The Upper Hallways:
With unconscious movements, Kyra slowly followed the halls back to her room. As she turned the corner of a dividing hallway, a beautiful voice sang out from the opposite direction. Her quizzical mind couldn't resist finding the owner of such a lovely voice.
Music had always inspired a feeling of joy in her. But, this song was particularly mesmerizing for a reason she couldn't name.
As she reached the door she saw it stood ajar and couldn't help herself from staring in awe of the room. As pretty as her own room was, this one was exquisite.
The room was set in a light meadow green with flowered designs etched along the borders of the walls. The huge four poster bed centered in the room had a beautiful canopy of green silk drapes hanging over the sides to filter out some of the morning sun.
The voice she had been hearing was coming from behind the open door of a large wardrobe. A young woman of slender build was standing there hanging some of the prettiest dresses Kyra had ever seen. Having hung the last she carried in her hands, she turned back to the bed to pick up another load.
The woman had her dark hair pinned in a crown above her head. Her eyes were rather large, giving her a kitten-like appearance. Their color was a very deep brown, almost the color of dark chocolate. Her stance was that of high nobility as her rigid posture told, though her soft cheekbones and delicately featured face detracted from that rather prim and proper appearance. Kyra was uncertain which held more truth.
As she spotted Kyra, she smiled and said, "Hello. Are you one of the servants here?"
Kyra shook her head in denial.
"But of course you aren't," the woman chastised herself. "You are dressed much too pretty for me to assume such a thing." Just as kindly, she asked, "Who might you be then?" When Kyra said nothing the woman frowned momentarily. She quickly changed tactics and said, "Of course! I suppose I should introduce myself first. I am Cassandra Carrington, daughter of Anson Carrington, Viscount of Alderidge."
Kyra's eyes widened in surprise and she curtsied in respect. After a moment of odd silence ensued, Kyra almost felt inclined to run away. Again, Cassandra covered the lapse as though nothing out of the ordinary was wrong.
"What is it that brings you to my room?" Her tone was not at all demanding or suspicious, she only appeared mildly curious.
Kyra pointed to Cassandra, then raised her head and made a fluttering movement in front of her mouth with her hand.
Cassandra watched her for a few moments and then burst out laughing. "You could hear my singing?"
Kyra smiled and nodded
"Oh my. I didn't realize how loud I was being. Was it at all good?" Her voice held a tinge of doubt as she spoke.
Hearing that doubt, Kyra nodded vigorously. She was surprised Cassandra showed such uncertainty about it.
"Sincerely?" This seemed to please the young woman, because her steps became more buoyant as she worked. "Why don't you come in and sit down. I do have to meet with Caleb shortly, but you could keep me company until then."
With a nervous glance around the room, Kyra measured the invitation carefully. When Cassandra didn't retract the offer, Kyra stepped in to the room, but remained standing. There were so many boxes and bags scattered about the room. It appeared Cassandra intended to stay quite some time.
Watching her continue happily with her work, Kyra wondered why the daughter of a viscount would unpack her own clothes. Even a baron didn't tolerate his children performing such menial tasks. It was unbelievable that the viscount would have his own children accomplish this chore. Where was her handmaid?
Cassandra saw her curious stare. She knew what Kyra was thinking. Everyone inquired about this odd habit of hers, even the servants. "I know it is common practice to have the servants unpack for a lady. I just despise having unfamiliar hands touching my personal belongings. I suppose it is a quirk in my nature, but I feel this is the only aspect of my life that I can control."
Kyra looked up at Cassandra. She was a bit startled to find that this woman was able to read her thoughts. Did she think the observation about her personal preference rude? Had she been able to speak her thoughts, would Cassandra be offended at her for daring to pose the question? She blushed and lowered her eyes in discomfort.
However, Cassandra didn't seem to harbor any ill feelings towards Kyra's observation. She continued her efforts without pause. "You do not speak, do you," Cassandra asked abruptly. Kyra was again startled by the woman's words. Seeing that, Cassandra knew she had spoken out of turn. Shrugging a little, she said, "Sometimes I cannot help my curiosity. Forgive my bluntness. The thought only just occurred to me."
Kyra smiled sadly and shook her head. She covered her mouth in answer to the question. She couldn't speak.
"Again, I apologize for my rudeness, but no matter." She waved a hand in dismissal of the gloominess and proclaimed, "That is nothing for us to dwell on. I'm sure you have many other good qualities to compensate. I am not concerned by it."
With a wide grin, Kyra found she enjoyed Cassandra's personality. The woman's power of observation nearly equaled her own. That was a skill that few people possessed. As she remained in the room, she found it possible to hold a small conversation. Cassandra rambled on so cheerfully that she often covered Kyra's end of the conversation. It was a new experience for her, one that she really enjoyed. Kyra could not remember ever spending such an enjoyable amount of time talking with anyone aside from Isabel and Serena. Cassandra seemed naturally aware of Kyra's thoughts and that was a wonderful feeling.
Cassandra spent another few minutes trying to talk and work at the same time, finally giving up the effort. She moved some of her clothes off of the bed and motioned for Kyra to sit. She found it much easier to talk with Kyra if they faced each other.
"Have you lived here for a while? I don't recall ever seeing you when I've been here before." Cassandra laughed when Kyra shook her head and held her fingers a half-inch apart. "Only a short while? Maybe a week," she asked.
Kyra nodded in agreement. She couldn't get over this situation. This was the first time she'd ever been able to communicate with someone who didn't know the signing language. It was amazing.
"Well you must have heard about the party tomorrow. The servant who escorted me up here mentioned Caleb was planning a wonderful celebration. I just loved the surprise! Don't you? I just'" When Kyra started to frown, Cassandra broke off and asked, "You don't care for such lavish affairs? Do you find them tedious? Well, I don't blame you. It must be difficult to enjoy them in your position. Being unable to speak must make it difficult for you to socialize like that."
It wasn't that, Kyra wanted to say. She shook her head emphatically and brought her hand to her heart meaningfully to say that she really did love social events.
Cassandra frowned though, wondering what the problem with the party was. She couldn't understand what Kyra was trying to say. "You looked rather forlorn when I mentioned it. You are unhappy about the idea, I can see that."
Kyra shrugged and nodded. Standing up for a moment, she fluffed her skirt and pouted. Holding her hands opened, she shrugged then fluffed the skirt again. She was shaking her head sadly as she tried to answer the question.
Watching this display curiously, Cassandra suddenly smiled at herself for missing the obvious. She couldn't believe she'd had to think about that one. Feeling a little surprised by Kyra's concern, she asked, "You have nothing suitable to wear for the party?"
Kyra cast her eyes away in shame and sat back down beside Cassandra. A tinge of embarrassment assaulted her for the admission. She hated acknowledging that she was concerned about such a petty thing as a dress. But, it really was important to her!
"Well, perhaps'" Cassandra's voice broke off before she could finish the thought and she suddenly started smiling. Her eyes focused on something behind Kyra.
Turning around to see what brought such a pleased looked to Cassandra's face, Kyra was a little surprised to see Caleb standing in the doorway. He was just beginning to enter the room.
"Hello, Cassandra." His voice sounded most cordial. Kyra was surprised to see that behind the warmth of his smile, Caleb was seething. She wondered what the reason for his irritation could be.
From out in the hall, Caleb had been listening to Cassandra talk. He had wondered whom she was speaking with. He hadn't expected to find Kyra here. It sparked off those feelings of suspicion all over again.
Was this why Kyra had left the table in such haste? No doubt, she had heard him mention the Carrington name. It was quite well known. She had probably headed straight for this room. More than likely, she planned to cast her spell over another unsuspecting victim and make a plea for money. Having caught the tail end of their conversation, it seemed Cassandra was only too eager to provide it. Well, he would nip this friendship in the bud!
"Caleb!" Cassandra welcomed with true pleasure. She rose from the bed to enter his waiting arms. Hugging him fiercely, she complained, "It has been nearly a month. Why haven't you written?"
He squeezed her just as affectionately and admonished her by saying, "You know that is impossible now. Should your father ever come across a letter from me, he would take it as an impending sign of marriage."
"Oh, him and his silly dreams. Why can't he just go to'"
"Cass!" he shouted.
"'London," she finished sweetly. "Then I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore."
Smiling, he broke away from her to face Kyra. Pointedly, he said, "Cass, why don't you and I go down to the study now?"
"Yes," she agreed, unaware of his look in Kyra's direction.
"Kyra, I assume you will be able to find your way back to you room?"
"Kyra," Cassandra turned around with that discovery. Grateful that Caleb had spoken the word, she exclaimed, "So that is your name! I am very glad to have met you."
Uncertain about Caleb's hostility towards her, Kyra simply nodded to Cassandra. Caleb was giving her the sourest look behind Cassandra's back.
"Well, Caleb, you needn't worry overmuch. Kyra is unable to speak, but I have found her to be quite intelligent. I believe she is capable of locating her room." Her voice was a bit defensive as she spoke to him. "Kyra," she turned back, "perhaps we could speak later?"
Kyra saw Caleb's look of disapproval, but she nodded anyway. She knew that he was acting intentionally cold towards her, but she decided to ignore it. Curtsying to them both, she left Cassandra's room and walked back to her own.
"Caleb," Cassandra admonished impatiently, "I have never seen you act so uncivil towards anyone. Just because she is mute does not mean she is unfeeling."
"I am not concerned with how she feels," he remarked. "It has nothing to do with her inability to speak, though." Then again, he admitted, it had everything to do with that.
"Then you should know that I do care for her feelings. I like her a great deal. She seems quite'"
"You are not to have any relation with her while she is here," he decreed bitingly.
"Why?" Cassandra asked, not to be put off by his harsh tone. She had never been one to fear his wrath. He could rage and roar till the walls trembled, but Cass would not be satisfied until he yielded a reasonable explanation for his anger.
"Will you just accept my judgment and leave it at that?"
She shook her head firmly.
Caleb sighed and scratched his head in an effort to think. How much should he tell her? How much would he have to say before she bowed to his command?
"Kyra is the girl I've accepted to take charge of. You have probably heard about her from our relatives."
"Oh, is she the one who was living with your cousin, Baron Tyler?"
He nodded. "I don't know how to say this tactfully, but I believe she is trying to dupe us all. As much as she's tried to pretend being mute, she has a voice, but she chooses not to use it. I'm trying to find out why."
"That's silly. Why would someone want to live like that," she asked, doubtful that he was right. She hadn't been able to sense anything deceitful in Kyra, and she was usually a pretty good judge of character.
"It is a long story. The point is that I've heard her speaking. She was asleep at the time, but she was speaking aloud. I have no doubt that she's trying to hide something by pretending to be something she's not."
Cassandra remained quiet for a time. After a moment she looked up and said, "You must have been mistaken. Perhaps you heard someone talking and thought it was her."
"It was her," he insisted. "I cannot be sure why she is lying, but until I find out, I want you to stay away from her. I don't trust her. I will not allow her to victimize you as she might have done to the Tyler's."
"I can protect myself, Caleb. I have been doing so for many years since Mother's death," she declared bitterly. Caleb sighed then, and Cass felt a small stab of guilt. "I'm sorry. But, I will not hide myself away from someone out of fear that they might hurt me. If I were to do so, I might as well never return home."
Caleb stepped closer as if his mere presence could somehow protect her. His problems with Kyra suddenly dimmed as his eyes narrowed on Cassandra. His better judgment warned him not to dwell on her words too closely. Yet, he was unable to hold back his thoughts.
"Has your father been causing you problems," he questioned hesitantly.
Cassandra looked up at him, wishing she could just break down in his arms. More than anything in the world she wanted to beg for his help. But, there was nothing he could do to save her from Anson. Caleb would only end up caught in the web of misery that surrounded her life.
"I am not interested in speaking about my own problems," she lied. "We were speaking about Kyra." She shook her head slowly and stepped away from him, "I do not know if what you said about her voice is true'"
"It is," he replied cuttingly.
"However," she spoke louder, "people often have very good reasons for the deceptions they create. Just because Kyra is unwilling to let anyone know she has a voice, it is not proof that she means anyone harm. Perhaps," she said thoughtfully, "Kyra is using her disability to hide within our ranks from something. There may be a good reason that she wants us all to believe she is mute. It might not have a thing to do with ill will towards our family."
Caleb bit the inside of his lip as he thought about that. He hadn't even considered that possibility. He didn't completely dismiss his earlier conclusions, but Cass did have a point. It was obvious that he would have to give the matter more thought before passing judgment.
He looked up at Cassandra and admitted, "There is more that I will have to consider if I am to be a fair judge of character."
"Caleb, it was easy for you to believe the worst of Kyra, because of how you were raised. You cannot help that."
"No," he denied. "My father always insisted that I listen to both sides of a story before I pass sentence on someone. Twice now I have ignored that lesson with Kyra. For the second time I nearly condemned her before learning the second side."
Cassandra could not allow him berate himself. He was too fine of a man to ever doubt himself. She decided to change the subject and bring him out of his melancholy. Instead, they discussed the events of the past month. Every now and then he would bring up her father and shed quickly change the subject.
Caleb was well aware that she was avoiding the issue of her father and a sick feeling began to rise in him. He tried not to let himself dwell on it, but it started to consume his thoughts all the same. The more he tried to pursue the subject, the harder she would try to avoid it until she was forced to finally push him away.
"Allow me to finish my duties now," she pleaded. "I would like to finish unpacking before the evening meal arises."
He was silent for a full minute as he eyed her with some skepticism. Finally, he allowed her the freedom to pull away. She would be staying for a few weeks at least. So, he could continue their conversation later. It would be best not to push the issue, he knew.
If his wife had taught him one thing, it was patience. You couldn't push someone into a confession. People had to speak of their own free will. Otherwise, you could push too hard and lose the person's trust. He would just have to bide his time and pray it wouldn't be too late to save Cassandra, not the way he had once failed to save Elizabeth. That guilt still ate him up daily. If he allowed Cassandra to endure the same suffering, the remorse he would feel might inevitably kill him.
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