8 Hasty morning

Seventeen years later...

An older woman sat in a wooden chair, reading a newspaper that her servant had bought. Her hair was tied up, and wrinkles marred the sides of her downturned eyes. She turned to the next page when she heard the loud footsteps above. But the woman's eyes didn't shift away from the newspaper.

The servant, who was in the kitchen preparing tea, raised his head and stared at the ceiling. The hurried footsteps continued, which was hard to not listen to until something crashed, and the servant's eyes widened.

Even Lady Aubrey, who had been quietly reading her newspaper, closed her eyes and a sigh escaped from her lips, "I wonder what she broke this time. I can only imagine why the families have not hired her."

"She isn't that bad, milady," the servant quietly laughed before his madame gave him a stare, and he cleared his throat.

"I thought with my experience, she would turn into a fine governess. After all she was quick to pick up her learnings and excellent in most of the things. But I didn't know she would excel in being clumsy and break—"

Loud and hurried footsteps didn't stop as they quickly descended the stairs, and a young woman came into view. She almost slipped when she placed her foot on the last stair but quickly caught her balance.

"That was close," murmured the young woman. Stepping on the ground, she bowed in greeting, "Good morning, Aunt Aubrey!"

Lady Aubrey placed her hand on her chest, feeling her heart jump out of her chest. She said, "What have I told you, Eve? Slow and careful steps. The world isn't running away anywhere and where are you going this early in the morning?" The woman asked, noticing the dress that Eve wore.

Eve raised her hand that held a letter, and there was a broad smile on her lips, "I have a calling from one of the families I had applied to be a governess. The letter had somehow been buried in the desk and I saw it only an hour ago."

"That is wonderful news, Lady Eve!" the servant sounded excited.

"Indeed it is. But also shocking that you got a call after what you did to the last family. I can only imagine that they haven't heard about it yet," Lady Aubrey looked at Eve with stern eyes.

Eve looked up at the elderly woman and sheepishly smiled. She replied, "It wasn't m—"

"You poured hot tea on the woman's hand!" Lady Aubrey reminded her. "For heaven's sake, who even does that?"

"It was purely unintentional. In my defense, the woman had her hand stretched too wide and had brought it near me when I picked up the kettle," replied Eve, where even she couldn't believe something like that had happened.

Eve had leaned forward, smoothening her peach dress to remove any possible wrinkles. Now twenty-four years old, she wanted a job to support the woman who had raised her as her niece.

After Lady Aubrey's husband, Mr. Rikard Dawson, had passed away from consumption, the woman tried to live as thriftily as possible with the little money that her husband had left behind. Being a former governess, she had tried to pass all the knowledge she had to Genevieve. Tried because Eve had a hard time walking between the lines.

"Is this Lady Eve's seventh time attending the interview?" the servant inquired.

"Eighth, Eugene," Lady Aubrey murmured and asked Eve, "Can you make sure to not break anything this time?"

Eve nodded solemnly, "Of course! I will be very careful not to break anything or... pour tea on anyone," and Eugene nodded as if the young lady would not do something out of character.

"You will get the job this time, Lady Eve!" He cheered for her and asked, "Let me serve the tea and I will take you to the mansion."

"Thank you, Eugene, but I will be fine. I should hurry now. I will see you later," Eve quickly walked to where Lady Aubrey sat, kissing the woman's cheek.

"Good luck, dear," wished Lady Aubrey, and Eve quickly hurried towards the main door. On her way, she picked up the long, pointed, purple umbrella and dashed out of the door.

"Lady Eve seems to be confident today. Hopefully she doesn't miss the local carriage," murmured Eugene after looking at the watch on the wall.

Lady Aubrey held a severe look on her face, and she asked, "Did you check all the families that Eve applied for the job of being a governess?"

Eugene nodded, "I did. Most of the families were from middle class families, and they are all humans."

"That's a relief. But we can never be sure," replied the elderly woman.

Though Lady Aubrey and Eugene were humans, they had knowledge about the dangerous creatures who lived amongst them. But that wasn't the main problem. The problem was that even though they knew about these creatures, they couldn't identify who was a human and who was the creature because of these creatures' perfect disguise.

"It has been more than a decade since we came across one of them. Almost as if they don't exist," said Eugene, adding a spoonful of tea leaves into the vessel of boiling water.

"Don't be fooled, Eugene. It is all pretense, cloaked in the wool of innocence," stated Lady Aubrey, her eyebrows drawing close. "And no matter how cautious you are, it is sometimes not enough."

Lady Aubrey, who already knew the truth about Eve, had tried her best to protect the girl since she had taken her in. It wasn't safe for a mermaid with the creatures who had camouflaged themselves in the society. The last time someone had caught a mermaid, the mermaid had been put in a glass tank. The next day, word reached her ears that the water in the tank had turned red as someone had eaten the poor mermaid.

On the street, Eve's feet were quick as she headed in the direction of where the local carriages would leave in less than two minutes. The mansion where she was headed was located in the next town, and if she went by walk, it would only make her delay in reaching the place.

Though the weather was bright and sunny this morning, with no hint of possible rain in sight, Eve still carried the umbrella with her. Something she did for some years now. The umbrella swayed back and forth with every step that she took, and so did her golden blonde hair that had been tied with a peach coloured ribbon. Since she had turned twenty, she had stopped letting her hair down in public. With her appearance that hadn't changed, it was hard to get a job, as the seeking families looked at her as if she was too young to be a governess.

On her way, a man greeted her with a slight nod, "Good morning, Ms. Barlow. Fine morning, isn't it? And you look as radiant as always."

"Good morning, Mr. Humphrey," Eve returned the greetings with a bow, "It must be the blessings from the sun," her words were polite.

Mr. Humphrey was the manager in one of the timber mills, and like many other people, he was beguiled by Genevieve Barlow's beauty. He had been subtly trying to get closer to her, crossing paths and trying to talk to her. But the young woman seemed not to get his subtle point across, and he asked,

"You seem to be in a hurry. Would you like me to drop you to the place where you are going?"

"Thank you for your offer, Mr. Humphrey, but I wouldn't want to bother you. I should reach on time using the local carriage," replied Eve.

"Are you sure about it?" Enquired the man, "My carriage is waiting right there, and you may find yourself to be more comfortable in traveling in it than the local carriage. It was only three days ago that I added two more horses to the carriage and the seatings are softer than a bed. A woman like yourself should be treated with comfort an—"

"I don't know if it would be right to take your carriage. I would feel terrible to think you would have to walk to your workplace," Eve's words were serious, and an empty chuckle escaped from Mr. Humphrey as he had planned to accompany her. What word of his even gave way that he was giving his carriage to her without him in it?

Wanting to be in her good books, he didn't correct her and smiled, "You do not have to worry about me. Treat what is mine as yours."

With men, who were often polite to her, over the years, Eve had ended up ignoring their subtle advances.

"You are very generous," she noticed the coachman of the local carriage shouting that the carriage would be departing soon. Her eyes shifted to look at Mr. Humphrey when he asked her,

"If I may ask, where are you going?" inquired the man, his eyes wandering to look at her neckline and then the shape of her bosom before looking at her wide hips. She would birth many children, and he internally nodded to himself.

At the question, Eve replied, "I have an interview for the job of governess," her voice holding a hint of excitement which the man didn't take note of as if he was busy admiring her womanly curves.

Mr. Humphrey slightly threw his head backwards and laughed in amusement. He shook his head, "Are you still looking for one? I think you will be far more suited to being a wealthy and known man's wife. Let the man take care of you and do the job, as it is his duty."

Eve's eyes subtly narrowed, but the polite smile didn't leave her face. With a coy smile, she asked, "I don't think I have been fortunate enough to meet a well known man, Mr. Humphrey."

Mr. Humphrey's smile immediately fell, and he tried to smile, "I doubt that you haven't noticed the right one yet. Men who are wealthy, have status in the society and are confident. Someone who can take good care of you" Saying this, he tugged on the sides of his coat and stood even straighter than before.

"Are you talking about yourself?" Eve directly asked him, and Mr. Humphrey's mood brightened that she was finally paying him attention. After several months, he finally got her to look at him as a suitor for her. But then she said, "Of course, you're not. You are a modest and humble man. I don't think you would ever boast about such things. Because those kinds of men don't appeal to any respectable woman."

The man was left tongue-tied. Because if he agreed, he would be losing his opportunity of making her see him differently. But if he didn't, it meant he was openly accepting that he was a man who was boastful and had no appeal.

Eve offered him a smile, and bowing her head, she said, "I should hurry now. Have a good day, Mr. Humphrey." She left the man with no chance to woo her this morning, just like many other days.

Mr. Humphrey's servant came to stand next to him with flowers in his hands while both the men watched Genevieve Barlow getting inside the local carriage.

"Sir, what should I do with the flowers?" the servant asked politely, as his master had earlier ordered him to buy the flowers for the lady, who now left in the carriage.

"Throw them," Mr. Humphrey's polite smile turned into irritation. "Eve deserves fresh flowers and not the flowers of yesterday."

"Sire, if I may speak... There are many women in the town who have been trying to gain your attention. Why go for a woman who doesn't notice your feelings?" Asked the servant, only to end up getting a stare from his master.

"It is always the fruit that grows at the highest branch that tastes better than the rest. Ms. Barlow is a fine woman. Her beauty is unmatched in this or the other four towns from here. Her grace and elegance is something women thrive for. There is an innocence in her eyes that makes me want to..." Mr. Humphrey didn't continue his words but turned away from the place where the local carriage had been standing. "If not today, one day I will make sure she's mine."

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