Monday, January 24, 2011
The Ladies Take the Ice
Charlotte sat at her mirror, thoughtfully pinning her hair, when her cousin George poked his head into her room.
"Why so fine?" He smirked. "Shouldn't you be in the kitchen, practicing baking and obedience?"
"The Dorcas Society is meeting today. I must not miss it," she explained calmly.
"Yes, go enjoy your do-gooders meeting. Soon you won't be doing good for anyone but Marcus Rogers."
Charlotte sighed. "Why does it have to be Marcus Rogers?"
"Father couldn't get a better offer for a penniless wench like you."
"He should have considered that before he squandered my Father's fortune."
George snorted. "Now he's just glad to be rid of you." He shouldered his hockey stick and gave Charlotte a mocking salute. "I'll give your regards to your betrothed."
Charlotte added some extra pins to her coiffure, then gathered her things.
Though she arrived a few minutes late for the meeting, her friends greeted her cheerfully.
"Do come in, Charlotte," called Henrietta. "We've already started on the infant gowns."
"But where is your work basket?" Penny asked.
Charlotte remained standing. "I've come to beg your assistance, ladies."
Genevieve put down her work. "Whatever is the matter?"
"Having no further use for my inheritance, Uncle has betrothed me to Marcus Rogers."
"Why, congratulations!" Elizabeth beamed, but the others gasped. "Or, perhaps not?"
"You must not be acquainted with Marcus Rogers, Elizabeth," Genevieve surmised.
"He hasn't the manners of a gutter rat," Delia proclaimed.
"My brother believes he is passing through the Academy on bribes alone," declared Penny.
"When Uncle called me in at the end of their interview yesterday," Charlotte said, "Marcus did not rise. He sniffed at me and sent me for more cakes, like a servant."
"Female servants do not last long in the Rogers household," Genevieve murmured.
"He has no mother or sisters to teach him gentility," Henrietta offered. "Did your uncle correct him?"
"He merely raised his eyebrows, and said that more cakes would be appreciated."
"Oh, dear. But whatever can we do?" asked Elizabeth.
Charlotte pulled out her skates and set her broom on the floor. "Challenge him."
The young ladies looked at each other with a mixture of alarm and amusement. Henrietta cleared her throat. "We have the poor always with us, but we may not always have Charlotte. I move that this meeting of the Dorcas Society be adjourned to the lake."
"Hear, hear," echoed the friends as they packed up their work baskets.
George scored a goal as the Dorcas Society approached the frozen lake. "That's five, then! You win, fellows," called an unfamiliar young man on the opposing team. "Shall we play again before this lovely audience?"
"Actually, gentlemen, we have come to challenge the victors," Henrietta said sweetly.
"We yield to the ladies," he said with a smile, motioning his companions to follow him off the ice.
"Charlotte? What . . .?" George was at a loss for words. The other young men looked askance as their sisters and acquaintances set their brooms aside and fixed their skates onto their boots.
"Shall we play to five points?" Charlotte suggested.
Marcus laughed gratingly. "That shouldn't take long."
"Oh, let's take it easy on them, shall we?" said Penny's brother, Spencer.
George went through the motions of facing off with Henrietta, but he allowed her to take the puck. She swiftly swept it toward Charlotte's broom, and raced forward. The young men gaped as Charlotte flicked the puck to Delia. Marcus stood in front of the goal, leaning on his stick and leering, until Delia sent the puck past him into the net.
The young men began to pay more attention, and George took the puck at the next face-off. However, he did not keep control for long. Though Elizabeth had only recently joined the other girls in their secluded practice sessions, she displayed a remarkable aptitude for defence. Discomfited, George managed to pass the puck to Spencer, who shot for the goal. But he could not put it past either his sister's broom or her many-layered skirts. Genevieve passed the puck forward, and Henrietta soon scored another goal. The young men on the shore applauded the ladies, much to the consternation of the team on the ice.
"It's not fair," Marcus shouted. "Their brooms hide the puck!"
"And their skirts obscure the goal," George moaned.
"I shan't suggest any change in your costumes," said the team captain on the shore, "but you young ladies have proven yourselves quite competent with the besoms of destruction. Would you like to try playing with proper sticks?"
The members of the Dorcas Society smiled at each other. They had played, many times, with hockey sticks borrowed while their brothers were at school. But the young men did not know that.
"These sticks do allow for more precision, don't they," Elizabeth observed as Charlotte scored the third point. The young men rallied, though, and scored two points in rapid succession.
The next point was hard fought. Both teams applied all their skill. The puck slid swiftly between attackers and defenders, and each goal keeper blocked several shots. Finally Charlotte secured the puck and took it down the ice ahead of the defenders, who had gone to help attack. Marcus came out to meet her. "How dare you, little vixen," he snarled. Charlotte passed the puck to Henrietta, who scored just as Marcus slammed his stick into Charlotte's ankle.
Charlotte sprawled on the ice. Her teammates surrounded her with concern. George stood behind them, looking confused. The handsome stranger skated out from the shore. "Are you injured, Miss? I am studying medicine; perhaps I could be of service?"
Charlotte saw the kindness in his eyes, and considered that it might not be too improper for him to examine her ankle. As he began to loosen her boot, though, Marcus loomed over him.
"Unhand her, sir!"
"Oh, I did not mean to intrude. You'll be seeing the young lady home, then?"
"Let her hobble. I refuse to be humiliated by my future wife!" Marcus kicked Charlotte's other ankle, and turned away.
"Then I release you from your obligation," Charlotte called, weakly, but clearly.
Marcus spun around, fell heavily, and turned a vivid shade of purple. Spencer helped him up and escorted him firmly to the shore.
The stranger bent over Charlotte's boot once more. "I am afraid we have not been properly introduced."
"Oh!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "I am so sorry. Ladies, this is Mr. Reynolds. His father is an associate of my father's." She went on to introduce her friends.
Determining that the ankle was sprained, but not broken, Mr. Reynolds bound it with snow and two bandages that Genevieve had in her reticule. "I finished them at home after our last meeting," she explained.
"I'll send for Father's carriage to convey you home, Miss," he offered. "And may I call on you again? I should like to know the history of this amazing athletic victory."
Charlotte smiled. She felt victorious, indeed.