The walled chapel garden was Cecily’s haunt when she wanted to contemplate the mysteries of the world. When the bluebells had just begun to unfold, dripping blue and dewy among ferns and frothflowers, the chapel garden was consumed by their rippling blossoms. A sun-drenched arbor made of cedar limbs, twisted and slumping with age like an overweight matron, occupied one corner of the garden. A large swing hung underneath for the convenience of visitors, the perfect refuge for two friends. Cecily and Bess sat there for hours at a time in their childhood, laughing and whispering about a thousand little secret hopes and dreams.
Bess rarely delved into deep waters, no matter how Cecily tried to lead their conversation there. Cecily tried to imagine what life was like beyond the mountains. She told and retold minstrel ballads until she almost believed them. She tried to linger near the nobles when they conversed about worlds beyond her own. Bess was perfectly content to chat about recent happenings and the doings of friends and family, going so far as to speculate as to who might marry whom, but never going much deeper. Cecily itched to dive into the dark middle of the lake, while Bess paddled in the pleasant shallows.
|Bluebells, a photo by Paul Albertella on Flickr.|
The carefree afternoons of childhood had gone long ago, but on a few rare days the two friends could still be found on their garden swing at sunset. Creaking back and forth on the old ropes, they were usually more silent than talkative; a long day of work has a way of making even the closest friends quiet.
A few days after Cecily's conversation with Gracia, Bess came to the swing with pinched lips and eyes swollen a suspicious red.
“Bess! Are you all right? Is something wrong?”
“Yes, yes…I mean no—nuthin’s the matter.”
“I know you better than you think. Have a seat and tell me what’s the matter.”
“It isn’t really. Nuthin at all. Chess and rockets, Cessy, ye’ve got a lot more to worry about than I do, what with yer mum being so sickly.”
Cecily winced. Obviously she had been too wrapped up in her own problems to recognize Bess’s struggles. “If something has happened to hurt you then I need to know what it is.”
Bess fell onto the swing with a sigh, more relieved than resigned. “It’s not really summat that’s happened; more like summat that’s not happened. Robbie isn’t talking to me.”
“Not talking to you? How can that be, you see him every day.”
“He’s been avoidin’ me. At least I think he has. I’ve hardly seen him ten minutes together in the last week. I don’t think he likes me, Cessy. I must have imagined it all.”
“Maybe you’re overreacting. Maybe he’s just been busy.”
“No, that can’t be. He’s been workin’ in the kitchens, and I see him a dozen times a day. Never speaks to me. Won’t even look me in the face.” The tears standing in her eyes threatened to spill over, and Cecily took her hand.
It did seem strange that Robbie should ignore Bess; if it was true, this would be the first time he’d done so since Bess was about five years old. Even when rumors were swirling around Bess and Bartholomew Cobbler, Robbie Brooker had not been far in the distance. Cecily had thought before that it might not be a bad thing for Robbie to lose interest in Bess, or for Bess to never catch on to his affections. After all, who was Robbie Brooker? A cheese maker’s son. He was nice, of course, nicer than most Whitcrowe boys, and he had a sense of fun that Cecily enjoyed and admired. But he had no pride; he was friendly and humorous and had a sensible head on his shoulders…but there wasn’t much more to be said. Could anyone so bland, so usual, really make a woman’s heart race and bring the kind of joy that lasts a lifetime? Apparently that depended on the woman.
“Have you thought of confronting him? Talking to him, I mean. You could go right up to him and ask why he’s been avoiding you.”
Bess’s jaw went slack. “Cessy! I couldn’t do that. If he really doesn’t like me, if he doesn’t…then I’ve no business talkin’ to him at all.”
“Right, quite right. Well, perhaps Robbie isn’t ‘the one’ for you then, eh? Do think that could be it?”
Bess turned away and bit down hard on her lip. Neither of them said anything for several seconds. Finally Bess murmured, “I suppose that could be it. It might be that I was wrong.” Cecily squeezed her hand hard.