Read Part 1
I am thankful to say that the next day my Father’s mood had brightened. The improvement of his leg may have helped, the clumsy limp which had plagued him the night before seemed to have eased slightly allowing him to resume his usual stride, his back a little straighter than it had been before. He had decided to settle some affairs with his lawyer and, in an attempt to offer support and to assist him with his journey, should he require my help with walking, I decided to go with him.
The morning was rather warm, the brightness of the sun blaring down against my pale face and beating against the rim of my hat. The pleasant weather seemed to have drawn out others, my Father nodding in acknowledgement to various passing gentlemen and their wives as we linked arms. The fresh air suited him well, the tension that usually saturated his features had all but disappeared and a great sense of relief came over me with the revelation.
It did not take too long to reach our destination, the familiar white building that stretched out before us almost seeming to glow in the light. At the sight of the firm, I felt my stomach clench and reluctance take over. I gave my Father’s hand a small squeeze, drawing his attention. “Father, may I wait outside? It is such a beautiful day, I would rather like a moment to enjoy it.”
My request was met with a familiar frown and the tightening of his fingers around my palm. “Why? It would be better for you to not be unaccompanied, it is-“
“Improper for a young lady to be on her own.” As I completed his sentence, his brow creased further and I cursed myself for my error. “I am sorry, Father. I promise to be careful, I swear to behave myself.”
His eyes swept over my face as though in consideration before he gave a small nod and relinquished his hold. “Very well. I shall not be long.”
“Thank you.” As his fingers slid away from my hand, I fought back my glee as he walked away, slipping out of view and into the shade of the doorway.
I had managed to escape the torment of one of the horribly depressive business meetings. Immediately, I felt lighter, the unexpected freedom that was now before me causing a bubble of excitement to rise up inside and burst through my lips with a delighted squeak. I turned on my heel, eager to take in the opportunities around me. Perhaps I could go into the bakery or maybe the tailors…
Without realising, my feet had hurried forward, the gentle clicking of my heels against the stone slabs ringing out against the parched ground. Perhaps I could get some flowers-
The air was knocked out of me as I collided with something solid, knocking me off my feet and causing me to stagger for a moment. Hands reached out to steady me, my temporary instability soon righted as they held onto my shoulders. Startled, my eyes found themselves drawn upwards to meet a man’s face lit up by an easy smile. His name came to me with a shock of clarity. “Samuel!”
His smile seemed to widen. “Anna…”
Finding my feet once more on solid ground, I cleared my throat and he withdrew his large palms from the thin fabric of my coat. Heat seemed to once more infuse my cheeks and I cursed the ease in which they seemed to darken in his presence. My brows furrowed as I tried to ignore the way in which the bright morning highlighted golden strands of brown in his hair and the dimples that appeared to deepen with his smile. “What are you doing here? I mean, I thought that the circus would have moved on by now…”
“We are staying for a few more nights before travelling further up north.”
I tried to convince myself that the news didn’t please me too much but failed miserably. I could not help hope that I may be able to convince my Father of another visit before they left. My stomach seemed to flip with the idea. Memories of the night before circulated and a sudden thought occurred to me. “I meant to thank you for the rose, it was very beautiful.”
“It was my pleasure.”
I gave a small nod in thanks. Suddenly shy, my attention wandered over to the shops nearby, taking in the flushed, round face of the butcher’s wife with her ruffled apron and wild hair, and the carefree laughter of some young girls with a skipping rope as they hopped near her. My heart gave an uncomfortable clench.
“Anna, may I ask you a question?”
Distracted, I half turned my head so that I may hear him better. “Yes?”
“Why are you so sad?”
Shocked at his blatant words, my head swivelled back to his light blue eyes, an odd lump in my throat. “What? I am perfectly fine, why wouldn’t I be?”
His head was slightly tilted as though studying some particularly interesting specimen. I readjusted my hat so that it fit more firmly against my scalp in a desperate attempt to regain some composure. During my panic, he spoke. “After spending a lot of time with the circus, I have learnt to… read people and to discover what makes them function. Yet, you… you I cannot quite read.”
“You’re a con man?”
He laughed, the sound soft and carefree as it filled the air. “I am a magician. You are avoiding the question.”
The lump grew. “Do not be ridiculous! Why should I not be happy? You, sir, are being incredibly presumptuous! I have everything that I could ever want: a good tutor, a respectable Father, good prospects-“
“But are you happy?”
My jaw moved ineffectually. I couldn’t answer him. I swallowed heavily, an overwhelming sense of misery crashing forward with unwelcome velocity. “I… That is to say, I…”
His warm hand settled on my exposed wrist, offering an anchor of support against the torrent of suppressed despair that had suddenly broken free. I found myself staring at the limb, the rough callouses of his fingers against the smooth skin of my wrist oddly soothing. “I…”
“Anna!” I flinched as I looked back. My Father was stood a few yards away, his face red as a vein visibly bulged in his neck, his cane held in a vice-like grip. “Come here, now.”
Dread coiled inside of me as I saw him before the slight tightening of Samuel’s hand around my arm drew my attention back. “You do not have to listen to him.”
“Of course I do, he is my Father!”
“I must go,”
His eyes seemed to bore into mine. “You don’t have to.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Please, let me go.”
I watched as his tongue dabbed at his top lip and his eyes shifted towards where I knew my Father stood before returning to my face. “Promise to meet me here tonight and prove me wrong- prove to me that you are truly happy and I shall never bother you again.”
“I cannot possibly-“
“For once in your life, Anna, do something crazy. Promise to meet me here at eight.”
“Why should I? Samuel, you do not realise what you are asking of me…”
“For once, Anna. Please…”
My heart felt as though it was beating too quickly. I could hear the familiar scrape of my Father’s cane approaching. Samuel was still holding on tightly. I only had moments to decide.
Samuel’s eyes were locked with mine, his voice barely above a whisper. “Please.”
I couldn’t understand his desperation to see me. My own urge to run headfirst into the insanity was almost suffocating in its desperation. “Why?”
“Because no one should be that unhappy.”
A little part of me seemed to crumble.
Sharp pain in my other wrist. I hissed and looked at the cause. My Father had reached us, his knuckles white and the bones in his fingers visible with the grip. I glanced at Samuel, a small plea in my eyes. After a tense moment, his fingers slipped free allowing my Father to tug me away, his hold on my wrist still unforgiving.
Risking a quick glimpse over my shoulder, I met Samuel’s eyes before giving a small nod. My Father soon dragged me away.
The village was strange in the darkness. Despite the pale blue hue of the sky, the buildings appeared huddled in the shadows, unfamiliar and intimidating, whilst the cool wind caused an odd whistle from a nearby window. It wasn’t cold, per se, the summer prevented the night air from being too frigid yet the nerves fluttering about my stomach made it difficult to feel any warmth.
I knew that I must be mad. To even have been considering the idea- never mind agreeing to it- was pure idiocy in itself, yet as the day drew to a close and the clock had ticked on, I had found an unexpected excitement begin to bubble up inside me. I should have never agreed to meet him. It was nothing but pure recklessness badly disguised as a worthwhile act of rebellion.
Not long after we had returned to the house, my Father had drunken himself into a stupor in the study, the heavy snores emitting the room the only indication that he had not injured himself in his fury. Mrs Buxton had left for the day not long after, her brief lecture on how I should have behaved nothing but a distant echo in my ears. Truthfully, I had found myself still reeling after his rage. Even as I waited, my wrist still throbbed, the faint thrum of bruising a mild distraction from my tumultuous thoughts.
Just as I was about to admit to my folly and retreat back to the comfort of the house, I saw a figure approach and the uncomfortable tension in my shoulders settled.
Samuel beamed as he saw me, his voice breathy as he exhaled. “You came.”
“Yes,” I frowned. “That is not to say that I am unhappy- I am perfectly well, I am merely curious as to what you seem so eager to show me and to prove that I am perfectly content.”
The corner of his lips curled upwards, his amusement almost palpable. “Of course.” He offered a hand. “Shall we?”
After taking a deep breath, I took it.
For some strange reason, when he linked his arm with mine, I felt safe. The solid muscle of his bicep proved to be a welcome weight against our daunting surroundings as he led me away from the village and towards the nearby fields. The warmth of the night air seemed to seep back into my bones.
I cleared my throat carefully. “You mentioned earlier that you are a magician…”
“Is you entire family in the circus or…?”
He gave a soft smile, his eyes wandering down to our linked arms before his hand found mine, his fingers giving mine a small squeeze. “My father is the ringmaster of the circus. He was originally a magician himself before taking over from his predecessor. My uncle still is, he was the magician who performed the night you attended.”
My next step faltered as I recalled the performance. “That was your uncle.”
His smile grew, his dimples reappearing. “Yes, he is well known all across the country.”
Bemused, I drew my gaze back to the direction in which we were walking. In the distance, I could see the familiar white gauze of the circus tent, the bright lights surrounding it flickering and dancing as we approached. Laughter spilled out from the tent, the soft sound of music drifting over to us from inside, the light, cheerful tempo drawing me in, my grip on Samuel’s arm tightening.
He gave my hand a light squeeze, drawing my attention back. “Are you ready to really see the circus?”
Lost for words I gave a small nod, my heartbeat skipping with each beat of the music that met my ears. “I think that maybe I am.”