by Charlotte Dovey
The Governor’s daughter, Abigail, was home from college for the summer. She was the youngest of four daughters and was widely considered to be the most beautiful of a very pretty lot. That summer was especially hot and muggy, so when she and her sisters were not at the mall they spent much of their time sitting on the back veranda. Abigail always took a notepad to sketch pictures of her sisters or else jot down story ideas, mostly about romance. One Monday was unusual, however, as her sisters had each independently gone off with various friends to go to the beach, to the movies, and to lunch, leaving Abigail alone. Abigail soon grew tired of sitting out back sketching, so she walked down across their back garden to their swimming pool that was designed to look like a pond. On the other side of the pool there was a fence that ran between her father’s property and their neighbor’s, and on the other side of the fence there was a wood road owned by their neighbor. They lived on the edge of a large, affluent town, and the neighbor owned a vast plot that was largely wooded, as he preferred privacy.
Abigail changed in the small pool house, then walked out to the edge of the pool and dived into the cool water. When she came to the surface she remembered that she forgot to remove her gold necklace that had been a recent birthday present from her parents. The necklace was made by a famous jeweller and was very distinctive – on the end of a gold chain there was a large, round pendant, like a gold globe, that was encrusted with small diamonds and emeralds. She swam to the edge of the pool and slipped it over her head. She reached out to put the necklace on the tile edge of the pool, but accidentally knocked it into the water. The necklace quickly sank to the bottom of the pool. Abigail was not good at underwater swimming, so while she kept diving for it, she could not see to find it, nor could she touch the bottom of the deep end of the pool where it had fallen. She quickly tired and had to come up for air, coughing and sputtering. Frustrated, she began to cry.
She heard someone behind her call, “Are you alright?” She looked over to the fence, startled. There was a young man whom she had not seen before. He was bedraggled and unkempt.
She replied angrily, “I dropped my necklace and can’t reach it.”
The young man climbed over the fence and walked toward her. He told her, “I could get that without any problem at all.”
She coughed and nodded, then wiped the water from her face with a towel that was near the edge of the pool.
He said, “I’ll make a deal with you – if I fetch it for you, may I see you tonight?”
Now that he was closer she could see his tousled hair and his dirty hands and knees. His shirt was torn and muddy. She thought that it was a ridiculous suggestion that she should go out with him, but she thought that she could manage one night. She agreed.
The young man took off his shoes and socks, then dived in, still dressed in his loose-fitting t-shirt and shorts. He shot right to the bottom of the pool. He was not able to see the necklace on his first dive, but continue to try until finally he brought it back up. Breathless, he dangled the necklace out before her and let her take it from his hand.
They both clambered out of the pool. She wrapped herself in a towel. She looked over at the young man and thought better of his suggestion. The young man asked, bent over and still visibly winded, “Extra towel?”
She looked around and then said, “No. Sorry. Thanks for the necklace.” She began to march away at a quick pace, back up to the house.
He started after her and exclaimed, as best as he could, considering his condition, “but what about tonight?”
She began to trot, and called behind, “Sorry – got to go!” Then she ran. The boy was unable to catch up as he was still catching his breath.
Back at the house she retreated quickly to her room to change. When an hour had passed and there was no sign that the young man had followed her, she took up her drawing on the veranda again. She thought to herself with some satisfaction that the young man would not know her name and would have gotten the point that she was not really interested after all. She thought that it was presumptuous of him anyway, and that it served him right that she should run off.
That evening her parents were giving a large party in the garden for some of her father’s associates and staff. Some of the local press would be there. The girls all wore their best summer dresses and helped each other do up their hair and makeup. Their parents had hired people to come in to cook and help with the guests.
Abigail sat at one of the outdoor tables with her father and some of his acquaintances. One of their hired help approached and told Abigail, “One of your friends is here, but he declined to give a name – he said that he met you today at the pool and that you would know him.”
Abigail huffed angrily and retorted, “Please tell him to go away. This is not a good time.”
Her father, hearing this, asked what the matter was. Abigail told her father what had happened earlier in the day.
To her surprise, the Governor said to her sharply, “If you agreed to see him, you should. You should keep your promises, especially when that young man did you a favor.”
When the help returned, saying that the man had refused to go, the Governor told him, “Ask the young man in. There is plenty of food.” Then he told Abigail, “You are to talk to him and get him some food and something to drink. I want you to be civil.” She nodded sulkily.
When the young man came in she greeted him coolly and led him to a smaller table, away from her parents. She offered him food and when he accepted, she fetched it to him half-heartedly.
The young man asked her questions and did not seem perturbed by her awkward responses, but rather went about making conversation as best as he could with an unwilling participant. The time dragged on for her as it grew late and many of the guests began to leave. She was anxious to get away. She finally told the young man, “It is getting late and I have to be up early tomorrow.”
The young man countered, “Someone hit my car earlier today. I can’t drive home.”
She said curtly, “I’ll call you a cab.”
He replied, “But I live in another city. I can’t take a cab home.”
Unbeknownst to Abigail, her parents had come up behind them to introduce themselves. Her father, overhearing this part of the conversation, offered, “We have a guest room. You can stay here.” He glared at his daughter, clearly ashamed of her rudeness. He told her, “You can take him up to the house and show him one of the guest bedrooms.”
She scowled, but she obeyed her father and led the young man away into the house and up the stairs to a bedroom door. She told him, “You can sleep in here.”
The young man leaned forward to kiss her, but she instinctively pushed him, hard enough for him to knock over a small table. She stormed off.
The next morning, she stayed in bed quite late, until finally her mother came to get her and insisted that she go down to give proper attention to her guest. She sulkily dressed and slumped downstairs.
She could see through the kitchen window that the young man was sitting outside on the veranda with her sisters and they were all having coffee and breakfast together. There was also a stranger there, an older man whom she had not seen before.
She glumly went out to sit with them. When she looked at the young man, however, he was markedly different from the way he was the day before. He was clean-shaven, his hair shone in the sun, and he wore lovely clothes. He sat chatting with her sisters.
Abigail sat next to the young man and gave him a brief half-smile.
The young man was used to people paying a lot of attention to him, and was unaccustomed to being ignored and treated rudely. Instinctively, he was suspicious of people’s motives when they were warm to him; he knew that people wanted to befriend him because he had money and a degree of fame – people are always impressed by people whose picture they have seen in public forums. Because Abigail had been so contemptuous where others aggressively pursued him, he felt a need to win her over, to change her towards him. He said to her quietly, so no one else would hear, “You never asked my name.”
She glanced at him and shrugged. “Tell me who you are then,” she replied offhand.
The young man was heartened because she sat close to him and even looked him in the eye. When she told her that his name was Reginald she instantly recognized him – he was the son of a famous banker who had recently died and left him a fortune. His face had been in the papers often, but she had not recognized him at first because he was dishevelled. It was now only that she knew who he was that she realized that she should have recognized him all along.
Despite being pleased, she remained cool, though now she answered his questions and even began asking him some and seemed to pay attention to his replies. She learned that he was on the wood road the day before because he was visiting their neighbor and had gone off for a walk after his car had been hit. While on the walk, he had twisted his ankle and fallen, which was why he his clothes were torn and he was dirty. It was on the way back to the neighbor’s house that he had heard her splashing about, distressed.
Abigail commented, “It sounds as if you had a very bad day yesterday.”
He smiled at her and said, “Not at all. I had a very nice end to the day.”
Then Reginald suddenly realized that he had been remiss, and introduced the elder man who was present and explained that he was his servant. The servant told the sisters how Reginald, whom he called Rex, had called him that morning and had asked him to bring fresh clothes over. He also had asked him to arrange to have the car, that was an antique Jaguar, taken away to be fixed, as someone had side-swiped it the day before.
Reginald asked Abigail if she would go with him to a concert on the following night, and as she was genuinely interested this time, he stood to leave and indicated as much to his servant.
The servant also stood and smiled at Abigail as he did so, but she thought it beneath her to acknowledge him so she looked away, pretending not to see him.
As the men were leaving, Abigail overheard the servant say to the young man, “A lot of people find mean young women attractive, but they’re always sorry in the end.”
© Copyright 2019, Metamorphorica