Clara listened for noises in the house—silence. She tiptoed to her bedroom door, opened it a crack, and placed her ear to the crack. The only sound came from her parents’ bedroom—the sound of her father’s snoring. Now was the time to make her move.
She gathered the sheets she had tied together and took them to her bedroom window. She opened the window. She tied one end of the sheets to her bedpost, yanking on it to be sure it was secure. She slid the bed closer to the window, flinching at the scraping noise it made on the hardwood floor. She crept to the door and listened. Her father was still snoring. She padded back to the window and tossed the sheets out, then leaned out to be sure they reached the ground—just about three feet shy. No problem, she could make that jump without injury.
Clara sat on the windowsill, her legs outside. She managed to turn over so that her stomach rested on the windowsill, and she clasped sheet between her feet as well as in her hands. She began her descent from one knot to the next.
Halfway down, a noise to her left caught her attention. She turned toward the sound and made eye contact with Gilpin, the tailor’s son. He was climbing from a window in the house next door. Why was Gilpin climbing out a window? She didn’t have time to worry about that now. She needed to be as far away as possible before her parents discovered her missing in the morning.
Clara reached the end of her sheet rope and dropped to the ground below. She turned and ran but soon heard someone behind her.
“Clara! Clara, wait!”
She stopped, turned to face Gilpin, who wasn’t an ugly young man, but she wouldn’t call him handsome either. His dark brown, almost black eyes, were intense and held her eyes captive whenever he looked at her.
“Clara, where are you going?”
“I’m running away, if you must know. My father is forcing me to marry tomorrow, I know not whom, and I refuse to marry a stranger.” She raised her chin. “And what are you doing climbing from a window in the middle of the night?”
Gilpin’s brow wrinkled, and he tapped a finger on his chin, then he shook his head. “No, it couldn’t be … could it?”
“Gilpin, really, what are you mumbling about? I don’t have time to waste.” Clara glared at him.
“I am running away because I, too, am to marry tomorrow to I know not whom.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “You don’t suppose…”
Clara’s lower jaw went slack.
“Clara, you don’t suppose our fathers have in mind that you and I are to marry tomorrow, do you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous! If that was their plan, why wouldn’t they have told either of us? We’ve known each other for years! Do you think they thought we would refuse?” Clara’s eyes searched Gilpin’s face. Would she refuse if she were to marry Gilpin?
“What if your father had told you he expects you to marry me tomorrow? Would you still be running away?”
Would she be running away? Surely she knew Gilpin, but she certainly had no romantic aspirations toward him. His eyes bored into hers, waiting for her answer.
“What about you? Would you be running away if you knew you were supposed to marry me tomorrow?” She challenged him.
He ran the backs of his fingers down the side of her face. “Clara, you know I’ve been in love with you for years … but you’ve never shown any special fondness for me. I would consider it an honor to marry you … if I were a knight. That is why I am running off. I am going to Sir Tobyn’s castle to beg him to train me so that I may be worthy to marry a lady like you.”
“Hmph! Lady? I am a peasant, same as you!”
“Clara, answer the question—would you be running away if you were to marry me tomorrow?”
She broke eye contact. “I don’t know.” She met his eyes again. “We both aspire to rise above our positions in life.”
Gilpin kissed her. “May we both rise and one day meet again!” He ran toward Sir Tobyn’s castle.
Clara’s fingers brushed her lips. Gilpin’s kiss had been sweet. But neither he nor she were ready to marry and continue in a life of drudgery like the one they had grown up in. They would each go their own way in hopes of becoming more. Were they destined to meet again, to marry as a knight and a lady? With the memory of Gilpin’s kiss so fresh on her lips, she almost hoped so.