Chapter 18

Screenshot-74Estelle stared at her full reflection in the mirror.

The woman who stared back was dressed in a scandalously well-tailored silk gown of eye-popping blues and greens which swirled lovingly around every curve.

Screenshot-19Estelle shook her head so vigourously that she almost dislodged her complex coiffure.

“I-I couldn’t possibly…”

Screenshot-44The maid who was pinning the garment in place released a hearty laugh at the undiluted terror on her face.

“Lady Afonsine has a beautiful wardrobe. And you would do well not to offend her by refusing to exhibit it.”

Screenshot-101“But I…” The governess swallowed.

‘Scandalous’ did not begin to describe the amount of skin she was showing! Her bared arms and back did nothing to increase the modesty of the outfit.

Screenshot-49“I look like…”

Her brow puckered as she tried to find an appropriate comparison. The style of the outfit was alike to none she’d ever seen before; certainly not in the last decade. And the colour was… something else.

Screenshot-70To her own eyes, she looked like a wanton; like a mysterious traveller, an exotic outlander…

“I look like… like a gypsy.”

Screenshot-25The maid readily agreed with her.

“Why, it’s almost as if you belong in such attire. As if the exotic colours were in your blood. Your very soul. I wonder where the Countess derived such inspiration.”

Screenshot-65“… Miss Murphy?”

Estelle heard the maid’s voice at the back of her mind, but was so transfixed upon her own reflection that she barely noticed the impatience lacing it.

Screenshot-43Her eyes widened at the image she saw in the mirrored glass.

Screenshot-98Her mother regarded her silently through it.

Screenshot-103“I can’t… I can’t wear this.”

She reached around to her back to undo the stays, suddenly rather frantic.

“I couldn’t possibly appear in front of all those people dressed this way, they’ll—”

Screenshot-35The maid, who had spent the last forty minutes painstakingly fitting the garment to the governess’s measurements, stilled her frenzied hands.

“Estellise! You must not insult the Countess in such a way.”

Screenshot-38“Or are you implying that her clothes are not tailored well enough for your tastes?”

“Oh, no! No, please don’t misunderstand— I-It’s beautiful, really, it’s just… It’s only that… that I just… I…”

Screenshot-106She sighed exasperatedly, all the tension leaving her body in one breath.

“I’m a governess. I’m a governess, and governesses do not wear… this. I’m nothing more than mutton dressed as lamb.”

Screenshot-26“It’s a masquerade ball.”

The maid’s mouth tilted, cheekily.

“Tonight, they’re all mutton.”

Screenshot-72“M-Masquerade?”

Relief, anxiety and confusion coursed through her all at once. She’d had no idea.

“But… I don’t have a mask.”

Screenshot-92Here, the maid’s smile widened.

“When I heard Lady Afonsine had given a guests’ employee leave to attend the ball, I made sure to… ah, let us say, misplace one of the masks the Countess had commissioned.”

Screenshot-76Wordlessly, she turned and rooted through the dresser behind them, muttering frequently.

“… know I put it in here somewhere… aha!”

Screenshot-81The maid extracted a long velvet box and clasped what was inside it to Estelle.

“Tonight,” she murmured, “you are not a governess…”

Screenshot-89The maid spun Estelle to face the mirror once more.

And the governess gasped in complete and utter marvel.

Screenshot-87It was the most beautifully crafted mask she had ever seen. Dozens of skilfully-clipped peacock feathers had been intricately interlaced. The effect of the costume was startling.

Alluring.

Screenshot-93She looked up into the other woman’s smiling eyes. In that moment, an understanding passed between them:

An understanding shared only by the unprivileged.

Screenshot-21“Tonight, you are a bird of paradise.” The maid said softly. “Relish it.”

And Estelle knew that she meant for them both.

Screenshot-90For perhaps the first time in her life, Estelle was truly lost for words.  She pulled the kind young woman into a warm embrace.

Screenshot-94The governess turned to depart. As she did so, the maid noticed there was something… different. Not only in the way the other woman looked, but also in way she held herself, in the way she moved.

It was as if she had come alive.

Screenshot-23After the oak door had shut with a resounding click, the servant sighed.

“… just don’t forget to watch out for wolves.

A/N: What’s this? I’ve written a chapter in less than a month’s time? Egads! Next chapter might take a bit longer because I’m so clever I decided on a masquerade and must trawl the internet for masks and outfits, etc.

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