Authors: Patricia Joseph
Tags: #romance, #victorian, #romance historical
Copyright 2011 Mary
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Too late, Harriet stifled the yawn
and tried to cover it with a demure cough.
York, the Davenport's large,
bustling housekeeper, huffed and expanded with ill-concealed
“Well, honestly, Miss Harriet!
I do not like to seem
above my place, but a lady does not yawn in public.”
Harriet refrained from mentioning
that being in her own home with her own housekeeper and her own
sisters hardly qualified as public.
She was about to assure Mrs.
York that she appreciated the advice, certainly, when movement
across the room caught her eye.
“If you haven't the inclination for
going over the week's menus, Miss Harriet, perhaps I ought to take
up such an important matter with the missus,” Mrs.
face brightened with self-importance.
Harriet was watching Lillian, the
youngest of the Davenport sisters, place the embroidery she was
meant to be finishing on top of her head, mimicking the
old-fashioned cap Mrs.
York pinned upon her own locks.
scrunched up her own features, as though tasting something sour, in
a perfect imitation of the Davenport's long-suffering housekeeper.
Harriet bit the inside of her cheek to hold back the snort that
threatened to escape.
If a lady did not yawn, she certainly
wouldn't do anything as common as snort.
Not being under Mrs.
scrutiny, Lillian doubled over in silent laughter, the embroidery
floating unnoticed to the ground.
Margaret Davenport, older than
Lillian by only a year, frowned at both her sisters.
could appreciate a joke made at another's expense.
Mustering her sweetest and most
affected smile, Harriet assured the older woman, “Not at all, Mrs.
You are quite right about yawning.
I am blessed to have you
to look out for me.”
York bloomed under the praise
and continued her recitations with renewed vigor, while Harriet
listened to her discuss the potatoes and puddings without any
further slips of dignity.
Having settled the menus to Mrs.
York's satisfaction, if to no one else's, Harriet walked outdoors,
tying her bonnet under her chin as she went.
She chastised herself
for being caught even slightly unawares.
She had been paying scant
attention to Mrs.
York - she had been deciding the menus long
enough to do them in her sleep – but there was no excuse for
allowing herself to slip that way.
Angry with herself, she rushed
through the grounds, finding herself at her appointment earlier
than she intended.
She looked up at the small, thatched house and
was thinking whether she should return later when she spotted a
figure moving behind the patterned curtains.
“Good day, Mrs.
Fischer!” she called
from the pathway.
A round, good-natured face appeared
in the doorway.
“And a good day to you, Miss Davenport,” Mrs.
Fischer waved and beckoned her into the house.
gray-haired wife of her father's agent had been baking bread.
cottage smelled sweet and yeasty, and Harriet's mouth immediately
began to water.
“Tea for you, miss?” Mrs.
appeared, as though by magic, balancing cups and a teapot on a worn
“Thank you, Mrs.
And some of your delicious bread, if it's
Fischer disappeared into her
kitchen once again, returning with brown bread on a board, a crock
of creamy, yellow butter, and her husband in tow.
The Davenport's manager was a slight
man with wispy brown hair and slightly bulging brown eyes.
dipped in a slight bow before seating himself at the table across
“How are you, Miss Davenport?” he
asked in his quiet, firm voice.
“I am quite well, Mr.
“And your father?” His eyes showed
his obvious concern, though his voice did not change.
“Better, I believe, but the doctor
says there is no way to know.” Harriet shook her head slightly as
though the motion would clear away the uncomfortable thoughts.
there anything we need to discuss?”
Fischer gave her a slight smile.
It has been a quiet week.
The Blythe girl has a fever,
but nothing much to speak of.
Problems, such as there are, will
come with the harvest.”
“Thank you, Mr.
And I will see to the girl.
At least, I should bring some
foodstuffs to assist her mother.”
Fischer entered then with a
large basket laden with bread, jars of jam, and a huge wedge of
“I'll go with you, miss,” she
By the time Harriet returned to her
house, it was nearly time for supper.
The Blythe girl was ill but
doing well, and the family had been grateful for Mrs.
gifts and ministrations.
Thornwood Park was quiet in the
The large house, sprawling and freshly white,
gleamed backlit by the sun.
Ivy trailed over columns and across
porticos, giving the house an easy, charming appearance.
summer flowers bloomed along the paths and under windows.
breathed deeply of the warm, fragrant air, relishing in the sight
of her family home.
She let herself in and walked
upstairs to the bedroom she shared with Margaret.
“I know I'm
late,” she said, entering.
“I've been to see the Blythe girl, down
Margaret, what has happened?” Harriet rushed to her
sister's side, kneeling beside the chair where she sat.
Margaret was pale and shaking,
staring at a note with red-rimmed eyes.
“I am quite all right,
Harriet,” she said, her voice a whisper.
“I've had a letter from
Her husband has passed away.”
“Oh,” said Harriet.
She did not
especially like their neighbor; Janet Whitney was a vain, insincere
woman, but still, no woman deserved to be a widow at five and
“I am sorry, Margaret.
I know you are friends.
Will you go
Margaret straightened her shoulders.
“Yes, I must leave for the Hall at once.
She has asked for me
She has even requested that I stay with her for a
“I will help you
Harriet and Lillian sat down to a
somber supper that evening with their mother.
Davenport was a
tall, willowy woman with thick auburn hair, which she had passed
down to all her children.
Her features were usually clear, for she
was not a contemplative woman by nature, but tonight she was
sobbing loudly, in apparent distress for the late Sir Whitney's
“Oh, my poor, brave Margaret!
so good to help that distressed woman!” She sniffed and dabbed at
her sparkling green eyes with her lacy handkerchief.
Lillian, like her sisters, had her
mother's coloring, but she had inherited their father's stout
stature and his sense of humor.
Lillian exchanged a rueful glance
with her older sister, “Indeed, Mother.
Davenport sighed and clutched
her hands to her breast.
“All my girls are wonderful, but Margaret,
she is the sweetest and best of us all.”
“You brook no arguments from me,
Mother.” Although she was the eldest, Harriet had long thought
Margaret the sweeter and gentler one by far.
Supper continued more quietly after
Davenport even recovered sufficiently from her distress
to ask what her daughters were planning to wear to the dance at the
Conners' a fortnight hence.
When Harriet suggested that perhaps the
Connors would cancel the event out of respect for the newly widowed
Lady Whitney, her mother scoffed, looking offended.
“But they must have the dance, my
They host it every year.
Life must go on, after
Harriet took advantage of the quiet
of the evening to knock on the door of her father's study.
how are you tonight?”
Her father's still form sat in his
customary favorite chair, legs wrapped in a thick blanket, although
the summer evening was warm.
His head had been propped against the
chair by a pillow so that he remained upright facing the large
window that overlooked the gardens.
He didn't say anything.
hadn't said a word since the illness earlier in the spring.
apoplexy, the doctor had said.
She sat in the chair opposite her
father's shrunken and motionless figure.
His mouth drooped on the
right side and a strand of spittle gathered at the corner.
pulled out a handkerchief and gently wiped her father's face.
smiled and began to talk to him of her day, of his tenants and
lands, of anything she could think to say.
It was at her request
that the stable lad, being the only one strong enough, brought her
father down to the study every morning, and then returned him to
his bed every night.
The study had always been his favorite room,
the place where he had conducted business, and she had thought it
the best place for him to spend his days.
She made sure to visit
him there at least once a day to apprise him of the running of the
estate, and to visit him and keep his company.
He had not yet
spoken to her, nor even so much as looked in her direction, but
everyday as she rose to leave, she placed her hand under his, and
she was almost certain she felt a small pressure in
Margaret had been at the Hall for
several days without word to her sister beyond a note relating a
safe arrival and the depth of Lady Whitney's distress, so when a
note arrived for Harriet a week after Margaret's departure, Harriet
assumed it was the long-awaited letter.
When she opened it,
however, she was greeted not by her sister's tidy lettering, but by
a different hand altogether.
August 23, 1824
My dear Harriet,
Let me begin by telling you how
much your sister has meant to me during the difficult days
following Sir Frederick's passing.
She is truly a light in the
You may wonder why I am penning this note, rather than
your darling sister, and I must regretfully inform you that an
accident has befallen her.
I will assure you that she is in no
danger, but she must not yet be moved.
The doctor has come and gone
and says that there is nothing to fear for her general well-being,
but that she needs rest and quiet.
She is asking for you, and so
At your earliest convenience, I would like you to come to
stay at the Hall for the remainder of her convalescence.
Your dear friend,
Harriet had barely finished the
brief note before she was calling for her maid,“Sally!
I'm going to
the Hall, and I may be gone for several days.
Tell Joseph to saddle
And tell him not to bother with the carriage, I won't wait
Hardly a half hour later, Harriet
was riding as quickly as the brown mare would carry her to the
It was under two miles distant, but today, knowing Margaret
to be in trouble, it felt ten times that.
The pins were falling
loose from her thick, auburn curls, her hair streaming wildly
She leapt down from the horse without awaiting a groom
and rushed to the door.
A thin, wiry man opened the door to her
knock, and she brushed past him without waiting for an invitation,
nearly colliding with another man who stood in the hall.