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Romance

Red dresses filled her head as she stood at the gravesite on this cold, blue, wintry day. The covered heads of the staunch mourners were all bent in wholehearted grief for the once distinguished man lying at their feet in a solid, black mahogany coffin and not even the screeching mallards gliding across the icy atmosphere possessed the qualifications to distract them. Jessica hated temporary things and mentally picturing everyone in red dresses and cloaks and breeches, comingling with the stark white snow on this somber occasion was her heads way of grabbing a quick reprieve from the visceral pain she felt for her loss. For a minute it dissolved and dripped to her feet like hot wax. Sir John Thomas Chandler 11's death hit her like a pitcher of hot water in the face. She knew he had been but always looked so strong. At the ripe old age of seventy-three, he always gave off a vibe of invincibility and incorruptibleness, despite his bad heart. His death came to soon. Wiping away her tears, she raised her head and saw him watching her. Gently, he smiled at her and she reciprocated. Lawrence too, took his own recess from grieving as he turned and left the gravesite, his long, black coat dragging in the deep snow. Sir John had always been good to her. Jessica recalled just being five years old, when he charged into their humble home like an angel descending from heaven and not fearing for his own safety, swooped her up into his arms and carried her to his carriage as her parents lay dying on their marriage bed from consumption. He employed the best doctors to take care of them but the damage was too much and they succumbed to the disease a few days later.

He and his wife, Lady Lydia Chandler adopted her as their own. They had two other children, Lawrence and Catherine and meted out the same societal and educational privileges to her, so much so that she became versed in painting and playing the harp. Lawrence Chandler 111 was ten years her senior and Catherine Chandler, eight. Jessica, being small and frail in stature, and being from an underprivileged birth was always sure of their protection, especially when it came from so-called friends of autocratic rank and caliber who tried under handed methods to prevent her from emerging into blue- blood society. However her transformation was magnificent as her womanhood flourished. Lawrence was caught off-guard by the alluring creature she had morphed into and spent as much time warning her of wayward men and their false promises. He went to Scotland for awhile and stayed away for five years, which broke Sir John's heart. There he explored his talents as an artist and as a blossoming libertine and it was said that after seeing a good friend die from syphilis, he abandoned his lecherous ways and friends and decided to return home to England. But Scotland will always be the birth place of his first love, painting, and only for that purpose he will return there.



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Disdain and mistrust is what she felt for him now. His self banishment proved to be detrimental to his reputation as he dragged his father's good name through Scottish mud. All those lovers, all those brief unholy encounters with women who were looser than an old whore's bloomers. Now he was coming home to reconcile and seek forgiveness from his father who was probably one of the most pardonable men on earth. The wind was blowing in a torrential fashion when he rode into the courtyard on horseback as shards of rain pummeled him and ferocious lightening threatened to crack the sky open. When he came through the huge, wooden front doors all dripping wet and tall and with unearthly good looks that would excite the emotions of even the most stoic of hearts, Sir John ran towards his son and flung his frail arms around him.

"Father." Was all he could mutter as he enveloped his father into his arms. Soon , Lady Chandler and Catherine burst out of their rooms and embraced the long lost Lawrence and he hugged them back with renewed fervor. Jessica came out of her room but remained in the shadows, her heart heavy with the things she heard about him. She studied him from afar and found herself being afraid of what she saw......of the powerful feelings that shook her in spite of this tarnished reputation. With that she retreated into her room and decided that she would greet him tomorrow.

When Jessica entered the breakfast room, the fire was lit in the monstrous hearth, diffusing it's mellowing warmth throughout the cold, grey room. The entire family was already seated, except for..... she looked around for him and as she walked in, but she was grabbed by the waist and lifted several feet into the air. It was Lawrence, he was hiding at the side or the doorway awaiting her arrival. Jessica screeched with fright and as he brought her back to solid ground, she pretended to be in awe of his presence, "Lawrence?! My god, how?!"

"My sister! My little sister, how have you grown! I hardly recognize you, you look even more beautiful!" Lawrence promulgated, holding on to her hands.

"I heard some kind of commotion last night, but if I had known that you were responsible for it....."

"Well, I'm home and I intend to be here for a long, long time."

"That's good to here son," interjected Sir John gleefully, " but did we mention that Douglas Emerson has asked for your sister's hand in marriage?"

"Cat......you mean?!"

But before Catherine could respond to the visibly confused Lawrence, Sir John revealed calmly, "no, no, no not Catherine, my boy, Jessica."

Awkwardly she sat down at the table next to him, "Jessie?"

"Why don't we all eat? All this wonderful food that Flory has prepared, boiled eggs and rolls and ham and orange marma......"

"Douglas Emerson?! Of all the cads in the world, Jessie?"

"And why not?" Jessica declared above the noisy clinking of the silver cutlery on the porcelain dishes.

"He's been with so many women, my little sister. You deserve someone fresh, unused, someone who will grovel at your feet for your love."

"Father?!"

"Where is all this coming from, Lawrence?" Inquired Sir John amidst cutting a roll.

"He's my best friend, I know him. He's been wooing women practically from the womb..."

"He's a gentleman and that good enough for me," said Lady Chandler with a grin.

" And is worth fifteen thousand pounds per annum and he's a looker!" Exclaimed Catherine sipping her tea.

"Of course I know about his womanizing ways, but which man isn't until he finds the right woman?" Jessica said in defense of her intended.

"Well, I've said my piece," Lawrence said raising his hands in defeat.

"You wouldn't be a big brother if you didn't object." Jessica stated and leaned over and gently kissed him on the cheek.

Deep inside she knew her concerns were valid because she did feel some kind of ambiguity when it came to opening the floodgates of emotions to Douglas. Yes, he could take care of her with ease but how long will her beauty hold his attention; her flawless skin and red hair and green eyes? But who was Lawrence to pass judgement on him? His reputation as a lothario was known throughout Europe, but maybe he couldn't help being who he was, it had to be his powerful looks that drew women to him and being a man in the prime of his youth, he just couldn't contain himself.

And she couldn't contain herself this morning. What she felt for him now was unprecedented and disturbing. In reality he wasn't her brother and last night her perfidious body made that clear. During breakfast and from the corner of her eyes, Jessica saw Lawrence appraising her with eyes, hot with curiosity and she knew he felt something for her. Suddenly the sound of gunshots filled the afternoon air and resounded within the stone walls of her room. Jessica who was sitting at her desk, flew up and went to the window and looked out. Not faraway on Chandler grounds, Lawrence, wearing only breeches and a white, linen shirt and black boots was pointing a long barreled gun up into the air shooting ducks, as they passed over the estate. The act though was angry and strenuous and he built up a sweat doing it, as his dark hair clung to his clean skin in clumps around his face and the back of long his neck. Lawrence managed to hit two of them and watched as his dogs retrieved their carcasses and delivered it to him. He was making his way back to the house when he looked up and saw her watching him. Quickly she withdrew from the window with her heart pounding inside her chest. Minutes later, she heard thumping; Lawrence was making his way up the stairs to where her room was located. Within seconds, his fists were pounding on her door and she opened it without hesitation. He rushed in and grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, "tell me, tell me that you don't love me!"

"You are my brother!

"No, no, no, Jessie. I am not and you know that and what you are feeling now is not sisterly feelings...! You can't do this to me!" Lawrence held her face in his hands and attempted to kiss her but she pushed him away, "Do what? Despise you? Of course I can..... all those women...."

"What are you talking about? I would hardly call a brief affair with a farm girl, 'all those women'.'' Lawrence insisted, trying to regain his hold on her, but she turned around to face him.

"My darling, you're crying," he whispered and gently wiped away her tears. They were now facing each other, his figure towering over hers, "but Douglas said....."

"Of course, Douglas. He knew I had feelings for you......yes, even back then and then I left to sort them out and he conveniently moved in."

"I was sixteen."

"Yes, and I was twenty-six. Now you see the flaw there, so I left and yes, I had loose friends but never did I have wild uncontrolled affairs, it was just one girl."

Their mouths drew closer, "I never thought I could love you like this, Lawrence, never."

"This situation isn't unique to us, maybe we will have to explain it to a few persons, but I have loved you forever...."

"This is crazy," she muttered and finally their mouths came together, casting away all doubt and propriety as they clung to each other, "what about Douglas?"

"I'll have him shot."

"What?" Jessica cried and pulled away from him.

"I'm just kidding, now let us go and tell our family the good news."

But the news wasn't as good for Sir John. He collapsed from a bad heart. His doctor said his death it was due to his heart being unable to hold all the excitement for the past two days.


December 17, 2020 10:54

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2 comments

Colin Devonshire
06:26 Dec 24, 2020

Wow, it all happened in those days! Well done, but there are a few literals. 'Here, hear'.

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Frances Benjamin
06:58 Dec 25, 2020

thank you Mr. Devonshire. thank you for your positive feedback, appreciate it. sorry about your stroke. my mom lived them.....yes, 'them,' for years.

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