78. Competition

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SURPRISE, SURPRISE!

An extra special chapter as a celebration of the last few das of the wattys! Right this moment, Lilly and Mr Ambrose are in a neck-and-neck race with our toughest competitor! If you want to know how you can support Storm & Silence, have a look at the author's note at the end of this chapter! :-)

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On my way into the house I actually had to blow my nose. Had the scene in the garden moved me to tears? Or was I getting a cold? The latter possibility seemed much more likely to me.

I slipped quietly inside and made my way up to our room. As I entered, Ella, who was sitting in front of the mirror, jumped and tried to conceal her tear-stained face – until she saw it was me. Then she didn't bother. Our eyes met, brown to blue. There was a silent agreement in hers, which, I was sure, was mirrored in mine. She didn't ask where I had been all day, and I didn't ask why tears were running down her cheeks.

Without saying a word, I took my handkerchief out of my pocket and handed it to her. Hers was already too wet to be of any use. She took it with a thankful expression. Having dried her cheeks, she proceeded to help me out of my dress and into my ball gown.

Another kind of silence, I mused. The silence of love, where no words need to be spoken, because the eyes say enough.

My little sister had hardly finished tying up the laces of my dress when we heard a familiar screech from below:

"Come! Quick girls, come! He is here! Sir Philip has arrived, I see his coach!"

Ella's knees nearly buckled. I whirled and caught her at her elbows just in time to steady her.

"I can go down alone, if you want," I offered. "I can tell them that you can't attend the ball because you are sick." You definitely look like it.

"No." Ella shook her head, sadly. "Aunt would never believe it, or she would insist that I go, regardless."

That was probably true. Our aunt's world order was very clear and structured: social duties came first, sick girls second. Or maybe twenty-second.

Lifting the skirt of her ball-gown, Ella took a deep breath and opened the door. "Let's go, Lilly. Let's face this."

She was so brave. I couldn't for the life of me understand how one could be so brave and so timid at the same time. Why couldn't she just wait until Wilkins proposed and then tell him Thanks, but no thanks!

Well, the day I understood Ella would be the day I achieved my doctoral degree in philosophy. Not ever.

Over our joined footsteps on the creaky wooden stairs, I could hear Sir Phillip's voice from below. My back stiffened. This was the voice of the dread foe I would have to meat and defeat before the nigh was out.

At the moment, the dread foe was talking about a new variety of tulips he had recently discovered growing near his country home.

"They are beautiful, the most beautiful flowers you have ever seen, but so delicate. I think I will have to rescue them before the winter comes."

"I see. How very... considerate of you," my aunt said, smiling one of her brightest and most fake smiles. Now, if they just could keep each other occupied for a few seconds longer, maybe Ella and I could sneak past unnoticed and get seats next to each other in the coach, with Ella in the corner. Then at least she would be save from tulips for the ride to the ball.

Catching her eye, I gestured to the door, and she nodded.

Slowly, we started towards the door, behind the backs of both Sir Philip and our aunt.

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