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A Love Story in 3 Parts - Part 1
I could hardly bring myself to this place, kneeling beside the grave of the only man I ever loved, cared, and cried for. Only three months ago he had died, and I hardly recognized my life anymore. His was no more than a gravestone inscribed with a name, feed for worms, and a memory. It seemed that everyone had moved on, all but me. My father was no more.
I stood, brushing the grass from my pale muslin gown, adjusting the cap upon my head and facing the cold wind, chin high and mind higher, forgetting everything I'd just felt; death, regret, and denial. I brushed it away as I had the dirt, simply ignoring the fact that it would leave stains behind.
I descended into the city of London, breathing in the dirty air of the factories, nodding to an acquaintance every now and then. It wasn't until I arrived at Beauclaire, the home my mother chose to name, as if it were some grand estate, that I could finally forget what I had felt, and welcome an almost lost feeling of pure and utter happiness.
"Caroline!" Anne cried, rushing towards me, embracing me with such love I couldn't help but feel affected, and I couldn't help but smile for the first time in too long, "I'm so happy to see you! How I've missed you, oh, I absolutely must tell you about my tour to Australia. Such strange things, I simply can't explain it all."
"It's been nearly eight months Anne, what have you been doing with yourself?"
"Sit, sit, and I'll tell you all my nasty secrets." Anne replied, giggling with satisfaction, as if some school girl had traded souls with her.
The two of us moved into the visiting parlor, which was much more lavish than our private one. Decorated with swirling green wall-paper, plush red furniture, and a gold leaf ceiling. It housed paintings of distant and dead relatives amongst both the Taylor and Bates family, of which the later I belonged to. Anne, by law, was tied to the Taylor family, although only recently as my mother had chosen Anne's father to re-marry. It hadn't been hard to get along with Anne, as she had been my neighbor since our toddler years, and we'd been good friends just as long.
"Such unusual animals they have, a kangaroo must be the oddest. It hops like a rabbit but it has the head of a deer."
"That is unusual." I said.
"Girls, girls!" Mother cried, "Look, look!"
She waved a card around in the air, not nearly long enough for us to really see what had been written, then read aloud anyway.
"The London Stewarts do, on behalf of the household, request the pleasure of the Taylor and Bates company on August 3rd for a grand ball, in order to celebrate the arrival of her grace, the Duchess of Bath."
"A ball, how extraordinary!" Anne cried, completely distracted from her tales of Australia, "But that's only tonight."
"There was a delay in the mail, darling." Mother said, "Everyone is going, why, even Laurence Walker."
"Laurence Walker?" I said, "The scoundrel. He's far too good for any middle class ball."
"Behave, kitten." Mother said, "Don't be uncivil, you've never met the man."
"He had to have earned his reputation some way." I said, unsatisfied.
"Come now, what's the ruckus." Timothy said, walking into the room, a pile of papers in his hand and a pair of spectacles in the other.
"There is to be a ball tonight, father." Anne said, jumping up and down like a child.
"A ball." He said, nearly disgusted by the fact, "Hmm."
He looked at us pityingly, then shook his head and left the room, replacing the spectacles above his nose, "Women."
"We must prepare girls." Mother said, "You have to look absolutely ravishing tonight."
"And why is that?" I asked, "Not another one of your schemes I hope."
"Please," Anne said, "we both know she can't rest in peace until we're both married off."
"I only look out for your best interest, girls." Mother said, pushing us a bit ruffly up the stairs, "Carter, prepare the carriage!"
"Yes, mu'um." He said, then sprinted out the front door to get ready.
I'd never liked anyone better than Carter, and he'd never liked anyone better than I. Of course, he had his fair share of girls, and I kindly looked the other way. The fact was, we were both trapped in a world we didn't care for, only he made light of it, which made him more fun than anyone to be with. It was his bluntness and utter disregard for societal rules that made him so appealing, and I wouldn't have given him up for anything. I owed him everything.
We were ready finally, and as we rode to the Stewarts, I couldn't help but wonder what everyone would say at Anne's arrival. Of course, she wasn't the one meant to be celebrated, but the simple fact was that her departure had created a small scandal, because no one, not even I, knew why she had suddenly left for Australia. It was in her nature to travel, but not for so long.
"I hope you two have fun." Carter said, helping us both from the carriage as we took his arms. He was a footman, hired to represent the family, and because of it, was as handsome a man as I'd ever seen before. Even the wealthy couldn't help but admire him.
"Not too much." Anne said.
"Yes, the Stewarts are rather daft." I said.
"Except for their daughter." Carter said, "A master mind in games."
"Quite a witch, isn't she." Anne said, then thanked Carter for his arm and lead me into the grand hall. Somewhere, in the ballroom I presumed, an orchestra was playing Chopin, and I so badly wished to dance. We searched around the house, stopping to talk to acquaintances, exchanging pleasantries, which Anne had become rather good at in Australia, and gossiping amongst ourselves. Then, across the hall, like some great god, I saw Lawrence Walker leaning against the wall, scowling.
"It's the devil." I said, pointing him out to Anne, "In the flesh."
"If he's the devil, I think I might faint at the sight of God. Good gracious he's handsome."
He was, really. The darkest hair, the tallest stature, the broadest shoulders. Even his jaw was so perfectly aligned, I wondered if he was at all flawed. Then I remembered his poor temper.
"He's quite disagreeable though." I said.
"Perhaps in debate, but not to the eyes. Why, I could stare at him all day."
"And what if he's to look over at us? Don't make a fool of yourself, Anne."
As if he had heard us, Walker looked over, and Anne flushed the deepest shade of crimson. His expression didn't change though, he simply looked away. Suddenly, I felt heat rising to my face, but not out of embarrassment.
"How can he look at us that way?"
"Whom, Mr. Walker?" Mr. Barton asked, approaching us, pushing his glasses up his slight nose.
"Yes, he's ever so impudent." I said.
"I hear that he is quite uncivil, although a good friend is he deems it worth his time."
"It's beyond my comprehension how rude one man can be."
"Beyond most women's comprehension, yes, but I assure you it is quite simple."
Anne's face soured, and though she bit her tongue I know she was dying to correct him, begging to say that women were equally as intelligent to men, but I secretly begged her not to.
"Is it your impression that women are stupid, Mr. Barton?" Anne asked.
"Not at all, only weaker and less comprehensive."
"I assure you some of us are well read, and that only a small majority are ignorant to the facts of life."
"Quite." Abigail Stewart added, as if her lack of opinion was worth anything whatsoever. She was dressed in a beautiful royal blue gown, sewn with black lace into the cuffs and hem of the skirt.
"We are rather delightful creatures, women." She said, "Don't you enjoy Chopin, Mr. Barton?"
"I do Ms. Stewart."
"Well then, ask me to a dance silly."
He obliged, and we watched Abigail laugh, of course only to make Barton feel as if she had feelings for him, and as if she were capable of affection. When in truth, she was an excellent actress and only wanted Barton because he'd been talking with me. The fowl girl. Her purpose in life was to ruin mine, and no one but Anne believe it.
Mrs. Stewart, who felt it necessary to introduce everyone to everyone, so thoughtfully presented Mr. Walker to Anne and I, and the conversation was one to encourage my suspicions.
"Do you live in London, Mr. Walker?" Anne asked.
"No, I reside in Derbyshire. I find London intolerable."
"And why, might I ask?"
"Far too many people."
"Then what do you do in the country?"
"I tend to Blair Rose, which makes a fair income."
"I hear Blair Rose is the nicest estate in all of England." I said.
"I should say."
And the conversation ended, simply like that, without any common courtesy or formality, which, if he hadn't been so cold, could have been refreshing. If his intentions were good natured, he wouldn't have been perceived so poorly. But he wasn't, in fact, good natured at all. Thus, I found it difficult to understand him, and unfortunately, began to be intrigued.