The question reverberated through Sophia's skull before she took an inaudible breath and tried her best to give a straightforward answer.
"My father and his father before him were from Ireland, but I came to England as a young girl with my family. The times were...difficult."
"Oh, of course," Alice laughed, "The famine!"
'The famine' indeed.
For the first five years of her life all Sophia remembered was hunger. Her family was just getting by before it had started and the blight had only made things worse.
It had taken the last of what they had left to try and find a better life in England. Her older brother died in a factory accident after finally finding work and her mother took ill and passed soon afterward.
After that her father took to drink as a means of dealing with his grief and Sophia had to work at the ripe age of thirteen to make ends meet.
She spent years working night and day, with little reward.
But Sophia's fortune had seemingly taken a drastic turn when a young man happened into the little shop she worked in as a seamstress, soaked from head to toe from the relentless rain.
As her employer was out (the stingy woman would never have agreed) MacDonald found dry clothes for him to wear, insisting that he take them even when he explained he didn't have any money.
She then took her umbrella outside, called the man a cab and paid his fare.
He promised he would return her money and, even though she doubted he would, he remained true to his word.
That was when she discovered he was the Earl of Derby. And he offered her a job at his estate.