15. It gets mushy-gushy

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"Ouch!"

"What was that, my love? Did you hurt yourself?"

"No, my dearest Ella. Why do you ask?"

"I could have sworn I heard somebody crying out."

"It must have been my heart crying out in joy at the sight of you, my dearest, my loveliest Ella!"

Hear heart? My foot, more like! Behind the bushes, I was hopping on one foot, my hand clamped over my mouth to prevent any further outcries. I nearly toppled over, but was able to grasp a tree and steady myself. Not more than a few feet away, hidden by the brush, I could hear the soft 'swoosh' of a gown gliding through the wet grass, and my little sister's light feet, as she hurried through the garden.

"Oh Ella!"

"Oh Edmund!"

Edmund? Edmund?

Peering between two bushes, I could see my sister standing at the wrought iron fence which separated our garden from that of the neighbours, clutching at the intricate ironwork as though it were prison bars separating her from all she desired in the world. And indeed, beyond the fence, there stood Edmund Conway, our neighbour's son, staring at my little sister with an expression on his face that I could only describe as... besotted.

Eew!

"Oh Ella," he said again.

"Oh Edmund."

"Oh my love."

"Oh my dearest."

They had said that already, hadn't they? Why repeat it? What was the matter with them? Squinting through the brush, I tried to get a better look at them. Were they ill, maybe? Well, they definitely both looked slightly crazy. They had silly smiles plastered on their faces, and kept staring at each other like there wasn't a beautiful garden with trees and birds and a lot of other interesting things all around them. In Edmund's case I might have understood that – my little sister was an eye-catcher. But there really was no excuse for Ella's blatant staring. Our neighbour's son was a perfectly ordinary male specimen: brown hair, brown eyes, two legs, two feet, and one head on his shoulders. There was nothing about him that to justify such staring. He didn't even have an interesting hunchback, or a boil on his nose.

"You are growing into a real Lady, Ella," Edmund said, his voice thick with emotion. "I watched you from the house when you departed in your fine coach."

He watched her? He watched her, the creep?

"Oh, it was nothing," she said, blushing, and not even because she was offended, no! Was this believable? She was actually pleased! "It was not our coach you saw. It was that of Sir Philip Wilkins. He invited my whole family out to his ball tonight."

"A ball?" Edmund sighed with the pathos of a Shakespearean actor. "How I wish I could have gone to the ball and danced with you. How I wish I could just hold you in my arms once. But always this infernal barrier of iron keeps us separated!"

My eyes strayed from the pair of them to the ladder that leaned, not ten feet away, against the wall of the Conway's garden shed. I was almost tempted to say something, but wisely kept my mouth shut.

"Not only this iron wall separates us, my love, as you very well know," said Ella. There was something glinting in her eyes. Tears? Tears! That creep had managed to make my little sister cry! I was strongly tempted to go over there and clobber him over the head with my parasol, but stayed where I was. My left foot was still damaged from the atlantic collision, and I wasn't at all sure I could make it over there without landing on my nose.

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