Several days had passed, largely without further incident. The Ducal couple had broken their fast and returned to regular meals though they were perhaps a bit meager at times. At least the Duchess was eating something and not simply wasting away in such dramatic a fashion as she had been. Alice, for all of her thoughts had been given the Duchess' letters of the day, one so fateful in the small stack, largely responses to the party which now lay only a few days away. Alice most carefully laid the letters out on a pristine silver tray, so highly polished it was better than a mirror. Further she placed a slim gold letter opener and set to work, equipment in hand. In the mid day hours the Duchess found herself retiring to the gold drawing room. Often her Ladyship would be found there as well. Largely engaged in mundane tasks to busy themselves as good ladies did.
Alice moved through the halls with a relative degree of comfort, knowing exactly where her mistress was, meant there was no possibility of running into her. The servants dreaded the notion of these chance encounters as often their fate simply depended on the Duchess' mood. Some days were calm, other days were riddled with physical or verbal abuse. Things tended to be calmer when the Duke was present, but that alone didn't change the mood in a significant way. As she went she locked eyes with some of the portraits of people she'd never know, and didn't care to know. Occasionally sneaking in a funny face or two. These little acts of rebellion were the remnants of her personality, long buried as she dare not offend God in house of a most pious family. With each passing day, Alice learned to play the game just a little bit better.
It was not everyone, however, who felt this joy or relief. There were after all, those like Hetty who was recovering now from the brutal lashing she had received as punishment. Punishment for a slight that her mistress perpetrated against the Duchess. Such was the cruelty of their world, and it likely would never change. Servants were but pawns in the games that the wealthy played. They were all expendable and they should never forget such things. Reaching the drawing room she knocked just loud enough to be heard and waited for her mistress to reply. "Come." Arabella beckoned and without delay the heavy doors were opened and the young maid entered, bowing her head and remaining absolutely silent.
"Blessed day, Sutton." Arabella said, a broad smile on her face. The Duchess was seated in an ornate chair with legs crossed at the ankles. She wore a pale blue dress with matching gloves of silk. Her attention turned as Alice approached with the tray. "Blessed day your Grace. I come with your letters." Alice resisted the strong temptation to roll her eyes, instead she simply moved in closer and bent down, holding the tray before the Duchess who hurriedly collected them. "Excellent." Arabella remarked now looking through the small stack, immediately one caught her eye a reply from the Marquess of Bath. The only letter she was really waiting on. With a few swift swipes of the blade, the Duchess had the envelope opened and contents withdrawn.
Arabella cast her eyes quickly down the letter, turning the pages when she was done before setting it onto her lap, a most with a rather wicked smile on her face. "Sutton, darling." Arabella began, speaking in a tone and with language that Alice found most distressing. Whenever the phrase darling was not used in relation to her husband, it generally meant great caution should be exercised. Something bad was going to happen. "Yes ma'am?" Alice replied without hesitation or pause. "Would you be so kind as to fetch my dear Alexandra? And then leave this letter with John for Hos Grace." Arabella issued her commands, having returned the letter to it's envelope and handing it off to her maid. Her sister was finally going to be made into an honest woman. The Marquess was thrilled and of course accepted.
Alice nodded and took the letter in hand, turning to leave the room. "One more thing." Arabella had managed to interrupt before she could make her escape. "Ma'am?" Alice asked. "What do you think of John?" Arabella was always putting her nose where it didn't belong, but perhaps she too would push things and hope for the best. "I don't understand." Alice was hesitant now, now rightly nervous.
"Silly girl." Arabella wagged her finger and shook her head. She did grow tired of these little displays. Alice knew perfectly well what the Duchess meant, she just didn't want to answer. "Out. With. It." Arabella was commanding now, stopping after each word to emphasize how serious she was. "He is a God fearing man. He serves your Graces well. His noble breeding shows, your Grace." Alice didn't really know what else she would be expected to say. So she waited in a near stunned silence. "And you find him attractive, do you not?" Arabella minced no words, fully aware this wasn't the most appropriate question, as one's piety mattered above looks. "I suppose, ma'am." Alice's face had flushed red. "Very well, you may go."
Alice left with the silver tray beneath her arm as quickly as she could. Walking backward to keep her gaze on the Duchess she was so out of sorts she walked straight into the door before scrambling to open it. Alice would now hunt down Hetty, and relay the message that the Duchess was calling, right now.