It was Maria McCarthy who stood at the door.
‘Come in,’ Celine stood back to admit her friend. ‘I apologise for the bareness of it all. We are still a way from having this set up as a proper home.’
‘No matter.’ Maria hung her cloak from the stand in the hallway. ‘I was just passing and I thought I would see if you needed any help. Has Mrs Simpson arrived yet?’
‘Ma’am.’ Ruth Simpson came down the stairs with her freshly written letter. ‘I came today, and I owe both of you a great deal for this opportunity.’
‘Mrs Simpson has already been a great help. I realise that I know nothing about running even as small a household as this,’ Celine confessed as she lead the way to the morning room.
‘Ma’am, will fetch you tea before I go out?’ Ruth asked Celine.
‘Oh, yes, if you would I’d be most grateful.’ Celine smiled, signing the letter and handing it back to the efficient cook.
‘Stop being grateful,’ Maria advised once Ruth had disappeared down to the kitchen. ‘You are her employer. You pay her to fetch tea and to cook and I hope to clean. You do need a maid though I would say if you want those soft white hands of yours to stay so.’
‘Yes,’ Celine sighed. ‘I am not cut out for housework. Daniel has to set the fires as I seem unable to do it. I don’t know how these tiny girls manage with such strenuous activity day in, day out. It took me an entire day to clean the windows last week, only for them to be filthy again the next morning.’
‘Such is life in this filthy city,’ Maria said, looking around her. Celine was embarrassed to note that the floor was not well swept. ‘Let me ask around and find you a young girl. You need not pay much and she can share Mrs Simpson’s room.’
‘Thank you, Maria.’ Celine wished that the tea would arrive. There was no distraction from the substandard furnishings of the room. ‘I met a neighbour. Mrs Carlisle, a doctor’s wife. She has invited me to call on her on Thursday.’
‘That is good news.’ Maria raised an eyebrow. ‘And she has met Daniel?’
‘Not yet,’ Celine confessed. ‘But I was honest and told her that he is an actor. I would not say that she was impressed by that fact but she took it in her stride and made her invitation subsequently.’
‘That is a good sign, Celine, only do practice caution. I doubt they see many men with skin as dark as Daniel’s on these streets.’
‘Yes, Maria, I will.’ Celine felt like a child being lectured by her mother. ‘How is Sam? And how is your health?’
‘Sam is hardly at home these days,’ Maria confessed. ‘But he does seem more excited about the prospect of becoming a father than he was. He has already had the nursery furnished and secured a nursemaid, and it is still months until the baby is due.’
‘That is good. I know that Daniel is keen for us to start our own family, only we must have the house in order first.’
Ruth Simpson entered then with the tea tray. ‘Ma’am, I shall be away to the Carlisle’s and then to the shops.’
Ruth was gone but a moment before she came rushing back in, Celine spilling tea into her saucer as she looked up in surprise.
‘Begging your pardon, ma’am, only you must come quickly.’
Celine and Maria both jumped to their feet, Maria less sprightly due to her burgeoning stomach. Following Ruth out of the front door the source of her panic soon became clear.