36. Sisters' Battles

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"Ah, Sir Philip!"

Both of them looked around as they heard the voice of the unexpected intruder—sweet little me. When Ella realized who it was, I saw startled relief on her face. When Wilkins realized who it was I saw startled startledness on his face. I marched over to the thin young man with the big ears, and more or less shoved my hand into his face, so he was obliged to press a kiss on it.

"Oh, err... Miss Linton?"

I nodded graciously, and then let him have it.

"Sir Philip, I'm so delighted to meet you again! I can't say how happy I am to be able to thank you in person for that wonderful ball you gave the other night! The ballroom looked so beautiful, all those exotic potted plants, and the little table with the exquisite snacks! There was even solid chocolate! Did I tell you that I only had solid chocolate once before? It is one of my favourite things! As I was saying, it was simply wonderful – and I mean the ball, not the chocolate, although that was pretty nice too. Such wonderful decorations, and delightful music, and such incredibly mindless baboons for guests, and the chandeliers glittered so pretty, I thought I might faint!"

Sir Philip stared at me nonplussed. He was probably still trying to figure out how to fit the 'mindless baboons' into the long line of compliments. I wasn't going to give him enough time for that, though.

"And the music. It was simply so enchanting! But I already said that, didn't I? Dear me, my memory sometimes isn't the best one. You know, Sir Philip, I was particularly impressed with the architecture of your beautiful house. I have always had a passion for architecture," I lied smoothly. "Can you tell me who was responsible for such a monument to the modern science of building?"

"I believe a man called Bartley did the main design, Miss..."

"How wonderful! How interesting. How old is he? Has he designed any other buildings? Where does he live? Does he have any children? Did he design his own home? How long did it take him to build yours? It is so large and majestic, it must have taken him at least five years. I was so impressed by it."

"I... can see that."

Looking at me strangely, Sir Philip edged away from the window where he had been standing, towards the only empty seat beside Ella on the Sofa. Maybe he was thinking about protecting her from her seemingly deranged sister. Maybe he was thinking she could protect him. But I wasn't having any of that! Quickly, I slid into the seat beside Ella before he could, and smiled up at him.

"You must tell me all about him. Please, I have a ravenous desire for knowledge. Please oblige me."

A peer of the British Empire couldn't just ignore a plea from a lady, could he?

*~*~**~*~*

Approximately three hours later, I, Ella and Sir Philip left the drawing room, the latter with a slightly dazed look on his face. My aunt was just coming down from my uncle's room, looking disgruntled. In all probability, she had just been refused money to buy sweetmeats for Sir Philip, after having discovered that we had no ingredients for proper snacks in the house.

Her face lit up instantly when she saw caught sight of the three of us standing in the hallway.

"Oh, my dear Sir Philip," she trilled. "Are you leaving already? I'm so sorry for that. I was just getting something ready..."

"Do not make the effort, Madam, I beg of you," he cut her off – and he actually sounded as if he were begging. "As you have noted, I am just about to leave. It has been a charming evening. Thank you so much for your hospitality. And thank you, Miss Ella, for your time."

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