My sister was not the best example of what it is to be a lady. At the age of sixteen she ran off with a soldier only to return home pregnant. Unmarried, with no prospects and her soldier off in Africa she was the epitome of scandal. My parents had thought the suffering and social discriminations would have ended there. Until the soldier returned, three years later.
He was ready to marry my sister, and ready to accept their son as his own. However, my father was not convinced this would be a good match. My sister had grown into a beautiful woman, more so than myself-or so my parents told me, and my father felt she could still marry well. He and my mother had planned on sending my nephew to an aunt who lived in the North Hampshire. This was all a good plan, until my sister ran away. Taking her son with her. In the morning we were informed by the London Times society pages that my sister Lizzy Cumberbatch had married Olivier Jones in a secret ceremony near Edinburgh.
My mother fainted.
My father swore then yelled for our maid Lucinda for a glass of his best scotch. I however saw this as a good thing.
I was now of age to be presented to London’s high society, so I could capture the heart of some wealthy gentlemen. But that was not something I was interested in. What better way to get out of marrying someone who I wasn’t sure I would like then a scandal.
I smiled into my morning tea.
Today Vanessa Cumberbatch was independent.
A year later….
My green velvet dress kissed at the top of my new black buckled shoes as I walked through the wet streets of London. The sky had finally stopped soaking the poor city so I pinned my hat on and headed towards the tea shop near my father’s office for a nice cuppa with my dear friend Lydia. The clouds were a dark grey and the sky looked as black as coal but that couldn’t put me in a sour mood. No, I was delightfully happy.
And then I heard his voice.
“Morning Mrs. Cumberbatch.”
I rolled my eyes then turned. Having been brought up as a gentleman’s daughter my manners kicked in.
“Good morning Mr. Harrington.
He was leaning against the side of a white building with his hands in the pockets of his black jacket. Underneath he was wearing a black suit with a white undershirt. Adorning his head was a black hat lowered just above his eyes. Which even in the dark shade of his hat the blue was a striking contrast. He smiled, reminding me of a snake.
“I hate formalities don’t you Vanessa?”
“I do not make the rules Mr. Harrington.”
“Vanessa, my name is William. And for god’s sake you have known me since we were six I think we are more than acquainted.”
“Even so Mr. Harrington, I am unaccompanied.” I said in a last attempt to shake him off.
He was rather so annoying. Always had been since we were little. Only then he was more annoying physically then with his words. For instance he loved putting odd insects in my tea, or feigning that one had landed in my hair. He would laugh for hours as I ran about smacking my head, shaking my hair or throwing my tea at my sister trying to rid myself from the bugs.
As we got older he would find ways of getting me in trouble. Once he had told my parents that I had flirted with a boy while attending church. That earned me two lashing from my father. That has also been the last time that William had played pranks on me. He was devastated things had gotten too far. So much so that on my birthday he not only brought me flowers but a horse as well.
“Then I shall accompany you.” He smiled at me showing all of his pearly white teeth.
I hissed but allowed him take my arm without any objections.
“So, where are we heading.”
“I am having tea with Libby.”
He shook his head. “Libby? Whatever for? Hasn’t she gotten married yet?”
I laughed. Libby had only just gotten engaged yesterday evening. She and her fiance Nicholas had announced it to the rest of the world with the urge to marry as soon as possible.
“Do you think she might be with child?” he asked leaning in close so only I could hear him. A woman passing us with her small son looked at the two of us with narrowed eyes. Our close proximity was not proper for public society. I leaned away from William, only to have him pull me back towards him. My arm pressed against the side of his body while the arm he had mine looped through now rested around my shoulders.
“Do you think this is proper?” I raised my eyebrows watching his gloved hand curl around my shoulder.
He laughed. “It is not like more scandal could hurt your prospects.”
I joined him in laughing. “I do not have any prospects.”
“And you? Don’t you have a few ladies in mind? Won’t your mother be upset with you for being so close to me in public?”
He leaned away from me placing my hand in the cook of his elbow. I knew that would work.
“My mother is ill.” he said softly.
“I heard.” I murmured, but I had forgotten all about his mother’s illness. In fact I had put the whole ordeal out of my mind. Now, I had to bring her flowers or read to her, something.
“I needed to get out of that house.” he proclaimed then took a deep breath. “Enjoy the company of strangers.”
I bit my lip as the words began to bubble from my throat and out of my lips. “Would you like to join me and Libby for tea?”
A look of feigned horror etched on his face. “Heavens no! I do not want to sit for a half an hour discussing weddings and ribbons.”
We stopped walking at the corner of the street to await traffic to pass us before continuing on. A woman in a brown cloak and a dark red dress underneath glared at me from across the street. I dig my fingers into William’s arm as the uneasy feelings began to swim in my belly. The woman suddenly lurched into the street, not caring about the traffic.
Once she reached us I noticed her eyes were green. Her face was long with a light dusting of freckles on her nose. I could smell and taste the harshness of her perfume.
“Sister.” she said with a rough gravelly voice.
I took a step back feeling my hands turning white hot.
“I’m sorry have we met?” William asked the mysterious woman.
She flickered her gaze to him and scowled.
“She is mine.” she said.
The wind picked up then blowing debris and papers from the newsboy across the way into the street. Above us the sky opened releasing the water it had been holding on to. William pulled me protectively against him. I closed my eyes at the sound of the woman hissing like a snake.
“She will be mine.” she said just before disappearing in front of us.
“Come.” William said with a stern voice. “Let’s get you to Libby.”