He straightens his cravat, checking his shoes in the mirror again. Brown doe-skin breeches, a navy jacket, topped with a hat at a jaunty angle help to convince himself he's irresistable.
"Now or never." he thinks, as he grabs his silver-topped cane, heading out the oak door, across the cobbles, moving with purpose.
Today's the day.
He had lay awake all night, planning. After a few hours, he got up in his nightshirt, lit a candlestick and wrote feverishly by the muted light. When his masterpiece was complete, he threw off his sweaty clothes, flung open the shutters and stood in the moonlight, exhaling triumphantly.
God, what a rush; it was perfect. The diction painstakingly selected to suggest passion with purity, security with respect, patience with desperation.
He'd sealed it with a glob of gold wax and a kiss.
That morning, after only a few short hours of sleep, he lept out of bed, sure that this sunrise would lead to a sunset on his loneliness and aching desire.
She was a butcher. Somewhat below his station, but he didn't care. She was perfect for him. For weeks he imagined her reaction, her eyes would shine the way they did when he asked for her recommendation, her mouth curve in that impish little grin like when she suggested anything spicy. She would accept, they would be wedded and have several beautiful children he could teach the violin to. They'd be good at it if they inherited his ear; excellent if they inherited her exquisite hands.
They had just retired to a beautiful villa in his head when he noticed a man standing nearby. The man was dressed well but finished strangely with a maskerade mask, out of which two dark eyes stared, unwaveringly, at him. He looked around, but no-one in the crowd paid them the slightest attention. Finally, un-nerved, he asked,
"Do you want something?" (Which was odd, he decided later. He meant to say 'need'.)
"Yes. Your letter."
He goggled at the man. The letter was hidden in his pants pocket, and no-one knew he had written it.
"Why? and how...?"
"The letter. No reason. We will give you one million for it. But you will never write another."
The man was clearly insane, but he held a trunk that could have easily contained a million pounds.
"How do you know I won't go home and write another?"
"You won't. One million."
He was intrigued, and gestured toward the trunk,
As soon as he opened the heavy trunk lid, he knew he was going to trade. The rows and rows of heavily stacked bills was too enticing, too entoxicating. Besides, he could always write another, right? Right?
He closed the lid firmly, and fished the letter out of his pocket. He handed it over without looking at the man, who left without another word. The trunk was old-fashioned, but well made, and he carried it home without much difficulty. He didn't noticed the sun set as he counted it.
Three days passed while he was making arrangements for the money.
Finally after making sure it was safely inside the bank, fully documented and secured, he smacked his lips, rubbed his hands together, and sat at his writing desk with a fresh stack of paper and a bottle of ink, intending to write another. He began it the same way, using all the same words, but somehow, it felt hollow.
When it was finished, he re-read it, crumpled it carefully, and thoughtfully threw it away.
His palms began to sweat around the fourth letter. His fingers began to blister from pulling his collar away from his throat repeatedly.
After the twelfth revision he put his head on the paper and cried, the salt water mixing with the ink, throwing rainbows across the sheet in the morning light.
He spent the whole next day in bed, panicking that he had been cursed, sweating and crying like a fevered child. The life he had imagined was slipping away, smuggled away under that damn mask. What had they done to him? Who were they? What had he been thinking?
Later that week, he finally threw back the covers, leaping down the stairs three at a time, pausing only to add a heavy coat and untied shoes, before barrelling down the street. He tripped twice on his way, sprawling in the street in his dirty nightshirt, knees bloodied, tears streaming down his face, hands cut and rock-filled, his glasses long smashed, hanging off one ear. When he arrived at the bright blue butcher's shop, he hurtled through the door, rushing up to the counter in the mercifully empty store and kowtowed in front of her startled expression.
She listened patiently, after closing the store and retiring to the stockroom, while he sobbed his tale, clinging to her skirts and tiny waist. When he admitted he hadn't slept in three days, she stroked his hair, clucking under her breath.
They stayed in that tableau, his hands clenching her muslin, genuflecting at her feet, hers in his hair, head angled in concern over his back, until sunset.
When he finally awoke, he lifted his face to hers and asked simply,
"Will you be my wife?"
and was rewarded with the smile that he'd longed for.