My status as a new member of my uncle's household wavered between unpaid companion and poor relation. Neither is so very different from the other. Suffice to say I was relegated to the outskirts, not of the family, but not a servant, and was left very much alone except for the afternoons. Late afternoon was a quiet time in London, after the hectic hours of calling time, when friends and acquaintances made their rounds of each others' parlours. I sat these hours in my bedchamber, never daring to show my face, one of Penelope's endless rules. During the hours of two and three in the afternoon, Penelope (I refused to call her Aunt, and I refused to give her her title in my mind) had me read to her. Silly poems of love and romance, useless drivel, and when the correspondence arrived, I was to read that to her as well. I strongly suspect she could not read.
Through reading her correspondence aloud, I learned of the central figures in London society, the Earl of Broughton, the Viscount Markshire, and His Grace the Duke of Arlington, and his wife, the Duchess. The Ladies Swanlea (sisters, I assumed) were premiere hostesses, and every week Penelope had me shuffle through the invitations looking for their names. To no avail. It caused her no end of frustration, and myself a great deal of amusement that I was careful to hide.
Only once did I let my amusement show. Penelope had thrown a teacup at the wall in her vexation at, once again, not receiving the coveted invitation to a garden party, and when she turned back to too quickly, she caught my smirk. She was calm, and merely sent me to my chambers. I went swiftly, eager to be away, and grateful to have escaped with nothing more than a scolding glance. That night Penelope took advantage of my habit of sleeping deeply though, and cut off my night braid, leaving me with a shortened red cap of curls that barely reached my shoulders. It taught me a hard lesson, and I would never again show any kind of reaction, amused or no, in Penelope's presence.
When I awoke the next morning, I began to consider the possibility that Penelope was mad. I observed her closely over the next years, careful to watch my step, but silently taking note of every strange demand, every odd fit and sudden surge of temper that resulted in a backhanded slap I was not fast enough to avoid. By the time I had spent four months in her household, Penelope's odd humours descended into a maddening rage, as though she were jealous of my presence and any lingering affection my uncle may have harboured for me.
Not long after the hair cutting incident, I woke to find all my clothing had been slashed to ribbons. These incidences of petty vandalism escalated, to the point that I was sleeping very lightly and kept a candlestick under my pillow. When I had chased her out of my room for the second time, she resorted to jabbing me with needlework pins whenever I passed her in the hallway. She railed at my uncle, telling him I was an "impudent baggage" and should be married off immediately, my age not withstanding. My uncle listened silently but did nothing. Penelope continued her secret harassments.