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had long been hoped for by Sir Giles and Lady
Thornton. Everyone of any social standing in the
county was invited to the ball except”—Ned paused as
if the wind had forced the words back down his
throat—“except the Haverfield family, which was
comprised of Squire John, his lady wife, and their son
Edward, a young gentleman who was still some
months from attaining his majority.”
“That means he had not yet turned twenty-one,”
Aunt Honoria told me with a poke of her stick, which
missed me by several inches, suggesting that despite
her earlier protests she was becoming caught up in the
story.
“Why weren’t Edward and his parents invited?” I
asked.
“The Haverfields were of the Roman faith.” Ned
said as if reading off words printed behind his eyes.
“And as such the Thorntons shunned any association
with them even though Haverfield House lies only a
few miles from here. Sir Giles had instructed Anne
when she first began to ride beyond the grounds that
Edward and his parents would in less lax times have
been put to the chopping block for their popish ways.
He forbade her to acknowledge the lad should they
chance to meet upon one of the bridal paths.”
“And in those days,” Aunt Honoria said for my
benefit,
“a
young
girl
never
set
foot
outdoors
unaccompanied by her groom or governess. But that
didn’t always put a stop to misbehavior. I suspect from
what we saw of her face that Anne was the darling of
the household and such being the case her chaperons
would not betray her to Sir Giles and Lady Thornton
when she inevitably met young Edward and embarked
on
a
budding
friendship
with
him
under
the
greenwood
trees.
One
wonders”—she
looked
at
Ned—“how he reacted to her engagement to Roger
Belmonde.”
“Edward came to the ball.” Ned stepped down from
the stone ridge and looked at us with a pensive smile
further creasing his face. “It was easily done with all
the invited guests masked and in costume. He slipped
31
into the thronged hall at a little before midnight when
the revelry was at its zenith. He came in the guise of
Cupid with a quiver of golden arrows. He merged with
the press of faceless youth in their wide silk skirts or
satin knee breeches. Among the dancers, bowing and
curtsying as they traced out the steps of the minuet,
while the old ladies in powder and patch drank sack
and the old men propped their gouty legs on footstools
and talked hunting days of yore, Edward found Anne
Thornton.”
“A
planned
meeting,
I
presume,”
said
Aunt
Honoria.
“Most
certainly,
madam.
Anne
escaped
the
watchful eyes of her betrothed by telling Roger
Belmonde she had left her fan in her green-and-rose
sitting room. She went with Edward gladly to the tower
room even though she knew she was going to her
death.”
“I don’t understand.” I wrapped my arms around
myself to ward off the cold.
“Edward Haverfield and Anne Thornton loved each
other,” said Ned. “They had done so from their first
meeting, through stolen rendezvous and the fear of
discovery. He was the lamp who lit the flame of joy we
saw in her face. Marriage to the man chosen for her by
Sir Giles and Lady Thornton would have been for Anne
a living death. And her loss unending anguish for
Edward. So the lovers decided upon a means that
would ensure none would ever part them. They agreed
he would come to the ball in the guise of Cupid with a
golden arrow in his quiver and she would go with him
to this tower room. It seemed so right to Anne that
after one last kiss Edward would draw his bow,
piercing her heart with love’s arrow, and her soul
would be set free to wait for him to join her within
moments on a far rainbow-lit horizon.”
“Why didn’t they just run away together?” I asked.
“Where could they have gone, little miss?” Ned
responded softly. “Their families would have cut them
off without a shilling and seen them starve in the
gutter sooner than recognize their union.”
“But death is so horribly final!”
“Don’t babble, Giselle!” said Aunt Honoria as our
shadows loomed monstrously upon the walls. “I’m
sure Ned would like to get back to cleaning the brass
today, if not sooner.” She speared him with an eye as
32
sharp as Cupid’s arrow. “How did young Mr. Haverfield
intend to achieve his own demise? Step into one of
those windy apertures and throw himself off the
tower?”
“That was the plan, madam, but when the moment
came and he stood poised to jump, his courage failed
him and his limbs locked. He closed his eyes against
the dizzying drop to the courtyard below; he tried to
picture Anne waiting for him with outstretched hands,
but his mind was blinded by panic. He stumbled down
from the aperture and crawled to where her lifeless
body lay upon the floor. Cradling her in his arms, he
wept over her, begging her forgiveness and praying
that his fortitude would revive.”
“What a rotten egg!” I pressed my hand to my
mouth and my cruel shadow mocked the motion. “I
don’t feel the least bit sorry for him.”
“Neither, little miss, did Roger Belmonde,” said
Ned. “That young gentleman had grown uneasy upon [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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