Elizabeth’s brief glimpse of Lavinia’s world had only served to show her that their lives were, in truth, very, very different. Lavinia still led a life of luxury and beauty, while Elizabeth had taken several steps downward, and was now shivering from the cold in a whitewashed bedroom without even pictures on the walls.
True, the shivering was her own fault. The radiator was steaming away, and it was rather silly of her to sit here in her nightgown without even a shawl around her shoulders.
“Do sit down, Lizzie, you make me nervous standing by the door like a statue. There is nothing in the rumors that pacing makes people nervous. I believe that standing still is what makes people nervous. It makes one fidget.”
Lavinia nodded slowly. “Yes… well… and she is so mean to poor Sarah Redgrave. Now, between you and I and that cushion—” she nodded to a fringed, puffy little thing sitting pompously atop a hatbox—“I do not think Sarah Redgrave is a particularly bright creature, but no one needs to be condescended to the way Annette Pickering condescends to everyone. Did you see how she took just one bite of the shortbread? Horrid thing. Mrs. Shurtleff’s shortbread—my, that’s a mouthful—is practically famous. Mamma serves it to all her guests and everyone says they want to hire Mrs. Shurtleff, but of course Mamma would never dream of letting our cook leave our employment, the very idea! The nerve of Miss Prunes-and-prisms Pickering, to take just one bite as if it wasn’t worth her while.”
If her thoughts could be made to stay in one place for any length of time, she might accomplish something in her hodgepodge of ponderings, but they would not. They leapfrogged about and slid from one topic to another with astonishing rapidity. Perhaps this was due to the fact that her brain was deprived of sleep. Perhaps it was due to the fact that she was really a very silly creature, after all.
The garret was colder than she had expected—most likely a result of the fire in the stove having sunk down to a few dark ruby embers and a lone chilly flame. Mercy shivered and poked a few more sticks into the stove. Nothing happened. The flame flickered, gasped, and sank.
“Just what I need,” snapped Mercy, dashing a stick to the floor. “It always goes out like that when I’m especially put out. Where did I put the poker? I had it last night, I know I did…”
Elizabeth was not quite sure if Mercy was talking to herself or to Elizabeth, so she refrained from answering and joined in the search for the poker. Mercy’s dejection had given way to frustration, and she slammed things about in a manner that bordered on the frightening. Elizabeth had to rescue a copy of Nicholas Nickleby—Rodney’s, no doubt—from being furiously flung into the wood box.
Ismelda’s eyebrows had been creeping closer and closer toward each other as Phoebe spoke, and now they were twisted into what could only be called a scowl. “You’re rooming with Maeve Alistair? That’s impossible because I room with Maeve Alistair.”
Phoebe swallowed. “Oh. Oh, I see. Er—well—perhaps there’s some mistake.”
Ismelda scowled harder. Not only had this new girl trumped Ismelda in mathematics all morning long, but now she was also taking away Ismelda’s room--and her roommate--, and on top of that she did not appear to be quite the brightest crayon in the box.
“A new pupil? Another one? But why so late in the year?” Phoebe was almost running to keep up with Ismelda.
“Oh, well, they’re always late. The scholarship students, I mean.”
Phoebe flushed. “I’m a scholarship student,” she said.
“So am I,” said Ismelda breezily.
Maeve came to Phoebe’s rescue. “She doesn’t mean that scholarship students are, in general, late for things. When a student comes here on a scholarship, it usually takes a while to get all the paperwork straightened out, with applications and whatnot. So scholarship students generally come after the school year has already started. You were one of the early ones—we’d only been in session two weeks when you came.”
“What she said,” said Ismelda.
“Thank you for sharing that vital bit of information.” Alice swept the cream pitcher out of Mark’s reach with an enough-is-enough look.
“I was the only one who noticed, though,” said Emily placidly, “so it was okay.”