A Note for the Faint-Hearted


C
hapter One

Songbird

Her warm, pure voice beckoned him through the modest entry hall and on into the parlour. This is how he had first met her, sitting at the piano forte while her sister played harmony on the violin. Sunlight streamed in through glass doors from the crisp autumn afternoon outside and onto the singer's long, curly red hair, making it shine golden.

Just another opportunistic young woman. He warned himself, a sharp memory cutting to the surface of his consciousness; it didn't stop though his eyes from straying toward her, didn't stop her lilting voice from pulling at the hard space above his abdomen as her words went down like a swilled glass of brandy. The song was an unusual one, sullen and strong, and he had not heard its type before. He shook his head imperceptibly. No, never again.

Their audience, gathered around on settees, had their backs to him and the performers' eyes did not leave their instruments. So he watched unnoticed and entranced.

That was, until his father, aunt, uncle and cousin entered the room with such flair that the pretty musicians were startled, halting their song, and the audience were forced to turn their attentions to the new guests.

"Don't stop your tune on our account dears!" His aunt exclaimed. The songbird blushed, mumbled apologetically and stood. There was a spattering of hesitant, awkward clapping as both girls moved away from their instruments.

Their host stood almost immediately, scuffling as quickly as possible to introduce his new guests. "May I introduce Lord and Lady Lindsay of Havershire Park and their daughter, Miss Arabella Lindsay."

"Thank you, Colonel Gower, and let me introduce my brother-in-law and nephew," Lord Lindsay indicated to the men standing next to him, "Mr Alastair Boyd and his son, Mr Lucas Boyd. They have just recently arrived from Scotland, and will be staying with us until the winter."

Lillian bowed toward the young man with dark hair and icy blue eyes. He nodded, regarding her with haughty disdain.

Colonel Gower indicated to his daughters "Mr Boyd, these are my daughters, my eldest Lillian, my middle child Rosemary, and my son, William. Our new neighbours Lieutenant Stanley and his wife have also joined us this morning. They have just recently been married and moved into Mothecombe next door."

The new guests tried hard not to react to the lieutenant's unfortunate state. His sacrifice to the war was undisguisable and he was left, to his own continuing horror for all those newly acquainted with him, with nothing below the elbow of his lower right arm.

Mr Lucas Boyd, on the other hand, did not seem much to notice. As more nods and curtseys proceeded he was more interested in studying his new acquaintances, Lillian and Rosemary. Lillian was taller than her sister though not as lithe. She had dark red hair with pale freckled skin, a bright trusting face and wide blue eyes. Her sister Rosemary was dark of eyes and hair and, much like her father; she had long, graceful limbs and a small delicate face.

His aunt had brought him up to speed on their acquaintances' situation before his arrival at their large mansion:

"The Colonel's wife – God rest her soul - passed away five years ago, the consumption you see - we were all in a panic - but luckily no one else was infected at the time. Beautiful woman she was too. Their eldest, Lillian, is uncannily like her. Unfortunately after his retirement Colonel Gower did not retain much fortune, enough to suffice of course, but I'm afraid it will affect any chance of his daughters marrying well. They do though have that countenance which seems to befit those young ladies that marry above their station. They may have some hope yet."

"Are there many rich men in the area for them to prey upon?" He had asked sourly.

As they were being introduced, Lillian returned Arabella's surreptitious smile and knew her young friend was bursting to get herself and her sister alone so she could tell them everything about her eligible cousin. Arabella was an only child and, although significantly indulged by her parents, did not have a close companion to share her secrets with and so confided in Lillian and Rosemary with enthusiasm whenever they met. Lillian always counted herself luckier than Arabella in that respect.

She glanced at the young man and was sure, for some reason unbeknownst to her, that he was glowering at her, so much so that she looked away quickly, thankful when Arabella asked them to step outside with her.

Before moving outside, Lillian gave Mrs Stanley an apologetic look for excluding her from their furtive conversation. The newlywed couple had moved into the small property next door and poor Mrs Stanley was having a little trouble fitting in to the slow pace and sparse population of the countryside, being from London herself. Lillian found herself getting along very well with her new neighbour and so tried to help her fit into their unfamiliar ways as much as she could.

Once the girls were seated on the lawn just outside the parlour, Arabella's bottled up words eagerly spurted out.

"What did you think of him? My cousin - Isn't he dreamy?" She gushed.

Lillian looked through the parlour windows at the object of Arabella's affections. She had not heard Mr Lucas Boyd say two words since their meeting and, apart from the scowling, could not make any judgement of his character. He had a refined stance about him, but his demeanour was quite stony. His features were handsome enough, but with no knowledge of his countenance, this alone could not entice her.

"I suppose he is good looking... if you like an older man." Giggled Rosemary, who was a year older than Arabella.

"Rosie! You suppose! How could you not see anything but splendour in those wonderfully blue eyes and that strong jaw?" Arabella sighed.

"We have never heard you mention them before. Are you close with the family?" Asked Lillian.

"No, they live much too far away. He lives with his parents and sister in Glasgow, Scotland, where he works for his father's architecture firm. It's doing quite well, I believe. I did meet them once before, when I was a small child. I remember he was very kind to me and we played all sorts of riotous games."

"Why have they travelled so far from home?"

Arabella leant forward conspiringly. "I'm glad you asked, Lily." She glanced around. "My father first said that my uncle had business in London to attend to and so decided they would visit us while they were there. But London is still quite far, and I was sure there must have been more appealing reasons." She waited for them to ask, but when no eager demand of information came forth, she continued on her own. "Before their arrival, my mother insisted that I be on my best behaviour while they are staying with us. She made me pack up my doll collection and insisted on new, more grown up dresses and a new haircut before they arrived."

Now that Arabella had said it, Lillian did notice a more mature appearance in her friend, even if her behaviour had not changed a bit.

"She also brought in a ghastly woman for six weeks of deportment classes. They were horrid and besides, I scarcely need them." Arabella's rolling eyes and shrugging shoulders told Lillian otherwise. "And since Lucas' arrival my mother has not stopped talking of my accomplishments and qualities. At first I thought it was merely her being a proud mother, but then one night I overheard my parents talking about him."

Lillian's curiosity was captured. "And? What did they say?"

Arabella grinned with satisfaction. "Well I couldn't quite hear them completely, but they kept mentioning Lucas' 'suitability' and his 'prospects'..."

Lillian and Rosemary caught on to what Arabella was trying to tell them and stole an amused glance at each other.

Rosemary spoke first, watching Lucas conversing with her father. "So you think that he is here to propose?"

"Well I don't know for certain, of course," Arabella said sheepishly, "but don't all signs point to that possibility?"

"But Arabella," Lillian proceeded cautiously, so as not to offend her friend. "He must be at least ten years your senior."

Arabella scoffed "Hardly Lillian, he's twenty eight and besides, I will be sixteen within the month and twelve years really isn't that much when you think of it in those terms..."

To Lillian the thought of Arabella being married, let alone to this man, was quite ridiculous. Lillian very clearly remembered Arabella pleading with Rosemary to play dolls with her hardly a year ago, while still wearing her hair in pigtails and frills on her dresses.

"...I'm sure the whole purpose will be exposed soon anyway. We're having a ball for my birthday - he may even have proposed by that stage - but if not, then I am at least quite certain that he will dance every dance with me." Arabella watched Lucas and looked quite pleased with herself.

Lillian felt a pang of pity for the poor girl. She could no more see Lucas proposing to Arabella than she could see herself running away with Lord Lindsay's very old and very fat father. But then again, stranger things had happened.