Chapter Twenty-Four

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The letter remained on my pillow all night.

When I woke, the edges were even more crinkled and had pressed into my arm when I slept, leaving impressions of the paper on my arm. Outside the window, the church bell towers tolled twelve times and I kicked the blankets off my body, swinging my legs over the side and stretching my arms out behind me. The sun was shrouded by clouds that made everything look dark and gloomy, but clouds meant snow, so I didn't feel all that disappointed. I would have given anything for just a few snowflakes.

I changed out of my nightdress and attempted to run a brush through my hair, leaving it down and slipping out into the hallway. James had given strict instructions for me not to rise before mid-day, which I had done, but I had my doubts he would be up at all. He had drunk a lot of wine at the ball and I expected him to spend the day in bed complaining that his head hurt, not that I minded. He couldn't spend all day nagging me if he never left his room.

The floorboards creaked as I snuck along the hallway, pausing briefly at James' bedroom door where his snoring was loud enough to penetrate through. I snorted and quickly slapped my hand over my mouth, listening out for any movement inside, but they slept on. Movement from the floor below travelled up the stairs as I darted past James room to the stairs, avoiding all the creaks and squeaks that would have woken someone up.

Upstairs may have been silent, but I could hear Mrs Baker moving around the kitchen the second I step foot in the hall. Mrs Baker always arrived earlier to prepare breakfast, but it sounded as though she had just arrived since none of us had any breakfast. I tip-toed down the hallway and down the few steps that led to the kitchen, pausing by the door to listen to Mrs Baker's humming as she prepared some sandwiches.

"Good afternoon," I said, pushing off the doorframe.

"I knew you would be the first one awake, you always are," she said. "Hungry?"

"Starving. Although picking at biscuits and tarts last night was fun, it doesn't really fill you up," I said. I pulled out the chair at the table and took a seat. Usually, we ate in the dining room, but no one else was awake so I didn't really see the point. It reminded me a little of eating in the Ealing's kitchen with Esther and Mrs Jenkins.

"Let me finish these. I doubt your brothers will be rising any time soon, if at all today. They seemed to have drunk an awful lot last night."

"So I heard, they weren't quiet when they went to bed."

"Hm, I had to put Christopher to bed myself, Kitty put James to bed, but she did struggle."

"I bet Lady Thatcher regrets inviting us, what with me and Tommy ruining the dances."

Mrs Jenkins laughed and returned to the sandwiches, buttering the bread and adding slices of ham. She placed them on a plate, and I started to take them, even though she hadn't finished making them. It didn't seem to matter though; I didn't think anyone other than Kitty would eat during the afternoon as alcohol and food was never a good combination as far as I knew. My experience with Father had shown me all I needed to do about the effect alcohol had on a person so I didn't quite understand why James and Christopher would touch the stuff. Each to their own I suppose.

I ate a couple more sandwiches and then sat back against the chair and drummed my fingers on the table. With James and Christopher out of action for the entire day, I had nothing to do and I didn't really feel like spending the day in my art room. My art was mostly restricted to the night, when I couldn't sleep, or if James and Christopher wanted something for their offices. After Christmas, I was supposed to start selling the paintings and although I loved art, it just didn't feel like it was for me.

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