Florence Graham-Smithson was unhappy, she decided one morning as she lay in her bed. It was hard for Florence to admit that she was unhappy – not because she was, but because she didn’t know why. Most people would assume her ennui stemmed from the death of her husband, the Honorable Lord Henry Graham-Smithson IV of the Yorkshire Graham-Smithsons, but Henry had been dead for almost five years. Surely that wasn’t the cause of her perpetually gloomy disposition – although, Her Majesty would be most pleased to learn that another of her society debutantes had followed in her footsteps of lifelong mourning. Florence had been fond of Henry to be sure, and they enjoyed a pleasant, though childless, marriage together, but she never cared deeply enough for him that his death would leave her life meaningless. She quickly ruled out children as the cause of her unhappiness as well. Though she’d never say it out loud (for what proper lady would?), she detested children and was secretly relieved each month when she could confirm she wasn’t carrying Henry’s heir.
So what could it be? It wasn’t money; Henry left her enough of that to last three generations. It wasn’t her social life. She had plenty of friends, all of whom were just the right sort of people that her mother, had she still been alive to oversee every detail of Florence’s life, would surely have approved of. There was nothing necessarily wrong with Florence. It just felt like something was missing. Yes, that was the problem! Something was missing. Florence needed something to do.
“Mornin’ miss!” Mary, Florence’s maid, called out as she entered Florence’s bedroom, interrupting her thoughts without knocking. “Hope ye slept well!”
Florence sighed as she watched her new maid cross the bedroom carrying her breakfast tray. Perhaps what was missing from Florence’s life was a proper lady’s maid. Georgette, her last maid, left a few months ago to be married. She left without notice, leaving Florence no time to properly interview new maids. So she put her trust in the first agency she could find in the paper, and Mary was the result.
“Good morning Mary,” Florence replied in as even a tone as possible. “I did sleep quite well thank you. But I’ve asked you before and must insist that you please address me as my lady.”
“Blimey! Yer right, miss!” Mary exclaimed as she dropped Florence’s breakfast tray on the bed. It landed with a thud, causing tea to slosh over the saucer dangerously close to the edge of the tray. “I knew ‘miss’ weren’t right, but I couldn’t remember the phrase what you wanted me to use! I’ll try to remember it soon miss; I promise.”
Florence, who had been too concerned about the tea threatening to stain her bed to pay attention to Mary’s speech, simply nodded and moved the tray closer to her.
“It’s quite alright Mary,” Florence said, quickly sopping up the spilled tea with her napkin. “Just try to remember it in the future. Any other lady would have surely dismissed you by now. Please try to remember that.”
“Mighty kind of ye, miss!” Mary said, bobbing a quick, clumsy curtsy. “Ye enjoy yer breakfast, and I’ll be back later to get ye dressed.”
Mary left the room before Florence could correct her again.
Later that morning, Florence was roaming through her house, still thinking about what could be missing from her life. She had determined that she needed to find something to do, but what? She mentally ran through a list of her current hobbies. She was excellent at needlepoint, horseback riding, and drawing. Surely she needed something new to occupy her time, since she’d already mastered all of her current skills.
She found herself in Henry’s study, a room she had not entered since her husband died. She wasn’t sure what drove her in here. There was definitely nothing in here that would amuse her. There wasn’t anything in here to amuse her when her husband was alive. The room was just as Henry had left it. An ornate mahogany desk stood proudly in the center of the room, surrounded by walls of books of every color and size. Henry never paid much attention to how his prized books were displayed. An assortment of various genres, colors, and sizes were stuffed unceremoniously on each shelf with no order at all. Perhaps this was the project she was looking for! She could organize Henry’s books so that anyone could easily find whatever title they were looking for! Except, no one came in here anymore, and no one that she knew had any interest in Henry’s books.
She dismissed the idea with a deep sigh and turned to leave the study when she saw it. There, tucked in the far corner of the room, was Henry’s piano. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of it sooner? When she was a little girl, Florence loved playing the piano. It was one of the few lessons her mother forced on her that she actually enjoyed, but she hadn’t played in years. Not since she married Henry, anyways. Henry was a magnificent pianist who loved showing off his skills. While Florence was certainly accomplished at the piano, she knew she would never be at his level and resolved to play the role of audience rather than performer. But nothing was stopping her now.
She approached the magnificent piano and gazed at the perfect row of elegant white teeth shining before her. She ran her fingers just above the surface of the keys, careful not to press any down until she was ready. Florence took a deep breath and sat down at the bench, straightening her posture for her mother’s sake. She allowed her fingers to reach out by memory and play the first notes of one of her favorite pieces.
The notes resounded with sour plunks that echoed throughout the study.
“Gah!” A cry rang out behind Florence, making her jump. Mary was standing at the door with a horrified look on her face.
“That sounded just awful, miss!” Mary exclaimed. “I don’t think that piana is ready to be played just now.”
“No, you’re quite right Mary,” Florence said, still looking at the pearly keys of the piano. “It definitely needs to be tuned. Would you call and have an advertisement put in tomorrow’s paper asking for assistance? We need someone out right away.”
“Right ye are, miss… er… my lady.” Mary corrected herself as Florence turned with a raised eyebrow. “I’ll see that it’s done.”
The next morning, Florence was wide awake with anticipation when Mary entered with her breakfast tray, again forgetting to knock. The thought of playing the piano again for so long seemed to finally be the answer to all her woes. She laid in her bed envisioning herself as a great concert pianist, performing before royalty and always being the star of every party as her friends begged her to entertain them with her talent. This was just the thing she needed. All that was missing was a working piano.
“Good morning Mary,” Florence said happily as Mary set down the tray. She was too excited to notice the tea spilling over the side onto her bed. “Have there been any replies to my advertisement yet?”
“Not yet, ma’am,” Mary answered. Florence chose not to correct her this morning. She was too thrilled about the piano and, after all, ‘ma’am’ was better than ‘miss.’ “But I got it in the paper jus’ like ye said. I said what we needed a piano tuner.”
Florence snatch the paper off the tray and anxiously flipped through the help section, but she did not see anything about a piano.
“Are you quite sure, Mary?” She asked, scanning the columns again.
“Aye miss. Yer jus’ lookin’ at the wrong page.”
She took the paper from Florence, turned it a few pages, and then handed it back to her.
“See, there it is!”
Florence groaned when she saw Mary’s advertisement.
“Mary,” she said in her sternest voice. “This is the personal column, not the column. You have it in the wrong section. No one is going to respond to it here. Oh Mary, whatever am I going to do with you?”
Florence tossed the paper aside in dismay and turned her attention to the breakfast tray.
“Chin up, miss!” Mary said. “Ye never know. Someone what knows about that stuff might jus’ look and see it. Don’t worry, we’ll get your Joanna fixed soon.”
“My what?” Florence looked up from her breakfast tray, now annoyed and confused.
“Ye know, yer Joanna.” After a long silence of Florence staring at Mary, she added, “Ye know, yer piana.”
Florence was too angry now to respond. She turned her attention back to her breakfast and began to sourly pick at her toast.
Florence decided to devote her time to organizing Henry’s books, since her dreams of playing the piano by supper time had been completely dash by Mary. Part of her wanted to dismiss Mary that same day, but she had never dismissed a servant before, and was not sure she had it in her to do it. Mary needed to be sacked to be sure. She was clumsy, unprofessional, and now she was apparently naming the furniture. She had been nothing but a constant headache since she started. But at least she was a familiar headache. If the agency recommended Mary, heaven knows what they would send next. So she decided to mentally give Mary one last chance, again, and see what happened.
Florence was in the middle of taking a stack of books down from a shelf when she heard the bell chime in the front hall. She thought she heard him talking to someone, but she was too far away to make out who it was or what they were saying.
Hamish appeared at the study door, his tall figure filling out the frame entirely.
“Forgive the intrusion, my lady,” Hamish said. “But there is a Miss Van Bakker here to see you.”
“Who?” Florence asked, puzzled.
“She said that she is responding to a personal advertisement about a piano,” Hamish explained. His brow furrowed as he added, “I told her no one in this house would ever put an advertisement in the personals column, but she insisted she had the correct address and refuses to leave. Shall I summon the policemen?”
Florence almost dropped the books she was holding in excitement. Someone had actually answered Mary’s column!
“Oh no, Hamish, don’t tun her away! I did put an advertisement in the paper, or rather Mary did. She just put it in the wrong section. But I do need someone to tune the piano.”
Hamish’s brows grew even closer together, and his face darkened.
“Stewart, the footman, is proficient with pianos, my lady,” he said with a note of disapproval. “Shall I send this woman away and have Stewart come to you instead?”
Florence considered what Hamish said. She did not much care for Hamish, or really Stewart for that matter, but she especially did not like when Hamish made evident his disapproval of how she conducted herself. It reminded her too much of her mother.
“Well Miss Van Bakker is here now,” she said with a smile. “And I’m sure Stewart has plenty of other work you need him to do. Why don’t you go ahead and send Miss Van Bakker in?”
“My lady,” Hamish said. “I really don’t think –”
“And send some tea up as well,” Florence cut him off. “That will be all, Hamish.”
Hamish backed out of the room, not bothering to hide his anger. Florence turned to return the books in her hands to their original place on the shelf, her excitement over the piano returning.
“Miss Graham-Smithson?” A feminine voice said behind her.
Florence turned and was struck by the beauty of the woman standing in her doorway. Her rounded face was kind and looked like it always held a smile. Curls of golden blonde hair poked out from her bonnet, framing the bluest eyes Florence had ever seen. Her clothes, a deep violet gown that gathered just below her knees and spilled out to a train of blue and purple stripes, signified that she was of the same class as Florence, but Florence was sure she had never seen this woman before.
Surely she would have remembered.
“I am Anneliese Van Bakker.”
Florence stood in shock for a moment admiring Miss Van Bakker’s beauty, but years of etiquette training quickly took over and she displayed her brightest hostess smile.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Van Bakker,” Florence said in a tone her mother would have been proud of as she extended her hand.
“You must call me Anneliese, I insist,” Anneliese said, taking Florence’s hand. “I am pleased to meet you as well. I am new here und you are ze first woman I met.”
“You’re new to London?” Florence asked. She could tell by Anneliese’s accent that she was foreign, but she could place from where. Wherever it was, her voice was certainly lovely.
“I am visiting a cousin,” Anneliese explained. “I am from Holland, und my mother wanted me to see the world. When my cousin heard that I was going avay, she insisted I come here, und so here I am!”
“If you are on holiday,” Florence said. “Surely you don’t want to spend your time working on my piano?”
Anneliese smiled in a way that Florence could not figure out.
“I’m sure dat I would love to,” she said, walking further into the room towards Florence. “Shall we do it here?”
The question puzzled Florence, but Anneliese was a foreigner after all. Maybe she misunderstood, or perhaps she thought there was more than one piano in the house? But a proper hostess never makes her guests feel silly or uncomfortable.
“Would you like to sit down first?” Florence gestured to the two sofas positioned on the other side of the study.
She sat down on one and was surprised when Anneliese sat down on the same one. Perhaps they were very friendly where she was from?
“So,” Florence said, trying to maintain her hostess demeanor. “How are you liking London so far? How long have you been here?”
“Only a few days,” Anneliese answered. She was still smiling that puzzling smile. “But I like everything dat I have seen so far.”
They fell into silence as Florence tried to think of what to say next. Something about the way Anneliese was smiling and speaking made her feel odd. But not uncomfortable.
“Do you have any interest in pianos?” Florence asked awkwardly. She wanted to guide the conversation back to why Anneliese was here in hopes of getting the piano tuned quickly.
“I am immensely fond of pianos,” Anneliese answered, her secretive smile widening. “I take it dat you are as well?”
“Well I wouldn’t say I am immensely fond of them,” Florence answered. That was an odd way to describe one’s love of pianos, but she reminded herself again, Anneliese was foreign. “But I do enjoy them. Although I have not played one since I was a little girl.”
Anneliese looked confused by this, so Florene continued.
“I played a lot as a child, but after I got married, I stopped playing. My husband passed away a few years ago, and I decided to take it back up again. Keep my mind occupied.”
The smile on Anneliese’s face widened, and Florence could have sworn she edged closer to her.
“I think dat it will be ze perfect thing for you,” she said in almost a whisper.
Florence tried to edge herself away from Anneliese, but her heavy gown made it difficult to slide on the sofa. She found herself suddenly aware of how warm the room was, although it was still quite cool outside.
“I just need the piano tuned to get started,” she said with an unintentional nervous chuckle.
“Then what are we waiting for?”
Before Florence could answer, Anneliese put her hand on Florence’s leg and leaned in, kissing her on the lips. The kiss was light at first but quickly turned into a passion like Florence had never felt before. Florence was stunned at first but quickly recovered herself.
“Miss Van Bakker!” She cried, jumping to her feet and hurrying across the room. “Whatever are you doing!”
Anneliese continued to smile and rose from the couch.
“There’s no need to be shy,” she said calmly as she started to walk across the room.
“I assure you this has nothing to do with being shy!” Florence could feel her face flushing with anger. Or, at least, she thought it was anger. “I do not know what makes you think it is acceptable to behave in such a way, but I must ask you to leave at once!”
Miss Van Bakker paused.
“But you put an advertisement in the paper,” she said, her smile faltering for the first time. “You said you needed your piano tuned?”
“And so I do!” Florence was practically shouting but she did not care. “I’m not sure what that means where you’re from, but I have a piano that does not play correctly!” She gestured to Henry’s piano sitting behind her.
Realization and shock clouded Anneliese’s face as it began to flush.
“Maak dat de kat wijs!” She cried. Cupping her face in her hands.
“I’m not sure what that means,” Florence said. “But I’m sure I don’t like it.”
“I’m sorry, I forget myself. Dat is an expression from my country. It means it is unbelievable. I am so sorry Miss Graham-Smithson. This has been a terrible mistake.”
Florence silently agreed.
“I take it you do not know how to tune a piano?”
Anneliese only shook her head, dropping her gaze to the floor.
“Then I must insist you leave at once. Good day, Miss Van Bakker. I would appreciate it if you did not tell anyone about this.”
“As would I.” Miss Van Bakker’s eyes were still trained on the floor as she left the room. “Good day, Miss Graham-Smithson.”
Florence looked away as Miss Van Bakker hurried out of the room. It wasn’t until she was positive she was alone that she allowed herself to slump against the piano, clutching her chest. What was that? Why did Miss Van Bakker think it was acceptable to do… well she wasn’t quite sure what to call that. She had never been kissed like that before. Henry was kind and affectionate to her, but never anything more. This was… more.
Florence returned to the sofas and sat down, making sure to sit on the one she and Miss Van Bakker had not occupied. She felt her face flush again as she looked at that sofa. She touched her cheeks and felt the heat rising beneath them in a most un-ladylike manner. It was strange. The more she thought about what happened, the less angry she became. But, even though her anger was subsiding, her face was still burning. She ran her hand down to her neck and was surprised to find that was warm as well.
But she no longer felt angry about what happened.
In fact, she felt…
“Here’s yer tea, miss!” Mary’s voice rattled her thoughts as the main entered with a tray. She looked around as she set it down next to Florence. “I thought Hamish said ye had a visitor? Someone to fix the piana?”
“She left.” Florence answer simply, not looking at Mary.
“Well I hope she was able to ye out, miss,” Mary said as she poured the tea. “I think that piana is just what you need.”
Florence thought about what Mary said as she accepted the cup.
“You know Mary, I think she did help me out. It was just what I needed.”