"MOMMA, ARE YOU sleeping?"
Emma gently patted her mother as she lay in her bed.
In a groggy voice her mother replied, "I was just resting my eyes. What are you doing, sweetheart?"
"I just came to see if you wanted to pick flowers with me in the garden?"
Emma's mother wished she could muster the strength to leave her bed and pick flowers with her beautiful daughter, but she was mired down by an illness that her doctors could not explain.
"Darling girl, I would pick flowers with you if I could. Why don't you go down to the garden and I will sit by my window and watch you. Would you please bring me back some of the pink roses I adore so much?"
"Of course I will, Momma."
"I love you to pieces, Emma."
"I love you too, Momma."
Eliza Kensington kissed her daughter on the forehead and watched as she skipped out of the room to go pick flowers. Eliza moved to sit near the window so she could look down on Emma. Emma went straight to the pink roses first and waved up to her mother. Emma picked several roses and looked up to the window to show them to her mother, but when she looked up her mother was gone. Emma gathered enough flowers for her mother's room, and ran back in the house to give them to her.
As Emma made her way upstairs she heard her father shouting and crying. She ran as fast as she could to her mother's room, only to see her father cradling his wife in his arms and weeping. Emma stared at her father holding her mother as the pink roses in her hand fell to the floor forgotten. That was the last day Emma saw her mother alive.
SHE SAT WITH A book in her lap desperately willing herself to pick it up and study the Latin contained between its covers. Her tutor had granted her the rare privilege of conducting their afternoon lesson outside under her favourite shade tree. As she sat on a comfortable blanket trying to be a proper student her mind wondered to the pond that lay in the distance. Emma stared at the pond and longed to be able to swim in its cool waters. Sensing her distraction the tutor rapped a ruler against her wrist in an effort to draw her student's attention back to the task at hand. Once again she picked up the book and pretended to read the lesson. Satisfied with her diligence the tutor retreated to the mansion in search of a cool drink. Thankful for the moment alone Emma tossed aside the book and made her way to the edge of the pond.
Emma Grace Kensington was the daughter of a wealthy baron. Emma's father Baron William Kensington was one of England's richest noble men. Emma lived a life of privilege, but not a happy one. She rarely saw her father and her mother passed away when she was eight years old. Emma's father was a busy man, therefore, the staff at Kensington Manor saw to Emma's welfare. Emma longed for the love of her father and missed her mother desperately. Since the death of her mother, Emma's father could barely stand the sight of her. Only recently did Emma realize her father's distance was caused by her striking resemblance to her mother. Emma did not understand why her father would push her away if he loved her mother so much.
Emma was an exceptionally beautiful child, but by the time she reached twelve her beauty was showing the first signs of womanhood. She had deep raven hair that was unfashionably straight. She longed for curly hair like other girls her age possessed, but Emma's straight hair shone like liquid diamonds in sunlight and held moonlight prisoner with its darkness. Her skin was creamy and pale without even a freckle to taint its perfection. Her full lips were the perfect shade of rose and her mouth was even more stunning when she curved her lips into a smile. Her smile revealed straight pearly teeth that unlocked her happiness. Emma used her smile often despite the underlying sorrow of her family life. Her slim pert nose gave her face a regal bearing. Emma was a striking creature, but her most incredible feature was her eyes. Her eyes were brilliant. One colour could not truly describe Emma's eyes. In bright light they were a dazzling shade of cobalt, but when she was angry or the light was fading her eyes changed to a colour that could only be described as midnight. Emma's eyes were truly the windows to her exquisite soul.
Unaware of her spectacular beauty, Emma was a delightful child eager to please her elders and always hopeful that her father would someday learn to see her as something other than a terrible reminder of her faithfully departed mother. Despite her longing, Emma did her best to be happy and polite. The staff of Kensington Manor adored her, especially the butler and his wife, who was also the head housekeeper. Nigel and Millie thought of Emma as their own child, and tried to provide the love that she was missing from her father and mother. Emma shone like a bright light in Kensington Manor, which was a credit to her mother's legacy. Emma's greatest comfort was her family's home.
Kensington Manor was a picturesque estate in the English countryside. The sprawling estate had lush gardens that were the envy of many of the land-owners in the countryside. Kensington Manor's gardens were home to a beautiful array of flowers and plants. When the gardens were in full bloom the sweet perfume of the flowers could be smelled for miles. Lord Kensington had the tremendous gardens planted for his beloved wife, whose love of flowers was one of her most endearing qualities. He almost had the gardens removed after the passing of his wife, but Emma loved them so much he could not bear to take them from her.
The main house was a grand sight to behold. The massive lawn with its maze of manicured bushes rolled right up to the expansive white door. Kensington Manor was nicknamed the 'The Widower House' by the locals. Its austere grey brick exterior lent the mansion a certain beautiful sadness. The front of the manor house sported an impressive thirty-three windows that made the house look like a grief-stricken face with contradicting hope filled eyes. The chimneys atop the roof dotted the sky with their curling smoke as if the house was expelling its loneliness. The brilliantly coloured flowers dotting the landscape kept the manor from looking too depressing. Kensington Manor was immaculate, expansive, and cherished by those who lived there. Emma loved her home more than anyone else. Every memory Emma had of her mother took place within the walls of Kensington Manor.
As she basked in the sunlight of the afternoon, Emma decided to stroll to the pond and dip her feet in the cool water. She removed her satin slippers and her stockings, which she knew was terribly inappropriate, but the freedom from constraint was delicious. Walking briskly, Emma treasured the feel of the grass beneath her feet. As she reached the edge of the pond she hitched up her dress revealing her skinny legs, and strode merrily into the refreshing water. Emma strolled in the cool water for a few moments until a pretty rock caught her eye. She loved searching for smooth stones on the bottom of the pond. She decided to tie her dress around her knees so she would have the use of her hands. She was engrossed in her search for pebbles when the neigh of a horse scared her causing her to fall backward into the water. Sputtering and gasping she sat up in the water and looked to the shore to see the horse that caused her unplanned dip in the pond.
Emma spied the horse and wondered where its rider was. The beautiful chestnut stallion seemed to be galloping along the edge of the pond alone. Just then she realized the horse actually had a rider who was riding upside down on the side of the horse. She had never seen someone ride a horse in that particular manner. A boy, who looked to be about fifteen, was laughing joyously as the horse cantered about the pond. Furious for the interruption Emma stood and marched towards the edge of the pond. When she reached firm ground again she called out to the rider.
"Who are you, and why are you riding by my pond?"
Startled by a foreign presence the rider corrected himself on the horse and turned toward the voice beckoning to him. Dismayed by the sight of a drenched girl the rider halted his horse, dismounted, and offered assistance.
"Goodness miss, are you alright?"
Emma crossed her arms, and cocked her hip.
"I was perfectly lovely until your horse startled me and sent me careening into the pond." Emma fussed.
The boy smiled at the surly girl, "Careening, how dreadful. I apologize for the intrusion miss. My name is Edward Phillip Dane Stansbury. Seeing as how my father has nearly all the same names I do, I go by Dane. I am pleased to make your acquaintance."
Dane bowed respectfully to the sopping wet girl and extended his hand in greeting. Always the model of propriety, Emma extended her arm gently placing her hand in Dane's, and curtsied. She blushed profusely when he kissed her delicate fingers, which was a gesture usually reserved for a lady much older than she. Dane smiled wickedly revelling in his ability to make her blush.
"You are very pretty when you blush."
Emma blushed an even deeper shade of crimson when she heard Dane's compliment.
"Forgive my forward question sir, but how did you come to be riding your horse in such a strange manner near my family's pond?"
Dane smiled as she avoided acknowledging his compliment.
"Lord Kensington granted me permission to ride near the pond a few days ago. I met
Lord Kensington when he visited my father at our newly acquired estate. My father has just been bestowed new lands by the King. He now owns the estate adjoining your father's. I was trying out a new trick on my horse, what did you think of it?"
Emma smiled despite her piqued pride.
"I think it is positively crazy and wonderful to ride a horse upside down, I have never seen anything like it."
"Maybe I can show you how it's done sometime."
Emma blushed at Dane's suggestion and turned their conversation to a more appropriate subject.
"It is very fortunate for your family to be given such a generous gift by the King. Your father must be a very loyal subject to His Majesty to receive new lands. Hopefully your family will find our little corner of the country agreeable," Emma commented.
Dane detected sarcasm in Emma's voice and was slightly offended by her insinuation. He could not believe a girl so young could speak in such a grown up manor. He decided to set the record straight for her.
"My father was gifted these lands because of his service to the crown. He is one of the King's top military advisors. He helped implement a new battle formation for our soldiers, which led to our most recent victory against the French. Hopefully someday I can be a noble soldier like my father. As you may know, it is rare for nobility to join the military, but my father did despite his rank. I'm sorry to disturb your use of the pond this afternoon. Baron Kensington mentioned he had a daughter, but I did not realize you would be allowed free reign of the lands unescorted."
Emma was thoroughly incensed at his comment on her propriety.
"I was escorted by my tutor, until she was called away to the main house. I was hoping to find some smooth stones from the pond to add to my collection. I love the way the water smoothes out the stones over time. I assure you we observe all the rules of propriety at Kensington Manor."
Dane softened as she admitted why she was strolling by the pond. Collecting pretty pebbles was such an overtly feminine pastime. He was intrigued by the little spitfire that emerged from the pond, soaking wet and full of spunk.
"Well Miss. Kensington, I cannot leave you here in your present state. Would you permit me to escort you back to the main house upon my horse?"
"That would be lovely, as long as we ride right side up."
Dane laughed out loud and stretched his arm out towards his horse.
Desperately wanting to get out of her wet clothes Emma took Dane's outstretched hand and mounted his horse. She settled herself sideways in the saddle and was surprised when he swung himself upon the horse's back and sat directly behind her. Being only twelve Emma had never been so close to a boy before. Dane's presence had a strange effect on her stomach. She wanted to dislike him for his intrusion, but Emma found herself hopelessly drawn to him.
Trying to calm herself Emma gazed directly in front of her. She feared if she looked at Dane too long he would be able to tell the affect he was having on her senses. Her contact with males was scarce, but Dane was different. He was only a few years older than she, but he was already showing the signs of becoming a man. He was taller by several inches than other lads his age and was also considerably more strapping. She felt small sitting next to him. Dane's hair was the colour of sand from the beaches of Dover. He had a firm square jaw that made him look slightly intimidating until he smiled. His smile was devilish and set his rich brown eyes twinkling whenever he used it. All together Emma had never seen a more agreeable face in her whole life.
The ride back to her home seemed to take ages. About half way to the manor house Dane could not take the uncomfortable silence anymore and began talking to Emma.
"You mentioned your tutor was chaperoning you this afternoon, what were you studying?"
Emma rolled her eyes as she answered, "Latin. It is so dreadfully boring. It is my least favourite subject."
Dane was surprised that a girl so young would be studying Latin.
"So what is your favourite subject?"
"Oh, that is easy, History. I love learning about important people and how they make their imprint on the world."
Dane was surprised by how earnest Emma was for her love of history. It was as if a much older person was talking through a child's body.
"You are very interesting, Emma. I do not think I have ever heard someone speak about History that way."
"I think it is important to remember people that are gone. If we do not take the time to remember them now, then their lives and everything they accomplished will be forgotten."
Dane tried to wrap his brain around such a deep concept.
"Whose life has impressed you so much that you have developed this need to remember people forever?"
"My mother. She died when I was eight. If I do not take time to remember her, then who will. Everyone deserves to have someone remember them."
Dane's heart cracked wide open. This incredible young girl had formed an intense love for history because she felt like it honoured her deceased mother. He wondered if he would ever care about anything so deeply in his life. They finished their ride in silence.
When they finally arrived Dane dismounted from the horse and reached up to help Emma down. Once again she felt strange tremors in her stomach when his hands connected with her waist to see her safely to the ground.
"Thank you for your assistance Mr. Stansbury. I am terribly sorry for taking up your time with my unfortunate accident."
"Not at all Miss Kensington, I am very pleased to have met you. Your passion for history is inspiring. I have never met a girl as interesting as you. Perhaps we will see each other under better circumstances soon."
"I look forward to it."
With that Emma turned and headed into her house. Once inside she collapsed against the door. Her encounter with Dane left her mesmerized. She only had a few acquaintances her age and none of them were as stimulating as Dane Stansbury. She rushed off to her chamber to change out of her wet clothes and right her appearance. Her mind raced wondering when she would get to see Dane again.
As Dane rode back to his estate he pondered his encounter with Emma. Lord Kensington mentioned his daughter's age to be twelve. He knew a few girls Emma's age and they all seemed to be giggling creatures that flaunted their ribbons and cared naught for anything other than the latest fashions. Somehow Dane could not imagine Emma acting childish like other girls. There was something in her manner that made her appear older, more mature than she really was. Dane appreciated a fine looking female when he saw one, but he had never seen a girl as lovely as Emma. He could not help but notice her fetching eyes and how sweetly innocent she looked every time she blushed. Dane was not prone to lingering his attention on girls, but he could not seem to get Emma off his mind. Her confession about her mother made him want to comfort her for her loss, and he barely knew her. He wondered when they should meet again, and prayed that it would be soon.