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Lost in Your Arms
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"Please, Mrs. MacLean, won't ye tell us about yer wedding?"
Her mouth full of cake, Enid stared around at the circle of feminine faces in Lady Halifax's parlor, all bright with happiness, and at the blond, round-cheeked girl in whose honor they were gathered. The girl who had asked the question. The girl who, in less than a fortnight, would become the blushing bride to Lady Halifax's underbutler. Swallowing, Enid took a breath. "My wedding? Oh, you don't want to know about my wedding."
An eager chorus answered her, a chorus from Lady Halifax's upstairs maids, her downstairs maids, and her scullery maids, all girls with their heads stuffed with puff pastry dreams of love.
Enid, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, was at least five years everyone's senior in age and five hundred years their senior in cynicism.
"Was yer wedding as wonderful as mine is going t' be?" Kay clasped her hands at her bosom. The girl was resplendent with flowers and ribbons in her hair, Surrounded by gifts given by her friends, and glowing with the light of love.
So Enid tried desperately to divert the conversation. "Nothing could be as wonderful as your wedding is going to be. That lace Lady Halifax asked me to bring as your wedding gift will make a lovely collar for your wedding gown."
"Aye, it will."Kay patted the fancy, machine-sewn lace Enid had delivered. "Lady Halifax is a grand mistress, an' ye must convey me thanks t'er. Mrs. MacLean, did ye have lace on yer gown?"
The problem, as Enid saw it, was that she was a woman of mystery.
Oh, not really. For three years she had lived in the London town house as Lady Halifax's nurse-companion. At first she had done little more than pass Lady Halifax her cane and make sure she had a clean handkerchief. But as time had gone on and the wasting disease had weakened Lady Halifax, Enid had become her mouth and ears in the household. She had reported the household activities to Lady Halifax and given Lady Halifax's instructions to the servants. But never, ever, had she confided her past to anyone.
She knew speculation had run rampant. Because of Enid's upper-class accent, her education and manners, the maids thought that she was a lady who had fallen on misfortune and had turned to labor to support herself. She had done nothing to dissuade them of that notion.
Now they had her trapped with their offer of tea and cake, their high hopes and fabulous imaginings.
"Please, Mrs. MacLean?" Sarah, the upstairs parlor maid, begged.
"Please?" Shirley, fifteen years old and fresh from the country, clapped her hands and tipped her cake plate off her lap and onto the carpet.
Everyone jumped to their feet, but Enid hushed the horrified exclamations and helped clean up the mess. "It's all right, dear. See? There's no harm done." Trying to distract the tearful Shirley, she said, "Stop crying so you can hear the details of my wedding."
Shirley snuffled into her handkerchief. "Aye."
"Tell us," Kay urged.
Enid could never confess the truth -- so, she would have to tell them a lie.
"Did ye get married in a big church?" Ardelia, plain, plump and brown, dabbed up the last crumbs of cake with her thumb.
Putting down her fork, Enid put the plate on the end table beside her and made the decision that, if she was going to tell a lie, she might as well tell a colossus. "I was married in a cathedral by a bishop."
"A cathedral?" Sarah's brown eyes grew huge.
"I was wed on a beautiful, sunny morning in June, with wild pink roses in my arms and all my friends in attendance."
"Did ye wear white like Queen Victoria?" Ardelia quivered with excitement.
"No, not white."
The maids groaned with disappointment.
"Her Majesty hadn't married yet, and it wasn't the style. But I did wear a blue dimity, very fine" -- turned only twice -- "with a splendid full skirt and black lace gloves" -- loaned by the vicar' s wife -- "and a blue velvet hat with a black veil" -- given by Stephen and acquired heaven knew where and hopefully by legal means. Carried away with her enthusiasm, Enid added, "And my black boots were polished so brightly, I could see my face in them."
"Wi' yer blue eyes an' yer black 'air, ye must have looked splendid, Mrs. MacLean." Gloria, a rather nondescript girl who extravagantly admired Enid, flattered her now. "'Ow did ye dress yer 'air?"
Enid touched the loose knot gathered in a black net snood at the base of her neck. "It's so flyaway, I can never do much more with it than this."
Wide-eyed with innocence, Ardelia asked, "Why didn't ye 'ave yer maid dress yer 'air?"
Bent on making the tale the best, most dramatic story they'd ever heard, Enid told them, "I didn't have a maid."
The girls exchanged sympathetic looks.
"My family had had setbacks..." Enid dabbed at her perfectly dry eyes. Dear, dear, these girls would believe anything!
"Oo." Sarah loved a good theatrical better than anyone, and she knew how this story should end. "Yer family 'ad lost their money, then yer Stephen rescued ye."
Love never rescued anyone. If Enid were kind, she would have told the truth and disillusioned these girls. But she knew they wouldn't believe her. Young people never did. She hadn't.
"Yer 'air's pretty that way, Mrs. MacLean," Shirley said.
"Thank you, Shirley."
Ardelia leaned forward, eyes shining. "Did yer Da give ye away?"
"No, my father was dead." Good riddance. "But I needed only Stephen."
"Was yer 'usband a tall and 'andsome gennaman?" Dena's ample bosom heaved at the thought.
"He boasted a head full of golden hair, so bright..."