A little Jane Austen style romantic tragedy/comedy for today!
Phoebe squeezed my arm tight to her side. “Oh Alexander, will you push me on the rope swing?”
The two young men strolling opposite us on the path with their own girls gave me an envious look.
I ignored the sweat gathering under my hat due to the excessive heat and gave Phoebe a placating smile. “Of course.”
She squealed, as she always did, and dragged me forward.
Three more young men’s eyes strayed from their own partners to mine.
Yes, Phoebe’s delicate blond curls and her shinning blue eyes, along with her pleasing figure made her perhaps the most beautiful girl in town. Unfortunately, the tree they were approaching was probably more intelligent.
“Oh Alexander,” Phoebe said when we stopped at the swing. “Don’t you just love swinging?”
I did not. My brother had, when we were young, become overzealous and had pushed me too hard. I’d ended up arching across the air only to land in a garden of rocks, which resulted in a broken arm and missing teeth. Still, I smiled, held the swing, and gestured for her to sit.
Phoebe called upon all of her feminine whiles and elegantly settled onto the plank of wood held up by two ropes. She sighed and sat so the eye would be drawn to her ample bosom.
I moved around, put two hands gently on her back, and gave her a little push.
The gentle push resulted in another squeal.
“Oh, Alexander! Higher!”
I obliged. Yes, she would let out all sorts of non-appropriate noises, but at least my arm would get a break from being squeezed into a thin noodle for a few minutes. This also gave me time to glance at the nearby fruit stand.
Even from here I could see bright red apples and golden pears piled high in baskets on the table.
Behind the baskets stood Sally Fifett and her sister.
Sally lived at the manor next to mine, and we had spent many a day hunting for frogs as children. It was only as I grew older that I understood that Sally and I were different. Her father ran the stables there, and my father, the Duke, ruled ours.
Now that we were older, she helped run the fruit stand, and I got to parade Phoebe Brooks around as if she were my prized mare. My father had been grooming us to be married for years, but I hadn’t understood until a few months prior.
Phoebe let out another cry of delight as I pushed her a little higher. My eyes darted to the stand, then over to Thomas. “Phoebe, I know you love pears. Will you be alright if Thomas pushes you while I go fetch some?”
“I can go with you!” Phoebe said.
“And ruin your fun?” I pushed her again. Higher. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” I looked at Thomas. “Would you be so kind?”
Thomas had been eyeing Phoebe since she’d begun looking like a woman. He nodded. “Of course.”
“Wonderful. I will return shortly.”
“Get the firm ones!” Phoebe instructed.
“Of course.” I stepped aside and took long strides down the hill.
Sally saw me coming. Another couple got there just before me, and I had to wait. Sally met my eyes and her lips twitched into a smile of mirth.
When the other couple left, Sally’s sister busied herself at the other end of the table and pretended not to listen.
“Good afternoon, your grace.” Sally gave me a little bow.
“Good afternoon. I’ll take three of your finest pears.”
Sally’s nose wrinkled as she grinned. “Of course.”
The sun highlighted her red curls and the smattering of freckles on her cheek.
My heart skipped a beat. I cleared my throat. “The heat is abominable today.”
“Perhaps you should try the swing.” Sally picked out three pears and held them up.
I took them and examined them. “Who would push me?”
“Surely Phoebe would.”
“I’m afraid she’s a little delicate.” I rotated my hands. “Weak wrists.”
I gave her an nod and set the pears on the warm, wooden surface of the table. “It is.” I drew out my purse and held out a shilling.
“You know that’s too much,” Sally said.
Before I could stop myself, I leaned in. “It is a small price to pay for intelligent conversation and a measure of whit.”
“A measure?” Sally raised one eyebrow. A look I knew all too well.
“You had better be using a large scale, your Grace.”
My eyes got lost in hers. I knew I was grinning, but couldn’t help myself.
Sally’s sister let out a cough.
I immediately stood back up as a young woman and her sisters approached.
Sally held out her hand, and I set the shilling into her palm. For the brief moment that our skin touched, warmth traveled through me.
A squeal from the tree brought me back to reality, and I scooped up the pears. “Thank you, ladies.”
“Our pleasure, your Grace,” Sally said. She smiled and gave me a curtsy.
The only woman of intelligence in the area and her father ran the stables.
I cursed fate. I did so again when I saw Phoebe watching me with an eager expression on her face as I approached the tree. “Oh, Alexander, look how high I am!”
“Very high indeed.” I smiled.
She let out another of her high-pitched noises.
I felt a weight in my feet. Perhaps I could turn her eye to Thomas.
I snorted. And perhaps Sally and I could be married. I ruefully shook my head at the thought and walked toward my fate.