After getting over the initial shock from the words that came out of Auntie Clara's mouth, Mary quickly glanced back and forth between Bert and Clara before bursting into laughter. "Oh, I see!" She laughed. "You both had me convinced for a moment that I was going insane! Magic? Oh my, you two are quite mischievous, aren't you?" Her momentary fit of giggles ceased quickly however, as she noticed the look that the two exchanged. "What, is something wrong?" she asked, beginning to grow concerned.
Auntie Clara reached over and clutched Mary's hand. "Darlin', I know this isn't somethin' that's easy ta 'ear, but I need ya ta listen ta me carefully. The reason ya where able ta see that apple jus' now and the ball earlier was because ya 'ave magic. I know it's-" she started to say, before Mary interrupted her sentence.
"Oh, no! I've seen street artists like you two before. Street magicians, con artists. No no no, this is just another one of your tricks. A sleight of hand, if you will." Mary started to pull her hand away but became alarmed when Clara grasped onto it even harder.
The urgency in the old woman's eyes sent a shiver down Mary's spine. "Mary, I know this is something' very strange for ya ta accept, but magic isn't simply somethin' we joke about. I'm sure it's quite a messy concept for ya ta get in your 'ead, but I 'ave no reason to lie ta ya."
What could only be described as a nervous laugh escaped from Mary's throat as she forcefully wrenched her hand away from Clara's grasp. "No, I don't think you understand. I don't believe you in the slightest. Honestly, I'm not sure what I was thinking, following Bert and coming here tonight. That was incredibly dangerous and stupid. You have all been wonderful hosts but I really must be getting home. Please excuse me."
Without waiting for a reply, Mary leapt up from her chair and rushed through the building. She thought she heard a cacophonous noise from the band as she exited, perhaps with a strangled "Wait!" coming from Minnie, but she paid no heed to the sounds behind her. As she burst through the door, she gathered her skirts in her arms as best as she could and began to run, for fear that if she stayed any longer near the building she would be kidnapped by these insane people, or something equally as horrifying.
She had just made it about ten meters away from the building when she heard Bert's voice screaming her name at the top of his lungs. Mary ran a ways further, contemplating the possibility of refusing to hear him out, before she slowed to a stop with a gasp for breath. Turning around, she said, "No matter what you say, Bert, I won't change my mind."
As he caught up to her, he waved the small bundle that he was holding at her. " 'ere, Minnie refused ta let ya leave without this meat pie 'o yours that ya seemed ta like so well." Gingerly, she took the pie, which was covered in a cloth to keep it safe.
"Thank you," she said meekly, unwrapping the bundle a bit to take a small bite out of the delicious meal. "But as I said, I am not changing my mind in the slightest. I don't care what you have to say." The warm meat filled her mouth and she chewed slowly as she listened to the young man's response to her statement.
Giving her almost a smirk, he said, "I understand, Miss. I was the same way when I was told it. But whether ya choose ta accept this or not is not what I'm 'ere for right now. It's awful late, an' I thought ya might like ta 'ave an escort with ya as ya 'ead 'ome." His strange half-smile was replaced with a genuine look of concern for her.
Mary realized suddenly that she had made an extremely brash decision by running away during that party. She had stealthily escaped from her own house to wander the streets of London many times before, but they had always been during the day. As a woman, running around by one's self was ill-advised and extremely dangerous at any time of the day, much less at night. Despite how insane she might have thought Clara and Bert to be with their "magic" charade, she realized that she was probably quite fortunate to have run into Bert before anyone who truly wished her harm had caught her. Despite the strange feelings she had in the party, she could tell by looking at him he truly meant no harm to her.
Nodding, she said, "Thank you Bert, I greatly appreciate it." A grin broke out across his face and he extended his arm to her. With her meat pie in one hand and Bert's arm in the other, she began to walk back to her home.
The walk back to her estate was relatively lacking in conversation; mostly just Mary directing Bert on where to go. She thought he could tell that she was still tense over the whole encounter and had decided not to push the issue with her. When he did say something, it was just an off-hand comment, like asking her if she ever bought wares from the lady at that street corner or pointing out his favorite constellation. Contemplating it, she found that he had an effortless charm that made people around him relaxed. He was the kind of gentleman that she had heard her father make mention of before, the kind of man that would find a beautiful flower and give it to a little girl on the street in passing, that other men would tip their hat to, that older ladies would stop for to let him pet her dog, and that would perform a little magic trick for any young boy he thought might be looking a little blue. Bert had that aura about him, although Mary wasn't quite sure if he was aware of it or not.
As they neared her house, she directed him towards the side of the estate, where a large tree grew next to the wall. She said "I greatly appreciate you walking me home, Bert. It's been a great comfort having someone along." She handed back the grease-stained cloth that had held her pie. "I hope you will understand why I left tonight. Perhaps it was an overreaction but I think if you can understand where I'm coming from. I did have pleasant time though."
He gave a bow before responding. "It was my pleasure, Miss. I 'ope we didn't scare ya too badly. Auntie Clara is a nice lady. If ya ever change your mind, I'm in the park 'most every day, if ya'd like ta come visit. Goodnight, Mary Lawrence." He nodded at her once more before heading back off the way they had come.
Mary had climbed over the wall using the tree numerous times before, in a dress and heels even, but never in a ball gown with layers of petticoats. As she attempted to descend into the garden of her estate, the part of her petticoat that had ripped during her earlier escape got caught and almost caused her to fall to the ground. She quickly caught herself however, and proceeded to untangle her dress from the branched before slowly lowering herself down using the branches that hung over into the Lawrence garden.
Rushing over to the side door that the servants used, Mary quickly slipped inside without a noise. She wound her way through the house and up the side stairwell, and had almost reached her bedroom when she heard the familiar squeaking noise of her maid Cecilia's door. "Miss Lawrence, is that you?" she heard from down the hallway.
Silently cursing her luck, she whispered, "Yes, Cecilia. Sorry I am so late. I don't need any help getting undressed, you can go back to bed." Mary thought she was free but quickly realized she would have to fight her way out of this one, as she saw a faint light appear from Cecilia's candle and move towards her.
"Oh, but your father was worried sick about you! We should inform him that you're all right and home safe." The candlelight bounced off of her silver hair and eyes in a way that almost made her seem ghostly.
"Dear me, I'm sure that's not necessary. He's probably fast asleep, we don't need to wake him. You can just tell him in the morning."
"Tell me what?" came a booming voice from behind her. The imposing figure of her father appeared, with the small flame casting shadows on his face that made his glare seem even more intimidating than it already was. Mary loved her father, but their tense relationship kept things constantly on edge between them.
"Sir, we were just going to tell you that she'd arrived home safely. We knew you were worried. Nothing to fret over anymore!" Mary felt a rush of gratitude towards Cecilia for her attempt at settling things before they blew up. She knew it was a fruitless effort, however, and braced herself for what was to come.
"Well, that's all pleasant and jovial now, isn't that?" he asked, and Mary and Cecilia both involuntarily tensed up from the tone in his voice. "But perhaps what I'm not so worried about you coming back as I am about the fact that you left in the first place? Why did you leave the party, Mary? Do you know what people were saying about you when they couldn't find you? Everyone was gossiping! People were asking me left and right where you were, especially the eldest Redmayne boy. I had to tell them all that you'd gone home early because you were feeling ill! And what on earth did you do to your dress?" he said, noticing the dirt on the bottom and the ripped petticoat peeking out from under the skirt.
"That's nothing, Mister Lawrence, I can fix that in a jiffy!" Cecilia interjected. She had a hopeful look on her face, as if her brushing off the dress would fix everything.
"Thank you, Cecilia. Goodnight," Edward Lawrence said firmly. Cecilia took the cue, bowed, muttered something that sounded like "Yessir", and retreated to her room with a last pitying look at her young mistress. Now there was nothing standing between Mary and her father.
"Father, I'm sorry I left, I had to! There were so many people! I have never seen so many people!" This was a blatant lie, but her father had no idea about her forbidden adventures into the London marketplace. "I was overwhelmed and exhausted. Maybe if you let me out more I would be used to the crowds…"
"Not this again," her father said sternly. This was a point of contention between the two parties; Edward believed that the best way for a young woman to be educated was to stay at home with her tutor, and that she should feel privileged that she was born into so wealthy of a family, as she would likely never be educated otherwise. Mary, on the other hand, desired to learn by getting out there and learning through experience. Her father felt that it was too dangerous and impractical for young women to go out in public in their formative years. Since she was now eighteen and of age to make a decent match in marriage, he had eased up on this rule, but most of her outings tended to be strictly social gatherings and parties like today, where she could meet eligible young bachelors. Obviously, this was not what Mary had in mind with her outings.
Tired and hoping to avoid the endless circle of fights that she always seemed to be embroiled in with him, she decided to accept defeat this time. "I'm sorry, father. You're right, I should not have run. I was simply attempting to get away from an unfamiliar situation and I got carried away. This will not be something I repeat. Please forgive me." She lowered her head so that her chin touched her chest, a gesture that she hated because it showed surrender, but it was one that Mary knew would win her father over.
Sighing, Edward said, "This once I will let it pass. However, you will not be allowed to leave the house for the remainder of the month, not even for the picnic with Elizabeth. You must learn to behave and obey my rules. You may now go to bed." Without another word, he turned and walked down the hall to his own quarters.
As she slipped into her room, Mary began to cry from frustration and sadness. She would never understand why her father was so unfair, why he couldn't understand her and her desire to see the world. Perhaps it was because she was similar to her mom in that aspect, and since he had already lost his wife six years ago, perhaps he harbored some fear that if mother and daughter led such similar lives he would lose Mary too. No matter the cause, the Lawrences seemed to be eternally at odds.
As she unlaced her corset by herself, a difficult task she had learned to do out of sheer stubbornness, Mary contemplated the fact that she'd have to send a messenger to her friend's estate tomorrow saying that she could no longer partake in the picnic that they'd planned for next week. Elizabeth understood Mary better than her father, but being naturally more timid, what she couldn't understand was how Mary constantly kept challenging Mr. Lawrence. Elizabeth was some sort of middle ground between Mary and Edward at times; whenever she was around, there was often peace and laughter in the house for a while. That would be the plus side of cancelling the picnic, Elizabeth would likely offer to come to the Lawrence estate for the picnic instead, which meant that there would be at least one pleasant day out of the next twenty four that Mary was confined to the premises.
Slipping into her bed, Mary's thoughts drifted back to Bert and Clara. She couldn't help but wonder whether they were crazy or if there was truly something to this magic thing. She focused on her perfume bottle that was sitting on the vanity, attempting to make it disappear. However, her eyelids felt so heavy that she gave up on the experiment and drifted off to sleep, without noticing that the object had briefly flickered out of existence for nearly three seconds before reappearing on the other side of the dresser.