Victorian Valentine

an excerpt



February 14, 1860


As the youngest of four brothers and the elder by two years of a puckish younger sister, Lord Christopher Norcutt had long thought himself immune to surprise, particularly when it came to finding odd items in his bed. Many a toad and spider had found home under his bedsheets, only to be disturbed by his own unsuspecting feet. But never before had a valentine been placed on his pillow.

The item in question was thankfully not the garish sort of valentine that had flooded Whitford Court each February since his sister's coming out. No fat cupids were shooting arrows at silk roses and no doves flew above a veritable sea of flowers, church spires, and hearts. Rather, this valentine was a simple affair -- bluebells on silk paper with the phrase "Constant and True" printed upon it. It was pretty, delicate, and out of place in his bedchamber. He could find no envelope to indicate either the sender or intended recipient of the valentine. As far as he knew, one of the maids could have left this in his room by accident.

He lightly traced the bluebells with his finger, feeling a frown creasing his brow. He had never received a valentine before. Fourth sons of earls who preferred to spend their time in the country breeding horseflesh rather than gallivanting about Town did not, as a rule, acquire numerous female admirers. And since the one person to whom Christopher was "constant and true" was most decidedly not female, this suited him just fine. But Jack was in London on a matter of business -- as he had been so frequently the past eight months -- so even if he were prone to romantic gestures, the lovely bit of paper could not be from him.

"What have you got there?"

The question startled Christopher out of his musings and he turned to see his sister standing in the doorway, an inquisitive look on her face.

Isabella, with her white blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and flawless features appeared to all the world the living image of a perfect china doll. Only her family knew that a taste for mischief lurked beneath that angelic fa├žade. Isabella's graceful and polite manner made her the belle of society and even her rejections of all offers of marriage for nearly three years had not dimmed the onslaught of suitors. Their eldest brother, Marcus, grew so weary of their London home being besieged by Isabella's admirers that he refused to take Isabella to Town until the Season began. More often than not, the majority of the Norcutt family resided at Whitford Court, ancestral home to the earls of Whitford.

"Christopher?"

He blinked, then shook his head. "I was woolgathering. I have a bit of a mystery on my mind."

"Oh?"

"The case of the secret valentine." He showed her the item. "Is it yours?"

"No, though it is very pretty."

"Perhaps it belongs to one of the maids, then."

"Or perhaps you have an admirer. Bluebells represent constancy, you know."

"No, I did not."

"I suppose you haven't had a reason to learn the language of flowers. Bluebells for constancy, roses for love, daisies for innocence... Drat, I'm forgetting an important one. Oh! Forget-me-nots symbolize true love."

"Are forget-me-nots the small blue flowers Lord Ewing peppered you with last spring?"

Isabella wrinkled her nose. "Unfortunately so. They have put me off true love entirely, I'm afraid. But should you receive any, take note."

Christopher studied the valentine in his hand for a moment, then placed it back on his bed. Isabella was still eying the card and though her face betrayed no hint of mischief, Christopher knew his sister well enough that he was not quite ready to believe her appearance of innocence. "Did you leave this as a jest?"

"Of course not." She swiftly crossed the room and linked her arm through his. "Now, my suspicious brother, I know you have only torn yourself away from the stables at this hour because Marcus requested your presence. Since he is being a beast and refuses to tell me what is so important that it must be said in private, you should not keep him waiting. I missed luncheon and I am famished. I cannot in good conscience sit down to tea until I have finished eavesdropping on your meeting. You would not have me waste into nothingness would you?"

With a sigh of resignation, Christopher let his sister lead him out into the hall.