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I wrote this a long time ago, to go along with the fics "Business and Pleasure" and "Allergies Are the Best Medicine". That being said, I don't think you need to read either of them to enjoy this one; they just add some extra context.

I don't know why I took so long to post the story--probably got caught up in other things--but I figured it was long overdue to be shared. I hope you enjoy it!

~~~

“Begging your pardon, my lord,” Andrew said through the carriage’s trapdoor, “But if you wish to open the curtains, the Jacobs’ summer estate has just come into view.”

“Thank you, Andrew,” Lord Young said, drawing the curtains to take a look, “How much longer until we arrive, do you think?”

“Another fifteen or twenty minutes, I should say.”

“Excellent,” Lady Margaret said, shifting her weight, “I look forward to being able to stretch my legs properly. Don’t you agree, Sophie?”

Oui, Madame,” Sophie said, peering through the glass at the manor off in the distance, “But to be honest, I’m even more eager to explore the house.”

Lord Young chuckled. “Well, then you’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone. I’m sure Lord Jacobs’ servants will be delighted to show you around, especially since it sounds like there’s still a fair bit of work to be done. I’d be careful, though; show too much interest and they may set you to work before you get a chance to freshen up.”

“I don’t mind,” Sophie said honestly, “Besides, what would the point be of freshening up if I’m just going to be working again shortly thereafter? Better to accumulate enough sweat to make the evening’s wash truly worth it.”

“Very practical of you, Sophie,” Lady Margaret said approvingly, “If Lord Jacobs’ maids think the same way you do, I’m sure the house will be spotless by the end of the week!” Sophie just smiled and allowed the conversation to drift to other matters, while she kept her eyes on the house, which seemed to grow larger every minute. She peered up at it with a combination of excitement and nerves, uncertain what she would find when they actually arrived.

She hadn’t expected to accompany the Youngs on their annual countryside retreat. Ordinarily, they sent their personal servants ahead to get things settled, then disappeared for a month, leaving Sophie and the other servants to keep things running smoothly in their absence. But this year, it seemed that their host, Lord Jacobs, had recently purchased a new summer estate, which hadn’t been properly tended to by the previous owner. As a result, the servants were being run ragged trying to get everything in order, and Lord Jacobs had requested that his visiting guests bring along any maids or gardeners that they thought could help speed the process along. To Sophie’s slight surprise, the Youngs had chosen her. “You’re the best we have, Sophie,” Lord Young had said, “You’re very thorough and don’t rest until the job is done. I think that’s exactly what Lord Jacobs is looking for. Besides, after all the work you’ve done for us, you deserve a reward of some sort. A trip to the country is just the thing, even if it’s a sort of working holiday.”

At the time, Sophie had accepted eagerly, delighted at the opportunity to see new things and meet new people. Now, however, she was starting to realize a few of the drawbacks of coming along. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to work—far from it—but she would be in a new environment, with people who didn’t know her. And while she had no trouble with striking up conversations, she was more concerned about how they’d treat her when they found out about her little “weakness”.

In her experience, there were three reactions whenever it came out that she was a maid with a dust allergy. Some people immediately grew concerned that she’d be unable to complete her duties, at least until she proved herself. Another group would tease her about her chosen profession, but otherwise let her get on with her work; this was her favorite response. The third group, however, seemed to regard her allergy as some sort of moral failing, and would either ignore her as much as possible or deliberately make things difficult for her as a form of punishment. While both the Youngs and their servants had been in the first and second categories, there was no telling what this new group would do. After all, Sophie wanted to enjoy this month in the country, instead of having to deal with haughty glances and derisive murmurs behind her back.

A chuckle from Lord Young pulled Sophie from her thoughts, and she moved away from the window, smoothing her dress and trying to relax. Even if the servants thought less of her for her allergy, she would do her best to ignore them. Should things become unbearable, she could always discreetly ask the Youngs to intervene on her behalf. In the meantime, she would enjoy the fresh air, the new surroundings, and, when she could, the opportunity to take advantage of all the dust in the air.

Overhead, she heard Andrew clucking to the horses, and the carriage began to slow. “Nearly there,” Lord Young said, peering out the window, “And…my goodness, I think Lord Jacobs is already waiting outside to greet us! However could he have seen us that quickly?”

“Perhaps one of the servants spotted us through a gap in the trees,” Sophie suggested, “Some of those windows on the upper floor rise above the trees, after all.”

“Maybe,” Lord Young said, “I appreciate his coming out, regardless. It bodes well for the rest of the visit.”

Sophie looked out the window again, wanting to get a glimpse of her host. They were still too far away for her to pick out individual features, but she could tell he was tall and well-built, with an outfit that fit his frame well and was obviously of the latest fashion. While the sight was aesthetically pleasing, she wasn’t sure if it boded well for his personality. Someone who cared so much about his dress might also be a stickler for detail and propriety. An allergic maid might go against his expectations. Still, he wasn’t going to be directly giving her orders, so perhaps she could avoid him if it came to it.

Just as she was about to move away from the window, something else caught her attention. There was a second person out in the courtyard, leaning against a pillar. It was a woman, and based on her black and white attire, it seemed likely that she was a maid as well. Sophie wondered what she was doing out there. It was possible that she was taking a break from her duties, but Sophie had a suspicion that she was the Jacobs’ head maid, waiting to meet her new charges. Tearing herself away from the window, Sophie starting fiddling with her clothes again. Now she had even more reasons to make sure she was presentable.

She had just tucked her hair into her cap when the carriage finally rolled to a stop. Shortly thereafter, the door opened, and somebody spoke from outside. “Ah, Lord and Lady Young! What a pleasure to see you!”

The voice was aristocratic, to be sure, but also youthful, enthusiastic, and most of all, genuine. Despite her nerves, it made Sophie smile slightly. The odds were good that Lord Jacobs would be a good host to his proper guests, at the very least.

“Thank you, Lord Jacobs,” Lord Young said, stepping out of the carriage, “It’s good to see you as well. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Two months, at least,” Lord Jacobs agreed, “And I’m sorry for that, but with the purchase of this house and some of my other obligations, my ability to socialize was limited. All the more reason to make up for it during this visit.”

“We understand completely,” Lord Young said, as he helped Lady Margaret out of the carriage, “And we look forward to your hospitality. How is the cleaning progressing?”

“Fairly well, actually. All the bedrooms have been attended to, so at least you’ll have a place to freshen up after your journey. A lot of the smaller rooms still need to be tackled, but the essentials are finished. We were just finishing up the sitting room when you arrived, actually.”

“‘We?’ Are you saying that you’re doing a bit of cleaning yourself?” Lady Margaret sounded startled, though Sophie couldn’t tell if it was mixed with approval or disapproval.

Lord Jacobs chuckled. “Not directly. But I like to supervise the cleaning when I can. Talking to the servants as they clean takes their mind off their work and allows time to go faster. Besides, it allows me to look around the room and figure out if there’s anything I want to rearrange.”

Sophie swallowed. If Lord Jacobs was the type to supervise, then her allergy would be noticed that much quicker. Then again, now that he had guests, perhaps he wouldn’t be able to do it as often.

“How very hands-on of you,” Lord Young said, and this time, Sophie could tell that he approved, “And given that that’s the way you do things, I suppose this would be a good time to introduce you to your new, temporary member of the staff. Sophie?”

Lord Young’s hand appeared in the carriage. With a deep breath, Sophie took it and stepped down from the carriage, immediately sinking into a curtsey. “A pleasure, Lord Jacobs,” she said, “Thank you for having me, even if it was mostly out of necessity.”

As she came out of the curtsey, she got her first good look at her host, and even through her nerves, she liked what she saw. His expression wasn’t haughty, but relaxed and almost playful. He inclined his head and smiled at her. “Sophie, is it? It’s nice to meet you. I appreciate your willingness to help out a stranger.”

“I enjoy my work,” Sophie said honestly, “And if it allows me to visit a place as lovely as this, so much the better.”

Lord Jacobs laughed, which Sophie found encouraging. “Very true. Now then, I have an introduction of my own to make.”

Even as he spoke, the maid stepped away from the pillar and approached, stopping just behind Lord Jacobs and clasping her hands in front of her demurely. Lord Jacobs turned and gestured to her. “Sophie, meet Lisette. She’s my head maid for the duration of this trip. You’ll be answering to her most of the time.”

As Lisette appeared to be about Sophie’s age, this came as a bit of a surprise. Still, Sophie put on her best smile and held out her hand. “I’m glad to meet you. I look forward to working with you and the rest of the staff.”

Lisette shook hands and smiled back, her lips quirking up into a sideways grin. “I appreciate the formality, but you don’t need to keep it up on my account. Our work’s difficult enough without having to be proper all the time, at least around each other.”

Sophie’s eyes widened when she heard a very familiar cadence in Lisette’s voice. “Vous êtes Français aussi?” (You're French too?) she said before she could stop herself.

Oui,” Lisette said, her grin getting just a little wider, “Though I haven’t been back home in quite some time. Ah well; England suits me just as well. Still, it will be nice to have a good conversation in French. We’ll have to find time to talk in the evenings.”

“I think we can arrange that,” Lord Jacobs said, “Why don’t you two share a room? Or have the sleeping arrangements already been made?”

“We were planning on doing it this evening. Most of us were just enjoying the chance to sleep in separate rooms for a change.” Lisette chuckled, then looked back at Sophie. “What do you think? Care to bunk with me and get a taste of the old country?”

Sophie beamed. “I’d be delighted!”

“It’s settled, then!” Lord Jacobs said, “Lisette, why don’t you show Sophie to your room and give her a tour? I’ll take charge of the Youngs from here.”

Oui, my lord.” Lisette said with a curtsey, Sophie quickly following suit.  Lord Jacobs gave them both one last smile, then beckoned the Youngs forward. “We’ll start with the grounds, I think. I’d like to let the dust settle a bit before I show you the inside.”

“No such luck for us, I’m afraid,” Lisette said, turning towards the carriage, “We’re going to be right in the thick of it. You should enjoy the fresh air while you can.”

“I don’t mind,” Sophie said, “To tell you the truth, I enjoy the smell of dust.”

“I know what you mean. There’s a certain coziness to the smell, especially when it’s somewhere like a study or a library.” Lisette grinned at Sophie. “I think we’re going to get along just fine.”

“I hope so.” Sophie said, some of her nerves returning. While she and Lisette were getting off on the right foot, so much depended on what happened once her allergy came out. In fact, she was halfway tempted to say something right that second, to get it out in the open. She even opened her mouth, but couldn’t seem to find the right words. With a faint huff of frustration, she closed her mouth, resigning herself to take things as they came.

Lisette, for her part, was looking over the bags that Andrew was removing from the carriage. “Which ones are yours? I expect you’d like to get settled before I give you the tour, but there’s no reason we can’t do a bit of both on our way to the servant’s rooms.”

Sophie spotted her bag in the middle of the cases scattered on the ground and bent to pick it up. “I just have the one. We can go now, if you’d like.”

Lisette glanced over the bag idly, then paused, grinning again. “I see you brought your own supplies,” she said, pointing at something, “You didn’t need to do that. We have plenty of our own that you could use.”

Sophie looked down and spotted a few feathers from her feather duster poking out from the bag. She tucked them away, chuckling faintly. “I’m sure you do, but I’ve had this duster for as long as I’ve been with the Youngs. It’s served me well, and feels comfortable in my hand. Call it odd if you wish, but I’d like to have something familiar with me while I’m in a strange house, cleaning strange rooms.”

Lisette held up a hand. “You don’t have to explain anything. We all have our little quirks after all. Now come on, let’s get inside. As much as I love the excuse to take a break, I shouldn’t leave my work for too long. Especially since the other guests should be arriving this evening.”

Sophie, who well understood that feeling, merely nodded and followed Lisette to the servant’s entrance. Even as she crossed the threshold, she could catch the faint scent of dust, though it was fortunately only enough to make her nose prickle slightly. “How many rooms are left, really?” she asked, “I know Lord Jacobs said only the smaller rooms were left, but I’m sure there are more of those than he lets on.”

“It depends on your point of view,” Lisette said, leading Sophie across the hall, “If you want to count all the rooms in this place, then we have thirty. If you take out the ones that don’t really need to be dusted, like the wine cellar, then we have twenty-seven. And if we only concentrated on the rooms that people were likely to use on this visit, then there’s just eleven. That being said, Lord Jacobs would rather we got rid of the worst of the dust in every room. He may not know what to do with some of the rooms, but he doesn’t want his guests to get dirty should they stumble across one of the unused rooms.”

“Understandable,” Sophie said, her heart giving a nervous yet excited leap at the thought of having so many dusty rooms available to her, “Will you want me to focus on the little details as well? Polishing the floors, beating out the rugs, and so on?”

“Not immediately,” Lisette answered, turning a corner, “Maybe in the mornings or when you have some time to spare. Appearance is what really matters, at least here in the short term. On subsequent visits, we’ll want everything to be perfect, but hopefully things will be a bit more manageable then, and we won’t have to keep calling in extra servants. Speaking of which, I believe Lady Margaret’s maidservant is bunked in this room here. Would you like to pop in to say hello?”

In truth, Sophie wanted to get on with the tour, but knew it would be rude not to say hello. Besides, Charlotte should probably be informed that the Youngs had arrived, if only to help Andrew get their things settled. So she nodded and rapped on the door. “Charlotte?”

The door flew open at once, and Charlotte immediately smiled and enveloped Sophie in a hug. “Sophie! I should have known Lady Margaret would have chosen you for this job. It’s good to see you!”

“I’m glad to see you too. Especially since we probably won’t be seeing each other much over the next month.”

“We’ll have to make sure to arrange some time to chat. Is Andrew with you?”

“He’s still getting the bags down. I’m sure he’ll be along presently.”

“I’ll find Daniel and have him come along to help with the bags,” Charlotte said, reaching for her cap, “Are you going to be staying with me?”

Sophie shook her head semi-regretfully and stepped aside, gesturing over to Lisette. “Given our varying hours, that probably wouldn’t be wise. Besides, I’ve been invited to share the room of one of my fellow countrywomen.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Charlotte said, tucking her hair into her cap and nodding at Lisette, “No wonder you want to room with her. I hope you two find a lot in common. But now I really must find Daniel. Good luck with your work!”

With another smile and a wave, she moved back down the hall. Lisette smiled after her before beckoning Sophie forward again. “It seems that friendliness is a common trait in the Young servants. Reminds me of home, actually.”

“Home as in France, or…”

“No, no, the Jacobs home proper. We all mostly get along well, though the cook is widely feared, especially during dinner parties. I’m sure you’ll get a taste of her wrath at some point. Anyway, given the horror stories I’ve heard about other families, I’m always relieved that I wound up where I did…and happy whenever I see other servants who have our level of camaraderie.”

The words were genuine, and while it didn’t dispel Sophie’s nerves, it did allow her to give an equally genuine smile back. “May we manage the same camaraderie between our two houses, then.”

“I believe we can,” Lisette responded, reaching another door and pushing it open before motioning Sophie through, “We’re off to a good start, after all.”

Sophie acknowledged the sentiment with a nod, glancing around the room. It was plain even by the standards of a servant’s room, with bare white walls and just the essential furniture—beds, nightstands, a washbasin, and an armoire. It seemed comfortable for all that, however, and Sophie merely shrugged. “Which bed is mine?”

Lisette pointed to the bed nearest the door. “This one. I’d offer you your pick, but as I already slept in the other bed last night…”

“This will be fine,” Sophie said, before dropping her bag at the foot of the bed and opening it up wide enough to retrieve her duster, “Now, should we get started?”

Lisette’s eyes widened in surprise. “Are you sure? You must be tired from the journey. You’re more than welcome to get a drink and relax for an hour or so. No one would hold it against you if you did.”

“As I said to Lord and Lady Young, I’m eager to explore. Besides, the sooner we clean out the house, the sooner Lord Jacobs can focus on entertaining rather than fretting about the state of his home.” Sophie answered, before adding to herself, And perhaps I can get away with indulging in the dust before more servants arrive.

“Well, if you’re certain…” Lisette said, giving her a faintly concerned look before stepping out of the room again, “I’ll show you the essential rooms first, then we’ll move on to the areas that still need cleaning.”

She led the way towards the main body of the mansion, Sophie lingering a step or two behind. As soon as they stepped into the hall, the faint smell of dust grew just a little stronger, and her heart quickened. She must have gasped faintly, because Lisette looked over her shoulder with a chuckle. “I warned you about the dust. We were working on the upper rooms today, and haven’t had time to mop the downstairs. That’ll be our project for the late afternoon, I expect.”

“Perfect,” Sophie said, waiting until Lisette had turned around before giving her nose a quick rub, “That will be a fine opportunity to meet the rest of the servants. In the meantime, I’d be glad to get a start on one of the rooms once we’ve finished with the tour.”

“If you’re so eager, I’m not about to stop you. Makes my own job easier, after all. That being said, I don’t want you to overexert yourself on your first day here. You can clean one of the smaller rooms—the upstairs parlor, perhaps. You could work on that for an hour or so, then take another hour to rest before we set to work on the hall.”

“That will be just fine,” Sophie assured her, before licking her lips and adding as nonchalantly as she could, “In fact, since the room’s so small, I’d be willing to do it on my own. Or would you rather be on hand to give me specific instructions?”

She half-expected Lisette to refuse, either because she wanted to keep an eye on Sophie or because that wasn’t the way the Jacobs servants did things. It came as a surprise, therefore, when Lisette laughed and said “What instructions? Almost all rooms can be dusted in exactly the same way. While I’m curious where you get all this energy from, I’m certainly not going to complain about it. Besides, that’ll let me work on another room and help get the house clean that much faster.”

“That was my thinking,” Sophie said, which was half-true, “As for my energy, I think it’s just nerves and excitement about this new situation. The odds are good that I’ll fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow tonight.”

“I won’t take it personally. We’ve got a whole month to get to know each other, after all. In the meantime, you need to get to know the house. We’ll start with the dining room.”

Sophie obligingly shut her mouth and allowed Lisette to show her around, only speaking up to ask the occasional pertinent question. Not that there was much to ask; the layout may have been different, but a nobleman’s manor was a nobleman’s manor, and one could expect the same assortment of rooms. All that really mattered was the level of cleanliness required and the quickest way to get from place to place. With Lisette there to point out the shortcuts, the latter was easily determined. As for the former, well, the circumstances were such that a little bit of laxness would be accepted. Not that Sophie intended to leave an inch of the rooms undusted, of course.

Anyone who knew Sophie’s secret might have accused her of having dust (and sneezing) on the brain, but she was somewhat justified in this case. While the ground floor had been mostly scrubbed clean, there was still a fair amount of dust upstairs. In fact, the moment Sophie stepped onto the first floor landing, the smell of dust practically surrounded her, and the itch that had flitted in and out of her nose now took up permanent residence. She started breathing carefully through her mouth and rubbing her nose whenever Lisette wasn’t looking, not wanting to give herself away just yet. She’d managed to arrange one moment where she’d be allowed to indulge her odd quirk; she wasn’t about to risk losing it.

Fortunately, Lisette was too focused on the tour to really pay attention to what Sophie was up to, other than glancing behind her occasionally to make sure Sophie was still behind her. “That’s the lot,” she said at last, closing the door to the guest bedroom (slated for the Wildmoors) at the far end of the hall, “We’ll be having a meeting when the others arrive to determine who will be cleaning which rooms, but that won’t be until this evening at the earliest. Until then, we just pitch in where we can, much like your generous offer to clean the parlor here. Are you sure you don’t want a drink or something before you start?”

“I assure you, I’m fine. We had a little food and water with us in the carriage, which will tide me over until I’ve finished the parlor. Thank you for your concern, though; I do appreciate your looking out for me, a complete stranger.”

“I’ve never wanted anyone under my roof—or rather, Lord Jacobs’ roof—to be uncomfortable,” Lisette said, before adding with a grin, “Besides, I need to look out for a fellow countryman. Promise me that you’ll come to me if there’s something that’s troubling you. I assure you, I’ll do whatever I can to fix it.”

Sophie felt a brief stab of guilt at that, knowing that there was one thing that it was better not to mention. Nevertheless, she nodded. “I will. Thank you again.”

“Good!” Lisette said with satisfaction, before turning on her heel and starting to walk back to the parlor Sophie would be dusting, “Now, I’ll leave you to your work, and look in in an hour. Will you need any supplies to help you?”

Sophie shook her head and lifted her duster. “I think this will be all I’ll need. If I’m lucky, I’ll just about finish the dusting by the time you return.”

Lisette whistled. “If you manage that, I’ll be deeply impressed. Given all the dust that’s accumulated here, you’re more likely to reduce it to a faint grey layer rather than a room of solid grey.”

“You’re probably right,” Sophie admitted, “But I like the challenge. Perhaps I’ll surprise myself.”

“Your attitude is deeply appreciated, both by me and Lord Jacobs,” Lisette said, before opening the door to the parlor and gesturing for Sophie to enter with a teasing half-bow, “I’ll leave you to it, then. Good luck.”

Sophie smiled at her and stepped into the room, taking a moment to enjoy the obvious streaks of grey covering every available surface. Then the door closed behind her, and she pressed her ear to it, listening for Lisette’s retreating footsteps. Only when they’d disappeared did she step away to start working. It was also the moment when she allowed herself to start breathing through her nose again, letting the dust invade her sinuses and the itch start to properly grow.

As much as Sophie would have loved to keep the windows closed, allowing the dust to linger in the air, she crossed the room and pushed them open, though it took a bit of effort to do so. She didn’t want to raise suspicion, and besides, she’d meant what she said about challenges. Having an open window would make it easier to dispose of the dust. All she had to do was waft things towards the window, where it would be carried away by the breeze. Happily, it was unlikely to land on anyone below, given both the height and the fact that the windows looked out over the woods rather than a garden path. The only risk was someone overhearing her sneezing, but that would happen sooner or later, anyway, and there was always the chance the listener wouldn’t be able to tell where it had come from. Sophie was willing to take that chance.

Once the windows were open, she took another look around the room, trying to decide the best place to start. Her eyes landed on a table in the center of the room, surrounded by four comfortable chairs, and she immediately stepped towards it. Lisette had said to focus on the larger items, after all, and these would be the items a guest would be most likely to use. In fact, they were probably the only items a guest would care about; if the windows were open and a vase of flowers was on the table, they might not even be aware of the smell of dust at all.

Sophie, on the other hand, was very aware of it. The itch was causing her nose to wriggle at this point, though she was still rubbing her nose and taking shallow breaths through her mouth to stave it off, wanting to wait for just the right moment. That moment came when she put her duster onto the table and brushed lightly, sending a large cloud into the air. With a smile, she dropped her finger, leaned forward, and breathed in. In seconds, her breath caught, and she had just enough time to put her arm in front of her face to catch the sneeze.

Hah…Ha-CHH!

She gave a little satisfied exhale as she lifted her head, both relieved to finally be able to sneeze and glad that she’d have this time to indulge herself. Giving her nose a careful rub, she turned her attention to her work. Now that they’d started, the sneezes would take a while to stop. Better just let them come on naturally and focus on the task at hand.

Dusting the table was easy; dust generally didn’t cling much to a wooden surface. Sophie may have had to shake out her feather duster three times, but it was mostly due to the sheer volume of dust that had accumulated. Out of curiosity, she placed the tip of her finger onto an undusted section of the table, and when she lifted it again, there was a visible coating of dust reaching all the way to the pink part of her fingernail. Just looking at it made her nose itch, and she had to quickly lower her finger to cover her face. “Tchiew!” With a chuckle, she wiped her finger on her apron and returned to work.

After shaking out her duster for a fourth time, she looked over her handiwork. Most of the table had been cleared away, even the legs and the sides. The only areas that hadn’t been touched were the underside (which she would save for later, anyway) and the dead center of the table, which Sophie hadn’t quite been able to reach, even after she moved the chairs aside. There was only one way for her to access it, and even though there was some risk involved, Sophie was more than glad to do it. Stepping up to the table until it was pressing into her stomach, she bent forward until she was actually lying across the table, her nose inches above the wood as she stretched her arm out to dust the farthest area. Her heart quickened in anticipation.

Despite her eagerness, she carefully passed the duster over the table, waiting until she couldn’t see any more dust before bringing her hand forward. Her nose was twitching again, but at the moment, there wasn’t enough dust nearby to set it off. At least, until she finally had the duster just in front of her face, a few strands of feather brushing against the tip of her nose, no doubt leaving a few streaks of dust in their wake. Sophie half-struggled against the building feeling, but did allow her breath to hitch.

Hih…hehh…hehhh…

She managed to hold out until she’d managed to remove the last of the dust from the table. As she lifted the duster, a small shower of dust particles rained down on her, and while she couldn’t physically feel them, enough of them must have landed on her nose that it finally couldn’t hold back anymore. As her breath caught desperately, Sophie shoved away from the table and staggered to the window, where she finally released the sneeze, which was, unsurprisingly, a bit larger than normal. “HAH…HATCHH!!!!

Thankfully, the sneeze was enough to drive the worst of the itch out of her nose. After she blew into a handkerchief, the itch (temporarily) diminished entirely. Smiling, Sophie shook out her duster once more, then turned her attention to the four chairs.

These, unfortunately, would be a little more complicated than the table. They were made of a thick cloth material that was both soft to the touch and pretty to look at, but was designed in such a way that it was very easy to gather dust. Given the current state of the room, merely sitting on them would cause a cloud to rise into the air. Tempted as Sophie was to do just that, she decided to figure out the most efficient way of removing the dust first. Perhaps she’d indulge herself once she was down to the last chair.

In the end, she resorted to dragging the chair to the windows, then grabbing both ends of it and shaking it back and forth, which sent the majority of the dust into the air. While a good amount of it went out the window, just as much lingered in the air, which meant that Sophie would have a small sneezing fit as she moved the chair back into place. “Eshh! Itshh! Kchh! Tchi!” Once the fit had passed, she would give the chair a proper dusting, using her fingers to separate the folds in the fabric and gain access to the rest of the dust. It may have been taking longer than she would like, but at least she could assure herself that the chairs were properly clean and wouldn’t cause the guests the same problems she was currently having. Not that she exactly considered this a problem.

As the constant moving of the chairs was burning into her hour of cleaning, Sophie decided to forego sitting in the final chair, treating it like the other three. Once she’d put it back in place, however, she glanced around the room, looking for another object she could have a little fun with. Her eyes eventually landed on the fireplace, and more specifically, the bellows, which actually had visible cobwebs clinging to it. With a roguish grin, she turned her attention to the rest of the room, wanting to get as much done as possible before tackling the fireplace. Enjoying herself was all well and good, but proving her abilities to Lisette and Lord Jacobs was much more important.

Fortunately, the room was indeed relatively small, with only a few other pieces of furniture to be concerned about. There was a bookcase, several light fixtures, and one smaller, more decorative table, all of which Sophie dusted relatively efficiently, with only about four sneezes per piece (except for the light fixtures, which only managed two apiece). Once she’d shaken out her duster, she looked around the room again, nodding her satisfaction. The walls, floor, windows, and curtains would still need to be cleaned, but the furniture at least looked notably cleaner. Hopefully, Lisette would consider that impressive. There was no telling how much she was capable of cleaning in an hour, after all.

Finally approaching the fireplace, Sophie first dusted the decorated border, then the mantelpiece (thankfully devoid of ornaments), and finally the various tools and buckets needed to keep a fire going. As she set the poker aside, she glanced at the bellows, now the only thing left to clean, and gave it another smile. “Just a moment,” she said, as she moved to the window for the second-to-last time, “I’ll be right wi…Ishh!…with you.”

After she’d shaken out the duster, she returned to the fireplace and crouched down next to the bellows, reaching out and carefully curling her fingers around the handles. Moving it aside, she quickly dusted the area where it had been resting, then set her duster in her lap and took up the bellows again. She carefully positioned herself until she was almost half inside the fireplace, then pointed the bellows towards her, closed her eyes and pressed the two ends together.

There was a rush of air against her face, followed immediately by an overwhelming scent of dust. But there was another, more acrid scent mixed in as well, and it was only when Sophie opened her eyes and glanced around that she realized her mistake. It wasn’t just dust coating the bellows; there was a fair amount of soot and ash mixed in. In theory, they were all the same thing. In practice, it made Sophie’s nose burn, would leave much more obvious stains than mere dust, and, worst of all, had a tendency to clog her nose, making it harder for her to actually sneeze.

Sophie immediately drew out her handkerchief and blew as hard as she could, but it was just a little too damp from her previous sneezes, and while she managed to get some of the black soot out of her nose, it wasn’t enough to dislodge all of it. She could feel her nose twitching, the itch in both sides of her nose, but all she could seem to manage was a few shaking breaths.

Ih…hihh…ehhh…aaahhh…

Her body was frozen in indecision for a moment, but the itch backed off slightly, denying her release. With a groan of frustration, Sophie grabbed the bellows a little more roughly and started dusting it vigorously, her face hovering directly overhead. Perhaps inhaling enough dust would take care of the problem.

But it seemed like no matter how much she breathed in, the sneeze was now determined not to leave. Her breath caught every few seconds, causing her to pause in her work and wait eagerly, but after two or three increasingly desperate gasps, the itch would back off again. Cursing in French, she would return to her work, bringing her face a little closer to the dust and feathers in the vain hope that closer proximity might encourage the sneeze. By the fifth or six attempt, her forehead was nearly touching her knees, and irritated tears were starting to leak from her eyes, but still the sneeze refused to come.

Just as she felt like she would scream in frustration, she received a ray of hope. As she turned the bellows over, one of the feathers in her duster brushed against her nose, causing a much larger, sharper gasp.

HAH…

While the sneeze backed off almost immediately, it did suggest that her nose was more receptive to feathers at the moment. With a sigh of relief, she continued dusting, wanting to at least finish the bellows. Desperate as she was to sneeze, she hated leaving work unfinished.

The second that she felt the bellows were clean enough, she set it aside and turned the feather duster towards her face. While she normally tried for some degree of subtlety when she used her duster to coax out some sneezes, the itch in her nose was so great that she gave up all pretense this time around. She closed her eyes (already half-closed from irritation) and thrust her face into the center of the duster, taking as deep a breath as she could. Dimly, she was aware of the soft feathers ghosting over her face, offering a bit of reassuring softness, but most of her attention was focused on her nose.

And with good reason. The moment she inhaled the feathers, still smeared with a fair amount of dust, her entire nose seemed to catch on fire. The dust bounced against her already itchy sinuses, magnifying the sensation tenfold, while the feathers, so soft against the outside of her skin, seemed to grow sharper, poking into anything they touched with such a sharpness that Sophie wouldn’t have been surprised if they made her nose bleed. It made her gasp and her eyes water even more, but she could feel her chest expanding and tightening, and knew she was seconds away from a sneeze. All she needed was one more bit of encouragement.

She began to spin the duster back and forth in her hands, encouraging the dust to travel still deeper into her nose and the feathers to start actively tickling her. Her breath began hitching again, this time loud and strong. “AH…HAHH…HAAHHH…

As she sucked in the last breath, one of the larger feathers moved just a bit more up her nose, hitting a spot right in the very back. The end result was nothing like what Sophie had been expecting.

HAH- CHISHHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The force of the sneeze was such that it seemed to blow the duster out of Sophie’s hands, though in reality she had merely loosened her grip. It also, to her relief, seemed to remove the soot from her nose in one fell swoop. Sophie was left dazed in the aftermath, head spinning and ears ringing, more baffled than satisfied by what had just happened. She’d never felt a sensation like that in her life, despite her years of being around dust and feathers. Whatever had happened had been no mere allergy. And while she didn’t much care for such explosive results, it certainly was something worth exploring.

She picked up the feather duster and, almost without thinking, ran her fingers through it until she felt one feather that seemed a little loose. With a sharp jerk, she removed it, spinning it in her hand for a second before putting it back in the left side of her nose and moving it as far up as she could. When nothing happened, she began to wiggle the feather around her nose, occasionally offering a semi-sharp poke. The sensation stung a little, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been earlier, which was encouraging.

Finally, she poked a spot somewhere on the right-hand side, and the urge to sneeze overwhelmed her once more. “Kit-TISH!” Pulling the feather from her nose, she sniffed and dabbed her nose with her handkerchief, wondering what this was all about. Was there a spot in her nose that was particularly allergic to feathers? Was this mostly due to her nose being sensitive from all that it had been put through in the last hour? Was there a way she could control…

C’est possible…?

Sophie froze, fully coming back to herself. She’d been so curious about the new sensation that she hadn’t been paying attention to the rest of her surroundings. With growing horror, she realized that the ringing in her ears hadn’t just been from the force of the sneeze—it had also been a knocking on the door. Lifting her eyes, she saw Lisette standing in the doorway, a glass of water in her hand and a completely unreadable expression on her face. But Sophie knew what it meant. For the first time in her life, she had been caught.

~~~

The second and final part will be posted tomorrow. Normally I wouldn't do this, but a) the fic is pretty long, so it might be good to split it up for the reader's sake, and b) I think the story benefits from adding a touch of suspense...

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And now, the promised Part 2.

~~~

Sophie paced nervously in her bedroom, wringing her hands and alternating between swearing and praying. Every so often, she would try to sit on the bed, but her body would start trembling so violently she would force herself back to her feet to keep herself from fainting. Rationally, she knew the only way out of this was to remain calm and tell a plausible story, but in her current situation, calm was all but impossible.

She glanced at the closed door for what must have been the twentieth time, wondering how much longer it would be before it opened and sealed her fate. How many people would enter the room when it finally happened? Would it just be Lisette, sent to bring Sophie up to the Youngs? Would the Youngs themselves be there to question her personally? It was even possible that Lord Jacobs would be present, to make sure nothing too untoward was happening in his house. Sophie was equally terrified of all the options.

She almost wished she could have been left in the parlor while her fate was being decided. At least then, she could have tried to continue cleaning, to prove to the Youngs and Lord Jacobs that she was still a good worker despite her odd habit. Instead, Lisette had asked her to return to their bedroom, informing her that they would “talk shortly.” Sophie had obeyed, shoving her feather duster out of sight as soon as she’d shut the door; the sight of it was more ominous than comforting at the moment. Unfortunately, that left her with nothing to do but to stew in her anxiety, jumping at every sound and trying to prepare for what was about to come.

Just as Sophie turned away from the door to pray again, she heard the faint click of the knob, and froze in place. The door creaked open, and she closed her eyes, waiting for whoever it was to speak. She wanted to get a sense of the situation before trying to state her case. Besides, she didn’t trust herself to speak at the moment.

 “Sophie?” Lisette’s voice was gentle, as though she was talking to a skittish cat, “Regardez-moi.

With a deep, shuddering breath, Sophie turned around. To her slight relief, Lisette was alone, and was in the process of closing the door behind her. Good; perhaps that would keep the incident from turning into a scene. Sophie swallowed. “What…”

Lisette shook her head. “En Français. Par là, les autres domestiques ne comprendrons pas.” (In French. That way, the other servants won't understand us.)

Sophie nodded, grateful for that bit of privacy. Merci. Que…qu’est-ce que vous avez dit aux Youngs?” (Thank you. What...what have you told the Youngs?)

Lisette crossed the room and carefully put her hand on Sophie’s shoulder. “Rien. Et j’aurais l’intention de dire rien.” (Nothing. And I have no intention of saying anything.)

Sophie felt her legs wobble dangerously beneath her, and Lisette instantly got her arm around Sophie’s shoulder and guided her to Sophie’s bed. Sophie kept staring at Lisette, unsure if she’d really heard correctly. “Vous promettez?” (You promise?) she said faintly, hating herself both for her weak voice and for her distrust.

Lisette smiled and put her hand back to Sophie’s shoulder, giving a reassuring squeeze. Je peux ne jurer que par la croix si vous voudriez.” (I could swear by the cross if you wish.)

Non, je vous crois,” Sophie said, deciding that Lisette had to be telling the truth if she would even propose an oath like that, “Mais pourquoi?” (No, I believe you. But why?)

Pourquoi voient-ils importer? Vous achevez votre devoirs et, je soupçonnes, vous êtes respectueux aux ils. Porvu que ils ne empiétent pas sur votre travail, votre intérêts ne sont pas les affaires.” (What should it matter to them? You do your duties and, I suspect, you are respectful to them. As long as they don't interfere in your work, your interests aren't their business.)

C’est vrai,” Sophie admitted, “Mais cette situation est très exceptionnel…” (That's true. But my situation is very unusual...)

Lisette raised an eyebrow. “Je suppose que vous êtes allergique à plumes?” (I suppose you're allergic to feathers?)

Sophie nodded hesitantly. “Et poussière aussi.” (And dust too.)

Lisette laughed. “Bien sûr. De toute façon, ce ne change pas ma opinion.” (Of course. All the same, that doesn't change my opinion.)

Mais…” (But...)

Lisette waved a hand. Vous n’êtes pas la première domestique qui a profité de leurs situation. Beaucoup vole l’argenterie; vous faisez vous-même éternuez exprès. Les Youngs devoient considérer heureux.” (You are not the first maid who's taken advantage of their situation. Many steal the silver; you make yourself sneeze on purpose. The Youngs should consider themselves lucky.)

Sophie was astonished by how blasé Lisette was about the whole affair. Vous ne pense pas que mon amour pour mes éternues est anormal?” (You don't think my love for my own sneezes is abnormal?)

C’est…étrange,” Lisette said, “Mais tout personnes ont petite bizarreries. Je ne juges pas.” (It's...strange. But everyone has their little quirks. I don't judge.)

Sophie’s eyes filled with tears, her fear and relief colliding and finally spilling out of her. “Desolée,” she said, dabbing at her eyes with her hand, “C’a été un secret pour ma vie entier. Pour quelq’un découvrir…et alors pour on accepter…” (I'm sorry. It's been a secret for my whole life. For someone to find out...and then for them to accept it...)

Lisette patted Sophie’s shoulder. “Je comprends. Vous vous calmez; J’attendrai.” (I understand. Calm yourself; I'll wait.)

Sophie nodded and then immediately burst into tears. She knew it was ridiculous to cry over something so small, but she also knew that it was better to let the emotions wash over her. Dimly, she felt Lisette leave the bed, but it didn’t fully register until something soft touched her hands. Looking up, she saw Lisette offering a handkerchief. “Approprié, oui?” (Appropriate, yes?) she said, a grin on her lips but sympathy in her eyes.

Sophie managed a laugh and took the handkerchief, wiping her eyes. Desolée,” she said again, “J’empêches vous de faire votre travail.” (I'm sorry. I'm keeping you from your work.)

Lisette shrugged and got off the bed, stretching. Je suis le chef bonne. J’ai plus de liberté d’action. En plus, je peux compenser demain.” (I'm the head maid. I have more freedom. Besides, I can make up for it tomorrow.)

She said it casually, but then she paused, one hand coming up to tap her chin thoughtfully. Je me demands si…” she murmured. (I wonder if...)

Qu’est-ce que?Sophie said, her nervousness starting to return. (What is it?)

Lisette looked back at Sophie, examining her face. Just as Sophie shifted uncomfortably, Lisette nodded. Oh, quel enfer. Aidiez-vous moi à épousseter la salle de cartes en haut à quinze heures demain?” (Oh, what the hell. Will you help me dust the card room at Three pm tomorrow?)

Surprised, Sophie nodded. “Certainment, si vous voulez. Mais pourquoi…” (Certainly, if you wish. But why...?)

Vous verrez.” (You'll see.) Sophie blanched, and Lisette quickly held up her hands. “Je promis, ce sera bien. Il y a…quelque chose que vous aimerez là.” (I promise, it will be all right. There is...something there you'll like.)

Sophie was still uncertain, but given Lisette’s kindness towards her so far, she was willing to go along with it. “Bien. Je…j’aurai confiance en vous.” (All right. I...I'll trust you.)

Lisette smiled again and held out a hand to help Sophie to her feet. “C’est tout que je demande.” (That's all that I ask.)

Sophie took Lisette’s hand without hesitation and stood up. As soon as they unclasped hands, it was like a spell was broken. “Well then,” Lisette said, clapping her hands and giving Lisette a broad grin, “Shall we assist the other servants with cleaning the hall?”

“Yes, of course,” Sophie said, setting the handkerchief on her bedside table and moving towards the door, “But if I could ask…do you think the other servants will look down on me for my…you know…”

“None of the Jacobs servants will,” Lisette said, “Though they may get a chuckle out of it once they realize. As for the other visiting servants…well, I have no control over what they think, but I’ll certainly make sure they don’t harass you about it. Just let me know if someone is rude and I’ll be sure to set them straight the next time I see them.”

“Thank you,” Sophie said, as Lisette opened the door and beckoned for Sophie to exit first, “I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay you for all this.”

“That’s easy,” Lisette said, giving Sophie’s shoulder one last squeeze. “Just help us clean the manor to the best of your abilities. And based on what I saw in the parlor, those will be some considerable abilities indeed.”

***

The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. As she and the other servants were working with mops rather than dusters, Sophie’s sneezing was kept to a minimum; no one even commented on it other than to bless her. Afterwards, they all retired for dinner and used the time to get to know one another a little better. It was all very pleasant, and when Lisette and Sophie retired to bed a few hours later, Sophie felt much more convinced that everything was going to turn out all right. But Lisette’s invitation still lingered in the back of her mind, and she couldn’t help but wonder what exactly her fellow maid had planned.

For her part, Lisette wasn’t giving anything away. She chatted nonchalantly to Sophie when they woke up the next morning, and gave no indication that she even remembered what had happened the day before. And yet she assigned Sophie to finish cleaning out the upstairs parlor by herself, while nearly everyone else was put into pairs. Not that Sophie objected, but it made her even more curious and anxious about what Lisette was up to.

When Sophie heard the downstairs clock chime two, she left the parlor (which by that point was nearly finished) to give herself time to freshen up, have a bite to eat, and prepare for whatever awaited her in the card room. Her nerves increased with every minute that ticked by, making it hard for her to finish her meal. She forced it down nevertheless—it wouldn’t do to either waste food or to not have the strength to complete her duties—and tried to reassure herself that all would be well. Lisette had given her word, and it was highly unlikely that she would go back on it, especially to a fellow countrywoman. Even so, those reminders weren’t enough to prevent her hands from shaking when she eventually rapped on the door to the card room. The only real cure for her anxiety was to enter the room and see what was there.

Entrez.” said Lisette, and Sophie tentatively pushed the door open, looking around. Her shoulders relaxed a little when she saw that it was a perfectly ordinary room, albeit a very dusty one, since it was already making her nose itch faintly. Lisette was at the far corner, dusting the light fixture on the wall, the windows already open to help air out the room. She looked up as Sophie entered and gave her a smile. “There you are, right on time. Close the door and pick out a table to dust. And if your nose starts itching, feel free to deal with it as you see fit. I’ve got a spare handkerchief in my apron if you need it.”

Sophie nodded, moving to a table at the opposite side of the room. While she was still a bit nervous at the prospect of sneezing in front of someone who knew her secret, this was something she could live with. After all, she’d have had to work with Lisette anyway; why not get the awkwardness out of the way when it was just the two of them?

She had just touched her duster to the table when Lisette spoke again. “Sophie, listen. In a minute, someone’s going to come into the room. I know you’re still feeling uncomfortable about all this, but I want you to trust me. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, what’s about to happen should help put your mind at ease. Just keep dusting and let me do all the talking, all right?”

Sophie’s nerves came back full force at that, but Lisette’s expression was so kindly and sympathetic that she was sure there was no ill-intent there. Swallowing, she nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

“Good,” Lisette said, nodding, “Now let’s see how long…”

At that moment, the door handle clicked, and Sophie’s head shot up, unsure who was about to enter but wanting to know as soon as possible. Lisette also looked over at the door, but her attitude seemed much more relaxed and amused. “Ah, punctual as always. I’m actually a little impressed, what with all the guests he has to entertain.”

Sophie felt like her body had turned to ice. Lord Jacobs was standing in the doorway, looking from her to Lisette with an expression of bemusement. “Ah,” he said after a moment, before clearing his throat and drawing himself up a little straighter, “Don’t mind me, please. I was just looking in to see how the cleaning was coming along.”

“Come in, my lord,” Lisette responded, “You know I’m much faster at my job when you’re there to motivate me.”

Lord Jacobs actually seemed to hesitate, which surprised Sophie. “But what about…?”

“It’s all right,” Lisette said, “Sophie and I spent a lot of time talking yesterday. It turns out we have a lot in common. Including dusting being our favorite part of our duties.”

It took every part of Sophie’s self-control to keep from looking at Lisette in disbelief. Yes, what she’d just said was relatively innocuous and probably wouldn’t arouse suspicion, but after all Lisette’s reassurances, this still felt like a betrayal. As looking at her or saying something might be even more damning, however, Sophie kept her mouth closed and focused her attention on Lord Jacobs, to see what his reaction would be. To her surprise, his posture relaxed a little, and he smiled faintly as he stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. “I see,” he said, “And so you invited her to dust with you, so you could…enjoy it together?”

“Exactly,” Lisette said, “Do you mind?”

Lord Jacobs shook his head. “No. It’s just a bit of a surprise, that’s all.”

“I think it was for all of us,” Lisette answered, before pulling out a chair at the table next to her and gesturing to it, “Sit down, my lord. No need for you to stand to supervise us.”

A cloud of dust was thrown into the air as the chair scraped against the floor, enough to increase the itch in Sophie’s nose but not enough to make her sneeze. That wasn’t what really caught her attention, however; it was the fact that the chair Lisette had pulled out had clearly not been dusted. And she was asking her employer to sit on it? Why would she do such a thing?

Lord Jacobs, however, didn’t seem remotely put out. Instead, he crossed the room and sat down in the chair, throwing up still more dust. He didn’t seem in the least bit perturbed about dirtying his clothes that way; in fact, his smile seemed to grow a little wider. Sophie’s confusion was replaced with surprise and curiosity. There was obviously something going on here, and Lisette was allowing her to witness it, though Sophie still wasn’t entirely sure why.

Not wanting to just stand there and gawp, Sophie started dusting her table, though she couldn’t refrain from glancing over at Lisette and Lord Jacobs every few seconds, in the hopes that the mystery would reveal itself to her. But nothing out of the ordinary occurred for at least two minutes; Lord Jacobs merely sat there, discussing the cleaning progress with Lisette while she dusted. Neither of them even seemed to be aware that Sophie was there. This kept her from feeling so self-conscious, but it just made her reason for being there all the more puzzling.

And then Lord Jacobs sniffed sharply, one hand coming up to rub his nose. “Oh dear…” he said, glancing over at Sophie at last, “You’ll have to pardon me, Sophie. I’m more than happy to supervise my staff’s cleaning efforts, especially here on my new property, but it does come with a price. After about five minutes, the dust starts to irritate my nose. Although given the amount of dust in this room, that reaction seems to be happening a bit fa…ahh…”

His voice trailed off, his breath becoming shaky. The hand that had been rubbing his nose moved down to his pocket, where he retrieved a handkerchief. He brought it to his face, eyes closing in preparation. Sophie stopped her dusting to watch, realization starting to creep in, even though she couldn’t entirely bring herself to believe it. Surely it was just a coincidence…

Lord Jacobs seemed frozen in place for a second, body tensed with anticipation. Then his body jerked forward slightly, the sound of his sneeze only partially muffled by the cloth. “Ashh!

Lisette, who had also paused in her dusting when Lord Jacobs’ breath had caught, put a hand to her mouth and chuckled. It was a light, airy sound, one that suggested that Lisette was delighted with what had just happened. “A vos souhaits.” she said, glancing over at Sophie as she did so. And as their eyes met, everything finally fell into place. Sophie’s eyes widened, and she couldn’t stop her mouth from dropping open. Her free hand came up, tentatively pointing at Lisette. Even if she was certain she finally understood, she wanted confirmation. She’d think she was dreaming otherwise.

Lisette gave her the briefest of nods, her eyes sparkling. “Aren’t you going to bless Lord Jacobs, Sophie? It’s a bit rude not to, you know.”

Sophie swallowed. “Y-yes, of course. Bless you, my lord.”

Lord Jacobs lowered the handkerchief and smiled at her. “Thank you. Perhaps the double blessing will keep the dust from affecting me as much, though I sincerely doubt that. Now that I’ve started, it will be very hard for me to stop until the room has been thoroughly dusted.”

“Well, we’ll have to do something about that. Right, Sophie?” Lisette said, giving Sophie a quick wink.

Sophie nodded, her shock fading away, slowly being replaced with the old excitement she had whenever she dusted. “Absolutely.”

“To work, then,” Lisette said, putting her feather duster on the table again, “I bet I can finish this table before you finish yours.”

“We’ll see about that.” Sophie answered with a genuine laugh. Then she turned away and started dusting the table in earnest. This was a game she’d played with other maids before, and she’d always enjoyed the challenge…and the little benefits that came with it.

Her duster flew over the table, gathering up large amounts of dust while sending quite a bit of it into the air. While Sophie was more focused on her cleaning than the dust in the air, she was certainly aware of it, especially as the itch in her nose grew stronger. Even so, she ignored it as best she could and kept going, rubbing her nose when the itch became too sharp. When it became clear that her rubbing wasn’t doing any good, she narrowed her eyes and withdrew a handkerchief, still dusting as best she could. It was only when her breath caught that she paused, clamping the handkerchief over her nose and mouth. “Hit-CHH!

Dimly, she could hear both Lisette and Lord Jacobs blessing her, and while there was a nagging fear in the back of her mind about the situation, Sophie’s competitive spirit had overridden most of her other thoughts. All that mattered right now was finishing the table before Lisette finished hers. Keeping her handkerchief in her hand in preparation for the sneezes that were sure to come, Sophie kept dusting, barely acknowledging the blessings with a nod. Based on the chuckles she heard, the other two didn’t seem to mind her brusqueness.

She had dusted her way across half of the table when the urge to sneeze overwhelmed her again. Her right hand kept moving the duster, while her left brought the handkerchief to her nose. She inhaled sharply to coax the sneeze out, and then…

Ih-kish-shh!

Sophie actually paused in her dusting at that. Her sneeze had sounded odd that time, as though the room was generating an echo. It took a moment for her to realize that she and Lord Jacobs had sneezed simultaneously, the sound of the two sneezes mixing together in an odd sort of harmony. This had never happened to her before, and Sophie had to admit she was intrigued. Pity she probably wouldn’t have much of a chance to explore it.

Then she heard Lisette laughing again, her laughter fading in and out, occasionally accompanied by a gasp for air. Apparently the sound, and possibly sight, of two people sneezing at the same time was even more amusing than just one in Lisette’s mind. Taking advantage of the minor distraction, Sophie rubbed her nose and forged on. If she did it right, she’d probably only sneeze one or two more times before she finished.

Sure enough, she soon reached the end of the table, with just one sneeze in the interim. “Fini!” she declared triumphantly, lifting her duster from the table's foot and turning to face Lisette. Lisette was also dusting the table legs, but she was only halfway down the leg. Sophie let out a small whoop. “It seems that I win.”

“You had an unfair advantage,” Lisette said, finishing the leg and standing up, though her grin and sparkling eyes showed she wasn’t actually put out, “I found myself incapacitated midway through, for some unknowable reason.”          

“But you had an advantage going into it,” Lord Jacobs pointed out mildly, though his eyes had their own twinkle to them, “Because if what Lord and Lady Young mentioned to me last night is true, Sophie had to contend with her own sensitivity to dust. Am I correct, Sophie?”

Sophie hesitated for a second, some of her nervousness returning. She knew Lord and Lady Young had told visitors about her allergies before—mostly in the context of bragging how good a maid she was despite that—but while it stood to reason that they would mention it to Lord Jacobs, the circumstances were such that she wasn’t entirely sure what would happen if she admitted it.

At last, though, she nodded. “Oui. Though as you see, I have learned how to work around it.”

“I’m impressed at your ability to do so,” Lord Jacobs said, sounding sincere, “I tend to find myself completely paralyzed when I’m about to sneeze. I have just enough presence of mind to use my handkerchief, but that’s about all. Tell me, how do Lord and Lady Young deal with an impending sneeze?”

“I don’t think she knows,” Lisette interjected, glancing significantly between Lord Jacobs and Sophie, “She was telling me that she prefers to dust privately when she can, so that others aren’t annoyed by her sneezing. Wasn’t that how you put it, Sophie?”

Sophie saw the slight change in Lord Jacobs’ expression, that quick flash of understanding, and her anxiety vanished completely. “That’s right,” she said with a nod, “While I believe most of the inhabitants of the Young house just see my sneezing as part of the day-to-day noise, I still try to minimize exposing others to it when I can. It seems more polite that way.”

“I believe we think alike,” Lord Jacobs said, “While my servants are aware of my sensitivity, I try not to sneeze in the presence of guests. We like to joke that it’s a household secret.”

“Those are the best kinds.” Sophie responded, giving him a grateful smile.

Lord Jacobs started to smile back, but then his nose wrinkled and he had to put his handkerchief back to his face. “Tkchh!

A vos souhaits.” Sophie said. Lisette repeated the blessing, though hers was punctuated by chuckles. Once she’d composed herself, Lisette nodded and said “And now that that’s all been sorted out, shall we return to our dusting? I don’t think we want to make your noses suffer any more than necessary.”

“Indeed,” Sophie said with a knowing grin, “Though I don’t think we should keep racing each other; given the dust in here, it would get exhausting very quickly.”

And so the two maids spent the next two hours cleaning out the room, discussing various matters with Lord Jacobs. Anyone who had poked their head inside the room, or merely listened at the door, wouldn’t have suspected a thing. Even the frequent sneezing wouldn’t have been a surprise, given the state of the place. Only Lisette’s laughter would have raised eyebrows, but could have been easily put down to her personality (an excuse that had been used before, according to Lisette and Lord Jacobs). Best of all, Sophie felt entirely at ease. She could do whatever she wanted while she dusted, from deliberately inhaling dust to sticking her nose in her feather duster, and the other two wouldn’t bat an eye. Indeed, there were times when they seemed to silently encourage it.

She couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed when it became clear that there was nothing left to clean. After all this, it was obvious that Lisette (perhaps aided and abetted by Lord Jacobs) would find ways to let her indulge in her interest, but she’d just been privy to something special, which she probably wouldn’t really have again. Even if she ever did feel comfortable enough to tell her secret to others, she doubted they would understand things the way Lisette and Lord Jacobs did. All good things had to come to an end, of course, but she wished this could have gone on a little longer.

As she was shaking her feather duster out the window, Lisette came up beside her to do the same. Once they’d pulled their heads back inside, Lisette put her hand on Sophie’s shoulder. “Lord Jacobs and I do this little…ritual…every day at three. If he is agreeable, you are welcome to join us for as long as you are a visitor here.”

“I am indeed agreeable,” Lord Jacobs said, rising to his feet and gingerly brushing the dust off of his coat, “I rather like the slight change in dynamic. Besides, watching your cleaning techniques might give Lisette new ideas.”

Sophie smiled warmly at them, tears in her eyes. “Thank you, both of you. I am both honored and humbled by the trust you place in me.”

“Well, it’s not every day you run into someone who has the same, shall we say, appreciation. Why not take advantage of that while you can? In fact…” Lord Jacobs’ eyes sparkled, “I do believe that I should make more of an effort to call on the Youngs in the future. And I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if I brought Lisette along when I did so. An extra pair of hands never goes amiss, does it?”

 Lisette and Sophie both exchanged a glance and a grin before turning back to Lord Jacobs. “I’m sure the Youngs would be glad to have you visit.” Sophie said, “Though of course, that’s a matter you should settle with them.”

 Lisette curtseyed deeply. “I’m honored you would choose me, of all your maids, to accompany you. I’ll do my utmost to earn that faith in me.”

“I’m sure you will,” Lord Jacobs said, with a very noticeable wink, “Now, on your way, both of you. I have to attend to my guests, and I know there are at least a dozen rooms left to clean. Though given what I’ve seen, I’m sure everything will be in order long before the end of the visit.”

Once they were outside, Lisette turned to Sophie. “I need to check in with the other servants, but once I’ve finished…care to help me clean out one of the unused bedrooms? Lord Jacobs was right; I would certainly appreciate exchanging cleaning techniques with you.”

Lisette beamed and brandished her feather duster. “Bien sûr. Just lead the way.”

~~~

If some of the stuff at the end sounded familiar, there's a reason for it; in addition to being a sequel to my Sophie stories, this was also a crossover with another fic I wrote, Giggly. The idea of having two maids who had connections to sneezing meeting and interacting seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up, so I gave it a go. I hope it was enjoyable!

 

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On 2/18/2020 at 2:58 PM, Wig_Powder said:

@Plant Given that I'm not a native speaker and that I haven't really exercised my French in the last few years, I consider that high praise. Thanks a lot!

It wasn't the best but it was very understandable! You did great

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@Wig_Powder
I really loved your story, it's even one of my favorites. I preferred chapter one because I am more of a female sneeze fetishist. Curiously, I usually have less preference for stories with a long intro. I always prefer to get to the heart of the matter quickly, quickly to sneezing. But here, I hung from start to finish, even the beginning, every detail, it was wonderful. I was in heaven when reading your story. :razz:

It is true that you have some gaps with your texts in French, but I can help you if you want for your next. I'm Belgian, I mostly have gaps in English. x)

In any case, you really have a crazy talent for writing stories. I hope you will write us a still very fast. ^_^

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@oOMariusOo I'm so glad it appealed to you, especially since it isn't your preferred style!

And thank you for the offer to help with any French I write in the future! I don't have any plans that involve French speaking at the moment, but I'll definitely keep you in mind if something comes up!

Edited by Wig_Powder
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Ahh that was awesome. I love the scene where they're all in there together, sneezing. Cute. I like the characters too, they're lovely :)

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@Teacups Thank you! The characters were a lot of fun to write (both here and in the previous stories involving them), so I'm glad people enjoyed them as much as I did.

As for that one scene...I don't know at what point I came up with it, but I'm certain it had to be early in the process. A scenario like that, given the circumstances, was too good to pass up. Even if I didn't go as sneeze wild as I theoretically could have.

Thanks so much for reading!

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  • 1 month later...

Goodness, that is rather delightful. Very much enjoyed your style of writing and the scenario and scene-setting was spot in in my opinion. Thank you for sharing! :)

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