New York City, Autumn, 1850
Cathlene watched the two women as they bustled about the large kitchen, waiting for her opportunity to sneak inside unnoticed. Her mouth watered at the array of aromas wafting out the open door. Her stomach growled with hunger. It had been days since she’d last eaten a hot meal, and years since she’d lived a life of opulence, servants and luxury being a thing of her past.
“Where is that gel?” the housekeeper grumbled as she hurriedly prepared a tea tray. “I swear on me life the master shall dismiss her if she is late once more. He’s in a temper this mornin’. Snapped at me he did. I cannot do everything ‘round this place. Ready to quit, I am.”
The cook sighed as she removed scones from the oven. “Tell Hobbs. He’ll dismiss her since she’s late again.”
The housekeeper squinted as she glanced out the kitchen door into the courtyard. Cathlene ducked low, hugging the wall. The elderly woman’s sharp gaze scanned the section of wall where she hid. She crouched behind a hedge, making herself even smaller. “Bloody Hobbs spends more time on the bottle than doing his duties.”
The cook opened the oven door. The tray hit against the rack with a furious clang. “Complaining to the master about Hobbs won’t do. He has an affection for the old man. You know how he and his former master saved his life.”
Cathlene stuck close to the outer wall, hidden by the kitchen door leading out to the courtyard and the stolen gown she’d concealed.
She’d arrived at lower Fifth Avenue and this house by omnibus. Designed in the Greek style, the mansion was as fine as any other on the tree-lined red brick street. She’d hidden her gown behind the hedge near the outer courtyard wall before changing into her disguise of a black maid’s cloak and gown. She’d don her stained garment once she’d gotten what she’d come for…jewels and treasures she could pawn to put food in her belly, a roof over her head, and decent clothes on her back.
To obscure her features, she pulled down the brim of her maid’s cap. She couldn’t get what she needed by walking through the front door dressed in her patched dress. She’d be turned away.