I hurried out of the house, struggling to get my bonnet strings tied, trying to quickly escape the dreary hopelessness of Maria's unknown troubles. Her whole countenance, although much more sedate then was her usual nature, seemed to trouble me more than her previous persona. There was something so flat, so hopeless in Maria's quiet stillness and wakeful watching that I wanted to run away from it all, to shake my sister, to get her to speak. More than anything I wanted my sister to tell me the secret that seemed to chill her to her very core.
Walking at a brisk pace down the street, I glanced idly at the shops, not interested in anything. I had planned on purchasing something for Aunt Georgie's wedding, but the thought of approaching any other human being right now, in my present mood, did not appeal. However, I knew I had to do something, so I forced myself to go into the next store, a small shop that sold bonnets, ribbons, and trim of that sort. I forced myself to look interested, and soon discovered that I no longer had to pretend - I was truly enjoying myself.
The store was quaintly decorated, without being showy, and I strolled luxuriantly around the store, looking for something that satisfied my tastes. Suddenly my eyes rested on the most beautiful bonnet, made of gleaming golden straw. It was tied with a wide satin ribbon, a ribbon that was the exact shade of lavender I needed - the color of my gown for the wedding. I felt a moment's hesitation; who knows how much this lovely headwear may cost? But it would do no good to guess. Meekly lifting the bonnet off of the display, I went to the counter at the front of the shop, where a rather gruff old man stood. His eyes seemed to glare out at me from under his bushy eyebrows, and for one moment I forgot my purpose in approaching him. But I swallowed quickly and opened my mouth to speak.
"Sir," I began softly. "How-how much would this bonnet cost?"
"That bonnet?" the gentleman said, still gruff.
"Yes, this is the bonnet I meant."
The older man seemed ready to frown, but then a smile lit up his face. "For you, madam, nothing."
I blinked, aghast. "You-you mean to tell me... that it does not cost anything?"
"No, no, you may take it."
"Sir, that-that would not be right of me."
"No, no, I insist upon it, miss. It will look lovely with those dark ringlets of yours." He motioned towards a curl that had escaped from the bonnet I was wearing.
"Oh! Oh, well, thank you, I thank you most gratefully, sir!" I gasped out.
"You are welcome, miss."
I turned to go, but then the gentleman called me. "Young lady! What would your name be?"
"Eva-I mean to say, Evelyn Wickham, sir."
"Wickham? Is your last name truly Wickham?"
"Yes, sir," I answered.
"Is your father's name George Wickham?"
"I knew your grandfather," the gentlemen said softly. "We were great friends as boys."
"Sir," I said shyly. "What would your name be?"
"My name," he replied, "is Lowell. John Lowell."
My meeting with Mr. Lowell seemed to be an act of Providence. I walked out into the street, thinking things over. It was then that I happened to glance as the sky, then shrink back in dismay. The blue sky seemed to have disappeared, being replaced with heavy, dark clouds that seemed to glower at me. The whole climate threatened rain.
Luckily, my new bonnet was wrapped well in brown paper and tied with string. I worried not for my own attire, but rather for my lack of direction. As the sky grew darker, I began to have a sinking feeling in my heart about how to get back to out townhouse, into which we had recently moved, leaving the much-less tasteful inn. I turned this corner and that, but only succeeded in confusing myself more and more. By the time the first few raindrops began to fall, I was thoroughly, completely, and hopelessly lost. Just at that moment I slipped and twisted my ankle dreadfully.
Sinking down onto the walkway, I slipped around the corner into a small, uninhabited alley. There I awaited help, and the stop of the rain, whichever happened first. I tried to be optimistic, but as the rain poured down in torrents that seemed never to end, my situation began to feel more and more drab. My eyes brimmed with tears, and one or two spilled down my cheek.
"Madam, is something the matter?"
I jumped at the sound of the voice. Turning around, I beheld the most handsome gentlemen I had ever seen. He had dark curly hair, warm brown eyes, and a very reassuring manner. My heart started to beat wildly and I brushed the few tears away fiercely, enraged that this handsome stranger should see me crying.
"Madam?" The gentleman was clearly still waiting for an answer.
"Oh-oh, no, no, I'm fine," I said quickly.
"Pardon my interference, but you seem lost."
"Oh, well, you see, it's just my ankle. I will be fine-"
"No, no, I couldn't allow you to walk on that foot. Here, let me help you home." He held out his hand to me.
I grasped the man's hand gratefully. The stranger swept me into his arms and proceeded to carry me home, so as not to worsen the poor condition of my ankle.
"Where do you live, miss?"
"Just down the street. The address is 105 North-"
"Oh yes, I am very familiar with that area." He smiled down at me. I felt a warm heat creeping into my cheeks and realized I was blushing.
"Do-do you come to London much, sir?" I asked, by way of changing the subject.
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do. I live just down there." He pointed down the street.
"Oh, that's a lovely house!"
"Yes, I quite like it myself. It has been in my family for years. Here is your house now, miss," he said, placing me lightly on the ground.
"Oh," I sighed, feeling regret that he had to leave. "Wait!" I called at his retreating figure. "What would your name be?"
The man turned. "My name is Edmond. Edmond Kingsley. And your name is..."
"Eva?!" Maria gasped in a shocked voice, staring out at me from her open window.
I quickly straightened my dress, hoping not to appear too bedraggled. Then I turned to my rescuer.
"Evelyn," I said with a small curtsy. "My name is Evelyn."
Edmond tipped his hat to me, then strolled back down the street. I turned, limping up the stairs while gripping the rail for support, and saw Maria staring at me from her window, her face full of misery and shock. My heart gave a quick stab of regret, which was then replaced with a determination to discover, once and for all, what was troubling my sister.