Miss Christiana Hodge sat in the sitting room of the Keane Manor, waiting excitedly for Mr. Lawrence Keane to arrive and take her on the tour of the magnificent manor gardens that he had promised her. She had been looking forward to this moment for nearly a week now, and- if she was honest with herself- only a small part of her excitement had anything to do with the gardens. She sat on the plush, velvet sofa, her ankles crossed and her gloved hands folded in her lap. A servant had come by to offer her a drink, but she had declined as her stomach was writhing far too much to consume anything. Her eyes passed around the room. The walls were a soft, pale beige that seemed to glow in the rare afternoon sun that poured in through the vast windows throughout the room. The sofa that Christiana sat on and the several others like it around the room were a light off-white colour that matched perfectly with the walls and carpet. Christiana could not help but wonder who had furnished the room.
"Miss Hodge," said a deep, warm voice from the doorway to the right of Christiana, "how delightful it is to see you again."
Christiana rose and turned to see Mr. Keane walking towards her, a large smile spreading across his chiseled face. His thick, curly brown hair was parted on the left, and his dark eyes sparkled in the light pouring in through the windows. He leaned quite heavily on his cane. Christiana fancied that the injury served only to make him handsomer, as he had acquired it during the second war with the American colonies just a few years ago.
"Mister Keane," Christiana said, curtsying and smiling at him. She hoped desperately that her hair was still in place. "The pleasure is all mine."
"Shall we begin our tour?" asked Mr. Keane, offering his arm to Christiana.
She took it, her smile widening. "That would be positively delightful."
The pair walked out of the sitting room and through the manor to the door. The sky was a clear, crystal blue, and the sun warmed Christiana's shoulders as she walked. The spring of 1818 had thus far been quite frigid yet again, but today was a welcome relief.
"I hope that I am not inconveniencing or tiring you with my request for a tour," Christiana said.
"Not at all," said Mr. Keane. "I should hope that I never consider it an inconvenience to spend time with you, Miss Hodge."
Christiana felt her cheeks grow warm, and she hoped that Mr. Keane was not looking at her. "Thank you, Mister Keane."
"Oh, please, Miss Hodge, call me Lawrence," he said.
Christiana's blush deepened. "Certainly, Mister- I mean, Lawrence- as long as you agree to call me Christiana."
Out of the corner of her eye, Christiana saw Lawrence smile. "As you wish, Christiana."
They walked for several more yards, and the faint green blur in the distance solidified into a wall of hedges covered in all manner of flowers. Christiana's eyes landed on a patch of lilies, and she smiled, remembering how her mother had always insisted upon keeping lilies in all the rooms in the house, under the conviction that they were highly medically beneficial. Christiana knew this to be false- she had studied botany for several years now Lawrence said, "Now here is our hedge maze. I'm afraid that it is not very complicated, but I cannot help but love it for all the years spent there in my childhood."
"Oh, I should love to see it," Christiana said.
"Come, I shall show you the way to the center," said Lawrence.
He led the way through the twisting hedges adorned with flowers of every colour and variety. Every now and again, he would stop to describe a particular variety of the flora. Most of the facts that he described, Christiana already knew, due to her long and in-depth study of botany in recent years, but she listened raptly all the same.
"Lawrence, may I ask how you know so very much about the flowers and plants that grow in your garden?" asked Christiana.
"I have had much free time after the end of the war, and I devoted it to the study and collection of plants and all flora," said Lawrence. "It is a particular fascination of mine."
Christiana laughed out loud. "Oh, and after I thought that our interest could not reveal themselves to be any more similar! I have quite the fondness for botany."
"What a wondrous coincidence," said Lawrence, smiling. "But now we approach my favorite part of the gardens. Come along, Christiana, I am quite eager for you to see this."
Christiana allowed herself to be led down a few more twisting passages. Then the pathway widened suddenly, and she gasped. A large, ornate marble fountain occupied the center of what must have been the circular center of the maze. The hedges here were covered in all varieties of flowering vines- honeysuckle, roses, morning glory, and a dozen other varieties of which Christiana's knowledge was rudimentary at best. Four beds of flowers of all kinds split the clearing into a series of paths, all of which converged at the fountain. It seemed carved in a detailed pattern of fish and mythological creatures. Christiana released Lawrence's arm and walked towards the fountain, her breath catching in her throat.
"Why, Lawrence," she said, running her hand along the wide base of the fountain that seemed to form almost a bench, "it's lovely."
"I had hoped that you would like it," said Lawrence, walking up to the fountain beside Christiana and sitting down on the base of it. Christiana sat beside him.
"May I..." Christiana began, "may I ask you what exactly interested you in botany?"
Lawrence smiled slightly. "Would you believe me if I told you that it was your interest in the subject that first made me consider it for study?"
"Really?" Christiana asked. Even in her wildest dreams, she had not hoped that he would have paid so much attention to her as to notice her interest in botany.
"Of course," Lawrence said. "I... oh, Christiana, I must be forward with you, and I apologize sincerely for any offence I might cause."
"Lawrence-" said Christiana softly.
"I love you," said Lawrence. His words seemed to pour out of his mouth, like a flood that he could not control. "I have loved you for years now, and I wish nothing more in the world than that... well... I have discussed it with your father, and he has given it his blessing, but I just... oh, Christiana, will you marry me?"
Christiana stared at Lawrence for a long moment. His lips were parted, and his breath came quickly, as though he had just run a long distance.
"Yes," said Christiana. Her voice shook slightly. "Yes, Lawrence, I will marry you. I love you, too, more than anything in this world."
Lawrence beamed. He reached out slowly and took Christiana's hands in his before leaning in to kiss her gently. Then he said, "Soon, we must head back, but first let us enjoy this moment for as long as possible."
Christiana smiled. "Yes, indeed."
They kissed again, and in Christiana's mind, the world was perfect.