A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 16

Helen Welsh © Miss Lucinda in a carriage with her maid

The dining-room was full of elegant people and Alice felt overwhelmed.

She gazed at the starched tablecloth, all the cutlery and glasses, and wondered how she was going to manage.

She had no idea what they ate in France and she couldn’t read the menu.

Miss Lucinda had insisted that she eat with her until Mr Markington was well enough to join her instead.

Miss Lucinda surveyed the menu, whilst Alice sipped a glass of water.

“What would you like to eat, Alice? You may have anything you like.”

“Thank you, miss, but I don’t rightly know.”

“Perhaps we should try something French. They do not have frogs’ legs, but they have escargot.”

She laughed at Alice’s expression and explained.

“Snails in garlic butter,” she told her.

“Snails?” Alice dropped her serviette. “They eat snails, miss?”

“They are a delicacy.”

Alice shuddered and Miss Lucinda took pity on her.

“Maybe you would prefer something you are more familiar with. Do you like chicken, Alice?”

“Yes, miss.”

Miss Lucinda ordered and Alice was terrified until her coq au vin arrived.

It turned out to be very rich and she couldn’t eat it all, but it was delicious.

Her mistress ate all kinds of dishes and drank wine, but Alice stuck to water.

“Perhaps it is just as well, if you are not used to alcoholic beverages,” Lucinda told her with a kind smile.

The food and drink seemed to do her mistress good and Alice was pleased to see her restored to her usual good humour by the end of the meal.

“I do not think I shall disturb Mr Markington again this evening,” Lucinda told her.

“I do not wish to wear him out. I think you are right, and he will be himself in the morning.”

“Yes, miss,” Alice agreed.

“While we are here, I think we can also find time for sight-seeing.”

Alice’s face lit up and Miss Lucinda smiled.

“I am sure you would like to see something of the country while we are here.”

“I would! Thank you. My family and little Thomas will love to hear of it.”

Lucinda laughed.

“I’m sure they will.”

Her mistress looked beautiful tonight, Alice thought.

She was wearing a navy silk that nipped in around her waist and fell in elegant folds at her feet.

Her golden hair shone in the light from the candelabra and a pair of pearl drops glistened in her ears.

“There is a beautiful church close to the hotel with some notable stained glass and an ancient spire. I believe there is also a museum.

“We shall visit both whilst we are here. Slater can accompany us,” Lucinda stated.

Alice wasn’t sure how to react to this.

She would love to see something of the town, but it was proving harder than she had expected to avoid Jenkin Slater.

Their travels together had also made it clearer than ever that he was sweet on her.

She knew he was respected amongst the other servants and had shown her nothing but kindness, and she had been surprised to find his presence on the voyage reassuring.

However, she did not want a relationship. Likely it would lead to nothing but trouble and it made her uncomfortable.

To Alice’s relief, Lucinda finished her meal, rose from the table and Alice followed her from the room.

They made their way upstairs.

“I shall retire,” Lucinda told her, “but I would like you to take a message to Mr Markington for me.

“Please tell him that I wish him goodnight and look forward to seeing him tomorrow.

“We shall not disturb him further this evening.”

Alice curtseyed and made her way along the corridor to Mr Markington’s suite.

She found the door and knocked firmly.

To her surprise, there was no answer.

Even if Mr Markington were asleep, one of his servants should be in attendance, surely?

She knocked again. Still no reply.

For a moment she wondered what to do. Then, putting a firm hand to the door, she decided to enter. Someone must be there.

She would wake them, if necessary, and deliver her mistress’s message.

She pushed open the door, stepped inside, and froze in horror.

Inside the plush drawing-room not a servant was to be seen.

Instead, Mr Markington was reclining on a chaise longue, cushions arranged beneath his head and a blanket over his knees.

Perched beside him was a buxom French maid and, to Alice’s dismay, Mr Markington’s arms were around her and he was kissing her.

She gasped and the girl turned sharply.

Her face flushed scarlet; she broke away from him, pushed past Alice and fled from the room.

Mr Markington himself looked totally unconcerned. His colour did not alter.

Instead, to Alice’s utter disgust, he grinned at her, winked and patted the seat that the maid had just vacated.

Alice felt sick.

She glared at him, turned sharply on her heel and left the room.

Once outside, she leaned against the wall and took a few steadying breaths.

Her eyes filled with tears. Poor Miss Lucinda!

What was she going to do now?

To be continued…

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