The Fragilista Sisters

In Victorian London there once lived two sisters. Bridget, the youngest, was wild and free and constantly getting herself into scrapes. Prudence, the eldest, was cautious of even the mildest risk, and never made mistakes.

Every day, Prudence would watch her lectures and sisterly advice go ignored. Bridget flirted with so many men that she could barely remember all their names. She would go through job after job, usually ending each by telling her mistresses what she thought of them. In the evening she would argue with their parents, pushing their buttons and leaving them both exhausted. And yet, somehow, she seemed to get away with it all without consequence.

And though Prudence loved her younger sister dearly, she worried about what fate might one day befall her.

One day, while Prudence was watching her sister toy with a small crowd of male suitors, a dashing young man approached her. He told her that she was the most beautiful and engaging young woman he had ever seen and that he would be deeply honoured if she would one day take tea with him. Prudence blushed, for she wasn’t used to such fine manners, and she cautiously agreed to a meeting; should she still be available the following day.

As time went by the charming George did all he could to defrost her cold façade, and soon poor Prudence fell hopelessly in love with him.

For many weeks Bridget watched her sister mellow and soften in her aspect. Then one day, just as suddenly, she spotted that all was not right. There was a fearful sadness in Prudence’s eyes and look of panic that briefly flashed across her face when she thought no one was looking.

Being a good sibling, that evening she ambushed Prudence in her bedroom and pleaded that she unburden herself of the awful secret that she carried.

“George no longer replies to my letters” she wept, “ever since…”

As her older sister broke down, Bridget filled in the remaining gaps in the story and a warm rage began to roll over her.

“What cruel luck!” Prudence wailed, “I’ve spent my life being sensible, cautious and careful and yet I am the one to be punished by misfortune!”

Bridget rolled her eyes as her sister still found time to chasten her, even in such a sorry state.

“At least tell me you aren’t pregnant?” Bridget asked.

Prudence shook her head.

“Good. Now, would you like to know how I get away with living my life as I do?”

Prudence nodded.

“I may tease many men but none of them get to bed me. I may leave many jobs and give my mistresses a piece of my mind when I do, but I always have a new one lined up before I leave.”

“What about arguing with our parents?” Prudence asked, her tears abating.

“Both of them are like me!” Bridget replied, “They love to argue!”

And as he sister laughed, Bridget already knew what they must do.

That very evening, Prudence was to write ‘her George’ a letter. She wrote that she was pregnant and that she hoped to receive assurances of support for the baby. Not from George, but from George’s father, who she hoped would reply to her second letter, which would arrive at the family home later that day.

When George received the news he went white, then blue then red, and he rushed to his parents’ home in an effort intercept the mail before they could read it.

As he arrived at the house, much to his surprise, his mother warmly greeted him at the door.

“What splendid fortune! We have guests dear George, who I believe you may recognise…”

Not knowing what else to do, George was bundled into the parlour where two young women sat either side of his father, who rose from his seat at the head of the table, proud as punch.

“George my boy! Come and sit with us!”

George, baffled and bewildered, did as he was bid.

“These two young women have told us about the wonderful thing that you have done and…well, I’ll let them tell you the surprise…”

George, looking terrified, stared back across at Prudence’s smiling face.

“Yes, Mr. Bimblewick, I was just telling your father of the most generous donation you had promised to my sister and I to help support our orphanage. Fully two thousand pounds from your yearly allowance!”

George swallowed. Hard.

“And, by way of a thank you, we have taken the liberty of posting an announcement in the local gazette, exclaiming your good deed!”

George did his best to smile as his mother and father gushed over their son’s ‘most noble generosity’.

When tea was at a close, George insisted on seeing the sisters out, much to the admiring delight of his onlooking parents.

Then, as the three of them reached the door, George addressed them harshly.

“I shall expose your little scheme, you vile harlots! What do you say to that?”

Bridget turned back to look at him, smiling sympathetically.

“And turn the rest of your family into fools as well?”

“Oh, dearest George,” said Bridget pinching one of his reddened cheeks, “you should really know better than to screw with a Fragilista sister!”

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