Alexandra was as different from her sister as night from day.
Where Anne seemed self-assured and devious, Alexandra was entirely without artifice or deceit of any kind; her every thought was right there on her face for me to read.
And I was immediately drawn to her.
This young woman fascinated me in a way I’d not previously experienced and certainly didn't welcome. Mentally shaking myself, I ensured my expression of cool detachment remained intact.
Maeve, with her usual disregard for propriety, had embraced Miriam Broughton, oblivious of that woman's affronted grimace. Then in a moment of thoughtless reaction, responded to the calls of her cat and plunged into the coach to extract the travelling crate.
Alexandra, already struggling with the dog, was unable to restrain the animal and it leapt upon Maeve knocking the crate to the ground.
In a matter of seconds, all chaos had erupted. The cat escaped, clawing the dog and raking Maeve's face before springing free and fleeing across the lawn into the forest.
There was much shouting and scuffling. The horses stamped and side-stepped in their traces. Dan and a stable-boy attempted to calm them while the dog leapt about barking and yelping hysterically. Miriam raised her voice above the racket to berate Alexandra before the entire group, humiliating the girl then directing the younger sister to fetch the stableman and have the dog dealt with.
Not one for public demonstrations of any type, I remained passive, although I didn't think I'd maintain passivity should the stableman indeed arrive to knock the dog on the head. It all seemed an overreaction to me.
Anne stared, horrified, at her mother while Alexandra pleaded the dog's case.
As Maeve cried into my father's coat, he assured her the cat would be found; they were ignorant of the drama unfolding – the drama that was quickly escalating out of control.
I hate conflict. I hate theatre and I hate hysterics. Moreover, I hate to see people humiliated and hurt – without reason, that is. I’ve been known to mete out my own brand of humiliation on occasion, but only with just cause.
Now, in the face of Alexandra's grief, I knew an intense desire to stand beside her in support – fuelled, probably, by my intense dislike for her mother. Nevertheless, such compassion was no pleasant sensation.
I groaned internally – there would be no happy resolution to this if someone did not step in.
Meantime, Anne, too young to do aught else, was about to carry out her mother's instructions.
Alexandra turned in desperation to her brother, begging that he speak up to save the dog's life, and it was then that it happened. In what I recognise now, but didn't consider at the time, was some kind of wordless, kinetic connection, Simon raised his eyes to meet mine. I thought, I need to end this.
I know I thought it, for no words passed my lips but Simon nodded, almost imperceptibly, and said to Alexandra, “Zan–”
She ignored him.
I turned to Miriam and said, calmly, “Give me the dog. I'll take it to the stableman.”
Lady Broughton studied me speculatively, as I knew she would, then she nodded.
As I bent and scooped up the now petrified dog, Alexandra screamed and made to stop me. Her distress disturbed me, but Simon caught and held her; I turned with the dog in my arms and strode away, leaving her struggling in her brother’s arms.