Mrs. Stanton Receives Troubling News From Her Family
((This scene is a collaboration between the players of Ariadne Hughes and Alexander Stanton / Mrs. Stanton.))
Alex takes his time arriving at his gran's estate, choosing to walk over a horse or carriage even though he knew it would make him late for dinner. He was in /no/ hurry to talk to Gran about Mariah being gone. Much more amicably this time, but still...gone. Courtship over. He can just hear his grandmother now, plotting about the next lady that will be thrust upon him. Finally he can stall no longer as he finds himself going up the estate steps and the front doors open for him. He nods to Emerson as the butler informs him that Mrs. Stanton is waiting rather impatiently in her parlor. Alex grimaces and heads in. As soon as he enters, Mrs. Stanton looks up and fixes him with a steely look.
"You're late," she says with a frown. "Aria and I were just about to go in without you." She is looking as elegant as ever, but instead of walking about with the assistance of her cane she is now in a wheelchair as walking has become harder, depending on the dampness or chill of the weather.
He waits for her to further reprimand him about the error he must have made to lose Mariah’s favor, but she does not. He raises an eyebrow. "My apologies, Gran." Alex tentatively bends and gives her a kiss on the cheek. He turns to his cousin. "Aria! A sight for sore eyes you are." He gives her a kiss on the cheek as well. "Shall we go through now?"
Aria smiles at her cousin and kisses his cheek in return. It's true that lately smiling has taken an effort almost every time she does it, but she is genuinely glad to see Alex, and that helps. She hasn't seen him for what feels like a long time. "All right," she agrees. "If you are quite ready, Aunt?"
"I am, yes." Mrs. Stanton's cane is resting across her lap and she rapts one end against the armrest of the wheelchair. Emerson appears in the room and takes the handles, guiding her into the dining room. Alex grins and offers and arm to Aria.
Once in the dining room Gran very slowly gets up from her chair and moves to a dining room chair, insisting she sit at the table properly. Emerson helps her into it and she fixes Alex with another look. "I trust, Alexander, that your trip to London went well?"
Is it possible she does not already know? Alex does not look at his grandmother, focusing instead on helping Aria into her seat. He had read the bit about a /Mr. Sok.../ and guessed at the rest. Aria certainly seemed more quiet than usual. "Ah, yes, Gran. It was fine. Aria, how have you been?" He sits down once both ladies have.
Aria takes the offered seat and smiles at him in thanks. As he sits and asks her how she has been, she freezes a little, not having expected the question. After a moment, however, she manages a tolerably cheerful, "I have been...fairly well, I thank you. And yourself?"
"You have most certainly /not/ been fairly well, and I do not mind saying so." Mrs. Stanton cuts in. "Dear girl, you have been positively doleful these past few weeks. At first I thought it was just an effect of the lingering winter but spring has arrived with no apparent lift in your spirits. Tell us what is the matter so that Alexander may cheer you back up."
How did Gran not know? “Gran, have you, by chance, seen the most recent issue of the Gazette?”
“I have not,” she replies. “Too much reading has made my head ache, as of late. I was going to have Emerson read it to me on the morrow.” She narrows her eyes. “Why do you ask?”
Alex looks at Aria with a raised eyebrow.
At any other time, Aria would grin at her aunt's assumption that Alex will cheer her up. As it is, however, she swallows, looking down at the table. She supposes she ought to tell her aunt--though Alex clearly already knows, and if he was asking about the Gazette, that must mean that others know as well--and that now is as good a time as any, but it is so hard. "I..." How is she to explain? What should she say? Swallowing again, she wrings her hands a little, nervously. "I...I am...I am n-no longer engaged," she manages to whisper at last.
"What? What was that?" Mrs. Stanton asks, not having heard either due to her age or Aria's quiet response or both.
Alex hears, however, and gives his cousin a sympathetic look. He wants to ask if Mr. Adrian Sokolov had vomited all over her and that was really what prompted the end to the engagement, but he realizes this is more insensitive then funny. He takes a drink from his freshly poured wine glass. "I'm sorry, cousin."
"Confound it, Alexander, what was said?"
"Ah, well, Aria's no longer engaged, Gran." Alex says.
Mrs. Stanton freezes. "What nonsense is this? Of course she's still engaged."
Aria offers Alex a wan smile when he says he's sorry, but when Mrs. Stanton contradicts what she said, she shakes her head, looking back down at the table. "No, Aunt. I...Adrian...Mr. Sokolov has come home, and he--he--" She takes a breath, tries again. "He c-cannot marry me... He must...he must marry to advantage...now that he is the heir. His family…my father could not improve my dowry…and his family are unwilling to agree to it as it is.”
"Why I never...of all the ridiculous..." Mrs. Stanton sputters her way through her disbelief at this news. "Was I not to be consulted at all?" She shakes her head. "Poor Grace. I know how fond she is of her children. Stefan's loss must be weighing on her heavily. Oh this is dreadful news, indeed. Dreadful. What happened? Pray, did he fall ill?"
"Gran..." Alex begins, nodding his head in Aria's direction.
She holds up a hand. "You're right, I'm sorry. Aria, how are you taking this all, my dear girl?"
Alex pours Aria some wine and sets the glass close to her.
Aria nods in agreement when her aunt mentions Mrs. Sokolov. She has been thinking much the same things, when she has not been too busy considering her own pain. Before she can answer the first set of questions, however, the inquiry about how she is taking things comes, and she takes another deep breath, biting her tongue against the sudden inclination to cry. Noticing the wine, she picks the glass up and sips, stalling for time, and nods gratefully to her cousin. "I...I am...well enough," she says when she can speak, though her voice is soft and a little shaky still. "I have had some time to get used to the idea. And...and I understand why they feel as they do..."
Mrs. Stanton gives Aria a truly sympathetic look. "I hope you are not too heartbroken. These things can be painful I know...the disappointment. And you both seemed so fond of each other. I think. You certainly seemed fond of him at the very least."
Alex puts a hand on Aria's shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze. At least he wouldn't have to worry about being thrown up on at family dinners. Not that he was about to say that. "Is there anything I can do to help?" he asks Aria quietly.
Aria nods to her aunt. "I...I was...I /am/ fond of him still, really. But...but I understand that will fade, with time." She smiles at her cousin, grateful again for his understanding. "I...I do not think so...but thank you," she replies softly, wanting to hug both him and Mrs. Stanton.
Alex leans closer. "Well, I can at least distract her from interrogating you. I take it /you/ didn’t read the Gazette either!" he whispers. He winks to Aria and then turns to Gran. "On that note, Gran, Miss Ellis and I are no longer courting."
Mrs. Stanton's look of sympathetic concern for Aria hardens to a frown as she shifts her gaze to her grandson. "Because you are engaged now? Alexander, I do not have the patience right now for your nonsense. Poor Aria has been through something tragic right now. Aria, why..."
"Not engaged, Gran. Miss Ellis is off to Italy with Miss Nescapoli. The latter’s father has taken ill and there's no telling when they will return. If ever."
Aria blinks when he says he can distract Mrs. Stanton, but things are explained soon enough. She blinks again, and then frowns. "Oh, Alex, I'm sorry! I hope you are not too /dreadfully/ unhappy!" And to think they were both fussing over her, when Alex must be in pain as well!
"Ah, it is a sad loss, yes, but for the best, I promise, Aria. She will be happier there." /And now I have more time before having to marry, or before Silas must marry, and I'm happier too./ He looks at Gran, whose frown is very deep.
"Oh no, not Miss Ellis. What a lovely girl she was--felt like one of the family. Alexander, did you do something to frighten her away?"
"No, Gran. Honest." He turns to Aria. "I'm sure it won't come to this, but...ah...I hope you know you'll always have a place here. I can..." Goodness he could use a drink. He takes a quick sip of his wine. "I will make sure you're looked after."
She hopes he means what he says about its being better this way, and wishes she could do something to help him. He /seems/ all right, but then, he may be better at hiding his feelings than she is. His next words drive all that out of her head, however, and now she does hug him, popping up out of her chair and throwing her arms around him, her voice wobbling. "Oh--thank you...truly..."
Alex grins widely as Aria hugs him and he hugs her back. "You're welcome!"
Gran watches the two of them together, scrutinizing. It would not be an unthinkable match. They are only second cousins. Or was it third? There was certainly an affection between them. But then she realizes something else Alex had said. "You said Miss Nescapoli is gone? Does this mean Mr. Turner is no longer engaged as well? Oh, this will not do. He is such a charming boy, do you not think so, Aria dear?"
Aria takes a deep breath as Alex hugs her in return, gaining control of herself again. When her aunt asks her about Mr. Turner, she smiles. "Yes, he--" Then she realizes a possible reason why she was asked the question, and blushes slightly. Cursing her tendency to do so, sure Mrs. Stanton will only take it as evidence of interest, she tries to will the color out of her cheeks as she stumbles over her words. "He is...very kind, to be sure. I--I am sorry he is no longer engaged. I hope he is not too unhappy, either."
Mrs. Stanton notices the blush and nods.
"Gran, what are you scheming?"
"Alexander, I do not /scheme/. I was merely thinking that if Aria is suffering a broken engagement, and the handsome and talented Mr. Turner is suffering a broken engagement, then perhaps the two could find comfort in their similar situations. We should have him for tea. You would like that, wouldn't you Aria?"
"Oh--I--" She looks at Alex for help. "Yes--that is...he is a good /friend/, both to me and to Alex, I am sure." She hopes the emphasis on "friend" will help, but she is slightly doubtful.
"Plenty of marriages have started on less than that and I do not mind saying so. Very well, we shall invite him to tea. Alexander, I will leave it to you to extend the invitation. You may attend if you wish, but I should think it unnecessary."
Alex sighs. /Sorry, Silas./ Though he supposes a bright side is that she didn't jump to putting him and Aria together. "Gran, ah, I'm not sure if--"
"No, I will not hear another word on the subject, thank you. There now, Aria, we shall see you set to rights soon enough. We need your lovely smile to brighten this place up once again." She begins to eat.
Now thoroughly tongue-tied, Aria offers a weak smile and a nod. "I...I will try to smile more often," she murmurs, blushing a little more and sending Alex a look that she hopes says, /Please come to the tea./ After all, if he comes, her aunt cannot do as much to embarrass anyone.
Alex nods at his cousin. He'll be there. He would never miss the look on Silas' face when he finally realizes what's going on--/that/ will be priceless. "Well, dear cousin, if you will grace us with your smiles then we can ask for nothing more." He smiles at her and drinks more of his wine before leaning over. "I'll try to direct her attention elsewhere soon, don't worry." He pauses, wondering a little on his own. "Unless of course you like the idea." He raises an eyebrow at her and hopes that she does not. He doesn’t want to see her hurt further and any lady developing affections for Silas would only end in pain for her.
Gran cannot hear them but does watch them, pretending not to, of course.
"Alex!" Aria protests softly, blushing even further, but giggling a little. If she is honest, there was a time not so long ago when she might have liked the idea very much. After all, Mr. Turner is handsome, musical, kind... Would it really be so bad? She supposes it wouldn't. And yet, she is still very much in love with A--Mr. Sokolov. She wonders what she will think of Mr. Turner when that changes. Whenever that is.
He grins wider, pleased to have gotten a happy reaction from her. This can't be easy for her. He was sad Mariah had left, but there was a part of him that felt relieved. He doubted Aria had that part. She had seemed to be truly happy with her fellow. A shame, the lot of it. "I think I will come to this tea of yours, Gran. Perhaps we can get Silas and Aria to do a duet."
Mrs. Stanton's face lights up. "Oh, that would be so lovely. Do you think you might be up to it, Aria dear? I should hate to ask if you are not, of course."
Alex is not sure if Silas would be up for it, but maybe it would help cheer him. It had been some time since he had heard Silas sing.
Aria smiles a little at her aunt's reaction. "I think so," she agrees slowly. "I...it might not be...as good as I should like...but if Mr. Turner is all right with it, I think I could do it." She has been avoiding music lately, but clearly it would please Mrs. Stanton, and perhaps she ought not avoid it too long. She suddenly remembers what Herr Muller said the last time she lost Mr. Sokolov, and sighs. Yes, music might be good for her now, even hard as it is.
"Then it is settled. We could do with more music, I daresay," Mrs. Stanton gives Aria a warm smile. "It will help set things to rights, you shall see."