Read The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark Online
Authors: Lawana Blackwell
The Dowry of
Miss Lydia Clark
The Jewel of Gresham Green
The Widow of Larkspur Inn
The Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter
The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark
The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark
Copyright © 1999
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
The Story of Little Sarah and Her Johnny-Cake
and the poem
Hot Apple Pie
Pictures and Stories From Forgotten Children’s Books,
by Arnold Arnold (Copyright 1969) and granted permission by Dover Publications, Inc., New York.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ebook edition created 2011
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
This book is lovingly dedicated
to my sister,
who is a delightful mixture
of warmth, beauty and wit.
LAWANA BLACKWELL has twelve published novels to her credit including the bestselling Gresham Chronicles series. She and her husband have three grown sons and live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Table of Contents
April 8, 1872
Mealtimes in the dining room of the vicarage behind Saint Jude’s were often noisy events, but Julia Phelps could not bring herself to scold the children for it. Not when her husband of sixteen months was one of the chief contributors to the chatter that accompanied clinks of silver against china and muffled thumps of glassware against the linen-draped tabletop.
It was obvious that Vicar Andrew Phelps, having spent his childhood in boarding schools or under the supervision of nannies, now relished having a brood about him. And as he had told Julia many times, he and Laurel would have been terribly lonely these past eight months since his older daughter Elizabeth’s wedding were it not for his new wife and three stepchildren.
“But no knowledge is ever wasted,” he was saying over breakfast to fourteen-year-old Aleda, who had expressed dismay that Miss Clark was planning to introduce algebra to the seventh standard students at the
Octavia Bartley School for Advanced Learning
. “And she’ll explain it one step at a time.”
“Yes,” Philip agreed between bites of toast. At sixteen years of age, he and stepsister Laurel had only one more year of secondary school remaining. “It’s just an introduction, you know. She won’t have you factoring polynomials with summer break only two months away.”
Grace, who turned nine a little over a fortnight ago, screwed up her heart-shaped face. “What does that mean?”
“Polynomials?” Laurel replied. “They’re—”
“Not that. What does it mean that no knowledge is ever wasted?”
Andrew paused from cutting his bacon. “Why, because learning makes our minds grow.”
“I shouldn’t think so, Gracie. Or else our skulls would have to expand as well.” He winked at her. “And that would be a sight now, wouldn’t it?”
“Miss Clark would have to stoop to come through the schoolroom door,” Laurel said, touching her own blond head for emphasis. “She practically has all of the textbooks memorized.”
“Jonathan is bright too,” Grace asserted. She was the only child in the household who still attended the village grammar school, where Elizabeth’s husband was schoolmaster. And while she referred to him as Jonathan in the family setting, he became Mr. Raleigh as soon as she set foot on school property. “He can spell words backward.”
“Children?” Julia was forced to give a reminder from her place at the foot of the table. “You don’t want to be tardy, do you?” This directed their attention back to the task at hand—breakfast. She met Andrew’s apologetic smile with an indulgent one of her own. Another reason she did not scold was that she herself enjoyed the chatter. For the sake of her lodgers at the
, she had had to insist that her children speak only occasionally at the long dining table, and then only after asking for her permission. She was acutely aware, with Elizabeth now married, and Philip and Laurel leaving for the university in little over a year, that there would be future days when she would sorely miss young voices around the table.
It was only after Grace had obediently finished her coddled eggs and bacon that she ventured forth on the previous subject. “But what if someone decided to memorize the name of every person in Spain?” she inquired meticulously. “Wouldn’t that be wasted knowledge?”
Her stepfather cocked his head at a thoughtful angle and dabbed his mouth with a napkin. “Does this particular person ever intend to visit Spain, Gracie?”
“Or perhaps author a book on Spanish genealogy?”
“Then indeed that would be wasted knowledge. So you’ve proven the old adage to be false.”
Grace nodded solemnly, signifying that she did not take lightly the responsibility of being an adage-disprover. But her composure was disrupted when Aleda sent her a wry smile and asked, “And what about the ability to spell words backward? Isn’t that wasted knowledge?”
After a second of tight-lipped concentration, Grace replied, “That’s not the same thing.”
“Then how is it useful?” Philip asked, not to be left out of the teasing.
“It just is.” Clearly outnumbered, Grace called for reinforcement from the head of the table. “Isn’t it, Papa?”
A smile warmed Andrew’s expression. She had started addressing him as Papa instead of the more formal Father only weeks ago, and knowing how much it pleased him, Julia reckoned he would defend her position if she maintained that cows had green spots.
“Does it make you smile when Jonathan spells words backward, Gracie?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Everyone in the whole schoolroom.”
“Then I would consider that extremely useful knowledge.”
After the children had left for school, Julia and Andrew took their second cups of tea in the parlor so that Dora’s cousin Wanetta, the housemaid hired shortly after their honeymoon, could clear the table. Andrew, dressed in his black suit for making calls, looked dignified, as befitting his station. Only the crinkles at the corners of both hazel eyes and the dimples faintly visible beneath his blond beard would suggest to a stranger that he was capable of playfulness as well as piety.
And Julia looked the part of a minister’s wife in a green-and-white striped silk, its overskirt draped in back to form a modest train. Only her auburn hair, falling to her waist behind her shoulders, still needed arranging into a chignon upon which to anchor a pert straw hat trimmed with ribbons and flowers. She enjoyed making calls with Andrew and would have joined him today were it not for the meeting of the Women’s Charity Society held on the first Monday of every month.