Chapter One: Diligence

The wrought iron gates stood before me; its grand height made me feel very inferior as soon as I walked up to it. Of course, I could just be over-exaggerating. I wasn't used to this particular scale of grandeur after all.

So why was I here?

Well, life hasn't been to kind to me and my mom these past few years. With a mother diagnosed with an unknown illness, a father who rarely comes home due to his job, and a tight crunch in money, the burdens were pretty much passed on to me. Fresh out of high school, I knew that summer was the perfect opportunity to find a job. However, it must be a job with enough payment to cover for my whole family. But what kind of high-paying job would accept a girl of eighteen with nothing but a high school diploma? Last week it seemed impossible, that is until I got an unbelievable opportunity.

"Hey, Alice! Quit spacing out," a voice said, which snapped me back to reality.

I turned to see my childhood friend, Fred Warren, facing me with a quizzical look on his face. After a moment of studying my face, he gave a slight smirk.

"You're nervous aren't you? Do you think you can handle it?" he said teasingly.

I stuck out my tongue.

"Of course I can." I replied.

"I'd love to see you try."

"Freddie, stop teasing! I'm tough enough."

Fred isn't always like this. In fact, he's helped me tremendously with my problems. It's not rare that he'd barge inside the house at random times to help around with the chores. He would also tend to my mom when I was gone. It was also him who has found me this incredible job opportunity, which makes me wonder what kind of connections he's got. In a nutshell, it may not look like it, but Fred's been one heck of a life saver.

Our conversation continued, this time with a cooler atmosphere.

"But, are you sure you're going to be ok? You seem rather pale," said Fred.

"I'm fine," I lied, "It's just--… I'm worried about mom. I hope she'll be ok."

"I'll look after her while you're gone. Besides you'll be back in a couple hours!"

"Yes, but what if I get the job? There's no telling how long they'll keep me."

"Alice, it's summer! I have all the time in the world to check up on your mother's conditions. Plus, I thought you wanted a job. Why are you complaining?"

I sighed. He was right after all. I did want to earn a living.

"What about when school starts up again. You'll be in college! Then no one will look after my mom."

"Don't worry about it. We'll think of something. Now, are you going to enter or not?"

I turned again to face the humongous iron gates. I decided I should hurry up and acknowledge my presence to the household soon, before they get suspicious of two loiterers at the entrance to their home. Right above the watchful security camera was a small black button. After a bit of hesitation, I pressed it, knowing fully well that it was too late to turn back now. Moments later, a man's voice answered.

"Good afternoon. Please state your name and your purpose."

My hands began to shake as nervousness took over.

"I-I'm… hi. I'm Alice Hamilton. I… am… here about the job offer? As housekeeper?"

A few moments and then the man spoke again.

"Please come right on through. But only Miss Hamilton please."

Instantly those gigantic gates swung open to reveal an unpaved road leading into the dense woods. I turned to Fred one last time.

"Well, I'm off. Pick me up in a couple of hours." I said.

"Yep, I know the drill. Good luck! I'm sure you'll be fine."

He gave me a quick hug then got in his car. As I watched him drive away, I could help but feel a sudden drop in the pit of my stomach. I was out to face the unknown…. with no one at my side.

I began to walk down the gravel pathway, letting my thoughts calm my nerves.

Fred has faith in me. He wouldn't have presented me this job offer if he thought I couldn't do it. If I need help, he'll be really close. My house was only ten minutes away from Newport.

Yes, Newport. I should have known was I was getting into as soon as Fred had mentioned a Newport household. It's because Newport neighborhoods are anything but impoverished. I remembered all the houses we've passed along the way weren't normal sized at all. Newport used to be the neighborhood of summer houses for the rich back during the Gilded Age in the 1900s. Recalling American history, the Gilded Age was a time where there was no middle class. You were either rich or poor. The rich would spoil themselves by spending their excessive wealth into ungodly fancy things, while the poor would work in roll around in the dirt just the make ends meet. The Gilded Age was basically the start of materialistic obsessions. The thought disgusted me.

Well, hopefully this household won't be that bad.

I suddenly stopped in my tracks when I was engulfed in a massive shadow. I was so involved in my thoughts that I didn't realize I was already at the house. Or is it a house? I took several steps back and gazed at the enormous mass in front me. My jaw dropped. This so-called house, mansion, whatever it was…. was tremendous. Immense. Colossal! My little ranch-sized house looked like a tool shed compared to this household's size. No, their tool shed was probably bigger. I studied the architecture, mouth agape. The European- style mansion was nothing more than a big white box with Roman pillars that reached three stories tall. There were also intricate details in many parts of the house and several marble statues. But this is just a blunt description. At the time, I couldn't put into words how big my new job was located at. By far, it was the largest house I've seen at Newport, and trust me, that's a big accomplishment.

I swallowed all I could manage and knocked on the two-story brass doors.

Stop shaking, idiot, I told myself.

The doors swung open to reveal a sharp looking middle-aged butler. His freshly pressed suit matched his overall appearance.

"Miss Hamilton. Please right this way."

While showing no emotion whatsoever, he showed his politeness with a slight bow and a signal to come follow him.

Well, he certainly made a good impression on me. His sharp eyes seemed to know all, and without a doubt he probably did. He seemed to be the taciturn type, only speaking when necessary. This was a very good mental note to self. As he lead me across the grand foyer, I regained my shock, for the lavishing decorations in this room were also too much to bear. The first thing I noticed was the intricately designed crystal chandelier that was so big; it was the only necessary light source for the entire grand 3-story room. The walls engulfing me were covered in royal crimson and were aligned with gold leaf. I could hear the tap tap of our footsteps against the white marble floor as it reverberated throughout the hall. Of course, this fantasy dream home would not be complete without that grand staircase. This particular staircase, covered in red carpet, ran up halfway until it split into two directions into the second floor.

All that's missing is a throne room, I thought.

At the foot of this lavishing staircase, the butler stopped and told me to wait a moment while he gets his master. I nodded as he rose and disappeared into an upper hallway. My knees started to knock together once more.

Gosh Alice. Get yourself together.

I strained to maintain a decent posture by distracting myself from what lay ahead. Failing, I began to think of first impressions. Good posture. Nice easy smile. Relax. Relax. Relax. I could do everything but relax. To calm my nerves I decided to walk around and look around the room. This clearly was a fantasy home any little girl would desire. I took a deep breath and breathed in its cleanliness. It was never this clean at home.

Even though I did admire this mansion's fresh appearance, I certainly had no hopeful desires to own this place. Was that odd? Perhaps it was because in my experience, I believed that the key to happiness was not nearly found in material and wealth, but in the simple things in life. In fact, it's always been my motto and accepting this job seemed to have contradicted it.

"These spoiled people…." I muttered to myself, as I examined a fancy mirror.

My eyes lingered at my mirrored self. Plain, was the only word I could come up with as I analyzed my short chestnut hair and pale complexion. As for my clothes, I did try to dress professionally with a lavender dress and black stockings, but even my best clothing had no match against the beautifully decked out mansion.

"Enjoying ourselves are we?"

I jumped at the sound of a man's voice and quickly swerved around.

"I'm so sorry!" I apologized bowing my head slightly. Looking up, I found I was face to face with a dashing young man who looked about the same age as me. He had a tall figure which matched his well-built body. His handsome face reminded me of a Roman sculpture; his nose was finely chiseled along with very fine cheekbones. His dark brown hair was slicked back in a refined way, probably with expensive imported gels. His chocolate eyes pierced through my green ones as if to tell me…. I blushed as I realized too much time has passed by with me practically gawking at him. The man gave a trifling smile as he noticed my eyes dart away.

"I trust you are Miss Hamilton. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Darien Faraday, head of this household," he said in a smooth tone of voice.

Head of the household? But he's only like what, my age? Where are his parents?

I decided that asking questions could lead to potential disaster. Instead I cleared my throat.

He held out his hand which I weakly took.

"Alice Hamilton. Nice to meet you," I answered, struggling to maintain a smile on my face.

"Welcome. Now, I must warn you that this particular meeting does not guarantee a direct access to this job spot. You are not the only one seeking this opportunity. I chose you to come this precise day so as to interview the other ladies wishing to work as well. They are waiting in the drawing room. Please follow Sir Jonathan, so that I may go back and attend to my business."

He began to walk, but turned around again.

"Please do not dawdle. I particularly detest wasting time."

At the warning, I hastened my steps as the butler, Jonathan, led me to another door. Before entering, I glanced back to where Darien was, only to find he disappeared like a mysterious apparition. My eyes lingered at the stop where he used to stand, mystified. He certainly was a strange man.

We entered another room literally looking like a masterpiece itself. Every inch of the room was colored with golf leaf with velvet furniture sprawled about. Unlike the rest of the household, many young women filled the floor. A couple girls glanced at the newcomer, and then went back to their gossips.

I took another deep breath and decided to stand in a corner, hopefully going unnoticed. As I studied the room, my heart began to sink.

Unlike myself, there were beautiful girls surrounding the room. Many of them had dazzling smiles or beautiful soft hair. With my eyes I counted about thirty or forty girls. I sighed, feeling like my chances of getting this job were growing slimmer.

I restlessly waited until the room died down and Sir Jonathan entered once more. Calmly he explained the rules and regulations of becoming a housekeeper and the responsibilities a housekeeper must have. The orientation seemed to be going slowly. I couldn't help but wiggle my toes or stifle a yawn. I decided Sir Jonathan needed to sound more charismatic because his voice made me all edgy.

When I finally believed that we were done, instead he took us on a tour around the house. Each magnificent room that we walked into dazzled the audience, erupting in oohs and ahhs or squealish giggles. To me, every room we walked in started to look the same after awhile. My butterflies started to diminish and all I wanted to do was to go home.

On the second floor one of the girls raised her hand.

"Pardon me, but what's in that room over there?" she said, pointing to a door enveloped in ivory.

Her group of new friends also seemed eager to know.

"That is Master Faraday's bedroom," replied the butler, "Only those permitted to enter are allowed. I'm sure, though, that even if you get the title as housekeeper, you will never have the chance to step in that room."

I eyed the room curiously.

So this is where he spends his time…

"Excuse me, Sir Jonathan," the same girl spoke up.

"Yes?"

"Are we going to see Master Faraday often while we're working here?"

The same group of friends squealed at his name.

I shook my head, dumbfounded. Could there seriously be people who still fondle over guys like him? Stupid, good looking, rich guys? Judging by his popularity, I would say he has a good chance of becoming a player!

Sir Jonathan simply ignored the squealing girls and answered, "It depends. However I wouldn't get your hopes too high. Master Faraday is quite busy…"

At that he nervously cleared his throat and continued along with the tour. Want to know the truth? At the end of the tour, every room disgusted me. I mean, how could someone be so… rich? He's got it all. Wealth, status, popularity, good looks. Faraday was the luckiest person alive.

No doubt he has business to tend to, that dirty rat…

With the meeting adjourned, I was completely grateful to be out of there. Even though the whole day just made me want to gag, I couldn't help but find it amusing how every girl was so disappointed with having the job interviews with Sir Jonathan and not the master himself.

I recall the instructions from Sir Jonathan after I've explained my biography during the interview. I was to meet this house again at 7 am sharp, this time entering through the back servant's quarter. There was to be a trial run to see which girls were fit for the job.

I sighed remembering that the only reason I was doing this was for the money. I needed that money in order for the survival of me and my family. With a little more motivation, I eagerly hustled out the wrought iron entrance and slipped into Fred's car right where he promised he'd wait.

"So… how's the first day?" Fred said in a teasing mother-like tone.

I rolled my eyes at his mimic and grudgingly said it was okay.

"It was… tolerable," I said.

"Well that's kind of good news isn't it?" he chuckled.

I opened my mouth and then clamped it when Fred put up a hand.

"I know, I know. Your mother's fine, no need to ask," he said.

I smiled at him warmly. Fred always knew me so well. After all we've been together since before I could remember. I let out a sigh.

"I do feel exhausted. Too much info in my head," I explained.

"Yeah, I know what you mean."

"And tomorrow is going to be a trial day… I might run into that guy…."

My voice began to falter. I finished with a groan. However Fred looked alert and deeply concerned.

"Guy? What guy?"

"Oh it's no big deal really. No it's nothing," I replied trying to hide my annoyance with the master of the household.

Fred didn't push for more information, which was what I've always liked. Instead he assured me, "Well, if you want to talk about it, you can. I'm always here and you know that."

I nodded a silent thank you and probably from my exhaustion, I drifted off to sleep.