32. More Misery Behind the Bush

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And his name? Tell me, who is he?

For just a moment, Ella's question hung in the air between us like a big, wet elephant on a washing line.

"Please, don't ask," I blurted out. "I, um... promised him to tell nobody. Yes, I promised!"

This was such a lousy excuse that no little sister in England would have accepted it. Other little sisters would have dug, and bored, and drilled until they had uncovered every last bit of the truth. But all those little sisters probably didn't have a secret lover.

Moisture sparkled in Ella's eyes, and the words "just like me and Edmund" practically blinked on her forehead, for all the world to see.

"Of course." Nodding eagerly, she enfolding me in her arms. "I understand. Of course you have to keep your love's secret. I understand more than you can ever know."

Somehow, I doubted that. I knew perfectly well why she was feeling so deeply for my supposed plight, and it didn't have anything to do with her general compassionate nature, but rather, I suspected, with a certain young man who would soon be waiting for her at the garden fence.

 "I really hope you two will find a way to be together," she breathed into my ear, her voice sounding tearful.

Well I sure as hell didn't. I had to work hard to keep myself from laughing at the idea of my marrying Mr Rikkard Ambrose. It would perhaps make an interesting tragedy for the theatre, with all the participants ending up strangled within the first five minutes, but in reality? No, thank you!

However, I didn't think that was what Ella wanted to hear.

"I'm sure we will. I think he's getting really attached to me, and it's quite likely that we will spend more time together in the future." That last part at least was true. "But enough of my problems," I continued, holding Ella away from me with both hands. "Let us talk about you, and the man prowling around you. What about Sir Philip?"

Ella's face paled. "He was here earlier today," she muttered.

"To visit you?"

"Yes."

"Did he bring flowers?"

"Quite a lot of them, yes."

"And what do you think of him?"

"He... is a very pleasant gentleman," Ella replied, doing her best to sound enthusiastic and failing miserably.

"That is wonderful! Simply wonderful!"

I was testing my newfound acting skills. Of course I knew Ella's interests lay in another direction, but I couldn't tell her that I had overheard her and Edmund pledging their eternal, epic and everlasting love. She would vaporize from embarrassment. And I wouldn't get another chance to eavesdrop on her and her lover, which was essential, both for my plans of furthering the happiness of my little sister, and as my favourite evening entertainment.

"So you want to marry him, do you?" I asked with a  fake, bright smile.

What little colour had remained in Ella's cheeks vanished. "Um... maybe not as such."

"Why not?" I pressed. "If he likes you and you like him, why wait?"

"Well, we're both so young. Too young, I think, to really think of marriage."

"There are girls who get married at fifteen. That is two years younger than you."

"True, but still... there's no need to rush things and... and I..."

She was desperately groping around for another explanations. I had to say I was impressed with her. Of course her flimsy little lies wouldn't even fool a cocker spaniel with severe concussion, but I was amazed that she even made the attempt. For Ella to lie to anybody, let alone me, was an impressive achievement. She really had to like this fellow Edmund.

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