"It's no matter, my pet. One day you'll find yourself besieged with offers of marriage. A dear girl like you, with a heart as big as the sky above! Here, have another cake, love."
Her mother's answer to any challenge in life was a sweetie of some sort. Plagued by worries about her continued spinsterhood, Corina feared her girth might soon match her dark moods.
"Mother, I am no longer willing to sit about, waiting for a suitable man to come banging on the gate, asking for the opportunity to bring me flowers and candies and pallid conversation!
I shall no longer spend my time trying to entertain braggarts, brutes and banal bumpkins!"
She stormed out of the room leaving her mother with mouth ajar, and the maid snickering behind a well-mannered hand.
Corina went straight to her rooms, asked a servant to bring her paper and pen and began to write on the creamy parchment.
"I want you to post this in the village square, where other news items are on display.
Corina sat back and waited for her replies to come in.
The first, as predictable as storms in spring, came from the town dandy.
A lay-about heir to a vast fortune, he was seeking a new thrill to brighten his dull days as a budding cretin. He presented himself to Corina, two of his toadies standing ready to praise him to the heavens if called upon as character witnesses.
His puny overtures were easily deflected by the robust young woman he desperately tried to charm. Any interest faded as quickly as his perfumed wig under her scrutiny and questioning.
Corina scanned his frills and curls, noting the touch of powder on a pale face that never saw a walk in a summer field. She turned on her heels, left the room and smiled when she heard his gasp of disbelief.
Suitor two was not as obviously mis-matched to this fine young lady.
Sir Ralph Longstreet was a well-known intellectual, with several books penned under his name and a penchant for stirring controversy with his political rants. His interests, however, were narrowly defined by a rather blind egotism. He would brook no differing of opinion, as his alone, held the defining one.
Corina thanked him for contributing his humorous views of the world that existed in his very small mind. She left him pacing, mid-lecture, on his unique insights regarding a woman's place as mere muse, in the world of letters.
This parade of sad excuses for a man in full, went on for nigh onto a year. The parchment fixed to the wall on the Village Square was tattered and faded and nearly illegible. Naturally, few had the gift of reading, but word circulated quickly around the countryside and beyond of this outrageous effort to find a man. The Lady's quest soon morphed into urban legend as the months passed.
One day, before Corina's thirty-something birthday, a caller came to the gates seeking entry at an hour still deep in darkness.
His insistent clamor raised half the residents within the manor; the others, being over the age of either hearing, or caring.
Corina was immediately roused by the clanging of the gate as it swung inward. She peered out her tall bedroom window in time to see a hunched figure ride through the gate. He swung himself from his magnificent stead with the grace of a boulder racing downhill. His arms were rather longish for his seemingly short height and swung like loose tree limbs from a stout tree.
"Oh good Lord!" Corina moaned.
Feeling obligated to meet with any who answered her blind manner of seeking a husband, she snatched a comforter off her bed. Wearing it like a queen's robes, she set her jaw for confrontation and her heart for disappointment.
The stranger had his back to her as he stood in front of a warming fireplace. Corina studied him from behind, noting the slope of his shoulders, the stubby bowed legs and a mop of hair that sat on his head like the foam on a small beer.
She cleared her throat. He turned.
His eyes were a deep red in a dead-white face. He smiled and for a moment his eye teeth gleamed long and sharp in his blood red mouth. He had pushed his long cloak to his hunched back, magnifying its deformity.
"Good evening my dear, Lady Corina."
His voice was like the feel of silk upon her skin and she gave a little shudder as he moved toward her, suddenly within touching distance.
He stared into her light gray eyes so intently that she nearly forgot to speak.
"You come calling at an odd hour, sir."
This sounded silly even to her ears and she smiled back at him when he laughed.
"Yes, but this is one of my favorite times; when all is still, but the beating of our hearts."
Corina found this explanation totally logical and gestured for him to take a seat.
He joined her on the brocaded chair she favored in this room, and without asking her leave, took up her hand.
She looked down momentarily at the long fingers and his very pallid skin. It seemed natural that he held her hand. He slowly raised his free hand to to her slightly heaving breast and then up to the pulse, hammering now, at the side of her neck. It lingered there for several heart beats.
His eyes never left Corina's during this intimate exploration. For her part, she only sighed with each contact of his roaming hand.
The fire began to burn low by the time the stranger opened the door to the sitting room. There were no servants about now, save the gatekeeper, lying inert by his small cottage.
They exited the murky hall way as the stranger threw open the heavy doors with a flick of his wrist.
Passing under the velvety dome, into the moon's glow, everything seemed filtered by a heavy gauze to Corina's eyes. She was aware that the stranger had a tight hold of her hand as he led her to his untethered horse. The horse snorted in recognition and the stranger patted him to silence.
Turning to Corina he spoke again, his voice calm and soothing.
"I have come to claim you, dear lady. You will share all my years of living in this world; all that you want shall be yours, in me. My station is equal to your own."
He lifted her onto his saddle; springing like a deer to sit behind her. The comforter she had hung over her shoulders was long dropped away, but she felt no chill as he wrapped his long arms tightly around her, pulling her to his body.
She seemed to find her voice as they cantered out of the courtyard.
"Your station you say, is equal? What then shall I call you sir?"
"Count will do, my dear."