Authors: Monica Barrie
By: Monica Barrie
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016, by Monica Barrie.
re-edited and revised.
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and events are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, places or incidents are coincidental and not intended by the author. This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only, not re-sold or given away.
Cover Design: Erin Dameron Hill / EDH Graphics
For information about The Author and a listing of Monica Barrie’s novels,
at the yellow quarter moon, Elyse shuddered in anticipation and fear. A moment later, she regained the same stringent control that had governed every minute of the past three days—three of the longest days in her life.
She turned from the window as the clock struck eleven. Most nights, she could barely hear the chimes through the door of her rooms; tonight they were loud enough to wake the dead. Sighing, she went to the aged, but still elegant teak writing table, sat and stared at the open leather bound volume.
The small book was open to a blank page and, as she had done since the age of eleven, Elyse lifted a quill and dipped it into the inkwell. With purpose, she put the quill’s tip to paper and began to write.
March 3, 1837
I have waited so long for this day that I can scarcely believe it is here. In an hour, I shall be free again and on my way home. It still amazes me to know that no one other than those who rule this house know what my real condition is.
Our neighbor, Viscount Abbereth, would be shocked to know that his “little friend” of the past sixteen years is nothing more than a prisoner in her own home. Yet no one, least of all myself, could tell him the truth of the matter. Aunt Elizabeth has seen to that with her extensive preparations. She had me labeled a child of frail health, both physically and emotionally; and told everyone that my father’s death had caused my emotions to turn unstable.
Oh Father, it was terrible enough that you died without my truly knowing you, but it must be even more horrible for you to be resting in heaven, looking down, and seeing that the very people you trusted to protect and raise me have done everything possible to take what you left for me.
However, if all goes well this night, I shall be free to save not only myself, but all those things you loved so dearly—if Amos McClintock believes my note, and believes in the friendship that bound you and him together.
If she were to discover this journal, Aunt Elizabeth would not have to worry about marrying me off, for within its pages she would have proof that I have truly lost my sanity. It would mean she could keep all of our holdings in Devon, and the vast fortunes that go with it. The blame for this would lay with me, for not once have I been less than honest on these pages.
In three weeks, I will have lived twenty-one years. In three weeks, if Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Carl have their way, I shall wed Jeremy Hollingsby, a penniless young man with the title of Earl of Heymouth.
Elizabeth and Carl, of course, designed this match, so when the marriage vows are sealed, I will not only continue to be prisoner to the greed of my father’s sister, but bonded forever to her, for it will be Hollingsby who takes charge of my father’s lands, titles, and money.
Although my aunt's greed is not new to me, I am still astounded at the lengths to which she will go to secure my father’s holdings. Her avarice knows no limitations. She told me so herself, a month ago, just after she announced my betrothal.
Elyse paused in her writing to take a shaky breath as memories of the past weeks flooded over her.
Her aunt was a cruel and heartless woman whom Elyse had learned to hate with a disguised mask of tolerance. It was only after her father’s death that Elyse began to glimpse the true nature of the woman to whom her father had entrusted her well-being.
Elyse shivered, remembering when her Aunt Elizabeth had ordered her to be “nice” to Hollingsby. The only problem was that Elyse despised the man.
He was only an inch or so taller than her, and thin to the edge of emaciation from his short life of indulgence. At the age of twenty-five, the Earl of Heymouth was a dour-looking, dark-souled man, whose small eyes reflected the emptiness she saw within him. He was, she believed, exactly like Elizabeth and Carl: greedy, destitute, and uncaring for anyone but themselves.
Whenever they were alone together, which seemed to happen more and more frequently over the past weeks, his hands always clawed at her, bruising her, as he tried to bend her to his will.
Yesterday, alone with her in the garden, Hollingsby had caught her, trying to force her mouth to his. She fought him away, shuddering with the same revulsion she felt when he touched her. This time, though, his eyes narrowed; his thin lips became taut.
He stared at her for several seconds before a hard smile etched its way onto his lips. “Play your silly girlish games for now, but soon you will not be able to hide behind your virginity.”
Elyse ran from him, knowing anything else would only have fed his unwanted hungers. Yet, the instant she heard his words, she promised herself she would never be with him.
Shaking her head and pushing aside her trepidation and anger, Elyse dipped the quill into the inkwell, and continued to write.
Of course, Elizabeth and Carl have made all the arrangements for the distribution of my father’s wealth so that they will have no worries about their future.
However, the most important part of my father’s estate, the only property they cannot steal from me at this time, is Devonairre. To their grave dismay, Devonairre produces the money to support the estate in Devon, and their very way of life: it is Devonairre that they plan to steal from me, too.
As I sit here, I pray that Amos has taken my note to heart and does not mistake it for the foolish prattling of a little girl.
Midnight draws near. I wonder if Amos believes me. When he arrived in Devon, unannounced, three days ago, he was like an apparition. I have not seen Amos McClintock in four years, but it was as if not a day had passed since his last visit. The only change was his hair, which had last been salt and pepper, and was now a fine mass of white, yet his beard is as steel-gray as ever.
The moment I saw Amos ride up in the drive, I knew I would have but a few moments in which to act. I hastily scribbled my plea to him, and prayed he would believe it. I wrote:
In the name of the friendship you shared with my father you must save me. I am a prisoner here; I have no freedom. Come for me at midnight, March third. Only Aunt Elizabeth will be at home. I shall watch for you. You must act with stealth or all will be lost. Please, heed my cries.”
I had slipped him the note unobserved when he took my hand in greeting. He betrayed not the least flicker at the touch of the folded paper. I did not even see how he hid it from the others. All I know is that when Amos left, his eyes met mine, and I saw a message of aid within them.
As each hour of each day passed, I began to think that I had made a mistake. What if Amos is in league with my aunt and uncle? What if he thinks me but a childish female, given to intrigue? I had to stop myself from doubting. I had to believe in Amos, as I believe in myself. For if Amos does not come tonight, I shall leave anyway. I have made up my mind to be free of this house and these people, who would make me a slave to their every desire. I must be free, for if not, the shame that has become my constant companion, my shame at being manipulated by my guardian, will soon be too much to bear.
My small bag is packed and sitting beneath the window. In it is but one simple dress and a few toiletries. I cannot bring this journal, but must hide it away so when I return, I will find it safe.
The only jewelry I take with me is my father’s ring, which is the symbol of his rank as the Earl of Chatsworth. Upon its golden face is the coat of arms of the House of Louden engraved upon it. This ring I shall never give up, never!
Hurry, Amos! Every minute I wait, I die a little. Although I was only five years old when I last saw my home, I miss it terribly. I remember the warm air as it caressed my face, and the shining sand of the ocean beach. Sixteen years is a long time. My memories have all but faded away, and I recall only small pieces: my mother’s gentle face, my father’s strong arms, and a doll that one of the slaves made for me when I was four.
I pray I will soon be home, to stand on the lands of Devonairre, looking at the sugar cane, breathing the warm salty air…
Elizabeth and Carl will no longer be able to control me. My escape from them will stop the looting of my father’s estate, just as it will stop the insanity of the marriage they have arranged.
Now I must prepare to leave. One day I will return to claim you, journal, for it was only you, who allowed me to keep my own identity. You, above all others here in Devon, were my friend.
Putting down the quill, Elyse wiped twin paths of tears from her cheeks. She blotted the last page and closed the book. She stood and went to the far corner of her sitting room, and, using all her strength, inched the large armoire from the wall. She bent, lifted the back edge of the veneer and slid the journal within. A minute later, the armoire was back in place and Elyse Louden was looking out the window, waiting.
When the chimes declared midnight, Elyse spied a shadowy figure leading two horses toward the house. Without hesitating, she pulled on a black hooded cape, opened her window, tossed out her small bag, and climbed down the trellis.
Safely on the ground, she turned to look at her savior. His white hair and weathered, lined face, made her heart beat faster.
“You believed me,” she whispered as she flew into his arms.
“Aye lass, how could I not,” replied Amos McClintock. Her father’s oldest friend swept his eyes across her face. “I saw by the tone of your note you think yourself in danger. Is this so?”
“Yes,” she replied, her voice low, her eyes darting to every shadowy shape around them. “I—”
“—Let’s be off now, you can explain it all later.” He seized her waist and lifted her onto the saddle. Just when her booted toe touched the stirrups, a voice rang out.
“That will be far enough!”
Amos McClintock released Elyse’s waist and spun. Emerging from the shrubbery were two men holding pistols.
“Uncle Carl,” Elyse whispered, recognizing her aunt’s husband. The man with him was Jeremy Hollingsby.
“Did you think we were blind?” came her aunt’s voice from behind them. Turning, she saw Elizabeth Sorrel’s pinched features and hawkish eyes fix her with a hateful glare. “We saw you slip this old fool your message. We knew that you had some plan in mind.”
Elyse drew herself straight. “You can’t stop me! I’m leaving now!”
“No, Niece, you’re staying here. Don’t forget, you’ve a wedding to attend in three weeks,” Carl Sorrel said with a laugh.
Glancing quickly at Amos, Elyse saw his body had stiffened at Carl’s words, and saw too, how his feet inched toward the two men.
“Do ye kin that ye can force the lass to do your twisted bidding without someone stopping ye?” Amos growled.
“It won’t be you, you old fool!” Carl cocked the pistol as he spoke. The snickering of metal sounded loud in the dark Devon night.
With everyone’s attention focused on Amos, Elyse knew she must act or all would be lost. Taking a deep breath, she screamed loudly, startling everyone except Amos, who leapt toward the two men.
Acting instinctively, Elyse snatched her coin purse from her waistband and flung it at her uncle’s face. Without waiting to see if her aim was true, she spun and dove at her aunt. The night took on the feeling of a dream. Time slowed as her outstretched body arched at Elizabeth Sorrel. Just as the coins struck Carl Sorrel in the face, Elyse’s shoulder landed in Elizabeth Sorrel’s soft paunch.
Elizabeth yelled when Elyse hit her, and then a loud grunt of pain echoed in the air as both women collapsed on the ground. Rolling quickly, Elyse rose and saw her aunt staring at her, wide-eyed but unmoving. Then she saw Elizabeth’s oak walking stick lying a foot away from the woman’s hand. She grabbed it before her aunt could recover, and turned to help Amos. Her uncle was once again turning the pistol’s barrel toward the older man, who was almost upon him.
She saw Hollingsby’s pistol following Amos’s path. Without thinking of her own safety, Elyse sprang across the small distance and swung the walking stick at Hollingsby’s scalp. The sound of wood meeting flesh was loud in the night. A strange silence descended while Amos and Carl fought, and Elyse watched the man she was supposed to marry fall to the ground in a shapeless lump.
Amos knocked her uncle down and took the pistol from him. Motioning to Elyse, he waved her to a horse. Then he turned back to the others. “Don’t bother to follow us, for the authorities will surely know what you’ve been up to!”
With that, he went to his horse, mounted, and led Elyse from her ancestral home.
There was no stealth involved in their flight; rather, they both urged their mounts into a gallop and raced from the main house into the dark night.