A/N: Oh dear. It’s been a good long while, hasn’t it? My life has been a giant, hectic, incredibly busy maelstrom the past month. So, now that’s all over and done with, here I am!
The chorus of bewilderingly cheery voices cut through Estelle’s reverie like a sharpened blade.
Stepping further into the room, Estelle noticed the large wooden work table and the small cake resting on it. The house staff had obviously baked it that very morning in order to surprise her before breakfast.
“Oh, everyone this is….wonderful.”
“I found a special recipe, love. One that uses fresh strawberries, your favourite!”
“Thank you, Tilly.” She said, honestly grateful for the gesture. “But really, you didn’t have to—”
“We’ve all noticed how miserable you’ve been lately, and it was the least we could do, pet.”
Estelle smiled in spite of her bad mood. There was seldom such gladness in the household; it was a hard life for a servant. Constantly cleaning, running errands, changing coals, washing, scrubbing – there usually wasn’t a minute in the day for such frivolities.
It was simply a pity she could not experience the same happiness. Tilly had been spot on; she had been downright miserable of late.
For near a month, she had felt as if something inside her had curled up into a tight ball which would never unfurl. Today it was worse than usual, although she attributed that to the fact it was the twentieth anniversary of her running away from the orphanage.
The same day as her mother’s inexplicable abandonment of her.
She was shivering from the cold and rain, and she had been searching fruitlessly since the early hours of the morning. She had tried to ask passers-by, but they had assumed her a street urchin and had refused to help.
At first, it seemed the portly woman would hastily bat Estelle away, too. Her Lady companion had already made to shuffle off in the opposite direction.
“Why, hello there. Are you… are you quite alright, child?”
Perhaps she would help. Hope blossomed in her weary heart.
“I am awfully sorry to trouble you, Miss, but I am quite lost.”
“Yes, I had rather thought that to be the case, dear. How can I help you, darling? Where do you need to go?”
“27 G-Grosvenor Gardens.”
“Alright then dear, well you’ll be pleased to know that it lies just behind that road there. I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for. Remember, if it’s buried treasure then I should like some, too!”
Estelle giggled, causing the older woman to beam at her before nodding her goodbye.
“Oh, Liddy! Speaking to an urchin like that in broad daylight – you really are stark raving mad!”
Estelle made a mental note to thank her one day, if she ever had the chance.
Estelle blinked. Swallowed. Then, biting her lip, she simply knocked again.
“Be off with you! Go on, off with you—”
“Go back to your mother, child!” The woman snapped. “Go back home, I say! The Ventures do not welcome beggars!”
The woman turned and slammed the door mercilessly behind her with a resounding thud.
She knocked and knocked again and again for the next half hour, but nobody answered.
She stopped herself from completing the thought, angrily. There would never be any getting her back. It would be foolish to make the centre of her life something as hopeless – as futile- as trying to recover the one person that had willingly left her behind.
Her mother had left her behind and walked on; Estelle had resolved to the same: she had to leave the past – the Roma – behind, and find a different path for herself.
The she waited.
Without any trace of her mother to hold, without any hope, she was utterly alone.
She waited for what seemed like hours on that doorstep. She didn’t even know what she was waiting for, but she simply sat, silently watching the rain, and she would sit in that very spot until something happened.
Ready to fight.
“Come with me, a moment.”
The man led her through the most luxurious parlour Estelle had ever seen (an unsurprising feat, considering her nomadic upbringing). Even surrounded by such luxury, she was determined not to be distracted from her purpose.
“I-I… please can I see Lord V-Venture?”
“How did you get this necklace? Who are you, child?”
Estelle stammered through her shivering and uncertainty.
“Who is your mother? What is her name?”
She couldn’t quite speak the words aloud. Not yet.
The man didn’t even appear to be listening, his gaze frantically searching her face, studying her eyes, her nose, her mouth. It was as if he was looking for something. For traces of something left behind on her very skin.
“I am Edmure Venture, and your mother is my… you are my…”
She had finally found her father.
“The Viscount called for Miss Harrington again.”
The governess blinked wildly, turning to the voice.
“This time Lord Afonsine requested that Miss Harrington attend him.”
Vaughn Slanzar de Afonsine.
Estelle sighed. He had been calling for the past three weeks. Each morning she would hope he had already left his card in the little silver tray in the front hall. Somehow, just to know that he had been there made her insides coil like a rusted bed-spring; a strained, noticeable, painful tightness in her chest.
A week after the events of the Afonsine houseparty, the Viscount had written a letter to Marielle, revealing his desire to court her in a proper fashion. Marielle had immediately begged Estelle to supply her blessing.
Estelle clenched her fist: she was ready for it.
And yet, at almost the precise moment she had said given her assent, her heart had thudded to a stop. And it was from this moment that she had felt the aforementioned, peculiar emptiness eat its way inside of her; she had lost… something.
Ever since, she had felt melancholic from when she awoke in the morning to when she slept at night. Even her passions and interests were disappearing more with every day; her favourite books could not possess her for a few, blissful moments.
“He said he had urgent business with you and would call back immediately.”
“A solicitor? But… what the devil would a solicitor want with me?”
“Very well,” She assented reluctantly. “Tell Marielle I’ll be with her within the half hour.”