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A Love Story in 3 Parts - Part 2
"Caroline." Anne laughed, snapping her fingers in front of my eyes, "Are the Stewarts rubbing off on you? Have you gone mad for good?"
"I apologize, I just..."
"Did I catch you casting a glance at Mr. Walker, Caroline?" Abigail asked, approaching us. It amazed me that she would speak to us twice in the same night, when usually we were lucky to avoid her at all costs.
"You did not." I said carefully, staring right into her ice blue eyes.
"He's quite the catch. He makes 10,000 pounds a year just from Blair Rose. A girl would never want in a household like that."
"Yes, but how should the lower class feel?" Anne asked, "When they make in a month what he makes in an hour, hardly able to feed themselves, much less clothe their backs. If I were the mistress of Blair Rose, I'd never spend a penny on myself."
"Such a heart. I dare say, you're quite the benefactress Ms. Taylor, is that what you were doing all the way in Australia?"
"I hear your family has struck rich in America." I said, "Is it so?"
"Quite, the oil in Pennsylvania is abundant, if one knows where to find it." She said, rather condescendingly.
"Mr. Walker, darling, do tell Ms. Bates about the oil company you've invested in." She said, pulling him from his dark corner.
"I assure you it isn't an interesting topic." He said darkly.
"Mr. Walker plans to invest in my father's rig."
"That has yet to be arranged."
"It should be." She said, laughing to herself, pulling out her silk fan.
"You're such a riveting conversationalist." I said, unable to help myself. Anne tried to hide her laughter.
Walker stared at me, as if waking for the first time in years and astonished that other forms of life lived amongst him, then nodded his head and dismissed himself. Abigail looked as if she were hiding a boiling hot temper.
"Well, I've never seen him react to anything before." She said, "Congratulations Ms. Bates, you're quite the conversationalist yourself."
She dismissed herself, then Anne and I burst into a fit of laughter, glorifying in the fact that, perhaps, we'd finally won one of Abigail's many psychological battles. It was something to relish since we were women, and could only fight with careful words in a world of surfaces.
The night ended and Anne and I went our separate ways. Though I knew she was fast asleep from sheer exhaustion, I stayed up much later. Thoughts of the ball, though I rarely gave them a second thought, danced through my head like a nutcracker nightmare, nagging at me relentlessly. I even dreamt about dancing.
Even in the morning, after I'd slept on it, although hardly, I still couldn't understand what it was that so bothered me. I had breakfast with Anne and Timothy, who debated the logic in the decency of class, then read Austen until my eyes were cross and we received a visitor.
"A Mr. Laurence Walker." Carter announced, stepping out of the way so our guest could present himself. I stood, shocked that he would call, because he never called on anyone. It shocked me even, because he had no reason to speak to any of us.
He nodded and removed his hat, then sat across from me when I spread out across the chaise, pushing my dark green skirts to the side. He was quiet for a moment, then with the uttermost importance and propriety finally spoke.
"I do enjoy the few months before winter." He said.
"They are very nice."
"Do you take walks often, Ms. Bates?"
Anne walked in suddenly, then gaped as if she'd just seen something scandalous. She quickly shut her mouth and sat beside me on the love seat to my right.
"Good morning, Mr. Walker." She said.
"Tell Mr. Walker about your excursion to Australia, Anne."
"All sorts of strange people live there, I assure you. And then there certainly are the wonderful fruits, so exotic. Did you know, Mr. Walker, they consider Tomatoes a fruit in Australia?"
"I did not. How intriguing."
"It's my personal opinion that they're pets, a creature called the Dingo, are the most affectionate animals in the entire world. I've travelled a good lot of it, and never run into something so unusual as the Dingo, or the Kangaroo. Now that is an unusual animal."
"I once recall seeing a kangaroo in Australia." Mr. Walker said, "They resemble a deer on it's hind legs."
"Why, that's what I said!" Anne said, smiling to herself, "I've never met someone quite as agreeable as you, Mr. Walker."
"Only because our opinions have yet to differ."
"Pray, what do you make of formalities?"
"How exciting!" Anne cried, "Caroline, do feel free to interject. I know you detest them as much as I."
"I do." I said, and as I spoke Mr. Walker's attention were focused directly on me, and absolutely nothing else, "But then, the families attached to wealth would have nothing, and they couldn't have that, could they? The world needs more forward thinkers, like Anne and I, if we're to make this world a comfort to anyone."
"Do you mean to say the lower class?" Walker asked.
"Yes. Our colleagues treat them like animals, when really we are at fault. Simply because their blood is not as pure, or so one assumes."
"Assumptions are burdensome." He said darkly.
"Lady Abigail Stewart." Carter said, and Abigail emerged from behind him, dressed in a pale pink taffeta gown, encrusted with pearls at the scandalously low neckline. It all made her blond locks look even more beautiful than the night before.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you had a visitor already."
"Do come in." Anne said, "What a lovely gown, I must have the name of your seamstress."
Carter stepped into the room with a silver plate of cucumber sandwiches and tea, and as he bent down, I caught both Anne and Abigail admiring him. He seemed not to notice, until he turned and I caught a glimpse of a smile. The rascal.
"We were just speaking of rank." Anne said, "Caroline believes everyone should be equal."
"Like the Americans?" Abigail cried, "What a laugh. Imagine, England crawling with negroes, beggars, and irishmen; it's quite a disturbing thought."
It took everything in me not to choke on the tea as she said this, but I continued to drink to save my tongue. Ignorant, ignorant, ignorant!
"And why do you think the slaves are slaves, beggars to be beggars, and the Irish to be looked down upon? England has made a mess of them, only to turn their back and forget about it all. We enslaved the Africans, our greed has made the population paupers, and pure ignorance has made the Irish an inferior race."
"Don't be silly Ms. Bates, it's for their own good."
"Their own good? Why, I never heard such stupidity in all my life."
Abigail nearly dropped her tea, Anne only gasped, and Walker looked so entertained that I could hardly stop.
"It is families like yours, Lady Stewart, that have made England a laughing stock. Why do you think there was a revolution in America, why do you think the French scorn us, why is it that the poor hate us? We have made enemies in every corner of the earth, so if you think to go on about your business being petty with wealth, I suggest that you watch your back, because there isn't any reason anyone should keep you alive if it were a matter of life and death."
"This, coming from a Taylor girl." Abigail said, "Your family is in a great deal of debt, I hear. Perhaps your opinion of me simply comes from jealousy and longing to be a part of the world you no longer belong to. You're quite biased, I believe."
"Lady Stewart," Walker said, "if you were in Ms. Bates position and she in yours, I should think she would have the decency to treat you as her equal."
"Well, I shall take my leave then, for I feel that I am not being treated as such." She said, heading for the door, "Good day."
"I hardly need defending, Mr. Walker." I said.
He looked insulted, then fidgeting with his top hat, placed it on his head and bowed, then stalked out of the room. I ran to the kitchen, leaving Anne behind and rummaging through our things for something sweet, finally settling on a French macaroon. Carter came in, carrying the tray on untouched sandwiches.
"Rough day?" He asked, his accent rough.
"And it hasn't even begun." I said, "Can you believe Abigail? She's ridiculous."
"I wonder, if she were poor, how different she might be."
"Soot would suit her. If I never have to look at her ungrateful face again, it should be too soon." I cried, then Carter took me into his arms, "She makes me so angry, I just want to bash her head in with a baguette."
"I'm not sure bread would do the job."
"No, you're right, I'm just hungry."
"Carter." Anne said, waltzing in. He let me go immediately, "I must speak to you about the menu for tonight."
I nodded to him, then left them to talk, and searched the house for something to occupy my time with. I walked upstairs, then suddenly remembered Anne had borrowed my comb and forgotten to give it back, so I searched through her dressing table to find it. Instead, I found a peculiar letter.
My most beloved bride,
My heart yearns for your return to Beauclaire, and hardly can I resist to wait upon you every night, hoping I will see the beauteous face I fervently love and adore. My entire body aches without you by my side and I fear I might die from pure suspense; agony is the only friend I know now. It slays me that I can never know our child, and that our passion should be only found in secret. I pray that one day, we should run away together to live with our son, and that I should meet him. Until that day, I will wait patiently.
With the utmost affection and love,
I couldn't believe what I was reading, hardly thinking it was real at all, as if I were only in a dream. Carter and Anne were married, with a child? Suddenly I realized it was why she'd gone to Australia, to have the child in secret. My sister, with a son, and a husband.
I rushed downstairs, practically tripping as I ran into the kitchen, finding Anne and Carter were no where to be seen.
"Anne, Carter?" I asked, "I know you're here, I found the letter."
For a moment no sound could be heard, then Carter and Anne emerged from the pantry, hands intwined. Their faces weren't scared or guarded, they were strong, ready to defend themselves.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, hurt.
"It's complicated Caroline." Anne said.
"Well then explain, I haven't anything better to do."
"Father and Fiona think I only went to Australia on a long holiday. No one knows I had a son, Caroline, you can't tell anyone. No one knows a thing."
"You didn't trust me? And what about your wedding, when did that happen?"
"A year ago, in December."
"All this time, and I never realized it." I said, "You've done a fine job in hiding it."
"We want to move to Australia." Carter said.
"But we don't have the funds." Anne said, "We were going to come to you today, asking for help. We have some money saved up, but it's not enough. I know asking you for this is an outrageous thing to do, since we've kept it a secret, but we couldn't risk it."
"We would pay you back Caroline." Carter said, "I'm starting a ranch, we'll make money to support our family and pay you back within the year."
"Where's your child?"
"With friends." Anne said, "He is well."
"If I were to give you the money, how would you escape?"
"Fake our deaths, to save a scandal. I know how hard that might be, for you Caroline, after your..."
"Not at all. I'll give you the funds today, and say the two of you drowned in Willow Creek on a walk." I said, pulling a purse from my skirts, "But you must leave now, while mother and Timothy are out."
Anne took the purse, then hugged me and promised to write, and finally, they left. I dabbed my fingers in the water basin, then rubbed my face and pinched my cheeks, letting out the most painful sob I could manage and rushing into the hall.
"They're dead!" I cried, falling to the ground, hoping my theatrics were convincing, "Anne and Carter have died!"