“What is that?”
“Well, he can have quite a fiery temper.”
“Really? I have barely noticed.”
“Yes, he is good at controlling it I think, but I have seen it once or twice. He terrified me half to death.”
“He is physically violent?”
“Heavens, no! But his words stung like a whip. Forget I said anything. It was three years ago now, he was about 16.”
“Pray, tell me the full story.”
“I probably should not tell you this. But now I have started I should proceed. Well, I upset him, I did something wrong and he told me exactly what he thought of me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Oh, let’s just say that I was a little too flirtatious and he didn’t like it. He told me that I was behaving like a harlot. I was furious and I’m afraid that I slapped him.”
“You slapped the future king?!”
“Yes. He was furious and accused me of being a-a-”
“A woman of the night.”
“He insinuated that?!”
“Oh dear. Did he apologise?”
“Oh yes of course. Promise that you won’t mention it in front of him.”
“Thank you Jane, I feel I can trust you.”
“You can Elizabeth. Sorry, I must find Theodore, he will wonder where I am.”
“Yes of course.”
“Queen Evangeline, where is Theodore?”
“He is seated over there, talking to the Earl of Lancashire.”
“Lancashire? My! He has come quite a way.”
“Oh dear, I do not want to interrupt them.”
“He won’t mind dear.”
“Thank you your majesty.” Jane curtsied, wandering over to Theodore. Both Theodore and the Earl of Lancashire stood.
“Jane! Dearest, there you are. Might I introduce my dear friend?”
“You are the Earl of Lancashire?”
“Yes ma’am.” He bowed humbly, kissing her hand.
“Well, I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. I don’t know how I shall remember everybody, there are so many people here this evening!”
“Don’t worry your pretty head, you will remember them all in time. If you forget then I shall remind you.”
“Thank you Theodore.”
“Now then Jane, we are to go around and speak with everyone.”
“Don’t be shy, I will do the majority of the talking, but you must say hello and you have already met the Earl of Lancashire already.”
“Alright. Here, Lord Cranberry, might I introduce my fiancée; Miss Jane Mallis.”
He performed a bow. “It is a pleasure to meet you ma’am. I was just thinking how happy you both look.”
“We are thank you.”
“And may it continue. This evening is so marvellous!”
“I agree, but it is the company that makes a good evening.” Theodore beamed.
“Oh absolutely your grace, enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“Thank you Lord Cranberry.”
Jane coughed and giggled, hiding her face in her handkerchief once more.
“Jane, what are you doing, we are in the public eye.”
“My! How he suits his name, his face is as round and as scarlet as a cranberry!” Theodore pouted, narrowing his eyes.
“That is the second comment of late that you have made a remark I have not liked. Please be careful what you say. Do not assume to poke fun at my friends. I find it hurtful and offensive!”
“Well, you certainly found it amusing the other evening.”
“That was then and this is now.”
“You look quite changed. What is wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. Except, it is too hot in here.”
“No it isn’t.”
“I-I think I need some fresh air.”
“I shall come with you.”
Theodore ignored her, placing a hand to his burning forehead, gasping for breath as his head span like a carousel. He glanced at his guests, whose faces appeared like double vision, their features blurred beyond recognition. The loud music and laughter merged into one muffled tone. Desperate to get away from the public eye; he grasped the panelling for support and stumbled into the hallway. A ringing sound swirled inside his head, his version blurred. He was falling in slow motion and there was nothing he could do to stop himself. His body hit the ground, his head striking the stone floor. Jane grabbed her skirts and hurried to his side, followed by a crowd of party guests.
“Theodore!” She shrieked, shaking his shoulder. He lay there, chalky white, his lips ever so slightly parted, revealing his white teeth. Howard stepped in, placing the back of his hand to Theodore’s mouth. He lifted his head, placing a bottle of smelling salts under Theodore’s nose. Slowly, he stirred and opened his eyes, groaning.
“I have caused a scene.”
Queen Evangeline patted his hand.
“No dear, it’s not your fault. Howard, would you please carry him upstairs and help him into bed, he needs rest. I shall be up in one moment. Please everyone, as you were!”
A drowsy, semi-conscious Theodore sensed, strong, but gentle arms supporting his limp body. Mr Howard carried him into his bedroom, removing his boots for him and placed the coverlet over him.
“Yes your Grace? Ah, you are coming to.”
“I’m glad that I could be of assistance, pardon my saying, but I think you gave the whole court a fright this evening.”
“Miss Mallis, how is she?” He muttered.
“Naturally, she is shocked.”
“Poor woman. Might-might I see her?”
“I shall ask, but at this moment in time, I think she wishes to be alone.”
“Send her all my love and a humble apology.”
“Very good your grace, I shall tell her when I can.”
“My goodness! Who have we here? My Miss Mallis, it’s like you were sent to me, Howard and I were just discussing- never mind. Please do not look so alarmed, is it my appearance?”
Her bottom lip trembled as she kissed his forehead and pulled up a high-backed chair to his bedside, smoothing her skirts carefully beneath her before she sat. Jane stared at her lap, tracing her fingers over the fine, beaded design upon her dress, fine wisps of blonde, baby hair framing her face. Jane glanced at Theodore, forcing a smile.
“I thought I should come and see you.”
“Jane something troubles you.”
“Jane, now that we are engaged, we must always be honest with one another.”
Jane glared at him and pouted. She narrowed her eyes, scanning Theodore’s pale form from top to bottom.
“You lied to me!”
“I did not lie, oh Jane nothing like this has ever happened before, not to this extremity. It wasn’t that bad, I regained consciousness quickly and I am quite well now. Please Jane, forgive me.”
“This is serious. There is something happening to your health. It is not normal for someone to faint twice in one day, not unless you are a woman who has her corset laced too tightly!”
“People faint all the time.”
“No they don’t! Not like that, you completely lost consciousness for about a minute! That is too long. Good God! I’m going to have to be your nurse maid aren’t I?”
“Was all this a lie? Did you ever truly love me? Or were you just searching for a poor victim to care for you!”
“Your tone is too brash. I remind you whom you are speaking to! Kindly remember your place.”
“You did not answer my question!”
“Jane, I love you more than I ever could explain. You make me so, so happy. You are like a ray of sunshine in my life. My brain is overpowered each day with thoughts of you, I live and breathe you and you shall always be cherished and looked after here for as long as you shall live.”
“I don’t want to be cherished and looked after like some little lap dog! What am I to do after you are gone?”
“Gone?! Jane, I am not going to die!”
“I don’t know what to think or feel any more Theodore, I just don’t.”
“Well we shall take each day a step at a time.”
“You and your family have trapped me!”
“No! You are not trapped. Oh my love, please forgive me for what I have done. I shall rest today and then tomorrow we shall resume the fun. How about that, for an idea?”
“I don’t think you understand yourself, your grace. My God! It scares me so. I- I am going for a walk in the grounds to blow away the cobwebs.”
“Very well. Please don’t leave me for long. Would- would you read to me?”
“Your majesty, you can read!”
“I-I tried earlier, my eyes and brain would not focus, the words became a sea of blurred blackness upon the page. Please Jane, it would make me happy.”
Jane sighed, crossing her arms. “Very well then, I shall return in half and hour, when I do, I will read to you. There now, please try to get some more sleep, you have dark circles around your eyes and they appear to be all bloodshot.”
“That gives me great confidence.”
“It is how it is.”
“Oh. Enjoy your walk Jane.”
“I shall your Grace.”
“Yes your Grace.”
“Please don’t use your Grace, that is for servants and acquaintances. Please call me Theodore.”
“As you wish Theodore.”
Jane walked with haste, glancing at the small cluster of deer that stood together under the high tree branches. Jane closed her eyes, smelling the delicious, natural aromas and soaking up the cool atmosphere. She sat on a stone, semi-circle seat, placing her right hand over her left and sensing the coldness of it underneath her fingertips. She removed the ring, placing it into the palm of her hand, gazing at its fine form. It truly was a beauty. She placed the ring back in its rightful place, venturing back indoors. The sudden change in the weather, brought a change in Theodore’s condition. She stepped indoors, all was quiet. Too much so. Jane raced up to Theodore’s bedroom to where he lay, Queen Evangeline at his side.
“Ah, Miss Mallis. Jane do come in, do not be alarmed.”
“He- he looks frightful!”
“My dear, he is just sleeping. Here, come and sit by him as I have done, but we mustn’t wake him. For the time being, Theodore needs plenty of rest.”
“Is he dangerously ill? As his fiancée, I should know. He told me about his black outs.”
“Ah yes, they have become more increasing of late.”
“Is-is this one of them?”
“No, no. He is simply sleeping at the moment, come.”
“Your majesty, why was no-one honest with me?”
“You will have to forgive what I am saying, but it appears that everyone in the palace knew of Prince Theodore’s condition apart from myself.”
“We do not know what it is, therefore it is not a condition.”
“He has not been so well for a few months now, but it has grown more seriousness of late. He will be well in a day or two and you can forget this whole little incident.”
“How can I forget?!”
“I must remind you who you are speaking to!”
“I see a Queen standing before me.”
“Please, go and sit with him and bring him comfort.”
Jane stamped her foot.
“Your majesty I want a husband, not an invalid who will tie me down. I want to live my life to the fullest. I need to be happy, not miserable and trapped. This is awful, perfectly horrid. How dare he lie to me! He lied! Did you know that, you are all liars and swindlers. Theodore saw me as being naïve I suppose, so he chose me to be his little fiancé. I cannot marry him, no I cannot do this any more. My God! What am I to do?”
“Miss Mallis! I am horrified, my son is not a liar and we have not trapped you. It has been clear to everyone that Theodore has not been well. Perhaps you chose to pull the wool over your own eyes!”
“My-my own eyes! Oh God and now you turn the blame to me? What is this? I have no choice but to tell Theodore myself.”
“Tell him what exactly?”
“I cannot be engaged to him for one moment longer and I will not allow you all to trap me into this marriage.”
“Miss Mallis, your behaviour horrifies me! I have tried to reserve my judgement and let Theodore make decisions for himself as a young gentleman. You have just proven yourself to be everything that I suspected you to be. Superficial and selfish! You do not love my son at all do you? No, you wanted to live a lavish lifestyle!”
“That is why I must tell him so! I cannot deceive him any longer!”
“You cannot! The news would kill him, you must continue your relationship as normal.”
“That, I can’t do!”
Jane pushed past the dumbstruck Queen, running up the staircase into Theodore’s bedroom, her eyes filled with tears of fury. He was not there. She rushed into the small drawing room next to his room, where he lay under a blanket upon one of the chaise lounges.
“Jane, how delightful it is to see you. My what is the matter? Darling? Tell me!”
“I’m afraid that I have told your Mother too much!”
“Theodore, it pains me greatly to have to tell you this.”
Slowly she removed her engagement ring, placing it in his open hand. She placed one hand underneath and the other over the top of his. Putting his fingers over the top of the ring. Theodore gasped and bit his bottom lip, closing his eyes a tear trickling down his cheek.
“Please don’t cry.” She whispered. “It’s for the best, we are both too young. Perhaps when you eventually recover, you will find someone worthy of you.”
Theodore said nothing and turned on his side, so she wouldn’t see his tears.
“I hope that you make a quick recovery your majesty, don’t cry. Thank you for the happy times and the wonderful memories. I will treasure them always, but now, I must go home forever.”
To be continued….
©Sophie Bowns 2011-2014