The pen scratched so noisily across the paper he feared a hole would appear in the shape of whatever letter she was trying to write. It wasn’t bad enough his writing pad had gained new blotches of ink stains, but also a growing number of bent nibs had begun to form an odd collection in the drawer of bits and ends.
Proudly, she held up a sheet of paper with one of Mrs Wellens’ simple soup recipe in a thankfully more or less aligned scrawl. Her numbers were still distinctly sloped towards the bottom so much they spilled to the the middle of the next line; and he still had difficulty telling the ones apart from the l’s, and her 6 looked like an egg with an upright tail. Her g’s were quite the opposite, more of a lemon with a drooping vine forming its grossly elaborate curve.
Overall, it took her half an hour to read and write down the single sheet of three-ingredient soup; but it was her first venture out of letters and numbers, and, impressively, she managed to keep her fidgeting to a minimum. Thank God she hasn’t yet figured out that shaking the pen could spray dollops on ink. But he still feared the day she will find out and thus annoy him to no end, and stain his shirts.
Stretching noisily, Elouise got up from the chair and paced the room, easing the focus out of her neck. She pulled at a brown curl, and considered chopping Hugh in the back of his neck for fun.
“Can you see the dissimilarities?” Hugh held up her writing beside Mrs Wellens’ cookbook.
The confused concentrated frown returned to her face. “Your hand and her hand are different. What is that long word with a v?”
“Ve-geh-tah-bal. S-s-stock. Alright.” She crossed her arms.
“Perhaps we should have started with singular words,” Hugh tidied his writing instruments. When no snarky remark came, he looked up.
Elouise had stopped pacing, but her arms were still wrapped tightly around herself. Her head was low, and she stared at her bare feet.
“Are you alright?” Hugh was genuinely concerned. It was a quiet week for them, well deserved after the whole planted bomb plot they solved; and Elouise and he finally managed to resume literacy lessons.
“Can’t complain. I’m receiving an education,” Elousie straightened and put her hands on her hips. Hugh nodded and leaned back in his chair.
“And you’ve made wonderful progress. I’ll go get some tea, and maybe convince Mrs Wellens for some lovely sponge,” Hugh smiled.
“Yes please!” Elouise perked up.
Hugh made his way downstairs to the hallway, hoping to find the sweet old lady bustling about in her kitchen or living room, but instead found her at the door chatting to a very familiar face.
“Eudora?” Hugh froze on the last step of the stair.
“H~u~bert~!” the young woman greeted. Her voice was so cheerfully shrill and sing-song-y Hugh actually unconsciously went back up a stair. Mrs Wellens turned to greet Hugh as well, but had an impossibly polite smile plastered to her face. Hugh immediately had the same smile zapped onto his own.
“W-why, Miss Ainely! What brings you here?” Hugh assumed a polite, stiff stance.
“Oh, I heard papa gave you a week off, so I thought you might like some company!” she held up a large picnic basket. “I got some pies, and some cakes, and assortments of pastries , oh and some desserts as well! And we can share with you!” Eudora brought Mrs Wellens back into the conversation.
“Oh! Well, thank you, dear, but all that looks… a little too much, don’t you think?” Mrs Wellens frowned internally as Eudora’s pink shoes that have obviously been all over town crossed the threshold onto her carpet. She shot a coded look towards Hugh, who replied with an equally secret bewildered face.
Eventually, Mrs Wellens gave in. “Why don’t you come in, dear. I’ll get some tea, and we can all enjoy those treats together,” she smiled brightly.
Eudora beamed back and practically skipped in. As Mrs Wellens closed the door behind her, she gestured firmly at Hugh to take the basket. His gentlemanly habits kicked in and he obliged, eyebrows raising at the weight of it.
Eudora rattled on about her trip to the bakeries and confectioners all over town, while Mrs Wellens and Hugh gave enthusiastic hums.
“Why don’t you girls set the table? I’ll just pop upstairs to get something and be right back down,” Hugh grinned, silently apologising to Mrs Wellens for leaving her alone with Eudora. He rushed up the stairs as quietly and non-huffy as he could.
Entering his room with a muffled bang, he leaned against the door, scarcely daring to breathe.
“Where’s the cake?” Elouise grunted from the couch. Her sprawled out like a cat in her dressing made him even more flustered.
“Eudora’s here,” he hissed.
“Remember my sergeant’s daughter? The girl with the pink bonnet and dark curls?”
Elouise thought for a moment, then sprung up. “The parrot?! Oh, H~u~bert~?” she replicated the shrill call.
Hugh nodded furiously.
Elouise burst into laughter. “Someone is fancied so terribly!” she made a swooning motion.
“SHH!” Hugh hissed. His eyes widened in horror as he realised a high-pitched humming and noisy skipping ascended the stairs. Elouise too fell silent, but the large mocking grin remained.
“H~u~bert!” Eudora rapped at his door.
‘GET OUT’ Hugh mouthed at Elouise, both hands on the doorknob lest Eudora made her own way in.
Elouise looked around at the room’s windows and threw both her arms up questioningly. Hugh pointed furiously at his bedroom window and gestured hurriedly.
Blowing an infuriating kiss and fluttering her eyelashes to a increasingly fuming Hugh, she picked up her skirt and danced into Hugh’s bedroom, her mouth wide open in silent laughter.
“Miss Ainely!” she heard Hugh greet horribly, and the shrill response. “Mr Roxton! Oh is this where you live? What a charming little room!”
Hauling her legs out the window, Elouise swung and grabbed the drainpipe. She hung there for a moment, deciding whether to go up and wait out the visit on the roof. But then another, better idea struck her, and she shimmied down to the first floor instead.
Wiping her feet thoroughly on the mat, and for extra measure, with the hem of her skirt, she rung the doorbell.
A set of hurried footsteps approached the door, and a little flustered-looking Mrs Wellens turned surprised to see her at the door. She silently pointed upwards, questioning, but Elouise simply shrugged and shook her head. Realising her plan, Mrs Wellens broke into a large smile.
Grinning, Elouise drew in a large breath. “GOOD DAY, MOST BELOVED AUNT! How are you! I hope you don’t mind a surprise visit from your niece!” she practically bellowed operatically up the stairs.
Grabbing a pretty shawl, Mrs Wellens covered up Elouise’s simple clothes and heartily greeted her in, knowing well Hugh and Eudora had come out of his room to see the commotion. “My dear Elouise! How wonderful to see you!” she hugged.