XIV. Coming Home
Stop staring, you wanton. This is not how the lady would act in your place! Her mind reminded her before she was asking for her mother. And as if summoned by the magic itself, Lady Lockwood was bursting into the room and hugged her tightly as if she would never let her daughter go again.
"Oh, Darla! You're here. I thought you would never come back again to the estate," her mother mumbled before she was breathing in the familiar scent that told her it was her mother. Darla hugged her back before Lady Lockwood was putting her at arm's length and looked at her face.
"Look at you! You're thin and your face is covered with dirt. I don't think Norkins was changing you for the better, darling," her mother complained before Darla chuckled softly. Then, she noticed that someone was standing behind her mother.
"Oh, I did not see you there, Madame Flemington," Darla said before she turned to look at her former mentor. She curtsied as Lady Ashley was nodding at her.
"I see that my lesson has not gone to waste," the old dowager stated before Darla was beaming at her.
"Why thank you, my lady. I have been teaching manners to the children as well," Darla stated before she saw a glimpse of Lady Ashley's smile before she went to go outside the painting room. Her mother insisted that she should clean up before meeting her father.
"He will be thrilled that you're home, darling. And I can tell that he is looking forward to seeing you," Lady Lockwood said before Darla glanced over her shoulder to see that James was still stiff in the painting room as if he saw a ghost.
And that ghost was Darla in the flesh.
I cannot believe it. She's here. She's finally here! James' mind was racing as he was staring after Lady Darla Lockwood that was walking to her bedchambers with her mother in tow. He gulped before the old butler told him to step away from the broken glass.
So much for controlling your surprise, he thought before he was moving toward the library in the estate. It was located next to the dining hall and James thought to spend some time there before the dinner was being called. And, he also needed to be ready to meet Darla once again.
James browsed the shelves that were available in the library at Lockwood Estate. Most of the ledgers were about the tenants' history and the rise and the fall of the estate. He went to another section and then, he found out a photo album of the Lockwood.
He took it out and flipped it open before he quickly understood that it was a photo album of Darla when she was growing up. James smiled as he was looking at the old album photo and the growth that he saw in Darla.
He also noticed that she would smile at everything whenever the painters were trying to capture her portraits. And her parents decided not to throw them away and put them in this album.
"She's a wonder, wasn't she?"
James startled before he turned to look at Lord Lockwood who was smiling at James. He turned to look at the photo album in James' hands before he closed it.
"Yes, I supposed for a child," James said nonchalantly before the baron was chuckling softly.
"And why would you be saying that son?" he asked James as the baron was asking him to follow him. He was still walking around with his cane before they found a spot and the baron took his seat at the divan. James sat in front of him.
"Why would I be saying what?" James asked him, dumbfounded that he said something that would offend the master of the estate that he was staying at. Lord Lockwood chuckled again before a servant was carrying a tray of hot tea and biscuits for them to enjoy. They were served before they were left alone again.
"That Darla was a wonder when she was a child. Now, she did not wonder anymore when she grew up to be a lady?" the baron asked before he took one teacup from the saucer and sipped on it. James was staring at him before he helped himself to a cup of tea as well and sipped on the hot tea.
It was raining outside so this set of hot tea and biscuits will soothe their coldness into something bearable.
"I'm sure she's a wonderful lady with a marriage prospect from someone that you trust, my lord," James said, trying to neutralize the situation that he might have ignited the fire inside Darla's father. Lord Lockwood chuckled.
"And who do you think would be the great candidate to be Darla's husband, James?" the baron asked before James was staring at him. Lord Lockwood set his amber eyes, the one that Darla inherited from him, on his face before he smiled.
"I don't know. Someone that suited her station, I suppose. And someone that Darla might love from the bottom of her heart as well," James said with honesty that his heart was beating so loudly inside his ears.
I just hope that Lord Lockwood will not be hearing this, he thought before he was looking at the baron. Then, the baron smiled at him.
"And do you consider yourself to be that man, James?" Lord Lockwood asked before James blinked his eyes at him.
"Think about that, will you?" the baron said before he left the library as he stated that he needed to get Lady Lockwood to arrange for the early supper. James sipped on the hot tea as the rain was pattering on the glass before he was pondering on the question that will definitely leave him wondering what the hell just happened.
Darla has gotten rid of her riding habits as her maid was helping to get it off from her body. She unlaced the lacing of her corset before removing it as well as the bodice and the skirt with the slits. She pulled the shirt above her head, leaving her only in her chemise as the servants have filled the copper bathtub with warm water.
"It is ready for you, my lady," the maid stated before Darla was dismissing them. She wanted to be alone for a while after that encounter with James in the painting room. Her heart was pounding inside her chest as she removed the chemise and got inside the bathtub.
Darla sighed as she was taking a rag and lathered it with lemon soap before she was washing the grime and dirt away from her skin. The sweat that has been accumulating under her breasts was washed away.
Then, she leaned back in the bathtub before she listened to the splatters of the rain on the window. Darla was looking at the candlelight that illuminated the dressing room as she was alone and pondering on her own thoughts. Her mother was eager to see her but what about her father?
Will Lord Lockwood happy to see his daughter back under his roof? What if he decided to keep her here? What will she do if she had to go back to Norkins?
Her thoughts shattered when the maid was helping her out of the bathtub and dried her up. They put on the yellow evening gown that complimented her skin nicely before she was being ushered to the vanity to do her work and put on her jewels. It has been forever since Darla was draped in jewels.
She did not have the luxury to put them on when she was at the orphanage. She wanted to diminish her upper-class upbringing so that the children will like her more and she will be comfortable from not having the gap between social classes.
She sighed when the maid left her alone. Darla was looking at her transformation from a barmaid to a princess in one evening. It has been her intention to wear something simple in Norkins and pawned her jewels away to buy stuff for the orphanage. Perhaps she can get some of the jewels pawned away and buy some linens again.
Then, there was a knock on the door.
"Coming," she said before her delicate slippers were put on her feet as she was rushing toward the door and opened it. Darla was surprised to see that James was in front of her room as she was looking at his handsome face.
Her mortal enemy.
"Oh! I thought—"
"Your father sent me up to fetch you. Apparently, you need an escort even in your own house," James stated as he rolled his eyes at her. Darla frowned.
"Then, perhaps you shouldn't do it, even if it was under my father's command," she said as she slipped her hand against the crook of James' elbow and they descended the stairs.
"I would do it but he is the master of the household. I don't want to freeze my butt in the cold weather tonight just because I cannot escort his daughter to the dining hall," he replied begrudgingly before they were moving toward the dining hall.
Darla could not help but noticed that James was wearing a white shirt underneath his black waistcoat and a pair of black breeches. It made him look dashing in a rogue lord style.
"Here we are," he said as they went inside the dining hall before the only seating that was available for them was on the left side of Lord Lockwood with two sets sitting side by side.
Now I know why they wanted James to fetch me, Darla thought as this will be one dinner to go through with her mortal enemy sitting next to her.