Cora Levinson looked out the window of her family's carriage, observing the same sights of New York City she'd seen year after year for as long as she could remember. Recently, she'd begun to feel differently about her beloved New York. The city and everything in it seemed increasingly dull and insipid. As the carriage slowed to allow a few pedestrians to cross the intersection, she let out a deep sigh.
"Cora, dear, are you all right?" Mrs. Levinson asked her daughter.
Cora turned her head to look at her mother. "I'm perfectly well," she said.
"Then what are you sighing for?" her brother Harold asked in an annoyed voice.
Cora narrowed her fierce blue eyes. "Because you're here," she said. Harold stuck his tongue out at her.
"Oh, you love me, Cor," Harold said haughtily. Cora rolled her eyes before turning her attention back to her mother.
"I suppose I'm bored," Cora admitted, crossing her arms and leaning back against the seat.
"We've been invited to the Smiths for a dinner party next week, that should be a novelty," Mrs. Levinson told her.
"With the same old, boring families," she complained.
"What about Edward Smith?" Harold asked in a flowery voice. "Isn't he your beau?"
Cora rolled her eyes. "Is that what he told you?" she asked with a snort. "I haven't decided yet. Who needs only one beau?"
Harold made a clicking sound with his tongue. "How disappointing of you, Cor," he said with mock disapproval. "I thought you had more compassion than that."
"Don't lecture me, Harold," she said. "I see that you haven't settled whether you like Maggie Carlton or Alexandra Mathis more."
"Stop arguing," Mrs. Levinson ordered her children. Harold clamped his mouth shut, grinning madly, his eyes dancing with laughter.
Cora looked at her mother. "I've had a letter from Lissy Walters. She writes that her family is traveling to Europe at the end of April, and she asks if I'd like to come with her," she said, folding her hands in her lap.
Mrs. Levinson raised her eyebrows. "Europe? Why on earth are they going there?"
"Apparently her father has some business there and they've decided to make a vacation out of it. They're taking both Lissy and her two younger sisters. Oh, please, may I go, Mother? I've never been anywhere interesting," the daughter implored.
"How long will they be gone?" Mrs. Levinson asked, adjusting her gloves.
"Five months," Cora told her, apprehensive the length of the stay would put her mother off the idea.
"What on earth would someone do in Europe for five months?" Harold asked, unable to hold in his laughter any longer.
"See sites and meet people, Harold," Cora said tartly. "Oh, please, Mother. It would be such a great experience. They'll spend time in London and Paris and Rome."
Harold chortled and Cora glared at her brother.
"I don't much like the idea that you'll be there alone," their mother said slowly. "Harold, perhaps you could-"
"No. There is no chance in he-"
"Watch your mouth," Cora scolded.
"There is no way I'd ever go to Europe. It sounds duller than dull," Harold said, rolling his eyes at Cora's reprimand.
"You know Cora must have a chaperone, Harold," Mrs. Levinson said. "She's only nineteen."
"I don't need a chaperone," Cora interjected. "Besides, Mr. Walters is more than capable of seeing that I'm perfectly safe. You know what he's like. Always treating Lissy and her sisters so cautiously."
"I will speak to your father about this. We simply don't want you to fall prey to some aristocratic family in need of money. You know how Europeans are. Always stuck in the past, thinking their reserves of gold will last until the end of time."
"So you will ask Dad about it?" Cora asked hopefully.
"Yes," Mrs. Levinson agreed. "But we may commission Harold to at least see you arrive safely and are comfortable. It's the least he can do for his dear sister. Who knows, you may even enjoy yourself, dear."
Harold looked positively murderous at the thought.
"Oh, thank you, Mother," said Cora, smiling.
"Perhaps it would help you feel less bored," Mrs. Levinson told her daughter.
Cora smiled, hoping her father would consent.
"Finally, land," Harold said, stepping shakily onto the dock. The past few weeks had not been kind to him, but the sea air had seemed to revitalize his younger sister, who looked happier than he'd seen her in months. She followed behind him, her face glowing as she looked around at the shipyard, her eyes taking in the scene before her.
"How lovely," Mrs. Walters said from the back of the group. "Priscilla's man is here just on time."
"Two carriages," Mr. Walters commented, pulling on his overcoat. "Seems rather excessive."
"Oh, you know Prissy," said Mrs. Walters knowingly. "She never was one to conserve."
Mr. Walters huffed as their party followed the other passengers off the ship and down to the carriages meant for them. Mr. and Mrs. Walters along with their two youngest daughters, both only fourteen and fifteen, entered the first, while the elder, Lissy, at twenty, Cora, and Harold climbed into the other, which was smaller, but no less grand.
"We'll see you in a bit," Mrs. Walters called to them before the carriages set out for the bustling streets of London.
As they traveled, Cora gazed out the window, her eyes bright with wonder as she watched the bustle of people as they passed.
"What will we do today?" Cora asked Lissy, who was seated on the opposite bench.
"I assume rest," Lissy said, looking rather tired. "Mamma will be too worn out to go anywhere and Father has an early day tomorrow."
"Do you think they'd allow Harold to take us out? There's so much to see."
"Absolutely not!" Harold objected immediately. "I'm not going to lug the two of you around. Besides, I'm tired and so is Lissy."
"Oh, Harold, how can anyone be tired at a time like this? There's so much to see!"
Harold looked at his sister, whose face was radiant as he'd never seen it before with all the hopeful thoughts of exploring a new city and meeting new people.
"There's always tomorrow," Lissy offered, hoping to discourage her friend from insisting further. "And there's a ball at the end of the week."
"But we'll only be in England for three more weeks after Friday. And Harold will be leaving then. Don't you want to see all you can?" Cora asked her friend, her cheeks coloring with excitement.
"Oh, all right," Harold moaned. "You've convinced me. As long as Mr. and Mrs. Walters consent, you can run around London until you pass out with exhaustion."
"Oh, Harold, you're a darling!" Cora exclaimed, quickly kissing her brother's cheek.
"Don't be a loon," he told her, unable to hide his pleasure at her happiness. "It was just to get you off my back."
"Sure it was," she replied, grinning as she turned to look out the window once more.
To Cora's delight-and Harold's slight dismay-the Walter's allowed them to go out sightseeing as long as they took a man with them. Following a quick luncheon and a change of clothes, Harold and Cora departed, one of the footmen, Stephen, accompanying them.
"I don't understand why we have to have someone come with us," Harold complained as they walked. "I'm fully capable-"
"I'm sure it's just because Stephen knows London, isn't that right?" Cora asked the footman, who colored slightly at her address.
"I suppose so, miss," he said quickly.
"See," Cora said, sticking her nose in the air.
Their destination for the day was to see the Thames, although they'd seen it driving to the house earlier.
"Isn't this splendid, Harold?" Cora asked as they stood near Tower Bridge, looking out over the water.
"Looks like a lot of murky water and a crumbly old bridge, if you ask me," Harold said, shielding his eyes in the afternoon sun. "I thought it always rained in England." This comment was for Stephen.
"Not every day, sir."
"Hmm," Harold said, squinting. "What now, Cor?"
"Oh, I don't know," she said, looking around. "There's just so much to see."
"Well, we can't see it all today," Harold told her. "Aren't you tired yet?"
"Only a little," she said, smoothing out her new coat. "I suppose some people can't handle life at sea."
"Some people prefer land," he said, leaning his elbows on the wall overlooking the river. Cora rolled her eyes as she looked around at the passersby.
"All the ladies are so elegant and refined," she said, feeling like a disheveled child.
"Don't look like that, Cor," Harold said, noticing his sister's downcast eyes. "You're more lovely than all of them."
"But their clothes are so lovely and-"
Harold cut her off. "And no one is even looking at them now that you're here."
"What are you talking about?" Cora asked.
"Every man we've passed can't keep his eyes off you. I've half a mind to start telling them off," he said.
"What men?" she asked in genuine disbelief.
"Take those two Brits over there," Harold said, nodding to a pair of young men standing a few paces away. Cora turned her head, her eyes meeting with the fair-haired one first, who continued the discussion with his companion despite their obvious distraction. He was far more handsome than his friend, and his light eyes met hers for a few seconds before looking away. Cora felt her cheeks burn as she noticed a small smile on his face as he spoke to his friend.
"Oh, I'm sure I look terrible," she said, not believing her own words.
"And I'm sure they think you're the loveliest creature they've ever beheld. We should go, though, they look far too snobbish and pompous," Harold said, taking Cora's arm and steering her away. She looked over her shoulder, noticing they men were still looking at her. She couldn't help but smile before turning away to follow after Harold.