Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Excerpt from RULES OF CONDUCT

Viola slept soundly. It was not until the dawn’s light filtered through
the lace curtain of the attic window that she woke and wriggled her toes,
luxuriating in the comfort and warmth of the feather bed.
For a brief moment, she felt happy, but the worry of her lost memory
soon returned. This ominous presence in her mind was like a veil which
hid the past from view, and she was helpless to do anything but wait for
it to lift.
It was still very early. The cock crowed from the barnyard of the
nearby farm. She heard the voices of the farm hands who herded the
cows in for milking. Through the window, she watched the sunrise.
Restless, she leapt out of bed and splashed icy water on her face from
the pitcher on the table. She paused, measuring the wisdom of walking
about the grounds on her own. Common sense was then pushed aside in
favor of her eagerness to see more of Vale Park. Ignoring the inadequacy
of her slippers and thin gown, she wrapped the shawl Nanny had given
her around her shoulders, crept down the stairs, and out into the brisk air.
She followed a meandering path that led around the cottage and
down through a meadow of bright yellow buttercups, finally ending at a
river. The wide stretch of water flowed swiftly away through the
meadows.
Enjoying the peace and beauty of her surroundings, she picked a wild
rose. It had a delicate perfume, a surprise in such a hardy, prickly plant.
She stood, pressing its petals to her nose, its scent a wistful hint from her
past. Her attempts to remember brought a stab of pain, so real she almost
cried out.
A horse galloped around the corner.
Taken by surprise, Viola stepped back off the path and lost her
footing, falling onto her bottom in a patch of long grass. One of the Duke’s hounds was upon her in an instant, licking her face.
“Down, Henry,” his grace commanded, and the dog returned to its
master’s side. He dismounted and pulled Viola to her feet as if she
weighed no more than the fluffy head of a dandelion. His hands lingered
on her back as if to steady her, but it seemed to have the reverse affect.
His proximity made her rather breathless.
“What the devil are you doing out so early? Are you hurt?”
Her face was probably as pink as the rose she held. Annoyed at the
renewal of her blush, she quickly threw the flower away. “Only my
dignity, I’m afraid,” she answered, brushing at her skirt.
She saw him take in her sodden slippers and shabby dress with the
damp patch where she’d fallen into the dewy grass. She felt grubby and
foolish. Her brief delight in the morning was ruined for the Duke
brought with him the bitter truth of her predicament.
“You startled me, Viola. I never meet a soul on this path. It’s still
quite cold. Are you sure you should tax your strength in this way?”
Viola wrapped the shawl around herself more closely. “You’re
probably right,” she conceded, “but it’s so lovely at this time, with the
sleeping world awaking to a new day.”
“Come, I’ll walk back with you,” he said, leading his horse along
the lane. As they approached the cottage, he asked, “Has your headache
eased?”
“Yes, thank you. Nanny’s been wonderful. She has a fine knowledge
of restoratives. She gave me something that made me sleep like a baby!”
He grimaced. “Ah, yes. I remember Nanny’s treatments well. I’ll
never forget some of the foul brews I was made to swallow as a child.”
He looked down at her and gave a devastating grin. “I’m sorry you have
to endure them.”
“You don’t look at all sorry, your grace.” Viola smiled, feeling a tug
at her heart.
“As long as they make you well, Miss Viola.”
His words tumbled her back into reality and she trembled with
frustration. If only she could remember. Looking up, she saw they’d
arrived at the gate.
“I’ll leave you to Nanny.” Mounting his horse, he lifted his hat. “Do
take care of yourself. You don’t want to be laid up too long with Nanny
in attendance.”

No comments: