Write & Shine: My Mr Keats Excerpt #3
This short excerpt is from the second half of my novel My Mr Keats. The protagonist, Kitty, is now 15 years old and is attending her first village dance. Before arriving she runs into Mr and Mrs Castleton, the owners of the house she is currently living in and the benefactors to her recent education.
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I skidded outside the village hall, almost falling off my bike as I finally arrived at the dance. My face was flushed from the pedalling, my shawl coming loose around my head. I could feel some locks of hair travelling across my sticky face, clinging to the new beads of sweat that had developed around my hairline.
Somewhat miraculously only one little mark had appeared on my dress on the edge of the hem, probably from when I sped through a pot hole full of rainwater without intending too Apart from that I arrived at the hall unscathed, if a little later than expected.
I had left my apartments at precisely half past six, readying myself to see Mrs Castleton and leave quickly for the dance. But as I shut the apartment doors and headed for the grand staircase I spotted Mr Martin entering his bedroom from the floor below, a decanter of brandy beneath his arm.
I shook the sight of him off at first and headed for the drawing room, to show myself off to Mrs Castleton, but as I reached the drawing room door I heard muffled shouting and stopped before knocking. It was a man and a woman, Mr and Mrs Castleton I presumed.
Before I had a chance to remove myself Mrs Castleton opened the door and came bustling out of the room, red in the face and spitting venom. She did not see me at first.
“…why not! You let her do what she wants in this house – and don’t deny it! You let her! You and Mart –”
She spotted me and for a terrible moment I thought she might strike me. But instead she turned and walked away. Without saying a word about my being there or my dress. Mr Castleton came out of the drawing room as her stomping feet became echoes. He was as equally red in the face and puffing on a cigarette as though he were a steam train.
“I’m…I’m sorry. Mrs Castleton said she wanted to see my dress.” I looked helplessly down at my outfit, feeling conspicuously awkward.
“You look lovely.” Mr Castleton said, with such gentle sincerity I wasn’t expecting I shook my head.
Unsure of what to say, but feeling I had to say something in the protruding silence I smiled. “You and Mrs Castleton have been incredibly generous to me. I don’t know how I’ll repay you.”
“We don’t want you to repay us. Least of all me.”
“But you…you’re helping me, giving me my education and-and giving me so much more. Why, if not to benefit from it?”
Mr Castleton considered my question briefly, a little stunned that I should have asked, but he shrugged and inhaled from his cigarette.
“It is not for me to say Kitty. I’m sorry.” He walked off and up the stairs, not turning once to explain himself or to show any other kind of emotion besides stoic manliness.
By the time I reached the servant’s staircase everyone had left. I ran into the courtyard and found my bike and began pedalling down to the dance in the fading sunshine, shaking with excitement and delayed anxiety.
Throwing my bike down uncaringly outside the hall, I headed inside. It was blinding!
The band were playing on the small rickety stage with early enthusiasm, which was infectious to everyone, most people were already on the dancefloor.
As far as I could see everyone in the village had turned up. I spotted Sybil talking to some older boys, most of whom I knew by sight but not by name. Mr Richards was sat with Mr and Mrs Ford looking lost without poor Freddie at his side. Mrs Quarterman was characteristically sampling the punch with Mr Carter from the sweets shop, whilst Mrs Carter was chatting amiably with Mr Barkaway, no doubt about Mrs Quarterman.
I spotted Bart and Charlie huddled together in a corner by one of the small tables, where Jenny sat discreetly attempting to pour a drop of gin into her glass of punch, from a flask I had a suspicion was Bart’s.
I stared around the hall, gasping at what I saw as I compared it to what little I had seen from before it was decorated. Paperchains I had fashioned in my bedroom now hung from the ceiling, the once-dusty chandeliers were dressed in fabric tinting the room in a sultry glow of red and orange. Pressed white table cloths and little vases of summer flowers sat atop the sparse tables, populated by villagers all at ease with one another.
I spotted mothers and gossiping wives standing guard at the snacks table, whilst little children and chastised husbands attempted to take some from beneath their gaze.
I approached Charlie and Bart still staring up in wonderment. Charlie spotted me first and beamed at me, waving his arms as if to direct me through the vigorous crowd. I fell into him as I tripped over somebody’s passing foot.
“Better late than never I s’pose.” he joked.
“Shut up.” I said as he handed me a glass of punch to drink. He helped me off with my coat as I took a sip, swapping the glass in each hands as I removed my arms from my mac. I draped my shawl across one of the chairs next to Jenny who flashed me a warm smile.
“Wow.” Charlie said, when I turned to face him. Momentarily I wondered what he meant, but then I felt the blood rush into my face. I scoffed and put my glass down, turning away to hello to Bart who was animatedly looking around the room for his sister and paid little attention to me.
I settled in the chair next to Jenny, purposely avoiding Charlie’s eye, as I began helping Bart in the search. We kept spotting Sybil bobbing up between crowds of young gentlemen and young girls.
“There from the next village over,” Bart told me, as the band kicked into full swing. “They heard there was a dance and travelled over. Half of them have got their cars parked round by the church, the rest are gonna walk home.”
“Walk home?” I said, looking at the group of men and women standing around the dancefloor, just waiting for an excuse to ask a girl to dance. “Tonight?”
Bart nodded. “Yeah. They’re mad, the lot of’em.”
“It’s what people do for a bit of fun these days. People our age anyway.” Charlie said, clapping his hands to the rhythm of the music that was building gradually people were starting to tap along without realising it.
“I think it’s adventurous,” I shouted over the growing harmonies.
I hope you enjoyed this short snippet of my novel My Mr Keats, currently crowdfunding on Unbound!