Alice awoke and stretched languorously. It was some minutes later, after admiring the fair weather and the pleasing warmth of the sun, that she finally recalled the shocking events of the day before. Giving a little gasp she threw back the covers and dashed across the room for her wrapper. Where on earth was MaryAnn? She needed to dress at once! Smoothing her unruly locks back with her hand, Alice rang for the maid and tapped her foot impatiently while she waited. For the umpteenth time she wondered why her robe had no handy pockets for her unoccupied hands. Sighing, she went to the window to stare prettily, if vacantly, at the immaculate garden. To her surprise, voices floated up from below, so Alice unlatched the window and leaned tentatively out.
“Oh, it’s only Arthur,” she said to herself with a sigh and began to lean back the better to close the window. All at once she remembered the excitement of the day before and quickly leaned forward once more to see how the young man was faring, although it must be said as well that she took the precaution of shielding her face with the lace curtain. No need to attract Arthur’s attention just because she was moderately concerned with his health. After all, she hardly wanted to encourage his attentions now that she might be free of them.
With the window swinging open she could now hear the conversation in progress.
“…rather than the original head of King Edmund, which of course, if you have been attending my story, you could not possibly believe. After all, if the body of the saint has lain incorruptible lo these many years, with only the thinnest red line to indicate the site of the martyrdom, by site, naturally I mean to indicate the location on his body rather than the location where the martyrdom occurred, but certainly, despite the vendor’s attempts to render accurate arrow marks and even the toothmarks of the wolf in question, surely even the novice collector would be able to –-”
“Oh, do stop droning on, Arthur! I am beginning to regret having spared your life,” Alice’s mother interrupted suddenly, unbeknownst to her, relieving her daughter as much as herself of the seemingly endless murmur of Arthur’s toneless ramble.
“Lady Mangrove!” Arthur said with evident surprise. “You claimed the shooting to have been an accident and I took you at your word. You don’t mean to say—”
“Good heavens, Arthur, must you take everything so personally?”
Alice was just giving in to a most ungenerous giggle when the ever inappropriate MaryAnn tapped at the door and entered. Rather than be seen spying on her mother and former fiancé, Alice hastily pretended to be regarding the fine blue sky, then turned slowly to greet the flustered maid. This behavior should make clear to the unbiased viewer that Alice was a young woman accustomed to being something less than entirely truthful. While one might not call MaryAnn “unbiased” in the most truthful sense of the word (one which your author is at pains to follow implicitly), she was certainly not fooled by Alice’s attempt to cover up her recent eavesdropping.
“So what does your mother have to say to young Mister Arthur now?” MaryAnn asked impertinently, all too full aware of the gentleman’s presumed aspirations with regard to her youthful mistress.
Alice pretended to be deeply insulted by this show of familiarity. Although she usually confided the most personal information in the various maids in the household (a most undignified practice for a young woman in her situation, she ought to know), Alice disliked immensely when one of the maids believed this confidence to be a two-way path. (While this was not entirely fair, it is often the sad duty of authors to have to point out that world is seldom fair and if it were, writers would be better paid; however, it would be unseemly to dwell upon such a point and bring attention to the author that ought really to be lavished upon the characters, so my lips are henceforth sealed on the matter.)
“I really don’t know,” she replied stiffly, stepping away from the window.
MaryAnn ignored her and slipped over to the window and twitched the curtain aside. Alice admired her swift silent movements without ever wondering what other uses they might be put to in the course of a normal day. “I’m surprised he’s back again, after yesterday I mean. He must really love you, Miss,” MaryAnn said, not without a note of amusement as Alice was quick to realize.
“I hardly think that is your concern,” Alice said with all the smug superiority she could muster, “Will you please dress me now.” She turned her back on MaryAnn with swirl of curls that she imagined to have a dramatic finality. In so doing, she missed MaryAnn’s frank look of contempt and further amusement. One might begin to suspect that the young girl might harbor literary pretensions.
If only she had been literate.
She began stuffing Alice into her various layers and flounces with a good deal more roughness than was her wont, but her mistress steadfastly refused to be moved by her evident displeasure and kept her complaints to herself in stubborn silence. MaryAnn was just slipping the soft silk gloves onto Alice’s admirably petite hands when Lizzie burst through the door with her face aglow with a strange excitement, as if she had just discovered a new type of moth.
“Alice!” she crowed, then looked abashed at the maid’s unexpected presence and the three at once retreated into an uneasy silence as MaryAnn put the finishing touches on Alice’s apparel.