It was the weekend before Christmas and the weather was quite un-wintry, the sun having shown brightly for the past several days making the snows of November a mere memory. It seemed as if everyone was enjoying the sunny day with a stroll along the twisting, tree-lined paths of the centrally located town park.
Grace walked a few steps behind her parents. Her younger sister, Courtney, walked beside her. Like everyone else, they were dressed in their finest clothing, the gentlemen wearing pressed pants and jackets with leather boots polished to a shiny sheen; atop their heads sat top hats of beaver fur. The ladies wore brightly colored silk dresses which they carefully held to keep hems above the damp ground as they balanced the weight of their fancy bonnets and bulky petticoats on narrow buttoned-up shoes.
Grace hated the scratchy petticoats and uncomfortable bonnet. She hated the binding shoes and the way her feet protested each step. And she wished she could just turn on her heels and return to their house where she could remove the offending shoes from her feet. But she knew doing so would scandalize her parents so she forced her lips into a smile and waited for the inevitable. Her parents stopped frequently to exchange pleasantries with business associates and acquaintances after which her father would introduce some young man to her. As was expected, she would hold out her gloved hand for the prospective suitor to lift to his lips before she retrieved her hand while murmuring an acknowledgement of his fine manners. Then her father would bid the young man farewell with a cheery request that he consider courting his delightful daughter.
"I wish we'd get some new blood into this town," Grace told Courtney after they continued their stroll.
Courtney tried to hold back a grin. "Why, dear sister, do you not approve of these fine young men?"
"Fine young men, my-"
"Hush! Father will hear you."
"I've known these boys all my life. I've attended school with them; played in the park with them. And there isn't a single one I would consider worthy of courting me."
Courtney laughed. "Well, aren't you little Miss High and Mighty."
"No. But I am not going to spend my life being bored out of my mind. Good thing we'll stop for a cup of tea while Father and Mother do their shopping, my feet hurt."
"If you wore shoes more often, your feet would get used to them. After all, a lady does not walk barefoot," Courtney said haughtily.
"Who ever came up with the idea for buttoned-up shoes and layers of petticoats should be shot," Grace groused as she struggled on the path's uneven surface.
"I'm sure if you ever meet them, you'll do just that," Courtney said grasping her sister's arm in an attempt to keep her moving at a reasonable pace.
"As soon as Mother and Father leave us to do their shopping, I'm hiring a cab to take me home."
"How will you pay for that?"
"I'll offer you in trade," Grace threatened pulling her arm free.
"Hurry, father is waiting." Their parents had reached the end of the path and were standing impatiently next to the street that separated the shops from the park.
Their father reached into his vest pocket as they hastened to join them. "Here is enough coin for a pot of tea," he said holding out his hand. "We shall not be long. Wait for us in the café."
"You have no intention of waiting in the café, do you?" Courtney confronted Grace once the others had walked away.
"I suppose I'll have to," Grace said as she counted out the coins in her hand. "There is not enough for a cab."
"Perhaps, I might offer an alternative."
Grace looked to see two young men sitting in a small buggy. "Have we been introduced?" she asked.
"No, unfortunately not," the young man holding the horse's reins replied. He wrapped the rawhide around the brake handle then hopped to the ground and walked to where Grace and Courtney stood. "But we have just now arrived in your fine town and if you will allow we shall introduce ourselves." Grace nodded. "I am Tristan Mathews and this is my brother, Frank. His manners are not as refined as mine as you can see," he said when Frank remained in the buggy. "And may I ask your names?"
"Grace Butler," she said holding out her hand which was immediately grasped in a firm but gentle hold. "And my sister, Courtney."
"Grace," Courtney hissed. "You can't speak to them."
Grace smiled. "My sister seems as ill-mannered as your brother."
Tristan laughed. "You were in need of a cab?" he asked after brushing her hand with his lips. "I shall be honored to take you to wherever you wish to go."
"Hush, brother. Climb down from there so that this fair lady may take your place."
Courtney gasped. "Grace, you aren't going to get into that buggy."
Grace turned to face her sister. "Here, go get your cup of tea and wait for Father and Mother," she said as she lifted Courtney's hand and folded the coins inside it.
"I assure you of your sister's safety." Tristan told Courtney as he assisted Grace into the buggy. Then he turned to walk around to the opposite side.
Frank quickly followed his brother. "Tristan," he said grabbing his arm and forcing him to stop. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to take her home, as she wishes."
"What do you think she'll do when she discovers you're not a man?"
Tristan smiled. "I don't know why but I really don't think she'll mind." He paused before climbing up beside Grace. "I'll return for you, brother. Why don't you wait for me in the café?" he said with a wink. Then he joined Grace and untied the reins. "Lead on, my lady."
Story by: MICKEY MINNER
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