Chapter XXXVI

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While I practiced the piano obsessively trying to not think of Mr

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While I practiced the piano obsessively trying to not think of Mr. Howard and my mother together Mrs. Trudor walked in with letters on a silver plate.

"Letter for Mrs. Stewart and for you Lady Alice," Mrs. Trudor gave us each our letters and Mrs. Miller watched with curiosity.

"It's from Lord Howard," mother said to Mrs. Miller.

"What does it say?" I asked putting my letter aside with a need to know exactly what they were saying to each other. Was he just as seductive with her as he had been with me? Was my mother's hand the thing he wanted to talk of with me?

"You do not need to know everything Alice," she got up and walked out of the drawing room leaving me desperate.

"And who is your letter from?" Mrs. Miller asked and that is when I decided to see who had written to me.

"Lord Stanley."

"What are you waiting for then? Lord Stanley is the most suitable of the company, Lady Alice you should not take long reciprocating your wishes before some other lady snatches him up right from under your nose."

"Mrs. Miller I do not think things will go that way."

I was no longer sure whether to continue with my reckless action of engaging myself to Joseph even if he was open to the idea. Or if I was to take the obvious connection between Mr. Howard and my mother as the nail in the coffin of their impending engagement and my future unhappiness?

"Are you saying he has not hinted anything?"

"Hinted what Mrs. Miller?"

"An engagement, I am curious as to why he has not formally proposed to you when no one has heard any talk of him with someone else yet."

"Maybe we are only good friends," I retired to my room and saw my mother had closed the doors to her.

I had to know what Mr. Howard had said to my mother in the letter so I waited like a fox for the opportunity to find the letter in her room. I was at odds with my own mother over a man I wished would just go away and disappear into his haunted house.

Yet my mother and I both had been charmed by Mr. Howard who went after my own mother to offer her what he never offered me but I could understand how it would be less of a scandal. My mother was only some years older than him, and if they went off together none would desire society therefore avoiding to be the talk of London. And if he was looking for a better woman to stand by him it would be harder to find someone more matched in somber temperament than my mother. In all regards he might see her as the perfect match, the mad Earl and the widow Stewart would live happily after, how could I have been doomed to live with it?

"Lady Alice?" Edna asked seeing me by my door waiting for my mother to come out of her room.

"Yes Edna?"

"Should I get you a letter opener?"

"Oh no I can do it with my hands, thank you" I was forced to open the letter and Edna went into my mother's room as I read Joseph's words.

Dear Lady Alice,

I have written this letter for one purpose only and there will be no idle mentions of dinner or of how enjoyable it was. But during the dinner at your house you showed me a small hope that you might not see me only as a friend. If I am once again imagining things do as you will and dismiss me again like you have done on other occasions. Yet if you have had a change heart tell me so at once before it is too late for us to engage in any manner other than brother and sister.

Sincerely,

Joseph.

This letter was the obstacle I needed to stop any relationship from forming between my mother and Mr. Howard but I put it away to clear my mind, think it through. If I took this step there would be no turning back, Joseph would be my future without a doubt, I would be carving it on stone, did I have what it took to live with it?

The most talked about Winter Ball had come upon us and I suddenly worried about being pretty, in front of the mirror I questioned my beauty. Yes I knew there were pretty things about me but were they enough for the bigger society I was entering into, the invitations were in itself a miracle. But the more I focused on my outer appearance the uglier it got for my conscience knew my heart and what it planned. So I drank some tea to forget the face of ambiguity was waiting for me and there was no telling what I would do that night if pressured between my mother's happiness and enduring Mr. Howard as my stepfather.

"Mother are you ready?" I asked at her bedchamber door.

"Yes come in and tell me what you think of it," she said.

"Uh..."

When I saw my mother in her shiny emerald dress there was no prettier garment she had worn until tonight, from her eyes flowed excitement as guilt flooded me.

"So what do you think? Will I get asked for a dance or two?" 

"I believe you will have your dance card filled tonight."

Another thought entered my mind, the most frightful one: if Mr. Howard lifted my mother's spirits in this manner how could I keep her from it? Oh I was never closer to an answer.

The Winter Ball was a fascinating to every sense, the chandeliers were lit, the cakes looked like towers of Babylon, and the brandy overflowed like we would never run out of anything. The parties of people reaching out to others trying to expand their circle and better their standing through mutual acquaintances. Girls in their alabaster skins matched to dresses of pink, light yellow, whites and long gloves in the air dancing with their partners. Surely there was no place on Earth with richer people who followed the strict guidelines of proper decorum and when mother and I walked in there was a dance already in motion.

"Dear Alice I have been waiting for you," Martha immediately came to me and I felt relieved with her by my side as other ladies and their mothers scrutinized me, the poor relation had walked in.

"Martha I am sorry to have kept you waiting," I took her arm then I saw him.

Mr. Howard progressed towards us looking like the highest of gentleman wearing a brand new black tail coat, a white bow tie and a shirt with a winged collar neatly pressed unlike the clothes from when I was his maid.

"Theresa you look lovely," he kissed my mother's hand and called her by her first name, their intimacy hit me like a ton of blocks, had these letters between them happened many other times?

"Thank you Lord Howard," mother nodded.

"Lady Alice," he nodded yet did not come near me.

"Good evening Lord Howard," I curtsied back knowing even this lack of a kiss could only mean his interests had changed.

"Mrs. Stewart shall we take a turn about the room?"

"Of course," she agreed with Mr. Howard and they left Martha and I behind.

Mr. Howard and mother looked well together, her dark brown hair complimented his, their well-defined mouths alike, in their subdued happiness there was amusing talk and they glided together two grey clouds to their well-chosen party of friends.



















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Copyright: All Rights Reserved to A. Sena Gomes.

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