|"Are you really going to do it?" Felicity asked, seeing her sister put on the red flannel petticoat. |
"It is Leap Day. And what greater leap for a woman than to enter into marriage."
"But to propose ..."
"I have had no offers thus far. And I dread to be named 'spinster'."
"But Charlie, for sure you could do better."
"Mr. Goodberry has been calling upon me for three years now. He is a gentleman of means and would make a safe choice for a husband."
"He is a dullard, dear sister. If he had anything about him he would surely have asked for your hand long ago."
Elizabeth stood before the mirror. "Will you fasten me, Felicity dear." The younger girl began the buttoning. She got so far and then stopped.
"What is the matter, dear sister?"
"Elizabeth, your dress has shrunk. It will no longer reach."
"You are polite as ever, sister. What you mean is I am fat."
"I would never ..."
"You would never. You are too kind. Beware Felicity, your kindness may be taken advantage of. I am fat. All the more reason for wanting a husband before I reach the proportions of Aunt Mildred."
"For shame. You deride the sister of our dear Mama, she who has been so generous of spirit." Felicity felt the colour rising in her cheeks. She was not given to bouts of temper.
"Generous? She would see us all starve to fill that belly." Elizabeth fought back until she saw tears in her sister's eyes. "My dear sister, we must not fall out so." She took the younger girl into her arms. "Help me find a gown that will accept my ample proportions."
"You do know what day it is?" Phillip asked his dear friend.
"I have not now or ever had a wish to call upon Miss Elizabeth Arbuthnott. It is Mama who insists that I do so."
"Why do you always dress thus for your visits?" Phillip asked, seeing his most admired companion in the garb of a gentleman farmer.
"Would you have me dressed in my London finery?" Phillip was picturing Charlie in his peacock waistcoat which so showed his physique.
"But on this day of all days, is it not a risk?"
"That lady would not dare."
Charlie rode up to Alston Manor to be met by the butler. "Miss Elizabeth awaits you in the rose garden, Sir." He took the reins and Charlie dismounted.
Phillip rode not far behind, afraid the lady may dare.
"I can see you," Charlie called out to young Felicity hiding behind a tree. The girl giggled and disappeared behind the hedge.
Elizabeth floated through the rose garden, cupping and sniffing the early buds. Her hair hung loose, moving in the breeze. "Ah, Mr. Goodberry, you startled me." Charlie was aware of the small face watching from the arbor. As Elizabeth moved he caught a glimpse of the red petticoat.
Hooves thundered as Phillip galloped between the pair. He pulled his steed to a halt, grabbed the hand of Charles Goodberry and pulled him up into the saddle. With a wave of his hat he rode off.
As the dust settled, Felicity ran to her sister with a sad look on her face.
"Worry not, dear sister, I had a need for a good supply of new gloves and I feel Mr. Goodberry might include a few other fripperies."