A Tale of Two Sisters – Episode 30

The main characters from the serial, including Millicent and Reginald, and Miss Lucinda, with a ship on stormy seas in the background.

Alice had done a good job of avoiding Jenkin over their last days in Paris.

After the conversation she had overheard, she could barely raise her head to look him in the face.

Why could she not have remained indifferent? Then at least her shame would have been easier to bear.

She looked out of the window. The cobbled Paris street was busy this morning and a cold wind was blowing leaves from the avenue of trees.

A couple strolled by: the woman in a striped dress, cape and large flowered hat, the gentleman with a cane and moustache.

A young girl was playing with a cup and ball, and a horse clip-clopped its way along the road, carrying an elegant gentleman.

Alice tried to focus on the task in hand. She was sure she had put Miss Lucinda’s muff in the tall dresser.

There it was. She turned to go and started in horror as Jenkin knocked and entered the room.

“Miss Lucinda is in the salon,” she told him, staring at the rug.

“I know, Alice. It’s you I have come to talk to.”

She shook her head.

“I am sure you have nothing to say to me, and I must hurry down directly.”

“Please. This won’t take long,” Jenkin persisted.

He was blocking the doorway and Alice didn’t know what to do. She remained in silence, twisting her hands and staring at her feet.

Jenkin came closer.

“I wanted to tell you how I feel about you,” he said. “Before we go back home.”

Alice swallowed.

“I think you must know that I have liked you for a long time. That I am in love with you.”

She glanced up at him and saw what she thought was anxiety and pity on his face. Her stomach jolted.

“Alice, nothing would make me happier than if you would agree to step out with me and be my girl.”

Jenkin moved towards her, but Alice retreated and he paused.

She forced herself to look at him. He was a handsome young man in his livery, with polished buttons and gleaming shoes.

How she wished things were different – that she could fall into his arms and accept his offer. But she would not take a man acting from pity on the orders of his mistress.

She swallowed and took a deep breath.

“I thank you for your kindness,” she told him, “but I must decline.”

“Why? Do you not care for me?”

He looked hurt, but she shook her head.

“I appreciate your goodness, but as you are aware, I am not in a position to . . .” She turned scarlet, her cheeks flaming.

“I’m very grateful, but it’s impossible,” she went on, then fled from the room.

She dashed for the staircase, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She was a fallen woman; he could not possibly want her. He must be following Miss Lucinda’s orders.

She would not accept a man who would take her only from pity.

By the time Alice reached the bottom, she was out of breath and her face was red and wet.

She caught sight of her mistress talking to Mr Emile Lacroix inside the salon.

She leaned against the wall and searched for her hanky, trying to get herself under control.

She closed her eyes.

In the background she could hear their voices on the other side of the wall, a soothing rise and fall.

Then, in spite of everything, her ears pricked up.

It seemed that today was the day for declarations.

“I don’t want you to say anything.” Mr Lacroix’s voice was tender and low.

“I would not be speaking at all in the circumstances, were you not leaving tomorrow.

“I know how much you have been through, and how hurt and shocked you must be. You will not be thinking of anyone else for a long time.”

Her mistress didn’t answer.

“I wish to tell you how much I admire you and how much I have enjoyed your company.

“All I ask is for the opportunity, in time, for us to get to know one another.

“You are under no obligation, but would you permit me to visit you in England?” he continued.

There was no answer and Alice held her breath.

She liked Mr Lacroix. He seemed to do her mistress good and he was a real gentleman.

She waited, but still there was silence. However, Miss Lucinda must have signalled her assent.

“Thank you,” he said a moment later, his voice full of happiness.

It brought a smile to Alice’s lips. She was pleased for Miss Lucinda.

In time, her heart would heal and maybe there would then be room for this charming French gentleman instead.

Alice had been gone for too long. She took a hold of herself, picked up the muff and entered the salon.

To be continued…

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