Tea Time

Once I had been properly introduced to Maria and she had told me her life story--the names of all her dolls, her favourite colours and her friends--I retreated to the 'bathroom' to relieve myself. I was slightly inclined to shudder at the facilities, but it could have been very much worse ... bearing in mind that such things had only recently been invented, I was lucky not to have a bucket.

"Elizabeth?" called Annie, knocking on the door. "It is tea time. Would you come to the parlour?" In my house, 'tea' had always been the evening meal, but this seemed to be more like afternoon tea, with just cups of tea and slices of cake before a proper meal later on. Well, that was all very nice, but that waist cincher seemed tight enough as it was.

"Mother, did you say that my audition was to be on Saturday?" I asked Grace, pretending that the word 'Mother' did not seem unutterably strange.

"Yes, it's tomorrow," she told me, smiling. "Is that okay? You haven't any ballet slippers, of course, so we will have to buy some in the morning before we go in the afternoon. I will have Annie take you, since you do not yet have a governess. She will help you with your hair and your shoes."

"That's fine," I said, although inside I was close to panicking. But I could do this. They would let me into the school no matter what, it was simply a matter of which class I would be in...wasn't it? "What should I wear?"

"That is a good question," said Grace. "I suppose, since you have no practice dress ... wait, no! There is a girl that lives next door. I am on good terms with her mother and I am sure you could borrow her old practice dress. She is very into ballet. At one point, I believe she was interested in joining a professional company, but of course her parents would not permit that."

I nodded in agreement. "Should I go and ask them this evening, or should I wait until the morning?"

"Oh, good heavens, no! I will send one of the servants with a letter explaining everything. Of course I wouldn't expect you to go by yourself." I frowned slightly at the lack of freedom, but pretended not to mind. I couldn't have gone on my own anyway, since I didn't know the people and they didn't know me.

"Well, Elizabeth, what do you think of the house?" asked Alexander, speaking for the first time. I loved the way that he allowed his wife to take control far more than many other men--I was sure I was right about this, because at the workhouse I had seen who seemed to be in charge in both of the couples.

"It's very big," I said honestly. "But very beautiful. I love my room, with all the green. Green is one of my favourite colours, you know." He looked at my dress and smiled.

"It suits you." Only then did I remember that my watch was in the pocket of the workhouse apron. I was suddenly worried. What if they found it? What if they asked me questions?

"Please, Mother, what happened to my old clothes? There was a ... a bracelet in the pocket of the apron that was very precious to me, and I wouldn't want to lose it." I addressed Grace, thinking that she would know more about such women's affairs than her husband.

"You will have to ask Annie," she told me. "Now please, if you have finished your tea, I would like to retire to my chambers. I suggest you do the same, and perhaps practice some exercises before tomorrow? Since you will be in the privacy of your own room, you may dance in your petticoat." My panic returned but I quashed it.

"I must return to my study," said Alexander abruptly, and left the room. Delicately, Grace raised herself and walked out. 

"We will eat at seven: there is a gong. Please make sure you are dressed for that; if you need any help, just ring the bell and Annie will come." Then she left me. Free to think, everything I had been trying to ignore came rushing back, and I was filled with homesickness.

The End

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