Courting Miss Greene Ch. 04byJuneSummers©
Over the next few days preparations were made for the journey to Windfarn. Uncle Albert provided the travelers with two of his own carriages: one for Ethan with his wife and parents; and one for Robert with the other two Greene sisters.
Abby thought it was a good arrangement when she seated herself opposite Lizzy and Robert, but her heart missed a beat when Thomas climbed in to take the empty seat next to her. "What's the meaning of this?" she demanded.
"Oh? Didn't you know?" replied Robert before his brother could answer. "Thomas is coming along with us."
Abby's heart pounded. "What in heaven's name for?" she asked. Certainly Thomas was not thinking of speaking with her father! No, he would not dare!
"Well, for moral support. He's my brother after all," answered Robert, "and he's never been to Windfarn before."
Abby frowned at Robert's smile, but she could not argue with him about those reasons. She knew he had not told her the truth. He was a bad liar, but a clever one nonetheless. Even though Robert was supposed to be her friend, he was obviously up to something. Lizzy looked suspicious as well. Abby thought it best not to ask her younger sister any questions, suspecting she was better off not knowing the answer openly. She cast a angry glance at Thomas, who did not seem to be wholly at ease. Abby had specifically told him she did not want to see him and yet there he was, sitting right next to her. "Hmpf!" she scoffed at him and turned her head away to look out the window.
Lizzy felt sorry for Thomas. He looked like a dog who had been kicked too hard, too often. At least Ethan and Ginny were acting normal toward him again, but they still refused to support his effort in winning Abby when Lizzy had asked them. It was an odd situation for Lizzy to find herself siding with a different camp from both of her sisters. However, she believed Abby must have some feelings for Thomas. If she did not care at all, she would not be this angry with him. Robert had agreed with that analysis. He valued his friendship with Abby and he would never plot against her wishes simply for the sake of his little brother.
While they traveled down the road from Northfair, Robert and Lizzy tried to keep up a conversation with the other two travelers. Sometimes Thomas would pitch in and at other times Abby would, but she was careful not to speak to Thomas directly unless she could make some snappish remark. Abby's icy attitude toward Thomas disheartened her travel companions. She did not mean to be unpleasant, but it was their own fault for conspiring against her. They should know better than to expect her to like what they were doing, and they would be foolish to think she did not know.
Thomas remained pleasant and polite toward Abby in spite of everything she threw at him. Her pride was big enough for two, or even three, so Thomas was forced to swallow all of his own. He figured being insulted was better than being ignored altogether. He took it as some strange, twisted way for Abby to show her affection toward him so he decided he might as well learn to like it.
Every time they made a rest stop, Thomas offered Abby his hand to assist her in getting out of the carriage. Abby always refused, but when they stopped at an inn for the evening she tripped on her skirt and tumbled down into his arms. It made Thomas' heart soar to be able to hold Abby close again, but for her it was a complete disaster to find herself all of a sudden back in the embrace of the man she was trying so hard to avoid. However, he had caught her fair and square. Abby could not be ungrateful so she was forced to act pleasant toward Thomas from that moment on.
When the older Mrs. Clark observed Abigale and Thomas interacting with each other, she remarked the girl had the right type of personality to tame the boy's reckless nature since he seemed to be quite docile in her presence. She did not think anyone had ever had that effect on him before. Her husband noted Thomas could not take his eyes off of Abigale, although she kept him at a distance for some reason. Ethan and Ginny knew the reason, but did not think it would be appropriate to share it. They only told Ethan's parents not to try any matchmaking between the two because Abby would certainly not appreciate that. The older couple was disappointed to hear that, but had no choice but to follow the younger couple's advice.
Robert and Lizzy were excited to see any kind of improvement in the relationship between Abby and Thomas. Lizzy asked Robert how he would feel about a double wedding, but Robert warned his fiancée not to get too far ahead of things. This was just the first day of the journey and he knew, underneath the surface, Abby's wounded pride had still not healed.
During a rest stop on the next day, Abby took a little stroll into the forest. She desperately needed some time alone in order to clear her mind, especially of thoughts concerning Thomas. She hoped he had not seen her sneak away from the others because he surely would come after her if he had. It annoyed her that he kept following her around like a dog all the time and make those darn puppy eyes at her. Abby thought his behavior was truly pathetic and it made her want to kick him. She subsequently hated herself for being so mean and she blamed Thomas for bringing out the worst in her.
Abby let out a deep sigh. Thomas had brought out a lot of things in her she never knew about. In fact, Abby no longer recognized herself. She used to believe Lizzy was the one who would be too easy-going with men. The two younger Greene sisters were always together since they were only a year apart, and Abby had taken the responsibility upon herself to prevent her younger sister from getting into trouble. Her guarding attitude had become so ingrained in her manner Abby did not realize before she was actually a different person inside. Her heart sank when she concluded she had behaved far worse than Lizzy ever had. At least Lizzy had waited until she was properly engaged to Robert before she started to fool around with him. Abby, on the other hand, had been willing to go all the way with a complete stranger she did not even love. Her attraction toward him had been purely physical: his athletic body, his skillful touch, the seductive way he spoke to her.
Yes. Abby realized that must be the reason why she really hated Thomas. Because of that trick he pulled on her, she was forced to face her true nature: she was a hussy! Even worse, she was a hussy in denial of being one: too uptight and snappish to develop a romantic relationship with any man. No wonder she had gotten so frustrated with herself when they first arrived in Northfair. She had been jealous of the ease with which Lizzy had fallen for Robert: it had only taken a wink and a smile! Abby had told herself Lizzy was incredibly silly for that, but in her heart she wished she could have been the same. Thomas must have deduced as much when she poured her heart out to him on their first meeting. She wondered why she had let her guard down like that. After all, she had been suspicious of the scoundrel from the moment she first laid eyes on him.
Then again, he did say he was only trying to help her. If Abby had known herself better at the time, she might have taken him up on that offer instead of panicking the way she had. He would have satisfied her needs without further complications. It would have saved the both of them a lot of trouble and confusion, but it was too late for that now. They had gotten too emotionally involved with each other. Abby did not understand how or why Thomas had gotten so lovestruck with her. He never gave her any explanation and Abby had not cared to ask. It did not matter to her anyway because she knew she could not love Thomas back. He may have gone through a lot of trouble to seduce her, but Abby was too proud to reward him for that. Even though in her heart she missed his nightly visits, her rational mind wanted to punish him further for his indiscretion. Abby was thoroughly confused by the entire situation. She wished she could change the way she felt, but she did not know how.
A branch snapped behind her.
Abby's heart jumped. She whirled around, for some reason with a hopeful smile. "Thomas?" she asked. Before she could see who it was, the breath was knocked out of her lungs when she was pushed backward onto the ground. Abby gasped when she looked up. In front of her stood a dirty-looking man with unkempt hair and a wild beard. A foul odor wafted out from his ragged clothes when he hunched over her. It disgusted her and she turned away her head.
The man put a knife to her throat. "Gimme yer gold, wench!"
Abby almost fainted from his stinking breath. "I'm not carrying any," she answered in truth.
The man grinned, exposing an incomplete set of crooked teeth. "Then ye'll have to pay me in kind!"
Abby's heart pounded with terror when more men appeared from behind the trees. She wanted to cry for help, but she feared the knife. From the corner of her eye, she spotted Lizzy some distance away. Abby was relieved she was not alone, but she pretended not to see her sister so the men would not be alerted to the other girl's presence. Lizzy signaled to her a few times and dashed off.
Abby would need to distract the men long enough for help to arrive. She started a conversation in order to win some time. "In kind?" she echoed. "What does that mean?"
The man glanced at his friends who were chuckling to themselves. "Whaddya think it means, wench?" he asked in return, using his free hand to start tugging at her skirts.
Abby tried to stop his hand. She needed to get on his good side, assuming he had one. "I can be kind," she replied, "and I can be very kind to people who are kind to me."
The man stopped what he was doing and grinned at her. "Oh yeah?" he asked, putting away the knife. "How kind would that be exactly?"
Abby swallowed hard and gave him a little smile. At least it did not look like he would slice her throat now, but her maidenhood was still in danger. She cast a glance at each of the men in turn, hoping she could find one less loathsome than the others. If Abby had a choice, she would rather offer herself willingly, or at least let them believe she was doing so, than be violated by force. For a moment she thought about playing the seductress, but she did not know how to pull it off so she decided to go for innocent instead.
"I'm not really sure myself," she answered, "seeing that I'm still a maid."
"Oh-hoooh! A maid!" All the men guffawed at her little revelation.
Abby did her best to keep smiling, although inwardly she cringed while she listened to the men arguing about who would get to go first and for what reason. Every time they were about to settle the issue, Abby said something to make them quarrel again. She was surprised they could be fooled so easily, but she knew she could not stall them forever.
"Thomas!" Lizzy was relieved to find the young man, not too far from where she had left her sister. "Quick!" she called out, running up to him. "Abby's in trouble!"
Thomas' heart stopped for a moment. "Where?" he asked, peering over the girl's shoulder. He moved forward, but Lizzy blocked him.
"No, don't go alone!" she warned. "There's like five or six of them! Big, burly men with knives! Please get help!" she urged.
Thomas instinctively reached for his sword, but he was unarmed. "Wait here," he told Lizzy, "I'll be right back!" He rushed back to the others, who were still waiting by the carriages.
"Thomas? Where are Lizzy and Abby?" asked Robert.
Thomas ignored the question and caught his breath. "Robert! Ethan! Please arm yourselves!" he said. "Some ruffians have seized Abby!"
Ginny and her mother-in-law cried out in shock. The men could not stop themselves from cursing. Fortunately, they always brought weapons in case they would ever be a accosted by brigands. Such a thing had never happened to them before, but sooner or later their luck had to run out and it turned out to be today.
Ethan took out a set of daggers, although he would rely primarily on his own two fists. He was impressed to see Thomas' choice of weapon. "I didn't know you could wield a longsword," he remarked.
"Well, I only started last year," replied his younger cousin. "I was ready for something heavier than a rapier." He made a few swings to show his prowess. "I suppose I'll be leading the offense." He did not wait for the others and bolted back into the forest.
"Hey!" Robert shouted after him. "Do you want our help or not?" He found his rapier. "I'm glad I decided to train again after that little incident at the dance. I should be able to hold my own in a fight." He quickly ran after his brother before he would lose track of the young rascal.
"Father, please watch Ginny for me!" said Ethan. He cast a worried glance at his mother, who was about to faint from distress.
"Of course, son," the older man answered while he supported his wife.
"No, I'm coming with you!" protested Ginny. "Abby's my sister! You can't expect me to stay idly back!"
"Honey, please. Things might get dangerous," warned Ethan.
"I've brought my bow! I could make myself useful!" argued Ginny, throwing her quiver of arrows over her shoulder.
Ethan sighed. He knew his wife had a fine aim and a steady arm. "Alright then," he told her. She probably would have followed him anyway. In spite of their love, neither of them would blindly obey the other. Besides, they could not afford to waste time by arguing about it. Ethan and Ginny hurried to catch up with Thomas and Robert. It worried them to hear the two brothers calling for Lizzy.
"Where's Lizzy?" asked Ginny, even though she knew neither Thomas nor Robert had the answer.
"This is where I last saw her," answered Thomas. "She must have gone back to check on Abby." He dashed off in the direction Lizzy had come from, although he did not know exactly where he should be going. The others followed closely behind him.
All of a sudden Robert stopped in his tracks. He noticed something sparkling on the ground and crouched to pick it up. He swallowed hard. "Lizzy...!" he blurted in an anguished voice. His hand trembled when he lifted up his mother's ring.
"Oh! She must have cast it off so they wouldn't take it," said Ginny on the verge of tears.
"It's my fault!" cried Thomas. "I never should have left her alone! What on Earth was I thinking?"
"It can't be helped now!" Ethan's voice was stern. "Concentrate, Thomas! Where could they have taken them?"
Thomas surveyed the surroundings, shaking his head. "I'm no ranger. Your guess is as good as mine."
"Wait!" said Robert. He closed his eyes as if he were listening to something. "This way!" He dashed off deeper into the woods.
Ginny and Thomas were perplexed by Robert's self-assured manner, but Ethan recalled the peculiar way Robert had found Lizzy by the roadside and motioned the others to follow him. Ginny hitched the hem of her skirt into her waistband when the shrubbery grew denser. She wanted to free her hands so she would be able to use her bow when the need would arise. It made her husband blink at her for a moment. He thought she looked quite fierce that way: with her legs bared from the knees down, and the determined expression on her face. She had much at stake: both of her sisters had been abducted and who knew what would become of them. The rescue party moved as quickly as possible, hoping they would not be too late.
"Let me go! Put me down, you--!"
Abby looked up when she recognized Lizzy's voice. Another bandit showed up, carrying her younger sister over his shoulder. Abby frowned. That silly goose! How could she have let herself get caught like that? Lizzy kicked and screamed at the man, but it was to no avail. Abby would have advised the girl to save her strength, but his friends jeered so loudly Lizzy would not have heard her anyway.
"Look what I found, snooping around!" the new arrival boasted. He dropped Lizzy onto the ground next to Abby.
"Your sister?" the man who found Abby guessed, leering at the other girl.
Abby could not deny something so plainly obvious. "Yes," she confirmed.
The man grinned. "Is she a maid too?" he asked.
Abby cringed. She did not wish to answer for Lizzy and she realized she actually did not know for sure. She turned to her younger sister as if to forward the question to her.
Lizzy pouted with an angry face. "Of course I am!" she cried, unaware of the conversation that had been going on earlier.
Abby was not sure whether this was a good development. Her original plan had been to stall time by causing the bandits to argue amongst themselves, but things had changed now there were two girls to choose from. Abby did not have time to think of something new because Lizzy decided to take the matter into her own hands.
"You'd better not try anything!" the younger girl warned. "Our brother-in-law will be here soon, with his two cousins. They'll rip you to shreds if you touch us!"
"Oh?" The man raised his eyebrows. "They'd have to find us first!" His grin widened.
Abby threw an angry glance at her sister. "Nice work!"
"Sorry, Abby!" cried Lizzy with tears in her eyes.
Both girls were carried off deeper into the forest. Lizzy's heart pounded. She did not wish to think about what would happen to them, even though she was somewhat relieved to be with Abby. Somehow she believed things would not get out of hand as long as her sister was with her. Surely Abby would think of something, but Lizzy regretted not having gone all the way with Robert first. It would be a holy terror to loose her maidenhood to some filthy outlaw, especially if the others would take a turn as well. Maybe Robert would no longer want to marry her after such an incident, assuming she would even make it out alive.
Oh, Robert! Please, help me!
Lizzy sobbed while her heart cried out to him repeatedly. When they reached a clearing, the two girls were put back on their feet. "What do we do now, Abby?" Lizzy asked her sister in a hushed voice.
Abby sighed with a look of defeat on her face. "I suggest you try to get one of them to like you and hopefully he'll protect you from the others."
Lizzy gaped in horror at her sister's answer. Abby had given up hope of saving their virginity, focusing on staying alive instead. She should have expected something sensible like that from Abby. It would be rather silly to cherish girlish hopes in the face of true villainy. Then again, being silly was Lizzy's strongest suit. Her mind raced to find an alternative solution.
One of the bandits pulled Lizzy away from Abby. "What are you two wenches mumbling about?" he demanded in a rough tone.
Lizzy mustered her courage. "We were just thinking, erm, how we could help you... get hard, you know." She cleared her throat and blushed. "I happen to have some experience in that field, but my sister doesn't. Perhaps you could let her watch while I show her how it's done," she suggested with a nervous, little smile. She licked her lips to make sure he got the message.
Abby frowned at Lizzy's boldness, but she was impressed nonetheless.
"A little floozy, huh?" the man remarked with a wide grin while the others jeered, hardly able to believe their luck. "Let's see what you can do."
Lizzy had thought all men were the same and she could just do to him what she had done to Robert, but she reeled back when he lowered his pants. "Oh!" The smell was like a blow to her face and she turned away her head. "I don't mean to be rude, but... don't you ever wash?" she asked.
"What?" the man shouted with indignation. "Why, you little--!"
Unable to find the word he was looking for, the bandit struck Lizzy across the face with the back of his hand. The girl fell to the ground and doubled over when he proceeded to kick her in the stomach.