Chapter Two: Engaged
“Dear me! Look at my fine cousins. Are they not wonderful, Thomas?”
We were all surrounded outside the house, Simon Richard and Thomas having just arrived. Cousin Simon was grinning ear to ear, his perfectly straight teeth practically shining in the bright sunlight. Thomas on the other hand was reserved, waiting for his own turn to make his greetings. Even as a child, he had been quiet, thought slow by his peers, but actually brighter than them all. He was a silent thinker, and preferred contemplation over social excitement. For that reason he was such a great friend to me.
“Yes, Richard, they appear in good health,” Thomas replied quietly. His voice was breathy, and sounded slightly unsure. But I could scarce make myself look at him. If not for that dream...
“Mr. Anchester!” my mother exclaimed, breaking up my thoughts. “You, we are also glad to have in our house. You are practically like family, and it has been a sorrowful several months to have you out of the country.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Carrington. I can assure you I have missed the country a great deal.”
Simon, irritated that he was no longer the center of attention, turned to Sophie and smiled. “Sophie, dear cousin, you are looking especially well.”
Sophie blushed, and and looked up at his smiling face. I had the sudden urge to nudge Thomas and share with him some silent laughter. Instead, I gave Sophie a patronizing stare, which she saw and said demurely to Simon, “I appreciate the praise, Mr. Richard.”
Mother, always in need of activity, waved her hand in the air, “Come now, let us not tarry out in the open. Please, come in side and we’ll have the morning tea.”
Once inside, I couldn’t resist catching Thomas’s eye. Before I hadn’t been sure if our friendship was still between us, but when he returned my smile I gladly took a seat next to him. I was embarrassed being so close to him, but I only had to remind myself of the old days and I was able to regain my countenance.
It had been almost a year since we had been alone, before his mother, Mrs. Anchester, had taken ill. But however I tried, and try I did, I could not get him alone. Mother hardly gave him a moment to rest, questioning him, praising him, exclaiming over his absence, that she almost became patronizing.
“Mr. Anchester,” gushed Mother, “I must say again, that you are welcome any day into the family house. We would be pleased to have you, let me assure you.”
“Madam,” I said quietly, as to not attract the attention of the room. “May I remind you that you have said that several times now. If you continue on so, Mr. Anchester will be less inclined to accept.”
After that, Mother broodingly stayed occupied elsewhere in the company.
Once alone, I spoke to him in earnest. “Although you must tire of hearing it, but I, myself must say am particularly happy that you have returned for a visit.” I smiled, letting the words flow from my mouth. “I’ve had no one but the company of my nurse, my sisters being preoccupied in others, and our interests being in different things. I have dearly missed our conversations.”
He moved, as if to touch my hand, but pulled back and adjusted his coat buttons. For a moment I was lost in his deep brown eyes, then chastised myself for these sudden reflections.
“I too,” he finally replied. “If I have missed anything this past year, it has been the company of my country friends. I would very much like to return, perhaps rent a small villa along the road.”
“That sounds wonderful, Mr. Anchester. When you do, promise me you will visit often. And if you return to town, do come home for the holidays. This past Christmas was not the the same without you in the area.”
I slid towards him, worried that the space between us was wide enough for another to sit down. I would not want to be separated from him just yet, as it would be just like Cynthia to obliviously seat herself between us.
“I-- I...” He quieted, twiddling his cuff sleeves between his fingers. As I was, he was acutely aware that as children we always strived to be alone, to prevent anyone from interrupting us. Now I felt silly, because as a young adults those little games seemed unimportant, and insignificant, and I almost moved back to my original positive, but Thomas began to speak.
“I... have some exciting news,” he murmured in my ear.
I smiled, for I dearly loved my small amounts of gossip. “And what could that be, Mr. Anchester?”
He patted my hand, a friendly gesture. “I thought I would wish to tell you before the others. You are one of my closest friends.” I began to think that perhaps this wasn’t some kind of entertaining talk.
My smile lessened, and I became more serious. “Thank you, Mr. Anchester. But you are leaving me in earnest. What possibly could your promising words include?”
“Well....” He paused. “It involves a lady.”
“A lady!” I exclaimed. Had his sister finally came out?
His next words shocked me.
“I have become engaged,” he admitted, hanging his head sheepishly.
Engaged! My mind was whirling, and my thoughts couldn’t settle. I was a jumbled mess of feelings, some that I couldn’t make out. Finally, I decided I was blissfully happy for him. We both knew that he had always wanted a family, even as a child. Now his dream would come true...
“Oh Thomas! How wonderful! And may I ask who the lady is?” I didn’t have to fight to keep my smile real. I could feel pride emanating around him, and that made me even more happy. He’d been so down since his mother’s death.
He looked off, gazing into empty space. “She is delightful. Her name is Rosanna Addison, and she is the daughter of Sir Addison. They move in promising circles, attend Almack’s, and own a country estate in East Worthson. Really, her entire life appears charming, and I have no doubts that it is not.”
He continued to talk of her, saying several times how she and I would become great friends if we were to ever meet. I vaguely did wish I would have a chance to meet her, for anyone who was able to catch my dear friends heart must be someone of great charm and agreeableness. That turned my thoughts to other things, so when we were done discussing his dear Miss Addison, I was able to share my thoughts with him.
“Thomas...” I started, fearing that merging back into first names would be unseemly for a soon to be married man. He just smiled and I continued, assured. “I had been talking to father before he left to visit Gran in Ireland. He expressed his wishes that I have the young life that his sisters experienced.” I smiled once again, as I always did when I spoke of this. “He wishes me to spend several sessions in town before I become of a ripe marriage age, and I heartily agree with him. Do you think this a good idea?” I had been dreading this question. Did Thomas not want me in his fashionable, wealthy London life? Was I too poorly? Too uncivilized? Although I kept a smile on my face, I was wanting to grind my teeth, just to relieve the pressure.
“Of course I do!” I let out a long breath (which Thomas failed to notice), relief swelling through my body. “With you in town I shall have one of my oldest friends, and you will also meet Rosanna. My, perhaps you might even stay with Rosanna, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you in the least. She’s heard so much about you already, and besides that, I want you in town. You’re practically like the second sister I never had.”
Oddly enough, I had never seen Thomas as a brother. He was just always a friend, a kindred spirit, someone I could have childish adventures with, exploring the forests and lakes, talking of books and plays and anything we pleased. But there was nothing brotherly about him.
The day soon ended, and as I drifted off to sleep my thoughts were consumed with my upcoming season in town, Thomas’s fiance, and my departure, for the first time in my life, from my quaint little life in Eastern Hotherton. And that night I dreamed of Thomas, just his face. I stared into his eyes, marveling the curve of his mouth, until the sun dawned, and the birds sang.