The Taverner Chronicles: Miss Brightwell, One
There was one place she felt alone. It was a tree; a tree with a seat almost carved into its base. Though it was in the middle of a pasture, no one would think of looking for her there... she couldn't go back to the house. Not now.
She needed to be alone. Alone.
Millie could feel tears slipping out of her eyes and down her cheeks, and before she knew it, there were ragged sobs coming from her lips. Clamping a hand over her mouth, she ran faster towards the tree; she was almost there now. Just a little further...
And all she could think of was his face. The mere vision of it passing before her eyes caused her to cry out; if it was difficult to tell him before, it was impossible now.
She climbed the tree and found the seat- though it was slightly different in the past, it would do. Making sure that no one would see her, she buried her face in her skirts.
The letter; she felt the letter in her hand. She couldn't just toss it away, no, for strangely it seemed to be the only that kept her together. The crushing reality of it was right there in her hands. If only she hadn't told him to meet her. If only she could have just stopped coming to the past before this had happened.
Maybe she could still do that. Slip away and never return. She would never have to cause him the pain, he would never know the truth. Then she would never have to see his face after those horrible words were out...
No. Not that. She had to face him. She couldn't just leave him with no explanation, that would be wrong. But for now, she knew that the only thing would be to let herself go, until she could cry no more.
'Hello? Are you all right up there?'
A woman's voice from below jerked her awake. Millie quickly wiped her eyes and peered below. There was a young woman, perhaps of nineteen, standing at the base of the tree, looking up at her with a worried expression.
'I'm... fine. Thank you.'
'Oh, well that's good. We've all been looking for you.'
Millie looked around her anxiously. The sun was low in the sky, and long shadows covered the pasture eerily.
'How long have I been gone?'
'About three hours I should think. Why don't you come down?'
Millie stiffly climbed down and deftly landed next to the girl. She had a better chance to examine her up close; she had brown eyes that shone brightly with intelligence. Her figure was slight but well-built, and her light brown hair hung loosely in curls that framed her face. To be sure, she was very beautiful.
'I'm sorry about that... I've... just been thinking.' Millie said, awkwardly realizing that she still had the letter crumpled in her hands.
'I can't blame you for that, now can I? I'm Louise Brightwell; Mr. Taverner invited me to stay here for the summer ball. And you...?'
Millie smiled at her and held out a hand, which Louise warmly shook.
'There, now that we've introduced ourselves, might we walk back to the house?'
With that, they set off in a brisk walk towards the house. Millie looked at Louise again; there was something curiously familiar about her face that she could not quite place.
'I'm sorry, but have we met?'
Louise laughed. 'No, unless you've been in Bath in the last ten years. Why, do you think we have?'
'No... it's just... I don't know. There's something vaguely familiar about you, that's all.'
'Ah. Well, I usually expect to hear the “have we met” speech from dappers, so I do admit I was a little surprised when you asked. Are you staying with the Taverners?'
Millie's heart froze. Her mind raced.
'I... am not staying with them... for the present. I shall be at the ball, though.'
Louise was about to say something when they were both startled by the sound of hoof beats swiftly approaching them.
Millie was not prepared for what she saw next. If the worse possible person to turn up at that moment was Doctor Rawlings, the next candidate was Anthony Lang.
'Ah, there you are! We've torn up half the estate looking for you, Miss Taverner.'
Things couldn't have gone worse if he had thrown himself at her feet and begged for her to marry him. Millie frowned, then tried to think of what on earth she could say. Louise, seeing her distress, came forward and made a passing remark that Millie did not hear. However, she did hear Anthony exclaim that '...Miss Taverner should ride with me!'
Neither Louise nor Millie could think of anything to say to his proposal.