The Taverner Chronicles: Miss Brightwell, Two
There are few moments more awkward or unbearable than that which a young man inquires if a lady should share the saddle with him. Oh odious predicament! Millie and Louise were speechless, and even Anthony started to feel that he had said something out of place. But no, that did not prevent him from extending his hand to help her up into the saddle behind him. Millie was about to blather an excuse when Louise stepped closer to Anthony with a bright look on her face.
'Actually, Miss Taverner is in need of a little exercise, as she's been quite inactive these last few hours. Do you mind riding ahead, Anthony, to ensure that the path is clear?'
Anthony looked like he was going to say something, but thought the better of it and followed her instructions. If thoughts could be heard, then the lane would have resounded with a loud rebuttals of, 'Why on earth would the road need to be clear?'
Millie took Louise's hand in a gesture of gratitude.
'You just saved me, I really thank you enough!'
Louise grinned and the two started towards the house. The sun was sinking low behind the clouds, making the world half-enchanted with long shadows. Looking towards the manor, several lights were being lit throughout the house, inviting all those in the fields to partake of the warmth of the light.
'Now o'er one half-world nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleep.' Louise almost chanted.
Millie examined her companion for a moment before speaking. 'Louise...?'
'What? Did I frighten you with my MacBething?'
'MacBething...? Wait, what?'
Louise laughed heartily. Millie decided that she liked her laugh; it was as infectious as it was musical.
'I have a particular addiction to MacBeth, and I've half-memorized the thing. It was just one of MacBeth's speeches, that's all. I am always tempted to quote some part of the play when I'm confronted with a lovely vista.'
Millie grinned, but realized that her knowledge of Shakepeare's play was decidedly sparse.
'Hope I didn't... frighten you with my irregularities...' Louise proffered, when Millie didn't respond right away.
'Oh no, you didn't. Don't worry. Say, by the way- who is staying at the manor?'
'Well, there's Anthony.' replied Louise, with an unusually devious look in her eye, 'But since you don't seem to be too excited by that, I'll be staying. That's about it, though. What about you? You only arrived today, I'm assuming that you will be staying?'
'I... um, well, I have to talk with Grand- Mr. Taverner about it. I might have to go somewhere in the morning, and...' she trailed off.
Her companion was about to say something else, but they were interrupted by Anthony, who had come back on foot to escort them back to the house. He carried a lantern and proceeded to dominate the conversation with a story about a fox hunt. Amused and slightly lost, Louise and Millie tried to appear interested in his tale. This was, unfortunately, a monstrous task. His voice droned on and on, offering little color or animation to the long story, causing both girls occasion to yawn once or twice. Millie noticed that Louise had quickened her pace a little, making Anthony walk much quicker than he had and hastening their return to the house. Once they reached it, the girls gladly parted from Anthony with the excuse that they needed to freshen up.
As they mounted the stairs, Millie saw Grandmother looking at her from the corner of her eye. Somehow, she felt that Grandmother knew what had happened, but it was no time to speak of it.
Grandfather met them at the top of the stairs.
'Ah, there you are! Where on earth did you get to, Millie? We...' he stopped as he caught the fresh look of grief in her eyes, 'Well, we needn't go into that, do we? Now, get out of those wrinkled clothes and we'll get you in nice warm bed!'
Millie tried to think of a way to get out of staying, but Grandfather continued.
'You need to get to bed as soon as possible. Well, after all, you do have to be up early in the morning...?'
A moment passed before Millie grasped his plan. When inspiration hit, she smiled wearily and sighed.
'I know. I wish I didn't have to go... but I will be back in the afternoon.'
Grandfather nodded at her, and clapped her on the back.
'Well then, off you go! Hill! Get her some bedclothes!'
A nearby servant curtseyed to Grandfather and beckoned for the girls to follow her. Before she left the top of the stairs, Millie looked back and saw that Grandmother had been watching the whole scene. A chill ran down her spine as she remembered the letter that was still in her pocket. The letter. And it was almost as if Grandmother knew.
However, her mind was quickly diverted by Louise. After they changed and were assigned their bedrooms, Millie heard a knock on her door. Louise entered, wearing a beautiful white dressing gown. She looked rather haunting in it, and she skirted across the room so that the skirts would billow.
'Mother got it for me in London. It's lovely, isn't it?'
Millie silently nodded.
'It makes me want to MacBeth again... but I won't. I know you must be tired from your fiasco on the moors. At least I know I am, not sure about you. Anyway. I just wanted to wish you goodnight, my dear. And I can't wait until you come back tomorrow! I have to say that you're a much better companion than Anthony.'
'I'm not sure that would take much doing, Louise.'
The girls looked at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing. He really was a dull chap.