Just to let you know, I plan on doing artwork for this fan fic! I don't have any hi-tech stuff (tablets, PS, or whatnot) but I'll do as best I can.



Chapter Two: Quite the Catch

Victoria was at a loss for words. She had that very instant actually met her betrothed, and he was playing a piece that was—or rather used to be—her sister’s favourite. Struggling vainly both to think of something to say, and to regain speech over the lump in her throat, Victoria finally blurted, “You play beautifully.”

Victor van Dort chose not to acknowledge this compliment. Instead he began to speak again, stuttering nervously, watching her face as though afraid she would attack him suddenly. “Forgive me, M-Miss Everglot. It w-was q-quite improper of me to…to…well…” he gestured towards the piano.

In turn, Victoria ignored his apology. How can anyone who plays music as exquisitely as he does feel that he has done wrong in giving an impromptu performance? Stepping a little closer, her fingers glided admiringly, almost reverently across the polished keys. “Mother won’t let me near the piano,” she acknowledged, with a rueful smile. “Music is ‘improper’ for a young lady…Too passionate.” Although, Mother, you never thought so when it was Emily seated at the piano!

Victor van Dort seemed a little sympathetic, but at the conclusion of her short speech he snapped back into his usual (so far!) shy, polite self. “If I may…inquire, Miss Everglot, where is your ch-chaperon?”

This time the smile came more readily to Victoria’s lips. “Perhaps…in view of the present circumstances, you could…call me Victoria.” Her mother would have a fit; but at the moment, what did Victoria care?

“Ah. Yes. Right.” Victor van Dort swallowed audibly, and then ventured nervously, “V-Victoria?”

“Yes…Victor?” asked Victoria, stepping closer to Victor, who had begun to wring his tie nervously.

“Tomorrow, we are to be…M…m…m—”

Victoria quietly finished his sentence for him. “Married.”

“Yes,” Victor laughed nervously. “M-married.”

Victoria sat down at the piano and placed her palms flat against the keys, reflectively. She decided to confide in Victor. “When my sister and I were children…we’d dream of our wedding days. I—both of us, actually—always thought I’d find someone I was in love with. Someone to share the rest of my life with.” She turned to Victor. “Silly, isn’t it?”

Victor laughed nervously again. “Ha-ha, silly, yes.” He sat down beside her and rested his forehead against his hand, the elbow of which leaned against the piano. Suddenly he seemed almost to tune in to what she was saying. “No! Not at all, no.”

As he brought his arm down, however, he bumped against the tiny vase, spilling its contents—a cherry blossom and what little water was left—onto the piano. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” he cried, aghast, as they both jumped up from the bench: she to avoid the water, and he anxious to rectify his latest mishap.

But as they straightened simultaneously, Victor and Victoria found themselves face-to-face.

Victoria picked up the blossom and offered it to her betrothed, who smiled at her and took it. For a few dizzying moments, Victoria thought that Victor was going to kiss her.

And then Maudeline re-entered from the west drawing-room, where the two couples had been taking tea. “What impropriety is this?!”

Instantly the affianced pair sprang apart, as Madame Everglot bore upon them, her eyes all but emitting sparks. “You shouldn’t be alone together! Here it is, three minutes before five, and you’re not at the rehearsal! Pastor Galswells is waiting! Come at once!”

Still startled, Victor and Victoria meekly followed Maudeline Everglot.

XXX

Three hours later…

“Master van Dort, from the beginning…again,” griped Pastor Galswells.

The soon-to-be-wedded couple had been standing at a makeshift altar in the parlor for at least two hours, after which Victoria had stopped glancing at the clock. In the background sat the Everglot and van Dort parents, frowning at their respective children-in-law.

Crook and miter flailing, Galswells repeated the vows for Victor. “‘With this hand, I will lift your sorrows. Your cup will never empty, for I will be your wine. With this candle, I will light your way in darkness. With this ring, I ask you to be mine.’” He glared at the young man. “Let’s try it again.”

“Ye-yes, sir,” mumbled Victor. He lifted the small candle he held to the fat taper burning merrily upon the table. “With this candle…” his voice trailed off as he attempted to light his candle.

Fssssssssh. The candle remained unburnt. Victor sighed. “This candle…” Fssssssssh. “This candle.” Victoria saw him look around nervously at their parents.

“Hem, hem,” Pastor Galswells cleared his throat tactfully.

This time Victor succeeded in igniting the candle. (Victoria smiled slightly.) “With this candle…” But, relieved, Victor had let out a small laugh, thus extinguishing the flame (and causing the young lady next to him to appear mildly alarmed). The parents groaned.

“Continue!” barked Galswells, but just then a deep, booming gong resounded and the cleric looked up with a tic going in his eye.

“Get the door, Emil,” Lord Everglot muttered, waving his butler away.

“Let’s just pick it up at the candle bit,” grumbled Galswells.

Emil returned in a few moments with the visitor’s card. “A ‘Lord Barkis,’ sir.”

“I haven’t a head for dates,” announced the man who was evidently Lord Barkis in a suave, calm voice as he strode into the room. “Apparently I’ve come a day early for the ceremony.”

Finis Everglot handed the card to his wife. “Is he from your side of the family?”

Maudeline examined the gilt-edged card carefully, then frowned. “I can’t recall! Emil! A seat for ‘Lord Barkis’!”

He sat down just as Emil arrived with the chair.

Victoria continued to stare at the newcomer. There was something about his face, and his voice, that was vaguely familiar. Where had she…?

But just then Lord Barkis’ eyes met hers, interrupting Victoria’s thoughts. She shivered.

Lord Barkis gestured to her and Victor. “Do carry on.”

“Let’s try it again, shall we, Master van Dort?”

“Yes,” gulped Victor.

While he was thus occupied, Victoria relit his candle.

Victor held the candle in his right hand, and raised his left.

“Right,” corrected Pastor Galswells.

“Right. Oh—right!” Victor performed a complicated candle-flip (though apparently not on purpose) so that the candle rested instead in his left hand. “With this—this—”

“Hand!”

“Right—with this hand,” continued Victor, taking Victoria’s hand and leading her towards the altar, “I will—” and bumped into the altar.

“Three steps, three! Can you not count?! Do you not wish to be married, Master van Dort?”

“No, no!” cried Victor.

Victoria heard herself gasp. Victor was already endeared to her, and now he was saying—was he perhaps disappointed over the loss of her sister? “You do not?!” she cried, turning pale.

“No! I meant I do not, not wish to be married; that is, I want very much to—OW!” he broke off, as Pastor Galswell’s crook collided with his skull.

“Pay attention!” barked its owner. “Have you even remembered to bring…the ring?”

“The ring?! Oh—yes—of course.” A brief struggle with his waistcoat produced the small metal band—however, in his flustered state, Victor dropped the ring. Cries of dismay from the audience broke the silence.

“Oh no, he’s dropped the ring!”

“This boy doesn’t want to get married!”

“How disgraceful!”

It rolled across the cold wooden floor, and Victor dived for it—just as it disappeared under Maudeline Everglot’s skirts. That lady had a scandalized look on her face even as Victor’s hand emerged from next to her foot. “Got it!” he exclaimed triumphantly, standing up.

“Oh!” cried Nell van Dort.

Victor, in leaving his candle on the floor, had set Madame Everglot’s skirts afire. Immediately, her husband and the van Dorts rushed to the rescue, with various remarks. Victoria looked upon the frenzied scene with the reserved air of an early martyr.

“Out of the way, you ninny!”

“Well, mercy me!”

“Oh I hope it doesn’t stain!”

“Unggggh…” (This last was from Pastor Galswells as he slammed his missal shut.)

“Stop fanning it, you fool!”

“Get a bucket, William, get a bucket!”

“Yes, oh my goodness, a bucket, right away dear—”

Just then a hand found its way into the chaos, holding the wine goblet, the contents of which were instantly thrown upon the flames, extinguishing them. The four parents looked up in surprise to see Lord Barkis, who smirked triumphantly and threw the cup back over his shoulder just as Emil scuttled by with a tray.

“Enough!” exclaimed Pastor Galswells, stepping onto the scene. “The wedding cannot take place until the groom is properly prepared. Young man,” he continued sternly, turning to Victor, “learn your vows,” punctuating each word with a jab of his index finger.

Victoria was the only one in the room to watch Victor still with compassion, as he backed up against the door. All else assembled—Maudeline and Finis Everglot, Nell and William van Dort, Lord Barkis, Emil the butler, and most of all Pastor Galswells—glared threateningly at him.

Victor’s eyes met Victoria’s, and he made a complicated face at her, apparently intended to convey apology.

She wanted to call out to him; tell him to stay and she’d help him with the vows. But of course she could not do that and watched him helplessly as she noticed his right hand, fumbling for the doorknob—and then Victor had fled the room; and from the slamming door that followed, the Everglot mansion.

“Well!” said Lord Barkis in the silence that ensued. “He’s quite the catch, isn’t he?”