The Forests of Evenlear, Part Seven: Corporal Bruckwell
It was less than an hour until dinner time when I made it back to Uncle Oruc's and Aunt Monria's house. I turned my horse over to the stable master, Gerson, and went in through the back entrance of the house. The servants were in a veritable uproar scrambling through preparations for dinner, so I was able to make my way unnoticed through the hallway and up the stairs to my room.
Oh, I remembered. Uncle Oruc and Aunt Monria were having guests tonight. I had best make a good impression when I went to dinner, as befitted Havenwing's newest school teacher.
I changed into a ruffled, mulberry-colored skirt and a black blouse--very grown up and elegant, I thought--and pulled the front of my hair back into a loose twist before going downstairs.
Uncle Oruc, Aunt Monria, and their guests were already in the main parlor.
"Lythia," Aunt Monria said, putting an arm around me, "I trust you enjoyed your day?"
"It was lovely, thank you," I said.
"Come, let me introduce you to our guests." Her arm still around me, she guided me towards the center of the room. "Here are Lord and Lady Bruckwell. Lord Bruckwell, Lady Bruckwell--our niece, Lythia Marcoval."
I smiled and curtseyed. "Lord Bruckwell, Lady Bruckwell, I am pleased to make your acquaintances."
Lord Bruckwell bowed. "The pleasure is ours, Miss Marcoval."
Lady Bruckwell smiled and took my hand. "We are so pleased to meet you, dear. Your uncle speaks nothing but good of you."
"And--" Aunt Monria turned me to the right. "--what a pleasant surprise! Their son was unexpectedly able to join us. Lythia, this is Corporal Daven Bruckwell. Corporal Bruckwell, my niece."
In front of me stood the handsomest young man I had ever seen. Tall and straight in the dark blue uniform of an Evenlearan soldier... dark brown hair and deep blue eyes... a lovely smile...
The Corporal bowed. "Miss Marcoval, I am honored to make your acquaintance."
I smiled--I couldn't help it--and curtseyed again, but nearly lost my balance as I did. "Thank you, Corporal," I said, managing to conceal the fact that I had almost fallen over. "The pleasure is mine."
The butler walked into the parlor at that moment and cleared his throat ceremoniously. "Dinner is served."
"Excellent, thank you," Uncle Oruc said to the butler, then turned to address the room at large. "Shall we proceed to the dining room?" He and Aunt Monria linked their arms gracefully, and Lord and Lady Bruckwell did the same.
I smiled at my aunt and uncle, but glanced at Corporal Bruckwell out of the corner of my eye. Would he offer me his arm? Was that socially proper and acceptable in circumstances such as these? Why did I have to be such a country girl and so ignorant of things like this?
Corporal Bruckwell did offer me his arm, and since I assumed he would know what was socially proper and what was not, I carefully placed my hand on his arm and let him lead me after the others into the dining room.
The meal was quite enjoyable, really. Uncle Oruc and Lord Bruckwell spent most of it conversing in matters of politics. Aunt Monria and Lady Bruckwell talked about committees and functions and how droll it was that their husbands talked only of politics.
For most of the time, Corporal Bruckwell and I were left out of their conversations to talk between ourselves. I wondered it Aunt Monria and Lady Bruckwell had arranged it that way deliberately. Not that I objected--Corporal Bruckwell was very pleasant to talk to. He told me about his travels to many of the Clearings with the army, asked me how I liked teaching, and what I thought of Havenwing.
I told him that thus far I enjoyed being in Havenwing, though living there only a week-and-a-half I had not really had time to form an educated opinion.
"Well then, Miss Marcoval," he said, "we should do something to educate your opinion. It really is a lovely city."
Again I smiled, just because I couldn't help it. "I'm sure it is. I'd like that." What was I saying? "I mean, I do look forward to learning more about Havenwing--" That didn't make any sense. "--I mean, seeing more of it--in the coming days."
Corporal Bruckwell was quiet for a moment. "Perhaps... you and your aunt and uncle would like to come to the officers' luncheon next Saturday? It's an outdoor event, and this late in the year I doubt we'll be able to have many more of those."
It sounded lovely, but I suddenly remembered Mira and my promise to meet her for a picnic lunch on Saturday. I found myself torn two ways, wishing desperately that there was some way...
"It sounds delightful," I told Corporal Bruckwell, "but... I'm afraid I have a previous engagement with a friend on that day."
Corporal Bruckwell nodded. "I see."
Suddenly I realized what he must have thought. No, he did not see! "I am sorry," I said quickly, "but she and I just made the arrangements this afternoon." I dearly hoped my emphasis of the word 'she' had not made me too horribly obvious.
The Corporal's smile returned. "Well then, perhaps some other time, Miss Marcoval?"
I smiled back at him. "Yes... some other time."
It was late when the Bruckwells left, so once they had gone I went straight upstairs to go to bed.
Aunt Monria stopped me on the way. "Did you have a pleasant evening, Lythia?"
"Very pleasant," I said. "The Bruckwells seem to be a fine family."
"They are. Very fine." She slipped her arm through mine and squeezed my hand. "The young corporal is rather fine too, isn't he?"
I could feel myself blushing wildly as I tried to think of a suitable answer. "Well, he--he seems to be--respectable."
Aunt Monria was trying not to laugh, I could see it. "Indeed he is. Off you go then, love, and get to bed. We mustn't keep the school teacher up 'til disreputable hours."
I forced myself to smile and continued to my room, where I clambered up to sit on the edge of the tall bed. It had been wuite a day, and no mistake. First Mira, then Corporal Bruckwell. I decided that the next day after morning church services I would write a letter home to my parents; I had two new acquaintances who were well worth mentioning.