Bonnie scurried home, and crept in the front door where her Mother was sweeping the floor. She propped the broom against the wall, embracing Bonnie with open arms.
“Oh Bonnie! Tell me everything, what an exciting day for you. What did Prince Theodore look like, is he much changed dear?”
“I barely noticed. He is thinner I suppose, he was always slim, but his cheeks look a little sunken. Oh Mother he was so rude, you would have been horrified to hear his snide little remarks about everyone auditioning. He made one of the young girls cry, she must have only been 15.”
“Ahh the poor dear.”
“Yes and the girl. My dear, he is bound to be a little bitter, he did lose his sight after all. Now tell me, how did your turn go?”
“Oh Bonnie.” Bonnie’s stomach churned, twisting into knots.
“He said I sounded like a Scottish Country wench so…”
“He did not!”
“I told you that they would not like my accent! I lost my temper.”
“Oh good heavens! Whatever did you say?”
“I told him that I did not deserve to be mocked and that he needs to re-evaluate the way in which he treats others!”
“I said.. there is little wonder why he is not betrothed.”
“Good God! What were you thinking? Have you any idea at all what that poor boy has been through?”
“No, not really.”
“He has had his heart-broken! That’s probably why he is so unhappy!”
“I dare say that you have blown all your chances. There is little wonder that you are not in serious trouble my girl!”
“Can you just imagine being in Prince Theodore’s company every single day. He probably never stops complaining and treats all his servants terribly. No Mother, I am glad. I would rather poke my eyes out with sticks, than be a reader for that insolent man!”
Theodore refused his luncheon, stating that he was not hungry, his mind full of other thoughts.
“Your Grace, you ate very little at breakfast, so your Mother tells me.”
“My appetite is not what it was. There is no point wasting food, I know for a fact that I shan’t eat it Howard.”
Theodore instead sipped a glass of water, resting his pounding head on a cushion.
“Howard, this- this is a foolish question, but have you heard anything of Miss Mallis?”
“Nothing at all your Grace, I imagine that she is well.”
“What are you thinking of your Grace?”
“I am mentally choosing a reader. One was very different was she not?”
“Yes your Grace.”
“Miss Bonita McGrath.”
“Yes indeed your Grace.”
“There was something about her, something I don’t think I have ever seen in a woman before. I don’t know if she would come back, I am sure that she hates me.”
“I don’t think so. I imagine she was a little hurt.”
“Oh dear. Well, I can only hope.”
“Yes Sire, you can.”
Theodore froze, it was not like Howard to… he paused and said nothing.
“Yes, I think my mind is made up, can you ask Mother to ask the scribe to write to the girl, my mind is already made up.”
“Very good your Grace.”
“Ah! Mr Howard, good afternoon to you! How is my son?”
“He is…I think he may be starting to see sense. He wishes for Miss McGrath to read to him.”
“Ah! An excellent choice, the first decent decision he has made in months! Excellent, well she shall receive a letter welcoming her to the palace. She may not even except, I imagine the girl is very hurt. We may as well try at least. Thank you Howard, will you fetch the scribe?”
Bonnie rubbed the base of her back, placing the broom in the cupboard underneath the stairs. She returned to the garden to fetch eggs from the four roaming chickens in their small garden. She opened the front door, noticing a pristine, white envelope upon the floor. With care, she picked it up and examined the hand writing. Surely it wasn’t….
Dear Miss McGrath,
I am delighted to inform you that you have been chosen and are to appointed in the palace as royal reader, with a salary of three pounds each week. Working hours shall be arranged between yourself and my son; HRH Prince Theodore, but at least 3 hours of reading each day will be required.
Yours Faithfully, HRH Queen Evangeline.
“Bonita! What is the matter?”
“What is it? Has the cat got your tongue dear?”
Without saying so much as a word, Bonnie handed the letter to Maira with trembling hands. She grinned upon seeing the royal stamp upon the top of the letter.
“My goodness! Oh I am so proud and you begin tomorrow, oh you must have another bath tonight and I shall place your hair in rags again!”
“Yes, I will have a bath Mum, but no rags please. I am not suffering again. It is horrible to have lots of little poky knots on top of my head. I need a good nights sleep!”
“Hmm, very well then! Now, go and fetch some more water from the well and I will heat it up again in the tin bath in front of the fire.”
Bonnie smiled, pinning her hair into a neat bun. She pulled on her plain, but tidy navy gown and polished her leather boots, wiping away the dried mud. Maira sat at the kitchen table. She grinned, sliding a cup of tea towards her.
“Would you like toast?”
“No, I don’t think I could eat a thing, my stomach is in sailor’s knots.”
“You shall be hungry in an hour.”
“Ah, well. I will only have myself to blame.” She took a few gulps of her cup of tea.
“I really must go Mother.”
“You are early dear.”
“I know, but I am not entirely sure where I am going. I must not be late.”
“Very well, I understand.”
Bonnie pulled her shawl around her shoulders, wandering through a small clearing, heading towards the palace. She sighed as it loomed into view and gazed at her old wrist watch. She was 10 minutes early. Howard stood with his back to the lush, green ivy which embellished the main entrance and smiled.
“Ah, sir I recognise your face.”
“I am Prince Theodore’s main servant, Mr Howard. You may call me Howard.”
“Well it is lovely to meet you. How is his royal highness?”
“He is…still in his chamber.”
“I hope that he is not unwell Mr Howard, I mean Howard.”
Howard laughed. “Some find it confusing. My Christian name is John, Miss McGrath.”
“Ah, yes I understand now. How long have you worked for the family?”
“22 long, but happy years.”
“Since before Prince Theodore was born, am I right?”
“Do you find this Royal family agreeable to work for.”
“Oh yes. They have been very loyal and kind to my family over the years. My Father worked for them before I did God rest his soul.”
Bonnie nodded. “I am sorry.”
“Miss Mc Grath, might I show you to a drawing room, the one where you shall be reading today. Here, make yourself comfortable and his Grace will be with you shortly.”
Bonnie gazed at the small crystal tumbler filled with water, running her fingertips over the ridges and peered through it, the image on the other side blurred.
“His Grace; Prince Theodore.”
Bonnie sprung up, flustered, she smoothed her dress underneath her, her cheeks flushing.
“Miss McGrath again I presume?”
“Yes, erm, yes your Majesty. I am pleased to make your acquaintance once more and I apologise for my behaviour on our first meeting, forgive me.”
Prince Theodore paused. “What are you planning to read to me? I warn you that I despise fairy stories.”
“What type of books do you enjoy? You have a large selection.”
“What good are they to me now?!”
“Please excuse me, I think that is why I am here now.”
“Oh really, you don’t say.”
“I shall recite some poetry. Erm, I often find that everybody likes it.”
Theodore perched himself upon a chaise lounge, placing his legs over the edge, placing his head in his hands.
“Are- are you quite well?”
“Oh yes, never better.”
“You do not like this poetry.”
“The problem is; to be quite frank with you, you. it is your accent you see and I am not used to hearing such strange accents. I find it very off putting.”
“I apologise your my accent your Grace, shall I take elocution lessons?”
“They would not go amiss.”
“Then, perhaps you should take lessons too, in etiquette?”
“How dare you! Insolent girl! We have been in each others company for less than 10 minutes and already you have insulted me! I warn you, I will have you thrown out and dismissed before you can say Royal reader!”
“Oh dear. We appear to have gotten off on a bad foot haven’t we. Please don’t sack me, my family will starve.”
“My you’re so clever aren’t you, Miss Bonita McGrath, with the bizarre, foreign accent.”
“I am British, and therefore not foreign. My your people skills are second to none your Grace!”
“Very well, I can see that I am wasting my time.”
Theodore shook his head, whatever would his parents say? The new appointed royal reader lasted 10 minutes in his company.
“I am asking you to stay!”
“Is that an order?”
“Yes, yes it is. Look, I apologise.”
“Ah, and I accept your apology your Grace for the second time.”
“Very well then, Miss McGrath, let’s begin again.”
His voice softened as he outstretched his right hand. Bonnie paused, and shook his soft un callused hand. This was not a workers hand, but a hand of a Prince.
Theodore took a deep breath, placing his feet upon the couch.
“You are tired your Grace?”
“Oh, well I have been here for almost two hours, shall we take a short break or we could even take a stroll in the grounds. I know a good deal of poetry by memory.”
“I’d rather not.”
“I suppose you are right, it is a little cold today. Perhaps tomorrow then?”
Theodore coughed, rubbing his chest, seeming a little distant. Perhaps he was very tired, his face appeared a little paler.
“No, don’t go, not yet.”
“Ah, you have not minded my company today?”
“I have found it to be; interesting.”
“In what way?”
“You’re a fiery thing aren’t you?”
“Yes I suppose that I am.”
“That makes two of us then. Ah, I imagine that you are hungry and that is why you are a little unsettled.”
“I don’t think I am! What is the time?”
“Nearly noon. Do you take luncheon your Grace.”
“That’s what I said it is it not.”
“Perhaps you should take a quick luncheon today and then I shall resume my reading.”
“That will not be necessary, I eat as and when I am hungry.”
“You do not eat with your parents?”
“Rarely. Anyway, who do you think you are, waltzing in here and telling me when I should eat?!”
“Oh um, you like dancing?”
“I used to.”
“You no longer dance?”
“That is a shame, I heard that you were a fine dancer.”
“You did? Really and truthfully?”
“Your Grace, I have many faults but being a liar is not one of them. Yes I did.”
“I used to love it. Not, not now.”
“Why deprive yourself of the things you love!” Bonnie gasped.
“Because- because no one wants to dance with a miserable blind man.”
To be continued….
©Sophie Bowns 2011-2014