How cold the night was. The sisters bundled in furs, their cheeks rough red, as if slapped. They walked to the grand palace hurriedly, arm-in-arm, their great white clouds of breath trailing them as they went.
“A carriage, Jane, would be prudent,” Bea hissed between her teeth.
“A carriage is money.”
“Surely we have enough money to afford one single carriage ride on such a night.”
“We do not, Bea,” Jane shook her head almost imperceptibly.
“Where has it gone?”
“You must write back to Mister Edwards and offer to take the commission.”
“No. Absolutely not. I do not do dog portraits, Jane.”
“Then here we are. In Vienna. Broke. And forced to walk.”
“Where did the money go?” Bea asked again, this time quieter, without much force. More of a bewilderment to herself than an actual question in need of an answer.
Below their feet, the snow crunched loudly, a heavy layer of ice upon it.
“You must write another book, Jane.”
“It takes time. And our needs are pressing.” Jane stopped, which naturally stopped her sister beside her. She looked severely at her sister, just a few inches shorter than her, her eyes softening. “Please, Bea. Write Mister Edwards.”
Bea closed her eyes, sighed, and looked back up at her sister and said, “Of course.”
They both forced a smile at the other, a quick attempt to smooth things over. And then one step, then another, they moved as one down the gaslight sidewalk.
“As we walk,” Jane said cheerfully, “I like to imagine the kinds of cakes the baroness will have.”
“White cakes. Chocolate cakes.”
“Heaps of icing.”
“Perhaps with pink roses made from sugar.”
“At least three tiers.”
“With more icing between.”
“I would very much like to taste sugar again,” Jane said and stepped up the pace just a little more.
“As we walk,” Bea said, “I like to imagine the kinds of people who will be there.”
“With round black glasses perched on their noses.”
“Revolutionaries. Perhaps from France. With red cloths wrapped around their arms.”
“Scarred from battles.”
“Naturally,” Bea said, stepping up and over a small mound of snow. “I think that was a bush.”
“You must be careful. What would I do if I lost you to a broken ankle?”
“Or a sprain? You’d have to carry me the rest of the way.”
“Naturally,” Jane agreed.
“So I must find another bush to scamper over and pretend to lose my footing.”
“Yes,” Jane agreed. “A perfect plan. I will carry my hobbled sister and deposit her at the foot of the famous baroness who climbed a mountain and say, ‘My sister was attacked by a snowy bush.’”
“Someone carried her up the mountain, too. So I’m sure we will have many notes to compare.”
“Hush Bea. You mustn’t share that publicly. It is not something the baroness would wish us to know.”
“But we know it.”
“And we won’t let on. Promise me.”
“What you must think of me, Jane. Truly. I was not so poorly raised as to willingly wish to give offense.”
The small hand that had held Jane’s arm moved away, offended.
“I’m sorry,” Jane said, chin slightly jutted out with the effort it took to say it.
“I’m not such an ogre,” Bea said, eyes cast down on the glittery night snow.
“You are not. Very far from it. I’m sorry,” Jane said again.
They continued along in silence. Separate from one another but still at the same pace. Then Jane felt the hand return to her arm, a light squeeze along with it, and nothing more was said about it as they continued walking on the snowy sidewalks, the snow crunching beneath their feet.