Gretna Green - A Victorian Novella (Our Story Begins, page 1 of 23)


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- Our Story Begins -

England-Scotland border - May 2nd, 1832

Patrick stared out at the rolling green landscape that stretched beyond the coach window. He didn't see any of the renowned countryside, swept past on a furious gallop of four horses. His body was present, but his mind was back in London, three hundred miles away.

She might have been perfectly lovely, he mused. They might have met and discovered a likeness in temperament and tastes, a civil affection which would pass the years of their marriage comfortably, if not passionately. Then again, they could be mismatched puzzle pieces, forced and straining through a miserable tenure until aged deafness or death presented their only hope of relief.

No.

He clasped a hand to his coat, and pressed his heart's rejection against a letter concealed there; a mandate from his older brother which he was violating with each northward bounce of the stage. Whoever she was and whatever they might have been, his decision to flee the betrothal contract, no matter its inconveniences, was infinitely preferable to the unknown.

Eager for distraction, he sized up the petite confection seated across the carriage, trying to reconcile her being there and prevented by good manners from asking. She couldn't be more than sixteen, he guessed, by a girlish fullness which hadn't faded entirely from her cheeks. Ribbons, ruffles, and embroidery in a pastel rainbow hinted at money as much as a cultivated straightness of her spine. The cream silk of her little bonnet was spotless despite the dusty road, making it clear that she had brought along more than one. He wouldn't call her pretty. In his experience that was a term applied to girls who were comely enough but without much hope of future blossom. Her full lower lip and a chin just showing a sculpted maturity hinted at genuine beauty on the horizon.

Until now her attention had been fixed outside, brow furrowed at the passing of the craggy sameness beyond their little window. As though suddenly aware of his examination, she turned now and painted him with a bold once-over of her blue eyes. "Miss Blake."

"Pardon?" He was nearly deaf from two days of continuous rumbling and a forced silence he'd enjoyed with a changing cast of companions. The musical and womanly richness of her voice surprised him, gentle to his ears.

"Miss Blake," she repeated. "And you are?"

She was so boldly earnest, so frank, that he almost laughed. "Mister J.P. Field, of Mayfair," he returned formally. "Known to my close acquaintances as Patrick."

A nod. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

He made a cursory lift of his hat. "Likewise, Miss Blake."

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