A Phantom Courtship- Chapter Two

phantom courtship 7Lily awoke to raindrops on her head. At first, she remained motionless, allowing the refreshing chill to wash over her and ease the aches of her body and the sting of her wound. As the storm picked up, she attempted to sit, feeling dizzy as she did so.

“Easy now, Miss!” a lady’s voice called from several feet behind her.

Lily struggled to turn to see who approached but moaned in pain at the action. She heard footsteps increase in speed.

“We saw you fall. We will be there in one moment.”

“Try not to move,” a masculine voice said.

Who were they? Lily had never seen others visit the cemetery before. Although at the moment all she cared about was ending the near blinding pain in her head.

“Let’s get you out of the rain,” the man said as he reached her side.

Lily took in his Wellington boots, buckskin breeches, and black overcoat before slowly moving her head up the inches of his frame to see his face. Any sudden movement would end in agony. A kind face and pale blue eyes gazed back at her.

“Do you think she has a concussion?” the woman said.

“Out of the rain first, Sybil.” The man knelt before Lily. “Can you put your arms around my neck? There’s a folly not too far from here we might seek refuge.”

Lily attempted to speak, but no sound came from her. Deciding that nodding would be too painful, she lifted her arms, fighting the dull, heavy feeling of those limbs. Her teeth chattered as cold crept in from the rain. Already sodden, she began to fear she would never be dry or warm again. What would have become of her if not for these angelic strangers?

In one graceful movement, the young man scooped her up and marched toward the folly built by the previous squire. The lady kept pace with them.

“I am Sybil Morgan and this is my brother Peter. We are visiting kin in the area.”

When Lily did not speak, Sybil chatted on. “You must be overwrought from your experience. Never mind speaking to us just now. I only thought introducing ourselves would put your mind at ease.” She paused and beamed at her brother. “Peter is a doctor. He’s going to be the best doctor this country has ever seen!”

Lily glanced up at the man who held her. He looked as though he had just finished his training. They reached the folly, and he set her down gently.

“May I examine you?” he asked with practiced calm.

Again, finding speech too difficult, Lily gave a slight smile and Mr. Morgan began his assessment. His fingers ran over her limbs and ribs, looking for signs of any broken bones.

“It is as I suspected. Other than a few scrapes and bruises any injury was to your head. I imagine you have the devil of a headache.”

Lily attempted to nod and moaned at the sensation.

“Help me with her bonnet,” Peter said to his sister. Together they undid the strings of Lily’s sodden hat. Sybil undid her hairpins and Peter speared his fingers through Lily’s dark brown mane. Locating the tenderest spot, Lily yelped. Peter withdrew his fingers.

“No blood,” he frowned.

Lily furrowed her brow and looked at the siblings, hoping one would explain.

“After a fall like that, I would expect bleeding. That there is none on the outside indicates an internal contusion,” Peter said matter-of-factly. “Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?” He held up three, two on the one hand and one on the other.

Lily opened her mouth, but again, no words came out. She motioned to her throat.

“No voice?” Peter asked.

Lily nodded, wincing at the pain.

“But you understand our words?”

“I do not think she is a mute,” Sybil said. “She wouldn’t try to talk if she were.”

“I agree,” Peter said. “How curious.” He reached for Lily’s chin and turned it gently in his gloved hands. He trailed his fingers over her neck which would have made her blush if she were not so cold.

“Does your throat hurt? Have you had a recent cold?”

Lily shook her head and held up three fingers.

“Three?” Peter said in confusion. “Oh, from a moment ago. Yes, I held up three fingers.”

“Well, we need to get you home Miss. You need dry clothes and a warm fire.”

“How can we manage that if we don’t know who she is?” Sybil asked and twisted her hands. “We could bring her—”

“You know we can’t do that,” Peter said quietly but in a tone that left no room for argument.

Lily thought for a moment. Her quick mind moved slower through the pain and the cold. If only she could write out her name and directions to her home. She held out her palm and shaped her other hand as though she were holding a pen. She went through the motions of writing.

“I’m afraid neither one of us have any writing instruments,” Peter frowned.

Lily’s shoulders sagged for a moment.

“I’m sure someone in town must know who she is. Her clothes are fine enough, she must be local,” Sybil said.

Lily’s eyes widened at the thought of her being carted off to town as they asked every passer-by if they knew her as she looked ragged and a mess. Frantic to avoid being made into such a scene of pity—again—she held up her fingers in the shape of a cross.

“A cross?” Peter and Sybil echoed together.

“You would like us to take you to the church?” Sybil asked. “I do not think anyone will be there at this hour.”

Lily would roll her eyes if she did not think it would cause pain. Sybil was not the most intelligent lady Lily had ever met.

“Perhaps she means the vicar’s house. He would know her at the very least.”

Lily clapped her hands in approval rather than risk moving her head again, earning a smile from Peter and Sybil. Peter looked out at the horizon.

“The rain is easing, and our carriage is not very far.” Again, he scooped her up and carried her as though she weighed nothing.

Sybil took to chattering again. “Our father was a doctor too. Of course, Peter paid much more attention to doctoring than I did. I suppose he would have wanted me to be a nurse like our mother, but I was not made for that kind of concentration.”

By the way the lady walked—nearly skipping—Lily would agree.

“And not to be outdone with displeasing our Papa, Peter took an assignment that had him travel all over England, the Continent, and the furthest corners of the Empire.” Sybil grinned. “He brought me with him, of course.”

“Sybil, let us not air all of our private lives just now,” Peter said with a hint of annoyance.

“Well, I suppose you are correct. It is more fun to release it in small doses and surprise one’s friends. When next we see you, I will tell you a tale from India.”

Lily blinked and wondered if Peter’s worry about a contusion on the brain was indeed correct. They thought they might see her again? They did not even know her name! And now they were laughing and carrying on as though she were one of their dearest friends. And as strange as it was, Lily also found herself yearning for it. She had felt so very alone since her mother died.

Once in the carriage, Peter brought out a blanket from a box beneath the seat and Sybil arranged it around Lily. The trundled the small distance to the parsonage house. Rather than carry her to the door, Peter assisted Lily out of the carriage, and then both siblings helped her walk to the door. They knocked and at first no one answered. Tears were welling in Lily’s eyes as she reached for the knob, determined to see herself inside when the door opened.

“Oh, it’s you,” Daisy said and moved aside. “What on earth did you do to yourself? Hurt your ankle, I guess,” she supplied when Lily did not answer. “Well, put her in the parlor here.”

Daisy pointed in the direction and then yelled for the cook, marching off when no one answered. The siblings brought her to the room and lowered her on the settee.

“You are certain she will be looked after here?” Sybil asked her brother.

“She is with her people,” Peter said. “It is wrong for us to intrude longer. We will call on you tomorrow. Ice for the head,” he said then bowed.

Sybil curtsied and followed her brother out of the room. Lily laid her head back on the pillow, thinking it the strangest but most thrilling day she had ever lived.

 

****

 

In three days’ time, Lily recovered from her fall. At first, heavily bruised and sore, the pain eased with the application of ice and rest. Her voice, as well, mended and returned within a day. Not that Lily had much use for it. Her sisters did little more than pop their heads in and gawk at her. Her father avoided her room entirely. Although disappointed that Peter and Sybil did not visit as promised, Lily determined to leave the house on the third day. She had spent too much of her life in the sick room.

Strolling through the muddied lanes, she approached the cemetery. Closing the gate behind her, she meandered through the paths to her mother’s grave. Laying aside the now destroyed flowers she had last left at the tomb, she lovingly placed a new bouquet.

Hearing the squeak of the gate closing in the distance, Lily lifted her head. A gentleman and a lady entered the grounds of the cemetery. As they came closer, Lily made out the faces of Peter and Sybil. How strange that they frequented the graveyard but were not residents of the area.

They paused for several minutes at a set of stones and Lily allowed them privacy. When they looked up, Sybil caught her eye and tugged on her brother’s coat. Nodding to his sister’s unspoken request, they began walking toward Lily. She met them halfway.

“Good day,” she said with a polite curtsy.

“Miss Shapcote,” Peter said with a bow. “Forgive us for not calling on you. I am happy to see you are well.”

“It is of no matter, but I was sorry to not be able to thank you earlier. I shudder to think what might have become of me if I had not been discovered so quickly.”

“Yes,” Peter agreed.

“Fate must have played a hand in our meeting,” Sybil said with a smile.

Since her mother’s death, Lily had no trust in fate whether it was called destiny, Providence, or God’s handiwork. How could there be any good in her mother being taken from her? Rather than disagreeing with her new acquaintance, Lily gave them a tight smile.

“Will you walk with us, Miss Shapcote?” Peter asked and extended his arm.

Lily took it and allowed him to lead her from the graveyard. They walked in silence for several moments. Perhaps like Lily, they considered the most likely candidate for conversation—that of mourning a loved one—too intrusive. Finally, it occurred to her, that they had learned her surname.

“You discovered my name,” she said. Her voice rose, indicating her apprehension. She dearly hoped her story of falling and rescue in the rain like a drowning kitten was not bandied about the town.

“I hope you do not mind,” Peter said. “We asked our aunt the name of the vicar and were told he is Mr. Shapcote with three daughters and recently lost his wife. Seeing as we met you at the cemetery, it seemed likely you were a daughter and not a servant or friend.”

“Yes, I am his second daughter. Lily.”

“We are pleased to formally meet you,” Sybil said with a gentle smile.

“You seem to know the area well, and yet I do not recall meeting you before,” Lily said and redirected the conversation.

“As my sister told you when we found you, we have spent many years abroad. My father moved here, at his sister’s request, shortly after our mother died over ten years ago. Not to malign your town, Miss Shapcote, but coming from the bustling city of Liverpool, we found it too confining. I took a post to India and Sybil came with me.”

Lily glanced at the couple she walked with. Ten years ago they would have been in their early twenties, and well out of the sphere of people Lily would have known as a child. “Who is your aunt?”

“Mrs. Wilson,” Sybil answered.

Lily’s eyebrows shot up. She had not heard Mrs. Wilson had any kin. The widowed woman was reported to not have left her home for nearly ten years.

“You do well to seem surprised,” Peter said in a melancholy voice. “It seems she has shut herself in after our father died. News of which did not reach us until recently. I fear there is no one to blame for his death but myself.”

“Peter! No, do not say such things!” Sybil let go of her brother’s arm and stood in front of him, hands on her hips and tears in her eyes.

“It is the truth, Sybil. I broke his heart when I left home.”

Lily shrank back, uncertain she should hear such a private conversation.

“You are not to blame for his illness,” Sybil shook a finger at her brother. “As a physician, you should know better. Nor was he so heartbroken that he bothered to read your letters.”

“I suppose you are correct,” Peter said looking at his toes. “He simply returned them unopened.”

Lily stifled a gasp, shocked that a father could do such a thing. Then, she considered the indifference her own had shown her in the recent months and tears welled in her eyes.

“No matter how much he blamed you for Mother’s death, it was not your fault,” Sybil said. “I am sure Miss Shapcote would agree.”

Sybil looked in Lily’s direction. “Oh, my dear!” She rushed to Lily’s side and embraced her. “I am sorry our discussion distressed you so much. Peter is always telling me to quit chattering so much and telling all the world our woes.”

She rubbed her hand soothingly over Lily’s back. She had not had an embrace since her mother died. Her sisters had not shown much emotion at their mother’s passing, and Helena was not the demonstrative sort.

“I apologize for my tears,” Lily said and rummaged for her handkerchief but not finding one.

“Use mine,” Peter said and pressed his into her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“I can sympathize with your troubles,” Lily said when she could speak. “My mother died after caring for me through illness.” Lily sniffed then confessed, “I know my father—” Her voice broke, “My father blames me.”

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