An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
At Fincham House
Buttons knew Mistress was worried. She hadn’t spoken with Aunt Phemie or had an email from her for more than a week.
Alterations were complete, and the ballgowns hung in their owners’ rooms. The basement seemed bigger without them hanging from chair-backs and picture hooks.
Buttons sensed someone outside before the knock came. Mistress frowned down at him. ‘I paid the milkman this morning, didn’t I?’
He ran to the door, his tail wagging, so she opened it. Her godmother swooped in on a breath of cooling afternoon air.
‘What are you wearing, girl? – Och, I see… your father’s shirt.’ She enfolded Mistress in her enormous grey cape.
As they hugged, Aunt Phemie’s keen eyes ranged over the dingy basement, pausing to wink at him before continuing past to the worn wooden stairs and the cracked window pane halfway up.
She stood back and unfastened the cloak, flinging it over a chair-back. ‘You look terrible, hen: pale as porridge. Should you be down here by yourself?’
‘With Buttons,’ she added, bending to rub his ears.
‘I’m keeping him company.’
It sounded to him like a perfectly good reason, but Aunt Euphemia raised an eyebrow, and he knew that she understood about staying out of sight, and the Baroness’s allergy, and the invitation, and everything.
Mistress ended the silence. ‘Anyway, they’re watching some awful TV reality show up there. I’d rather be here on my laptop.’
‘Ay. Well, you dinnae want to believe everything you find on the internet either, lass.’
Aunt Phemie straightened, eyeing the sewing machine on the table, and the laptop opposite. ‘How about this lad you’ve been chatting to online then?’
Mistress stared. ‘How–?’
‘A wee birdie told me. You know who he is?’
‘Yes, but he doesn’t know I know.’ Her face had flushed the colour of peach blossom.
‘We tried a video call, although my webcam still doesn’t work. But his did. I recognised him from the news.’
Her eyes rested on a stack of newspapers by the fireplace. ‘But he’s not at all regal.’ Would she notice the papers’ corners nibbled for a mouse nest?
‘He stutters, you know. He seems… unsure of himself.’
‘Ach, well. His mother’s a mite domineering. And his sister wasn’t above giggling at his stutter.’
‘Aunt Phemie, how do you know all this?’
‘Are you looking forward to the ball tomorrow?’
He barked twice. Aunt Phemie smiled.
‘Of course. Every young lass and her family hae an invitation.’
Mistress considered this new possibility. ‘They didn’t say…’
He barked three times. Cindy frowned down at him, as if hearing his message for the first time.
She shrugged. ‘I don’t have a ballgown.’
Euphemia met his eye and nodded.
‘More gumption,’ she said.
The girl had lost the will to stand up for herself.