Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
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UNDAUNTED

LOVE

Part Two

RAMONA FLIGHTNER

Sheila,

When I was four, you fed my imagination with Charlotte,

Wilbur, Templeton, and the promise of one new chapter a day,

helping foster a lifelong love of reading and creating stories.

Bantiox
.

CHAPTER 1

Boston, November 1902

“WHY DID YOU WANT to come to Quincy with me, dearest? You have been quite reticent of late, and I’m worried about you.” Betsy sat in her back parlor, the sage-green wallpaper with silver filigree running through it lit up by lamps. The fireplace along the rear wall emitted a soothing warmth.

“I feel a fool, Aunt Betsy,” Savannah whispered. “Jeremy scared me, and I ran.”

Betsy frowned as she studied Savannah. “Jeremy doesn’t seem the type of man to hurt you. He seems even gentler of a man than his brother Gabriel.”

“We argued, and, when he moved toward me, all I could see was Jonas. The way Jonas …” Savannah broke off and looked out the back window.

“Share this with me, Savannah. I fear, if you keep it inside, you will be prisoner to it forever. You need to know there is no shame in what happened.”

“There is! I knew I shouldn’t marry him. I knew I should listen to Clarissa. To you. But I wanted to believe I could belong in that world. The world that glittered and where I’d have many maids to wait on me. A fancy house with beautiful carriages. I was too stupid or gullible to realize I wasn’t wanted.”

“What do you mean?” Aunt Betsy asked, clasping Savannah’s hand gently as she spoke.

“He wanted the dowry from my grandparents. Not me. Never me. He was embarrassed by me from the beginning. He loathed my parents, Clarissa—everyone but you and the grandparents—because of their simple ways. He despised Clarissa for her spirit. When he saw what he called ‘the Clarissa influence’ in me, he became increasingly determined to beat it out of me.”

Betsy gasped, gripping Savannah’s hand tightly. “Which is why you were so frequently ‘ill.’”

“He didn’t want me to see my family. He desired me to be dependent on him. And he wanted me to beg for everything I wanted.” Savannah closed her eyes as tears trickled down her cheeks. “If I disobeyed him, the punishments were severe. He broke my ribs and then took perverse delight in having my maid tighten the laces to the point I would faint if I did more than whisper.”

“Oh, dearest.” Betsy swiped at her cheeks, turning her head away for a moment.

“Forgive me, Aunt Betsy. I should never have spoken of such things. It’s very uncouth of me.”

“No, Savannah. You have nothing to ask forgiveness for. Although there are many who should be begging your forgiveness. Including me.” She clasped Savannah’s hand again, meeting Savannah’s eyes. “I thought you no longer wanted much to do with us. We all did. I never suspected …”

“It’s what he wanted. I learned never to countermand him. I couldn’t … I didn’t know if anyone would believe me. Mother was so happy with me marrying a man of such social respectability as Jonas. She never seemed concerned about the man beneath the veneer.”

“Whatever you may think about your mother, she does love you, Savannah.” Betsy watched her niece with concerned eyes.

“Not enough. She worried more about the scandal when I left Jonas’s house than me. Not about what would it take to provoke me to leave his home.”

“I find it interesting you call it his home, dearest. Not yours.”

“It was never mine. I wasn’t allowed to furbish it. I wasn’t allowed to have friends call. I was to be present as an arm ornamentation for Jonas when he had business associates visit. To never have a thought of my own but to parrot what he wanted me to say.”

“With all you have said about Jonas, I’m confused how you could compare Jeremy McLeod to Jonas.”

“I made Jeremy angry. He reached for me, and it terrified me. For an instant, I envisioned him treating me like—”

“Like Jonas treated you.”

“Yes. I also know Jeremy has demons, Aunt. He did terrible things in the Philippines. Things he now regrets and that haunt him.”

“Savannah. I want you to think of Jeremy. Of how he has treated you. Of the man you know. Do you see him treating you poorly? Abusing you? For, if you do, no matter how much I might like his brother, I do not want you with him. I want you with a man who understands what a treasure you are.”

Savannah closed her eyes, a frown furrowing her forehead. After a few moments, her countenance brightened, and a faint smile lit her face. “When I think of Jeremy, he is taking care of someone. Florence, Clarissa, me. It’s as though he’s trying to atone for what he did by being a better man now,” Savannah whispered, her tone one of a revelation. “He wouldn’t hurt me, Aunt Betsy.” She smiled broadly as she returned Betsy’s hand clasp.

“That was the impression I had, Savannah dear. In the end, it only matters what you think. For you are the one who will need to fight your fears and these memories forever.” She patted Savannah’s cheek. “The memories will fade, but they will always be there.”

Savannah collapsed against the comfortable sleigh-back settee with rosewood detailing. She reached for a pillow, pulling it to her chest, as she forced herself to meet her aunt’s direct gaze. “I don’t understand. Why does my mother wish me such ill will? And why does Father try to placate her?”

“Darling, your parents were young once too.”

“What does that have to do with now?” Savannah asked, nearly wailing the question.

“Everything. Your mother resents you and Clarissa because you are determined to live the lives you want. Not the lives others wanted for you.” Betsy took a deep breath. “And because you were brave enough to give up everything for those lives.”

“But she loves Father. Theirs was a love match.”

“Ah, Savannah. There’s so much you do not know.” For a long moment, Betsy studied her with eyes made green from her jade dress. She reached out to push away a stray tendril of hair from Savannah’s forehead. “I wonder if I have the right to tell you.”

“Please. For if you don’t, I’ll never know. This anger will only grow, and I fear any hope I had for happiness will be devoured by it.”

“That’s a bit dramatic, dear, but I agree. There have been too many secrets for too long. My parents, your grandparents, instilled in all three of us girls the need to always give the outward appearance of decorum and calm. That, to forestall gossip, one must act as others expected us to act. And that, in the end, we had no rights to our own desires.”

“I don’t understand. Aunt Agnes married a man she loved. I’m sure of it.”

“Yes, Agnes did. She was the only one of the three of us fortunate enough and intelligent enough to marry for love and not bow to the weight of expectations, thus providing a wonderful example for Clarissa. I married out of duty. I love your uncle now, although I had only met him a handful of times before we wed. I fulfilled my parents’ expectations. As had been foreseen for Matilda. However, Matilda was always a little wild.”

“Wild? Mother is the least adventurous person I know.”

“You say that now. If you had known her then, you would have thought her more radical than Sophronia.”

“Surely you exaggerate.”

“I knew her well. I married Tobias to quiet the gossips. Believe me, I remember.” Betsy tapped her fingers on the armrest of the settee, her motions belying her agitation. “Matilda wanted to travel to Paris. Meet the artists, live a wild, free life. And have our parents bankroll it.

“Our parents had other ideas. They arranged for her to marry a Mr. Fitzgilbert. A kind man, set to inherit a fortune. A man whose idea of adventure was eating dinner fifteen minutes later than usual. Matilda railed against our parents’ choice and began to sneak out to Scollay Square. She met an actor there. I’m not even sure of his name.”

After a few moments of silence, Savannah whispered, “What happened?”

“She thought she was in love. She was quite foolish and soon found herself with child. As you can imagine, our parents were furious. I was shocked and quite naive, as I had been the most sheltered of the three of us and had never imagined such a scandal. That sort of thing did not happen to our sort of people.” Her tone perfectly mimicked Savannah’s grandfather.

“As any hope of a marriage to the dour yet appropriate Mr. Fitzgilbert was now dashed, my father searched for another candidate. He knew he could not aim as high as before. One day at his tailor’s, he met your father delivering cloth. Your grandfather’s business was hurting as he was not importing the high-quality French linens he was famous for, due to the Franco-Prussian War.

“My father saw an opportunity. He offered your father’s father a generous dowry in exchange for your father marrying his daughter with no questions asked. Mr. Russell agreed, even though your father was engaged to another. Matilda and your father met for the first time on their wedding day.”

Savannah paled at Aunt Betsy’s story, her sky-blue eyes unblinking as she thought through the story. “Why the lies? The deception about them marrying for love?”

“Appearances, dearest. Your father did not want to be accused of being a bought man, and your mother could not afford to have the truth of her situation come out. For her part, Agnes was furious. She encouraged Matilda to live with her, have the child and dare to live a life free of the restrictions instilled upon us by the grandparents. Matilda declined her offer.”

“But I’ve never met an older sibling, other than Lucas. And Lucas’s twin, Anita. And she died when I was very young. Are you saying they aren’t my father’s children?”

“No, Savannah. Your mother lost the baby. Less than two months after the wedding.” Aunt Betsy smiled forlornly. “For what it’s worth, I believe your parents do love each other now. It has taken time, but I think Matilda would be lost without Martin. He’s a very good, calming presence for her.”

There was silence for a few moments. “You must understand, Savannah. Times were different thirty years ago. Your mother and father asked everyone who knew their true story to refrain from speaking of it. Well, and when you speak of someone marrying for a love match enough times, you start to believe it a little yourself.”

“Everything I thought I knew about them is a lie,” Savannah said.

“One day you’ll understand that you’ll want the right to have others know only what you want them to know about your past. Not everyone has the right to know everything, dearest. Not even a daughter.”

Savannah clutched the pillow tighter, almost bending it in half in her anxiety. “Even with all you’ve told me, I don’t understand why Mother treats me as she does.”

“She will forever try to regain the good graces of your grandparents. She desires that above all else. And, as I said before, she resents that you and Clarissa had the strength to defy your families. She bowed to their wishes.”

“Oh, Aunt Betsy. She did what she had to do for her baby. As any mother would. Why can’t she see that? Why can’t she love me enough to see that I’m doing what I must so that I can survive?”

“Are you?”

“What do you mean? Of course I am. I’m away from Jonas, even though I will not be able to divorce him. I’ll never be within his sphere of influence again.”

“Is that all you want, Savannah? To survive? I would think, after all you have been through, you’d want more.”

CHAPTER 2

“SAVANNAH, DEAREST, IT’S WONDERFUL to have you back from your aunt’s, although I’m sorry for the reason you’ve had to return,” Sophie said. She sat in her rear sitting room, long shadows on the wall. She reached toward a lamp and switched one on. A gentle fire warmed and partially lit the room. She’d once told Savannah dusk was her favorite time of day for quiet contemplation and that she preferred to watch the changing light without interference of man-made light.

“We were shocked to receive word that Uncle Sean had died,” Savannah said. She leaned against the back of her chair, letting out a weary sigh. “I can only imagine how hard this is on Clarissa.”

“Yes, especially as her last interactions with him were influenced by that horrid woman he married,” Sophronia said. “I’ve had word that she is hoping to travel for the funeral.”

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
2.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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