in which the clock tolls three
Bastion had wide arms, or so it seemed to Rhema. She felt lost when his arms weren’t wrapped around her. He had an even wider smile. A day without his smile was like a day without sunlight.
She saw many sunless days.
On the day that she had married him, there had been trumpets and choirs in the streets. Shops sold goods to commemorate the event. Women shouted blessings at her as she passed and men removed their hats and waved. Music filled every corner, and dancing poured out of every doorway as the wedding processional paraded up Wilkshollow Avenue to the church. They left in the same manner, with the prince and princess riding in their brand new, gleaming white horseless carriage.
No such pageantry for Annette. On the day Annette rode with Bastion to the chapel, the streets were quiet. There was no music, no dancing, no commemorative souvenirs. If one were to approach an average vendor and ask him what day it was, he would say it was Saturday.
Rhema rode again in the same horseless carriage that had once taken her from her own wedding. Now it would take her far, far away from another wedding. It sputtered and groaned, its age beginning to show in its gears, as it carried her down the Old Road toward her last remaining sanctuary of happiness.
Roger rushed out of the Cottage to meet her at the low stone steps. In a single bound, he was by the door of the automobile. She could barely recognize him. The pudginess of his youth had melted away into stout, muscular shoulders and long, thick legs that promised speed and strength.
“Just look at her! It has been a while,” said Roger. Roger’s eyes sparkled as he stroked the hood of the automobile. “How fast does it go now?”
“Almost twenty miles an hour,” said Rhema. Roger nodded, impressed. “Come on in. I will show you.”
“Are you not tired from your trip?”
“Not yet,” said Rhema. She nudged her chauffer out of the driver’s seat and onto the lawn.
“But, my lady!” said the bodyguard in the backseat.
“I would like you to get out as well, Mr. Howard.”
“This is most irregular.”
“Now. If you please.”
Mr. Howard slinked down from the car. “Do not go far. Maurice and William will ride with you.”
Rhema looked back at Maurice and William, the two horsemen that had accompanied her from Iderburg. It was as good as traveling alone. There had been a time when she had traveled not with three bodyguards and a chauffer, but with a platoon of armed men and an entourage of ladies and secretaries. How things have changed, she thought, taking the riding coat and goggles from her chauffer and giving them to Roger. She sent the chauffer and Mr. Howard inside to the hospitality of her parents.
Rhema pulled on the driving gloves, made for hands twice as large as hers. A pleasant chill rushed up her arm as she recalled the feeling of Bastion’s hawking gloves. She swallowed the chill and thrust the vehicle forward as soon as Roger had properly seated himself in the passenger’s seat.
“Woa, there!” he said. He snapped the goggles over his eyes and grabbed the side of the car as it jerked forward. Rhema laughed at him and steered the vehicle around the cobbled driveway and toward the Old Road.
The two of them said little over the noise the machine made. Roger occasionally shouted a technical question at her over the commotion, and she obliged him with what answers she knew. Maurice and William trotted far behind, staying out of reach of the vehicle’s fumes.
When they got as far as the crossroads, Rhema turned the machine around and let Roger take the controls. The way he immediately manipulated the levers and gears as they tumbled off the cobbles and onto the dirt drive told Rhema that this wasn’t Roger’s first time operating an automobile.
“Charlie taught me,” he shouted over the vehicle’s sputter.
“When?” Rhema shouted back.
“Last year.” Roger turned the wheel suddenly to make the vehicle turn with a bend in the road. Rhema gripped the sides of the car, thrilled by the force of the turn, but vexed that her brother was better than her at driving her own vehicle.
“Woa!” Roger cried out, struggling with the accelerator. “She’s made a little differently than Charlie’s.”
“Do you require assistance?”
“No. I think I have it.” He adapted to the stiffness of the lever.
As they rode on, Roger told Rhema about the happenings at the Cottage while she’d been away. Yash and Neha were mostly retired, but living in the house as members of the family. They hired a young girl from Wenderry to take over with the household chores, but Neha still instructed her and ‘helped’ her every step of the way. Jonathan visited every once and a while, but he was mostly preoccupied between his work at the House of Gentlemen and bringing up his girl, Daisy Maye, by himself. Mostly, Roger talked to Rhema about the funny little adventures of himself and his schoolmates and about all the extra attention he and the family garnered because of Rhema’s celebrity.
“They even started coming around to my school,” said Roger. “That was strange. These reporters said that there was a chance you would abdicate the barony of Sever, like Charis did, and I would be baron. That is not true, is it?”
At the moment he said it, the vehicle came to a clanking, smoking halt. “I didn’t do that,” said Roger, squinting at his controls. Rhema sighed, picked up her skirts, and leapt out of the car.
“Those reports are certainly not true,” she said. She glared fix-browed at the smoking engine. “But what is true is that this vehicle is ill equipped for unpaved paths. I am beginning to think father is right to stick to his horses.” She kicked the side of the car. It stung her toes beneath her driving boot. She winced. Dust floated from the side of her wedding present. Rhema watched it settle on the grass.
Right now Bastion is giving a ring to another woman.
“Can you fix it?” asked Roger, jumping down to help her.
“No,” Rhema said, waking from her daze. “Can you?”
Roger shook his head.
Maurice and William sidled up. Neither of them came down from their horses. Maurice trotted around the vehicle, looking it up and down but knowing nothing about its function.
“Go on back to the house,” Rhema waved at the men. “There is nothing to be done for it here. We will send Yash with his cart back for the machine. My brother and I have no problem walking.”
“We are not supposed to leave you alone, baroness,” said William, half-heartedly. His hands tightened on the reins, ready to go back to the house where he could eat and rest.
“I am not alone,” said Rhema, wrapping her arm around Roger’s.
The horsemen glanced at each other and the low, empty hills all around them. Not a likely scene for an ambush.
“We will come back to look for you if you have not arrived within the hour,” Maurice consented. He tipped his hat to Rhema, nodded to his partner, and they took off down the track towards the Cottage.
“I am surprised they did not offer us their horses,” said Roger. He removed his goggles and stuffed them in one of the large pockets of his white motorist coat.
“They have ridden in my train before. They know I would not have accepted the offer.”
“I would have,” said Roger.
“Sorry,” said Rhema. “I have been sitting for hours. I think I would rather walk.”
She patted the hood of her automobile sadly, hung her goggles around her neck, and began the hike home with Roger.
“I am glad you said that earlier,” he said, kicking the rocks at his feet.
“That you would not abdicate the barony. I know Father would like me to be a baron. You should see how excited he gets when Jonathan talks about his work in the House of Gentlemen. I know he would like to see me in office someday too. But the truth of the matter is, I would be a terrible baron. I hardly ever think about the politics of Gallia at all.”
“How could you not? You live here.”
“Don't mistake me, I love living here.” He kicked a pebble, dragging red dust under his shoe. “But I am not particularly concerned about the politics of it all. You understand, don’t you?”
Rhema inhaled the scent of the grass of the Wenderry meadows and felt the rough red dirt beneath her footsteps. She remembered a time when she might have said the exact words that Roger said now. She was younger then. Now she was politics.
“There is a school,” Roger was saying as she thought of other things. “It’s in Boston – that is in America – where I can study engineering. It would be expensive, but I am sure that Father can manage it. The only question is if he would be willing to let me go? If I ask, will you be with me, Rhema?”
That half of the world did not exist in Rhema’s conception. Her globe always shrunk whenever she turned down the dirt path of the Old Road. A comfortable little world, unaffected by whatever lay beyond it. Why would Roger go half way around the world to do something he could very well do at home? Who would be left for Rhema? Charis had her own family. Becky was dead. Jonathan was absent. Marcus was traveling. Bastion was... She grimaced. She did not want to think about what Bastion was doing.
“What time is it?” said Rhema.
“Almost noon, I think,” said Roger.
The wedding was not until three. That was not enough time. Not enough time at all. Even if she left immediately on the fastest horse in the kingdom, she could not get back to Iderburg in three hours. She reminded herself why she left. What else could she do? Burst into the ceremony and make a fool of herself in front of the whole court? Her heart skipped a beat. Perhaps that is what I should have done!
“Do you want to... um... talk about it?” said Roger. His brows knit together every time Rhema looked north.
“No,” she said. “Tell me more about America.”
Relieved that his sister had not become emotional, even after being a princess for four years, Roger commenced in talking about all he had learned about America, and Boston, and all the exciting new machinery being developed over there.
Rhema tore her aching thoughts, one strand at a time, away from Iderburg and let them drift over the ocean with Roger. A world of water, followed by sand, and beach, and people who talked differently and acted differently. A people without kings and without princes. A world of discovery that was a hundred times larger than Gallia. How do you not get lost in places so big? She and Bastion could do anything, go anywhere, and no one would follow them. They could explore mountains, deserts, and—
By the time they were back at the Cottage, Rhema had thought herself back into despair, drowning in the ‘nevermores’ of her life. If she were younger, she would have run up to her room and shut the door so that she could cry in peace. Tears were useless though. She had learned that when her babies died. The dead stayed dead.
Three o’clock came and went. Rhema sat in the parlor, trying to listen to her parents talk to her, but all she did was gaze out the window and hope. Her parents grew quiet with worry. Rhema said nothing. Her eye fixed on the road. Maybe he would run out of his wedding and come to her. Maybe he was on his way now. It would not be the first time he had sought her out. Bastion was always last minute. It was his way. If the wedding were called off, it would take time for the news to reach them. They might not know until the next day or, if they were very lucky, Bastion would ride up to them at night and tell her himself. It was a silly hope perhaps, but it was all she had. She promised herself that she would handle whatever happened with dignity.
The day dragged on, and she tried to take some joy in her family, in Neha and Yash, and in the Cartwellers. They appeared to her much smaller and more gray then the last time she had seen them. Her difficultly enjoying their mundane tales increased. She looked at them all and realized sadly that this was no longer her life, playing games with Roger and following after her many caretakers. She had had another life, but she lost that too. So where now would her joy come from, if not from a husband or from children or from family or from friends?There had to be more. Didn’t there?