All would come clear in the morning.
Lucy knew that Hermione didn’t have a headache, or any sort of ache for that matter, and she was not at all surprised to find her sitting on her bed, poring over what appeared to be a four-page letter.
Written in an extremely compact hand.
“A footman brought it to me,” Hermione said, not even looking up. “He said it arrived in today’s post, but they forgot to bring it earlier.”
Lucy sighed. “From Mr. Edmonds, I presume?”
Lucy crossed the room she and Hermione were currently sharing and sat down in the chair at the vanity table. This wasn’t the first piece of correspondence Hermione had received from Mr. Edmonds, and Lucy knew from experience that Hermione would need to read it twice, then once again for deeper analysis, and then finally one last time, if only to pick apart any hidden meanings in the salutation and closing.
Which meant that Lucy would have nothing to do but examine her fingernails for at least five minutes.
Which she did, not because she was terribly interested in her fingernails, nor because she was a particularly patient person, but rather because she knew a useless situation when she saw one, and she saw little reason in expending the energy to engage Hermione in conversation when Hermione was so patently uninterested in anything she had to say.
Fingernails could only occupy a girl for so long, however, especially when they were already meticulously neat and groomed, so Lucy stood and walked to the wardrobe, peering absently at her belongings.
“Oh, dash,” she muttered, “I hate when she does that.” Her maid had left a pair of shoes the wrong way, with the left on the right and the right on the left, and while Lucy knew there was nothing earth-shatteringly wrong with that, it did offend some strange (and extremely tidy) little corner of her sensibilities, so she righted the slippers, then stood back to inspect her handiwork, then planted her hands on her hips and turned around. “Are you finished yet?” she demanded.
“Almost,” Hermione said, and it sounded as if the word had been resting on the edge of her lips the whole time, as if she’d had it ready so that she could fob off Lucy when she asked.
Lucy sat back down with a huff. It was a scene they had played out countless times before. Or at least four.
Yes, Lucy knew exactly how many letters Hermione had received from the romantic Mr. Edmonds. She would have liked not to have known; in fact, she was more than a little irritated that the item was taking up valuable space in her brain that might have been devoted to something useful, like botany or music, or good heavens, even another page in De-Brett’s, but the unfortunate fact was, Mr. Edmonds’s letters were nothing if not an event, and when Hermione had an event, well, Lucy was forced to have it, too.
They had shared a room for three years at Miss Moss’s, and since Lucy had no close female relative who might help her make her bow into society, Hermione’s mother had agreed to sponsor her, and so here they were, still together.
Which was lovely, really, except for the always-present (in spirit, at least) Mr. Edmonds. Lucy had made his acquaintance only once, but it certainly felt as if he were always there, hovering over them, causing Hermione to sigh at strange moments and gaze wistfully off into the distance as if she were committing a love sonnet to memory so that she might include it in her next reply.
“You are aware,” Lucy said, even though Hermione had not indicated that she was finished reading her missive, “that your parents will never permit you to marry him.”
That was enough to get Hermione to set the letter down, albeit briefly. “Yes,” she said with an irritated expression, “you’ve said as much.”
“He is a secretary,” Lucy said.
“I realize that.”
“A secretary,” Lucy repeated, even though they’d had this conversation countless times before. “Your father’s secretary.”
Hermione had picked the letter back up in an attempt to ignore Lucy, but finally she gave up and set it back down, confirming Lucy’s suspicions that she had long since finished it and was now in the first, or possibly even second, rereading.
“Mr. Edmonds is a good and honorable man,” Hermione said, lips pinched.
“I’m sure he is,” Lucy said, “but you can’t marry him. Your father is a viscount. Do you really think he will allow his only daughter to marry a penniless secretary?”
“My father loves me,” Hermione muttered, but her voice wasn’t exactly replete with conviction.
“I am not trying to dissuade you from making a love match,” Lucy began, “but-”
“That is exactly what you are trying to do,” Hermione cut in.
“Not at all. I just don’t see why you can’t try to fall in love with someone of whom your parents might actually approve.”
Hermione’s lovely mouth twisted into a frustrated line. “You don’t understand.”
“What is there to understand? Don’t you think your life might be just a touch easier if you fell in love with someone suitable?”
“Lucy, we don’t get to choose who we fall in love with.”
Lucy crossed her arms. “I don’t see why not.”
Hermione’s mouth actually fell open. “Lucy Abernathy,” she said, “you understand nothing.”
“Yes,” Lucy said dryly, “you’ve mentioned.”
“How can you possibly think a person can choose who she falls in love with?” Hermione said passionately, although not so passionately that she was forced to rouse herself from her semireclined position on the bed. “One doesn’t choose. It just happens. In an instant.”
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