Happy Fiction Friday, for once on its proper day, O readers! Today's selection is the last part of "Where Your Treasure Is", and should explain both why I chose that title (for a hint, try finishing the quotation) and what is the point of this particular snippet in the overarching story universe. One intelligent reader has already hit on it.
A bit of explanation is due to anyone who is not familiar with Regency romances and other historicals set around that same time in the British Isles. The laws about marriages in England were quite strict at this time, in part because any property a woman might own automatically became her husband's on their marriage. So to be legal, a marriage either had to be announced on three consecutive Sundays in the church of the parish where husband and wife lived (calling the banns), or a special marriage license had to be purchased and presented to the clergyman who would perform the ceremony (as happened in A Widow in Waiting). If either member of the couple was not twenty-one, their guardians' permission was also necessary, or the marriage could be set aside as illegal.
If a couple could not handle these restrictions, they might consider running away to Scotland, where almost anyone could conduct a marriage, no license was necessary, and age did not have to be proved. The first town across the Border was called Gretna Green, and the blacksmith there was known to solemnize marriages across his anvil, though probably, as Anthea notes in the story, more often in fiction than in fact.
With that in mind, please enjoy part four of "Where Your Treasure Is" (links to parts one, two, and three, in case you need a refresher). I hope reading it has been as much fun for you as writing it and presenting it to you has been for me!
Anthea laughed again. "Not unless you subscribe to the philosophy of the hair of the dog that bit you! No, if I had my way—prepare yourself for a shock, Mr. Marlowe—but if I were in charge of them, I'd put every last one of them to work."
"Shocking indeed." Edwin extended one hand and regarded it, flexing its fingers as though to test their strength. "And why would you take such a bold step? Surely you're not saying that the flower of our noble families should exhaust themselves by taking on the labor of menials?"
"They might mistreat their servants a great deal less if they did that very thing, even for a single day," Anthea retorted. "But I don't mean to say they should be run into the ground, or driven beyond their limits. It's only that if they had some structure and order to their time, some satisfaction of real achievement at the end of the day, it would help to break the tyranny of irresponsibility that rules so many of their lives."
"The tyranny of irresponsibility." Edwin closed his eyes for a moment, an expression which could have been equally of pain or of bliss sliding across his features. "Miss Franklin. Anthea." Opening his eyes again, he repossessed himself of her hand. "I have looked all my life for one other person who saw that same tyranny, and how it destroys souls far more insidiously than the endless burdens our world places on the poor. I had hopes, if and when I met such a man, to call him my friend, and value him above all others to whom I can give that name. To have instead found a woman who dares to think and say such things?" His fingers contracted around her hand. "I think you must know what it means to me."
"Edwin, good heavens, what are you saying?" Anthea found her breath coming short. "Here? Now?"
"No one has ever accused Cupid of being a considerate archer." Edwin laughed, the sound as shaky as Anthea felt. "I must admit the surroundings leave something to be desired in regards to romance, but—"
With a squeak of surprise, Anthea stumbled forward in response to a tug on her hand, and found herself clasped around the waist by a strong arm, pressed against a masculine side and looking up into awestruck blue eyes.
"Such a beautiful blossom." Edwin spoke in the softest of tones, gazing into her face. "And yet, one who only saw your outward beauty would be missing by far your greater gifts—your intelligence, your courage, your determination and strength." His other hand, still holding hers, squeezed it gently. "You are a woman in a million, Anthea Franklin, more precious than rubies or diamonds could be. I need you, I want you, and more than that, I love you. Will you marry me?"
Anthea closed her lips over the instant, eager Yes! that tried to leap from her throat. "I'm not of age," she pointed out, laying her free hand against Edwin's chest. "And you know my uncle won't agree—Edwin, please, let me go, I can't think—"
"And how much thought is required for a yea or a nay?" Edwin raised an eyebrow at her.
"That depends on whether or not you truly love me for my mind," Anthea shot back. "If so, would you kindly give me a chance to use it?"
Edwin winced, releasing her. "A point well made, and I apologize. I fear the moment carried me away."
"It was...not unwelcome." Anthea moved back a step to her former location, though she kept her hand in his. "But the only place where the mere declaration of love conquers all without hindrance is in terribly contrived three-volume novels. I am underage, Edwin, and my guardian has already told me that I must treat you as the barest acquaintance if and when we meet in public. And bolting madly for Gretna Green only works out properly in those same novels. But." She squeezed his hand, stilling his incipient protest. "What if we wait until I come of legal age, and then run off together?"
"Hmm." Edwin tapped his fingers against the back of Anthea's hand, his brow furrowed in thought. "It would certainly mean our various relations had fewer chances to stop us. And two more years for me to build up my capital can only be helpful. But even if you are of age, I still think my father—"
"Your father is the whole point, you goose," Anthea broke in impatiently. "If he thinks you value your place in society enough that he may hold the threat of banishment over your head for your day-to-day misbehaviors, just how do you think he will react when you show him what you truly do treasure? When you make a runaway match of it with a penniless damsel like myself, for the sake of such a foolish conceit as love?"
Sally, second housemaid in the London home of Mr. William Franklin, stopped for a rest two turns of the side staircase before she could have seen who was laughing so immoderately in the entryway below, setting down the bucket of dirty water she'd been lugging with a loud clunk. By the time she judged herself fit to continue on her downward journey, the outer door had opened and shut once, and the tiny vestibule was deserted.
Miss Anthea kept her bedchamber tidy, everything hung up or put away neatly, not lying about in heaps. Always she had a smile to say hello or please or thank you, never staring through the maids, like they were beasts as weren't worth her time to look at. And when she'd orders to give, she spoke politely and clearly, instead of snapping off demands like her old dragon of an aunt, or whining in nerve-scraping tones like her cousins, the dragons in training.
What went around, in Sally's opinion, deserved to come around.