She observed him, as he watched her.
Cecily Lancaster’s shoulders slumped, as the man told her the price. She couldn’t accept such a low fee and yet she couldn’t afford refusing it. She must choose the lesser of two evils, as she’d had to do numerous times in the past few months. She carried the burden with as much grace as she could, but soon she might show more than sorrow. Already, in the sagging shoulders, despair transpired.
She opened her mouth to accept the deal when Mr. Jonathan Harrington interrupted.
“I’ll purchase the goods for 150.”
The pawnbroker frowned. Harrington was stealing business from him, preventing him from making his money back and then some on the goods the Lancaster widow was selling. In fairness though, he was cheating her out of an amount that she couldn’t do without. And he knew it. He groaned.
“You’re welcome to it, I’m not paying more than 75.”
Harrington turned to the widow.
“What do you say Mrs. Lancaster?”
She blushed. She wouldn’t have three months ago. But things were changed. Her husband left too many debts.
“Are you sure Sir?”
He didn’t need the goods; he would do nothing with it. But he would tell her he was…
“Certain. I shall take these.”
He gave her the money. She would feed the children for two weeks at the least. Some colour returned to her pale cheeks. As she walked away, tucking the precious money inside her purse and into her jacket that it might not be stolen, Harrington’s gaze never wavered. He cared for the young mother; were she not his late cousin’s widow, he might even offer to marry her and adopt the children. But he wouldn’t dare.
People had tried to convince the young woman her husband didn’t deserve her wearing the black for him: he’d spent all her dowry and his own money on mistresses and died with one of them. She didn’t appear to mind. In fact, no one had heard her criticize her late husband.
She approached the widow, bumping into her and letting go of some of the content of her bag on the ground.
“Oh I’m so sorry milady.” She stammered.
The widow gathered herself gracefully and gave her a kind smile.
“I should be the one apologizing. I wasn’t looking where I stepped. Are you alright?”
The young widow wouldn’t recognize her of course; she was merely 6 years old when they last met, but the generosity was here today as it was then. She dropped to her knees to help her collect the fruit.
“Oh I’m so sorry I ruined your figs. Let me pay you for them.”
She barely had enough to keep her children warm and here she was offering the money away even though she wasn’t the one to blame.
“Do not worry milady. Your kindness is payment enough. But do share one with me if you will.”
She cut one in two and gave the piece to the young widow.
“Is everything alright?”
Harrington had drawn near, a proof of his feelings towards the Lancaster widow.
“Yes Sir,” Cecily Lancaster said. “Well this young lady and I were just sharing a fig.”
“Do you want to taste one my Lord?”
She offered the other half to the Duke. She knew he would feel rude to refuse her in front of the widow.
“That is kind of you to offer. I would like that.”
She gave him the other half of the fig and watched them eat the fruit. She watched him smile to the widow as they shared the two halves. ‘Open Your Heart’ she whispered, the sound drown by the town clock as it chimed the hour. She gathered the rest of the figs in her bags hurriedly and bowed.
“I apologize, my Lord, milady, I must be going. My mother will be worried sick. I am late already. Wishing you a wonderful day.”
She dashed away, as a child in trouble would. But she was no child. She hadn’t been in a while. She disappeared in a building and returned to the streets looking an elderly matron to observe her charges.
They stood slightly dazed, as if uncertain of what they must do now that they were alone. Harrington bowed slightly, offering Cecily to accompany back to her house. She hesitated; it was obvious. She cast a glance left and right. Rumours could do much damage.
Lilian could only hope that she wasn’t too late in her intervention. Cecily Merryweather and Jonathan Harrington’s fates had been tied since they were born. She bound them together. Her gift to two bright souls. Only Cecily’s parents had looked for money: the Lancaster estates were indeed rich. In their defence, they couldn’t have foreseen the heir to the Count was a spender and unfaithful. Cecily had cared for her husband though; would she let the fig do its work and open her eyes to the love, which had awaited for years?
When the widow looked back at the Duke, her lips curved into a soft smile. After all, she’d weathered worse when her husband passed. His behaviour ensured she would never be free of the rumours. She took Harrington’s offered arm. The rest would be up to them; Lilian’s figs would only work with the feelings that were already inside their hearts. Harrington’s were easy to guess… Hers. It would remain to be seen.
Lilian walked away and once she was out of sight disappeared altogether. She didn’t come back when the banns were published to announce the wedding of Lord Jonathan Harrington, Duke of Rochester and Cecily Lancaster. Her work was elsewhere.
In response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Tale Weaver prompt Magic Fruit