A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 11

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

The bell jangled again and Alice raced from the servants’ corridor towards Miss Lucinda’s bedroom.

Was her mistress ill? It seemed a violent summons.

A moment later she arrived, rosy and breathless, at the door.

She adjusted her cap and knocked.

“Come in.”

Alice entered and bit back an exclamation. What was going on?

Her mistress was standing in the middle of the room, her face flushed and her eyes glinting.

A variety of petticoats, dresses and corsets were strewn over chairs, on the bed and across the dresser.

“We are going to be busy, Alice,” she announced. “You must help me pack. I am travelling to France and you are coming with me.”

Alice wondered if she’d heard right.

“Did you say France?”

“That’s right, Alice.” Miss Lucinda smiled.

“Papa was not happy, but I have won him round and we leave tomorrow.”


“Come. Help me sort my apparel.”

Alice began to pick up petticoats and shawls, folding them automatically and placing them neatly on the four-poster bed.

“France, miss. Why, that’s across the ocean, ain’t it?” she remarked.

Lucinda smiled.

“Indeed, Alice. We shall travel by carriage to Dover, then sail the English Channel. Papa is arranging it. It is very exciting, is it not?”

Alice wasn’t sure if the churning in her stomach was excitement or fear.

She’d never left Hampshire and had only once seen the sea. It had looked steely and cold.

On the other hand, she was thrilled to have the opportunity to travel. Imagine, plain Alice Stone in another country!

She began to pull herself together.

“You will want your muslin, miss, and your best silks.”

Miss Lucinda nodded.

“May I ask why we are going?” Alice added.

“Of course. I received a letter from Mr Markington and he is unwell.

“As his future wife, I am going to take care of him.”

Alice continued to sort the clothing and kept her thoughts to herself. No wonder it had taken some persuasion to get the master to agree.

His reluctance concerned her. Alice could well imagine what he felt about his daughter racing across the Continent in pursuit of her fiancé.

What would Miss Millicent say?

“I hope Mr Markington isn’t seriously ill, miss?”

Lucinda’s face fell, but she shook her head.

“I don’t believe so,” she replied. “It is a fever, but he is not in danger.

“He is keeping to his bed for now. He is usually such a strong and healthy young man.”

Alice was inclined to agree. Perhaps it would be just as well if her mistress were there to nurse him.

“Shall I help you with the medicine chest, too, miss? I could ask Cook for some of the herbs that she has.”

“Thank you, Alice. That won’t be necessary. I have already issued instructions.”

Lucinda sat down on a now-empty chair and put her hands to her cheeks.

“Goodness, there is a lot to be thought of, but how thrilling! We shall have an adventure!”

Alice could feel her own excitement mounting.

She could not imagine what it would be like, but what stories she would have to tell Ma and Pa and the others on her return!

“We will be accompanied by two manservants.

“Papa is determined to ensure our safety, though I cannot believe it will be more dangerous to travel in France than in England.

“I believe he has selected Rawson and Slater.”

Alice dropped the hoop she was holding.

“I’m sorry, miss.”

She bent to pick it up and hide the dismay on her face.

She could not believe it – Jenkin Slater, the very man she wished to avoid was now to be a member of the same party.

She bit her lip. She believed him decent enough, so she would just have to make the best of it.

Anyway, she would be spending her time chaperoning Miss Lucinda, so there would be no need to speak to him.

Nonetheless, her hands trembled slightly as she went about her work.

“Will we be away long?” she asked presently.

“A little under two weeks, I think. As soon as I am sure Mr Markington is on the mend we will return home. Papa cannot spare me for long.”

“No, indeed, miss.”

“Ah, here are the trunks. Alice, I shall leave you to ensure everything is prepared. I must speak with Papa.”

Miss Lucinda left the room with a swish of skirts, and two of the men came in carrying her trunks and set them down by the side of the bed.

“This is some news, ain’t it, Alice?”

Alice wheeled round to see Jenkin smiling at her.

“Who’d have thought we would be going to the Continent?” he remarked, grinning. “I’ve never been abroad before, have you?”

Alice shook her head.

“I suppose we’ll see all kinds of things,” Jenkin added.

“I suppose we will,” Alice agreed quietly.

“Bert’s none too happy, mind you. Poor fellow gets seasick. I hope you travel well.”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, Jenkin, but I must get about my work.”

His face fell, but he nodded and turned to go.

“You’ll have plenty to do before the morning, but we shall have time to talk when we’re away.”

Alice stared at his disappearing back. That was exactly what she was afraid of…

To be continued…

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