An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
The heavy doorknocker hammered against thick oak, echoing around the panelled entrance hall. Buttons raced up the basement stairs with a warning bark.
But it was only the postman. He handed an oversized envelope to the Baroness and bent to scratch behind Buttons’ ear. ‘Hello old boy.’
‘Ah, the Royal Seal,’ announced Baroness Fincham, as if she regularly received letters from the palace.
‘They all ’ave,’ said the postman. ‘It’s yer invitation to the royal ball.’
Buttons imagined a royal ball would be a big golden one. It must be enormous if they were inviting lots of people to play with it.
The Baroness shoved him aside with her foot and closed the door.
At the mention of a ball, her three daughters gathered in the hallway while the Baroness tore at the envelope. A rare smile disturbed the careful make-up that recalled her former beauty.
Her daughters took after their father.
As she opened the perfumed envelope, she sneezed. ‘I think I’m becoming allergic to dogs.’ She glared at Buttons as she unfolded the gilt-edged invitation.
She began to read. ‘The Hon Baroness Fincham, Miss Tabitha Uglie, Miss Abigail… blah, blah… cordially invited to a ball to celebrate Prince Alfred’s birthday.’
Her daughters’ squeals drowned the rest of the words.
‘The Princess will hardly be back from her honeymoon by then,’ said Harriet, the youngest and the tallest of the sisters. ‘Her wedding isn’t till the week after next.’
‘Shh!’ Their mother’s eyes flicked towards the basement. ‘At least try to behave like ladies.’
‘All good for tourism,’ murmured the Baroness who had shares in several hotels. She had raised the spectacles that hung from a gold chain around her neck and was inspecting her daughters.
‘The Prince must find a wife,’ she said, ‘and there aren’t many princesses around these days.’
She sighed before letting the spectacles fall.
Abigail, the heaviest of the sisters, jostled to see the invitation and trod on Buttons’ tail. He pulled it free, leaving behind a chunk of white fur.
Tabitha, the eldest sister, snatched the card from her mother’s hand.
‘Look, our names are all in posh curly writing: Miss Tabitha Uglie, Miss Abigail Uglie, Miss Harriet Uglie, The Honourable Lucinda Eleanor Fincham–’
Her mother glowered at the basement stairs.
‘Shh! Keep your voice down.’ She folded the invitation. ‘There won’t be room in the taxi; they’re only insured for four passengers.’
She slipped the card back into its envelope. ‘Anyway, she doesn’t have anything suitable to wear.’
‘But, my ballgown isn’t–’
Buttons barked, and Abigail aimed a kick at him. He dodged the silly goose and ran down to the basement.
An unpleasant chemical smell drifted up the stairs to greet him. He found his Mistress kneeling on the stone floor, in front of the oven. She pushed back her brown fringe with the back of her wrist, adding another smudge to her forehead.
Her eyes looked tired this close up. He barked his news at her.
‘Don’t worry, Buttons. I haven’t forgotten your walk – as soon as I’ve finished cleaning the oven.’
His Master had never understood him either, although it didn’t seem to matter back then. He curled up in his corner on Master’s cardigan.
This wasn’t the cardigan he’d chewed the buttons off when he first came – the one that earned him his name. That cardigan fell apart years ago. He had been a different dog back then. Now he had responsibilities.
Mistress gave him this cardigan after the Master died but it no longer smelled of him. All Buttons had left of Master was his daughter, Cindy – Buttons’ Mistress.