The Dinner Party

It was after five on a Friday and everyone had gone.  Just Lydia and her boss, Maksim were there.  She was clearing her desk when he stuck his head out of his office.  “Are you doing anything tomorrow evening?” he asked.

She shook her head, wondering if he wanted her to come and work tomorrow.  It had happened before.

“A good friend of mine is having a dinner party tomorrow evening and I was wondering if you would like to go with me.”

Lydia stared at him for several minutes, wondering if she had heard correctly.  This was the first time since they had been working together that he had ever asked her to go anywhere with him.  She was both nervous and excited at the same time.  This seemed too good to be true.  Had his date cancelled on him?

“No one cancelled on me,” he said, startling her.  She hadn’t realized that she had voiced her thoughts.  “You’re the only one I’ve asked.  If you don’t want to go, it’s fine.  I’ll go by myself.”

“No, I want to go,” she said.  “It’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere interesting.”

“I’ll pick you up at six-thirty.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she replied and watched as he went back into his office.  Then, she finished clearing her desk, took out her handbag and locked her drawer.  He was on the phone when she walked past.  As she walked to the lift, she wondered what she was going to wear to the dinner party.  Maksim was such a stylish man her outfit would have to be classy.

As soon as she got home, she went straight to her wardrobe and scanned the clothes hanging there.  Her eyes settled on the soft blossom, strapless ruffle hem dress which she had recently bought and had never worn before.  It would go well with her sliver sandals and matching clutch purse.  As for her hair, she would just pin it up.  Satisfied that she had something to wear tomorrow evening, she drew the doors shut and undressed. After taking a quick shower, she had something light to eat before settling down on the sofa to watch the News.

At eleven-thirty, she turned in but didn’t go to sleep right away.  She lay there thinking about tomorrow, thrilled that she didn’t have to wait until Monday to see Maksim.  Maksim.  He was easily the most attractive man she had ever known and she was drawn to him from the very first time they met.

Her thoughts went to this morning and the way he had looked at her as she walked over to his desk to leave some papers there for to look over.  He was on his cell phone but he was watching her.  She wondered if he had any idea of how sexy he looked at that moment or the effect he always had on her.  When she turned and headed to the door, she could feel his eyes on her.  There were times when they would exchange looks and other times when she found excuses to go to his office.  However, it seemed like nothing would come of it and she wondered if it had to do with the fact that he was her boss.

She was really looking forward to seeing him tomorrow.  Hugging her pillow, she tried to imagine the expression on his face when he saw her in her dress.  She hoped he would be impressed.  It was near one when she finally drifted off to sleep.

The following day, she busied herself with housekeeping and cooking.  The day seemed to drag.  Finally, it was time to get ready for her date.  Excitement filled her as she got dressed and she checked herself in the mirror to make sure everything was fine before she left her room.  As she put her shawl around her shoulders, the doorbell rang.  Her heart skipped a beat.  She hurried to the door and opened it.  Her mouth went dry when she saw Maksim standing there looking drop dead gorgeous in the navy Mohair dinner suit with black silk.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her and the admiration shining in their depths.  “You look amazing,” he said quietly.

She smiled, feeling very pleased.  “Thank you,” she said as she closed and locked the door behind her.  As they walked to the lift, a group of women passed them and cast admiring glances at Maksim but he appeared not to notice them.  Lydia looked over her shoulder.  Eat your hearts out, ladies.

On the ride down the lift, he leaned against the panel and looked at her. “The friend whose dinner party I’m taking you born in Vladivostok like me.  We were neighbors until my parents migrated to England when I was three.  After his father died, his mother brought him and his sister here.  My parents helped them to settle and he and I went to the same school and university.”

“You don’t have a Russian accent,” she commented.  “I guess it’s because you came here as a small child.”

“Yes, but when I speak with my parents you can hear it.  Vasily has a strong accent because he came here as an older child.  His wife Anna is from the Ukraine.  They have two children—a boy and a girl.  You’ll like them.”

“Have you been back to Vladivostok since you left?” The doors to the lift opened then and he allowed her to precede him before he followed her.  He placed his hand on her elbow, making her skin tingle.  His fingers felt warm and firm.  They walked to his car—a sleek black jaguar.  He held open the door and she climbed in.  Briefly, his gaze dropped to her legs before he closed the door.

He got in beside her and turned on the key in the ignition.  The engine purred to life and he drove out of the parking space.  “I went back a few years ago when I visited Moscow.  I took the train from there to Vladivostok and spent a week.  It felt strange being there.  The city centre is decaying and badly in need of a scrub and the building where my family and I lived looks rundown.  I was happy to leave although there are some attractions that I couldn’t miss like the Arsenyev Regional History Museum where there’s a battle scene between a Siberian tiger and a bear.  I have a photo of it.  Remind me to show you sometime.  You have to see it to believe it. I also visited the Triumphal Gates of Nikolai, reputed to be one of the most beautiful and magnificent buildings in Vladivostok. They were built in 1891 to commemorate the heir’s to the Tsar’s throne Nicholas Alexandrovich’s  who later became Russian Imperator Nicholas II.  I visited other places of interest then I returned to Moscow.”

“What about your parents?  Would they go for a visit?”

He shook his head.  “No.  They don’t want to travel anywhere now because they are old.”

“I like your parents.”  He had brought them to the office a couple of years ago to meet his co-workers and because he was taking them out for lunch to celebrate his mother’s eightieth birthday.  They hardly spoke any English but were very warm and friendly.

He smiled.  “Yes, they are good people.”

“What about your sister, did she ever go back home for a visit?” He had an older sister whom she heard him talk about on several occasions but never met.  She lived in Manchester.

“Yes, a few years ago with her family.  She had a better experience.  She didn’t bother to visit our old neighborhood.  Instead, she and her family did a lot of sightseeing.  The kids loved it, especially the dolphin show at the oceanarium.”

They talked some more about his childhood home and then they arrived at his friend’s house.  It was an attractive, stately home with a winding driveway.  Several cars were parked and as they walked up the stairs, they could hear voices and peals of laughter.  She felt butterflies in her stomach and she glanced at him.  “Don’t be nervous,” he said.  He reached for her hand and held it the rest of the way.

As she looked around her in wonder at the décor and the different people there in their fine outfits, he escorted her to their hosts.  They were an attractive couple.  Vasily was tall, blonde and regal in his white dinner jacket and Anna was medium height with dark brown hair swept back in a chignon.  She was wearing a beautiful maroon sequenced ankle length dress with cap sleeves.  Her eyes twinkled when Maksim introduced Lydia. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lydia,” she said.  “What a lovely dress.”

Lydia smiled.  “Thank you.”  She turned to Vasily who smiled and shook her hand warmly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he said.  “Maksim, where have you been hiding her?” He teased his friend.

Maksim replied first in Russian, “v moyem serdtse” and then in English, “We work together.” Vasily looked at him for a few minutes and then said, “Well, it’s good to have you both here tonight.” Maksim took Lydia’s arm and led her over to meet some of the other people in the room.

There was one particular woman there who seemed especially pleased to see him and she completely ignored Lydia who looked her over.  She was petite, curvy and had thick, unruly black hair that tumbled around her bare shoulders in tight curls.  The red strapless dress hugged her and flattered her olive complexion.   She put her red lacquered nails on Maksim’s arm as she reached up and planted a kiss on his cheek.  “Maksim, what a pleasure it is to see you,” she said in what sounded like a Spanish accent.  “It has been a while.  How have you been?”

Maksim smiled.  “Hello, Camila.  Allow me to introduce you to Lydia.”

It was then she seemed to notice that someone was standing beside him.  Her dark brown eyes swept over Lydia and the expression on her face had changed dramatically.  There was hostility and disdain written all over it.  She didn’t smile or offer her hand.  Instead, she said grudgingly, “Hello, Linda.”

Lydia bristled but she maintained a calm composure.  “Lydia,” she corrected her.  “My name’s Lydia.”

Camila didn’t say anything.  Instead, she turned her attention once again to Maksim who was watching Lydia.  “Well, Maksim, I expect to have a least one dance with you tonight,” she said, touching his arm again.  “That’s if your date doesn’t object.”  She said the word “date” as if it were a dirty word.  Before he could answer, she excused herself, then turned and sauntered away.

Lydia shook her head.  She didn’t know that women like her actually existed.  “Are you going to dance with her?” she asked Maksim who looked amused.  Did he find Camila attractive?  She noticed he hadn’t seem at all put out by her obvious flirtation with him.

“I don’t think so,” he said emphatically.  “Don’t let her upset you or spoil your evening.” “I’ll try not to.”

Just then, dinner was announced and they were ushered into an enormous dining-room with a long table covered in a white cloth, elegant dinnerware and vases with red flowers.  She sat between Maksim and a very nice lady whom he had introduced her to earlier.  Thankfully, Camila was seated several chairs away.  The dinner consisted of three scrumptious options—the Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf, Grilled Flatiron steak with tomatoes and spiced vinaignette for the meat lovers and Cider Braised Chicken with apples and Kale.  For the vegetarians, the choices were the Rigatoni with peas and porchini mushrooms in a creamy asparagus sauce and the Papardelle with shallots wild mushrooms and tarragon.  Lydia opted for the Sole while Maksim had the steak.  And following dinner the Mini Lanoffee Pie was served.  It was the best dessert she had ever had and promised herself that she would make it one of these days.

After dinner, they filed into the large room where there would be dancing for those who wanted to dance and comfortable chairs for those who just wanted to sit and chat.  Lydia excused herself and went to freshen up.

When she returned, Maksim reached for her hand.  “Let’s dance,” he suggested quietly, his expression serious.  Pulse racing, she put her handbag on a seat nearby and followed him to the dance floor.  She followed his lead and their bodies moved in unison to the music.  The feel of his hand pressing into the small of her back and his firm body against his made her senses swim.  He smelled really good and her arm tightened slightly around his neck as they moved around the dance-floor.  The hand holding hers felt so warm and pleasant.

At one point he drew back to gaze down at her.  She raised her head to look up at him.  Their eyes locked for several minutes as they continued to move as one to the music.  His eyes were darker and she saw something in them which made her heart pound wildly against her ribs and swallow hard.  Her chest began to heave when she saw his gaze drop to her lips which parted. Color flooded his cheeks and she felt his grip on her back tighten even more until she was pressing into his body.  She couldn’t be certain if the heavy breathing she heard was his or hers.

The music ended and several minutes passed before he released her.  He was still holding her hand and instead of going back to where the others were sitting, he took her in the opposite direction.   He took her out on to the terrace where it was dark except for the light coming from inside. No one was out there.  They were alone.

Without saying a word, he stopped abruptly, pulled her against him and began to kiss her hungrily, feverishly.  She hugged him tightly around the neck and kissed him back.   They stood there for a long time, just kissing while inside people were chatting, laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves.

At length, Maksim raised his head to look down into her upturned face, his breathing harsh and unsteady.  “I have wanted to do that for a very long time,” he confessed huskily.   She reached up and kissed him.

“Me too,” she said.

“Remember when Vasily asked me where I have been hiding you?” he asked.  “I said something to him in Russian.”

“Yes, you did but I thought you said it in English afterward.  You told him that we work together.”

“I said that afterwards but when he asked me where I have been hiding you, I said, in my heart.”

She stared at him.  “In your heart?” she repeated.

“Yes, that was my way of telling him that I love you.”

Her breath caught in her throat.  “I love you too, Maksim,” she said.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.”

“It was love at first sight for me too but I kept it to myself because I didn’t know how you felt about me or if you would feel comfortable being in a relationship with me.”

“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re my boss,” she said.  “I love you and I want to be with you.”

He groaned.  “I want to be with you too,” he muttered thickly.  “Tonight changes everything between us.”

“Yes, it does,” she agreed.  She closed her eyes in sweet anticipation as he lowered his head again to kiss her.

 

 

Sources:  J Crew; Pinterest; Wikitravel; Panoramio; Vladivostok; Tripadvisor; Epicurious; Pinterest; Red

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The Engagement Party

It was her friend Zoe’s engagement party and it was being held at Lord’s The Home of Cricket.  It was a beautiful venue.  Dinner was to be held in the elegantly furnished and intimate Writing Room.  On the walls hung paintings of cricketing scenes such as an imaginary game between England and Australia watched by high society ladies and gentlemen.  From there one could see the views of the Ground from the north end of the Pavilion.  However, neither of these things held her interest.  All she could see was him.

She stood against the wall watching him now.  He was talking to a couple.  She had noticed him the moment he walked in.  He was easily the most handsome man in the entire room.  Tall, slender with thick black hair dressed in an expensive looking black suit, white shirt and black tie, he looked very stylish.  He probably wouldn’t even notice me, she thought.

Just then, he looked up and their eyes met.   Her heart skipped a beat.  She wanted to look away but couldn’t.  She saw him say something to the couple and then he was walking toward her.  By now her heart was pounding heavily and her breath quickened.  As he approached she saw his eyes travel over her.  She was wearing a red ankle length dress which flattered her with red strappy low heel sandals and her hair was swept up in a pile of curls on top of her head.

He was standing in front of her now and this close he was even more striking.   He had exquisite brown eyes which were riveted on her face.  “Hello,” he said, holding out his hand.  “I’m Cole.”

She put her hand in his and his fingers enclosed hers in a warm handshake.  “Stephanie.”

“Are you here alone?” he asked.  He was staring at her and she could see the admiration in his eyes.

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Are you Gary’s friend or Zoe’s?”

“Zoe’s.  She and I have been the best of friends since we attended university together.  I’m her maid of honor.”

“I’m her uncle.”  He smiled when he saw her surprised look.  “I get the same reaction from other people.”

He looked rather young to be Zoe’s uncle.  He was most likely in his late thirties which meant that he was a child himself when she was born.  All of her uncles were old enough to be her father.  She wondered what Zoe would say if she knew that she was attracted to hers.  Right now she was captivated by him.  “Zoe mentioned that you’re giving her away.”

“Yes.  Her father, my older brother died two years ago.”

“It’s a pity that he couldn’t be here.  Zoe has told me so much about him.  They seemed very close.”

“Yes, they were.  You’re very beautiful,” he said suddenly, startling her.  His expression was serious.

She swallowed hard, her eyes wide as they met his.  His thumb was caressing the back of her hand causing all sorts of tingling sensations in her.  “Th-thank you,” she managed to say.

“I see you’ve met my dear Uncle Cole,” Zoe’s voice said over his shoulder and he released Stephanie’s hand.

They turned to the smiling redhead who looked radiant in her gold lace maxi dress.  “I was going to introduce you but I see you have beaten me to it.  Isn’t he handsome?” she asked Stephanie, with a twinkle in my eyes.  “I think all of my girlfriends had a crush on him.”

“You’re exaggerating as usual,” Cole said to her.  “Are you having a good time?”

“I’m having a wonderful time, thanks to you and Mother.  They took care of all the arrangements,” she explained to Stephanie.

“It’s a wonderful venue,” Stephanie agreed.  “After dinner I would like to take a walk in the grounds.”  Cole glanced at her when she said that.

“Well, now it’s time to have dinner,” Zoe said.  “The two of you are sitting at my table.”  She slipped an arm in each of theirs and walked with them to the Writing Room.  Stephanie sat between Cole and Zoe.  Dinner was superb.  Afterwards there was dancing.  Stephanie watched as Zoe and Gary danced, thinking how romantic they looked.  Then, she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around.  It was Cole.  He bent down and said in her ear, “Do you still want to take a walk on the grounds?” She nodded.  He straightened up and she got up from the table.

It was a warm evening and still bright.  Cole took her first to the cricket ground where the stands were and then to see the W.G Grace Statue.  “Who’s this?” she asked marveling at the sculpture.

“It’s W.G. Grace.  He was an English amateur cricketer who was important in the development of cricket.  He is considered to be one of the sport’s greatest players.  He played first class cricket for a 44 seasons.  He came from a family of cricketers.”

“Does it look like him?”

“Yes, it’s a remarkable likeness.”

“Are you a cricket fan?”

He shook his head.  “No. I’m more partial to soccer and rugby.  My father, however, was a cricket player and was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club, owner of the Lord’s Ground.”

“It’s really nice out here,” she said.  “Do you mind if we sit for a bit on one of the benches over there?” To be honest, she wanted to rest her feet for a bit.  They were starting to feel sore because of the heels.  She was not used to doing a lot of walking in them and they were still fairly new.

“Not at all,” he said and they went over to one of the benches and sat down.  She was facing forward while he was turned towards her with his arm resting along the back of the bench.  “You know, it feels strange being alone with you like this,” he commented after a moment of silence passed.

She turned to look at him.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  She enjoyed being here alone with him and wished that they could stay there for a long time.

“I’m at least ten years older than you.  I’m deeply attracted to you and you’re my niece’s friend.”

Her pulse began to race.  “I’m twenty-six,” she said.  “How old are you?”

“Thirty-nine.  I will be forty in September.”

“There’s not that much of an age difference between us,” she said.

“It feels strange being attracted to a girl who’s the same age as my niece.”

She got up and looking down at him, she told him, “I’m not a girl.  I’m a woman and I know what I want.”  She saw his expression darken and then, he was up on his feet and pulling her roughly against him.

“And I know what I want,” he muttered before he kissed her passionately, his lips almost devouring hers.  And her arms went up and encircled his neck.  She pressed closer against him as she responded to the onslaught of his kisses.

There they stood for a long while exchanging hungry kisses before he raised his head to gaze down at her, breathing heavily, his eyes dark and stormy and his face flushed.  “We’d better go back before they start to wonder where we are,” he said.

Fighting to catch her breath, she could only nod and he released her.  On trembling legs she walked back to the party with him.  Before they went inside, he paused to look at her.  “When can I see you again?” he asked huskily.

“Any time you want,” she said.  How she longed to kiss him again.

“Good,” he said with a slight smile before he reached out and caressed her cheek with his knuckles.  Before they parted company, she wrote down her phone number and address on the back of his business card and gave it to him.  He thanked her as he put it in his breast pocket.  He joined his mother and other guests while she joined Zoe and their other friends.

It was after mid-night when she left the party.  She got a ride home with a friend.  Before she left, she went over to Cole and said goodnight to him, his mother and the people with them.  She tried to be discreet where he was concerned and so she could only afford to give him a brief glance before walking away.  He watched her go, his expression drawn and a muscle throbbing along his jaw-line.

Weeks passed and she didn’t hear from him.  By the third week she was heartbroken.  Zoe kept asking her what was wrong when they met to fit on the dresses for the wedding but she assured her that she was fine.  She didn’t want to upset her friend.  Why hasn’t he gotten in touch with me?  The wedding was in two weeks.  What was she going to do when she saw him then?  Act as if nothing had happened between them?  Act as if everything was all right when her heart was breaking?  How she ached for him.  She spent sleepless nights, thinking about him and wondering why he hadn’t called or visited her.

It was the night before the wedding and she was feeling terrible.  How she wished she didn’t have to go but how could she not?  Zoe was counting on her being there as her friend and as her maid of honor.  She couldn’t let her down.  But how was she going to face Cole?  What if he showed up with a date?  That would be devastating, to say the least.  She wouldn’t be able to hide her distress and everyone would know that she was in love with him.

She got up from the sofa and went over to the window to look at the flickering lights of London.  He was out there somewhere, she thought.  Was he alone or was he with a woman?  She closed her eyes as fierce jealousy tore through her.  She pressed her head against the cool window pane as the tears ran down her cheeks.

Her eyes flew open when she heard the doorbell.  She moved away from the window, wiping her eyes in her tee shirt.  She looked through the keyhole and her breath caught in her throat.  She quickly pulled back the latch and tugged open the door, her eyes eagerly slipping over Cole’s tall frame.  He was wearing a navy blue suit and a checkered shirt.  Unable to help herself, she reached out and pulled him inside.  She closed the door, locked it and leaned against it, her chest heaving.

He turned to stare at her, his expression drawn.  “I couldn’t stay away,” he muttered thickly.  “I tried to but I just couldn’t stay away from you.”

“But, why did you want to stay away from me?” she asked, bewildered.  “I thought you wanted to see me again.  You said so at the engagement party.”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again so badly but our age difference kept bothering me.”

“I don’t care about the age difference,” she told him angrily.  “I want to be with you, Cole.  And I know that you want to me with me.  That’s why you’re here now.  Have you any idea how miserable I’ve been these past weeks, wondering why I haven’t heard from you?”

“Many times, I wanted to call you or stop by but I managed to convince myself it would be better if I didn’t get in touch.”

“Better for whom?” she was beside herself now.  The emotions were just pouring out now and the hot tears were spilling down her cheeks.  She was angry at him and she began to pummel at his chest.  “How could breaking my heart be better for me?”

His eyes darkened and his eyes were filled with pain.  “I’m sorry,” he said as he caught her fists and held them firmly.  “I’m so sorry.  Please forgive me, Stephanie.  Please forgive me for being such a fool.”

She calmed down and he released her hands which fell at her sides.  He reached up and cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away the tears.  Her eyes met his and the emotion in them made him groan.  He lowered his head and kissed her.  Moaning, she closed her eyes and kissed him back, her arms wrapping themselves tightly about his waist.

After several minutes, he broke off the kiss to look into her eyes.  “I love you,” he muttered huskily.  “I love you so much.”

Fresh tears sprang to her eyes.  “I love you too,” she whispered.

“Will you go to the wedding with me tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yes, I would love to but everyone will know that you and I…”

“I don’t care,” he declared.  “They will find out soon enough.”

“What about Zoe?”

“It may take some time but she’ll get used to her uncle dating her best friend.  Do you have any more objections?”

She shook her head.

“Good,” he murmured before he kissed her again.

 

Source:  Lord’s the Home of Cricket; Wikipedia; MCC;

Unexpected News

“What is all the commotion?” Isabel asked as she removed her bonnet.  She could hear excited voices in the drawing-room.  She didn’t dare go in.  “Is Elsie in trouble again?”  Elsie was her youngest sister.  She was a bit of a wild one, always managing to get herself in trouble and sending their mother in a tizzy.

Amelia shook her head.  “No, it’s not Elsie this time.  It’s Mr. Hornby.”

“Mr. Hornby is here?”  Isabel felt her heart lurch.  She ran her hands over her hair and smoothed the skirt of her dress.  “Has he been here long?”  If she had known that he was coming over this afternoon, she wouldn’t have gone for a walk.

“Not long.”

“Why is Mr. Hornby the cause of such commotion?”

“It seems that Mr. Hornby has decided that he wants to move to Canada.  He had considered the possibility for a very long time.  He sails next month.”

Isabel felt the color drain from her face.  “He’s leaving for Canada?  Next month?”

Amelia looked at her in alarm.  “What’s the matter, Izzy?” she asked.  “You have turned white as a sheet.  Are you not feeling well?”

“I–I need some fresh air,” she mumbled.

“But you just returned from your walk.”

“I need some fresh air.”

“Perhaps you should go and lie down.”

“No.  I need to go outside.”

“Would you like me to come with you?”

“No–I would rather be alone.”  She quickly made her exit, leaving Amelia standing there, looking perplexed.

Outside in the garden, Isabel burst into tears.  She couldn’t believe that Mr. Hornby was leaving England and—her.  How could he leave without knowing that she loved him dreadfully?

She had known him since she was child and he had always been so kind to her.  He never made her feel like a nuisance and when she was a teenager, he never treated her like a child.  They had very stimulating conversations and she looked forward to his visits.  He seemed to enjoy it when she played the piano and would sit beside her with the newspaper open in his lap, pausing from his perusal of it to compliment her playing. She loved to play for him and didn’t feel a bit nervous at all. Sometimes, they would take turns reading poetry.  She could have sat for hours just listening to him recite the sonnets and the works of her favorite poets.  He had such a marvelous voice.

She didn’t know exactly when her feelings for him had changed but one day when she went into the library and found him there looking through one of the History volumes, she realized then that she was in love with him.  It didn’t matter that he was twice her age. To her he was the most wonderful and handsome man she had ever known.  She cherished the time they spent together and the fact that she hadn’t heard of any romantic attachment on his part with anyone, she hoped that this might be in her favor.  However, that could all change now.

Why was he going to Canada?  Why so far away?  Will she ever see him again?

“Isabel?” She hadn’t heard him approach her and was startled when he materialized beside her.  “You are crying.”  He gave her his handkerchief.

She took it and wiped her eyes and her nose.  “Mr. Hornby,” she said.  “Amelia told me that you were here.”

He frowned.  “Why didn’t you come and see me then?” he asked.  “When I arrived I was very disappointed to learn that you weren’t home.   Why didn’t you join us in the drawing-room?  I wanted you to be there to hear my news.”

She felt the tears coming again and she turned away so that he couldn’t see her face.  “I heard the news,” she said.  “Amelia told me that you are going to Canada.”

“I suspect that Amelia wasn’t in the room when I asked your father permission to marry his middle daughter and to take her to Canada with me if she would agree to it.”

She swung around to face him, her eyes huge with shock.  “You asked my father to marry me?” she could scarcely believe this.

“Yes.  I must admit that at the age of two and forty, I never imagined that I would be asking a girl half my age to marry me.  Isabel, I am old enough to be your father but my feelings for you far from paternal.”

“Oh Mr. Hornby, I had hoped that you would come to regard me as I have regarded you for the past three years.”

“Then, you will marry me?”

“Yes!”

“And you have no objection to moving to Canada and being so far from your family?”

“I admit that I shall be sorry to leave them and the house in which I have spent the happiest years of my life but my future happiness is with you.”

Mr. Hornby smiled and brushed his knuckles against her cheek, his eyes filled with the love that had long dwelt in his heart.  “I shall resolve to make you as happy as you have made me, Isabel.”

“I cannot imagine being happier than I am at this moment, Mr. Hornby.”

“Please call me Nigel.”

“Nigel.”  His name came out as a laugh and a sob as she was overwhelmed by the sheer happiness of this moment.

victorian gentleman and young lady at piano

Fanny Kemble

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good – Thomas J. Watson

I never heard of Fanny Kemble until I recently read a devotion, The Unlikely in Our Daily Bread which mentions her work as an Abolitionist.  She was a British actress in the 19th century who married Pierce Butler, an American fan.  Fanny didn’t know that he was soon to inherit two plantations.  Had she known, most probably she would not have married him.  Little did she know that she would soon be fighting her own civil war.

Fanny Kemble was born in England in 1809 into a prominent family of actors.  Although she was very accomplished in her acting, it was not her true love.  Writing was her passion and throughout her she would write plays, journals, poetry, letters and memoirs.  Her most famous authorship would be that of Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation which many consider to be the closest, most detailed account of the harsh conditions of plantation slavery.

Fanny was a strong, spirited woman with no formal training in acting but she managed to captivate audiences.  She had what were considered to be masculine traits: she was independent, physically strong and highly intelligent.  She was talented, spoke French fluently and was accomplished in music.  She embraced life and enjoyed exercise, specifically riding.  To her the best way to was to break “my neck off the back of my horse at a full gallop on a fine day”.  This reminds me of my former boss whose wish was to die being mauled to death by a polar bear.  Whatever happened to wanting to die peacefully in one’s sleep?

Fanny met her future husband Pierce when she and her father went on a two-year theatre tour in America.  It wasn’t her desire to experience life in America but she did it to please her father.  She was well received by the Americans and captured the ardent attention of Pierce Butler, a man born into wealthy and prominent family from Philadelphia.  His grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran Major Pierce Butler.  Major Butler was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and the author of the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause.  He owned two plantations in Georgia, one was on St. Simon’s Island where sea-island cotton was grown and the other was on Butler Island where rice was grown.  One day, his grandson would inherit this mass fortune, making history as one of the largest slaveholders in the nation.

Pierce, infatuated with Fanny, followed her while she toured and she fell in love with this charming and attentive man.  She married him as a way of escaping life in the theatre which was beset with her family’s unstable financial future.  She was marrying into wealth but didn’t find out what the source of that wealth was until after they got married.

It was a marriage that was doomed from the beginning.  She believed that he would always be devoted to her and he believed that he could control her.  And their differences on slavery did not help matters.  He thought he could get her to see the benefits of the institution while she thought she could get him to free his slaves.  When she tried to publish an antislavery treatise she had written, Pierce forbade her to do so.  After he and his brother John inherited the Georgia plantations, Fanny wanted to see the plantation and begged but Pierce to take her with him but he refused.  Then in December of 1838 he took her and their two daughters and their Irish nurse to Butler Island.  Nothing could have prepared Fanny for  what she witnessed at this place.  Inspite of the beautiful surroundings, she could not escape the ugly presence of slavery.  She said, “I should like the wild savage loneliness of the far away existence extremely if it were not for the one small item of the slavery.”

Fanny and Pierce clashed over their views of slavery and their marriage began to deteriorate.  In 1845 Fanny left Pierce and children and returned to England where she resumed her stage career.  Pierce sued for divorce, claiming that she had “willfully, maliciously, and without due cause, deserted him on September 11, 1845”.  Three years later, on April 7, 1848, he filed for divorce.  Fanny returned to America to defend herself against his charges and after a long and painful court battle, the divorce was granted a year later with Pierce having full custody of the girls.  Fanny was allowed to spend two months very summer with them and receive $1500 yearly in alimony.

While Fanny was able to support herself in the U.S. and Europe with her Shakespearean readings, Pierce fell into financial ruin, gambling away his fortune.  He ended up in huge debt which led to the selling of the mansion in Philadelphia and the liquidation of other properties.  Unfortunately, this was not enough so the trustees turned their focus on the property in Georgia where the slaves were.  This led to the largest single sale of human beings in United States history and the event known as “the weeping time” as slaves were separated from their families.

After the war Pierce and his daughter Frances returned to Butler Island where he arranged for former slaves to work for him as sharecroppers.  He later contracted malaria and died.  Fanny moved to Philadelphia where she continued to perform dramatic readings.  She travelled and published her journals.  On January 15, 1893, Fanny died peacefully in London.

Notes to Women want to acknowledge this woman who spoke out against an institution and practice which violated the rights of people based on their race.  Moved with compassion and a sense of decency, Fanny set out to reform the plantations.  She set up a hostel and nursery for those in need and paid the slaves who personally tended to her.  She improved the hygiene of the slave children by rewarding cleanliness with small prizes.   Her critics saw her efforts at reform as foolish and sided with her husband but we applaud Fanny for the stance she took against slavery and her resolve to do what she could to help the slaves and for raising awareness through her firsthand observations.  If you are interested in reading about her experiences, you can read them in her diary here.

In Fanny’s eyes, acquiring wealth from the forced labor and enslavement of others is unconscionable. She was convinced that slavery was wrong and inhumane and refused to be silenced on the matter.  She stuck to her convictions and today, her journal continues to be a primary source of education on the reality of slavery.

[On disagreeing with her husband about his slave-holding:] I cannot give my conscience into the keeping of another human being or submit the actions dictated by my conscience to their will.

I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution.

In the north we could not hope to keep the worst and poorest servant for a single day in the wretched discomfort in which our negro servants are forced habitually to live.

I said I thought female labour of the sort exacted from these slaves, and corporal chastisement such as they endure, must be abhorrent to any manly or humane man.

The Southern newspapers, with their advertisements of negro sales and personal descriptions of fugitive slaves, supply details of misery that it would be difficult for imagination to exceed. Scorn, derision, insult, menace – the handcuff, the last – the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives – the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labor of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart – these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather that the exception, in the slave’s experience.

A good many causes tend to make good masters and mistresses quite as rare as good servants…. The large and rapid fortunes by which vulgar and ignorant people become possessed of splendid houses, splendidly furnished, do not, of course, give them the feelings and manners of gentle folks, or in any way really raise them above the servants they employ, who are quite aware of this fact, and that the possession of wealth is literally the only superiority their employers have over them.

Though the Negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen-the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will-are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter; possessing which, the want of every comfort of life is yet more tolerable than their fullest enjoyment without them.

When marriage is what it ought to be, it is indeed the very happiest condition of existence.

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Sources:  PBS, Pabook Libraries, New Georgia Encyclopedia; Brainy Quotes; AZ Quotes; Stand Up Quotes

Dame Julie Andrews

Recently, I read how Dame Julie Andrews is still dealing with the death of her husband Blake Edwards, director of The Pink Panther and Breakfast At Tiffany’s.  Blake died in 2010 at the age of 88.  They were married for 41 years.  That is remarkable and wonderful.  Dame Julie revealed that the secret to their successful marriage was “to take it one day at a time and so, lo and behold, 41 years later there we still were.”  She admitted that there are times when she is perfectly fine and then, “it’s suddenly—sock you in the middle of your gut and you think, ‘Ah God, I wish he were here.’ But he is in a way, I think one carries that love always.”

Dame Julie had been married before to Tony Walton but they divorced in 1967.  And in 1969 she married Blake.  She describes in an article in US Magazine how they met.  “We met about ten years before we — I mean, literally ships that passed in the night at some event — but we actually… our cars, I was going one way and he was going the other,” Andrews spilled of her meet-cute with her longtime love. “Blake rolled down the window after smiling a couple of times and said, ‘Are you going where I just came from?’ I was going to a therapist and he was coming from… very corny!”

Dame Julie was born in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England to Barbara Ward Wells and Edward Charles “Ted” Wells.  It later turned out that Edward Wells was not Dame Julie’s father.  Years later, in 1950, she learned from her mother that she was conceived as a result of an affair her mother had with an unnamed family friend.  What a shock that must have been.  Dame Julie didn’t disclose this family secret until 2008 in her autobiography.

When World War II broke out, Barbara and Ted Wells separated.  Ted Wells stayed to help to evacuate the children from Surrey to the Blitz while Barbara joined Ted Edwards in performing for the troops through the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).   Barbara and Ted Wells soon divorced and remarried.  Barbara married Ted Edwards.  Dame Julie lived with Ted Wells and her brother in Surrey and then in 1940, Mr. Wells sent her to live with her mother and step-father, believing that Andrews would be better able to provide for his talented daughter’s artistic training.

Dame Julie was used to calling her step-father, Ted Andrews, “Uncle Ted” so, when her mother suggested that she address him as “Pop”, it didn’t bode well with Dame Julie.  And it didn’t help that during the times that the family was very poor and lived in a bad slum area of London, that Ted Andrews was violent man and an alcoholic.  Twice while drunk, he tried to get into bed with his step-daughter, forcing her to lock her door.  Dame Julie described these times as a “very black period in my life.”

Thankfully, life got better for Dame Julie.  Her lovely voice launched her career in Britain where she became the youngest solo performer in a Royal Command Variety Performance at the London Palladium.  She performed along with Danny Kaye, the Nicholas Brothers and the comedy team of George and Bert Bernard for members of King George VI’s family.

In the United States, she made her Broadway debut playing Polly Browne in the already highly acclaimed London Musical, The Boy Friend.  As far as the critics were concerned, she stole the show.  Towards the end of her contract with The Boy Friend, she was asked to audition for My Fair Lady on Broadway and got the part.  In 1956, she starred opposite Rex Harrison as Eliza Doolittle.  Surprisingly, while Rex Harrison reprised his role for the movie, Dame Julie was passed over because, according to Jack Warner, she lacked sufficient name recognition and therefore the part went to Audrey Hepburn.  For Warner the decision was easy.  “In my business I have to know who brings people and their money to a cinema box office.  Audrey Hepburn had never made a financial flop.”

Dame Julie got to play the title role of Mary Poppins, a Disney film.  Her turn in Camelot had impressed Walt Disney so much that he thought that she would be perfect for the role of an English nanny who is “practically perfect in every way”.  In fact he wanted her for the part so badly that when she declined because of pregnancy, he insisted that they would wait for her.  No doubt he was happy that he did.  Mary Poppins became the biggest box-office draw in Disney history.  And the icing on the cake was, Dame Julie won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress.  At the close of her acceptance speech, Dame Julie said, “And, finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie and who made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner.”  My Fair Lady was in competition for awards at the same ceremony.  I wonder how Mr. Warner felt.

Dame Julie starred in other well known movies such as, The Americanization of Emily, which she described as her favourite film, Torn Curtain, opposite Paul Newman. She starred with Mary Tyler Moore in Thoroughly Modern Miller for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.  Thoroughly Modern Millie and Torn Curtain were at that time, the biggest and second biggest hits in Universal Pictures history, respectively. In 1982, she and James Garner, her The Americanization of Emily co-star would star opposite each other in Victor/Victoria.  In 1995, she starred in the stage production of the movie, making this her first appearance in a Broadway show in 35 years.  Two years, later, she was forced to quit the show when she developed hoarseness in her voice.

Dame Julie had surgery at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital to remove non-cancerous nodules from her throat.  She recently stated that the problem with her voice was due to “a certain kind of muscular striation that happens on the vocal cords as a result from the strain from Victor/Victoria.  She came out of the surgery with permanent damage that destroyed the purity of her singing and left her with a raspy speaking voice.  In 1999, she filed a malpractice lawsuit against the doctors at Mount Sinai, including the two who had operated on her throat.  The doctors had assured her that she should regain her voice within six weeks but two years had passed and her singing voice still hadn’t returned.  The lawsuit was settled in 2000 for an undisclosed amount.

In spite of this setback, Dame Julie has kept herself busy with many projects.  During the 2000s, enjoyed the successes of The Princess Diaries and its sequel and the Shrek animated film and Despicable Me.  In 2001, she was reunited with her Sound of Music co-star, Christopher Plummer in a live television performance of On Golden Pond.  In 2007, she was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild.  In 2010, Dame Julie appeared with Christopher Plummer and the actors who portrayed the Von Trapp children on Oprah to commemorate the film’s 45th anniversary.

Dame Julie is an author of children’s books.  In 2011, she and her daughter won a Grammy for A Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, the best spoken word album for children.  That same year she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.  In addition to her three Grammys, Dame Julie is the recipient of a BAFTA, five Golden Globes and two Emmys and the Disney Legend Honor and the Kennedy Center Honors.

Just recently Dame Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music.  In a Vanity Fair interview, they reflect on the making of the great musical classic.

I will always think of her as Maria, singing, “The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music” on top of that picturesque mountain in Austria.  One day I hope that my family and I will visit Salzburg where this wonderful movie was filmed.  The Sound of Music will always be one of the best musicals of all time and my favourite.  It is the third highest grossing film of all time.

Notes to Women applauds this classy lady.  She has had an amazing career.  She has appeared on stage, acted in top grossing movies, appeared in TV specials such as The The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Jack Benny Program and Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, the CBS special with Carol Burnett, voice work for animated movies and penned children’s books.  In 1980, she headlined “Because We Care”, a CBS TV special with 30 stars to raise funds for Cambodian Famine victims.

We congratulate her for being made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the performing arts.  Not surprisingly, Dame Julie is ranked number 59 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.  We wish this dear Lady continued success and all the very best.

Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th

Sometimes oppurtunities float right past your nose. Work hard, apply yourself, and be ready. When an opportunity comes you can grab it.

Sometimes I’m so sweet even I can’t stand it.

Premiere Of Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks" - Arrivals

 

 

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie_Andrews; http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000267/; http://ca.eonline.com/news/632214/julie-andrews-reveals-the-secret-to-her-long-lasting-41-year-marriage; http://thinkexist.com/quotes/julie_andrews/

Audrey Hepburn

“For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
 For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
 For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
 For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
 For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
 People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
 As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”
Audrey Hepburn

We adored her as Eliza Doolittle and Sabrina.  She starred opposite some of Hollywood’s top notch leading men–Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Fred Astaire, Henry Fonda and William Holden.  There was a sweet, endearing quality about her and such grace.   She was a delight to watch.

She had such a lovely British accent.  However, I learned that she was not born in England.  She was born in Ixelles, Belgium.  She was the only child of an English banker of Irish descent and his second wife, a baroness and Dutch aristocrat.

Audrey spent her childhood chiefly in the Netherlands, including German-occupied Arnhem, Netherlands, during the Second World War. Her parents divorced when her father, a Nazi sympathiser, left the family.  Hepburn referred to her father’s abandonment as the most traumatic moment of her life. Years later, she located him in Dublin, Ireland, through the Red Cross. Although he remained emotionally detached, she stayed in contact with him and supported him financially until his death.

In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945, where she trained in ballet along with the standard school curriculum.

In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the German occupation, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother’s documents because an “English sounding” name was considered dangerous, with her mother feeling that “Audrey” might indicate her British roots too strongly. Being English in the occupied Netherlands was not an asset; it could have attracted the attention of the occupying German forces and resulted in confinement or even deportation. Edda was never her legal name, also it was a version of her mother’s name Ella.

Audrey studied ballet in Arnhem and then moved to London in 1948, where she continued to train in ballet and worked as a photographer’s model. She appeared in several European films before starring in the 1951 Broadway play Gigi.

She starred opposite Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday for which she won the Academy Award  That was the first movie I saw her in with her short, sophisticated hairstyle.  I loved the part where Gregory Peck’s character put his hand in the mouth of the statue, La Bocca della Verità (in English, “the Mouth of Truth”) and when he pulled it out, it looked like he had lost it and Audrey’s character screamed.  He then popped his hand out of his sleeve and laughed. It turned that Audrey’s scream was real.Gregory Peck decided to pull a gag he had once seen Red Skelton do, and did not tell Audrey beforehand.  The gag worked and for me it was one of the most memorable moments of the movie.  When my sister and I visited La Bocca, I couldn’t help but think about that scene.

What I admired about Audrey Hepburn was  her work with UNICEF.  Her war-time experiences inspired her passion for humanitarian work and, although she had worked for UNICEF since the 1950s, during her later life she dedicated much of her time and energy to the organization. From 1988 until 1992, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia. In 1992, Hepburn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. 

Audrey was grateful for her own good fortune after enduring the German occupation as a child and for this reason she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the poorest nations. Hepburn’s travels were made easier by her wide knowledge of languages; besides being naturally bilingual in English and Dutch, Audrey also was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and German.

Her first field mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek’ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. Of the trip, she said, “I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can’t stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] [sic] not because there isn’t tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can’t be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars… I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering”. (Wikipedia). 

I always have the image of her with African children and the way she was loving and playful with them.  You could see that her heart was in what she was doing and that being there made her happy.

What a classy lady Audrey was.  She was a true leading lady not only on screen but in real life. 

Agatha Christie

I have watched her characters Miss Jane Marple, an astute spinster whose sharp eyes miss nothing and the meticulous, funny mustached Hercule Poirot come to life on the screen and today I thought that it would be fun to find out a little bit about Agatha Christie. 

She came from a well-to-do family and was taught at home by a governess and tutors.  She never attended school and she became adept at creating games to keep herself occupied at a very young age.  A shy child, unable to adequately express her feelings, she first turned to music as a means of expression and, later in life, to writing.  I can relate to this.  I am more comfortable expressing myself through writing.

In 1914, at the age of 24, she married Archie Christie, a World War I fighter pilot. While he was off at war, she worked as a nurse. It was while working in a hospital during the war that Christie first came up with the idea of writing a detective novel. Although it was completed in a year, it wasn’t published until 1920, five years later.

Two years later, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce.  He had fallen in love with another woman.  What a blow that must have been for her.  This happened in the wake of her mother’s recent death.  Perhaps she was unable to cope with these two major upsets in her life, Agatha disappeared causing an uproar in all of England as everyone wondered what had become of the mystery writer.  Her disappearance was a mystery in itself until three weeks later when the police found her in a small hotel, apparently suffering from memory loss.  Thereafter, it was never again mentioned or elaborated upon by Christie (http://christie.mysterynet.com/).

In 1930, Agatha found happiness again with an archaeologist, Max Mallowan.  She met him on a trip to Mesopotamia.  Christie’s travels with Mallowan contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. 

I always wondered what it would be like for Poirot and Miss Marple to team up on a mystery or two but Agatha had a very good reason for not permitting this to happen.  “Hercule Poirot, a complete egoist, would not like being taught his business or having suggestions made to him by an elderly spinster lady.”  I found it amusing that Agatha found Poirot insufferable while she was fond of Miss Marple.  Still, as insufferable as Poirot was, he was popular.  The public liked him so Agatha had to resist the temptation to kill him off.

Agatha had her fans and she had her critics.  Others have accused her of anti-semetism and of stereotyping.  Christie often characterised the “foreigners” in such a way as to make the reader understand and sympathise with them; this is particularly true of her Jewish characters, who are seldom actually criminals.  I noticed that in a few Poirot episodes, that the guilty party referred to him as a “foreigner” with much distaste. 

Still, Agatha Christie Agatha Christie was revered as a master of suspense, plotting, and characterisation by most of her contemporaries (Wikipedia).  And she has created two of the greatest fictional characters of all time and has swept us into the exciting twists and turns of great mystery plots.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

Agatha Christie