Sunday, February 04, 2007


“There is who?” Lizzie said with some understandable annoyance. She was beginning to think she would never be able to unburden her secrets to anyone, not even to her cousin who was far less the kind of confidant she would have preferred, but there were few in the small number of folk around her who could provide suitable ears.

“The handsome young man from the Assembly Ball!” Alice shrieked, as oblivious to her cousin’s mood then as she had been for most of her life. And certainly, there was the young man she had admired from across the room just before Lady Mangrove had notified her somewhat peremptorily that they were leaving the Ball. Once again it was due to her father’s rather peculiar notions of propriety, in this particular instance, his dislike of comments that ran counter to his own singularly fixed opinions. Alice remained ignorant of the nature of the disagreement her father had had with Lord Darlington that evening (as indeed she remained ignorant of a great many things such as the ultimate depths of the ocean, the distance between England and France [soon to be remedied by experience if not actual learning], the number of houses in Parliament at present, and the airborne speed of the average magpie); however she and mother both patiently bore his grumbling on the carriage ride home which consisted of unedifying snippets of angry muttering that seemed to form little in the way of a coherent pattern, ranging as they did from “Newts!” said with great vehemence, a more measured utterance of “impossible!” and finally the seemingly unrelated, “miners!” (or perhaps "minors!" -- it is always difficult to be sure with homonyms).

Lord Mangrove did not choose to share the nature of the problem with either of the women, so they were left to their own thoughts, which for Lady Mangrove meant peaceful ruminations on spring planting and the dreamy prospects of a Sunday afternoon with her husband grumbling to himself in the library, while for Alice it meant the growing suspicion that the love of her life had appeared just when her father had whisked them away. Over the ensuing weeks, this imaginary affront had grown into a sizable if petty temper for the young woman, who felt a pout coming on at any recall of the subject. Although, to be entirely fair, such recollections had come at greater and greater intervals as the time went by.

However, the sight of the young man at the Darlington’s very gate aroused Alice’s remembrance of this terrible tragedy and she thrilled anew at the sight of the handsome young potential beau. “There, see!” she crowed at her cousin, pointing out the window with a great absence of breeding.

Lizzie sighed, then turned her own gaze outward once more. “Of course, that’s Kit Barrington,” she explained to her cousin just as the young man chose to make a polite bow in the direction of their carriage -- or perhaps it was directed toward Lady Mangrove in her speedy phaeton, which now drew some rather more significant distance from their slower carriage (which may have had something to do with the amount of gin young Dick Spiggot had swilled prior to being pressed into service this day upon realization of the shortage of drivers).

Alice, however, claimed the act as deference due to her as the doubly aggrieved party having missed the chance to assess his charms at closer range during the Assembly Ball, as well as of course being part of the funeral cortège occasioned by the untimely death of her father. All of which made her pale considerably, suddenly recognizing just how romantic her state had become. She cast a furtive eye toward the group bunched at the Darlington gate, but had little time to assess whether they had made the same realization, although she did note that young Mister Barrington had bright blue eyes, rich wavy dark hair and an admirably pale complexion. “I do hope he is not Irish!” Alice thought to herself, once more exposing the shortcomings of her class and its prejudices even as she did hope that he noticed her delicate blush and soft skin even from this distance. Perhaps the Darlingtons would speak of it at greater length before they all arrived for the funerary tea or some other condolence event, Alice hoped.

Lizzie, however, had had no such romantic thoughts clouding her mind. In fact, Alice noticed all of the sudden, she had her head cocked at a funny angle, as if she were hearing something strange. Good heavens, Alice thought, the shock of the day overcoming her natural distaste for such vulgar language, perhaps it is my father’s ghost again, and she quailed in her seat with a little bleat of distress, her new romance nearly forgotten.

Lizzie turned her penetrating vision back to Alice, who noticed a peculiar shine to her cousin’s eyes that did not bode well for her comfort. “I think something is about to happen!” Lizzie cried with alarm. Alice had no time to respond, for at that moment the carriage made an unexpected lurch, then began to pick up distressing speed.

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