Part Five: O Captain! My Captain!
Here’s the next installment! You can read the previous scenes here.
I stepped out onto the terrace for a breath of fresh air and found the Fraser children had had the same idea.
Ellen and Willie were laughing as they expertly waltzed circles around Jenny and Brian, the elder pair trying to teach the younger the fundamentals of the dance and not succeeding overmuch. Marsali called out, what I’m sure she thought were, helpful suggestions as she stood atop a bench. Joan and Maggie beamed from ear to ear, twirling ‘round and ‘round in the only dance step they knew: excitement.
“Here, let me try,” I offered when a new song began and took Jenny’s place.
The teenager rolled her eyes melodramatically, warning, “Watch your toes, Mistress Claire.”
I winked at Brian whose brows were furrowed in determination, giving his nose a playful tweak. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.”
“I keep losing count,” he complained.
Marsali cackled with glee, “How hard is it to count to three?”
Giving her a look, I cut off Brian’s retort. “Then I’ll count, you just move your feet. Ready? ONE - two - three, ONE - two - three, ONE - two - three.”
We shuffled about the terrace, song after song. Brian did catch on quickly with a more patient teacher and soon we even tried to throw in a turn. It didn’t end well, crashing headlong into Ellen and Willie instead of changing direction.
“Again, again!” Brian begged as a new melody started up.
“But this is a foxtrot,” I tried to explain, “I’m not sure I know it well en–”
“May I be of assistance?” The Captain quite suddenly asked, taking me completely by surprise. How could a man that tall appear out of thin air without a sound?
My hand flew to my neck, my pulse beating erratically as I stammered, “I, ah, that is, you should teach Ellen. She’s a magnificent dancer.”
He looked slightly amused as he offered his hand, “She kens the foxtrot well enough.”
I turned to find Ellen dutifully teaching Willie the steps. “Slow, quick, quick,” her voice floated past as they danced by.
“Show us too, Father,” Brian urged, grabbing Jenny by the hands and pulling her back into the middle of the terrace. “How does it go?”
“May I have this dance?” He asked, bowing low. His hand was still outstretched and I took it reluctantly. Brian tried to emulate his father’s courtly bow and nearly fell over in the process. I heard the captain chuckle as he drew me closer, placing his left hand on my lower back and stepping into the dance.
God, he smelled wonderful.
A more than competent dancer himself, he guided me effortlessly around the veranda for a time before commenting, “I wanted to thank ye, Nurse Claire, for all ye’ve done for my children.”
“Oh, but they’re so delightful that it’s really no trouble at all, Captain, truly.” I rambled like a lovesick schoolgirl, making my cheeks grow warm with embarrassment.
How had I never noticed what a deep blue his eyes were? They were magnificent. Rimmed in long lashes that somehow were a lighter shade of auburn at their base, the glow of the ballroom made them gleam like precious gemstones. He smiled then and it took my very breath away.
He didn’t speak again and, as I didn’t trust my own tongue, I embraced the silence. I felt like he may think me staring at him, so I dropped my gaze. My left hand rested just beside his lapel and the sparkle of my mother’s ring caught my eye.
She and my father had died in a car accident when I was young, making the small cabochon ruby encircled in diamonds of infinite value to me. I wore it on my ring finger, as that’s where it fit the best, and I absently wondered what they would have thought of my dashing Captain Fraser.
My Captain Fraser.
He wasn’t mine. He could never be mine. At least ten years my senior, he was completely out of my league in terms of social status, and a widower with seven children to boot.
The song ended long before I was ready, my heart aching as he stepped away.
Pull yourself together, Beauchamp.
Marsali suddenly appeared beside me, commenting loudly “Your face is all red.”
“Is it?” I asked lamely, scrambling for something intelligent to say. “I guess I’m not used to dancing.”
Brilliant, I mentally kicked myself, you’re bloody brilliant.
Footsteps echoed on the paved patio and I turned to see Lady Dunsany walking towards us with Ian in her wake. She was making an effort to hide her jealous rage, but the scathing tone of her voice and set of her jaw gave her away. “Why, that was beautiful. What a lovely couple you’d make.”
The light in the captain’s eyes disappeared at once and it had nothing to do with Ian blocking the glow from the ballroom. I caught the distracted glance he gave her as he responded, making me wonder if I had flustered him the way he had me. A hint of a blush crept above his neatly pressed collar and I wondered what it would be like to kiss him.
I felt three sets of eyes trained on me as I realized he had said it was time for the children to go to bed.
“Right! Yes!” I agreed, jerking to attention and tearing my eyes from his lips, “Let’s go, children. Come along.”
Turning my back to the adults, I quickly gathered the children into a clump, making preparations to leave the party via the garden next to the veranda. We would disappear to the east wing without disturbing the guests and in relative haste. I wished the ground would open and swallow me whole, but retiring with the children was the next best thing.
We were almost to the cobblestone path when a strong arm came around my shoulders and guided me back, “Jamie! Ye canna let the lass be tucked awa’ with the bairns for the night! She must come to the party!”
My heart skipped a beat at the discovery of the captain’s pet name. I knew his given name was James, and had assumed that he went by some sort of nickname with his family, but to hear it spoken aloud…
“Oh, but really, I can’t, I–” I tried to protest as we moved closer and closer to Lady Geneva and the Captain.
“Dinna fash,” Ian waved his hand in dismissal, then beckoned to Germain who happened to walk past, “Seat the lass next to me, will ye?”
The disgruntled butler looked to me and back to Ian, “If you insist, Mr. Murray.”
I broke the awkward silence that followed by pointing out the obvious, “I’m, ah, not dressed for it, Mr. Murray.”
Ian nodded, seeming to notice this for the first time, and grinned, “Ye have time to change, I’ll see to it.”
Lady Geneva had followed me up to my room despite my best effort to ditch her.
I opened my closet doors and stared stupidly at the clothing. All suitable for being with the children, even a few business formal outfits for if the occasion arose, but none would work for the dinner downstairs. “I’m not sure I have anything that would be appropriate.”
“Nonsense,” Lady Geneva spoke from behind me, sounding very condescending, “Where is that lovely little thing you had on when the Captain couldn’t keep his eyes off you?”
I spun around, “Couldn’t what?”
She smiled coyly as she stood next to me, “Come now, we are women; we know when a man notices us. You really are quite attractive, you know. The captain would hardly be a man if he didn’t notice you”
“I do hope you’re joking, Lady Dunsany,” I swallowed hard.
“Not at all.” She turned to me, eyes wide in mock innocence as she held a blue sundress in her hands.
Holyrood. I had wore the dress to Holyrood when she and the captain took the children on a tour of the palace. They hadn’t really needed me, which meant I had time to wander behind them and admire the place myself.
My mind replayed every interaction I’ve ever had with the man, searching for something that could have betrayed my feelings.
“But I’ve never–”
“Oh, you wouldn’t have to, my dear,” she looked over her shoulder as she laid the dress on my bed, “There’s nothing more irresistible to a man than a woman who’s in love with him.”
A woman who’s in love with him.
The air seemed to leave my lungs in a rush, “Is that so?”
“Of course! And what makes it all so nice is that he thinks he’s in love with you.”
“No,” I shook my head, “That’s not true.”
He couldn’t be in love with me.
Her eyebrows rose, “Surely, you’ve noticed the way he looks into your eyes… and you were blushing just now when the two of you were dancing.”
I’d always been told everything I thought showed on my face, but I had worked so hard to not give myself away. To love him from a distance, without his even being aware of it.
It seemed I had failed.
“Don’t worry, my dear, he’ll get over it soon enough, I should think,” shrugged noncommittally, “Men do, you know.”
I knew he would, but I wasn’t sure I could. Something deep within my heart told me that I would always love him.
So what now?
I couldn’t go on being a nanny to his children when he knew my feelings towards him. I couldn’t face him, couldn’t look him in the eye and see the truth.
What was the truth? Do I believe this woman? Does he really love me?
My heart sank as I realized that even if he did love me, we could never be together. We were from two completely different worlds, completely opposite stations in life. I couldn’t live in his and I would never ask him to lower himself to mine.
I have to leave.
I jumped, not realizing I had said this aloud, as Lady Geneva asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”