The Mistress of Moonacre

Chapter Fourteen

"I…I beg your pardon?" Catherine stammered, certain that she had misheard.

"Kiss me and I shall return your scarf to you." Robin reiterated.

Catherine took a sharp intake of breath and stepped backwards, "You must be joking!"

"I would never joke about a thing such as this." Robin said with dignity.

"Then you're mad! I'd never kiss you!"

"What a pity!" Robin tutted, "I suppose there's nothing else to do but spread a rumour around Silverydew that you are madly in love with me and gave this scarf to me as a favour, like the knights of old."

"You wouldn't dare!" Catherine scoffed, "Besides, no one would believe you. The people of Silverydew know me. They are loyal to me. They'd never trust a De Noir because they remember how your ancestors ransacked this valley; looting, killing cattle, burning crops, kidnapping their daughters."

"That may be so." Robin conceded, "But what's to say that the people of London would be so disbelieving?"

"What?" Catherine said in a strangled voice.

"Oh yes, the people of London do love gossip, don't they? And the news that a lovely young lady from a family as old and illustrious as yours has chosen a thoroughly unsuitable suitor would be the story of the decade, would it not? You Merryweathers value your reputation more than anything, don't you? Imagine your brother's reaction when the news finally reaches his ears."

"You really are an awful boy."

Robin softened somewhat, sensing that her resolve was gradually crumbling, "It's just one little kiss, it'll be over in a second. Here, I'll tell you what, you don't even have to kiss me properly, just on the cheek."

Catherine mulled this over: really, a mere moment of embarrassment would be worth it if it meant her reputation would remain be unscathed at the end of it, "Just on your cheek? You promise?" she said uncertainly.

"Yes, I promise. Now be sure to kiss my cheek right here, not on the material of my mask." he instructed.

"Alright! I understand! You've made your point quite clear!" Catherine snapped. Robin sniggered then badly suppressed his smile when she shot him a murderous look and seemed as if she was about to turn and walk away.

Slowly, Catherine stepped towards him. Robin hurried to make up the rest of the space, beaming like a child on Christmas Day. Nervously, she took a deep breath and let it out again shakily. Robin was a little taller than her, so she had to stand on her tiptoes and place a hand on his right shoulder to steady herself. Catherine leant closer, wobbling, and ended up placing her lips very near the left-hand corner of his mouth. Immediately, Robin's hands were at her waist, pulling her closer and holding her there steady, caught. He moved his head slightly, nudging her lips fully onto his. For one tingling second they stood like this; the marigolds were molten.

When they broke apart Robin grinned impishly. Suddenly, he turned and, in a great running leap, grabbed the low overhanging branch he had been sitting on and swung himself back up into the tree like a monkey.

"Lovely! Just lovely!" he said with evident relish.

"I don't want to talk about it." Catherine snarled, "Just give me my scarf."

"No, I think I'll be keeping this." he said matter-of-factly.

Catherine was indignant to the point of outrage, "You promised!"

"I lied." Robin laughed pityingly.

"You wicked boy! You awful, lying-"

"Goodbye!" Robin called cheerily, jumping down from the branch and landing out of sight on the other side of the wall. Catherine heard him laughing as he ran away.

Never before in her entire life had Catherine felt quite so infuriated, so humiliated, with a yell she turned and flounced back into the gardens. She stormed through the pergola to the lily pond, her arms rigid by her sides with her hands balled fists so tight that her nails cut into her palms. She found herself a long thin stick, snapped from a hawthorn tree and began to whip the heads from the tall tulips in the flowerbeds near the pond, letting out a scream of rage every time she swung. She thrashed the stick left and right and soon the yellow and red striped heads of the flowers were flying in all directions. After a while, she resorted to merely hitting one spot over and over again, focusing all her rage on one plant, until-

"Catherine, stop!"

She froze with the stick still raised above her head, her chest rising and falling rapidly as she gasped for air. Benjamin stood on the other side of the pond with his arms folded. The air was littered with golden and scarlet petals which floated slowly back down to earth. He leaned down, reaching, and picked up a tulip head which had flown through the air across the pond to land at his feet.

"At the height of the Tulip Mania, a single bulb was enough to buy a Dutch country home." he said dryly, flicking the head into the pond where it bobbed in the murky water amongst the water lilies, "What, may I ask, do you think you are doing?"

"I was angry." Catherine said breathlessly, tossing her head to get her hair out of her face.

A flicker of understanding crossed her brother's face, "Yes, I gathered that. The last time you did this, you were ten years old and mother had taken away your jewellery box for some reason."

Catherine didn't say anything, merely threw the stick away behind her.

Benjamin seemed to struggle to find the words he wanted to say, finally he cleared his throat uncomfortably and spoke, "Catherine, I owe you an apology. Shouting at you like that…well, it was wrong and I'm terribly sorry. But you must try understand that there are some questions which I cannot answer. Some things which must remain private." Oh. He thought that her anger was directed at him because of what had happened over breakfast.

"But why? Why can't you talk to me?" Catherine pleaded, "We used to be so close, you and I. Talk to me, Benjamin. Let me help you."

Benjamin's expression was utterly tragic, without another word, he turned and made his way back up to the Manor. Not long after, Catherine followed. Once inside, she went up to her bathroom and scrubbed her lips with water until they bled.