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She knew the ugliness of that room by heart--knew it and hated it. Stirling would sulk for days if offended, with the airs of an insulted duchess.
The yellow-painted floor, with one hideous, "hooked" rug by the bed, with a grotesque, "hooked" dog on it, always grinning at her when she awoke; the faded, dark-red paper; the ceiling discoloured by old leaks and crossed by cracks; the narrow, pinched little washstand; the brown-paper lambrequin with purple roses on it; the spotted old looking-glass with the crack across it, propped up on the inadequate dressing-table; the jar of ancient potpourri made by her mother in her mythical honeymoon; the shell-covered box, with one burst corner, which Cousin Stickles had made in her equally mythical girlhood; the beaded pincushion with half its bead fringe gone; the one stiff, yellow chair; the faded old motto, "Gone but not forgotten," worked in coloured yarns about Great-grandmother Stirling's grim old face; the old photographs of ancient relatives long banished from the rooms below. The only thing Valancy liked about her room was that she could be alone there at night to cry if she wanted to.
"Suppose," thought Valancy with a ghastly grin, "I answered with the plain truth, 'I am crying because I cannot get married.' How horrified Mother would be--though she is ashamed every day of her life of her old maid daughter." But of course appearances should be kept up.
"It is not," Valancy could hear her mother's prim, dictatorial voice asserting, "it is not maidenly to think about men." The thought of her mother's expression made Valancy laugh--for she had a sense of humour nobody in her clan suspected.
Nobody in the Stirling clan, or its ramifications, suspected this, least of all her mother and Cousin Stickles.
They never knew that Valancy had two homes--the ugly red brick box of a home, on Elm Street, and the Blue Castle in Spain.
Jewels that queens might have worn; robes of moonlight and fire; couches of roses and gold; long flights of shallow marble steps, with great, white urns, and with slender, mist-clad maidens going up and down them; courts, marble-pillared, where shimmering fountains fell and nightingales sang among the myrtles; halls of mirrors that reflected only handsome knights and lovely women--herself the loveliest of all, for whose glance men died.
All that supported her through the boredom of her days was the hope of going on a dream spree at night. One who wooed her with all the romantic ardour of the age of chivalry and won her after long devotion and many deeds of derring-do, and was wedded to her with pomp and circumstance in the great, banner-hung chapel of the Blue Castle.
At fifteen, he was tall and dark and pale, but still necessarily handsome. At twenty-five, he had a clean-cut jaw, slightly grim, and a face strong and rugged rather than handsome.
For nineteen years she had looked at it and hated it, beautiful, smug, self-satisfied Queen Louise. Mother and Cousin Stickles would have been aghast, or, as Valancy irreverently expressed it in her thoughts, would have had a fit. But her room in the Blue Castle was everything a room should be.
Valancy, so cowed and subdued and overridden and snubbed in real life, was wont to let herself go rather splendidly in her day-dreams.
She had had a spell of it after she had got into bed--rather worse than any she had had yet.
And she was afraid her mother would notice her red eyes at breakfast and keep at her with minute, persistent, mosquito-like questions regarding the cause thereof.