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And now good-morrow to our waking souls

Chapter Text

Prologue

 

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

            - John Donne, "The Good-Morrow"

 

“You thought I didn’t know.”

Inside, Andy felt queasy. It was all very overpowering. The smell of sandalwood. The dread in her stomach. The leaden weight of her heart. The cold… cold voice.

“I’ve known what was happening for quite some time. It just took me a little while to find a suitable alternative for Jacqueline… The James Holt job was so absurdly overpaid – of course, she jumped at it… So, I just had to tell Irv that Jacqueline was unavailable…”

She stared then, watching the pink lips triumphantly smirk. No remorse as she laid bare the scheming. ‘The List,’ Andy repeated incredulously in her head. Of course. The sympathy she had felt for this woman now felt foreign in her chest. Of course, one did not get into a position of power as Miranda had without a shroud of cunning.

Even as she thought this, Andy hated that she felt guilty. Guilty because this woman did need her sympathy last night. Her consideration was given even at the very start… when she had stepped in to direct attention away from the inebriated ex-husband. Her compassion gained… when she happened upon them fighting.

But did Miranda deserve it?

“I was… very, very impressed by how intently you have tried to warn me. I’d never thought I’d say this Andrea…” she caught Andy’s eyes then, “But I really… I see a great deal of myself in you.” The young woman felt her heart crack open, her principles warring with the modicum of approval finally won.

She wanted to protest. She wanted to cling to the idea that she had not been seduced into this world. But before she could, there was a jolt.

Neither of them saw the flash of light approaching from behind as another sedan hit their brakes too late and rammed on the town car’s tailgate.

Andy reaches for Miranda on instinct as she is thrown forward. Her head smacked the headrest… and then, watching blue eyes widen with panic… she blacks out.

 

---

 

She was jerked awake as the carriage bounced sharply. Brown eyes blinked blearily, taking in the darkened surroundings. As if on instinct, her arm reached out to steady her companion, only for her to sway into thin air, falling on her elbow to the empty seat beside her.

“Mirand-” she gasped confusedly, wondering why she was alone. What--? Looking around the empty coach, she suddenly felt an air of dread.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

PART TWO

 

Chapter One

 

She was jerked awake as the carriage bounced sharply. Brown eyes blinked blearily, taking in the darkened surroundings. As if on instinct, her arm reached out to steady her companion, only for her to sway into thin air, falling on her elbow to the empty seat beside her.

“Mirand-” she gasped confusedly, wondering why she was alone. What--? Suddenly feeling an air of dread, she looked around the empty coach. Her mind felt frazzled. Everything seemed foreign yet familiar, but the feeling of being misplaced was persistent. For a moment, the smell of sandalwood assaulted her senses… a flash of silver—

“Apologies, miss…” came a muffled drawl. A panel slid open as the driver leaned down from his box to peer at her. Adeline straightened herself, grimacing as she rubbed her elbow. “Where… where are we?” she croaked.

“Just nearing the estate, miss…” the man replied, voice sounding farther away as his head disappeared. Still vaguely confused, she drew the curtain beside her to see the roads for herself. It was already evening, rolling fields were bathed in moonlight, nary a traveler in the streets. She could have sworn it was only midday… they were on their way to the Place de la Concorde… I see myself in you”

As the stagecoach took a sharp turn, a canvas fell forward with the motion, the edge digging against her knee. What on earth? Adeline rubbed her face, determined to shake her brain of cobwebs. It has been a while since she’s had a turn – that’s what her mother called it. A flash of memory, or what felt like memories, overtook her consciousness… misplaced elation… debilitating sadness… most disturbingly, the swish of the guillotine as it came down her neck—

They were in Kent with her father's students to take pointers in painting scenery… Adeline had been watching Jimmy chop wood, and just as the axe fell on a log, the glint of metal caught her eye… instead of the block, her eyes saw a felled woman instead. A sudden pain bloomed on her chest like it was being squeezed, and she screamed.

When she came to, the students were crowded around her. “-- hysteria,” she caught one of their whispers. Jimmy seemed ready to punch the boy who’d said it before glancing to her father whose lips were drawn to a straight line. “That’s all for the day,” he murmured in a low voice, taking Adeline into his arms. He took her inside the cottage they rented for that weekend and laid her on the bed.

“Papa?” she whispered, still confused about her surroundings and feeling very tired

“Rest,  Addie,” her father said, “Too much sun perhaps.” But it hadn't felt sunny at all, the ‘turn'. It was raining and she’d tasted the salt of it with her tears— “Rest now, my darling,” after pressing a small kiss on her forehead, he marched out of the room. Addie curled herself around a pillow, shivering as she remembered the clang of metal slapping down flesh. The last thing she saw were deep pools of blue before unconsciousness took over.

“At least no beheadings this time,” she said to herself. Straightening the canvas on the seat in front of her, Addie took stock of the boxes she’d brought with her. Everything was still locked safely, her oils, other drawing implements rattling merrily inside.

The commission, she thought, as her mind finally caught up with reality, came so soon following their travels to America. She felt worn by the stiffness of portraiture… sitting alongside her papa, while he did commissions of merchants, politicians, wealthy elite… she has just had enough of the posturing. She wanted motion and adventure and grace. A bit of mystery perhaps. Not starched uniforms and poses so straight they seemed unnatural.

She’d said so to her father, intending very much to disappear into the studio to finish a piece that has been niggling at her for some time. But Robert Sandford only peered at her contemplatively and decided to teach her a lesson. How a portrait picture is intimate… how it is a silent exchange between artist and subject, immortalized at one point in time. People would gaze upon it and see a face, but none with the familiarity of the person who has actually caressed those features into life on canvas.

“I’d rather not caress anything of Bennington Wentworth, thank you very much, papa…” Addie scoffed, shuddering at the thought of the large governor squeezed into silk. Robert rolled his eyes at her affectionately before handing her the letter. “A challenge then,” he’d pronounced, watching her as she took in the contents.

In the end, it was the circumstances surrounding the request that intrigued Addie, more than the prospect of portraiture. A portrait painting, it stated, without the knowledge of the subject herself. Outside, she felt the coach moving on more even ground before it shuddered to a smooth halt. Before she could peek through the curtains again, the door to her right opened, revealing a liveried footman.

“Good evening, Miss Sandford…” the man greeted, offering his hand to usher her out of the carriage. Addie only took a moment to comport herself before taking the proffered appendage and stepping out. She had been dropped off in front of the iron-wrought gates which led to the estate.

“Beg pardon, miss” the driver said, apologetic, he skipped down from his box, “But Mrs. Branson said—”

“I apologize Miss Sandford,” the footman hurried to explain, “Lady Edgecombe  has instructed us regarding the…” he lowered his voice for her ears only, “rather discreet… nature of this arrangement and had intended for you to arrive without her daughter’s knowledge. There is---”

“No need to explain…” Addie cut him off, noting his nervousness at the prospect of sounding unhospitable, “I understand. I’ve been sitting the whole day and my legs could use the stretch.” She smiled brightly at them and briskly nodded at the driver who began unloading the leather trunk she’d brought, along with the canvases she’d wrapped in linen, an easel, and the small box containing her paints.

“Yes, ma’am,” said the footman, grateful for the lack of arrogance from the young lady. He tapped the young hallboys who accompanied him to help with the baggage. The driver had already been paid for by the commission, but Addie handed him an extra shilling for the effort. He tipped his hat to her – tiredness overcoming modesty – and grinned a gap-toothed grin. An investment, she thought, in case of an escape.

---

Addie noted the topiaries lined neatly around her, leading to the gray manor house which loomed impressively before her eyes. She'd slowed her walk to fall into step beside the young boy who toted her easel and canvases. A gangly young boy, with neatly parted sandy hair, and a dusting of freckles on his cheeks.  She nodded to him in acknowledgment.

“And what is your name?” she asked, tapping the end of the canvas so it sat more snugly under his arm.

“Matthew, Miss Sandford…” he answered, similarly adjusting the easel on his other arm.

“How old?”

“Turning 14 this summer, miss…”

“And how long have you been working for this household, Matthew?”

“Since I was 9, miss…”

“And your family?”

“My pa lives in the village with my ma, miss” he paused as he adjusted the easel again. Addie saw him taking a peek at the older man right behind them before straightening his posture.

“I see…” she noted, glancing at the man herself, who seemed to be paying them no attention. “And is it… good? Being in service?”

“Yes, ma'am. It's a reputable position being a hall boy to the Pelhams miss…” a twinge of pride colored his squeaky voice, “My ma thinks so too, miss, I reckon she's saying that on account of my brother Timmy who went off to London to—” A small cough punctured the air then, halting what might have been a lengthy family exposition. “That is to say, yes, miss…” he hurried to conclude.

Addie did not bother suppressing the tiny smile which appeared on her face, knowing it was concealed in darkness. She’d found the right person to talk to then. Purposefully lowering her voice to show her intent, she ventured, “And what are the Pelhams like, Matthew?”

“Oh, wonderful, miss” he answered without thinking much about it, “that is, they treat us all kindly.”

She had wondered about the environment of the household she’d be staying in for a few weeks at least. Debrett’s could only tell her so much about the nature of the person she’d be painting. As part of her “education”, her father had encouraged her to read about her subject beforehand to get a glimpse of her character. She had appreciated the notion somewhat, being introspective a great deal about her work herself. But she’d wondered at the necessity, seeing as there was not much introspection to be had with a straightforward portrait. She could simply gaze at the lady in question and have her profile on canvas in a week. Her father had tutted at her for her naivety.

“What is Lady Mirabelle like, Matthew?” she asked the young boy again, deciding to get an impression then and there. She was already sketching an idea in her head. Reclusive, she’d concluded when she first read the letter. Arrogant? And spoilt. Yes. Perhaps impatient.

She recalled when her father had been commissioned to paint the daughter of some person of import, and the woman had preened and decided her input was more necessary than her father’s perspective. “A touch of color on my cheeks, maybe Mr. Sandford?” she’d giggled, “And my hair more golden? Oh I do wish you could make it sparkle.” Addie had gagged then, making a face at her father, who diplomatically took the request with aplomb.

She noticed Matthew had not been forthcoming with an answer yet, so she took another glance at him. She was surprised to see him contemplative. “I haven’t seen much of Lady Mirabelle, miss” he murmured, “That is to say, as a hallboy I don’t really see much of the upstairs, but Grace, the housemaid, says she sings beautifully…” he paused again, “Very comely too, I reckon, but very sad--”

“We’re taking the West entrance, Miss Sandford” Both Addie and Matthew jumped at the footman’s voice, who was walking forward with the other hallboy to guide them to the left of the grounds. Addie did not notice they had already come upon the house itself. While travelling, she’d known from a chatty passenger that this served as a country house for the family. Glenwood House was gray in façade, the Carolean architecture impressive even in the shroud of darkness. Moonlight cast a somewhat sinister glint on the windows, and Addie… recalling a similar glint she had been reminded of earlier, shook her head before following her guides.

As they came upon the west entrance, the door opened to reveal a wiry woman with small eyes peering at her sharply. Half-moon spectacles sat on a thin nose, and her lips were pursed as if it has never known a smile.

“Welcome to Glenwood House, Miss Sandford,” she greeted, voice deep, “I’m Mrs. Branson, the housekeeper. I hope you’ve had pleasant travels. Lady Edgecombe sends her apologies not being able to greet you at this hour, but she was insistent upon the necessity of it.” The men who'd been with her had already disappeared down the hall to take care of her luggage.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Branson,” Adeline smiled in greeting, sliding off her leather gloves to shake the older woman's hand. “Yes, I understand completely” Well, not really, she thought inwardly. But her curiosity made her go along with the subterfuge. Perhaps there is fun to be had with this ‘education’. “I am glad for the arrangements made with the stagecoach.”

“The Lady Edgecombe was insistent regarding your convenience, ma'am…” Branson said, “Grace will show you to your apartments. A small supper has been prepared as well and would be brought up to you.”

Adeline brightened at the idea of nourishment, “Thank you, Mrs. Branson. I hope you won't mind if I beg off now due to exhaustion.”

“Of course, Miss Sandford"

“Good night"

“Good night, Miss"

---

Later, when she'd finished with her ablutions, belly full of sandwich and tea… Adeline found herself sitting on the cushioned seat beneath the windows facing the South grounds. The room was darkened, the only source light being the moon. A canopied bed sat in the middle, and across it was a fireplace that was flanked by two cushioned chairs. Addie wondered if the subterfuge included confinement. Every thing about this commission has been peculiar so far. “I guess I'll know tomorrow…” she said to no one.

 She sat there for a while, contemplating the Dutch garden which was her view. There were dense shrubbery clipped into symmetric boxes housing flowers. It was all very serene… until suddenly, motion in the darkened garden caught her eye… a cloaked figure was making their way across the grounds towards the direction of the house!

Curious, Addie pressed her nose closer to the window to peer at this night stroller. She watched the cloak billow around the stranger – A woman? Her heart was thumping like she was about to be let in on a secret. A thief? A scullery maid? (Although that seemed implausible when she thought of Mrs. Branson…) The woman would run a tight ship. A… ghost then?

As the figure came closer to house, the Ghost must have felt Adeline's gaze because they suddenly halted, head turning sharply to identify the unknown observer. The motion swept the hood down, revealing – “Fire…” Adeline whispered, mesmerized by the untamed titian hair that was uncloaked. A lady on fire. She gasped when the searching gaze suddenly jerked up to her windows. On instinct, Addie jumped back into the shadows, sidestepping to press herself against the wall.

Breathing heavily, she timidly inched her head to peer through the sheer curtains again… but the Ghost was gone.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Two

 

After a restless night tossing about the bed, Addie's mind won over her travel-weary body. She lit a candle and sat herself once more on the window seat. Having unearthed a leather-bound sketchbook from the trunk, a few charcoals, her pastels… she gazed contemplatively at the spot where The Ghost stood. No apparitions there… The grounds were still dark, but the dewy scent of dawn was already in the air

She stared blankly at the paper before her hand almost moved on its own volition to sketch the scenery. For all her intent gazing, she was not able to recall any other features The Ghost may have had… A dark cloak… copper hair that would probably be burnished gold in the sun…

When daylight had filtered through the trees, Addie had a page full of might have been a dream… Was I even awake? she wondered. Maybe she’d ask Matthew about possible hauntings. She had drawn the garden in stark grays of charcoal. In the midst of the paper, only one splash of color stood… peeking from a head that was half uncloaked, was vermillion hair that seemed to almost shimmer in the moonlight.

---

Fully awake now, Addie did not make any more attempts to get some sleep. She got dressed for the day and rang for Grace who showed her to the breakfast room on the ground floor. The room was also overlooking the gardens. French doors opened to a veranda where one may partake their morning meal if they so wished. Mrs. Branson was there already, supervising the breakfast service… for a party of one it seemed, since Addie was the only one present. Was she unfashionably early?

“Good morning, Mrs. Branson” she greeted, smiling as the footman from last night drew a chair for her at the circular table.

“Good morning, Miss Sandford. I hope you slept well…”

“Yes, thank you…” Addie fibbed, pouring herself a cup of coffee, “Will I be… alone this morning, Mrs. Branson?”

“Yes, miss. Lady Edgecombe prefers to take her morning meals in her rooms. She has told me to inform you that she will be meeting with you at 10AM in the saloon.”

Addie nodded as she scooped eggs into her plate. “And Lady Mirabelle?” she ventured to ask. Curiosity about her clandestine subject growing by the minute.

“Lady Mirabelle prefers to take breakfast in her rooms as well, miss” the housekeeper said succinctly. Obviously, Branson will not be forthcoming with any details unless prompted. And so, Addie ate, buttering her roll and sipping coffee while taking occasional peeks at the garden outside. When she had finished, she thanked the servants and disappeared to her rooms to fetch a shawl. Since it was still an hour before her appearance in the library, she decided to take a stroll in the gardens that had been the cause of her poor sleep.

Addie paced across the length of the promenade. At the end of the walkway, she investigated two stone statues surrounded by lavenders. Good artistry… The Pelhams were a patron to the arts after all. When she looked her fill, she finally circled around to stand on the same spot where the Ghost may have stood. They would not have seen her, she decided… even at a nearer distance. Although if it were a Ghost, couldn't they have floated the distance?, she asked herself inanely. Shaking her head, she decided not to make a waste of the rest of the hour and explored the rest of the grounds.

In the end, she had not come across any red-haired strangers, corporeal or otherwise.


 

The saloon was beautiful. It was empty when she arrived, so she took the time to investigate the Gibbons style carvings which decorated the walls. Her father had talked so often about Grinling Gibbons and his artistry, and the intricate long festoon which served as chimneypiece was a prime example of that. It was wreathed around the portrait of a young woman with chestnut colored locks in a Fontange updo. Her mouth had a neutral curve to it, but her eyes hinted mirth. A close-bodied pastel colored gown hugged her figure, with a lace kerchief tied around the neckline. She sat in front of a landscape of trees… she looked like a wood nymph almost --

“Do you recognize it?” came a voice.

Addie turned, immediately recognizing the older version of the wood nymph who now stood beside her. Harriet Pelham (nee Talbot), Countess of Edgecombe, was an art connoisseur but she rarely was the subject. This was one of the few that was commissioned for her.

The first thing Addie noticed was the contrasting lack of mirth from the original version’s blue eyes. She still looked elegant of course, and her face was welcoming, but something was diminished. A silent exchange between artist and subject, immortalized at one point in time, her papa had said about portraiture. She wondered if this is what he meant.

“Lady Edgecombe,” Addie smiled, lowering herself into a polite curtsy. The older woman nodded. Together, they turned their gazes back to the painting. “My father painted it,” Addie said in reply to the earlier query. She had recognized the light strokes and the almost ethereal glow her papa endows his subjects.

“One of his first…” Lady Edgecombe confirmed, a faint smile on her lips. “It was in Paris… right before my marriage.” She stood there lost in thought for a minute before she turned to Addie and offered her one of the cushioned chairs in front of the fireplace.

As if on cue, the footman entered the room carrying a tea set. “Thank you, Smith,” the lady said, “I’ll serve.” Dismissed, the man exited the room just as quietly.

Addie patiently waited as she watched the older woman pour them a cup each. “My daughter’s suitor is French…” Lady Edgecombe finally said, “We’ll go there if he likes the portrait.”

Like a catalogue sale, Andie thought.  

“I have to tell you… she wore out one painter before you.” This surprised Addie who tilted her head in question. “In a very simple manner: she refused to pose,” Lady Edgecombe explained, a resigned tone coloring her voice, “He never saw her face.”

“Why won’t she be painted?” the younger woman asked, having been wanting to know this since she received the commission.

“She refuses this marriage,” the countess took a sip of her tea as if to swallow her frustration. “You must paint her without her knowing.” This much Addie knew from the letter. “She thinks you’re a companion for walks. She’s not delighted, of course,  but… ” A pause. Then a sigh. “Since we arrived, I have not let her out.”

“Why not?”

“I was not wary enough when she was younger…” in a tone that belied something else. An incident, maybe. “She wants to be free, and I… Well my stipulation is a companion.”

“She thinks I will watch over her…” Addie surmised, thinking about how that might be cloying for a woman who desired freedom.

“And you, will observe her…” the older woman replied, “Is painting her that way feasible?”

Addie realized that Lady Edgecombe knew she might be offending certain artistic principles with this request… Addie’s father’s for example.

“I was frankly surprised when your father sent you…” the older woman continued, “I’ve wondered if it was too… impersonal for him somehow.”

The young woman, talented in technique but yet to become impassioned, was confident she could. She nodded her acceptance. “Much easier than being a companion, my Lady ” she said, eliciting an amused smile from the countess.

---

After the meeting, she was shown to an empty room in the third floor of the West wing by Mrs. Branson. It was an old nursery which seemed to be intended for renovation. The carpet had been pulled up, revealing unpolished hardwood floors. There was no furniture save for a few crates in the corner, and a pair of mattresses against the wall. Addie had directed Matthew to set her materials under the windows for the lighting, which was blessedly optimal in this side of the house. They’d spent the hour before lunch setting up a partition of sorts to hide her “studio,” and now a curtain was hung which could be drawn to keep the corner away.

Lunch was another isolated affair, during which Addie pondered her subject. There were two children that Addie knew of who were probably raised in the room: William Henry, elder offspring, and heir presumptive to the 7th Earl of Edgecombe, and Mirabelle Amelie, the younger, whom she was supposed to accompany.

Only the mother and daughter had made this trip, which begged the question as to its necessity. They travelled with a small coterie of servants, five of whom Addie already met. But she was rarely one for gossip so she directed her thoughts to what she already knew: the young Lord was in Oxford, furthering his education, and was engaged to be married, this she learned from the announcement in The London Gazetteer last month. And it seemed the young Lady was to be as well, if her mother's scheming was to bear fruit.

Lady Mirabelle was still marriageable of course, but Addie wondered if the postponement sent tongues a wagging, especially with her favorable station. The young woman knew this for herself, but she did not have the misfortune of being coerced. Nor did she have the compunction to be attached either.

There were some young men from whom letters were frequently received, but something always left her wanting. The cousins she had grown up with had frequently waxed poetic about chiseled arms, broad chests, and – if scandalous thoughts be set free to giggle about – the prospect of kisses. Addie liked the aesthetics of them too, and had gasped and tittered in appropriate moments. But she found that would giggle more about the prospect of painting them for her practice rather than their partnership.

Addie wondered if the same… affliction bothered Lady Mirabelle. If so, would her painting be complicit to the woman's unhappiness? Would the “silent exchange between artist and subject” be resentment? The painter supposed she would not know, seeing as there would not be any “exchange” to be had in the first place.

---

After her meal had been taken away, Addie met with Grace who brought her the dress Lady Edgecombe intended for Lady Mirabelle to wear. It was an emerald silken robe à la française, with a square neckline… sharp pleats flowed from the shoulders, but the sleeves were delicate bells. She directed the young maid to hold it up by the windows. The artist ran her fingers along the gown as if in a trance, gathering the silk in her palms and bunching it up to see how the light plays against the material.

“It’s a bold color…” she commented absently to the housemaid, “She has blond hair?”

“No, miss. Lady Mirabelle has deep red hair,” at this Addie looked surprised. Her heart had began to thump again as if it had realized something before her brain has. A deep red? Not burnished gold?, she wanted to ask.

’A deep red…’”she repeated, still playing with the silk and light. Finally deciding, she nodded, “It will do.”

---

When they finished that particular exercise, Addie unpacked the canvases she brought and began preparing her workspace. She was methodical about this just she is with her technique. After setting up the easel, she contemplated the plain woven fabric and decided to block in a navy, almost black background with broad strokes.

When it dries, it will be lighter in shade, upon which she'd sketch an outline of her subject. The void of the background will enhance every color. The suitor would have nowhere else to look but at his intended. She was just pondering the pigments she would use to bring the green gown to life when the creak of the door interrupted her. It was Grace again.

She is waiting to go outside, miss”  

---

Having donned a plain black redingote, Addie descended towards the Great Hall with trepidation. She double checked for paint in her fingers, lest she be found out early, and patted her hair consciously.

Finally, when the woman came into view, she had to stifle a gasp. Her heart thumped wildly as there she stood. Shrouded in a dark blue embroidered cloak… waiting by the doors was The Ghost.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Stretching eyes west
Over the sea,
Wind foul or fair,
Always stood she
Prospect-impressed;
Solely out there
Did her gaze rest,
Never elsewhere
Seemed charm to be.

              - Thomas Hardy, "The Riddle"

 

Addie's heels clacked loudly against the marble as she neared Lady Mirabelle. But before she could open her mouth to introduce herself – not that she could have, being rendered speechless by the realization – the woman quickly strode out of the doors which were held open for her by Smith, the footman. Addie stopped a beat in confusion before following hurriedly to catch up with the walking enigma.

The cloak billowed around the woman familiarly as she briskly strode down the paved pathway. When she did not even turn around to acknowledge her, Addie quickly realized that she was not going to be walking with Lady Mirabelle. So, she had not ventured to make a sound beyond the crunch of her heels against the gravel. She kept imagining a skittish horse that might bolt if she made any unwelcome gestures.  ‘He never saw her face,’ Addie thought back to what Lady Edgecombe had said, was this how she'd done it then? Running away?

She had scarcely realized where they were heading as the other woman led them through a dense foliage. She seemed to know where she intended to go, and the painter, despite inane thoughts of possibly being murdered in the woods, followed dutifully.

The brisk walking had now taken a bouncy character as the ground became uneven. When Lady Mirabelle skipped over a fallen log of wood, Addie drew her breath as the hood fell to reveal her Ghost's copper hair. The wild locks from last night had been tamed into a bun that sat low on the nape of the woman's neck. Addie felt almost disappointed… but she was right, it was not a deep red… Somehow Providence found a way to meld copper and gold into one color, glowing like burnished gold under the sun. Already, she was wondering what pigments to use how to bring that about.

---

 

Finally, they reached the end of the foliage to reveal a wide-open grassland that dropped sharply into a cliff. The tang of saltwater filled the air as they neared the drop. Briefly, Addie wondered if the woman was intending to jump – what would she have done then? But eventually, Lady Mirabelle had slowed her stride, and stopped a yard away from the edge. The painter let out a sigh of relief. This was more excitement than she prepared for when it came for their first meeting.

Addie watched as the woman breathed deeply, like she wanted to scream…  whether because of frustration…or tasting freedom, Addie did not know.

When it seemed like the other woman had calmed, the painter finally decided to bridge their distance by walking slowly towards her. She did not bolt at the thump of her heels, so Addie proceeded until she was at an arm's length away beside the woman.

And then…

The lady was finally in profile. Addie’s heart was thumping again, this time she knew it was not from exertion. The outline of an aquiline nose was revealed to her… as was a sharp jawline… the delicate cup of an ear. Addie took a breath and looked away. She felt like she was unwrapping her first set of paints all over again.

Why does this feel like a grander revelation?

When she'd dared to look again, she was trapped by the scowl of an angry goddess. She thought they might as well have jumped because those deep blue orbs…

They were the sea.

--- 

 

That night, inside her room, Addie had feverishly sketched every feature she'd happened upon. As if afraid that she'd forget, which was illogical because she'd be seeing the woman frequently for the next few weeks. When she'd finished, she arranged the drawings in a line, already painting the portrait in her head.

She remembered when she was caught staring the second time:

Lady Mirabelle may have thought a challenge when Addie did not look away… but the truth was, she physically couldn’t. It was like assembling a puzzle together. She needed all the pieces. There were lips that were pink and pursed together. Like a rosebud. There were cheekbones, high and flushed. Like the vermillion of van Huysum's flowers.

When Addie was not cowed by the angry stare, blue eyes had narrowed before looking away in a huff.  She had not realized she'd been holding her breath and puffed out a silent exhale. They stood there, side by side in silence – Addie, trying to make sense of her reaction; while her charge, was brooding her fill. After a while, without so much as a single utterance, Lady Mirabelle whirled around… and began marching back to the direction from whence they came.

Addie followed the woman in the same manner as before, at a distance. She was still feeling winded, by both the walk and the encounter when they arrived back at the House. Lady Mirabelle did not look back as she quickly ascended the stairs… while Addie, watching from the hall, felt lost.

 


 

 

The following morning, Addie descended to breakfast much like the day before. Neither of her hosts had joined her, but she was grateful there was no invitation for morning tea. She hurried to her makeshift studio to begin.

An outline of the aristocratic face was drawn in sharp angles and gentle curves. ‘In describing first the shadow where the medial canthus of the eye meets the bridge of the nose… and then the shadow attached to the underside of the nose, you go a long way in explaining its form,’ her father's voice was clear in her ears as she shaded a bump on the distinctive feature. She felt a sudden urge to caress it. Will it tickle?, she wondered, intrigued at the idea of laughter from the angry, angry woman. But laughter seemed premature seeing she had not even heard her voice yet. The mouth will have to wait, she decided.

 The neck was swan-like… but the collarbones were another piece of the puzzle she needed to obtain. A vague outline of the gown was added. The neckline was distinctive, after all, as well as the ballooned sleeves. The pigments she would use were a different matter altogether, wondering which hues would best represent just the red hair. She was so lost in thought, she startled when she realized that Grace had entered the room and was calling her name.

“She's waiting, miss.”

---

 

Much in the same manner as before, Lady Mirabelle was already in the great hall when she descended. Again, the woman had waited until the clack of Addie’s heels had come close before stepping out of the doors ahead of her. They took the same path they took yesterday, and again emerged at the cliffs.

This time however, the woman did not stop at the edge but continued along it until the grassland sloped into a descent to the shoreline. Addie followed as the woman deftly skipped rocky outcrops leading to the beach below. Was this where she had come from when I first saw her through the windows?

The rest of the afternoon was spent in silence. In fact, that is exactly how they would spend their walks the following day… or the day after. Addie thought she may as well have been the wind, unseen.

This could have worked to her advantage, because then she could look her fill and get material for the portrait… but the woman seemed to be hyperaware when she gazed too long and caught her often.

It was… it was frustrating. No wonder she had worn out the painter before me. But Addie was determined. She will finish this somehow.

---

 

“How was your day, miss?” asked Matthew. They were sitting together at the servant’s dining hall. He was polishing the silver, while Addie absently drew the wares on the table.

“Difficult,” Addie replied, brushing off the shading of a spoon, “She always stays ahead of me and walks alone on the beach.”

“Have you started to paint?” the boy asked, taking a peek at what she had drawn.

“Some…” A pause. “Not really. Not yet…” she amended. “I have not even heard her speak. I have never seen her smile.”

The boy tilted his head at her, contemplative again, Addie realized he often looked like this. “Have you tried to be funny?” he asked seriously. This made her bark out a laugh. At this rate she'll probably be pushed off the cliff if she tried.

---

 

On the fifth day, they were once again at the cliffs. Didn’t the woman want to be anywhere else? They had walked farther along the beach than before, and they had reached a rocky cavern Addie had never seen yet. She watched as the woman circled a pillar of limestone as if intent on studying its crevices.

The past few nights, when Addie laid in bed pondering the situation, she realized she would not be the one to broach the idea of a conversation. Attempting to be funny was out of the question.

Perhaps that was the mistake of the painter before her: forced her to appear. Although, he was gone so suddenly and neither Matthew nor Grace knew what happened. He’d lasted three days, they said. Which made her hopeful about the five days she had managed. Pushing the woman would do no good, so she'll wait. Like when she played with hermit crabs, she decided.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, Addie understood that she was a noose. And Lady Edgecombe the leash. No matter how long she could let her daughter walk around with it, she could still snap it back to make her heel. A shiver ran through Addie then, who was not familiar with this restriction, not from her mother or father.  

So today, she was intent on giving this woman some of the freedom she desired, even if only through her silence. She will find herself a rock to sit on and wait... It was not guilt, she denied to herself, and this was not voyeurism.

At this idea, she felt her cheeks warm and urgently looked at the woman, irrationally fearing her thoughts may have been heard. The woman, who apparently had already been staring at her.

“You saw me that night…” came a mellifluous voice. Somehow, Addie was not surprised at this quality. It carried eerily through the cave. Like a siren.

“Yes…” I thought you were a ghost.

“You did not tell my mother…” it sounded accusing. “Why?”

“I thought I had dreamt it," Addie replied. Pretending not to feel the suspicious scowl sent her way, Addie diverted her gaze to the sea.

There was only silence for a while until, “How long until you leave?”

“A month, my Lady"

---

 

It was dusk when they started making their way back, and Addie knew there was little she could accomplish without natural light. She would continue with some sketches in her room and be up before breakfast tomorrow to work on the portrait.

When they arrived at the hall, Addie watched again as Lady Mirabelle ascended the stairs. She did not look back.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

 

 

Once I looked inside
  the darkness
    of a shell folded like a pastry
      and there was a fancy face—

or almost a face—
  it turned away
    and frisked up its brawny forearms
      so quickly

                 - Mary Oliver, The Hermit Crab

 

For most of the morning the following day, Addie was holed up in the studio. She decided she could make do with the details of the eyes. If there is anything she captured best from her expeditions, it was the piercing gaze. But they were always so guarded. She stares at her so intently, but beyond annoyance and suspicion, no other emotions have appeared in those orbs. It was… frustrating. She had to see something else.

Determined, she was going one-up this woman in her game. More than you are already doing, you mean, in your own game, her guilty mind supplied unhelpfully. Checking her timepiece, she donned her coat early and made her way downstairs before Grace could come to her. The hall was still empty, so she positioned herself behind a pillar and waited.

Soon enough, the woman emerged at the top of the grand staircase. Lady Mirabelle had not yet slipped on her cloak and it was folded in her arm. She was wearing a navy gown today. Perfect. It would bring out her eyes. Addie saw Grace emerging from the left and watched as the girl approached her mistress, curtseying low as she was given instructions to fetch the painter.

On her way to do as bid, Addie caught the maid’s eyes and shook her head in warning. The girl hesitated a beat… and then thankfully, scurried away as if afraid of being around during the fallout. When the painter turned her gaze to her quarry, the woman was now adjusting the cloak on her shoulders. Then she checked the large clock which sat on the landing, and briskly trotted towards the doors.

When she was near, Addie decided to finally emerge from her hiding place.  “My Lady…”

Success! She was close enough to see those eyes widen in surprise. All too soon, however, the familiar scowl slammed down.

Addie shivered, but she was prepared with an excuse. “I apologize for startling you…” she said calmly, “I had just come back myself from a turn at the gardens before our walk. Are we leaving now?” She added a smile to show her eagerness.

Lady Mirabelle's eyes narrowed as they turned towards her lips, as if the smile in them was suspicious somehow. “Yes,” she bit out, and then marched away..

---

 

When they arrived at the beach, Addie stayed true to giving the woman her privacy. Today, she pretended to be interested in seashells. Every so often, she caught the other woman sending her a glance, but she only smiled back and went on picking her treasures.

That was a new exercise she was going to try: smiling at the woman. The reaction was so odd, earlier. Maybe she hasn't seen a smile, Addie thought forlornly. Well then, if she found smiles just as rare as her freedom, then she would give them to her.

She was kneeling on the sand giggling at a hermit crab struggle with its shell – she remembered her analogy from the night before – when the rustle of skirts drew her attention.

An eyebrow was raised at her.

She shivered. Determined to play off her nervousness at the sudden proximity, Addie nodded solemnly despite the silliness. “They wear ornaments of death, see…” she said, turning her gaze back to the creature, “When they outgrow their shells, hermit crabs molt out of them and find a new one that fits them well. Like a shell that a snail has died in… ” She picked it up and watched as skittish limbs disappeared into the shell. “Although, this one seems to be burdened by their living…”

There was no response, but the woman had come nearer and kept looking at the crustacean held between Addie’s fingers. She knelt down and sat beside the painter. “It is like a rebellion…” Addie continued, as she set the shell on firmer sand, “To hold on to a thing of the past, and leap into the future with it. Connecting everything.” They watched the claws emerge again… followed by other legs… and then it skittered down the tideline.

“If only all of us could be just as free… to pick a house that fits…” Lady Mirabelle said quietly. And then, lips pursed, the thought remained unfinished as she turned her gaze back to the sea.

Addie did not know what to say to that, so they sat there in silence until suddenly, she had an idea. She rummaged in the pockets of her skirts and unearthed the pearly rubbles she had collected the entire afternoon. After arranging them in her palm, she offered them to the woman.

Lady Mirabelle looked confused for a while before she realized what Addie was asking. Eyes searching, she picked an iridescent moon snail shell, and folded it in her grasp.

---

 

That night, Addie had drawn her arms. After she picked her shell, Lady Mirabelle's hands were folded on her lap just right, she had to remember the details. The painter was drawn to the gracefulness in them.

The fingers were long and thin, she could easily see them flying across the pianoforte. ‘She has a beautiful voice,’ Matthew had said. This would be no surprise to Addie, as everything she has already physically seen of this woman was beautiful. Everything except her sad heart.

 


 

 

After breakfast the following day, she asked Grace to join her in the studio for a fitting. She needed to see the dress on another figure, and the girl would serve as her mannequin. “But miss…” the girl looked mortified at trying on an expensive gown.

“Grace, Mrs. Branson will never know…” Addie reasoned. “I would wear it myself and draw an image from the mirror, but I do not have the same build as Lady Mirabelle.” Her bust was bigger, for example, and they would not sit right on the square neckline.  

After much pleading, she was finally able to convince the girl. They emptied one of the crates which contained a few unfinished paintings, Addie was surprised to note, and moved it to the middle of the room where it served as a stage. An ottoman was set upon it and there Addie sat her model.

It seemed to work well. Grace’s nervousness was an advantage because the girl was able to sit unmoving for fear of ruining the gown. Addie sketched the body of the dress, adding outlines of the finer details, like the pleating. She noted how the colors caught the light… but then she began to wonder if the shadows will play just as fine. An image of Lady Mirabelle seated on the sand flashed in her memory–

I want to paint her in the sun.

After an hour so, she let Grace go, lest Mrs. Branson be suspicious. She skipped lunch, deciding to work with the daylight. All their walks so far had ended at dusk and painting with candlelight was so poorly. The neutral expressions from yesterday had been useful. She already had painted an idea of the details of the face.

She had focused on the eyes again because they were the biggest draw. They were lapis, with flecks of gray, capturing the piercing glaze. What message will this send to the future husband, she wondered. Will it tell him not to trifle with her, because it seems she has already had enough?

Addie realized that this is what her father had been talking about regarding portraiture. That it could be a conversation. That it could be revelatory.

---

 

Come afternoon, Addie was again waiting by the great hall when Lady Mirabelle appeared. She was in plain sight this time – since that mission was already accomplished. As the lady drew near, she smiled and lifted the fabric that was folded in her arms.

“My Lady,” she greeted, “I have brought us a blanket this time.”

And so that is where they found themselves sat upon at the beach. Just as most of the other days have been, both women were quiet. Only the crashing of the waves could be heard… The sea was more raucous today.

“Was this where you had come from?” Addie asked, finally breaking the silence. The woman looked at her askance. “That night, I mean…”

A pause. “The moonlight…” she began, “It seemed inviting.” Addie watched as the woman fiddled with a stray thread absently. It was odd because she always seemed to move with a paucity of gestures.

“I saw it in a dream, and I had wondered… I had wondered what it would look like on the sea. If it would shimmer like a mirror.”

“And did it?”

“I would not know,” a furrow appeared on the woman's forehead, “I was almost at the edge of the gardens when I saw Mrs. Branson walking home to her cottage. And I just… ran.”

Addie was saddened by this revelation, thinking of a selkie being kept away. If only I could just—

“Does it?” the woman asked suddenly. This time it was Addie who looked at her askance. “You seem to know the ways of sea creatures…” Lady Mirabelle said, referring to the hermit crab, “So you would know the ways of their home as well.”

After thinking back, Addie nodded, “Yes.” That summer in Kent, after that turn… she had sneaked out of bed, stole Jimmy’s lantern, and walked to the beach. “We were in Kent for the summer. I was ten years old. And there had been an incident, earlier that day. When I had awoken… somehow… I felt that the moon and the water would be something comforting. So I stole outside.

“It was dawn when I returned, and Jimmy, my father’s assistant,” she chuckled, “he caught me when I was returning his lantern. He did not tattle on me, of course, but he tutted at me for the silliness. I could have frozen to a block, he said. But I knew I would not have… because the breeze felt warm.

“I did not come close to see my reflection on the water… but it felt like it knew me somehow,” Addie said, gazing at the water. She remembered, in her solitude, she had whispered into the dark, confessions spilling to the sea. About dreams and fears. A small smile appeared on her lips, “So yes, my Lady… like a mirror.”

When she turned back to the woman, she was watching Addie again. Her heart skipped as she looked into those blue eyes… they were not a stormy lapis anymore. Not turquoise. They were cerulean.

---

 

Upon their return, Addie knew she had a canvas to burn. But should I? Cerulean felt like a color she had earned. The suitor should see her for himself to come to the same realization. It felt like an adventure, discovering the whole of this woman through her attributes. She was now constantly surprising, and the portrait she initially thought was straightforward, felt farther away than it should be.

When they arrived at the hall, Lady Mirabelle did not march off to the stairs as she usually did. Addie stared at her, waiting, before she finally spoke. “Did you bring a book?” she asked, fiddling this time with the hem of her cloak.

The painter was confused, because is there not a grand library upstairs? But she had nodded, “Yes, my Lady… let me fetch it for you.”

She bypassed the grand staircase and proceeded to the left, where the smaller staircase near the West entrance was. She startled when the woman began following her as well, but she continued her stride. When they reached her rooms, Addie feared she might have left some art materials lying around… but there was no need, because the room was pristine. Lady Mirabelle stood in the doorway as she rummaged in her trunk, from which she unearthed a leather-bound book that was gifted to her by father.

“’Selene’” the woman read from the worn cover.

“The goddess of the moon” Addie smiled.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

 

Morning found Addie paging through that month’s The Gentleman’s Magazine. Freshly ironed by the footman, she could still imagine its warmth on her fingers. It was laid down on the table when she had arrived for breakfast, so she did not think twice about picking it up to see the contents.

The Magazine occasionally published plates by Moses Griffith, who was a talented water colorist, and always brought to life the best of Thomas Pennant’s excursions. So engrossed was she in the Illustrations of Horace, that she startled when a chair was pulled out in front of her.

Lady Mirabelle had joined her for breakfast.

Addie’s eyes widened. She had never seen her in the soft light of the morning. Today, she was casually dressed in a cotton and muslin gown that was embroidered with small roses. With her head of hair, she herself looked like a freshly bloomed one.

“Good morning, Miss Sandford,” she spoke, face neutral.

The painter's eyes widened even more. She did not realize the woman even knew her name at all. Which was a silly notion, because of course she did. Although unsmiling, there was a glint in those blue eyes that seemed to delight in having surprised her companion. Well then…

“Good morning, my Lady,” Addie greeted back. “This is a pleasant surprise.”

An eyebrow quirked. “How so? I live here, don’t I?”

A thought niggled at her brain at the pronouncement. “I have been told you prefer to take breakfast in your rooms is all…”

“I do,” she nodded as Addie handed her the butter, “Only, my monthly subscription is delivered today. I was looking forward to reading it.” She pointedly looked at the magazine on Addie’s person.

At this, Addie could not help but grin, “Well then, I’m sorry to have deprived you…” She folded the magazine and handed it to the woman. No further comments were made and soon only the crinkle of pages and the clatter of dishes were heard.

The woman was engrossed with her periodical, while Addie was engrossed with sneaking looks at her. She kept noticing things: how daintily she chewed her toast… the furrow between her eyebrows when her eyes swept across a passage… sometimes a nose wrinkled…

“Did you not finish what you were reading?” the woman said suddenly, not looking up from her magazine

“I’m sorry?” Addie choked on her eggs

“You’ve been staring. Did you mean to borrow this?”

“Oh,” Addie’s cheeks colored, “No. I-I’ve seen the plates I wanted to see. There is a wonderful illustration by Moses Griffith…” her voice tapered off, not wanting to ramble. A pause. “It’s just… you nibble on your toast,” she blurted inanely.

The well-known eyebrow quirked again. “I wondered if that is nourishing at all,” Addie explained lamely.

She only received a stare in reply before it was directed back to the magazine. Looking back at her food, the painter tried to continue eating as she tamped down her mortification. Why was she a bumbling mess this morning?

They separated after breakfast, which ended in a quiet affair. The nibbling, really? she scoffed to herself. Maybe she is practicing nibbling on hors d’oeuvres… the suitor is French after all. Well then, if anything could help that along it would be this painting, so she turned her attention back to it despite the churning in her stomach.

When time came for their walk, she was waiting again in the hall with the same blanket as before, but she was also carrying a basket. She had asked Cook, a kind and aptly plump woman, to prepare them a hamper of tiny sandwiches for today.

Something to nibble on,” she’d said, grinning inwardly at her cleverness “a few snacks may brighten the Lady up on this sunny day.” She watched as the woman included refreshments, snugly secured a few cutleries, and then she was off.

Addie received another raised eyebrow for this particular effort, but no comments were made. Lady Mirabelle was still wearing the same gown, but she added a hat tied under her chin, and a matching coral jacket. Addie was surprised when she directed  them to a different route… today it was to the large park which led east of the house.

It was quite a nice day to stroll amongst the green... Ash trees and oak trees lined the avenue, which made the painter yearn for her paints. The estate was an incredibly beautiful one, and she was bereft over only being commissioned to paint something so… regimented.

She could not exactly bring out her easel and canvas in the mornings. But she'd taken to sneaking a piece of folded paper and a chunk of shaved charcoal on her person, just in case she discovered a new attribute of import for the portrait.

They eventually slowed down when a large lake came into view. Lady Mirabelle had stopped under the shade of an old oak tree, as if waiting… so Addie took her cue and laid down the blanket. She eagerly unpacked her hamper, plating the small sandwiches into small china, and setting cold tea beside it. The woman had looked over at her offerings but did not immediately sit, and instead walked around for a while.

 

The boathouse across the lake was a tempting view… maybe she could draw that. Addie snuck a look at the woman who was still at a safe distance. Perfect. The paper was unfolded, and then she began secretly drawing away.

She wondered absently if Lady Mirabelle knew how to swim… if summers were spent here, playing with her brother.

There was a quack, and Addie saw a badling of ducks making their way to the shoreline. She giggled as the ducklings tried to follow a straight line after their mother, excited to get to the water.

“Must you always titter?”

Addie gasped in surprise as she whirled around to see the woman who had snuck up on her. There were a series of nervous quacks in response to the sharp sound and she pouted.

“They are funny creatures…” she said, watching the ducklings jump into the water while their mother supervised.

There was a rustle of fabric as the woman sat beside her, and the faint smell of sandalwood reached Addie’s nose. Since they were always at the beach, saltwater always filled the air. Addie had never caught her perfume before. Now it was almost overpowering. Her heart thudded.

She watched as the woman investigated their snacks and picked one triangle of sandwich. Again, she had nibbled at it like a squirrel… but then as if growing conscious, she stopped and scowled at Addie, who was grinning. How adorable…

“It would do you well not to make fun of me, Miss Sandford,” she hissed, but she did not put down her food.

“I am not making fun, I promise” Addie was still smiling, “And please… call me Adeline. Or Addie, if you would prefer it.”

There was no response to this, and she continued with her meal almost indignantly. Addie indulgently poured her a cup of tea.

“I imagined you were practicing on eating hors d’oeuvres…” she said. The cup was put down and the horrible guarded gaze of the first day returned. “I-I mean… your suitor is French, is he not?” Addie followed up, before she could think not to.

What do you know of my marriage?” the woman snarled, Addie already knew of this anger, but the emotion was startling.

“I… Just that you are to wed a French gentleman, that is all,” she said truthfully.

Lady Mirabelle stared at her intensely before she replied, “That is all I know too.” She turned her gaze to the ducks. “You would think in the 18th century they'd arrange something more than a catalogue sale…” she said in a whisper.

But Addie heard and the guilt was back tenfold. There was an unwilling urge to run off… but the piece was already taking shape–

“You draw?” the woman said suddenly.

 Had she said that out loud? But then she saw the woman looking at the sheet and charcoal that peeked from under her skirts. “Y-yes. A little bit…” before she could react, the paper was snatched from beside her, and the contents inspected.

’A little bit…’” the woman repeated, pointedly gazing at the likeness of the boathouse she had drawn.

“I've been practicing,” Addie fibbed, wondering if the woman had now made the connection between her last name and her father's reputation. She had little hope otherwise, especially if one read a periodical on the arts regularly. “Do you draw?” she ventured, hoping to divert the attention.

“No,” was the bitter reply.

---

It was only in bed later on, when Addie realized her drawing had not been returned.

 


 

 

   

Addie was disappointed the following day when there were no surprise breakfast guests. She supposed she had somehow crossed a line. At least, she knew now never to bring up the suitor again. And just as well, because her stomach had been feeling queasy at the idea of begetting the woman's further unhappiness.

She did not finish her eggs that morning.

---

 

“How are your days?”

Addie sat opposite the countess of Edgecombe, sipping tea in the saloon. Gone was the easiness she had felt when they first met. Now she just felt complicit instead of confident. “We return late. I have little light to work,” she replied, regretful, in more ways than one.

“I will keep her here tomorrow afternoon. You’ll be free to make progress,” the Countess said.

After she had seen, and observed her subject, Addie could easily see the likeness between mother and daughter. The blue eyes, the thin mouth… but not the nose, and the jawline. Those came from the father, Lord George Pelham, who Addie has never met, but saw portraits of in the gallery.

There was a wedding portrait of the Lord and Lady, in particular. Both of them looked very placid, but neither seemed very happy either. It was commissioned of Addie’s father as well.

“My Lady, if I may…” Addie hesitated, “Perhaps you could allow her to go out alone…” Silence. “She’s angry… and sad… but I don’t think she’ll run away.”

“You don't think I don't know her anger?” the woman asked calmly, but Addie felt a danger. Addie did not reply.

“I know it well,” Lady Edgecombe continued, her gaze turning to the portrait of her as a young woman, “I've lived it.” It was said in a low whisper that was probably not meant to be heard.

At this, Addie perhaps realized something. She let out a gasp, attracting the older woman's attention. The Countess searched her face, looking so much like her daughter in that moment, and smiled ruefully when something dawned on Addie's face.

“I’m not going to marry her to the local gentry…” she said, fiddling with a thread, Addie watched it with familiarity. “I am… I am trying to take her somewhere else… She’ll be less bored there,” she studied the stray embroidery, and sighed.

“La musique…. Elle est douée en musique…” The music... She is talented in music, she whispered. Addie nodded.

“Oui… On m'a dit que…” Yes, I was told that. The older woman looked at her in surprise.

Elle t'a chanté?” She has sung to you?

“Non…” Addie replied, “No… no, she has not sung to me. She does not even speak to me much…”

For a moment, the woman looked mournful. Addie felt a pang of sympathy. She understood now that there was a roundabout protection in this manipulation.

“You have been to Paris then…”

“Yes, with my father.”

“Then tell her it is beautiful…” But Addie knew what little good this will do, remembering the snarl when the Frenchman was mentioned. She wondered why Lady Edgecombe could not have told her daughter this directly, instead of asking someone to paint her clandestinely.

“The portrait was here when I arrived…” the Countess continued after a prolonged silence. There was a faraway look on her face as she gazed at her younger self. “When I entered this room, she was there waiting for me…” another rueful smile appeared.

“It was jarring because at the time it was being drawn, I remember she was happy. I thought your father’s work was freeing somehow. But when I saw her…” she paused, “When I saw her, I realized, he had trapped her instead. That beyond that point in time… there was no going forth…”

---

The ducks were back again, and they were wiggling about during their baths in the lake when the women arrived.

There was another hamper of snacks, but Addie cautiously asked not to make them tiny today. She offered Lady Mirabelle a loaf of bread, who wordlessly took it and made her way to the water to feed the birds.

As the woman was occupied, Addie took out her sketchbook. With her talent already exposed, the painter had not been wary to draw today, so she began drawing the lonely figure by the lake. The conversation from earlier was still ringing in her ears. Did the Countess think that by capturing her daughter’s sadness now, she would be free of it when she gets married? One could only hope she had that power.

“Your mother will let you go out alone tomorrow…” Addie revealed, watching as the woman’s back stiffened. “You’ll be free.”

Lady Mirabelle looked back at her. “Being free is being alone?” she asked, not quite unhappy, but she did not seem pleased either.

“You don’t think so?” Addie asked. Isn’t this what she wanted?

A pause. “I suppose I will know tomorrow…” As Lady Mirabelle sat beside her, she watched Addie draw for a while, then said, “I will go to church.”

At this, the painter made a face, “To receive Communion?”

The woman saw her expression, and a smirk quirked unbidden on her lips. Addie was instantly charmed. Somehow, it figured that it was her heathenness that would get a reaction.

“I want to hear music.”

Intrigued, the painter tilted her head. “Organ music is pretty but bleak…” she commented, as she began sketching the ducks.

“That is all I have in the country,” said the woman, frowning at the sketchbook on Addie's lap. Then she wordlessly held her palm up to her, indicating that she wanted to see the drawings.

At this, Addie looked panicked. She immediately shook her head no. The gaze hardened into flints and the woman did not budge. “T-they're just fruits, mostly…” she explained lamely. The blue eyes narrowed further but no words accompanied this, so Addie looked away pretending the matter was resolved.

She obviously misjudged the deviousness in the woman however, because the pad was suddenly snatched from her arms and held away.

“Lady Mirabelle!” she gasped, lunging forward to reach her sketchbook. But the woman just hid it behind her back. She tried to reach around, but the woman just scooted back childishly.

In the struggle, Addie did not realize she'd quite so close. They were almost nose to nose. She bit back a gasp. The smell of sandalwood was stronger… she saw the blue eyes brightening in triumph. The smirk returned, and Addie was irked that she was charmed all over again. Her brows furrowed.

“Fine!” she pouted, hoping she sounded petulant instead of breathless. She sat herself back on the blanket and watched the thief drew the sketchbook out. Addie crossed her arms to show her annoyance. Of course most of her practice sketches for the portrait were hidden in the studio, but still! How rude.

There was a rustling of pages as her sketches were perused. She had obtained a fresh one just on the tail end of their trip to America, so most of the earlier drawings were of the cities they visited.

Mostly of sprawling landscapes… one of a puppy… yes, there were fruits… rarely of people, until – she watched eyebrows fly up in surprise — until that night with The Ghost.

Lady Mirabelle looked at her in question.

“I thought it was a ghost,” Addie grumbled, brows still furrowed. She watched as the woman bit her lower lip to hold in laughter, and Addie blushed. The subject looked again at her drawing and traced a finger at the only color which stood out.

 “I… It's beautiful…” Addie mumbled silently, resigned now, “Your hair, I mean.” She felt the woman's piercing gaze, but she did not dare look back. So are your eyes, your lips, your nose. “Like fire. With the moon it was a great contrast. Like a star descended.”

Silence. And then, “Thank you.” Addie, hoping to tone down her rather impassioned description, merely nodded. The woman blessedly let it go and continued her perusal of the sketchbook–

Which of course, held more sources of embarrassment.

The artist did not quite realize that her drawings chronicled their walks in increasing levels of revelation. Huge wonder then that the portrait she was supposed to be working on kept getting waylaid. She groaned inwardly.

After the sketch of The Ghost… was a sketch of the woman in the cliff, back turned and facing the vast expanse of the sea. Nothing else was colored except the blue of her cloak.

And then the scene at beach, where a lone figure was walking along the tideline. The hair and the cloak were both colored in that one.

And then it was that day in the cavern. The woman was standing behind the limestone pillar, body half turned towards the viewer, only a hint of the prominent nose was peeking.

And finally, last of that series of drawings, was the day with the hermit crab and the shell, when the woman was seated on the sand. She was looking down on her lap where her palm lay open, cradling the moon snail shell. The blush on the cheeks, the red of her hair stood out.

None of the versions of the woman she'd drawn were looking at the viewer, which to Addie was already telling of how much she has gone off tangent when it came to this project. The portrait was objectively straightforward: capture a feature, put it on canvas. The sketches however... they watched. They wanted to know more. They waited.

Lady Mirabelle had stared at Addie when she finished. Her face was unreadable.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

 

 

Come into the garden, Maud,

      For the black bat, night, has flown,

Come into the garden, Maud,

      I am here at the gate alone;

And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,

      And the musk of the rose is blown.

                  - Tennyson, "Maud"

 

Addie had spent the night tossing and turning, very unsettled by the woman's lack of comment. Aside from mirth over the first one, nothing else was said about the rest of the drawings. She was not expecting effusive praise… but even a scowl could have been useful.  At least then she would know if the woman was displeased. But there was nothing, and her face was devoid of feeling.

If there was something that changed, however, it was when they arrived at the hall. Addie had been ready for her ritual of watching the woman's back as she went up the stairs… but Lady Mirabelle had just stood with her for a while. She had glanced at Addie pensively for a second… and then to the painter's surprise…

“Good night, Miss Adeline.”

Addie was barely able to stutter a reply when the woman had hurried up the steps. She said my name.

Her heart thudded again… Perhaps she liked the drawings after all.

--- 

 

By afternoon the following day, Addie had accomplished most of the painting. Being left alone had indeed left her free to make progress… but being left alone, also left her with her thoughts, and always, they went to the woman on canvas. She rubbed her forehead in frustration, it was usually a mindless thing really.

Her father had always commented on her technicality when he asked her to do portraits.

What do you think of when you paint this?” he asked.

She had been working on an ear then and recited what she had learned by rote in childhood. “The ear, its cartilage—"

“Yes, but ‘what' do you think of?” her father interrupted her. She had looked at him confused.

“Art, my darling, is nothing without heart" he said cryptically, “This you'll learn as you grow with experience.”

So, what was she thinking of now?

She added a curl of hair that escaped the neat updo to fall gently on the woman's ear. That the titian hair looked better untamed. She made a face. Why would it matter to this portrait that she delighted in its disarray?

Isn't it always just about bringing about the right shapes… the right interplay of light and shadow… the right colors? And wasn't it already right in the face she'd already painted?

Frowning at the image she created, she dropped her easel with a clatter and decided to get some air.

---

Addie went North of the house and walked in the Italian gardens she first passed by when she arrived. It had been dark then, and she did not notice the ornate fountain which sat in the middle of the neatly trimmed topiaries. Now, she circled around it, gliding her fingers on the water to rid them of the paint that had not come off when she wiped them on her apron.

She will be finished soon, and she need not worry anymore about what bothered her so much about this particular portrait. Aside from causing Lady Mirabelle unhappiness, that is. She sighed at herself, and  brooded her fill until dusk was already approaching,

Getting up from her seat, she decided to make her way back to the House. As she emerged from behind a well-trimmed evergreen shrub to the walkway, movement to the right had caught her eye – a figure was making their way towards her direction. She squinted at the distance, and gasped when she realized it was Lady Mirabelle.

Addie's heart thudded as she stood there still unseen by the woman. Her hair was half- let down, as if it had fallen from its bun, but it did not look messy. Delightful disarray. With the sun setting behind her she looked like a triumphant Celtic warrior queen come back from war. Her cheeks were flushed… and most of all, Addie noticed to the detriment of her intoxicated heart, she was smiling.

She should hide… she should scurry back into the bushes… but she just stood there unmoving for so long. If she hid though, her world would have been a poorer place, because then she would not have seen the moment when Lady Mirabelle saw her standing there. Surprise flashed across her features … and then suddenly, a tender look.

What did her own face look like, Addie wondered? She must have looked ashen… she must have looked disheveled –

“Miss Adeline,” came the voice. Her name again.

“Lady Mirabelle,” she greeted back, her voice sounded foreign to her ears as she tried to will her heart to stop doing what it was doing. Beating… beating so wildly. But it could not have done so, because the woman just reached out to touch her forehead, on which a streak of paint was apparently caked dry.

“Have you been rolling about the soil?” the woman asked, smirking, as she showed her the brown that came off. Addie blushed as she hurriedly raised her hand to brush the stain off. Lady Mirabelle nodded when her forehead was clean.

“Thank you,” she managed, still blushing brightly, forehead tingling. “How was your day?” Addie asked, genuinely curious, “You look… cheerful.”

An eyebrow quirked in reply. “It was nice.”

“Church was nice?” Addie asked, making the same face as before.

There was a smirk in reply. “I did not go to church, after all…” the woman said, and then she’d frowned, “But well…  in a sense I did.” Addie tilted her head in question.

“There is an abbey…” Lady Mirabelle explained, excitement coloring her voice, “Or rather, the ruins of a Benedictine abbey, that lies North of the town.”

’North of the town’?” Addie repeated, “How did--? Did you walk, my Lady?”

“No…” she blushed, “I rode a horse.” Only then did Addie think to notice the woman’s attire. She was apparently wearing a riding habit under the cloak. Addie grinned at this and raised an eyebrow at the woman. “I had Grace sneak my horse from the stables,” she replied with a roll of her eyes.

“That’s quite the feat,” Addie chortled, wondering at how the young girl could have done it.

“Thomas, one of the stable boys is her beau,” Lady Mirabelle tutted, “And you will not mention to her that I have told you.”

“Of course,” Addie smiled at this piece of gossip, “I am rather fond of the girl myself.” The woman had nodded her agreement. “So… a horse?” she prompted, wanting to hear the rest of the adventure.

“Yes. I truly did intend to go to mass, but when I arrived… there was organ music playing. I realized you must have poisoned my thoughts about it, because it just sounded bleak to my ears,” there was a resentful glare at this, but Addie just laughed.

“Well, my Lady, I would gladly spoil your ideas of fun if the results are even better adventures.”

There was a scoff, and she continued with her tale. “So I just rode through town… I had remembered that the town usually holds a Fair, during the summer. My mother is a patron. And… it's in a few days time.” At this the woman looked oddly at Addie, who tilted her head askance. After a deep breath, the woman shook her head.

“Nothing. I– Anyway, yes… with no music to be had,” she tried to glare again, “I found myself directing Wolfg– the horse to the cliffs. William and I, we used to race along them. I always won, of course.”

Addie was amazed at how effusive the woman was being. She did not think she has uttered more than few sentences since their acquaintance. Was this what an afternoon of freedom could do? And Wolfgang? Is that the name of her horse? Addie realized the look on her face must have been funny, because she found Lady Mirabelle looking at her questioningly.

She immediately schooled her face into an impish grin, “I suppose, you just haven’t found a worthy opponent.”

A haughty eyebrow was sent her way.

“We will just have to see how you fair against me, my Lady,” which was a fib of course, seeing as she has only managed a slow canter in Hyde Park. But the look of challenge on the woman's face was tempting. She will just have to give up her pride when it was time for capitulation.

“You?” Lady Mirabelle scoffed, “Really? Well since you are so confident, then perhaps you will not mind putting a wager on it…” Addie looked startled at the turn of events. So not just her pride then. She narrowed her eyes at the woman who was smirking again, as if she sensed  Addie’s trepidation.

“Fine,” she said determinedly. The smirk grew more dangerous then, before it dropped to a devious smile. Addie's heart, which just managed to slow down in the last few minutes, began thudding again.

“Fine.”

 

It had grown darker around them since they first happened upon each other so they began walking back to the house. As they entered the main entrance, Addie remembered that they have not gotten around to the adventure in the Abbey yet.

“So, how did you happen upon the Abbey then, my Lady?”

“Yes, I  just rode along the cliffs until I realized that I had already gone farther than I intended. But it was only noon, as I've left after breakfast. The day would seem a waste if I returned early…”

They stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Addie hesitated, but the woman nodded for her to follow. Soon, they found themselves in a small drawing room in the second floor of the East wing.

The painter had not been exploring the rest of the manor house during her free time, so this was first she's seen of it. It was much smaller than the saloon where she would usually have tea with Lady Edgecombe, and the hues were warmer. There were the familiar Gibbons carvings of course, but the paintings on the walls were mostly of landscapes instead of portraits. A small grand piano was in the corner… a stack of sheets were on the stand… Against the wall with the windows was a writing table… upon which Addie spied a familiar, worn leather-bound book– her Selene.

She realized then that this was most likely Lady Mirabelle's private drawing rooms. It made her blush for some reason, for which she chastised herself. It is not like we are in her bedroom. The thought of course only made her face grow warmer. She has never been flustered so many times in one day. What was happening?

Hoping to hide her face, she looked around anywhere else but at the woman who showed her to a cushioned seat. Thankfully, Lady Mirabelle was busy shucking off her cloak and riding jacket.

“You see, I did not exactly happen upon the Abbey…” she admitted, as she settled herself opposite Addie, “During the Dissolution of Monasteries in the 1500s, my great great grandfather purchased the Lytham Abbey, and it has been in the possession of the family ever since.

“I went there frequently as a child, William did not like it, but I did. Mother did not like it either, believing the place to be haunted…” she paused as she absently played with the beads of her necklace.

“True enough to justify her fear, there was an incident when I was ten…” she grimaced, “I fell… and I had broken an arm…”

At this Addie gasped, she could not help it when her eyes darted to the pianoforte. Lady Mirabelle caught the movement, and nodded. “I have not touched the pianoforte for the longest time after that. Mother  never allowed me to join when William and father decided to visit Glenwood again. Well, until now, I suppose.”

Addie nodded mournfully as she took in this information. She looked at the papers on the music rack... that meant the woman had taken up music again. But what did she mean when there's no music to be had in the country?

“How long was it until you started playing again, my Lady?” she asked.

A pause. “A while,” Lady Mirabelle held her gaze. They sat there staring at each other for a long time, until both were shaken out of their reverie by the chiming of the clock.

“Goodness, it's become so late…” Addie murmured, “I should let you rest, my Lady.” The woman was silent as she gathered up her shawl, and stood.

A voice stopped her just as she reached for the door. “Will you come out tomorrow?” Lady Mirabelle asked.

“Yes… yes, of course…”

 


 

Today, they retraced their steps back to the beach. But unlike before, Lady Mirabelle had not walked ahead of her but beside her. A small smile persisted on Addie's lips until they made it to the rocky outcrops.

“What ever do you find amusing now?” the woman suddenly asked.

Addie's smile dropped, “Nothing, my Lady. Just the weather.” There was a suspicious glance in response to that as it was particularly windy today. Nevertheless, Addie pretended not to notice and spread their blanket at the spot they had frequented.

She was happy to sit with the woman without speaking, and ponder the seagulls instead, when Lady Mirabelle broke the silence. “In solitude, I felt the liberty you spoke of…” she said, not looking at Addie. ‘Being free is being alone?’

The painter nodded, and was pleased with how that machination turned out.  Lady Mirabelle stayed silent for a long time which made Addie wonder if the thought was going to remain unfinished, when–

“But I also felt your absence.”

Addie's eyes widened, and this time she could not hold back the wide smile that stretched across her lips. Lady Mirabelle who seemed nervous at first, saw her grin and rolled her eyes, “How could I not, without the tittering?”

But the painter would not be stopped and kept her smile. The woman seemingly resigned at her fate of being constantly beamed at, let out a huff.

---

 

All in all, Addie thought, everything was going well for the companionship end of her employment. The silences were still expansive, but they were not a necessity anymore. She was comfortable in their quiet co-existence, and perhaps, Lady Mirabelle was too.

They had not sat shoulder to shoulder, or walked arm in arm, but she knew her presence was acknowledged. As compared to being just an irksome wind before, that is. The next few days had them either walking at the beach, where the sea talked instead, or sitting by the lake, where the family of ducks provided the mutters of conversation.

She still was not privy to the thoughts that Lady Mirabelle got lost in, of course. The retelling of the adventure in the Abbey was a singular occurrence brought about by the loading dose of freedom.

She supposed the woman could go off on solitary trips now… but Addie always came out in the afternoons to wait for her, and she never begrudged the company. Occasionally, she would glance Addie's way, and she'd respond with a tilt of the head in question, but nothing was ever said, and the silence continued.

The painting, on the other hand, was a different matter altogether. Addie still cloistered herself in the mornings at the studio. She donned her apron… clipped her thumb around her easel… and stared at the canvas…

She had brushed the dress… perfected it’s vivid green hue… and she worked painstakingly on the detail of the beadings… but the face… The face, she had not touched since that day Lady Mirabelle went out alone for the first time.

Technically, a lesser artist could have rendered it as done. But something was lacking. Was it a shadow here? A line near the mouth?  She felt confused because in essence, the countenance was now objectively more familiar…  but conversely, her portrayal of it grew more foreign.

She let out a huff, and set her brush on a neglected detail of an unsuspecting embroidery instead.

---

Her frustration remained until their walk, and it must have shown on her face, because Lady Mirabelle felt compelled to ask, “Did you not wish to come out today?” It was said with an indifferent tone which annoyed Addie more for some reason.

“Of course not, my Lady,” she replied in much of the same tone.

That seemed to have startled Lady Mirabelle because she stopped walking and looked at her companion. “Is something the matter then?” the tone has changed, and Addie, detecting the hint of concern, felt her vexation quiver.

She sighed and shook her head no. “It's nothing, my Lady. I apologize…” apparently this was not enough because the woman did not relent her gaze. “Just an incident this morning,” she added.

The gaze hardened, and really, she should not have been easily swayed by the flash of protection in those eyes, but she was… and just like that, her vexation disappeared. “It was of no harm, my lady. Just a puzzle I could not work out…” she said, trying to be vague. She tacked on a small smile for assurance. Lady Mirabelle still looked suspicious but she backed off and they began walking again.

“I apologize for having ruined our walk with my sullenness,” Addie said after they had settled themselves in their spot.

“Don't be silly,” was all the woman said.

Don't be silly, what? Don't be silly, ‘you're not important enough to ruin my day’? Don't be silly, ‘I want you here’??? Addie wanted to ask. But she didn't and just averted her gaze.

“Is that what you do in the mornings? Puzzles?” the woman asked.

“Mostly, yes…” Puzzling a great deal about you, that is. “What about you, my Lady? What occupies you in the mornings?”

“Reading,” she replied, her cheeks curiously pinkened. They were becoming on her but being charmed warred with being concerned in Addie. She wondered if it was because of the colder wind today.

After a beat, the woman continued, “I've been receiving correspondence…”

This made her smile, thinking that the woman did seem to need more friendships. Then it made her wonder if they were at all what one may call friends. What will happen when her subterfuge gets revealed? Will the woman forgive her? Will she—

“I've been receiving correspondence from Monsieur Gatreau,” Lady Mirabelle continued.

 “’Monsieur Gatreau'?” Addie repeated. She has heard that surname before.

“Yes… the Frenchman,” the woman replied, the emphasis seemed odd. She was looking at Addie closely, as if waiting for a reaction.

And then it dawned on her, the Gatreau family was prominent in the Lyonnaise silk industry. When she went to Paris with her father, it was important to him to have her learn about fabrics. How they draped across a person's body… how you could tell a story in your paintings by the clothes a person wore… and where else would she better learn this in the fashionable country of France. The silks of Lyon were an important education, and they had visited a Canut in Croix-Rousse for research.

“Of the fabric industry, my Lady?” she asked, “How wonderful! They make fabulous silks!”

This knowledge seemed to surprise the woman who nodded. “Monsieur Edouard Gatreau has been writing me letters…” she said cautiously.

“Are you having a dress fitted?” Addie asked. Lady Mirabelle would of course be fashionable, but mostly, she had just been dressed simply during their excursions. She was confused when the woman sighed at her.

“Monsieur Gatreau is the French suitor mother has spoken of,” she revealed.

“Oh.”

“Yes.”

“I see.”

But she didn't. The feeling in her stomach was peculiar. Like her organs had gone, and all that was left was a cavity. Her heart felt odd as well, like it had grown leaden, and was dropping down her torso. Why wouldn't it when her chest was squeezing so tightly?

“How wonderful, my Lady,” her voice sounded foreign to her ears as she tried to make sense of what was going on in her body. “That you're getting to know him, I mean…”

Lady Mirabelle was looking at her so oddly again as if dissatisfied, but then she said, “I suppose, yes.”

By this point, Addie knew her heart was nested in the bottom of her abdomen. She felt… betrayed, somewhat. Disappointed, at this unexpected capitulation. Where was that anger she had witnessed then? The defiance Lady Edgecombe spoke of? I thought she knew little of the man?

She did not think the woman tractable. The guilt that had been gnawing at her– preventing her from painting properly– felt utterly pointless. Addie felt angry.

“And you?” the woman’s voice broke her thoughts, “When will you get married?”

“I don't think I will,” she said, and she wished to make it come across as an advantage. Wanting to prove something to her. “I will take over my papa's business.”

“I see.”

The horrible silence that followed was almost comforting. She could not bear to look at the woman anymore, and kept her gaze to the sea.

---

That night, Addie sat in front of the canvas, and painted the rest of the portrait. Despite her dislike of working without natural light… she let the illumination from the fireplace guide her. She was not so confused now. The strokes became sharper, and her movement precise as she had fallen back to a well-honed technique.

There was no waffling about whether the blue eyes were lapis or cerulean… whether the hair was better in disarray… whether rosy lips were better pursed into a bud or smiled into a bloom.

When she had finished, she was almost glad to see a stranger looking back at her from the canvas.

 

 

 

Chapter Text


Chapter Seven

 

 

Strong sun, that bleach
The curtains of my room, can you not render
Colourless this dress I wear?—
This violent plaid
Of purple angers and red shames; the yellow stripe
Of thin but valid treacheries; the flashy green of kind deeds done
Through indolence high judgments given here in haste;
The recurring checker of the serious breach of taste?

No more uncoloured than unmade,
I fear, can be this garment that I may not doff;
Confession does not strip it off,
To send me homeward eased and bare;

All through the formal, unoffending evening, under the clean
Bright hair,
Lining the subtle gown. . .it is not seen,
But it is there.

                - Edna St. Vincent Millay, "The Plaid Dress"

 

“The painting is finished.”

Lady Edgecombe looked surprised but it was obvious that she was pleased. Since they had last met in the saloon, the older woman had not checked on Addie's progress… perhaps preferring to leave the young woman to go about her clandestine process. She was aware of her daughter's reluctance after all, and had given Addie a month to finish her task.

“I would like to show it to her before you send it.”

The older woman looked at her for a long time before she nodded, “Very well.”

---

When they met in the hall that afternoon, Addie's face was bereft of the welcoming smile she always greeted Lady Mirabelle with. In response, the woman's face grew guarded.

“There is something I would like to show you…” Addie began, not wanting to dawdle. Lady Mirabelle raised an eyebrow, but followed as she led them to her secret hideaway. She sensed, rather than saw, the look of confusion on the woman’s face as they stopped in front of the old nursery. She could not bear to look yet.

Her heart was thudding as she produced the key to open the door, but she felt dull to it. That is what she had been feeling the whole day, numb. She just wanted this task finished.

When they had entered, the canvas sat in the middle of the room, facing away from them. And when Addie finally turned to the woman to see her reaction… she saw eyebrows burrow further in bewilderment… and then lift in dawning realization.

“I was commissioned by your mother to paint you,” Addie revealed. Silence. The blue eyes clouded with what she recognized as betrayal before they cleared into practiced coldness.

There was a long pause during which neither of them moved, staring at each other, faces both schooled into expressionless façade. Their tenuous friendship falling around them like a house of cards. And why wouldn't it, when it was built on a lie?

It was Lady Mirabelle who first wrenched her gaze away. And then, letting out a breath, started walking towards the easel to see the portrait for herself. She stared at it… and then stared at it some more. Addie looked on with muted trepidation. She was done. She could finally move on with this unexpected diversion from her artistry. From this confusion.

And then finally…

“This is me?” Lady Mirabelle asked, tone empty.

“What do you mean?” Addie replied, evidently not expecting this reaction

“This is how you see me?”  

“It’s not only me,” she said, feeling defiant

“What do you mean, not only you?”

“There are rules… conventions… ideas. Technique!” she noticed her voice was rising, but the other woman’s lowered into a cold hiss.

“’Technique’?” Lady Mirabelle repeated, “No wonder it’s so lifeless.”

At this, Addie felt her face warm. “I didn’t know you were an art critic.”

“I didn’t know you were painting me.

Guilt splintered through Addie's heart, but the indignation that has sustained her the entire day won over. Besides, isn’t this what the woman wanted now?

“I would have thought you happier,” Addie said, “Seeing as you're apparently writing letters now.” Immediately after she had said it, her mouth snapped into a shut. Even to her own ears, she sounded petulant. She sounded like a jeal

“I should have known you are mother's lap dog,” Lady Mirabelle said, with a look that spelled disgust. “All the glances… all those sketches. I could not believe I–” she let out a horrible laugh then. Something smarting lanced in Addie's chest… days of anticipating that laughter, and all she got was this…

Lady Mirabelle shook her head, “I should have known that you are nothing but a voyeur.

Color drained from Addie's cheeks, knowing she could not deny the accusation. She had watched after all, and stole the woman’s likeness and trapped it canvas to give to another. But she has given in hasn't she? Addie kept repeating to herself.

“I should have known you are nothing but a coward.”

I am the coward?” Lady Mirabelle repeated, “I am not the one who has been lying this whole time.”

“I am not the one who has given up.”

“That's it then? You blame me for this marriage. You’re punishing me for what happens next.”

“It's a way of avoiding hope.”

“And what would you have me do? You prefer me to resist?”

“Yes.”

“Are you asking me to?”

Who am I to ask you? Who am I to beg you? At this, Addie physically felt the fight in her slowly leech out, and the anger that has been hold her together evaporated. She was left fatigued and hollow… and now perhaps, left with no friendship. What was she hoping for really, that Lady Mirabelle would stay defiant and fight back?

“No,” she said resignedly.

Lady Mirabelle's eyes shimmered with something unknown before the another cold mask slammed down. She stared long and hard at Addie before walking out of the room and slamming the door shut with an echoing bang… leaving the painter standing there alone with her portrait.

‐--

 

“You do your father proud, Miss Sandford. Your technique is impeccable.”

‘Technique,’ the word pinged around Addie's head like it was something painful and heavy instead of the lightheaded pride she usually felt.  On any other occasion, she would have preened at this assessment, but today the validation felt like an accusation.

Lifeless.’

Lady Edgecombe was peering closely at her daughter's likeness with her spectacles, going through each corner like the art connoisseur she was. “Although…” the woman paused, straightening her back to peer at Addie instead, “Hmm.”

 The painter tilted her head in question at her employer's searching gaze. The trepidation compounded the pain in her chest, and it must have reflected on her face because something seemed to dawn on the older woman's face. “I see.” What? What does she see?

“You are young yet,” she continued, in that same cryptic tone her father always said about her work. “But I expect great things from your repertoire.”

“Thank you, my Lady” she responded rotely

“Mirabelle gave her permission to send the portrait,” she revealed, still watching the painter keenly. Addie did not want to hear that piece of information. It was an absolution perhaps, but at the same time it was a sentence. “Perhaps your companionship has helped that along.”

“My Lady, I don't think I…” her voice trailed off, intending to deny her complicity. She had weaponized that companionship to aid in Lady Mirabelle's demise. Although, didn't she think that the portrait was justified after learning of the letters? But the woman's vehemence earlier gave her pause—

“There is a Fair organized by the townsfolk in a few days time. I've always made it a point to contribute somehow…” the segue startled Addie. She involuntarily recalled when Lady Mirabelle had mentioned it. There had been an odd look on her face, but there was also an excitement—she shook her head, it seemed like a lifetime away now. “I would like you to stay and come and join me, Miss Sandford.”

Addie felt her stomach bottom out at the request. She had decided she wanted to leave. The portrait was finished. There was nothing else for her to do. It is not likely Lady Mirabelle would want her companionship ever again.

“Perhaps you could paint the grounds… Hmm. Yes, perhaps the event,” the older woman tapped her finger on her lips, “Let's not make a waste of the rest of your stay. I will commission another painting. This time, of the Fair. We could gift it to the town.”

“I—”

“Come now, your father has told me of your talent with genre painting…” the Countess persuaded her, sensing her hesitation. “It would be wonderful practice.”

Addie was frustrated at how she was being manipulated again. She remembered her desire to bring her paints and easel out in the morning… wanting to paint her in the sun. That seemed  impossible now. And what did she expect, really? That Lady Mirabelle would gaze on her portrait and flatter her with praise? Forgive her? Would eventually sit for Addie, and allow her to gaze her fill, and paint her?

No. No, she gave her permission to send this lifeless monstrosity instead. She was not for Addie to gaze at anymore. All that will be left to her will be a memory… and those series of sketches, that promised to reveal, were now shuttered off…

Whereas she was excited at the opportunity to paint before, this experience has caused unhappiness instead. So why wouldn't she take this offer now? Perhaps this one last painting will be an apt conclusion. Her one last memory, of an uncertain possibility lost to her forever.

“Very well, my Lady. I accept.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I have known the eyes already, known them all – 

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

               And how should I presume?

             - T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

 

 

 

It was two days since Addie had revealed the painting, and she has not seen Lady Mirabelle even once. Not that she ever saw anything of the woman at all in the mornings, except that one breakfast… When she had looked like a blooming rose– she quickly shut off her thoughts…

Anyway… Anyway that was the benefit of a large estate such as theirs, but Addie was not so sure if it was a benefit anymore. Did she want to run into the woman at all? Besides, what will she do if they did? Will she apologize? Why should she? The woman had given her permission anyway. That particular purpose was done, and the woman had made her choice.

But still Addie had lied… and if she truly let her mind wander, she felt bereft of the smirks… the raised eyebrows… that one tender look in the gardens. It felt exactly like waiting for the hermit crab to appear, only for her to watch it skitter off to the tideline immediately after.

And just as well, because just as the hermit crab is not for her to keep, Lady Mirabelle has never been for her as well. Could they have been dear friends? Singletons in London together? I, making my art… and she her music?

The thought made her heart thud for a while until she let out a bitter laugh. ‘No’… she could not have asked Lady Mirabelle to resist. That was her choice to make, and Addie had no alternative to offer her.

She had also not returned to the studio for that same duration. She was still feeling angry. Angry that somehow this pleasure was taken away by the woman as well. Nothing– Nobody, has ever taken her art away from her just as much as they brought it closer. And she was… closer. When she was painting the woman it felt like she was discovering something new about her work… and just as she was on the cusp of something, the shroud fell. And all that was left was skill instead of substance.

Lifeless.

That being said, Addie had nothing to occupy her mornings, so she had taken to following either Matthew or Grace around, who both had a lot to do, and Mrs. Branson was not very pleased. It was a very long two days of watching silver getting polished and carpet being whipped, interspersed with waiting... thinking… mourning… seething… until finally, just in time for her determination to be renewed, it was the day of the Fair.

She was informed at breakfast by the austere housekeeper that she and the Countess would be leaving for the village after lunch– not too early, but not too late either for the guest of honor to arrive. She allowed excitement to fill her, ready to paint something that did not require subterfuge or bring unhappiness to anybody.

There was a bounce in her step as Addie made it out of the doors. And seeing the sun shining bright... she was sure to find enjoyment in her painting again.

But this elation was very much short-lived, for apparently she has been misled.

When she was ushered into the carriage by Smith, the smell of sandalwood and leather immediately filled her senses– I see myself in you–

 Light blinded her just as it had during that turn…  and when she shook herself awake… there she was. Sitting inside the carriage was Lady Mirabelle.


 

 

The silence in the carriage was almost oppressive as they rattled along the road leading to the village. The Glenwood estate was acres wide and was almost secluded, as such, the minutes that ticked by felt interminable to Addie who had her gaze fixed on her window.

Lady Mirabelle’s eyes were likewise averted, and seemed determined to ignore the painter's presence. But Addie was already used to this game, and soon enough tried to peek at the woman from the side of her eye.

She was wearing a cream silk and muslin gown that looked light and airy despite the heavy skirts. She also had on a straw bergère hat that was tilted just so to cover most of her face that was turned. Her hair was tied back to a neat twist, with some ringlets that cascaded freely down the nape of her neck…

Addie, who has always been drawn to the titian hair, wanted to curl them around her fingers. Her eyes widened at that thought and fought off a blush. It was nothing prurient, she vehemently told herself, but the thought of just… coming in contact with any of the woman's person, who now apparently detested her, was somehow provoking.

But still she had wondered where the notion had come from—

“Staring again?” scoffed a cold voice.

Addie immediately schooled her face into a scowl and whipped her glare back to the window.

Coward.”

 It was said lowly, but it carried to Addie's ears across the small space. Her hands turned into fists in her lap as she fought off a retort. She will not dignify the childish taunt with a response.

The rest of the trip went by in silence.

---

 

The County Fair was held in the center of the village, and it was bigger than Addie expected. The streets were busy, people milled about the streets examining the wares on booths owned by local and visiting merchants alike. There were artisans too, so Addie’s ire was temporarily diverted by curiosity.

She had learned from Matthew that there were also exhibits organized by the Agricultural Society. The best displays of oxen, sheep, swine, and cattle paid with prize money. He had excitedly told her that his parents, who were pig farmers, have an entry. Then he hurriedly added that they judge flowers too… just in case she didn’t like livestock.

This was apparently why it wasn't the Countess she had arrived with, because the older woman was the judge for the Glenwood Cup, a gardening competition that awarded the best blooms in the village. She had come early with Mrs Bates, her Lady's maid, and toured around to see the entries.

The carriage brought them to a park, where the Fair spilled into a picnic where the local gentry mingled. Addie did not realize she had been grinning and turned excitedly to the other seat where she saw Lady Mirabelle staring at her. Her smile and her heart dropped, irritation coming back to the fore, while the woman scowled.

With a shuffle of skirts, they turned away from each other and wordlessly descended the carriage. They made their way across the green at a distance from each other, with Addie huffing as the other woman kept a quick stride, eager to get away from her. She decided to take a deep breath and looked around the  quadrangle instead.

A few tents had been put up to shield the guests from the sun. In the centermost one, there was a long table that served refreshments, cakes, and sandwiches. To the side, there was also a stage where a small band played lively music. Aside from people of import milling about, a few servants from the House were also lent to the occasion and were going around with trays. Addie spied Grace and Matthew, and she nodded at them as she approached the Countess behind Lady Mirabelle.

“There you both are!” the older woman proclaimed, smiling at them.

“Mother,” Lady Mirabelle murmured, bending down to kiss her cheek.

 “My Lady,” Addie followed, dipping to a polite curtsy.

“It's certainly festive, isn't it Miss Sandford?” Lady Edgecombe addressed her, “Aren't you glad you stayed?”

“Yes, my Lady. Thank you for inviting me.”

Lady Mirabelle had soon excused herself from their presence but not before her mother secured a promise that she be nearby during the Cup announcement. Addie attempted to follow her with her gaze but the Countess directed her attention to a man she previously was talking to.

“Sir Patrick, I would like to introduce you to Miss Adeline Sandford, Sir Robert Sandford's daughter, “ Sir Patrick  extended his hand for Addie to shake, “Miss Sandford, Sir Patrick Marshal.”

“Sir Robert Sandford of the Royal Academy?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“How wonderful! I saw his work at the Exposition last summer. Transcendent!” he blubbered, “Are you an artist too then?”

“Yes, yes she is,” the Countess answered for her, “She has the family talent. In fact, I've commissioned a painting of the Fair…”

And so it went. She was introduced to few more people in much of the same manner, until Lady Edgecombe finally found out it fit to set her free to explore the event. Occasionally, Lady Mirabelle would edge along the corner of her vision… and Addie was surprised to see the woman engaging.

Of course she shouldn't have been. Lady Mirabelle is a young woman of excellent station, and was well raised to bear graces in society. They had lived in a bubble in the estate, therefore she had only been privy to an aloofness that was not permissibly polite in gatherings such as this. Addie supposed she could only be misled so many times.

When they had met, she felt a need to protect the woman from what her station in life was asking of her. But evidently there has never been any need for that. This saddened her– because while she was the one employed to provide companionship… she never quite realized, it was she herself, who also needed it.

Maybe it was her, that was the coward. And Lady Mirabelle, the brave one, for trying to find contentment in the unknown. She never had the right to feel indignant over the woman's choice.

Eventually, Addie decided to just do what was asked of her, and walked away from the picnic to stroll the event. She distracted herself by focusing on the art she knew, rather than her heart that was possibly breaking.

She looked in on the artisans she had been curious about and bought a few vases her father might be interested in. There was also a shell ornament she had purchased in a fit of nostalgia. Then she found the agricultural exhibits, where she spied a sandy haired man standing by a pen of hogs who might have been Matthew's father.

All in all, it was indeed a festive event and she felt comforted by the many scenes she could portray. When she had framed a concept in mind, she walked back to the picnic, determined not to look around for Lady Mirabelle anymore. Her easel, and other implements were brought along in the carriage earlier, so she was finally getting her wish to paint outside. She found herself an oak tree to set-up under, and began.

---

 

The painter had been sketching the beginnings of a busy street when applause filtered through her thoughts. Addie looked around as she was shaken out of her focus, and her eyes were drawn to the stage where the guests were crowding… her eyes widened when she saw a familiar cream colored gown and wide hat standing above them all.

Lady Mirabelle, her heart stuttered. It seemed that even if she did not look for the woman, her attention was going to be forcibly gained. She watched curiously as the woman conversed with the pianist and straightened back again to face the crowd. Her eyes widened even more… Is  going to sing?

The artist dropped the charcoal she had been holding as she froze on her stool. The surroundings had become peculiar… everything else had quietened. Her heart was beating to a slow crescendo as the piano began with the opening bars of an aria… Handel, she recognized distantly, Giulio Cesare.

For some reason, the sensation in her body brought her back to the cliff… like she was standing on the edge at the precipice of something profound… and when Lady Mirabelle began… she fell…

“V'adoro, pupille,
saette d'amore,

I adore you, eyes,
Arrows of love,

The sensation was otherworldly as her miraculous, miraculous voice reached Addie's prescient heart. It harkened to memories of their short acquaintance that she realized now, forebode an emotion fearsome. With each verse, images appeared on her mind unbidden: when they had first met, and Addie was trapped by the scowl of an angry goddess…

Le vostre faville,
son grate nel sen.”

Your sparkles,
are pleasing in my breast

when she had told her of the Abbey, and Addie was elated for her…

Pietose vi brama 
il mesto mio core,”

Have pity on,
my sad heart

 when they had spoken of hermit crabs and the moon and the sea, and Addie had felt compassion

“…ch'ogn'ora vi chiama 
l'amato suo ben.

Which at every hour calls you,
its dearest beloved

 when she was angered at the thought of her accepting the suitor. Addie was falling…

Falling…

Falling… and when the aria ended, she knew she had reached the bottom. She had been allured as Cesar was… and now her heart was now lain splintered in its rocky depths.

The unrelenting curiosity… the need to make her happy… and finally, the jealousy… things she did not realize her heart had been telling her all along. Had she been falling in love this whole time?

 

 


  

 

Because Lady Edgecombe was in good spirits regarding the Fair and her daughter's singing, she felt gracious enough to her employees and had lent the other carriage to Mrs. Branson and the others. They were left to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, while she and her younger companions made their way back to the estate.

She had perhaps not realized the tension simmering between her daughter and Addie… and talked a great deal about the event they had just come from. If Addie was not so distracted with her own turmoil, she would find the older woman's effusiveness amusing. The Countess was pleased about the Glenwood Cup… she was excited about Addie's painting… and most of all, she was very touched by her daughter's musicality come back.

“I am very proud of you, my darling,” she said to Lady Mirabelle. This surprised Addie, for in the two weeks she had stayed, she has never really seen mother and daughter interact, aside from the subterfuge and seething relayed through her that is.

“I have never heard you sing in so long… What possessed you?” the Countess continued. Addie would feel embarrassed by the display, but she had already known of the woman's pride over her daughter's talent. The painter could not help but glance at Lady Mirabelle's way, who blushed prettily at her mother's praise.

At this, Addie immediately chastised herself and looked away. After the song, and her harrowing realization, she decided she should not stare at Lady Mirabelle anymore, lest her discovery come to the fore. She had already angered the woman after all, there was no need to embarrass her as well.

“Nothing, mother. I was just talking to Lady Merton about Handel and the dearth of music in the country,” something painful lanced in Addie's heart at this, “She persuaded me.”

“I would not blame you. Isobel could be rather persuasive…” the Countess chuckled, and then her voice had taken a devious tone, “Now if she could only persuade you to write back to any of Monsieur Gatreau's letters as well...”

Addie very nearly gasped at this but she clenched her teeth. She felt the prickle of a glance thrown her way but she resolutely kept her eyes on the window. She had not written back?! Then why did she imply–!

“Mother,” she heard Lady Mirabelle hiss.

“Darling,” Lady Edgecombe said placatingly, “All I'm saying is… it will help if you get to know him as well. Miss Sandford's depiction of you was sublime…” of course she had to bring up Addie's involvement in this, “... but a conversation will go a long way–”

“Mother!”

The older woman sighed. “Alright… alright, I suppose you think me glad enough for your agreement regarding the portrait,” she said in a tone that belied discontent. “Which reminds me… I would be bringing it with me to London, and ship it from there.”

“What do you mean, mother?”

“I am leaving for London tomorrow. There was a missive from one of the charities, and I have to be present in one of the meetings.”

A pause. “You are leaving? But I–”

“Yes, dearest. I am taking Bates and Mrs. Branson with me. You are free to return with me, of course, but I haven't informed you because I saw what a few weeks at Glenwood has done for you…” There was a long silence, and Addie could only imagine Lady Mirabelle's stunned look.

“I suppose… I suppose, it is an apology for holding you back from coming here for so long,” Lady Edgecombe said softly, as Lady Mirabelle remained quiet.

“Anyway, Miss Sandford will be here to accompany you while she finishes the second commission I've asked of her. So are a few servants…”

The rest of the Countess' words were drowned by the roar in Addie’s ears. Her heart was thudding wildly. She intended to finish the second painting immediately and run back to London as soon as possible. Away from this impossible, impossible emotion. Away from her.

“Miss Sandford are you agreed?”

“My Lady, I–”

“We will present the painting to the town when I return. It will be wonderful,” Lady Edgecombe said, as if the matter has been decided.

Addie was trapped, this much she knew. She had no viable excuses to say that would not hint at her unease around Lady Mirabelle – they were still maintaining a polite fiction around the Countess after all.

When her gaze finally went to Lady Mirabelle, the woman had already been staring at her blankly. It was a wonder why her heart had not given out from so much battery these past few weeks: surprise… anticipation… anger… love… and most recently, despair.

When brown eyes met blue, her fate had been decided. Addie could not take away the rest of the summer from her, not when she had not returned for so long. If she said anything now about wanting to go back early, Lady Edgecombe will not want to leave her daughter without a companion.

So, yes… yes, perhaps she could stay and just hide away in the studio. She need not come with the woman anywhere. She could stay away again, so Lady Mirabelle could be free. Wrenching her gaze from the woman, she turned to Lady Edgecombe and smiled tremulously.

“I'm agreed, my Lady,” she said, her voice shaky, “Thank you for your hospitality.”

She still felt Lady Mirabelle's gaze on her as she turned her eyes back to the scenery. She would not look back. She could not.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

 

 

 

 

 

I blame thee not! - This heart, I know,

To be long loved was never framed,

For something in its depths doth glow

Too strange, too restless, too untamed.

             - Matthew Arnold, "A Farewell"

 

 

Addie realized she must be the saddest woman in love in all the world.

When her cousins had found themselves engaged, their smiles were bright, they had been hopeful. But she has always been an ambitious young woman, and always found other things to be excitable about. She was fortunate, in this sense, as most women artists had little to no access to the training and patronage an important artist such as her father provided. With no brothers around to compete over the inheritance of Sir Robert's workshop, Addie had been rather single-minded about her craft. Such a character would have been scandalous maybe, for her cousins who have always just wanted to marry well.

So, she was ruined for marriage… and now, she supposed she was also ruined for love as well.

“And this is love, isn't it?” she asked herself.

When they had arrived back to the House, Addie attempted to reason with herself. Pacing around her room she had muttered to no one about kinship… compassion… she had never known love, and she may just have misread her reaction so such an angelic voice… How lovely Lady Mirabelle had looked on the makeshift stage, in her cream gown, she looked descended from Heaven's chorus–

–but that is what happened. She tried to reason with herself and she had come up with salient points but her mind was always diverted… as if her heart was always ready with a retort. And always, it told her that she loved Mirabelle, and she did not know any other way.

“But how could this be when Lady Mirabelle is a woman?” she muttered to the window.

That is when she had finally broken down earnestly– this most obvious source of denial. She should feel disgusted… it was unnatural. At least that's what she learned from the rare gossip that filtered through her disinterest. So, why wasn't she feeling that way at all? Was she broken? How could this happen? Is that the reason for her muted interest in men? Where did this come from?

She looked into her heart deeply… trying to find fault there… but she only found one answer: she did not go to Church regularly, or even at all, but somehow, something told her that such an astonishing emotion could only come from God and nowhere else.

It was not fair that feeling wondrously, wondrously inspired by somebody would be considered an abomination. This was a beautiful emotion, and she, an artist, knew beauty. She, an artist, did not want to be rid of it. Even if it was only in her thoughts (for now, as the world will pillory her when they knew) she had hated ascribing such a horrible word to what she was feeling. She could deny it to  herself, try to call it by any other name than love  but they were all positive descriptions of a connection she had felt to her

Calling it an abomination… immorality … a sin… a madness… an illness… “Hysteria"— hurt her heart, and it made her weep at society's cruelty. Made her weep at the impossibility. Made her weep that this marvelous discovery will never see the light of day.

Addie felt very drained and boneless when she eventually fell face first to her pillow, suppressing an agonizing scream she had been wanting to let out. She felt trapped. She felt caged. She was harboring an emotion that could not be.

And so she ran… ran to an escape she has never frequented: she prayed. She prayed to a God she did not know very well, but hoped for. She prayed for Him to let her keep this Love, even as she feared it… she prayed for Him to let it grow into something unconditional instead… she prayed that it would not be soured by selfishness… she prayed for Lady Mirabelle's happiness… she prayed for understanding why she could not live it in this life… and, she prayed for hope that she could live it in the next.

 


 

The following day, there was no hiding the gauntness of Addie's cheeks, or the swell of her eyes.  She attempted to powder her face, but she just ended up looking doughy – talented as she was with a brush on canvas, on her face she was not.

She purposefully descended later than the rest when time came to send Lady Edgecombe off. Just as she made it through the doors, she stepped behind Lady Mirabelle, and was glad for once that the woman was still ignoring her. The one thing she had no control over was the Countess who had indeed noticed her sickly appearance when it was her turn to say goodbye.

“My goodness, Miss Adeline… you look poorly!” Lady Edgecombe commented, looking concerned.

“It's nothing, my Lady,” she assured, but her voice had come out as a croak from all the screaming last night. “Too much excitement from yesterday, I think.” She added a small smile.

“Very well. I myself still feel exhausted… but I am needed in London, and so I must. Please rest, Miss Adeline.”

“Thank you, my Lady, I will. I wish you safe travels.”

After thanking her, the older woman turned to talk to Lady Mirabelle a little bit more, so Addie stepped away to give them privacy.

When eventually the travelers had gone, Addie stood rooted to the same spot until Lady Mirabelle dismissed the servants, and waited for her to be released as well. But to her despair, she was kept there until only the two of them were left. It was a long silence during which she'd kept her eyes to the ground, even as she felt the stare directed at her.

Addie wanted to cry again. Her chest was squeezing. She did not realize how painful it would be to be near someone… to discover a love for them so recently… and just hide it away. But this is how it was going to be for the rest of this life. And so she must learn it.

When Addie heard the woman take a step towards her, she panicked, and politeness damned–

“My Lady,” she muttered, quickly dipped into a curtsy, and ran.

---

 

After she had cried into her pillow again, Addie fell into an uneasy sleep. She had dreamt that she was dressed in a man's clothes… then she was a nun in an Abbey… then she dreamt of the beheading again– the same woman from before, kneeling on the block, eyes meeting hers as the metal sliced down–

Bang!

Addie woke up with a gasping breath that sounded like the beginning of another sob. She looked around frantically for the guillotine. Another loud banging came, and her mind was slowly cleared of its cobwebs. That is when she realized that somebody was knocking on her door.

She hurriedly wiped at the tears on her eyes, patted her hair, but there was only so much she could do regarding her disheveled appearance.

“Miss Adeline?!” she heard Grace's muffled voice, followed by more knocking.

“One moment, Grace,” she said, wrapping a shawl around her shoulders to hide her rumpled nightgown. She fumbled with the lock on her door, and drew it open. Grace stood there looking harried, as she carried a tray in her hands.

“Grace? What's this?” Addie asked, her voice was even scratchier now.

“Miss Addie, Lady–… I–... we were worried about you this morning, and so I've brought you some food,” she explained.  The artist was too tired to notice that the girl's eyes were darting nervously to her right, just outside of Addie's door.

“Thank you, Grace, let me–” she made to step forward and take the tray from the girl's arms, but Grace looked panicked and hurried to step inside Addie's door instead. “Grace?” she asked, bewildered.

“No, let me Miss Addie,” the girl said, ushering her to step back into the room. She hurriedly kicked the door behind her, but not before Addie caught the faint smell of sandalwood.

“What–?”

“Please sit down, miss. You look like you're about to fall…”

“I… I am feeling rather fatigued, yes,” Addie admitted, deciding the scent must have been conjured by her brain. She followed the girl to the table where the tray of food had been set, and wearily rubbed at her eyes.

“Have you been feverish, miss?” Grace asked, as she uncovered a small tureen of soup for Addie.

“No, Grace. I don't think so…” she felt comforted by the scent of the food, and gave the girl a small smile, “I apologize for worrying everybody. Thank you for this.”

“Of course, miss. I must have woken you. Only, you weren't answering the door, and she– I felt quite frantic.”

“It was of no matter, Grace,” Addie said as she took a bite, her stomach was immediately warmed, “In fact, I think you've saved me from a rather bad dream, so I am grateful.”

Absolved, Grace had beamed at her, “I will leave you to your food then, miss. I will return later for the tray.”

“Of course. Thank you.”

When Addie was alone again, she dropped the spoon as a small sob over took her. She had to be strong. Staying away from Lady Mirabelle was her only solution.

---

 

When night came, Addie found herself seated by the windows, staring at the blackness outside, remembering when she first saw The Ghost. She gave a low chuckle at the realization that the same Ghost would probably be haunting her for the rest of her life.

It was also a new moon, and another small laughter blubbered up at it's symmetry with her darkened mood. Nevertheless, she yearned for its light, and the comfort it would provide when she felt like this. Which was not frequent, she was glad to note.

She always imagined herself a sensible young woman, and is frankly surprised by the effusive sentimentality that had felled her today. But she supposed that is one way to know when you have fallen in love with someone: that it is rather perilous when deprived.

As for tomorrow, she became determined that life must go on. She will stay away, as needed, but she decided that she will seek Lady Mirabelle's forgiveness, one way or another… so she would know that the happiness Addie will wish for her on her marriage is genuine, and not borne of indignation.

She only wished she could redo the painting now. She regretted that she had finished it with jealous thoughts, instead of blissful wishes.

 


 

Addie rose early the following day and tried to erase the sullenness from her face. She still looked pasty from the lack of sun yesterday, but the puffiness of her eyes had gone down somewhat. It was better than her sickly appearance before anyhow.

She eventually descended to breakfast, and greeted Smith and Grace who were both surprised to see her. She noticed them exchanging significant looks with each other briefly, but she paid them no mind, seeing as she behaved poorly the other day.

“Good morning, Miss Addie,” Grace said, pouring her coffee. “How are you feeling today?”

“Better now, thank you Grace,” she took a sip, “The nourishment helped a great deal.”

After she had finished her toast, she was brave enough to ask, “Is Lady Mirabelle coming down to breakfast?”

Grace's eyes widened and she shared another look with Smith before answering. “I’m not quite sure, miss. She has not rung for us this morning yet.”

Well it was quite early, Addie noted. The only time they've had breakfast together, the woman arrived at 9AM. She was not sure if she was saddened by this, but she did not think she was prepared to face the woman yet either. She continued with her food feeling nauseous… and ate a smaller portion than she always would in the mornings. When she was done, she excused herself to go to the studio.

---

 

Addie had not been seated long in front of the canvas when the door slowly opened. She was so focused on picturing the scenery in her mind, she just waited until Grace had come close to say what she had to say.

When there was a prolonged silence, she did not look up from her canvas as she called out, “Grace, what is it?”

“You were not in your rooms.”

She dropped her palette with a clatter. Her heart thudded familiarly at the sight of Lady Mirabelle. Now that she has discovered what it meant when it did that, she was not sure if it felt unpleasant or not anymore.

“My Lady…” Addie managed to say. Finally, her brain realized what was being asked, and her eyes widened. I was not in my rooms? Did she come to check on me? “I- I felt better this morning, and went down to breakfast early. I wanted to get started on your mother's request,” she explained.

Silence.

“Have you had breakfast yourself?” she ventured.

In response, Lady Mirabelle's eyebrows only furrowed at the politeness. It was then that Addie realized that the woman was standing rigidly as if prepared for a fight. She must have been quite surprised at the lack of bite at the words.

Addie consciously wiped her hands at her apron, so as not to fidget at the gaze that has become searching. In any case, she needed to distract herself from not staring back, because the woman seemed to be even more lovely today despite her guardedness. Was this how one always looked upon their beloved?  

She inwardly sighed at the word. ‘Beloved.’ Nobody would understand, how unfortunate it was to have to control their tenderness towards their beloved as much as she in that moment. The blue eyes had narrowed now, and Addie hoped it was not because of the frustration that must have shown on her face.

Finally, the woman spoke…

“The horserace,” she said.

“My lady?”

“You are feeling better, are you not?” Lady Mirabelle said acidly, "I want a horserace.”

Addie did not expect that. It sounded petulant, but to her intoxicated heart, it was also adorable. How odd this makes her feel things. But she was not so distracted as to realize that this was her chance.

“Fine.”

The woman sniffed, and turned around to exit the room. Before she could think about it, Addie moved forward to stop her with a hand grasped around her wrist. Lady Mirabelle stared at the hand on her person.

“The terms, my Lady?” the painter asked, heart thudding wildly.

“’Terms’?” Lady Mirabelle hissed.

“If I win: forgiveness,” Addie caught her eyes. They widened at the audacity before she yanked her arm out of Addie's grasp.

“You will not win,” she scoffed. And then with a disdainful look, marched out of the room.

Addie was left alone with a small smile slowly forming on her lips. She could not believe her own boldness – touching the woman and then betting on her forgiveness? She clasped her hand into a fist gently and stared at it…

But it had worked. And now there was only a horserace to win.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

 

 

Addie was not prepared for such an excursion, believing her entire stay was to be cloistered inside the house painting. She pondered deeply about the clothes she will wear as a way to divert her trepidation. She had brought a traveling jacket, she supposed, and gloves and a hat–

And supposing I do not win? She finally asked herself. What then? Well, she could not exactly battle for the woman's hand in marriage – her face had crumpled at this – so it was her forgiveness that she will seek.

Determined to prove she was not cowed, she decided to leave early to the stables. The sky was cloudy today and she wondered if they were going to get the first rainfall of the month. She fervently hoped that it did not forebode her defeat.  

When she arrived, she realized she miscalculated as Lady Mirabelle had already been there. Eyes wide, she just stopped short at the entrance and hid to comport herself. The woman was conversing with her horse! Addie instantly despaired for the softness she felt, for it really was quite unfortunate… There she was, resigned to bask in being smitten behind a bale of hay.

Wolfgang, she recalled the name, was a majestic Andalusian breed, with shiny spotted roan, and glorious black mane. She smiled as he nosed at his mistress' hand for a treat, and snorted when all he got was a distracted pat instead. At this Addie could  not help but let out a giggle, and immediately clapped her hand to her mouth as Lady Mirabelle's head snapped towards her direction. Sighing deeply at being exposed, she tried to school her face to something cocky, and drew herself from behind her hiding place.

“Preparing him for defeat, my Lady?”

All she got was a sneer. “Wolfgang would never. Especially to the likes of you…”

Of course the horse whinnied to that, as if it understood what the women were talking about. Her beloved, Lady Mirabelle may be, but she was still haughty. Addie rolled her eyes.

That, and she despises me. She scowled, shaking her head, and marched off to find a stable hand that might lend her a horse… all the while praying that her bravado remain until the actual “race.”

 

---

 

After she got to know her new friend… had her saddled, and well pat, she led the horse out of the stables where Lady Mirabelle and Wolfgang were already waiting. Cherry was a very handsome Irish thoroughbred. She had a chestnut coat that gleamed, and was gentle, but still very dignified about it.

“Cherry?” Lady Mirabelle raised an eyebrow, recognizing her brother’s horse

“She's very beautiful, aren't you, Cherry?” Addie said, giggling as the steed nudged at her cheek. Her face fell when the woman’s eyes narrowed at her laughter, but she met the blue eyes with a determined gaze. “I think she will be very glad to finally beat you…” She patted the horse's neck.

There was a scoff in reply. Soon, when Thomas the beau came out with a mounting block, she ignored the woman as she ascended to position herself side-saddle.

At this, Lady Mirabelle sneered again before expertly hauling herself up her horse in one graceful motion. Addie rolled her eyes at the display, but she could not deny it was particularly attractive.

She sighed at herself inwardly… and then, clicking her tongue, both at herself and the horse, they were off.

 

---

 

They began at a slow canter to the cliffs with Lady Mirabelle ahead of her. She was glad for this because then she had time to rein in her mounting panic. Of course Addie knew how to ride horses, but she was not skilled. Not as much as the other woman was, evidently.

Still she was fighting for something here, and if her experience did not really qualify her, maybe her determination will.

When they eventually reached their starting point, Addie's knuckles had become progressively white from gripping the leather tightly. She watched as Lady Mirabelle leaned forward to whisper something to her horse's ear before looking at Addie tauntingly.

“We'll start here,” she said, sneer firmly in place. “It is not too late to capitulate now, I would not be surprised…” Seeing as you’re a coward, were the words unsaid.

“There will be no capitulation.”

“If you think that forgiveness could be easily given, then maybe you're more morally suspect than I thought.”

‘Morally suspect,’ Addie thought, I wonder what she would say if she knew. “And why not? Even marriages have been won for less.”

She knew that it was an uninspired retort, and it had its intended effect – anger flashed across the woman's features.

“How would you know? You don't understand. You’ve never understood. You have a choice,” she said bitterly.

Not anymore, no. Not when you've ruined me so. “If you despise me so then why ask me here in the first place?” Addie replied, “One word on the matter, and I'll be gone, my Lady.

The woman scowled.

“If you wish it, if you ask it of me, I will leave you be,” Addie added sincerely, even as her heart was breaking.

“Enough!” Lady Mirabelle said scathingly. They glared at each other. “I will win, and then I want you gone,” the woman bit out.

Addie glowered as her eyes shimmered with tears. Her heart might as well have fallen to the ground and trampled on by Cherry. “Fine,” she snapped, wrenching her gaze away as a tear spilled to her cheek. So be it.

“It is a straight line from here until the Abbey. We end at the bottom of the steps…” the woman said in a cold hiss. “After the count of three…”

“One…”

“Two…

“Three…”

 

---

 

Addie was flying. She could feel the horse's muscles beneath her as they sped up. She had not ridden one this fast… her heart was thudding. Tear tracks had already dried on her cheeks as the wind whipped around them.

“Cherry please, I know you can do this,” she whispered, despite knowing it was ridiculous. First her love was predicated on the whims of society, now it was by the speed of a horse.

But she thought they were doing rather well, and she owed it solely to the fact that Cherry was a fine example of her breed. It seemed a miracle that Addie had not slipped from the saddle at the speed they were going, seated as she was. But this only encouraged her. With Lady Mirabelle and Wolfgang only a pace ahead, she held on to the reins tightly, and leaned forward.

“Hyah!” she snapped, egging Cherry on. Her pleas seemed to inspirit the horse who sped up further until they made it neck and neck with Lady Mirabelle and Wolfgang.

Addie had to smirk as she saw the woman turn her head towards her with a scowl. But her elation was very short-lived for Lady Mirabelle snapped her reins at Wolfgang, and they were easily ahead once again.

Addie frowned as they tried to catch up. She startled to find that the turrets of  the Abbey was already visible at the horizon. She was running out of time… she was running out of distance. Fresh tears helplessly spilled onto her cheeks—

“I'm sorry!” she shouted, but she knew her words were just eaten up by the wind. Growling, she leaned forward again towards Cherry, almost hugging her neck. They managed to come nearer the other's tail…

“I'M SORRY!” Addie shouted again. Lady Mirabelle's back stiffened and she knew she'd been heard. “I ONLY WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY!” she yelled, nudging her heels to her horse's side. They hurried forward, managing to just reach them.

“I'm sorry I lied! I should have told you!” she cried, knowing she was getting hoarse. But they were keeping speed. She knew they were still at a distance where her words could still be caught, and so she persisted, “When I thought you were writing back, I thought you were happy to make that choice!”

But the woman just kicked at her horse and they gained distance once more. “Who am I to ask you resist?!” Addie bellowed to her rapidly further back.

She despaired as soon the Abbey was almost upon them… with her heart thudding wildly, she snapped at the reins desperately. “Please Cherry, a little bit more!” she pleaded, “Hyah!”

Without knowing how or why, they fortuitously picked up pace, faster and faster, she felt herself slipping as they reached the wooden fence that flanked the green. And when they did, Cherry bounded up to jump across with Wolfgang at the same time.

She did not know how she managed to cling to the saddle, but Cherry had the advantage upon landing, and she held on as they hurriedly galloped towards the finish. She could not see Lady Mirabelle from the corner of her eye. They were just a pace away from the steps… and then…

.

.

.

She made it! I made it!

Her heart was screaming as she tugged on the reins to whirl around and just caught Lady Mirabelle arriving behind her. She was breathing heavily as she tried to make sense of what just happened.

“I won!” she laughed, as Cherry canter around to cool down. “I can't believe I…!” Laughter blubbered up again as she patted her horse’s neck.

Lady Mirabelle was silent as she breathed heavily. Her face was set in its familiar scowl… but something flashed across her eyes that amazed Addie.

“But I could not have won,” Addie said, “I could not have won. I’ve never…” The woman looked away and tugged at Wolfgang's reins to steer the horse away. And then, realization dawned on the painter.

“Y-you threw the race…” she whispered, “You slowed down. I thought it was…” she trailed off as the woman glared.

“Of course not!” Lady Mirabelle snapped, her mouth clicking shut at the blinding grin Addie sent to her.

“You do not want me gone,” Addie laughed, “I–”

Her victory was cut prematurely when Cherry suddenly whinnied. “Cherry?” she pulled at the reins, but the horse just neighed, bounding up to step on something in front of her.

“Cherry!”

When the horse reared up on its hind legs, Addie was barely able to grapple a hold as she slid off the saddle.

“Miss Adeline!” she heard Lady Mirabelle’s panicked voice as she fell to the ground, smacking her head on the pavement. The last thing she saw before her vision faded, was the other woman hurriedly jumping off her horse to run towards her.

 

---

 

When Addie came to, her immediate instinct was to smile. It was a nice dream… she had won, and Lady Mirabelle did not want her gon–  pain suddenly lanced in the back of her head…

“Ow…” she croaked, reaching up to find the bump.

“You idiot!” a familiar voice rang in her ears. She pouted as she tried to crack her eyes open. The first thing she saw was Lady Mirabelle's face looming over her. Panic and worry were written all over her beautiful face…

 My beloved… she thought, grinning foolishly, is this a dream? The next life? Have I died and gone to– “Ow!” she yelped as she felt a pinch to her side.

She blinked again, trying to make sense of her surroundings. Her head was throbbing as she tried to focus on Lady Mirabelle's face that was now frowning. She was saddened by this sight.

“Hello,” she whispered. With her senses still coming around, her inhibitions where nowhere to be found as she dreamily raised a finger to the furrowed brows to soothe them… and when they went up in a startle, she also traced the woman's nose as the cheeks beside it pinkened…

“Miss Adeline?” Lady Mirabelle asked, bewildered by the contact. Addie slowly drew her hand towards the woman's jawline…

“I won…” she smiled impishly.

“Of all the-!” her hand was swatted away, “You’re an idiot!” Lady Mirabelle repeated, but she was still blushing.

It was then when Addie realized that her head was resting on the woman's lap. Her cheeks colored with an answering blush and tried to draw herself up to a sitting position.

“My Lady…” she murmured, clutching her head as she grew dizzy, “How long have I been out?”

“Not long enough if you're still this stupid,” the woman replied acerbically, but the look on her face did not match her tone. She still looked worried as Addie squinted at her.

“It was not my fault that Cherry panicked…” the painter replied incredulously, “Look! That's a dead snake!” She pointed at the squashed reptile that must have startled the horse.

“Cherry does not panic,” Lady Mirabelle sniffed. The pink on her cheeks remained when she turned her gaze away from Addie.

She is so beautiful, Addie sighed inwardly, her heart thudding in concert with the throbbing of her head. Even if she'd “won,” she knew she was still quite a ways away from repentance. She knew she should seek forgiveness properly– as a few shouted words over horses, did not an apology make. Breathing deeply, and buoyed by her miraculous victory, she tried to gather her courage.

“I'm truly sorry, my Lady,” she began. Lady Mirabelle kept her gaze averted, but Addie knew she was listening.

“I… When I accepted your mother's commission, I did not realize that I would be complicit to your sadness…” she said, guilt coming to the fore, “But even as I knew the reason why the painting was being commissioned… I kept painting you…” she paused, drawing a breath. “I had to keep painting you…”

The woman stiffened, and Addie saw that the woman's hands were clenched into fists. But she had to keep going.

“But not for the reasons you are thinking… Not to expedite your engagement, in fact I've waffled so many times when I witnessed your defiance…” she sighed, “I lied because I became selfish… Every day that I discovered something new about you, I also discovered something new about myself and my art…” Like love, amongst many things.

“I had also found a dear friend to be defiant with,” Addie smiled sadly, for that is all they were going to be, “And when I thought you were writing to Monsieur Gatreau, I was truly surprised… I thought I have been holding you back… so I decided to finish the painting then and there.”

She trailed off, thinking that that was enough to explain her actions without divulging the rest of the truth – the more important truth that will never see the light of day.

There was only silence for a while as Lady Mirabelle took in her explanation. Her gaze had become searching, as if waiting for something more, and when Addie had not said anything further, she frowned.

“Fine,” she eventually said, sighing. The painter was not expecting anything effusive, but the response was rather anticlimactic.

“’Fine’” Addie repeated, incredulous. Lady Mirabelle only raised an eyebrow at her before standing up.

“But I–”

“It has become rather late. We have to go back,” she said, looking up at the rapidly darkening sky. “It might rain.”

Addie was still disappointed, and wanted to talk more, but the woman had already strode off to her horse. Sighing, she slowly got up herself, swaying a little at the motion while her head spinned momentarily. Now, the throbbing on the back of her head had become rather irksome, she wondered how she was going to survive the ride. She felt Lady Mirabelle studying her as she walked towards her horse but–

“You will ride with me,” the woman blurted, well hidden from behind Wolfgang.

“I'm sorry?”

“You will ride–”

“I heard, my Lady. But I–”

“No, no. I can’t trust you not to fall off on the first opportunity…” she said as if the matter as been decided. “Come now.”

“No, my Lady,” Addie said, rooted to her spot beside Cherry. Which was quite amusing, as that described her incarnadine countenance. She would not survive the proximity. Dying with her head split open will be easier, at least then the incident would not haunt her for the rest of her days.

“Come here now, Miss Adeline. I will not ask again.”

Addie quivered at the authority behind those words. “I did not think you prideful, on top of being a liar…” Lady Mirabelle added, crossing her arms.

Addie nearly stomped her foot, “Hey! I thought I have been forgiven!”

“By wagering on it,” Lady Mirabelle rolled her eyes.

“I would have thought you graceful in defeat,” Addie scoffed, then she turned to pat Cherry who snorted at her, “We did think that Cherry, didn't we?”

“Miss Adeline...” the woman said, exasperated now. “Please, come here,” she added more gently, as if trying a new tack. Addie narrowed her eyes at the tone.

Lady Mirabelle sighed up to the Heavens. And then, sounding resigned, “How are we to remain ‘dear friends' when you've cracked your head open, hm?”

At those magic words, Addie's eyes began to shimmer. “I… You consider us dear friends as well?” she whispered. The woman was blushing as she held her gaze, and then, nodded resolutely.

“So, please, come now.”

Tears spilled unbidden from Addie's eyes as her heart soared. This is more than what she hoped for. She hid her face in Cherry's coat as wiped at her eyes. Whispering thanks to the horse… whispering thanks to Providence that maybe listened to her prayers.

Taking in a deep breath, she tugged at the horse's reins, and walked them slowly towards Lady Mirabelle and Wolfgang.

“My God, are you crying?” said the woman.

Addie tried to glower back, “You will not begrudge me, my Lady. And I will not be teased.” She received a roll of the eyes, but she could tell the woman was pleased with her begrudging acquiescence. She took the reins from Addie's hands and tied it to Wolfgang's saddle so Cherry could walk alongside them.

“You will be on front,” Lady Mirabelle decided.

“Um…” Addie blushed as she contemplated the stirrups.

“My God, didn't you imply you were a talented horsewoman?”

“Talented enough to win against you, evidently,” Addie retorted. There was another roll of the eyes, but the woman had walked the horses nearer to the steps of the Abbey so Addie could mount from a higher position.

“I would rather not push you up, lest your head get jarred,” she muttered, “God knows you've scrambled it enough today.”

This time it was Addie who rolled her eyes, but she followed dutifully and found herself mounting the horse easily. She swayed from the height… trying to control the beating of her heart as trepidation filled her.

She had time to slow down her breathing as Lady Mirabelle was doing something complicated with her skirts so she could ride comfortably. Addie realized she must have done this many times when she went on excursions with her brother. But soon enough, the woman put her foot on the stirrup, and drew herself astride behind Addie. She barely had time to draw in a gasp when with the click of a tongue, they were off on a slow canter.

The painter closed her eyes as sandalwood assaulted her nose, and a softness pressed against her back. She had become so lightheaded, she feared she might topple off. So she sat stiffly, hoping the posture will keep her upright.

“Have you broken your back as well?” Lady Mirabelle asked her, probably feeling her discomfort.

“N-no, I… I just need the world to stop spinning for a moment,” which was not a lie, because she was rather dizzy, both from her closeness and the headache.

“Would you like to stop?”

“No, my Lady, it's fine.”

A beat. “Lean against me, Miss Adeline,” she said softly, “I will not have you fall again.”

But I have already fallen… Addie thought despairingly. And she would really like to resist Lady Mirabelle's offer, because going down that road was perilous for her heart… but it was more or less the headache that decided the matter for her. She needed a place to rest hear head upon, or else she would vomit, or worse, fall into a faint once more.

Taking a deep breath, she turned her body towards the woman, searched her worried eyes, and nodded timidly.

“Thank you, Lady Mirabelle,” she whispered, as she awkwardly placed her head on the woman's shoulder. Addie heard a shuddering breath let out before she was slowly lulled into a sleep.

 

---

 

“Miss Adeline…”

Addie felt someone tuck her hair behind her air as she slowly awoke. Grimacing when she felt her bump throbbing again, she snuggled more deeply to the softness her head rested upon, and flung her arm around them.

There was a sharp inhale, and Addie's eyes flew open. Blushing violently, she hurriedly straightened, posture rigid even as her head was jolted.

“My Lady, I…”

Addie trailed off when she felt Lady Mirabelle stiffening behind her. It would not do to embarrass them both further. Closing her eyes tightly, she sat more properly and kept her torso forward. They were still close… so very close… but the loss of warmth was profound to her heart that had overindulged. She shivered. Both of them remained quiet until they arrived at the estate, and soon enough drew near the stables.

“Has your head improved?” the woman finally broke the silence, Addie startled as her breath tickled her ear.

“S-some, my Lady, thank you,” she managed tremulously

When they reached their destination, Addie sagged in relief when the woman drew back so she could dismount properly. Then she held her hand up to Addie to help her down. The painter hurriedly let go when Thomas arrived to take care of the horses for a rub down.

Avoiding each other's eyes, both women approached their respective mounts to give them a kiss on the nose. Addie took the chance to control her breathing and secretly whispered her thanks to Cherry. The horse snorted at her, and she leaned her head against its neck. “I will come back with an apple for you tomorrow,” she promised.

With one final pat, she turned to Lady Mirabelle who had apparently been watching her. Addie knew she was blushing at the scrutiny, but she was glad the surroundings were dark enough to hide it. She gave the woman a shy smile and Lady Mirabelle's eyes widened.

“Well, she carried me to victory after all…” Addie mumbled in explanation.

A huff. “You make it sound like a long campaign in battle.”

“And wasn't it?” The woman looked at her askance. “For your friendship?” Addie smiled again. Lady Mirabelle stared at her for a while… and then– Addie's heart thudded– a small smile appeared on her lips. It was half hidden in the shadows, but it lit up everything around her. Addie matched it by grinning back blindingly, and they both quietly made their way to the House.

When they had entered via the West entrance, Addie offered Lady Mirabelle another exhausted smile.

“Thank you for today, my Lady,” she said, somehow feeling at peace. The woman nodded, face softer than Addie has ever seen it before.

“Good night, Miss Adeline.”

“Good night, Lady Mirabelle.”

 


 

 

When Addie was in bed, her mind was gladly devoid of the angst she had felt the day before. Too much has happened in the span of less than a month, she could hardly believe it true. She had fallen in love… despaired for that love… and now, perhaps she had come at peace with that love.

She could remain enraged at this life's unfortunate cruelty, but that will only leave her despondent, instead of fully living in the moment. There was still beauty to be had, and she will find it every time in Lady Mirabelle.

Just as she was about to blow her candle off, there was a soft knock on her door. With her heart beating in expectation… she tucked her hair behind her ear, and puffed up her cheeks to waylay the blush that was surely beginning.

It was her.

The woman's hair was in a loose braid, draped to the side on her shoulder. A lacy peignoir was tied around her nightgown… and the soft light of the candle she clutched cast illumination on her face that looked nervous. Addie knew she was staring. Her heart was satisfied in its wishful beat, and she found herself quite speechless.

“I wanted to check on you,” Lady Mirabelle muttered, one hand fidgeting with the tie of her robe. A shiver shook through her at the darkened coldness of the hallway, so Addie wordlessly stepped aside to offer her the warmth of the room. The woman hesitated a beat before she stepped inside.

Addie did not know how long they stood there staring at each other on the entryway before she finally shook herself out of her reverie. Motioning quietly, she led the woman to the cushioned chairs in front of the fireplace.

“I wanted to know if you have been concussed,” Lady Mirabelle spoke when Addie remained silent.

She shook her head slowly before she was able to find her voice, “It has become but dull throb now, my Lady.”

The woman nodded, and sat there in silence searching Addie's face. Why does she always do that?

“I…” Lady Mirabelle began, but she trailed off and pursed her lips. Addie tilted her hear in question. The woman took a deep breath as if trying comport herself and shook her head. “I… should leave you to rest,” she said instead.

The artist was confused, she could have thought the woman wanted to say something else. But evidently it was nothing of import so she nodded. They both rose from their chairs, and walked back to the doorway silently.

Just before she exited, Lady Mirabelle turned to her…

“Will you come out tomorrow?” she asked. Addie was transported to that night in her private drawing rooms and she smiled softly.

“Yes… yes, of course,” she repeated the same reply, and then, “Always.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven 

 

 

Addie was surprised the following morning at breakfast by Lady Mirabelle. She had beamed at her in greeting, and the woman’s response was a charming blush. She was casually dressed in a simple blue gown, and her hair was half let down, as if not yet quite ready for the day. Perhaps it was because her mother was not present, and only a few trusted servants were around to see her.

She is so lovely, Addie sighed at her love-fraught self, but there was no inward chastisement. They were friends. She was content. And that was that.

They ate in silence, occasionally stealing glances at each other, and either blushing when caught. Something had changed somehow, as if they were both shy around each other. On her part, Addie knew why she would be flustered, but on Lady Mirabelle's end– Has she offended somehow?

But gladly, there were no harsh words or taking back of friendships won until they parted after their meal. When Lady Mirabelle went off to whatever occupied her in the mornings – ‘Reading' – Addie left to the makeshift studio to continue her painting. She was thinking perhaps they were back to their old routine now. She brightened  at the prospect, and was happy to immerse herself in her art.

The artist was painting a pen of hogs when a knock filtered through the comfortable silence. She expectantly looked at the door as it slowly opened, and Lady Mirabelle appeared.

“My Lady?” Addie asked as the woman walked towards her, watching as she settled herself in the ottoman in front of Addie.

The painter's eyes widened… positioned like that… she looked like she was sitting for a painting. Her heart thudded at the possibility, but… But that was a privilege I had lost by being secretive about it. But if I asked permission? Would she allow it?

No. No she couldn't. That would be overstepping this tentative friendship. Not when her sin was still freshly committed. No, Lady Mirabelle would have to ask of it her.

Unaware of the turmoil in Addie's head, the woman just watched her placidly. “D-did you want to go for a walk now, my Lady?” Addie ventured as the woman remained silent.

“You've invaded my privacy…” Lady Mirabelle smirked, “I've now come to invade yours.”

“I'm sorry?” Did she come to watch me paint?

“And why not?” Had she spoken that aloud?

An eyebrow was raised at her. She sighed, wondering how she was going to concentrate now. The woman was so unpredictable.

“Fine,” Addie said, adding a pout for good measure as she turned to her canvas again. She picked up her brush intent on returning to the pigs… but not before she stole another glance at the woman, who was now grinning deviously.

Addie's eyes narrowed, “And how long will you have me atone for that particular misdeed?” she asked.

“You may have just match-made me with an oaf, so…”

She rolled her eyes at this. So occupied was she with her own feelings, she had not gotten around to considering the prospect of the Frenchman yet. Then why did you agree to send the portrait?  She wanted to ask. But she did not think she was ready for that discussion.

Instead, she decided to focus on what was relevant to her at this moment. The woman came to watch her paint after all.

“Was it really so horrible?” she asked timidly, “My painting of you?”

The woman looked at her and sighed, “No, it wasn't.”

“But… ‘lifeless'?”

“I knew what you were capable of, even with a few colors…” Lady Mirabelle said, referring to the sketches, “It was like a different person had done it.”

‘This is how you see me?’

It must have shown in her work then, when she had begun to fall in love, and when she'd grown bitter because of it. If she painted Lady Mirabelle now, what will the woman see?

 

---

 

After they had luncheon, they set off for their walk. She toted her canvas and easel with her, while Lady Mirabelle toted the book she had borrowed. While she set up her items, the woman took a turn about the lake. The omnipresent ducks had been there again, and she smiled at the seeming improvement in their swimming.

When she had apparently tired of her exercise, Lady Mirabelle returned and sat herself on the blanket to return to her book. It was a peaceful afternoon, and Addie began to wonder at this silent co-existence. Do married people talk often? What do people do when they have the rest of their lives to spend together? What will Lady Mirabelle do when she’s married?

“Would you say Selene is selfish?” Lady Mirabelle asked, her gaze never leaving the book on her lap.

“Not really… no,” Addie replied

“She put Endymion to eternal sleep for want of his youth and beauty to remain. That is not selfish?”

“Well if you put it that way, yes…”

“If I put it? But that is how your book goes,” Lady Mirabelle frowned.

“I think it speaks of yearning,” Addie replied, as she squinted at a particular detail on the canvas, “Faithfulness… staying true even if something could not be…”

She noticed the woman had stayed silent, so she turned to look at her. Lady Mirabelle’s head was tilted askance. Addie gave her a small smile, and put down her brush to sit beside the woman. She took the book from her lap  and turned to a page with an illustration: Selene in the heavens, looking down at her lover who was in slumber.

“Endymion's eternal slumber could be taken as death, for a mortal…” Addie said, showing her the page, “Selene could be seen as the one left behind in the land of the living. From the heavens, she gazes at him longingly… she loves him even in endless parting…”

Lady Mirabelle studied the book as she showed her another depiction. “They never seem to actually embrace,” she commented. Addie nodded.

“But they are still hopeful,” she caught the woman's questioning eyes, “There is a hope that the two lovers will see each other again, if not in the next world, then at least in their dreams.”

As Lady Mirabelle pondered this, Addie chastised herself knowing she hinted at more than she should have with those words. She let out a shaky smile at the woman's continued staring after she gave her back the book. And then nodding, she scurried to hide behind her canvas once more.

 

---

 

Lady Mirabelle was silent for the rest of the afternoon. She was probably absorbed in her book… as Addie pretended she was interested with her painting. She tried to not to steal so many glances because that would be very telling indeed. She was afraid she might have made the woman uncomfortable with her interpretation. But the woman did not refute it, and so Addie was once again bereft of what the woman could be thinking.

When they arrived at the hall later, Lady Mirabelle's cheeks were pink when she turned to Addie. “Will you come up?” she asked.

“Of course, my Lady,” Addie replied, even as she grew nervous. She handed  off her things to Smith who was the one to open the doors for them, then they slowly made their way upstairs where they soon found themselves in the same drawing room as before.

Lady Mirabelle rung for tea before she sat opposite Addie. “What kind of music do you like?” she asked, breaking the silence.

The kind you make, Addie's mind provided unhelpfully. She ignored it and pondered the matter for a while. “I'm not sure…” she said, “There are few times when I've found myself able to relate to music…”

The woman raised an eyebrow, “I find that hard to believe.”

Addie had to lift her own eyebrow in return.

 “Are you telling me that you of art, and poetry, and symbolism could not relate to music?”

“I never said I couldn't,” she clarified, “I… there have just been few moments when I've found myself… transported.

“Will you tell me what has transported you then?”

“Handel.” The admission spilled unbidden from her mouth.

“Oh?” There was a burgeoning smile on Lady Mirabelle's lips that Addie found difficult not to blush at. She hurried to divert the attention from dangerous waters.

“Yes, ‘Acis and Galatea’, for example,” she said, instead of the actual one by Handel that felled her recently. Lady Mirabelle's eyebrows furrowed.

“Pastoral opera? Really?”

“And why not?”

“Hm, I just find them silly.”

Silly?”

“Yes, silly,” Lady Mirabelle said haughtily, “Evidently you have not been listening to the right ones.”

“Will you show me then?” Addie asked, as the woman fixed her with her gaze, “Will you show me what transports you?”

Lady Mirabelle seemed to consider the request, and then she stood up to sit herself in front of the pianoforte. “Come here,” she beckoned, scooting to the side to give Addie space on the stool.

Addie followed dutifully and sat beside the woman.

“I learned this one when I was a child,” she began playing a simple minuet. This, Addie recognized. Bach. The woman was playing it slowly, setting the tone for her tale…

“We were in London, I had been rather ill-tempered, and Nanny was being disagreeable,” Addie smirked at this, for which she earned a glare, “So I hid myself in an upstairs drawing room where this pianoforte was originally placed. I was not very keen with my music lessons before… but I had nowhere to go, so I played instead…” her fingering became faster as trills were added to the melody, “I pretended I was back here in Glenwood by the lake, playing with Wolfgang who I knew had just been birthed.”

In the last minute of the music, the octave was higher and the music had taken on a more cheerful note. Addie was charmed by the picture of a scowling red haired child made to giggle by the sight of a newborn foal…

Lady Mirabelle smirked at her as she saw her expression, “Do you see what I mean?” she asked.

“Show me more.”

And so she did. In different stages of her life, when she had become despondent, or frustrated, or trapped, music has been the woman's escape and she was sharing this now with Addie.  This woman who had not touched music for a while.  Addie wondered how she had coped, disabled by a broken arm and bereft of the country for years. She was glad the woman found her freedom again, in this sense.

“And when I met you,” Lady Mirabelle’s voice filtered through her thoughts, “This is what came to mind.”

When she met me? Addie's heart thudded as the woman began playing a piece she did not recognize. For most of what had been played, she could hazard a guess as to the composer, but this one… she could not place. Vivaldi, maybe?

There were sharp sounds, sounding like a storm… Anger, Lady Mirabelle was angry when she'd met her. But then the music became unpredictable… fleeting moments of lightheartedness… that dipped into harsh chords… then finally a sedate andante… which was building up, swelling to something upbeat and brisk… a crescendo to something hopeful… and then the pinging of a high note which to Addie sounded questioning. Then silence.

“Why did you stop?”

“That is all.”

“But I…” she frowned in confusion, unable to make sense of the dynamics of the piece even if it was coherent. Like something abstract… something she could not grasp.

“This is how you see me?” she echoed the woman’s question from before.

Lady Mirabelle just smiled cryptically and stood up, “Come, let's have tea.” And true enough the tea set was there. Addie did not even notice Grace arrive. She followed in a daze, taking the same seat as before, and continued to ponder the composition she has just heard…

“Who wrote it, my Lady?” she asked, intent on hearing it played again. An orchestra perhaps, in London.

“This tea is surprisingly wonderful…”

“My Lady?”

A sigh. “I'm not quite sure...” she picked up a small biscuit, “Perhaps a memory.”

“A memory?”

“I will tell you when I find the sheet music,” she said airily. Evidently, Addie was not going to get a clear answer so she did not pursue that line of questioning. Lady Mirabelle was hiding behind her teacup, but she seemed to sigh in relief at the lack of further inquiry.

Both had grown comfortably silent after that, stealing occasional glances at each other, until the clock chimed to warn them again of the late hour.

“Thank you for sharing your music with me, my Lady,” Addie said as she stood up to take her leave.

“You needed an education,” was the response, but the woman looked pleased.

“Good night, Lady Mirabelle.”

“Good night, Miss Adeline.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

 

 

When the gentle young lady
The very gracious and beautiful one
With whom I am in love
Wants to make me happy
Must I not obey her?

           - Quant la doulce jouvencelle - (anon Oxford Can. Misc. 213)

 

 

“I want to go riding today.”

They were having breakfast together again. Addie realized Lady Mirabelle has been getting up earlier than she usually does to join her, and her heart fluttered at the thought. Although, she always seemed to have something else devious planned… like catching her unawares, for example, or spying on her painting.

So at this pronouncement, she nodded cautiously. “Of course, my Lady,” she said, and then, “It's not another race, is it?”

“Are you afraid that I will not be so benevolent this time?” the woman smirked. Addie rolled her eyes. But she could not deny that she was pleased, because that was an admission that Lady Mirabelle had thrown the earlier race… which further implied that she was willing to forgive Addie, rather than be coerced by honor. 

“But no, no race,” Lady Mirabelle continued, “I would like to show you the Abbey.”

Addie was intrigued, but another kind of trepidation filled her, “But isn't it…” she paused, embarrassed at having to ask, “haunted?”

Lady Mirabelle let out a genuine laugh at this, and Addie knew her embarrassment had been worth it. She would brave the supernatural if the woman asked it of her.

“Perhaps,” she grinned deviously, “Afraid you'll encounter a real ghost?”

“It was not my fault you were walking about at night,” Addie harrumphed

“And here I thought I was ‘a star descended’.”

Addie had the good grace to blush. “Is there a point to this teasing, my Lady?”

“Atonement, that is all,” she chimed, “In any case, didn't you owe Cherry an apple?” Addie sighed.

 

---

 

“I apologize for not having come back with your apple, Cherry,” Addie murmured lowly. But Lady Mirabelle apparently heard and let out an unladylike snort. Nevertheless, she was pleased when Addie had gifted Wolfgang fruit as well.

They were comfortably galloping at a speed at which Addie was more used to. She was glad she was able to look around at the landscape today, and not the dangerous blur that it was days ago.

Lady Mirabelle smirked at her when they came upon the wooden fence. With a snap she galloped ahead… and then with an impressive display of dressage, jumped across. Obviously, she was still not very pleased with her defeat.

But Addie just smiled at the woman indulgently, because it was she after all who reaped the rewards. She grinned as the woman smiled with exhilaration, and hoped she would have the same freedom in the South of France.

After making sure there were no snakes to trample upon, they tied their horses to a tree and made their way to the Abbey.

“There are 199 steps leading to the Abbey itself,” Lady Mirabelle said, as they started off the long climb, “Grandfather said it was a test of Christian faith if you wish to worship St. Mary.”

“I am definitely being tested now,” Addie commented, as her breathing had become rather labored. The other woman only smirked, evidently not tired at all.

“You do not believe in the Church?”

“The Church, no…” Addie mumbled, “The nuns have been rather rude. They always confiscated my sketchbooks,” she stared pointedly at the woman beside her. Lady Mirabelle just smiled unapologetically. “In any case, after I've learned to read, father took me home and hired a governess instead.”

“My governess was always scowling. She and Nanny were frequently cross.”

“Is that where you've learned it from then?”

“No, it comes out naturally for enterprising artists…” Addie pouted at Lady Mirabelle who seemed to have a lasting smirk plastered for her. She supposed she should be thankful that her mistake had become a teasing matter now.

It was another while of huffing on Addie's part before they finally reached the wooden doors which guarded the structure. The other woman's cheeks were ruddy, but she looked even more excited, rather than exhausted.

Lady Mirabelle produced a large rusty key from her pockets and unlocked the ancient padlock that secured the entrance. “Come,” she said, pushing through the heavy doors with both her arms.

Addie nervously stepped through the threshold, and immediately, the breath she had just regained left her with a huge gasp.

“Amazing,” her voice echoed back to them from the cavernous ceilings of the nave.

Lady Mirabelle was pleased with her reaction and walked forward to where the high altar must have been. Light filtered through the stained glass around them, surrounding her with an almost ethereal glow. Addie’s heart sighed. She knew then and there that this vision will be burned to her memory forever. She followed as if in a trance, looking at the woman instead of the Gothic architecture that must have been impressive in its day.

“The Abbey's possessions have been confiscated by the crown,” Lady Mirabelle said, “But the ruins have belonged to the family after its purchase. It was a seat of learning for centuries and was home to many great poets…”

Addie still found herself quite speechless, so she just nodded. Lady Mirabelle gave her a small smile.

“My grandmama always sang me medieval hymns,” she continued, “I suppose that's what had drawn me to the ruins. A past life, perhaps.”

“Will… will you sing me one?” Addie whispered, daring to ask. Her heart was storing so many beautiful memories for it live by when they've parted. This sent a pang to her chest, but she only had a few more days with her secret beloved… she was determined to be happy in every minute of it.

“I suppose… I…” Lady Mirabelle cleared her throat, “I don't remember the words well.” She tried out a few low hums, eyebrows furrowing as she tried to remember the melody. “Ah! I have just thought of one in particular… it sounded like so…

Quant la doulce jouvencelle,
La tres gracieuse et belle,
Celle dont suy amoureux
Veult que me tiengne joyeux,
Ne doy je obeir a elle?

Her voice reverberated beautifully through the entire chancel, it could have reached into Addie's soul. She understood what the woman meant with lives past lived. Addie was hopeful for a more tolerant next incarnation… but she wondered if her soul had met Lady Mirabelle before. In a different age… in a different existence. If I had been a man could we have been in love?

“What do you think it means?” she asked, both meaning the song and the sensation. “Is it Old French?”

“I think so yes,” Lady Mirabelle smiled. Addie's heart fluttered at the sight

“I wish for you to be always this happy,” she said, before she could think not to,  not realizing it was literally what the song had asked of their lover

The woman blushed beautifully at this pronouncement, and her smile glowed more brightly, “So I shall.”

It was this… how could this not be enough for her? Addie thought she could live on that smile for the rest of her days and remain content to love her from afar.

“Show me more.”

Lady Mirabelle had let out a small laugh, and nodded for her to follow. They went through a transept, footsteps echoing around them, which emerged to a covered walk that ran through the side of the building. It formed a quadrangle that enclosed a bed of grass.

“This was the cloister,” the woman said, “Monks and nuns spent most of their time here.”

“Would you think this the reason for nuns being rude?” Addie commented

“What do you mean?”

“It is rather restrictive…” The laughter in response echoed happily in the gallery.

They continued walking along the hallway until they arrived at the attached building. Or what might have been a building as this was already a ruin. This part of the Abbey had not been as well-preserved as the church they have just come through.

A chill went through Addie as she stepped across the threshold of the structure. There was a flash of light that blinded her… but when she shook her head, they were standing under a shadow.

“The Library…” she murmured, not quite understanding how she'd known that.

“Yes, I think it was,” Lady Mirabelle said, then she frowned. “Are you alright?”

“Hm?”

“You look ashen.”

“Oh? I’m not quite sure. A shiver had just run through me. Perhaps a draft.”

“Perhaps it’s your ghost,” the woman teased.

“You're the ghost,” Addie retorted childishly, already pulled from the sensation. Perhaps it was another turn that was aborted. Laughter distracted her, so she shook her head again and followed the woman.

They kept going across the remnants of the building until they reached an opening on the wall. It led to the only “room” in the library that remained intact… as it had apparently been hidden behind a wall.

“This is where I fell…” Lady Mirabelle shared. Addie's eyes widened.

“We were having a picnic. The view of the ocean is the best from this side of the cliff after all. And William and I were playing hide and seek,” she paused, running her fingers against the stone, “I was edging my way against this wall… and then  this portion gave,” she motioned to the opening. “I went inside, for surely my victory was imminent.”

Addie laughed at this. The woman really was quite competitive. She followed as Lady Mirabelle stepped inside. It was narrow, and if the ceiling was still complete, probably very dark as well. But parts of it had fallen through which allowed light to filter in.

The walls were lime plaster, and upon closer look, she realized there remained the faded details of a fresco. Her heart began thudding again. What is happening?

She was holding her breath as she traced it. It was a nun… or perhaps an angel… floating in the sky, and reaching out for something beneath her. She followed the angel's gaze… until she was crouched down, and tried to make out the figure from the cracked walls. It was a body. A slumbering body? She gasped, turning to Lady Mirabelle.

“I only realized what this could possibly have been when you showed me illustrations of Selene,” the woman said, “When I first saw it as a child, I thought it was the Virgin Mary waiting for Christ's resurrection.”

“I-it could be, yes,” Addie said, her eyes glazing with something inexplicable.

“But I realized, when I tried to remember it, that ‘Endymion’ seems to be a woman,” Lady Mirabelle crouched beside her, tracing the faded green of a gown… and then the details of what might have been flowing hair. But the head was barely distinguishable.

“Sisters?” Addie guessed, even as her brain predicted something more relevant to her emotions.

Lady Mirabelle’s eyes remained fixed on the plaster as she drew figures on ‘Endymion.’

Not lovers?” she whispered, slowly turning her gaze to Addie who looked stunned.

The painter's heart was beating fast… unable to grasp that the woman was able to come up with such a notion, that even she at her most despairing was not able to utter. Lady Mirabelle's eyes searched hers and when Addie remained mute with surprise, she tore her gaze away. A rueful chuckle was emitted from her lips.

“In any case…” the woman cleared her throat, moving away from Addie to stand up, “In any case, you were right… she does seem hopeful.” Staring at the nun who was an angel. She smiled at the drawing sadly, and then, shaking herself from her reverie, let out a small laugh.

“I was hid here for a while until I heard my parents’ voices calling for me… Like I said, my victory was imminent, but William's defeat turned to worry, and he asked for their help. I startled, rushing to run out, and I had forgotten the rubble which fell. I tripped myself on a huge brick of stone, and broke my arm.”

She turned her gaze to Addie who was still rooted on the floor. The painter’s mind was running a mile a minute. Why would the woman think that? Why would she even suggest–

“Come,” Lady Mirabelle said, motioning with her head. “I will show you the view of the cliffs…” her voice trailed off as she stepped out of the room ahead of Addie.

Sparing one last haunted look at the mournful face of the nun… she whispered a prayer of sympathy… no, empathy for her, and followed after Lady Mirabelle.

 

---

 

Addie was lost in thought as they arrived at another courtyard, this time the gallery opened to a breathtaking view of the ocean. But she stood there unseeing as her mind ran free.

What did she mean ‘lovers'? But she said she thought it was a woman. Was she refuting that? Perhaps it was a long haired man. Women lovers? Her thought stopped as she stomped on that idea. But her heart was obviously stubborn. D-does she think women could be lovers? Absurd. No, it is not possible. Did she mean… dear friends? Perhaps, yes. Loving each other as dear friends. Lover friends. She frowned, because even that did not make sense.

“What did you mean–”

“Do you think that–”

They both looked away from each with a blush. Addie shutting her eyes tight as she chastised herself. She cleared her throat.

“I'm sorry, my Lady,” she said, “What did you want to ask?”

“No, you go ahead.”

“It was nothing.” The woman tilted her head. “Truly. I think I have figured it out anyhow.” But no, she did not.

“I see…” Lady Mirabelle paused for a long time and stared at the water, “Well… do you think they have met each other again?” Addie looked at her confusedly.

A pause. “In the next life… in their dreams?”

Addie’s heart began thumping slowly. “I hope so,” she said, and the woman nodded at her.

“How do you know when your soul has lived before?”

“I'm not sure…” Addie sat herself against a pillar, “Perhaps some things remind you…”

“Do you believe in being reborn then?”

“I do not know if I believe it… but I'm hopeful for it.”

Lady Mirabelle was silent as she sat beside Addie. She had begun playing with a loose thread again, and was worrying it with her finger.

“I haven't avoided hope, you know…” she said silently. Addie looked at her questioningly. The woman's gaze turned defiant. “You said I was avoiding hope by giving in.”

Of course. Now the painter was reminded of what she had said in the heat of that conversation. She had thought Lady Mirabelle had given in by writing back… which she apparently has not done.

“I–”

“I could never avoid hope… not when I live on it.”

Addie was stunned by the quiet resignation to that tone, which deeply contrasted with what she was pronouncing. Addie wanted to reach out and embrace her, wanted to assuage her fears, and keep her. But all she could give was a prayerful sigh that Lady Mirabelle does.

“Then I pray it remains, my Lady,” she murmured, earning her small smile. They looked into each other's eyes until thunder clapped over their heads to break the gazing apart. Both looked up and they were startled to find that the sky had darkened around them.

“We best get back,” Lady Mirabelle said, and they started making their way out of the structure. She helped the woman draw the heavy doors close, and began their long descent to the horses.

“Couldn't we have ridden the horses up the incline?” Addie asked, frowning at the distance. This only got her a laugh.

“Then your faith wouldn't have been tested,” Lady Mirabelle said as they hurried to avoid the prickle of a beginning drizzle.

Unfortunately, the rain began to earnestly fall as they were halfway through the cliffs, but the other woman only smirked at her deviously, and shouted, “Race you back to the stables!”

And then without warning, snapped at Wolfgang to speed away. Addie was only taken aback briefly before she urged Cherry to hurry after.

In the end, of course, Lady Mirabelle had won, and she dismounted laughingly at Addie’s pouting face, who arrived a good minute late.

“Perhaps, I should have wagered something for that as well,” the woman said, patting Wolfgang proudly. Addie scoffed, but she knew that whatever Lady Mirabelle asked of her would be given… whether it was wagered on a race or not.

Even, her heart ached, wanting her gone.

 

 


 

 

The following day, Lady Mirabelle appeared again in Addie's studio. The painter watched in confusion as she marched Grace inside the room with appropriated sheets and had the spare mattresses in the room set up for her. The woman wordlessly sat herself on them, and raised an eyebrow at Addie who remained gaping.

“Am I distracting you?”

“No, my Lady…” Addie replied, when she found her voice. But in truth the woman did. When did she ever not? She watched as Lady Mirabelle smirked and went back to her book, intent on invading the privacy she had spoken of.

She tried to get back to her work, truly she did… but the shuffle of silk and the occasional sighing kept distracting her. It did not do well for her reserve not to ask the woman to paint her… not when she was constantly assaulted with loveliness burned to her brain. If she did not know any better, she would think the woman was taunting her with it.

This would not be difficult if Lady Mirabelle did not get Addie to fall in love with her… but then again, how could she not when to know her is to love her?

“I think you portrayed the fountain wrong,” a voice tickled her ear. Addie dropped her brush with a clatter and scowled at the woman who had just snuck up on her once again.

“How do you always manage that?” she grumbled, stooping down to pick up the brush. An eyebrow was raised at her. “Sneaking up on people…”

“If you had a Nanny to run from as I did, then you will be well-trained.”

Addie huffed and turned to the detail Lady Mirabelle just pointed out. “What do you mean I portrayed this wrongly?”

“I suppose you will just have to see.”

And so in the afternoon, Addie found herself in the carriage once more, on the way to the village. Aside from educating her about the fountain, the woman cited business with Lady Merton that her mother requested of her. But the older woman seemed surprised when she received Lady Mirabelle's card announcing a visit.

“I'm really quite glad of your mother’s initiative when it comes to these things, darling Mirabelle,” Lady Merton said, taking the papers the younger woman had brought, “But this could have waited in two weeks after she has returned… she needn't have bothered you.”

“It was no trouble, Lady Isobel…” Lady Mirabelle said nonchalantly, although her cheeks were curiously pink, “Matters regarding the Hospital Board are important, it was easy to decide not to wait any longer.”

“Very well.”

The rest of teatime went by with companionable conversation… they chatted about Handel… the Fair… a bit about the fishing industry…? Until finally the older woman sent them off.

“Miss Sandford, I am very much looking forward to the painting Harriet commissioned.”

“Thank you, my Lady.”

“And darling,” she turned to Lady Mirabelle, “You will sing at the opening of the new ward, won't you?” The woman looked surprised at the request and blushed. “You will. I could not tire of your singing. I simply must hear it again.”

At this Addie caught a glimpse of the persuasive nature of the woman, and hid a small smile as Lady Mirabelle’s cheeks remained colored.

“Of course, Lady Isobel,” she capitulated, “Thank you for having us.”

 

---

 

Addie's smile persisted as they made their way down the street on foot, now on the way to see the fountain she had apparently misrepresented.

“I have no idea what you could find amusing now, Miss Adeline,” Lady Mirabelle said, looking ahead, face shadowed by the parasol she was holding.

“She is quite persuasive,” Addie commented.

The woman sighed. “From what I understand, William's engagement was something she catalyzed,” she shared.

“Is yours?” Addie asked quietly. The suitor was a topic that had not come up since their reconciliation. She would rather him not come up ever… at all. However, it would not do to keep feeding her Love indulgently, but shy away from its grim reality.

“I am not engaged.” Yet, was unsaid. The voice rang with a warning, and Addie knew not to bring it up again for now.

“We turn here,” the woman added, effectively dismissing the conversation.

 

--- 

 

The fountain did not look dissimilar to how Addie had pictured it. And she glanced at the woman to say so, but Lady Mirabelle's gaze was averted and she was blushing darkly. Her heart thudded. Did she just want my company? Addie hid a small smile underneath her own parasol, and decided she must be the happiest woman in the village at this moment.

“Well, I suppose I could have approached those cherubs differently,” she murmured, instead of a teasing remark that was tempting.

Lady Mirabelle sighed subtly in relief but she caught it. “Quite right, this is an important marker in town after all,” she tutted, even though Addie saw through her ruse.

“Oh?”

“They executed people here.”

“My Lady?”

Lady Mirabelle let out a small laugh at her expression, “The 4th Earl of Edgecombe had this built to replace the guillotine that once stood in it. There are still 200 offences punishable by death of course, but I don't think my forebears very much agreed with capital punishment.” She looked at Addie who was now staring pensively at the structure.

“There are still executions, of course, but they are now held in the Commons at the town over.”

When Addie remained quiet, she added, “There were hauntings, I believe.”

At Addie's startled look, she smirked, “At least that was the rumor.” Then she let out a laugh when the painter shivered. Amusement turned to confusion however when she saw her companion pale.

“Are you alright?” the woman asked , her voice taking on a worried tone

“Y-yes, my Lady,” Addie replied, although she cautiously stepped back, “I just thought of something.” There was a curious look on the woman's face, but Addie did not dare speak of the recurring imagery of the woman being beheaded.

Lady Mirabelle was still watching Addie closely, which made her nervous, and so she averted her gaze. After the continued silence, the woman finally asked, “Have you looked your fill?”

“I think so.”

“Would you like to take a turn around the village?”

At this Addie finally gave her a small smile, trying to shake off the sadness that permeated her. “Yes.”

 

---

 

Both women strolled the streets at a leisurely pace. They passed by many shops, which to Addie, was amazing for a small town as this. They went inside a millinery to see hats, and while Lady Mirabelle was critically appraising the offerings, she took the time to dissect the uneasiness at the fountain earlier.

For the first time since becoming dear friends, Addie had felt forlorn again. For all her puzzling over her newfound feelings, she had not really delved into the more dangerous consequences of this love. The scandal she could weather… but death? A tremble went through her.

Female… relations are not explicitly targeted by any legislations – Not that there would ever be relations of any nature, she blushed vehemently – but if anybody discovered she had been entertaining affection for a noblewoman, it was not far off that she would be punished for it. She had never heard of women being together, which made her think that maybe she should have gossiped more. But even at her most ardent, she did not dare hope for the possibility.

It made her angry again that this perceived misdeed be considered as such… perhaps none of those juries have ever fallen in love, that is why they were quick to condemn. Perhaps they should be punished with love. Then they would understand the consuming helplessness. It certainly felt like she was being penalized enough having to feel this enormously, and not be able to do anything about it.

Her brain fell into another tirade, but she was broken out of her thoughts when she heard her parasol clatter to the ground. She startled when a young man was suddenly kneeling beside her.

“I apologize, miss,” he tilted his tricorn hat

“It's of no matter, sir,” she replied distractedly, taking the parasol from his hand. He peeked at her face and blushed, which Addie did not notice, before he bowed and stood up to leave.

It was as if nothing transpired when she searched the shop for her secret beloved. The furrow on her brow disappeared when she found Lady Mirabelle staring at her from beside the milliner, still apparently absorbed with hats until the commotion.

“Have you decided, my Lady?” Addie asked, standing up from her seat to go to her.

“Yes,” Lady Mirabelle replied, gaze not leaving Addie. “Have this delivered to Glenwood,” she murmured. Then without sparing a glance at the surprised shopkeeper, she marched out of the shop with Addie in tow.

 

---

 

They made their way to the carriage in silence. And rode to the House absorbed in the same quiet. Addie was still caught up in her venting, so she failed to notice that Lady Mirabelle was also engrossed in her own thoughts.

“I apologize for teasing you,” the woman finally said, breaking the silence

“It was nothing, my Lady,” Addie assured, turning to smile at her

“But ghosts truly disturb you?”

“Some,” Addie blushed, “Mostly.” It was more the visions really, but she could not exactly talk about them to the woman, lest she be branded nonsensical on top of being immoral.

Lady Mirabelle was still frowning so she hurried to start a relevant topic. “Will you tell me about the rumors?” she asked, intent on proving she was not as bothered as perceived.

The frown relaxed into pondering. “There was one tale, that Nanny told me of a wealthy widow…” Addie made a face at this, certainly vicariously irked at this Nanny now. How dare she tell tales of terror to a child.

Lady Mirabelle chuckled at her expression. “It was amusing to me instead of fearsome, do not worry,” she paused and continued, “The widow was respected, and owned lands left to her by her husband, but apparently she had failed in paying her taxes… so she was beheaded.”

“Taxes?” Beheaded?

“Yes, I did not understand how that could be considered horrific for a child.” Addie shared a nervous laugh with her. “Anyhow, when the Widow died, her effects were bequeathed to the Abbey, but the lands were seized by the crown.

“Immediately after, they began to notice changes. Whereas before the lands were fertile – for the Widow traded in food as well – crops began dying. Pests keep invading. It became unprofitable for agriculture, and so they built houses on it instead. But then, even the houses either burned down or were damaged easily by storms.

“That is when people started believing that the Widow's ghost haunted the farmlands, and none, even the gentry it was subsequently awarded to dared to till it anymore.”

“Where is that land now?” Addie asked, feeling her skin prickle

That… to your left.”

The painter whipped her head towards the window at the vast expanse of land that sat at a distance between Glenwood and the town. She looked back at Lady Mirabelle with her eyes wide, but they immediately narrowed into a scowl at the grin on the woman's face.

“How rude,” she grumbled, crossing her arms

“I did not realize you so gullible,” the woman laughed

“Is this still part of my atonement?”

“Perhaps,” Lady Mirabelle smirked, “But I was not lying. That was certainly the land the widow owned.”

“Is that why Glenwood is secluded?”

“I think it was more for want of privacy. I know it was purchased by the 2nd Earl, but kept it untouched because of pleas from the town. There was no one he could hire to farm it anyhow. His grandson built them the fountain to appease them further, and that’s that.”

“Do you believe in ghosts then?”

“I am not sure,” another devious smile appeared on her lips, “But I could certainly masquerade as one, don't I?”

Addie just rolled her eyes at the teasing but she could not help a small smile at the thought of that first sighting.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

 

The weather had definitely taken a windier turn, but Lady Mirabelle wanted to go walking at the beach today, and Addie was not one to begrudge her. Her blue cloak was back, and of course, the painter could not help but remember the first day they met. She marveled again at how so much could change in less than a month… but it also reminded her that the days of her employment as companion were numbered.

Addie wanted to run away from that reality, but there was no escaping Time. She knew she needed to prepare herself. This perhaps, was nothing compared to the future that lay beyond their parting… because she was certain that learning to survive with her beloved elsewhere, not to mention unaware, would be difficult.

Not agonizing, she thought, but difficult. At least if she left with Lady Mirabelle's happiness assured with this… Frenchman… she could be at peace. But how? She did not have the gumption to bring him up again, and every time she dared, she was shut down fiercely.

If she had only been born as a man herself, then this would not be an issue. At the very least, she could declare her love. As a woman she was resigned to keeping it to herself. But supposing I do tell her? The thought came unbidden, What will she say?

Knowing Lady Mirabelle now, Addie was not sure if she would be overtly disgusted…? But perhaps dismayed that Addie had been lying to her again. She would probably think that Addie's pleas for friendship had an ulterior motive all along, and would brand her with worse things than “voyeur.”

But you will not know until you try, her mind retorted unhelpfully. No. She wished herself braver but not at the risk of losing her friendship again.

They have been walking at the beach for some time when Addie noticed figures also strolling in the sand. She had been so distracted that she did not see them sooner, but it was apparently a man with a horse. Addie turned to Lady Mirabelle to ask, but she frowned when she saw the woman's lips had thinned.

“My Lady–”

“Good afternoon, Lady Mirabelle,” the man greeted, bowing formally.

Lady Mirabelle tilted her head with a nod, “How do you do, Mr Marshal,” she intoned politely.

“Wonderful, my Lady,” he replied jovially, then he turned to Addie to greet her as well. “And good afternoon to you as well, Miss-?”

“I apologize,” Lady Mirabelle intervened, “Allow me to introduce you to Miss Adeline Sandford, my companion. Miss Adeline, Mr Richard Marshal.”

“Pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Miss Sandford. I confess myself glad to run into you again, I was afraid I had been rude yesterday.” The man smiled at her as if waiting for something, and chuckled when Addie stared at him blankly. “I accidentally nudged your parasol at the milliner's in my hurry, I did not damage it, did I?”

Addie vaguely remembered the incident, and could not even remember the countenance of the person who presumably knocked over her umbrella. “Ah, yes. My parasol remains in good condition, thank you for you concern, sir,” she said anyhow.

“I am relieved. For I certainly have not seen anything so beauteous,” he said, looking at her intently. There was also an odd tilt to his smile that Addie found confusing.

“It is a prized possession indeed, sir,” she replied cautiously.

“Well, I am definitely amazed to have ran into you again, Lady Mirabelle, for we have not seen each other since toddlers,” Mr. Marshal turned to the other woman, “And certainly not around comely acquaintances.” There it was again, the odd smile. Addie had to incline her head at the description of her person. What a brazen remark to make.

Apparently, Lady Mirabelle agreed with her thoughts, and the woman smiled at him stiffly in response. He chuckled again, determined to charm… But neither of the ladies were forthcoming with further conversation, and soon his face fell a little. He eventually tilted his head in a short bow.

“I suppose, I best be off,” he offered, and Addie tamped down a sigh of relief. She had been fearing he would offer them his company.

“It was wonderful seeing you, my Lady,” he bowed to Lady Mirabelle, “And I hope to meet you again soon, Miss Sandford.”He repeated the same gesture with Addie, although he remained bent for a longer duration.

When he raised his eyes at her, the painter belatedly realized she should have extended her hand for him to kiss, but she had no inclination to do so, etiquette be damned, and was glad when he eventually straightened himself. With a tip of his hat, he finally walked away.

Addie watched him go, bewildered, and when she turned to Lady Mirabelle to make a remark, she was startled to find the woman had gone from her side and had already started walking again. She hurried her steps to catch up and when she eventually fell into step beside her, she frowned when she saw the woman’s lips were still pursed.

“Did you and Mr. Marshal play together as children, my Lady?” Addie ventured.

“No,” was the succinct reply. The painter's eyes widened, realizing the woman's mood had soured. Cautiously, she decided to remain silent for the rest of  their walk.

They finally reached the cavern from weeks before, and both mirrored the same positions as it had been during that day. Once again, Addie elected to sit upon a rock, while Lady Mirabelle circled the columns of limestone. Increasingly disturbed by the woman's continued reticence, she frowned as she watched the woman determinedly ignored Addie's presence.

“I could not blame you,” Addie remarked, deciding to break the silence, “Forgive me, but he certainly seems a boor.”

Lady Mirabelle's back which was turned to her seemed to sag at this comment, and she turned to Addie with a suspicious glance, “He is.”

Relieved by this reaction, Addie allowed herself a small smile. She was glad when Lady Mirabelle began walking towards her, and she moved to give the woman space on her jagged perch.

“You've met his father, Sir Patrick, at the fair.”

She was surprised at this for it certainly did not seem that Lady Mirabelle was paying attention to whom Addie conversed with that day. “Sir Patrick appeared amiable enough,” she replied, remembering the rotund man.

The woman just shrugged and turned her gaze to the sea. After another long pause, “I thought perhaps you were entertaining a friendship with him,” she said quietly.

“Why would I?” Addie asked, genuinely confused, Lady Mirabelle's eyes snapped towards her. “When I have you?” she said, brows furrowed.

At this the woman blushed and looked down to hide the smile that bloomed on her face. But Addie caught a glimpse, and she hurried to look away to hide her own face which also colored.

“Do not think this absolves you from further atonement,” the woman finally murmured, after an awkward pause. Addie snorted out a laugh, while Lady Mirabelle raised an eyebrow at her smirking.

---

 

Rain began to fall when they were halfway through the woods, so both of them ran the distance. Unfortunately, they were still soaked through when they made it to the House. Addie felt bad for the mud they were trailing, but Lady Mirabelle merely beckoned for her follow, and had to grimace at a housemaid they passed for the mess.

She trailed after the woman to the East wing, but instead of the drawing room they frequented, Lady Mirabelle marched them further to the end of the hall to a set of double doors. This time, Addie knew it was the woman's bedroom.

It was much larger than hers of course. An ornate four-poster bed was the centerpiece… and there was a large fireplace that was already happily giving off warmth. Addie’s mind was whirling, and she desperately tried to focus on marveling at the quiet efficiency of staff, instead of… other matters.

“Will you help me with my gown?”

She froze. Slowly, she shook herself from her thoughts, and she found Lady Mirabelle already facing her with a pin cushion in hand.

Eyes widening, Addie’s brain gladly became blank as she shakily went through the straight pins which held the gown together on the front. Lady Mirabelle could have been speaking, but she would not have heard because her ears were roaring. On top of that, a pit had opened up in her stomach, and birds seemed to be flying out of it to wreak havoc on her insides.

When she reached the last of the pins, Lady Mirabelle nodded her thanks to Addie. “Now yours?” she asked.

 The painter who was now feeling quite boneless, snapped her eyes to the coffered ceilings, and lifted her arms to let Lady Mirabelle do the same with the tedious clasping of her own clothing. She must have been stiff as a board as she tried to control her breathing.

What is happening?

When she finally felt the woman move away, Addie remained cautiously rigid and she further stiffened when she heard the shucking of silk. Eyes widening even more, she timidly took a peek, only to have her heart drop to find Lady Mirabelle draping her wet clothing near the hearth.

She watched agog as the woman also doffed her outer petticoat and pannier, and was now standing in her under petticoat and her stays, all layered over a simple cotton chemise.

“Mother keeps saying that any respectable young woman needs a Lady's maid,” Lady Mirabelle said as she absently presented Addie her back. The painter's brain which had still not caught up with what was happening, instinctively reached out to undo the ties on the corset.

“I understand the draw I suppose, these things are rather unfortunate,” the woman continued, unaware of Addie's turmoil, “Perhaps, Mrs. Bates could train Grace… I rather like the girl.”

When the enclosure loosened, she turned to Addie to help her as well, but raised an eyebrow instead at her state of dress.

Again, Addie mutely stepped out of her gown, and did the same for it near the fireplace. She heard Lady Mirabelle step close just as she was undoing her own pannier, and with her heart helplessly thudding, she snapped straight again when the woman began undoing the ties of her corset.

Of course, she has seen other women in different states of undress before. She was an only daughter but she had spent vacations with cousins who helped each other with their complicated clothing, then lounged together afterwards in their nightgowns.

But this was quite different, and she did not know how long her poor heart could take further onslaught. It was beating rather wildly, she must be shaking with it. So fraught were her senses, that she only realized that Lady Mirabelle was already finished when she heard the soft padding of feet moving away.

When she turned, the woman had disappeared behind a folding screen, and she watched as the discarded garment was thrown over. “You are fond of Grace, aren't you?” came the muffled voice.

“Y-yes,” she managed, then cleared her throat. Taking a deep breath, she tried to shake herself awake, and began pulling down her corset as well. While there was no one to watch, she also rolled down her stockings which she realized were uncomfortably wet.

“Yes, she is an impressive young woman,” she added when she had finally calmed some. Now, she was left in nothing but her thin knee-length shift, wringing her arms. She shivered in it, and nervously decided to  wait for Lady Mirabelle from beside the fire.

“What of Thomas the beau though, my Lady?” she called out when the woman had still not appeared.

“I had forgotten about him,” said the disembodied voice. “I suppose I will have to ask Grace.”

After reining in her nerves, Addie began undoing her hair from its messy updo. It was only slightly damp and not completely wet, thanks to the hat she wore. She was happy she did not braid them today, otherwise it would have contributed to the frizz. They gladly fell down her neck in silky waves of dark brown, and she was just about to comb them through with her fingers when she felt Lady Mirabelle’s presence behind her.

The woman was wearing the same lacy peignoir from before, and was clutching another for Addie to borrow. Her hair had been tamed into a loose braid, reminding Addie of the night she had visited, and there was also a curious blush on her cheeks.

Addie tentatively gave Lady Mirabelle a small smile, but the woman did not smile back. In fact her eyes were wide as she stood rooted on the same spot, just staring at Addie for a while, until the painter grew conscious and cautiously cleared her throat.

“My Lady?” Addie asked.

This seemed to finally snap the woman from her reverie, and she wrenched her gaze away before handing Addie the spare robe wordlessly. She sat herself on a cushioned seat in front of the fireplace, and did not look again at Addie when she muttered, “I have rung for tea.”

Addie nodded, confused with what just happened, and elected to continue dealing with her hair instead. She began combing her fingers through it, but faltered when she felt the prickle of a gaze turned her way. The painter knew she was blushing at the scrutiny, but she kept her eyes fixed to the hearth as she tried to calm down her heart.

When she was done, she drew her hair to the side intent on  braiding it as well but then…

“You have beautiful hair,” Lady Mirabelle said quietly.

Addie's eyes widened, “Thank you, my Lady.”

“Will you let me…” the woman cleared her throat, “May I braid it for you?”

Immediately after she'd said it, Lady Mirabelle looked away as Addie stared at her stunned. Her jaw may as well have dropped.

What is happening, she kept asking herself. Addie's eyes trailed to the woman's hands, which had began plucking at the tie of her robe again. Realizing the woman was equally nervous, her surprise morphed into sympathy and she offered a small smile.

“Of course,” she said softly to the woman. Lady Mirabelle blushed but she returned the smile shyly, and got up to fetch a brush.

It saddened Addie to think that the woman may not have had any female friendships when she was younger – as Nanny and Governess did not good companions make. She was again reminded of the girl cousins, who were indeed silly, but she had great fun with them, and was glad for their sisterhood, especially in a childhood that might have been otherwise bleak.

Of course, it was not sisterhood she was feeling towards Lady Mirabelle… but in this life, that is all she could offer her. Without getting shunned, or shut out from her life forever.

When the woman returned she positioned herself on the cushioned chair once more, and Addie sat herself at her feet. The image of an offering laid in front of Goddess came unbidden in her thoughts– she realized no analogy could have been more apt.

Addie's heart was thumping slowly as she felt the woman hesitantly run her palm against her hair, before gently carding her fingers through it. They have gone from no contact at all, to riding horses together and now this… it was dizzying. It would be unsightly indeed if she fell into a faint at the woman's floor.

She would apparently be granted no respite as she heard a small sigh from above that made her blush violently. Her heart began beating to a crescendo… she was sure she was trembling with it once the woman moved on to  lightly massage her scalp She barely managed to contain a gasp when the woman began combing fingers down to the tips of her hair.

“Are you cold, Miss Adeline?” Lady Mirabelle asked worriedly

“Only slightly, my Lady,” Addie closed her eyes tightly

When Lady Mirabelle had taken the brush to run it  through her locks, the stiffness she had been harboring finally melted away. As it was some other implement and not hands. In fact, it was very pleasant. Addie was almost purring with it.

“Have you known love?” Lady Mirabelle asked suddenly, as she parted Addie's hair to three and began braiding it.  

“Yes,” Addie replied unreservedly, glad for the calm she had finally attained.

“But you have never been engaged?”

“No,” Addie chuckled ruefully, resigned at how torturous this was going to be. “Have you known love?”

“Yes.”

Addie turned to her in surprise.

“That is, I am waiting to…” Lady Mirabelle trailed off.

For some reason, the painter had the idea that this was probably a good moment to segue the conversation to the suitor. The calmness she regained slowly gave way to trepidation. And by the time she had gathered the courage, the woman was done braiding her hair. Lady Mirabelle tied it off with a blue ribbon that would no doubt match its owner's eyes.

Taking a deep breath, Addie shifted from her position to look up at Lady Mirabelle.

“Perhaps you will soon,” she offered, hugging her knees towards herself as if they could protect her heart.

Lady Mirabelle froze. “Oh?” she asked, blushing as she stared at Addie expectantly.

Addie's intentions were to support the woman, but really, this was quite painful. Seeing her almost excited at the idea of the Frenchman splintered at her chest, but she had to keep going.

“Have you written back then?” she asked shakily.

All of a sudden, the benign curiosity on Lady Mirabelle's face morphed into disappointment before her patented scowl appeared. Addie startled at the change.

“I thought y– Why must you always bring this up?” the woman asked.

Addie's eyebrows furrowed. “What-? I… I'm not the one who called him an oaf, a few days ago,” she stuttered.

“Because he probably is,” the tone was petulant. Addie had to stifle a laugh. She could only imagine this graceful, elegant woman stomping her foot at her mother.

“Is something funny?” Lady Mirabelle demanded.

“Nothing, my Lady, I apologize.”

“Then enough,” she bit out, “I do not want to speak of it again.”

“I only truly want to make you happy, my Lady,” Addie said sincerely.

“Then make me!” Lady Mirabelle blurted, her voice rising more than Addie has ever heard it.

Addie's eyes widened, “I don't know what you…” she trailed off as the woman stood up from her chair and began pacing. “A-as your dear friend, then I–”

“Liar!”

“My Lady?”

“Stop saying that, stop calling me that!”

“I only meant it to be polite, I–”

“I don't want your politeness!”

Addie's mouth snapped shut. She watched as the woman breathed deeply before turning to her angrily. “Get out,” she said, her voice a cold hiss again.

The painter instinctively made to stand, but she stopped herself. She was not going to be subject to this treatment again. Not when she had almost killed herself on a horse anyway.

“No, my Lady,” she replied, “Not until you tell me what I've done wrong.”

They glared at each other in a battle of wills, neither willing to budge. She scowled as Lady Mirabelle let out a harsh exhale.

“Why won't you ask to paint me?” she demanded

Again, Addie was surprised at the turn of conversation. What is happening? “I didn’t think it was my place.”

“That's rich, seeing as you've already done so without my knowledge.”

“I never asked because I thought I’ve lost the privilege! You are not mine to gaze at!”

“You're the one who has given me away!”

Addie's heart was beating wildly. Something about this conversation was not making sense, and she has grown weary of running in circles.

“My Lady–” she stopped at the woman's glare, Alright then if she did not want politeness! “Mirabelle,” she amended smartly, “What is this about?” What does she mean I've given her away?

The woman turned away from her and faced the window. Her hands were clenched beside her and she was breathing deeply. Addie found this outburst worrisome… She decidedly took a step forward – the woman flinched – but Addie kept going, and soon was standing behind her.

She searched the woman's angry reflection on the glass, and tried again. “Lady Mirabelle, what is this about?” she pleaded, determined to make it right, “I'm sorry I brought up your suitor. I guess I’m better warned now…”

“You called me your ‘beloved’,” came a whisper.

“…”

“When you fainted that day… and was just coming around… you called me your beloved.”

Addie was sure her heart stopped beating for it just fell to the bottom of her stomach. She felt the blood on her face drain, and from her palms as well because they became clammy in fear. Lady Mirabelle met her stunned eyes through their ashen reflections on the window.

She did not know if she wanted run, perhaps a hole opening on the floor would have been more prudent. She knew she'd thought it, of course she had, but she did not know she had spoken it aloud. But that would mean Lady Mirabelle had been aware for that long and–

“Were you lying?”

She could deny it. Laugh it off as delirium. Then she wouldn't have to put the woman through the embarrassment of turning her down. She would not have to be disgusted with Addie.

Her silence must have been very prolonged, because the woman turned around sharply to face her. It was detrimental, for it took only one look at her blue eyes for Addie's fate to be decided. She could not deny it. She would not lie about it. Taking a deep breath, she met her gaze head on as if bracing for impact.

“No, Mirabelle,” she whispered, regretful and defiant at the same time, “No, it wasn't a lie.”

Time stopped. She did not know whether to beg or to apologize because Mirabelle's face had become a painfully blank canvas. There was only silence, and every second that ticked by, ate away at the frail hope Addie cultivated. She thought herself prepared, but reality is more cruel in the living of it.

Did I actually think that– she let out a rueful chuckle. Mirabelle startled at the sound, and Addie turned her gaze resignedly to the floor. She had jumped now anyhow, why bother slowing down the fall?

 “I love you…” she whispered, eyes downcast, “I love you without hoping. I love you because I know no other way. Not friendship, not sisterhood…”

Addie laughed again and it came out bitter. She darted her blurry eyes anywhere but at Mirabelle's face, taking deep breaths to swallow her sobs. “I suppose you want me gone,” she said, finding it easier to make that assumption.

Anger flashed across the woman's features, but before she could hurtle whatever aspersion it was, a knock sliced through the tension in the room.

My Lady? I have brought you your tea,” came the muffled voice.

Their eyes stayed on each other as more knocking followed. It was Addie who tore her gaze away first, unable to bear anymore of the silence.

Wiping away her tears, she turned around and walked to the door. She heard Mirabelle huff behind her, not knowing whether this was an opportune interlude or not. Was she going to be absolved or sentenced?

She drew the door open to reveal Grace who was indeed carrying the tea Mirabelle had rung for. Oblivious to the fight she had walked in on, the girl greeted her with a smile and proceeded into the room dutifully.

“Good evening, my Lady, Miss Adeline,” she chattered cheerfully, “It is raining rather heavily, I'm glad you both made it home safely.” Addie stared at the contrast of her mood to the heavy cloud that besieged her.

“Thank you, Grace,” she eventually managed, because Mirabelle stayed mute.

“Goodness, you must have been drenched,” the housemaid noted the clothing by the fireplace, “I will take care of  these.”  She went on to gather them, and without other fanfare, walked out of the room after bidding them good night.

.

The echoing silence the girl left in her wake seemed to give Addie a clarity of mind. Throughout the entire pause, she stood rooted by the doors, and waited for Mirabelle to finally speak, but the woman remained motionless. How else was she supposed to take this but dismissal?

“I should go,” she said quietly, turning to leave

 “Coward…”

Addie whipped her head around. “What did you call me?”

“A coward.”

“I am not a coward!”

“You either hide or run away from everything, isn't that cowardice?”

“I’m not running away! I–” Lady Mirabelle raised an eyebrow at the door that was partially ajar. Addie angrily kicked it close.

“What am I supposed to think when you have not spoken a single word!” her voice came out anguished, but Lady Mirabelle just looked at her coolly.

“Why didn't you tell me?” she said

Why didn't I–” Addie stopped herself, feeling ridiculous enough already, “What do you require of me, Lady Mirabelle? Truly, I think I have embarrassed myself enough.”

The woman pursed her lips.

“If you wish to punish me for harboring these feeling towards you, then I daresay there is already enough cruelty awaiting this love out there in the world,” she said, “I never dared… I never hoped. But it is you who demanded this truth be spoken, and I could not lie about it, even at the pillory.”

There was a scoff, “You think yourself magnanimous, but really… this is just contemptible.”

Addie was taken aback, her heartache was now beyond expression.

Lady Mirabelle saw the look on her face, and her own had finally  crumpled from its cold façade to a thunderous scowl. “It is contemptible to love somebody and not tell them!” she barked, Addie froze at the vehemence there.

“What–”

“Especially if the person loves them back!”

Her heart stuttered to a stop once more.

What?

Has she died? Perhaps she had not awakened yet from her fall. Mirabelle  stomped her feet as she turned her back to Addie and faced the window again, very much incensed. She was taking deep breaths for apparently she was not finished.

“It is contemptible to feign support over a marriage they know in their heart the other person is not happy about!”

Drawn like a moth to the flame, Addie took a step closer as if in a trance, even as the woman still had things to shout about.

She loves me back?

 “It is contemptible not to ask to paint them!”

She kept on making small steps until she was close enough to touch the woman.

She loves me back?

“It is contemptible to not even look their beloved in the eyes when they tell them they love them!” the woman took a shuddering breath, “And even when they do, still manage to appear regretful for that love?!”

Mirabelle sharply whirled around, too irate to be stunned by Addie's nearness, and prodded an irked finger to her chest, “How did you expect me to respond?!”

Wordlessly and still unsure how she was functioning, Addie stepped forward so that the protruding digit was forced to unfurl into a palm against her chest to counter her closeness. Mirabelle must have felt the wild thudding of the heart against her hand… for something flashed in the woman's eyes before she fisted at Addie's chemise.

Addie covered that fist with her hand, and trapped the angry blue eyes with her pleading brown ones.

She loves me back.

“I love you,” she whispered reverently

The angry scowl slowly remained as she searched Addie's eyes for the regret she bemoaned… and finding none, tears began to fill her eyes.

“I love you very much,” Addie said again, voice stronger. Needing to amend her apparently horrible declaration.

“You are very stupid,” Mirabelle muttered, but the tears that began to fall earnestly down her face was a counterpoint. “How could you not have known?” she hissed.

“I could not have wished...” Addie replied, “To wish is to hope, and to hope is to expect.”

Too stimulated to anticipate it, her breath left her in a rush as Mirabelle flung her arms around Addie's neck, burying her face in it. She was helpless but to let out an answering sob, and held her tightly as if she could merge with her and carry her in her heart forever.

I love you,” Addie whispered again because she should. She did not know if they were mourning or rejoicing all at once, because how can this be? An unspeakable, unthinkable possibility in a world of uncertainties. She was too happy and too afraid at the same time, she was reeling.

Slowly, Mirabelle drew her face from Addie's neck and looked at her in the eyes, even as tears kept flowing from deep pools of blue. Addie used her thumbs to wipe away the wetness in her beloved's cheeks, and the painter smiled at her tearfully, finally able to let out her truth.

“You are my beloved…” she said softly, feeling delirious again, “My beloved Mirabelle.”

The woman closed her eyes as she sighed, leaning her cheek to Addie's palm, nuzzling it. And when she opened them, defiance glinted in them as she covered the hand with her own.

 “It is also contemptible not to kiss their beloved after you tell them you love them.”

Addie's eyes widened as she drew her eyes down to the pink lips.  She looked again at Mirabelle's gaze which now appeared expectant and equally nervous.

“M-may I?” she whispered, running her thumb along the softness of her lips. Her heart skipped as a kiss was pressed to her finger in affirmation.

Barely gathering enough courage or the know-how, she took a deep breath and slowly leaned forward. With her heart beating wildly, she was standing at the cliff once more, and falling… falling… falling… to alight on the softest garden of hope.

When her own full lips met Mirabelle's, it felt like a new world has been birthed. She felt it from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. This was her grand revelation. And she knew, beyond this point that everything has forever changed.

Like a deluge, more kisses followed. Braver. “I love you,” she whispered to the once angry mouth… “I love you,” she mumbled to the ruddy cheeks… “I love you,” she sighed to the furrowed eyebrows… For every attribute she had yearned to discover. For every attribute she had come to love.

Her heart sang when Mirabelle let out a teary laugh and holding Addie's head between her palms, leaned forward to return the most tender of kisses on her lips.

“I love you too.”

 

---

 

After tearful declarations, the two found themselves lying side by side on Mirabelle's bed, facing each other. They were looking into each other's eyes as if neither could believe that each of their loves were answered in equal measure. No words seemed to be needed as their mutual yearning had now been laid bare.

Addie thought that discovering this love was beautiful, but knowing it was returned even more so. She did not dare contemplate the harsh reality that  awaits it… not now, not yet, when the world was just opened up to her… to  them… in even brighter light. Tears rolled unbidden from her eyes at the prospect of it getting snuffed out, and Addie let out a sob at the fingers which wiped them dry.

“I know,” Mirabelle said sadly, “I know.”

Addie held the woman's palm against her cheek and kissed it before drawing it against her chest.  She wanted Mirabelle to just reach inside and take the heart that lay within it. In response, the woman reached for her hand and did the same with hers.

“Would you really not have told me?” Mirabelle asked

“Told you what?”

“That you love me?”

Addie smiled at her sadly. “I was resigned to loving you from afar,” she replied.

“And now?”

“I suppose I'm still resigned to loving you… but closer,” she answered, knowing the crueler reality underlying the question. The look on Mirabelle's eyes understood what she was trying to do, and they both silently acknowledged that that was a future they would not ruin the present with.

“How much closer?” Mirabelle whispered, tilting her chin towards her.

“I am not sure…” Addie whispered back, moving her head closer but stopping just short of touching the woman's nose, “Is this close enough?”

Mirabelle pouted. Addie’s heart fluttered happily, having not seen this adorable look on the woman before. “Is this?” she asked, nudging the aristocratic nose with her own. A mighty frown was the response.

“My Lady, I don't think I could get any closer than this,” she said seriously, “Perhaps if I–”

She was cut off by the softest lips imaginable finally closing the distance in impatience. Addie giggled against Mirabelle's lips.

“I will not have kisses rationed, Miss Adeline,” Mirabelle said, pulling back with a grumpy scowl.

“Of course, my Lady,” she replied, leaning in to kiss her again.

When eventually her provision of kisses were filled, Mirabelle gave her a nod, and looked into Addie's eyes. “Will you sleep in here tonight?” she whispered shyly, her grip on Addie's hand growing tighter.

You wouldn't be able to pry me away, Addie thought, and nodded. They stayed this way until they fell into a slumber, touching each other’s hearts, irrevocably connected.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

 

 

When dawn broke, Addie awoke to the scent of sandalwood filling her senses. Red hair was the first thing she saw, and realized that Mirabelle had moved closer, tucking her head under Addie's chin to nuzzle against her neck. The glorious mane had unraveled from its loose braid, and was in the delightful disarray that Addie always dreamed of. 

Gently, she carded her fingers through burnished golden threads and reveled in its softness. She pressed a kiss on the woman's temple, sighing deeply when Mirabelle only burrowed closer in barely conscious response. Addie giggled as her neck felt tickled and wound her arms around her beloved to draw her closer.

She reveled in the blissful silence, taking in the new world that has been opened to her. There were still many a conversation to be had, about their future… about the fiction they would maintain in front of the servants. About everything. But her beloved was in her arms right now, and what else was there to think of but loving her?

Addie tried to remember this new warmth that buffeted her, for soon it would be time to get the day started. Eventually, she would need to sneak into her room and get dressed. But she was hard pressed to make any motions when Mirabelle was clinging to her.

Sighing to herself for her own neediness, she finally decided to make the difficult decision to disentangle herself from the woman. However, the arms around her torso only wound tighter… and when she looked down, she was again trapped by the scowl of a beautiful goddess, only this time she was happy to be captured.

“Don't leave me,” Mirabelle pouted, clinging closer

“My darling, I have to go and get dressed…” Addie smiled, kissing her brow

“I do not imagine that is where you are supposed to bestow kisses,” the woman frowned

“Have you dreamt of kisses then?”

“No, I have thought of it,” she admitted, “And I have figured that this is not how one greets their beloved.”

Addie raised an eyebrow, “Will you show me?”

“And here I thought you competent,” Mirabelle tutted, moving away to prop her herself on her elbow, “Am I supposed to educate you on everything?”

“I do not think I will tire of learning everything about you,” Addie said. She watched as the woman fought off a smile before she rolled her eyes.

“I suppose this is my burden now,” she sighed. Addie refused to think of the rest of their burdens, not when Mirabelle looked golden even in the soft sunrise. She blushed at Addie's loving gaze, and tried to keep serious.

“Here, is the object of priority,” she said crisply, planting the softest kiss on her lips, lingering for a long time but it was not quite enough for Addie who leaned forward to chase that wondrous sensation. But a finger was pressed on her mouth to stop her. She pouted.

“And then here,” Mirabelle pressed fluttering kisses on both of her cheeks. “Hm, and this too, I suppose…” absolving Addie's mistake by also kissing her in the brows.

“And after that,” a kiss was offered to the shell of her ears…

“And finally, here,” Mirabelle moved her head down to kiss her in the region where the corner of her jaw meets her neck. She let out an involuntarily gasp at the tickle of that mouth. She closed her eyes at the tingle which travelled all the way to the tips of her toes, and Addie wondered if this what lightning might feel like if she was touched in the temple by it.

“O-oh?” Addie struggled to find her voice, even as her eyes remained shut, “Is that all?”

“Hm, for now…” Mirabelle said cryptically, pleased about her little tutoring.

“I suppose torture was the method your Governess went by,” Addie murmured, slowly opening her eyes to see the smug look on the woman's face.

“I do not think she had as much fun teaching me as I have you,” Mirabelle replied, running a finger along Addie's jaw, and grinning when the painter blushed further, “And I definitely was not as pleased with her methods as you apparently are with mine.”

“I certainly hope not,” Addie mumbled, reaching out to trace Mirabelle’s lips… wishing they were for her to kiss alone. The woman seemed to understand what she was saying with her eyes, and pressed a loving kiss to Addie's fingers. Addie smiled sadly and gave a small nod. “I really have to get dressed now.”

Mirabelle sighed and dropped down on the bed with exaggerated resignation, “Why are you always awake so early?”

Addie chuckled as she tied her borrowed dressing gown around the waist, “There's more daylight to be had for my painting,” she said, tucking her hair to the back of her ear.

“…you're the daylight,” was said faintly. But the painter, who had always been rather adept at deciphering the woman's whispers, heard.

 “Is that why you have started showing up for breakfast?” she asked, laughing when Mirabelle's eyes widened and huffingly turned her back to Addie, “To spend more time with me?”

The only response was the shuffle of blankets as they were hurriedly pulled over a blushing head. “I am not descending to breakfast at this hour,” said the muffled voice.

Addie shook her head in amusement, and started making her way out of the room. “I love you,” she whispered, just before she stepped out. There was a swift rustle of fabric as a head appeared from beneath the sheets. She laughed at the woman's fib of a scowl, and closed the door behind her.

 

---

 

Addie hid a smile behind her cup when Mirabelle showed up at the breakfast room despite her protestations. Of course, she would rather the woman rest if she found mornings unpleasant, but her heart had become good-naturedly greedy and rejoiced at the beautiful sight. 

“I fail to see what's amusing, Miss Adeline,” she scowled.

From the corner of her eye, Addie saw Grace look between the two of them, and she suppressed a laugh at the girl's nervousness. In the past few days, the housemaid has been privy to their mighty row and apparent reconciliation, and was perhaps afraid she would be caught in the middle again. She would make a great Lady's maid to Mirabelle if she wanted the opportunity.

At that thought, another memory niggled at Addie's brain, and her smile only grew wider at the realization. “I find the morning to be very beautiful, my Lady,” she said, turning to her eggs.

“Hmph.”

 

---

 

After they finished their meal, Addie was delighted when Mirabelle trailed after her to the studio. The woman settled herself once more on the borrowed mattresses while the painter smilingly donned her apron and prepared her paints. She giggled when Mirabelle sighed.

“You may slumber, if you want…” Addie offered, seeing as it was only 9AM and the woman would probably still be asleep had it not been for this apparent need for proximity, she realized happily. She smiled as the woman rolled her eyes.

“Were you there that day when Grace brought me soup?” Addie asked, not looking as she knew Mirabelle was blushing again. That night, in her misery, she mistook the faint smell of sandalwood to be conjured by her despairing heart… but evidently, she was very much mistaken. She giggled as she heard the woman lay down with a rustle of silk.

“I will not be laughed at for being concerned for your well-being,” Mirabelle huffed, turning her back to Addie

The painter smiled softly, put down her brush, and tiptoed towards the woman to sit down beside her. At the dip of the mattress, her beloved turned to her with a scowl, and really what else was there to do but kiss her as taught? Addie leaned down to kiss her on the lips, and she smiled into them when she felt the woman kiss her back.

“Am I forgiven?” she asked as she leaned back

“No,” Mirabelle answered, and pulled her in for another kiss.

Needless to say, Addie did not feel very regretful when not much was accomplished by way of her painting that morning.

 

---

 

Afternoon found them in the lake on their blanket, with another spread of snacks… this time it was Mirabelle who had requested them of Cook, who included wonderful tarts and other sweet treats.

Earlier, in the deserted park of the estate, Mirabelle was not shy to entwine her fingers with Addie as they walked towards their usual tree. Addie matched this display of defiance by lifting their joined hands to her lips, and kissing it… and both were sporting blissful smiles as they arrived.

After they finished their tea, both lay on their sides facing each other again, content to just stare in marvel. Why had she been so scared to try, Addie wondered? And how had she been so blind to realize that Mirabelle felt for her all along?

“How did you do it?” she asked. The woman looked at her askance. “Make me fall in love with you?”

Mirabelle blushed, and she was quiet as Addie gave her a small smile. She reached out to grasp the woman's hand again, and pressed it close to her own heart which belonged the woman.

“You were right, you know,” Addie continued, “I was a coward.” Mirabelle looked at her searchingly. “I was content to love you just as your dearest friend. I was afraid you would shun me, be disgusted with me…” she shuddered, “I was resigned to this being difficult… but here you are, and everything is lighter somehow.”

Mirabelle drew herself closer, propping her head on her elbow to look down at Addie. “This is how…” Mirabelle whispered, “This unselfishness, your giving nature… you love me without asking for anything in return, and who am I not to give back something that had been yours already?” She brought their joined hands from Addie’s heart to hers.

“I was frustrated since that day we raced…” she pouted, “You  called me your beloved… and I waited… and waited… for you to say anything, but you only kept on bringing up the Oaf…

“Well…”

“And how dare you think I would shun you?”

“Mirabelle…”

“Was I not being clear enough when I suggested the women of the fresco were lovers?”

“Darling…”

“I even cradled you on the way home when you fell, I mean–” Addie pulled her down for a kiss, braver now even in the bright light of day.

“Alright,” she murmured, “Evidently, I have been rather inane.”

“Quite right,” Mirabelle raised an eyebrow, “Really, it's ridiculous how you could see through literature and colors, but not what's laid down in front of you.”

“Hm. Like I said, I will never tire of your instruction.”

Mirabelle nodded, and they shared a laugh afterwards. Then the woman maneuvered herself to lay her head on Addie's stomach, all the while not letting go of her hand. She ran her thumb against their connectedness, and Addie was happy to be reminded that this was indeed real.

They both stared up the canopy of leaves that shielded them from the sun, settling in the beautiful calm that they have always found themselves in, even before. Had her beloved knew then? For much longer than her?

“When did you know?” she asked, running her other hand through the ringlets of hair that escaped Mirabelle's bun

“That day when I first ventured out alone…” the woman answered. Is that what that tender look meant? “I realized I wanted to show you the Abbey then, and wondered what you would say about the fresco.”

But I also felt your absence,’ she had said. Addie had been very happy about the admission, she supposed she should have known by then. So much time wasted… She should have listened to what her heart has been telling her all along.

“You have gifted me with freedom… but all I wanted was to be trapped in you,” Mirabelle continued, and Addie's heart began thumping pleasantly, knowing it felt the same, “I had long been resigned to living in William's shadow… and I've never felt seen, not until you.” She turned on her side and nuzzled against Addie's stomach.

“I wanted to keep seeing the world through your eyes... you of hermit crabs, and the moon, and the sea.” Addie brought her hand to caress the woman's cheek. “That you are also a woman felt immaterial… not when you were making me feel so much.”

“You were so angry when we first met.”

“Exactly… I was angry. There was a strange exhilaration in such total detestation,” she raised her eyes to Addie who pouted, and laughed, “You began surprising me at every turn. Curious and feeling known at the same time. Soon, I wanted to spend every waking moment with you.”

“So, you have not been ‘reading’?” Addie smiled

“I find pleasure reading in the mornings, I'll have you know. It is why I come down late…” Mirabelle grumbled, “Only, you came along and ruined even that for me, for I began wondering what you were doing instead.”

“Is that why you asked to borrow my book?”

“Yes, I pretended you were reading it to me,” she scowled, “I was very comfortable in my solitude, but all of a sudden, all I could hear was your voice and your stories… and all that giggling.” She blushed at Addie's adoring look, “I suppose you think me needy now.”

Addie frowned, “Never, I–”

“I fought it, you know,” Mirabelle said, sitting up to look at Addie better. “I wondered if I had just latched on to the first person who stayed with me… but you had been so sincere, I felt helpless.” The painter got up as well, sensing that her treachery was about to be mentioned.

“And then…” Mirabelle whispered, looking down on her lap, “And then I discovered you had a motive all along.”

Addie was holding in her breath. She knew now that Mirabelle loved her back but she would never stop feeling frustrated that all of this had started by her hurting her beloved.

“I felt betrayed,” Mirabelle continued. Addie felt she was too at the time, but for a different reason altogether, “You had been lying to me the entire time and I felt ridiculous for feeling the way that I have.”

Her heart ached as she saw a tear roll down the woman's eyes, and Addie reached out to wipe them off, hoping she could erase her duplicity with it. Mirabelle leaned her head against her palm and captured her gaze.

“I began hoping again…” she let out a horrible laugh then, and Addie felt the phantom pain when she heard it the first time.

“Will you ever write him back?” Addie's voice quivered. She startled when Mirabelle suddenly straightened.

“Are you still asking me to?” the woman asked challengingly. Addie looked stunned, Where did that come from?

“No,” Addie said vehemently, “I did not say that, I–”

“But didn’t you say it would be wonderful to get to know him?”

 “I only said it because I thought you were writing back.”

At this, Mirabelle's eyebrows started to furrow again, and her heart despaired at the sight. “Why did you make me think you were?” Addie dared to ask.

“Why? Would you have destroyed the painting if I wasn't?”

Addie sighed sadly. What would she have done at the time really? Even as she knew what they both felt now, could she have demanded to change the woman's future? When all she could offer was the present?

“I don't know,” she said truthfully. Mirabelle suddenly stood up and began pacing.

“If you knew I was painting you, would you have asked me not to?” she ventured, following the woman's movement with her eyes. The grace with which she floated through the entire day was now replaced with agitation. Addie ached at the turn of events.

“How could you still ask me that?” Mirabelle snapped

“You gave your permission to send it,” Addie reminded the woman. Regret was stabbing at her chest, but ultimately, it was Mirabelle who decided that for herself.

“Only because I thought you braver.”

And there it was. She had been a coward. She was not ‘unselfish'. She had been jealous. She did not think beyond what she was feeling at the time, and it overpowered the compassion she felt for Mirabelle since the very beginning. Stupid, stupid!

“Why would I have resisted anymore, when all I get is disappointment?” Mirabelle said.

Disappointment,’ The word echoed between the two of them like something painful. At that moment, they were both thinking the same thing… Isn't that what lay ahead for them? For this? Wasn’t this love doomed from the start?

Addie knew all along they have been remiss to neglect their reality… but a day of loving was intoxicating. Who would think to be practical instead of happy just at that moment? Yes, the world had been opened up to them in new light, but it also cast better illumination on dreams that could not be.

To her despair, Mirabelle seemed to read the sadness on her face as uncertainty… and before Addie could react or catch her, she ran.

Thunder clapped over her head as if in reminder: This is what you get for daring.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen 

 

 

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear; 
For love, all love of other sights controls, 
And makes one little room an everywhere. 
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone, 
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown, 
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one

            - John Donne, "The Good-Morrow"

 

 

Addie made her way back to the House alone. She stood forlornly at the bottom of the grand staircase… waiting. She did not dare climb up to Mirabelle's room without permission, not when the wounds she inflicted were freshly prodded. She has not even figured out if the woman has returned, but still, she stood there.

When Grace approached her to take the hamper and blanket, she dared to ask, “Has Lady Mirabelle arrived, Grace?”

The girl look confused, “Yes, miss. Almost an hour ago.”

“I see,” Addie said, “Well then, I best go to bed myself.” And sparing one last look up the stairs, she began making her way to her room.

The sob she had been holding in escaped when she made it through the door. Had they been foolish to give in? Had she become selfish again, opening them both to more hurt? Perhaps she should have just declined the invitation to the Fair, then she would not have realized this love… then she would not have caused more disappointment.

But it was so wonderful to have a love returned. Despite all odds, Mirabelle loved her back. It was instinctual for her to give in. It was easy to let her worries fade away… but evidently, they will always be there to bite them back: the choices they made in the past, and the consequences that awaited them in the future.

Lovesick once more, she fell into bed still fully clothed not bothering to light candles. The room was darkened save for the illumination of the fireplace. How was she to go on now, knowing what it felt like to fall asleep with Mirabelle in her arms… when her kisses were burned to her soul forever? When before she did not even dare to contemplate the possibility, now she did not think we could live without.

She startled when her bed suddenly dipped, and fresh sobs overtook her when arms folded around her from behind. The smell of sandalwood was a balm to her aching heart. Tears flowed from her eyes as a kiss was pressed on the nape of her neck… and the shell of her ear…

And then she was gently turned around in the arms of her beloved before she was kissed in a sequence reverse to how she was taught this morning, as if it could erase the angst of the afternoon. Soft lips continued to caress her furrowed brows, then her cheeks… and then finally…

“I’m sorry,” Mirabelle whispered against her lips. “I'm sorry for running away.”

“I hurt you,” Addie sobbed, looking into her eyes

“I’m sorry for running away before I could tell you that nothing has made me happier but being around you,” the woman amended, wiping away Addie's tears with her thumb

“How can I make you happy when I have nothing to offer you?”

“How can you ask that when you have given me this?” Mirabelle whispered, placing her hand in Addie's chest.

“You were right not to think me braver,” Addie said, holding the woman's face in her hands, “I fear for your unhappiness… I fear for what people will say… will do… when they know of this.”

“Addie,” Mirabelle whispered, and the painter's heart fluttered at the sound of her nickname from the woman's mouth, “We could blame each other for the choices that we made, be afraid of its consequences,” she covered Addie' s hand with her own, “But immediately after I'd run, all I wanted was to get back to you. I was wasting more time away from you.”

She leaned down to kiss Addie on the lips, who responded by flinging her arms around Mirabelle’s neck to draw her closer. When they broke apart, Mirabelle smiled, “I realized that none of the rest of it matters now. Not when it brought me to this... to here… with you.”

Addie's eyes shimmered, and Mirabelle gave her a small peck before taking her hands to slowly pull her up. The painter bonelessly followed as they got up out of bed and stood by the light of the fire.

“May I help you with your gown?” Mirabelle asked. Addie nodded, still watching the woman in wonder. Mirabelle had already been dressed in her nightgown herself, and save for the matching redness on her eyes, she looked beautiful… unlike Addie who perhaps looked a state from her crying.

“You make loving you easy,” her beloved continued, as she took care of the pins on the front panel of the dress. “For a life mostly lived in behalf of me, by way of my parents' decisions and the demands of society…” she urged Addie to step out of her outer petticoat, “I do not have much by way of liberties.”

Then she turned Addie around so she can help her with her stays, Mirabelle kissed the nape of her neck again, “Letting myself love you was the easiest choice to make.” The painter let out a shuddering breath at the tickle of her breath, and felt light  filtering through the shadows that besieged her again.

“And even then, there wasn't really a choice,” Mirabelle murmured, running her hands down Addie's arms as she drew the painter around to face her again. “Not when you're you…”

Addie shivered at the gentle fingers that slowly pulled down her corset, all the while not breaking their gaze. The woman looked entranced as she trailed her fingers along Addie’s collarbones… up her neck… tracing her lips… and then up to her hair to undo the loosened pins there. When her hair cascaded down her neck, she saw Mirabelle sigh as she threaded her fingers through her locks.

“A month with you, and I have already lived a lifetime,” Mirabelle said softly, still looking at her as if she was wondrous.

“Every room with you is my everywhere…” The fingers started retracing their steps again down her neck and down to the neckline of her chemise. “A second with you, and the future negates itself with our shared breaths.”

Her heart was beating rapidly as Mirabelle undid a ribbon, and parting it, pressed a loving kiss against her thudding sternum. “This… you, are all I need,” she whispered against the soft skin she found there.

When Mirabelle looked up, Addie was helpless against her instincts to wind her arms around her beloved. She molded her lips against the lovely curve of the woman's, eager to taste the love she proclaimed.

She felt the woman gasp as she deepened their kiss… Addie wanting to convey that she was pledging to Mirabelle her troth. To stay true. To love her more. To love her always. Even beyond the Time that has been given them… even in the distance that would soon part them. And her beloved seemed to understand this, for she returned the kiss with equal fervor.

The world began to slowly fall away as they succumbed to a universal language of lovers. Time felt immaterial as both of them became infinite. Words were not needed as they let the overwhelming need of their joined souls speak for them.

Loving sighs were music in the air. Reverent caresses mapped both hearts and bodies, trying to learn each other, but still did not find where the other began nor where the other ended. They were both feeling so much that neither believed this moment could contain it. For hours they kept soaring… soaring, and then, with mutual blissful gasps breathed into the darkness around them… they were beings become one.

There, in the room which first saw a love feared, now saw it become dauntless.

---

 

Mirabelle had her head propped up on an elbow, and was gazing down at Addie while the fingers of one hand traced patterns on her bare stomach.

“Hi,” Addie whispered, smiling shyly

“Hello,” Mirabelle said, grinning back. Addie lifted a finger to trace the curve of her mouth, blushing at the acts with which it had come to know her intimately.

“Do all lovers feel like they're inventing something?” the lips moved, pressing tiny kisses on her hand that was aloft

“I don't know,” Addie murmured, “I've only ever been loved by you.”

Mirabelle smiled again, comfortable in her ownership of Addie's heart. “I hope they do…” she said, “It's wondrous, discovering your beloved this way.”

And Addie certainly agreed. It was like reaching a peak that only she and Mirabelle could cohabit. She had heard of intimacies between couples by way of her giggly cousins. Perhaps it was their inexperience, but their descriptions certainly did not make the activity sound appealing. The descriptions did not tell her it was beautiful for one… how it was almost like searching for your soul… how it was like finishing a painting.

“I knew the gestures,” Mirabelle continued, her hand wandering across Addie's bosom, and smiling when it puckered in response. “I imagined it all, waiting for you,” she admitted, looking at Addie’s wide eyes.

Addie's heart began thumping again as Mirabelle's eyes became hooded. And then biting her lip, she threw her arms around the woman, pulling her down for a meaningful kiss.

“Show me more,” she whispered. And so, Mirabelle did. They had the rest of this “lifetime" to invent, after all.

 


 

Addie was already awake when dawn broke. They both fell into a slumber wrapped in each other's arms, and Mirabelle's head was tucked under hers again, tickling her neck with her breathing. She pressed a loving kiss to her forehead before attempting to untangle herself from the woman, and quietly giggled when the woman grumbled at the shift in position. Just before she rose, she kissed an exposed shoulder, and set off to find her sketchbook.

Her most recent sketch of Mirabelle was that day at the Abbey when she had been enclosed with golden light as she walked to the high altar. When Addie was drawing it, in full color this time, she had imagined what Mirabelle would look like on the day of her wedding… if the husband will look upon her just as Addie always does, like she was an angel… like she was everything.

She easily shrugged the phantom pain of that future and looked upon her beloved as she was right here, right now, on Addie's bed. And yes, she is her everything. She looked vulnerable and open, and relaxed, unburdened by the decisions made for her.

Having worn Mirabelle's peignoir, just so she could remain wrapped up in her scent, she sat herself on the cushioned seats by the window, and began drawing her love. She remembered when she first discovered those blue eyes, those soft lips, the aquiline nose… the curiosity and the exhilaration. She should have known then that this was a battle she had no chance of winning.

Draped in sheets as she was now, she would look like a goddess if carved in marble. Perhaps I should. Addie lovingly drew the soft curves which they hid… and felt warm at the almost natural need to map them again with her lips.

She had no time last night to be surprised at her own brazenness. After kissing Mirabelle deeply, it was almost instinctual the way she sought further contact. She felt intoxicated. All the sensations felt foreign yet familiar. Even her body, it felt like her soul was living in it and flung out of space at the same time.

She could hardly be embarrassed by zones on her person that she did not know could make her feel that way, zones that dampened, zones that coiled and contracted. Did she have them this whole time, or was her body only answering to the siren call of her Mirabelle's lips? It was a revelation at every turn, about herself, and about her lover.

Because Mirabelle had responded with equal passion. But with better skill as she had apparently already imagined the gestures, Addie giggled to herself. Was this what they meant by being wanton? But it did not feel bawdy, wanting to make more love. She still had so many questions, and they had yet many things to invent, she grinned.

The smile on her lips grew wider as she heard the sheets rustle. She watched as her love slowly awoke, eyelashes slowly fluttering. Addie held in another giggle as the woman flung her arm to the opposite side of the bed, and startling when she did not find Addie there.

Fully awake now, Mirabelle's brows were furrowed into a scowl at Addie's absence from her side. The painter felt her heart flutter when the woman's eyes finally found her, as the piercing blue of them lit up the room, and the woman's features relaxed.

She bit her lip when she noticed the eyes strayed away from her face, and now very slowly trailed down her body. She could not help the shudder that ran through her. When Mirabelle smirked, she felt beckoned… and really, who was she to resist?

Addie dropped the sketchbook she had been holding, and floated the distance towards the bed, in which she draped herself over her lover. Mirabelle leaned up to kiss her, but Addie pulled back, smiling deviously.

“Addie?” Mirabelle said confusedly. The painter giggled at her and proceeded to straddle the woman's hips.

“Uh uh,” she tutted, pinning the woman's arms over her head, “Let me see if I have this right.” Then she leaned down to press a lingering kiss on Mirabelle's lips.

“This is the order of priority, is it not?” she drawled, earning her a laugh from the woman. “Then here,” she kissed both cheeks, “And then this?” she kissed the eyebrows. She smiled as she caught the approving look on those blue eyes.

“And then,” she moved on to the shell of Mirabelle's ears, and feeling daring, she tugged at them gently with her teeth. The corresponding shiver was worth it. Then she moved on to the column of her neck, which Addie also provided with teasing nips.

Mirabelle had her eyes closed and had begun to breathe rather heavily, so Addie triumphantly lifted herself up to look down on the woman. “My, my…” she grinned, “How the tables have turned.”

The woman's eyes flew open, but Addie was startled by the tenderness in them instead of the challenging look she expected. “How can I, when you make me so helpless?” Mirabelle said. Addie’s eyes shimmered, and her hold on the woman's arms predictably slackened.

With a gasp, she suddenly found herself on her back with Mirabelle now looming over her. “Gullible,” she smirked. Addie barely had time to be indignant before the woman proceeded to kiss her senseless.

---

It was almost noon when Addie descended for food, and she could not fight off the blush on her cheeks when Grace looked at her concernedly. Mirabelle's non-appearance was understandable to the staff who knew her morning habits, but not Addie's, who always rose early during most of her stay.

“Were you feeling ill again, Miss Addie?” Grace ventured

“N-no, Grace, I am well,” she stuttered

“Only, you were looking rather poorly again last night when you came back from your walk,” the girl continued, as she uncovered a plate for Addie.

“I suppose I was merely tired, Grace,” Addie replied, feeling her face warm further, “Thank you for your concern.”

She pretended to have just noticed the place setting for one, and asked, “Won't Lady Mirabelle be joining me?”

“No, miss. She requested food to be brought up to her rooms.”

“I see,” she said, and focused on her food instead.

After certain activities that morning, Mirabelle had sneaked out of her room through a secret passageway that she neglected to tell Addie about the first night they'd spent together. With only the bare staff around, it was quite easy to maintain a polite fiction around them, but it was better to take precautions. And so, this masquerade.

Addie blushed into her steak at the thought, she could not deny it was particularly exhilarating.

When she finished, she proceeded up to the studio until she would be summoned for their daily walk, and decided to continue the work she had neglected for two days now. It would not do for Lady Edgecombe to think her incompetent on top of other aspersions she might cast if she knew.

Addie was rummaging around for a new set of paints when she felt arms snake around her waist from behind, and she giggled when she was tickled by a kiss to the side of her neck.

“I've missed you,” Mirabelle murmured, nuzzling her nose to Addie's shoulder

Addie gave a happy sigh and turned around in the woman's hold, “Me too,” she whispered, unashamed about the mutual neediness she felt. Mirabelle smiled at her and their lips easily found each other.

When they broke apart, Addie toyed with the ringlets on her nape as Mirabelle proceeded to plant small pecks along her jaw. “Did you want to go for a walk now, my love?” she asked, shuddering as she felt a gentle nip on her neck.

“Not really,” Mirabelle pouted

Addie laughed at the sight. It really was an adorable look on the woman. Mirabelle is breathtaking when she is angry, and even more so when she is like this. Addie pecked her again on the mouth, and gently tugged at the protruding lower lip.

“Well, what would you like to do instead, my Lady?” she asked, in the tone of a perfect companion. Mirabelle's eyes glinted at her play-acting and withdrew herself from Addie's hold.

“My, my, I should have known you would be quite greedy, Miss Sandford,” she tutted. She smirked at the blush on Addie's cheeks, who immediately dropped her pretense at obedience in embarrassment.

“I wasn't– I mean, well I could have… But I did not mean…” she trailed off when she saw Mirabelle holding in her laughter. Her eyebrows furrowed. “I will not be teased,” she huffed, turning her back to Mirabelle to gather her brushes.

“I’m sorry, my darling,” Mirabelle giggled when Addie proceeded to ignore her and sat on herself on the stool intent on painting.

“Addie?” she tried again, when the painter remained quiet and began doing the details of a booth. She let out an audible sigh, and drew behind her love to wrap her arms around Addie’s shoulder. “I'm sorry,” she kissed Addie's cheek, “Obviously, that is what I'd rather be doing as well. But I'm content just watching you paint.”

Addie felt her pout again, and she bit her lip ready to relent, but she still pretended to be focused on her canvas. “I just want to be near you,” Mirabelle added. There was a gravity in her voice that Addie was not able to resist anymore, and so she turned her head to plant a kiss the corner of the woman’s mouth.

“Me too. Always,” she whispered. Mirabelle smiled at her, and then clasping Addie's chin, kissed her deeply.

After one last peck, Addie watched her happily make her way to her usual mattress where she produced a leather envelope she had apparently brought with her when she entered the room. There was a shuffle of papers, and Mirabelle proceeded to write while lying down on her stomach.

“Mirabelle?” Addie said, curious to what the woman could be creating

“Hm?”

“May I know what you're working on?”

“Something,” Mirabelle replied cryptically, smiling at Addie. There was a child-like excitement on her face that she has only seen when the woman first talked about the Abbey, and she was instantly charmed.

“Alright,” she relented, “May I see it when you're ready?”

The look on Mirabelle's face turned appreciative, and she nodded, “Yes.”

And just because she already can, “I love you,” Addie said before turning back to her canvas.

“I love you too,” Mirabelle replied, with a smile that could rival the sun.

They spent the rest of the afternoon absorbed in their respective crafts. And Addie realized that never has their shared silence sounded more beautiful.

---

After spending the day holed up in the studio, they rendezvoused that night in Mirabelle’s room.

Following activities they would have rather done whole day, they sat together in front of the fire giggling over small cakes, and wearing nothing but repurposed sheets draped carelessly over their bodies.

Mirabelle had been telling her of her misadventures with her stern Nanny, and Addie had been laughing at the image of the woman's patented scowl on a small child. What would Mirabelle’s children look like, she wondered? Addie knew in her heart she would make a wonderful mother. She would probably sing them wonderful lullabies, and join them on adventures like she had done so as a child.

When they finished with their meal, Mirabelle lay herself on Addie's lap, who looked down on her serenely… running her fingers through the woman's glorious head of hair.

“You said before that I have choices,” Addie said to her, Mirabelle’s eyebrows furrowed, wondering about where the conversation was going to lead. Addie smiled and soothed the worry there with a small kiss.

“But having choices also mean uncertainties,” she continued, “And out of a thousand uncertainties, the one thing I’m sure of is this…” she placed her palm on Mirabelle's chest, “… you.”

Mirabelle took her hand, and kissed it before holding it against her palm. “Whatever happens next, I can live through life anchored to this one certainty,” the painter murmured. Mirabelle who remained speechless, pulled Addie down for a burning kiss, and just as last night, by the fire, pledged their vows.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen 

 

 

Addie woke up to the sensation of being watched. As she slowly transitioned to wakefulness, she was confused to see Mirabelle propped up on her elbow looking at her fondly.

“My darling?” she croaked, she may have suppressed many a gasp last night, and so her throat was dry.

“Good morning,” Mirabelle intoned, leaning in to peck her on the lips, for she apparently cannot wait until Addie was fully conscious.

“Morning?” Addie repeated, looking beyond the woman to find it was indeed dawn, “Why are you awake?” She saw Mirabelle roll her eyes.

“You always get to watch me sleep,” she smirked, “I haven't.”

Addie pouted, but she accepted another peck on the lips. “You are a revelation, did you know that?” Mirabelle whispered. The painter tilted her head askance.

“You snore, for one.”

“Excuse me?”

Mirabelle gave a small laugh and entwined their hands together. “You mumble in your sleep as well,” she said, “It sounded sad. What you were saying.”

“Hm?”

“What plagues you, my love?” Mirabelle asked, there was a hint of worry in her tone now.

“I don't know,” Addie said honestly, and paused to ponder the question, “There have been dreams, I suppose… which I do not always recall.”

“Are they bad dreams?”

“Sometimes.”

Mirabelle looked sad at this and Addie hurried to pull her close for a hug. “I do not think my dreams were horrible last night, however,” she assured, for she would be definitely be feeling it upon waking up if she was. And Mirabelle would have witnessed more than mumbling, if her episodes from childhood were anything to go by.

“Are you sure, darling?” Mirabelle mumbled against her neck

“I'm sure,” Addie promised, “Besides, how could they be, when you're right beside me?”

Mirabelle just sighed, snuggling closer, and blessedly let the matter go. But Addie’s heart was thumping, was she going to tell her about the turns? She decided to delay the conversation for another time, as it did not seem fitting to start the morning with. She kissed the woman's temple, and both fell back to slumber.

---

 

For the second time in two days, Addie did not make it to breakfast, which would definitely raise suspicion in Grace. She'd said so to Mirabelle when they woke up again at 10AM, but the woman just shrugged and petulantly demanded her morning kisses. Who was she to decline?

Anyhow, when they had finally dressed for lunch, Mirabelle assured her that the staff will not be forthcoming with any questions. And if anybody dared, they could just pretend to have had an early morning excursion.

“Which we had indeed,” the woman added with a smirk, earning a blush from Addie. The painter did not realize she herself was capable of being insatiable… but she will never admit to that.

As it turned out, Mirabelle was right, in that no servants seemed bothered by the late hour. As Grace and Smith hovered around them to serve, both women politely fell back to a conversation regarding their mutual interests, and thus talked of art, music, dressage, and everything in between.

“When did you first learn to paint, Miss Adeline?” Mirabelle asked, maintaining politeness.

“I was three, my Lady,” Addie smiled, “If splashing paints are to be considered art, that is.”

“And your father has always taught you?”

“Yes,” she took a sip of her port, “Mother wanted to teach me embroidery, and it was fine, but not as much as I enjoyed painting.”

“You embroider?” the woman laughed. From the corner of Addie's eyes she saw Grace and Smith startle at the sound, and she had to hold in her own giggle.

“I will have you know it is like painting with threads, Lady Mirabelle.”

“Perhaps you should have taught me,” Mirabelle huffed, “…instead of Nanny.”

“Perhaps I will, when I've finished your mother's commission.” Perhaps you will let me paint you too, she thought. Loved as she was by the woman, Addie was still waiting for her to ask. She did not want to be forward and absolve herself of that mistake.

“Are you almost done with it?”

“Nearly,” Addie thought about it, “Perhaps a day or two, my Lady.”

“Very well.”

--- 

 

They spent the afternoon together in the studio, and Mirabelle was once more absorbed with whatever it was she was drafting. Occasionally, she would hum a melody… how is it possible for her to grow more lovely every second Addie knows her? There was a scrunch of the eyebrows as the woman aggressively erased something on the page. It would immediately lighten when it seemed she has figured something out, but then she would pout to herself all of a sudden.

Needless to say, Addie’s painting had become slow-going because there were more things of import to be occupied about. Like the smudge of pencil on Mirabelle's nose, for example. Addie giggled, and the woman's blue eyes snapped towards her, shaken out of her reverie by the sound.

“Yes?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. Addie just shook her head and found she could not bear the distance anymore, so she placed down her brush, and made her way to her beloved. She laughed again at the dirt, and then taking a handkerchief from her bosom, clasped the woman's jaw tenderly to wipe it off.

“Oh,” Mirabelle whispered, she was blushing at Addie's fond look, as if she still marveled at it. Addie bit her lip, and knew she had to be kissed thoroughly.

When they broke apart, Mirabelle's pupils were blown wide and she was breathing heavily. Satisfied with this outcome, Addie grinned impishly and proceeded to get back to her canvas.

“No,” Mirabelle spoke, and then before she could react, she found herself pulled down and pinned to the mattress with an oomph.

Their work was neglected for the rest of the afternoon following that.

--- 

 

They were in the studio until night fell. Sometime around dusk, they moved the mattress closer to the fire, and talked of everything and nothing, storing and storing memories for their hearts to go by. Neither of them brought up the future. For they had a week to love, and neither wanted to spare a second feeling forlorn when they could be happy instead.

Both were draped in sheets once again, and they were just content to be near each other. Addie was lying on her stomach, grinning as she drew out the ivory busk of Mirabelle's stays.

“So I could stay closer to your heart,” Addie explained, when Mirabelle raised an eyebrow at her. “May I?” she added shyly, and grinned happily when her love nodded. She eagerly bounded up to get the gouache she would use for the surface.

Mirabelle's eyes widened while she followed Addie with her   gaze, as the painter had unabashedly forgotten the sheets which covered her, “I…” she stuttered.

“It has to be water-based…” Addie said distractedly, unaware of the eyes trailing down her form, “Although it's rather fragile, painting on the surface.” She rummaged in her tiny box of paints before gasping, and turned to the other woman with a triumphant grin.

When she returned to their mattress, Mirabelle was still quite stunned, which prompted a questioning look. “Oh, would you rather I don't?” the painter asked, thinking she has offended. For they haven't brought up painting related to Mirabelle since that horrible afternoon, and she was still treading cautiously around the topic.

Mirabelle's answer was to kiss the beginning pout on her face. “You are very beautiful…” she murmured against her lips, “And you needn't ask, for everything that is mine is yours.”

Addie blushed and kissed her again for good measure. “Thank you,” she whispered, before turning to the thin rigid material. “I was thinking the thought of it might give you comfort, even when wearing these horrible garments,” she added.

“The thought of you will give me comfort,” Mirabelle replied sweetly, and then she became curious, “What will you put on it?”

“It's a surprise,” Addie grinned, and proceeded to lie on her stomach to begin drawing. She positioned her arm so the woman will not be able to peek. Mirabelle just fondly shook her head before laying on her side, content to watch her instead.

There was only the sound of crackling fire for a while as Addie focused on the image she was painting. Occasionally, she would hum whenever she felt Mirabelle moving closer.

“Don't look yet, darling,” Addie said, drawing the details on Wolfgang's likeness.

“I just want to be near you,” Mirabelle mumbled, running her foot along Addie's calf.

When she had apparently grown impatient, she maneuvered herself to lay her head on the small of Addie's back. At this, the painter turned her head to raise an eyebrow at her, but the woman just snuggled closer to nuzzle her lower back. With a small laugh, Addie went back to her busk.

There was a small smile on her lips as she felt Mirabelle slowly trailing her fingers along the knobs of her spine, tracing patterns. It was very distracting of course, but pleasantly so.

Mirabelle began following the trail her fingers took with her lips, and Addie bit her lip to hold in a moan.

“Will you paint me again?” the woman said softly, her voice tickling Addie's skin. Her heart was thumping as she immediately stiffened and turned around to face the woman properly. Mirabelle moved as well, but crawled to hover over Addie before she could get up.

“Do you… do you mean it?” Addie whispered, her eyes shimmering as she caressed Mirabelle's cheek. The woman nodded, and placed a kiss to her palm before leaning her head against it.

“I was saddened when you have not asked yet, but I remembered you told me you felt you have lost the privilege,” Mirabelle said, and Addie nodded sadly. “Well, as it is only you who will have the privilege to see me like this…” she trailed off at the look on Addie's face, and frowned.

“I…” Addie looked away, stopping herself from saying something painful. Mirabelle moved to sit up and pulled Addie with her.

“What is it, darling?” Mirabelle asked, trepidation coloring her voice.

“I do not think I like you saying that,” Addie replied, looking down on her lap.

“What, wanting you to paint me? I thought–”

“No!” the painter hurried to cut off that line of thinking, “No. Of course I would love to paint you. I will paint only you, our memories, for the rest of my life if you asked it of me.”

“I would never ask that of you, Addie. The world deserves to see its beauty through your eyes,” Mirabelle said, reaching out for Addie's face to capture her gaze, “What is it, my love?”

Addie took a deep breath, and looked sadly into her blue eyes, “I do not like you saying that only I could see you like this.” Mirabelle looked stunned at this pronouncement.

“You are happy right now, aren't you? With me?” Addie continued.

“Of course, I–”

“And I want you to be happy, even without me.”

“What are you saying?”

Addie moved closer to hold Mirabelle's face between her hands, “It saddens me for you to think that you will be unhappy in the future. When you say only I would have the privilege to see you like this… it sounds as if you are resigned to being miserable henceforth.”

“But that is what I will be without you,” Mirabelle protested, “How can I be happy, plagued by a love beyond compare?”

“Didn't we promise that this, our month, our ‘lifetime' is enough?”

“I lied,” Mirabelle said harshly, tears filling her eyes, “Of course, I lied. How can this be enough? How can one lifetime be enough to spend with you?”

Addie's eyes clouded with her own unshed tears, and moved to kiss Mirabelle to absorb their shared sobs.

“It’s unfair,” Mirabelle clung to her, “It's unfair. It is you I should get to marry. It is you I should spend my life with.”

“It is unfair,” Addie whispered to her hair, “But the world is not ready for our love. And there are many things my love could not give you.” She felt the woman stiffen against her, so she pressed a kiss to her temple and held her even closer.

“Children, for one,” Addie continued, not even knowing where the strength in her voice was coming from, “You will make a wonderful mother, I know it in my heart you will. The life you're used to–”

“How can you even think that?” Mirabelle said vehemently, pulling away from Addie to look her in the eyes, “You know I have never cared for any of this. I can live without having children, I can live without the frivolity of titles.”

“Darling…” Addie had a sizeable income for a young woman, but surely Mirabelle realized that she was not talking about physical finances.

“Couldn't we just run away, live together, you making your art and I, my music?”

Addie let out a sob at this, for isn't that exactly what she had yearned for even before all this, even before knowing it was love she was feeling?

“You do not know what you're asking,” she whispered tremulously.

“What are you saying?” Mirabelle asked, moving to stand up, her eyes spoke of an anger Addie has never seen before, “Are you saying you do not want this? Was it all for show?”

“Stop!” Addie pleaded, fearing whatever aspersion may come next

“Were you just using me for your art practice? Were you just looking for a female form?” Mirabelle continued, apparent that her own heartbreak was coming out as ire.

“Mirabelle,” Addie whispered, her heart shattering with every utterance from the woman's mouth.

“Did you just bed me for the experience?!”

“Stop! Stop please!” Addie cried, her voice rising in anguish. Tears were streaming down her face as she looked down on the mattress, curling in on herself pitifully. Sobs wracked her frame, as almost immediately she felt Mirabelle's arms fold around her.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” the woman kept whispering in agony, pressing kisses on her shoulder, on her back, on the nape of her neck, everywhere she could press a kiss to. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” she repeated in equal measure, Addie felt the splash of the woman's tears dampening her back as Mirabelle enveloped her from behind. “I just want you,” the woman sobbed, “All I want is you.”

At this, Addie could not bear not to look upon her face anymore, and drew herself from her position to turn to Mirabelle who immediately flung her arms around Addie's neck, anchoring herself around the painter like she was life itself.

“And I want you,” Addie said, digging her fingers to the woman's flesh it must have hurt, “I once thought this fearsome, because how could this be in a span of a month? To love you so enormously already?”

“I know,” Mirabelle sobbed against her neck.

“But this I realized even on the first day I met you, that to love you is to set you free,” Addie continued, remembering her eagerness to give the woman her freedom, even before she knew what it meant. “There are things I could not give you…” she repeated, carding her hand through the woman's hair, “The most important of all being your safety.”

Addie felt Mirabelle slacken against her, draping herself around Addie bonelessly now. For they both knew it, that the world did not take very kindly to their love.

“I have dreamt of it too, living with each other openly, you as my muse for all of my days, if you would permit,” Addie said, cradling Mirabelle close, “The scandal, we both could endure, for I know I can borrow your bravery… but the thought of losing you, having deprived you of the freedom I only wish to give you, I could not witness.”

She looked down to capture the anguished blue eyes staring up at her. Addie kissed her brow and wiped her tears reverently, “The world deserves you very much, your beauty, your music, and I could live in it even apart from you, knowing you are alive somewhere to bless it with your existence.

“I love you. I love you, it is very difficult that I do,” she finally admitted, and tears had sprung fresh from her eyes at this, “I wish I could carry you in my box of paints, hide you away, but you are not made for obscurity.”

Mirabelle wasn’t. Free to love her she may be, but in everything else, the world would deprive her.

“You deserve more than the love I could give you,” she let out a shuddering breath. For even if she had a lifetime's wealth of it, it was not a currency she could pay for people's acceptance with. Not yet, not in this life.

“I love you enormously,” she echoed what she said earlier, “And it will span Time and Distance, anyhow and anywhere you may be.” Mirabelle reached out to her hand to press it against her face, seemingly needing more contact than she was providing.

“So all I could ask you is this: to live fully, to live freely, without me.”

 And bereft of words, all Mirabelle could do was to cup her face to bring her closer, closer… to make more love to carry them both through this reality.

 


 

 

Following the evening of harrowing realizations, both women seemed to be bracing themselves for a storm they could not weather. Their days were indeed numbered, and a desperation colored all the lovemaking they could muster, which spilled on to the early morning. There was an unspoken need for them to never spend the time apart, and even when Addie had to return to her room to dress, Mirabelle trailed along after her.

There was a melancholy between them that had never been there before. They were both silent as Mirabelle watched Addie intently as she went about her many layers of clothing.

When Addie sat herself in front of the vanity to comb her hair, the woman wordlessly got up from the bed and went to her, in a silent plea to let her to take charge of this part of her grooming. The painter smiled at her sadly, and handed her the brush she had been holding.

Mirabelle ran her fingers through the luscious thickness just as she had many nights before, and then combing it, plaiting it, and twisting it to a neat updo. Addie watched her image from the mirror, trying to memorize every feature, every reverential look, just as much as the woman probably did with her.

After a quiet breakfast, they went back to the studio. Addie was right, in that she only needed a day to finish the rest of Lady Edgecombe's request. It was a lively scenery, and she know she has done well, despite many interruptions. Genre painting has been something she has always been good at, which was ironic considering her earlier difficulties with portraiture.

Mirabelle, on the other hand, was still working on her opus, which she has not yet revealed, and Addie still did not want to pry. The silence was still persistent… for neither woman did not know what to do, except just be proximal to each other.

Addie had been tending to her brushes, when suddenly, there was a sniffle. She looked up to find Mirabelle tearing up, and she felt her heart break all over again. Her eyes immediately clouded with their own tears in answer, and she easily dropped what she had been holding to go to the woman.

Just as Addie approached, Mirabelle hurriedly put her papers face down, while the painter stared at her, frowning. She reached down to wipe her beloved’s tears... but to her horror, she had forgotten what she had just been doing the second before, and accidentally brushed a smear of green along the woman's cheeks. Her tender look immediately became amusement as she pursed her lips to hold in laughter.

“What is it?” Mirabelle scowled.

It was so ridiculous. For the first time since last night, a gleeful smile broke through Addie's despondence, and she finally let out a burst of laughter.

“Adeline…” the woman said in warning.

“I'm sorry,” Addie struggled to hold in her mirth as she sat down beside Mirabelle, “I'm sorry, my darling.” She wiped at her own tears with her wrists. She giggled again at the color on the woman's cheeks, whose brows only furrowed deeper.

After cleaning her hands on her apron this time, she fished out a handkerchief from her bosom, and bit her lip as she gently wiped at the small mess she had made. When the scowl remained, she smiled before planting a small kiss there. Addie wordlessly showed her the paint which came away, at which Mirabelle just huffed in response.

“I do not want to be sad anymore around you, my love,” Addie said, pecking her on the lips. Mirabelle tore her gaze away to look down on her lap. But the painter was having none of that as she placed her palm on the woman's cheek to capture her eyes properly.

“Will you just let me make you happy for as long as I am able, please?” she asked earnestly. A plea. Because yes, there is still sadness to be had in the future, so why start so soon when there is still time to be otherwise?

Addie waited as the blue eyes looked at her intensely. She saw indignation flash in them, followed by a desperation, and then finally a determined glint.

“A month, a lifetime?” Mirabelle whispered, acknowledging their pledge.

“Every room, an everywhere,” she replied.

---

 

“You are very talented, my darling,” Mirabelle whispered, her chin resting on Addie's shoulder, standing behind her as they stared at the finished painting of the Fair. “I am sorry if I implied…” she trailed off when Addie kissed her on the corner of her mouth.

“It was lifeless,” Addie admitted, tracing her fingers along Mirabelle's which were clasped around her midriff, “I have always struggled with portraits. And I was not ready to admit that when I accepted your mother's commission in my father's behalf.” She paused, nervousness filling her, for most of their conversations regarding the painting turned to angst.

Mirabelle snuggled against her neck to encourage her to keep going. “I thought it was going to be straightforward, with you. I would have been done in a week, but…” she sighed, “I suppose you were just too captivating to be put on canvas easily.” She felt a nip to her skin for that, and she giggled.

“It is true what I said, when I did not think it was me,” Mirabelle said, “I felt betrayed when I knew of course, but I was also excited to see what you have done…”

“You were disappointed,” Addie said sadly

Mirabelle let out a sigh, “Yes.” And then she turned Addie around to kiss her on the lips, communicating that that was part of the choices they wanted to forget. “You breathed me to life on charcoal, I felt confused by the coldness. Even her eyes were stormy…” she frowned, “I thought that's how you saw me all along. Of course, I had been guarded at first, but I… for someone who thought we were becoming friends, I felt doubly betrayed.”

“I regretted it as soon as I saw your reaction,” Addie replied, “I finished it in a rush. I had been so jealous.

“I should not have implied I was writing letters…”

“I should not have assumed,” Addie paused, “I should have stopped pretending I was happy for your marriage.”

“But…” Mirabelle trailed off, stopping herself before they fell into the same argument.

“Yes, I know,” Addie sighed, “I’m sorry. I don't…” she stopped, “Will you allow me this one selfishness?”

 “It is not selfishness when you know a thing to be yours alone,” Mirabelle said before kissing her properly.

When Addie drew back, Mirabelle pulled at her nape to keep her lips close, “Will you allow me this selfishness as well?” she whispered.

“For eternity,” Addie promised, “In this life and the next.” Mirabelle hummed and then they kissed again.

---

 

After lunch, it was Addie who brought up the idea of a walk, for it felt that they haven't set out of the house in so long. What she did not admit was that she was looking for the right place to paint her beloved in, and she wanted to see her now in every place they had frequented, cast in the new light of their love.

The skies were still cloudy, so the beach was out of the question, so they decided to go to the lake instead. Addie met with Mirabelle at the great hall after she fetched her shawl and sketchbook, and was surprised to see Grace with the woman handing her a largish hamper.

“It is all prepared, my Lady,” she heard the girl speak to Mirabelle.

“Thank you, Grace.”

“Grace,” Addie greeted.

“Good afternoon, Miss Addie,” the girl curtsied, and then scurried off. The painter offered to take the hamper from Mirabelle's hands and they left for their walk.

They had gone for a distance in silence before Mirabelle entwined their hands. This prompted Addie to finally sate her curiosity. “Mirabelle?” she asked.

“Hm?”

“What did you have prepared?” She initially thought it was more snacks, as the hamper was rather heavier than what they usually brought, but the smile on the woman's lips told her otherwise.

“It's a surprise,” Mirabelle said cryptically, quoting Addie from yesterday. The painter just rolled her eyes and was happy to be led along.

When they finally arrived at the lake, she had slowed down her stride as they neared their tree, but Mirabelle just tugged at her to continue along the shoreline.

“Darling?” she asked, for there was intent on the woman's steps that was curious.

“I have not showed you the boathouse,” Mirabelle finally admitted, just as they came up near its steps. “It gets rather cold, but there is a fireplace.” She drew the door open to a single room that appeared wider than it seemed from the outside.

It was much simpler than anything Addie has ever seen in the estate before, barring the stables which were designed so for practicality. In fact, it did not look dissimilar to the cottage they had stayed at in Kent. It was not at all shabby by any means, but coming from the ornateness of the House, this was rather a huge contrast.

The boathouse did not have any partitions. There was a large seating area near the fireplace, and a dining area, all ideal for a family to spend in during summer mornings.

Mirabelle turned to her, took the hamper and placed it on a nearby bureau before wrapping arms around her middle. Addie's eyes shimmered as she beamed at the woman, and then moved in to kiss her.

---

 

After a few hours of making love, they set up their food in front of the fireplace. Again, they giggled at cakes, again they had settled into a blissful cocoon. The warmth inside the room contrasted with the rumble of thunder outside, and soon enough the patter of rain in the lake was heard.

“Goodness, it has begun to rain quite heavily,” Mirabelle commented, staring at the windows while she lay down propped on her elbow, “Perhaps it is best if we stay the night.”

Addie looked at her strangely for there was an odd lilt to her voice, and sure enough the woman kept her gaze averted. There was a prolonged silence as Addie waited for her to say anything further, and then,

“Alright, yes,” Mirabelle capitulated easily, despite Addie not having said anything, “You allowed me one selfishness. And I wanted one night with you all to myself.” She began toying with a stray thread on the carpet and kept her eyes on it as Addie looked at her fondly.

“I wanted to pretend,” Mirabelle continued quietly, “To know what it would be like to live with you.”

Addie's heart squeezed with an ache that has become familiar. And just as well, for this is all she would come to know in the future. There was an unhealthiness in this kind of pretense, but she could not deny the wonder of being yearned after so fervently. She easily breached the short distance between them and pushed the woman down to straddle her hips. Her heart was beating fast as she pinned thin arms above Mirabelle’s head, and gave her a passionate kiss.

“Every room an everywhere,” she murmured, nipping at swollen pink lips. Mirabelle looked up at her with wide eyes. Never has she witnessed Addie so ardent.

Of course, they had made love so many times in the past few days, eager to make the most of their limited time together, but it was Mirabelle who mostly led, and Addie who reverently submitted. Now, there was a fire in the painter's eyes that apparently had given the woman pause, and her chest was heaving. Whether from anticipation or trepidation, Addie did not know.

“You do not know what you're asking,” she murmured, repeating what she said before. Only now it was not tremulous, it was not fearful. There was a sureness in her voice… a promise that would erase the pain that followed that initial pronouncement.

Mirabelle trembled as Addie slowly ran a finger along the curve of her lips, trailing it down the lovely column of her neck, and then lower… lower, to the middle of her sternum, where a rapidly beating heart was palpated.

“I may not have imagined the gestures, but you make a fine educator, my Lady,” she murmured, deviously smiling at the gasp let out when she caressed a nearby part of the woman's anatomy.

“You allowed me a selfishness, as well…” she continued, trailing kisses down the path her finger just took, before pausing to hover her head over Mirabelle's bosom. She met the woman's widely blown pupils, and smirked, “And so, I shall be.”

---

 

Mirabelle may not have known what she was asking, but Addie thought the woman was pleased with the answer she gave anyhow. Now her beloved lay on her stomach slumbering, while Addie looked down on her, tracing soft patterns down the knobs of her spine.

In so many times in the past few days, she still found herself incapable of believing her own desirous nature. Mirabelle was right in asking whether lovers always feel like they are inventing something, for she herself feel invented as a new person.

When before merely a necessity to her art, Addie could now hardly grasp the marvels of the human body. From her training she thought she had already memorized the planes and curves of its form, the flex of its sinew… but it would not have taught her its softness, its sensations that the smallest of touches could elicit, and most importantly, the soul which lay in its every motion.

As she worshipped each and every discovery she found on Mirabelle's person, she greedily kept her eyes open, remembering every movement, every stuttered gasp, every blissful sigh. She studied the expressive inflection of her face, every known emotion flashing in them… for where else would she get her inspiration, but from her lifetime's muse? And even by the time she was done, she hardly thought it enough. This was her selfishness.

Addie still maintained it was hardly sensible of course, for how can she own and be owned, in only a month? But like she already said, Mirabelle is her one certainty. And gradually, she was readying herself to face the world anchored to it.

She watched as the woman’s eyelashes fluttered, slowly coming into wakefulness, her eyes brightened when she found Addie, but it was immediately followed by a pout, as evidently the painter was too far away.

Addie giggled as a hand immediately reached for her, and she hurried to correct her mistake by coming closer and drawing Mirabelle into her arms.

“I did not realize you were so brazen, Miss Adeline,” she murmured into Addie's neck. The painter still blushed of course, but she could hardly feel herself apologetic anymore.

“In this, I defer all responsibility to you, my Lady,” she laughed when the saw the woman look up at her to raise an eyebrow.

“I am quite sure there were certain performances beyond my current instruction,” she said challengingly.

“Were you not the one who impressed upon the necessity of invention?” Mirabelle narrowed her eyes, and Addie gave her a small smile, only the slightest bit conscious, “Was it not to your liking?” she asked, tracing her cheek.

Mirabelle huffed and hid her face on Addie's neck, “As if you couldn't tell,” came the muffled voice. Addie bit her lip from smiling so smugly, but the woman apparently felt her mirth, and pinched her side. She yelped, and tried to move away as searching fingers began to tickle her midriff.

“Stop!” she let out, half a giggle, and half in agony. Laughter filled the air as she was the one pinned down now, struggling against the torturous fingers, “Mira–!”she gasped as the digits were now replaced by lips, “Alright!” she giggled as kisses became nips.

“Do you finally concede?” Mirabelle said, hovering over her. Instead of answering, Addie leaned up to steal a kiss, which easily became drawn out as she pulled the woman down to her. It was easy to roll them over and take her position above Mirabelle again.

“Why would I concede, when I have already conquered?” she mumbled against the woman's lips with a laugh, planting kisses all over her face.

“Pompous does not become you, darling,” Mirabelle huffed.

“Really? I thought you were rather pleased,” Addie smirked, and the woman rolled her eyes. Planting one last peck on her lips, the painter eventually moved to lay beside Mirabelle, but their limbs remained entwined.

“I hope you are pleased that nobody will pleasure me as you have.”

Addie's eyes widened at the crassness of the woman's words. Of course, they had been teasing earlier… but her genteel manners still rendered her embarrassed. Mirabelle herself was blushing violently to have said it, but there was a defiance in her eyes that dared Addie to refute it.

“D-darling,” she stuttered.

Nobody,” the woman reiterated. She had mentioned children last night, of course, and for them to happen, certain activities are necessary. It made Addie nauseous to think about anymore, and she shook her head, hurrying to cuddle against the woman to be comforted. She took strength from Mirabelle's conviction, and found that she was greedy for being glad.

Nobody.

“Good,” she replied, looking Mirabelle in the eyes, the blue eyes sparkled, and she nodded.

---

 

They eventually got up from their cocoon and put on their shifts to get some sustenance. Evidently, the large hamper contained more meals that would last them the evening, and she raised an eyebrow at Mirabelle who blushed. Addie just sighed at her happily before kissing her cheek.

They set up on the couch for neither wanted to be very far from the warmth of the fireplace. Their supper passed in laughter and lighthearted banter. A bottle of wine had been included in her hamper of goods, and both decided to partake  a glass each. It was a glimpse to the nights they could not spend together but Addie's heart was too full to let any melancholy in anymore.

“Why do you suppose we have never met in London?” Mirabelle asked, moving to lie down between Addie's limbs, her back against the painter's front. Addie adjusted them so she could drape a blanket over their legs.

“Hm, I am not sure,” she murmured to Mirabelle’s temple

“I gathered from mother that she and your father were acquainted, and I have even attended many expositions where Sir Robert's art were the best submissions, but I have never met you.”

“Which of his works did you like best?”

Mirabelle paused to think, “The first thing that comes to mind is Girl With a Cat–” she gasped, turning her head to face Addie, “– was it you?”

The painter giggled, “Yes. His name was Oscar,” the other woman grinned at her, “He was very ill-tempered.” They shared a laugh.

“I suppose we have met after all.”

“What did you like about it?”

“I wanted a cat as well,” Addie tugged at her pout, “I was not very happy, but a year later I met Wolfgang and the feline was soon forgotten.”

“Do you think we could have been friends if we met then?”

Mirabelle pondered it for a moment, tapping her lips, “I don't know,” Addie frowned at her, and the woman merely laughed. “Well the girl in the painting was quite boisterous–”

“Boisterous?!”

“She seemed to be very unkempt as well.”

“Unkempt?!” Addie scowled as Mirabelle laughed at her, “I will show you unkempt!” And then she proceeded to avenge the tickling that had been inflicted her. They both fell to the carpet in a tangle of limbs, laughter ringing in the air.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

 

The following morning, Mirabelle woke to the image of Addie half dressed, sitting in front of the window watching the dawn break. The artist had been up early as always, picking up her charcoals to draw her beloved as she slept, and kept on it until the first rays of sun filtered through.

She was soon enticed by the lingering smell of petrichor that matched the serenity of the lake and turned to the windows to watch the morning begin. Still buoyed by the time they had spent together yesterday, she marveled at how a person could be so happy. Addie heard the soft padding of feet, and the softness and warmth that soon engulfed her from behind only compounded the elation she felt.

“Good morning,” a kiss was pressed to her shoulder

“I love you,” she replied, for what else made this morning good?

In the blissful silence that followed, Addie finally realized how she would want to paint her beloved. In a place rooted to her happiness, in a place that hoped for a next life….

“Will you bring me to the Abbey today?” she asked Mirabelle, the woman seemed confused, but she nodded.

“Of course.”

---

 

Addie was glad the sun seemed to agree with her decision, for unlike the cloudy grayness of the days past, the skies were a clear blue around them. She had borrowed Mirabelle's favored blue cloak for this excursion, and the scent which enveloped her just added to the loveliness of the morning.

They set off on the horses at a sedate pace, and to add to the coincidental confluence of comeliness that has besieged Addie today, Mirabelle’s hair was half left down and was gently fluttering in the breeze, as if the Wind itself also wanted to caress it. She had tied it to a bun loosely to maintain appearances around the servants, but the golden copper locks easily fell down in waves when they first set out on a canter. Addie could not stop staring as the woman smilingly told her of childhood tales involving her brother, and of course, “villainous” nannies and governesses.

After they secured the horses, Addie was suddenly pulled in for a kiss, and when they broke apart, she raised her eyebrows at the woman.

“This is where you first called me your beloved,” Mirabelle said simply, “That is what I should have done then.” Then she laughed at Addie's wondrous stare and tugged at her, “Come, the stained glass look better in the morning light.” 

When they made it to the top, Addie was of course still feeling tested, but she had a little faith to go along with it now, considering the love she was gifted.

“You go ahead,” Mirabelle said, pausing by the nave to take care of the locks, so Addie slowly strolled ahead towards the chancel. The woman was right in that everything looked better in the morning. Whereas before she had been too entranced while trailing after Mirabelle, now she took time to take in the detailing of the panels that survived in the ruins.

The Gothic architecture was majestic… she could almost imagine herself as a young novice walking the aisles in service. Addie wished her own works would have that impact for years to come… and while her future popularity might be dampened by her own sex, art was universal. She was determined to contribute majorly to it some day.

She paused right at the bottom of the steps, and turned around intending to call for Mirabelle, but her breath had left her in a soft exhale instead.

The woman had already been making her way towards Addie, and if she did not know any better, the delay had been orchestrated. Whether by the woman's design or by Fate, she did not know. But why did it matter when she was gifted with the sight of her beloved walking down the aisle, while she waited, mesmerized, at the altar. She barely felt the pang in her chest because her heart had doubled in size, and was now thrumming in exquisite rapture.

Her astonishment was beyond expression.

“Darling?” Mirabelle inquired after the aghast countenance she must have been sporting, “Do you like it?”

A beat. “I do,” she whispered unreservedly.

Mirabelle's eyes widened at the words which came out of Addie’s mouth, her cheeks coloring while her lips slowly bloomed into an understanding smile. She stood in front of Addie and taking her hands in hers… made them both an undeniable vow…

“In this life and the next?”

“In life after life, in age after age, forever.”

 


 

“What do you tell your models to amuse them?”

“Are you bored?”

“No. I'm interested in you.”

Addie looked up from her canvas to stare at the woman who was seated on the raised ottoman finally serving its purpose. She pretended to give it a think and gave a small smile as she took in the glowing skin of her lover.

“Your complexion is remarkable today,” she said.

She turned her eyes to the curve of Mirabelle's neck, and the way she carries her shoulders, “You're very elegant.”

She noted the breeding in her posture and the position of her delicate wrists, “You pose beautifully.”

She smirked inwardly at the deepening scowl on the woman's brows, and turned her eyes back to her work, “You're pretty. That's what I tell them.”

“Were there many models?” Mirabelle said nonchalantly after long pause, even though the intensity of her stare was felt through the canvas. Addie hid a small smile behind her painting. 

“Some.”

Silence. “And were they?” Addie finally took a peek at the woman, whose eyebrow was lifted haughtily, “’Pretty’?”

Mirabelle pronounced the adjective so disdainfully, Addie bit back a laugh. And rolling her eyes, she put down her brush and made her way to her silly beloved. Addie planted her hands on either side of the woman's legs, and bent down to capture her petulant gaze.

 “Very much,” she murmured against pink lips before kissing them thoroughly. When she drew back, she smiled as understanding dawned on Mirabelle's face.

“Oh,” Mirabelle pouted. Laughing as she pecked her on the cheek, Addie went back to her canvas.

She paused to look over what she had finished so far. The face was just about done. Aside from her father, she was her own harshest critic, and this one… this one was indeed different.

The eyes which she rendered in cerulean were the first aspects which drew the viewer in. They seemed to shimmer with something curious if one did not have an idea how they ‘spoke'. And Addie, who has been captured many a time by them, heard the message loud and clear.

The nose had again the distinctive bump, only this time she knew it was a ticklish feature, she could almost see it scrunching up in vexation. She giggled to herself at this.

The lips had a gentle curve to them, like they have just relaxed from tinkling laughter, and the chord of amusement still lingered. As if having just elicited mirth from them, it was easy to bring forth more.

The cheeks had a telling blush, and her own felt warm at the thought of what might have caused the coloration. If the viewer had rampant memories as she possesses, they would know what brought this about… but as such, they would have to settle for being curious instead as to the reason. But one thing was clear, this was not the light contribution of cosmetics. Together with the rest they would have seen so far, they would know that the subject was thinking of something that only the person who saw it at the time of painting would know. A conversation.

They would then draw you down the gentle set of the jawline… which did not seem to be clenching with impatience, as most subjects appear to look. It begged you to look further to the column of swan-like neck, which seemed to be almost tilting askance.

The hollow of it… the suprasternal notch, to her detriment, appeared to be almost evocative. The calm shadows of it invited you to rest your ear against it and hear whispers from the subject's heart. Perhaps like an ear trumpet, for in the absence of a bosom to press against, this was the closest you can listen from.

It was all the bust that she had finished, and there were yet the draperies of Mirabelle's gown to accomplish. But as it were, the viewer did not have to see the rest to know that this was not merely a sitter, but a muse.

Addie did not know how long she had been standing there motionless, but apparently it had been lengthy enough for Mirabelle, who stood from her position and made her way to the artist.

As she stood behind her lover, the woman froze.

“Oh,” she whispered, “Oh.”

The painter turned around and faced the real version. She did not know if this was a positive response or not, and she tilted her head in question at Mirabelle.

“It is still unfinished,” Addie fidgeted at the prolonged silence. Mirabelle turned sharply towards her. Her eyes searched Addie's face, before suddenly leaning forward to kiss her.

Addie gasped into her mouth and flung her arms around the woman's neck with a nervous laugh. “Do you like it so far?” she asked, pecking Mirabelle on the corner of her mouth. She nodded, and Addie beamed at her.

“How can this be?”

“What do you mean?”

“It is so different…” Mirabelle's glance was drawn to her likeness once more. Addie felt the same way, but she blushed in pleasure at the assessment all the same.

“I think you know how,” she said, tracing the features she with just caressed with her paintbrush. Mirabelle stared at her again, her eyes now shimmering with something like regret, and prescient yeaning. And Addie, smiling sadly, had nothing else to do but kiss her.

---

 

Their love making that night was full of intent, words and teasing were unnecessary as their hearts spoke for them. Neither were dominating, neither were submissive. It was a dance of equals, matching each kiss with equal passion. Their coupling was now beyond just inventing, or a desperation, or a playfulness, but a different gravity overtook it. A different kind of awareness.

Addie could barely imagine a word that would describe it. When morning dawned, she could not bring herself to untangle from Mirabelle's arms even to draw her. She held her tightly memorizing the warmth and softness that enveloped them both, willing every inch of her person to remember this peaceful moment before they faced the world.

Her heart was bursting… bursting, and through the cracks which occurred because of it, dread inexplicably began to seep in.

 


 

 

“Addie?”

Addie stiffened at the pout which colored the voice, and closed her eyes at the pain which was sure to follow.

“Darling, you weren't–”

She could almost hear Mirabelle's heart stop from her position behind the canvas, and her own toes dug to the soles of her boots to stop herself from running towards her beloved.

“Mother.”

The disparity in the tone of her voice was very evident, it was a wonder why Lady Edgecombe did not even flinch from her inspection of the painting. If anything, Addie was thankful for the hawk-like attention the older woman bestows artwork, because then she was finally able to glance at Mirabelle and look to her eyes in despair. There was an answering pain there, but it was almost immediately replaced with feigned indifference as her mother now straightened.

“My dearest, there you are,” Lady Edgecombe said brightly, as if only now realizing that her daughter had arrived, “Come and kiss me good morning.”

Mirabelle slowly crossed the distance and obliged her. “I… I thought you still had three days in London,” she said, looking very pale.

“Oh well, Isobel sent me a letter that the construction of the new ward has been expedited! A full week early! Isn't it wonderful?” she chattered, not realizing that neither of her companions were as pleased as she. “I simply could not wait to arrive. And my, my, I was led to believe you are taking part in the ceremonies!”

Addie saw Mirabelle smile tremulously. “And to say nothing of Miss Adeline's masterpiece! Has she shown you this, my love? Sublime. Wonderful at genre painting indeed,” the older woman continued, brandishing her hand towards the painting of the Fair.

“Yes, she is very talented,” Mirabelle replied. Their eyes had met then, and sad smiles were exchanged between the two of them.

“Of course, I had to tell your father about my expectations,” the Countess said, turning to Addie, “For I saw him in London at dinner with the Shackletons. He misses you very dearly, I could only assume. He would be very glad for me to finally let you go.” There was a chuckle that accompanied this, but it echoed painfully in Addie's insides which have become hollow.

“Is he well, my father, my Lady?” her voice sounded as if from a distance.

“Very much, very much. Fraught with commissions still, I made sure to let him know you have been made a better assistant from this exercise.”

“Thank you, my Lady.”

“We will just have this brought to the town in time for the opening tomorrow.”

“Of course, ma'am. I will have Matthew prepare it.”

The Countess seemed pleased by this and nodded her acquiescence. “Now,” she clapped her hands, looking back at Mirabelle who had been staring at Addie the whole time, “I want you to come with me, sweetheart. I have brought you a gift. I could not wait until London to show you.”

Addie felt the gaze remain even as she kept her eyes to the floor lest the Pelhams see her tears.

“And what's this about your hair let down? God forbid the servants see you this way…” she heard the Countess admonish from the distance as the door closed behind them.

When it shut with a click, Addie fell to her knees on the floor, and sobbed.

---

 

She skipped lunch, feigning the need for time to supervise adjustments with the framing, but in truth that activity only took a few minutes. Instead, Addie took the unfinished canvas with Mirabelle's face on it to her rooms and planned to stay cloistered there… but being assaulted with the loveliness she portrayed was unbearable.

She hurriedly donned the woman's blue cloak that she borrowed yesterday and set off for the cliffs with her tears streaming as she ran. Addie could barely breathe as she stopped at the edge, and she let out an agonizing scream which were swallowed by the crashing waves.

It was already mid-morning when she finally permitted herself to be disentangled from her lover. Mirabelle had still been fast asleep when Addie pressed kisses to her face in the sequence she preferred, and the painter just smiled fondly when all she got in response was a semi-conscious sigh.

For the first time in days she descended alone to breakfast, only for her to stop on her tracks to find Mrs. Branson there, supervising the service. Addie immediately wanted to bolt, but the housekeeper had already seen her.

After she greeted the woman cautiously, she was informed that Lady Edgecombe wanted a meeting in the saloon in an hour, and she felt her already leaden heart fall.

During the meeting, the Countess was jovial – a deep contrast to Addie's sinking mood– as she spoke briefly of her trip. After covertly putting away her second painting of Mirabelle, she presented her work to the older woman and she stood beside the canvas trembling until her beloved arrived. Who was evidently missing Addie from her bedside. Mirabelle's hair had indeed been let down, as if she had hurried from her rooms to find Addie. And the painter's heart only ached more at being away from her that morning.

Three whole days, stolen from them.

The end was making itself known for this “lifetime" and she… they, were powerless against it. Why was she even surprised anymore when this situation has always been unfair? Collapsing on the grass, she punched the ground until her knuckles turned raw. When she was done, the pain in them were still not a match for the pain in her heart.

---

 

It was nearly dark when Addie returned to the House. She found herself numbed by the cold, and only gave Smith a passing glance as she hurried through the great hall. She hated that she seemed to have ran out of niceties for the day, but she did not have the energy to even try.

When she arrived at her rooms, she was surprised to find the candles lit, as was the fireplace, and when she stepped in further, her heart stopped for the umpteenth time that day.

Sitting under the windows, dressed in the purest white, waiting for her was Mirabelle.  

 


 

Time slowed down around them as they looked at each other. Too much and too little passed between them that day, and both did not have words to articulate the dread that has settled in their hearts. Addie did not know how it was possible to miss Mirabelle this much already– their future parting had just been slapped to their faces none too subtly this morning after all.

She did not think it possible for her heart to have ached more, but it clenched painfully when she realized that Mirabelle was dressed in the gift her mother had brought her.

A wedding gown, it seemed.

Never has Addie marveled and loathed clothing at the same time. Of course, her beloved was transcendent in it. She did not need to feel the material for her to know that it was made of the finest Lyonnaise silk – Now, that was a slap in the face.

Addie begged for her heart to remain hardened, but the image of Mirabelle sitting beside the unfinished portrait was more than enough. Her face crumpled, closing her eyes to temper fresh tears from flowing. And she soon heard the shuffling of silk before she felt the flutter of fingers wiping away silently at her cheeks.

As Addie helplessly let out a sob, Mirabelle’s hand moved down to take hers, but the painter flinched when they made contact. The other woman frowned as she lifted the hand to inspect it, and Addie winced when her knuckles were flexed accidentally.

She waited for the reprimand to come, but Mirabelle only shook her head and tugged at her to the wash basin for her to cleanse them. Addie watched her lips thin as she gently poured water through the fingers, and the scowl began to appear when she soaped them thoroughly.

“Mirabelle,” Addie began. Mirabelle studiously ignored her.

“Didn't you ask me to make you promise?” her voice was a cold hiss after a long silence. Addie flinched as a soft towel was ran through her hands, “To live fully, to live freely, even without you?”

All the painter could do was nod.

“And here I thought you would be returning me the same courtesy,” there was disappointment in her tone.

“Mirabelle–”

“How dare you do this to something that is mine?” she thundered. Addie bit back a gasp at the ownership there. She could not deny it, she had bequeathed her entire person to the woman.

“How dare you ask me to live fully, when you could not be bothered to take care of yourself for even a day?”

Addie made to bow her head, but fingers grasped at her chin, “Look at me,” Mirabelle demanded, “How dare you.” The painter had no choice but to tremble at the fierceness there and pleaded with her eyes. The woman angrily let go and motioned for her to sit on the bed.

Very much scolded, Addie repentantly did as told. Her eyes widened when Mirabelle lifted the skirts of her wedding gown, and appropriated strips of cloth from her own chemise before sitting down beside her to wrap the bruised knuckles.

“I used to fall frequently as a child,” Mirabelle rolled her eyes at the horror in Addie's face, “We can bother Grace for bandages tomorrow.”

They were quiet as she tenderly wrapped Addie's hand. It was ridiculous watching her dressed like so, doing something so menial. Silently, Addie dared to lift her better hand to tuck a few escaped strands of hair behind the woman's ear.

Mirabelle shuddered at the contact, as if the touch was the thing to break her tenuous composure, and a tear fell as she leaned her cheek on Addie's palm.

“I'm sorry,” Addie whispered.

“You were gone this morning, you were gone this afternoon,” Mirabelle said. Addie was silent for she could not defend herself. “You'll be gone in few days, I–” she let out a sob. Addie drew the woman to her as tears began to fall from her own eyes anew.

“And then you return to me this way,” Mirabelle continued, thumping a fist against Addie's chest.

“I'm sorry,” Addie pressed a kiss to her temple. Mirabelle flung her hands around the painter’s neck and nuzzled close.

“How can I be happy when I am out there thinking that you are capable of hurting yourself this way?”

“I did not know this about myself either.”

“If loving me this way is dangerous for you then I want nothing of it anymore.”

“Darling,” Addie said, tilting her chin to look into her eyes.

“You speak of my happiness, but what about yours?” Mirabelle replied, “Do you think me so selfish that I would be happy with this sacrifice–” she said the word as if nauseated, “–without ensuring your own?”

Addie frowned at her. For had she not been resigned to go through life aching for their love? Mirabelle scowled at the look on her face and drew herself from Addie's hold to stand up.

“You do think me selfish.”

“No, Mirabelle, of course not, I…” she trailed off not knowing what to say. She realized she really has not thought about what was to become of her after she left Glenwood.

Art would have been the easiest escape, but how could it be when everything about it has been intrinsic to their affair? In fact, she may have just put herself out of commission for painting anything the next few days the way she had hurt her hand.

“I do not think you selfish,” she whispered, bowing her head, “I just have not realized the breadth yet of what life will become without you.”

Mirabelle moved towards her and kneeled at her feet to look into her eyes. “Then live for me, as I will live for you,” she said, “Bring more beauty into the world through your art, be the best – that is what will make me happy.”

“Mirabelle…”

“Promise me,” Mirabelle said vehemently, a plea that was asking for more than it seemed, “Promise me.

“I promise.”

---

 

They lay together side by side on the bed facing each other still fully clothed. This was feat on Mirabelle's part, as the hoops on her dress were notable. There were no words as they just looked into each other eyes, letting the silence they have been good at speak about their love and their fears. Mirabelle was clutching Addie's hand that was not wrapped in cloth close to her chest, and she was glad to feel the heart beating there.

Slowly, Addie moved her thumb along the material it was in contact with and knew that she was right in identifying this particular drapery. Mirabelle noticed the frown in her mouth and understood.

“They shipped a bolt almost three months ago,” she said, “When the prospect of an engagement was suggested.”

Addie clenched her teeth.

“It is one the reasons why I had been adamant,” Mirabelle continued, “I felt bought in exchange for fabric.” Addie's palm against her chest subconsciously curled into fists. And the woman caressed it before bringing it to her lips to kiss.

“But he seems to be a good man–” a pang went through Addie's heart “–At least that is what I gathered from the letters.”

This was immensely painful to listen to, but the painter kept silent because this was something she knew she had to hear.

“He has inquired after my music, he has spoken of appreciating art,” Mirabelle said, “Two things he does not know you already brought back to me.”

Addie's heart began thumping slowly as the woman unfurled her hand and kissed every finger there.

“I started playing again the day I met you,” Mirabelle admitted softly, “I was so angry. First, I was bought... then I was jailed with a warden to go along with it. Who else to run to but Vivaldi?”

“You said there's not music to be had in the country," Addie whispered.

“The music I already knew stopped being enough.”

At her stunned gaze, Mirabelle smiled ruefully and leaned forward to kiss her. As she did, Addie felt Mirabelle move her hand to run it down the detailing of the stomacher. Instead of pins, there were rose shaped buttons along the sides to secure it to the gown. She felt her fingers maneuvered to feel these buttons, and Addie drew back from their kiss to look at Mirabelle in question.

“I wanted you to see,” Mirabelle mumbled, pressing the fingers closer, "I should be dressed in this for you.”

Addie’s heart thumped wildly as she understood what the woman was saying. Staring into her eyes, she tugged at her hand, and beckoned her to stand up.

She stood Mirabelle in front of the fireplace and mirrored their positions like it was during the first night they consummated their love. Only this time, it was Addie unclothing her.

First, she trailed her eyes down her form... studying the planes, the light and shadows of the gown, circling around Mirabelle as if to memorize every lovely feature, to picture her on the day it was meant to be worn.

Then, Addie reverently went through the rose buttons until the gown was free from the stomacher, and as she slowly pushed it down, she kissed each of the exposed shoulders in turn. One by one the pieces of the intricate clothing was stripped away, unwrapping her gift of love.

When only Mirabelle's stays and her torn shift remained, Addie smiled softly as she tugged at the busk Mirabelle had used today, and recognized it to be the ivory one she had painted on. She placed it down gently before turning the woman around for her to unlace the bindings.

“I have one request,” Mirabelle said.

“Hm?”

“Your initials carved.” Addie’s heart thudded at the implications, but she pressed a loving kiss to the woman's nape in acquiescence.

“As you wish,” she whispered against soft flesh.

When the stays came off, she drew Mirabelle to face her again. She did as the woman did to her before, slowly tracing each feature with her fingers, willing her skin to remember the feel of them.

Her beloved's soft lips, her sharp jawline, her high cheekbones, her ticklish nose. Addie reached up to the pins of the hair to unravel the first feature etched to her heart – the beautiful titian hair – and sighed when the curls fell down in gently springs.

“Delightful in disorder,” she murmured, carding her fingers through them, “’More bewitch me than when art, is too precise in every part.’

Mirabelle was breathing slowly when Addie slowly pulled back, now tugging at the thin cotton chemise to rid her of it. And when she was bare, Addie’s fingers repeated what she had done for the face... down the body…

She wondrously watched as the blush on Mirabelle's cheeks flowed down to her chest like an incarnadine waterfall. A sharp exhale followed when her palm found the softness of her bosom. A ripple of muscle was felt along the planes of her abdomen. A trail of goosebumps appeared as she trailed a finger on the softest skin.

The painter slowly circled around Mirabelle to map the planes of her back…  to map the phenomenal curve of her hips that Addie knew would bear miracles. She slowly travelled her fingers along the arch of them on each side, both hands travelling forward until her front was pressed along the woman’s back.

She let out an exhale at the same time Mirabelle let out a gasp, for her fingers now found their destination. Addie sighed at the feeling of the proof of their desire for each other. She wanted nothing in the world at this moment but for Mirabelle to be loved.

“May I love you?” Addie whispered against her neck.

“Always,” Mirabelle trembled against her.

Slowly, Addie circled the woman again to look her in the eyes as she tugged her towards the bed, laying her on it. Their eyes never left each other as she knelt in front of her beloved in supplication.

A mortal with nothing but her love to offer a goddess.

As she drew closer to the woman's center, she whispered a prayer of gratefulness for letting her know this magnificent love and proceeded to express how beholden she was.

In the same room that witnessed their love become dauntless, now she pledged it limitless.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

 

So, we'll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
   And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
   And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
   By the light of the moon.

                - Lord Byron, "So We'll Go No More A Roving"

 

 

For the first time since arriving at Glenwood, Lady Edgecombe joined Addie for breakfast. The older woman cited the event later in the day as reason for her peculiar schedule, and was due to meet Lady Merton in an hour.

“I do not know how you do it, Miss Adeline,” the Countess said over her cup of coffee, “Always be up this early in the day? Why, I'm barely awake at this hour.”

“A habit, my Lady, from father,” Addie smiled, “He always said daylight is best for painting.”

“Ah.”

What Addie did not say was that she had not slept at all last night, for she stayed awake until dawn to watch Mirabelle as she slumbered. Every second away in a different plane of consciousness from her felt like time wasted.

“I am very grateful for your time with us, truly, Miss Adeline,” Lady Edgecombe broke through her thoughts.

“And I am grateful for your patronage, my Lady.”

“Of course, I am very sorry for having recruited you to my duplicity, but my Mirabelle and yourself have become dear friends, have you not?”

Addie felt her cheeks warm as she nodded, “Yes, ma'am. I am glad to have earned Lady Mirabelle's dear friendship despite everything.”

“And what good has it done too!” the older woman praised, “I have not deprived her of establishing female friendships as it were, but she always was very bored with them.”

Addie nodded.

“Hence, this… arrangement,” she sighed. 'She'll be less bored there,'' the Countess told Addie before. It felt like a lifetime away now. 

"Monsieur Gatreau is an upstanding young man, and evidently they have the same interests!” Lady Edgecombe continued.

The painter was helpless but to reply with a tremulous smile.

“I will also admit I manipulated you into staying long enough to accompany my daughter,” Lady Edgecombe said, peering at Addie, “I have lived her anger as I said, and never had I the chance to let go of it. So I am very grateful for what you have done for my daughter, Miss Adeline.”

She made to reach for Addie's hand to pat it, and Addie stiffly resisted the urge to swat the limb away.

“My goodness, did you hurt yourself?” Having noticed just now her bandaged knuckles.

“An accident, my Lady,” she murmured.

“Ah well. How fortuitous then that we’ll be at the hospital this afternoon?”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“It will not do for Sir Robert to think I have injured you on top of me keeping you from him,” she laughed jovially, but it sounded horrible to Addie's ears. “And speaking of keeping you away, you will be very glad to know that it will not be for much longer–” Addie froze “– for I have arranged one of the carriages to bring you directly to London tomorrow!”

She felt her heart drop to the hollow of her insides with an echoing thud. Tomorrow.

“…not the stagecoach anymore, you were already so inconvenienced arriving here. And without a companion too! You modern women are a marvel— Mirabelle darling!”

Addie was pale as she turned to the new arrival with a horrified look. Tomorrow.

“How marvelous, I suppose this is your influence too, Miss Adeline, my daughter coming down for breakfast.”

Mirabelle kept her gaze on Addie worriedly even as she bent down to kiss her mother's cheek.

“Now, I was just telling Miss Adeline about the arrangements I have made for her convenience going back to London. She will leave tomorrow on the carriage.”

Tomorrow. Addie stared at the cold mask that dropped down Mirabelle's face.

“Tomorrow,” the woman intoned.

“Yes, well, I know you have become close friends, dearest,” Lady Edgecombe said, as if placating a child deprived of her toy, “But we have kept her away too long from her father now.”

“I see.”

“You can write letters and tell her about the wedding!” 

“Wedding?” It was Addie who spoke, but her voice sounded disembodied.

“Yes, hasn't Mirabelle told you?” the Countess asked, “Mirabelle I thought you told her the news!”

Mirabelle looked down on her plate, “I haven't had the opportunity.”

“Well, isn't it just sublime? If it isn't too much, I would ask you to do the wedding portrait as well, Miss Adeline. But as it were…” she trailed off, tossing her hands in a gesture of regret, “The portrait was just a formality apparently, as the Gatreaus have already accepted the engagement.”

Addie was sure that her face had turned into stone as well, for a smile would have been required in this portion of the conversation, but she could not move any of her muscles in response to the news she was being assaulted with.

“They have set it in two months time at Lyon, where else?” the older woman clapped her hands. “There would be so much to do of course, but even so, it would be wonderful. Isn’t it wonderful?”

She must have been overly excited to realize that neither of her companions have been as enthusiastic as she. But both women were saved from responding by the arrival of Smith, who informed Lady Edgecombe that her carriage was ready.

“Well then, what a wonderful morning to have spent with you, my dears,” the Countess said, “I will be back for luncheon to dress then we can all leave together.” She stood up, “Mirabelle, show Miss Adeline the wedding dress, why don't you? She would no doubt appreciate the drapery."

Mirabelle stared blankly at her mother as the woman kissed her goodbye, while Addie was not even able to manage to look up from her plate in farewell.

---

 

It was Mirabelle who moved first after the horrible silence left in the wake of Lady Edgecombe's departure. Without touching a single bite of her breakfast, she rounded the table and tugged at Addie, not letting go of her hand as they made it out of the breakfast room despite the servants milling about. She brought them to the drawing room, and locked it, watching the painter move as if in a trance to sit on her usual chair.

Addie felt the woman move towards her and eventually knelt at her feet. But she looked down at blue eyes unseeing as she tried to make sense of what just happened.  Mirabelle's lips were moving but Addie’s ears, which were roaring, did not hear a sound. The words “tomorrow" and “wedding” kept playing in a loop instead, until it began to sound like gibberish.

“My love?”

It was the sob in Mirabelle's voice that finally snapped her out of her trance. She trembled as she reached for the woman to hold her cheek.

“Tomorrow?”

“Wedding?”

They spoke at the same time. Her heart squeezed into life at  the tears that sprung from Mirabelle's eyes. She slid from the chair so she can sink to her knees beside the woman, both of whom clutched at each other in desperation.

“Why didn't you tell me?” Addie asked.

“It didn't matter,” Mirabelle answered.

How could it not matter? Addie wanted to say, but she kept silent for the anguish with which she might have said it could have led to a fight. And fighting was the last thing she wanted when all that was left them was a day.

“I am married to you in mind and soul,” the woman continued, “Why would it matter?”

“Darling,” Addie's heart was clenching painfully at this.

“I am,” Mirabelle said firmly, looking her in the eyes, “A month, a lifetime. And I am yours beyond a lifetime.”

“And I am yours too.”

“Time and distance are immaterial.”

Addie wanted to believe it too. ‘Immaterial' they may be, but the pain they will cause will still be their reality. “It's going to be alright,” she mumbled into Mirabelle's hair, “It’s going to be alright.”

---

 

Their seating on the carriage mirrored their positions as it was from the Fair. Mirabelle and Addie were both quiet, looking out of their respective windows, lost in their mutual turmoil. Lady Edgecombe on the other hand was again chattering excitedly, always oblivious to the melancholy that persisted around her.

When they arrived, Mirabelle fell into step beside Addie, ever slightly brushing their hands as they walked towards the hospital. A program was going to be held in the greenery behind the structure, and townsfolk had already began trickling in to witness the event. Chairs have been provided for the guests of honor in front of a small stage, and after the requisite greetings, Addie found herself positioned beside the two ladies.

As they waited for the ceremonies to begin, their pinkies found each other, entwined hidden beneath their skirts in the space between them. This minimal contact comforted Addie beyond anything, especially when there was less than a day left to them.

She startled when the grip around her finger tightened, wincing in pain as her hand was still tender. She looked to Mirabelle to remind her, but the woman was staring blankly at a figure behind Addie. The painter turned her head and saw that it was Mr. Richard Marshal approaching. She grimaced.

He bypassed them initially to bestow greetings to the older ladies further in the row, and kissed their extended hands charmingly one by one.

“Lady Mirabelle, how wonderful to see you again,” he said, as he kissed Mirabelle's proffered limb. Addie saw her take it back as soon as the requisite contact was done, and she made to remove her finger from beside Addie, but the painter held on.

“And Miss Adeline,” Mr. Marshal bowed towards her, Addie immediately bristled at the familiarity. Using her first name after one day of being acquainted? How unsubtle.

In a small show of defiance, she risked the faux pas of lifting her left hand instead. The man seemed nonplussed for a second before regaining his composure and taking what was offered him.

“Mr. Marshal,” she said, “I hope you would forgive me for seeming discourteous, but my right hand has been injured and in bandages.” Addie purposefully lowered her voice, “It is rather unsightly, and I prefer not to have anyone be discomfited by it.”

“My goodness, Miss Adeline,” her name again, she rolled her eyes inwardly, “Were you hurt very badly?” She saw the man glance at the hand that was hidden beneath her skirts, and shook her head.

“I was all but a clumsiness on my part, sir,” Addie replied, drawing his attention to her face, lest he figure out that Mirabelle’s other hand was concealed as well. “Thank you for your concern, but I was already nursed exceptionally well, as it were.”

“I am very glad then,” he nodded, “But perhaps, if I'm not too bold, you will permit me to examine it later for my own assurance.”

And why would assuring you matter to me at all? She wanted to scoff. “Sir–”

”Miss Adeline, please,” he said sincerely, but that only made Addie want to stomp on his foot more. “As you may well know, I am a student of Medicine myself,” he stated, “and it would be remiss of me not to share my knowledge for the benefit of my dear acquaintances.”

Addie stared at him.

“And we are dear acquaintances, aren't we?”

No.

“Yes, Miss Adeline, let Richard,” Lady Edgecombe suddenly joined in the conversation, “For isn't he going to be a marvelous town doctor?”

Mr. Marshal let out a chuckle at this, and the Countess let out a titter of her own. “My, I suppose I have ruined the other surprise now,” she continued in a low voice, “When Dr. Tapsell retires, this young man will take over as the local physician,” she clapped her hands, and Addie saw Lady Merton to her side make enthusiastic gestures as well.

At this, the man turned to smile at Addie, “Now that my credentials have been verily proven, will you allow me, Miss Adeline?”

 Feeling horribly put under the spotlight, she gave a brief glance at the older ladies who were looking at her expectantly, and Mirabelle who had her gaze averted. Grimacing at her lack of choice regarding the matter, she gave a small nod begrudgingly.

“Very well sir,” she managed, “I submit to your expertise.” Gratified, he finally bowed to them and left to find his own seat. She felt Mirabelle slowly untangle their joined fingers then. Closing her eyes tightly at the loss, Addie clenched her own injured hand despite the pain, and found it did not ease the disappointment by any measure.

---

 

The program was fine and every body was joyous at the prospect of better healthcare. None of the people present would have noticed the heavy cloud that settled between the two women, even if they sported increasingly stony expressions while the event progressed.

Finally, it was Mirabelle's anticipated performance. Word had spread across the village that the mysterious young Lady of Glenwood would be singing today, and the excitement was palpable as the woman climbed to the stage. Good music was very rare to be had after all, and from a beauteous noblewoman too! Every one felt blessed.

The cheerful bars of music that the pianist began playing was an even a bigger contrast to Addie's mood. She felt her heart thump in her chest as she recognized it – Handel once more, but this time, it was from ‘Acis and Galatea', the “silly" pastoral opera Addie liked but Mirabelle tutted at.

She closed her eyes to fight  the dampness that was beginning in them, and when she opened them, she found blue eyes trapping her just as the song began.

“As when the dove
Laments her love,
All on the naked spray;
When he returns,
No more she mourns,
But loves the live-long day.
Billing, cooing,
Panting, wooing,
Melting murmurs fill the grove,
Melting murmurs, lasting love.
As when…”

 She held Mirabelle's gaze all throughout the aria. It was a song about the softness of love, and befitting to be sung in the simplicity of rural life:

For the rest of the audience, their spirits have never been more uplifted by the divine nymph that serenaded them.

For the Galatea on stage, and her Acis in the seats below, who know what happens next in the libretto - the song has never been more fitting. They both could almost hear the chorus sing, “Wretched lovers! Fate has past. This sad decree: no joy shall last. Wretched lovers, quit your dream!”

---

 

After the ward was officially opened, the guests gathered to mingle over refreshments. Addie’s art had been unveiled as well and was now hung in a place of honor in the walls of it. The painter wanted to approach Mirabelle, but well wishers and admirers have flocked to either of them for their respective contributions, and the headache Addie wanted to feign was waylaid due to courtesy.

When she was finally able to politely break off the crowd, Addie stood for a while at the refreshments table. With her back turned to the party, she pretended to examine the offerings while she tried to tamp down her tears. It was the only deserted area in the room at that given moment, and she easily gravitated towards it to comport herself.

Addie was trying to control her breathing, but her hands which held a glass was shaking, and the liquid sloshed to the white of the tablecloth in front of her. All of a sudden, a soft hand was clasped along her wrist, she did not need to look at who it was as she let out the quietest of sobs upon contact.

They avoided each others gazes as the glass was taken from her hand and placed on the table. Addie trembled when a soft thumb very subtly traced the base of her palm.

She tried to quiet the noise around her and anchored herself to Mirabelle's touch, but all too soon, even this tiny consolation was quickly broken by the arrival of a pair of tittering women who approached the table beside them.

“…how scandalous!” said a poorly concealed whisper

“I imagine her to be very ugly then,” said the other, and they shared hushed laughter.

“Ugly she may be, but Lady Eleanor is very much well-off–”

“Are you saying they maintain their incomes?”

A scoff. “Not very long I hope, I hope verily they get institutionalized –”

“Jane!”

“And why not? I only say it from the benevolence of my heart. Women cohabiting together?” Mirabelle and Addie stiffened beside each other as the nature of the gossip finally dawned. “Why, they need all the help they could get!”

From the corner of her eye, Addie saw one of the gossipmongers nod in agreement. “But you said cohabitation? Perhaps they are just singletons with weak constitution commiserating with each other.”

“Hardly. For The Honorable Miss Sarah is an accomplished horsewoman and very spry.

There was a pause as the woman took in what the other was implying. And then a harsh gasp, “You mean–“ a hand was clapped to a mouth, “Together? But how–?”

“I imagine them to be very imaginative without a man to guide them–”

“Jane, shush!” And they giggled again, “But really, how disgusting!”

“Quite right, and they deserve treatment…”

The voices trailed off as they obtained the snacks they came for, oblivious to the damage they have left in their wake. To say nothing of the unsavory manners… but that was the least of either woman's concerns. Addie was ashen and she saw Mirabelle was too when she finally looked at her. Their gazes met and they stared at each other wordlessly.

Come with me,’ Addie communicated with her eyes, ‘Let us leave now.’

She was clenching her fists as she fought the urge to bridge the distance between them. She saw Mirabelle instinctively took a step forward, but as the world seemed determined to hurt them both today, another irksome presence made himself known.

“Miss Adeline– forgive me for interrupting Lady Mirabelle– but I simply could not stay away any longer, “ Mr. Marshal said, “You must be terribly in pain–” that was something he diagnosed correctly “– why, you look very pale. I must look at your hand immediately.”

To Addie's despair, a poorly concealed snarl appeared on Mirabelle's face before she marched off, leaving an unbothered Mr. Marshal and very bothered her behind. She stared at the retreating figure before the woman was swallowed by a group of ladies conversing.

“Shall we, Miss Adeline?”

She turned to the man forlornly, which he most likely wrongfully took as physical ailment, and allowed herself to be led off.

---

 

Addie winced as her knuckles were accidentally extended, and was unsurprised to find them freshly raw after the many clenching she has done with it today. To his credit, Mr. Marshal was overly gentle as he examined it.

“I thought you must have fallen on it, Miss Adeline. But hm…” he said assessing the nature of the bruising. It was easy to figure out that the injury was not accidental, and Addie was glad the man did not probe further.

“Well it appears to be unbroken since you are still able to maintain a range of emotion, but the swelling might make it difficult for you to do any painting the next few days.” Addie nodded. “Come, let us clean this with antiseptic.”

He moved them both to a wash basin in the corner, “I apologize, but this will sting, Miss Adeline.”

Somehow Addie took this as permission to finally let out the sob she had been holding in… and bit the skin of her better hand as the sharp ache of the solution matched the lancing one in her chest. She was glad to note that Mr. Marshal did not seem unsettled as she continued to cry even when the cleansing was done. And the tears just kept coming as he redressed the injured knuckle.

“I'm sorry, Miss Adeline,” he said, holding the bandaged had once he had finished, “Rest this–”

Both startled when the door opened with a bang. It was Mirabelle and she was sporting a mighty scowl.

“What did you do?” she hissed, eyes thunderous as she took in Addie's crying form and Mr. Marshal kneeling down in front of her.

“I just redressed the hand, my Lady,” the man said, eyebrows lifted at the vehemence he witnessed, “Now I'm just about to–”

“No,” Mirabelle said succinctly, “We are leaving.”

“But I…” He trailed off as the woman marched forward to haul Addie to her feet by the elbow.

“T-thank you, Mr. Marshal,” Addie managed as she gently pried her limb from Mirabelle's grasp. He got up to his feet, looking bewildered.

“Well,” he said, following them to the door, “I have learned that you are to leave tomorrow, Miss Adeline. But perhaps, you would permit me to write you –”

“That is all, sir. Good day,” Mirabelle said as she pushed Addie the rest of the distance and slammed the door behind her.

Once more the painter was tugged by the arm towards the exit, where indeed the carriage has already been waiting for them. She was urged to climb inside first, followed by Mirabelle who immediately knocked on the panel so the coachman will leave.

“Mira–” Addie began, intending to inquire after Lady Edgecombe's absence, but she was cut off by an insistent kiss to the lips that left her gasping in surprise. Mirabelle only took this as an opportunity to deepen it further, swallowing the sob of a helpless Addie as she flung her arms around the woman’s neck. She could hardly be wary of the curtains, which were gladly drawn, not when she longed for this the entire afternoon.

There was a desperation in Mirabelle’s motions as her hand drew lower to Addie's chest, and Addie had to gasp again when the woman squeezed her bosom. The action finally shook Addie out of her trance, she covered Mirabelle's hand with her own and tried to return the bruising kisses with gentle ones.

“Darling,” she mumbled against Mirabelle's lips, who finally let out a sob of her own. Addie drew the woman close, kissing her eyes, kissing  her cheeks, kissing her brows, as she cried.

They spent the rest of the ride clutching each other, desperate for the press of each other's bodies as their time together grew shorter and shorter.

“Another week,” Mirabelle whispered with a plea in her tone, “Another week, perhaps mother will allow it.”

Addie just closed her eyes as fresh tears fell anew. Another week, another day, another second, she prayed silently. But how could it matter when the ending is the same? The rude gossiping they were made privy to earlier was only a taste of how it would be like if the world knew. But she was only human, and hope and neediness were very potent.

Please,” she replied.

When the carriage pulled to a stop, both women slowly drew away from each other, wiping the tear tracks and smoothing down dresses single-handedly as Mirabelle seemed determined not to let go of any of her person. Even when they descended the carriage, the woman was still pulling her along, eager to have Addie to herself.

Their trek was halted by Grace who rushed to them when they arrived.

“What is it now?” Mirabelle snarled, and Addie had to run her thumb against the woman's to calm her.

“My Lady, Miss Addie,” Grace trembled, eyes darting to their joined hands briefly. Addie was waiting for Mirabelle's hold to slacken, but she only held tighter as she tapped her foot impatiently. Grace blushed at the strictness on the woman's face that she hasn't seen for a while and lifted the small silver tray she had apparently been carrying.

“A letter for you, miss,” she said to Addie, “It arrived just after you left for the hospital.”

“Oh, I-”

“Is that all?” Mirabelle asked irately.

“Y-yes, my lady,” Grace blushed again, and scurried off before Addie could thank her.

Once the girl left, she was pulled up the stairs in a hurry and brought to the drawing room. After closing the doors, Mirabelle hurried to take off her hat and gloves, while Addie slowly found her way to the couch, all the while staring at the letter she received.

“Darling?” Mirabelle asked when she sat herself beside Addie. “What is it?” The sense of urgency she had since arriving has now taken on a worried tone.

“It's a letter from father.”

“I see,” although she sounded confused, “Won't you open it?”

Addie kept silent as she was not able to articulate the sense of foreboding that plagued her. After all the disappointments that plagued them today, she somehow felt that this would be no different. She wanted to hold on to the tiny glimmer of hope of more time with Mirabelle, but she sensed it would not be for much longer. Still, maybe if she stopped being selfish, Providence will look kindly on her and grant her her wish.

Trembling, she nodded at Mirabelle, who then got up to get her a letter opener. And in that small pause, she let out a small prayer that everything be well.

.

.

.

It was not.

Closing her eyes tightly at what she had just read, she handed Mirabelle the letter and got up to look out of the windows. It did not take very long for the shuffling sound of papers being put down to make it to Addie's ears.

She waited some more for Mirabelle to process the implications of what Addie’s father had written, and when the woman finally approached to stand beside Addie, their fingers easily entwined between them.

Addie's mother had been taken ill. A woman with a weak constitution, she very rarely traveled with Addie and her father. But when they were home, she was most assuredly their constant muse. Had it not been for Mirabelle, Addie would most likely be relieved by the prospect of a carriage as early as tomorrow.

‘After the feast comes the reckoning,’ she thought as resignation began to settle in her heart. She wanted to apologize to Mirabelle, but it felt wrong to do so. The passing thought of offering to stay despite the letter also felt callous, especially when her heart was being torn in so many directions.

They have had their one happiness, and the universe had now come to collect. Perhaps this was the payment for the selfishness they granted themselves. Slowly, she felt Mirabelle tug at her to draw her in for a hug. She nuzzled her face to the woman's shoulder.

Time goes a running, and it is now time to forget about hope. 

---

 

The quiet that pervaded them both persisted as the afternoon turned into an orange dusk. Now they sat pressed side by side on the sofa still connected by their hands. The promises offered in the past few days lingering unsaid, but ringing loud.

The panic of the day has whittled down to resigned acceptance, and when a knock filtered through their cocoon of desperate togetherness, Addie was not surprised anymore. She brought Mirabelle's hand to her lips, with just enough time to let go as the door drew open.

“There you are, my dears,” said Lady Edgecombe, just arrived from the event, “Darling, has your head improved?”

She came close to Mirabelle to kiss her on the forehead. Apparently, it was not only Addie who thought of feigning a headache.

“Not quite, mother,” Mirabelle murmured.

“Well,” the older woman frowned, “Are you better enough to come and greet Isobel however?”

Silence.

“She has come with me eager to hear the news,” the Countess continued, “Come now darling, I promise it will not be long. We cannot begrudge her well-wishes, can we?”

Addie saw Mirabelle take a deep breath before resignedly standing up.

“Miss Adeline, will you join us?”

“No, ma'am,” Addie shook her head, thinking this would be easier, “If it's not too impolite for Lady Merton, I best get started with my packing.”

“Alright then,” Lady Edgecombe nodded before going ahead to leave. Addie watched as Mirabelle paused at the threshold clenching her fists, throwing an anguished gaze at her. The painter only smiled at her sadly and gave her a small nod.

There was visible sag in Mirabelle's posture as she marched out wordlessly. And wiping a tear that helplessly fell, Addie took in a deep breath of her own before walking out of the room herself.

---

 

It was late in the evening when she had finished putting her art materials away in the huge trunk she had brought. Mirabelle had not come to her, and was most likely still trapped by her mother. After eyeing the crates that had always sat in the studio since her arrival, she decided to appropriate the one she had emptied to serve as a stage, and asked Matthew to bring it to her rooms with a few nails and a hammer.

“Did you want my help with more packing, Miss Addie?” the boy asked.

“No, Matthew,” she said, knowing that this last task was for her alone to accomplish.

“Alright,” he said, fidgeting as he watched Addie linger. The painter was going through the unfinished  paintings she had once unearthed but never thought to examine.

Most were the clumsy renderings of a child, likely either by Mirabelle or her brother, and she allowed herself a small smile at the small drawing of a spotted horse. Wolfgang. There were at least ten frames that had been crammed inside the crate, and when she reached the bottom of the stack, she froze at the familiar image of a gown.

It was the emerald gown on a faceless woman. Addie’s eyebrows furrowed at the realization that this was most likely the work of the painter before her that quit. The lack of identity it posed was evocative to Addie, whose eyes began to tear up.

“Thank you, Matthew,” she said tremulously to the boy, needing to be alone for a while, “Will you bring somebody up to help you with the crate?”

“Of course, miss" the boy replied.

“And might you lend me a lantern?”

 He nodded and then left. At the snick of the lock, Addie fell to her knees on the floor and cried in front of the painting. What had she done, giving away Mirabelle? This was no different from the rendering she sent away.

After this, there was nothing for her to do but pretend that her beloved was just another stiff sitter for portraiture. And nothing to show for it but a dear friendship formed in a month. Their harrowing love will be silenced forever, and it made her angry. Angry. And without thinking about it, she took the unfinished work, and hurtled it into the fireplace.

The crackle of fire was satisfying as she stared at the hearth grimly. This love was not made for obscurity. She watched as the flames take on the subject’s chest initially, like the heart of her was burning – Good, Addie thought. Because theirs was a flame that will be never ending.

---

 

Later as she reverently wrapped her own unfinished portrait of Mirabelle, she made them both a promise, to never let this love cripple the lives they were going to live. Their sacrifice of being apart would never be for naught, as the world of art and music was still theirs for the taking. She promised Mirabelle the best of her work, and so she shall. And since she could not love her the way she was intended, she will love her through the art which brought them together.

When she was finished, she was determined not to make this a goodbye, but a thousand more hellos instead. Going to be made many years over for as long as her future artworks would persist. Her Love was going to remain talking, and loud.

Once the moon was high and the hallways quiet, she put on the blue cloak that she has now determinedly owned, and traversed the secret passageway that connected their respective wings. She knocked once… twice… and when Mirabelle drew her doors open, her heart was even more empowered by the tears in her beloved's eyes.

She held her close as the woman flung her arms around Addie, and after kissing her deeply, asked, “Will you come out with me?”

Mirabelle's eyes widened but she gave a small nod, and she broke off from Addie to fetch her dressing gown.

“No, my love, get dressed,” Addie urged, as the woman looked at her confusedly, “Please?”

At the plea in her voice, Mirabelle frowned but she slowly nodded once more. While she obtained her clothing, Addie walked to the windows to look at the moon. It was a waxing gibbous, and she knew nothing has been more appropriate.

She heard the woman approach as she presented Addie her back wordlessly, and the painter kissed her nape before moving to lace the corset.

“This is my favorite moon,” she explained to the woman, who lifted her gaze to examine celestial body.

“Not the full moon?”

“I love the full moon, but I love this one best,” she wrapped her arms around Mirabelle’s midriff, “After the full moon it starts to wane, but at the 14th night there is still tomorrow… and hope.” The woman slowly turned around in her hold to look into her eyes in understanding, and kissed her.

---

 

The lantern Matthew lent her aided them, but the familiarity of the path leading to the cliffs was enough as they picked through the short distance of the woods.

“Are you cold?” Addie asked, as the sea breeze began to make itself known.

“No,” Mirabelle tightened her hold on Addie's, “Are you?” She shook her head.

“I'm surprised,” the woman intoned, when they emerged at the beach.

“Hm?”

“I thought you would be averse to the darkness,” there was a slow forming grin on her face that finally allowed light to seep through Addie’s weary heart.

“What do you mean?”

“Ghosts?” Mirabelle smirked, “I've never told you but these woods are rather rife with–” She stopped when Addie made to reach for her, and her laughter rang in the dark as she ran away from the grasp.

When Addie finally grabbed her, they tumbled laughing on the sand, as the painter held her close in struggle. “You are so very rude,” she mumbled, as Mirabelle rolled them over so she can look down Addie fondly.

The smile on the woman's face before she leaned down to kiss her was a balm to her soul. As she finally allowed herself to believe that everything will be alright. She need not fear for a sorrowful goodbye anymore.

When they broke apart, Mirabelle giggled, and pulled Addie to sit up with her so they can finally gaze at the moon and the sea she had long been curious about.

“Wow,” she murmured, gaze out to the expanse of shimmering silver before her.

“Is this how you have dreamt it?”

“No,” Mirabelle answered, turning to look at Addie meaningfully, “More than.” The painter smiled at her in understanding and gave her a peck on the lips.

As the woman turned her eyes back to the water, Addie studied her profile – her titian hair was fluttering in the breeze as the moonlight danced along the strands.

“I'll remember too,” she said, at the painter’s prolonged gazing, perhaps understanding that Addie was trying to memorize every feature.

“I'll remember when I first surprised you,” Addie grinned.

“I’ll remember when I first scared you,” Mirabelle smirked, eyes briefly darting to the cliff above them.

Addie scoffed, “I was not scared-!” she paused at the raised eyebrow.

“Really? I thought you would have scurried off.”

“I could not have ‘scurried off', not when your eyes trapped me.” The said eyes turned hardy in jest and Addie laughed.

“I’ll remember the hermit crab,” her eyes turned soft at Addie's mirth.

“Have you kept the shell you picked?”

“Always.”

“I'll remember how you nibble at food.”

“I'll remember your constant quest for snacks.”

“You snacked on them too, if I recall. I was not surprised for all the nibbling is hardly fill–” She yelped at the pinch to her side.

“I'll remember when I first wanted to kiss you.”

“The Garden?” Addie smiled.

“No, the lake.” At this the painter looked stunned, for that was even before the day Mirabelle admitted to realizing her love. “When you told me I was free for the day, I could have kissed you.”

“Oh,” Addie said, before grinning impishly, “Well then why didn’t you? Stealing my sketchbook was hardly a show of gratefulness.”

“It was hardly stealing when all the pictures were of me,” was the haughty reply, “Besides, what would you have done if I kissed you?”

“I'm not sure. I was already curious by their softness even before I understood what it meant.”

“You took your time being clueless.”

“Hm. That's true. I wasted time.”

“I wasted time too.”

Addie took Mirabelle's hand and pressed a kiss to her cheek, “Don't regret,” she whispered, “Remember instead.”

Mirabelle moved so they can press their foreheads together , and nodded against her.

“When were you most happy?” Addie asked, pressing the woman's palms to her cheeks

“Now.”

“When were you least happy?”

A shuddering sigh was let out, “Now.”

Mirabelle grasped her chin to kiss her then, and no more words were spoken as she was pushed to the sand and enveloped in warmth. They lay together just staring at each other until the pink of dawn, during which Mirabelle finally let her tears fall.

“In this life and the next?” she pleaded.

“In life after life, in age after age, forever.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue 

 

 

 

 

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;

Where can we find two better hemispheres,

Without sharp north, without declining west?

Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I

Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

            - John Donne, "The Good-Morrow"

 

The woman awoke with a startled gasp, swallowing lungsful of air as she tried to regain her breathing. She was dying. She had been dreaming she was dying. Slowly she brought her hands to the level of her eyes and stared at them, glad to find barely a wrinkle there.

She thought she could still pick out the smell of sea breeze from the sharp antiseptic that began to overpower her senses, but soon that minimal recollection wafted away when the door drew open to reveal a nurse in her evening rounds.

“Sorry to wake you, Ms. Priestly.”

At her glare, the woman timidly corrected her mistake.

“M-miranda. Just going to take her vitals.”

Miranda wordlessly watched as the nurse proceeded to the bedside to check the monitor. She saw the woman dart eyes nervously towards her direction, and squeaked when she received a haughty eyebrow in reply.

“Well?” she demanded.

“Stable, ma'am– I mean, Miranda,” the nurse grimaced, “It's all waiting at this point.”

Irked at the gentled tone, she waved the woman off. “That's all.”

When the door clicked shut, Miranda finally got up from her uncomfortable cot to stretch. Her lips pursed at the wrinkles she found on her Bill Blass suit. Of course, a sweater would have been more suitable, but she could hardly dress down among strangers. Besides, between rushing from the office to dropping by then getting home to her children, there is always barely enough time to get changed.

 

Upon arrival from Paris, and orchestrating this transfer, she stayed away for nearly a week before finally giving up and gravitating to Presbyterian for a covert visit.

The first night had been precipitated by a disappointing morning and afternoon, and she had just fired a third second assistant in so many days.

The latest blonde had the audacity to snipe that she'd rather be in a coma than be made to follow any more of Miranda's whims, and well… the editor was only too glad to grant her her wish – for who would not want to be in a coma, if jobless in any decent part of the globe?

Nigel had been there to witness the firing, and she thought he would be quick to reprimand her for the extremes of the blacklisting, but the man only stared at her before turning around to exit her office. Not before leaving a painful reminder though.

She is at Presbyterian. But you already know that.”

Miranda glared at his retreating back and swiveled her chair to stare at the windows.

Of course, only a near death experience would be quick to mend any broken bridges. There was no time to be petulant. And the shock aided Nigel along in easily untangling the intricacies of Miranda’s scheming. Jacqueline with James Holt was a death knell to an already dwindling talent. And although the means with which she made that known was roundabout, he was glad to have escaped by the skin of his teeth.

Not Miranda herself, however. Nor Andréa. For they both spent days in Paris in confinement – the former with multiple gashes in the body, which she now hid in her couture, and the latter with a brain injury.

A coup contrecoup injury to be exact. The doctors in Paris spoke of microvasculature and damaging visual systems – and the thought of those doleful brown eyes being unable to see anymore? Well, Miranda had heard enough, and it was easy to decide that only the best specialists were necessary.

When Miranda heard from Emily and Serena that the girl had just been moved from intensive care, there were no excuses anymore for her staying away. She dismissed Roy that evening, as well as her one enduring assistant, and after obtaining The Book, made her way to the hospital without anyone's knowledge.

An early call to the administrator expedited her entry, despite the late hour, and she soon found herself in Andréa's presence. During that first night, Miranda’s first instinct was to stay rooted at the door as she took in the many purple bruises on the girl's face.

Of course, she has already seen a worse image back in Paris, but the peacefulness with which Andréa slept was fearsome somehow, and when a nurse walked in to check on the girl's progress, she hurriedly exited the room and left the premises.

Miranda could not piece together why she had been spooked. Andréa was alive after all. And now could breathe on her own. But the young woman was all alone and vulnerable. She immediately decided that it would not do. It would not do at all.

Inquiries were soon made about parents who only stayed for all of a week before going back to Cincinnati for their jobs. About an ex-boyfriend who already moved to Boston. About childhood friends recently estranged. There was the Runway contingent of course, who made it some of the time… but it was not enough. Especially for an angry Miranda who realized the hypocrisy of not visiting even once.

It was guilt, she tried to tell herself when she came back the second night. For if she had not insisted on bringing Andréa to Paris this would not have happened. But truly, the girl was the best, and Miranda could hardly be blamed for a business decision.

Soon the nights became three… and then a week… and the guilt excuse became flimsier with time. She found herself dropping by for 30 minutes at a time… then it became hours when the twins were at their father's… then apparently tonight, she had even fallen asleep.

Miranda found a live sounding board, and she took the lack of retort as permission to pace around the room to vent. About the divorce, about the press (and this was easily the last hiding place they would find her in), about Irv, about the incompetence of her staff. Anything and everything.

She did not know what Andréa would have said to any of it, because the girl remained unconscious. But Miranda hoped that that compassionate gaze would have surfaced anyhow. If not, well, her defiance would be welcome too. Anything but this continued medically induced impassivity.

---

 

Earlier in the day, before the twins left for their father's, they presented Miranda with a pink portable stereo. “To bring to Andy,” Caroline said, for apparently, they have figured out where their mother had been disappearing to a few minutes after work.

“So Andy will know what we've been talking about,” Cassidy added.

Evidently, they have formed a club of sorts with her audacious former second assistant, and have been exchanging books and CDs under Miranda's nose. The Harry Potter manuscript catalyzed all that and a friendship burgeoned in its wake.

This of course, prompted the twins to want to visit the young woman. And they've apparently already done so with Roy under duress. Then they both tutted at their mother for her subterfuge. Feeling winded at the discovery, Miranda could hardly be pressed to scold her children for the impertinence.

Along with the stereo, they included the recording of a concert, which came with book. And they gave Miranda explicit instructions to have “Andy listen to both.”

“And I am supposed to read this to Andréa?” she asked, raising her eyebrow.

“Because you’re the best at reading stories, Mommy,” Cassidy said sweetly, hugging her waist.

“Yeah!” Caroline did the same for her other side, “Maybe Andy will get better if you do.”

She sighed, proud of the compassion that her daughters possessed, and held them closer with kisses to both their foreheads. They have yet to experience a loved one getting hurt this badly. And Miranda was glad they did not seem to be as traumatized as she feared.

So, that is why here she was now, plugging in the pink appliance dutifully. She placed the unmarked CD on the receptacle and clicked… and listened to a short introduction about the orchestra.

The piece they were playing was a concerto entitled “Un mois, Un durée de vie (A Month, A Lifetime)”, which was a previously obscure work by Mirabelle Gatreau, a socialite in Paris fashion circles. This suddenly piqued Miranda's interest and she drew out the book, which she found to be a biographical work about the woman.

She undid her blazer and draped it on the cot before dragging a chair to Andréa's bedside.

“I am reading this to you, Andréa,” Miranda said, peering at the sleeping woman through her reading glasses, “You can read Chabon when you awaken – yes, I know what you hide in your desk – but as it is, you are stuck with a socialite reading about the life of another socialite.”

She smirked to herself at her cleverness and turned to a page just as the opening bars of the first movement sounded.

Miranda startled. It sounded vaguely familiar. There were sharp sounds, sounding like a storm… Anger, she recognized an anger there. This was the music her children listened to? She raised her eyebrows.

“I suppose this is your influence,” she scowled at an unresponsive Andréa. It might as well have been Metal masquerading as Baroque.

But then the music became unpredictable… fleeting moments of lightheartedness… that dipped into harsh chords… then finally a sedate andante. Miranda had to marvel at the dynamics of what she was hearing. She began scanning the biography just as the music was building up.

“Hm… ’Lady Mirabelle Amelie Pelham was the second child and only daughter of Lord George Pelham, the 7th Earl of Edgecombe, and Lady Harriet Talbot Pelham, Countess of  Edgecombe…

Miranda described the accompanying portrait to Andréa. Lady Mirabelle was a gorgeous young woman wearing an emerald gown. She had red hair, blue eyes not dissimilar to Miranda's, and was wearing passive look on her face.

’Married to Edouard Gatreau, of the Gatreau family, pioneers in the Lyonnaise silk industry'” she paused, “I expect you to know this Andréa, wasn't there an exhibit at the Smithsonian last month? Perhaps the Met could partner with the Costume Institute…” she was already typing a note on her phone. An idea was an idea after all.

The music had now crescendoed… which culminated in the pinging of a high note which to Miranda sounded questioning. Then silence. Then the second movement began, which opened with a gentle piano solo.

Miranda turned the page to reveal another print, this time Lady Mirabelle’s wedding portrait. Obviously, she was always easily drawn by the drapery on a painting, but this time, she hardly gave it a glance as her attention was captured by the face.

Confused, she turned to the previous page to look at the earlier portrait again for comparison. The closed expression of the first painting held a stark difference to how Lady Mirabelle’s countenance had opened up in second one. It was almost like…

Like she had fallen in love…?

“Well,” Miranda murmured, “If only one could be as happy with one's marriage as Lady Mirabelle.”

She stared at the blue eyes of the woman who seemed to be looking back at her from the page. It almost felt like Lady Mirabelle was trying to have a conversation with her. And Miranda suddenly wanted to see the actual portrait for herself.

This prompted her to scan the description for where it was displayed, and she was disappointed to find it was in a gallery in London. Maybe she could make time during Fashion Week next year. The description stated that the painting was gifted anonymously after Lady Mirabelle’s wedding with Monsieur Gatreau.

Art historians have been curious about the background because it did not seem to match the Cathédral Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon where the actual wedding was held. In the 20th century during an appraisal of the Gatreau estate, it was discovered that this was a painting of an “’A.S.’ See page 247.

Sensing some intrigue here, Miranda noted the pagination before returning to the rest of the text to read to Andréa. Lady Mirabelle’s life was very interesting, and she added her own commentary as she thumbed through the book.

The marriage was arranged, following the sending of the first portrait– “I suppose that would be their version of a dating site," Miranda said – and what followed seemed to be a fortuitously blissful partnership.

There were two children, Adeline Henriette and Julien Alexandre. This was accompanied by another picture: Lady Mirabelle seated with a baby in her arms while holding the hand of young girl. The author drew attention to the necklace the subject was wearing, which held a moon-snail shell pendant, ‘see page 301.’

Lady Mirabelle was the envy of Paris circles for her gowns, which were easily made of the finest materials. A socialite she may have been, but she was not ostentatious about it.

“How is that even possible?” Miranda raised her eyebrow.

The woman was mostly only seen in gallery exhibitions and her daughter's concerts, but very rarely in parties.

And Miranda found that she respected that. “I understand how the air of mystery adds to the allure.”

Miranda paused to listen to the music which has now become very romantic. Blushing, she studiously avoided looking at Andréa, as she tried to focus on what she was hearing. The piano solo was now accompanied by sensual woodwinds… an oboe and a clarinet maybe. Almost sounding alike but still completely different. They were complementary to each other. Perhaps like two women? All of a sudden, the music felt alive to Miranda, and she did not even know why.

Shaking her head, she stood up to go to the lavatory to refresh herself. Why did the air feel suddenly heavy? Maybe she just needed more sleep. But no, she had a book to finish, and she felt like a dog with a bone. There was something about this Lady Mirabelle she needed to discover.

Once Miranda comported herself, she returned to Andrea’s bedside to continue reading to her. The second movement of the concerto had ended, and she was glad not to blush anymore as mournful music began.

Her embarrassment was transformed into trepidation at hearing this kind of music in the hospital. But Miranda did not skip through it for she realized that there were two stories being told in the room at that moment: of Lady Mirabelle and by Lady Mirabelle.  

She skimmed the text regarding Lady Mirabelle's charitable work, her exceptional horse riding, and finally settled to read on the subject's contribution to fashion.

The woman was very practical and was one of the few who advocated pockets be sown into petticoats. She designed most of the gowns she wore, and there were a few in her wardrobe that survived.

“I think I have finally decided on a theme for next year's Gala.”

Miranda studied the pictures. One, in particular, was a curious ivory busk which seemed to have been painted on, but sadly the drawings were poorly preserved. Only a carving at the back survived, which was an inscription reading, “A.S.”

Miranda’s eyebrows lifted. There definitely was a recurring theme here.

And then she finally made it to the chapter which will address her curiosity: the woman's art patronage. The Gatreau estate amassed hundreds of paintings. Some were inherited by Lady Mirabelle herself, some were her own acquisitions, and some by her children's thereafter. The collection was displayed in museums all over the world, for part of the woman's will decreed that “beauty is meant to be seen, and hoped lived in"

“I like this woman,” Miranda told Andréa.

Lady Mirabelle's most prized possessions were a series of 50 paintings with lovers for subjects, which she obtained following her husband's death. Most art historians believed it to be her way of mourning him. But in the recent years, other academicians began to doubt this proposition.

“Intrigue, finally.”

Following the series of appraisals in the early 90s, all 50 paintings were discovered to be inscribed with initials, just hidden beneath the frame. And again, they were all by an “A.S.”

There were some members of the Royal Academy in the same time period with the same initials, so everybody hurried to speculate as to this mysterious artist. There was an Andrew Stuart, for example, a Sir Anthony Saberton, and a Sir Alexander Safford – who was the most popular candidate, for didn't Lady Mirabelle name her son Julien Alexandre? But then again, her husband’s grandfather was also named Alexandre…

“Really, Andréa, gossip in the academe is not much different.”

It was only in the 2000s when someone realized that there was also another “A.S.” in the R.A. at the time. A Miss Adeline Sandford who was a very popular portraitist and genre painter. And was one of the few elected female members in the academy, alongside Angelica Kauffmann.

This time, nobody was in a hurry to point out that Lady Mirabelle's daughter was named Adeline Henriette. Miranda had to roll her eyes.

“I'll do my own research on the matter,” she murmured determinedly.

It was not apparent which candidate the author favored. This was a factual retelling after all. There were no surviving letters or diaries to corroborate the claims anyhow. But the writer did include the scan of a scribbled footnote on one of the music sheets that was only unearthed recently.

 

The last time I saw A.S. was at the Opéra. My beloved was crying. She did not see me.

“Well,” Miranda murmured. Glancing at her own A.S. who was still slumbering. How painful for a love to become obscure.

One day Miranda will be ready to dissect what she had been feeling for almost a year now, but it would definitely be expedited once Andréa woke up.

“You better–” she stopped herself before letting out a harsh exhale, and for the first time, since starting this ritual visit, she moved to clutch the young woman’s hand tightly.

“I am waiting, so you better,” she said imperiously.

Miranda kept her hold on Andréa as she paged to the last chapter regarding the woman's music. Lady Mirabelle was a late bloomer in the sense that she had only studied music theory upon coming to Lyon, which was an education encouraged by her husband. She apparently wrote many concertos until her later years, most of which were undiscovered until the late 90s.

Her earliest work was the music that just played, Un Mois, Un durée de vie, which to Miranda explained the curious dynamics. It is said to have been originally written as a piano solo, but with the expansion of her talent, Lady Mirabelle apparently began adding to it until she had completed a piece for an entire orchestra.

Records say that it was performed once at the Opéra in the 1800s, with her daughter, Adeline, as the accompanying soloist. People believe now that Lady Mirabelle could have been just as accomplished as Clara Schumann even, but she has been very selective with what work she shared, and that's that.

Regarding the moon snail shell necklace, Lady Mirabelle apparently had a fondness for it. For it was found that most of her surviving music sheets had drawings of the shell in place of the G clefs.

Lady Mirabelle Gatreau lived a very full life until her 70s. She died in a cottage by the sea, surrounded by her children, near their family estate in Glenwood.

When Miranda finished the book, she felt strangely discontented. There seemed to be more to this woman’s already colorful life that was still gray. Much like her own, at present, like she was waiting for a grander revelation still.

Morning had began to dawn, and the music had stopped playing for a while. As Miranda watched Andrea slept… as she felt a whisper of motion in the hand held in hers… she felt her soul slowly awaken.