Charlotte Green: pt 4

Fiction By Kassady // 4/30/2013

Part Ⅳ

Charlotte walks through the house with two letters gripped in hand, a little smug smile on her face as she flits down the hallways and through doorways to her destination, the library. Mr. Green sits in a worn armchair, half absorbed in a cup of tea, the other half of himself absorbed in a newspaper.

Charlotte holds out the letter sharply, a triumphant smile on her face, “See, Papa. I am not the only one to receive letters from our dearest Nathaniel.”

Mr. Green glances up slowly, his mustache quivering in agitation from being interrupted in his reading. When he sees the letter in her hand his face perks up in a pleased smile, “Thank you, Charlotte.” He takes it and reaches for his letter-opener beside him on the lampstand.

“May I borrow that?” Charlotte asks sweetly as he finishes slicing the top of his envelope open masterfully.
Without even looking up at her, he holds out the letter opener and starts to unfold the piece of parchment. Charlotte gingerly opens her letter, feared of tearing the prized letter within.

Dearest Charlotte,
I am afraid to disappoint you, but I will be another week from my planned arrival. I am sorry, for I have been looking forward to seeing you.
Do not fuss, the time shall fly by faster than you can imagine. I promise I will be there at some point during the summer.
I have sent too a letter for Papa, informing him on my prolonged absence.
Gibe my love to the Family,
Yours,
Nathaniel Green

Charlotte frowns deeply, the giddy feeling in her stomach, when holding the letter before, falls to sad disappointment. She looks over at her Papa who has finished his letter, smacking his lips and nodding his head.

“Good, good,” he mutters to himself with satisfaction and picks up the newspaper in his lap.

“Papa,” Charlotte cries out sadly, “Did you hear? Did Nathaniel inform you of his plans being put off?”

Mr. Green looks up and puts on a serious face, “Yes, of course. So we’ll have to be sure to expect him next week.”

Charlotte folds her letter up again, and curtsies to her father, “I shall take my leave.”

Mr. Green waves his hand dismissively, settling himself back into his newspaper.

Charlotte turns on her heel and scurries out of the room with a distressed air, one which does not go unnoticed as she passes young Esther in the hallway.

“Lottie,” Esther says, turning and walking by Charlotte’s side. She slips a delicate hand into her sisters, “What’s ever the matter? Your countenance is quite sorrowful.”

Charlotte sighs, squeezing her little sisters hand for comfort. “Nathaniel is to stay another week in London, and shall not come this Thursday, but surely the next.”

“Don’t fret,” Esther says, hiding her own disappointment for his elder sisters sake, “At least he still is coming.”

Charlotte nods and gives her sisters hand another squeeze, “Yes... yes of course. Thank you darling.”

Esther swings her sisters arm gently and bumps into her meaningfully with a little smile, “It’s a lovely day, would you like to take a stroll with me?”

“Yes,” Charlotte nods, forcing herself to smile, “I would like that very much. Let me just grab my bonnet quickly, I’ll join you in a minute.”

Charlotte slips her hand out of Esther’s and hurries to her quarters, where she grabs one of her lovely straw bonnets, decorated with flowers and lace, with a bright pink ribbon to tie beneath her chin.
She stands momentarily in front of her bureau mirror, putting on her bonnet and situating her curls beneath.

“M’lady?”

Charlotte yelps in surprise, jumping and turning at once to one of the maids. “Oh... hello.”

The maid, slender in figure, with a pail of black charcoal, stand uncertainly; cheeks pink with embarrassment and eyes full of innocence, “Beg pardon, m’lady, didn’t mean it; scaring you like that. My apologies.”

Charlotte smiles, her hands going back up to her bonnet, “I do not mind at all. I was only startled is all. Please, go about your business. I was just putting on a bonnet.”

The maid hesitates, standing awkwardly, half in her ladies bedroom, half out of it. With a sudden determination she hurries in and get’s to work at the fireplace. Not firing it up of course, but changing out the nights coal and putting in a fresh new kind.

“Will that be all m’lady?” the maid asks, standing up.

“Hmm?” Charlotte looks from her reflection over to the maid, and she smiles. “I don’t think we’ve met, what’s your name?”

The maid, blushing brightly, bows her head, “Abby-- I mean Earl, Abby. Abby Earl.”

Charlotte giggles, “So it is Abby, or Earl?”

“Both, m’lady.”

“Please,” Charlotte says smiling, “Call me Lottie.”

“Oh couldn’t,” the little maid exclaims, her eyes bugging out in fright. “No, ma’am. I couldn’t. It’s not good manners.”

Charlotte rolls her eyes, “Well neither is this,” she lifts up her skirts to her knees, making the the poor maid girl shriek. Charlotte laughs, coming forward to comfort Abby, “I’m sorry, I’m terribly sorry. I thought it would be amusing. Sorry.”

Abby shakes her head, “Is that all m’lady?”

“If you won’t call me Lottie, then would you consider Charlotte?” Charlotte pleads, “I can't bare being called ‘M’lady’. It’s so stiff.”

Abby’s discomfort seems to melt away little by little. For Charlotte’s easy temper, and easy air puts everyone at ease. Surely, everyone she meets her, loves her, for she’s ever so pleasant to be around. If not a little devious and rebellious at times, which makes her all the more likeable.

“Well...” Abby says, shrugging her thin shoulders, “I guess I could call you Ms. Green.”

“There you are,” Charlotte says, smiling, “Much better.”

*****

Charlotte and Esther stroll arm and arm through the grounds, free of step and smiling broadly. Free in speech, with no one to listen or reprimand them for ill-manners, they giggle and laugh. Gossiping about strange tutors back in London, and things that they would do if they weren't ladies.

“I would go swimming, with my clothes off,” Esther says, grinning and skipping.

Charlotte pauses in thought, “I would climb this tree.”

The both look up at the tree they pass underneath. They giggle at the idea and continue on.

“I would run around, and play tag,” Esther says.

Charlotte shakes her head and bumps hips with her little eleven year old sister. “Don’t be silly, you can do that now.”

“Not with you,” she argues, glancing up at Charlotte’s face. “Your grown up.”

“I shouldn’t be,” Charlotte scowls, “At fifteen. I should still be allowed to run around and play like you.”

“Society is constricting is it not,” Esther says solemnly.

Charlotte glances over at her little sister incredulously, “You, my dear, shouldn't be speaking so. Such formality does not fit your maiden like appearance and stature. I say, don’t try to grow up, or mature too quickly. It is tiresome and grueling.”

Esther nods seriously, looking at the ground.

Charlotte looks around playfully, not seeing anyone or any buildings in sight. She let go of her sister, tapped her shoulder and cried with merriment, “Catch me if you can!”

Esther’s sweet face lights up, and she giggles, watching her older sister pick up her skirts and run from. She grabs the front of her skirts as well, giggling and running after her sister with all gaiety.

The run about, prancing and dancing, round the trees and over hills. Laughing and running about like fairies at play. Such fun and merriment was having had that the young lady and the girl hardly realized they were being watched.
Nay did they hear the lookers-on laughter, or feel the watchful eye.
Distracted so, by their game of tag. Running to and fro, with no care but for catching one another.

Charlotte stops, laughing so hard she falls to ground, breathless and merry. All over, laughing happily. She lies breathing and laughing she watching the little girl dance about her.
If she were to have wings, she would be a fairy.

Charlotte laughs, “Dance victoriously, sprite, I’m defeated.”

“Says the lion to the mouse,” speaks up a deep, gentle voice.

Charlotte sits up quickly, looking around for the owner of the mysterious voice of the stranger. “Hullo?”

A figure walks out of the shadows of the Wych Elm and towards Charlotte.
Tall and lean, the young man has a charming face, and pronounced jawline. His eyes sparkle with merriment, and a gentle smile touches his lips.

Charlotte jumps up with a squeal, rushing forward to hug the young man, “Gideon!” she cries happily. She wraps her arms round his neck and hugs him with excitement.
She withdrawls to look at his handsome face, “Gideon, how you have changed. I hardly recognized you, if it weren’t for your bright blue eyes I would have thought a stranger was walking the grounds.”

I have changed?” Gideon asks, his voice matured since last Charlotte saw him, “You have changed. You left a fairy girl, you now a beautiful lady. How could this be?”

Charlotte smiles broadly, “Has it truly been two years since I saw you last?”

“Indeed, I’m afraid it was.”

“Where were you last summer?” Charlotte demands, becoming slightly cross at him.

Gideon bows his head in apology, “I am sorry, I was away at the university.”

“Oh,” Charlotte exclaims, “Of course. Excuse my rudeness. University, how wonderful. Did you enjoy yourself? Are you back for good? Have you finished? How was it? Did you make many acquaintances? Friends?”

Gideon shakes his head, laughing, and takes her hands in his, “I shan’t be able to tell you anything with you fluttering and chirping at me like a little bird.”

Charlotte’s cheeks burn bright, “Excuse me,” she laughs out breathily, “I’m just overjoyed to see you. You...” she gestures to him. “You’ve become a man, how, how could that be? Did University turn into one?”

“I dare say it was responsible for part of the process in turning me into who am now, though time has changed me more,” Gideon says. He turns to look at Esther, waiting and listening patiently at their elbows. “I dare say! Esther?”

Esther smiles and then squeals with delight when he picks her up and twirls her.

“Look how you’ve grown.”

Charlotte smiles and laughs, watching Gideon carefully, as if he might grow a beard next if not watched with the utmost care. A strange feeling in her stomach makes her feel nervous and giddy at the same time.
“I heard from Papa that you would be arriving, I just didn’t know when,” Charlotte says, smiling brightly. “It is so good to see you, at last.”

Gideon sets Esther down and looks directly at Charlotte, “Indeed, I dare say it’s good to see you. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought of you,” he pauses, his cheeks burning brightly in embarrassment.

Charlotte smiles, her stomach fluttering in an odd way she’s never felt before. Extremely pleased, she watches as Gideon stumbles and stammers to correct himself.

“I mean to say, that... your company has been... sorely...” he grins at his blunders and shakes his head. “Missed.”

“I have missed you as well, Gideon. It’s been long since we’ve played,” her eyes twinkle with merriment, “long has it been since you’ve tugged my hair and I’ve called you names.”

Esther looks between them with an innocent, sweet smile.

Gideon bows his head in response, “Yes, indeed.”

They stand before each other, lost for words. An awkward and unusual silence falls between them, both unable to move or speak. Neither wanting to start the conversation, neither wanting to walk away.

Esther intervenes, tugging on Gideon’s light brown waistcoat which hangs open. “Will you stay the whole summer?”

Gideon looks down upon her with a smile. “I hope to stay for some time. If not the whole year, than all of summer and a bit of autumn as well.”

“I am glad you are here too,” Esther says taking his hand.

“Why,” he says grinning, “I would never miss a chance to be with you,” he glances up to look at Charlotte.

Color rises to her face, and she half turns, looking at the grass beneath her shoes.

“Gideon,” Charlotte reprimands playfully, “Stop your silly flattering. Esther is too young to appreciate such things; you wouldn’t want to waste your pretty words on her naive ears, now would you?”

Esther smiles, though her eyes convey an innocent confusion.

Gideon looks at Charlotte beneath his thick eyebrows, making her stomach flutter inexplicably. “Wasted? I think not. Sweet Esther,” he glances down at his hand entwined with the little girls, “deserves as much attention and sweet words as you might. What separates you from her, save age? I dare say you’re equal in age, if age was measured by manner and attitude.”

“Oh stop your teasing” Charlotte smiles, and grabs a fist full of skirts as if to flee, “Who are you to judge age and manners? When you, yourself, would be seven if age were measured in maturity.”

Gideon chuckles a pleasurable smile sliding across his face, “If I am then to be seven, m’lady, measured accordly, then you must be close to five.” The playful and mischievous twinkle in his eye resembles his young self so much that Charlotte’s heart aches and yearns for the days when everything was simple, when she could run about freely.

“I am not!” she exclaims, smiling from ear to ear. “Remember, dear Gideon, I am a lady now. You must watch your tongue, before you or I get into trouble because of it. Say Mama were to overhear, she would be appalled at our disgraceful conversing and lack of proper etiquette-” Charlotte titters at the word and the idea.

Gideon, with a charming smile, knows not to take her words seriously; for she does not mean anything she says, yet she speaks with all sincerness, if not playfully and with gaiety.

“-Furthermore,” Charlotte continues, “what would your learned professors say if they saw you bantering with a witless gentleman’s daughter, who has been gallivanting all day through the gardens and grounds; with as much eloquence and decorum as a fat cow.”

“They would encourage me to speak sense into the witless gentleman’s daughter, and reason with her that she is indeed, not an ineloquent or indecorous fat cow,” he says with an air of sincerity but with eyes full of merriment and jest. “Which you are not.”

“Pray, tell me what I am then, if I am not a heifer.”

“A gay five year old, with devious intentions to dress up like a lady and fool everyone with her foolish speech and quick tongue.”

Charlotte smiles brightly at the jest and would slap him playfully on the shoulder with a glove, if she had one. “Alas,” she blinks slowly in defeat, “My cover is blown. You clever boy!” She corrects herself quickly, “I mean man.”

He smiles, face full of boyish excitement. “You may call me a boy if you wish. I wish not to be a man as much as you wish not to be a lady.”

“It is quite frustrating, is it not,” Charlotte nods in agreement, “To grow up against one's wishes.”

“Indeed.”

They stand, falling into a silence one again.
Charlotte waits for Gideon to speak. Gideon waits for Charlotte to speak. Esther has wandered off, uninterested her sister’s and Gideon’s conversation.

Charlotte barks a laugh, amused by the uncomfortable and awkward silence which insists on coming between Gideon and herself.

Gideon nervously chuckles, his twinkling eyes watching Charlotte’s every move with interest. “What is so amusing?” He cocks an eyebrow at her.

Charlotte smiles radiantly, “I am sorry, please excuse me. I know not the reason for my sudden merriment. It escaped my lips irrationally.”

“Don’t apologize. I heard that laughter is good for the heart, and yours is very good to hear.”

Charlotte cheeks pinken, “My, my, imagine that. Gideon complimenting my laugh, after resembling it after a sow’s snort.”

Gideon frowns slightly, “You’re not honestly still cross about that, are you? That was five years ago.”

Charlotte nods her head, grinning foolishly, “Of course I am; a girl never forgets a slight as...” she pauses thinking of a dramatic enough word, “detrimental as your’s was to my self-image.”

Detrimental toyourself-image?” Gideon asks incredulously, smiling at the game of Wit and Tongue he was playing with the fair lady of the house. “Please! Nothing could ever be detrimental or damaging to you and vanity, except maybe your own big-head, of course.”

She gasps in mock outrage and offence, “You Hellion!” she slaps his shoulder playfully, “I say, sir, must I remind you that you are talking to your master’s daughter? I dare say if you remembered, you wouldn’t speak so imprudently. I? Big-headed? Vain?” She shakes her head, trying to keep the grin off her face, “You must be thinking of someone entirely different.” She giggles.

“You would be convincingly offended if it weren’t for the smile spread across your face,” Gideon teases.

“Not convinced? I shall try harder next time.”

“Oh! I hope not. For I so love to see you smile.”

****

“I am amazed, how can you be concerned about what Gideon Hambley thinks of you, while Europe is in such a disarray?” Bertha says in exasperation. She pauses to look up at Nurse, “Ow! Not so tight Nurse, it’s curls not a corset.”

“Sorry, m’lady,” Nurse loosens her grip on Bertha’s silky ebony hair. She situates it again and continues to put her hair together. “Is that better?”

Bertha purses her lips together purty, “Anything is better than you yanking on my hair.”

Charlotte opens her mouth to protest, and defend sweet Nurse, “Bertha! How can you speak to Nurse in such a manner? Nurse, how do you put up with her?”

Bertha rolls her eyes, “Please, Lottie, I don’t need you to judge my etiquette, I have Mama for that. Now, please let’s get back to the subject at hand, we were discussing the current quandary in Europe.”

“Must we? Who are we to discuss and solve the deterioration of the Holy Alliance? So what? it has stopped in efficiency. Wasn’t that obvious from the start? There is a reason that we did not join the Austrians in their desire to control everyone--”

Nurse joins in, “Saying that they’ll bring peace and brotherhood to the countries, but only bringing war and separation.”

Bertha nods. “My only point in bringing it up, dear Charlotte was to see if you were in fact listening to Governess’ lesson. Also to distract you from--”

“Girls!”

Bertha and Charlotte both jump in surprise at the sharp voice of Mrs. Green, who rushes into the room in flutter with pink cheeks.

Charlotte quickly stands up from sitting on the sofa at the end of Bertha’s bed. “What is it Mama?”

Mrs. Green quickly examines Charlotte’s apparel and then Bertha, “My dears, quickly. I have just received word that we have a very special, handsome, unexpected visitor. He’s coming up the drive now! Hurry!” She starts for the door again, motioning for the Miss Green and Charlotte to follow.

Bertha stands up quickly, right has Nurse finishes her hair. “Handsome

Charlotte smiles excitedly, “Visitor?

Mrs. Green turns breathlessly, “Yes, and very rich.”

Bertha and Charlotte exchange looks and gather their skirts, skipping after their mother hurriedly. They meet with Claire in the hall, walking in the same direction as they.

Claire raises her eyebrows at her sisters, an excited smile on her face, “An unexpected suitor, do you think? Or another one of Papa’s old business fellows?”

Bertha makes a face, “It better not be. All this excitement for a old man? I’d be furious all night.”

Charlotte smiles and looks over at Esther who joins them in their quick walk down the hallway, “Hullo, Esther dear. Joining us in our man hunt?”

“Wouldn’t miss it, though you can hardly call it a man hunt,” Esther says smiling.

Claire takes Esther’s hand, “Agreed, more like a man meet.”

Bertha smiles sarcastically, “As in ‘greeting’ or as in ‘eating’?”

Claire laughs, “Both, I guess.”

The Green sisters walk out into the summer sunshine, with the gravel underneath their shoes and the slight breeze ruffling their dresses. From a distance the sound of carriage wheels draws closer, and a puff of dust can be seen from the tree edged lane.

Mrs. Green lines her daughters up by age in front of the house, ordering them and correcting them on their postures. “Charlotte, stop fidgeting!”

Charlotte stops straightening the crinoline under her flounced skirts.
“Sorry, Mama.”

“Bertha!” Mrs. Green snaps, “It’s not like our guest is floating in the sky. No need for you chin to be in the tree tops."

Bertha straightens out her head, trying not to frown.

“Esther, darling,” Mrs. Green straightens her daughters dress, “there is no need to look so ecstatic.”

Esther composes her face, but cannot stop smiling between intervals.

All the girls catch their breath as the carriage comes into view. The brown mares trot majestically up to the front of the house, their manes flying in the wind. The Coachman pulls on the reigns, his jacket buttons gleaming in the sun. The Carriage rolls to a well-timed, proper stop.

Claire glances over at her three sisters, an amused smile touching her lips to see their anxious and excited expressions.

“What are you so smug about?” Bertha hisses at her.

Claire shakes her head imperceptibly, “Nothing of concern.”

The coachman jumps down from his perch and with straight back, opens the door of the coachman. The ladies try to peer inside the gloom, but have no need to, for their unexpected visitor climbs out.

He’s a young man, the age of eighteen, with a strong handsome jaw line and eyes the color of coffee. His light honey colored hair is in the most fashionable style for young men in London, with the start of sideburns. His look and air are one of great superiority and confidence, but yet not vanity. His manners are one of a true and handsome gentlemen as he takes off his black top hat, bowing regally in greeting to Mrs. Green; who bustles over to him with a cordial smile of hospitality.

“Mr. Bradley!” Mrs. Green exclaims merrily, “How good of you to come.”

Mr. Bradley, the unexpected handsome gentlemen, smiles charmingly, “My pleasure.”

Charlotte frowns, recognizing his face at last and feeling her excitement sink. “Oh no,” she whispers softly.

Bertha glances over at Charlotte with a smug smile, “Unexpected indeed.”

Mr. Hugh Bradley is one of Nathaniel’s friends. A proper gentlemen to all acquaintances, a charmer to strangers, a loyal and exciting friend, but an impertinent, prideful and rude man to Miss Charlotte Green. In his eyes Charlotte was Nathaniel’s favorite, which made him quite jealous, which led to rude behavior and snide remarks directed towards the fourth Green child.

“What a surprise,” Mrs. Green continues, motioning him forward and towards her four daughters. “We weren’t expecting you for another week."

Mr. Bradley nods, strolling slowly forward. He stands in front of the Green ladies and bows again. Lifting his hat from his head, “Good afternoon ladies. I hope I haven’t interrupted your dinner, or tea.”

Claire smiles politely with a nod, “Not at all. In fact you are in time to join us for a late dinner.”

He smiles pleasantly, “Good. And how are you Miss Claire?”

“Very well, thank you.” She nods and curtsies, but can’t help but frown in disappointment when he’s not looking.

“Miss Bertha,” he nods to her pleasantly, “How has your summer been thus far?”

Bertha curtsies, but purses her lips, “Pleasant.”

“Good, good,” he says disinterestedly. He merely glances at Charlotte, “Miss Charlotte,” he nods and moves on. “Miss Esther,” he nods and then turns to Mrs. Green, “Lovely. Thank you all for accommodating me. I am...” he sighs thinking of a proper word, “Eager for the Cricket match.”

Mrs. Green nods, “Yes indeed.” She turns to look at the coachman, ready to get the trunks. “Shall we go in?”

Mr. Bradley smiles and nods pleasantly, “Of course. But first, I have a surprise.”

Claire raises a brow, “Oh? What can be more surprising than your presence?”

Mr. Bradley dramatically motions to the carriage and out steps another figure.

Charlotte squeals in delight, unable to control herself. She runs forward and jumps into the man’s arms, laughing and squealing with gaiety.

Mrs. Green crosses her arms and shakes her head, but cannot stop the pleased smile that spreads across her face. “Nathaniel!”

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