In the weeks before I went into service in the Dunlap household, my mother kept up a steady stream of advice and admonitions meant to curb my natural impulses, like “Remember child, when you serve, you must not speak until spoken to,” and “After a time, this new place will feel like your home, but you must always remember you are not their equal.”
Her litany of warnings included a cryptic one I was too young, at ten, to understand: “Give no inlet to familiar conversation and pray that you may avoid the temptations that befall a young woman without a mother’s watchful eye to check her.”
While I served the Dunlaps, I had no temptation other than my forbidden thirst for knowledge. Oh, how I envied the children their lessons. On days when I dusted, scrubbed floors, or cleaned the ashes out of the upstairs fireplaces, I planned my tasks so I would be close enough to listen near the schoolroom door. I daresay I had no trouble keeping up. When I heard one child make an incorrect answer, I longed to call out the right response and earn the tutor’s praise.
In the afternoons, Theo, Isabel, and Richard went riding while their teacher retired to his room and took his ease. It was then I would bring my dust cloth into the empty schoolroom to attend to the rungs of the chairs, the windowsills, and the mantel. The faster I finished, the longer I could look at the books. There was nothing to read in the kitchen and I dared not touch any of the leather-bound volumes on the parlor shelves.
One fateful day I lingered, so engrossed in a Latin grammar text I forgot my chores as I turned the pages of engravings of the Roman emperors. No one in my family knew a second language, though my father picked up a few phrases that helped him communicate with the friendly natives in our area. But Latin, so said the book’s introduction, was the foundation for other languages—Spanish, French, Italian. I drew in an excited breath at the discovery.
“Is it knowledge you seek, girl?”
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