Philomele Hübner had been born the sixth daughter to
impoverished gentry. Her parents had a small holding
outside of Angermünde on which they had to struggle just to
keep a roof over their heads. Dowries for six daughters
was not possible.
The did the best they could for the older girls, but instead
of allowing the younger girls to either marry beneath their
class, or to remain unmarried as unpaid farm labour, they had
put them into service when suitable looking positions came up.
It worked out well for Philomele's sister, who had ended up
being a personal maid to royalty, and had made a good match
despite her lack of dowry.
At the age of twelve Philomele had been sent off to Schönwald
to start her life as the personal maid to the heiress.
Keeping her sister's success in mind, Philomele had been
unafraid when she'd set out from home. She imagined that
she would actually be doing less work, and easier work at
that, than she had grown up doing on her father's land.
Refined, gentle, and quietly spoken, she was unprepared in any
way to deal with the life she walked into at Schönwald.
Instead of a genial life as the helpmate to a gentlewoman, she
worked as the harried errand-runner for Hildegard's governess,
Frau Klemperer and her old nanny, Frau Blücher. They
were cruel to her, using her as a skivvy, though she was of a
much better class than they. They hit, slapped, and
kicked her; shouted at her; called her names; ridiculed,
humiliated, and punished her.
Nothing in Philomele's background prepared her to be able to
cope. Her family had been hardworking, but they had been
loving and courteous. She had not a streak of
rebelliousness about her. Her instinctive reaction was
to be more and more obedient and docile. She never told
anyone what went on in Hildegard's apartment. Too
ashamed and embarrassed to speak to her parents Philomele kept
her misery to herself, believing that the way she was
mistreated was somehow all her own fault.
Philomele saw that Hildegard was bullied by Frau Blücher and
Frau Klemperer quite as much as she was, but all Philomele was
capable of doing for Hildegard was to be as quietly kind to
her. She was Hildegard's first companion, the first
person to provide a spark of friendship, the only one who ever
actually knew and understood Hildegard's shrivelled, lonely
By the time Frau Klemperer and Frau Blücher retired, Philomele
had been so trained to follow Frau Blücher's orders that she
was utterly unable to make any decisions on her own. It
was more than thirteen years since she'd come to Schönwald,
and all ability to think for herself had been knocked out of
Frau Blücher, Frau Klemperer, and Hildegard had told her
repeatedly throughout the entire time she'd been at Schönwald
how evil and unfeeling Otto was. With no chance to see
or hear any other side, Philomele had accepted what she'd been
told unquestioningly. She distrusted everyone outside of
Hildegard's rooms, not only Otto, so she shared nothing with
any of them.
Isolated in the three small rooms that Hildegard had decided
to occupy since she'd moved out of the rooms she'd shared with
Otto, not speaking to anyone else, Philomele didn't think
about whether to not the things she'd been told made sense, or
whether they agreed with what she saw or not. It was
what she'd been told to think, so that was what she thought.
The entire time Philomele had been at Schönwald Hildegard had
needed medication. The doctor regularly prescribed
medicine for her, and she suffered without it. As far as
Philomele knew Hildegard's medicines kept her alive. As
well as the prescribed medicine, Frau Blücher had herbal
preparations to help Hildegard.
When Otto ordered Hildegard to open her drapes every day, to
get up, to eat, and to leave her rooms, Philomele couldn't see
his actions as an attempt to help Hildegard, but only as a
cruel attack on her. His control of the mail between
Hildegard and Frau Blücher was likewise seen as a cruelty.
Philomele didn't understand Otto's need to coerce Hildegard to
do as he said, and she couldn't accept that the things Frau
Blücher wrote to Hildegard could in anyway harm Hildegard.
They were both dependent on Frau Blücher; they both needed her
to give them instructions on what to do and when to do it.
Reaching for her life-line, Philomele slipped out of the house
and walked to the village to send letters to Frau Blücher that
Otto didn't know about, and to get replies from Frau Blücher
that Otto couldn't intercept. In that way Hildegard
received her orders to get up, get dressed, and to eat, and
Philomele had her daily instructions and could function
without the terrifying need to do things without being told
what to do.
The only action Otto took which Philomele could accept was
hiring girls to help her. She had no idea how to give
instructions, nor even of how to care for the girls and make
sure they were fed, but the companionship and soothing
ministrations of Katya gave Philomele the first comfort she'd
had since she was twelve years old. Gurda's comings and
goings made her nervous, but Katya gave her solace.