The third Earl's Smile
April and May were identical twins, sisters born on different days and different months. Throughout their childhood, they were inseparable but as they grew older, their temperaments began to change. April’s mood was as changeable as the weather while May was settled with a positive outlook.
April had just returned from Paris. She was a beauty consultant working for a company with offices in both the UK and France. Now she was home and looking forward to a corporate weekend held in the grand ballroom at Edmonton Hall.
“Come with me May,” April implored. “You could do with a couple of days away, besides it’s all paid for.”
“Oh I don’t know,” May agonised. “It doesn’t seem right, taking advantage of your company expense account.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that.”
Staring out of the window, May was tempted. It would be nice to get away with her sister even if it was just for a weekend.
“I won’t take no for an answer,” April said and slipping her arm around May’s shoulder, held her close.
The drive through the countryside in April’s sports convertible was a treat. The sun was shining gloriously and with evening gowns carefully packed and a case full of beauty products May felt her spirits lift.
April’s lifestyle was so different. Her sister was a free spirit who thrived on taking chances. May however had to work hard for everything that she owned. She had a mortgage, drove a second hand car and worked at a mundane job that she really didn’t enjoy.
Tony, her long time boyfriend never got round to proposing. They had been together for three years but like April, he remained a free spirit. He was such fun to be with and she loved him dearly. Her father disapproved, but Tony made his daughter happy so what could he say.
May knew something was wrong. They had argued and Tony told her that he was leaving. That was three weeks ago and since then her life had been hell. May was certain that he had met another woman but she had no proof.
“What makes you think there is someone else?” April asked as she steered the car along a narrow lane.
“I just know, I guess it was the way he looked at me.”
“I’m sure it’s your imagination. You know what he’s like.” She glanced at her sister.
“We have never argued before, it’s so unlike him. We have always shared our problems.”
“Let’s forget about it,” April snapped. “I’m determined to enjoy our weekend.”
Edmonton Hall was everything they imagined and more. A long gravel driveway guided them across parkland to a magnificent red-bricked mansion.
“Wow,” April gasped, unable to contain her excitement.
They stopped at the bottom of a sweeping stone staircase and a member of staff came to greet them.
“If madam would oblige, I’ll arrange to have your luggage taken to your rooms.”
Her sister stepped elegantly from the car just like an accomplished film star leaving May feeling inadequate in her wake.
Once they had freshened up and changed, they joined the others for cocktails on the terrace. Most of April’s colleagues were there already and a party atmosphere fueled by corporate talk was in full swing. After a while, May left her sister and went to explore the gardens. Slipping away unnoticed, she made her way along a little path that took her towards a walled garden where she could be alone. The garden was beautiful but it filled her with sadness. Tony should be there with her. He had been the constant in her life and she could not imagine a future without him, she felt lost and alone. In an effort to shrug off her melancholy, she looked at the Grecian urns overflowing with colour. The flowerbeds and ornamental trees were a perfect antidote. She dared not set foot on the immaculate lawn so strolling round the edge she came to a sudden stop. Suddenly there was movement so standing still like one of the statues she held her breath. A man dressed in jodhpurs, red riding jacket and polished boots walked past. He did not see her but she felt compelled to call out.
“Good evening,” she surprised herself by actually doing it.
“Oh, I do beg your pardon,” he stopped and turning towards her said. “Good evening to you.”
Taking her hand, he gently lifted her fingers to his lips.
“Are you one of the guests?” she asked, pleased at being greeted so graciously.
“No,” he smiled, “I live here. This is my home.”
May paled slightly as she attempted to remember the name of the family who owned the estate.
“Then you must be Lord...” she struggled as her mind went blank.
“Earl of Edmonton, the third Earl, but please call me Edward.” He bowed his head slightly before going on. “And to whom do I owe the pleasure?”
“May,” she stuttered nervously. “May Lynn-De’Verre.”
“My word,” his smile was captivating. “What a splendid name.”
“It’s French,” she replied feeling foolish at stating the obvious, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Well Miss Lynn-De’Verre shall we take a turn?” He offered her his arm.
“I’m not keeping you from something important.”
“Heavens no,” he laughed. “You are the reason why I’m here.”
She looked at him but decided not to question him further. They chatted easily, exploring a variety of topics and as they went deeper into the garden, May poured out her troubles. She couldn’t understand why but it felt right, he encouraged her gently and when she was finished he led her towards a stone bench beside a lake.
“Who do you think this other woman is?” he asked, his voice a sympathetic whisper.
May chewed uncertainly at her bottom lip, reluctant to put a face to the woman who had stolen away her heart. A tear slipped from the corner of her eye and Edward pulled a square of silk from his pocket. Standing up he looked down at her, his smile as charming as before then helping her to her feet he led her to the water’s edge. Drying her eyes with the soft cool silk, she saw little fish darting just below the surface.
“Look beyond the water,” he spoke in a whisper. “Imagine that you are at one with its depths.”
The tone of his voice was soothing and doing as he said she cleared her mind then a picture began to appear. It seemed to float up from the murky depths becoming clear as it neared the surface. It was Tony, his smiling handsome face staring back at her lovingly. Suddenly she was there running towards him and throwing her arms around his neck they embraced. She could smell the scent of his aftershave and her heart skipped a beat.
“April, how did you manage to get away from May?”
“Don’t worry about my sister, we share everything.”
May gasped as April’s words drifted away on the breeze.
“It can’t be true,” she cried and looking around for Edward, he was nowhere to be seen.
Tears spilled freely over her face as the love for her sister and Tony was torn apart. She thought they were too close for something like this to happen but she was wrong, the two people whom she loved the most had betrayed her. Touching the silk to her eyes, she turned away and made her way slowly back towards the house.
Avoiding the terrace where her sister was enjoying the party, she slipped in through a side door and found herself in a darkened room. Heavy curtains hung at the windows accompanied by an atmosphere of age and permanency.
“Come in my dear. I’ve been waiting for you.”
A voice startled her. An elderly man was sitting in a chair veiled in shadows.
“Who are you?” May sobbed.
He studied her soberly before answering. “I am the Earl of Edmonton, the seventh Earl,” he added.
His smile was comforting and she felt the warmth that she had experienced a few moments ago with Edward. Turning away, she looked up at a painting of a man dressed in white jodhpurs and a red hunting jacket.
“He is one of my ancestors,” he explained watching her carefully.
“Ancestor, what do you mean?”
“Well my dear, Edward the third Earl was unfortunately killed in a riding accident. That was almost one hundred and fifty years ago.”
“But I don’t understand, that’s impossible, I’ve just been talking to him in the garden.””
The old Earl’s eyes sparkled and he nodded his head wisely.
“Were you troubled before you came here?” he asked. “Has he not pointed out the cause of your distress?”
May realised that it was true.
“Someone very special is out there waiting for you,” he continued, “and just like Edward will enter your life soon.”
Turning back to the painting, she looked up and bathed in the brilliance of the third Earl’s smile.