John wanted to ride his horse beside the carriage, but his face hurt so badly that he had trouble mounting his horse. Charles agreed to ride along the carriage instead and give his older brother the spot in the carriage. Persephone was displeased by the arrangement, for she was used to having her Master ride along with her, but there was not enough room in the carriage for her. When he got into the carriage he leaned his head to the window and pressed the wet rag to his swollen eye. The pounding in his head was building and when he said goodbye to Malcolm his dear friend informed him that his pupils were different sizes.
"Does he look as bad as me?" John had asked.
"His nose is broken. He's called for his surgeon, but I have to say he landed the most punches," Malcolm told him. John bristled but he knew it was true. He had lost his balance when he swung the first punch, wild with anger, and Henry, the smaller man, had managed to get the best of him. He got into the marriage, ignoring his crying sister. He left Charles outside to oversee her goodbyes to her betrothed. When she climbed into the carriage she glared at John from across the carriage.
"I hate you," she said as she wept softly. John said nothing, but pressed the wet rag Colleen had brought out to him to his eye. Nicky reached out to touch her hand, smiling at her softly, his mother's smile coming to his full lips.
"He swore he would come to the manor before he returned to London. He'll just be a few days behind," he told her and Sophia continued to cry.
"We were supposed to stay all summer. I was supposed to have all summer with him," she cried. She pulled the curtain to the side to look out at Malcolm. He smiled when he saw the curtain pulled aside and raised his hand to her. She waved back and then let the curtain fall, new tears coming to her eyes.
"I want to say good bye one last time," she said and reached to open the carriage door. John was about to snap, his aching face and head wearing down his nerves. But Colleen reached out and gently touched Sophia's arm.
"Miss Attenborough, you do not want to appear too eager," she said softly and Sophia sat back down with a little sniff.
"But I will miss him…" she cried.
"And he will miss you. Perhaps a little time away from each other might be good for you. He will realize how much he enjoys your company," Colleen suggested.
"The maid is right," Nicky said and missed the sharp look he received from Colleen. "Let Malcolm sweat it out little sister. When we arrive I will write to him and tell him my friend from Eaton has come to visit and that he is quite taken with you."
Sophia looked horrified at the thought of lying to Malcolm. She was too terrified he would become angry and decide another woman would be more suitable for him. Nicky assured her that would never happened, and John grunted in response, but Sophia refused to play those sorts of games. Colleen agreed with Sophia. She pulled the curtain to the side again to look out at Malcolm. He smiled again and waved once more before she dropped it back down.
"He is so perfect," Sophia smiled and looked at Colleen.
"He has flaws, Sophia, do not turn him into a god or you will be sourly disappointed when you are wed," John told her and Sophia shot him a cold look.
"I am not speaking to you," she informed him. John lowered the rag, now hot from his skin, and looked at his sister.
"Grow up, Sophia," he said coldly and Sophia's lower lip trembled.
"Please, sir," Colleen said softly. "She's upset."
"She is acting like a little girl," John said. "Do you think Malcolm wants a little girl or a lady?"
Sophia buried her face in her hands and cried harder.
"Come on, John," Nicky said softly. "Colleen, may we switch places?"
"Of course," Colleen said and stood. It was difficult maneuvering, but she was nearly past John when the carriage began to move. The ground jerked out from under her and she fell. She landed firmly John's lap, earning a soft grunt from him. She blushed deeply and tried to move off of him. His hands touched her waist and held her there a moment. It was a brief moment, one that neither Nicky nor Sophia saw. When John gently placed her down on the seat beside him her skin was burning from the top of her dress to the top of forehead.
"Thank you, John," she said quietly. She glanced over at Nicky and Sophia, but Sophia was crying into her hands and Nicky had his arm around her shoulder. He was speaking to her softly and she laughed through her tears. "You should not be so mean to your sister. She is young and in love."
"She is going to be sixteen in a few months," John mumbled and he touched his face gingerly. "My mother is going to throw a fit when she sees me."
"Forgive me, but I think her crying daughter will be more important," Colleen said and looked out the window. John turned to look at her. Her dark hair was pulled back tight in a neat but simple bun. Her fair, pale skin looked softer than silk and John found himself wishing he could press his face to her soft skin and seek comfort in her arms. His face hurt so badly he could cry, though he never would. He glanced over at his sister, who had ceased her crying and was speaking to Nicky about the rose Malcolm had picked for her this morning before she left.
"I am sorry, Sophia," John said and his little sister turned wet, sad eyes on him. "I am in a lot of pain."
"You are just like papa," Sophia said, though with that particular point John knew it was not a compliment. Many times their father's old hunting wound would cause him trouble, and he was nearly impossible to be around in those moments. Only Elizabeth and Sophia were safe from his biting tongue.
"Malcolm is very fond of you. He told me himself," John said but Sophia turned her head and looked back at Nicky. John looked over at Colleen and saw her green eyes were turned on Sophia and Nicky on the other side of the modest sized carriage. He looked at her until her emerald eyes turned toward him. Her face softened as she looked him over.
"You took quite a beating," she said softly, with what John hoped he correctly determined to be affection.
"He insulted my mother," John answered honestly. He did not feel the need to tell her what Henry and Charles had said about her. He did not want to make her feel any more nervous or uncomfortable than she must be all ready. But Charles' words had troubled him deeply, and as he looked at Colleen he felt guilt and regret in his chest. What exactly he was forcing her into he did not know. What the next few weeks would be like were a mystery, but he knew this much. If his father turned her away at the door, he would be going with her. Wherever she chose to go, he would be there.
"I am truly looking forward to meeting her," Colleen told him.
"She is… an amazing woman," John said with a little curve to his bruised lip. "They know we are coming, a room has been prepared for you."
He thought she would be pleased, but whatever smile she had on her lips fell when he said it.
"I thought I would be staying in the servant's quarters," she answered and John's forehead burrowed.
"Why would you be in the servant's quarters?" he asked.
"I can't… I can't stay in the main house," she let it out as a little cry and Sophia and Nicky fell quiet to look at her. "Maids do not live amongst their masters."
"Colleen…" John let out a little laugh, but one void of any amusement. It was confusion that filled the little chuckle. "You are not coming to my home as a maid. You are coming as my guest. I thought you understood that."
Colleen looked utterly surprised but instead of happiness she shook her head silently.
"Colleen… love," John reached out to touch her cheek with his palm but she smacked his hand away with a sudden violence that surprised him. He only looked at her as her skin heated and her neck turned blotchy.
"I am not your love, and I will not be humiliated," she told him slowly. John shook his head as he searched for his words, utterly confused.
"No… no, Colleen I am doing this so you will not be humiliated," he told her. "I did not think that making you work for me was a proper way to go about courtship."
"No, perhaps not," Colleen agreed. "But it was a proper way of hiding your mad ideas from your father."
"I do not mean to hide you from anyone," John said. He tried to hold onto her hands but she pulled them away.
"Have you gone absolutely mad?" she asked him. John pressed a hand to his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut. His head hurt so badly he could scarcely think. He was trying so hard to demonstrate he was unashamed of her, that he would hold her up as his equal before his father, a man John admired, loved, and feared. Why was she not happy about that?
"Can we please talk about this later," John moaned and pressed his hands to his face.
"No, no we will talk about it now!" she cried. Her voice cracked and John looked at her, struck by the fear in her eyes. "I'm coming with you as your maid not your… your… whatever you are trying to pass me off as."
"Johnny, she has a point," Nicky said softly and John shot him a hard look. John banged his fist on the front of the carriage behind him and the driver came to a stop. John threw the door opened and grabbed onto Colleen's wrist. He did not pull her out violently, but he did so with urgency and she followed him without protest. She let him lower her to the soft ground before stepping away from him. Persephone ran up to them in excitement, her tail wagging. Charles had ridden up ahead, but he was coming toward the carriage now at a slow trot.
"Are you alright?" Charles called and John waved for him to move away.
"Drive up a few yards, Peter," John told the driver and he obeyed. Charles walked along side with Peter, speaking with him and looking back to John and Colleen.
"What in bloody hell do I have to do to please you woman?" John asked in exasperation. "Tell me what to do and I will do it."
"Leave me be," Colleen answered and John cursed.
"You know everyone keeps telling me that you are using me to get to America, but you are doing a terrible job at it," John told her and laughed without amusement. "Unless you are so confident in my feelings for you you do not fear driving me away. That you think this will only make me work harder and never once doubt your own motives."
"I have no faith in your feelings for me," she told him bluntly. "You are a little boy who sees a toy he cannot have. Once he has it he loses interest. I will be the same."
"That is not why you refuse to come as my guest but as my maid," John told her, seeing no sense in denying what he had denied a hundred times before.
"You could never understand. If you did you would never ask me to do such a thing," she told him. "You do not understand how the world works."
"But my mother –"
"I am not your mother, John! And you are not your father. You are not independently wealthy. Everything you have you have because of your father. You cannot just do as you please! You have responsibilities to your family and your class. And I will not be turned away at the door because I am pretending to be something I know I am not."
"Your identity is not inseparable from class," John tried to tell her but she shook her head.
"Yes it is," she replied simply. He only stared at her, a cool breeze ruffling through his hair. "Yes it is."
She turned away then and began walking back toward the carriage.
"You promised you'd give me a chance!" he called after her, his chest hollow and aching. "You sound like your mind is made up."
"I will give you a chance, John, as your maid," she responded without looking back, instead eyeing the muddy ground and lifting up her skirts slightly.
"That is your decision, not mine," he called but stayed where he was standing.
"I know," she answered as she got back into the carriage. Charles trotted toward him and jumped down when he got to where John was standing.
"What did she say?" he asked but John only scowled at him. He was yet another close to him who refused to support him. Instead he grabbed the reins of the horse out of Charles' hands and mounted, despite the aching in his head and face.
"Should you be riding?" Charles asked him but John whirled the horse around and dug his heels into its sides. "John?"
John spurred the horse into a gallop and did not stop until he reached home.
A/N: Next part of the story is going to take place at the manor so there will be more Elizabeth and Edward. I just hope people still like Edward after this story is over.
Let me know what you think please!