Courting Miss Greene Ch. 02byJuneSummers©
"Doesn't this look familiar to you, honey?" asked Ethan, surveying the meadow.
Ginny plowed through the tall grass behind him. "Mr. Clark, I warned you not to bring that up!" she said with a stern look. Ethan had a mischievous glint in his eyes. Ginny could tell what he was thinking. "Stop it!" she commanded and glanced over her shoulder. "Mind the family!" A wide grin appeared on Ethan's face. "I said 'stop it!'" insisted Ginny while her face turned red. Ethan winked at her instead.
"Oooh! Now you're asking for it!"
Ginny rushed towards Ethan and gave him a push. It did not have much effect, aside from making him laugh. Ginny took a few steps back to gain momentum for her next attempt, but Ethan evaded her. He dashed off, prompting Ginny to chase him.
From a distance, Lizzy called out with excitement, "Get him, Ginny!"
"Hush, silly!" commanded Abby, standing next to her younger sister.
Further down the field, Ethan stopped and turned around. Ginny caught up with him and slapped him. "Ow, ow, it tickles!" cried Ethan. He fell down, laughing with tears. Ginny swooped down on Ethan and banged his chest with her fists. "There's a... little mouse... jumping on me!" he exclaimed, almost out of breath.
The older Mrs. Clark observed the scene from the picnic blanket. "Who would have thought our Ethan and your Virginia would make such a nice, young couple?" she asked.
"You know what they say: 'Life is full of surprises.'" answered Mrs. Greene, before taking a sip of her tea. "I suppose you are also looking forward to the fruits of this marriage?"
"Indeed, I am." replied Mrs. Clark. "As you know, Ethan is my only child. For years I feared I had been too lenient with him in his upbringing, considering his previous behavior... I'm sure you know what I'm referring to. I must say married life becomes him rather well. Virginia keeps a tight leash on him."
"Well, I'm sure it's not just the marriage," said the older Mr. Clark.
"Oh, you know so much!" his wife scoffed at him.
"It's the lot of us men, that leash is," said Mr. Greene.
"As well it should be," agreed Mrs. Greene.
"Oh, where have they gone off to now?" asked Lizzy. "I don't hear them anymore. It's all gone dead quiet!"
"Sit down, Elizabeth. You too, Abigale," commanded Mr. Greene. "Give your sister some privacy."
Abby gasped. "Father! You don't mean...?"
Mr. Greene confirmed his daughter's suspicions by giving her a stern look, causing the girl to cover her mouth and blush.
"What? How would you know such a thing if you can't see them?" asked Lizzy.
"Don't ask silly questions now, Lizzy. They're married. That's all we need to know," said Mrs. Greene. "Besides, it's only been a month."
"Ah, yes," said Mr. Clark. "I remember when Isabell and I first got married, we used to --" He was cut off when his wife elbowed him in the ribs.
Mrs. Clark ignored the questioning glances from the Greene sisters and resumed sipping her tea, although she could not help herself from blushing. Mr. Clark was amused to see that. Mr. and Mrs. Greene shared a knowing glance, but thought it wise to hold their tongue.
Lizzy broke the silence. "I noticed there's a game they play. Ethan will stand in the doorway and won't let Ginny pass unless she pays the highwayman. And then she kisses him! Can you imagine living like that, Abby? Not being able to go from one room to another without kissing a man?"
"No. I cannot imagine such a thing since I've never kissed a man. And neither have you, so don't be so dramatic. Ginny doesn't seem to mind anyway," said Abby.
"I wonder what it's like to kiss a man," said Lizzy. "I mean a nice, young man. Not an old one like Ethan, even if he is good-looking."
"Ethan's not old, you silly goose!" said Abby.
"He is to me!" argued Lizzy.
"Oh, hush! Young men your age can't kiss all that well," said Abby. "They lack experience... or so I've heard."
"Ginny had no experience, but Ethan seems to like the way she kisses!" replied Lizzy.
"That's because it's the man who leads the woman," said Abby. "That goes for dancing as well as kissing and..." Abby blushed, unable to finish the sentence.
"Oh, what word to use?" asked Lizzy, rolling her eyes.
"You see what I have to deal with every day?" Mr. Greene asked the Clarks. "I do miss having Virginia in the house, but with these two... there's never a dull moment!"
"I had hoped they'd calm down once they got older, but it seems they've only changed the subject," added Mrs. Greene, giving her daughters a stern look.
"Ha, I suppose Windfarn is too small for such excitable young ladies," said Mr. Clark. "Too little happens here to keep their busy minds occupied with much else."
"What a sensible thing to say, Jonathan," said Mrs. Clark. "Now you simply must invite them over to your cousin in Northfair."
"Northfair?" both girls asked at once.
"Why, certainly," said Mr. Clark. "Albert, my cousin in Northfair, is rather keen on birthday parties. He celebrates his own by throwing a dance for all his family and friends as well as everybody they know. We don't go every year since it's a week's travel, but it's a nice way to get to know people. I'm sure Ethan will want everybody to meet his new wife, and it would be a nice change of scenery for Abigale and Elizabeth. With Mr. Greene's permission, of course."
"Oh, father! Please, can we go?" asked Lizzy.
"Yes, father! You'll finally have some peace and quiet in the house with us gone!" said Abby.
"Oh, I don't know," said Mr. Greene. "It sounds very fancy and all. I trust Virginia to make a good impression. However, Abigale and Elizabeth... still have some growing up to do."
"Father! Certainly you only meant Lizzy!" cried Abby.
"No, we're both of age! You simply must let us go, father!" pleaded Lizzy.
Mr. Greene sighed. "Prove to me you can behave like perfect young ladies and I will consider it."
Abby and Lizzy jumped up and down, screaming and giggling with excitement.
"Starting now!" bellowed Mr. Greene.
The girls were quiet at once and sat down on their knees.
"Would you like some sugar in your tea, Elizabeth?" asked Abby.
"Yes, please, and thank you, Abigale." answered Lizzy.
Mrs. Greene was amused at how her husband handled the situation. She knew he was only toying with the girls. In reality he would be only too eager to have them out of the house for a while. It would be nice to spend some time alone together again. Mrs. Greene smiled to herself. When her gaze met her husband's, she recognized the twinkle in his eyes.
Yes, Abby and Lizzy would definitely be going to Northfair.
Two months later, the Clarks and the Greene sisters left for Northfair. Ethan's uncle, Albert Clark, had graciously offered to take them all in as his personal guests. They would be staying for a couple of weeks since the three young ladies had never left Windfarn before.
Uncle Albert's residence, Alder Hill, was situated on the outskirts of Northfair. When the carriage passed through the arched gate at the entrance of the estate, the main house came into view. The large, stone building was about two hundred years old and partially covered in ivy.
Ethan left the other visitors to stretch their legs in the front garden, while he entered the house to look for their host. He returned several moments later with a gentleman who seemed to be older than him, yet too young to be his uncle. His dark blond hair was combed back, but a few strands had escaped to dangle in front of his high forehead with each step he took.
"Uncle Jonathan! Aunt Isabell!" He embraced Ethan's parents. "Father is still at the summer house, but he'll join us within a week."
"Ah, of course! Ladies, I'd like you to meet Robert Clark, my nephew," said the older Mr. Clark. "Robert, these are the Greene sisters from Windfarn: Virginia is the eldest, she's the one married to Ethan... then we have Abigale... and Elizabeth, the youngest."
Each sister curtsied when her name was called and Robert gave a respectful bow in return. His gray eyes lingered on Lizzy.
"Will you be able to tell the young ladies apart, Robert? They do look rather alike at first glance, don't they?" asked Mr. Clark.
"Oh, let's see... the eldest is the one who looks blissfully serene... because you're taking such good care of her at night, eh?" Robert winked at Ethan. "And the youngest would be the one who looks wide-eyed and eager..." He smiled at Lizzy in a way that made the girl blush.
"Then what do I look like?" asked Abby, feeling left out.
Robert tore his eyes away from Lizzy to look at Abby. He thought for a moment. "A bit cross, I suppose," he answered with a smirk, "from being the one in the middle."
"What a thing to say!" exclaimed Abby with indignation.
The others tried not to laugh, but Lizzy giggled out loud. Finally somebody acknowledged her over Abby! Such a thing had never happened before in all her life. Robert winked at Lizzy, and she smiled back at him.
The moment lasted too long for Abby's liking. "Why, it's a shame Lizzy doesn't like older men!" she remarked, breaking the spell.
Everybody turned to Abby in shock.
"She said so herself!" explained Abby in her own defense. "Ethan was too old for her, but Robert is older still!"
"Oh, Abby! How could you?" cried Lizzy, and she ran off in tears.
Ginny cast a stern glance at Abby before running after her youngest sister.
"Abby...!" sighed Ethan.
"Miss Greene, I have offended you. I apologize for speaking in jest. It was poorly done," said Robert.
Abby sighed. "No, I apologize to you, Mr. Clark. I am as you said, and worse. If you'll excuse me, I'll go make amends with my sister."
The older Mr. Clark looked at his wife and scratched his head.
"I suppose that went rather well..."
Four chambers had been prepared in the guest quarters: one for the older couple, one for the newlyweds, and one for each unmarried sister. Abby and Lizzy were very excited about that since they still had to share a bedroom at home. They unpacked their luggage right away and made themselves comfortable.
Later that day, Robert and Ethan took the Greene sisters on a tour of the house: Ginny was impressed by the architecture since there was nothing like it in Windfarn; Abby almost fainted when she saw the library and promised herself to return there as soon as possible; and Lizzy admired all the oil paintings in the halls and rooms.
Since it rained the following morning, they could not explore the gardens nor the park outside the way they had planned. Robert retreated into his study to finish some paperwork. Ethan's parents took the opportunity to catch up with the servants they had gotten to know well over the years. Ethan, Ginny and Lizzy ended up following Abby into the library. They were all avid readers, but preferred different subjects: Ethan loved to cook so he sought out new recipes to try and inevitably grew hungry while reading them; Ginny let her mind wander off by reading biographies of historical figures as well as accounts from travelers to faraway lands; Abby expanded her knowledge by browsing through encyclopedias; and Lizzy enjoyed tales of fiction, especially romance novels.
The next day, Robert took his younger guests into the great hall.
"There's a dance I'd like to show you. It's become quite fashionable in Northfair lately, but Ethan tells me it's unknown in Windfarn. It goes like this: all the ladies stand next to each other on one side of the room and all the gentlemen on the opposite side; ladies and gentlemen both take steps to meet in the middle of the floor and return to their original position; the gentlemen then rotate to change places and the same steps are repeated."
Robert demonstrated the steps to be taken by the gentlemen. Ethan and the Greene sisters tried very hard not to laugh when Robert went on to demonstrate the steps to be taken by the ladies as well.
"So when you're close enough to meet in the middle, put your hand out to touch the other's wrist, step and turn like this, and balance on your toe for the next turn. Depending on how much you like the other person, you can lean a bit forward... or not. It's considered rude to lean back, mind you," warned Robert, "but if you really like someone, you can find out if it's mutual. Some people actually bump into one another... Then you know for sure!"
"Why, what a marvelous idea!" exclaimed Ginny. "Especially if you're a bit shy, like me!"
"Indeed, although I think it would be better for us not to join this particular dance, honey," said Ethan."If someone else leans towards you, I might punch his pretty face!"
"'Pretty?'" inquired Robert, cocking an eyebrow.
The Greene sisters giggled at Ethan's reference to Lizzy's slip of the tongue.
"It's a long story," answered Ethan. "I'll have to tell you later."
"I see," Robert turned to Abby. "Abigale, shall we rehearse?"
Abby lined up with Robert and curtsied. Certainly he had only asked her first in acknowledgment of her seniority over Lizzy. She followed the described steps in a somewhat mechanical way, taking care not to lean back nor forward on the turn. Abby was relieved Robert did likewise.
Lizzy bit her lip and fidgeted with her hands while she watched Robert dance with Abby. She felt envious of Abby and somewhat disappointed in Robert. For some reason she had expected him to ask her first. Perhaps he would have, if Abby had not made that remark about Lizzy not liking older men.
Robert finished going through the steps with Abby. He turned to Lizzy with a smile. "Elizabeth, shall we?" he asked.
Lizzy's heart pounded when she switched places with her older sister. She intended to lean forward on the turn, but she was unsteady. When she leaned forward, Lizzy lost her balance and stumbled against Robert's chest. He caught her in his arms and held her pressed against his body. The onlookers gaped while Robert and Lizzy clung to each other.
Lizzy stared hard at the floor, too shocked and embarrassed to move. She had betrayed her feelings for everyone to see! Lizzy looked up at Robert. Her face was red and tears welled in the corner of her eyes. "Oh, I can't," she cried. "I can't!" Lizzy turned her head away and tried to struggle free from Robert's embrace.
"Elizabeth, please!" he said. "We're only rehearsing. It doesn't have to perfect on the first try, wouldn't you say so?"
Lizzy tried to compose herself. Robert had saved the situation by reducing her embarrassment to a simple misstep in a dance. He was such a gentleman! "Yes, you're right," she answered, "but I'm still a bit shaky on my feet."
"Of course," said Robert when he released her. "We can always try again later."
"Why don't we go outside for some fresh air?" suggested Ethan. "I think we all could use some."
"Yes, let's go out into the garden!" said Ginny to her sisters. The young ladies left together.
When they were out of hearing range, Ethan turned to his cousin. "Robert, can I ask you something?" he asked.
"Go ahead," answered Robert.
"Are you just flirting with Lizzy, or are you serious about her?" asked Ethan.
"Ethan, I just met the girl," replied Robert. "How serious could I be? I don't intend any harm. She's my guest after all, and much younger than the women I usually fool around with."
"Well, don't fool around with Lizzy, will you?" snapped Ethan. "She's like my little sister now so it's my duty to protect her... even from you, Robert!"
"Take it easy, Ethan! I won't try anything," said Robert, "but if she wants me, it would be rude of me not to entertain her. You didn't promise her dad to bring her back to Windfarn a virgin, did you?"
Ethan grabbed Robert by the collar. "You watch your step! Because I certainly will!"
Robert straightened his clothes when Ethan stormed off.
"That's a tight leash for sure!" he muttered to himself.
The Greene sisters were out in the garden, sitting on the benches surrounding the fountain. "When we met Robert the other day, I wasn't sure why I was upset," said Lizzy, "but now I am."
"Oh, Lizzy... You like Robert, don't you?" asked Ginny.
"It's crazy, isn't it? To like someone you've only just met?" said Lizzy. "Maybe it's the way he looks at me. It makes me feel like a woman, while everyone else treats me like a child."
"You really are a silly goose," said Abby. "That's no reason to love a man, especially not a man who's practically twice your age!"
"I can't help it!" cried Lizzy. "My heart starts pounding when I look at him and I get goosebumps all over. And when he held me in his arms, I didn't want him to let go. I wanted to feel him closer still!"
"You're attracted to him," said Ginny. "If Ol' Granny were here, she would tell you to give in to those feelings and let him make you a woman."
"But that wouldn't be your advice, now would it?" asked Abby.
"Well, I don't really know Robert any better than you do," answered Ginny. "I'll have to talk to Ethan and see what he has to say. I don't want Lizzy to get her heart broken or end up in some kind of trouble."
"What kind of trouble? I trust Robert. I think he's a perfect gentleman," said Lizzy.
"That hardly means anything. Ethan has always been a gentleman as well," replied Ginny, "but that didn't keep him from "
"Keep me from what, honey?" asked Ethan when he arrived at the scene.
For a moment Ginny was startled he had overheard. "You know, being intimate with a woman without actually loving her," she finished saying.
"True enough. But Lizzy's not thinking about being intimate with Robert, is she?" asked Ethan. They all looked at Lizzy, waiting for her to respond.
Lizzy opened her mouth to say something, but instead she hid her face in her hands and sobbed. "Oh! Abby's going to call me a 'silly goose' again!" she cried.
"Why should that stop you? I do that every day and more than once!" snapped Abby.
"Abby, please! You're not helping!" said Ginny while she tried to comfort Lizzy.
"No, it's always my fault!" cried Abby. "Why am I even trying?" She burst into tears and ran off, disappearing behind the hedge.
"What should I do, honey?" asked Ethan. "Help with Lizzy, or go after Abby?"
"Abby will be fine. She's always been the sensible one," answered Ginny. "But you, Lizzy, won't you tell us now that Abby's gone?"
"Everybody thinks I'm still a child just because I'm the youngest," cried Lizzy, "but I'm of age now and I do like Robert. If he wants me too, why shouldn't we get together like other men and women do? I want to know what it's like to experience passion with a man, even if he doesn't marry me."
Ethan sighed. "I'm sorry, Lizzy. I didn't mean to treat you like a child, but I just told him to back off from you."
"Ooh!" Lizzy sobbed.
"Well, can't you take it back?" asked Ginny.
"I suppose I could," answered Ethan, "but I don't know if that's wise. If Lizzy wants to get with Robert, I'm sure he'll be happy to have her in his bed for the few weeks that we're here. But he won't love her the way she deserves."
"Erm, Ethan...?" said Ginny, nudging with her head.
"And then what?" continued Ethan. "We take her back to Windfarn where she's going to be pining for him for who knows how long. And he'll be up here in Northfair like nothing happened, entertaining himself with other women."
"Behind you...!" said Ginny with more urgency.
Ethan turned around. "Oh... Hey, Robert!"
Lizzy looked up in shock to find Robert standing behind Ethan.
"Sorry, I suppose I wasn't meant to hear that," said Robert. "Should I leave?"
"No," replied Ginny. "Please stay and talk to Lizzy."
"Alright," said Robert. He sat down next to Lizzy. "Elizabeth..."
"Please, call me 'Lizzy.' Older people call me 'Elizabeth.'"
"But I am older," replied Robert. "Listen to me. You're a sweet, young thing. There's some chemistry between us. I can feel it too. But you've only just arrived here. You'll meet plenty of men at the dance: nice, young men. Don't you want to try to get together with one of them?" He gave her a pat on the knee.