A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 08

Helen Welsh © Millicent and Violet accompany Mr Landsby and Mr Fenton to the scientific museum

Alice entered the blue parlour and curtseyed.

Miss Lucinda was seated on the chaise longue, a book in her hand.

She was gazing into space and Alice doubted she had turned a page for some time.

Though beautiful as ever, this morning her mistress looked sad and pale.

She reminded Alice of the statues in the long gallery – all white marble and vacant eyes.

“I have the fresh hanky that you was wanting, Miss Lucinda.”

Her mistress looked up and smiled.

“Thank you, Alice.” She took the delicate lace-edged square and tucked it neatly into her sleeve.

Alice was about to leave, but the expression of misery on her mistress’s face made her hesitate.

“Can I get you anything else, miss? Perhaps a cup of hot chocolate?”

Lucinda shook her head.

“Thank you, Alice, but I am not thirsty.”

Alice frowned.

“Shall I fetch your embroidery, miss, or I can open the pianoforte for you, if you’d like to play?”

Lucinda was an accomplished young lady. Alice loved to hear her play and sing.

She didn’t know what the music was, but it filled the house and seemed to brighten everything.

Perhaps it would distract her mistress and raise her spirits.

Lucinda shook her head again.

“You are very thoughtful, but I am quite content.” She studied the other girl’s face and read the concern there. “Really, I am well.

“I am merely missing Mr Markington – and my sister, a little.” She flushed and looked away.

Alice already knew that Miss Lucinda missed Miss Millicent terribly, though she wouldn’t admit it.

Every time a letter arrived she said she weren’t interested, but she always read it and was out of sorts after, though she would not write a reply.

And now Mr Markington had gone off to France.

“Excuse me, miss, but do you know how long Mr Markington will be away?”

Lucinda shook her head.

“I hope it will not be more than three weeks.

“It will depend how quickly he can complete the business transactions for his father.” She attempted a smile. “He has promised me he will not be long.”

Alice nodded.

“I’m sure he will be back as soon as he can, miss.”

She turned to go, but her mistress stopped her.

“Alice, I had not thought before, but you must miss your own family.”

“Oh, well, yes, miss. But I’m very happy at Halsom Hall.”

Lucinda smiled.

“I’m sure you are, and I could not do without you.

“Are you from a large family? Do you have brothers and sisters?”

Alice shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot and swallowed.

“Yes, miss. There’s Ma and Pa and seven of us young ones.

“No, I mean eight, miss. Eight, including me.” She blushed scarlet and clenched her fists, but Lucinda didn’t notice.

“Goodness, your mother has her hands full.”

Alice nodded and smoothed down her apron, trying to calm herself.

“Ma’s a hard worker and loves each one.”

“I’m sure she does. You are the eldest?”

“I am, miss.”

Alice gazed out of the window and wished Miss Lucinda would stop asking questions.

It was a beautiful autumn day outside. The sun was shining from a pale sky and cotton clouds sailed by, high up in the heavens.

There was a large horse chestnut on the lawn, its leaves turning golden; she could see some spiky shells in the grass at its feet.

Beyond that, she could just make out Dicken, the gardener, hard at work in the kitchen garden.

“Are you mainly girls, or do you have brothers?” Lucinda asked her now.

Alice looked back at her mistress and swallowed.

“Five girls and two boys.” She felt herself heating up. “Plus Thomas, the youngest.”

Lucinda laughed.

“That is a houseful. Are many of them already out at work?”

“Four of us, miss.”

“The others are too young, I suppose.”

Alice nodded.

“Ethel’s fourteen and Clara’s twelve.” She hesitated. “And Tom’s only seven.”

“Well, it must be wonderful to have so many siblings.”

“I suppose so, miss.”

Alice loved her family and had been close with those near in age to her, but it was a lot of mouths to feed. Now, she saw them all so rarely.

She was careful with her small earnings, though, and sent as much home as she could to help out.

“I think I might take that hot chocolate, after all,” Miss Lucinda told her.

“Talking with you makes me think that some company would be of benefit.

“I shall make some morning calls. Please arrange for my things to be ready in half an hour.”

“Yes, miss.”

Alice curtseyed and left the room, her feelings in turmoil.

She made her way towards the kitchens to arrange for hot chocolate to be sent up, then she would see to Miss Lucinda’s apparel.

She was pleased to have cheered her mistress, but talk of home had unsettled her.

She was struggling to regain her usual composure when, looking up, she saw Jenkin, one of the manservants, heading towards her.

She groaned inwardly. That was all she needed.

To be continued…

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