A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 17

Helen Welsh © The main characters from the series

Alice had spent a sleepless night tossing and turning, despite the unusual comfort of the bed, wondering what to do.

The image of Mr Markington kissing the maid was imprinted on her brain. Should she tell Miss Lucinda?

The poor young lady would be devastated – if she believed her. What would happen if she thought Alice was making it up?

Alice shuddered. She couldn’t afford to lose her job.

Thoughts whirled round her head until, at five a.m., she crawled from the covers, washed her face and dressed.

Half an hour later she felt calmer. She knew her duty. She must tell her mistress – whatever the outcome.

She could not let Miss Lucinda throw herself away on such a man. Better to be heartbroken for a time than live a life of regret.

She waited anxiously until Miss Lucinda was awake, then went to help her dress.

As soon as her mistress was ready, Alice took her courage in both hands.

“May I speak with you, miss, before you go down to breakfast?”

Miss Lucinda looked up, surprise evident in her eyes, and she smoothed down her lavender dress.

“Why, of course, Alice. Is something troubling you?”

Alice swallowed.

“Well, yes, miss. It is.”

“I hope you know you may speak to me on any matter of concern.”

Alice bobbed a curtsey.

“Yes, miss.”

There was a pause, then she rushed straight in.

“I’m proper sorry, miss, but it has to do with Mr Markington. I saw something last night and I should tell you.”

Lucinda rose to her feet, her face flushed.

“No-one answered the door,” Alice continued, “so I went in. There was no-one there except Mr Markington and a maid. He were kissing her, miss.”

She fell silent and stared at the floor, waiting for her mistress’s reaction.

There was a faint guttural sound from Miss Lucinda’s throat.

Her eyes raked Alice’s face and, for a moment, she thought Miss Lucinda might strike her.

“I’m so sorry, miss. I didn’t know what to do.”

There must have been something in her expression, or her voice, that conveyed her sincerity.

Her mistress’s hand fell to her side, then she sank down on the bed.

There was a silence that to Alice seemed to stretch on for ever, but eventually her mistress spoke, evidently holding her temper on a tight rein.

“You clearly believe you saw something untoward, but I expect there is an explanation for Mr Markington’s behaviour.

“Perhaps the girl has nursed him over the last weeks and a peck on the cheek was a misplaced form of gratitude.”

Alice opened her mouth to declare that what she had seen was far from being a mere peck on the cheek, then closed it again.

Perhaps she had already spoken out of turn.

She curtsied and busied herself tidying Miss Lucinda’s things.

When she turned round, her mistress was nowhere to be seen.

Alice tried to keep occupied, but her mind was in turmoil. Was Miss Lucinda angry with her? Did she believe anything she’d said?

She went through the motions: straightening the counterpane, folding a pair of gloves and putting them away.

She emptied her mistress’s ewer and basin and closed the doors of the large elm wardrobe.

The chamber looked just as it had yesterday – framed paintings hanging from the picture rail, the fireplace with its andirons and basket of logs.

Outside, the cobbled French street was stirring with life, but in reality, everything was different.

Eventually she gave up and went down to find Miss Lucinda, but her mistress was not in the dining-room or any of the salons.

Alice was making her way back upstairs when she bumped into Jenkin, Miss Lucinda’s manservant, who had taken a liking to her.

“Morning, Alice. How are…?” He stopped, concern spreading across his pleasant features.

“Alice, is summat amiss? You don’t look well.”

Alice attempted a smile. She didn’t know what to say.

“Jenkin, have you seen Miss Lucinda?” she asked shakily. “I can’t find her.”

“I think she’s calling on Mr Markington,” he replied.

“Would you like me to tell her that you’re ill?”

“No. I’m just tired. I shall go and find her.”

He let her go, but Alice could feel his anxious eyes on her back, following her as she climbed the stairs.

For a moment, she wished he would come with her.

Alice made her way along the corridor and stopped outside the wooden door.

She was about to knock when she heard voices.

“So you do not even deny it?” Miss Lucinda sounded desperate, disbelieving.

In contrast, Mr Markington’s voice was level and, to Alice’s disgust, suffused with amusement.

“I am a single man yet. I may please myself a while longer, don’t you think?”

“But you told me you loved me!”

Alice stood frozen, her heart breaking for her mistress.

“Young ladies have a romantic view of love. You are a beautiful girl and we rub along well together, though you must curb this tendency for dramatics.”

“Herbert, how could you?” Miss Lucinda cried.

“I see you are jealous, my rose. There is no need. Come here and I will kiss you in just such a way, too.”

Alice heard her mistress squeal. There was silence for a moment, then the faint sound of a struggle.

Alice didn’t wait a moment longer. She burst into the room to find Lucinda struggling in Mr Markington’s grasp.

Without thinking, Alice dashed forward and dealt him a hearty slap around the face.

Shocked, he relinquished his grip, and she was able to drag her mistress to safety.

To be continued…

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