“The Milkmade” (story)

The summer of 1658 had just arrived. The inmense heat occupied all the house and made Isabella sweat. She had arrived to that house from a far-away country some weeks ago and as she had not have the chance to study a good career, she had travelled abroad and had arrived to that little town hoping life would smile at her and she would be able to find a decent job. Everyday she tried to serve the familily the best she could, as she really needed the money she was paid for her services.

She did not have more clothes than those she had on the day she had arrived: a red skirt, a white shirt, a yellow sweater, a blue apron and a white headscarf, which helped her to gather her hair and maintain the hygiene in the kitchen. Every night she had to wash everything to put them on again in morning.

Once she got herself washed, she took her milk pot and went walking to a little house in the middle of the countryside in which cows, sheeps and goats grazed. By the time she arrived, the shepherd had already milked his animals and she would buy him the milk of the cows to make breaksfast for the family she worked for. Sometimes, she would also buy the milk of the sheeps and goats with which she would make cheese and curds. She was very good at making desserts. Isabella had learned from her grandmother how to make homemade curd and every Sunday the family had it for lunch. The technique was easy: a) she boiled the milk, b) she poured it into little containers, c) she let it cool, d) she added a drop of rennet in each container, e) she stirred it a little bit and f) she let it thicken.

Next to the house where she worked, there was a farm which grew chicken. She used to go there sometimes and used to buy eggs and some chicken, and as she dare not kill it, she would order it and pick it already stripped the following day.

Once a week it was usual to hear a towncrier in the streets. Who was it? It was a fisherman who with his boat and his rod used to obtain fishes from the sea and the river. When they heard his voice, the town women, Isabella among them, used to run to his encounter to buy some fish. Being Isabella a unbeatable cook, she would prepare different and succulent dishes containing it.

By nine o’clock in the morning the family, that is, the masters and their children, went down from their bedrooms to have breakfast in the dining room: scrambled eggs and milk or coffee. After that, the house would remain empty. The masters and the children would go to church. That was the time of the day in which Isabella would do the houseworks: open the windows to refresh the house, make the beds, sweep the floor of the bedrooms, clean the dust, etc.

The majority of the neighbours worked the land and harvested wheat and corn. In general, all of them owned a vegetable garden where they grew onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, leeks and also fruits like apples, plums and oranges.

In the midst of all those fields a stream ran vividly and when its water arrived to a pile of pebbles, it jumped in such a way that it was a reminiscent of a waterfall.

When Isabella walked the way down the river she would find the mill where the wheat and the corn were crushed and there she would buy the flour to cook bread, cakes and pastries. Later, she would buy the necessary vegetables to prepare Sunday’s lunch.

When the masters and their children arrived home, they would found a delicious meal on their dining room: homemade bread, vegetable soup, chicken and what it was typical of every Sunday, curd with cherry. As the days passed, the masters were happier and happier with Isabella’s work and that is why appart from increasing her salary, they gave her some extra money for her to buy new clothes so that she did not have to wash every night the only ones she had.

Isabella used to save part of her salary with the purpose of visiting her family at least once a year. Another part she saved to send it to her elderly parents, who never did spend it. Instead they would put the money in a little bag waiting for the moment when they would give it back to Isabella.

Isabella lived happily in the house where she worked. When she finished working and the children came back from school, after giving them something to eat, the three of them would play hide-and-seek out in the yard. They would also sit on the swings and she would push them.

The years passed and the day arrived when the children had to go to university and the master of the house had to move to a bigger bank in another country, so the lady of the house quit her job to move with her husband and her children to a new place.. Isabella was already old and felt weak and tired and decided to return back home with her parents. With the money they had collected in that little bag, the three of them went on a trip to visit the capital of their country, where they had not been and which they had not seen before.