My head is spinning.
When Ms. Sophie left our house I ran back into the kitchen after showing her to the door and fetched a big glass of water draining it to the last drop. My throat was stinging, dead dry.
At first, I thought it was one of those times when Ms. Sophie came up with an idea that slowly Mr. Elliot would dismantle, piece by piece until even Sophie would find it a bad idea.
But this time Mr. Elliot was not here to do that, was he? She came alone and surely she did that on purpose. She knew Elliot would make her go back on her plan.
When I used to spend time with Margret in her home she was always teaching me how to sit on the chair, how to have a cup of tea, how to keep my back straight, even how to laugh, lightly and dim like almost the sound of a mountain river.
"Ross doesn't care about these things, I'm sure. That America has taught him to be so easy and relaxed, so much himself," Ms. Margret used to tell me whenever she found my struggle to learn from her being too hard.
A bitter smile would always betray how much she was missing her son.
"And you Hattie, you can be with him just the way you are, be yourself, but in public, you should watch your manners, young lady," she scolded me when complaining and not wanting to continue.
For me it had been always a game, I never took those things seriously. How much I wished I could do the same now.
That one look he gave me that day, all frowned and swimming in anger made me feel so far from him, from his world.
It sent me right into my place, the servants' place.
And still, here I am, rolling those times in front of my eyes like it has been yesterday, and on top of that, I'm negotiating our marriage with Ms. Sophie.
What in the Lord's name am I doing? What? I cannot believe I agreed to it!
Thoughts and questions in doubts are crowding in my head and I'm just about to run outside and fetch Ms. Sophie's carriage and tell her that this is one crazy plan and I'm not going on that path, not in a million years.
Panic engulfs me all over squeezing my throat. I can't breathe. I feel myself choking trying to gulp air and I think it's all in my head but then I see Theresa running towards me, stretching her arms as if rushing to fetch something it becomes very clear to me that I'm collapsing.
She speaks something in a stir and then I see Mrs. Greta bending over me with eyes gauging and filled with panic.
Her lips are moving and she seems to be shouting for something or to someone but my vision fails me and I let the darkness take me over because the more I struggle to fight it less power I have.
I'm going to faint. Again.
I wake up, God knows how long later, with the smell of vinegar stinging my nostrils but my eyelids refuse to open.
I'm sitting on a chair in the salon and I can see the doctor next to me shoving a candle under my eyes, burning my irises.
I try to push it away with one hand that I can hardly move but before I acknowledge my situation I feel myself lifted from the chair and the next thing I know is the fresh smell of my pillow. I'm in my room, I know.
Shades are running around me and voices intertwine filling my eardrums with the noise I wish so much it stops.
One voice becomes distinctly louder and I hear Ms. Greta.
"I have told her so many times she should stop this stubbornness of always working something. Doctor, this is the third time she faints this month, and still, you cannot tell us what is the reason or what is the treatment," she says and I can feel anger in her tone.
"Rest! All she needs is rest and when I say rest that means lying in bed, sleep long and rested. She has been through rough times all too long. She won't recover in a few days, it might take weeks or even months, but what I know for sure is rest, sleep, good food, and fresh air is what she needs to get better. And she will. Trust me," the doctor replies and I do admit he is right.
My childhood has been hard, losing my parents has left me confused and lonely. And I miss Ms. Margret so much. So much that sometimes I feel the pain stabbing my heart, even after years since he has passed away.
I'm almost completely awake, rolling my eyes around the room and I can see the doctor exiting, giving me one more look and a wink before he closes the door behind him.
"Rest and feed yourself. You'll be just fine," he encourages me and closes the door before I offer any sort of reply.
Ms. Greta turns her eyes to me seeing the doctor talking to me and a smile blooms on her face. A small, worried smile, but it's still a smile.
I hate to worry her.
"Hattie! Oh God, Hattie. You woke up. How are you feeling dear?" she asks bending over me.
She really looks worried. I try to pull myself up and lean against the bunch of pillows I have on my bed and which are nicely placed one on the top of the other to sustain me.
Oh yes, I'm having my very own room and bed. After Margret passed away Greta and Edgar asked me to move into their home permanently and become their protégée.
Truth be told, I have always felt them close and they treated me as their child since... since I know myself.
"Ms. Greta, please stop worrying so much. I don't understand why the fuss," I try to cheer her up with a small joke.
"Why the fuss?! Why the fuss?! Young lady, watch your tongue first! Secondly, this keeps happening way too often this month and I do not like it. And this marriage thing came right in the most unfitted moment," she complains and it's only now that I do realize how worried she is.
Her eyes are glazed with tears as she tries to look away and hide them.
Right, the marriage. That was it. The thought of it choked me.
"I don't t-think I can do it," I stutter and lower my eyes landing my glare on my lap.
And right there and then Ross's hard stare filled with pain in that night of 8 years flashes in front of eyes.
It scared me, it made my blood freeze, and yet I felt sucked in those dark blue eyes like the cone of a storm sucking me in the middle.
"We can still reject, Hattie. We can still go back on it," Ms. Greta tells me.
"And Mrs. Sophie? No, I could never do that to her," I sigh deeply, sucking air in my lungs then release it slowly, hoping that all the worry will go out together with it.
But it didn't.
At Theron's, chatting time in the library after dinner was an everyday custom. Each evening they were long and tiresome, sometimes tense.
Elliot and Ross were always taking everything seriously, especially that Elliot was working in the city hall, which came with plenty of responsibilities but Ross would always have different opinions about how things should be done.
Of course! America changed him, a lot. Principles, views in politics and business were from the most daring ones and most of the times Elliot would find them too loose, too simple to work, although they worked just fine on the new continent and in his son's business.
When talks were issuing sparks and the two men were ending up by shouting at each other, Sophie would come downstairs and send each one to his own room. Most of the time it was quite late at night.
But tonight Sophie has other plans. As usual, they are all in the library now, Ross filling himself a new glass of whisky, Elliot rolling a cigar between his fingers, and Sophie having her usual rom tea.
"Dad, you can never convince me that Gerard Samuelson is the best choice for mayor," Ross says in a low voice.
Wide shoulders, straight back, hair fixed with perfumed oil towards the back of this head but from time to time he would brush his finger through it and messing it up.
No, suits are way too stiff for his linking. The jacket is thrown on the sofa right from the moment he has entered the library, barely keeping it on during dinner.
He opens a wooden box and picks a thin brown cigar and lit it.
"He's the best among all in the present council. I know him for too many years not to understand that he can do the job," Elliot replies.
"Which job, Dad? Kissing royal butts or organizing charity receptions? Being the mayor is not about that, Dad. This city needs a young man for a mayor. We need revolutionary ideas and real support for the local businesses. I feel the need for support for my business and there is no way I'll give up on that printer house. You can't imagine the potential it has," Ross replies sucking long from the cigar.
Ross would always call Elliot "dad", just like those American brutes that knew nothing of class standards and etiquette, as Sophie used to say.
"What do you need? Just tell me and I'll do my best," Elliot offers.
"Dad it's not only my business that needs support. There are all the other businesses. Coal mines, for example. Do you know how many workers die in the galleries because the owners don't receive financial support or subsidies for better equipment? And that while coal is the most used source of energy."
"Ross, budgets are limited," Elliot tried to reason.
"Okay, leave that. Do you remember a few years back when it came the case of those poor rotten ladies found buried alive at the forest house?" Ross continues, looking very much decided to completely change his father's opinion.
"Oh, Lord. Please... not something I fancy to remember," his father replies.
"Well, who did it? What happened? Three years later and we know nothing about it," Ross insists.
"This will have to be solved by the police, son. Please fix me one more glass," Elliot asked and Ross stands up to grab the glass from his father.
"It doesn't matter in the hands of whom this matter is. The mayor should have it all in control. He should interfere in all aspects and needs of the city," Ross concludes handing the glass to his father and throwing his drink down his throat in one move, putting off his cigar.
"At least this is my opinion since you've asked for it. And as much I would love to chat some more about this I'm dead tired. I really need to get some sleep tonight."
"Oh, you don't go out tonight?" Sophie becomes suddenly interested.
"No. I could really use a long sleep," he replies.
"Then walk with me to my room on your way to yours," Sophie suggests while standing up and looking at him with a meaning, maybe two.
"Sure, Grandma," he answers lifting his eyebrows in surprise.
Obviously, Sophie has something to say. It's her usual way to let Ross know a matter needs his undivided attention.
So, with no other introductions, Ross offers his right arm to his grandmother and she gallantly grabs it, standing up and wishing Elliot a good night.
"Good night, son. Good night, Mother" Elliot replies decided to hang a little bit more and finish his glass of whiskey reading the local newspaper.
Sophie and her grandson walk slowly towards the library door and then head towards the stairs.
She can't have enough of her grandson, watching him through her eyelashes while walking towards the stairs, bewitched by his handsome look.
She has always been his precious to her boundless delight and sometimes her mean to make a bundle.
Did Ross know that? Of course. And he has always enjoyed it, spoiling her rotten.
Out of habit he's reaching his hand to his pocket and pulls out one slim Havana, grabbing with his teeth and searching for his matches, unaware of his grandmother's dislike.
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