Today sees the establishment of the final piece of my weekday themed series, that is, Made-Up Monday. I shall do my best to have either this or Fiction Friday every week, and some weeks you might just get lucky and have both of them. Does that sound good, O readers? I certainly hope so. The more I write, the better my skills get.
While I wasn't able to write you another installment of "The Sea-Bride", today's story is indeed from the Chronicles of Glenscar, and falls after "Qui Sola Ambulat". If you've read Cat Tales, you will remember that this story links together the clan known as the Warbirds and the young woman named Anthea Franklin some thirty years before the events of A Widow in Waiting. If you haven't, well, now you know.
Please enjoy today's Made-Up Monday tale, and send some encouragement as I fight to finish the DV on time! The rate of comments/reviews dropped off a cliff after I posted Chapter 66 and I'm trying not to let it get to me...
Henrietta Franklin pressed herself into the corner of the stairs at her family's London house, listening with all her might. The murmur of voices in the alleyway alongside was decidedly indistinct, but the shawled and skirted figure she'd seen stealing past her bedroom door in the gray light of early dawn had been too tall to be either of the family's housemaids, and too slender to be the cook. That left only her sister, Eudora (which was not impossible, but highly unlikely, given Eudora's rather prickly personality), their mother (which was all but impossible), or, by far the most likely, their pretty cousin Anthea.
As though to confirm her guess, Anthea's laugh, soft but distinctive, rose above the general din of early morning in London, horses' hooves clopping along cobblestoned streets, iron wheel-rims clattering behind, dustboys and wagon-drivers calling to one another. Coupled with it came a matching sound, but in a much deeper tone, and Henrietta pressed her hand against her lips in horror. If her mother and father should hear—if they should see—
The door-handle rattled, and Henrietta risked a peep over the banisters. Still laughing under her breath, her cheeks becomingly rosy, Anthea stepped inside, turning back just long enough to let her hand be kissed. Henrietta strained, but could see no more than a vague silhouette with an indefinable sense of male about it before Anthea drew her hand back, curtsied teasingly, and shut the door with a quiet thump.
"Anthea," Henrietta breathed, her shoulders starting to shake as she gripped the banister tightly. "How could you?"
Below her, Anthea went still, then turned to peer upwards. "Good morning, Hetty," she said without apparent surprise, though with a faint frown of disapproval wrinkling her forehead. "How long have you been standing there in just that thin nightdress? You'll catch a chill."
"Never mind me, what about you?" Henrietta all but wailed. "If Mama and Papa find out about this—"
Anthea raised an eyebrow. "Are you planning to tell them?"
"No! No, I never would! But if they did find out—"
"Let's go to my room," Anthea suggested, ascending the stairs towards the landing where Henrietta stood. "It's warmer there, and a great deal more private."
In a fog, Henrietta allowed herself to be steered up another flight of stairs and down the narrow corridor to Anthea's small but cheerful bedroom, where a fire was already burning merrily in the grate. Anthea pulled her little chair up close to the fire, withdrew a pair of knitted slippers from a safe corner near the fire and insisted that Henrietta slide them onto her feet, and draped her own dressing gown around Henrietta's shoulders, before sitting down on her neatly made bed. "I wondered how long it would be before someone caught us at that," she said. "Better you than Eudora, or, heaven forfend, Aunt Jane."
"Who..." Henrietta's shivers cut her voice off in her throat, but Anthea nodded in understanding.
"His name is Edwin Marlowe. I'm sure you remember him; he called upon us a few times last year, before Uncle William let me know, in his fumbling way, that Edwin's theories and ideas are just barely tolerated in the level of society to which my dear Aunt Jane aspires, and for that reason, our friendship was not to be." Anthea smiled faintly. "My own aspirations are rather different, and while I have no malice in the world towards you or Eudora—well, perhaps a trifle towards Eudora, especially when she goes out of her way to make herself unpleasant, but none at all towards you, Hetty—I still draw the line at giving up the future I want, with the man I love, to assist Aunt Jane in a battle even she must know is hopeless."
"H-hopeless?" Henrietta faltered, feeling tears start to spring into her eyes. "B-b-but—"
"Tell the truth, Hetty." Anthea undid her shoes, slipped them off, and drew her feet up under her skirts. "London wearies you, and frightens you a little, especially when you compare yourself with all the other girls. You feel like a little sparrow who's flown into a hawk's nest by mistake. And you don't really want to marry a merchant prince or a peer of the realm, do you? It's only Aunt Jane who wants you to push yourself into the ton."
Henrietta blotted her eyes on her sleeve. "You're right," she admitted, a little sob cutting off the end of the word. "I don't even know if I want to be married at all! But what else..."
"...can you do with your life?" Anthea finished for her. "I don't know. But if you'll promise to keep my secret, I'll promise to help you find out." She held out her hand. "Are you with me?"