He put out his hand and bowed slightly, assuming it would be expected when greeting an English girl. “Adriaan Hindrick Klass Van Cortland de Koningh III,” he said. Her reaction told him all he needed to know about his new house guest. “I’m twelve years old,” he added. Her expression changed not at all under the sable brown hair parted at the middle and framing her neck with ringlets; each perfectly arranged and bouncing briskly when she moved.
“What do they call you then?” She rested her hand lightly in his and dipped into a curtsey. Her head never lowered, the ringlets never moved, and her eyes never left his. He felt challenged in some way, but her smile was pleasant enough and her big dark eyes, set wide apart over even features and a small round nose, were bright with humor.
“Adriaan,” he answered, forgetting to let go of her hand. “de Koningh. Adriaan de Koningh; but my friends call me Corey.” He watched her smile deepen with two small dimples at each end.
“Then I hope you’ll count me as one of those, Corey de Koningh. The rest of it’s quite a mouthful.” Reclaiming her hand, she straightened up. He could see she was taller than he was; but she was a year older, so that was to be expected. Actually, she was only six months older; a fact he’d often remind her of in years to come. But on that day he was aware that her spirit made her his equal, rather than just another inferior girl.
“Corey would be fine,” he answered. “And you must be Lady Emily Alden.”
“Not in your America.” Her eyes danced. “There’s no aristocracy here so please, forget the ‘Lady’.” He remembered her expression, both serious and warm at the same time. “You’re Dutch, obviously,” she said, still looking at him with her head straight and her eyes firm.
“I’m American,” he corrected her. “My great, great, great grandfather was Dutch.”
“Aha!” she laughed. “You shed the royal trappings of your name too.” Her eyes shone with a light that made him want to turn around to look for its source behind him.
“I don’t have any royal trappings,” he said, denying her victory.
“Certainly you do.”
“I do not. I’m sure I’d know if I did.”
“de Koningh means ‘the king’, does it not?” She lifted her chin a little, her challenge now clear.
“I don’t know. I never thought of it.”
“Well it does. And believe me, Corey, that didn’t happen by chance.” She nodded her head for emphasis and her dark ringlets bobbed in agreement.
“What does Alden mean then?”
“I don’t know,” she answered, doubtful for the first time. “I never thought of it either.” They both laughed, enjoying the joke on each other.
“I shall make it my business to find out what Alden means,” he announced. “And when I do, I’ll let you know.” The dimples in her cheeks deepened but she didn’t exactly smile. He suspected they’d given away a private pleasure she tried to hide. “Would you like to look around the de Koningh mansion?” he asked. “I’d be happy to be your guide. I know secrets about this monstrosity the people who built it never knew.” He was pleased to see she moved quickly to follow him down the hall to the library, ringlets bobbing. She caught up to him fast. Her legs were probably longer than his, since her tiny waist was higher, and she maneuvered her long skirts as if she barely knew they were there.
“Are those ringlets of yours real?” he asked. Reaching out
his hand, he touched the end of one, pulling it down past her shoulder and then letting it go. It bounced eagerly back to its place around her neck.
“Of course not,” she answered in disgust. “My hair is long and straight. They have to torture it into these silly things and I hate them.” The way she spat out the hate, left no room for doubt. “When they forget me for a few days, I keep it straight and tie it up off my face and neck.” She reinforced her disclosure by sweeping the ringlets back for a moment with both hands. “But of course, that’s not ladylike, and certainly not permitted when I’m introduced to an elegant host in his imposing mansion.” Corey stopped dead in the hallway outside the library, put his head back, and laughed out loud in delight. There was no one in the library wing at that time of day, so he was free to make as much noise as he chose.
“I’ll bet you don’t make it easy for them,” he chuckled, imagining a confrontation between Emily and her caretakers, whoever the poor souls might be. “But I’m awfully glad you’ve come, Lady Emily.” He grinned at her, relishing the mischief he envisioned for them both as he watched her pass through the door in front of him. “Emily has too many syllables,” he complained to her back. “Would Em or Emi do?”
By Sidney S. Stark