It began with a telegram, as is the custom.
"H.M.S. TITANIC SUNK IN MID-ATLANTIC. STOP. COMMODORE BELLACOURT AMONG THE CASUALTIES. STOP. MY DEEPEST CONDOLENCES. STOP."
Lillian gaped at the message that had just been served to her on a silver tray. And, then, just a few moments after the first, the servant returned to deliver another telegram to Lillian's stunned hands.
"MY TWO GIRLS. STOP. YOU CAN COME HOME NOW. STOP. DONT BE AWFUL. STOP. LOVE DODO. STOP."
"Beatrice!" Lillian yelled. The emotion in her voice made the name crack.
"Hmm?" Beatrice said, her mouth full of pastry cream.
Lillian didn't reply for a moment. Then, her shocked countenance gave way to a slow smile that spread across her face like an oil spill. She looked at Beatrice as if it were Christmas morning.
Lillian delicately dabbed an embroidered handkerchief to the corner of her eye. The camera doesn't even catch a hint of actual moisture.
"We simply must return to Bellacourt Manor now that our poor father has passed on. My sister and I must be there to support our sweet, grieving mama and the rest of the family."
"Yep," agreed Beatrice from the near the wardrobe where she was looking over the clothes that she deemed acceptable enough to travel back to Newport with her. The ones that didn't make the grade she tossed right out the open window onto the street several stories below. She'd made a token nod to her father's death with the black adorning the trim of her dress, but otherwise seemed ambivalent about the whole thing.
"Do we have to go now though? Packing is hard," Beatrice whined, flopping down on the bed.
"We'll see Frederick again," Lillian said bluntly.
Beatrice froze. She obviously hadn't thought of that. She took a deep breath.
And screamed a high-pitched squeal of delight.
The whole household had turned out on the front drive to welcome the erstwhile sisters back home.
"Mother!" screamed the combined brood of Lillian and Beatrice's children. The interchangeable children ran towards the two Bellacourt sisters as they exited the carriage.
"Ugh," Lillian said under her breath, and then plastered on the fakest smile. Beatrice, feeling especially generous, patted one of the girls on her head. There, that was nice.
"Girls," Dodo said, stepping forward. "Let me welcome you back to Bellacourt Manor. Your late father may have sent you away, but I know that he would have wanted to reconcile with you before his tragic passing." Dodo knew she was lying through her teeth, but she didn't care. As much as she thought all her children were useless and embarrassing, the house just felt too empty with so many people gone.
"My condolences, Mother," Lillian said as she stepped forward and air kissed around Dodo's cheek. Beatrice did the same.
"Yes, well, enough of all this emotion, girls. The customary funereal laudanum is in the parlor, and I know you will wish to partake."
And it was with a remarkable ease that life went back to normal at Bellacourt Manor.
Several days later, Mr. Peepers was emptying out the midnight snack purge buckets, like usual, when he saw a strange carriage coming up the Bellacourt drive. This was quite an unusual occurrence, as the time was well before noon, and anyone who had even a passing acquaintance with the Bellacourts knew that the whole family spent the morning hungover and leaking various fluids. The situation had only gotten worse since Beatrice and Lillian had returned and begun to partake in the traditional patriarchal mourning absinthe.
When the carriage stopped, Mr. Peepers got a second surprise. A man stepped out -- distinguished, handsome, and obviously the employer of a wonderful haberdasher. The stranger noticed Mr. Peepers while he was staring.
"You there! Butler! Is the lady of the house in attendance? I have come to pay a courting call to the beautiful Dodo."
Mr. Peepers dropped the vomit bucket in shock. It splashed everywhere.
Celery smiled wide at the camera. The smile didn't quite cover the hint of desperation in her eyes.
"Oh, yes. Now that I am the true lady of the house, notwithstanding the Dowager, I am legally entitled to a certain increased allowance. And I've decided to use this allowance to further the goals of my charity: The Dumpling Enrichment Foundation."
Celery lifted up the dog she had cradled in her arms. The dog barely reacted.
"The Foundation will better the mind of Dumpling by showing him sights across the country and around the globe. Of course, I will have to accompany him during this journey."
Celery smiled wider, thoughts of freedom filling her head. "It just wouldn't do for Dumpling to be on his own."
The thought of the fully packed and staffed carriage already waiting for her on the drive lightened Celery's step as she strode into her husband's bathing chambers.
Celery and her dog looked smart in their matching burgundy traveling coats. Frederick was of course in the bath, looking like an idiot. He cocked his head to the side almost like Dumpling when she told him of her plan.
Fredrick, while not exactly heartbroken to hear the news, at least tried to be cordial.
"Well, you will certainly be missed, Dear," he said as Garfield meticulously cleaned the toejam from his feet.
"Yes," said Celery, her eyes focused in the distance over his shoulder and with that she swept out of the room
Hortense sat at her immaculate desk, the clicking of her typewriter was the only noise in the room -- the only noise in the whole wing of the house, in fact. Hortense had enjoyed these last two years of being the only Bellacourt sister in the house, but despite managing to be more prolific than she had ever been, interest in her latest articles hadn't been quite as strong.
As if sensing something, Hortense's fingers paused above the keys. For a moment, everything was still.
Then Lillian and Beatrice entered the room.
"And what do you want?" Hortense said to her sisters coldly. She expected the usual answers -- verbal abuse and possibly a bonbon tossed at her head -- but instead she got a real response.
"We want you to make us famous again."
"Go write something about us in that stupid newspaper of yours!" yelled Beatrice.
"You knew about that? And you want me to write about the Pig Sisters again? Haven't you had enough of society's ridicule?"
"Oh, Hortense, no one cares about that anymore! Now all anyone is talking about is the Titanic and the Piltdown Man! No offense to father, but it's like you have to be dead and gross to be famous!"
Hortense bristled at the ignorance and callousness of her sister, though she should have known to expect it.
"In fact... maybe we could use a bunch more of those articles," Lillian said.
Hortense gaped at her. "What, why? What other sordid secrets could you have that you would want me to spill to all of America?"
"Oh, who cares, Hortense! I just want people talking about me again!"
"Yeah! Me too!" yelled Beatrice, not to be left out of the argument.
"You want me to... make something up?"
"It doesn't matter! True or false, as long as it is outrageous. And all about us, of course," Lillian added, gesturing to Beatrice and herself.
For a moment, Hortense did not say anything, her sense of journalistic ethics warring with her hatred for her sisters. Could she really bring herself to publish fabricated news? And what if her articles were to be discovered as fakes? Hortense's burgeoning writing career would be destroyed instead of just stagnating.
But... the story of the Pig Sisters had been her most popular article by far. And she did love to write terrible things about her sisters.
Perhaps something could be worked out.
Mr. Peepers entered the foyer just in time to witness a scene that tried his worth as a butler.
The man bowed perfectly at the waist and took Dodo's hand. Under her vaguely startled eyes, he pressed a soft kiss onto the back of her hand. "Delighted to have met you, Madam," he said, his lips brushing against her skin with each word.
A lifetime of manners that had been drilled into her head since she could speak did the answering for her, "Oh, thank you sir." She mumbled a few more pleasantries as the man walked down the drive with a spring in his step.
Mr. Peepers could not contain himself any longer.
"Madam, if I may be so impertinent, so unworthy, as to comment on your flawless affairs, may I throw myself--"
"Yes, Mr. Peepers, what is it?" Dodo said, already tiring of the conversation.
"I do no mean to alarm you, madam, but I have it on good authority that Mr. Mark's maternal grandfather was... a cobbler." Mr. Peepers swallowed hard after he got the last word out, as if pushing back on bile rising in his throat.
Dodo stared at him. "Mr. Peepers..." she started. He looked up with wide eyes, waiting for her to continue. "...do you think I give even one solitary fuck about that? The late Commodore's maternal grandfather was a whore who serviced two dozen sailors a day!"
Mr. Peepers gasped at the indelicate language, but Dodo continued on.
"That gentleman makes seven million dollars a year. That, my good butler, is the only thing worth knowing about him."
Mr. Peepers said nothing, as a good butler should.
"Oh, and Mr. Peepers?"
"Yes, madam?" Mr. Peepers said, still reeling internally.
"None of this is to be repeated. Oh, and someone left a pile of dead rats under the sink."
"It will be remedied right away, Madam."
After Melbourne, Celery had started to feel a certain emptiness. She walked through the fashionable shops of the next district almost listlessly. Maybe things weren't so awful at the Bellacourt Manor; maybe all her in-laws had begun to dignify themselves while she had been away; and if there were a couple things still out of place, surely she had the power to set them to rights, now that she was the lady of the manor? A sense of determination and optimism began to rise in her.
She almost felt like the old Celery again.
Celery stepped off her carriage and was surrounded by the town of Newport. She was home at last, and willing to give the Bellacourts one more shot. She marveled at the shop windows as she walked, the seaside town seemed so much more charming than she remembered.
"Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" The boy waved the paper back and forth in the air, and something on the cover caught Celery's eye. She tossed the boy a nickel and took a copy.
The Pig Sisters are at it again! the headline of the newspaper read. Underneath was a crude drawing of Lillian and Beatrice dressed in scandalous clothing while defecating on the American flag.
Celery turned around and walked back towards her carriage, as fast as she could with looking undignified. There was a small, mangy dog that had been attracted by the scent of food and garbage. Barely pausing her determined march, Celery scooped up the confused creature in one arm and carried it into the still-waiting carriage with her.
"Come on, Dumpling II, time to enrich your mind too."