Accidentally in Love(3)

By: Claudia Dain

“Sig. Mama is calling,” Harry said, brushing his hands together, the crumbs flying.

Sig looked up, gave Mama a cool, bland stare and waited. Sig was, perhaps, the child most like Papa.

“You must remember that your name is Seymour, not Sig,” Mama said.

“I know my name, Mama,” he said.

“I sometimes wonder,” Mama muttered.

“I know I’m Horace, Mama,” Harry said. “I simply prefer to be Harry. Pip has been calling me Harry, and Seymour Sig, and Philip Pip for years and years. He likes us to call him Kit. He’s the one who gave us these pet names, Mama. He couldn’t possibly find it offensive.”

“I should think he’d find it offensive if we stopped using them. Something of an insult, isn’t it?” Pip said.

Emeline kept her own counsel. Kit had never, ever given her a pet name. It was most unfriendly of him. As the two most illustrious families in Wiltshire, a designation of questionable status, Wiltshire being Wiltshire, the Culleys and the Harlows had been in each other’s pockets from Emeline’s earliest memories. As the eldest, Emeline had the longest memories of them all. Kit had brought his younger brother, George, round to their house nearly every day once his father had died.

The quiet of the Culley house had worn him down, pressed down upon him, made each day hours longer than it should have been. This is what he had told his mother, who had repeated it to Mama, who had not repeated it to Emeline but she, from the age of four to the age of seven had fit quite neatly under the round table in the corner of the west drawing room and had made it her own private domain. It had been a fort in the pine-scented forests of New York, a tent in the shimmering heat of Madras, a medieval keep on the heathered edge of the Scottish highlands. From her secret fort, she had learned much about Kit. As she was already half in love with him, listening to his mother pour out her heart to her mother had made her love for him all the more poignant. This boy, this boy only three years older than herself, needed someone to love him.

She loved him. He needed her.

Kit, the dolt, had never seemed to realize that.

“You were children. He is a child no longer,” Mama said. “He is in Town for the Season looking for his own bride, most certainly. He will likely take a few years to make his choice from amongst the many fine girls who will catch his interest, but that is not our concern. He must be free of the encumbrances of old relationships as he devotes all his energy to making new connections.”

There was not a single syllable of that proclamation to which Emeline was not in violent opposition.

He would not take years and years. He would not look about. He would not have his interest caught by anyone other than herself. It was most definitely her concern and he was not going to cut himself free of his old relationship with her. True, he had never cared enough to give her a pet name. She was always and eternally Emeline. Not Emmy. Not Lina. Not anything connoting intimacy and familiarity.

It was the most insulting thing he had done to her, and she had a list of insults to ascribe to him.

“He must have some energy left over to spare for old family friends,” Emeline said. “He is not as cold-hearted as you make him sound.”

Though, perhaps he was. He was not quick to declare himself, that was certain.

“I think that if Kit wanted us to call him something else, he would say so,” Pip said.

“I think so, too,” Harry said. “Sig?”

“I agree,” Sig said, staring with unblinking eyes into Mama’s face.

“So do I,” Emeline said, though no one had asked her.

“To do otherwise might insult him,” Pip said.

“That’s what I’d think. If it were I. Me,” Harry said, finally settling upon the correct pronoun. “I.”

“Yes, Mama,” Emeline said. “I think we can trust Kit to do the right thing.”

“The right thing?” Mama said. Mama, formidable, was slightly outclassed when her four children faced her down in a united front.

“That which suits him best,” Emeline said.

That seemed to be an end to it, though that was completely ridiculous, of course. If there was anything that was immutable it was that Kit could not and did not do the right thing, such as propose, or the thing which would suit him best, such as marry her.