“Mother, I don’t think I can do this! The reading audition is a scary concept and I don’t think I can go through with it.”
“Nonsense dear, what has gotten into you?”
“Fear I suppose.”
“Well, don’t be scared. Here, fetch some water from the well and place it in front of the fire to warm. You shall have a bath and wash your hair dear. While you are doing that I will iron your dress and we shall place it on a hanger.”
“It is such a dull old thing.”
“No dear, the dark green matches your eyes. You are a very beautiful girl Bonnie.”
“I do not think that.”
“I know, but one day a lovely young man will sweep you off your feet and tell you so. Then you shall know it is true.”
“What funny nonsense! I shall fetch that dress.”
“There’s a good wee lassie.”
Bonnie sighed, she was no longer a child, but felt like her Mother treated her as if she were one sometimes. She said nothing, so not to hurt her feelings and took out her dress from the wardrobe.
“Mother look, it is not so creased. Please don’t trouble yourself, you are tired.”
“Ah no, not at all. I will be as quick as lightning. Now put up that old screen and have your bath, I am sure that the water will be of a perfect temperature now. Have you soap and a cloth?”
“Yes of course. Very well then.”
Bonnie ducked behind the screen and placed her dress over a chair. She slipped off her boots and knitted stockings first, before slipping down her dress. How she would love a corset, but there just wasn’t the money to buy one. Ah how blissfully warm the water was. She clambered in, mulling in the warm water. She grasped the old jug on the side, and filled it with water, pouring it over her hair. She scrubbed and scrubbed, lathering the soap into her hair to create a halo of bubbles. She washed her body, ducking under the water to rinse away the soap. Bonnie grasped her warming towel from the fire guard, wrapping it around her damp body and re-appeared.
“Ah you are all finished. Good, when the water is cooled, I shall use it to water the plants, waste not want not. Dear, put on your night-dress and comb your hair through. I have the rags all ready for you. Are you not cold?”
“No I am a bit too hot actually, but I shall dry my hair slightly before the fire before you do it for me.”
“Ah, sensible girl.”
“Ahh Aggie is outside, I shall let her in. Here Aggie, Aggie, Aggie.”
Bonnie opened the front door with the towel wrapped around her shoulders; the little cat circled her bare feet, before springing onto her lap and licking her hand.
“You are a dear, affectionate cat if ever there was one. Aww Mother, she is purring away.”
“That’s because she’s with you Bonnie and I suspect that she relishes the warmth in this house after being outside in the cold.” Bonnie nodded, playing with Aggie’s ear. Aggie playfully prodded Bonnie with her paw, before hopping back onto the floor and curling up into a circle before the fire.
“She is a sleepy girl I think and so am I.”
“Ahh, then I shall do your hair for you quickly as I can. It will only take half an hour. Would you like more tea?”
“No thank you. I might need to go to the toilet during the night and I do not want to have to go outside in the darkness.”
“Ahh, yes that is sensible. Sit on that footstool Bonnie.”
“You have so much hair Bonnie, it is far grander than mine ever was.”
“Must you wrap my hair so tightly?”
“Yes dear, for the rags to stay in.”
“This will take an age!”
“My! You are impatient tonight, it must be nerves.”
“Only about 10 more little knots to do now.”
“Well that is a little rude when I am taking the time to do this.”
Bonnie gazed into space as Aggie sat by her feet. She stroked the cat’s soft fur as she purred and stretched upon the rug.
“There, all done! Well, goodnight pet.”
Bonnie kissed her Mother’s forehead and bid her goodnight.
“Your Grace, it is Howard, I have returned from home. I am sorry to disturb you, but I think it is time for you to get ready.”
“My readers are coming today are they not?” Theodore mumbled, sleepily removing the sheet which formed a cocoon over his head.
“They are indeed.”
“I can hardly be bothered.”
“You will be needed in the great hall at noon.”
“Hmph, my parents might as well choose for me, they make all the other decisions in my life!”
“As parents, they only want what is best for you, your Grace.”
“Perhaps.” Theodore rubbed his forehead, how it ached.
“Are you in discomfort?”
“No.” Theodore lied.
“Will you be wearing your new suit? Here now, I shall fetch it from your wardrobe.”
“No thank you. I shall choose what to wear.”
“I shall leave you to get ready, then I shall assist you to the room.”
Theodore nodded slowly; “Do as you please.”
“Are you ready your Grace?” He looked at Theodore’s white linen shirt with its ruffled sleeves, black trousers and boots. His fine hair hung in waves loosely around his shoulders.
“Yes, ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Come along then, here take my arm and do not be afraid.”
“I-I am not. I am the Prince after all.”
“Aha! Fighting talk. That is the correct attitude your Grace. Here is your Mother.”
“I recognise the sound of her footsteps. Mother?”
“Theodore, you look….”
“Oh good God!”
“What is it?”
“One would think that I was wearing a smock.”
“It is similar.”
“For goodness sake, stop your fussing! Do calm down, I am a man and can wear whatever I choose. I am clean and my hair is tidy and quite honestly, I could not care less!”
“Theodore what a thing to say, have you eaten breakfast? Howard said…”
He gritted his teeth. “Take me to the audition room!”
“Y-yes dear, we shall go now.”
“I am not your dear, I never have been and I never will be. Theodore died along with the fever and along with his eyesight but you haven’t seemed to notice. Things can never be as they were. I shall never court or marry and I shall live and die alone.” He paused, grasping the door handle.
“No, wait I cannot do this. I won’t do this, please turn around.” He whispered.
“I cannot! Please!”
“No Theodore! For your own good I am putting my foot down and you are seeing this through.”
Theodore gasped for breath, his palms growing clammy. He adjusted his shirt collar, Queen Evangeline placed a chair underneath him.
“It’s alright. There, there. Slow your breathing and count to ten. That’s it. I fear that you have been overwhelmed by panic.”
“I-cannot- breathe.” He gasped, the tingling in his legs and arms growing stronger. She stood next to Theodore, holding him close.
“Take deep breaths of air.” Theodore nodded, doing so. “Don’t worry about being a little late. The readers will be seated in the room, but they can wait for a while, sit down.” He obeyed, placing his head in his hands. He stayed there for 5 minutes, before getting to his feet shakily.
“How- how do you feel?”
“Better, thank you. Yes, I must go in now am I late?”
“As the Prince, you are never late, everyone else is simply early. But I see a few empty seats still. Come on dear, let’s be seated.”
Queen Evangeline guided him to a chair. “The first reader is Mr William Norbert of Lancashire if you are quite ready.”
Mr Norbert proceeded to read a bible passage. Theodore pressed his lips into a thin line.
“You know I am not religious, this man should be a preacher he talks with such passion, but we will not do.” He whispered, his heart still trembling as he sensed the clamminess of his palms. Queen Evangeline nodded.
“Thank you Mr Norbert, you may go now.” She stated, tapping Theodore’s shoulder, prompting him to say something.
“Yes thank you for your time.” He said coldly.
“Mrs Alice Timms of Surrey, please step up to the podium and read for us.” Queen Evangeline asked.
“Thank you your grace.” Came a timid, squeaking whisper. Theodore coughed, raising his eyebrows.
“Listen to her voice, she sounds like a little mouse. Where are you finding these people Mother? This is quite ridiculous!”
“Shhh! That will do, Theodore?”
“Oh um, perhaps you should consider applying for another job. A horse whisperer perhaps, I have horses in my stables if you’d like to try?”
The girl blushed a shade of scarlet, before scuttling out of the door.
“Theodore! Really! The poor girl was so young and timid anyway, she could not have been more than 15! That was a horrid thing to say!”
“My heart bleeds for her.”
“Mr George Fawcett.”
“It is such a pleasure to be reading to you today your majesties. What an accomplishment it would be if I was chosen. May I recite to you now?”
“You’re not going to be.” Theodore muttered through gritted teeth. George did not hear him. “My God! He talks through his nose, this will not do. Mother you may sit here at your own amusement if you wish, but I am going to leave the room now.” He rose to his feet.
“Miss Bonita McGrath your Grace.” Theodore paused .
The book trembled beneath Bonnie’s fingers as they stared at her. Queen Evangeline smiled at Bonnie gently, which gave her a little hope. The Queen gave her a gentle nod to show acknowledgement. Bonnie curtsied as her Mother Maira had taught her and looked to Prince Theodore.
“Are you going to stand there dumbstruck? What do you plan to recite?”
“That was not my intention at all your Grace.” Bonnie replied with an overwhelming calmness.
“You did not answer my question.”
“Forgive me, I had planned to recite poetry.”
“Oh how dull! Well, you may proceed.”
Bonnie took a deep breath, placing the small book down upon the stand and began to read. Theodore shook his head in annoyance.
“Where on earth did you find this one? She sounds like some common, Scottish country wench!”
“Theodore!” Queen Evangeline gasped.
Bonnie’s heart sank, but she resumed reading the next paragraph.
“Oh do describe her dress to me, no wait, I can imagine it. It is a dingy, washed out gown that is not flattering in the slightest for this girl. She probably looks like a dumpy old washer woman.”
Bonnie snapped the pages shut. Theodore jumped and swallowed turning a shade paler. He grasped his Mother’s hand. She pushed it away in annoyance.
“Your majesty, yes I am poor and my dress is a little dingy but I will not be mocked and put down like an insignificant animal. You are cruel and your snide remarks towards these poor, undeserving people this afternoon have disgusted me! You ought to re-evaluate yourself and the way you treat others. There is little wonder that you are not betrothed.”
The last comment stabbed Theodore’s chest, creating another wound in his heart. He thought of Miss Mallis, grasping his chest. Quickly he composed himself as best as he could, yet said nothing. Bonnie grabbed her book, turning on her heels and marched out of the door. The tiniest smile creased Queen Evangeline’s lips.
“She handled you so well, you have made a fool out of yourself today my son and for that I am ashamed of you! A fine way to win the support and affection of the people in the town! Your manners are atrocious! You are beginning to sound like Miss Mallis!”
“How dare you even speak of her Mother!”
“Yes well, you are better than this Theodore. If you carry on, you will have people believe that you have turned into an arrogant, cruel, selfish human being. Strive and learn to love others and you shall be loved in return. Miss McGrath spoke sense, perhaps you should listen to her.”
Theodore closed his eyes and bit his bottom lip.
“Come, as we have seen everybody we shall go. Here Theodore, take my arm.”
“I do not wish to.”
“You cannot manage these stairs by yourself, there is no hand rail.”
“I don’t give a damn! If I am to fall and break my neck, so be it!”
To be continued...
©Sophie Bowns 2011-2014