Richard Grayson frowned, watching Klara Ellis in increasing concern and anger. She is acting as if there was no unspoken attachment between us, he thought. Perhaps my own reticence has robbed me of my one chance at happiness with her.
He was her father’s secretary and had a promising future in diplomacy. However, he lacked the spark of danger and hint of the exotic that so radiated from Lord Carrington. Klara felt a tiny hint of regret as she dismissed her cousin and turned back to the nobleman and ex-soldier.
Why do I think of Dick when a man like this is here? she thought. I know I feel more for Lord Carrington after one evening of intense experience than I’ve ever felt for staid Dick. Still, something bids me reconsider. Why does this all feel wrong?
She smiled winningly and laughed as Lord Carrington recounted the tale of one of his misadventures in the Far East. “I laughed in the blighter’s face,” he said. “I told old Nelson that it was just his fate to always be second to me when it comes to claiming a rich reward of any type!”
As they danced across the floor, Klara seemed to float every so slightly off the floor. Her high heels did skim barely above the carpet, although she attributed the feeling to the rush of motion and music as Carrington held her in his arms, and they swirled around the floor among other couples.
They continued to exclude the rest of the guests from their intimate evening of banter and exchanges of ideals and ambitions until the meal, and the brief separation of the gentlemen from the ladies which naturally followed, ended.
She led Carrington to the open terrace doors, and again they stared up at the night sky. It now was cloudy, and a cool wind swept across the estate.
“I believe it is going to storm! Was that thunder, Johnny?” she said as they passed her family’s young footman.
He nodded respectfully as they passed and said to himself in a Cockney-tinged accent, “Say, you know, I think I did see a flash o’ lightnin’!”
Meanwhile, Klara kissed Carrington once more and said, “When may I see you again?”
He stroked his graying beard and said, “I am staying at my club, the Millennium, which I fear is a male domain. I could be in Rotton Row tomorrow if you plan to ride.”
“I shall be there,” said Klara. “I am quite the equestrian. My horse is called Comet.”
“A fitting name. May the sight of you be like a comet in terms of heralding a new and bright future for us both. ‘Til then, bold Kara.”
She nodded eagerly and watched him stride off in search of a cab. He had not brought his carriage to the city, and he obviously had little fear of the night streets of the teaming city called London.
“‘Kara’? Why did he call me Kara?” she said with a frown. Yet that name seemed so right, she thought.
For the next several weeks, Klara enjoyed new sensations as she was drawn ever closer to the roguish Lord Carrington. He captivated her completely, and where once she had felt a discontent with her society and her very life, now she relished each new day and the time she spent with Carrington. Some odd disquiet occasionally bothered her as she thought of her cousin Richard. She had encountered him often since the night of the party. It was natural that he would frequent the major social events of the season, like the Royal Academy Exhibition, the races at Ascot, the regatta at Henley, and, of course, endless garden parties. After all, it was simply what members of their class did. It was expected. It would be unthinkable to act differently.
Klara lounged one afternoon by the broad window that looked out into their garden. She was reading the latest issue of the periodical All the Year Round, which had been started by Mr. Dickens himself. She knew the current issue, August, 1868, contained the final part of the thrilling serial The Moonstone, by Mr. Wilkie Collins. The novel of Eastern mysteries and hypnosis had enthralled her before, but now she felt oddly disturbed by it. Perhaps it was related to the dark figure of Bhatti. This Indian who followed Carrington everywhere he went had never said much to Klara. She recalled the day Carrington had explained this away by saying the scholarly man was ill at ease with English women.
“He’s spent much of his life around other men as a mystic, a scholar, and a soldier. He has an almost palpable discomfort around the fairer sex,” said the nobleman when she first questioned him about the silent, shadowy figure who skulked nearby no matter where they went.
Klara had smiled back at Carrington. “Well, I suppose he is no worse a duenna than mother!”
Carrington had roared with laughter. “Ha! Old Bhatti makes an unlikely chaperone! You’ll make him a regular maiden aunt before you’re done with him!” he had said with a grin.
Klara recalled how she lightly fingered the white scar that ran across Carrington’s face. “Was this from the Crimea?” she asked.
He had taken her gloved hand away from the white line and said, “It came from a duel. A matter of honour unrelated to my service. I prefer not to discuss it.”
Klara had nodded as she had tried to withdraw her hand from his grip. “You’re hurting me. Edward!” she had gasped as he seemed lost in a memory. She twisted free and sent him reeling backward from the force.
“Why, you little wildcat! You have some real strength in those arms! Perhaps we should inquire about renting you out to the music halls!” he said as he recovered his balance.
“I’m sorry, Edward. You seemed so distant when I asked about the scar. You were hurting me!” she explained.
Carrington bowed low. “My apologies. I was indeed recalling old enemies and lost myself for a moment. Did I truly hurt you?” he said sadly.
Klara had laughed as she removed one glove to reveal her pale but unbruised skin. “No, apparently not. It’s rather curious. At times I feel pain like anyone else, but at other moments I seem almost invulnerable!” she said.
Carrington smirked for a moment. “Now, Klara, merely because the fops of Bedford Square have ever failed to pierce your heart with Cupid’s shaft doesn’t mean you are an Achilles in muslin!”
Klara frowned in sudden anger without knowing the source. “It is not funny,” she said. “I tell you, my maid once broke a hairpin when she was pinning up my hair! It shattered into pieces!”
Carrington had nodded with interest. “Indeed? Well, that is all the better. I want no male Delilah taming your spirit, my lovely Samson!”
Klara smiled as she remembered what had followed this remark. He took her into his arms and kissed her passionately. She drew back for a moment as he lifted her chin upward and stared into her eyes.
“Klara, I want you,” he said. “I disguise this need with no trace of polite banter. I feel you and I are meant to be man and wife! Will you have me? I want no girlish equivocations. We are too liberated from the restrictions of our culture to play those games.”
Klara smiled and said, “Yes! Edward, I accept!”
That had been weeks before. Now, as she dropped the magazine and stared out the garden window, she wondered how her rush of pleasure could suddenly be distilled by thoughts of Richard.
“He and I were close as children, but mother never considered him as my suitor. Father may have cherished secret hopes along those lines, but he never spoke of them. Odd. Richard was such a loyal but meek man. Yet at times I see him as a more dashing figure. I imagine him as a hero. I can’t toss away the pearl I’ve found in Edward for a mere fantasy. Richard is a staid but good man. He can never be a hero in reality. Why would I delude myself about that fact? It must surely be maidenly qualms, and I would have sworn myself to be too free a thinker to experience them!” She sighed.
She stood up and smoothed down her pale yellow gown. Her hair was flowing freely with a small yellow ribbon entwined in the back. She had begun to favour such ornamentation, since Edward seemed to prefer such small trifles of femininity in spite of his robust attitude about most matters.
A gentle cough echoed in the room, and she looked up to see her father.
“Klara, why so serious?” he said. “Are you worried about your impending nuptials? I admit to you that I have my own concerns. May I speak frankly?”
Klara nodded and urged him to join her on the cushioned window seat. “Father, what is it you fear? Edward loves me. I know that!” she said.
“He has a past,” said Calvin Ellis. “He has never truly been implicated in any breach of ethics, but rumours swirl about him. He is not a conventional man, and in his very lack of restraint he excites you. I know this. Still, I fear he may lead you to harm. He could take vows of fidelity as lightly as he takes codes of propriety!”
Klara listened and considered his words. “I disagree. You suggest that merely because he does things differently from you that he is not worthy. You think that I must conform to your way of behaving! I can think for myself. I have every right to act as an equal to you or any man! I am sick of being hidden away in this… this fortress!” she shouted.
Calvin frowned. He squinted in concern. “Kara, I only want you to wait until you are certain that you can use the gifts you’ve been given with proper care. You are too bright and talented for me to risk your ruin due to one heedless act caused by your passionate nature!”
Klara ignored the use of the name Kara and shouted, “I am tired of being held back and condescended to by you and your society friends. I am my own woman!”
She stalked out of the room in anger and slammed the door behind her. She leaned against the closed door and felt the cool wood as she pressed her cheek against the grain.
Why did I lose my temper like that? she thought. He was only being protective! It’s natural that he would want the best for me. It’s also reasonable that he would be concerned about his legacy after all the years he spent earning a reputation for public service.
She rushed out of the house in a passionate desire to escape from her environment. She only wanted to be alone for a while to sort out her feelings and find some centre from which she could forge a future.