Christopher sits facing a woman concealing herself within a shapeless, dark blue monk’s habit. Little can be seen of her face within the hood other than her pale cheek, narrow nose, and thin lips which look like they’ve been sucking on a lemon.
Christopher: You’re Sister Austere, a character making her first appearance in the expanded version of At Her Service, correct?
Sister Austere: Of all the cheek! The only reference that scribbler makes to me in the original publication is in a stray thought Cinders has about a stuffy order of monks her mistress swindled a valuable tome from! I happen to be Ariella’s aunt, her mother’s younger sister. I might have been living in that drafty chateaux with the lot of them if I hadn’t taken vows!
Christopher: This is the Order of Silent Laughter, correct?
Sister Austere: Laughter can be found in surprising places, although my niece has a somewhat romantic view of what our goals should be. Stuffy, indeed! That girl wouldn’t have gotten to work half of her mischief if not for the tome she supposedly swindled me out of. I made a perfectly good trade for the book; the right to harvest pumpkins from the chateux’s garden in return for the book. Now I’ll be able to keep evil spirits away. (She makes a warding sign with her hand.)
Christopher: You’ve got a problem with evil spirits?
Sister Austere: Well, perhaps evil is too strong a word. They’re always knocking things about within the cells, the chapels, popping out at the monks in the halls. My sister Ariella was certain it was the ghosts of our ancestors unable to rest until we took possession of our heritage, the chateaux. Why they were bothering the descendant who was a monk sworn to celibacy instead of the first-born daughter and heiress to their legacy she could never explain. It was no surprise that the spirits continued to be restless after my sister took possession of the chateaux. My niece thinks it’s the ghosts of the horses the prince rode to death, but these spirits don’t seem quite big enough to be horses. Even though I suppose they no longer have bodies, so their living shapes wouldn’t matter, but why would they be haunting my sisters and myself? Why not the prince?
Christopher: How do you think the pumpkins will keep evil spirits away?
Sister Austere: We’re going to hollow out the pumpkin and carve frightful faces into them. We’ll light a candle inside each pumpkin and place them in our windows. They should frighten off the spirits. Ariella seems quite sure of this.
Christopher: I see.
Sister Austere: And I see what you’re thinking. This was the swindle referred to in the original story. I happen to believe these pumpkin lanterns will be effective, plus I was more than happy to have an excuse to give my niece the book she wished to keep. Let her work her mischief, playing her games with the cinders girl.
Christopher: You don’t mind? Claude seems to worry that Cinders is too much of a distraction for your niece.
Sister Austere: Claude worries too much. Distraction, indeed! As if marrying a prince would solve all of Ariella’s problems any more than marry the lord of the chateaux solved her mother’s! Let Ariella have her cinders girl. Maybe she will calm my niece down.
Christopher: Does Ariella need calming down?
Sister Austere: She has too much of a temper, mixed with way too much of her father’s mischief. Oh, he was a charmer, that one. I can see why my sister lost her head, forgetting about revenge and recovering the chateaux when she met him. A pity he died so suddenly. He might have made my sister happy. Instead Ari clung to ambition and vengeance once more to keep her going after she lost him. If this cinders girl makes my niece as happy as Ari’s husband made my sister, I’m glad she’s at Ariella’s side. Even if that cinders girl truly needs to stand under a waterfall for an hour.
Christopher: Yes, everyone seems to agree about that. Except for your niece and Cinders herself.
Sister Austere: I marvel that my niece doesn’t ask that girl to wash herself more often. She must leave smudges everywhere.
Christopher: I guess everyone is in agreement about that, too…