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Chapter One is available for free here.
The morning began, however, with an element of confusion, as we were not accustomed to the east country’s atmosphere and it appeared, upon first glance that the hours still belonged to the night. Robert made mention of the sky’s refusal of the sun’s rays and had to check his watch against that of an attendant to ensure himself that morning had indeed come. A cart came bearing coffee and buttered scones and that did much to improve our temperament, although Robert remarked that perhaps his mother was right and expected Zenborough to be a likewise gloomy place. I soon came to enjoy the dramatic romance of the scenery as it looked remarkably like the paintings I had come to adore within the church where my flower bed once resided.
Once we had performed our morning toilet and dressed for the day, Robert mused over the figures of his business while I stared out of the window, entranced with the somber landscape outside. Just as it had happened the night previous, I lost track of time and before I knew it nearly an hour and a quarter had passed and had been non-risible to Robert’s touch. A morbid curiosity weighed on my mind then: had I been watching the land outside or had I been once again bewitched by my faint reflection on the windowpane? I shook it off and made the excuse to Robert that I was simply not feeling well. Robert apologized profusely and said that he had been a fool for not expecting that I might endure some travel sickness, never having ventured so far before. He left and returned a few minutes later with a glass of brandy and a quinine tablet. I accepted the medicine gratefully and returned my attention to my novel, fearing any prolonged stare through the glass would lapse my attention back into my trance.
I still allowed myself brief glances to note the progress of our journey. It struck me as strange as to how many owls flew in the sky— generally solitary and nocturnal hunters, the creatures seemed to congregate en masse like a flock of sparrows. When I last glanced at the countryside, I took notice of how densely forested the area had become and how thick the trees themselves were. Black coniferous giants walled off any other features of the countryside and this frustrated any attempt to gauge our distance. I was again flummoxed when an attendant notified us that we were to arrive in Zenborough in a quarter-hour. I remarked to my Robert that there was surely no way any town or village could exist in such dense arboreal vegetation and that seemed to amuse him although I suspect he had the very same inkling.
On the train platform, Robert took care of the particulars to have our luggage delivered to our hotel and asked the bag man for a recommendation for a place that would serve some coffee or tea. The man, whose face was flushed red and carried an odor of bitter alcohol and petulant pipe tobacco, directed us to a cafe near the town square. Robert thanked the man and pressed a silver coin into his palm and we made haste at once, eager to get out of the misting rain and muddy streets.
Robert enjoyed a coffee and a small cigar while I chose chamomile and nibbled on a petite cake. Robert warned me not to eat too much as a Duke’s feast was sure to warrant a healthy appetite. After our luncheon, we settled into the hotel, bathed and took care of our toilet duties before donning our nicest garments— Robert looked absolutely handsome in his dark suit and I slipped into a green dress, an engagement present from my beloved after he had noticed me coveting it through a window. The principle adornment was the silver crucifix necklace and I was moved nearly to tears when Robert said that he had been stricken breathless by my stunning beauty.
Our carriage arrived to take us out to the manor driven by none other than the drunkard who had taken our bags just a few hours earlier. I’m afraid my feelings were not friendly towards the man as intoxication does not usually make for a charming disposition. Robert, however, smiling and eager as ever gave the man two pieces of silver and even asked to know the drunkard’s name which he gave as Klaus. The moment humbled me as I am occasionally too quick to judgment about the lower classes, now that I have been elevated. A true lady remembers her beginnings or she hazards losing her gratitude.
The misting rain turned to downpour on our way to the Duke’s manor and the noise of raindrops against our carriage roof was to be accompanied by the owls’ fevered screeching overhead. This did not seem to affect Robert and thusly I vowed that it would have no effect on me. As the windows of the carriage had no glass, I felt I was again free to gaze outside and take in the sights, what little I could see through the rain and the trees in the night’s gloom. An interesting notion caught me when I regarded the moon— which bore larger here than back home and with a muddled orangish tint— and then some minutes later, after a few miles had been crossed, the queer notion caught me again. It could be the coincidence of our location, but it appeared to me that the moon had not shifted in its location in the sky. Robert squeezed my hand and remarked on how excited he was to meet this Duke and I soon put any thought about the moon and the peculiar absence of stars out of my mind.
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