â€œHome already, Cecily?â€
Cecily shut the door and stood in the foyer a moment, pushing a few curls, which had shaken loose when she hurried home, back into place. Her father strolled in from the study, medical journal in hand, and smiled.
â€œI was just about to ready the carriage,â€ he said. â€œI hope you had a good time?â€
Cecily nodded absently and leaned over to kiss her father on the cheek. â€œWonderful time,â€ she said, a little breathless. â€œIâ€™m exhausted, though. I didnâ€™t know parties could be so rigorous.â€
Harry Brayton laughed indulgently at his daughter. â€œDance with one too many fellows, eh? Well, youâ€™d better get off to bed then. Iâ€™d scold you for walking home alone if I werenâ€™t a bit tired myself. Good night, Cecily.â€
Cecily smiled brightly and said good night before making her way upstairs. She was met at the top stair by Carol, who had fidgeted her apron into wrinkles. The normally sedate maid could hardly contain her excitement as she followed Cecily to her room.
â€œWell, how was it?â€ she whispered, closing the door.
The cheerful expression that Cecily had worn for her father washed away in an instant.
â€œIt was a disaster,â€ she said quietly. Her face was warm from her brisk walk home, but she felt it grow even warmer as she recalled the scene by the fountain.
â€œWere they rude to you?â€ Carol asked, her eyes wide in alarm. â€œDid they snub you?â€
â€œNo,â€ Cecily sighed, wringing her gloved hands. â€œNo, it was nothing like that. Dorothy was ever so kind to me, and no one paid much attention to me, reallyâ€¦butâ€¦â€
Cecily felt like her face was on fire. â€œJames was there,â€ she said finally. â€œHeâ€™s back from college. And he knows, Carol! He knows Iâ€™ve been in love with him all this time, and he asked me to walk with him in the garden, and he kissed my hand, andâ€¦andâ€¦â€œ Cecilyâ€™s heart started hammering in her chest again, and she threw up her hands in embarrassment. â€œâ€¦oh dear, I donâ€™t even know what happened!â€
â€œOh!â€ Carol exclaimed so loudly that Cecily had to shush her. â€œI knew in my heart you would astound those boys with your beauty and charm.â€ She grabbed Cecilyâ€™s hands and squeezed them so enthusiastically that Cecily could not help but smile. â€œYou sly girl, leading me to think it had been a disaster, when James Haddaway kissed your hand in the garden!â€
â€œBut it was a disaster!â€ Cecily said, her shoulders sinking. â€œHe asked me how I felt about Samuel, and I couldnâ€™t say I didnâ€™t care for him. James was standing there, and the air was full of roses, and the stars were twinkling overhead, and yet I resisted him! I came bounding home as quickly as I could. What does that mean, Carol? Does that mean I love Samuel?â€
A slight crinkle appeared between Carolâ€™s brows, though she retained her elated smile. â€œIt means you have some thinking to do, thatâ€™s all,â€ she said reassuringly. â€œRest on it and give yourself some time.â€ She released Cecilyâ€™s hands and gave her a pat on the cheek. â€œAnd you can give me all of the details tomorrow,â€ she added with a wink.
Cecily nodded. â€œYes, Iâ€™ll do that.â€ She felt better already; Carol always had a calming effect on her. â€œShall I get up early and help you with the wash, so you can see Mayhew before he goes?â€
â€œOh!â€ Carol gasped, her eagerness doubling. â€œI nearly forgot my news. The De Groffs are having a dinner for Mayhew tomorrow night, and theyâ€™ve invited me. Arianna has approved â€“ I was surprised, but she seems to understand how much I care for Mayhew â€“ and she said I could put off the wash until Monday.â€
â€œThatâ€™s wonderful!â€ Cecily said, her gladness sincere. â€œThe De Groffs! I bet theyâ€™ll have such a feast.â€
â€œWould you like to come along? Oh, please do!â€ Carol implored. â€œThe De Groffs said that anyone in the family was welcome, only I didnâ€™t ask Arianna because sheâ€™s a little funny about them. I think itâ€™s because of their background, you know â€“ some say their grandfather was a count, but their grandmother was a gypsy! And their father drank himself to death. But Max and Elsie seem nice — you would like them.â€
Cecily didnâ€™t relish the idea of dinner with strangers, but she had always been curious about the De Groffs, despite their â€œquestionableâ€ background, and though she could not predict how she would feel about her Haddaway quandary tomorrow, she figured a change of scenery might be a welcome distraction.
â€œIâ€™ll go,â€ she said to Carol, who flung her arms around Cecily in a motherly embrace. As soon as Carol left the room, Cecily changed as quickly as she could into her nightgown and climbed into bed.
(continued on Page 2)