Monday, November 17, 2008

Blood is Thicker Than Water: Breaking Curfew

I heard the three sets of steps echoing in the hall. This startled me greatly. I was more startled when I rushed into the hall and saw Juliet slung between my niece and a strange man, muttering how awful she felt and how she wanted to die.
When I had slowly figured out that Juliet had been drinking, my concern slowly turned to anger. They had not seen me yet and the man was saying kind encouragements to Juliet.

“Just a little farther, Miss Armstrong. You can make it.”

“Shh,” Abby hissed. “You’ll wake Auntie.”

“Indeed.” They noticed me as I spoke to them. I folded my arms and made a conscious effort to look stern. “Auntie is already awake.” Mr. Hyland blushed and used his free hand to remove his hat. Abby at first tried to look glib, as if she’d done nothing wrong, then defiant, as if she dared me to tell her she had. “Abigail, I’m sorely disappointed in you. And what has happened to poor Juliet?”

“Well, ma’am, fact of the matter is that Miss Juliet got a little excited when she and Miss Raintree were attacked in the saloon.”

“Saloon?” I was aghast.

“Now, Auntie, it wasn’t a saloon. It was—”

“She’s right, ma’am. It was a casino.”

“That’s supposed to make me feel better? Young lady, women of breeding never go into casinos!” I could barely bring myself to voice my suspicions regarding Juliet’s behavior. “Have you been drinking?”

Abigail’s eyes lowered. My suspicions were confirmed. My face flushed with color. “Help Juliet into the guest room. Then I will see you and this gentleman.”

“William Hyland, ma’am.”

“Yes. In the parlor immediately!”

They took Juliet into the guest room. I would have harsh words with her in the morning. How dare she allow Abigail to talk her into such a preposterous idea! Going to a casino! Abigail was an admitted harridan, but Juliet was supposed to be a school teacher! Well, if they wanted to test my mettle as a chaperone, they’d be sorry!

And this man? I’d have his story first, but I was sure he was unsavory. He’d have to leave immediately. By all rights I should send Abigail packing back to her parents. Now I had double the reasons. Cowboys and vampires both!

Mr. Hyland joined me almost immediately in the sitting room. I closed the French doors and wheeled on him. “Just who are you? What have you been doing with my niece?”

Hyland removed his hat again and looked at me most sincerely, the way his horse might have looked at him. “William Hyland, ma’am. Chip to my friends. I was helping Miss Abigail and Miss Juliet home. There’d been some fellows at the saloon who were being right ungentlemanly.” Here Mr. Hyland stopped for a moment. “Might I suggest, ma’am, that you keep Miss Abigail on a tighter leash? A saloon ain’t no place for a pretty young thing like that.”

“I am fully aware of that,” I said icily.

“Yes, ma’am. Well, like I was saying, these two men were begin right down unfriendly and I helped the ladies out. Since Miss Juliet had fainted—”

“Miss Juliet did not faint, Mr. Hyland. She is drunker than a skunk.”

“No.” Mr. Hyland’s eyes became stubborn as he dared me to say the contrary. “She fainted.”

I allowed my cool visage to melt a little. He seemed as determined to avoid scandal as much as I was.

“Very good, Mr. Hyland.” I gestured to a seat. “She fainted. Now, please continue. Did anything else happen?”

“You might want to check Miss Abigail’s arms for bruises. That man pinched her pretty tight.”

“I’ll do that.” I stood, and he stood with me, once again placing his hat on his head at a jaunty angle. “I hope I don’t seem rude, but given the hour and the situation, I must ask you to leave. Abigail was lucky that you were on hand.”

“Pleasure’s all mine.” Hyland touched his brim. “Give my goodnights to the young ladies.”

I saw Mr. Hyland to the door, and when I returned to the sitting room, I found Abby waiting for me.

“You are very lucky,” I said to her as I walked in, “that Mr. Hyland was there tonight. Those two men were dangerous. It sounds as though you and Juliet were almost kidnapped.”

“Now, Auntie, that’s just a little bit of an exaggeration.”

“If you ever do anything like that again, I’ll—well, I’ll send you back to your parents, lock, stock, and barrel! How dare you abuse your privileges! How dare you allow Juliet to drink like that! How dare you make me worry!”

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