The Debutante Ch. 31

I spend the entire night wondering what could have possibly gone wrong with Ethan. Did I say something wrong? Have I unknowingly betrayed him? There has to be a reason as to why he no longer loves me. One doesn`t just decide, "Oh, I think I don`t love her anymore" all of a sudden. Something is going wrong with Ethan, and I am pretty sure that he doesn`t want me to know what it is.

The next morning, my eyes are swollen so badly that I cannot open my eyelids. I have to carry around at least half a dozen handkerchiefs because I frequently burst into tears at the most unexpected times. Ethan is not coming back, and he never wants to see me again.

I manage to put on a fake smile when the squire and his wife see me off before I head home.

"Do visit again. I very much enjoyed your presence here." The squire`s wife grasps my hand and gives it a tight squeeze. "Please take care. It hurts me to see your pretty face swollen from crying."

I laugh and dab at my eyes with a handkerchief. "Thank you for your hospitality." I can feel the tears coming up again. How is that possible? I must have cried more tears than my own weight.

After shaking the squire`s hand and giving his wife a hug, I am helped into the carriage by Sebastian. He sits across from me and signals the driver by rapping on the roof with his knuckles.

I stick my head out of the window and wave to the squire and his wife until they are out of sight. Then I start crying.

Sebastian sighs and moves to my side of the carriage. Strong arms wrap around me and pull me close. I try to push my cousin away, but his grip is as tight as iron shackles. Sighing in defeat, I bury my face in his chest and wrap my arms around him.

I spend several minutes crying before I say something. "He said that he loves another woman—Lady Eleanor, I expect. She`s an earl`s daughter and rich—and prettier and more ladylike than I could ever be, I should add."

As much as I hate to admit it, Lady Eleanor would make a better marchioness. She`s so graceful, and therefore Lady Ainsworth would not have to worry about training her on how to act in society.

"Did he say that he was in love with Lady Eleanor?"

I shake my head and bury my face in Sebastian`s chest again. "No," I reply in a muffled voice. "But they were always together, and that—that whore kept on flirting with him."

Sebastian lets out a long sigh. "But that does not mean that he is in love with her. You can`t make judgments like that without proof, Priscilla."

"Yes, I can," I say stubbornly. "Moreover, he`s a rake. He probably has a new mistress every week."

"He`s currently between mistresses."

"You prove my point. He`s most likely seducing an opera singer right now."

"I mean to say that he doesn`t have a mistress. He hasn`t kept one for months, in fact." Sebastian groans. "I find this subject highly uncomfortable. Hasn`t anyone ever told you that it is improper for one to speak of mistresses and seduction?"

Yes, every governess I had had done exactly that. Unfortunately, none of them were able to successfully discourage my improper interest in the human anatomy.

"Sorry." I sniff and wipe my nose. "You must be at a loss right now, wondering what to do with a heartbroken girl like me."

"I`m not." Sebastian smiles and rubs my back. I can`t help but think that he looks quite pleasant when he isn`t scowling. "Your mother held me in her arms like this several times after I lost my parents."

I look up at Sebastian. "You remember mother?"

"Yes, she was a remarkable woman—like a second mother to me."

"I envy you. I don`t remember a single thing about mother."

I know so little about mother that I never cry when I think of her. How can I grieve for someone I don`t remember?

However, that does not mean that I never yearned to know her. Sometimes when I look at mothers and their daughters I feel jealous and resentful. Father has always refused to speak of her and even went so far as to destroy any portraits of her. Other than the fact that she died of consumption, I know so little of mother that she is like a stranger to me.

"She was so gay and vibrant that she lit up every room she entered. Everyone called her Lizzie-even the servants-because she insisted on being called by no other name." Sebastian chuckles. Her singing was so dreadful that your father spoke of nothing else when her first met her. The ballrooms would turn into battlefields whenever the two were together, from what I heard."

I smile. "It seems that I did not inherit my musical talent from mother."

"Yes, you are entirely your father in that regard. Your mother was more well-known her wit and intelligence. She used to tease your father that he was as illiterate as a peasant."

"I wouldn`t compare his intelligence to that of a peasant`s." I giggle. "But I do have to admit that father`s spelling and penmanship is atrocious. I swear that I`m reading something written in an entirely different language whenever I look at letters from him. It`s seems strange that my parents married in the first place. From what you tell me, it is obvious that they had nothing in common."

"They didn`t at all. Their marriage was arranged, but luckily theirs turned out to be a love match."

I sigh. If only I could have the matrimonial bliss that my parents shared.

"But how did they end up liking each other?"

"To be honest, I have no idea."

Sebastian and I laugh until our stomachs are sore. Suddenly, my cousin becomes silent. He stares straight ahead and seems as if he is looking at something intently. I turn my eyes in the direction of his gaze, wondering what is so fascinating about the seats on the other side of the carriage.

After a long silence Sebastian says, "You look just like her. Your face, your eyes, your hair—it`s as if you`re a sculpture of her."

"Really?" I touch one of my curls. "I always believed that I inherited my hair from father."

Sebastian shakes his head. "No, you have the same hair as your mother, but the thing is that she hated it—wanted to wear a wig, too, but your father put his foot down whenever she tried to do that."

I sigh. "I`m no different from her. I also hate my hair. Sometimes I wake up, look at myself in the mirror, and wonder why I am wearing a bird`s nest on my head."

Sebastian eyes my hair. "Would you mind if I examined your hair?" His outstretched hand begins to near my head.

"I most certainly do." I slap Sebastian`s hand away.

My cousin throws his head back and roars with laughter."I like your curls. They remind me of metal springs and sometimes I want to play with them."

"Do so, and you`ll regret it." I bite back laughter.

By the end of the trip Sebastian has me laughing so hard that I almost forget about Ethan. I have to gasp for breath after Sebastian tells me another interesting anecdote about mother.

"The queen looked at me strangely when I was presented at court. I thought it was because I did something wrong—not because of mother."

"Well, despite the incident, the queen was still grudgingly fond of your mother. I suppose her majesty was surprised that you resemble your mother so much."

"That could be possible."

However, it is more likely that the queen found me strange because of my curtsy or something along those lines.

Sebastian exhales loudly. His expression becomes solemn. "Everything wasn`t the same after she passed away."

"Nothing is ever the same when you lose someone dear," I say, thinking of Ethan.

My cousin looks out the carriage window. "I fear that my recent behavior concerning your father was brought on by reasons different from the ones I mentioned." He looks back at me and continues. "He changed so much when his wife died. Suddenly, women and whiskey became a big part of his life—to the point where I suspected that he was using those to fill up the gaping hole in his heart. I was angry—and still am. He was betraying his wife`s memory…and I wanted to punish him for that."

"So you sent him to a madhouse?"

Sebastian nods. "Yes—and I regret doing so." He grabs my hand. I gasp at the sudden contact. "I know that we have never been on good terms, but I want to put all the hatred behind us and start anew. Forget about Ethan—forget about the past—and think of your future happiness, Priscilla."

I look down at our joined hands. Is it possible for me to—dare I imagine—become friends with Sebastian after all that he has done?"

Yes, it is, I decide. I can no longer see my cousin as the cruel, selfish boy I had previously thought of his as. During the past few days, I have discovered a different side of Sebastian—a man that has gone through as much, possibly even more, pain as I have.

"You`re right, Sebastian. I should put all that has happened behind us. There`s no use in spending the rest of my life regretting one thing that happened in the past." I smile and squeeze my cousin`s hand.

"I hope my words have made you feel better." Sebastian grins.

"They have. Thank you."

Despite my words, I wonder if it is somehow possible to completely forget Ethan. Will my heartbreak be so strong that I will turn to vice in order to forget everything—even for a short time? Just as father has for the past decade?

I am in high spirits when I arrive home. Trees line the driveway leading to the house like soldiers standing to attention as an important general walks past.

A sigh escapes from my lips as home comes into view. I may not live in a mansion even a third as large as Ethan`s, but no other place matches my home in comfort or beauty. Vines and moss cover the house to thickly that it looks like a monstrous hedge shooting up from the ground. The particular country air of my region flows into my lungs like fresh, cool water. There is something healing about this part of the countryside, something that cannot be replicated with even the most modern medicines.

The carriage stops and Sebastian steps out before helping me down.

"I haven`t really realized how much I missed home. It`s good to be back." I inhale deeply then turn to Sebastian. "I hope you haven`t done any major changes since I was last here. It would displease me greatly if I discover that you changed the color of the parlor wallpaper to a hideous color such as brown," I tease.

"The house hasn`t changed a bit at all. In fact, the house hasn`t even changed for the last fifty years. I think that any redecorations I make will improve the appearance of the house rather than take away from it." Sebastian grins.

I smile and head inside. The house could use a few improvements I decide when I notice a large purple stain on the white carpet near the entrance.

Redecorating the entire house will keep me busy for weeks, a perfect distraction to help me forget things.

Sebastian walks past me and heads down the hallway. I linger at the entrance and run my finger across the top of a piece of furniture. I frown when I discover that my finger is covered with a thick layer of dust.

"Sebastian," I call out. "Are there any servants left in the house that actually do their tasks properly? This place is filthy."

"I had to let go of a few maids and footmen, so we`re a bit short on staff," Sebastian answers back as he reappears. "But I`ll be able to rehire them and more when I gain money from the profits of my next shipment of cargo."

My family`s finances must be dire indeed if Sebastian is in trade. I gain new admiration for my cousin. Despite the ton`s views on going into trade, Sebastian still risks his reputation to keep the family out of debtor`s prison.

"I see. I suppose that isn`t so bad. It`ll be a nice distraction to clean this house up on my own." I try to think optimistically, even though I don`t know where the maids keep those strange devices they use to dust furniture—much less what they are called.

Sebastian smiles. "Come. I have something to show you."

He offers his hand, and I take it, wondering what Sebastian is planning on surprising me with. We walk down the hall and into the music room.

I freeze in the doorway, my breath hitching. A rail-thin man sits facing the window. White hair sits on his head like cotton. If I had not known this man for years, I would have thought that I was looking at a statue because he sits so still.


He remains still. I take a step forward and glance at Sebastian who nods. Encouraged, I join my father at the window and touch his shoulder. His eyes are glazed; saliva escapes from the side of his mouth and runs down his chin. I wipe the drool away with my thumb.

"Oh father. You don`t know how much I miss you."

I hug father, my grip light, because I fear that I will snap his bones in half if I hold him too strongly. Pulling back, I eye him. He was so cheerful that last time I saw him. What did the madhouse contain that made him like this?

"I`m so sorry, Priscilla."

I turn around and look at Sebastian. "I already forgive you."

Sebastian shifts his feet uncomfortably. "A servant tells me that your father arrived this morning…in Lord Ainsworth`s carriage."

Looking down, I avoid Sebastian`s gaze by pulling off my gloves. "I should go upstairs to change."

"I`m sorry. It was foolish of me to mention that."

I shake my head. "No, don`t worry. I`ve almost forgotten about Ethan." I let out a small laugh and begin heading out of the room. "I`ll be back soon. Keep an eye on father for me."

I close the door, lean against it, and sigh. What has gone wrong between Ethan and me? Surely he must care for me still if he sent father here—or he could have done that out of obligation.

Is it possible that Ethan decided that he couldn`t marry me after meeting father? Would he be embarrassed to have a mad father-in-law? If so, then I am better off not becoming his wife. I should let go of him and move on just as Sebastian told me. With another sigh, I head upstairs to change out of my travel-worn dress.

I keep myself so busy the next two weeks that I have little time to think about Ethan. Unable to trust any of the servants, I take charge of caring for father. Most of the time, he is so quiet that I have to check up on him to make sure that he hasn`t died.

Sometimes he is so frightening that I cannot connect him with the man I have known most of my life. His first tantrum was a day after my return. I tried to pull him from the window, and he struck me so hard that an apple-sized bruise formed on my cheek.

When Sebastian questioned me about my bruise, I told him that I fell down the stairs. I could tell by his narrowed eyes that he knew I was lying.

I soon learned that it is better to leave him alone or play music for him.

My other time is spent redecorating the house or cleaning out the garden, which I discover has been badly managed for the past decade.

Slowly, my broken heart begins to mend. If I don`t think about Ethan too often, my heart only aches slightly whenever I see something that reminds me of him. Sebastian often tells jokes or stories about mother to keep my spirits up.

But deep down I know that forgetting Ethan is impossible.

I enter the breakfast room. "Good morning."

Sebastian glances up from his newspaper and mumbles a response. I sigh at my cousin`s behavior—he isn`t very fond of mornings—and kiss father on the cheek.

"Good morning, father. Did you have a good sleep?"

As always, he doesn`t answer me. Eyes glazed over and hands shaking, he spoons porridge into his mouth. More porridge goes on his shirt and chin than into his stomach. I wipe father`s face with a napkin before taking my seat.

I spread marmalade on a piece of toast and look at Sebastian. "Anything interesting in the paper?"

Sebastian turns the page before answering: "No, but the Duke of Sutherfield`s sister tried to elope to Gretna Green with an army officer."

I choke on my piece of toast. "I beg your pardon? Are you reading the gossips?"

"It just happened to be in there. I make a point of reading each article in the newspaper." Sebastian shrugs and his eyes go back to scanning over the paper.

Father drops his spoon on the floor. I sigh and bend over to pick it up.

"This Lady Eleanor you mentioned quite a while ago—it says here that she`s been recently married."

The spoon I had just picked up clangs loudly on the floor. I cover my mouth and my shoulders begin to shake.

"Priscilla? Priscilla, are you alright?" Sebastian puts down his paper.

I shake my head. "Excuse me. I—I need to get a breath of fresh air."

"Wait, Priscilla."

My chair scrapes against the floor as I push it back. I run out of the room, ignoring Sebastian`s calls to wait.

I barely make it halfway down the hall when Sebastian catches up to me and grabs my wrist. I fall into his outstretched arms and begin to sob on his shoulder.

"I didn`t mean to hurt you, Priscilla. I just wanted to say that Lady Eleanor didn`t marry Lord Ainsworth. She married some rich American," Sebastian says quietly. His fingers brush the back of my head. "There`s nothing to worry about."

"I`m such a pathetic fool."

Sebastian sighs. "In this situation one would usually deny your foolishness and say that you are merely acting human, but"—he grabs my chin and tilts my head up so that I am looking into his eyes—"you`re acting like an idiot, and you cry far too much. It`s time to move on Priscilla. Find someone else to love. Go to London and spend the remainder of the season finding a husband."

I cannot imagine the idea of marrying a man other than Ethan. Disgusted, I shove Sebastian away and glare at him. "I will never fall in love again—and I most certainly will not go to London as long as I am alive."

I then turn around, walk down the hall, enter the music room, and slam the door behind me. My breathing is as heavy as if I had just run a mile. I slump against the wall and hug my knees to my stomach.

I`m relieved and devastated that Ethan didn`t marry Lady Eleanor. Relieved because he isn`t marrying anyone; devastated, because I have just realized that eventually Ethan will have to marry someone in order to produce an heir.

I wonder if I will be able to survive hearing the news of his future marriage.

Author`s Note: I got so many reviews from readers who were shocked by what happened last chapter. I`m so sorry about that, but hopefully, the story will end on a nice note. Also, I apologize for this chapter. I feel as if I`m rushing the story a bit.

I`m feeling a bit tired right now, so I`m not going to reply to each review individually. Besides, pretty much every review was similar, so here is my answer to everyone: You`ll find out everything... Eventually. For now, I`m just going to let you wonder what in the world is going on.