Nigel Bevelstoke, better known as Turner to all who cared to court his favor, knew a great many things. He knew how to shoot a moving target whilst atop a moving horse, and he knew exactly how much he could drink before surrendering his dignity. He could throw a punch or fence with a master, and he could do them both whilst reciting Shakespeare or Donne.
But nothing—not one second of his prominent and privileged life—had prepared him for this moment. And never had he felt the weight of watchful eyes so much as now, as he stepped forward and tossed a clump of dirt on the coffin of his wife. And all the while Turner could not help but wonder if God might smite him down, because all he could think was—. There was the loss of his reputation, of course. Then there was the loss of his innocence.
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It was difficult to recall now, but he had once given mankind the benefit of the doubt. He had, on the whole, believed the best of people—that if he treated others with honor and respect, they would do the same unto him.
He had wanted to be rid of her. This was not a pity. It was a farce. She had bewitched him, teased him until he could think of nothing but the possession of her. She had said she loved him, and she had smiled with sweet innocence and delight when he had avowed his devotion and pledged his soul. He was married, or unsuitable, or maybe both. But Leticia had not wanted his love. Or maybe it had just been relief. And now here she was. Or rather, there she was. He was only sorry that she would spend her eternity in his ground, resting among the Bevelstokes of days gone by.
Turner looked up at the priest. He was a youngish fellow, new to the parish and by all accounts, still convinced that he could make the world a better place. And the priest, his blue eyes bright with that appallingly misplaced glimmer of sympathy, kept on talking—. The priest looked at Turner and actually flinched. Nothing good, that much was clear. There was a chorus of amens, and then the service was over. She was currently on page forty-two of her thirteenth journal, but this was the first time—the first time since that fateful day nine years earlier— that she had not a clue what to write.
Even when her days were dull and they frequently were , she managed to cobble together an entry. Ate breakfast: toast, eggs, bacon. Read Sense and Sensibility, authored by unknown lady. Hid Sense and Sensibility from Father. Ate dinner: chicken, bread, cheese. Conjugated French verbs. Composed letter to Grandmother. Ate supper: beefsteak, soup, pudding.
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Dreamed of him. Ate breakfast: Eggs, toast, ham.
Made great show of reading Greek tragedy. To no avail. Spent much of the time staring out the window. Ate lunch: Fish, bread, peas. Conjugated Latin verbs. Ate supper: roast, potatoes, pudding.
Brought tragedy to the table book, not event. Father did not notice. But now— now when something huge and momentous had actually occurred which it never did she had nothing to say except—. Miranda looked down at the diary, only just then realizing that her hands were resting protectively across its cover. Miranda blinked. Trust Olivia to ask the most obvious questions—and the ones with the least obvious answers. She moved her hands and looked down at the journal as if the answer might have magically inscribed itself onto the cover. It is what I am. I have written everything down.
Since I was ten. Olivia rolled onto her side, propping her head up with her hand. Olivia flopped back down. Miranda looked back down at the writing desk. Her candle was shedding flickers of light on the blotter, and she suddenly felt tired. Tired, but unfortunately, not sleepy. Her maid had left her nightclothes atop the covers, and Miranda respectfully turned her head while Olivia changed into them. She hated that she was still so desperate for a glimpse of him, but it had been this way for years.
She still loved him. She always would. But Miranda still ached for him. And she probably always would. Olivia crawled into bed. Olivia could not fall asleep while a candle burned so close. Miranda tucked her journal under her chin and wedged it against her breastbone to free her hands so that she could tie the sash around her waist. Olivia always fell asleep before she did—too many thoughts rumbling about in her head, Olivia pronounced—and so Miranda frequently took her diary to another room to record her ponderings.
Miranda did not mind. In fact, she was grateful for the company. Her own home was far too quiet these days. Her beloved mother had passed away nearly a year earlier, and Miranda had been left alone with her father.
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In his grief, he had closeted himself away with his precious manuscripts, leaving his daughter to fend for herself. Miranda had turned to the Bevelstokes for love and friendship, and they welcomed her with open arms. Olivia even wore black for three weeks in honor of Lady Cheever. Olivia took her hand. My mother often says you are the only reason I have not committed some irredeemable offense.
It was probably for that reason, Miranda reflected, that Lady Rudland had offered to sponsor her for a season in London.
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