As a wannabe writer, it was suggested to me that I should try and get inside the head of some of the characters that I love. I was blown away by Jessie Burton’s novel, ‘The Miniaturist’ which is set in 17th century Amsterdam. I particularly liked Cordelia, the maidservant. She is a mysterious figure and we don’t get to hear much about her past, so I’ve taken a bit of creative license. This is what I imagine she might have to say for herself if she was writing the C Blog instead of me- Over to you Cordelia……
Welcome to the house of secrets, or should I say the world of lies and deceit. Believe me when I say that in this place, nothing is what it seems. She’ll find that out soon enough, if she opens those big blue eyes. That’s what I had to do. She’s not like me though. She’s a proper lady, with good breeding and high expectations.
I came here when I was twelve, rescued from the city orphanage by Marin Brandt, the most unlikely of guardian angels with her sour face and her straight back. I can’t remember much about life before the orphanage. All I know for sure is that it went badly wrong. Mother was found in the canal one night, after provoking my drink sodden father into a terrible rage. Since nobody wanted six children with the taint of disgrace hanging over their heads, we were marched off to join the other waifs and strays of Amsterdam. Enough said about that! God was surely smiling at me the day Marin came to the orphanage looking for a maidservant; that day was the start of my new life. I don’t believe in looking back.
Happy and all as I was, I could tell that things weren’t quite right the moment I stepped through the front door of my new home. Call it my survival instinct if you like, but I can sniff out trouble a mile off. It’s what’s kept me alive this long. That and the ability to run like a greyhound, when my old man was on a bender.
In this city, the Burgomasters are like God. If they don’t like you, oh boy, you’re in big trouble. That’s one of the things I learned from listening at doors. Otto, the manservant filled me in on a few things too. The first time I saw his beautiful face, I nearly died. I didn’t know a man’s skin could be the colour of night. After a while, he told me that Johannes saved him from a life of slavery and that he owes him his life. We’ve become really close since then, in a sort of brother and sister type way.
Personally I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Johannes likes men. Big deal. But Amsterdam is a city of pastors and bigots, and if they suspected he wasn’t singing from the same hymn sheet as all the other Christian good folk, it would be a very big deal indeed. All his money and his charm would not be enough to save him from their righteous wrath. Marin who, more or less, is one of the Christian good folk is terrified of Burgomasters. That’s what makes her so tense, like an overwound clock. Her way of coping with Johannes’s indiscretions is to act all pious and holy. It’s as if she wants to atone for his sins by being super good, but even she can’t live up to the standards she sets for herself. All week, she eats like a mouse, punishing her body with food that tastes like saw dust, and then late at night, she’ll break out and gorge herself on sugar loaf and marzipan until she’s sick. She can’t bear the fact that she’s made of flesh and blood just like him. She’d be much happier is she could just float around; dry and airy like the wind that blows off the canal.
She’s the queen of trying to make things look all right on the outside, even when they’re rotten on the inside. Not that Johannes is rotten. He’s probably one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. It’s just the whole situation with him and his ways is kind of hard going. Marin’s always trying to cover up for him and pestering him to go to church and stuff like that. Getting him a wife was all her idea. She thought it might throw the Burgomasters off his scent if he had a pretty little thing of the right gender on his arm. She didn’t waste any time searching out someone of good birth. Before we knew it, she had Petronella lined up as the chosen one. And so, our little family of misfits has grown. After a hasty betrothal last autumn, Petronella has come to join us.
I was dead set against her coming, but now that’s she’s here, I can’t help feeling sorry for her. She’s like a lost lamb, bleating around the place, asking questions nobody will answer. She hasn’t the wits to figure out what’s going on. She arrived at the door a couple of days ago, expecting a husband and a welcome, and all she got was Marin in her black dress looking like a crow, and me. She’s been tricked and she doesn’t even know it. She sits in her room waiting for her husband to come up and join her and we all know that will never happen. Soon she will lose that hopeful look and resign herself to the fact that she will die a shrivelled up old maid, with only her parakeet to truly love her.
When Johannes heard she was coming, he turned pale as a ghost. He couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. He didn’t say where he was going or when he’d be back. Not that it matters so much. I know I could find him if I had to. What I don’t understand is what he’s doing with a lowlife like Jack Philips. Anyone can see that the boy is trouble. He stands out like a sore thumb in this drab and proper city of ours. He craves attention and drama and passion. He positively taunts the burgomasters with his flamboyance and his insolence. This morning he turned up at the front door, on some pretence so that he could see Petronella. He’s too stupid to see that Johannes doesn’t want her. His jealousy would be laughable if he wasn’t so volatile. I don’t trust him. I wouldn’t care if he ended his days in disgrace, drowned as a sodomite. I just don’t want him to take Johannes down with him. None of us could bear to lose Johannes.