Chapter 06- Deceiving the Sisters
Two days later, Cinderella was able to leave the house again, although it was in the company of her stepfamily. During the past two evenings, she made it a point to eavesdrop on her stepfamily. Lady Ingram and her daughters did not hesitate to openly discuss their plans in their sitting room after ordering Cinderella to clean another part of the house. Thus, Cinderella was aware of their plan to contact a shady merchant who dealt mainly in information the next time they went out. They intended to pay the merchant for names of young noblemen who were womanizers and willing to ruin a lady’s reputation for a price.
Ostensibly, Lady Ingram brought all three girls out to shop. Cinderella, of course, was there to hold their purchases rather than receive any of the goods for her own use.
Arms hurting from the weight of the bags and boxes that could have just as easily been delivered to their home, Cinderella quietly sighed with relief when her stepmother suggested taking a break from shopping. Unfortunately, Angela, the eldest stepsister noticed, and found fault with the first five places. By the time Bertrise and Lady Ingram insisted they were tired of walking around, Cinderella’s arms were shaking.
“You girls rest here. I just need to go back into a store and pick up something,” Lady Ingram said as she waved her hand at a nearby cute restaurant serving other young ladies and their guardians at the outdoor patio seating.
“What are you getting, Mother?” Angela asked woodenly, as if reading lines from a script.
Cinderella wanted to roll her eyes at Angela’s bad acting. However, she didn’t want to give her stepfamily any clue she already knew about their plans.
“It’s a secret, but I am sure you will love it.” Lady Ingram winked at her daughters and tapped her lips with a gloved finger.
“I bet it’s a present for us to wear to the ball!” Bertrise squealed, setting off an echo in her older sister.
Cinderella wasn’t sure if Bertrise was just that much better at acting, or if she had forgotten what Lady Ingram intended to do. Lady Ingram smiled gently at her daughters and then turned to Cinderella. All facial expression died as she addressed the beautiful daughter of her late husband.
“You stay here with the girls. Remember to serve them well. I want you to pay attention to -”
Cinderella focused just beyond her stepmother’s shoulders, pretending she was listening to the copious amount of orders. Instead, she was watching her stepsisters giggle and conspire.
Angela pulled out a small package of folded oilpaper, the kind purchased at an apothecary. Upon seeing it, Bertrise was wracked with giggles, which she tried desperately to repress as her mother turned and gave her a warning look. During the shopping extravaganza of the morning, they had indeed visited an apothecary. The stepsisters had insisted it was just to buy herbs that relieved menstrual pain, but the girls did not know Cinderella studied herbs and plants for creating cosmetics. Since they assumed Cinderella was ignorant, they did not bother whispering when they ordered a set of dried herbs from the apothecary.
It was a laxative.
And it was one that worked quickly. The apothecary usually would give a warning that the person taking the laxative would need to be near a restroom at the time of consumption. But the girls shushed him, assuring him they knew and would use it carefully.
Sitting at the café tables, Bertrise recomposed herself after another fit of giggles caused by how “carefully” they intended to use the laxatives to embarrass Cinderella. Cinderella wondered how exactly they planned to trick her into consuming the laxative.
Eventually, after what seemed like forever, Lady Ingram was finally ready to depart. She set off down the street on foot, leaving behind her daughters, who ordered a pot of tea and a plate of pastries. Angela ordered the waiter to remove the extra chairs at their table, making sure Cinderella had no place to sit. Cinderella was forced to stand behind her stepsisters, which seemed to confirm her status as a maid of their household rather than their sibling.
“Cinderella, won’t you have a cup of tea?” Angela asked with a smile.
Bertrise snickered under her breath but composed herself after a sharp glance from her older sister.
“No, thank you. Lady Ingram just said I was to act as your maid and not your equal,” Cinderella didn’t even bother to look at them.
She was still watching her stepmother walk down the street, suspicious of her stepmother’s sudden departure in the middle of their shopping trip.
Considering the recent conversation between her stepsisters and stepmother to plan for Cinderella’s downfall and ruination, she found her stepmother’s movement suspect. She felt the weight of the journal in her dress pocket, and guessed her stepmother was either headed to meet the information merchant or the hitman she was so comfortable using. Either way, Cinderella calculated how she could separate herself from her stepsisters and shadow Lady Ingram’s footsteps.
“If you are our maid, then you should act like one. Be grateful your masters are so kind. Drink and be thankful your betters treat you well.” Bertrise’s nose was in the air as she said this.
Her statement drew a few looks from the surrounding tables, and the level of conversation quieted as people sensed fodder for gossip. It wasn’t often that members of aristocratic families showed their temper and schemes in public. They usually kept it in private. Especially if the ladies were still unmarried. After all, there was no need to scare off potential suitors.
The aristocratic young ladies were surprised to see one of their peers showing off so boldly, and their guardians mentally recalculated the worth of the Ingram daughters.
“Yes, do have a drink,” Angela echoed as she pushed a teacup with the restaurant’s logo closer to Cinderella.
With a flash of inspiration, Cinderella decided to use this fiasco as an opportunity to get away from the girls and spy on her stepmother. Perhaps she would be able to root out the location of the information merchant or the hitman.
She carefully observed the movement of the cafe server and stalled for a moment. Cinderella grabbed the teacup, and, in the process of picking it up, made sure to get in the way of a passing server. This caused the server to almost drop a tray with a full tea set headed to a neighboring table. Cinderella “helped” the server stabilize the tray, and in the process, she switched out the cup she was holding.
Cinderella quickly drank the tea in the cup and said a mental apology to the ladies two tables away, where the server finally stopped and passed the tainted tea to one of the ladies.
Turning her attention back to her step sisters, Cinderella placed the empty cup on the table and resumed her standing position behind her two stepsisters.
Not wanting to waste time, or have the lady at the neighboring table reveal symptoms before her, Cinderella began to show a face of discomfort. The glee in her sisters’ eyes grew.
“My apologies,” she said with one hand over her stomach and a frown on her face, “I need to be excused.”
“No!” Angela said emphatically. “You are to serve us as our maid, whoever heard of a maid abandoning her masters, or asking to be dismissed before the master was willing.”
“I bet you just want to chase after some commoner man you saw on the street.” Bertrise’s voice climbed and drew several disapproving glances from the ladies at neighboring tables.
Cinderella sneered inwardly. These two silly stepsisters of hers couldn’t even tell they were damaging their own reputations. Not only were they raising their voices and acting unladylike, but they also would be looked down upon for failing to train a lady’s maid properly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the ladies two tables away suddenly place her hand on her stomach. Cinderella was out of time.
“My apologies,” Cinderella choked out, as if she was truly in discomfort, before she simply clutched at her skirt and rushed off. The two stepsisters broke into peals of laughter, drawing strange looks from others.
Cinderella quickly rushed off down the street as if she was fleeing for her life. She could barely make out the figure of her stepmother far ahead of her, and she wanted to close the distance. As she sped along the street, Lady Ingram turned into an alleyway. Cinderella slowed down to catch her breath and make her footsteps more silent.
“Psst. Miss! Miss!” a young boy in a nondescript message runner’s uniform ran up beside her. Cinderella sighed. She knew this young boy. And the chaos he could cause.
“What do you need, Trouble?”
Please feel free to leave me a comment! I’m still in need of name suggestions for people as well as places. Thank you so much for reading!