Cecily never meant to eavesdrop, but neither was she one of those people with a painful attachment to scruples. She liked to know things, and when people were so obliging as to talk about them in her presence she had no difficulty in listening. One day, crouched behind the high-backed chair that stood in the parlor corner, Cecily was distracted from her floor scrubbing by the sound of shuffling feet and muffled protests from the direction of the door.
“Really, this is quite stupid, please, I have work to do, let go.”
“You’ll not get out of my hands, Alane Callum, until I’ve said my piece.” The parlor door flung open with a bang, Cecily made the instantaneous decision to duck lower rather than reveal herself. Muire, whose shrill voice had been chastising her brother, took up a position by the fireplace, Deidre sat in the window with much snuffling, and Madam G settled into the very chair Cecily was curled up behind.
The accusations began immediately. “A commoner, Alane. An absolute commoner. Now I am the last person to have delusions of wealth and prestige, but we do have our reputation to keep up, haven’t we? How many people saw you two out there in the garden? Or, mercy, walking the highways and byways—completely alone—why you disgrace us all! Really, I think this is the first time in my life I have ever been thoroughly ashamed of my brother.”
Cecily heard a sob come from the window. Madam G shifted in her seat and murmured, “Well, my dear boy, what will you say to that? Your sister has condemned you for lowering yourself, do you agree with her?”
Alane, who must have been standing quite near the parlor door, was completely silent for a moment and the only sounds were Deidre’s snuffles and the hammering of Cecily’s heart. Finally he said, “You are quite right, Mother, Sisters. I have let my violent feelings carry me away into an affection my rational mind would never have considered.” Muire was quick with enthusiastic assent and Deidre blew her nose with relief. “Nonetheless,” he continued, “I do l—love the girl. She is good and kind and wise in her own way. She has a great spirit, and I believe that I have given her reason enough to suspect my attachment so that it is now impossible to sever ties completely.”
“Nonsense!” “Of course not!” “My dear….” “The maid has no idea!” “It will pass.”
Cecily gritted her teeth, hardly knowing what she wanted anyone to say, knowing she was helpless to take part in a discussion so intimately connected with herself, hardly daring to breath lest she say something without meaning to. Madam G rose, creaking, from her chair.
“Alane, my brave and faithful son, believe me when I tell you that, worthy though our Alyssum may be, she is not the woman to make your life complete.” There was silence, then a slight choking sound, and then the confused sound of swishing skirts and feet and the door closing once or twice.
When she was certainly alone Cecily emerged, unfolding her limbs from the cramped position, and returned to cleaning, a bit shaken, but with a sad little smile on her face. He’s no idea. None of them have any idea. They think I’d snap him up because he’s got a little money and I’ve got nothing. They think I’d consider marrying him. Poor, simple, interesting people.