On the sixteenth of April, 1822, Miss Evie Caldecott had fallen ill.
Her ailment had come on quick. It hadn’t been a particularly painful one. Certainly far less than what she’d endured as a girl of six who’d contracted Scarlett fever.
Nay, if anything, the illness that had struck a fortnight before she was to have her Come Out, had been an annoyance.
There’d been a bone-weary fatigue; an exhaustion so deep, it had been a struggle to so much as open her eyes.
And yet, she’d done so, time and time again; fighting an almost aching exhaustion just so she could gaze upon the Meissen porcelain clock…the suitor staring adoringly down at his sweetheart, and framed between that loving pair, the timepiece within.
Eventually, her sister had brought the mantel piece close, so Evie needn’t strain to see it, and placed it upon the rose-inlaid side table beside her bed; Evie had marked each passing moment. Waiting to recover. Waiting for the moment the fatigue lifted, and she could spring from her bed, and welcome her London Season.
There was to be dress fittings—which she would have grumbled over—just so that her sisters didn’t tease her mercilessly over how eager she truly was to don luxuriant gowns that would mark a transition from girl to woman.
Those silk and satin creations she’d wear while waltzing; dizzying dance-sets, amidst crowded ballrooms, in the arms of dashing gentlemen.
She’d attend the opera; with binoculars pressed to her eyes, as she took in the magic of the performance.
All of it, she’d seen so clearly in her mind.
And courted. She’d be, that, too.
There would have been a devoted, charming man as hopelessly in love with her, as she was with him.
That day, had never come.
Since she’d found herself cast out of the living, Evie had alternated between weeping and sobbing. All the while, marking different moments upon that same porcelain clock that still ticked within her parents’ household: how long it had been since anyone had acknowledged her. Or seen her.
And now, at last, she had found someone: a rude, boorish dastard who’d dared to mock her sisters’ violin playing.
Seething, Evie shifted her attention down to the wide-eyed man whom she held immobile with her slippered foot. Though, in fairness, as well-muscled as the man was, it would be nothing for him to displace her limb, should he so wish. She removed her foot from the middle of his chest, and backed away from him.
That was…if he’d been so inclined.
The moment he was freed, the stranger scrambled up into a seating position; for all intents and purposes appearing more comfortable than a lord on a leather button sofa.
Laughing and speaking to himself, he rolled that pebble around in one hand. “Would you look at that?” he marveled aloud; his crisp, perfect King’s English marked him a gentleman.
She stared down at the insufferable boor whom she’d struck with a rock; a man now obsessively fascinated with that very stone.
He proceeded to pass the stone back and forth between his palms. “And all it took was enduring the musical miseries of the Caldecott sisters,” he mused.
Of course it should so happen the one person she should encounter, who could hear her or see her should be a miserable fellow, speaking as rude as he had to her, and mocking her family. Feeding her outrage, however, proved easier to bear than the misery that had consumed her since—her thoughts screeched to a halt, and she shied away from the remainder of that. Refusing to acknowledge “death”.
Evie narrowed her eyes, and opened her mouth to deliver the set-down he deserved…and then stopped.
At some point he’d ceased his tireless examination of the rock in his hands. Setting it aside, he stared up at Evie; a pair of the most mesmerizing eyes; a shade between green and blue; the sky and the Scottish pastures melded together; her heart appeared to beat, after all…for it knocked wildly…all because of those eyes. “Who are you?” she asked; her voice gruff to her own ears.
“Roxbury is the name.” With that, he picked up several other rocks and proceeded to juggle them like one of the Royal Circus performers she’d once been so in awe of as a small girl.
Roxbury. His peculiar fascination with that stone took on a new meaning. A laugh escaped her; the first she’d managed in the six months, twenty-six days, sixteen hours, and a handful of minutes since her death.
Death bespoke a permanence and end, and one at that, which she wasn’t yet ready to yield to.
The peculiarly cheerful Roxbury-fellow forgotten, her gaze crept out across the street to her younger sister as she played upon that instrument Evie had once so loved to play.
“You can really see me?” Roxbury whispered from where he still lay sprawled on the cobblestones.
“Yes,” she said, her focus pulled from her family and over to Roxbury. “And more unfortunately, hear you,” she muttered. Though, in this moment, she lied to him as much as herself. Alas, Evie was desperate. She would accept even this befuddled fellow staring dazedly up at her…for now.
For now, it was so wonderful to simply be seen.
Just then a happily-singing lamplighter, swept by; brushing through Evie.
A Captain bold in Halifax,
Who dwelt in country quarters, Seduced a maid who hanged herself One morning in her garters,
His wicked conscience smited him, He lost his stomach daily,
He took to drinking turpentine And thought upon Miss Bailey.
As the worker continued on, his off-pitch singing faded; hovering in the near distance, Evie pressed her eyes shut; remembering all over again, that no one actually saw her. Or heard her. She was—
“You are dead,” the gentleman breathed.
A vicious pain wrenched deep inside; a pain that was now always there; in that part of her chest where her heart had once beat, throbbing from the agony of it; as fresh now as it had been the moment she’d entered her family’s household…and realized she was invisible to her parents and her sisters. Evie glared at the gentleman. “I prefer cast out of the living.”
With a chuckle, the gentleman pushed himself to a stand; unfurling to all six feet two inches of his lean frame. “You can call it what it is,” he said; amusement heavy in his droll reply. “you’re still—”
“Stop,” she hissed; jabbing him in the chest. Solid. He was solid and substantial and, with his dark hair, and scruff-covered chiseled cheeks, he was quite dash—Would you stop. “I’ve heard enough from you. All I need to hear or want to hear. In fact, I rather find myself preferring silence.” She lied. She didn’t prefer quiet of any kind. She never had.
He grinned; an uneven, wicked looking smile that left her warm in ways she’d been only cold these past months. “Then, you’ve chosen the wrong household to be haunting…”
As if on cue, that forlorn wail from within; that screech of the violin filtered from her family’s household, and spilled out into the street.
Evie and the bothersome stranger looked as one to the pink stucco townhouse from where those strands played.
Then, Roxbury looked back to Evie, with an entirely-too amused grin, and winked; as if she were now in on a special jest that only the two of them shared.
Evie stilled, as his meaning—nay, his insult—registered…that affront against her sister. She gasped.
“How dare you?” Evie brought a hand up quick, catching him across the cheek; her palm smarting from the force of her strike; she shivered, and also tingling from the unexpected warmth of him. She immediately drew her arm close. My God. What had she become? She’d hit a man. Granted a nasty, rude fellow. But still, violence had never been her way.
Instead of the deserved outrage for that blow, the gentleman rubbed at his cheek. “That I felt.”
“As you should,” she bristled. Her father had taken care to school she and her sisters on ways to properly defend themselves from offending gentleman. “You—ahh,” Evie’s tirade turned to a squeak, as he swept her into his arms, and lifting her off her feet, he whirled them both in a dizzying circle. His laughter swelled around the London streets; his chest shook from the force of it.
Breathless, Evie gripped his arms, intending to push him, away, and yet, of their own volition, her fingers curled; into the soft wool of his jacket; and the muscles underneath. She swallowed hard. Never before had she felt—
“And that!” he shouted triumphantly. “I felt that, too. Just like the rocks!” With another whooping cry, he set her on her feet, and waltzed her in a quick circle.
Here she’d been cold for so long these past months, only to feel another rush of heat because of this man—this time, in the form of a blush. “You’re…not angry I’ve hit you?” she asked incredulously, when breathless from his joy, Roxbury stopped.
His smile widened. “Of course not.”
Not: I’m outraged.
But rather: of course, not.
Looping his thumbs into the waistband of his puce trousers, he continued smiling at her.
Evie gave her head a slow shake. There was nothing else for it. The one person who’d acknowledged her in the hereafter should prove to be not only rude, but off his head.
His smile slowly faded, and his features grew solemn. “We feel one another,” he said quietly; his words, nearly lost to a conveyance rolling past; the carriage wheels rumbled on, before growing distant, and ultimately fading, altogether. “Remarkable,” he murmured in awe-struck tones, like a scholar who’d just discovered a new genus of life.
“Is it, though?”
“Actually, it is.” He paused. “For me, anyway,” he added. “I’ve not felt anything in—” Screeech. He winced. “Well, that’s not altogether true. I’ve felt the misery of that play—”
Evie growled, and took a quick step towards him.
His eyes flaring, he jumped back. “Surely you aren’t suggesting,” He pointed to the townhouse, and then back to her. “Surely you aren’t saying the Caldecott sisters’ playing is in anyway pleasant.” This time he was wise enough to angle his head away in anticipation of another strike. But he did not however, have the sense to keep from hurling his insults.
Evie tossed her arms up. “I mean, can you not find some other place to haunt.” She’ d been wrong, she wasn’t that starved for companionship, after all. “If you hate the playing so much, need you really come here and sit yourself, torturing yourself over and over again.” With that, Evie headed back across the street.
The gentleman scrambled after her; his longer strides immediately overtaking her shorter ones. “You can’t just leave.”
“Actually, I can,” Evie gritted out. She quickened her steps.
Even with that faint pleading he squeezed into that one syllable word, she didn’t so much as
break stride. “Oh, I can’t? Watch me, Mr. Roxbury.”
“Actually, I’m a lord.” He paused. “Or I was,” there was a wistful, almost sad quality that managed to penetrate her annoyance and anger, and brought her to a halt in the middle of the street.
Sad was a sentiment, she understood, all too well. Of course, she’d not always been that way. When she’d been living, she’d been joyous and laughing. She searched her gaze over his face; the downturned corners of his hard lips. The glimmer of sadness within eyes, such a mesmerizing shade, they brought back once more to those trips to Scotland she had so loved. “Who are you?” she asked softly.
His lips quirked up in the corners, in a roguish smile, she expected had been the source of many sighs amongst the living ladies. “Lord Lionel Roxbury; the Earl of Feversham.”
Evie searched her mind; but came up…empty. She narrowed her eyes. “I’ve never heard of a Lord Roxbury.”
He bristled. “Are you calling me a liar?”
“My mother knows all the nobility, and I’ve never heard or seen your name mentioned once.” Evie resumed her march across the street.
A leading socialite, there wasn’t a lord or lady whom her mother hadn’t known. She and her sisters had once rolled their eyes in annoyance at that devotion to the ton, and yet, now a pang struck; proving there was pain even in death. For she missed even those moments. All the idiosyncrasies that made family, family. The things that had grated in life, one mourned in death.
“I died ten years ago,” he called after her.
Evie’s slipper caught the corner of a cobblestone, and she pitched forward. Gasping, Evie shot her palms out to catch herself—
A strong arm wrapped about her waist, catching her quick, and saving her from that fall. “Easy love,” Lionel murmured, his lips close to the shell of her ear; sending the most thrilling little shivers racing up and down her spine.
Her heart pounded…strong.
Because of his touch. From the feel of the hard-wall of his chest against her back; virile and masculine and real, and—Evie’s lashes fluttered; drifting down. How was it possible to feel one’s heart’s beat so strong, in death? And just like that, the reality of her existence, came crashing in. “I am not your love,” she said softly, to herself, remembering as she invariably did…that there would be no love. No sweetheart or suitor. No courtship. No marriage. She would never be anyone’s love. She stepped out of his arms. “You’ve been…” Evie tried to force the words out. Dead. He is dead. As he’d aptly pointed out, you are. “Ten years?”
Rocking on his heels, he nodded.
And he’d dwelled here, outside her family’s household. While she’d been happily ensconced in those rooms with her sisters; laughing and living, and making mischief, there’d been this…stranger beyond. Evie brought her shoulders back. “I’m not dead, though.”
He chuckled. “Oh, that’s right. Forgive me. How do you prefer to say it? I passed—” “Are you always this insufferable?” she cried.
An approaching rider’s horse jerked to a halt; rearing on her hind legs; the mare slapped at the air with his front hooves. Nostrils flaring, the beautiful chestnut creature whipped her head about; her eyes frenzied.
Forgetting Lord Lionel Roxbury, Evie stroked a palm over the top of the horse’s snout. “Easy,” she whispered. The terror receded from the creature’s soft brown eyes; she gave a soft whinny and nuzzled Evie’s palm; before the gentleman, managed to steady his reins, and clucking his tongue, sent the pair off.
When the rider and his horse had gone, Evie’s gaze snagged on the scene across the street.
Elyse , Evie’s middle sister—now the eldest of the living Caldecott girls—switched positions, and seating herself she proceeded to pluck the strings of the same violin Evie had learned to play upon.
Then the whine of the stringed instrument cut across the night’s still.
Evie bit the inside of her cheek hard; and closed her eyes once more. Her efforts proved futile; as a tear slipped free; followed by another and another.
She felt Lord Roxbury at her side; sliding into place at her shoulder, and she tensed, braced for his continued mockery of her family’s lack of musical accomplishments.
“You know her,” he remarked softly; an understanding lit his mellifluous baritone. His wasn’t a question.
Even so, Evie nodded, anyways. “She is my sister.” Her throat moved spasmodically. Or was her sister? What was the proper term of reference in death?
Elyse would always be her sister. As would Edith.
A forlorn moan spilled from her lips; heard by none, even as it tangled and danced with the night wind.
Except, it wasn’t really heard by no one.
Lord Roxbury glanced from the melancholy tableau made by Evie’s family. His mouth moved several times, but no words were immediately forthcoming. Then, he found his voice. “That wailing I’ve heard every night for months…it is you…crying.”
And not all the violin’s fault. She gave another tight nod. “It is me.”