Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chapter 2: Encounter

Faith Wallace was not a close friend of Daphne’s, but when they were together, they always had something to talk about. She lived in a neighborhood, not far from Alexander and Irene Charter, in the rather small home of Kirkman Manor. Faith was much older than Daphne, but like her, was unmarried. Her age revealed itself mostly in the lines about the eyes and her hair was often hidden underneath a bonnet to conceal the slight gray of her otherwise dark brown ringlets. Despite her obvious signs of maturity, Faith was an able and vivacious woman, especially when she delved into the lives of her neighbors. She often visited the Charter’s home as a guest of Irene’s sister, Jane Zofia, who looked to Faith for guidance as she was very young and was unsure of herself in society. Miss Wallace had made a project of young Jane, determined to see her bloom into an accomplished woman that might catch a rich man’s eye. Never mind that Jane already had an older sister more than capable of seeing her flourish. In Faith’s opinion, Mrs. Charter was much too concerned with the duties of a wife to notice her.
It was two months since the news that Mr. Trenton was buying Birchwood fell on Daphne’s ears. The time was spent recovering from her broken heart while listening to tales of the charming young men preparing to join the neighborhood. In the beginning, Daphne bore the talk of men for her sister-in-law’s sake, but it had been torture on her sensibilities. However, as the leaves changed, so did her feelings until she could hardly stand their absence a moment longer. Would they be as Irene described? She dearly hoped for her confidence in the male sex in general was severely shaken and she did not wish to look upon them with suspicion her whole life. She was at the ball Irene promised at Falcate, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mr. Trenton and his friend. She had sat down almost immediately after she and her father arrived and occupied herself by scanning the overflow of guests. It was then that Faith joined her.
“Daphne! It has been so long since we have spoken! You look very well indeed,” Faith greeted.
“Thank you,” Daphne replied. “Indeed, I believe almost three months have passed since I saw you last. Tell me, how have you been occupying yourself?”
“I made a short trip to visit some family. It was only a thirty-mile journey, but it was so tedious! And then the constant talking of my Aunt nearly drove me mad. What an obtuse woman she is, my dear Aunt! Such a bore! I do so loathe to speak ill of anybody especially my relations, but she has absolutely no personal charm and never anything important to say. But what else am I to do? Oh, I have thought of traveling to London for the excellent shopping, but then I am often busy with my efforts to educate Miss Zofia. What a pleasant girl she is. Have you spoken much with Jane?”
“No. Not especially. I do not visit Falcate as often as I like to. When I do, I usually speak with my sister-in-law or my brother. From what I know of her, she is a very sweet young girl.”
“And so accomplished; not only is her performance at the pianoforte exquisite, but her art is so inspiring. If she was a man, her paintings would grace the London art galleries, and at just seventeen.” Faith looked at Daphne expectedly for some sign of praise or admiration. After an uncomfortable pause and no reaction from her companion, Faith changed the subject.
“Have you heard much about Mr. and Mrs. Charter’s bachelor friends?” Faith mused.
“No. All I know is that one of them is named Mr. Trenton and that he is buying Birchwood.”
“Well then you know more than I. Birchwood you say? He must be awfully rich.” Faith thought about that revelation for a moment before commenting, “Perchance he will fall in love with me and then I will be rich.” She laughed at this thought, but Daphne was not amused. She knew her friend’s mind; that the only thing Faith looked for in a man was how many pounds his estate was worth and did not care anything about character. Money was always the object of her affections. The more the better Faith always told Daphne, and it always made an ugly man handsome.
Suddenly, the room fell into silent whispers. No longer did music play and loud laughter ceased as the guests of honor had come. There was anticipation in Daphne’s breast that she could not understand. She knew nothing but what she was told of these men, yet she was eager for their introduction. Briefly, her eyes fluttered closed as she took a steadying breath to calm her quickened pulse. Voices rose about the room until it was almost impossible to hold an acceptable conversation. As Mr. Charter introduced the two gentlemen to other guests, Mrs. Charter approached Daphne and Faith.
“I am so glad you could come Daphne. Your presence is most welcomed as well, Faith,” Mrs. Charter said.
“What is all the commotion about, Irene?” Faith asked.
“The gentlemen have arrived just now. I will introduce them to you two when Mr. Charter is finished with them. Your brother insisted they meet his friends first, Daphne,” Mrs. Charter said.
“That is Alexander all right,” Daphne laughed shaking her head. “Even as children he had to be first at everything.” The three women laughed and Mrs. Charter placed a gloved hand upon Daphne’s shoulder as if to entreat her into her confidence. They were interrupted from further words by a call from Mr. Charter.
“I will be right back. Please excuse me,” Mrs. Charter said as she walked to her husband.
“What suspense, Daphne, that your brother has us in by keeping Mr. Trenton to himself.”
“Yes,” Daphne laughed, for she was not in the same mind as Faith. The anxiety previously felt only served to convince herself of her unsteady disposition. Her heart was healing, but it was still tender and needed more time before she considered even the friendship of another man.
A few moments later, Mrs. Charter led the two men to Daphne and Faith. They immediately ended their conversation when the trio joined them.
“Ladies, I would like you to meet Mr. Miles Trenton and Mr. Bryce Edwards. Gentlemen, this is Miss Faith Wallace and my sister-in-law, Miss Daphne Charter.”
Mr. Trenton and Mr. Edwards bowed as the ladies curtsied. Mrs. Charter looked from Daphne to the gentlemen hopefully. “Please,” she whispered to herself, and then left them to make conversation.
As Mr. Trenton smiled at the two women, his azure eyes twinkled with kindness. A stray lock of chestnut hair had fallen onto his smooth forehead giving him an youthful, boyish appearance. He was tall, but his figure did not loom menacingly over those around him. A person in Mr. Trenton’s presence felt himself an equal. His facial features were much handsomer then his friend, but Mr. Edwards was not lacking in looks. His curly, sandy blond hair was cut short, and the permanent signs of continuous smiling surrounded his hazel eyes. He was several inches shorter than his companion, but his sportsman activities gave him a thick, athletic build that matched him in strength to taller men. The pair had known one another since Cambridge, finding in each other a similar wit and vivacity toward life. They were often mistaken for brothers for the bond between them was as strong.
“How do you find Birchwood, Mr. Trenton?” Daphne asked, amazed to find no tremble in her voice.
“Well I--” Mr. Trenton stopped as his eyes met with Daphne’s. He felt his heart pound and his stomach turn. Without hardly know why, he found himself saying, “I find it more wonderful then anything I have ever seen.”
Daphne smiled warmly at him. She had experienced the same sensations he had. She lowered her head demurely and blushed slightly; something she had never done. Though his statement had been ambiguous, she felt his meaning. She admonished herself for being so weak in her resolve to be more careful when it came to the opposite sex, but something about Mr. Trenton made her trust him instinctually.
Faith had not noticed the way Mr. Trenton and Daphne were looking at one another. At first sight of Mr. Trenton, the decision was reached that he would make the ideal husband. He was rich, to be sure, but he was not unpleasant to look at. Therefore, he was perfect. She continued to carry on a conversation with them as if she were the very center of the world in the hopes that Mr. Trenton would make notice of her.
“Is not this a beautiful neighborhood, Mr. Trenton?” Faith asked. Giving him her best performance, Faith lowered her dark eyes and gazed up at him through long eyelashes.
“Yes,” he answered, not taking his intense stare off Daphne. “Very, very beautiful. I have never seen anything quite like it before.”
Daphne smiled and turned her head away as she blushed ever more violently. Faith, who believed herself to be the most agreeable creature, mistakenly thought he had directed his comment at her and so she smiled at him gratefully. Mr. Edwards, however, was not so ignorant as to the way his friend was looking at Miss Charter. He glanced back and forth between them with a slight grin on his face. Laughing to himself, he remembered how his friend often disdained any talk of a wife. Mr. Trenton had declared himself a bachelor for life and had resolved to be removed from all society that pressured him with young eligible daughters and talk of heirs. Mr. Edwards attempted to discourage this decision, but perhaps this move would be advantageous after all.
“I am sure you praise Newport so highly in order to gain our favor. Surely you have seen much of England as to put all of the county to shame,” Daphne countered, rallying her confidence. Nothing made her return to her old self more than talk of faraway places.
“It is true I have seen much of England, but nothing has captured my attention so, for the people here are all smiles and welcoming. And I am most pleased at Birchwood’s proximity to the sea. Sometimes I think I shall float away upon it! Do you care for the ocean, Miss Charter?”
“I confess, though with much embarrassment, that I have an irrational fear of water, Mr. Trenton. A fear, I am sure, ladies of society cannot claim.”
“Surely not irrational, Miss Charter. I have heard many people own to more silly notions, such as the fear of appearing less than perfect, including ‘ladies of society.’ No, Miss Charter, your admission is nothing to be ashamed of. Perhaps we shall have to remedy your fears.”
“And your ‘superior’ knowledge of the world shall be my teacher?” Daphne asked in a teasing tone.
“Well, I don’t know. I have every expectation of learning quite the opposite, Miss Charter.”
“How do you mean?”
“You strike me as nothing if not knowledgeable. After a thorough discussion of why you fear the water, for example, I believe I may never set foot in a bath.”
The music and laughing had begun again as Daphne smiled in pleasure. Couples started filling in the set, preparing to dance.
Mr. Trenton turned and looked at the set. Then he returned his gaze to Daphne. He was most desperate to ask her to dance, though he generally delighted not in such pleasures, as he never conversed easily with young women. However, taking in a deep breath, he summed up his nerves.
“If you are not otherwise engaged, may I have the pleasure of having this dance with you?” he asked Daphne.
“Oh, you honor me with such an offer. Of course I will dance with you, sir,” Faith chimed in, mistaking his intentions.
Mr. Trenton became extraordinarily uncomfortable. He wanted to dance with Miss Charter, but he did not want to injure Miss Wallace’s feelings or humiliate her by refusing her hand. So, with a smile, he gave her his arm and led her to the dance floor.
Daphne watched the couple leave in confusion. She was almost certain he had addressed her. She suddenly felt foolish for thinking so. How could anyone like me over Faith, she thought. Embarrassment swept over her as she thought of how silly she acted in his presence.
Perceptive as he was, Mr. Edwards rolled his eyes at Miss Wallace when she accepted his friend’s offer to Miss Charter. He could not believe how blind Miss Wallace was or how ridiculous! He barely could hold back his laughter. As he looked to Miss Charter, his heart sank. Mr. Edwards could sense a foundation building between her and his friend. To have it all ruined before it could begin by Miss Wallace was a terrible thought. It pained him to see anyone feel dejected, so he offered her his arm.
“Thank you. You are very kind, Mr. Edwards. I would be happy to dance with you,” she said taking his arm.
As the music started playing and the couples began to dance, Mrs. Charter watched her sister with Mr. Edwards. This was not what she had planned at all. She expected Daphne to be dancing with Mr. Trenton. Mrs. Charter had high hopes for the match. They were each of them good-natured and even-tempered, not prone to extravagance or falseness. They were surely both handsome to look at as well. In Mr. Trenton, Irene saw the remedy for Daphne’s woes. She thought she had seen them smile at one another very particularly. Then why were they dancing with other partners? she wondered. Perhaps Mr. Edwards had asked Daphne first. Yes, that must be it, she thought. She was satisfied with that.
The dance seemed to move in slow motion for Daphne. She could not help watching Mr. Trenton, the way he danced gracefully across the floor, his hands as he reached out to Faith, or the small, simple gestures of his expression. The corners of his mouth upturned slightly in response to something spoken by Faith, which she could not hear. Every time he happened to glance her way, she turned her attention once again to her partner. She hoped he would not notice her heart was not entirely focused on this dance.
“The Charters are fantastically kind,” Mr. Edwards said. “They keep good company in their lovely home as well.”
Daphne was snapped into reality at the words of her partner. Her mind raced to think of something to say.
“Yes. Indeed. Thank you sir. I am sure Mr. and Mrs. Charter would appreciate your comments.”
Mr. Edwards smiled at her. He knew her mind was on something, or rather someone, else. This gave him great delight. Mr. Trenton was considered everything gentlemanly and handsome by all ‘ladies of society’ that knew him. He was witty, kind, rich, and most importantly, unmarried. But these fortune hunters held no interest for his friend. Once, Mr. Edwards heard him say he would never marry if it meant he had to cater to the ignorance a society wife would possess and that he would rather marry a penniless orphan with wit than the richest woman in England that had no more than two words to say about anything other than fashion, gossip, or money. In Daphne, Mr. Edwards perceived a potential companion for his dissatisfied friend.
“Miss Charter, forgive me, but I was never one to talk idly when dancing. I cannot stomach it—the weather, the graciousness of our hosts, though indeed worthy of praise, or the suitable number of couples for a particular dance. I confess this sort of discussion bores me and reveals nothing of one’s partner. Let us speak of more interesting subjects, shall we?” Daphne smiled, agreed most happily, and opened a topic of conversation dear to both their hearts.
“Tell me, Mr. Edwards, what do you think of this Lord Byron fellow?”
The conversation between Mr. Trenton and Miss Wallace was quite different. All Miss Wallace could talk about was her own accomplishments and general greatness. Of course she praised Mr. Trenton’s dancing whenever she could and tried to make herself as agreeable in his eyes as possible.
“You dance superior to anyone else I have ever met. Such fluid movements and grace is rarely to be seen. I am certain I myself have never been privileged enough to dance with such talent in this room or any other in these parts. Do you dance often in…I am sorry, where is it that you are from?” Miss Wallace asked.
Mr. Trenton heard none of her words. Though he was usually everything polite and charming, he was preoccupied by thoughts of another lady. Miss Wallace repeated her question but to no avail.
“Mr. Trenton, you seem a tad distracted. Do I bore you perhaps?” she teased.
“Uh, no,” he stumbled shaking his head. “I am sorry. You are not a bore at all. Meeting all these lovely people has left me in a stir. I did not mean to make it seem as if I was displeased.”
“Not at all, sir,” Miss Wallace laughed. “You pay everyone here a great compliment when you praise us. On behalf of all them and myself, thank you.”
In reply, Mr. Trenton just smiled. In his partner he found what he had been trying so hard to evade: a self-centered, ingratiating gossip monger trying to gain his favor. He wanted to change the subject to Miss Charter. He could not account for the immediate interest he had in this pretty and clever girl, two attributes he had never seen in one.
“How long have you known Miss Charter?” he asked.
Miss Wallace turned fully upon her partner in puzzlement. This change in conversation displeased her. Why was he inquiring about another woman while dancing with such a beauty as her? With her eyes narrowed, and her voice full of indifference, she answered, “Well, I have known her for a few years, but we were not genuinely good friends. Our friendship really began above eight months ago, when her brother married my best friend’s sister. We were in each others company so often we could not escape the acquaintance.”
Escape, he thought. What a word to use for such a girl. Mr. Trenton would have become familiar when he first met her. Imagine knowing of Miss Charter for so long without making an attempt to become familiar her shining character.
“Why had you not formed a friendship when you first met Miss Charter?” he asked, then immediately regretted it.
Faith glared at him sharply. It was clear this line of questioning perplexed and perhaps angered Miss Wallace. She was curious as to his meaning and resentful of the potential answer.
“May I ask, sir, where you intend to go with these questions? Am I under some sort of suspicion?”
“No. I am sorry. I should not have asked you that. I would not want you to feel uncomfortable.” Feeling that changing the subject to Miss Wallace herself would be prudent, Mr. Trenton quickly remarked, “You dance very well, Miss Wallace; a true proficient.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at his comment and promptly forgot his previous inquiry. It made her delusion that he had an attachment to her stronger.
Mr. Trenton continued the dance in silence. He only listened as Miss Wallace talked and was reminded why he disliked to dance with ladies he did not know. One never knew what their conversation might entail until a better acquaintance was established. Something told him, however, that had he danced with Miss Charter, he would be more agreeably engaged though he knew her very little.
Mr. Charter was socializing with his wife when he was given the letter addressed to Mr. Trenton. He did not want to interrupt his dance, but the express was said to be of a pressing issue. Begging his pardon, he tapped slightly on Mr. Trenton’s shoulder. Handing the note over, Mr. Charter explained it was of some urgency and bowed to Faith in apology. Although he would not admit it, at least out loud, Mr. Trenton was happy to end his dance with Miss Wallace, and quickly opened the express after excusing himself from his partner. His expression deteriorated into despair as he read. His hands shook and he almost dropped the flimsy paper. He quickly finished reading the last lines and then hurriedly requested his carriage. Mr. Charter called for the man’s hat and coat. He looked upon his still new friend with concern.
“What is the matter, sir?”
“I would rather not say, Mr. Charter,” Mr. Trenton replied in a grave voice.
“Can I offer my services? Surely there must be something I can do?”
“No,” Mr. Trenton offered a feeble smile for his kind new neighbor, a man he knew for only five month’s time and yet was more genuine than many he knew all his life. “I thank you, but I need no assistance.”
“What shall I tell people if you are missed?” Mr. Charter asked.
“Just tell them that an urgent personal matter has driven me away,” he called as he ran to his carriage. When he climbed inside, he looked at Mr. Charter, and sensing his distress, he calmly said, “Do not worry. It will be well, and if you will be so kind as to apologize to Mrs. Charter for my sudden departure I would be grateful. Also, please tell Mr. Edwards I had to go home. He will know what I mean.”
“Of course I will, sir. I hope things turn out for the best.”
Inside the dance had ended, and voices were stirring. Mr. Charter silently explained to his wife about Mr. Trenton’s leaving. The news made her heart sad. Not only for him, but also for her sister-in-law. She had hoped for many encounters that would lead to some potentially happy news. Of course there was no question she might be jumping ahead a bit, but there was no harm in dreaming. The reaction from Mr. Edwards was much different. His face turned ashen and his knees went weak. Mr. Charter led him to a guestroom so he could lie down. The couple feared for his health, but he denied the aid of a physician.
Daphne could not help but notice Mr. Edwards being escorted away. She looked around for Mr. Trenton, but he could not be found. He was not with Faith, for she was talking with Jane. It was obvious something was amiss. Daphne looked for her sister to see if she had an explanation.
“Irene, what has happened to our guests?” she asked with a false smile and trying to sound as unconcerned as possible.
“Oh, Mr. Trenton had to leave in a hurry because of a personal matter and poor Mr. Edwards has suddenly taken ill. Why do you ask? Were you promised an audience with the man?” Irene asked with a searching grin.
Daphne tensed and stumbled to find an answer that would not make her embarrassed. Finally, she said, “Well it just seemed odd that Mr. Trenton would disappear without taking leave.”
Mrs. Charter was certainly disappointed at her answer. “Yes, indeed, but it was kind of him to give Mr. Charter some point of clarification.”
“Yes.”
“Well, please excuse me while I talk to my sister,” Mrs. Charter said. She was too uncomfortable because of the plans she made for Daphne and Mr. Trenton to remain any longer.
As her sister-in-law walked away, Daphne thought about Mr. Trenton’s personal affair. She allowed her weary form to slowly sink into an obliging sofa and watched the couples dance and twirl about. They all became a blur and the voices in the room formed a loud din until she could not distinguish one word from another. As she had on many occasions, Daphne found she was lost in her own thoughts. She wondered what it was that took the intriguing man away. Then a thought came into her head: was it her that drove him away? She silently cursed herself for being so free with her opinions. Did he not want to be in my presence? she pondered. Though she might be wrong about that, there was one thing she knew for sure; she would most likely never seem him again.

Friday, January 15, 2010

CHAPTER 1: Disappointments

Daphne seemed to weep as Marshall said, “I do.” But they were not tears of joy; they were tears of sadness. He was the love of Daphne’s life, and he was marrying her good friend, Gwen Kinsey. She could not help but give Marshall up for Gwen for she was a frail, shy girl and so might not have found happiness otherwise. Daphne had become acquainted with her at a ball given by her father’s closest friend, a Mr. Walker and his wife. Mrs. Walker made it clear that Daphne’s help with her new neighbors the Kinsey’s would be well regarded. Gwen was young, wealthy on her mother’s side, which granted her a dowry of ten thousand pounds, and wholly unprepared for the rigors of London society life. Two different men had taken advantage of her naivety, persuaded her to be in love with them, and then deserted her when it became apparent that their false affections were not appreciated. She and her brother had thus been removed to the country in order to expose them to a more polite form of custom. The story Mrs. Walker told Daphne was pitiable, and she felt it her duty to befriend the pretty yet fragile lady. How completely she was to regret her compliance she would soon discover and forever lament.
But that was how it always had been with Daphne. She rarely thought of herself when it came to matters of the heart. The slightest inclinations toward love made her feel guilty, for she believed she had done nothing to deserve such happiness. Her life was simple, uneventful, a normal country girl with no real accomplishments to boast. Her connections were honorable, but certainly nothing to recommend her especially. In this particular case, her heart was intensely torn. Marshall was charming, educated, and not entirely unpleasing to the eye. The pair had known each other since childhood and often played together on his grand estate, which stood only a half a mile from her own home. As they grew, she found her feelings had matured into a fondness that she could only assume was love never having really known the emotion. However, those feelings were quickly ignored when she saw the longing in Gwen’s eyes for the young and promising gentleman, and she resolved to think no more of her foolish inclinations and determined that she should play matchmaker. So, whenever the three of them were in company, Daphne would push and encourage Marshall to pursue Gwen. She told him stories of Gwen’s kindness and, if she was desperate, Daphne talked about the fortune that Gwen would inherit. It took her a few months, but with continued encouragement, Marshall soon proposed. The ease at which his heart was persuaded to love a woman he barely knew did not seem to lighten her dark mood.
Everyone cheered as Marshall and Gwen stepped outside of the church. The ancient structure loomed ominously toward the clouded sky. Its cold, stone walls were soiled with age and moss clung to its fa├žade. Though the house of God was a mournful sight, only Daphne felt its effects. Flowers were thrown at the happy couple as they walked out to the carriage. A cascade of yellow, white, and pink petals floated over the procession and blanketed the group in a springtime snow. A path of the delicate petals led the happy couple towards the carriage that would take them to their new lives. As Gwen stepped inside, Marshall turned to Daphne and smiled. Daphne strained to smile back; knowing that her affections for the young man would be easily apparent had she allowed herself one glance. Indeed, he was handsome, particularly on this day, in his blue coat that so complimented his eyes. And those dark curls that fell so disordered over his face…Fortunately, Gwen became a savior by calling her name.
“Daphne! Come to my side, dear, I must speak with you.” She would never be so thankful for that shrill voice than at that moment.
“Yes, Gwen?” Daphne asked as she took the young lady’s delicate, outstretched hand.
“Is not this so wonderful? Did you ever think I could end up married? Was not it so fortunate that Marshall detached himself from you?”
Daphne was shocked by this comment. Had Marshall alleged it was he who ended the attachment? He had not even thought of Gwen before Daphne persuaded him otherwise.
“What do you mean, Gwen?” Daphne asked bewilderment evident on her features.
“Oh, do not try to conceal the truth. I know all about it. Marshall, oh, I mean, Mr. Percy, told me everything. Do not look so perplexed, Daphne. He explained how he was aware of a strong passion for me, but felt loyal to you and so struggled. The poor man… Do not feel bad because he chose me over you. Oh, I almost forgot. While I am away, please keep my brother company. You know, I probably should not be telling you this, but he has a certain attachment to you.”
Daphne frowned. A twinge in her stomach made her worry that she would lose her stomach. What a devastating thing to say! A sound prompted Daphne to turn slightly; had a window shattered? Or was it her heart breaking? At the thought of forming an alliance with Lloyd Kinsey, the snootiest, ugliest, most self-centered person she ever met, a shudder passed through her body. She struggled to keep her countenance, and even though she did not want to, she promised to see the detestable man as often as she could.
“Thank you so much, Daphne,” Gwen said. “Will you also promise to write to me often, if it is not too much trouble?”
“Of course I will. Now, you better keep inside before you ruin your complexion.”
Gwen, unmoved, waved goodbye as the carriage took her and Marshall out of Daphne’s life for the present. In a moment’s time they were out of sight, and Daphne was left with nothing but thoughts of the fickleness of men’s hearts, an overwhelming sense of mistrust of her own feelings, and wedding flowers wilting under her feet.


* * *
In the weeks that Gwen was on her honeymoon, Daphne wrote few letters. In truth, she had little more to say to the couple now that she had time to examine both their behaviors. Gwen, she realized, would always be selfish, and really only wanted Marshall because he had apparently wanted Daphne. At the wedding, however, it became obvious that his heart had never been hers. Marshall was the sort of man who would smile at a woman while kissing his wife. In short, she was heartbroken, for her feelings were genuine, but knowing his true nature would help her heal quicker.
Daphne filled her days by walking the grounds of her home, Sonora, with her new sister-in-law, Irene. Set amongst the natural beauty of an untamed wilderness, the old estate was designed by an architect catering to the sophisticated tastes of lords and ladies of the Elizabethan era. Sonora was a perfect marriage between man and nature. Every corner, window, and wall complimented the trees, flowers, and vines that dominated the space. Acres of trails kept Daphne occupied for hours as she explored every inch of her home. In her ramblings, she had memorized every rock, named every creek, and rested against every tree. There was no place that could compare to its rugged beauty.
Slowly sinking onto the lush grass, Daphne gazed into a trickle of water she had christened the “Great River” as a joke for her brother who constantly teased her about her naturalism. The water bubbled passed her and she felt comforted by its simple words. She sighed, leaned back against a neighboring tree, and closed her weary eyes.
“Why must life be so complicated?” she asked her river. She opened her eyes and looked into the crystalline brook. “Well? Don’t you know either?” laughing to herself, Daphne shook her head and looked skyward. “I suppose it mustn’t be too easy…heaven forbid we be happy all the time. What would be the point of it? A person cannot know joy until he has known sadness.” Rising to her feet, Daphne brushed the dirt and grass from her gown and gazed once more into the water. “But how wonderful it would be to know happiness at least once. I am tired of disappointments. Haven’t I earned a moment of it at least?” in answer to her question came no intelligent reply, and Daphne resigned herself that she must be tested longer still. Or, she thought as she walked home, perhaps she should ask someone else more opinionated.


* * *
Daphne rarely visited Scottsdon to call on Lloyd. Her repeated excuse was that she did not want to be away too long from her father. It was not a complete lie. He had taken ill recently and was in frequent need of her care. Life was lonely, even with her sister-in-law’s company, for Irene was often occupied with important social duties with her husband, Daphne’s older brother Alexander. A welcome relief came in the form of the new maid, Ophelia Camden, who was hired to help her care for her father. Ophelia was only a year younger than Daphne, and they were able to talk like sisters. Her years seemed less than they actually were due to the roundness of her cheeks and the light, almost white blond curls that framed her large green eyes. It was in their depths that her ageless wisdom was revealed. Born into service the daughter of a valet, Ophelia had her first heartache at four years old when her mother was murdered in a coach robbery that also left the young girl without the power of speech for five years. Unable to bear the trouble of a handicapped daughter in the wake of his grief, Ophelia’s father sent her to live with her uncle in the country. Though it had been understood that the young girl was to be treated fairly, it quickly became apparent that the only reason the man had agreed with the arrangement was because he was so shorthanded on his growing farm. Ophelia became a laborer, working long hours with little to eat, barely any sleep, and regular beatings as punishment for any vice real or imagined. After more than ten years, a guest finally noticed the malnourished girl. The man offered to buy the young woman so she could serve as a maid in his house. Fifteen pounds later, Ophelia was again bound for the city. At the London house of Mr. and Mrs. Tirney, Ophelia had her first hot meal since she was a girl. Trained as a nursemaid, Ophelia had finally found her place in society, and two years later found herself called to the Charter residence. She had quickly become Daphne’s confidant, and tonight they were talking about something very important.
“I received a letter from Gwen today,” Daphne said.
“Really? What did she have to say?” Ophelia questioned. “Does she offer much news of Europe? Vivid details designed to elicit jealousy? Surely she and Mr. Percy are in good health and have suffered little fatigue in their travels.”
“Hardly any account of their general health, though she seemed content and expounded greatly on the virtues of the Italian coast,” Daphne stated. “There was one point in the letter that gave me pause. She conveyed that Lloyd had written to her and said that he intended to marry me.”
Ophelia’s eyes widened in disbelief. She knew how much Daphne disliked Lloyd. For him to think that Daphne would marry him, especially since she rarely visited, was absurd to say the least.
Daphne sensed Ophelia’s thoughts and said, “I know, I know. He did not even seem to show any interest in me. Now I venture to guess that he and Gwen are already making wedding plans. Oh, Ophelia! What am I to do? I despise the very sight of him. What makes him believe I would marry him considering our disinterestedness in each other?”
“It is hard to say. Maybe if you explain to him that you do not share his feelings then it will be all right. Mr. Kinsey may not be the most sensible of men, but he cannot deny that you show no interest in him as a husband. Then you can send a letter to Mrs. Percy, clearing up this whole misunderstanding.“ “Thank you for your advice, but it will not do. Mr. and Mrs. Percy will be here tomorrow. I know she will be anxious to find me a future sister-in-law and come here immediately.”
“That is unfortunate. But then you can explain everything in person. Remember he has not yet proposed to you. You can simply refuse him, you know. No one would blame you; not even your father!”
“Yes, I suppose I can. Then he will be out of my life forever, and with him his sister, I believe. I cannot bear to count Gwen among my acquaintances any longer. Who is such a person to call herself my friend? And Mr. Kinsey! How presumptuous of him to write to his sister as if I had already accepted him. Can all men be like this? Oh, but it is getting late. I should be off to bed. Thank you for listening to me, Ophelia. I must bore you I think.”
“You are welcome of course. You could never be a bother. We all need to think things aloud sometimes. It always helps to have a second opinion. Good night.”
Daphne left Ophelia’s room and headed for her own, still thinking of the letter that Gwen sent her. It angered her that Lloyd would write to his sister of his intentions without being assured that she returned his feelings. She would have to tell him the next day how she felt. Daphne also longed to tell her sister-in-law about the odious letter as well. She would have a chance tomorrow, when her sister and brother were arriving home for the holidays after a season in London. She lay her troubled head upon the pillow and tried desperately to sleep. The bed sheets seemed oppressively tights and she repeatedly had to rearrange them. At several intervals, she experienced sensations of extreme heat and had to remove the covers completely, and then she would be so cold she was forced to retrieve another blanket for comfort. It was the most restless night she had ever encountered, and no matter how hard she struggled, sleep would not claim her. Admitting defeat, she tossed the bedding aside, and moved to the window seat. She rested her tired head against the cool glass and peered into the darkness below, thinking about all the people of the country and all the animals of the forest currently finding repose in slumber.
“How fortunate they all are to have no worries to keep them awake as I do. How I wish to have such a simple life.”
The next moment, she found that she had fallen asleep for some minutes still sitting against the window. Exhausted, she climbed into the security of her bed once more, and allowed the night to receive her.


* * *
“Daphne! Daphne wake up! He is here he is here! Hurry he is downstairs waiting for you,” Ophelia yelled.
“Ophelia it is much too early for my brother to be here,” Daphne yawned.
“No, no it is not Mr. Charter. It is Mr. Kinsey!”
“What?” Daphne exclaimed as she jumped out of bed. “Here now? Downstairs? Oh, dear!”
“Do you want me to tell him you are not receiving visitors?”
“No, I better go down. Please tell him to wait while I get dressed.”
Without a word, Ophelia nodded and ran downstairs, closing Daphne’s door behind her. She entered the library to be met with the pacing impatience of Mr. Kinsey and explained Miss Charter’s present situation. He was annoyed in the least, angry at the worst, and certainly he felt himself incredibly wronged. It was of course widely known that his presence should be welcomed like royalty. Ophelia left him in his distress with a small smile that threatened to transform into laughter if she did not quit the room immediately.
Meanwhile, Daphne was frantically putting her clothes on to meet Mr. Kinsey. She went over in her head what she was going to say to him if, or when, he proposed. She would be gentle, yet firm, and leave his gentlemanly pride intact if she could. If at all possible, she must make him see they were simply not suitable for each other. As she spun around her bedchamber gathering all her clothing, her head was getting dizzy. She stopped in the middle of the room and put her hand to her chest. She took in a deep breath to calm her nerves. As her mind began to settle, her thoughts returned to how she was going to properly refuse Mr. Kinsey.
In a few moments she was running down the stairs and into the hallway. She slowed her pace and collected her senses as she walked towards the library where he was waiting. Mentally, she rehearsed small compliments that would leave him in no doubt of her feelings without causing an unpleasant scene. She paused before the door and reminded herself that she was a highborn lady and there were expectations of manners to be met. Right, she thought, I am always the model of propriety. Were I to defer he will wonder at my behavior and suspect something untoward. But she never believed Mr. Kinsey would by privy to such subtleties and so preceded confidently.
As she entered the room, Mr. Kinsey whirled around to face her. She gave a short curtsy in his direction before she moved to sit down, and he straightened as he bowed to her. He looked just as he always did: dignified, presentable, and cross. No matter what time of day she saw him, or no matter how many years passed, Lloyd Kinsey always looked as if he was just arguing with someone or as if he had been settling bad debts.
“You asked to see me, sir?” Daphne asked innocently.
“Yes. Yes I have,” he replied. As he spoke, Lloyd wiped his hand across his damp brow and smoothed his thinning hair. He shifted nervously for a moment and just as quickly remembered his importance and stood at his full height and thrust out his chin.
“Is there something in particular you wanted to speak to me about?” Would he stop fidgeting and arrive at the point?
“Yes.”
There were many aspects of Mr. Kinsey’s character that truly annoyed Daphne, and his form of conversation was at the forefront. Mr. Kinsey seemed incapable of putting more than two words together. She often wondered whether his knowledge of the English language consisted of anything with more than one syllable.
“Is there something you wanted to ask me, sir?”
“I wanted to speak to you about the future. Mine and yours to be exact.”
“Oh?” She pretended to be ignorant of his intentions, even though inside she was struggling to control her uneasiness. She could not determine whether it was the urge to laugh or vomit, but she knew she must not alarm him. As was often utilized by those of her sex, feigning ignorance seemed to be the best way to gain information.
“Yes. I have known you for a long time, many years in fact. In those years, I have seen what kind of person you are.”
“What kind of person might that be?” Daphne jutted her chin and narrowed her eyes pointedly at him, daring a reply. “Unfortunately, for you, not at all like me. That is why I am here. I feel I can improve you.”
Daphne was so shocked she could not speak. Never in her life had anyone insulted her so bluntly and without any idea that he had done it. Her queasiness was replaced by a steadily rising anger. Mentally removing her jaw from the floor and placing it once more in its proper place on her face she prepared herself for a duel of words.
“Unlike many of your sex, you seem to possess a certain, how should I say? Well, a degree of wildness unbecoming to a female.”
“I cannot understand your meaning, sir, however…” Daphne began angrily before she was cut off.
“Please, allow me to finish,” Mr. Kinsey silenced her with his hand and gave her a scolding look as if she was a child. “As I was saying, it is not proper for a female to be always out of doors or reading novels. Indeed, these are occupations of a person who, perhaps, cannot think for themselves and so are required direction.”
“Mr. Kinsey, I must protest—“
“Please, Miss Charter,” Mr. Kinsey was beginning to move toward her now and was a whispers breath away from Daphne’s face. “Your interruptions are further evidence of your wanton disregard for propriety. A lady of your standing should find accomplishments in other directions, such as embroidery, drawing, and the modern languages. Furthermore, a proper female, especially a desirable wife, should be demure, serene, reserved—“
“Silent?”
“Indeed.” Mr. Kinsey looked down on Daphne sternly for disrupting his speech yet again and continued. “I realized early on that your education toward these employments has been sorely lacking and I resolved on making it my particular duty to assist you in these matters. I know that you will accept me if it meant you can improve yourself, so with nothing further to say, accept my hand. It will be the best thing you will ever do for yourself.”
The flame Mr. Kinsey sparked in Daphne was now a raging inferno. She was livid and thoroughly disgusted. There was a real risk of losing her temper and saying something truly regrettable. But what harsh truth could she possibly say that she would wish unsaid? Would she act against her nature for the first time at such a moment? Summoning all her nerves, she composed herself and calmly gave him her answer, “No, sir, I will not marry you. I do not feel I need improvement, but perhaps you do! I have never been so insulted in my life! I have no idle mind, as you say. I read for enjoyment to excite my imagination and to further my education. And if you believe that I spend too much time in the sunshine benefiting from the exercise, then I suggest finding a woman of a pale complexion about to wither away before you for I shall never tire of the out of doors. I have had an excellent education in other matters of femininity, but choose to spend my time more agreeably engaged. You should learn to improve your manners if you ever wish to win a sensible girl’s hand. Now, please excuse me. I hope you can see yourself to the door.”
Mr. Kinsey could hardly comprehend what he was hearing. To think that a woman would dare to talk this harshly to him was appalling. In his youth, his father had taught him that women were fragile creatures that needed to be cared for by men in order to keep them stable. To marry a woman meant to protect them from themselves, to keep them occupied with duties of a married woman and children. Women were expected to obey, and to accept an advantageous offer from a respectable gentleman so they will not end up a spinster. Daphne’s refusal was unacceptable.
Before he could respond, Daphne turned and walked out of the room, concealing her tears. The last thing she wanted was for this repulsive man to see her vulnerable.
“I just hope you see the error of your ways you undeserving little wretch! When you do, I will not be waiting for you. You will be alone! No one will want to marry a selfish girl like you!” he yelled after her as he stormed towards the entrance. He would preserve his dignity if possible and have the last word. Miss Charter will know how foolish a mistake she was making. Perhaps not in the immediate future, but he would show her the error of her ways. He stepped out into the cold and slammed the massive oak door.
The tears Daphne shed in Ophelia’s arms upstairs muffled the thunderous sound of the door closing. Though its echo reverberated throughout the house, turning the head’s of servants and Mr. Charter alike, the pair was not fazed.
“He was so arrogant and cruel,” Daphne sobbed. “I have never been so treated in my entire life, Ophelia. How could anyone say such things? And while proposing?”
“I do not know,” Ophelia said. “He does not deserve someone like you, Daphne. Never forget that. You did the right thing in refusing that hateful man. No matter how advantageous he believes himself to be, I for one am proud of you for thinking about your own happiness. At least feel secure in that.”
“There was no other choice to be seen in this case. He is nothing I find pleasing in a man at all, quite the opposite. He is so full of anger and hate. I do not know what made him think I could love him, or that I needed to ‘improve’ myself.”
“Just do not think about it. It does no good. Put that odious man and the events of this morning out of your mind forever.”
“Thank you, Ophelia. I do not know what I would do if you were not here for me to talk to.”
Ophelia smiled at the thought of being wanted.
“You can always talk to me about anything that is troubling you, Daphne.”
“Thank you, my dear friend. I wonder what my sister will say when I speak to her.”
“She will most likely be disgusted with him, too.”


* * *
Daphne’s unanticipated visit with the new Mrs. Percy later that morning hardly seems worth mentioning. Gwen was fashionably dressed, elegant, and too distracted by her tales of Europe to notice Daphne’s distress or conversation. Mr. Percy stared unabashedly at Daphne’s figure and smiled while his new wife talked. When Gwen finally asked if her brother had made an offer, she was shocked by the reply.
“He has; I have refused. I beg you to mention it no more,” Daphne pleaded.
“You what? Refused my dear brother? Daphne, have you gone mad? What makes you think that a good idea?”
“You know my disposition, Gwen. What made you think that Mr. Kinsey would ever make me happy?”
“I never thought you so foolish as this! You could be well settled and secure if not for your silly romantic notions.”
“I would think you could appreciate the idea, Mrs. Percy,” Daphne marked pointedly at her friend, which at this moment she could barely call her as such.
Gwen’s eyes fumed and her face reddened. She looked at her new husband and her anger boiled as she caught him openly leering at her soon to be former friend. After their honeymoon, she did not expect to have to be on her guard, but it was clear that Mr. Percy had a dangerous attraction to Daphne. It was time to sever connections, and she knew exactly how to act.
“Daphne,” Gwen began coldly, “it is obvious you are not yourself after this morning so I will be the better and forgive you. But mark my words, my dear, you could have just ruined your only chance of a respectable marriage for this could have very well been the only offer that will ever be made to you. We cannot expect to be fallen in love with more than once. Especially someone as unimportant socially as you, my dear.”
Her words were clear and effective; Daphne was efficiently cut down. Gwen had accomplished her objective: it was the last time Mr. and Mrs. Percy ever saw Daphne.
Late that afternoon, Daphne’s brother and sister-in-law, Alexander and Irene, finally arrived. The carriage had not even come to a full stop before Daphne had run up to it, and without so much as an acknowledgment of her brother, pulled her sister-in-law into her confidence. Alexander knew how important their friendship was and so was not offended by the slight.
“Oh, Irene I have so much to acquaint you with!” Daphne exclaimed. She was nearly out of breath for excitement.
“What is it, my dear? You look so pale. Has there been some trouble?” Almost a spinster when married, Daphne’s sister-in-law had never been regarded as a great beauty. Her eyes were such a light blue they were almost gray and placed too close together. Her complexion was pale, but her forehead and bridge of the nose were dusted with unattractive freckles. Irene’s features were not considered handsome, but her black hair was so striking that any man would have noticed her. She laid a hand against her young sister’s cheek to assess her temperature.
Daphne told her all that had transpired beginning with the letter from Gwen while scarcely drawing a breath.
“My that is a story!” Irene exclaimed as they sat down.
“I could not stop crying after what he said.”
“Indeed not! What a horrible man Mr. Kinsey is!”
“And Gwen! We were so close, Irene. I cannot believe after all these years it took a man for me to see her true character. I have not been able to do anything. I have been so anxious for your arrival I sat by the window. I believe I even paced a little.”
Irene took Daphne in her arms as she said, “You should not let them make you uneasy. You are stronger than that.” She paused before she continued, a sly smile creeping onto her lips, “I have some news that will cheer you up.”
Daphne sat up and looked at her sister, puzzled. “What kind of news?” she asked.
“Some very gentlemanly bachelor friends of your brother’s and I are coming into the neighborhood. One of them is purchasing a home here. Mr. Charter and I are giving a ball at Falcate to welcome them. Of course you and your father are invited.”
“What house is the man buying?” Daphne asked trying to sound interested in anything having to do with men.
“He is buying Birchwood.” As Irene spoke the name of the house, she quirked her eyebrow and narrowed her eyes suggestively at her sister-in-law.
Daphne’s eyes widened. He must be very rich, she thought. Birchwood is the grandest house in the neighborhood, but the thought of any man only distressed her further.
“Why should this news concern me?”
“Oh, Daphne, do not discount every man as a scoundrel. One may yet surprise you.”
“What is the name of this man, Irene?”
“His name is Trenton, Mr. Miles Trenton.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I know it says "The End," but...

The first story I will be posting is titled, "The Devoted: A tale of an altruistic young Englishwoman." I started writing this Jane Austen homage in high school and since then it has been a continuing work in progress. It has an ending, but I keep going back and editing, adding, and changing the storyline. So, keep in mind, if you happen to see this novel on bookshelves (around about the same time you notice pigs flying), it may be a completely different ending with new characters and plot twists. Feel free to offer advice, constructive criticism, or, god forbid, praise.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Outlet for My Madness

So, I have been writing seriously for almost 10 years and have never published anything or even attempted to post for the world to see. I think I'm ready. At least I can throw out what actually has "the end" written on it and Chase will be pleased that I'm this close to publishing something. Be kind, be critical, be gentle. Remember, this is like my child. Dont beat her.