The Taverner Chronicles: Into Spring, Two
It was now mid-April. Millie's ankle had completely healed, and she was now able to take walks through the countryside. Mother was still forbidding her to work, and though she was glad for the extended break, Millie wondered at the decision. Mother still had not found work, and Father was starting to have to go farther away for jobs.
Naturally, with things bad in the present, she longed to return to the past. Though she knew that her family needed her more in 1935, she wished she could step through the threshold of the ballroom and be in whimsical, care-free 1895. She resisted the temptation, thanks to the arrival of two more letters from Anthony Lang. Much as she had hoped that her cold and terse response would cool the correspondence, she realized that it would take much more than a mere letter to convince Anthony of the neutrality of her affections. She shuddered with the sudden knowledge that she would have to tell him... in person. And it would seem that such an undesirable encounter would be almost immediate, for Andrew informed her that Anthony frequently 'skulked' around the Mansion.
It was for this reason that she avoided returning to the past. She contented herself with talking long walks through their land. One place she often frequented was the little river that divided their land from the Rawlings' estate, near a exhausted bridge that was slowly falling apart as time wore on. There was an old willow tree that sort of overshadowed part of the bridge and the bank, giving a little shelter for anyone to find refuge under. It was there that Millie often sat with a book of Tennyson, enjoying the fresh spring air and listening to the birdsong.
One day, as she sat under the willow, she heard voices come from the other side of the river. She quickly got up and ducked behind the lee side of the tree, a position in which she could easily observe without being seen. She heard a dog bark as two figures came into sight on the other bank. The first was probably an Oxford boy, dark and handsome, but it was not he who attracted Millie's attention.
It was the one with him.
Edward, Edward Rawlings. The Doctor's youngest son.
Millie shook herself, for the sudden realization of the difference between then and now became sharply real. Here was the son of the Dr. Rawlings she knew and thought of often, the same Doctor who had carried her so safely away from the ball... and this youngest son of his was yet older than she.
She felt tears sting her eyes, but made no attempt to wipe them away as they came running down her cheeks. As the two young men came closer to where she was hiding, she started make out their conversation.
'Say Ed, what's that stuffy old bridge?' the Oxford lad was saying.
'Oh, that. My dad built it a long time ago.' Edward responded.
Millie breathed in sharply. He sounded so like... his father. How strange it was to say that!
'Who lives on the other side? Did he have to get to them often?'
'The Taverner family... you know, I'm not exactly sure why he built it. He never really told me. We kids were just never to use it.'
'Ah. How boring. I thought there was some kind of romance or something.'
Millie leaned forward and strained her ears for Edward's response. Romance...? Dr. Rawlings...?
'Who knows! There might have been. This was built years before my dad married.'
'Edward, you know you're rather a bore? If I were you, I would have sniffed out every single little detail!'
Millie couldn't hear anything else, for they had walked out of earshot. She slowly made her way back to the house with a heavy heart. In a few moments, her rosy vision of herself and Dr. Rawlings had come crashing to earth. Not that she had envisioned herself married- never had the thought seriously crossed her mind- but she realized that she had subconsciously built up expectations on their friendship.
But now, the stark reality of it all was viciously apparent.
She trudged up the stairs to the servant's entrance and opened the door to the kitchen. Mother was getting dinner ready, as usual, but instead of speaking to her of her troubles, Millie decided it was far better to leave her alone and sought the silence of her room. However, before she reached it, Andrew and Gianna waylaid her in the hall.
'Millie, you'll never guess!' cried Gianna, in an air of excitement.
'Hm, what is it?' Millie replied in an uncaring tone.
'Grandmama wants you to join us for tea tomorrow! And guess who'll be there?'
Andrew, sensing Millie's discontent, tried to get Gianna away before she could say more.
'That's enough, Gigi. I don't think Millie is interested...'
'Oh, she will be when she knows that both Dr. Rawlings and Lordie Lard will be there!'
Millie felt her insides crash to her feet. Both of them...? She wouldn't even think of doing it. She racked her brains for an excuse to stay home, saying,
'Oh, well... Mum thinks I'll be well enough to go back to work soon, so I'm going to start readying myself for that... thanks, but no thanks.'
Gianna looked terribly disappointed.
'But Millie! You have to come! Grandmama wants you to come!'
Andrew pulled Gianna away again, and as she watched her siblings disappear down the hall, she gulped.
Grandmother wanted her to come?