Posted on Friday, 10 November 2000
This story is my attempt at a mystery (see how it goes... though it may take a little while to get into things) Christy is a character of mine from HHAP. ~ Erin
Who can tell me if we have heaven,
Who can say the way it should be.
Moonlight holly, the Sappho Comet.
Angel's tears below a tree.
You talk of the break of morning
as you view the new aurora.
Cloud in crimson, the key of heaven,
one love carved in acajou.
One told me of China Roses
One a Thousand nights and one night.
Earth's last picture, the end of evening,
hue of indigo and blue.
A new moon leads me to
woods of dreams and I follow.
A new world waits for me,
my dream my way.
I know that if I have heaven
there is nothing to desire
Rain and ruler, a world of wonder
May be paradise to me.
I see the sun.
I see the stars....
China Roses ~ Enya
She was the only daughter, and the youngest child of the Earl and Countess of Matlock, and had been blessed with the inheritance of the Fitzwilliam charm, beauty and considerable wealth. She also possessed the humour, wit and disposition which the younger of her brothers was renowned for. Her brothers were fraternal twins, and seven years older than herself. Samuel had the great fortune of being the firstborn, and therefore a Viscount, while Richard, the younger son of the Earl, had to fend for himself, and had attained the rank of Colonel in the regulars.
Matlock was the place where Christabel had lived her life, with the exception of a few seasons in London or when she was visiting relatives. The relatives Christy (as she was otherwise known) spent more time with than any other were both on the Fitzwilliam side, and were the children of Lord Matlock's sisters.
Every December Christabel went to Rosings Park in Kent, where she stayed with her overbearing aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter Anne. Miss de Bourgh had a pale, sickly constitution, but in nature was really quite lovely, and she and Christabel were good friends, and made up 2/3 of the Fitzwilliam Female Musketeers, so called because of their bonds and friendship. The remaining 1/3 was Georgiana Darcy, the sister of Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, in Derbyshire. The Darcys were cousins Christabel also often stayed with, though on a more frequent and less formal basis.
Georgiana's brother had recently been married to the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet, from Hertfordshire. All that Christy had heard of this lady from Richard and Georgiana was much in her favour. Indeed, the only person that didn't approve of her was Lady Catherine. But she was just an old bag.
Christabel had been out for about five seasons, but still had not found anyone worth having. It really was too bad. But she had to be picky - no fortune hunters, no rakes, no excessive dandies, no relations and no idiots. But most importantly, she had to be able to find someone who could put up with her manners, and sense which could only be described as too like Colonel Fitzwilliam's.
There were no brothers to spy or play pranks on - Richard's leave had expired and he had returned to his regiment in London. Samuel was busily wooing a Miss Nortonly, and was at present experiencing the first few blissful weeks succeeding his accepted proposal. The Matlocks had found out about Samuel's success on Christmas Eve, and were all pleased for him.
Christabel wasn't excessively thrilled at the news of a sister. It wasn't that Isabel wasn't nice, or that Christy didn't like her, but that Samuel - although her brother, had never got to know his little sister that well during his Eton or Cambridge holidays, and as he lived on his own estate now (and had done for some time), it really didn't affect her. The idea of matrimony was as pleasant to her as it was to every other young woman, so she was not in the least adverse to it, but changes she could adapt to almost mechanically, without sentimental outflow.
Christabel Fitzwilliam was not an overly sentimental heroine. She was, rather, sensitive but perfectly restrained. She was sensible, attractive, funny, obliging and wonderful company. It just seemed that today's respectable gentlemen preferred a romantic. The days of Pope and Gray were over. Byron, Beethoven and Bysshe Shelley were in.
Christabel walked over to her violin. Rather than a pianoforte or harp (both which her cousin Georgiana played exquisitely), this was the instrument the youngest Fitzwilliam played. All accomplished ladies played something, or otherwise Christy would never have bothered to learn. She had no great passion for music, though she would listen to other's performances and play readily enough. To own the truth, she had a far greater pleasure in reading, or in watching people. That was a rather unusual interest, but it could easily be admitted Christabel was not quite in the common way.
She longed for excitement, something not to be found at Matlock. But Christy hoped there could be.
The dinner bell rang, and Christabel joined her parents in the dining room. They were talking about one of the newest inhabitants of the village, a Mr. Wilkenson.
"Apparently he's from one of the eastern countries, and while not rich, has a comfortable income."
"But have you heard the rumours?" Lady Matlock interrupted.
"My dear, if I were to believe all rumours, Mrs. Smith would be the brother of the Pope, while old Mr. Brown is the half-brother of our poor King George."
Comments such as these never failed to arouse Christy's interest. "Is this Mr. Wilkenson Bonaparte's cousin then?" she asked with eyes twinkling, while her mother sighed with slight vexation, and her father grinned.
"No, and nor is he like to be! With a surname like Wilkenson!" her mother replied.
"What is it then?"
"That's the thing. No-one really knows. He just turned up in Matlock the other day, almost possessionless, holding a baby, and with a young child by his side. The child was rather scruffily dressed, but the baby wore fine white embroidered linen."
"How interesting" his Lordship replied, and then promptly began eating again.
"What about his wife? Where was she?"
"No wife that we know of, even though there are the children. He wears no band, so all presume him to be unmarried. I for my part think he must be a rake, and these offspring - his illegitimate children - have been thrust upon him by some ... harlot"
"Well, have you another explanation?"
"Such you pass such a judgment with so little information?"
"Perhaps not. But my opinion is shared by all the prominent ladies around. He must have a ... despicable character."
"Really Caity. It amazes me that ladies gossip so abundantly."
Lady Matlock gave in and continued with her meal. Men just didn't understand. They wouldn't. No, they couldn't!
Christabel could not deny it - she was intrigued. And she had nothing better to do, so she thought she might follow up this strange business of Mr. Wilkenson and the children.
But first, Christy needed a legible excuse for going into Matlock and entering the house of an unmarried gentleman (or man, if he were no gentleman). After a few moments pacing, it became obvious. Christy would bring some food and blankets for the children. After all, if they were possessionless, they would likely need them. She had done this previously for needy tenants, and so why not Mr. Wilkenson? Before going to his house though, she would need to find out where it was, and would visit another dweller of Matlock to find out more, if there was more to be known.
Christabel was a good friend of Mrs. Miller, a young widow who before the death of her husband had borne him three children in the space of under five years. The middle child, a son, was now no longer, but Celina and the younger Olivia remained. Christy was very fond of both the little Miss Millers, and often visited them and their mother.
The day after her parents conversation, Christy set off for Matlock, but without the provisions, because she would bring them tomorrow, when she went to Mr. Wilkenson's house. She entered the Miller home, and kissed Sophy and her daughters by way of a greeting. "Dear Celina! What have you got up to?" she asked the flour-covered child, while mama explained she had been helping the cook.
Sophy returned to hemming a little dress, and Christy nursed the cooing baby. "How are you going?" she asked compassionately. Sophy had been a happy woman, and the mistress of a lovely house, but after her husband's accident she was forced to move into the town. Since then, the eager happiness which had once characteristically displayed her gradually turned to a worn, spent look which eased if Christy came, or whenever Baby and Celina's childish antics were around. Her children were her saving grace. Without them Sophy Miller would be despondent.
"We've been all right. And Baby's starting to sleep through the entire night." Sophy rarely ever talked only about herself, always saying 'we' instead. And, as was common, the infant, rather than being called it's name, was 'Baby.'
"That must be a great comfort and relief" Christy replied as she looked at the dark circles under her friend's eyes.
"Indeed. But now there is another baby close by, who apparently can't sleep during the night."
"Is that so?" Christy asked interestedly. "Where?"
"Down the road. A man has moved in with a young child. At times you can hear the poor wretch from here."
"What of his wife? The mother? Is it only the man?"
"Yes. It's strange, isn't it? He's very newly come, and everyone's talking about him. It's a wonder you've not heard!"
"What can you tell me about this gentleman? What is said of him?"
"Well, his name is Wilkenson, and he's rather a tall, stringy thing. Not in the least handsome - nothing like .... " Sophy paused and quickly brushed aside a tear. Her grief at losing her husband was still so recent and strong that even slight memories of him overcame her.
After a moment she resumed. "Now, where was I? Yes, Mr. Wilkenson is not in the least handsome, and his manner appears to be very abrupt, and he is not welcoming. Reticent too, I think. I could not say that he has always been like this - perhaps he was something very different in the past."
"What about the baby?"
"Mr. Wilkenson has with him two children."
"Two!" Christy said surprisedly, as though she had not heard that before.
"Indeed. The baby, and a little girl. I think she must be about the age of my dear Celina. The poor dear does not look very well treated lately, I am sorry to say. She is scuffily dressed, walks barefoot (in this weather!) and her hair is all tangled, and in great need of attention. She is mightily thin - like an urchin, she is - and in spite of it, she appears fairly robust. From the looks of her, at least one parent was Russian, I would wager. But Christy! Her eyes! I've never seen anything like it!"
"What about them?" Christy asked with great interest.
"So vivid and large! Never have I seen such dark deep eyes! they stare at you - but blankly. There is no action in them, it is as though they are lifeless. I think she must have gone through something to be as she is - and at such a vulnerable age!"
"But you said there were two children?"
"Yes, the other is a well-grown baby. Looks stout and healthy. But I have not seen anything more of it. I only saw the infant once. The girl is seen regularly, but the baby - no."
"Does Mr. Wilkenson venture out with the child and leave the baby alone then?"
"No, the child is unaccompanied, and is not scared to be by herself."
The next day that Christabel came into Matlock, she knocked at the door of the house where Sophy had said Mr. Wilkenson lived. She had dressed herself down, so she looked no more wealthy than a commoner, and her closed bonnet hid her face somewhat. The door was opened by a stern looking man with what might easily become a ruddy countenance.
"Yes?" he said questioningly, looking down at Christy with a gesture close to a snarl.
"Oh, do pardon me sir, but I've brought your children some blankets."
"Oh! Well then, you'd best come in." Instantly the man was softer in his gaze and manner of speech. His eyes darted from one side of the street to the other, and then he motioned for Christabel to come through the door.
"That's kind of ya. Why'd ya do it? he asked.
"I heard you had few possessions, and thought the children may be in need of such comforts as blankets."
"Is that all you heard?"
"Good." His gruff voice sounded relieved.
"Are they your children?"
His eyes narrowed. "Who's sayin' they aint'?"
"No-one, I believe, sir"
"Call me Nick. This 'ere's Natalya."
"Was there not another?"
"You'll find Xavier asleep. Let him be. It's the first silence we've 'ad in ages, eh Nat?"
Natalya nodded her head, and Christabel, for the first time, saw her eyes.
They truly were unique, and their size was reminiscent of large saucers - they were so big! They were dark yet clear, and just as Sophy had said, they appeared lackluster. Despite the fact that Natalya was unkempt and dispirited, there was a beauty in her. Her dark tousled hair was not held back by anything more than a ribbon, and her thin linen dress barely hung from her shoulders. She was quite waifish. Even her tiny voice was so, as she lisped "I wish we'd never got that baby", in a tone barely audible.
"Brothers are not that bad once they grow up - I've got two" Christy told the little girl, who responded by hiding herself behind Mr. Wilkenson.
"A pretty girl," Christy commented. "Is she much like her mother?"
Nicholas abruptly changed the topic. "Thankye for 'ose blankets. They'll be much 'preciated."
"I assure you it was no trouble. I hope the baby sleeps well. You're most welcome to come out and meet with the townspeople, you know. We've seen very little of you, and as your wife (here Mr. Wilkenson looked blank) is not here, there are some that might take care of your children if you'd like."
"Er.. thank-you" the man stuttered. "And you'd be...?"
Should I disclose just who I am? "M... Miss Bell."
"Very much obliged to you Miss Bell. Good day."
Christy's interest in the matter would have by now dissolved had just Mr. Wilkenson been involved. But yet there remained the children. Christy had not even seen the youngest - Xavier, was it not? An uncommon name. Nor was Natalya a very regular name in England.
Natalya's face - there was something about it. Was it familiar? Or was it just because it was so unusual? Her eyes! And her skin - it was very, very pale. As though she had been shut up for the entirety of her short life. Christy again visited Sophy, and told her a little about the visit.
"How improper Christy!"
"But I only went to give blankets!"
"I can only hope you were not seen. You know how vicious the gossip mill can be. You'll be expected to marry the man by the end of next week, if you're not careful."
"Oh codswaddle. I'd sooner be the Prince regent's mistress!"
"You're pretty enough, dear, and you know what his reputation's like. But then, you're a bit too upper-class to be... yes, well... what got us on to this topic? Heavens! Did you see the child?"
"I did. Her name is Natalya."
"What an unusual name!"
"I saw her eyes, too. They are intriguing, sweet, so large and... there's an unfathomable feeling (or lack of) in them. And then, being set against such pale skin..."
"She's like a veritable ghost! Nothing like my bonny Celina."
"No indeed. I did not see the other child though. A boy, called Xavier."
"Xavier! What were his parents' thinking?"
"It must be that he is names after ancestors. No-one calls their child Xavier for no reason."
"Not here, no."
"I think Olivia's woken. I hear crying."
"But I only put her to bed twenty minutes ago. She oughtn't stir for quite a while." But nevertheless, the doting pair went to check on the baby, who was fast asleep.
"How was Mrs. Miller?" Lady Matlock asked her daughter that afternoon.
"As fine as can be expected. And her children are growing so handsome!"
"Would she like to come for a small party tomorrow? Nothing grand, preparations are a little too late for that, but I'm planning a tea party for tomorrow."
The idea was too promising to be ignored - Christy sent an invitation immediately (franked, of course, by her father). It would be impossible that the invited ladies not discuss the latest arrival to the village.
Christy greeted her friend with a kiss on the cheek. "Mama has taken the children for the afternoon," Mrs. Miller said, "So I am determined to make the most of it."
"Yes, it's not often you're without the precious bundles" Christy agreed" Anyway, my Mama has all her friends around her, so I don't think she'll even notice where we are. Here, take a seat on the chaise."
"Thank you, you're a dear. So what's the news?"
"Lady Matlock does not throw parties, even small ones, without reason. What's happening?"
"If you can't guess.... though I'm sure you can... she's exceedingly interested in winkling out of everyone all that she can about this Mr. Wilkenson."
"I don't blame her. You probably don't hear so much of the news up here."
"We-ll.. to be frank, no. But did I tell you Mrs. Willis is expecting another lie-in soon?"
"Already! But the last one is only about four months old..."
"You should know, my dear, that the lower classes are always multiplying."
"Lucian's only.. what.. eight now? There are six more after him, then this one. Poor Mrs. Willis. I really think it's about time she moved into her own bedroom."
"Christy! You're not supposed to know about things like... that."
Christabel laughed. "Am I not? Well then, people really ought to learn to be more discreet. Why, I've known since before I was sixteen!"
Sophy pretended to faint, but failing dismally, she just shook her head. "You really aren't an innocent little thing, are you my dear? Just as well you give the appearance."
"Oh no! I'm innocent in absolutely everything. I just hear a lot and use my intuition. Did I tell you my brother is engaged?"
Sophy looked crestfallen. "Not the .. Studmuffin?" she asked with disappointment.
Christabel absolutely burst out laughing. "Why you call him that I'm sure I don't know! Oh, hello, I'm Colonel Studmuffin..." Christy wiped tears of laughter from her eyes, and had drawn the attention of some of the other ladies.
"Uhh.. no, not *snort* Richard, but *giggle* Samuel"
"Ah gooooooood." Sophy said, as Christabel looked at her with a grin.
"Yes, to Miss Nortonly. About jolly time too, you know. We'd been waiting for ages. it was Georgie that finally got through to him, though."
"Georgie? As in your cousin Georgiana Darcy? As in... so tall, so cute and so shy? Well, I can hardly believe it! He'll have to name one of his children after her now, or ask her to be a godmother."
"And not me? I'd be quite put out! Oh Lord! I just sounded like my aunt!!! But can you imagine Samuel a father?"
"I think I'd have to see it to believe it."
"Just like me."
"I'm sorry to say it Christy, but even if I did see you a father, I wouldn't believe it."
"Oh! I didn't mean it like that!" Christy laughed playfully "And you know it!"
"I know. But once that maternal longing finds it's way into your heart, you'll have extreme difficulty dissuading it."
Lady Matlock's party didn't exactly go as Christy had expected, for she found out little about the mysterious Mr. Wilkenson. Lady Matlock didn't find out much more than her daughter, or if she had, she didn't share the wealth.
But the conversation did make Christabel begin to think about whether she would ever be a mother. But she'd have to marry someone first. There wasn't anyone she knew that she might want to marry. Except for...perhaps...but it was a bit ridiculous...more like an infatuation than love...she'd never actually met the man, only heard...
Life was getting boring again. There had been no balls for ages, parties for almost as long, and no other enjoyable trivialities. Baby Olivia had croup, and Sophy rarely ever left her side, leaving Celina rather lonely. Christabel, seeing her friend's weariness, offered to take her eldest off her hands for a few days. And so that was how the Fitzwilliam's had come to have a child staying under their roof again, after so many years.
Celina was a little darling, and though she had a penchant for 'Helping' people (you name them : cooks, maids, abigails, footmen - she helped the lot at some stage), she was little trouble. Christabel was taking her charge for a walk, one brisk winter morning. Celina's little fingers were like icicles, despite the fact that she was wearing mittens. She also wore a scarf of Christy's, which almost covered her entirely, and she had to be careful not to tread on the tassels.
Up ahead, a small face peered out from a tatty grey anorak. Eyes darted cautiously around, settling on Celina. But Celina did not feel their gaze, instead laughing as she jumped puddles. She ran ahead, not taking care of where she was going, lifting the scarf up so it wasn't soiled. Suddenly she ran into something. It was a person.
"Hello. Beg my pardon." she said politely and apologetically. The stranger stared at her. "Did I hurt you?" she asked, rubbing her forehead. Still no response. "Are you aright?" Still nothing. Is she a dolly? That makes no noise? Celina turned back to see how far away Christabel was.
"Miss Christy!" she called. "Look what I found!" she said, as though it were a butterfly on a flower that she had sighted, and not a human. Christabel increased the speed of her pace, and was very shortly by Celina's side.
"Natalya?" It could be no other. No one else had such eyes. Such exquisite, haunting eyes. "What's wrong?" Natalya's face was blank. Nondescript. Colourless. Christy felt she looked as though she were about to faint.
Worried, she scooped her into her arms. There was no struggle, as she had half expected, and she turned back with Celina in the direction of Matlock Hall. She could not know she was being watched.
Celina practically tumbled in the door. Christy followed her, calling for the butler, or indeed anyone to come and help her. Instead of a servant, in came Lady Matlock. There was her daughter, holding a dead person.
She started screaming, took a whiff of hartshorn, and came up for a closer look.
"It's one of the children" Christy whispered, and Lady Matlock's mouth gaped.
"One of the illegitimate Wilkensons? Oh! Take her out. But wait, I'd like a closer look."
"Mother, cannot you see she looks quite ill?"
"Near dead, more like. Ah, I suppose she can't turn her out, can we? Call the apothecary, and we'll put her in the Lily Room. Meredith!! Where are you?"
Meredith peeked in and came to her mistress. Celina decided it would be a great idea to climb under Meredith's dress, and so the poor woman had to suffer the indignity - and in front of her employer, too!
"Celina, come with me, darling. That's right. Would you like to come and help me?" Christy had said the Magic Word - Celina bounded out immediately to be of assistance.
"I need you to come with me, and we can show Miss Natalya to a room."
"Which room? The kitchen?" Celina asked eagerly.
Christy hid her smile - almost. "Uh.. we'll show her that later. Now she needs a bed."
"But it's not even nap-time!"
"It is for her."
"Really?" Celina asked, her eyes widening. "I don't have to nap this early. I'm a big kid noooow."
"That's right. Now come with me."
Behind her, Christy heard her mother saying to Meredith "She has such a way with children. But she won't be having any - not yet at least. Such a pity."
Natalya's wondrous eyes were closed. The apothecary had just arrived, and he was led to the room where Christable already sat. Natalya's face was so pale that there was no great contrast between it and the crisp white linen sheets.
"I think she's been mistreated in some obscure way. And such a youngun too! How came you to find her?" Christabel explained. "Cold through and through, no doubt. Be cautious that nothing develops into pneumonia. Hope it's just quinsy. Can you keep her for at least a week?"
"Uh..." What on earth will Mr. Wilkenson say?
"Doctor's orders" he winked.
The apothecary was - if a male could be called such - a sweetie. Everybody loved him, but none enough to marry him. So he was welcome to flirt with whom he chose. Of course, Christy was no exception, and she had little objection to it.
He dropped his voice a bit. "she's the elder of the children of that man Wilkenson, isn't she?"
"Yes.... why do you ask?"
"Keep the child from him. I don't trust him. Just protect her, and let me know if you have any difficulties."
"With him or her."
"Yes Mr. Hilton. You've been very kind to see us - thank you. When will you see her again?"
"I'll come again in a few days, she's not in a critical state." And I'd come sooner, but you're out of my league, my dear Lady Christabel, and too well am I aware of it....
'Miss Bell' went again to Mr. Wilkenson's residence, and found (not surprisingly) that Natalya was not there. Surprisingly though, Mr. Wilkenson was really quite anxious about her. He was not so reserved now as he had been previously. "Miss Bell, have you seen her? Natalya - she's gone. I've not seen 'er since yesterday morning. What do I do? She's all I've got."
"What about Xavier?" Christy asked, puzzled.
"It's not the same, Miss Bell. But Nat.... where could she...."
"I know where she is."
"Where the deuce is she? I've looked wherever I can think - and I've found now."
"She's with me."
"You're lyin'. I don't see her."
"She's staying at my house, that is. I found her wandering about, in such a state that I called the apothecary."
He gulped, but there was fire in his eyes. "You'd no right to do that ...... But she's alright though .... ain't she?"
"Yes, but the doctor has said she musn't be moved for a few days."
"By Jove he did! I'll have none of tha'. She's cummin' home. I'll na tolerate it!"
"I beg your pardon, sir, but I have no intention of refusing the doctor's orders."
"Well, ain't you just a feisty cookie?"
"Natalya will be returned to you once she is recovered. I assure you she will be given the best of care."
"Promise me that." His eyes glistened.
"I give you my word."
"Might I visit her?"
"I don't know. I shall be back to tell you if so. Try not to worry about Miss Wilkenson and focus instead on your son. I believe that he is crying."
"Eh? Nah, don't go calling Nat Miss. Not Miss Wilkenson."
The more involved she became, the more puzzled Christabel turned.
Natalya lay on the bed, breathing softly, eyes closed. Christabel watched the girl as she stirred, just as she had been doing for the past few hours. Occasionally Celina came in too, and Christy's attention was diverted for a short while, then invariably drawn back to the ragged soul lying between the sheets.
Sophy came to collect her Celina, and was quite surprised to hear of Natalya's whereabouts. "And just what does Mr. Wilkenson think of it all?"
"None too pleased, but gave in quicker than I had expected he would, actually. Mama comes in to look on her occasionally, and dear Celina thought it astounding she could stay in the bed for so long."
"Yes, always up at the crack of dawn to help, she is. Thank you for taking her - it really was a relief."
"Sophy, you know I'd do almost anything for you - or your daughters."
"For which we are exceedingly grateful to you. Really, we are. Life has been hard lately, but with help we're coping. And I think that with help, this child here will cope with whatever life throws at her. She really is a fragile little thing."
"Aye she is. I do wonder what troubles she has encountered in the past."
Natalya did not grow any rosier - she seemed destined to sport a pale, passive face - but after a while she no longer appeared close to fainting, and she was a little more energetic. Christy found herself returning the girl to Mr. Wilkenson, and he really did look pleased at her reappearance.
And since she looked healthier, though not any happier, Miss Bell was welcome to visit whenever she chose.
Weeks came and went, and the Season changed. Christy visited occasionally, but not frequently. Mr. Wilkenson's demeanour changed for the better, and he seemed relaxed and settled, whereas before he was edgy. Natalya was taking lessons, but often spoke with a combination of English and a foreign dialect which fell from her tongue effortlessly.
Christy had invited Georgiana to spend the season in London with her. She was pleased when Georgie accepted, and even more so when later it was found Anne too would come, and the two younger girls came out together.
Christy told them little about what she had been up to, more interesting events were at hand. The time spent in London was enjoyable, but once more Christabel Fitzwilliam returned unattached - though both her brothers had now married. Her mother was beginning to despair about her, but Christy didn't see the need, and nor did her father. Every extra year with his daughter was another year he treasured.
The region around Matlock was not habited by many people of rank equaling or greater than that of the Fitzwilliams'. Thus when a new, prosperous family established themselves about ten or twelve miles away, the Matlocks were keen to visit them.
The Marquis of Fairmont was a man well past middle age, who lived with an engaged daughter. Lord Matlock thought Lord Fairmont an excellent chap; they were both of the same age and deteriorating health, and as fond of the gout as each other.
Lord Fairmont declared Christy a pretty thing; Lord Matlock reciprocated, saying Lady Alyssa was not too bad either, though he had his tongue in cheek. Lady Matlock looked around and was glad she lived where she did, for the carpet here was worn old with age, and the furniture was decidedly Elizabethan - in need of new additions and alterations.
Lady Alyssa Carrington was a spinsterish-looking woman, close to thirty. She had very dark eyes and lashes, but was not the sort of woman to be called well looking. She may have possessed some beauty as a child, but there was little evidence of it now.
She had a sister, whom she said was married. As she had not seen her in many years, she offered no descriptions. There were no family portraits displayed as the house was only newly purchased. They had previously been in Oxfordshire, near Bleinham, and before that... Alyssa would not say.
Alyssa might have seemed reticent when talking about her sister, but it was not so regarding her fiancÚ. Daniel this, Daniel that, Daniel thinks, Daniel says ... By the time the call was over, Christy was sick to death of Daniel. Lord (Daniel) Cleary was only a baron, hardly an excellent match for the daughter of a marquis, but he was a peer, had an estate, was eligible, and he had offered for her. The marriage would not be without affection, and nor would it be without money.
Alyssa, it seemed, could never tire of her Daniel, and found it impossible that others should not be so interested in him as she. Alyssa said she was hardly acquainted with anyone, and Daniel was an only child, so she asked Christy to be her bridesmaid, though she had barely known her an hour. She was perfectly deaf to refusals, so Christy yielded, saying she would if there were no other engagements for that day. Alyssa took this as a definite yes.
Alyssa had no excessive filial feelings which caused her to stay and nurse her father in his ailing old age. it was only because she had not received any prior offers of marriage, that she had not left earlier. Lord Fairmont held not much more affection for his daughter than she had for him. It appeared his other daughter had even less for him, because he had not received any communication from her in years. All he knew was that she was settled somewhere on the Continent, and had been expecting a child, though that child's name and sex, if it had been born, were unknown to him.
Alyssa didn't bother to send her an invitation, as she knew not where to send it. Otherwise, preparations for the wedding were full steam ahead. It was hardly going to be a huge event, but there were at least some people expected to come. No intimacy had developed between Alyssa and Christy, but the former was still determined to have the latter as a bridesmaid. Alyssa, as chuffed as she always was, refused to wear anything other than lilac.
It was not as though the colour suited her, but nothing could dissuade her, because it was Daniel's favourite. She had chosen for Christy a mint and jonquil coloured gown, which Christy personally thought nicer than Alyssa's wedding dress. Lady Alyssa's wedding day came, and she surprised Christy by bestowing a gift upon her. It was a ring. Definitely an heirloom, and if Christy was any fair judge, it was worth quite a substantial amount.
It was made of gold, and had garnets embedded in it, and it was a sort of v-shape, indicating it was part of a twin set or the like. Alyssa said that it was a portion of a triplet set. Her sister had one, as did she, and her mother had had the remaining one. Upon her death, Alyssa had received it, and she now gave one of the rings to Christy. The ring was very distinctive, and the styling was so unique and intricate that even the most skilled jeweler would find it almost impossible to replicate. It was a beautiful ring, and Christy could hardly believe it was now hers.
Lord and Lady Alyssa Cleary left the church as happily as most newlyweds do. Lord Fairmont and Christabel were among the only representatives on Alyssa's side, but there were a few other people present too, none of whom Christy knew, or cared to know.
Lady Alyssa kept in touch with Christy, perhaps because she was the only other Lady about of a similar rank as herself. Christy didn't care much for titles, which meant she had friends, several of whom were decidedly below her, but if she didn't care about that, she couldn't she why others should.
One person Christy couldn't seem to befriend was Mr. Wilkenson. He had put a barrier up, which Christy could not penetrate. She was not devastated, for it was not as though she liked the man, but she found she had a soft spot for Natalya, and was anxious about her well-being.
Natalya, despite her extreme youth, seemed unable to recover fully from whatever it was that caused her to be waifish, and to speak so little English, as though it were not her mother tongue - but she was improving. Christabel had deduced that Natalya spoke Russian - and well. She wondered what sort of a connection the girl would have had with the country, which as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, had seen better days.
Did Mr. Wilkenson speak Russian too? Christy had never heard him, she thought. Wilkenson was not a Russian name - it was clearly English. What about his Christian name? Nicholas... Nikolas... could be... But why have only a Russian first name? Was it possible he had a multiple personality, with more than one name? If so, then what was he hiding? Or why?
Christy traveled down to Pemberley for a few weeks, and during that time was free from thoughts of Natalya and her father. He was her father, wasn't he? She did resemble him slightly more than Xavier, the little infant Christy saw so rarely.
Christy's attention was drawn away from the young girl, towards an older girl - Georgiana Darcy, who was engaged to be married. Christy sighed, for here was Georgie and Anne, her best friends, both of whom had been engaged during their first season, and yet their elder cousin still remained unattached.
It was thoughts such as these that always brought the memory of James back. He had been a valiant soldier, fighting against the enemy at the Battle of Corunna, when he had been killed. Christabel had loved him, and he was the only man she had yet found whom she loved more than her father or brothers - and his death, when she was eighteen, five years ago, had been devastating to her. Over time her grief became less, but no one she met could compare to James. While ever that happened, she knew she could not accept any offers of marriage, for her heart was never touched.
If he had lived.... she might now have been married. Christy brushed such thoughts aside. It could not do to be reminiscent, she had to be prosaic - it must not have been meant to be. So she remained Lady Christabel Fitzwilliam, who very soon would be set upon the shelf.
The return to Matlock was bittersweet - it was nice to be home, but there was something definitely missing. Refusing to ponder that feeling of loneliness further, Christy tried to keep herself occupied. But it was impossible to remain occupied all the time on a country estate - solitude and reflection invaded her. Christy found herself longing for a family of her own - with children like Celina and Olivia Miller, or even Natalya. Christy had to get away from these thoughts; she immediately decided to visit Lady Alyssa, who would undoubtedly talk so much about her Daniel that there would be no fear of an unwelcome thought coming to surround her, as it was more frequently doing.
Lady Alyssa was pleased to have Christy as a visitor. Daniel was, she told her, unfortunately occupied with business matters in his study. Christy sighed with relief. If there was anything worse than hearing of Daniel, it was hearing of Daniel in Daniel's presence.
"Anyway, were you aware, Daniel is.... so Daniel said.... Do you know what Daniel did about...... the servants are all so fond of Daniel! ..... Daniel's new coat..... Daniel gave me.... Oh, let me show you Daniel's ancestors....... Daniel's family gallery.... This is his father..."
"His name wasn't.... Daniel?" Christy asked weakly.
"No, but here's his mother, Daniela."
Christabel could not stop herself. She had to burst out laughing. "Daniela!" she wheezed, thinking that all she needed to hear now was that they had a respected horse bearing the name Daniel, and she would be unable to refrain from going into hysterics.
"I fail to see what is so diverting. Daniel.......," began Alyssa, but she stopped when she saw the look on Christabel's face. She had stopped laughing suddenly, and was now staring at a small painting next to Daniel's one. "What is the matter?" Alyssa asked with curiosity.
Christy took her gaze away from the painting, and looked at Alyssa. "Who... just who, is that woman in the picture?" she demanded.
"Oh! That is my sister. You see, the girl beside her is me. I was six at the time."
"Your sister???" Christy asked in disbelief.
"Yes, that is Nat. I haven't seen her in a few years, come to think of it. I wonder what she looks like now? I hope she has crows feet."
"Nat??" Christy asked, astounded.
"Lady Natasha Carrington, my elder sister."
Christabel, with difficulty, managed not to gape. The girl in the picture - who looked about eight or nine - had eyes like only one other person Christy knew. Other similarities were apparent, which would make one immediately presume that the girl in this picture had given birth to a daughter, who looked distinctly like her. So distinctly like her, in fact, that it was alarming.
"Is she married?"
"I suppose so... I mean, she had a baby, so one would hope she was married. My father told me once that she was well married. That was after she sent us her last letter, what - five years ago."
Christy frowned. Natalya was six, at least. "Do you know who she married?"
"Not really, but it wasn't as though I cared. Some foreign man she met during a season in - where was it? - St. Petersburg, I think. Though I could not be certain. Papa probably has the letter still. He always thought Natasha was more handsome than me."
"St. Petersburg! Why, that's in..... Russia!" Christy exclaimed.
"So?" Alyssa said disinterestedly.
"Oh, nothing. But the baby - a girl?"
"I don't know. I don't believe we were told. Do you know, Daniel....."
Christy sighed, and listened to the monologue subjected upon her about Alyssa's Daniel. Her mind was furiously turning - was it possible that Natasha's child was Natalya? Natasha had those eyes, and surely it could not just be coincidence that Natalya had them too? But where did Mr. Nicholas Wilkenson fit in? As Natalya's father? But he had said she was not Miss Wilkenson..... She really wanted to find out, but before she did, she thought she would pay a visit to Sophy Miller and the children.
"How nice of you to come Christy!" Sophy said enthusiastically. "We're having an eventful day - already Celina has helped make two batches of biscuits, air the sheets, sew a sampler and wake up Baby three times! And the best news for Baby, she's begun to crawl!"
"How splendid!" Christy said, genuinely pleased. "Before we know it, she shall be walking, and it will seem that a few days afterwards, she'll have her first beau!"
"Oh stop funning - I declare I am not looking forward to that day for Olivia. Or Celina. But already she is showing signs of... that is....."
"You are right, Sophy. Your girls will break hearts when they are older. We can only hope that we can't count their own, or their mama's among them."
Sophy smiled. "Well yes. Oh! I've a piece of news for you. The child, Xavier was it? A queer name, I think, but that's neither here nor there. The news is he's caught something, and it does not appear felicitous. Dr. Hilton (such a sweetie, and he is so very kind to my babies) says he would not be surprised if the child does not recover! How terrible that would be! I hope it is not pneumonia, for that was what took my little boy away."
"Xavier is ill? Oh dear. Is there anything that can be done?"
"Not really. I offered to take the girl off Mr. Wilkenson's hands for a few days, but he would have none of it. He was quite adamant that he did not want his Nat out of his sight."
"Do you know, I think I have made a discovery Sophy! Lady Alyssa, (you know, the Marquis' daughter)..."
"The one who can never stop talking about her precious Daniel." Sophy added.
"The very one. Anyway I saw a painting of Lady Alyssa's elder sister. There can be little doubt about it - she has Natalya's eyes."
"Impossible!" Sophy cried. "If Natalya's mother is the daughter of a Marquis, she would not be under Mr. Wilkenson's guardianship."
"So I thought. This Lady's name, however, is Natasha."
"So similar!" the widow said, struck. "So you do think Natalya is higher born than we supposed?"
"I'm going to find out," Christabel said with determination.
Christy found her plans thwarted when she discovered that her mother had felt sorry for her daughter being all alone, and planned to take her up to London, so she could spend some time with Samuel and Isabel before their first child was born. Christy did not show her vexation, but played two very passionate pieces of music on her violin, which her father, with a twinkling eye, particularly commended.
There was nothing Christabel could say to dissuade her eager parent. Lady Matlock had instilled it into her mind that Christy would be pining for society, and this was just the opportunity of her daughter.
To London, therefore, Christy was to go.
Well! thought Christabel on the first evening of her coming to London. Samuel adored his wife, and Isabel was happiest when entertaining, so the two of them got along without having always to make sheep's eyes at each other.
London was fairly sparse of the Upper Ten Thousand, but the families who resided year-round in the city were there, and there were some on-dits, gatherings and parties. The foremost of these was a winter-ball at Carlton House, which was destined to be everyone's location upon one chilly evening. It was not often Christabel had attended a party hosted by 'Prince Florizel', and so she was not averse to attending. Lady Matlock, who had, like so many other young girls of her time, once had a great fondness for her fairy prince, and was cast into transports.
Isabel still had a few months to go in her pregnancy, and being the outgoing damsel that she was, had no intention of retiring into confinement yet. Samuel, though anxious, let his autocratic wife do whatever she wished, and was always there when she needed him. Christy had not had much time to spend on thinking of issues that would have absorbed her at Matlock, focussing instead on the agreeable circumstance which forced her to come shopping for dresses.
The Regent's Ball was expected to be hailed a roaring success. Even as she entered, Christy could see that it would be so. Carlton House was decked out as ornately and ostentatiously as it always was, and, naturally, people were dressed up to the nines.
Christy no longer paid such minute attention to her dressing as she had in her first seasons, but her natural taste was so good that it was marveled she could still look as young and lovely now as she did when she had first been presented, so many years back. The dusky rose organza with a cream ribbon around the high waist became her well, and though she was not Diana, she did look attractive.
She did not feel particularly feel like dancing, so performed only the quadrille and one or two others, before spending the night walking, talking, playing cards and becoming overheated in the rooms. Considering this was the Regent's residence, and that he feared little more than a chill, this was not difficult to occur. Try as she might, Christy could not help but feel slightly bored. The ladies' gossip was insipid, the few late debutantes' titters inane, the card tables insupportable and the many mirrors and lights were beginning to give her a headache.
She escaped to the hideous fountain, and looked about, but she could not see anyone. This was to her pleasure and satisfaction, for it meant she could open a window, and get some fresh air. Christy opened a window, and found that there was a terrace beyond it, which appeared secluded. Quickly her eyes darted about, and seeing no one, she lifted her skirt a little and climbed through the window.
It was no sooner than she had passed through it and begun to straighten herself that Christy glanced up, and to her dismay found herself looking into the bemused eyes of a man.
"Well!" the gentleman said, still smiling, "Just what have we here?"
For some odd reason Christabel felt her face flush. "I... well... oh..." Why am I like this? It is not me - Snap out of it! "Actually, Sir, I must beg your pardon. I thought I had ascertained there was no-one else about, but really, it is so shockingly stuffy in those rooms that one cannot help but turn to exceedingly irrational methods in a bid to escape."
The man's eyes shone as he replied conversationally "I just used the door."
Christabel felt the colour rising, and wished she could obey the insistent sensations that begged she hit him. Instead, she replied with the first words that came to her head "But how sapless! Why, that's positively stodgy!"
The gentleman, who had been looking satirically at Christy, burst out laughing. "Where in heavens did you learn that?" he asked, eliciting a response from Christabel other than the one he wanted.
"I believe it is no more your concern, sir, than it is Napoleon's." she replied stiffly.
The gentleman's brow twitched, but he remained nonplussed. "Are you French, then?"
It took all of Christy's resolve not to laugh. "Non, sir, no more than you." she said finally, betraying the tremor in her voice only slightly.
"Ah, that's better. Now, please allow me to introduce myself. Anatole Pavlovich..."
Christy shrieked inwardly with laughter. My dog is named Anatolia...., but then she looked at him curiously. "You are Russian, then?"
"Why does that bother you?" Anatole asked, watching her expression.
"It is ...nothing....... Yet, why am I seemingly being overrun by Russians?"
"Overrun? But we are not numerous in England at present. Who have you met?" Anatole had a soothing voice, and Christy felt she could trust him.
"No-one much, except that there is a small family in the town near Ma.... where I live. Well, not exactly a family, because there is no mother."
"What sort of rumours have you heard of them?"
What does that matter to you? "It seems they are in exile. The children..."
"What of them? How old are they, and of what sex?"
Why are you so concerned? "A girl and a boy. The girl is the elder, and strikingly pretty. I didn't see the infant very often. But Natalya..." Christy stopped when she saw Anatole start. "What? What is it?"
"Nothing" he assured her, but she did not believe him.
"No, what is it? I have said something indirectly, which means more to you than you are letting on. How can you know Natalya?"
"I can tell you nothing yet, Miss.... what did you say? No, you have not yet given me your name."
"I am Lady Christabel Fitzwilliam."
"Oh! A thousand apologies, your Ladysh.... Ah!" he grinned "I take it you would prefer not to be called that?"
"It is so..... annoying. Everyone is so keen to show deference once they know my rank, and I detest toadies! I wish people would talk to me and treat me as though I were just a mere Miss ----------, and not the daughter of an earl." Christy finished suddenly, ashamed of her outburst.
Anatole gave her a knowing look while he smiled "I am .... intrigued. May I request the pleasure of dancing with you, Miss Dash? Something tells me I would enjoy it immensely."
Christy looked at him frankly. She liked what she saw, and did not believe he would disgrace her on the floor. Indeed, his figure was particularly elegant. "It would be my ....... pleasure, sir."
Anatole laughed. "Now, I would guess that you are stretching the truth with that."
"Perhaps I might, but it would hardly be civil of me to admit it, if it were, would it?"
Anatole turned to face Christabel. "The truth, if you please! Miss Dash, I won't dance with you if you had rather not. Pray don't feel obliged."
Christy stared at him for a second. This man was so .... unlike any other she had met. What sort of person offered to draw back his request to dance with a lady like that? There was no hesitation when she said, "No, I will dance with you. I certainly will!" she declared.
He laughed again as he looked at her expression. Why do I feel so ....stupid.....all of a sudden? While they were dancing, Christy studied her partner. He was taller than her with clear, clean-cut features. There was a certain look in his eyes which she guessed to be shrewd, and though he appeared to look out at the world from lazy eyelids, there was activity beneath them, as he studiously surveyed the company for a reason Christy could not fathom.
He stole a momentary glance at her, and abruptly said, "Well? Have you discovered of me all that you can?"
Christy was too stunned to reply. This man was intelligent, and quick-witted. It appeared little could escape those elusive eyes. What is it about the eyes of Russians? Why are they so fascinating to me?
His tone assumed a softer resonance. "Might I see you again, tomorrow say? I find myself strangely interested in hearing more of this young Nataly."
"Of c-course." Christy replied with surprise, wondering what on earth he was thinking. "I am staying in South Street, with my brother."
"No doubt charming. Brothers always seem to be..."
"In Russia, perhaps." Christy retorted. "Oh! I beg your pardon! I spoke before I could...."
Yes" she owned, shyly. "I take it you have a brother?"
"Yes, and everyone - I mean everyone, except Napoleon, but he can hardly be said to count - considers him charming."
"He is well known then?"
Anatole burst out laughing, obviously deriving extreme amusement from this simple comment. "Yes, quite... quite well known!" he gasped between breaths.
"Oh dear - now I've gone and made myself appear intolerably stupid again. I know nothing of Russian society, except that there are ever so many Princes and Princesses. Oh! Whatever have I said to cast you into whoops?"
"I wish I could tell you, but I am sworn to secrecy."
"Why? Oh, I suppose you cannot tell me, being .....er.... sworn to secrecy?"
"How clever you are, Miss Dash!" Anatole said half-jokingly.
"I hardly know why, but I find you vexing, sir."
"Me? Have I begun toadeating you? That would be vexing, true?"
"Oh! Would that I could strangle you! You awaken in me a great desire to laugh out loud at quite the wrong moments. People will begin to think me even more eccentric!"
"Are you an odd ball then? You struck me as being uncommonly intelligent."
"Do you mean a bluestocking?" Christy asked icily.
"I take it back! I did not mean...... "
"So that I am an idiot now?"
"Might I take the opportunity to reciprocate those sentiments you mentioned with regard to vexation?"
Christy's face broke into a smile. "Naturally you might. But it is very poor-spirited of you. Quite..... gauche!"
"You, Miss Dash, are a card."
"Am I?" Christy asked with interest. "What sort?" She laughed aloud at Anatole's look. "Oh, don't bother explaining. I've had more than my share of amusement today."
"That" said Anatole, "could be taken very much as an insult. Was that your intention?"
"Would it be?" Christy wondered out loud. "To be sure, I had not mean it as such, but you are welcome to feel insulted if you want! I have vexed you now, haven't I?" Christy asked as she was led off the floor.
"Not at all. Not at all." her companion replied, with a queer look.
Lady Christabel went to bed that night confused. Just who was Anatole Pavlovich, why did he have an interest in Natalya, and what on earth had possessed her mind?
It was as though she felt an affinity for this man she had met less than twelve hours before. It was absurd, she knew, but she felt as though she had known him for so much longer. Was this because he had an uncanny ability to make her laugh - as her brother Richard had? Or was it that she was desirous of friendship, and had simply come across someone possibly perfect for the position?
Perhaps she should just blame his eyes: those amazing, full, enticing eyes, which remained with her throughout her dreams that evening.
"Pray let us sit down," Christy said to Anatole, while they walked through a quiet park. Upon entering the townhouse, Anatole had hit upon the notion of taking Christy for a stroll. Lady Matlock was not there to disapprove, and Isabel, who had been charmed by Anatole on sight, turned a blind eye to the impropriety. This was not something she felt bad about - being as she was a young woman who had never been a stickler for propriety.
"What is it you would ask me?" Christabel asked candidly.
"This Natalya you spoke of - she is undoubtedly Russian?"
"Her appearance implies it, her name suggests it, and her language proclaims it, I should think."
"You said she was not alone?"
"She was in the company of the boy, her brother, and a Mr. Wilkenson." Christy replied.
"Wilkenson! Of course! How stupid of me! Vielovsky!"
"I take it that makes sense to you" Christy said with a puzzled grin.
"Vielovsky..... Natalya........ England....... Wilkenson!" Anatole muttered. "What a fool I am!"
"If you say so" Christy said encouragingly.
"Well, I must say that is a fine way to speak about me! For my part, I had rather be called a card."
Anatole ignored her. "No Nikolay has Natalya. Why?"
"What does it matter?"
"Oh, forgive me. I had forgotten you."
"I say! Your politeness caps the globe! You should never admit that!"
Anatole smiled at her "I recollect.... Vielovsky had a boy with him" he noticed Christy's wrinkled brow "Nikolay Vielovsky would be known to you as Mr. Wilkenson."
"Vielovsky? No wonder he changed it! Oh, a boy. Yes, that was Xavier."
"Sir, it behooves me to inform you that your outbursts are excessively confusing."
"The child! Xavier! Found! Thank you! You have done us a great service!"
"I have?" Christabel asked, her eyes wide and mouth ajar.
"Indeed, if we can restore Xavier to his rightful home."
"Rightful home? Christy echoed blankly.
"Why yes! But I really can tell you nothing more at present, though I believe such an intelligent mind as yours has already snuffed out most of the key facts."
Christy looked at Anatole askance. You give me greater credit than I deserve.....
"Where is he? Xavier, the child?"
"At Matlock, with Natalya and Mr. Wilkenson."
"Where is Matlock?"
In Derbyshire. The estate of Matlock is my home, and they are in the village. Sir, I know not why you desire to get to Xavier, but I fear I must inform you the child has become ill, and it was feared he may not survive."
"Xavier -ill? But he has always been the bonniest lad! Is it dreadfully serious?"
"It was three weeks ago."
"I cannot tarry. I must go - immediately. Farewell, Miss Dash - I hope to meet you again one day. You will forever have my gratitude."
And with that, Anatole Pavlovich kissed Christabel's hand and left.
Christy stared down the road after him. That man was irregular!! Before she could stop herself, Christy mentally added "I like him."
If that was not enough for the day's discoveries, Christabel found that if she knew Anatole was to be near Matlock, then she wanted to be there too. She told herself she would be there to help him ~ not that she had any idea what sort of help he might need.
Fortunately, Lord Matlock was missing his daughter's company, and asked if she could return sooner if it were possible. Thus Christy found herself bound for Matlock, wondering if she would get to see him again.
She did, but not before she had visited Sophy and her girls once more. Christmas was coming, and the colder weather had left Olivia with a chill. It was not the easiest thing in the world to nurse a sickly child, and also entertain such an energetic and enthusiastic lass as Celina, and Sophy was clearly in need of some rest. Christy offered to take Celina off her hands for a while, by taking her for a walk. Although taking a walk rated under helping people, it was a favourite past time of Miss Miller's, and she willingly agreed to go off with 'Miss Christy.'
To Christabel's surprise, and (though she told herself it was not) pleasure, the two came across Anatole in a field. He too appeared surprised, but instantly smiled at Christy and Celina. Before he could say anything, Celina looked up at him with her candid eyes and said, "Who are you?"
"A friend" he replied.
"What a funny name! This is Miss Christy. I'm Celina."
"Pleased to meet you Celina. And you too, Miss Christy" Anatole said with a smile lurking on his lips.
"The pleasure is all ours, Mr. Friend" Christy replied with barely restrained mirth.
"What brings you here?"
"Goodness no! You are my little friend, aren't you Celina?"
"Yes." Celina walked closer towards Anatole. "My baby sister is being sick, so Miss Christy is taking me for a walk, you see" she whispered confidentially.
"I do see" Anatole replied, apparently much struck by the matter, while Christy's smile grew even more pronounced.
"Do you have more friends? That are your age? Like Nataly perhaps?"
"Natalya?" Celina asked, pondering the matter. "Well, perhaps, though she says "Yah ustala. Ostavte mne v pokoe - yah hochy spat.*" and things to me, that I don't know."
Anatole's shoulders shook. Christy guessed that Celina's Russian was not quite on par with her English.
*Author's Note: I'm tired. Leave me be, I want to sleep.
"Do you like Nataly? Would you like her to come for a walk with you and.... Miss Christy?"
"I don't know that she would come" Christy said softly "She is much isolated, speaks little, and feels less. She has only been in Celina's company once or twice before."
"The Nataly I knew in Russia was not so."
"Did you know her then?" Christy asked with a little surprise.
"She was my.... yes, I know her."
"What was she? Don't try and hide things from me."
"I have told you before: I wish I could tell you, but I am sworn to secrecy. If Alexander......."
"Who is Alexander?" Christabel asked, interested in the appearance of a new character.
"Can you really not guess?" Anatole asked wryly.
Natalya no sooner saw Christy than her lips were drawn into a smile, and her face became a shade less pale.
"Ah Miss Bell!" she exclaimed "Will you take me from here? I am sick of this all!" To say Christy was surprised was the veriest understatement. This was more than the shy Natalya had yet said to her, and the tone in which it was spoken was friendly, not cautious, as it had previously been.
"Certainly, if Mr. Wilkenson has no objection" Christy replied, then wondered why her words had put such a damper on Natalya's mood. "Here, we'll go for a walk."
"Must you tell him? I want to go away" she pleaded. "Don't tell him." Her eyes were larger than normal, and in them was such a heart-rending request and plea, that Christy could not refuse.
Christabel had been worried when Anatole told her to find some means of bringing Natalya to him. Seeing the girl so desperate to leave, she began to wonder, more than worry. It was as though the poor girl wished to flee from Mr. Wilkenson, but what reason could she have for wanting to do so?
Natalya and Christy walked away from the village, towards the field where Anatole would be waiting. On their way, Christy asked Natalya some questions, and though she did answer some, others she gave only reticent answers to.
Then, she tripped over. "Oh! Are you alright?" Christy asked, bending over Natalya, but then she stopped. Instead, she stared beside the ground where Natalya lay, with unmitigated shock.
There lay a ring, which had broken from a thin chain Natalya wore about her neck. Christabel knew that ring. It was a part of the triplet set which belonged to Christy, Lady Alyssa Cleary, and Lady Alyssa's long-lost sister Natasha.
"T-that r-ring" Christy stuttered "Where did you get it?"
Natalya quickly grabbed the ring. "Don't!" she cried, "It's mine! Mama gave it to me."
"Your mother? Is she.... is her name Natasha?"
Natalya nodded solemnly "Natasha Romanov."
"Romanov?" Christy gasped, intensely looking at Natalya, to see if her memory was serving her tricks. "B-but ..... but..... that is the surname of the Russian royal family!" she managed finally.
"Royal?" asked Natalya "Que-est-ce que? Vous expliquer?"
"Ah! Vous parlez francais! š Bon! Royal - c'est la Famille Royale"
Rather than staring or exclaiming against the comment, as Christy expected Natalya to do, the young girl replied "Oui. Maman - elle est la femme de l'empereur Alexandre."
"Your mother is..... the Russian Empress?" Christabel said slowly, not knowing whether to believe what Natalya told her or not. "C'est impossible!"
"Pourquoi?" Natalya asked, startled. "Je suis la princesse Nataly Romanov.... c'est vrai!" Natalya lapsed back into English. "Pray don't tell anyone."
"If you are Princess Natalya, then why are you in England? Why is the rest of your family in Russia?"
"Not all the rest. Xavier is here, though I wish he were not" Natalya replied, with innocence.
Christy forgot to breathe for a second. She gasped to regain air, and then said in a pale voice, not much like her own "Xavier!! Good God!! The heir to the empire!" All of a sudden she remembered some crucial news. "But.... all the papers said .... all those months back... that the Prince Xavier was..... kidnapped!" She was silent a moment. "Oh! Why did I not realise earlier who you were?"
"I was made to wear peasant clothes. See? No one would recognise me in England. But at home....."
"Why were you kidnapped? And Xavier?"
Christy got no reply, for the two had reached the field where Anatole was, and as soon as Natalya clapped eyes on him, she ran to his side, and embraced him. "Anatole! Anatole!" she screamed happily, and was lifted into the air.
"Nataly! Dear child! I have come for you!" he replied, and then looked over at Christabel, whose face displayed complete and utter bewilderment. A laugh shook his frame, and he said, "I told you I knew Nataly!"
"S-she's a p-princess! And Xavier is the kidnapped heir! Oh! How terribly blind I have been!"
"But for you, I might not have discovered the children's whereabouts. Alexander had to resist Bonaparte, and work at restoring the nation to rights, while I searched for Nataly and Xavier for him. I must not be so diplomatic as I had thought I was, for I could discover little of their whereabouts. But for you, I might never have found them. Alexander will surely want to thank you for helping recover Xavier."
"Does he not care for Natalya?" Christy asked, nettled.
"Only as his stepdaughter, whereas Xavier is of his blood."
"She is not his?"
"To be honest, I don't know. Her title is honourary, because her mother is the Empress, but it was as though she was hidden from the world for the first four years of her life, until Alexander married Natasha. If Natalya is his, she is illegitimate."
"Hidden" Christy said softly "That is why she always looked so pale, and her eyes held so much blankness, and yet pain. Oh Nataly, you poor child! No wonder you shied away from us all."
"Oh no!" Natalya said irrepressibly, "Nikolas said I must!"
The mention of Mr. Wilkenson made Christy thoughtful, and Anatole frown "Vielovsky!" he muttered savagely.
"Who is this man? Christy asked finally. I know him as Wilkenson, yet you call him Vielovsky."
Before Anatole could answer, Natalya said softly, "He told me ..... il est mon pere."
"Your father! But..."
"It is possible" Anatole stated. Natasha is hardly the pure maiden she lets on to be."
"Why did he take Xavier then? He was definitely not his child." Christabel pondered this for a moment. "If Xavier was kidnapped, then I really think you should try to return him. He would do better away from his abductor."
"I shall do it now" Anatole declared. "Come, Nataly!"
When Christabel knocked at the door of Mr. Wilkenson's house, she wondered what she was letting herself in for. Behind her stood Anatole, rigid with a menacing calm, and Natalya, positively beaming up at Christy and Anatole who were, she said, like wondrous beings come to save her.
The door opened and Mr. Wilkenson immediately said "Miss Bell! Have you seen Nat....... Pavlovich" he gasped, then instantly shrunk away, as Anatole strode into the chambers, like an Avenging Angel.
"I've come for Xavier." he said simply, and there was a hardness and finality in his voice which made Wilkenson loathe to disabuse him of the notion, however much it rankled his nerves.
"What the deuce do you want him for?" he asked with a sneer.
"Disregarding this, Anatole said swiftly "Why'd you take him?"
"Nat here's mine to dispose of as I wish - begging your pardon for the plain speaking Miss Bell! - and I took Xavier to punish Natasha for treating my Nat so."
"Oh?" Anatole replied blightingly.
"Aye. Cooping her up no better than a chicken, away from all people her age, and only brought out to be shown as though she were part of an exhibition! Well, so it might be fine for some girls to be locked up from the light and from society all day, but not my Nat! I know Natasha didn't care for the girl - knew it as soon as I saw the child! She only displayed beauty which Natasha called insipid, though I don't know why, for she's much like that herself, and what's more Nat wasn't a son.
So, seeing the state my little Nat was in, I vowed revenge on those that made her so - Natasha and Alexander. When Xavier was born to them, little Nat was totally forgotten by Natasha, and I realised that if I could do something to him, it would be the perfect payback.
This many months it took before I was able to take Nat and Xavier, and spirit them away. I knew I couldn't stay in Russia, and the rest of the continent was hardly suitable, so I settled for England.
True, you know me as Vielovsky, but my mother was as English as the Thames, and she was a Wilkenson. I merely reverted to the use of my mother's maiden name, and as I have some English blood, I believe there was not that much suspicion. It was easier than I expected to take Xavier, and he's been little trouble, except for this illness he's got now. And once I had seen fit to explain to Nat enough that she needed to know, she obeyed me docilely. She's a good girl, Nat."
A sudden thought came to him. "You're... you ain't going to take her from me?"
"It's not for me to decide, as well you know. However, kidnapping the heir to the throne is not exactly the lightest of offences."
"I knew it wasn't right to take Xavier, but I had to take Nat. I had to!" he said continually, trying to convince himself.
"Vielovsky, you know I have to turn you in, and Nataly will have to go back. Your enterprise has done no one involved any good, and to you, great harm. Ultimately it falls to Alexander to decide what will be done with you, and for my part, I would not wish him to be too lenient."
An articulate noise from Natalya reminded the men of her presence. "What will happen to me?" she asked, bitterly rubbing her eyes.
"I don't know." Anatole said softly.
"Mama doesn't want me, and I don't want to go back." she said earnestly. "Well, I would like to wear my dresses again, but it is so cold! Everybody treats me like..... because I'm a.... because Mama.... I don't like being the Princess Nataly everyone whispers about, and I can't help what mama did."
Christy's compassionate heart was wrung for this little girl. "Can't she stay with me for a while?"
"Oh! Will you? How famous!" Natalya ceased being so blue-deviled. "Do let me Anatole! Do!" she begged. There was a something in her amazing eyes that made him powerless, and he said he could think of no better notion.
For this, Natalya danced with glee, and Christy gave him a warm look, pregnant with thanks. Without knowing what he was doing, Anatole found himself returning her look with as much, if not more, feeling and intensity.
Nikolas Vielovsky was returned to Russia, and was incarcerated for his actions. Xavier, once he had recovered sufficiently, was restored to his mother Natasha, and his father, Tsar Alexander I. He did not live long enough to take his father's place on the throne, but he had a happy childhood.
Christabel did not keep Natalya for very long, for as soon as Lady Alyssa discovered her niece's identity, she insisted her father, the Marquis of Fairmont, take her to live with him. He did not take kindly to the child, and she held him in slight aversion. Thus, when the eccentric old man died, he made no provisions for his Natasha, or Natasha's little princess.
The contents of that man's will greatly surprised the Fitzwilliams. Christy received as much as Lady Alyssa and her Daniel, and Lord and Lady Matlock were welcome to the contents of the Marquis' cellars and his gun-storing room. But the greatest surprise came with the naming of his heir.
Having once met Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and treating him with cordiality, the Marquis decided there was no one better to pass the reigns to. The new Marquis and Marchioness of Fairmont were fond of Natalya, and when it was found Natasha really didn't wish for her daughter's return, they offered to take her, for it was unlikely that they should have any more children than they already had - a baby girl.
Eventually the adopted Natalya, and Christy gained a niece whom she adored, and who adored her in return. The little girl with the pale tiny body and the large haunted eyes remained the undoubtedly Russian child, but her eyes lost that particular look, and her body began to fill out, so that she was no longer a waif, but a girl like Celina Miller, who had found a new father in the apothecary Mr. Hilton.
As for Anatole, he had to return Vielovsky and Xavier to Russia, and he did not know when he could return to England. He knew he must; for somthing inside him told him he did not want her to marry another man. And yet, he would be gone for several months at the very least - quite long enough for that treasure to be discovered by someone else.
A few minutes before he left, he came to Christy, to say au revoir, because goodbye was so harsh and final. Her eyes looked up at his pleadingly, and he knew what he wanted to do, but what would his brother say?
"You know I must go, don't you." he said, a statement more than a question, as he took her hands.
Christabel looked down at their hands, and said quietly "Yes. I do know."
She looked at him again.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow, is it not?"
She answered for herself. "Aye, it is."
Seeing the look on her face hurt him more than he felt possible.
Softly, he raised her chin, and kissed her. Softly, she returned his kiss.
"I will come back for you, my love. I will come back." he said finally, tracing her cheekbones with his finger.
"I know you will Anatole." Christabel said, lightly smiling. "I know you will."
Addendum : Well, as for all this Russian royal family stuff..... It may sound legitimate, but the only character in it who actually existed was Alexander, who ruled as Tsar until 1825, when it appears possible he may have faked his own death and lived the rest of his life as a monk (though this hardly sounds likely). He did marry, but his wife's name was not Natasha, and he had no sons, only two girls.
I have lightly based Anatole on Konstantin Pavlovich, the younger brother of Alexander, but only with regards to birthdate and the like. Konstantin was not suited to the throne, and it was his younger brother who became the Tsar Nicholas I after Alexander's demise.
As for Natalya's being adopted by the Fitzwilliam/Fairmonts, I have no idea whether this would have been allowed, probably not. But this is fiction, so I'll allow it :)
There is no sequel to this, precisely, but you will hear more of these characters in the sequel to HHAP, which is not going to be posted until I get HHAP over and done with, so please don't forget my dear Nataly and dearest dearest Anatole :)
I can't think of anything else that really needs to be added here, but if there is anything else you might like clarification about, please feel free to email me.