Diary of a Milk Maid

January 1

Dearest Mother, I have arrived at my new employ! It is a wondrous country home with lovely gardens and vast acreage. I have only briefly met Sir and his only instruction to me was “Milk your cow daily and when the time comes, do My Love’s bidding.” I was then brought to meet the cow from which I am to extract the daily dairy. A lovely enough beast. I have named her Abigail.

As I said to you before I left home for this mysterious new employment, a lot is not known about the situation in which I now find myself. My understanding was that I was to be Sir’s solitary milk-maid. However, when I was shown where my lodgings would be – a small cottage adjacent to the barns – I was most surprised to find another seven young ladies there within. They are all, like me, newly-arrived and we are all hired as milk maids, each with our own personal cow. The cottage, as such, is going to be rather cramped but the girls seem nice enough, and I am sure we all will get along quite well. Still, it was a surprise to discover an entire cottage of milk maids, each responsible for only one cow. Surely, one, or at most, two of us could handle the responsibility. Oh well, I anticipate that I may have a bit of free time on my hands each day once the milking is done. I hope to explore more of the grounds tomorrow. Love to you and Father, and of course the siblings!

January 2

Dearest Mother, Abigail is a peach of a cow! She gives her milk freely and easily, and is not shy with her quantity. I am sure Sir will be pleased with the output. Speaking of Sir, I was informed by Cath, one of the other milk maids – and this is just rumour and gossip, but who doesn’t like stories, eh – that apparently Sir is madly in love with a young lady, and has been regaling her with gifts these past few days. He is so sweet! I admit, I am envious of his love, and I cannot wait to meet her, when the opportunity arises!

After my morning milking duties were completed, I had opportunity to peruse the surroundings of the home. There is a lovely large lake, in which a dozen or more swans reside. I was told these swans, like me, are newly arrived to the estate. They are gifts for the young lady, I’m told. She must be fond of swans, because as I was there at the side of the lake, another seven swans had just arrived. So many swans! The lake can barely contain them all. Perhaps she is a bird lover. She must be, as the entire estate, actually, is rather flooded with all manner of fowl. There are no less than two dozen geese, just wandering about the yards. We maids are not sure whether the geese are in fact the present Sir’s given to his lady, or if it’s the eggs they lay each day. I wouldn’t be surprised if, with all these geese wandering about and laying eggs, my duties will soon include collecting those eggs along with milking Abigail.

After I returned to the cottage from my tour of the estate, i was very much surprised to see another eight milk maids had been hired. Each responsible for her own milk cow. They too, will be living in the sam cottage, and that is going to mean tight quarters indeed! There already were not enough beds for the first eight of us, so it looks like doubling and tripling of beds will be required. After a quick chat with one of the new girls, I understand that this new lot were also hired as milk maids for Sir’s love. Why on Earth she needs so many of us is anybody’s guess. Oh well, the pay is fair enough, the job is easy, and we’re all fed three full meals, so despite the close quarters, no complaints from me! After all, I do remember Father’s oft recited admonishment: “A Young Maid who complains becomes a complaining Old Maid!”

Cath told me that these new maids aren’t the only new arrivals today. Nine ladies have also been brought to the estate. Cath says she heard Sir’s only demand of them is that they dance – at least once a day – for his love. I am slowly painting a mental picture of this love interest! It seems she is fond of fowl and the arts! A few of the girls from the cottage snuck up to the main house and peeked into a window, and sure enough, there they were. Nine ladies in a room, all dressed in fineries, and it seemed they were practicing what looks like a Morris dance. it seems Sir really does love this girl, to be hiring all these dancers! At least they won’t be living in the cottage with us, as they, being ladies, will remain in the Great House.

January 3

Dearest Mother. Guess what? When me and the other girls got back to the cottage this morning after milking our cows, what sight befell us but another eight young girls, just sitting at the cottage table. “What are you lot doing”, asked Cath. They said they were the new milk maids. What in the Heavens is going on, Mother? There are now two dozen of us supposed to be shacked up here in this little cottage building! I didn’t know what to make of it, so I had to get away for a bit. Went down to the lake just in time to see another half-dozen or so new swans being uncrated. More geese too! So many geese eggs!

And that’s not all! Remember when I said this love of Sir’s must be fond of fowl? Well, I have seen with mine own eyes, that gaggle of geese, upwards of thirty blackbirds which he keeps in a barn, maybe two dozen hens, a dozen or more doves, and, at last count, nine newly planted pear trees, each containing its own partridge. The partridges are each chained to its tree. And I’m told that a new lot of each of these birds arrives every day. I know it’s called a gaggle of geese, but what do you call a group of two dozen milk maids crammed into a tiny cottage? I claim it should be called “An Uncomfortable of Maids”. And this is all for his love? I don’t understand?

January 4

Mother, I guess I may have made a mistake, agreeing to take on this position. Another eight maids have shown up this morning, each with a cow in tow. The barn is over-run with cattle, and our cottage is far too overcrowded to even be called uncomfortable. More ladies showed up, too, for more dancing. And almost a dozen men! They call themselves Lords, but I don’t see how even one Lord would hire himself out to Sir, let alone ten of them! And get this, Mother. Their job, these “Lords” is to jump around. Yes. In amongst the – what is it now? – 18 dancing ladies, there are ten men just jumping around. And it’s not ballet. There’s no talent in their jumping. At least, not that I could see from my vantage point peeking in through the window. Plus, more birds have, of course, arrived on the premises. The whole place has gone quite mad! I dare not write this, Mother, for fear of it being seen by the wrong eyes, but I am starting to think Sir is more than a bit touched in the head. I am starting to wonder if there even is a True Love upon which he is bestowing these gifts. I am thinking I might steal away in the night sometime soon, and return home.

January 5

Okay. I want to come home, Mother. More maids today of course! More everything today!! Sir came down to the cottage today, and asked how we maids were getting along. Over 30 of us in that tiny cottage room, four or five to a bed, and he has the gaul to ask us how we’re getting along? Cath asked him, point blank, if there’d be an incresase in how much food each of us would be given as provisions seem to have been rationed pretty thin now that there’s so many of us. Sir said he’d look into it, and asked us to be patient as all this would be worth it in the end, once his true love arrives tomorrow to see all the wonderful gifts he’s gotten her. She has no idea he’s been doing this for her, and I really think he’s going to be shocked -and not in a good way – when she sees all of this. Why, even the shit alone is monumental!

I have also started wondering – worrying, if I am honest, Mother – what all this means for when Sir’s True Love arrives. Am I to then be automatically become employed by her, or will I still be under Sir’s direction? I assume it to be Sir as I imagine he’s the one who will be paying all the bills, as they say. Still, whose commands do I take heed of? Sirs, or hers? Oh well, I am sure it will all become quite apparent in due time. Perhaps I will ask the question of the other Uncomfortables tonight before we go to sleep.

I had some down time today. Of course I did, because all I have to do is milk Abigail once a day. I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop and Sir tells me that he’s increasing my daily duty list, but it hasn’t happened. Seems he’s adamant about us all to remain purely as, in his words, “Maids a-Milking”. Honestly, Mother, I’d be afraid to be alone with him! But there’s no chance of that, as the whole estate is just teaming with birds and even more lady dancers and another crew of jumping men having just today arrived. I mean, what did Sir even do? Put a notice in the newspaper asking if any young men were availble to be hired as jumpers?

Anyway, I had some down time, and I was trying to find a quiet space just to think and figure out what in the world is even happening. I was on a knoll behind the barn when a couple of the dancing ladies on their break came up to me, bummed a smoke. We got to conversing, and they confided in me that the two of them weren’t even Ladies. And neither were any of the other 30 or so dancers. They were all hired from various theatres and burlesques. Sir demanded that they pretend they were Ladies of Repute, especially when being interrogated – they said that was the word he used – “interrogated” – by his love when she arrives tomorrow. That caused my heart to skip a beat or two, Mother, as I am now even more wondering what kind of situation I have gotten myself involved. We three were just getting into a conversation about that very topic and others – for instance, one was saying how she heard every day a delivery of gold rings arrives. Five or six at a time, and Sir just puts them all in a drawer in the kitchen. Anyway, we were ruminating about that when we hear an ungodly din coming from the front of the Great House. We, and the rest of us employees – the maids, the ladies and lords – all rush to where the terrible noise is coming from. And sure enough. It’s eleven bag-pipers. Each one playing a different song, Mother! All wearing different tartans! It terrified the swans and geese. The partridges tried to fly off their pear trees, but of course they’re chained to them.

January 6

Mother, I ask you this: what could be worse than eleven bagpipers each playing a different tune, all the day long, non stop? The answer it turns out, is another eleven pipers joining them the next day, again, each playing a different song, and then being assualted by even more noise as a dozen drummers show up on the scene, each hitting his drum in a different tempo it seems. Sir hires almost two dozen bagpipers and a dozen drummers and doesn’t even think to hire even one conductor? Whatever the definition of chaos is, I have heard it today with my own ears!

There are rumours starting to percolate around the estate that Sir is perhaps running out of money, due to the extravagant cost of this undertaking. I believe this might be the case, as it would explain the ruse asked of the fake-ladies, along with the less-than-artistic jumpers, and the cacophonous noises emenating from the pipers and drummers. I don’t think they are actually musicians at all! All I know is I got paid my wage each day so far, and as long as that continues I shall be considered content.

This is it, Mother! The day True Love is to arrive!!

So, let me set the scene for you, Mother. Sir told us all early this morning that his True Love is arriving today, and we are all – everyone and everything he’s hired and bought – we are all, directly after lunch, to meet outside the front of the Great House so all her gifts will be there as she steps out of the carriage. He is so excited! I am so afraid of him! It is just dawning on me now, Mother, that he considers me a gift for his True Love. Don’t you find that a bit odd? I should take a closer look at that contract i signed, before I go to sleep tonight.

So, he has these twelve pear trees – they were originally planted in a back field but he’s had them transplanted just today onto the gravel drive. They are placed in no apparent pattern around the yard. Each with a madly sqwacking partridge chained to it’s main branch. These partridges are not happy! There are no pears on any of the trees, it should also be noted. Then, in six wooden crates – again, seemingly set in a haphazard fashion – he has jsut over 20 doves imprisoned. Which doesn’t even make sense why he’d have them in these crates because I was told he had their wings clipped so they wouldn’t fly away. At this point, i was just glad he hadn’t put a ball and chain around my leg to force me to stay in this increasingly mad situation!

While I was standing there with Abigail, amongst the 40 of us maids and cows, just waiting for his True Love to arrive, I tried to count the hens that were ambling about and I think there were maybe 30 of them. And by the way, were I his True Love, I’d be perfectly happy with hen eggs from all these hens instead of having to deal with the over 40 geese he had held in a pen he’d had built there in the drive for this special occasion. For the 40 or so swans he had a large moat dug out in the drive and filled with water. Honestly, it ruins the landscape. It was just finished, so the water was basically just mud. He had wanted the swans “a-swimming” – his word, but they were basically just barely floating. Maybe he’d clipped their wings too? Do swans even fly, Mother? Maybe you could ask Father. Oh, and also, could you ask him to come save me from this madman? Cath said the swans were so docile because Sir had drugged them all with some sort of potion. Yes, I have just decided I will no longer eat or drink anything for the rest of my duration here, until I saw the effects it would have on any of the other hundred maids, fake-ladies and lords, drummers and bagpipers here assembled.

What else? Oh, the 30 or 40 blackbirds he had captive in a large cage. One of the two dozen pipers, when they weren’t blaring their infernal racket, an obvious self-satisfied know-it-all, stated they were “calling birds”, but one of the, at last count, 30 gentlemen hired to jump around, said that was incorrect and that they are Colly birds, or simple blackbirds.

So we’re all there, assembled, and the moment is about to happen. Sir’s True Love is about to arrive. Sir runs into the Great House, and returns with what must have been 40 or so rings. He’s carrying them in his hands, and runs up to a pedestal upon which is a red velvet pillow. He roughly tosses these 40 gold rings onto the pillow, as we see the carriage approaching. I must admit, despite the strangeness of this whole affair, I found myself giddy with anticipation as to what was about to transpire!

Sir kneels down on one knee and instructs the 20 or so bagpipers to start bagpiping. They do, as dischordant as before. Did nobody think to get together and decide upon one song? Is Sir absolutley tone deaf? He also instructs the drummers to begin to beat their instruments, and each, like a petulent child takes it upon themselves to go with their own rhythm. “Ladies dance!” Sir bellows. “Lords, get to a-leaping!” And they do.

The carriage approaches.

Sir looks over to the 40 of us maids. “Well,” he yells, in a surprisingly angry tone, “get a-milking!!” He then looks back at the ever-closer carriage. We girls look around at each other. It was, like, two in the afternoon. Our cows had already been milked in the morning. In some kind of silent solidarity, we all decide to get behind our individual and docile beasts and mime the “a-milking”. I made sure to situate myself so that I could see everything as it happened.

The carriage came to a stop just in front of the still-kneeling Sir, beside his pedestal of golden rings. The curtains of the carriage drawn.

I see a pair of eyes peek out from behind the drawn curtains of the carriage window. Then the curtains open and the face of Sir’s True Love is seen, as she takes in the madness that is Sir’s demented love for her.

I see her cover her ears to protect herself from the noise of the pipers and drummers. I see her look over to the muddy moat of lethargic swans. To a few of the partridges chained within the fruitless pear trees; to the mass of fake ladies dancing around on the gravel drive, clearly needing much more practice before whatever they were doing could be construed as dancing. She takes in the two dozen men in tights, agressively jumping and leaping into the air as they run around.

She turns her head towards us milk maids, and I manage to catch her eye. I smile and nod my head. She does not smile and does not nod her head. Just as I expected. She turns her gaze towards the pedestal of golden rings, a couple of which have since fallen onto the drive way.

Finally, her gaze attends her suitor. This man who must have spent a literal fortune to show this young lady just how deep his True Love is. A gesture so grand, and so pure, that I would not be surprised that it were not one day celebrated in song. Their eyes lock onto each other’s. They remain locked as he rises, stands at his full height, and holds out his hand towards her.

It’s a moment that seems to last forever! The eternity of true love’s blooming, I suppose. A love that even inspires the poetical to come out of me it appears!

As they gaze, I see a smile appear on her lips. The subtlest little taste of a smile I ever did see. Then I see her mouth words that I can only surmise were “Driver. Drive on” as she drew the carriage window curtains closed.

Then the carriage jolted to a start as the two horses were hutted into action. And the carriage rolled its way back down the long drive.

After standing there, the jilted lover, for what seemed like another eternity, this time because of the infernal noise still emenating from the pipers and drummers, Sir finally turned to us all. After shushing the musicians to a quiet, and imploring the dancers and jumpers to refrain from their movmentts, Sir asked us, rather politely, I should note, if it would be okay, us having witnessed the calamity that only moments ago befell his heart, if it would be okay if we were all summarily released from our duties and contracts, and would it be okay if were were not paid for this final day of servitude.

None of us felt it our right to take anything else from this mad, mad, sad, and mad man, and all agreed to null and void said contracts.

So, Mother, if you would, could you ask Father if he’d be able to send for me the means to return home? I have been gifted three of the hens. They are French, apparently. I was also offered two swans, but felt it best to decline them.

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