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Chapter 2

"Begging your pardon, m'lady, but her ladyship wishes to speak to you."

Anastasia looked up in surprise; she had not noticed the maid's entrance. She had been bent over a book in her father's study, where, as everyone in the household knew, she was not permitted. She quickly tried to regain her composure, hoping the maid had forgotten this and would not notice her guilty expression.

"Thank you, Sarah, where is she?" she said, straightening up.

"In her parlor m'lady," Sarah replied, bobbing a quick curtsy and fleeing the room.

Anastasia looked longingly at the book, a guide to wildlife around rivers in Britain and Ireland, but eventually she sighed and returned it to its shelf. She always loved to come the study. It was one of her favourite places of all the numerous rooms in Avondale. Dark mahogany shelves rose from floor to ceiling, the books on higher levels only accessible by the ladder that skid along the structure. The room was bright, with a large window that provided a fine prospect of the lake at the front of the mansion, where Anastasia had spent many happy hours reading under the cover of a willow tree on the far side. A large and somewhat regal writing desk took pride of place, positioned in the centre of the room in front of the window. It was piled high with the dozens of letters and receipts her father received daily. The books themselves were ordered neatly in rows, many bearing titles from times Anastasia would not believed they even had books - history never having been of great interest or importance to her. It was certainly an impressive room, though the library had a far grander collection.

With such rooms as this in a house, it was no wonder that Anastasia was in an ill-temper when she reached her mother's parlor. This room was elegant, certainly, but there were no books, it wasn't cosy or warm and, perhaps most importantly, it was where her mother was. Though the Countess was of a generally kind disposition and good-nature, she was too mild, too gentle, for Anastasia's liking. Her conversation was dull and soon exhausted, for she talked parties and balls and little else. Such topics bored Anastasia, for she had never been to such events and could never quite grasp her mother's enthusiasm for the occasions. Nevertheless, Anastasia was appropriately fond and respectful her mother and sat through her ramblings, commenting sweetly that yes, she did think Lady so-and-so's dress was quite appalling and of course, mother's sapphires complimented her eyes most becomingly.

It was anticipating yet another such conversation that Anastasia entered the parlor calling "Mamma?"

Lady Adlington was sitting at the corner of an elegant but uncomfortable sofa, reading the latest edition of Vogue. She looked up and smiled as Anastasia entered.

"There you are, Anna, come sit." She patted the seat across from her and placed her magazine on the table. Anastasia did as she was told, concious of her mother's unusually awkward manner. The Countess smiled artificially before standing, much to Anastasia's surprise, and pacing around the room. Anastasia watched her, bewildered, and waited for her to speak. Eventually, she began-

"Anna, recently you turned seventeen." Anastasia was tempted to point out that she hardly needed reminding, but held her tongue. "Next year you will be presented at court and come out into society." She creased her brow and wondered if her mother would continue to tell her things she was well aware of already.

"But I cannot help but feel that at times...perhaps you are not quite ready." Lady Adlington turned to face her daughter and was met with a wide-eyed girl whose expression was one extreme anxiety.

After a pause, Anastasia spoke hesitantly. "Mamma, I know that at times I can be a little, well, a little... I can hardly find a word to suit." She blushed and averted her eyes in embarrassment. "But please don't postpone-"

"Oh no, my dear! You mistake me. I merely wish that from now on you refrain from running about with your cousin Robert - such behaviour will no longer be tolerated." The Countess's voice had suddenly turned stern. "You are a lady, Anastasia. It is high time you start acting like one."

The Countess stopped before her daughter. She spoke a little more gently this time. "Anna, I know...I should have brought it about more gradually, but I hardly thought about it until I saw you arrive home after your picnic last week. My dear, you must be careful when there is dirt about now that your skirts have been lengthened. It is my fault, I suppose, your father did warn me of such an issue arising." She said, lowering her eyes. "But you don't need to be running around like a child anymore, now you will have parties and balls and shopping!" Her eyes sparkled. Anastasia's did not. "In any case," she went on, "Robert has far more important things to be doing than entertaining you, I am sure."

Though those last words stung her more than anything, Anastasia managed a weak smile and said, "Of course, Mamma, I shall try be more... lady like from now on."

"Good girl! We're to have the Graysons and your grandmamma for dinner next week, I expect you all to be on your best behaviour - your Aunt Beatrice tells me Charlotte has much improved at finishing school. Now run along, the Duchess is coming for tea." Lady Adlington ushered her daughter out of the room, and Anastasia happily fled to her chambers to spend some time pondering over what had been discussed.

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