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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2179206
Rated: E · Novella · Romance/Love · #2179206
Love, Family, and Honor


Chapter 1

San Francisco, California, 1875—

Summer time in San Francisco was normally a beautiful and refreshing time of the year. This year however, it was quite hot and humid. The steady breeze off the bay and the slight elevated location of the school were things that made the day bearable. In spite of the weather, the grounds of the Institute were teeming with people. People from all over the city and surrounding areas had all come to participate in the annual country fair held at the Institute for the Deaf. The fair was a fundraiser for the school as well as an opportunity for the public to meet the students and the students to spend time with family.

Sarah had been at the institute since first coming from England ten years earlier. She avoided this particular social gathering every year. Even after all this time, all the activity, especially involving families. It only served to remind her of what she didn't have. Sarah retreated to one of her favorite places, a secluded portion of an old apple orchard not far from the school. She had settled herself down under a tree and was reading a book when one of the instructors and a close friend walked up behind her. Noticing a shadow cast before her, Sarah turned around and shielded her eyes against the sun. She smiled and motioned for her friend, Nancy, to sit down beside her. Nancy looked directly at Sarah as she always did when she wanted Sarah to read her lips.

“I wish you would change your mind and join in the activities. Everyone is having a grand time.” Sarah shook her head in such a way as to leave little doubt in Nancy’s mind of Sarah’s meaning. Sarah then turned away.

"A letter came for you today. It's from England." The mention of England startled Sarah momentarily for she had not heard of her birth place since first arriving in America. In the ten years she had been at the Institute there had not been a single letter or telegram from her family.

Nancy pulled the letter from her pocket and handed it to Sarah. Sarah looked at it for the longest time, turning it over repeatedly in her hands. She knew it was from her family because she recognized the family crest. Nancy tapped Sarah’s shoulder again. “Are you going to open it?” Sarah signed that she was afraid to open it.

“Why do you suppose after all this time the family would decide to communicate with me?”
“Do you want me to open it?” Sarah shook her head, took a deep breath then opened the envelope.

She removed and unfolded a single sheet of paper from the envelope and read it. 'Sarah I am sorry to inform you of the death of our father. He went peacefully in his sleep and it was rather a blessing as he had been so ill for so long. We need you home straight away, within two months time for the reading of the Will. You will find a bank draft enclosed to pay for your passage to England. Jonathan.' Sarah stood and handed the letter to Nancy.

After reading it Nancy put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “I am so sorry Sarah. Do you want me to make travel arrangements?” Sarah first shrugged her shoulders then moments later nodded and asked in sign if Nancy would accompany her there. “To England? I would have to ask about that.”

Sarah wanted to cry and felt that she should cry, but there were no tears to shed. She had been estranged from her family for so long that they seemed more strangers than kin. She felt badly that her father had died. She would have, however felt badly at the news of the death of any living thing. Her brother sounded cold and impersonal. Her presence was wanted only to facilitate the reading of the Will. Obviously, she was wanted there for nothing else.

***
Two days later, Sarah and Nancy were on a train bound for St. Louis. According to their itinerary, they would board another train there for New York. They would then board a ship bound for England. Sarah insisted on a private compartment so she did not have to interact with anyone and feel awkward in her deafness. Nancy had been with Sarah since she first came to the Institute and was in many ways like an older sister as well as a friend.

It was an ongoing battle between them concerning Sarah’s resistance to social interaction and the use of her voice. Sarah had the gift of speech unlike many of the other students, but for some reason stopped using it shortly after arriving at the school. Under Nancy’s tutelage and plain hard-headedness Sarah was slowing learning to integrate all three methods of communication despite her resistance.

By the time the train arrived in St. Louis, Sarah was more than ready to leave the cramped conveyance behind and walk the remaining distance to New York. They were told there would be a layover of a few hours so Nancy suggested they might get something to eat. Since Sarah had eaten only one single sandwich in the past two days, and she was tired of sitting she readily agreed.
They walked into a quaint diner. They were seated right away and they looked at the menus.

“Sarah?” Nancy touched her hand and Sarah looked up at Nancy. “Sarah order whatever you would like.” Sarah signed that she was not very hungry as the waitress approached. The Waitress looked at Sarah a bit strangely as she watched her sign and took a step closer to Nancy as if Sarah might have been contagious.

Nancy noticed the waitress’s reaction and smiled. Nancy touched Sarah’s hand then signed, “It seems our waitress has never seen people communicate in sign before.” Sarah looked up at the woman who quickly looked to Nancy.

“May I take your order?”

“Yes, I would like a ham sandwich, coleslaw and a big glass of lemonade.”

“What would she like?” Nancy looked at the waitress and smiled again.

“Why do you not ask her? Just look straight at her and ask. She is deaf, but she can read your lips.” The waitress blushed then turned to Sarah and asked for her order.

“I would like the same thing, thank you,” Sarah said verbally. The waitress went away stunned.

“Very good Sarah,” Nancy said with a giggle. Sarah joined in. As they ate their dinner Sarah noticed people around the diner were looking at her and whispering as if she were on display. She knew it was because they saw her signing and speaking. Her very resistance to using her voice had contributed to her discomfort in social situations. Inwardly she knew she had no one to blame but herself, still she wanted to hide away.

Nancy tried to comfort Sarah. “Everything is all right Sarah,” Nancy said raising her voice slightly so she could be sure to be overheard by those closest. “These people have obviously never seen a beautiful, intelligent deaf woman before. You unfortunately have to get used to the stares and whispers of some people who either do not realize they are being rude or plain do not care. Some people fear what they do not understand.” She then lowered her voice and leaned closer to Sarah.

“You also need to start speaking more. I may not always been around to interpret your signing.” Sarah looked at Nancy with a worried look on her face.

“You are still coming with me?” Sarah said and signed.

“Of course I am.”


***
Later the two ladies settled in another compartment on a New York bound train and Sarah sat next to the window staring out into the darkness. Nancy sat down opposite Sarah and watched her for a few minutes. She touched Sarah’s knee to get her attention. “Sarah is there something bothering you? You are looking rather sad.” Sarah shook her head and returned to the window.

Nancy tapped her knee again. “I have seen that face before and I know that there is something behind it. Please talk to me.” Sarah sighed heavily.

“I am going home to strangers. They never bothered to even tell me that my father was ill until after he died. What kind of family is that? All I am needed for or wanted for is the reading of the Will.” Sarah’s eyes welled up. “Why should I oblige them? Why must I put myself out for people who obviously do not care about me?” She returned to staring at the darkness for a moment before facing Nancy again.

“Listen to me. I have never sounded more hateful in all my life than I do at this moment. Do I hate them or just resent them for past deeds?”

“Sarah you do not have a hateful bone in your body, though, heaven knows you have just cause to hate them.” Nancy got up, sat next to Sarah, put her arm around her and held her as Sarah cried.

***

The next morning they freshened up and went to the dining car for breakfast instead of eating in the compartment. They were two of only a few early risers having breakfast. They sat down at a table and they ordered their meals.


At some point in the meal Sarah looked up to find a very handsome man staring at her and smiling. He lifted his glass of juice and Sarah blushed and turned away.

“My word Sarah, what or should I ask who has you blushing so this early in the morning?” Nancy turned and was also greeted with a smile from the same handsome gentleman. Nancy smiled back at him and said, “Good morning.” The man stood and approached their table. He bowed to them.

“Good morning ladies. I am Adam Chandler.” Nancy introduced herself and Sarah and they all shook hands. “Do you ladies live in New York or will you just be visiting?”

“Neither really. We will be boarding a ship for England as soon as we arrive.”

“If I can be of any assistance to either of you ladies please let me know. I am in compartment twelve.”

“That is very kind of you Mr. Chandler, Sarah?”

“Yes very kind indeed.” Sarah said without making direct eye contact. “Please excuse me.” Sarah got to her feet and left rather abruptly. Mr. Chandler watched her leave the car and then sat down across from Nancy.

“Nancy, did I do or say something to offend Sarah?”

“No, you did not. Sarah is very uncomfortable with strangers.”

“How long has she been deaf?”

“How did you--?”

“I noticed the two of you signing.”

“Since she was ten.” Mr. Chandler shook his head sadly.

“I have a brother who has been deaf since childhood. It can be very difficult for all involved. Are you and Sarah related in some way?”

“No, I am her teacher and friend. Her family is in England.”

Mr. Chandler proved to be delightful company to both Nancy and Sarah for the remainder of the trip. When the train pulled into the station in New York they all found it difficult to say goodbye. Nancy and Sarah went one way and Mr. Chandler went another.
Sarah had a firm grip on Nancy’s skirt. The station was crowded with people and Sarah did not want to get lost. Nancy stopped by a bench.

“Sarah I want you to stay right here. I am going to find a porter for our luggage.” Sarah grabbed Nancy’s hand.

“Do not leave me alone.”

“Sarah I will be back directly. I promise. I am afraid in this mass of people we'll get separated and you will get lost. Please stay right here” Nancy walked away and quickly disappeared into to the massive crowd. Sarah folded her arms afraid to move.

Suddenly two men and a large trunk bumped her from behind. She could not see their faces clearly so she could not tell what they were saying to her. One man cursed and then said, “Lady! Get out of the way before you get hurt!” They bumped the bench she was sitting on startling her to her feet. Sarah found herself suddenly being pushed along through the undulating crowd in spite of her best efforts to stand still. After a few minutes of sheer terror, Sarah was deposited unceremoniously near a ticket booth. She stood there stunned, shaking and unable to move.

“Miss? Miss? Are you all right? Do you need some help?” yelled the ticket agent through the bars of his booth. Sarah was not looking in his direction so she did not know anyone was speaking to her. The ticket agent waved a policeman over and pointed to Sarah as he was talking to him. The policeman approached Sarah.

“Miss? Are you lost? Are you hurt?” He touched Sarah’s arm causing her to jump and pull away. He repeated his questions. “Are you lost Miss?” Sarah nodded her head in reply. “Are you hurt?” Sarah shook her head. It then dawned on him that she was deaf. He handed her a handkerchief when he saw tears falling down her cheek. “Miss? Are you deaf?” Sarah nodded. He smiled.

“Everything is all right now.” He escorted her to an empty office and did what he could to make her comfortable. He was able to get her calmed down enough to get Nancy’s name and he sent pageboys out into the station calling for Nancy.

Less than an hour later, Nancy walked through the office door. Sarah ran into her arms and began sobbing uncontrollably. Nancy comforted her as best she could then turned to the policeman and took his hand.

“Thank you officer for all your help.” The officer smiled.

“I am just glad there is a happy ending to this story. Is she going to be all right?”

“Yes, she will be fine, just scared. Officer could you help us get to dock fourteen? Our ship leaves at eleven o’clock this evening.”

***

Sarah and Nancy were in a small stateroom on the ship an hour before sailing. The ship set sail and it no sooner left the relative calm waters of the harbor then Sarah began her battle with seasickness. Nancy spent countless hours holding Sarah and comforting her as she lay in her bed throwing up, so weak that she could hardly lift her head let alone stand. It brought back memories to Sarah of being on a ship much like this one years ago.

Memories came back of the time she left England as a child. She was scared out of her mind then. She remembered someone she did not know coming into her bedroom and spiriting her away to a big ship that took her away for what she thought was going to be forever. She remembered crying herself to sleep and strangers telling her that everything was going to be all right. Now she was returning to her home in England, and she so much wanted to return to America. She did not feel her birthplace or her family were worth being this ill.

***

It had been nearly a month’s voyage when the ship docked in South Hampton. Sarah was so weak that she had to be carried off the ship by the first officer. He set her down on a crate. “Are you sure you shall be all right here? May I call for a carriage?”

“We will be fine. Thank you for everything. We are expecting someone to come for us shortly,” Nancy said. They young man bowed and returned to the ship. Nancy tapped Sarah on the shoulder to get her attention. “How are you feeling now?” Sarah signed that she was feeling a bit better.

Sarah closed her eyes and imagined herself back in San Francisco at Fisherman’s Wharf where she loved to go and watch the ships unload their exotic cargo and the smaller fishing boats offloading their catch for the day. She took in a deep breath through her nose and was hit with pungent smell of fish, the salty smell and the embracing feel of the damp air blowing around her. She could also smell the combination of ale, spices and other more musty odors she could not place.

A touch to her arm brought her out of her daydream and back to reality. She was not in San Francisco and she was not enjoying herself. She was in a foreign place among strangers. A tear escaped down her cheek before her gloved hand could catch it. She looked up into Nancy’s face. “Sarah, are you sure you are all right?” She nodded.

Sarah began looking closely at everyone who passed wondering if one of them was her brother. She realized that she might not recognize Jonathan if she saw him. She was ten and Jonathan was sixteen when she went away. What was her sister like now? Emily was eight when Sarah saw her last. She would be a grown young woman of eighteen now. The thought of all the lost moments that will never be again make me want to cry. What of my mother? Will she greet me as a daughter or a stranger? Will our reunion be a happy one or strained and uncomfortable?

Sarah noticed a tall, thin man with dark hair speaking to the ship’s captain. The captain pointed in her direction then walked away from the man. The man stood there for a few moments before turning and walking toward them with a limp. Sarah grabbed Nancy’s hand and squeezed it as the man stopped in front of them. Sarah was looking right at him when he spoke. “Which of you ladies is Sarah Stewart?” the man asked as if inquiring impersonally about a piece of property,

“I am Sarah Stewart,” Sarah said in a clear voice that had taken Jonathan aback momentarily. He had not heard her speak since she lost her hearing and somehow never expected to again. It was quite obvious to Sarah that he had paid no mind to remember her so she forgave herself for not recognizing him.

“I am Jonathan, your brother.” Jonathan said in way of introduction and in a manner that suggested he was the messenger of bad news. He gave Sarah a perfunctory kiss on both cheeks.

He then turned his attentions to Nancy. Jonathan’s countenance definitely changed. “And who might you be?”

“I am Nancy Adams. I am Sarah’s friend and traveling companion.” Jonathan bowed and kissed Nancy’s hand.

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Miss Adams. The carriage is at the end of the wharf,” Jonathan said turning while offering his arm to Nancy and ignoring Sarah completely.

“Sarah has been very ill during our journey and is quite weak. Is there any way it can be brought to us?” Jonathan looked to Sarah then back at Nancy.

“I will see to it directly.” Jonathan walked away. A few minutes later the coach was brought up to them and turned around. Jonathan stepped down from it then helped Sarah inside. As the ladies waited Jonathan saw to their baggage.

“Sarah, what do you think of your brother?”

“He seems terribly cold and distant. That is not how I remember him being when we were children. The person he is now frightens me. I should not be afraid of my own brother should I?” Nancy touched Sarah’s arm.

“Sarah, you are trembling. You really are frightened.” Jonathan returned and gave orders to the driver before he climbed inside and sat down opposite Sarah and Nancy. The carriage ride made Sarah feel queasy all over again and it seemed to go on forever. Just when she thought she could stand the bumpy ride no longer they came to a stop.

An older man opened the door. Jonathan was the first one to leave the small coach. He then turned and offered his hand to Nancy helping her down. They both helped Sarah down.

The older man, without a word, escorted them all up the steps to the heavy double doors, opened them ushering them all inside. After closing the doors he disappeared. Once inside the house Sarah became light-headed and leaned into Nancy’s side.

“Sarah, are you all right?” Nancy asked looking directly at Sarah. Sarah nodded.

“Memories, so many. They overwhelmed me for a moment.” Jonathan ushered the two ladies into the study. Sarah stopped as she saw her mother and sister. They were both so beautiful. Nancy urged Sarah forward until she was within arms-length of her mother. The two women stood and stared at one another for what seemed a long time. The silence was uncomfortable and engulfed the room. “Hello Mother,” Sarah finally whispered.

Sarah’s mother, Ann, burst into tears and embraced Sarah. “My Sarah, my little Sarah all grown up.” Sarah stood there with her arms at her side, unable to move. She most certainly did not feel comfortable in returning the embrace. Ann pulled away and smiled. “You have grown into such a beautiful young woman.”

Sarah’s attention was drawn to Emily. Before Sarah left the two of them could not be separated. However, now Sarah and Emily looked upon one another as if for the very first time. Emily stepped forward and extended her hand. They shook hands silently and only momentarily as Emily quickly withdrew her hand. “Are you still deaf Sarah?” Emily asked with the innocence of a child.

“Yes I am Emily.” Jonathan introduced Nancy to his mother and sister.

Chapter 2

England--1875

Michael’s ship was late in arriving at South Hampton. He was pacing the deck like a caged animal as the ship docked. It was a typical English day, cold, rainy and foggy. Suddenly he caught sight his friend James on the dock and waved to him. Michael and James had been the best of friends since early childhood.

They were always together. They even competed for many of the same girls. Michael always seemed to win out, but whenever he saw James he thought himself the loser. James had a beautiful, loving wife and two lovely children. Michael was still unmarried.

The gangway barely touched the dock when Michael made his way down it. “Michael! Welcome home my friend!” James exclaimed as he embraced Michael.

“It is very good to be home James. How are Molly and the children?” James burst into a big grin.

“All are fine and there is a child on the way.” Michael hugged James.

“That is grand news James. I am so happy for you and Molly. Please give her my love when you see her.”

“I shall.” James pointed to the end of dock. “I hired a carriage to take you home. The driver is ready whenever you are.”

“Are you not coming?” James shook his head.


“I wish I could, but I have business to conduct here and I am afraid it will take me another few days to complete. Give my love to your family.” The two men embraced again then parted company.

***

It was a day’s ride from South Hampton to Eaton Hall, the family estate. It was nearly dark when the carriage came to a stop at the main entrance to the manor. Michael stepped from the carriage and gave the driver a pound sterling. The driver tipped his hat and thanked Michael for his generosity and the carriage then pulled away disappearing into the darkening evening fog. Michael climbed the steps leading to the door, taking two at a time as he always had, and walked right in. The butler, Giles, was startled, but very happy to see Michael.

“Master Michael! How good to see you.” Giles had addressed Michael in that manner since he was a wee baby.

“Thank you Giles. It is good to be home. Where is Mother?”

“This way, my Lord, if you please.” Giles escorted Michael upstairs to his father’s room. Michael opened the door slowly as to not startle anyone. He saw his mother at the bedside reading to his father. Michael came closer and kissed his mother cheek from behind.

“Michael! Oh Michael!” Jane jumped up from the chair, wrapped her arms around her son and began to sob. Michael put his arms around her and comforted her.

“All is right now Mother I am home.” Michael gently and quietly ushered his mother out into the hall so as not to disturb George, his father. Michael sat his mother down and then knelt down beside her. “Tell me mother, how are you faring?”

“I am very tired Michael and heartsick knowing I will be losing your father soon. I wish at times, God forgive me, that I could go with him.” Michael squeezed Jane’s hand.

“I will take over the estate and household business and I will also hire a nurse to take care of Father’s daily needs.” Jane began to object, but Michael put a finger to her lips cutting her off before a word was spoken.
“Mother I want you to concentrate on yourself. I do not want you worrying about a thing. Have Richard and Abigail been helping you?” Michael asking knowing full well what the answer would be and also knowing his mother’s propensity for protecting his younger siblings despite their treatment of her. He saw a frown begin to form across her pale and all too delicate brow and smiled shaking his head. “Do not bother answering Mother. I know them and I can guess that they have done only what has been absolutely required of them. Do not worry about a thing. I will not do them any harm. I am only going to talk to them and the three of us are going to come to a mutual understanding about what is expected of them.” He kissed his mother’s worried face. His smile always had a way of melting her heart and cheering her up. “Speaking of my siblings, where are they this evening?”

“They are both attending a birthday ball this evening. I asked them to be home by midnight.”

***

Jane returned to her husband’s bedside while Michael went to his room to freshen up and change from his traveling clothes. He returned downstairs to the foyer and waited. The grandfather clock in the entry hall chimed a single time indicating one o’clock in the morning. Michael was getting angrier by the moment with them at their disregard of their mother’s request. Suddenly the door opened and in stumbled the two, giggling like a pair silly mice.

A pair of inebriated mice by the smell and sight of them trying to help one another up the stairs. Michael stepped from the shadows. “Did the two of you enjoy your outing this evening?” They both whirled around in surprise and both lost their balance ending up indecorously on their backsides.

“Why Michael,” Richard said as he attempted to stand and failed. “I had no idea you were home.” Michael stepped forward, reached down and helped Abigail to her feet then set her down on the third riser of the staircase. He slowly turned and returned to stand over Richard.
A pitiful sight, a man three years Michael’s junior who at the moment looked like a naughty teen. Michael extended his hand and pulled his brother not too gently to his feet. Richard tried to embrace Michael, but Michael kept him at arm’s length because of the strong smell about him. “You two are in no condition to talk now.” He helped them each to their respective rooms.

***

Early the next morning Michael walked into Richard’s bedroom followed closely by Giles and several of male servants carrying a bathing tub and buckets of cold water. As the other men went about the task of preparing the tub, Michael walked over to the large windows and threw back the drapes flooding the room with bright light.

That did not hold well with Richard and the hangover he had to remind him of the grand time he could not remember having the night before. “Close the drapes!” Richard screamed as he pulled the blankets over his head. Michael stepped to the foot of the bed and grabbed the bed clothing in both hands and in one swift motion pulled all of them off leaving them in a heap on the floor.

Michael could not help but grin as he watched Richard scream, moan, groan, and cradle his head in his hands as if it were unattached. He also took note of the fact that Richard did not even bother undressing before pouring himself into bed.

“Giles I will leave Richard in your most capable hands.”

“Yes indeed sir” Giles responded with a smile.

Michael turned his attention to the youngest sibling, his dear, sweet, apparently not so innocent Abigail. He did the same to her that he did to Richard. He left her room full of light, Abigail without bedclothes and several female servants filling a tub with cold water.

Michael checked on his mother. She was apparently sleeping soundly and he instructed her maid that her mistress was not to be disturbed for any reason. He then walked into his father’s room and quietly approached the bed. His father opened his sunken, blood-shot eyes and smiled. “Welcome home son.” George uttered in a mere whisper of his former boisterous voice.

“Hello Father. I hear that you are getting rather tired of being the Duke of Eaton. Well, I will have you know that I am not ready to fill your shoes just yet, so you will just have to stay with us a while longer.” Michael smiled at his father and that elicited a weak smile from him.

“Michael there is something very important I need to speak to you about.” George tried to sit up, but began to cough. Michael calmed him and laid him back against his pillows.

“We’ll talk later Father. The cook is bringing you some breakfast and I want you to be a good chap and eat as much of it as you can. All right? I am also going to hire a nurse to take care of you and give Mother a rest.” George took hold of his son’s hand and squeezed it in appreciation.

Michael remembered the times when he and his father would arm wrestle. His father always won. The thought brought tears to Michael’s eyes seeing his father’s present weakened state. “Father I will visit with you a little later. Right now I have a couple matters to attend to.” He gave George a kiss on the forehead and left.

***

Michael was sitting at his father’s desk in the study when Richard and Abigail came walking in like a couple of whipped dogs with their tails between their legs. “Giles said that you wanted to see us. Could this have waited until we at least had our breakfast?” Richard asked as he dropped into a chair. Abigail was turning an odd shade of green at Richard’s mention of food.

“Oh Richard must you mention that now?” She sat down in the nearest chair and held her head in her hands.

“What I have to discuss with the two of you cannot wait. Did you both have a nice time at the ball, last night?” They both nodded yes. “Very good because until further notice that will be the last social activity you will be attending.” Richard and Abigail suddenly found the strength to sit up and voice objections.

“You do not the right to say that. You are not our father or mother.” Richard blurted out loudly and quite indignantly.

“That Michael, is not at all fair.” Abigail whined. Richard stood to leave in protest, but had not taken a single step when Michael ordered him to stop.

“Richard! Sit down!”

Feeling a bit intimidated by Michael’s tone of voice Richard retook his seat. “I want you two to listen to me very carefully for I will not repeat myself.” Michael laid down the law to them or what was now going to be the law regarding family duty.

“Our mother is at the point of exhaustion because she has had to shoulder all the responsibility of running this house, taking care of our father, running the estates, and worrying about the two of you. From this moment forward Mother is on extended holiday. She will not be disturbed for anything. Abigail you will be responsible for overseeing the household servants and their duties. That includes meals and keeping the manor clean and presentable.”

By the expression on Abigail’s face one would have thought Michael had ordered her banishment. “Michael I have never—I—“Abigail put her hand over her mouth and began to tear up.
“Ask the servants how and do your best, but do not bother Mother.”

He told Richard much the same thing and what he would be responsible for. “Richard you are now in charge of the grounds and the animals. I am sure that the groundskeepers and grooms will be happy to instruct you as to what they do and how they do it. I want you both to be civil in your dealings with the staff. If I hear otherwise, you will be dealt with most sternly. If you intend to reside in this house and on these estates you will have to do your share of the work. I find either of you slacking off I will personally put you out without a penny. Do I make myself perfectly clear?” Richard and Abigail nodded.

“You may go now.” Richard and Abigail turned together and left the room. Michael returned to the desk. He chuckled as he overheard the two grumbling. “My senior only by three years. That does not give him the right to declare himself God. I do not have to take this abuse,” Richard said in an angry tone he thought too low for Michael to hear.

Abigail gave him a sharp elbow to the ribs and shushed him. “Will you kindly shut up? We are in enough trouble without you contemplating more,” she said just before picking up her skirts and marching out the door ahead and away from Richard.

***

Later in the evening George called for Michael. Michael knocked on the door then stepped inside. He closed the door before approaching the bed. His father motioned for Michael to sit down.

“I understand that you spoke quite sternly to your brother and sister.” Michael sat up straight in the chair in which he was sitting as if expecting a lecture.

“Yes Sir I did do that. Did I displease you or over step my bounds?” George smiled and chuckled at Michael’s question.

“On the contrary Michael you did exactly what needed to be done and what I wish I had the strength to do myself. I am very proud of you. Unfortunately you are the only one of my children who knows what honor, loyalty, and duty mean and how important they are to have and to keep. Michael there is an important matter I need to bring to your attention.” Michael moved closer to his father so as to hear him clearly.

“Yes Father.”

“Michael when you were lad of no more than ten I entered into an agreement with a dear friend of mine, a man who had saved my life. This agreement included you. Do you remember it?” Michael looked up toward the now draped windows for a few moments then back at his father.

“Yes I do remember. You betrothed me to his daughter.” George put his hand on Michael’s arm.

“Yes. I am sure that you did not understand what that meant at the time, but I am sure that you understand now.”

“I understand what it means.” Michael’s father sighed and then continued.

“I promised my friend that his daughter would be taken care of. There was a Bride Price agreed upon of fifty thousand pounds sterling, upon your engagement to the girl prior to her twenty second birthday.

“Now I intend that the agreement be kept and our honor maintained. I realize that you had no say when the agreement was made, but you do have a say now that you are grown. You have the power to dissolve the agreement if you so wish it.” There were a few moments of silence.

“Father I will honor the promise made to your friend. The agreement will be fulfilled to the letter.” George’s cheeks were wet and there was a smile on his face as he closed his eyes. It was at that very moment Michael realized that his father was gone. He had hoped for more time, but was grateful for the time he had been given.

***
The church and graveyard were overflowing with people who knew and loved George Townsend, the Duke of Eaton. There were people present whom Michael had not seen since his childhood. James, Molly and the children were there for which he was thankful. The most prominent guest was, of course, Michael’s cousin, the Queen of England.

Throughout the day Michael stayed close to his mother, a heartbroken and already very lonely woman. Michael knew that his mother would not be able to count on her two other children to do the right thing for the honor of it. For that reason and for the love of his father Michael bound himself to the marriage contract as it had been made.


Chapter 3

It was half past one in the afternoon on an unseasonably warm day in London. Sarah and her family were in the office of the family Barrister for the reading of the Last Will and Testament of her father. The Barrister was running late and the tension in the room was growing with every passing moment. The office was large and the windows had been opened to take advantage of the slight breeze coming off the River Thames two stories below.

Emily was sitting next to her mother fanning them both trying to keep cool. Nancy and Sarah were standing at one of the windows signing to one another and trying to keep their minds off the heat and the tension. Jonathan resembled a caged animal in a zoo. He was pacing back and forth, his hands grasped at his back, and a scowl on his face. Sarah looked around the room at her various family members and began recalling childhood memories.

She looked at Jonathan and smiled. She remembered how much more energetic he was as a child then he was at present. He wanted to do things he would see other people do. One time the family went to a circus and Jonathan fell in love with the high-wire act. The next day he strung a rope between two outbuildings behind the main house. He got everyone to come and watch his act.

Once everyone was assembled Jonathan started across the rope. He had taken no more than two steps when he lost his balance and fell to the ground. In less than five minutes he went from a boy of ten with dreams of being famous, to a boy of ten with a broken leg. From that time forward his ventures were always closer to the ground. Sarah had noticed that he still favored that leg.

Sarah turned her attention to little sister Emily. What fun they use to have together. Sarah recalled fondly one day when she and Emily had spent the day playing dress up with their mother’s clothes. The girls got into their mother’s rouge as well. The two of them came downstairs to where the family was entertaining out of town guests. She and Sarah walked in all smiles while mother nearly fainted dead away.

Mother was mortified, of course, but everyone else was quite amused. Mother did not speak to them for what seemed an eternity. In actual time it was perhaps less than a day. It took Mother over an hour to clean their faces. Sarah cannot put on rouge today without thinking about that day.

Sarah began to focus on her mother just as the door opened and in hurried the Barrister still in his robes and powdered wig having come straight from court. “So sorry to have kept you all waiting. A very chaotic day thus far,” he uttered as he shed his robes and wig in a very unceremonious fashion before he sat down at his desk and began to file through the mound of papers. He let out an “Ah Ha!” and pulled a file folder from the middle of the pile.

“Now let us see. This was the Last Will and Testament of George Edward Phillip Stewart. It is stated here that all family members must be present prior the Will being read. Are all family members present?” Jonathan stepped forward.

“Yes all are present.” Emily spook up on behalf of herself and her mother.
“Can we please get on with the reading? The heat in this room was making my mother ill.” The Barrister cleared his throat.

“Yes of course.”


He read the Will and there were no surprises. Jonathan inherited the bulk of the estate, which by this time was not very large. There had been some poor investments made not only by their father, but also Jonathan on his father’s behalf. There was little left in the way of inheritance for Ann, Sarah, and Emily. They would continue to live in the country house with a small staff. The townhouse in London would have to be sold to pay any outstanding debts. Thinking the meeting was over the family prepared to leave.

“Excuse me, but there is one more piece of business to take care of,” the Barrister added. Everyone sat down again and the Barrister continued, “It seems that a Marriage Contract was entered into some years back. It concerns a Michael Townsend and Sarah Stewart.” Nancy appeared very surprised. She turned to Sarah and saw tears falling. “There is a Bride Price of fifty thousand pounds sterling set forth in the contract. Said contract to be fulfilled prior to Miss Stewart’s twenty second birthday. Which of you young ladies is Sarah?” Sarah shyly raised her hand. “How old are you child and what is your birth date?”

“I am twenty-one and my birth date is the twentieth of September,” Sarah answered in a very clear voice. The Barrister looked at his calendar and then again to Sarah.

“Your birthday is in three months. I will contact the other party to this contract and make the necessary arrangements and get back to you Miss Stewart.”

***

It was late when the family returned home and everyone went to bed without a word to one another. Sarah and Nancy changed into their nightclothes without a word. They climbed into the bed. Before Sarah could put out the lamp, Nancy tapped Sarah’s shoulder to get her attention. “I have read about arrangements like this, but I always thought it was fiction. How do you feel about this Sarah? Do you have to go through with it?” Sarah sighed and signed, “My mind cannot seem to grasp any of it at the moment.”

The subject of the Marriage Contract and the Bride Price came up during dinner the next evening. Jonathan spoke in a matter-of-fact manner, “The Bride Price will be Emily’s dowry.”

“Does this Michael Townsend know who or what he is getting in exchange for the fifty thousand pounds sterling?” Sarah asked.

“Whatever do you mean Sarah?” Sarah’s mother asked naively.

“Now come Mother you can't be that naive. You all know what I mean. Does Lord Townsend know I am deaf?” Ann looked confused.

“I do not know. Jonathan?” Jonathan quickly and unwisely answered,

“Your deafness is not an issue in this matter. The contract was entered into prior to your illness.” Sarah stood, and was very angry at Jonathan’s cavalier attitude.

“How can you sit there and say that my deafness is not at issue? This family elected to send me thousands of miles away to another country because it was an issue. What makes you think that it will not be an issue with this man?”

Jonathan got angry with Sarah. “Sarah, as your elder brother and the head of this family, I am telling you to let this matter go and not speak of it to again outside of this room.”

“I feel no obligation to recognize you as anything but a sibling let alone head of the family. Any family rights you may have had over me, by tradition, were severed when you as a family member banished me from my home and my country of birth.”

“Well if you do not care to live under this roof then by all means you are free to leave.” Jonathan threatened.

“Jonathan! No!” His mother screamed as she abruptly stood clutching her chest and sending her chair to the floor. “You will not send Sarah away again. As long as I am alive you will not turn Sarah out again.”

“Calm down Mother please, remember your nerves. I apologize, I spoke too abruptly.”

“I too am sorry, Mother,” Sarah said quietly

***

Jonathan was serious about what he said that evening. Sarah was sure of it when no more than two days later Sarah began to notice that her post was being censored and she was being followed everywhere she went. He wanted to make sure that she did not say or do anything that would adversely affect his acquiring the Bride Price. Jonathan was fixated on money and social standing just as the family had been after her illness. This troubled Sarah greatly, so much so that she tried to talk Nancy into returning to America.

“Nancy I am very much afraid of what Jonathan will do to get what he wants. He is not the same person I remember as a child.”

“It is for that very reason that I am not going. I refuse to leave you in this situation without any support. Once you are married and safe then we can discuss my returning to America but not before.”

“Nancy I am going to arrange a meeting with Michael Townsend. I am going to tell him everything and then I will tell him that I will not hold him to the contract.” Sarah turned and walked away from Nancy.

Nancy moved in front of her so Sarah could read her lips. “How are you going to accomplish that feat Sarah when you are being watched all the time?”

“That I have not figured out as of yet. But I have to do it. It is not fair that he should have to marry me. Nancy, English society can be very cruel to those who are less than perfect in their eyes. Everything revolves around one’s social station and who is related to whom. The object of the game is to end up at a higher station then where you began.”

“That is crazy!” Sarah nodded her head in agreement.

“I agree, but it has existed this way for hundreds of years and is very resistant to change. Do you still want to stay?” Nancy hugged Sarah then looked her in the eye.

“I will stay until I feel you are safe.”

***

A fortnight later, the people Jonathan had hired to follow Sarah had become bored of the routine and thus careless in the performance of their duties. In the beginning Sarah and Nancy could not distinguish them from the ordinary person on the street, but within two week’s time the young women could identify each one and even had fun at their expense.

Sarah’s mother had a dressmaker out to the manor to measure Sarah for new gowns. It was during these sessions that the dressmaker, Amanda Richardson, got to know Amanda. Amanda felt for Sarah’s plight and soon agreed to act as a go-between.

One day a messenger came asking if Sarah could come into the shop instead. This of course was a ruse to get Nancy and Sarah into town. Jonathan objected at first and then suggested he accompany them. Sarah first put her hand over her mouth to cover a sudden and quite unfamiliar smile that appeared when she read, but did not believe what his lips had said. She quietly coughed, excused herself and turned to face Nancy.

Taking a deep breath she signed asking Nancy if she heard what Sarah had seen that Jonathan of all people wanted to accompany them to a dress fitting. She knew that if he came it might turn out to be just a fitting, but the image of him sitting in a dress shop for what could be several hours tickled her to the point of giggling. When Nancy confirmed it Sarah quite unladylike laughed out loud. Both her hands went to cover her mouth in embarrassment, but not before Nancy started laughing and Jonathan became annoyed.

“And what pray tell is so amusing that has two grown women acting out like school girls. Most unbecoming I must say,” Jonathan asked crossing his arms over his chest. Nancy signed to Sarah what he had just said before turning her around with an arm securely wrapped around her waist and the other holding her arm.

“My dear Mr. Stewart, Sarah and I apologize, but we both find it rather amusing that you, a—man, would suggest accompanying us to a dressmaker’s shop for what might be hours of fittings,” Nancy explained unable to contain a smile.

***
Sarah and Nancy walked into the shop two hours later without Jonathan needless to say and had a nice long visit with Amanda along with a fitting. Before returning to the manor Sarah handed Amanda a letter. “All you need to do is deliver this letter to Michael Townsend at this address.” Amanda took the letter.

“Do I need to say anything?”

“No, but you must give it to him personally. I cannot risk his not receiving it.”

In the letter Sarah explained who she was and the importance of their meeting. She gave a secluded location for the meeting and a time which was a week from then. She begged him to come. They arranged for a messenger to come again in a week’s time. They left the shop.

***
Sarah arrived at the appointed place and time; however, there was no Michael Townsend.

“What do you want to do?” Nancy asked Sarah. Sarah nervously looked around wringing her hands and biting her lip as if sensing someone watching her.

“I will wait. I trust he will come. How could he not?”

“All right then. I won’t be far. Just call out if you change your mind.” Nancy kissed Sarah’s forehead and walked away. Sarah immediately felt like calling out but held her tongue. She sat down and waited. It was some time later that Michael arrived only to find Sarah asleep against a rock. He stood and looked at her for a few minutes. Never having seen her before, Michael counted himself fortunate that she was a handsome young woman.

He wondered why she was so insistent that they meet in secret. It would not be long before everyone would know about them and the contract. He drew close to her and touched her shoulder. Startled Sarah jumped to her feet and away from Michael. “Please I did not mean to frighten you. I am Michael Townsend. You wanted to meet with me?” Sarah took a deep breath and then stepped forward.

“I am Sarah Stewart.” She tentatively extended her hand. He took it and kissed it with a slight bow.

“I am honored to make your acquaintance Sarah.”

Sarah made sure that they sat facing one other so she could read his lips. Michael began the conversation.

“I was a bit confused at your wanting to meet me in secret. Why the secrecy?” She looked at him with an odd look on her face and it was at that he realized that she did not know about the contract or had just learned about it.

“I just recently learned of the Marriage Contract and the Bride Price. There is something about me that you should know,” Sarah said with eyes welling up with tears. Michael smiled and chuckled.

“At this point in time there is quite a lot I do not know about you. Thus far this is what I do know about you. You are quite pretty, you speak intelligently and you scare easily and evidently you cry quite easily as well.” Sarah blushed at his comments. “And blush. What is it that you feel so strongly I should know and in secret?”

Sarah bit her lower lip and tried to explain herself. “What I am about to tell you my brother informed me would not be an issue with you. I strongly disagreed with him and from that time forward he has had me followed and had my post censored. He did not want you to know until after we were married. I on the other hand feel you have the right to know and to decide accordingly.”

“You can be long winded. In fact you sound quite winded. Are you all right?”

“Yes. I am not use to talking so much.” She took a few deep breaths then continued. “You see, Your Lordship I—“

“Please, call me Michael. We are to be married after all.”

“Michael, I am deaf.” Michael waited for a moment and then responded.

“You are serious?”

“I am very serious, indeed. I know what you are saying only because I can read your lips. If my back or face were turned away I would not know what you were saying. I felt you had the right to know and I wanted to tell you that I would not hold you to the contract.

“I know what society on the whole thinks of persons such as me who are defective. My own family was embarrassed enough to send me away to America so their precious social standing would not be jeopardized. I have only just returned home after ten years and the only reason I was brought back was because the Will could not be read without my presence.”

Michael looked at Sarah in amazement. “I would never have guessed that there was anything out of the ordinary with you. You were taught well wherever it was you were sent to.” Sarah smiled as she thought of San Francisco.

“They took very good care of me, taught me well and I miss them terribly.” Michael explained to Sarah the circumstances by which the contract came to be and that it was his father’s last wish that the contract be honored.

“Now do you understand why I must uphold my father’s promise to your father even though both are dead?” Sarah nodded her head yes and was quite somber.

They talked for a while longer until Nancy came hurrying through the bushes. “Excuse me for interrupting, but I think we better go. I saw one of Jonathan’s people lurking about,” she said with a worried expression on her face.

“Michael this is my best friend Nancy Adams. Nancy this is Lord Townsend, the Duke of Eaton.” Michael kissed Nancy’s hand and she blushed.

“Miss Adams, it is a pleasure to meet you.” Nancy looked into Sarah’s face.

“Is everything all right Sarah?” Sarah smiled and nodded her head.

“It is now, I assure you. Sarah and I have talked and have jointly decided to be married. Date and time to be announced.”

“If that is what you want Sarah, I am sincerely happy for both of you. Now if you do not mind it would not fare well for us if we were caught in your company just yet, your Lordship,” Nancy said as she curtsied and took Sarah’s hand.

Michael kissed Sarah on the cheek and whispered, “I will be talking to you soon Sarah.”

Chapter 4

Michael paced the floor of his Barrister’s office, clasping and unclasping his hands at his back as he waited for Jonathan, who was an hour late in arriving. Michael muttered under his breath, “Is Sarah the only member of this family that is ever prompt for an appointment?” The Barrister looked up from his papers thinking that Michael had addressed him.

“Excuse me, Lord Townsend, did you say something?”

“I am sorry, no. I was just thinking aloud. I am sorry to have disturbed you.” Several more minutes passed and just as Michael was preparing to leave Jonathan walked in the door out of breath.

“Please forgive me I was detained.” Michael could smell the reason for his being detained from across the room. Jonathan slid into the nearest chair and nearly out again. He managed to right himself as Michael took the chair opposite him. The Barrister cleared his throat. “Shall we begin?”

Michael was soon standing and pacing again. He was near his wit’s end where Jonathan was concerned. “I wanted this meeting to include my Barrister because I want what is said here today to be written and legally binding. Be it hereby known that I Michael Andrew Phillip Townsend, Duke of Eaton will be marrying one Sarah Elisabeth Stewart within two month’s time. Specific date and time not yet decided.” Jonathan smiled and then hiccupped. He covered his mouth hoping no one heard, but everyone had.

“I agree to pay the Bride Price of fifty thousand pounds sterling to one Jonathan Stewart following the wedding ceremony.” Jonathan stood holding to the back of the chair to keep himself upright as he voiced his objection.

“It is customary for the Bride Price to be paid upon the formal engagement, not the ceremony.”

Michael took a offended stance in front of Jonathan. One arm was folded across his mid-section. with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand painfully pinching the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. He was tired of dealing with this man already and it had only been five minutes. Michael heaved a heavy sigh before opening his eyes and glared at Jonathan. Michael then turned to the Barrister.

“Mr. Lawrence I want a document drawn up for Mr. Stewart’s signature stating that he understands that first, after the Bride Price is paid he and his family will have no further claim on me, my estates or my wife. Secondly, If Sarah is not at the wedding ceremony for any reason the Bride Price will not be paid. Thirdly, there will be no future help given the Stewart family financially or otherwise. Did you get all of that?”

“I have it all, My Lord,” replied the Barrister.

“Now the rest of what I have to say is off the record. Mr. Stewart, for I do not wish for us to become any more familiar than that despite the fact that we will be in-laws, you are fortunate to be receiving anything at all. You withheld information from me that I was entitled to. You see, I met with Sarah last night and she told me everything. I tell you here and now that is one reason why your family will not receive anything after Sarah and I are married. The other reason is how badly your family has treated Sarah since she lost her hearing.” Jonathan quickly took on a defensive posture.

“It was not my fault that Sarah was sent away. I was a mere child myself. It was my father’s idea.” Jonathan blurted out as he tittered on the brink of falling on his face.

“Oh yes, sixteen years is quite young. One more thing if anything happens to Sarah, in retaliation or not, prior to our marriage,” Michael said as he approached Jonathan and placed his finger to the man’s breastbone. “I will hold you solely responsible.”

Michael turned to the Barrister. “Mr. Stewart is in no condition to sign anything today. I will be in London on Thursday next at my townhouse. If you would see that he is there and sober at one o’clock in the afternoon, I would be most grateful. I will, at that time, repeat everything I have said today.” The Barrister stood and the two men shook hands.

“Rest assured my Lord he will be there.” Michael left the office. The Barrister looked at Jonathan shaking his head. “You are a fool in the first order, Jonathan Stewart. Lord Townsend is not a person to trifle with and thank heavens your father is not alive to see you now.”

Jonathan, still in somewhat of a stupor, stood there with his jaw on the floor looking like a boxer who stayed in the ring one round too many.

***

The clock in the foyer struck one just as the doorbell rang. The butler opened the door and ushered the two men inside. “I am Mr. Lawrence and this is Mr. Stewart. Lord Townsend is expecting us.”

“Yes Mr. Lawrence, his Lordship informed me of your coming. May I take you hats and coats gentlemen?” The butler took their things “This way gentlemen, if you please.” He ushered them both into the study. Michael stood as they entered. “My Lord, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Stewart to see you.”

“Thank you Edwards that will be all.”

“Very good sir.” Edwards said as he left the room and closed the door. Michael approached Mr. Lawrence and shook his hand.

“Thank you for keeping your word sir.” He made a point of not shaking Jonathan’s hand and invited them both to have a seat. Michael returned to his seat behind the desk. “Mr. Lawrence, do you have the paper I asked you to have drawn up at our last meeting?”

“Yes indeed I do my Lord.” Mr. Lawrence replied as he went through his case. “Ah, here it is. All it needs are signatures.” He put the paper on Michael’s desk.

“Thank you very much.” Michael turned to face Jonathan.

“Tell me Mr. Stewart, do you remember anything that was said at our last meeting?” There was only silence. “It matters not to me for I am prepared to repeat what I said as to have no confusion.” Michael repeated all that he said. When he got to the part about treating Sarah badly and sending her away, Jonathan repeated what he said the other day and went to the window.

“It was not my fault she was sent away.” As he uttered those words, he was taken back in time.

The family had been in the library discussing Sarah. Sarah’s father said “Surely there is something more that can be done for Sarah here. There must be a school closer than America.” Sarah’s mother moved to her husband’s side.

“Thomas, my dear, do you not think I want to keep Sarah closer? Do you not think Jonathan and Emily want to keep their sister closer?” Jonathan stepped forward.

“Father it is for the best. Sarah would be taunted and made fun of. Actually it has already begun to happen. The children were so mean to her when we were in the park today.”

“The children are mean to me too just because she is my sister.” Emily interjected. Soon after that Sarah was gone from the family. It was he and Emily who wanted Sarah sent away more than their mother and father. They were the most embarrassed and hurt by her illness.

Michael brought Jonathan, abruptly, back to reality. “Mr. Stewart! If you would be so kind.” Michael motioned to the chair Jonathan had been sitting in. Jonathan, a bit embarrassed, sat back down.

“My last bit of information for you is that I will hold you personally responsible if anything and I repeat anything happens to Sarah before we are married. Now if you will sign this document you may be on your way.” Jonathan signed the document and immediately left the room. Michael signed and then Mr. Lawrence signed the document as a witness. Michael then saw both men to the door. “Good day gentlemen.”


Chapter 5

Jonathan had avoided Sarah since Michael gave him that talking to almost a week ago. He called off his spies and the censoring of her mail had stopped. The atmosphere in the Stewart home had become much more comfortable than Sarah imagined it could be. Meeting with Michael was the right thing to do.

One day the family was in a rare conference together in the library discussing the sale of the townhouse and the letting go of some of the servants. When a messenger arrived with an envelope addressed to Ann, Sarah’s mother. The butler brought it into the room on a silver tray.

“What is it Mother?” Emily inquired.

“It appears to be an invitation.”

“How exciting! Open it. We have not received an invitation since—“ Emily’s smile faded as she glanced up at Sarah. No invitations had come to the family since Sarah’s arrival or shortly thereafter. Sarah immediately felt uncomfortable for now all eyes were on her. She started to rise when Nancy prevented it with a firm hand to her shoulder and a stern shake of her head.

“Sarah is not responsible for the lack of invitations coming here,” Nancy said firmly.

“I apologize,” Emily whispered. “I did not intend that as an offense.” Emily dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief.

“Apology accepted Emily,” Sarah replied with a smile.

“Mother, will you please open the silly thing and read it before we all grow too old to attend whatever it is?” Jonathan asked with a sigh. All the women giggled except Sarah for Jonathan was out of her line of sight. Nancy signed what he had said and she was amused.

Ann opened it and read it aloud. “You are cordially invited to dinner at Eaton Hall, Saturday next at six o’clock. Your servant Michael Townsend.” The room was suddenly very quiet. Sarah and Nancy were the only ones who seemed pleased at the invitation. Ann and Emily started to complain that they had nothing to wear for the occasion. Jonathan got angry with them.

“You both have plenty of gowns from which to choose. It is not as if this is a grand royal ball. It is just dinner with people you have probably never met so they will not know that your gowns are not new.”

Emily was highly offended and ran from the room crying. Ann put her handkerchief to her mouth in bewilderment at her son’s rudeness and uncaring attitude. She stood and slowly walked away. Sarah was angry and was not about to let it go with a simple shrug of the shoulder.

“Jonathan! How dare you treat your mother and sister in such a manner! I have seen you treat a dog with more regard.” Jonathan turned sharply toward Sarah and raised his hand as if to strike her. Time seemed suspended for a moment. “Will that make you feel better? Make you feel like a man? Go ahead then and hit me!”

“Sarah No!” Nancy screamed, forgetting that Sarah’s back was turned and she could not hear her. Jonathan put his hand down no doubt remembering Michael’s threat.

“I wish you had never come back here. As far as I am concerned, you are no sister of mine. You are merely a stranger under our roof. Stay out of family business and stay out of our lives. We do not want you.” Jonathan left the room. Nancy approached Sarah and put her arms around her. She looked into Sarah’s face and there were no tears.

“Are you all right?”

“Strangely enough I am all right. I would like to cry and I suppose I should cry. Jonathan is right you know. I am a stranger here. I am really very tired I think I will lie down for a while.” Nancy accompanied Sarah up to their room. They were not there long when there was a soft knock at the door. Nancy answered it.

“May I come in?” Emily asked. Nancy let her in without a word. Emily was wringing her hands and very upset.

“What is it Emily?” Sarah asked as she set Emily down on the edge of the bed and sat beside her.
“You are going to get married?” Sarah looked at her oddly.

“Yes, Emily, I am getting married. Why do you ask?”

“I have a beau Sarah and he wants to marry me.” Sarah and Nancy smiled.

“That is wonderful news Emily. Where and when did you meet him?” Emily smiled thinking about him.

“We meet last spring in London. He so is very nice Sarah and very handsome. You will like him. He comes from a very well-to-do family and is an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy.” Sarah put her hand over Emily’s hands clasped in her lap.

“I was thinking you had terrible news to tell us when you came in. You still look sad. Why is that?”

“I needed to know—be reassured, actually, that you are going to marry Lord Townsend. I would not be able to marry Curtis if you did not marry first, being the youngest and because if I do not receive a proper dowry Curtis’ family will not allow him to marry me. That is why you must marry Lord Townsend, please Sarah.” Sarah put her arms around her sister and drew her into her embrace reassuring her in calming whispers.

***

The Townsend household was no calmer a place than the Stewart home in the days leading up to the dinner. Richard and Abigail had pitched fits because of Michael’s decision to marry a deaf girl and one from a near destitute family at that. They carried on saying that they would be the laughing stock of their social circle and would be shunned. Michael saw them as spoiled brats in need of spanking.

Eaton Hall had been teeming with activity all day, preparing for the dinner. Michael’s mother had insisted on overseeing everything personally. She was the only member of the family happy for Michael and Sarah. Richard and Abigail had been off sulking. Michael had all but threatened their very lives if they were not on their best behavior and treated their guests correctly.

Michael had been in London all day. He collected an engagement ring he ordered and planned to present it to Sarah this evening. When he returned home he was pleased with how the manor looked and the wonderful aromas that met him as he entered. Fragrant, fresh cut flowers were everywhere and their scents mingled with the delightful smells coming from the kitchens.

“I thought you might have gotten yourself lost Michael,” Jane said hurrying down the steps to greet her son as he stepped through the door after five in the afternoon. The clock in the hall had just chimed the quarter hour. “And just look at you! Where have you been? Playing in a pig sty?” she asked noticing the mud on his clothing.

“Greetings to you too mother,” Michael said with a chuckle and a grin as he kissed her cheek. “Matter of fact, my carriage lost a wheel and tumbled into a bog. No one was injured, man nor horse. I am afraid the same cannot be said for the carriage. We had to ride the horses bareback the five remaining miles home.”

“I am sorry my dear for your hardship, but you really must hurry now. You have less than two hours before our guests are due and you are sorely in need—“ Jane covered her nose and mouth with a handkerchief. Michael burst out laughing for he knew the stench of the bog was bothering her terribly. Giles had already taken the hint and gone upstairs to make preparations for Michael’s bath.

“Say no more Mother, I am on my way.” Michael bounded up the stairs his laughter resounding down the hall.

The clock had just struck seven when Michael joined his mother in the foyer. “What is the matter Michael? You look so solemn.” Michael smiled and kissed his mother on the head.

“I just want everything to go well Mother. I know that I am doing the right thing.” Jane touched his cheek and looked into his eyes.

“I also know that you are doing the right thing and I am very proud of you. Your father would be too if he were here.”

The doorbell rang and Giles opened the door. Sarah and her family stepped inside. Giles collected their hats and coats and left the foyer. Michael stepped forward, smiled and took Sarah’s hand. He looked directly at her. “You look very lovely this evening Sarah.” Sarah blushed, which made Michael’s smile bigger.

“Thank you kind sir,” Sarah replied with a smile and a blush as Michael kissed her hand and then her cheek.

Before long, all family members were reluctantly present and had been introduced. Michael with Sarah on his arm led everyone into the library where they could be comfortable and socialize before dinner.

The unease was apparent by the thickness of the silence. Of course silence was Sarah’s constant companion. Sarah could tell that all was not right and she sensed—NO—she knew it because of her. Sarah looked about the room and met with glare after glare from Richard, Abigail, and Jonathan as if she had just brought a plague among them. She felt most unwelcome.

She tried hard not let the atmosphere overwhelm her, but finally she could no longer hold back the tears that had welled up. They began to trickle down her cheek. One by one she attempted to discreetly brush them away with her hand as she lowered her head while silently praying no one would notice.

“Sarah?” Michael inquired from across the room where he was pouring her a glass of wine. Sarah’s head was lowered so she did not hear him. It was not until Nancy touched her arm and her head shot up that she realized that all eyes were on her again. She put her hand to her lips embarrassed that she had been caught her eyes glistening with tears.

“What is wrong Sarah?”

“Excuse me please.” Sarah stood and hurried from the room.

Michael started after her, but Nancy stopped him. “I will see to her.” Nancy followed Sarah out of the library and out the front door into the cool, crisp evening air. She put her hand on Sarah’s shoulder. Sarah turned and began to cry. Nancy put her arms around Sarah and tried to comfort her as best she could. She then set her at arms-length and looked into her face wiping the tears from her cheeks. “Tell me now, what happened in there?”

“Nancy I know that I am doing the right thing by marrying Michael, but I do not know if I can do it. I want to run away, back to San Francisco. Actually I would prefer any place in the world to here right this moment.” Nancy smiled

“We both know that running away is not the answer to anything. Besides you are much stronger than that. You will make this work in spite of everyone.”

***

Meanwhile in the library Michael was furious. He was pacing the floor incessantly in front of the settee upon which he had made Richard, Jonathan and Abigail sit like naughty school children awaiting corporal punishment. “I am so ashamed that I feel like taking a riding crop to the lot of you. How dare you treat Sarah and me with such contempt? How much better are you that you can pass judgment and cast stones?

“Now unless you want to tempt my ire further and are prepared to suffer the consequences I suggest that you be prepared to apologize to Sarah when she returns and that you all be most sociable and respectful. Do I make myself perfectly clear?” They all nodded. Giles came in and announced dinner.

Michael turned to the mothers and he gave them each a kiss on the cheek. “Excuse me Mother, Mrs. Stewart. Sarah, Nancy and I will join you directly.” Michael met Nancy as she walked in the open door. “She is just outside the door.” Michael kissed her cheek.

“Thank you Nancy. Sarah and I will be in directly and then I will escort you both to dinner.”

“I will wait right over there,” Nancy said pointing to the padded bench next to the clock.

***

Michael stepped outside and closed the door. Sarah was standing with her back turned facing the front gardens. He walked up behind her, put his hands gently on her shoulders and turned her around to face him. She lowered her head immediately, but he lifted her face she so that their eyes met.

“Everything will be all right Sarah I promise. I have something I think, or at least I hope will put a smile again on that lovely face.”

He pulled a small velvet box from his pocket and opened it to reveal a ring. Sarah did smile, but the tears begin to fall again. “May I place this ring on your finger Sarah?” Sarah silently nodded. Michael took her hand in his and slipped the ring on her finger then clasped it between his. “Now it is official. We are now engaged. I would like very much to kiss you. May I? Sarah merely smiled up at him. Taking that as implied consent Michael gently cupped her face in his hand and kissed her. She placed her hands on his waist to steady herself as she was sure she going to swoon at any moment.

This was the very first time she had ever been kissed by a man on the lips and the sensation was almost overwhelming. She wanted to pull away yet at the same time she—what she was feeling confused her. When Michael ended the kiss and she opened her eyes, he was smiling at her. “You are adorable,” he said with a chuckle caressing her cheek with the back of his hand.

“You are making fun of me.”

“No. My darling Sarah I would never do that. It is just that I have never seen such a look of wonderment on a woman’s face before after a simple kiss.”

“Do you make it a habit of kissing so many women that you can compare expressions?”

“I have kissed my share of women and I must say that your kiss—,” Michael replied with a slight blush having been caught in a ticklish position.

“Well—“ she hesitated for a moment then continued. “Your kiss was my first.” She blushed and then smile. “It was quite wonderful. Thank you.”

“Yes it was and you are most welcome.”

“My Lord, I fear I must make a most serious request of you prior to marrying you.”

“Oh? Does our marrying depend on my honoring this request?”

“I am afraid so.”

“Then whatever it is I will agree to do for we will be married. What is the request?”
“That you make no further comparisons from this day forward.”

“Done.” Michael offered his arm. “Shall we go into dinner? Some of the company may leave quite a bit of something to be desired, but I promise you that the food is worth staying for.”
The both laughed and went inside.

***

Following dinner Michael and Jonathan took their leave from Sarah, Nancy and their mothers in the library and went into the study. Richard and Abigail had gone their own way as well, not wanting to socialize any longer. Michael took a seat behind the desk. “Have a seat Mr. Stewart.” Jonathan sat down opposite Michael. “The Engagement Ball. Normally it would be the responsibility of the bride’s family, but given the present circumstances my family will host the Ball. It will be held here at Eaton Hall. Invitations will be sent out by the end of the week. Your family will be expected to attend and be present in the reception line. There will not be a repeat of what went on this evening. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” he said rather meekly.

“As for the wedding, it will be held on the twenty-first of September at St. John’s in London. It will be held at four o’clock in the afternoon and a reception held at Her Majesty’s residence, the palace.

“The bands will be read at the church three days prior to the wedding.” Jonathan sat very quietly as he listened to Michael.

“Accounts will be set up at various shops in the city for Sarah and Nancy to purchase what they need for the wedding. You are responsible for clothing the rest of your family for the wedding.” Jonathan looked at Michael with a rather shocked look on his face.

“I cannot afford that!” Michael did not look at him.

“I am of the opinion that you can, but regardless it is your responsibility.” Michael stood up and moved out from behind the desk. “I think we have left the women alone long enough. Shall we join them and inform them of what is going to happen and when?”

They joined the ladies and told them everything that had been decided on. When Michael mentioned the Ball Sarah grabbed Nancy’s hand in fear. Sarah had not danced since childhood or her hearing loss. Michael happened to see Sarah go pale. “Sarah, are you all right?”

“She cannot hear the music to dance,” Nancy said. “I believe that she is afraid of embarrassing you and herself.” Michael knelt beside Sarah and lifted her face to meet his.

“Sarah everything will be all right. You need to trust me. I will not let anything happen to you. Tell me that you trust me.” Sarah nodded.

“I trust you Michael.” Michael smiled and gave Sarah a kiss on the cheek.

Chapter 6

The Stewart home was in frenzy as last minute preparations were being made to attend the Ball, which was in three hours. Nancy seemed to be the only person calm and pleasantly anticipating the Ball. Sarah was nervous and still afraid of what might happen at the Ball in front of everyone. Emily was worried because Sarah was feeling the way she was. Emily was in constant fear that Sarah would back out of the marriage, thus preventing her own marriage. Ann was worried that she was not dressed nice enough for the occasion. Last but not least there was Jonathan. He was pacing again and mumbling to himself.

Nancy turned her attention back to Sarah who was sitting at the dressing table. Nancy put her hands on Sarah’s shoulders and they looked at each other in the mirror. “You look beautiful Sarah. Michael is going to be very pleased.”

“Even if I cannot dance?” Nancy smiled. “Even if you never take one step on the dance floor. I believe Michael when he says everything will be all right.”

Emily’s beau Curtis Walters was the first to arrive at the Stewart home. Emily introduced him to Sarah and Nancy. The rest of the family had met him at previous social gatherings. Curtis bowed “Your servant Miss Stewart. Your servant Miss Adams.” Sarah stepped over to Emily and whispered in her ear,

“He is wonderful Emily. I am so happy for you.” Emily smiled. Curtis offered his arm to the woman he obviously loved and she took it eagerly. Michael arrived shortly thereafter with a friend, Nancy’s escort.

“Good evening ladies.” Michael exclaimed as he and his friend approached. Sarah signed to Nancy how handsome she thought her escort was. Michael kissed Sarah on the cheek and whispered, but clearly enough where Sarah could read his lips. “You are looking very beautiful this evening.” Sarah smiled and blushed, as he knew she would. He rather enjoyed doing that of late.

“Sarah you and Nancy are certainly going to be putting most of the women at the Ball to shame you are both so lovely.” Now it was Nancy’s turn to blush. “Nancy for this occasion I felt that you deserved an escort of your very own.” Michael ushered his friend forward and introduced him. “Cameron Alexander, I would like to introduce you first to my fiancée Sarah Stewart.” Cameron kissed her hand and bowed.

“It is an honor to meet the woman who captured Michael’s heart. So many have tried with no success. Michael you are indeed a lucky man.”

“Thank you so much and I agree with you. But now last but certainly not least may I present your companion for the evening, Miss Nancy Adams.” Cameron took her hand, kissed it and held on to it.

“I am very pleased to meet you Nancy. I feel quite fortunate to have such a lovely lady as my companion. Shall we go?” Cameron put her arm through his own.

“I would be a fool to turn down such a nice gentleman. Yes.” They walked to the carriage.

“How are you doing Sarah? You are shaking a bit.” Michael asked with concern.

“I will be fine.” She touched his hand. He took her hand and put it through his arm then escorted her to the carriage.

***
The reception line was formed near the entrance to the Ballroom so all the guests were greeted. Through the line came several of Michael’s lady friends and all are cordial but one.

"Good evening Lady Eloise," Michael responded as the stern young woman approached him.
"Michael it is so good to see you. It has been so long. I was shocked to hear you were engaged. I always believed you and I..."

"We have always been good friends Eloise, but marriage was never part of our future. May I introduce my fiancee, Sarah Stewart?" So severe was the look Eloise gave Sarah, Sarah was convinced Eloise wanted her dead. Eloise gave Sarah's hand a squeeze and moved on. She smiled sweetly at Michael. Once through the line Sarah could see Eloise talking to the other ladies in her circle. Not long after that the line disbanded all went their separate ways.

Michael took Sarah over to the refreshment table and poured her a glass of punch. She drank it up, she was feeling very warm and parched. Michael smiled as he watched her empty her glass.

“You were thirsty my dear. Would you like some more?” Sarah shook her head no. “Shall we dance?” Sarah looked at Michael and then at the dance floor and indicates no again. “Come with me young lady.” He took her hand, led her to a chair in secluded alcove and sat her down. “Listen to me Sarah. They will be playing a slow waltz and all you have to do is stand on my feet.” Sarah looked at him and whispered,

“Are you mad?”

“Give me your foot Sarah.” She hesitated and he laughed. “Come on give me your foot. You told me you trusted me. Do you still trust me?”

She placed her foot in his hand as answer to his question. Once both shoes were off Michael stood and pulled Sarah to her feet. “Try standing on my feet Sarah.” She picked up her skirts and gingerly stepped on his feet. “See you are not going to break anything.” He began to step back and forth and from side to side. “How does that feel? Feel like you are dancing?”

“Yes,” Sarah said smiling. Michael pushed her shoes under the chair then took her hand and led her to the middle of the ballroom floor. He motioned to the musicians and they begin a slow waltz. Michael placed one arm around her waist, pulled her close to him and she stepped up on his feet.

She was so close that she could not possibly look down and that made her look at him. That was just what he wanted. “Always look at me and you won’t be scared.” They began to move and it felt very good to Sarah. It was almost as if she could feel the music. Their eyes were fixed on each other and were hardly aware of the fact they had become the only couple dancing. When the music stopped Michael stopped and he set her on her own feet.

They turned around and Sarah realized that everyone was clapping. She looked up at Michael a bit confused. Michael smiled. “I am not the only one who thinks we dance together beautifully.” Sarah blushed again and buried her head in his side as he put his arm around her and walked her off the floor. Michael escorted Sarah back to the chair that hid her shoes. She sat down and he sat down beside her. She tapped him on the arm. “You should go and dance some more. Enjoy yourself. I recall several young ladies who still think very highly of you and I am sure would love to dance with you.”

“What is this? Trying to get rid of me so soon? Sarah blushed and Michael smiled. “Stop teasing and go dance.” Michael stood facing Sarah. He then bowed

“Your wish is my command.” He kissed her hand before returning to the crowd of friends. He looked back at Sarah once or twice before he was swallowed up. Sarah sat back and let out a sigh. She was thinking that perhaps this marriage would not be as bad as she had convinced herself this past while. Michael had been very protective.

Not far from where she was sitting the young woman with the lethal glare was talking to several others. “There is no place for that girl in our circle. She needs to return to wherever it is she came from and leave our men alone. Did you know that Michael and I were planning on marriage prior to my having to go to Paris?”

“I was under the impression that going to Paris was your choice,” one of the women replied.

“It does not change the fact that we were to be married. It should be me that Michael is marrying not that gold-digging deaf girl.”

One of the other women piped up, “You may very well be right, Eloise, about her not fitting in here but I would be careful to whom you vent those feelings. It would probably be better to just let Michael go and let things be.”

“Yes. I remember how Michael almost ruined a man because the man said something untoward about his sister Abigail. You do not want to make him angry,” another of the women said.
“Michael would not do anything to harm me. Deep down, he still loves me.”

“Well, whatever you have planned count me out. I want nothing to do with anything that is going to get Michael Townsend angry at me,” still another member of the group replied. Several of the others nodded in agreement. Pamela looked around at her friends.

“Who said I was planning anything. I was just thinking out loud.”

***

Nancy and Cameron were sitting outside when Nancy heard two men talking. “Cameron would you please get me some punch. I am suddenly very thirsty.”

“Of course.” Cameron walked into the house. Nancy got up close to the hedge and listened to a conversation between Jonathan and Curtis.

“I will be receiving only five thousand pounds sterling as a Bride Price. His Lordship feels that he should not have to pay the amount agreed upon because my sister Sarah is deaf.”

“Five thousand sterling pounds will be dowry enough for my parents,” Curtis replied. “Though I think it’s terrible that he thinks that way about your sister. I accept it. May I assume that you give your permission for Emily and I to marry?” Jonathan extended his hand and they shook.

“Congratulations, brother-in-law.”

They then went their separate ways. Jonathan walked away thinking about the card game he was in approximately three months earlier. He would sometimes sit in on a game three or four times a week. This game, he was losing more than he won. That was not unusual for Jonathan. This time he was losing large sums of money. More than he could possible hope to pay back on his own. The people to whom he owed this money were very powerful. They had only given him a short period of time to repay his debt.

The only reason they had allowed him anytime at all was out the respect they had for his dead father. Dire consequences awaited Jonathan if he failed to get the money. He was in a cold sweat. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face. He smiled, however, at the thought of having enough to pay his debt and still have money to spare. He straightened himself up and went inside.

Cameron returned with the punch. After only a few minutes, Nancy politely excused herself. “Cameron would you excuse me? I feel the need to check on Sarah.” Cameron stood when she did. He walked her inside and stayed with Michael as Nancy looked for Sarah. Nancy found Sarah where Michael left her. After hearing what Nancy had to say, Sarah was shocked and tears began to fall.

“Are you sure of what you heard being said?”

“I am sure Sarah. What are you going to do?”


“What can I do? I am honor bound not only to my father, but also to Emily. I am caught in a quagmire of sorts I am afraid.”

The remainder of the evening Sarah spent with Michael and tried to enjoy herself and be pleasant in spite of the thoughts going through in her head. Michael and Cameron saw Nancy and Sarah home. Nancy and Cameron said their good nights then Nancy went inside and Cameron returned to the carriage leaving Michael and Sarah alone. Michael tried to kiss Sarah but she pulled away slightly. “What is the matter Sarah?”

“I am sorry Michael. It is just that I am very tired and I have a terrible headache.”

“I am sorry to hear that you are not feeling well. It makes what I have to say more difficult. I am going to be away on business for a fortnight beginning tomorrow. Will you be all right?”

“Yes I will. Be safe in your traveling. Goodnight.” Sarah walked into the house without another word. Michael walked back to the carriage and ordered the driver to go. He sat down opposite Cameron.
“Michael what happened?” Cameron asked as he saw his friend’s face.
“I do not know. Something is wrong, but I cannot put my finger on it. I am probably imagining things in this stupor I am in.” Later as Sarah and Nancy lie in bed Nancy could hear Sarah crying herself to sleep.

Chapter 7

It had been two weeks since the Ball and Michael was still away on business. What happened the night of the Ball had not been spoken of since, but Nancy had noticed sadness to Sarah’s countenance that had not been there before. They were in the city shopping for the wedding that was a mere month away. There seemed like so much to do yet so little time in which to do it. There was not enough time for a gown to be made so Sarah was looking for one ready-made. Nancy remembered seeing some gowns in Amanda Richardson’s shop so they went there.

They were greeted warmly as old friends and Amanda inquired how they were.
“We are well thank you, but a bit harried. You see Sarah’s wedding is only a month away and she does not have a gown. I thought I saw some wedding gowns in your shop when we were first here. Were they made to order for others?”

“They all were, but one wedding was called off due to the groom’s untimely death in a riding accident. The young woman moved away before final alterations. Would you like to see it? ”

Nancy turned to Sarah and tapped her shoulder to get her attention. “Sarah she has a ready-made gown would you like to see it?” Sarah smiled and nodded yes. Amanda took them to the back of the shop and into a room she used for fittings. “Sarah I am going to wait outside the room. I want to be surprised when I see the gown on you,” Nancy said before she left the room.

The shop owner helped Sarah into the gown. It took a while to don the hoop, the several slips and finally the gown that was slipped over Sarah’s head. There was a long line of covered buttons extending from her neck down to just below her waist and buttons from her wrists to her elbows. Sarah was very surprised that it fit, as if it were made just for her.

The gown was made of ivory satin covered in delicate lace and tiny crystal beads that seem to dance when hit by the light. It had a detachable twenty-foot train and a veil just as long made of the same lace as on the gown. Sarah looked into the big mirror in one corner of the room and began to cry.

“What is the matter? Do you not like the gown?”

“On the contrary. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life and I am amazed that it fits.” They both laughed and Sarah hugged her. Amanda left the room and joined Nancy to await Sarah’s grand entrance. Sarah suddenly appeared and she looked like an angel from heaven. Nancy was in shock and was at a loss for words. Nancy put her hands to her mouth and tears welled up in her eyes. “What do you think Nancy?”

“Sarah the gown gorgeous and you look even more gorgeous wearing it. It is as if it were made just for you.”

“There will be little needed in the way of alterations.” Sarah smiled and asked that the gown be delivered to the house. “I will bring it out personally. When would you like that to be?”

“The wedding is on the twenty-second of next month. I suppose the day prior would be good.”

“So it shall be.” It took Sarah almost as long to get out of the gown as it did to get into it.
Finally, she and Nancy were outside the shop walking down the sidewalk.

“What is next on the list Nancy?” As Sarah looked up for Nancy’s answer, she noticed several people, mostly women, staring at her and Nancy and whispering among themselves. Nancy followed Sarah’s line of sight.

“Nancy why is everyone staring at us?”

“I do not know for certain, but I have a pretty good guess if you care to hear it.” Sarah nodded her head. “I believe a certain young woman has been talking about you around London. Probably that you are deaf and not worthy of marrying the Duke of Eaton. How probable does that sound to you Sarah?”

“Very,” Sarah replied.

“Things people do not understand they tend to belittle and dislike. I believe that their ignorance is showing.” Nancy said loud enough for those closest to hear. Those individuals merely turned up their noses and walked away. “You have to ignore those types of people and concentrate on those people who are kind and respectful.” Sarah and Nancy finished their shopping. They found themselves hungry and decided to stop at a café for a bite to eat. They were enjoying their food when the young woman from the Ball approached them.

“Good afternoon, doing a spot of shopping?”

“Yes, matter of fact we are. We’ve been shopping for Sarah’s upcoming wedding to Lord Townsend,” Nancy replied looking Eloise straight in the eye.

“What brings you into the city? A bit of gossip mongering perhaps?” Sarah asked. Nancy was surprised at Sarah’s boldness, but pleased with the look on the girl’s face. She turned around to leave, but stopped and faced Sarah again.

“You may be marrying him now, but he will be coming to me later.” She left Sarah and Nancy laughing.

***
Sarah had been avoiding Michael since his return. One day Sarah was alone in the morning room when Michael arrived. The butler announced him, but her back was turned so she did not hear. Michael turned to the butler. “That will all thank you.” The butler left the room. Michael walked up behind Sarah and kissed her on the cheek. She jumped out and away from Michael.

“I am sorry if I frightened you.”

“What are you doing here?” He looked at her perplexed.

“I am here to see you of course. We, after all, are going to be married in a week’s time. I haven’t seen much of you in the past weeks. Is there something wrong? Have I done something to hurt you? If so I wish that you would tell so I do not repeat it.”

Suddenly Sarah threw a book at Michael causing him to duck so as not to be hit in the head. “I believe you are angry.” The butler came in after hearing the noise. Michael sent him away. “We do not want to be disturbed please leave us and close the door.”

The butler did as Michael commanded. Michael faced Sarah again. Sarah picked up various items and threw them at Michael just as hard as she could. Michael managed to dodge all but the last object, a wooden tray that hit his shoulder. He winched but stood firm.
Sarah stood opposite him out of breath and crying. “Are you ready and willing to tell me what this is all about?”

Sarah blurted out, “So I am worth only five thousand pounds sterling to you because I am deaf? What are you going to do with the remaining forty-five thousand? Divide it up among your mistresses?” Michael grabbed her arms and looked her directly in the eye.

“I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about”. Sarah tried to pull away but Michael held her tight. “Talk to me Sarah.”

“My brother was overheard talking to Curtis Walters and he said that you would only give him five thousand pounds because I am deaf. Why did you do that Michael?”

“Sarah if what you say is true your brother is lying. I signed a legally binding document for fifty thousand pounds not five thousand. Our marriage may not be one based on love, but I would never demean you in such a way. Jonathan is lying and planning on pocking the excess for himself.”

“Michael, why would Jonathan do such a thing?” asked Sarah. Michael let go of Sarah and they both sat down.

“Perhaps he made some bad investments. He might even have some gambling debts. Desperate people do desperate things.”

Michael stood up pulling Sarah to her feet. “I have some business to attend to. May I come back later? There are some things I need to talk to you about.”

“Yes, please do.” Michael turned to leave when Sarah stopped him. “I am sorry if I hurt you.” Michael kissed her on the cheek.

“Do not worry, you did not hurt me.” Michael walked from the house and once out of Sarah’s sight he rubbed his shoulder. She did hurt him, but he was not about to tell her that.

***

Michael went into the city to his Barrister and had a new Bride Price agreement drawn up. Instead of the money going to Jonathan, it would be placed in an account for Emily upon her marriage.

He looked all around the city and finally found the individuals Jonathan owed money to. He talked to them and came to an agreement with them. They would not do anything untoward to Jonathan and Michael would see that Jonathan was given employment with three-quarters of his wages going to pay his debt to these men. Michael climbed up on his horse for the ride back. He was shaking his head and thinking aloud. “I cannot believe I am helping that little worm. I should let him deal with it on his own, but that would only serve to worry and hurt Sarah.” Michael was just coming to the realization that he truly cared for Sarah. He returned to Sarah and told her what he had done.

“Michael thank you for everything you have done on Jonathan’s behalf.” Michael held Sarah’s hands in his and looked directly at her.

“Sarah, what I did for Jonathan I did because of you and for you alone.”

Sarah’s spirits were lifted as she and Michael talked about things that were more pleasant. He told her of Scotland and the castle where they would spend their honeymoon. Michael then returned to more practical matters. “When we return to Eaton Hall, Mother, Richard and Abigail will have moved to Highbridge.”

“But Michael, Eaton Hall is their home. Could not we live elsewhere?”

Michael put his hand on hers. “Tradition dictates that the Duke of Eaton and his family, meaning his wife and children, reside at Eaton Hall until his death. Mother, Richard and Abigail are well aware of the custom and will be prepared to move.” Sarah looked worried and Michael tried to reassure her. “Do not worry Sarah. Highbridge is a large, beautiful estate only a day’s journey from Eaton Hall. The house is almost as large and it will be staffed. It is not as if they are being banished from their home the way you were.”

Nancy walked into the room she shared with Sarah. She had a glow about her that was very apparent to Sarah who was sitting at the dressing table. Nancy sat down on the side of the bed in almost a daze. Sarah stood and sat next to her friend on the bed. “What has happened to cause this almost angelic glow about you?” Nancy turned to face Sarah with tears in her eyes.
“Sarah, I think I am in love.” Sarah smiled.

“Cameron Alexander? As if there could be any other.” Nancy blushed.

“The one and only. I can hardly believe it myself.”

“And how does he feel about you?” Sarah asked.

“I do believe he feels the same way,” Nancy replied and smiled.

“I am so happy for you Nancy.”

“How was your day Sarah?” Sarah laughed.

“Oh what a day I have had.”

“Tell me everything.” They talked, laughed, hugged and cried with one another. All in all it was a very good day.

Chapter 8

St. Johns filled rapidly as the hour of the ceremony drew near. Sarah was in one of the rooms just off the chapel and Nancy was helping her with her gown. Sarah was trembling badly and Nancy tried to calm her. “Sarah everything will be fine. Do not worry so.”

“Nancy I cannot do this. I want to be married for love not convenience, mine or anyone else’s. I know Michael cares for me, but he does not love me. I care for him as well, but that does not make this the right thing to do.” Nancy’s heart was breaking seeing her friend hurting.

“What are you going to do? Are you going to run away? Sarah this marriage may not be based on love now, but love can develop. With Michael you will be taken care of and want for nothing and your sister will be taken care of.” Sarah wiped the tears away and smiled.

“You are absolutely right Nancy. Things could be so much worse and I cannot let Emily down nor Father for that matter because I am afraid.” Sarah and Nancy turned when the door opened suddenly and Emily hurried in.

“Did you not hear the signal to begin? Everyone is waiting. Sarah you have not changed your mind have you? Please tell me you are going through with the marriage.” Sarah took hold of Emily’s hand and smiled.

“Do not worry Emily. I am going to marry Michael.” Emily sighed in relief. She then pulled Sarah toward the door.

“No one will be getting married if you do not walk down the aisle. Come on everyone is waiting!” The three of them stopped just outside the chapel doors. Nancy and Emily straightened Sarah’s gown.


Emily quietly re-entered the chapel, taking her seat next to Curtis and indicated that Sarah was ready. The music began. Nancy gave Sarah a kiss. “All right Sarah when I start down the aisle I want you to count slowly to ten. When you reach ten you begin walking slowly down the aisle and stop when you are beside Michael.” Sarah nodded. Nancy turned and walked through the doors. Sarah started counting quietly to herself, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten.” Sarah took a deep breath and began her journey down the aisle.

When Michael finally saw Sarah, he let out a sigh. Jonathan sighed as well. Michael had been looking at him quite sternly before Sarah appeared. Sarah reached Michael and took his hand. They then turned and stepped into position so she could read the lips of the priest. Not long after the priest pronounced them husband and wife and said “Lord Townsend you may kiss your bride.” Michael lifted Sarah’s veil, kissed her softly and smiled.

“Hello Lady Townsend, Duchess of Eaton.” They turned to face the guests. The priest introduced them to the guests. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Duke and Duchess of Eaton.” Michael escorted Sarah outside to a waiting carriage that would be taking them to the reception. Once inside the coach with only Michael there Sarah began shaking uncontrollably and crying. Michael said nothing, but held her and comforted her.

It took about twenty minutes to reach the palace and by that time, Sarah had managed to compose herself. The reception was very long and tiring. By the end of it Sarah was exhausted. Michael saw Sarah to their rooms and then he returned to the reception to find Nancy and Jonathan. First, he located Nancy and Cameron. Michael kissed Nancy on the cheek. He looked first at one and then the other. “What is going on between you two? Was I a matchmaker without realizing it?”

Cameron smiled and Nancy blushed. “I think so Michael, I hope Nancy thinks so as well.” Nancy did not say anything, but squeezed Cameron’s hand and Michael’s hand at the same time.
“Well I am very happy for you both. Nancy would you be so kind as to go to our rooms and help Sarah? She is so tired I doubt that she can do anything by herself?”

“Certainly.” Nancy turned to Cameron.

“Do not go away. I will be back directly.” Cameron laughed and assured her he would stay.

“I am not planning to go anywhere my dear Nancy.” Michael walked with Nancy as far as the staircase and he gave her directions to the rooms.

“Please tell Sarah I will be up as soon as I can. I have some unfinished business that I must take care of now.”

Michael found Jonathan drinking with some friends. Without a word, Michael took hold of Jonathan’s arm and pulled him outside and away from the other guests. “Jonathan.” He pushed Jonathan down onto a bench in the garden. “I know what you had planned in regards to the Bride Price once it was in your possession.” Jonathan stood up.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Do not play coy with me Jonathan. It is unbecoming, even for you. I know about you conversation with Curtis Walters and I know about your gambling debts.” Jonathan slumped down onto the bench.

“How did you…?”

“How I found out is a moot point, but you best listen to what I am going to say if you value your life. I had the Bride Price document redrawn. You will no longer have control over the money.

“It will be held in account for Emily’s marriage.” Jonathan stood again and this time took a swing at Michael and missed.

“I have to have the money. I have debts and the people to whom I owe the money will wait no longer.”

“Sit down Jonathan. I know you have accrued quite a large debt, twenty thousand pounds to be exact. I have gone out of my way to seek out your creditors. They have agreed to let you be in exchange for two-thirds of your monthly wages.” Jonathan stood again staggering.

“But I have no position. How can I give them two-thirds of nothing?” Michael could not help but laugh aloud at his brother-in-law in his present state of extreme intoxication.

“Jonathan, sit down before you fall and hurt yourself.” Michael seated Jonathan for the third time. “Someone will be around to collect you early Monday morning. This gentleman will take you to where your work will be. There you will put in a fair day’s work for which you will receive a fair wage. A word of warning Jonathan, should you not work every day and give it your best I will be notified and I will promptly turn you over to your creditors and you will be on your own. The only reason I am even bothering to help you is because in spite of all you have done to Sarah she still loves you and I love her enough to do anything for her.” Michael went upstairs and met Nancy outside the rooms.

“How is she Nancy?”

“She is asleep, for the moment, but she will be fine. Michael, take care of her please. She has never as much as kissed a man until you.” Michael kissed Nancy’s cheek.

“Not to worry dear Nancy. I will be very gentle. I love her.” Nancy’s eyes welled up.

“Michael, be sure to tell her that. She is not at all sure that you do. I know she loves you too, but is afraid to say it.” Nancy left Michael standing alone outside the door. Michael quietly opened the door, stepped inside, and closed it silently behind him. He approached the bed and saw Sarah’s small form huddled under the bedclothes. He sat down on the edge of the bed next to her and gently touched her face trying not to wake her.

A bit later, she woke somewhat confused as to where she was. “Where am I?”

“We are in our chambers. We are married now Sarah.” Sarah suddenly became very frightened. “You have nothing to fear from me. I will not be molesting you in any way. I know that this is your first such encounter and I promise to be as gentle as I possibly can.” Michael was true to his word and it was not at all the horrifying experience Sarah feared it would be.

***

Sarah looked from the carriage in wonder at the beauty of the land all around her. “So these are the Scottish Highlands. How beautiful.” She turned to face Michael. “I have read about this place, but never dreamed of actually being here. Have you traveled here before?” Michael smiled at Sarah and the childlike pleasure she seemed to be having.

“I have been here many times and I hope to bring you here again many more times.”

“Oh, Yes please.”

The carriage pulled into a lane lined along the periphery with big and very old trees. The land then opened up and before them stood Highland Castle, the summer home of the royalty of England for generations and it was massive. “I will surely get myself lost here,” Sarah exclaimed as she tried to take the sight in. Michael laughed and touched her face.

“I do not plan on letting you out of my sight so you need not fear getting lost.”

The carriage pulled to a stop at the foot of steps that led to the main entrance. A man in an ornate uniform opened the carriage door. Michael stepped from the carriage first and then turned and offered his hand to Sarah. She took his hand and he helped her down. The man in the uniform was Sergeant of the Guard.

“I am Rogers, Sergeant of the Guard. Her Majesty instructed me that we are to be at your beck and call, Lord Townsend during your stay at Highland Castle.”

“Thank you Rogers,” Michael replied. Rogers escorted Michael and Sarah inside. Once inside Rogers bowed and excused himself. The butler bowed to them both.

“Welcome to Highland Castle. I am James your butler.” He then introduced them to the staff of ten. “If you will follow me I show you to your chambers.” He ushered them upstairs and by the time they reached the bedchambers, Sarah was already lost. The butler left them alone in the enormous room.

“I have never seen such a large bed in my entire life.” Michael wrapped his arms around Sarah and kissed her.

“That single piece of furniture is all we will need.” Sarah blushed and that made Michael smile. She looked up at him.

“Is that all men think about when they marry?”

“Yes Madam, especially if they are fortunate enough a have such a lovely bride as I do.”

***

Sarah was awakened the next morning by bright sunlight coming through the windows.
She stretched and turned to where Michael had been sleeping and found him gone. She quickly donned her dressing gown. She looked about the room, out the window and out in the hall calling for him. Michael was nowhere to be found. She was frightened. She walked up and down the endless halls calling for Michael. She finally found the staircase, but by this time she was in tears. She screamed out Michael’s name one last time before she crumpled in a heap at the top of the stairs sobbing uncontrollably.

Michael and a couple of the servants came running from the kitchen after hearing the scream. Michael saw her at the top of the stairs and bounded up, two and three steps at a time, as the servants watched from below. He knelt beside Sarah and put his arms around her. He helped her to her feet and led her to an alcove out of sight and hearing of the servants. “Sarah what happened?” Sarah began to hit him with all her might. He took hold of her arms and backed her against the wall with her hands above her head.

“What in the world is going on?”

“You left me alone in a strange place! I went calling for you and I got lost! Why did you do that? Why did you do that when you know how scared I get and after what you said yesterday? You said you were not going to let me out of your sight.” Tears welled up in Michael’s eyes thinking of the terror Sarah must have felt. He let go of her arms and cupped her face.

“Sarah I am so very sorry. I had forgotten. I swear it will never happen again.

“All I ask is that you tell me when you are going somewhere and when you might return and I will not be so frightened.” Michael wiped the tears from her cheeks and kissed her.

“I promise.” He embraced her tightly.

Chapter 9

One day Michael suggested that they go for a ride on horseback. Sarah was hesitant since she had not been on a horse since before her illness, but Michael talked her into giving it a try. After changing into appropriate clothing, Sarah and Michael walked out to the stables. The grooms had their horses ready. Michael instructed her on how to sit on a sidesaddle. “Are you ready?”

“I think so,” Sarah replied. He lifted her up into the saddle and made sure she was secure. He then handed her the reins. The horse moved around and Sarah was frightened. Michael steadied the horse.

“It is all right Sarah.” He mounted his horse, took up her reins as well as his own and walked both horses outside. He handed the reins back to Sarah. They rode a ways from the castle. By that time the sun began to set, they were on their way back to the castle. They were riding along a small rise when Michael’s horse stumbled and fell. Michael was thrown down the hill and landed on his back on top of a log. Sarah screamed and awkwardly jumped from her horse falling to her knees. She quickly got to her feet and hurried down the hill to where Michael was lying. She touched him and he winched in pain. “Sarah my back is injured and I cannot move. You must go for help.”

“I do not want to leave you alone.”

“Sarah you must go.” Sarah was crying.

“I will get lost Michael.”

“Sarah there is a compass in my jacket pocket. Get it for me, please.” Sarah went through his pockets as gently as she could, but it still caused him pain. She found it and he showed her how to use it. “Sarah tell Rogers that I am due north of the castle about five kilometers.”

“Michael…?”

“Go now Sarah. Please go.” Sarah climbed the hill and tried to get on her horse, but she got tangled up in her skirts. Frustrated and scared she finally tore the skirt away. She climbed up on the horse and rode as fast as she could in the direction Michael told her to. It is well after dark when Sarah reached the barracks. She fell from the horse into a mud puddle. She scrambled to her feet, ran to the door and pounded on it. Rogers opened the door. “Lady Townsend! What happened to you?” Sarah tried to speak but was out of breath.

“My husband…hurt…must hurry…” After a few minutes she was able to tell them where he was. Rogers gave some orders and they are off. Sarah was taken back to the castle and cared for.
It was after sunrise when Michael was brought back to the castle tied to a litter. The doctor was there waiting. The men carried Michael upstairs and put him to bed. The doctor then examined him.

“Your back is not broken your Lordship, however it has been traumatized. That would account for the fact that you cannot move your legs. I cannot tell you when or even if you will regain use of your legs. Chances are that in time you will. You will need to lay still and quiet in order to allow the injury to heal. It will not happen overnight.”

“How long doctor?”

“That is hard to say, but in my opinion I would say at least a month flat on your back.” The doctor left Michael and went out into the hall to Sarah. “My Lady, you will need to be very strong. His Lordship’s back is not broken, but his recovery will be slow and difficult for both of you.”
“Will he walk again doctor?” Sarah asked as she wiped tears away.

“Only time will tell my Lady.”

The doctor gave her instructions for his care and a word of warning. “Now, my dear child, a word of warning; your husband will get very angry after a time at his inability to function normally. He will, no doubt become quite verbal and say hateful things that he really does not mean. Do not pay any mind to that.”

“That, doctor, will not be hard for all I will have to do is turn away and I will not hear a word he says.” The doctor looked at her in surprise.

“You are deaf my Lady?”

“Yes, since the age of ten.” The doctor smiled. “I am amazed. I had no idea you could not hear. You speak very well and read lips I imagine.”

“Yes I do read lips. Doctor you are the first person to not think of my handicap as something to be feared and ridiculed. I thank you for that. The servants are afraid of me. They think I am possessed.”

The doctor put his hand on Sarah’s arm. “I will have a word with them before I leave. Superstition is very strong here in Scotland and especially here in the highlands, but please do not let it frighten you. I want you to send for me at any time you feel the need and I will come back tomorrow to see his Lordship.”

Sarah went into the room, sat beside the bed and just watched Michael sleep. She was sitting there when one of the maids entered carrying a food tray. “Thank you very much Millie.”

“You are welcome my Lady.” Millie curtsied and left. Sarah set the tray down on the bedside table as Michael woke up.

“I have some food for you to eat. Keep your strength up.”

“I do not want it. I have nothing to keep my strength up for. I am never going to walk again. I wish I had died in that fall.” Sarah looked at him shocked. “Stop talking that way. You do not know what you are saying. The injury has just occurred. The shock has not yet worn off. The doctor said it would—”

“I know perfectly well what I am saying,” Michael snapped. “It is you who does not wish to hear the truth. I am an invalid Sarah. You are married to an invalid who is a sight less than a normal man.”

“I refuse to listen to any more of this nonsense.” Sarah then turned her back on her husband.

***

Preparations were made to return to Eaton Hall as soon as the doctor felt Michael was stable enough to withstand the journey. News of the accident was wide spread and there were many messages and telegrams waiting when Sarah and Michael arrived back at Eaton Hall.

His family had remained there when they heard about the accident. Michael’s mother, Jane, helped settle Michael in his bed. She was hurt by his cutting words. “Mother Townsend, please do not take offense at what Michael says in pain and anger.” Sarah pleaded when she saw the hurt on Jane’s face. “He does not mean a word of it.” Jane embraced Sarah then looked into her face.

“I know you are right. You have had to deal with quite a lot these past weeks. I am proud of you and very grateful for the love you have for my son.”

Life at Eaton Hall had been strained to say the very least. Michael was showing signs of getting function back in his legs, but despite that he remained very angry. Sarah had engaged a valet for Michael to help take care of his personal needs. Sarah was exhausted and had been ill to her stomach for the past month.

Sarah walked into Michael’s room and the valet left them alone. “Good morning Michael.” Michael looked at her as if she had done something unspeakable, but she disregarded it. She walked to the bedside, took a cloth from a basin on the side table and began to wipe his face.

“Go away from me!” He shoved Sarah away causing her to fall. As she fell to the floor, her head hit the bedside table and she lay motionless beside the bed. Michael yelled for help. The valet hurried in to find Sarah on the floor. Michael was crying, “Please help Sarah.”

Sarah woke in her own bed with the doctor hovering over her. “How do you feel Lady Townsend?”

“My head hurts a bit. Where am I?”

“You are in your bed and this is where you will stay for at least two days.” Sarah started to sit up, but got dizzy and fell back on her pillow.

“I need to care for my husband.” The elderly doctor gave her the stern look of a father.

“Listen to me young lady. You need to take care of yourself and the little one you carry inside you.”

“Little one? Doctor, do you mean…”

“Yes you are pregnant. It is my opinion that you are almost four months along. Another fall such as the one you took today and you may not remain so.”

Nancy came to see Sarah about a week later. “Nancy!” Sarah hurried down the stairs as she saw Nancy walk through the door. Sarah and Nancy embraced one another. “Nancy, what are you doing here? How are you? How is Cameron? How long can you stay?” Nancy held her at arms- length.

“Not so fast! Slow down. Let me take a look at you. You are more beautiful if that is possible. Marriage agrees with you. I heard a rumor that you are expecting. Is it true?”

“Yes it is true,” Sarah replied. Nancy kissed her and hugged her again.

“I am so happy for you and Michael. How does he feel about it? I am sure that he is thrilled.” The smile faded from Sarah’s face.

“Michael does not know about the baby as of yet. He has refused to see me since he shoved me to the floor last week.”

“Michael laid his hands on you? That is not like him.” Sarah nodded in agreement.

“You are absolutely right. He did not mean to do it. He is so filled with anger and self-pity.”

“Is he still paralyzed?”

“Not totally. He is gaining more and more function as the days pass, but Michael has no patience with the healing process or anyone around him.” Nancy put her arm around Sarah and sat her down.

“Do you have adequate staff to take care of Michael until you deliver this baby?” Sarah began to cry.

“Michael has a valet to take care of his personal needs and Michael’s mother has taken charge of the house again. I am neither needed nor wanted here.”

“I do not believe that, however you could probably do with some time away from here. Why do not you come home with me for a while? I am living with Cameron’s grandparents in a large manor. I will be living there until the wedding.” Sarah smiled at her friend.

“You and Cameron? Marriage? When?”

“Next June.”

Nancy stayed the night and she and Sarah spent much of their time talking about weddings and babies. The next morning Sarah began packing to leave Eaton Hall with Nancy’s help. “Sarah you need to tell Michael about the baby. He has the right to know.”

“How do I do that? By telegram? By carrier pigeon? He will not let me within sight of him. I do not think this is something one yells through a closed door.”

“Would you like me to tell him for you? He will see me. I will make sure of that.” Sarah agreed and a few minutes later Nancy was at Michael’s door and knocked.

The valet answered. “Nancy Adams to see Lord Townsend.” Only moments later the valet ushered Nancy in. She kissed Michael and sat down beside the bed. They bantered back and forth for a few minutes and Nancy told him of her engagement to Cameron. After a while, Nancy decided it was time to ask the sensitive question.

“Michael, why have you refused to see your wife for over a week?”

“It hurts to see her healthy and normal and me an invalid. I also hurt her and I cannot face her because of that.”

“Sarah tells me that the doctor has said there has been improvement, that you have some function in your legs.”

“Not enough to walk. Not enough to be a man or a husband to Sarah.”

Nancy stood up and paced the floor by the bed. “If you just give up and lay in that bed than yes you will not get any better. You have given up Michael. You have given up on yourself and on Sarah. You are only as much of an invalid as you allow yourself to be. Sarah could have given up after going deaf, but she did not, even though learning to function in a hearing world has been tremendously difficult.

“She is a remarkably intelligent woman irrespective of her handicap,” Michael said.

“Now you described Sarah as being healthy and normal. If she can be normal with a handicap then if you never take another step in your life you would still be normal with a handicap. Persons with handicaps do not lose their hearts or the ability to love just because something about them does not function. You and Sarah have an advantage over others in that you love one another.

“I know the love is still there. It is just hidden under hurt feelings and selfish pride. Michael, I am going to take Sarah home with me for a while so she can be looked after and perhaps pampered. Your mother will know how to contact us should you change your mind.”

Nancy walked to the door then turned to face Michael. “You are needed Michael Townsend and wanted. When the time comes that you stop wallowing in self-pity and want your family again, they will be at my home.” With that, Nancy left the room and returned to Sarah’s room. Sarah stood as Nancy entered the room.

“Well, what did you tell him? What did he say?”

“I did not tell him, not in so many words anyway. You were right about the self-pity. What I told him was if he wanted his family they would be at my home. He did not catch on immediately, but it will dawn on him and he will be coming to you. She and Sarah departed from Eaton Hall.

***
Nancy introduced Sarah to Cameron’s grandparents. “Welcome Sarah we hope your stay with us is a pleasant one and if there is anything you need or want all you need do is ask,” said Grandfather as his wife nodded in agreement.

“Thank you both, you are very kind indeed,” Sarah replied as tears welled up. Nancy put an arm lovingly around Sarah’s shoulder.

“It has been a long trip for both of us, but especially for Sarah. I am going to get her settled in her room and down for a nap before dinner.” Nancy led Sarah upstairs to her room. “I want you to rest a while you look exhausted.” Sarah lay down on the bed.

“I really am very tired.” Sarah no sooner uttered those words and she was asleep.

Sarah awoke to find sunshine streaming through the windows onto the bed. She sat up and realized that she was still in her traveling clothes. She looked about her. The room was small, but very inviting and comfortable. She climbed from the bed and went to the windows. The first thing that caught her eye was the beautiful gardens and the sight made her smile. There was a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to find Nancy with a breakfast tray.

“Good morning Sarah. How did you sleep?”

“Apparently very soundly seeing that I am still in my traveling clothes.” They both laughed.

“Are you hungry?”

“A little, but you need not bring it to me.” Nancy set the tray down, took Sarah’s hand, led her to a small table and sat her down.

“I intend to see that you are pampered and taken care of, so I will have no arguments.”

“I know better than to argue with you Nancy. You never fail to win in the end anyway.”

Nancy saw to it that Sarah rested and ate well and the two of them would spend their days reading, talking, walking, shopping, and planning Nancy’s wedding, however it was clear for all to see that Sarah was unhappy without Michael regardless of how he treated her the last time they were together. Each day Sarah could feel the baby grow and move within her, filling her with joy that was tempered with a bit of sadness because she was reminded of Michael.

Four months had passed since Sarah left Eaton Hall and Michael had neither come after nor sent for Sarah. The massive house seemed desolate to Michael without Sarah. Michael had been working very hard and was walking on his own again. He was slow and the going was labored, but he was doing it on his own. Cameron and James were Michael’s constant companions and had been through everything.

They constantly reminded him of the two most important reasons for his walking, his wife and his child. Michael had known about the baby almost from the day Sarah left, however he did not feel Sarah needed to deal with him and his recovery along with the pregnancy. He had just recently been writing her letters and keeping her informed of his progress.

One night late Sarah awakened in great pain. Nancy, who was in the next room, ran in. “Sarah what is it?”

“Nancy! The baby!” Nancy woke the household; sent one of the servants for the doctor and another for Michael. The doctor arrived a while later and examined Sarah.

“How is she doctor?” Nancy asked as the grandparents looked on.

“She is resting now. This being her first child labor may take hours.” Grandmother took the doctor’s arm and led him down the hall.

“Come I will see you get some tea and something to eat. You need to keep up your strength as well.”

It was morning and Sarah had not delivered yet. Nancy had stayed at her bedside comforting her and wiping her brow. “Nancy please, send for Michael. This is his baby too. He needs to be here.”

“Not to worry I have already sent for him. He should be here anytime now.” Sarah took a deep breath as another contraction came. The baby was born a short time later. A healthy boy. Sarah was allowed to hold him for a few minutes and then one of the servants took the baby away to be bathed and dressed. About the same time Cameron, James and Michael arrived and rushed inside. They went upstairs and met Nancy and the doctor.

“Nancy how is Sarah?” Michael asked frantically.

“Calm yourself. Sarah is fine Michael. She is very tired, but that is normal after all she has been through.”

“And the baby?”

“Congratulations! You are the father of a healthy son.” Nancy said smiling as she gave Michael a kiss.

“A son?” Michael responded in a choked whisper, tears welling up in his eyes. “May I see my family?” Nancy showed Michael to Sarah’s room. He sat down in a chair next to the bed, leaned forward and touched Sarah’s hand. She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Michael is it really you?”



“Yes, my darling Sarah, it is me, your wayward husband. I am so very sorry for all the pain that I have caused you. In the months since you left my life has been so empty, lonely and very unhappy. Please forgive me.” Michael kissed her hand.

“Michael I have been miserable here without you. I prayed every night that you would come to me.”

“I am here and here I will stay until I can take you and our son home. I can scarcely believe it. I am a father and I have a son. I will never be able to express all the love and gratitude I have for you, for being my wife, my lover, my friend and now for being the mother of my child.” Michael kissed Sarah’s lips. “Speaking of our child, what shall we name him?”

“I was thinking of George Thomas Michael Townsend. If it were not for your father and mine we would not have one another let alone our child.”

“I think that is a fine and honorable name. A fitting tribute to two fine men, fathers and grandfathers.”

“Here is your son.” Nancy announced as she brought the small bundle into the room.

“George Thomas Michael Townsend.” Michael said proudly. Nancy handed the baby to Sarah.

“That is a fine name for a very fortunate boy. He has both of his parents with him the day of his birth.”

“And he will have both of us from this day forward,” Michael replied.

“I will leave you three alone. If you need anything just call.” Nancy left the room and closed the door. Michael stood and walked around to the other side of the bed.

“Michael you are walking!”

“I wanted to surprise you.”

“You did.”

“I am moving slowly, but at least I am moving all on my own.” He climbed up on the bed and lay next to Sarah. Sarah turned on her side and placed the baby between them. Michael looked at Sarah. “I love you Sarah.” He kissed her lips again.

“I love you Michael.” Sarah placed her hand on the baby and closed her eyes with a smile on her face. Michael kissed the baby’s forehead. “We love you George. Your mother and I will make sure that you know the importance of a promise kept.” Michael placed his hand atop Sarah’s hand on the baby and closed his eyes as well.

The End



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