This city will ruin you, just as it ruined your mother.
Rose Fraser has been given the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to go to London as a debutante for the London season, as Viscountess Latimer's personal protégé. She is nervous yet excited at the idea. However, her excitement soon fades away when she starts receiving threats in the form of intricately folded, anonymous notes. Nerves turn to fear as the notes escalate. Feeling trapped, unable go to the police, she turns to the only person she thinks can help her: her most serious suitor, private investigator James Grey. But will he uncover the truth before things take a turn for the worse?
And so the days passed. Rose did not speak to Mr. Grey, though they did see each other when she accompanied her aunt to the opera on Thursday. Those few moments of eye contact had been worth the snide comments that her aunt had taken to make whenever Mr. Grey was seen, or mentioned in conversation.
No new note arrived on Friday, which should have been a greater relief than it was. Rose had come to believe that her tormentor could read her mind, and that he would have had a few choice words about her feelings for Mr. Grey. She could not quite convince herself otherwise, despite the lack of note as evidence.
On Saturday morning, at breakfast time, the plans for what had become the usual walk in the park were dashed by an apologetic Robinson.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake!" exclaimed Aunt Edwards after Robinson gave her an extensive list of household affairs that required her attention. "Can you not take care of this yourself?"
"I've managed what I can, madam, but I'm afraid these matters do require your attention."
"This will take me all morning. But if there's no choice... Rose, you will find some other way to busy yourself this morning. Try not to get in anyone's way."
"I could take you to the park, if you still wish to go."
Everyone turned to look at Uncle Edwards, who simply finished his breakfast, apparently unaware of the shock his words have caused.
"You? Walk in the park?" Aunt Edwards laughed at the idea.
"Of course I would not walk," replied Uncle Edwards, offended by the suggestion. "We would take the horse and carriage, go for a ride."
"Oh, you are being ridiculous, my dear. You have not handled a carriage since we left for the city."
"Exactly, and high time I got back to it. And it seems to me that, as you'll undoubtedly be busy this morning, the decision belongs to Rose."
When both her aunt and uncle turned to her, Rose was reminded of the dinner conversation that preceded their departure for London, these many nights ago. This time, however, the decision came much more swiftly. She had missed her uncle; his company, which had always been easier for her to bear, had been scarce since their arrival in town. Her aunt would be very busy this morning. Besides all that, it was a beautiful day, and it would be a shame to spend it cooped up inside.
"I think a carriage ride in the park is a wonderful idea. I would love to."
"Excellent! Then the matter is resolved. We leave in half an hour."
As her aunt had no real objections to the scheme, thus ended the discussion.
As her aunt had no real objections to the scheme, thus ended the discussion.
"Now that we are alone," said Uncle Edwards as the horse and carriage made its way down the street and to the park, "how are you, Rose?"
"I am well, uncle."
"I assume that by 'well', you mean your aunt hasn't run you completely ragged yet." Her uncle sighed. "Rose, I wish you would stand up for yourself. The world will not end if you say no to her."
"She would be upset with me, uncle. You know how I dislike conflict of any kind."
"Conflict is a part of life, my dear. You will never be able to please everyone you meet at all times. Tell me, honestly, do you enjoy life in the city so far? Shopping and walks in the park and dance lessons, every morning? Calling on a different person for tea every afternoon, followed by dinners and evenings at the theater and balls, every night?"
"It is somewhat tiring, I must admit."
"We both know where this is leading, if your aunt has any say over this: you married to the richest man you can sink your teeth into, so you can keep on this crazy merry-go-round social scene. Is this what you want?"
"No," said Rose hesitantly.
"I do not wish for the richest man, but for a good man. One who would care for me. One who, perhaps, would be agreeable to partake in a much less active role in society."
Her uncle remained silent as they entered the park, and for a moment longer still. "Would I be wrong in guessing that you already met such a man?" he finally said.
Rose quietly shook her head. "At least I hope I have."
"That boy who paid a call on you last week. What was his name, Grey?"
Rose nodded. Her uncle nodded as well, seemingly lost in thought.
Rose could not explain what happened next. It felt like something out of a nightmare. The horse inexplicably took off at neck-breaking speed. Her uncle cried out various interjections to the beast, to no avail. The reins, much too slack to begin with, kept slipping through his hands. The shouts of indignation of the passersby turned to cries of fear and pain, as not everyone could get out of the way in time.
Every time the carriage hit something, whether it was a person or a mere bump on the road, Rose was terribly jostled. After a particularly bad hit, she found herself thrown halfway out of the carriage. She watched helplessly as her hat fell to the ground, to be crushed under the carriage wheel. She feared her head would be next.
It was at that moment that Uncle Edwards took back the reins and violently pulled the carriage to a stop. It was too much for Rose's precarious position, and she fell.
Thankfully, she was saved from a painful landing by a pair of strong hands, who gripped her arm and awkwardly pulled her back in the carriage.
"Are you hurt?"
There was something familiar about the voice, though she was certain she never heard it before. She looked up at her savior: the man was indeed a complete stranger.
"Miss?" the stranger asked again as he tried to catch his breath. Rose realized that she has not answered his question. She shook her head: she was scared but unharmed.
"I believe that was enough excitement for today," said Uncle Edwards. "Let's go home."
"Would you allow me to accompany you? It appears that your horse is easily startled; you may find yourself in need of assistance again."
"We are much obliged to you, sir, but that won't be necessary. We reside nearby, and I'll be keeping a better grip on the reins from now on."
"Very well, if you insist, I'll let you be on your way. Good day, sir."
Uncle Edwards tilted his hat to the man and awkwardly turned the carriage around.
"Oh, Goodness. What have you done with yourselves? Where is your hat, Rose?" Aunt Edwards fussed over Rose's disheveled hair and dress as soon as she stepped into the vestibule. Uncle Edwards had left her at the door, declaring that he needed a drink and was headed to the pub.
"Something scared the horse, and the carriage went out of control. I am afraid I lost my hat in the incident."
It would have been ungenerous of Mrs. Edwards to take pleasure in her husband's failure to control the horse and carriage he insisted on taking out this morning. And yet what else could explain the satisfied smile that graced her face, if only for a moment?
"Well, I suppose it could be worse. You are not injured, are you?"
"No, my aunt."
"Good. You will have to change for today, but with a careful pressing, the dress will be as good as new. We shall go shopping for a new hat, soon. Go to your room; I will have Eliza join you to redo your hair and help you change."
Aunt Edwards turned and made her way out of the vestibule, with Rose at her heels. The very next moment, the door opened and Robinson walked in.
"Robinson?" Rose had not expected him to be out. "Where have you been?"
"The grocer, miss."
Rose looked down at the butler's empty hands. Before she could question him, her aunt called out. "Rose, how many times do I have to ask you to stop pestering Robinson? Go on to your room, you have to change and get your hair fixed before we leave for tea."
Rose did as her aunt bade, but questions and suspicions swarmed in her head like bees. It appeared most irregular to her for him to return from the grocer empty handed. But on the other hand, Robinson should have no need to lie to her about something so trivial. There might be a simple explanation. Perhaps he had not found what he was looking for. But Aunt Edwards had been present, and she was not one to let such an oversight go by without comment. It was possible that she didn't want to embarrass him in front of Rose, but her aunt was not usually so discreet.
She continued to question and suspect and doubt herself and others all through the day. Her feelings were only exacerbated when another note was delivered to her that evening.
Would you choose the pleasures of the city over your own life?
I believe this morning's event made it clear
That you cannot have both
Her tormentor had scared the horse into running off, then. He could have killed her. He probably would kill her, unless she left London, which she could not do.
This confirmation of her worst fears was not as terrible as the possibility that this tormentor was much closer than she had believed, that perhaps he lived under the same roof. This possibility, Rose could neither fully accept nor reject. She slept poorly that night.
Aurelia Osborne is the pen name of a Canadian author, born and raised in the National Capital region. She studied literature, art history, translation, and creative writing. She hates talking about herself, especially in the third person. The Admirer is her first novel.