by Anxious Owl
What if Cinderella thought she was the ugly stepsister? A twist on a classic fairy tale.
The next morning, I awoke to Bella shaking me.
“Izzy. Izzy wake up.” I opened my eyes to see her frowning down at me. When she saw I was awake, she crossed her arms.
“Where is it?” she demanded.
“What?” I began to rub the sleep out of my eyes.
“Where is it?”
I sat up.
“Where is what?” I asked yawning.
“My slipper,” she said. “You said you would get it. Where is it? You never gave it back.”
“I don’t have it,” I yawned again.
“You don’t have it? You said you would get it!” she said, choking on panic. “Oh grandmother will be so upset. How could you Izzy?”
“Bella-“ I tried to explain.
“Mama!” she screeched, running out of the room. I sighed and got out of bed. I followed her down the hall, as morning light began to filter in the windows.
“Mama!” she burst into Mother’s room. Slowly Mother sat up and patted down her hair.
“What is it darling?” she asked.
“Izzy lost my shoe. At the ball, it came off my foot and she said she would go back for it but now she says she doesn’t have it! My perfect shoes!”
I folded my arms. Mother turned to me calmly.
“Drizzella. Where is Bella’s shoe?”
“With the prince,” I said.
“Don’t joke Izzy!” Bella screeched. “Just tell me where it is!”
“I told you. It’s with the prince,” I glared at her. “If you would have taken a moment to think or listen,” I snapped at her, “I could have explained how much more clever I am than you.”
I knew I was being rude, but I had been awoken much too early to be harassed when I’d done nothing wrong.
“Drizzella,” said Mother in a warning tone. “Be civil. Now tell us what has happened.”
I looked off at the ceiling. I couldn’t see why I should tell them anything.
“Drizzella!” Mother repeated. I sighed.
“I went back for the shoe. The prince got there at the same time as me. I gave it to him so he could find Bella later by asking the cobbler who it was made for. Prince Andrew has the shoe.”
“Oh Izzy really? You did that?” she hugged me. It never ceased to amaze me how quickly her moods could change. I on the other hand, was still quite cranky. I shrugged her off.
The bell rang at the door then.
“I expect that is the prince,” I said. “May I go back to bed?”
“Back to bed!” exclaimed Mother. “No! We must get ready to receive him at once! The entire family!”
“He’s not here to see me,” I said sullenly. “I see no reason for me to attend.”
“Someone will have to fetch the tea!” Mother replied. I sighed but got dressed.
Soon enough the prince was in the drawing room. Mother, Ana, and Bella were assembled there. Royal guards stood sentry on either side of his highness. Everyone appeared stiff and uncomfortable, except for Bella. Bella seemed on the brink of giggling the entire time.
“Where is Miss Drizzella?” I heard the prince ask from outside the door. I entered with the tea tray.
“Ah, there you are,” Andrew smiled at me as I came in. I curtsied and set the tray down on the table. Then went to leave.
“Where are you going?” he asked me.
“Was there something else you needed?” I returned.
“If I am no longer needed, I have things to attend to,” I said, moving towards the door. But before I could leave Andrew commanded,
“Stay,” and I could not disobey.
“You are needed,” he added. I curtsied again and sat beside Mother on the couch. She grabbed my wrist and squeezed hard. I knew already that I was in trouble for my rudeness.
“I would like to apologize, to all of you,” Andrew looked at me as he said this. “The way the ladies behaved at the ball was inexcusable. I would like to pay for any damages. I know that Miss Drizzella’s dress was ripped in the commotion and I am truly sorry. I hope you accept my sincerest apologies. Such an incident will not happen again,” he said.
“Your highness is too kind,” Mother said.
“I insist,” Andrew replied.
“Thank you, then,” Mother smiled.
“Oh, and of course,” the prince continued, “I would like to return this to its rightful owner,” Andrew picked up a small package that had been sitting beside him and handed it to Bella. Bella took and opened it.
“Oh, Andrew. You brought it back!” Bella took her shoe out of the box and hugged it to her.
“Bella!” Mother snapped at her for the informality.
“It’s quite all right,” Andrew said. “I’m glad the shoe has found its rightful owner.”
The company sat in stiff silence for a moment. I shifted in my seat. I wished I could be anywhere but there. Andrew cleared his throat.
“I would also like, Lady Tremaine, to ask your permission to come again at a later date, to visit your lovely daughter.”
Bella’s grin widened. Mother’s eyes gleamed. I felt my chest deflate.
“Of course. You’re highness is welcome in our home at any time,” Mother bowed her head graciously.
“Thank you,” Andrew said. He drummed his fingers on his knees then rose. We all stood along with him. “I should be going then,” he said.
“Of course, your highness must be very busy,” Mother said and we all began to exit. Somehow, Andrew and I found ourselves the last ones in the room. Andrew touched my arm to hold me back.
“Miss Drizzella,” he said. I curtsied.
“I brought this for you, as promised,” he handed me a book labeled Useful Projects for Women Living Alone. He waited eagerly to see my expression, but I could not meet his eyes. The memory of being left alone, on the dance floor, while he walked towards my sister, was burnt into my mind.
“Thank you, your highness,” I murmured, curtsying again.
“Drizzella,” he touched my arm, “have I done something to offend you?”
“Of course not,” I stared at his boots. “Your highness could never offend one such as me.”
“Drizzella-“ he began again.
“You highness?” Mother called from the entryway. We had delayed too long. Andrew gave me one last look of concern, then left the room.
My mother, sisters, and I saw him off and watched as his carriage drove away. When they were gone from sight, Mother hugged Bella.
“You’ve done it!” she squeezed her tight. “I always knew you would save this family” she kissed Bella on the cheek. “Now, let’s all go in the house. There are still chores to do!”
Bella and Ana went in the house, and Mother and I followed. Mother stopped me in the entryway.
“Drizzella,” she told me. “You did well to give the prince Bella’s shoe. That was very smart.”
I squished my mouth to the side. I wasn’t sure it had been so intelligent.
“But in the future,” she continued, “you must never be rude to his highness. He is our only hope now.”
“What do you mean?” there was something in her voice that made me finally stop looking at my shoes and meet her eyes.
“As you know, I met with Papa’s banker and lawyer last night.”
“Well, the money has run out. In fact, it ran out quite a while ago, and it has gone too long.”
“What are you saying?”
“We are going to lose the house,” Mother said matter-of-factly.
“What? But Papa left us this house! They can’t take it away!”
“It is the only way to pay our debts.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.
“So please Drizzella, do not be rude to the prince. One of you must marry rich, and quickly.”
I still could not wrap my mind around what she was saying. We couldn’t lose the house! It was our home! And what would happen to Fred? What would happen to Ana?
Mother noticed the book in my hand took it from me.
“Useful Projects for Women Living Alone,” She read aloud. She handed it back to me. “If Bella does not make this match, you will have to marry any man that will take you. You won’t need this then.” Then she walked into the house.
A week passed by slowly. My mind kept returning to the possibility of losing the house. I wandered through the big old house wondering how much longer we would all be there. To distract myself, I read. I abandoned The Odyssey in favor of The Iliad, deciding to start from the very beginning. The book moved slowly, like the week. By Wednesday I was glad to leave the house. It was my day to go to the market, but when I went out, my feet had their own ideas. I went past the butcher’s shop, past the baker’s, following the wide cobblestone streets closer and closer to the heart of town. I kicked a stone along with me as I went, trying to see how far I could kick it without kicking it into the gutter. Somehow, I ended up in front of the library. Standing in the place where I had first met the prince, I looked up at the grand white columns. I wasn’t sure why I had come there. Perhaps it was because I wanted to relive the last time I’d been there, or perhaps it was because I couldn’t bring myself to read The Iliad anymore. But I think it was mostly because I was frustrated with my life, and it seemed that somehow, being there would help.
Only it didn’t. I looked up at the intimidating columns, standing like bars between me and the library- another restraint I could do nothing about. I climbed the steps and ran my hand over the marble of the column nearest the door and watched a man enter the building. I peered in behind him as the door swung closed and managed to catch no more than a glimpse. My frustration mounted. I wanted to go in. So, finally, I did.
It looked like a church on the inside. There were marble floors, and rows of sweeping columns running up to a vaulted ceiling. Only instead of pews, there were desks, scattered around the front the room, with a lamp for reading at each one. The smell of burning oil from the lamps mingled with the must of old parchment and wrapped around me like a warm blanket. Behind them was a maze of book stacks. I couldn’t see how far they extended backwards, but there were more books than I thought possible. There were large dusty tomes next to newly bound books. There were walls of books, in deep blues, reds, greens and browns. The knowledge and the stories of all of the books seemed to weigh down on me.
Slowly, I walked through the shelves. I skimmed the titles, in all languages, from all times. The idea of trying to read all of them made my head hurt. As I walked down an aisle, I saw a man turn the corner and enter my row. I quickly turned the corner, trying to quiet my footsteps and swishing skirts. I peered back around and watched the man pull out a dusty black book entitled The Aenid. I had never even heard of it.
I had always prided myself on the number of books I’d read, but it was now abundantly clear that the amount of literary ground I had covered was minuscule. It would take a lifetime to even make a dent in the literature that was just in that one building.
I have no idea how long I stayed there, wandering, and reading book titles, and soaking in the smell of old books. But, eventually, it occurred to me that I needed to leave. Mother would wonder where I had been.
I raced home, but when I got to our door, there was someone already waiting there to be let in. Andrew looked at me in surprise as I arrived in a cloud of dust.
“Miss Drizzella,” he bowed. I curtsied. “I’ve was hoping to talk to you alone for a moment,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?” I couldn’t really register what he was saying.
“You did not say so last time but you seemed upset- angry with me really. Now, I gave it some thought and-“
“I went in,” I cut him off. I didn’t care about anything he had to say at that moment. I just needed to tell someone what I had discovered.
“I went in the library!” I giggled.
“And why is that cause for excitement?” he asked. A smile began to tug at the corner of his mouth.
“I’ve never been in before,” I told him. I was exhilarated.
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Mother says it isn’t proper for ladies,” I said, but I was still giggling.
“Well that seems strange. And how did you find the library?” he smiled at me.
“It was the most magnificent thing I have ever seen,” I told him sincerely.
“Did you see the section on Greek philosophy?” he asked me. I shook my head, I hadn’t stayed long enough to notice specific sections, or even how it was organized. He took my hands in his.
“Then I shall have to accompany you next time, and give you a proper tour,” he looked me in the eye, “And I truly am sorry that I abandoned you on the dance floor,” he told me.
I smiled back, completely forgiving him, even though I had not intended to. Perhaps we would be friends when he was my brother-in-law.
Then the door opened and Bella smiled out at us. The prince quickly dropped my hands. Bella momentarily frowned at my dusty countenance, but quickly resumed her smile.
“Miss Tremaine,” Andrew bowed to her.
“Your highness,” she curtsied. “Won’t you come in?”
That afternoon we had tea with the prince for a second week in a row. Mother was absolutely beaming, and Bella could not stop grinning. Each time the Prince addressed her, her smile would grow. I supposed I should have been happy for her, but it was difficult. I don’t remember most of the visit because I was so busy inside my own head, reliving my time in the library and making plans.
The next day, I went to the study.
“Georgina? Can I talk to you for a moment?” I asked, beginning to motion Georgina out of the room. We moved back into the lessons room.
“What is it dear?” she lowered herself onto her chair, clutching her stomach. She was really beginning to show now and I could tell that the pregnancy was starting to weigh on her. She wouldn’t be our governess much longer now.
“I was wondering,” I hesitated, biting my lip.
“What is it?” she seemed worried now. I didn’t want to worry her. I was just nervous to ask.
“I was wondering if, if you could find me a position as a governess,” I asked finally. She frowned.
“Are you sure you want that?” she asked.
“You don’t think it a tiresome job do you?” I asked, now worried that teaching us had been a burden to her. I hated the idea of Georgina not enjoying her work.
“No, no,” she reassured me. “I have enjoyed every moment I’ve spent with you girls. But some families are not as nice, and it is hard work.”
“I’ve done hard work for a long time now,” I reminded her. “My knees still ache from scrubbing the floor this morning.”
“It’s not that I don’t think you are capable of doing the job. But why do you want to do it? You are so close now, to living as your position entitles you to. If Bella marries the prince, you will be able to live in comfort, probably marry a well off duke or count.”
“If,” I reminded her. “If Bella marries the prince. He has visited for tea a few times, but that is a far cry from an engagement. In the meantime, she will need new, appropriate dresses. We might have to hire more staff to accommodate the prince’s visits, and we don’t have the money.”
“Drizzella, let your mother worry about the finances,” she covered my hand with hers. I shook my head.
“There is no money,” I told her. “If we don’t pay our debts soon, we are going to lose the house.”
“Drizzella, it’s not your job to support your family.”
“But it is my job to marry well for them? I have little chance of that, and I don’t have a strong desire for it either,” I confessed.
“What do you mean?”
“I went into the library,” I grinned at Georgina. Her eyebrows shot up. “I went in, and there is so much just in that one room that it made my head spin. I want to learn, and to read, and explore. I don’t want to get married to a fat count who expects me to only be educated in manners and embroidery. I want to teach and help children, the way you helped and taught us, and I want to continue to teach myself while I do it,” I told her. Georgina’s brow crinkled.
“Are you sure you really want this?”
“I am certain,” I affirmed. This would solve everything, I was sure of it.
“Well if it’s what you really want,” she trailed off.
“Oh thank you! Thank you!” I jumped up to hug her, and accidentally knocked her to the side.
“Oh I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” I said helping her back up. “Are you ok?” Georgina seemed flustered, but said,
“I’m alright, quite all right.”
I smiled at her.
“Thank you,” I said, in earnest.
That night, I could not sleep. My stomach was all twisted in knots, though I could not imagine a reason for my unrest. So I got out of bed and lit a candle.
I winced as my door squeaked when it opened. Then, I tiptoed down the hall to Anastasia’s room. I knocked softly on her door, but there was no response. So I knocked again, but still nothing. I was afraid to knock louder and wake everyone else up, so I turned the knob and went in. I carefully avoided her desk and navigated my way around her easel before I reached the bed.
She wasn’t there. I could see by the light of my candle that there was no one in her bed. My heart started pounding in my chest. Don’t panic I told myself. Where would she be?
I blew out my candle and grabbed my robe as the answer came to me. I rushed down the stairs and let myself out the back door. I ran through the garden and into the field. The tall grass and weeds clawed at my clothes and scratched at my skin but I kept running. It seemed a lifetime before the stables came into sight. When they finally did, I could see a light in the window.
When I finally came into the stables’ clearing, I tried to quiet my breathing. I could hear muffled voices coming from inside. Quietly as I could, I snuck around to the door and peered in.
Ana and Fred were standing, with their heads bent together. They were talking in hushed tones and Anastasia was smiling so much she looked as if she might cry. Then, as I watched, Fred took one of her hands, and knelt down. I gasped. I knew I was intruding, I should have looked away, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Ana was shaking as she looked down at Fred.
“Anastasia. You are the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. You make each day brighter. I’ve found that, the reason I get out of bed each morning, is because I know there is a chance that you might smile at me that day,” he seemed to trip over his words a bit. He laughed and shook his head. Anastasia put one hand over her mouth. “I love you, and I want to spend each day trying to make you smile. It’s that simple,” he said through his smile. “Anastasia, will you marry me?”
For a moment, I couldn’t tell if Ana was laughing or crying. She seemed incapable of answering. Finally, she managed to get a word out.
“Yes!” she laughed as she said it, and tears slipped out of her eyes. I found tears slipping out of mine as well. Fred jumped up and spun Ana around. She laughed and cried “Yes!” again. When he put her down, she told him,
“I love you.”
And they kissed. Their happiness was contagious.
“Now, I must go,” Ana pulled away from him. He groaned. “I know, I know,” she patted his chest. “But I must go.”
“I shall miss you,” he kissed her hand.
“I’ll miss you too,” she whispered. Then she left.
Ana jumped when she found me waiting outside the door.
“I came to your room… and you weren’t…” I tried to explain. She was looking at me with huge frightened eyes.
“How much did you see?” she asked.
“Oh Ana,” I hugged her. I was truly crying now, tears of joy for my sister who would soon get all the happiness she deserved, “I’m so happy for you.”
She hugged me back then.
“I can’t believe it!” she whispered to me.
After a moment, I wiped my tears away and stepped back.
“You’re going to get married!” I laughed. Fred must have heard us, because he came outside, looking concerned. I hugged him too, to his surprise.
“You’re going to be my brother!” I told him. He laughed and patted my back.
“You won’t tell anyone, right Izzy? At least not yet?” Ana’s brow was full of worry lines.
“Of course not,” I shook my head. “Your secret is safe with me.”
Ana and I walked back to the house together. She told me all about the plans she and Fred had made. Plans to buy a house in the country and breed horses, and maybe one day have a child. In turn, I told her about my plans to become a governess. She did not question me at all when I told her. My wonderful sister simply accepted it.
“It seems like everyone’s lives are falling in place!” she said, squeezing my hand. I smiled back at her.
The next week, the prince did not come for tea. Mother and Bella were frantic.
“Why would he not come?” Bella moaned. “What did we do to drive him away?”
“Nothing, you were perfect, Bella,” I told her as I stitched up a tear in Ana’s riding habit.
“Then why has he not come? Last week he came, and the week before he came. Where could he be?” she sighed, and looked out the open window. The smell of soap and wet fabric blew in through it.
“Bella, weren’t you supposed to hang the laundry out to dry?” I asked her. “It will be ruined if you wait too long.”
“Oh, right,” Bella as she got up to go.
“But where is he?” she repeated as she reached the door.
“He’s probably just busy,” I told her. “I’m sure his highness has many duties, and that if he could possibly leave them, he would rush to your side immediately. Now, could you please hang the laundry?”
Bella sighed but began to march down the stairs.
“I wish he would visit again,” she muttered as she went.
Eventually, though, Bella’s dream came true. After a week of absence, the prince appeared once again at our door. Anastasia answered the door to find the prince in a bright green doublet, accompanied by his two guards.
After she escorted him into the drawing room she ran to the kitchen where Bella and I were working.
“The prince is here!” she announced. Bella jumped up.
“Oh dear, he can’t see me like this,” she looked down at her dirty apron.
“Quickly, go change,” I told her, “I’ll get the tea.”
Before long we were once again seated in the drawing room with his highness.
“I hope you will forgive my prolonged absence,” the prince said. “I’ve had some very important matters of state to attend to, and I could not get away.”
“Told you,” I elbowed Bella.
“Ow!” she cried.
“Are you all right, miss?” Andrew asked.
“Oh, um, yes your highness,” Bella blushed and glared at me. I shrugged.
“We did miss your highness’ presence, but we understand that you must be very busy,” Mother finally answered politely. Andrew nodded.
Anastasia moved to pour the tea, and hand cups to everyone. She couldn’t quite reach all the way across the table to Andrew, but before she could stand to deliver his tea, one of his guards jumped up.
“I can help you with that, miss,” he said, taking the teacup for her.
“Oh, um, thank you,” Ana said.
Andrew looked at his guard strangely.
“That was kind,” he said, but he did not seem to be applauding him. The guard cleared his throat and stepped back.
Andrew smiled at me.
“How have you been?”
“Very well, your highness,” Bella said, “the weather has been lovely recently, and perfect for taking walks. Taking in the fresh air is such a pleasure.”
Secretly I wondered when she found the time to take walks.
“I have not had much time to enjoy the weather myself these past few weeks. I hope to have time for a hunting trip in the near future though,” the prince answered pleasantly.
“Do you hunt much?” Anastasia asked.
“His highness is an expert huntsman,” his guard chimed in. All our eyes focused on him for a moment. He blushed.
“Perhaps it is impertinent of me to comment, but his highness would never say so himself.”
Andrew gave him a queer look again.
“I do enjoy the occasional hunt.”
“I have heard many tales of his highness’ hunting skills as well,” Mother added. Andrew shook his head and half smiled.
“It is too easy to sing the praises of keeper of the royal purse.”
“Well Georgina has said so as well and I don’t think she would say that if it weren’t true,” I said. Andrew laughed.
“How is Georgina? Thomas was very excited to announce that they are with child.”
“She is very well,” I smiled. “She comes to visit us less and less now, and we miss her, but she is very happy and very healthy.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” he said. “Well, not glad to hear that you miss her. Glad to hear that she is well though.”
“Yes, your highness.”
By then we had finished our tea.
“Well, I would very much like to see what this fresh air you speak of is all about Bella. Would anyone mind terribly if we went for a walk?”
“Not at all your highness,” Bella smiled, triumphantly. I hoped she did not think that the prince had truly taken interest in her talk of the weather.
As we moved into the garden, Bella jumped onto the prince’s arm.
“Why don’t you show me for favorite place in the garden, Bella?” Andrew said. Gleefully, Bella lead him off. We followed in their wake. I was surprised when we came to a stop at the swing that hung from the big oak tree.
“This is my favorite place,” she said, letting go of Andrew to run her hand down the rope of the swing.
“After Papa died, I used to come out here to play with Izzy. She always let me be the princess and she was the ogre, or she used to push me on this swing. Sometimes I still come out here to think, or escape,” she smiled. “It’s my own little place.”
Andrew and Bella both looked at me. I couldn’t meet Andrew’s eyes, he was looking at me so intently. But I took Bella’s hand and squeezed it.
“I like this spot too,” I said. After another moment, the party began to move through the garden again.
“Drizzella, won’t you come walk with me for a moment?” Andrew said.
“Me?” I repeated. My hands started to sweat.
“Yes, I need to ask you a few things,” he said. I looked desperately at Bella. She shrugged. Maybe he just wanted to ask me what Bella was like as a child.
I took Andrew’s arm and we began to walk again.
“It was very nice of you to play with your sister when your father died,” Andrew said. I shook my head.
“Papa wasn’t my father. My father died when I was much younger.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I loved Papa too, though. Playing with Bella helped distract me as well.”
Andrew nodded solemnly. We walked in silence for a few more moments, before Andrew leaned over and whispered to me,
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but one of my guards seems quite taken with your sister.”
“Hmm?” I whipped around. Indeed, the guard who had helped with the tea was following Ana with his eyes quite ardently.
“Oh, well, uh,” I wasn’t sure what to say, so I fiddled with my skirt.
“You don’t approve?” Andrew asked.
“Well,” I tried to find a way to politely say no.
“You think he’s beneath her?” he asked.
“No!” I shook my head violently. “Not at all.”
“It’s not a distaste for military men then?” Andrew’s chest puffed up.
“No, not at all!”
“I must misunderstand something, then.”
I looked around. Mother seemed to be sufficiently behind us.
“Can you keep a secret?” I whispered.
“Of course. On my honor.”
I looked around once more before whispering,
“Anastasia is engaged.”
“No one can know yet. They want to keep it secret.”
“Whatever for?” he was bewildered.
“I very much doubt that Mother would approve the match.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, you see, she is engaged to our stable hand, Fred.”
Andrew became very quiet.
“Ah, see, now it is you who disapproves,” I said, looking at the ground. I couldn’t believe I had betrayed Ana’s secret.
“Is this Fred good at his job?”
“The best,” I smiled. “He takes so much pride in his work.”
“Well then, I can’t see why he isn’t perfectly suitable, if she loves him. Any man who takes pride in his work is a good man in my book, and should be treated fairly.”
Andrew’s features still seemed hard as I said this though.
“I agree,” I said, trying to decode his expression. “Is everything all right, your highness?”
“Yes. It’s just that sometimes I’m not sure my father agrees with me about how working people should be treated, and it makes for very messy politics.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, “and very messy family dinners.”
“Never mind that, though,” he shook his head. “Perhaps I can help Fred elevate his position, and then your mother might not object as much.”
“That would be wonderful!” I cried. “But receiving special treatment just because we know the prince? That doesn’t seem fair at all,” I smiled slyly. Andrew laughed.
“But for the time being, please keep this secret,” I begged, “it was not mine to tell.”
“Of course,” he said.
By then we had returned to the house.
“I’m sorry my visit has been so brief, but I really must be going,” Andrew said. He turned to Bella. “I hope that you may be able to come visit me sometime soon, so that I may show you my favorite places in the palace gardens.”
“It would be an honor,” she said.
Andrew bowed to my mother, and nodded at me, and then left. I could see him speaking quietly to his infatuated guard as they got into his carriage, and smiled.
“Ana! Ana! I need to talk to you,” I said as we turned back into the house. I grabbed her hand and dragged her up to my room.
“Ana, please don’t be angry with me, but I told,” I said.
“I told the prince your secret.”
“What secret?” Bella came into the room. We both stared at her for a moment. I turned to Ana. She blushed.
“Nothing,” I said.
“I know it’s not nothing. You two always keep secrets from me. Can’t you please tell me? I promise not to tell.”
We only stared at her for a moment.
“I suppose my own sister should know,” Ana said, nervously.
“Know what? Please tell me, I won’t tell a soul,” Bella begged.
“Fred and I engaged,” Ana murmured.
“What?” Bella shrieked. “Engaged?”
Of course at that moment Mother came into our room.
“Ladies! Lower your voices.”
Ana and I glared at Bella. She looked down at her shoes. I suppose it wasn’t entirely her fault. It was shocking news.
“Who is engaged?” Mother asked. Each of us looked at our shoes. “Does this have to do with his highness?”
We all shook our heads.
“Are my own daughters keeping secrets from me?”
None of us spoke.
“Out with it. Tell me what this big secret is, immediately.”
We all still remained silent.
“Bella?” Mother tried. “I know you never like to keep secrets.”
Bella squirmed. Ana and I held our breath.
“I should hate to be a gossip,” she murmured.
“Bella?” Mother said in a warning tone.
“It’s not my secret to tell, Mama.”
Mother pursed her lips. She looked to me. I shook my head, but kept my eyes on my shoes.
“Anastasia?” she tried.
“One of the seamstresses in the village is engaged to the baker,” she lied. “I am sorry for gossiping.”
Mother looked us all over again, suspicion hot in her eyes. Bella and I attempted to affect innocent smiles.
“See that it doesn’t happen again,” she said, leaving.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when she finally left.
“This is so exciting!” Bella whispered, jumping up to hug Ana. “I’m so happy for you!”
“Thank you for keeping my secret,” Anastasia smiled at her.
“Of course,” Bella whipped her hair out of her eyes.
“I’ve forgotten why we were talking about this,” Ana wrinkled her nose.
“I was telling you something,” I began.
“Oh yes! Who did you tell?” Ana grabbed at my arm.
“Well, you see, one of the prince’s guard seemed to have taken quite an interest in you,” I began.
“Is that what you were talking to Andrew about?” Bella interrupted. I nodded. The clouds seemed to clear from her face.
“Oh that’s all,” she said.
“Anyhow, he seemed to take offense when I was less than enthusiastic about the match, and I did not want to offend him.” I said.
“You told him? What did he say?” Ana seemed no less worried. She crushed my hand in her grip.
“He thought it was a fine match. He even mentioned that perhaps he could help find Fred some sort of position.”
Ana beamed and let go of my hand.
“Really? What kind of position? Would he give him land? Let him work at the palace?”
“I don’t know. He just said he might be able to help elevate his position,” I said. Ana almost squealed in excitement.
“This is wonderful! I must go tell Fred,” she said, rushing out of the room. I was left alone with Bella.
I smiled at her and said, “That was really nice, what you said in the garden.”
“I liked when we used to play there, too,” I patted her shoulder. “You know, if you marry the prince, Ana’s dreams will come true, too,” I added. Bella smiled.
“That would be nice.”
I smiled, and left to prepare dinner.
The next day, a letter arrived from the palace. Bella received it at the door and ran up to Mother’s study at once. I could hear her screeching from in the lessons room down the hall, so Georgina and I went to join her.
“We’ve been invited for tea at the palace!” Bella was telling Mother gleefully. Mother took the paper away from her and read, eyes flicking back and forth impatiently.
“Her Majesty the Queen invites Lady Tremaine and her daughters to join her and her son the Crown Prince, and daughter the Princess for tea in the palace gardens in one months time!”
She hugged Bella close and kissed her on the head. “And not a moment too soon,” she added.
“What do you mean Mama?” Bella asked.
“Never mind. We must buy you a new dress!” she hugged Bella tighter, but she met my eyes. I felt a pit form in my stomach. Neither of us knew how she was going to pay for the dress.
The next day Mother and Bella went out shopping for dresses for the tea with the queen. While they were gone, a carriage arrived at our door. A footman rang the bell and I answered.
“Carriage for Miss Drizzella,” he announced.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Prince has sent a carriage to fetch Miss Drizzella and bring her to the Royal Library.”