The night before Arabella Strange was to travel back to England with the Greysteels, she couldn’t sleep. She was tired enough after helping Flora packing and re-packing all their clothes and books and the content of the dresser and all the little trinkets and knickknacks so necessary for a comfortable life. But the excitement of travel and a certain apprehension over returning home chased away her sleepiness as soon as they had retired to bed. Arabella lay there thinking about the houses she and Jonathan had lived in, which had now disappeared with him and with them, all of her belongings. Flora and her father and aunt had all pressed upon her how much they wished for her to remain with them, and she had accepted, but the life she had once had was irreversible gone. Here, in Padua, a milieu strange and new to her, she had been able to not think too much about the fact that the England she had once lived in, was gone. She was another woman now, with a new life and new feelings and the prospect both scared and excited her.
With her mind full of thoughts that refused to quiet despite the late hour, she tossed and turned in bed, finding the sheets clammy and her blanket too hot, until Flora quietly padded over the floor and lighted a candle.
“I can’t sleep either. Come, let us sit on the balcony for a little while, it is bound to soothe us.”
The night was cloudless and the air warm and fragrant. Over them the stars seemed to shine brighter than usual.
“You never see a night sky like this in London,” Arabella said.
“I know. I am sure I will miss this.”
“Perhaps there are more than that you will miss, Flora. A certain captain, for example?”
“Not in the slightest, I’m afraid.”
“Even though he will miss you?”
Flora laughed. “Oh well, I can’t do much about that, can I?”
They were silent for a few minutes, both looking out over the silent city. Eventually Arabella spoke again, her voice soft and somewhat hesitant.
“Tell me, where you very much in love with my husband?”
Flora reddened slightly. “Nothing ever happened between us.”
Arabella smiled. “I know. It’s not an accusation, but I know very well how charming Jonathan can be, especially when he isn’t trying.”
Flora paused for a moment to get her wording right. “I was a little in love with him; I’m not ashamed to admit it. Despite his grief and my undoubtedly very ignorant questions about magic, he always took me seriously. I had so many enlightening discussions with him, which always raised my spirits. And at one time I did think that perhaps, once the passing time had healed the worst wounds, he might be looking for a wife again. And I thought I would have suited him quite well then.”
Flora turned her head to look at her friend. “I’m not hurting you with my words, am I?”
Arabella shook her head. “Oh no. Jonathan thought me dead, and it comforts me to know he had such a good friend. He might never have found out I was still alive and had that been the case I would have wanted nothing else than him finding happiness again. And with you I’m sure he would have found it.”
“Perhaps. But in his company I found my feelings did not grow, but dwindle to fondness and friendship instead. I was very glad when he sought me out and entreated me to help him. You see, he had told me so much about you, I longed more and more to meet you.”
“I am afraid I have disappointed you dreadfully. I can’t possibly-”
“Oh no, not in the slightest! Mr. Strange’s description, however loving, could not make you justice. He talked so much about you, Arabella, it felt like I already knew you when you stepped out of the mirror, but still his words had not captured all that you are.”
Here Flora choked slightly and fell silent and Arabella took her hand and squeezed it.
“Jonathan was my first love and I will never stop loving him. But he is in the darkness and I am here. He told me to be happy and not mourn him and I won’t mourn; he is not dead. And I will live to be happy and I will love again.”
“Oh! Well, I guess there must be a man somewhere who can equal Mr. Strange.”
Arabella laughed softly. “I don’t think so.”
She traced the lifeline on Flora’s palm and the girl shivered from the light pressure the finger brought. Arabella raised her head and looked into Flora’s eyes.
“I will never love another man and still; I find I already love again. Dearest, sweetest Flora, I feel I must tell you this. You may not wish me to remain with you now, but I feel I will burst if I don’t speak my mind. When I’m with you it feels like the world is new and wondrous again. I wish nothing than to be by your side forever.”
For a moment or two Flora forgot to breathe. Then her heart flooded with joy and hope and she raised her dearest friends hand to her lips to kiss it. But Arabella pulled her hand away, only to cup Flora’s chin before she leaned forward to kiss her mouth, soft lips meeting each other, speaking silent words of love.