Prompt: Abbi’s post, obviously.
Characters: John Smith and Adeline Worsley
Author’s comments: When you have lots of things to do I find it always helps to do something entirely pointless as a distraction. Sorry, Abbi!
Speaking candidly, I was drawn to Adeline from the very moment Lady Walton introduced her that afternoon at Cofton Hall. A more speculative man than myself might even attribute Adeline’s presence to the eventual outcome of my decision as to whether to accept Lady Walton’s kind offer of a summer residence. The issue did not weigh heavily on my mind, however, and the last thing I would wish would be for you – dear reader – to presume my intentions, as far as they can be spoken of at all, were anything less than fully chivalrous. Adeline’s company was simply an attraction in itself. Cofton Hall was a fine building with a great many servants and visitors but I did not come to socialise a great deal aside from mere formalities. The character of the house, for all of its warmth and charm, encouraged a rather private atmosphere which I did not think to broach.
It would not be admitting too much to suggest that my circle of acquaintances in the surrounding area was not an expansive one. Although my father was by now a wealthy merchant I had spent my formative years in the provinces and struggled to acquaint myself with the ways and customs of the people whose company I was now so graciously invited to keep. Adeline was as yet unmarried. And so I venture to suggest that we quickly formed a lasting bond. We spent nights sitting by the fire and taking turns to recite each other’s most treasured poetry: Wordsworth for me, Coleridge for her. Our discussions, although naturally bounded by common decency, encompassed the greatest variety of topics. She discussed her past suitors, her father’s occupation, her desires to one day make a voyage to the British Raj and indeed perhaps even permanently settle there, for she so hated the English weather. Not having any experience of courting I instead regaled her with domestic tales of my thirteen brothers, life in the provinces, and my displeasure at having to work for one of my father’s businesses.
My innermost thoughts remained hidden even to my eyes, however, until one evening when we accompanied Lady Walton to dinner at Lady Chatterley’s residence. We didn’t frequently venture on such journeys but that afternoon Adeline had arrived back after one of her regular walks around the house’s expansive grounds and declared that she was quite minded to accept Lady Walton’s offer for us to join her in some good company. Adeline proceeded to excuse herself from my company for several hours to prepare herself, humming sweet songs and later descending the staircase in a manner I had not previously witnessed. Her hair had been brushed to a most exquisite texture and she was wearing a most elegant gown which strenuously flattered and enhanced her womanly beauty. We exchanged smiling glances and boarded our carriage to Lady Chatterley’s. That night all we spoke merrily and even indulged in a spot of good-natured banter. And yet it was clear to me that Lady Chatterley’s son, a gentleman whose name escapes my memory but whose poor constitution and wicked tongue attracted my deepest scorn, was himself rather taken with Adeline. I felt a sharp pang of jealousy in the very core of my being. Perchance this sensation was a novel one because I had not formerly had to endure a mere portion of Adeline’s attention. Nevertheless, as we departed I took pains to ensure that Adeline was seated comfortably in her carriage for the journey home and felt a surge of pleasure when she rewarded my efforts with a fleeting smile of appreciation.
To this day I am at a loss to explain why I failed to announce my intentions honourably and seek her hand in marriage. One might suggest I was afraid: less so of her declining to accede to my request than fear of the most terrible consequences that could arise from seeking a wife of too high a status. I was well aware that these ill-matched couplings were not destined for success: it was widely acknowledged and accepted. It was a central organising principle of British society. Nevertheless, Adeline continued to occupy my thoughts, and the manner of my idle fantasies began to evolve into sin. Every time she played a finely judged hand in a game of cards or bade me goodnight, my heartbeat would quicken and my breathing became more and more difficult to sustain at a regular level.
Whilst I regret I am unable to be more specific in my recollections, it would have been close to a month after that evening at Lady Chatterley’s when Adeline and I found ourselves simultaneously searching the pantry for sustenance. It was a Saturday and the sun was shining brightly in the sky. In our minds, however, no diversions were proving suitably involving to alleviate a certain boredom.
“Mr. Smith, I must say that I am quite at a loss to think of any suitable entertainments to-day,” said Adeline.
“We might pay a visit to the theatre?” I suggested, preparing some oats.
“To my mind the theatre has quite exhausted all opportunities for diversion.”
“In which case, what do you suggest we pursue?”
“I have the answer,” she exclaimed quite excitably. “Let us venture on a railroad journey!”
“A railroad journey? One cannot reach the extremities of the parish of Willesden before one is confronted with an unexpected delay or inconvenience.”
“Notwithstanding such objections, Mr. Smith,” she said, reaching our hand in a gesture of solidarity – at which point I was quite unable to except her pale, slender hands from my amorous gaze – “we do not have to venture any distance of great proportions. I could ask my maid to pack us some provisions and we could pay a visit to those fabulous gardens just north of the county of Middlesex!”
You shall not be surprised to discover that we did indeed embark on this venture. Naturally, I was far too enraptured with Adeline to turn down any suggestion she may have had. In addition, it shall raise not the smallest glimmer of astonishment from readers familiar with England to learn that our railroad journey was thrice interrupted by mechanical failures. I have heard it said that the British railroads are the finest in all the world but in actuality it is not long until one is rendered quite distressed by its many inadequacies. Adeline entreated a guard to make a hasty enquiry as to the cause of our most recent delay and we returned to our carriage to wait. And indeed, as with that singular moment after our visit to Lady Chatterley’s, she gave me a small smile which betrayed a sense of natural affinity.
“You are quite the ideal companion for such a moment, Mr. Smith,” she confided.
I knew that the Lord himself could not have ordained a more perfect moment and so as our gazes met I leaned forward and planted a kiss upon her cheek.
Her face aghast, she turned her head away and struck my face in anger. “By all that is holy!”
My mind was as blank as a fresh piece of parchment and I attempted to stammer an explanation.
“I was under the impression that you were a man of the cloth!”
“A man of the cloth? What possible sources could exist for you to have contrived such a preposterous fiction?”
“In all of our discussions you have never brought the topic of your affections to light, and furthermore I must confess that you do indeed seem to be…”
“To be? State your conclusions, Adeline?”
“I did not express interest in a life of chastity either,” I said. “Your analysis of my character was inescapably flawed.”
At that moment the carriage shook into life and by some miracle the train began to reverse upon the route on which it had come.
“I can only suggest we return home,” she said.
“I can only concur,” I replied sourly.