After three days, Whitney’s efforts to be either demure or absent had, in fact, been so successful that Anne was beginning to wonder whether she had only imagined the spark of fire she’d glimpsed the day of their arrival, or if the girl had some aversion to Edward and herself.
On the fourth day, when Whitney breakfasted before the rest of the household was up, and then vanished, Anne set out to discover the truth. She searched the house, but Whitney was not indoors. She was not in the garden, nor had she taken a horse from the stable, Anne was informed by a groom. Squinting into the sunlight, Anne looked around her, trying to imagine where a fifteen-year-old would go to spend all day.
Off on the crest of a hill overlooking the estate, she spied a patch of bright yellow. "There you are!" she breathed, opening her parasol and striking out across the lawn.
Whitney didn’t see her aunt coming until it was too late to escape. Wishing she had found a better place to hide, she tried to think of some innocuous subject on which she could converse without appearing ignorant. Clothes? Personally, she knew nothing of fashions and cared even less; she looked hopeless no matter what she wore. After all, what could clothes do to improve the looks of a female who had cat’s eyes, mud-colored hair, and freckles on the bridge of her nose? Besides that, she was too tall, too thin, and if the good Lord intended for her ever to have a bosom, it was very late in making its appearance.
Weak-kneed, her chest heaving with each labored breath, Anne topped the steep rise and collapsed unceremoniously onto the blanket beside Whitney. "I-I thought I’d take … a nice stroll," Anne lied. When she caught her breath, she noticed the leather-bound book lying face down on the blanket and, seizing on books as a topic of conversation, she said, "Is that a romantic novel?"
"No, Aunt," Whitney demurely uttered, carefully placing her hand over the title of the book to conceal it from her aunt’s eyes.
"I’m told most young ladies adore romantic novels," Anne tried again.
"Yes; Aunt," Whitney agreed politely.
"I read one once but I didn’t like it," Anne remarked, her mind groping for some other topic that might draw Whitney into conversation. "I cannot abide a heroine who is too perfect, nor one who is forever swooning."
Whitney was so astonished to discover that she wasn’t the only female in all of England who didn’t devour the insipid things, that she instantly forgot her resolution to speak only in monosyllables. "And when the heroines aren’t swooning," she added, her entire face lighting up with laughter, "they are lying about with hartshorn bottles up their nostrils, moping and pining away for some faint-hearted gentleman who hasn’t the gumption to offer for them, or else has already offered for some other, unworthy female. / could never just lie there doing nothing, knowing the man I loved was falling in love with a horrid person." Whitney darted a glance at her aunt to see if she was shocked, but her aunt was regarding her with an unexplainable smile lurking at the corners of her eyes. "Aunt Anne, could you actually care for a man who dropped to his knees and said, ‘Oh Clarabel, your lips are the petals of a red rose and your eyes are two stars from the heavens’?" With a derisive snort, Whitney finished, "That is where I would have leapt for the hartshorn!"
"And so would I," Anne said, laughing. "What do you read then, if not atrocious romantic novels?" She pried the book from beneath Whitney’s flattened hand and stared at the gold-embossed title. "The Iliad?" she asked in astonished disbelief. The breeze ruffled the pages, and Anne’s amazed gaze ricocheted from the print to Whitney’s tense face. "But this is in Greek! Surely you don’t read Greek?"
Whitney nodded, her face flushed with mortification. Now her aunt would think her a bluestocking-another black mark against her. "Also Latin, Italian, French, and even some German," she confessed.
"Good God," Anne breathed. "How did you ever learn all that?"
"Despite what Father thinks, Aunt Anne, I am only foolish, not stupid, and I plagued him to death until he allowed me tutors in languages and history." Whitney fell silent, remembering how she’d once believed that if she applied herself to her studies, if she could become more like a son, her father might love her.
"You sound ashamed of your accomplishments, when you should be proud."
Whitney gazed out at her home, nestled in the valley below. "I’m sure you know everyone thinks it’s a waste of time to educate a female in these things. And anyway, I haven’t a feminine accomplishment to my name. I can’t sew a stitch that doesn’t look as if it were done blindfolded, and when I sing, the dogs down at the stable begin to howl. Mr. Twittsworthy, our local music instructor, told my father that my playing of the pianoforte gives him hives. I can’t do a thing that girls ought to do, and what’s worse, I particularly detest doing them."
Whitney knew her aunt would now take her in complete dislike, just as everyone else always did, but it was better this way because at least she could stop dreading the inevitable. She looked at Lady Anne, her green eyes wide and vulnerable. "I’m certain Papa has told you all about me. Fm a terrible disappointment to him. He wants me to be dainty and demure and quiet, like Elizabeth Ashton. I try to be, but I can’t seem to do it."
Anne’s heart melted for the lovely, spirited, bewildered child her sister had borne. Laying her hand against Whitney’s cheek, she said tenderly, "Your father wants a daughter who is like a cameo-delicate, pale, and easily shaped. Instead, he has a daughter who is a diamond, full of sparkle and life, and he doesn’t know what to do with her. Instead of appreciating the value and rarity of his jewel-instead of polishing her a bit and then letting her shine-he persists in trying to shape her into a common cameo."
Whitney was more inclined to think of herself as a chunk of coal, but rather than disillusion her aunt, she kept silent. After her aunt left, Whitney picked up her book, but soon her mind wandered from the printed page to dreamy thoughts of Paul.
That night when she came down to the dining room, the atmosphere in the room was strangely charged, and no one noticed her sauntering toward the table. "When do you plan to tell her she’s coming back to France with us, Martin?" her uncle demanded angrily. "Or is it your intention to wait until the day we leave and then just toss the child into the coach with us?"
The world tilted crazily, and for one horrible moment, Whitney thought she was going to be sick. She stopped, trying to steady her shaking limbs, and swallowed back the aching lump in her throat. "Am I going somewhere, Father?" she asked, trying to sound calm and indifferent.