All posts by anastasiabartle

I am an enthusiastic poet, writer and violinist, a little eccentric and crazy- but who isn't? And if I'm not composing, I'm lost in another's work.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 9

The first thing Anastasia became aware of was warmth; then sunlight on her face. Had she dreamed the whole entire meeting of Greta Thomas? But she could not be under the tree still, for there was no grass tickling her neck. Had it indeed been real? She opened her eyes. All was white; but now it existed in space and time. Slowly she understood her surroundings to be bed curtains, each side tied back with a deep red ribbon. Sitting up, pushing back the stark white comforter and its lace coverlet, Anastasia became aware of the rich green carpet and wooden wainscot, the white walls and ornate ceiling borders. In one corner near the door were two burgundy chairs around a small, carved table. On the bed’s other side was a great window framed by lace curtains. What had happened that she would be asleep in bed?

Dressing she noted the bandage on her forearm: the remnants of a doctor’s work. Oh, dear! Surely things were not that serious? Anastasia treaded quietly down the carpeted hall. She descended the spiral staircase, remembering Mrs. Tundlmire’s idle yet pleasant chatter. On the last step she waited, listening for some sound of life. Was this another dream? Where was everyone?

Then she heard a soft voice say, “I’m sure she will be fine. It was just the excitement that caused her to faint so. As for the cut on her arm, it will heal with barely any mark. I just hope all the glass was removed.”

Of course you are right.”

Anastasia felt embarrassed as she recognized Greta and Gerard’s voices. Fainted? What a ridiculously stupid thing to do! Oh, if only they would not remember her as a weakling!

What do you think of her?” Gerard asked.

A muffled giggle echoed out to her. Anastasia could picture Greta’s blue-green eyes laughing as her delicate hand covered her pretty mouth. “I’ve never seen anyone I like so much! Do you know what? I asked father to propose that she come with me to Europe. I hope she agrees!”

Anastasia almost collapsed on the steps. Her first thought had been a sense of hurt from the merriment, then utter surprise, and finally dread. But what was there to dread? Europe was where all people of culture went; perhaps she could prove Mr. Bulfinch wrong and marry well after all; perhaps… Why did she not want to go? Oh, it was rubbish and nonsense! If the perfect Ms. Greta Thomas asked her, she would of course say yes.

Oh, my little birdie! How are you?” Mrs. Tundlemire hurried towards Anastasia, her gray curls bouncing under her quivering white cap. “I was just coming to see how you were getting on. Oh, don’t blush like I caught you at anything! You don’t yet know you’re way around, do you? Come along this way.”

I do hope Gerard doesn’t think I was eavesdropping. She dared not look behind lest he guess she had. As the prattling Mrs. Tundlemire guided her, Anastasia thought over every word between the siblings. How did Greta know whether she was a worthy companion? After all, what had she done except faint? But her train of thought was lost in the heady monsoon of Mrs. Tundlemire.

Soon Anastasia found herself dramatically announced to a marvelous blue dining room with enough gold candelabras and glistening china to welcome a king. At one end of a table long enough for twenty at least sat two gentlemen: the elderly man who had been so kind to her and Mr. Bulfinch.

My dear Anastasia!” the latter boomed at the sight of her. Hastily rising, a beaming smile spread over his pallid complexion, he readily embraced her. “Come, sit, my dear. What a dreadful fright you gave us!”

Bewildered Anastasia accepted the proffered seat. What had happened to Mr. Bulfinch? There was no way he was that excited for her good health, not if all she meant was an extra burden for life. Then again, maybe that was it: if she was healthy it was less money expended. Or, as she feared to guess, it was really about Ms. Thomas’ proposal to take her to Europe.

Thank you very kindly, Mr. Bulfinch,” she said.

I do hope you are well rested?” the elderly gentleman asked. Despite his whitish hair and trim beard, Anastasia detected the same calm expression, the same piercing blue eyes, the same well-bread manner as Gerard. This must be the elder Mr. Thomas.

Yes, thank you, sir, for your hospitality. I’m sorry for-”

No trouble at all, Ms. Bartle. My son has told me much about you, and I am very pleased to serve you.” As if the word was a cue, Mrs. Tundlemire reentered- indeed, when had she left?- with a tray of edibles and tea stuff. “Thank you, Mrs. Tundlemire.” Then he himself, the lord of the house, took the tray and poured out a cup for Anastasia. Politely he offered sugar and cream, then scones and sausage.

Anastasia felt completely humbled and small. No one had ever waited upon her, but to have a man as regal as Mr. Thomas performing such! It was almost unbearable. For once she understood how Peter must have felt at the Last Supper when Christ washed his feet. “Thank you very much, Mr. Thomas.”

Oh, not at all, not at all,” he murmured happily.

Greta and Gerard entered, both cordially greeting Anastasia, asking after her health. Mr. Bulfinch loudly thanked them again for all they had done, especially their generosity in paying the doctor. At the comment, Anastasia could have fainted again. She was not certain if it was for her stepfather’s uncouthness or the Thomas’ kindness.

However, the small repast dwindled leisurely with conversation flowing from every topic. Most of the comments only half entered Anastasia’s mind. The delicate China-ware fascinated her, especially when the sun fractured itself on the spindly long stems of the glasses or glanced around an etched flower and vine. How was it possible to make glass so thin and still carve into it? She felt like it should shatter if she tried to use it. And then the tea cups opaquely luminated by the light. The delicate forget-me-nots and brilliant roses seemed so real it was difficult to know whether or not their scent wafted to her. It was all so exquisite! She felt like a milkmaid at a princess’s tea party.

Slowly she became aware of tales from Europe becoming more frequent. She found her attention arrested from her metaphorical stroll through the forest garden of glass and light, locked instead into far off realms she had never seen. Gradually, she felt her curiosity aroused; she wanted to see the towering spires of ancient cathedrals, tread the ruins of once mighty castles, touch the stones where pilgrims had knelt, watch an artist imitate the master’s piece de resistance. But it would never happen. Or would it?

Oh, father! When shall we go back?” Greta suddenly cried.

Chuckling, Mr. Thomas shook his head as he lit his pipe. “When you can find a better companion then I. Sometimes, Mr. Bulfinch, a woman is good company for a man. But there are times when it is better for her to have another woman.”

I think I understand your point, Mr. Thomas,” the merchant nodded, his oversized belly quivering slightly in his vigorous agreement. “I’m sure many a young lady would be grateful for the opportunity to accompany Ms. Thomas.”

Was it just her imagination, or had Anastasia heard him stress grateful? It was disgusting the way he was almost forcing them to ask her. Why was he making it so blatant that he expected them to ask her? She must refuse now, if only to accommodate for his rudeness.

Ms. Bartle, would you kindly take a walk with me?” Greta rose stately from her chair, reminding Anastasia more of a fairy princess.

Of course, Ms. Thomas.” Rising in turn, her eyes met Gerard’s. They seemed strangely melancholy to her. But that must be because Karen was not here.

Silently the two maidens went out to the park. Every leaf sparkled with the fresh fallen rain, every rose and budding flower glistened. It seemed so lovely. For one wild minute, Anastasia hoped they never spoke, just wandered aimlessly through the mysteriously washed world: a princess and her handmaid. But, no, time could not stand still. And she must apologize. “I am so sorry.”

With a slight laugh, so reminiscent of her brother, Greta asked, “For what, my dear?”

Everything! My bothersome fainting, my stepfather’s rude insinuating-”

She was cut short as Greta laughed clear and free. Threading her arm through Anastasia’s, she said, “Don’t fret, my dear. There is absolutely nothing to apologize for. Besides, Gerard has told me so much about you I just know I love you too much to be upset over yesterday. I wish you were my sister!”

Anastasia was certain it was just a polite speech. Yet, Ms. Thomas seemed genuine enough. “Thank you.”

Oh, please don’t! I have quite a selfish reason for being so interested in you. You see, ever since I’ve been abroad, Gerard and I have written letters constantly. Well, suddenly he began telling me of a wonderful Ms. Bartle who was so kind and intelligent, such a lady. I told father I had to return to London and meet the damsel myself! And now that I have, I am very happy.”

Anastasia felt her cheeks burn. Gerard had written his sister about her? “Thank you. I’m happy to meet you too.” Oh, that sounded ridiculous!

Greta laughed. “Oh, Anastasia! Don’t be so formal. I want to be your best friend. Now, Gerard told me he asked you and your mother to come along to see the ballet in London. But I want to propose something to you. How would you like to come with me to London and then to Europe?”

Anastasia had not expected her to ask. Well, she had expected it, but not at that moment. “Oh, oh!” What could she say? Surely Ms. Thomas was just being kind and did not really want her along. Or perhaps Gerard’s letters had made her conclude things that displeased her, and now she was removing a temptation for her brother. “Thank you, but I could not possible afford to accompany you to Europe. Mr. Bulfinch-”

No, no, dear!” Greta laid her free hand on Anastasia’s arm. “I want you as my companion. You won’t need money of any sort.”

But school…”

Think of it as an education.”

But mother…”

This is an opportunity she would not want you to miss. And I know very well that Mr. Bulfinch approves.”

You don’t have to ask me because of how he acted at the table. I’m sorry-”

My dear, don’t be.” Her voice was soft and full of compassion. It was the same voice Gerard had used when she cried: like a breeze caught in the tree tops. “I’m not asking for him or Gerard or anyone else. I’m asking for you and me. I know what kind of things Karen and her sidekick are capable of; I used to be in their class. When I finally told father, he took me out, saying he could do a better job educating me abroad. Now I know you are in their class, and because of your personality I dare say you are their torture toy. I want you to have the same chance I do: not only to get away from it, but to experience people who are civil.”

Gerard watched as his sister paced with her arm linked in Anastasia’s. He could tell that both girls were getting emotional: their serious faces told him that tears were close at hand. He wanted and then did not want Anastasia to go. If she went, she would probably meet some dashing European man and get swept off her feet as Greta’s last companion had. But then he could not see Anastasia being so romantic; she would probably be more practical about it and marry some rich lord of something- yet somehow that seemed dishonorable to her character. Anyway, she would forget all about him, if she had not already. But if she stayed, he could still be friends with her. Oh, how selfish! How could he call himself her friend when he did not truly want what was best for her? Then she should go and find someone who would love her properly- someone who was not Gerard Thomas.

Anastasia blinked back tears. No one had ever said such things to her, given her such an exalted chance, such a friendship. “Oh, thank you so much!” She sobbed a little. She felt Greta wrap her arms around her. Somehow she just knew that Greta- the perfect woman, the princess- would help her heal from all her fear of love. This friendship which started at this moment would be the beginning of an Anastasia who was strong, confident, and magnanimous. She only hoped that she could do some good for Greta too.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 8

Anastasia opened her eyes. All was white; there were no dimensions, as if she was lost in the endless fluff of a cloud.  A piano was playing somewhere in the distance.  Then Gerard walked toward her, smiling as if his heart was full of joy.  “Anastasia, it’s wonderful to see you!”

“Yes,” Karen chimed in. “I’m so glad you could make it to our wedding.”  The beautiful girl was more beautiful than usual.  Except that her eyes were sinister.

Slowly the tune morphed into the wedding march. Gerard waltzed with Karen up the aisle.  Perfect Greta Thomas flicked her slender fingers over the ivory keys.  For some reason, Anastasia knew that between Greta’s playing and Karen’s voice, Gerard had been enchanted.  This was not his free choice!  She must stop them!  Yet try as she might, she could not move.  Looking down, she saw a white sheet swathing her.  She was just as much a prisoner.  “Gerard, no!”

Then all was dark again. There was no sound, no light, no one besides her in the all too small room.  Crawl as she might, her searching fingers found nothing to grasp.  But what was that?  Something had grabbed her.  With a sharp cry she attempted to wrench her wrist away.  Yet the warm grip held her powerless.  “Who are you?”  The words echoed eerily inside her.  Then a pain pierced her.  She cried out and the grip went away.  She was left alone again.

She began to walk. Step after step, plodding along, time stretched and nothing came. Was there anything to meet?  Step, pause, step, pause, shuffle, silence, shuffle, silence: endless monotony droning with each movement that accomplished nothing.  Where was she, where heading?  It did not seem to matter, and yet it did.  Then from the abysmal black she heard Karen say, “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  The words repeated themselves, “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Each syllable dragged out longer and louder, “Your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Thousands of voices shouted them at her, “An old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Yes, yes, she was!  Tears coursed through her soul, winds blew them away, the dark grew hands to push and poke her.  “An old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Yes, she was ugly!  But did that deny her love?  Was she to be a thing used, a trinket played with till broken and then flung aside?  Surely even the ugly deserved better!  “It’s not your fault your sister is an old homely maid lacking intelligence.”  Fine!  If love only meant pain and refusal, then she would have nothing to do with it!

Without thinking, Anastasia ran away back to the corner from which she had come. She curled up expecting a harsh coldness, but instead found a warm softness.  It took away her tears, it removed her pain, it whispered “I love you, Anastasia!”  Slowly, as calm returned to her, sleep conquered.

Gerard watched as her breathing slowed; perhaps now she could sleep. Slowly he released her head and tucked the covers under her chin.  Her collapse had given them all quite a scare, but Gerard felt constrained by a worry that he could not show.  He had not told his sister and father just how he felt about Anastasia, yet he knew they had guessed it.  Sighing he sat back into the chair.

His eyes became fixed on the window pane mottled with raindrops. It would have been a new moon that night anyway, so the clouds probably did not matter.  For some reason clouds covering the moon had always disturbed him, why he could not say.  But they did not disturb him now.  Perhaps it was because he was already too disturbed to notice them.  How could a mother react so?  After sending word to Mrs. Bulfinch asking her to come since her daughter was suddenly taken ill, the woman had replied that she was certain all would be taken care of and her presence therefore unnecessary, just send her the doctor’s note.  How cold and uncaring!  Gerard knew that he was being unjust, that she was most likely allaying Mr. Bulfinch’s reaction.  Anastasia had never told him, but Gerard somehow felt he knew that the merchant thought little of his stepchildren.  Perhaps he had deduced this from observing the family in the pew on Sundays.

He sighed again and rubbed his eyes. He was not tired; in fact he could not sleep which was why he was sitting there now.  He figured seeing her calm and peaceful would soothe him.  Yet he had found her tossing and mumbling, tears slowly trickling from under her closed lids.  At that moment he had felt his heart rend immendable.  Somehow the words “I love you” had escaped.  They had comforted her enough to dispel the storm inside her dream.

Suddenly his heart pace quickened. If his admittance of love had settled her soul, could it be she loved him?  It was too fantastic to believe.  Surely she had remembered her mother crooning over her as a sick child; or more possibly it was some hero from her novels, Sir Gawain or Henry V perhaps.

Oddly enough, Gerard could not dispel this thought. All her actions that day had shown something: first ecstatic joy when he had greeted her, then cold sorrow as Karen spoke, and now this.  But one day was not enough; after all had she not declared with her own lips that he meant nothing to her?  His heart felt the stab of pain as if it had been a blow received only that instant.  A third sigh escaped him.

“So you can’t sleep either?”

Gerard jumped at his father’s voice. “I thought I heard her call out.”

The elderly man chuckled. “Now, Gerard, don’t give me that.”  Seating himself opposite his son, Mr. Thomas asked, “You love her don’t you?”

Gerard helplessly nodded.

Studying the distraught face of the younger man, he knew something was hurting inside, and it was not simply fear for her health. “Does she return your affection?”

He watched as the one he had raised from childhood swallowed hard, every muscle straining in his face, neck and hands. “I don’t know,” he replied somewhat huskily.  The elder man waited, knowing the rest of the story would slowly pour itself out.  “She said she didn’t care.”  Nodding, the father looked down at the ground.  “But then, she had been pushed by others.”

“Hmmm.”

“Her face showed she was happy to see me again.”

“Oh?”

“I don’t know. Father, how did you know mother loved you?”

With that proverbial smile that only a parent gives, Mr. Thomas chuckled softly under his breath. “Your mother was not like Ms. Bartle.  She told me openly and honestly what she thought.  One might say she proposed to me.  But that is not what you need to hear.  Gerard, my boy, look at her actions: what do they tell you?  She may say one thing and believe another.  Most people rarely say what they mean, but you can always tell by their actions if they do or not.”

“But she is so sincere! Every time I’ve talked with her she has told me plainly what she thought.  How do you know that she did not mean what she said?”  The eager eyes searched the sedate father’s.

“Just because she is honest intellectually does not mean she is with her heart. Some people are afraid to admit when they love.”

“Why?”

“Why? Well, that is the simplest answer: because they fear.  Son, to love someone is to no longer be your own.  In love you are totally poured out for the other, completely lost in the tide like a drop of water.  In love you sacrifice all with a ready smile, you hold nothing back of your heart and soul.  It is difficult to do, but when you lack trust it is impossible.  And from all that you have told me, Ms. Bartle does not want to trust.”

Gerard looked down at his bare feet on the sage carpet, a burgundy flower curling above his toes. “Then I am not trustworthy?”

“No,” Mr. Thomas whispered. Such words disturbed deeply his heart.  “She must have been hurt as a child that she is so wary of trust and love.  Yet, the mere fact that she considers you a friend tells you she trusts you somewhat.”

Gerard sighed. “I suppose so.”

“Come to sleep. In the morning things won’t seem so dismal.”

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 7

The sunshine warmed her as she stared blankly at the page before her. Anastasia had not read a word.  The book sat propped open on her lap, but disregarded like the budding world around her.  Within her mind, there was a hurricane of thoughts whipping around and contradicting each other.  Did she know what love was?  But was it necessary to know?  When a child loved his parent, the thought of what love was never crossed his mind.  No, he simply hugged and did everything for his parent without a thought as to why or how he loved.  And neither should she.  Yet if she loved Gerard- and not that she did, but only if she did- then would it not be wise to question what kind of love it was?  Could it be mere infatuation?  What about a pure friendship?  Then again, did it matter?  If she loved him, it was certain he did not love her.  And that was that.

Taking up the book, she tried to concentrate. Yet Dante’s elegant words on love escaped her.  Closing the Purgatorio, she closed her eyes and leaned against the tree as the sun danced through the leaves over her face.  It felt warm and relaxing, as if all her worries could melt away like wax in its gentle heat.   She wished they would.

“Ms. Bartle! How nice to see you!”

Her heart skipped a beat as she recognized Gerard’s voice. Immediately she looked about to find him.  He had not spoken to her in a month.  She felt like a breath of soft wind had filled her soul’s sails and set her ship coursing.  But she immediately felt her emotions fall as she became aware of Karen on his arm.

The blond haired nymph simpered, her brown eyes sparkling, “Hello, Anastasia. How has your summer vacation been?”

“Very well, thank you. How has yours been?”  She did not hear a word of Karen’s extended reply.  All she was aware of was her classmate’s hand linked in his arm.  It was as if her soul had been taken like a glass vase, smashed ruthlessly against the ground, and then left abandoned. Why, Gerard, she wanted to scream, why Karen, with her snob-nosed manners and perfect complexion hiding her treacherous heart? You are so good, you deserve someone better! 

Then a phrase snagged her attention: “-and Greta is such a dear. She promised to take me along to see the ballet troupe in London next week.”

So even Greta Thomas approved of Karen. How was it possible?  Suddenly, Anastasia felt as if winter had blown one of his cold rages into her soul, killing the growth of hope and strength she had coaxed to grow.  “Oh.  That’s very nice.  I hope you enjoy it.”

“Thank you. I wish you could come along, but-”

“Yes, why don’t you come too?” Gerard interrupted.

Anastasia forgot her irritation at the younger girl’s purposeful cruelty over her wonderment at his interjection. Did he really mean it?  Was this really possible?  Every fiber in her body trembled with the yes that burned in her heart, yet her tongue decried it all.  “Thank you, but I really couldn’t possibly.  Mother-”

Gerard laughed. “We’ll take her along too.  There’s no way she’d miss the ballet!”

Anastasia could not understand the glimmer in his eye. Was he happy with Karen?  He seemed happy.  Well, then she was happy for him- even if her soul felt destroyed.  “Thank you.  I… I think mother would like that.”

“Good, then it’s settled. No changing your mind, now!  You’ve promised.”  He smiled down at her as he took her hand and twirled her briefly.  Stopping as suddenly as he had begun, Gerard took a step back, saying, “You haven’t seen Greta yet, have you?  Come, you should meet her.”

Without another word the three of them walked toward a mansion that opened onto the park itself. So this is his? How many times had she walked past it, never knowing if he was watching?  Blushing strangely at this musing, Anastasia followed Karen’s prim figure as Gerard held the gate open.

Watching Karen, she wondered if the girl loved Gerard. She was like a princess: demanding all the respect without any love.  It almost seemed that she wanted him as an ornament of success.  Perhaps she was being unjust to Karen.  Just because they had never been amicable did not mean the girl could not be sincere.  After all, the blond haired beauty had remained friends with Jemima.  Yet still Anastasia could not understand how someone so perfect, so honorable as Gerard could be attracted to someone so selfish and tyrannical.  But then they said love was blind.

Entering the house, a melody could be heard echoing round the still rooms from the piano-forte. Passing through the grandeur of the noble family’s belongings, they neared the sweet sound.  Soon an accompanying voice could be discerned singing in some Romantic language; who was Greta Thomas?  Suddenly Anastasia was afraid, hanging back behind the other two.  What would the brother and sister say after she was gone?  She could imagine the conversation: how could you ever have been friends with her? I don’t know, but she was in need of someone to be kind to her.  It made her shudder to think of their pity.

Then the much talked of Greta Thomas came into view around the corner. In the center of the elegant room, surrounded by the blue walls covered with their portraits, seated at the largest black piano-forte was a pleasantly pretty young woman.  Her long brown curls quivered as she swayed, her fingers flickering over the ivory keys, her petite mouth curved in a perfect “o” forming the soft foreign words, the long lashes flashed revealing blue-green eyes scanning the sheet music propped before her, the long pale pink gown fell in exquisite folds to the floor.  She was like a vision.

As the lilting notes came to a close, all the people seated near the entrance clapped vigorously and several men shouted, “Encore!”

Smiling graciously, Greta Thomas rose. “Thank you, but perhaps some other time.”  As she glided across the room- Anastasia would have sworn she never touched the floor- she addressed her brother, “Gerard, I was wondering where you had disappeared.  But I see Karen must have needed an escort.”  She kissed the girl on the cheek.

Anastasia felt sick. Not only was Ms. Thomas everything perfect, but she insinuated an attachment between Karen and Gerard.  If it had been possible to vanish, our dear Ms. Bartle would have.  If only she could get away!  But just as she had planned to slip quietly out the house, Gerard turned to her.

“Greta, I would like you to meet Ms. Bartle.”

Then the beautiful blue-green eyes focused on her flushed face. “Ah, the celebrated Anastasia!  I cannot tell you how I have looked forward to meeting you.”  The vision clasped her guest in an embrace.  In her ear, Greta whispered, “I thank you for returning the dress, but I would like to give it as a gift.  If you don’t mind?”  The blue eyes twinkled at her.

“Thank you,” was all she managed. Why did she feel so detached from the physical?  It was as if time had stopped and all was a dream.

“Let the poor child sit, Gretaline! Can’t you see how pale she is?”  An elder man arose and escorted Anastasia to a chair.  “Here, rest yourself.  Gerard, would you ask Mrs. Tundlemire to make a spot of tea for Ms. Bartle?”

Without a word, Gerard left. No, Anastasia quavered in her thoughts.  She did not want to be alone with such politely patronizing strangers.  Moreover she could not for the life of her grasp what they were saying.  Was it another language?  Yet it seemed strangely unimportant, for suddenly she found it hard to breath.  Had the sun gone behind a cloud?  It was getting dark.  Then all was black.

My Anastasia Bartle Dilema

Dear Readers,
I have been continuing the struggle in A Bright Sunshiny Day, but have confronted several delays and difficulties.  I will be continuing to post the story- have no fear of that.  However, there may be missing passages that I have not thought of or added in yet.  If anything is confusing, please bear with me in the creation.  And also do not hesitate to comment!   Criticism is always welcome.

Thank you for your understanding and patience.  I hope you have enjoyed the tale as much as I in writing it.

Anastasia Bartle

A Bright Sunshiny Day Ch. 6

Sunday was calm and uneventful, as usual at the Bulfinch residence. Anastasia read Henry V, remembering all the wonderful insights Gerard had made. But, she firmly told herself, we are just friends. Nor would I want it to be otherwise. As if it could! I am a nobody. No, Gerard will love some elegant beauty with princess manners and regality in every motion. The thought made her heart ache. Roughly she pushed down the feeling, angry with herself for such an emotion. She put away the little leather volume and took up Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Jemima’s voice echoed across the wood floor from the other room. “I’m telling you it’s the talk of all the girls. Mr. Thomas likes her.”
“Well, if he does it won’t go any farther. A gentleman of such society would never marry a girl like her,” Mary Ann’s voice replied.
“But what if he does? Some rich men have been known to do that, despite their family’s disapproval. It just wouldn’t be fair! I’m so much prettier than she is!” A pouting wail came into her voice.
“That’s enough, Jemima! I don’t want to hear anymore. She is older than you anyway, so it’s fitting she marries first.”
As the sound of footsteps retreated, Anastasia wondered who it was Gerard liked. He had never mentioned it. For some reason it hurt more than her amazement over her mother’s harsh voice. I thought we were friends? Well, perhaps it would be awkward to tell a girl you love another girl. But still!
Sadly she closed the book, caressing the soft blue canvas cover, one finger tracing the water stain on it. Smiling sadly, she remembered when Gerard had begged to replace it. That day seemed like so long ago. She could not remember what her life had been like without him. Strange, after only a month to have such an attachment.
In her reminiscence, Anastasia stared through the window. There he was, walking by. He slowed down as he scanned the windows. She leaned back in her seat, hoping he had and yet had not seen her. Why was her heart suddenly beating so? As he vanished from vision, she purposefully bolted to the back of the house, far away from any window. This was the oddest feeling in her heart; she wished it would go away. If it was love, which she was beginning to think it was, she could never accept it. Love was pain and fear and hate. Somehow that sounded contrary, but it was all she had experienced.
Did mother love Mr. Bulfinch? He was so distant and disinterested, and mother was so vibrant and vigorous. Well, at least she had been once upon a time. But that was just it! Love had changed her from who she had been; yes, love had taken the carefree maid and turned her into a worn middle aged woman with hair just touched with grey. Was love worth it? As much as she pondered, she arrived at no conclusion.
Monday came without a change. School was difficult for her distracted soul, yet Anastasia plodded through the morning classes. When the lunch recess bell rang, she only too happily took her lunch pail to the yard.
As she folded her napkin after her meal, Anastasia saw Jane and Karen sauntering towards her. She felt suddenly sick. Why did they always bully her? Surely there were other people who really deserved such treatment- themselves first of all. But she remembered Gerard’s voice saying, “They only tease you because you make it easy.” Well, not this time!
“Hi, Anastasia,” Jane smiled, tossing her long dark locks behind her shoulder. Something was wrong- she was being too sweet.
“We heard an interesting rumor about you… Would you care to hear it?” chimed Karen, her brown eyes sparkling menacingly under her blond curls.
Trying to dispel the fluttering inside her, Anastasia swallowed. “Rumors are rumors and nothing more. And those that listen to them should not be listened to.”
“Oh! A philosopher are you?” Karen seethed. “Well, philosophize out of this: you’re in love with Gerard Thomas.” Her eyes burned with hatred.
Anastasia gasped. People actually were trying to control her future, people who didn’t care two-pence for her? Horror! They actually presumed to distort her friendship into a nonsensical romance? Hateful! Briefly her mind flickered to Jemima’s comments of the other day. Her cheeks burning a bright red, Anastasia said loud enough for near-by hearers, “No, I am not in love with Gerard Thomas. What’s more I don’t care that for him.” And she snapped her fingers. Then she turned to leave. There stood Gerard with an awkward expression. Turning more red- if that was possible- Anastasia quickly, but stately, walked down the lane.
And that was how it started. Whenever they met on the street, there was a silent nod or a quick ‘hello’ in passing. He never walked her home any more, never came to read with her in the park, never talked with her about things. This tortured Anastasia. What had she done? Lost her best and only friend because of pride. Oh wicked, wicked girl! She wanted to talk with him about it, she wanted to make him understand the fear she had of being in love, she wanted to be friends again. But she was afraid he would not want anything to do with her, that he would not understand. And this fear forbade her to speak, although the loss gnawed her heart causing just as much pain.
The school year petered out as the weather changed with the season. The spring rains slowly dispersed into early summer sunshine. The humid chill that pierced everything left to be replaced by the damp warmth of summer on the Thames.
Anastasia, free from home work, found herself often in the park. Sometimes she would sit quietly, as if waiting for something; other times she would pace the paths. But she did not read as much as she used to. This fact disturbed Mary Ann. Had her daughter actually formed an attachment to that young bachelor? Yet what could she say if Anastasia never brooked the subject?

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 5

Wiping a stray hair from her eyes, Anastasia took up the hot iron again. She leaned pouring all her weight through her arm into the triangular metal tool. The hissing soothed her distressed soul as the stubborn wrinkles stood unmoved in the white table cloth. A trickle of sweat rolled down her neck into her collar. She hated sweat, she hated being dirty and smelly, and more so she hated working when there was a book unfinished.
She placed the iron back on the stove to heat. Sighing, she rubbed her exhausted shoulder, rolling the twisted muscles between her aching fingers, her eyes naturally resting outside through the window. It was a cloudy Saturday, the kind of day she wanted to do nothing but read. Her thoughts strolled without her in the park, under the trees, behind the great houses. But she never saw much except the inevitable book page clutched in her hands as she walked the familiar paths. Absently, she moved closer to the window.
“I can’t embroider that,” she hear Jemima exclaim. “It happens to be Saturday, you know.”
Sneaking towards the ajar door, she spied Jemima reclining at the bay window- empty handed. She felt her cheeks flush in anger as her younger sister lazed. Here she was, working like a servant while high and mighty Jemima played princess. Well, not anymore! Forget the iron glowing red, forget the cloth unfinished, forget the pile untended. She was going to read!
Anastasia pushed open the door, her face flushed from irritation as much as from the heat. Without glancing, she knew Jemima and her mother were staring open mouthed as grasping her coat in one hand and her book in the other she sauntered out the front door.
The cool breeze refreshed her wearied soul. Winding her way through the streets, she became depressingly aware that the grey clouds and sudden wind bursts foretold an impending shower. Her time was limited. A cold draft nearly swept her away. The chill from it convinced her to slip on her coat.
For some reason the motion made her think of Gerard’s kindness earlier that week. She tried to brush the thought away by studying the tumbling cloud mass. But it flickered in the back of her mind like a candle placed behind a screen: you know it is there, but you don’t want to go extinguish it lest you have to look at it. And so it burned gently hidden by other ideas swirling around. As she entered the park, the thought resurged more strongly. But with a determined will she smothered it with feigned indifference: It was no more than he would have done for any woman. I’m no one special. I shouldn’t even be thinking of him! What is he to me? A rich man who amuses himself with acts of charity. Her heart cringed at the injustice her remark assumed, yet she tried to justify it anyway. As the path stretched familiarly before her feet, she opened the book and lost herself in another world. By ignoring it, she denied all that had happened to her.
“Ms. Bartle! What a pleasant surprise!”
Anastasia looked up bewildered as her mind was rent from the critical battle on the page. Walking toward her was Gerard Thomas. Her heart leapt a little, like a sparrow hops before flight. “Good day, Mr. Thomas!”
“May I take a stroll with you?” He offered her his arm. “I had a letter from my sister. She will be coming home soon. I should very much like you to meet her.”
Anastasia smiled. The thought of another being in the world who was as charming as he seemed impossible. The mere mention of Greta Thomas seemed to be elegant in itself. “I would like that.”
“Good! Then I shall send you word if I don’t see you myself. This makes me very happy. You two will like each other. Although I feel it is only fair to say Greta is somewhat of an artist: she can be very… well, exuberant. She’s like the sunshine dancing in the trees, whereas you are more like- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say such things.”
Underneath her blush, Anastasia wondered what he thought she was like; stubborn, clumsy, ridiculous? It seemed so terribly important what he thought. But she had no chance to ponder farther.
“What were you reading?”
“Shakespeare’s Henry V; have you ever read it?” She offered the book to his scrutiny.
Smiling, he replied, “Yes, when I was in school. But it’s been many years. I didn’t particularly enjoy it at the time anyway.”
“Oh, what a shame! The king has such a character! He’s dashing and courageous, yet gentle and considerate.”
“Is dashing a quality that you think important?”
There was a brief silence. “No.” She paused pondering why she had said it. “I suppose it’s not so much the dashing but the ignorance of it that is charming. For example, at one point Harry urges his troops to the breech by himself leading the charge. This chevalier act endears him, while definitely portraying his lake of self-interest. Moreover there is his famous speech of St. Crispan’s Day. He does not desire gold or anything temporal, but glory and honor.”
For a long time they talked as the path wended through the park, discussing the king’s tale under the trees. Every now and then Anastasia would quote a passage to support her point, and he would counter with a question. Eventually they were sitting under an oak reading the play scene by scene. And as the knights tramped across France behind their king, passersby remarked on the charming couple, many happy that the rich young man had finally found his special someone. But there were two brown eyes that were jealous of Anastasia.
At the end of act two, Gerard walked her home. There was not a moment were one did not have a comment, whether about the story or some tangential topic taken from who knows where. When they reached the small fenced yard where he normally said goodbye, the girl turned to him, “It looks like it might rain. Would you like to come in and wait?”
He smiled down at her. Somehow it wrenched his heart, guessing she was only being courteous rather than devising a way for him to stay for a little while. “Thank you, but I should be returning home. Mrs. Tundlemire will be worrying. But I suppose you know that!” He laughed. “Good evening, Ms. Bartle.”
“Good evening.” She walked up the worn trail between the rose bushes to the door.
Gerard waited until she was gone from sight, then turned homeward. What was it about her that confused him so? She was like the breeze, sometimes too strong, other times too soft. Why had he almost told her that? It was so forward. What must she think of him? Stupid man! Then again, she did not think of him as more than a friend. He was only torturing his own heart, attaching it where there was no returning affection. He felt a rain drop land on his neck and roll into his collar. When Greta came back, things would be different. She would take Anastasia under her wing and turn her into the social lady, as she always did. And then he would loss a friend. Did he dare think more?
Anastasia had watched him walk away through the lace curtains. What was this strange feeling? She had so wanted to keep him from going away, to spend just a little more time. But why? Such an impossible heart she had! A rain drop landed on the window pane. Instantly she ran to the door. Her hand landed on the knob, turned it. But she let it go. No, he did not want to associate with her more than cultured societal norms dictated. She collapsed on the first step, a sob stifled in her throat. What was this reaction for? Was she… Was this… No, foolery, that was what it was. Brushing a tear from her eye, she returned to the kitchen and the hot iron and the rumpled cloth.
Gerard arrived home, water streaming from him. All was silent and dark, the closing door echoing eerily in the empty house. He concluded that Mrs. Tundlemire must have taken a nap. With a sigh he collapsed against the door. The quiet dark seemed to crush him, or rather to pull all the emotion and tension out. He felt like his soul was evaporating. Why? Did he love her? Perhaps so, but he did not know really; and he only cared because of how it might hurt her. He must control his feelings, he must… for her. Slowly he sank to the floor, feeling all the weight of despair. Never would he be able to admit his love, and he knew it. For one, he reasoned, she is too pure and noble. She needs someone who will be strong, kind, completely worthy of her, like one of King Arthur’s knights that she loves so much. Someone who is not me. He dropped his head onto his knees, tears mingling with the rain water. I am just not chivalrous enough.
“Is that you, my dear boy?” Mrs. Tundlemire called.
Swallowing a sob, he stood up. “Yes, it is.” As the kindly lady fretted over his wet condition, Gerard thought again how hard it was to be the perfect gentleman. Yet that was what everyone expected, and so that was what he had to be. And that was not what she needed.
Each respectively went to sleep that night tired and heart-sore. Each wondered what the other thought of himself or herself. But there was no way of knowing, for he was not perfect for her or she was not right for him. Ah, but were they? You, as a reader, are obviously aware that they are a good match: kind and considerate, extremely caring for the other, ready to sacrifice anything if it could bring a smile to the other. But when you are in a relationship, especially one where you deny your own or the other’s obvious feelings, you inevitably decry yourself as worthless. But I apologize for ranting. I promise to remain a narrator and not a homilist.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 4

Later that evening, Gerard dropped her off at her home. She watched behind her as the carriage rolled away clattering over the cobbles. Once inside, she unclasped her wet bundle from her chest. Hearing the rumble of feet running upstairs, she braced herself against the expected attacks. Semi-consciously she resolved not to take off her coat. The last thing she needed was to explain the lovely green gown, for they would certainly assume it was a present. She was definitely returning it to Ms. Thomas.
“Anastasia!”
Turning, surprised by the voice coming from her stepfather’s study, she stood shocked. Jemima, her black curls draped stunningly over her shoulder, barefoot in her white nightgown, remained statue still halfway up the flight of steps.
“Yes, sir?” Anastasia quavered, looking desperately at her sister’s frozen complexion. For once, she felt like that perfect beauty sympathized with her. And as much as it caused her to fear with a woman’s premonition, it also gave her strength.
“Come here, would you?”
Each step echoed round the still room as she crossed its wood floor. She was not particularly fond of Mr. Bulfinch; perhaps it was because of her father; perhaps because he was so remote and so emotionless. As the doorway came closer she dreaded more and more crossing the threshold. She was tired, and did not want to explain herself to the distant man.
“Yes, sir?”
“Come, sit down,” he said, not even glancing up from the papers that were strewn over his desk. After waiting for what seemed ridiculously long, he finally put down the pen, sighed, folded his hands, and looked at her. “Your mother received a message that you were caught in the rain and went to Mr. Thomas’ house as it was closer. Is that true?” His cold distant eyes sat placidly in his fishlike face.
“Yes, sir.”
“Mmm.” He leaned back in his chair, causing the wood to creak under his weight. He was not an obese man, but large boned- so he said, disregarding his belly pouch. “I don’t suppose you thought of your reputation beforehand, did you?”
“My reputation? I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t see-”
“Oh, you don’t, do you?” His frame quickly snapped forward, his arms crashing on the desk, a few papers rustled in their flight before his wind. “You are a young lady, eligible for marriage now. You went into the house of the most eligible bachelor around- alone. Do you know what people will say? What will that do for my business, eh? It will lower my sales. And what will lower sales do? It will lower my income. And what will a lower income do? It will lower our standard of living, and diminish your dowry! I suppose you didn’t think of that either, did you? Well, answer me!”
“No, sir,” she gasped.
“I didn’t think so. And now people will whisper and gossip will spread that something could have happened while the two of you were alone in there. Who will want to marry you then, eh? Damaged goods, that’s what they’ll say, I can tell you. How am I supposed to marry you off then, eh? Didn’t think of that either, I suppose. Well, it’s done now, so I guess I’ll have to rearrange my retirement plans to accommodate you for the rest of my life.” Scratching his head, he bent back over his papers. “You may go.”
“Yes, sir.” Anastasia rose, hearing only the stiff shush of her borrowed gown and the hollow clack of her shoes. It seemed her heart did not beat nor her breath hiss. She could have been the only life in the house, so silent it was. Her heels clicked on every stair-step. At the top she turned almost mechanically to the right, opening the door of her shared room. Jemima lay still under the covers.
Quickly Anastasia changed, slipping into the cotton nightgown. She brushed out her brown, straight locks, absently realizing she had forgotten her hair tie in Ms. Thomas’s upstairs room. She draped the green gown over her footboard, and then shook out her still damp grey dress before spreading it out on her wooden chest.
Stealthily gliding into bed, Anastasia sighed. She knew Jemima was awake and bursting with curiosity, but if she pretended the opposite maybe her sister would too. Besides she did not want to talk about things.
Why, why? Life was so hard, and it seemed the only one interested in making it easier was Gerard Thomas. But who was he to care about her? He was fascinated by a poor girl who could not keep her opinions hidden or her emotions, for that matter. Besides she wasn’t pretty enough for someone as rich and handsome as Mr. Thomas. He was just a kind man. And he would never do anything to her. Mr. Bulfinch had jumped to ridiculous conclusions, she told herself- even though she knew they were absolutely legitimate. As a tear rolled down her cheek into the pillow, she reminded herself of what she was always reminded of: she was an ugly, stupid girl who would never be loved. And that was that.