Authors: Caylen McQueen
THE SPINSTER & THE COQUETTE
As they alighted from the carriage on the outskirts of Plymouth, the younger sister’s freckled nose displayed such a sneer, it would have been impossible to mistake the distasteful expression for anything less than disgust. “Oh dear…” Cordelia whispered to herself as she stared at her aunt’s droll, dingy, and rather small cottage. She always imagined it would be a bit romantic to live on the cliffside, with waves crashing below her feet. Dank as it was, her aunt’s domicile failed to inspire fanciful thoughts. “We really have arrived at the ends of the earth, have we not?”
“Don’t fret, Cordelia.” Hester laid a hand against her younger sister’s shoulder as she spoke. “Perhaps it shall not be so terrible?”
“I would rather be in London,” Cordelia sighed as she solemnly stated the obvious. “Do not think I am ungrateful to our aunt for taking us in, but—”
know why we were sent here, do you not?” Hester interrupted. In the corner of her eye, she watched the driver of their carriage climb down and fetch her valise. “Pray tell me you are not utterly oblivious to the reason for our banishment.”
Cordelia defiantly raised her chin. “I believe I know the reason, and I do not care to hear it!”
Her sister, failing to heed her request, said, “Papa is determined to discourage your interest in Lord Cavendish. You were far too flirtatious with him… and far too overt with your affections. You were not behaving as a lady should behave, particularly in the presence of a renowned rake such as he.”
“And I do not require a lecture from you as well, Hester!” Cordelia was tempted to stamp her foot with rage, but the ground was sodden, and she did not want mud splatters ruining her pretty pink gown. “Why, you are worse than Mama! I do not think I behaved
brazenly toward him, and I do not think Lord Cavendish is as terrible as everyone says!”
“You were alone with him, Cordelia,” her older sister reminded her. “You kissed him, and several of us saw it! You are lucky your reputation is not in tatters.”
is my punishment?” Cordelia flicked her hand in the direction of the vine-ensconced cottage. “To be sent away to the middle of nowhere? I daresay the punishment does not fit the crime!”
“It isn’t so bad,” Hester protested. “I’m here, and I do not consider it a punishment. A change of scenery and brisk sea air cannot be so terrible.”
The carriage driver, having divested the equipage of Cordelia’s overstuffed portmanteau, climbed back into the seat, flicked the reins, and left the sisters standing alone in front of the cottage. Neither of them moved or spoke for several seconds.
“So…” It was Cordelia who broke the silence, “Where is Aunt Hyacinth? I thought she would be here to greet us.”
“Perhaps she does not know we arrived.”
“Or perhaps…” Cordelia’s eyebrow was raised, “perhaps she does not care to see us?”
A few seconds after she accused their aunt of apathy, the door flew open, and a short, stout, auburn-haired woman came bounding out of the cottage. “Oh!” The older woman excitedly waggled both of her hands as she rushed toward them. “Oh, my dears, you are finally here! Let me get a good look at you.” She pushed her crooked spectacles to the bridge of her nose as she observed the younger women in front of her. “My, you both look very lovely!”
“Are you… Aunt Hyacinth?” Cordelia presumed.
“Of course, dear! Who else would I be?” Hyacinth unabashedly chuckled at her niece’s question. “How long has it been?”
It was Hester who responded first. “Fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years!” the older woman squawked. “I am almost ashamed that we allowed so much time to pass. There is really no excuse for it! The last time I saw Cordelia, she must have been…”
Hyacinth’s pause was so interminable, Cordelia took it upon herself to finish her aunt’s thought. “Seven years old,” she said with a sigh. “I was seven years old when last we met.”
“Good gracious!” Hyacinth gasped. “You were only a child! And you, dear… how old were you?” She expectantly turned toward the older sister and waited for a reply.
“Quite a bit older, I am afraid. As for my age, I am almost ashamed to confess it.” Hester’s taut smile was somewhat forced. “Suffice it to say it was half my lifetime ago?”
?!” Hyacinth uttered the word as if it was scandalous and shocking. “Are you thirty now, Hester?”
“I am afraid so.”
“I do not mean to make you feel old, dear, I am only a bit shocked by the passage of time,” Hyacinth assured her. “And to your credit, you look quite a bit younger than your age.”
“Others have said the same thing.”
“So why have you not married?”
Hester exchanged awkward glances with her younger sister. She was so taken aback by her aunt’s discouraging question, all Hester could do was gape and sigh.
“Aunt H-Hyacinth!” Cordelia spoke up suddenly, attempting to rescue her sister from the uncomfortable question. “Do you not have a son?”
“I… yes… well… he is your late uncle’s son, and therefore no blood relation of yours,” Hyacinth explained. “But I do consider him to be my own son.”
“Why is he not here to greet us?” Cordelia attempted to heft her valise, but it was so tightly packed, she could barely lift it. “At the very least, he could help us carry our things into the house.”
“Do you not remember, dear? Frank is an invalid.” Hyacinth’s comment was so direct, Cordelia dropped her valise on her foot, effectively squashing her toe. Cordelia bit her tongue, resisting the temptation to wail in pain. “We do have one maid, Maisie, and she is rather robust. She should be able to help you carry your—”
“Frank is an invalid?” Hester repeated her aunt’s comment in an attempt to learn more.
“Yes. I’m not surprised you don’t remember. The last time you met, Frank was little more than a baby. He’s nineteen now.” Hyacinth saw Hester’s pinched brow and realized she wanted to know more. “He has a crooked spine. The poor boy was born like that. He can’t walk properly… he never has, I’m afraid. Though he’s adapted to the impediment well enough, I am afraid it’s made him a bit of a recluse. But he’s lucky, in a way. There’s a fisherman’s son in town who was born with a similar affliction, but he is… well, forgive me for being insensitive, but he sounds like a fool. Frank’s mind isn’t addled in the least. In fact, he is a very clever boy!”
As Hyacinth speechified about her son, the robust maid appeared to collect the sisters’ belongings. She collected their possessions and carried them into the cottage without a word to anyone.
“She’s a quiet one,” Cordelia observed.
“Ah… yes. You see… Maisie doesn’t speak to anyone,” Hyacinth explained. “Do not take offense. The girl is mute.” She followed the maid into the cottage and motioned for her nieces to follow.
The sisters trailed behind her, keeping their distance. The space between them was indicative of their immense reluctance. Though the older sister tried to keep a positive attitude, one thing was for certain: neither of them wanted to be here.
Cordelia whispered in her sister’s ear, “A mute maid, an invalid boy, and an obnoxious aunt… how soon can we return to London?”
” Though she agreed with her sister, Hester did not want to risk being overheard.
“I am going to be miserable,” the younger sister moaned, “absolutely, exceedingly, ceaselessly miserable. How shall we withstand it?”
They toured the cottage with their aunt and soon discovered they would have to share a bedroom—which they had not done since they were children. As they passed Frank’s bedchamber, they were warned to stay away, as he apparently did not like to be bothered. The tour ended in front of a small table, where they were expected to gather for supper in two hours’ time.
“I am sure you are both exhausted. It was such a long journey, after all,” Hyacinth said. “
get some rest, and we will assemble for supper later on. After so many years of absence, we have so much to learn about one another. It pains me to think I am practically a stranger!”
,” a masculine voice interrupted from behind. “
As am I
Simultaneously curious and startled, the two sisters spun around to greet the speaker. The young man moving toward them was assisted by two walking sticks, tightly gripped in both of his hands. His toes pointed inwardly as he walked, and his posture was hindered by an obvious slouch. His face was stuck somewhere between boyhood and manhood, and he was more pretty than handsome. Horrendously disheveled, his messy brown hair appeared as though it had not been brushed in ages.
“And you are Frank, I presume?” Cordelia spoke up. “Frank Boswell, Hyacinth’s son?”
Shaking his head slightly, Frank said, “Son by marriage.”
“My word!” Hyacinth squealed. “You were so quick to correct her, one might think you were ashamed to be called my son! Have I not been your mother for your entire life? Could you not be a bit more grateful?”
“My apologies… Hyacinth,” Frank answered softly, and a crooked smile appeared on his lips. It was a somewhat mischievous smile, which made Hester think the young man took pleasure in distressing their poor aunt.
! You would think, after all this time, the boy would learn to address me as his mother! Ungrateful…
very ungrateful! His father died when the boy was still very young… seven years old, I believe it was. My husband was much older than me, you see, and even when we got married, his health was rather poor. A silent apoplexy took him in the night. It was fatal, and quick, and I prefer to believe he did not suffer greatly.”
“Frank Boswell…” Cordelia repeated the boy’s name. “You are our cousin, in a sense. Would it be more appropriate to address you as Frank, or to call you Mr. Boswell?”
“You may call me whatever you wish. As for the two of you, I suppose I shall call you Miss Waverly and Miss Waverly. Let us hope that does not get too confusing.” Though his voice was tinged with disinterest, Frank’s gaze lingered on Cordelia, as gentlemens’ gazes often did. With her vibrant smile, chestnut hair, and the adorable smattering of freckles across her nose, Cordelia tended to attract attention.
“Frank might be a bit… taciturn… but he really is a nice young man,” Hyacinth defended him—perhaps unnecessarily. “And doesn’t he have one of the most beautiful faces you have ever beheld?”
“Hyacinth…” Frank groaned, and his head dipped between his shoulders in shame. “
“Why do you complain? I am only saying what I am sure they are already thinking. You’re such a pretty boy, Frank. I’ve always said so. And I’ve often said his face is almost a bit… feminine. Would you not agree?”
Frank groaned again. Without another word to any of the women, he turned around and hobbled away as quickly as he possibly could.
“Ah, I’m afraid I’ve embarrassed him. I tend to do that. When it starts wagging, my tongue has no restraint.” Hyacinth leaned toward Cordelia and whispered, “But he
pretty, is he not?”
“Indeed,” Cordelia replied. Frank was hardly an unattractive young man, but Hyacinth was so insistent, Cordelia felt obligated to agree.
“Do you think I embarrassed him when I said his face was feminine? Perhaps I should not have said that, but I only speak the truth. The boy is still young, and he may yet grow out of it. Now, my dears,
get some rest. As I said, I am sure you are exhausted by your travels. We will meet for supper shortly.”
“Thank you, Aunt Hyacinth,” Hester said. She bobbed a curtsy, took her sister by the arm, and hurried to their shared bedroom as quickly as her feet could carry her.
When they were at a safe distance, Cordelia moaned. “Lud! Is she not the most obnoxious woman you have ever encountered? I am starting to understand why Father thought sending us to Plymouth would be an adequate punishment.”
“Do not be so rude, Cordelia. I am sure our aunt is very kind.”
Cordelia squeezed her sister’s arm as they headed down the hall. “And Frank, the poor boy! I did not quite know how to look at him. He was so pitiful, propped up by his two sticks. Walking was so laborious for him, it very nearly broke my heart!”
All of a sudden, an adjacent door flew open, and Frank appeared in the hallway. Though he was smirking, his eyes were narrowed and cold. “It is not as laborious as it looks,” he said. “I have had many years of practice.”
“Oh dear. I… I am so very sorry…” Cordelia’s cheeks were flooded with crimson as she stared at Frank’s face. “You were not meant to hear that.”
“It is quite alright. Everyone pities me,” Frank said. “And if they do not pity me, they look upon me as if I am a monster. I am quite used to being judged.”
And with that, he closed the door.
They could hear his two sticks thumping against the wood as he moved slowly across the floor.
Not only was Maisie responsible for cleaning the house, she was also responsible for serving meals. The girl’s unconscionable work load tempted Hester to offer assistance, but she did not want her aunt to take offense. She did not want to insult Hyacinth so soon after meeting her, or make her aunt feel as if she was unable to employ adequate help. As the maid delivered their supper, Hester could not bring herself to look at the girl. How could she not pity her? Even if Maisie was overburdened, being mute, she would be incapable of raising a fuss.