Posted at April 29, 2020

Victorian Era Fiction to Get You Through COVID-19 (Chapter 3)

Chapter Three

Randolph had kindly ridden in the carriage with Ruth to reach the flower shop, successfully flirted with the owner’s daughter and was pleased to accompany his sister to the sprawling (as much as was possible in London) park that Ruth liked. She often took walks there when the weather was fine and came across a few friends when they at last came into town. Randolph promised to meet her at the gate once her walk had tired her enough. He, meanwhile, would take his own path and find who he could to converse with nearby.
At last, Ruth had a moment to herself again. While she did enjoy her brother’s company, nothing pleased her more than a solitary walk. The weather was warm and the sun shone as a clear sign that summer approached. She fixed her hat carefully, knowing that her mother would scold her excessively if she happened to become tan.
She strolled by her usual haunts and enjoyed their splendor. The tall trees, green grass and ponds were so pleasing in comparison to the muddy streets and lines of endless buildings. Not many people were in the park, but those that were seemed content to sit and relax with a picnic. Another thing Ruth enjoyed was that it was not only the haughty and rich who enjoyed the location. She could see plenty of middle class families and friends at ease, enjoying the moments when they did not need to work tirelessly in their offices. She began to stroll toward her favorite spot, a pond surrounded almost entirely by thick leaved trees which offered the most glorious shade.

Underneath them was a wooden bench that offered the comfort of a seat and the pleasantness of the view of blue water and sky. Ruth was glad of the idea of sitting down. She had come away with a catalog or two of flowers to deliver to her mother and her basket grew heavy as she walked. Upon reaching her spot, she saw it was as empty and serene as she hoped and sat down on the bench. From her basket, she drew another heavy object which was the language book she had been studying.

Her French had grown rusty and she intended to brush up on it, as well as her Portuguese for a holiday which she dreamed could somehow take place. After several minutes, she grew tired of French and instead removed her book on Portuguese. However, she did not open it and instead rested peacefully, admiring the view. She even took a moment to close her eyes until she heard footsteps on the grass. This vexed her slightly as she had looked forward to being alone and in peace. The footsteps drew nearer and as she heard no conversation, she assumed it must be one person.

To her surprise, it was a gentleman who, though still a good distance from her, could certainly see her. She could only pray that if he should approach, that he could simply bid her good day and be off again. Some gentlemen attempted to speak with her on the weather or ask her if she knew where to find something in the park. As the gentleman drew closer, Ruth’s attitude softened somewhat as he was quite handsome. Black hair could be seen from beneath his hat and he had a pleasant face with round eyes, a small delicate nose and a happy smile. He was perhaps shorter than most men she knew, but his robust figure made up for this. Ruth, being used to the smaller height of the men in her family, did not see a lack of height as a failing. The gentleman seemed a bit lost and Ruth could conclude he would indeed need her help to find his way back to the entrance. He tipped his hat politely as he drew near enough to speak with her.
“I beg your pardon, Miss,” he said with a voice as happy as his countenance. “I’m afraid I’m new to this area. Could you tell me where I might get back onto the street?”
Ruth kindly obliged him with directions, but unlike with other strangers, she did not wish for him to be gone quite so soon.
“May I ask, sir, when did you arrive in London?”
“Only yesterday,” he admitted. “Though I have come before.”
She could see that he was also eager to continue speaking with her and he then asked, “I take it you have a London home?”
“My family live here most of the time. I’m afraid we are not as grand as some others.”
“There’s no need to worry about that,” he assured her. “My aunt lives here almost exclusively. She doesn’t like the country much. Especially a place so far removed as Devonshire, where I’ve just come from.”
Ruth started as this. A man come from Devonshire who was new to London with an aunt who resided there. Would it be unusual for her to declare she knew precisely who he was? Ruth decided to soften the nature of her curiosity slightly.
“Perhaps I know your aunt,” she offered. “What is her name, if I may ask?”
“Elizabeth Johnson,” he answered. He noticed the surprise in Ruth’s face and told her she must know her indeed based on such a reaction. Ruth laughed shyly in reply and said that his aunt was a very intimate friend of her family.
“May I ask your name, then?” said Mrs. Johnson’s nephew, who was, no doubt, the illustrious Anthony Chamberlain.
“Of course. I’m Ruth Kingston.” She offered her hand which he took politely as he introduced himself as just the man she thought he was. Yet he seemed surprised that this was Ruth Kingston and not Mary Kingston, as he had no doubt heard of both. His aunt would have told him about all of her pretty young friends. Though perhaps because Mary was put forward by Maude as the obvious candidate, her praises would need to be sung over Ruth’s. No doubt Mr. Chamberlain had pictured an elder, spinsterly sister as hardly better looking than an old witch.
“Miss Ruth Kingston?” he asked. “My aunt has indeed mentioned you and your sister to me.”
Ruth replied that she had suspected as much given the open nature of his aunt’s manners. At this comment, Mr. Chamberlain let out a hearty chuckle.
“You put it mildly,” he said with a grin. “My aunt may be pleasant but she is a gossip to be sure!”
Ruth joined him in laughing this time.
“How disappointed she’ll be that we’ve met by chance before she could introduce us!” he added.
“Oh indeed. Though she will be much gladder to introduce you to my younger sister, Mary.”
“I’ll not be too polite to pretend I don’t know what you mean,” he said, but did not take the subject any farther. “Do excuse me, Miss Kingston. I must follow your expert direction or I will be late for an appointment, but I’m sure we will meet again soon.” He bowed his head and bid her good day.

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