Defining Moment

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In Which Maggie Takes a Walk

The heavy door swung slowly open, and Maggie sucked the fresh air hungrily into her lungs. The side street before her was shrouded in shadow, but Maggie could see the brightness of the main street up ahead, and the people walking to and fro. Glancing quickly about her, Maggie tucked her sketchbook more firmly under her arm, settled her bonnet, smoothed the tail of her braid, and stepped forth into the street.

An incongruous mixture of the poor and rag-tag, and the welldressed and wealthy thronged along the streets before the large dark mansion. Maggie paused and looked up at it's exterior for the first time in seven years, and thought how it had not changed a bit from the way she remembered it. As if it was yesterday, Maggie could remember kind James helping her alight, and saying, “So this is to be your new home... I hope we may meet again someday,” and Maggie replying lightly, “In heaven...

Her feet took her toward the park, her memory serving her well. She came to the first cross street, and immediately her surroundings changed. What a funny city, she thought. A lovely park, surrounded by fine houses, and then a street of ramshackle dwellings, with and one large country manor in the midst of it. Finely dressed people drifted to and fro over the green and about a small well-kept pond; two ladies and a little girl with a parasol sat upon a blanket watching a tall lad and a bearded gentleman toss a ball, and a man in a bowler hat stopped to let his dog sniff a rosebush, from which fluttered at least ten startled sparrows. Maggie smiled at a woman passing with a pram, and resolved that she must come here more often.

She seated herself upon a bench by a little trellis covered in a blossoming vine, and pulled out her sketchbook, smiling as she opened to a page filled with Olivia in various different frocks of a fantastic and elaborate nature. Turning to a fresh sheet, Maggie began to sketch the rich blooms before her, and did a quick study of a tiny lad in a sailor suit chasing a bewildered duck into the water. Time passed quickly, and Maggie was not aware that the sun was high in the sky, and everyone began to either return to their homes for a midday meal, or stop in their activities and unpack a picnic luncheon.

Maggie so busy was watching a nurse separate two children squabbling over a jam sandwich and laughing to herself at the unfolding drama, that she did not notice a young gentleman present himself at her elbow, and examine, with interest, the drawings she had laid upon the bench. He cleared his throat at last, and Maggie glanced up, startled.

He was a young man in his twenties, perhaps, and dressed in a fine suit that fitted perfectly his athletic figure. He had a wide brow, snapping dark eyes, and sandy-brown hair. His nose spoke of a determined will, while his mouth and chin told of a pleasurable upbringing. He was altogether pleasing to look at, and seemed to be the sort of gentleman old dames looked after and said, “Now there's a proper man for you.” Still, there was a sparkle of elf-like mischief about him that was quite fascinating to behold.

“Miss,” the young gentleman bowed. “I'm sorry to trouble you. But I couldn't help but notice your drawing. It is awfully fine.” He indicated the rich sketch she had just finished of an obliging sparrow who posed for her just moments ago.

“Oh – I'm glad you like them.” Maggie smiled, and rose, curtseying. “I am Maggie Clancy.”

“Phillip Melville,” he said, flashing a smile. “I have always wished I could draw, if only to capture the beauty that nature daily sets before my eyes. Or at the very least, the interest –” He indicated with a laugh the nurse and the children. Maggie laughed too.

“It's very amusing to watch people, is it not?” she asked, as Phillip seated himself upon the bench beside her.

“Oh yes. I come here often. But I have never seen you before. I'm sure if I had, I would have remembered – such red tresses, and such talent at drawing...” he shook his head, and brushed a wisp of sandy hair back into place. “I don't know how you young ladies can manage.”

Maggie gave him a queer look, something still striking her has familiar about him. “Are you sure we have never met before?”

Phillip shook his head. “I'm sure of it. I should surely remember you if we had.”

“Never mind,” Maggie said. Phillip looked surprised.

“You aren't – excusing yourself, then? You don't have to leave, I hope.”

“Oh, no.” She waved a hand. “I could stay here all day.”

“So could I,” murmured Phillip, entranced by every motion of the beautiful girl next to him. “Do you live here?” he asked presently.

“Well – not here...” Maggie gestured about her. “But in this town, yes.” Phillip laughed again, a happy ringing laugh.

“Well, that's what I meant. I came here, oh, about a year ago. Goodness, it hasn't seemed that long, but I suppose it has been. But once I came, I knew I never would want to leave.”

“Where are you originally from?”

“After your wont,” Phillip stood, putting a hand into the flap of his vest, “from my mother and father.” He winked. “Not far from here. But I've been most everywhere. Have you ever been abroad?” Phillip spent the next half hour regaling Maggie with tales of his travels and various frolics about Europe – pranks played on little old Italian marketeers, pastries snatched from unsuspecting Parisian shopkeepers, hiding from chaperones and tutors in ancient castles in Germany... “It was so boring – dashing about and hiding in the stables was much more interesting that hearing the old greybeard drone on and on about who lived where and when and why they were all named Ludwig...” Phillip chuckled.

But Maggie's face sobered. “You know, history is really not like that,” she began timidly, but Phillip erupted into laughter.

“Of course it is! You are so polite. But doesn't that sound like good fun? I assure you it was.”And Maggie reluctantly agreed that yes, it would be grand to visit far off places and do whatever you pleased.

“I have never traveled anywhere at all, aside from where I was born, my boarding school, and here,” Maggie admitted. Phillip looked surprised.

“My! You must be pining to do something! I can't stand to stay in one place very long, though I do fancy it here, and think I'll stay a while. Where would you go if you could go anywhere?”

Maggie had to think for a while, and then she said, “I should like to see Stonehenge, I think.”

Phillip looked at her. “Really? That's not very far.”

“But that's what I'd like,” Maggie asserted. “I've read so much about it, and no one seems to know who made it, or what it was made for. No one, except one person...” she finished quietly.

Phillip didn't hear her last remark, but, sprawling his arms out across the back of the bench, he tipped his face toward the sky. “I'd like to go back to Italy. It is so warm and pleasant there always. It takes a lot of money to live in Italy, but that is no trouble. My father is rich and doesn't care what I do. Does your family live here?”

“I live with my godfather,” Maggie said cautiously, wondering how much she was allowed to tell of her strange life. “Mortimer –”

“–Cadogan, Esq.?” Phillip's stared at her. “He is your godfather?”

“Yes,” Maggie admitted. “What do you know of him?”

Phillip laughed lightly. “Nothing. No one does. He lives by himself – or so we all thought – in that huge dark fort and never comes out, nor sees anyone that people know of.”

“I never met him before I came here; when my mother died, I was left to his protection,” Maggie said.

“And some protection it is! I'm glad he lets you out for walks, at least. This is such a pretty place to come and spend a day.” Their conversation there came to a pleasant stop, and Maggie realized she should be getting back.

“It was a pleasure to talk with you, Mr. Phillip,” she said, rising, and looking for her sketchbook.

“A pleasure I hope I shall have again.” Phillip extended her drawings her to her, but when Maggie reached to take them, he snatched them away, and held them behind his back, a twinkle in his eye. “I must see you again,” he said. “Promise me you'll return.”

And Maggie did

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