Esther continued down the hallway, hissing happily, which might not have been such a good thing on the balance. She turned to start down the sweeping staircase and came face to face with Finley, the underbutler. Almost running into her hissing snout apparently startled him so badly that he dropped the silver tray loaded with the morning post, and leaned precariously backwards. He made an “eeep” sound when she grabbed him by the collar, but at least he didn’t topple down the stairs.
“Kafira! That was close,” said Esther, as she steadied him on the step below her. “Are you all right?”
“Nothing a couple of liver pills won’t fix,” he said, bending down to pick up the dropped letters.
“If you’re sure then,” said Esther continuing down the stairs. At the foot of the staircase, she turned back around to see him still watching her. Esther gave him a little wave and, turning right and then right again, entered the dining room.
Two women, both in their early twenties, sat at the immense table, enjoying a breakfast feast. Esther sat down across from them. Fodora Epps and Regina Elipton were guests in the house rather than residents, at least nominally. Both had been staying there for almost a month. Besides being members of the aristocracy, and obnoxious twits, they were acquaintances of Lady Iolana’s from University.
“Good morning,” said Esther, taking a serving spoon and adding two slices of bacon, two large pieces of black pudding, and one basted egg to her plate. “Would you pass the ssscones, please?”
“Imagine letting that thing eat at the table,” said Fodora, looking from between the brunette ringlets that framed her face and down her long nose.
“Where is your owner?” asked Regina, a blonde with big eyes but no appreciable chin.
“I don’t know where Lady Iolana is,” said Esther, taking a bite of black pudding. “Ssso no ssscones then?”
Fodora pushed the plate of scones three inches toward the lizzie. Esther had to stand up to reach them. Taking a scone in one hand, she picked up the dish of lemon curd in the other and sat back down.
“I am ssso happy that you two are staying,” she said. “It would pain me if your families’ current financial sssituations forced you to live on the ssstreets.”
“My family is richer than yours,” snarled Regina, forgetting for a moment to whom she was speaking.
She had either forgotten or never bothered to commit to memory the fact that Esther had been adopted by Iolana Staff at a very early age. She had no proper lizzie family, and among the lizzies, even village chieftains would have been poor compared to the Eliptons of Brech. On the other hand, if one considered her part of the Dechantagne-Staff family, as Iolana did, there was no question that the Eliptons would have suffered in any comparison of wealth.
Lady Iolana Staff swept into the room. At nineteen years of age, she had reached her full five foot seven inches height, and developed what among Brech women was considered the perfect figure. She was not particularly buxom, nor was her bottom, without a bustle, particularly large, but her waist was quite thin even without a corset. She was stunning, with waves of golden hair falling well past her shoulders and the same aquamarine eyes as her mother. She was already dressed to go out, in a rose and pink velvet day dress with a matching hat.
“Good morning, all.”
“It’s not been such a good morning,” said Regina. “Your lizzie has insulted my entire family.”
“How could you?” Iolana hissed at Esther.
The lizzie shrugged and ate her egg.
“You will have to excuse Esther. Obviously I have been lax in her education regarding etiquette. She will need, perhaps, some remediation.”
“You’ve done remarkably well with her,” said Fodora, “considering she is a member of an inferior race. Is it a good idea to have her at the table though? I’m afraid she might pass on some horrible pestilence.”
“That is highly unlikely for a number of reasons,” said Iolana. “I’m on my way out. I have several errands to run and would enjoy some company.”
“I’ll get my hat,” said Esther, starting to get up.
“I had planned on you being with me, but considering your behavior toward our guests, it would only be rewarding you to take you now.”
“In that case, Regina and I will accompany you,” said Fodora.
“Excellent,” said Iolana. “We’ll have luncheon at The Clarkson House.”
“Tonahass ssotook, ssisthusso,” said Esther, giving the two women a friendly wave as they left the table.
“Khikheto etehos,” snapped Iolana, who then turned and followed the other two women from the room.
Esther let out a very human sigh and then looked over the rest of the food. She was satisfied that she had enough protein but she ate several pickles directly from the relish tray. She noticed one of the maids peeking in and waved for her to go ahead and clear the table.