12 March 1912, London ENGLAND
Maxwell Ingham stared out of his office window at busy Fleet Street below. He loved the cacophony of noise that modern man in his industry could create – the mechanical hum of the automobiles, as they rumbled down the street honking their horns at horse and wagons that might delay or block their passage. Many a flighty horse took exception to this noise and would rear and buck in complaint. People of all classes hurried along the pathways and crossed the thoroughfares at random, often inadvertently walking in front of the speeding vehicles. Yelling and shaking fists would accompany those near misses. It was organised chaos, and he loved it.
His eye was drawn from the general to the specific, as he caught a glimpse of a young woman dressed fashionably in a navy skirt and jacket with a white blouse adorned with a large, floppy bow at its high neckline. A hat, a monstrous navy affair that was utterly impractical for the busy streets, shielded her face. However, when she paused to look up at the second and third stories of the buildings on his side of the road, he gained a much better impression of her appearance.
Her face was pale, milky white with huge eyes and small, upturned nose. Red lips were bowed in a delighted smile as her elegant, gloved hands crossed over heart, as if to keep the organ from jumping out of her chest. She looked to be in her mid-to-late twenties, but there was an air of child-like enthusiasm that belied that age. What little hair was visible beneath the hat was black and wavy, framing her oval face and softening the sharp lines of the outrageous creation on her head.
For the full time he stared at her, he couldn’t seem to draw breath. It wasn’t until she dropped her head, hurried across the road, dodging horse-drawn and horseless carriages alike, and disappeared somewhere beneath him that he felt his breathing return to normal.
‘Maxwell, Darling, what do you think?’ A strident voice jarred him from his strange reaction and drew his eye. Coming across the room toward him was his wife, Agnes, dressed in a sunshine yellow day-dress that quite blinded him with its brightness. It was a wrap-around affair, somewhat oriental in design, with a wide, darkly patterned border that crossed over her bird-like figure.
‘About what, my dear?’ he inquired, knowing exactly what, but wanting to give himself a moment to come up with a suitably diplomatic comment.
‘Why, my dress, silly. Do you like it? My couturier tells me it is the latest thing from the continent, and I plan to wear it to the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition in May. I am taking a risk that no one of any influence will see me in it today. Nevertheless, I just had to show you immediately.’
The small woman pivoted to display her gown and large floral hat. Her mouse-like features broke into a winsome smile.
‘You will turn many an eye, my dear. The flowers will pale into insignificance beside you.’ He spoke the truth, as was his way, but he disguised his thoughts within the effusion of his words, as only a man of the law could do. In truth, she looked hideous, but he had learned early on in their relationship that Agnes did not want to hear the truth. She wanted to mould it to suit herself, and that was what he allowed her to do with his words now.
She blushed coquettishly and giggled. ‘Oh Maxwell, I knew you would love it. Matilda Robson was not so complimentary. But then she is not up with the latest haute de couture, so I dismissed her opinion immediately. You, on the other hand, dear husband, are a man of taste and refinement. I knew you would see its value.’
‘My tastes run to more simplistic and conservative designs, but I do value the unconventional when it is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.’
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Genre – Romance
Rating – Between PG13 and R (sensual but not erotic)