Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Eavesdropping on ladies isn't gentlemanly behaviour, but best friends William and Richard can't resist. Yet deception always falls short.
Richard Witticker dragged me behind the ghastly curtains of the Harrison’s drawing-room. He stepped on my boots as we scrambled to stand shoulder to shoulder, away from sight. The lovely Harrison sisters were not long behind us; I could just hear their footsteps over Richard’s nervous mutterings.
The quaint affair was being held at Mr. Harrison’s townhome near the center of Brighton. Richard, my best friend since school, had insisted I join him for reasons he would not explain.
“You will understand once we arrive, Will. Do not make me say it,” was all he had said.
I suppose the fact that Mr. Harrison had invited Richard at the request of Miss Jane Harrison explained it all.
Mr. Harrison had let us in before he was called away to a business meeting. Richard and I had taken advantage to do what gentlemen should not—eavesdrop on ladies. The problem was that Richard had been taken by Miss Jane Harrison for weeks now and hadn’t worked up the courage to ask her The Question, even though her father had publicly proclaimed his approval of Richard on multiple occasions.
“This is a terrible idea,” I whispered. But I didn’t move from behind the curtain.
Everything had started last April, when Miss Jane Harrison and her younger sister, Anne, had arrived in London for the season.
Miss Jane had walked into the dance hall in what I can only describe as an outfit that spared no expense. That had raised enough eyebrows, but her hairstyle was a hairpin scandal in the making. It should have been expected, I suppose, for Mrs. Harrison is the Eccentric of Brighton.
No, I had looked away from Miss Jane. It was her sister, Anne, that had caught my attention. It’s strange how the same color eyes, green, can look so different from one sister to the next. Miss Jane had eyes like a storm. Miss Ann’s eyes were a midsummer’s dream.
This visit to the Harrison home was Richard’s last chance to ask Jane The Question before we had to return to London. Depending on the answer, I imagined he wouldn’t want to come home. But, when I thought of Anne’s eyes…well, I had to hope for my friend’s happiness for selfish reasons too.
I shushed Richard as the sisters’ footsteps grew louder. I pressed my back against the wall, doing my best to disappear.
Richard picked at his nails as the two ladies entered.
I peered through a tattered hole in the curtain. Miss Jane was a tall and intimidating young woman. Like the wind in fall, she entered the room, everything sweeping up in her wake. She fanned herself lazily, eyes and mind out of focus. Her hair was styled similarly to her sister’s—up in a bun with curls framing her face. Anne, however, didn’t have the ostentatious silver hair ornament. Anne didn’t need jewelry to be lovely.
“Our father is a good man, certainly, but his taste in decorations…it does sometimes fall short, don’t you think so, Anne?” Jane said.
Anne took more after her father. She was short, petite. With her brown hair and dress of white and blue, she was like a sweet jar honey that I wanted to whisk away and never return.
“Whatever do you mean, Sister? I thought you were finding father’s new additions this evening to be quite lovely,” Anne said.
“Nonsense,” Jane tittered.
“I saw you eyeing Mr. Witticker as if he was the finest portrait in England. Stop with the act, sister. It doesn’t suit you.”
I gave an encouraging nudge to Richard. He covered his mouth with his hand. I hadn’t seen him that happy since Christmas when I had bought him a chocolate lab.
Surely, it was a good match. A much better match than this room and those bloody curtains. My dearest friend was going to be wed. And I’d get to dance with Anne at the wedding.
“So what if he’s handsome?” Jane asked with a huff of indignance. “That doesn’t mean I fancy him. At least he had good taste in shoes, I suppose.”
“Please. We’ve been listening to gossip for weeks and the only criticism I’ve heard has been from you.”
Richard’s smile faded. His expectations had gotten ahead of himself. Mine as well.
Jane sniffed. “He follows Mr. Will Hart around like a puppy. How is anyone supposed to talk to Mr. Witticker if he’s attached to his brother in all but blood at every waking hour?”
“So, you are interested in Mr. Witticker?” Anne stifled a laugh.
“If I tell you then you must return the favor. Please, enlighten me on whatever is the matter with Mr. Hart.”
Yes, I would like to know as well.
Anne said, “You mustn’t make fun of me.”
Jane swore she wouldn’t. I didn’t quite believe her, but it seemed that Anne did, because she said, “I think I may have given him a wrong impression of me.”
“How so?” Jane asked.
“I can hardly say a word around him. It’s the strangest thing.”
The breath was knocked from my chest. I suppose I hadn’t noticed Anne’s shyness because of my own. Richard’s face was bright red; he looked close to laughter.
Anne continued, “He’s tall and charming, but I do think he’s a bit oblivious. Still, a man could have worse faults.” Her voice quiets when she adds, “It gives him a boyish charm, indeed. Makes him less intimidating.”
“Of course Mr. Witticker is just the same. Perhaps talking to him alone could ease your nerves,” Jane suggested. “This is the last chance, unless you plan on rushing off to London.”
“Yes, you’re right. Would you mind distracting Mr. Witticker for me, Jane?”
Jane snapped her fan closed. “Anything for my dear sister. We had best go to the dining room. Father won’t be along for a while yet. Perhaps we will find our guests there.”
And with that, the Harrison sisters left the drawing-room.
Richard burst out of the curtains.
“She is fond of me. Miss Jane Harrison thinks I’m handsome…and charming! This is better than I ever could have imagined!” He laughed. “And you, you sly dog.”
I stayed behind the curtain, sheepishly studying my shoes.
“Richard,” I said, a crack in my voice.
“We’ve got to get going. We must sneak out the front door and knock as though we’re just arriving. Then I’m going to do it, Will!” he said, walking to the door with a bounce in his step. “Hurry, we must go quickly.”
I stepped out from the curtain before he could turn around. “Of course, right away.”
“She’s going to be so surprised!” Richard said, clapping his hands.
I think quite not. I could hardly inform him that the curtains didn’t reach the floor. Miss Jane would tell him someday, I was sure.
By Kelsie Colclough
Kelsie Colclough holds a BA in English & Creative Writing from Staffordshire University. She has been published in Variety Pack, Corvid Queen, and Palm Sized Press. Her mini chapbook Apple Skin is soon to be published with Sword & Kettle Press.