Celeste bent over her book, furrowing her small brow.
“Above, the bright and bril- brilliant stars,
The pe-a-ceful … peaceful world below,
In sum… sum-mer, sunlight gives us life,
In winter, only snow.”
Celeste looked back up at me, and I gave her an encouraging nod. She sighed, and turned back to the book.
After Celeste had been at Rowan Heights a week, Hope expressed his intention to engage a governess for Celeste.
“Oh no- there’s no need. I can teach Celeste,” I said quickly.
Hope looked at me in surprise. “I don’t doubt your accomplishments. In the short time I’ve known you, you’ve struck me as an unusually well-educated young woman. However, you don’t have any obligation to oversee Celeste’s education.”
“I’m not doing this out of a sense of obligation,” I said. “I like Celeste, and I wish to teach her. Besides…”
“Well,” I began a little more reluctantly. “I’ve had many governesses, though none of them stayed long. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been educated in spite of their efforts, and not because of them. Perhaps Celeste will be better off with someone who likes her, and wishes to help her learn, instead of someone who may- who may try to beat knowledge into her.”
Hope continued to regard me coolly, and the longer he stared, the more my confidence seemed to leak out of me. Soon, I stood completely deflated before him.
“Well,” he finally said, “if you truly wish, you may each Celeste. I admit that I would like for the girl to have some education in the sciences, and I doubt a governess would be able to do as well as you. If you tire of your charge, let me know, and I’ll make other arrangements.”
And so I gained a student, who I found to be willing to work. She had been given little education so far, and was still struggling with one of my oldest primers.
“You’ve improved since the beginning of the week,” I said when she’d finished reading the poem. “You’re sounding out the more difficult words. Do you like the poem?”
Celeste sighed again. “The poem is alright, but I don’t like to read. It makes my head ache.”
“Have you ever been fitted for spectacles?”
Celeste dropped her book and looked at me in dismay. “Spectacles? Oh, Lady Frey!”
“You may need them,” I said gently. “I noticed that you held the book quite close.”
“I’ll hold it further away,” Celeste promised quickly. She held the book out at arm’s length, and squinted at it.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Surely, Celeste, a pair of spectacles isn’t as bad as a headache.”
“They are worse,” Celeste said. “I don’t want to look like an ugly old maid. I want to be pretty, like you.”
I blushed at Celeste’s innocent complement, which meant far more than Hope’s artful flattery.
“Don’t worry yet, Celeste. It may turn out that you don’t need spectacles. But if you do, I will get a pair as well.”
“But you don’t need them.”
“No, but I can get a pair with plain glass lenses. I’ve always thought spectacles were quite handsome. We can get spectacles to match.”
Celeste smiled, a dimple dancing in her round cheek, and she leaned over to give me a kiss. Then the clock on the wall chimed 3:00, and without another word, Celeste jumped up and ran to the door. The door opened, and Hope entered the nursery.
“You really came!” Celeste said as she jumped, laughing, into Hope’s waiting arms.
“A gentleman always keeps his word,” Hope said, picking Celeste up and laughing with her. He wore a smile more natural than any I’d ever seen as Celeste pressed her face against his- dimpled cheek against dimpled cheek.
“If you always keep your word, does that mean I shall have the white pony? You promised!”
“The white pony is yours, my girl. How could I teach you to ride with no pony?” Hope turned back to me and said, “Were you finished with your lesson?”
“If I wasn’t before, I certainly am now,” I said. “I cannot compete with a pony.”
Celeste cheered, and Hope carried her from the room.
That morning Lady Willoughby had come into the drawing room, where I was instructing Celeste in piano, and announced that she would take her tea with me, alone, at four. True to her word, she entered the sitting room at 4:00 sharp.
“The first week I was here, it was one tedious party after another,” she said as I poured, “and this week, you’ve been with the child every waking moment. I never thought we’d have a chance for a tete a tete.”
“My apologies. I didn’t realize-”
Lady Willoughby cut me off with a wave of her hand. “No matter- you’re here now. I must admit, I find you to be quite fascinating. You’re a complete mystery.”
“Me? Surely not.”
“You are such a quiet girl that you must have some secrets- a lost lover, perhaps?”
I sighed. “Please don’t tease me. I assure you; I’m very dull.”
Lady Willoughby said nothing, but she raised her eyebrows in expectation.
“ My mother died when I was a child, I have no siblings, and I’ve lived with my father all my life. He left me in the care of my governess.”
“Yes, and I’m sure she was very strict. But once you came out, the unaccustomed freedom must have been intoxicating.”
“I- I never had a coming out,” I said. “I wasn’t allowed to attend balls.”
Lady Willoughby put her cup down with a clatter. “You were never introduced into society?”
I had the sudden impression I’d done something wrong. “I- It’s just that-”
Lady Willoughby put her hand on my shoulder. “You poor child- sold away in marriage before you had any fun at all! We must have a ball in your honor.”
“Oh no, please!”
“We shall invite everyone- all the best families in the neighborhood, so you may be properly introduced. Of course, we shall have to wait…” Lady Willoughby stopped speaking and bit her lip, as though struggling with something.
“Wait? For what?”
“For the red moon to wane,” she said in a strangled voice.
“Are you well, Lady Willoughby? I could get you more tea- or perhaps some wine.”
“I am well,” she said, and took another sip of tea.
“Did Lord Frey tell you that I wish to observe the red moon when it is full?” I asked. I hadn’t remembered telling him, but it seemed a natural guess for him to make.
“No, he did not.” Lady Willoughby helped herself to another piece of cake. “I like you, Lady Frey. In many ways, I’m glad that you’ve come here. You are quiet, and I get precious little quiet in my life. I simply wish that you will not cause trouble.”
“I assure you-”
“Oh yes, I know you have no intentions of causing trouble. You’re a good girl. Unfortunately, you’re too curious, and too strange, for your own good.”
Lady Willoughby ate the rest of her cake in silence, and then dabbed her painted mouth primly with her napkin.
“One word of advice- when the moon is full, Lord Frey will be in low spirits. Take care not to vex him. Also, please continue to be kind to little Celeste.”
Then Lady Willoughby stood without ceremony, and turned to leave the room.
“Lady Willoughby, what is the connection between Lord Frey and Celeste?”
Lady Willoughby laughed a little, and then turned around.
“You must see the connection, or else you wouldn’t ask.”
Before I could work out an answer, Lady Willoughby turned back, and left the room.