I had almost given up hope.
My youngest daughter Alice had always proclaimed that she would never be the type to marry. I, being her mother, held on to the tiny thread of hope that one day she would grow out of her phase and see what would be truly right for her. I would try to encourage her along, to which she would respond with a roll of her eyes and, "Mother, please." I thought that maybe seeing her sister get married would show her what a happy life she could lead, but if anything it turned her in the opposite direction, for a reason still unknown to me. She turned down the proposal of the high standing Hamish Ascot and fled to China instead.
I said nothing. Perhaps she would find herself when she was gone and return soon, ready to settle down. But two years passed with no sign of change (that I could see for myself, since I obviously was not with her). When she returned I half-joked with her about finding a charming, romantic, handsome man overseas. She turned to me, rolled her eyes, and responded with, "Mother, please."
Twenty-one years old and nothing had changed. I almost gave up hope.
Over the course of many days, Alice became more recluse. At first she claimed tiredness from her journey, but once two weeks had passed and she had yet to stop holing herself up in we room all day, I knew something was terribly wrong. Whenever I would check in on her, she would either still be in bed, staring out the window, or sitting at her writing desk. I often caught her focusing on either of the only souvenirs she brought back for herself from her trip: a queer-looking hat that held feathers, velvet, and so many odd angles a sane man could not have possibly conceived it, or a stuffed raven. The latter rather frightened me, personally, and I cannot fathom why one would want to stare at such so intensely. Any attempts at speaking with her were fruitless, as she would simply brush us off and return to whatever nothings she was previously doing. Not one time since she returned had I seen her smile.
I was at a loss of what to do. I could not console her, for I did not know the problem. My hope for her quick recovery was slowly snapping, too.
The answer to both of my prayers appeared not one month since Alice had returned. It came in the package of a man with bright orange hair and vivid green eyes. His hair appeared from under a green top hat, which nowhere near matched his grey, frayed, mismatched suit. He was completely covered in dirt. All I could think was that he was trying too hard to dress up. For what, I wasn't sure.
When I asked him his reason for standing on my doorstep (for unexpected visitors were rare at the Kingsley house), he showed a gap-toothed smile and responded with a lisp, "I wish to see Alice, of course."
This man. Wished to court my Alice. Dear heavens, I was shocked. Never would I have imagined such a man as my son-in-law, but I heard a voice in the back of my mind whisper, "Give him a chance. She rejects all others; perhaps it's madness she needs." As much as I wished to object (to my own self; how absolutely crazy of me), how could I live with myself if I pushed Alice harder and harder to marry only to not let her choose the man for herself?
"Alice. Why yes, of course. I...I will go fetch her. Er, pardon me, but what did you say your name was?" I hardly caught the reply before turning to go battle wills with my daughter. Halfway up the stairs I realized I hadn't invited him in, but when I looked back at him, I saw he had already made himself comfortable inspecting the flowers on the entry table.
I knocked on the door to Alice's room, a small "go away" meeting my ears. I rolled my eyes and stepped into the room. Alice, playing the dramatic, lay sideways on her bed, facing to the wall and away from me.
"Alice, dear, there is a gentleman here to see you." Gentleman, indeed; but what else was I to call him?
"Tell him I'm not here. Or that I'm sleeping."
"Alice, he already knows you're here, and as you are clearly awake I will not tell him that you are sleeping."
"Well, if your conscience must be so clear, just tell him that I don't care."
I sighed. "Now, that is simply rude. Why don't you give this one a chance?"
"Because I don't want to!" She sat up, ramrod straight and facing me, anger in her eyes. "I don't care that a man is here to see me, I don't care if he brought me diamonds, I don't even care if he's the prince of England! There is only one man that could ever hope to be suitable for me, so if his name isn't Tarrant Hightopp, then send him away! I just don't care!"
Once more, she rolled away from me. I opened my mouth to argue, but a very recent memory came to mind.
"Er, pardon me, but what did you say your name was?"
"Oh! Mad - no wait, that's not right. Tarrant! Tarrant Hightopp."
"But Alice, it is. That is his name."
Her figure stilled. A silence, then..."You lie."
I shook my head, though she couldn't see. "I wouldn't."
I could have sworn I heard her whisper, "Impossible," but I can't know because I was suddenly nudged to the side as she barged out the door. At the top of the stairs, she froze.
I had thought this man, this "Mad Tarrant Hightopp," would be like all other men to Alice. In fact, I had almost hoped for it. But clearly there was a different story behind all the madness. I followed Alice onto the landing a millisecond before she ran, then tripped down the stairs into the waiting man's arms. The beaming smile that was plastered on her face will stay with me forever. I knew in that moment that I, too, would have to give Mr. Hightopp a chance.
Maybe there is hope for Alice after all.