Short story- Fields of Gold

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Fiction

This is something I wrote years ago, back in college or maybe school. The obvious inspiration for it was Georgette Heyer, I’m not a fan of romantic fiction or chicklit but Heyer’s ability to paint complete pictures of the era she wrote about blew me away. And the women in the stories had a personality for once, they may have swooned and needed rescuing sometimes, but a lot of times, they were the ones in control, an obviously stark contrast to your typical “girly” novel. I suppose this was my attempt to write something similar, and was inspired by a painting of a ship my aunt had made. Hopefully, its not as bad as I think it is. I mean, I know its pretty bad, but it must have some sort of saving grace to it. I hope.

She’s admiring the hat in the shop window when she hears a snatch of conversation from two women passing her by, and all she catches is “ship” and “returning today.” Her heartbeat quickens, and she turns to her aunt and chaperone, murmurs a faint excuse about the headache. Aunt  seems to believe it, considering that her young ward’s gone pale, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. They settle in the chaise, and once they’re home, she retires to her bedroom under the pretense of resting.

Once she’s in the sanctuary of her own room however, she gives in to the trembling excitement she’d been fighting in her aunt’s company, and rummages through a box of odds and ends, coming at last to the small miniature of him that he’d had made specially for her before he left. She remembered stealing away secretly at Almack’s with her friends, curious and wondering if he was going to propose, only to have her world crash down around her.

“Please don’t go,” she begged, tears in her eyes. “Please Matthew, if you love me at all, you won’t go!”

“I’ll be fine darling, I will,” he said reassuringly. “I just have to see to some business, that’s all. I’ll be back before you even know I’m gone.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “It won’t-Matthew, I can’t help but feel something terrible will happen if you leave!”

“As long as we love each other, that is all that matters,” he said firmly. “Our love is all that matters.”

“No it’s not Matthew, don’t give me that,” she said fiercely. “Do not insult me by speaking to me as if I were just out of the schoolroom! What if the worst should happen? What am I to do without you?”  Her voice broke and she whispered, “How am I to live without you?”

“You won’t have to,” he whispered, gripping her hands tightly. He slid off the ring on his finger, the signet ring he wore, and slipped it on hers. “I’ll come back and we shall be married. That’s a promise.”

She’s startled out of her nostalgic musings by a knock on her door, and hastily calls for her maid to enter. The girl herself is all agog, speaking in hushed whispers and confirming what she had suspected; the ships had returned.

Her heart sings with joy, and she wonders when he would call upon her. There is to be a soiree that night, and while she had initially thought of declining on account of the headache, she now commands the maid to bring forth her best dress-no not that one, the pale blue silk!-(He told her once that she reminded him of a field of bluebells he’d once stumbled upon) and her heart flutters with excitement at the thought of seeing him again.

At the soiree, she makes a fetching figure, with her hair gathered in a chignon knot, decorated with small gemstones, ringlets escaping to frame her face. Her pale neck is accented by a gold chain necklace of dark rubies accenting her painted red lips.As she exchanges pleasantries with friends and suitors, her eye constantly on the door. His partner enters, and makes his way over to her with a strained smile. Her heart sinks and she excuses herself from her present company to go meet him.

“My brother sends a message,” he says quietly, without any preamble. “He-He can not return at the moment. He begs you to wait, and to remember his promise.”

Her eyes start to sting with tears, and she manages to nod in affirmation, swallowing the lump in her throat and accepting his offer to stand up with her at the next dance. That night, she’s the perfect example of a lady, but when she gets home, she flings herself on the bed and sobs her eyes out, her maid hovering anxiously over her, wondering how much longer she must wait.

**********

It’s been five years when he returns. She’s at home, reading in the library when her butler comes to her frazzled, saying some gentleman insists on seeing her and wishes to leave his name undisclosed. Her curiosity aroused, she asks to let him in, ignoring the fusty old man’s disapproving gaze as he nods in acquiescence to her command. If she wanted to fear decorum and propriety, she would not have worried so little of the gossip whispered about her in her youth. When he strides in, she feels like she’s that young girl again, out to her first Assembly, seeing the big, handsome looking man walk in and own the room with his mere presence, swept away on a whirlwind romance lasting years. He smiles at her, his eyes crinkling up the way they used to, and says, “I made you a promise didn’t I?”

At that moment, a little boy rushes in, calling, “Mama, Mama, there’s a ghost in my bedroom!” She sees the look in his eyes, the betrayal, introduces her son to him, not knowing how to introduce him, the man who’d almost ruined her. Indeed, he must have thought the grand house to belong to her brother, for surely, if she had carried out her plans to set up an establishment with a governess (all before she found a reason to favour marriage of course) she would never have lived in such a lavish fashion, despite her vast inheritance, or her brother’s doting nature.

Her son reassured of the lack of spirits in his bedroom by his mother and kissed goodnight, is escorted out by the maid, leaving her alone with him. Neither of them speaks; there’s nothing to say.

“You know how it is for an unmarried woman Matthew,” she finally says. “We carried out our romance for two years, wanting to wait for the right time. And you left and never returned and they began to talk, and-they gossiped about us Matthew. Said you’d jilted me. They said you’d died. I had to ,I was facing a life alone, though I seldom cared for the gossips- my husband loves me.”

“But you don’t love him?” he asks, hope shining in his eyes.

She looks down, unable to answer. “He will be returning from White’s soon,” she finally says. “If you wish to see him-“

The butler enters, announces her husband’s presence, and she immediately goes to him, her eyes pleading that he remains civil. He is as blunt and rough as Matthew was-had been- sweet and gentle.

“The man who jilted you eh?” he says, looking Matthew up and down. “I owe you my thanks. I wouldn’t have such a lovely wife if it weren’t for you.”

“Her loveliness is surpassed by her intelligence and good humor. At least in my eyes,” Matthew replies disdainfully.

“It was what drew me to her in the first place,” Michael retorts, and she can’t help but gaze at him adoringly.

Matthew sees it, and he knows how she felt when he’d left her so long ago. She quickly looks at him, a look of longing in her eyes, wanting what could have been. Then she goes to a small box lying on a bookshelf, seemingly ornamental. It’s a pretty trinket, black and the lid carved into a peacock, with gems decorating its fan of wings. What lies inside though, was once more precious than this box. She opens it, and retrieving something approaches him. “This belongs to you,” she says quietly.

“Keep it,” he says, choking out the words. “It was a gift. Like my love.”

“You left me!” she bursts out, angry. “You left me.”

“My dear, it’s late,” Michael interrupts. “You should go to bed. Leave us gentlemen to our talk. Would you like a cigar Matthew?”

“I thank you, but I must beg your leave,” he says quietly. “You have a lovely home, and a lovelier family.”

Once he’s gone, Michael takes her in his arms, not saying anything as she sobs out her grief. He leads her to the armchair, getting her a glass of brandy, sitting there on the floor looking up at her, holding her hand as she weeps. When her tears are dried up, he says, “Will you leave me thus? Say nay, say for shame, to save thee from the blame of all my grief and grame! “

She can’t help smiling, and clasps the hand resting loosely in her lap. She married him out of necessity, and he, out of infatuation. He asked for her hand knowing she loved another, and stayed with her for all these years.

He rests his head in her lap, and speaks, so low she barely hears him, words unfamiliar on his tongue, “I could not live without you.”

Her hand rests on his hair, slowly stroking it. She looks at the ring she’s still holding in her hand, once a promise, and now, remnants of the child she used to be. She remembers how Matthew used to look at her, love and devotion shining in his eyes. Sees the same look intensified in Michael’s intent gaze. “You won’t have to,” she says simply.

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