I waited for a little while. Then I waited for a little longer. Finally, after twenty minutes, Grace came in, flanked by Annie. “Ah, Elizabeth, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long. I had a few things to attend to, namely speaking to Alexander about the business of your lessons. We have decided that the governess should arrive very soon, within the next two weeks if possible.” I wanted to ask ‘why’, but decided I might not like to know the answer.
“May I go?” asked Annie, seeming awkward. At a nod from her mistress she fled, but not before winking at me and disappearing into my bedroom. I could hear rustlings and rightly concluded that she must be hanging up the other clothes with which I had been provided.
“I was also speaking to him on the matter of your dance lessons. You will begin at Madame Lejeune’s studio, which is but a ten minute drive from here.” I forced myself to remember that she was thinking of horses not cars. And of course the teacher would be French—this was a time when almost all teachers were either French or Russian, or at least bore names that would make them seem so.
“Thank you,” I said, very grateful.
“The dress code is quite strict. You are required to wear a navy blue practice dress for all Intermediate level classes, and for the Advanced a white dress. Since we do not know which class you will be she has asked that you audition this Saturday, and she will place you in the appropriate class.” I was suddenly frightened. I couldn’t audition! I hadn’t done ballet for five years, and I had never been particularly good in the first place.
“I will do my best,” I said meekly, because that was all that I could promise.
“That is all we ask,” she said. “Now, on a lighter matter, please call me ‘Mother’. We have adopted you, not just taken you in, and you are our daughter now. Your sister and brother, Maria and William, will want to greet you, and Alexander will no doubt wish to see you looking so pretty. I must remember to congratulate Annie. That hairstyle really suits you.”
“Yes, Mother,” I said, trying out the word. It was awkward on my tongue and I remembered my own mother at home. Would she be wondering where I was, or would no time have passed? If I were to get home, would I arrive as from a long absence, or would it be an instant thing? More to the point, how had I got here in the first place.
“Have you done much embroidery before? It is something that I often do before tea, and I wondered if you would like to join me. If not Miss Reeve, your governess, will no doubt choose to teach you.”
“Not much, no,” I admitted.
“In that case, I will introduce you to Maria. William is at a friend’s house currently, and will not be home until supper. He is eight years old, you know, and going away to school next month.”
“And how old is Maria?” I asked her.
“She is almost seven. She doesn’t begin lessons until next year, which is why we do not already have a governess in our employ. However, she is soon to be starting ballet classes, and it would be nice if you could help her.”
“I’m not very good yet,” I warned, thinking it would be best to confess immediately. Helping a little girl with ballet, after five years of absence! And I had learned with modern techniques … how would I cope if the style was different?
“That is quite alright. She does not begin until January, so there is plenty of time to brush up on your skills.” Grace smiled and opened the door. “This is the playroom.” I took a step inside. Straight away a little girl in a knee-length white dress ran at her mother and hugged her. “And this is Maria, your new sister.”