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The Earl's Announcement; June, 1646


Guest Arabella Aldwych
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There was a young lady sitting alone at the dining table of Hazelwood Court, idly turning the pages of a weighty book of Shakespeare. First a page or two in quick succession, then a chapter, then three... Arabella Craven came to the decision that this was another book that she would never finish, and gave it a good push away from her. This sent it skidding all the way along the well-polished table, wavering at its edge for a moment before decided to plunge onto the oak floorboards with a satisfying thud.

 

Arabella smiled privately in light of her victory over the tome, though the feeling was shortlived, encompassed by a flush of shame. How could she treat an object that way? Not to mention that it was a gift of her father's, poorly recieved, but well intended nonetheless. She had been raised better than to throw things about, and stood up to quickly retrieve the book. Crossing the floor, Arabella glanced out the window. It was a muggy day, with the thick air hanging heavy over the gardens. It was much better to wait out such uncomfortable conditions in the cool, though spending the day in the company of oneself was little fun for the sociable daughter of an Earl, quick to tire of the silence of a near-empty house, with mother lying down, father on business, and brother William out on the beach.

 

Scooping up the book and holding it close to her chest, Arabella moved to get a better view of the outside, eyes grazing the horizon and dreaming of what lie beyond. With the war over, England was now as safe as houses, leaving this young woman with the opportunity to travel to the court of His Majesty and meet the nation's foremost and finest. Setting her book down on the sill, Arabella rested her chin on her hands and pressed her nose against the glass, daydreaming about all the handsome men she might meet, and how she would entertain them with her flute playing.

"How do you do, Lord SuchandSuch?" she asked an imaginary courtier. "Are those forget-me-nots in your hat? Oh, but you know how I love them!" Arabella laughed at herself for entertaining such childish thoughts, thankful that no-one was around to hear her.

 

Oh, but there was! Out the window, Arabella could see her father stepping out of his carriage. Anxious not to be seen with her face squashed against the glass, she quickly stepped to the side, checking herself to ensure presentability. She'd worn one of her favourite dresses today, and hoped the Earl would notice. She hastily brushed down the outfit, a dress of chalkly blue silk, with delicate lace all about the place. To Arabella's mind, it made her look very mature. In a becoming way, of course, not the stuffy way.

 

She was about to go to greet her father when she heard a click at the door; he had beaten her to it. Gracefully poised, she smiled generously as the Earl realised that she was in the room. Arabella was cheery not just because she was pleased to see him, but also because she felt the need to make him smile. Her father had been so quiet of late, ever since the war ended. Arabella herself did not understand why, for life did not seem any different to her, but she felt it her duty to support him in what was evidently a difficult time. She was rewarded for her efforts with the faintest of smiles.

"Good afternoon, Arabella. How are you?" He said, in a proper manner, as he always did.

His daughter gave a dainty curtsey.

"Very well, father. How are you?" Exchanging the formality. Her father nodded by way of acknowledgement.

"I am well, yes. I met with the Earl of Ravenscar today; do you remember him?" he asked stiffly.

"Yes, father; he came to dinner monday last." She replied, before frowning."I thought him to be quite a serious man." Arabella commented, in a tone that suggested she thought it to be no positive thing. This earned a reproachful gaze.

"I shall ask you not to speak of my associates in such a manner, Arabella; do you hear me?" The Earl of Craven was not a strict man, but he asked the utmost respect of his children. Arabella bowed her head, his word heeded.

"Yes, father." She said, simply, allowing for her father to continue.

"Thank-you. The Earl of Ravenscar has a good name, Arabella. He has wealth, and a large estate." He looked to his daughter, whose quizzical gaze seemed to suggest that she did not to know where the conversation was going. "...I tell you this for I have consented to his request for you and he to be wedded. The ceremony is to take place in September." He coughed dryly, his eyes now fixed to the wall behind Arabella. He wished not to see her reaction, for it pained him to have to tell her. The Earl consoled himself with the fact that he was going his daughter a great service; Arthur Aldwych was a man with a good title, free from the strife of the royalist and parliamentary factions, a diligent businessman and a gentle soul. He would offer his daughter stability above all else, a rare thing in the turmoil that was found everywhere in England.

 

Arabella, however, considered none of these things. In the Earl of Ravenscar she saw nought but a man twice her age, devoid of humour and quiet to the point of boredom. The girl kept her head bowed, anxious for her father not to see the tears welling in her eyes, unable to know that he was not looking, anyway.

"Must I?" she sniffed, biting her lip to keep her composure, ignoring that her knees felt weak. It was a feeble plea, but it made her reluctance clear. There was what seemed to be an eternal pause as the Earl weighed in on an answer.

"Yes." He replied, with an unfamiliar softness to his voice. At that, the decision was final.

 

There was no way for Arabella to dispute it; to oppose her father would be useless. In an instant, her dreams of visiting court, of love letters, secret meetings, of heroics in battle for her hand, all gone. This complete non-event, and she was now betrothed. Of course, she knew in her heart that the announcement of her wedding was to come one day, and sooner, rather than later, but that did not mean that she was prepared for it. Arabella was crying now, her tiny frame shuddering as she wiped her cheeks dry over and over again.

"May I be excused?" She choked, finally daring to meet the eye of her father, though ever mindful of her manners. Met with a short nod, the girl walked briskly from the room, the sound of sobs echoing down the hall. She ran straight for the kitchens and shut herself away in the pantry, consoling herself with a lemon tart and other treats until the tears stopped falling.

 

The Earl of Craven sighed. He was now alone, having conciously to remind himself of the good he was doing for his daughter, be as it may that she was not yet aware of the fact. Though this was the way things were done; it was his responsibility to ensure that his children were matched in the best way possible, to ensure the reputation of his family. It was then that the book on the window sill caught his eye. He moved slowly towards it, opening a page. He made sure to remember that he would buy gifts for Arabella, even after she had married and left the house, so to show to her that he did care for her, and in the hope that it would make her happier.

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