An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
Buttons and Mistress had the house to themselves after their walk; everyone else had gone out. He had heard the front door slam and the house relaxed, creaking and sighing in the silence. Mistress went to clean the bedrooms.
Afterwards he snoozed at her feet while she examined a laptop she’d found in a wastebasket upstairs.
Woken by the slam of the front door, he raised an eyelid in time to see the tail of a mouse disappear under the under-stairs cupboard door.
The Baroness called down for coffee and biscuits.
‘They’ve been shopping for ballgowns,’ Mistress told him on her return from delivering the coffee. ‘They’re going to the Prince’s birthday ball.’
Buttons wasn’t sure what a birthday was, but he tried again to tell Mistress she’d been invited to play with this ball. He barked three times and wagged his tail.
‘Yes, boy. Anyone would think you understood every word.’ She poured a coffee for herself. ‘We’ll have the house to ourselves that evening. There might be something worth watching on TV.’
Harriet, the youngest of the stepsisters, came down with a glove in need of stitching.
When the Uglie family first came to Fincham House, Buttons saw the older sisters pinching and poking Harriet when the grown-ups weren’t around. They’d call her names like ‘lamp-post’ and ‘maypole.’
Since Master died, they bullied Mistress instead and Harriet had stayed out of the way, glad not to be the focus of their attention.
Mistress opened her sewing box and nodded towards the laptop on the table.
‘Did Tabitha mean to throw this laptop away?’ she asked. ‘It seems to be working.’
‘She said the webcam were broke,’ said Harriet, ‘and the microphone. Ma’s bought her a new one.’
‘Would they mind me using this, then?’
‘Nah.’ Harriet scratched her head. ‘That is… she’d probably want something for it,’ Tabitha was greedy as a gull, and twice as vicious, ‘but I won’t tell.’
Cindy thanked her with a smile, and Buttons wagged his tail so hard his body waggled. Harriet stroked his back and spoke with her head down.
‘Ma reckons she’s become allergic to dogs. She’s hinting about getting rid of Buttons.’
She sneaked a look at Mistress, whose face was expressionless as she stitched. ‘Ma says he’s old and too slow to catch mice.’
Mistress held out the mended glove by its little finger, a rare flash of spirit in her eyes. The glove dangled like a dead mouse.
‘He’s not hers to get rid of.’
Harriet stood. ‘P-perhaps, if you keep him out of her way,’ she took the glove, ‘she might forget about being allergic.’
Her face red, she fled to the stairs as voices grew louder above them in the hallway.
Buttons looked up at Mistress and whined softly. It wasn’t Harriet’s fault. She’d only been warning them.
Harriet turned at the bottom of the stairs, her eyes apologetic and her lip trembling. Mistress managed a half-smile. It was answered by a wobbly grin.
‘Ta for this,’ said Harriet, and ran up the steps as if she’d said something rude.
Her sisters descended, pushing her against the stair-rail on their way past. Their voices competed for attention as they demanded alterations to their new ballgowns.
Buttons wasn’t surprised to learn the Baroness wanted to get rid of him. He had never trusted her. She was careful not to show her true nature while Master was alive, but dogs are good judges of people.
Malegra Uglie had been a wealthy widow in search of a title, and the Master was penniless. She offered to buy Fincham House from him so he would have money to pay off his debts before they married.
No one expected he would die so soon, leaving his young daughter at the mercy of her stepmother. Nor that Malegra would make her cook and clean in return for a room in the basement, so that the Baroness could dismiss the maid.
It didn’t take long for the old witch to start complaining about the price of dog food.
A cotton reel rolled from the table and bounced off Buttons’ head. He looked up to see if Mistress had noticed. She smiled back at him from the mound of turquoise lace that covered her lap as she sewed more bows and flounces onto Tabitha’s ballgown.
‘She’s going to flap like a windy washing line in this,’ she told him as she stitched, ‘and Abigail is going to look like an enormous yellow meringue in hers. Their mother, as always, will be resplendent in black.’ She bit off a thread. ‘Like a crow.’