked at the bottle, confused. It should have been an excellent drop. She too, sipped at the cup. "Yeah that's got to be off or something. Try it"