"Do not fidget so," my sister, Catherine, whispered into my ear.
I grimaced, lightly touching my upper lip with a handkerchief. The sun was merciless at the outdoor luncheon we were attending, and the stiff corset and full sleeves they had coerced me into wearing were highly uncomfortable. If only my sister would agree to sitting under the cool shade of the trees, but she insisted that the sun gave my usually dull brown hair a glow that was quite becoming. Also attractive, I'm sure, was the sweat glistening on my upper lip, but as Catherine was rather stubborn, I did not bother trying to convince her otherwise.
I shifted my parasol to block out the sun and glanced around at the various neighbours who had gathered for Colonel and Mrs. Young's outdoor party. The vicar, a gaunt, near-sighted man, was standing by the flower garden and loudly proclaiming to anyone who would listen that his orchids were doing splendidly this season and were probably the best in the entire county. Here he glanced briefly at Lady Wilson, his rival at gardening, whose flowers were considered the best every year. She merely sipped her tea, as she was quite deaf and could not hear a word he was uttering.
I shifted again and stopped leaning against the chair, so my back could receive some air. It was with no small satisfaction that I saw Catherine close her doe-like green eyes against the sun momentarily and impatiently shake her auburn hair away from her face.
Meanwhile, Lady Margaret Spencer, our great aunt, was gossiping with a few of her friends nearby. As I listened with some interest, the current topic seemed to be our brother.
"…yes, Jeremy has sent me a letter from Oxford," Aunt Margaret said, sniffing with pride.
A chorus of "How splendid!" was heard from everyone listening to her, along with "That is quite fortunate…" and "I envy your ability at raising the children, Margaret...".
Our aunt gave a long-suffering sigh. "My dear, what else can I do? Though I have sacrificed so much in taking care of them, I feel sometimes that they are vulnerable. And if I do not help them, I ask you, who will?"
"Yes, you are quite right," Mrs. Barrington exclaimed, nearly spilling her tea in agreement.
"At least you can be thankful that their parents died when they were quite young," Mrs. Barrington's spinster sister, Miss Cole, said softly into her own cup of tea. "What they might feel if they could remember their parents' accident."
Her elder sister eyed her. "Is there any real need to bring that up now, I ask you," she hissed, her small eyes traveling to us. "You are hardly being subtle." Miss Cole lowered her head as Mrs. Barrington continued. "Oh, but it is quite wonderful about Catherine."
Aunt Margaret lowered her sharp blue eyes in something feigning modesty. "Well, I do what I can. It is fortunate that Catherine has met such a lovely man as Mr. Gilbert. Of Kent, no less…"
I turned away from the conversation as they began talking of my soon-to-be brother-in-law's investments, which I thought to be rather boring. Instead, glancing about again, I noticed Allie, the vicar's nephew, filling his plate with various treats. Deciding that he would make for better company, I quickly excused myself from Catherine's side, giving her no time to stop me, and joined him at the table where the refreshments were laid out.
"Tart?" He asked by way of greeting. As I privately thought Mrs. Young's raspberry tarts tasted suspiciously of rubber, I politely refused.
"Are you having a lovely time here, Allie?" I asked with a slight hint of humor.
I expected him to frown and ask me what the devil I was talking about, as he rarely understood sarcasm, but, to my surprise, he gave me a sly grin and glanced around quickly.
"Well, not here, exactly," he said, his bright blue eyes glowing. "But perhaps a little while later."
"Oh? May I ask why?" I asked, rather perplexed.
"Your sister is coming," he said abruptly, gazing behind me and taking a large bite out of the tart. "I shall explain later," he muttered thickly before moving off.
"My dear, you are getting your hem dirty," Catherine chided lightly, using a tone that informed me that she was a bit upset with me.
"I was rather cramped from sitting," I said as a sort of explanation.
She glanced after Allie's retreating back and leaned close to me. "I do wish, Evelyn, that you would stop being so friendly to him. It was alright when we were children- I used to play with him as well- but we are grown up now and it is time for you to act as such."
"It is hardly as though Allie and I are courting, Catherine," I said, my thoughts still on what my friend might have been referring to.
"At least consider what the neighbors might think," she admonished sternly. She had, unfortunately, taken after Aunt Margaret. "And do not refer to him in such a familiar way. It is very unbecoming."
I gave a low sigh out of exasperation, knowing that she was right, and shifted my parasol slightly so that it blocked her from my view.
"Here come Colonel Young and his son," she said suddenly, glancing at my feet. "I do wish you had worn higher shoes."
I inwardly scowled at her. My short stature seemed to be quite a matter of disgrace, never mind that Catherine herself was merely a couple of inches taller.
"Be polite and do not talk too much," she continued, smiling as they neared. "And do not fidget."
"Hallo my dears," Colonel Young said, having reached us. We greeted him demurely as he took our hands and bowed over them. The sun reflected his bare head perfectly and I was able to see a distorted mirror image of myself before he straightened up. "Lovely day, isn't it?"
Quite, if one desired a heat rash, but I kept my thoughts to myself.
"May I introduce my son, Lieutenant David Young," he said, placing a hand on the shoulder of the young man. "He has just come back from India for the summer."
The lieutenant had no mustache or sideburns like most military men, but his dark blonde hair was up to standards, with every strand in its place. He took our hands and bowed over them, somehow maintaining his rigid back.
"It is a pleasure."
Catherine nodded in agreement and softly nudged me. I smiled politely at him, glancing at his bored dark eyes and strong face.
"Miss Caldwell," he said to me.
Catherine glanced excitedly between us with a sort of gleam in her eyes, which could only mean she thought this a perfect match. Ever since Catherine had become engaged to a stuffy, pretentious gentleman, she and Aunt Margaret were determined that I should too.
As my sister searched around for an excuse so that Lieutenant Young and I could be left to ourselves as was socially reasonable, Aunt Margaret unfortunately chose that moment to walk up to us, swiftly taking in the situation in a single glance.
"Why, Colonel Young," she said, her eyes having lit up when introduced to the son, "I believe that a game of croquet is just starting up. Shall we?"
The colonel gazed around, puzzled, but my aunt firmly planted her hand on his elbow and steered him away. Catherine, delegating herself the role of chaperone, stayed with us, though slightly apart.
The lieutenant offered that we should sit down, preferably in the shade, and converse. The first part went off splendidly, as I managed to cool down, but the second was rather difficult. Every remark I made was met by a "Yes, of course" and "I quite agree". Naturally, then, the chat dried up rather quickly, especially as Catherine was doing her best to appear invisible, and I found the shade to be moving away from us. As the lieutenant was such a bore, and as Allie was nowhere in sight and I found myself becoming increasingly curious from his hints, I decided to excuse myself, but in such a way so that I would not appear rude. An idea struck me, though it was a bit underhanded.
"Oh, my," I breathed, shifting slightly.
"Is anything the matter, Miss Caldwell?"
Only your entire personality, I thought. Out loud I said, "It must be after two o'clock right now. Oh, dear. I fear she will be quite angry with me."
The lieutenant gave me a politely inquiring look, while my sister leaned forward with a slightly suspicious gaze.
"I must apologize, Lieutenant Young. A good friend of mine, Miss Florence Peterson, is rather ill and I had promised her that I would visit," I said demurely, being careful not to look him in the eye. "As I've said, it is rather late, but if you would not think that terribly careless of me?"
"No, not at all." He stood rigidly when I rose and I feared for a moment that he would salute me. As I began walking away, Catherine followed me
"Florence is ill?" She asked doubtfully.
I nodded, doing my best to fix her with a surprised look that she should distrust me, her own sister. I tilted my chin toward our aunt, who was politely applauding as Captain Young's croquet ball hit a pole. Next to her was Florence's father, old Professor Peterson. "I did hear the professor tell Mrs. Young that Florence was ill and so was not able to come," I said truthfully. I did not add that, in all likelihood, Florence had probably escaped from her bedroom window and was with some farmhand or other. "You know how she does not like to be alone."
Catherine nodded shortly and turned back to Lieutenant Young. I breathed as deeply as I could and began walking swiftly away. In truth, I did not much care for Florence, though she was rather entertaining with her subversively scandalous ways. Catherine, however, despised her, though she was too much of a lady to say so, and this guaranteed that she would not be at my elbow while I set out to look for Allie.
The path to the Peterson house was by going around a rather large pond, or a small lake, depending on how one saw it, that was hidden from view all around by large trees and dense foliage. When I had gotten around to the other end, I cut through the neighbour's lawns, glancing about for a sign of Allie. After a few minutes, I saw him, crouched down by the trees that lined the side of Dr. Gregory's house. I gathered my skirts and ran to him, tapping him lightly on the shoulder.
"Jesus!" He exclaimed softly, nearly dropping the cigarette that he had been dragging on. I laughed at his reaction as he narrowed his large blue eyes at me in an unsuccessful attempt to appear serious.
"What on earth are you doing here?" I asked, gazing at the house visible from behind the branches. "Allie?"
He had turned back to staring at the house. "Hmm?"
"Are you ill?"
His plump, innocent face resumed its usual good-natured expression. "There is someone I wanted to meet. Did you not wonder why Dr. Gregory did not come to the luncheon?"
"I thought it had to do with the heated argument he'd had last week with Sir Ferrier over the uses of the cannabis leaf."
Allie paused and stuttered. "Why – well – yes - I suppose that is why. But I am sure it also has to do with his guests," he added quickly.
I gazed at him, bemused. "Why not simply ask Dr. Gregory to let you in?"
"I did," he explained. "But he said that if he let me in, then the entire county will want to ask Mr. Holmes where their chickens' eggs have gone and where Mrs. Greer's husband goes to every fortnight, and he could not allow that. I do not even know who Mr. Holmes is," he muttered.
"Is this person a friend of yours?"
He snorted. "Geniuses do not require friends. John Watson is…" Here he trailed off and peered across the lawn. "Listen," he whispered. "Can you hear that?"
A/N- Sorry to break it off like that, but otherwise it would have been really long. Plus, I think this is a good enough cliffhanger- how is Watson a genius, (even though I love him)? Will Evelyn marry someone with enough money? Will Allie acquire some propriety and common sense? Anyway, I hope I got all the Brit-isms right and that you all liked this. Please review!