About the book
After the news about her husband’s death in the Atlantic during his service as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Rose Parsons is devastated. Life seems unbearable and she can’t think of loving another man in her life, ever again - let alone carry on with the huge amount of debt her husband left her with.
When she finds herself in the grand mansion of the Duke of Buford teaching his orphaned nephew, her life seems to finally come round: she not only becomes close friends with the Duke’s handsome son, Nicholas, but also discovers a new purpose in life.
Fate though has other plans…
As a terrible accident disturbs the peace of the household, things start to fall apart, one by one...
And all this along with the sudden appearance of an old acquaintance that threatens to destroy all good there is, bringing nothing but chaos and...loss.
God Himself kissed the Earth, but Rose Parsons didn’t notice. She didn’t hear the tittering of goldfinches that bantered across the marsh outside her sewing room. She didn’t smell the sweet summer air through her open windows. No, Rose Parsons didn’t notice because she was too busy fixating her cobalt eyes over the spindle. She was determined not to lose the precision of her stitching. And it didn’t help when she kept pushing away flaxen strands of hair that escaped her woven braid and furrowed over her forehead. No, Rose Parsons didn’t notice because she had other things on her mind.
Shame on me, she thought. Philip will be home from the wars any day and I have yet to finish this suit. I have cast it aside for far too long.
Not that Rose did not have a perfectly plausible excuse for why the garments were not sewn. She had been left alone to tend their tired land, and while the livestock was scarce, and their home, small, there was much to be done in Philip’s absence.
“I will return to you before you can yearn for me,” her husband had promised.
“That is not possible,” she exclaimed, willing herself not to melt into a puddle of histrionics. “You have yet to leave and my heart is already heavy with grief!”
“No, my love,” Philip insisted, grabbing her hands to press to his breastbone. “You must always look to the gate for my arrival, with a smile on your face and the same love in your heart as you have now. That is how I wish to return to you.”
“Allow me to join you,” Rose begged. “I have heard that wives come and tend to the sailors, tending to them as – “
“Who is filling your comely head with such tales?” Philip interrupted, a slight frown overcoming his even features. “And even if such a thing was feasible, who will care for our home? We cannot put such a burden on the Boyles. No, my dove, your place is here, minding the homestead.”
Miserably, Rose had agreed. What else could she do? Her husband had spoken but that did not mean she happily accepted her fate.
Each day that passed brought along with it an unbearable loneliness, one which sometimes brought her to tears as she waited hopelessly at the window, waiting for word—any word that her love was safe. Or that he had finally returned to her.
The mails were slow and Philip’s letters oft damaged if they made it to her. From the high seas of the Atlantic to a tiny land off the beaten path near Dartford was a world away.
In the interim, Rose did her best to occupy the seemingly endless days.
Good news is on the horizon, she thought, her nimble fingers working along the spools of thread. I feel him returning soon and when he does, I will have a fresh suit waiting.
Not that her beloved husband was expecting any such welcoming. Rose was certain the only gift Philip desired was to hold her in his arms again.
Still, she wanted to bequeath him something, even if it was a small gesture of how terribly much she had pined for him in his absence.
Has it only been two years? It seems much longer.
She stifled the threat of melancholy and thought of the future. John Boyle had visited her only the previous afternoon, one of Bridget’s delicious elderberry pies in hand. The mere sight of it reminded Rose she had not eaten in a day and her stomach growled in protest.
“I have news that the fighting is going well in Spain,” her kindly neighbor offered, and Rose smiled. It was a conversation they had exhausted in the past months.
In the beginning, John’s visits had inspired hope with his optimistic reports of the allies disarming the French. Rose had been certain that her Philip would return in due time, just as he had promised.
Yet as the weeks slipped by, she came to understand that John Boyle’s words were merely a placebo, intended to still her overwrought nerves. She could not fault the man for trying to ease her loneliness but some days she much preferred the company of his wife, Bridget, who had a quieter way about her.
“Is it?” she asked, accepting the pie from his outstretched hands. “How wonderful. I pray that the men will return home safely and soon.”
The response was almost automatic, she had said the empty words so many times in the past.
“No, Rose,” he said urgently, surprising her by touching her wrist. “It is going very well. Napoleon has ordered a retreat.”
The words filled her with an unexpected shock and Rose gasped, dropping the pie as her hand reached for her mouth. With stunning agility for a man of his advanced age, John caught the falling pan and quickly placed it on the rickety wooden table.
“Are you certain, John?” she whispered. “Can it finally be?”
A warm smile touched his weathered mouth and he bowed his thinning head of hair graciously.
“I am many things, Rose, but a cruel man is not one of them. I would never make such a claim if I did not have it on good authority.”
Rose fell back against the wall, her hand falling to the slender waistline of her apron, striving to reclaim her stolen breaths. The world around her took on a surreal quality, as if a haze of fog had befallen the interior of her home.
No,she decided. John Boyle hasn’t a cruel streak whatsoever. He must believe what he has told me to be the truth. My Philip is coming home to me.
As she continued to work, a sweet hymn started in her chest and for the first time that she could recall, Rose began to hum a tune. Her mood lifting with the notes of the music, enveloped in the warmth of what was to come.
In mere days, Philip will be home, never to leave again. We will finally begin the family of which we have always dreamed.
A bolt of joy sent shivers through her body as her mind wandered, imaging the pitter-patter of small footfalls filling her ears. They had only been wed a year before Philip had been summoned to war and Rose had clung to the hope that she would greet him with the face of their child in her arms upon his deployment.
None of that is of consequence now, she thought with contentment. How difficult would it have been to raise a babe without his father? It is a blessing I was not lying-in with child when he left.
The needle jabbed into her forefinger suddenly and Rose yelped as a prick of blood pooled on the tip. Raising her hand from the jacket she had been so meticulously altering, she stood, hurrying toward outside to the rain deposits.
As she leaned over a bucket, splashing the sun-heated water over her hand, a dark cloud suddenly overtook the bright sunshine, casting an ominous shadow over everything in her path.
Inexplicably, a sensation of dread swept through her slender form, and Rose straightened her body to turn and stare at the sky behind her. The light of the day had vanished, a humidity filling the air with the smell of ozone.
It is only rain, she chided herself gently. Nothing more.
Yet Rose could not tear her vivid blue eyes from the heavens, as if they were forewarning her of troubles to come. She started as a sharp bleat shattered her reverie. At her side, Dora, the goat eyed her reproachfully.
“Into the barn with you,” she told the animal who made no move to obey.
She continued to eye the mistress of the house with disdain until Rose was forced to tap the animal’s grey rump and send her trampling off toward the red-painted structure.
“Mind the garden!” she called but of course her words were futile and Dora danced through her carefully tended patch with devious relish.
Rose had to chuckle, her momentary sense of unease forgotten. Fat droplets of rain began to splat against the land and Rose stood for a long moment, savoring the feel of the cool against her skin.
She had been so absorbed with her homecoming project, she had failed to notice how hot it had grown within the house.
Rain is welcomed. It washes away the old and renews. It is fitting for what is to come.
Their part of the country was not particularly overcome with inclement weather, but the Boyles oft complained about the frequent washings, the weather affecting their aging bones.
I must check on them and see if they require anything, lest we have a storm incoming.
Her neighbors had always been kind but none more so than in Philip’s absence. Not a day passed without a call from John or Bridget, and Rose had come to see them as the parents she never had.
For their part, they had no children of their own, their only son lost at sea during a fishing expedition in Ireland.
Imagine, finding a family at my age, Rose oft mused but she did not feel any less blessed by the realization.
All her life, growing up among the orphans in Chelmsford, she had yearned for a family of her own, people to love her and nurture her the way she had read about in books. Rose knew very little about her own parents, having been abandoned on the doorstep of a church at the age of one but it had been ingrained into her straw-blonde head from a terribly young age that she was among the most fortunate of girls in her position.
Unlike some of her peers who had been shipped to the colonies or into overcrowded and disease-ridden orphanages, Rose had been brought to an educational institution. It lacked the merits described to the public, the sanitation deplorable, and the nurses dreadful, but Rose was at least afforded the opportunity to read and write.
Moreover, Chelmsford is where Philip found her while on leave in the navy and her life truly began.
Now I have a husband who loves me madly and caring neighbors whom I consider as close to me as any kin I could imagine.
She whirled, her long, thin skirt swirling about her ankles as she hurried through the suddenly driving rain. The chickens scattered as she moved as if abruptly realizing that the sky was falling upon them, squawking in confusion.
Rose made her way to the wooden gate, blinking against the rain as a rumble of thunder filled her ears. A flash of lightning lit the puddling path leading toward the Boyle’s land. The darkness had fallen quickly and without mercy and Rose fleetingly considered turning back to wait for the rain to still some before venturing out again.
No,she decided, vainly attempting to wrest the wet strands of hair from her face. They have done so much for me. It is but a bit of rain. It will not take a minute to call upon them.
Her visibility was not good but Rose would have known her way to the Boyle’s modest property if she had been without sight. Seeing the shape of their clapboard home in the near distance, Rose gathered her sodden dress and began to sprint the remaining steps toward the entranceway.
They are going to send me on my way, dripping like this, she chuckled, amused by the idea. I would not fault them in the least.
As she turned up the path leading to the house, a faint sound caught her attention.
Rose lifted her fine-lined jaw, trying to see past the sheets of water falling from the slate sky. Her heart stopped beating as she realized what she was hearing, knees growing weak.
Can it be?
“Rose? What are you doing, child? You will catch your death out here!” Bridget called from the wraparound porch of her home, but Rose could not acknowledge her.
The approaching horsemen had her full attention. Slowly, her body moved toward the figures, her pulse racing to the rhythm of the horses’ hooves.
“Philip!” she gasped, her voice barely carrying over the wind. “Philip!”
Her long legs pumped along the muddy ground, her careworn shoes catching in the slop, but Rose did not permit her lost footwear to slow her. Waving her arms, tears of happiness began to streak her cheeks as two long years of waiting flooded from her body.
Oh, my love, she cried silently, her body stopping as the two dark horses eased their gait at her approach.
She wanted desperately to compose herself but the emotions were far too strong. She threw her head back, a quivering smile on her lips as the two men in British navy uniforms peered down at her.
“Mrs. Rose Parsons?”
“Yes!” Rose replied but her eyes darted from the speaker to the man at his side, her smile beginning to fade.
“You were married to Lieutenant Philip Parsons?”
The question pushed into Rose like a physical blow, and before he could speak another word, a low, feral wail filled the air.
I am married to Philip! We are currently married! Why did he ask it like that?
She knew precisely why the stranger had asked it in such a fashion. Neither man before her was her husband, the man with whom she would have children and grow old. How could they be? It was clear they had come to give her the worst possible news.
Philip was never coming home.
“Mrs. Parsons?” the younger man called.
A hundred images swept through her mind. Philip smiling at her as they walked arm-in-arm through the streets, his profile as he smoked his pipe, cheeks concaving as he inhaled. She saw him on the day he left, promising to return if she greeted him with the same love she felt in her heart.
You vowed to return to me! You swore it!
She stood in the blinding rain, looking up at the men, a denial ready to spring from her lips. Yet when she opened her mouth to respond, no words escaped.
They are speaking the truth. He is not coming home.
A shot pierced the bright blue sky in a fog of smoke, again startling the peace of the otherwise still morning. With a terrible squawk, the pheasant halted mid-flight and spun dizzily toward the field as the hounds yapped, hurrying to retrieve its fallen body.
“Well done!” the Duke of Buford cried heartily. He cocked his own rifle upward, narrowing a green eye carefully to line his aim. “I daresay you are out-shooting me today, Nicholas.”
“You must have known that the day would come, father,” Nicholas replied dryly, casting his father a sidelong look as the older man steadied his hand. “Surely you must have accounted for such a thing when you taught me to be a skilled marksman.”
The duke chuckled, firing into the flock of birds. He was successful this time and another carcass fell to the ground. Nicholas watched as his father lower his gun and turned to look at him.
“You never fail to impress me, son.”
The words had a warming effect on Nicholas and he smiled tentatively.
“Thank you, father,” he murmured, slightly abashed by the compliment.
It was hardly a secret that the Duke of Buford was immeasurably proud of his strapping offspring. He had good reason.
The Marquess of Buford, Nicholas Frampton was an unusually handsome man of thirty with a shock of thick, ebony hair, stylishly amassed about his proportioned head.
The luxuriant curls spilled against an even set of cheekbones, creating a startling contrast to a set of brilliant emerald eyes. He was taller than any of his peers with a solid, barrel chest and well-formed arms yet there was little which others found intimidating about him. Perhaps it was his brilliant white smile which he flashed frequently and disarmingly or possibly the easy way in which he spoke to everyone. There were no servants or princes in Nicholas’ mind; only friends. Unfortunately, not everyone felt the same and Nicholas learned from a young age about biases and bigotries.
Behind his intense gaze was the noble and highly adept mind of a man who knew too much but did not oft speak his mind. Nicholas had determined early that it was easier to listen than offer his opinion for he learned more in that fashion.
Aside from the marquess’ dashing good looks and fine mind, the Duke of Buford’s son was a decent soul. He found himself cringing even at the sight of the mangled birds the proud dogs dropped before him.
He had been hunting with his father since he was barely old enough to scamper about, but Nicholas did not feel excitement in killing the beasts. At least, he reasoned, they used all the parts of the animals, just as the great hunters had hundreds of years before them.
Meat for eating, feathers, fur and skin for clothing, bones for tools and décor. Nothing goes to waste. Still, tis painful to take another life, no matter how insignificant.
“We shall bring Harry along for the next hunt,” the duke announced, and Nicholas nodded in agreement despite his concerns. There was no need for his father to know Nicholas had purposely avoided bringing the gentle-hearted child along for months. In his mind’s eye, he could see Harry sobbing over the marred form of a red squirrel, who tumbled from the high roof of the estate.
“Fix him, Nicholas!” the boy pleaded desperately. “Do not permit him to die!”
The Marquess of Buford had spent half an afternoon attempting to revive a furry rodent who had died the moment it hit the brake.
He is much too sensitive to endure a hunt at his age, Nicholas reasoned but he knew eventually he would need to stop making excuses for his cousin. It was a male rite of passage, after all, one which could be avoided only for so long. He could not shelter Harry forever just as he had not been sheltered.
I am not his governess.
The duke meant no harm in inviting his cousin along. On the contrary; his father wished only to bond with his young ward as he had with Nicholas.
However, I imagine Betsey would be better suited for such an excursion.
Nicholas forced back a smile as the servants stepped forward to collect their guns and captures. The men mounted their horses, preparing to head for the estate.
“What has you diverted?” Duke of Buford asked, noting his son’s expression.
“I was simply envisioning little Betsey joining us,” he confessed, somewhat embarrassed at the idea as the words left his mouth. It was an inappropriate thought, one he would not have shared with anyone but his father. As he suspected, the duke found the notion equally entertaining.
“I have seen her running amok with the servant children as if she is some feral cat. Eloise has not a notion how to handle her.”
The words were laced with mild admiration although both men knew a girl of ten and two should not behave in such a manner. She was nearing womanhood after all. Whatever wild streak she maintained would need to be broken.
Albeit that may be easier said than accomplished, Nicholas thought wryly.
“I highly doubt anyone will be adept in handling Betsey. Good heavens, she is like an untamed wind.”
“She is not a bit like her brother,” the duke added, and Nicholas bobbed his head in concession. Indeed, there seemed to be little resemblance between the Arlington siblings except they shared the same parents. Or hadshared the same parents.
Lord and Lady Arlington had perished in a freakish carriage accident only three years prior, leaving Harry and Betsey without guardians. Duke and Duchess Buford had immediately opened their lavish home to the displaced orphans, accepting them with the same grace and affection for which they were so well-admired.
Nicholas knew that his parents were refreshed by the sound of small footfalls in the vast halls, a sound they had undoubtedly yearned to hear for years. His mother was devastated by the news that terrible complications surrounding her pregnancy and delivery had left her barren, and crushed the duke’s dream of having a large family.
The news may have ruined another marriage and if Duke Buford had been a different man, he may have turned to other women in his disappointment, but Duchess Buford told Nicholas it had only increased his loyalty to her.
“You will never know who cares for you until you are caught in the middle of chaos, Nicholas. Your father and I may not have chosen one another, but love has kept us together.”
Nicholas had much to be grateful for. Knowing how it would upset his mother, he kept quiet his longing for a sibling. He had long since accepted that he would be a sole child, and given the fortune he had been born into, Nicholas was more than content with his life. There was no need to consider life with a brother. It was simply not in the grand design.
Until the Arlingtons were bestowed upon us. God does work in mysterious ways.
No matter how unruly Lady Betsey might act nor how timid Lord Harry behaved, they were adored additions to Rosecliff Manor and Nicholas was pleased to have them near.
The men started off, leaving the house staff behind. Nicholas adjusted his hunting cap to block the sunlight from his eyes, and the horses retreated into the thick and onto the path leading back to the estate.
“Forgive me cutting our day short, Nicholas. I have several matters to attend prior to the soiree this evening.”
“Nonsense, father. East Anglian matters prevail.”
The duke did not reply. Only the sound of hooves crunching against the dry forest bed could be heard.
“You will attend tonight, will you not?”
The question was strange and Nicholas raised his head to look at his father.
“Of course,” he replied, his brow furrowing in confusion. “When have I ever missed an event?”
“Never. You are as reliable as my pocket watch,” the duke agreed quickly but Nicholas could not dismiss the thought that his father’s inquiry was laced with something underlying.
“Is there something I must know about this evening?”
Another small silence ensued. Nicholas sensed that his father was collecting the words before speaking. Patiently, he waited, knowing he could not pry the answer from the older Frampton’s mouth.
Why do I suspect I know what he is scheming?
“There shall be a number of ladies in attendance,” Duke Buford offered tentatively. “Ones you may not have seen in many years.”
Blimey, Nicholas thought, biting on the insides of his cheeks to keep from grinning. Father has taken on the role of matchmaker in mother’s place.
“Is that so?”
Apparently encouraged by his son’s response, the duke continued with more conviction.
“Indeed. Comely ladies of title and charm.”
“Should I assume you would like me to entertain the idea of wedding one of said ladies?”
“I said no such thing!” the duke snapped but even from where Nicholas sat, he saw his father’s ears tinged pink with embarrassment.
“Oh? Then what are you saying, father?”
The duke grumbled something incoherent under his breath, but Nicholas could not help laughing aloud when he heard his mother’s name escape his father’s lips.
“I merely jest, father,” he interjected before the duke could further work himself into a sulk. “I am pleased to meet with any of the fine ladies whom you present.”
His father turned to stare at him suspiciously.
“You have decided to marry?” he asked curiously, his eyes narrowing slightly as if sensing a trap.
“I am not courting anyone, father,” Nicholas reminded him softly and the duke’s back seemed to tense as he watched.
“However,” the younger man added quickly, detecting a lecture. “As I have said many times, I am not opposed to marriage when I find my true love.”
He watched as the duke’s shoulders visibly lowered in relief.
“That is all we ask of you,” his father replied gruffly. “Your mother and I know precisely what perils arise from a loveless union. We would never infringe such a cold future upon you. Your happiness will reflect in the way you run Buford and Rosecliff. That joy begins in a home filled with affection, not bitterness. There are those who claim that its benefits reflect in childbearing also.”
Nicholas thought he heard a note of wistfulness in his father’s voice.
“Yet you wish I would find love at a more rapid pace,” Nicholas finished, an uneasy smile twisting upon his mouth.
“Nicholas, you are the most eligible bachelor in East Anglia. You have no shortage of ladies-in-waiting deigning for your affections and attention. While we would never force marriage upon you, we cannot help but wonder what is it that keeps you from finding love?”
The duke did not wait for a response, urging his burnt coat thoroughbred forward with a dig of his heels. Nicholas allowed his father ahead.
Mother is determined to have her grandchildren, he thought, shaking his dark curls ruefully but he knew his father was just as eager to see him wed as Duchess Buford.
To Duke and Duchess Buford, it mattered little that his blood was royal nor that he was the heir to Rosecliff Manor. His parents were no different than any others; they longed for their son to marry and begin a family.
And yet they are so much different. Who else can boast such an apollonian life, particularly when they claim noble heritage? It is not heard of.
The duke and duchess were wise enough to keep their liberal beliefs within the walls of Rosecliff Manor, knowing that some of their views would not be well-received by some of their more traditional-minded peers.
I imagine now, however, that others have begun to talk, wondering why the Marquess of Buford has not taken a wife.
The answer was simple enough for Nicholas; he had not found love. There had been several whirlwind courtships with ladies of standing and one affair with a schoolmarm in Ipswich.
Each relationship had begun warmly, filled with hope and promise but none had made it through the initial phases of romance faltering anticlimactically into nothingness. He had ended each tryst with disappointment but none more so than his former lover.
After all, he was the Marquess of Buford, Nicholas Frampton. Who would not wish to wed him and secure her future and the future of her family?
He considered that he was disillusioned, concerned that the women he courted thought of him as security and little else. Nicholas found himself wondering if perhaps he had expected too much.
For generations, parents had been making matches for the children and for hundreds of years the world had continued.
Is the idea of love a silly, childish notion, aroused only by fairy stories, or is there a woman I have yet to find out there, somewhere, fated to be with me?
Nicholas slapped the reins against the Arabian’s sleek back and he neighed softly, kicking his hooves into the dirt to increase speed. The duke was almost out of sight and Nicholas rushed to keep pace.
Whatever his future held, Nicholas knew he would embrace it with his usual aplomb and dignity. He was a Frampton, after all.
I will always do my father proud.
The veil blocked her ability to see the world around her with clarity but as Rose tried to move it from her face, she could not.
“Are you well, child?” Bridget whispered from her side as she watched Rose fumble to remove the covering from her face. “What in heaven’s name are you doing?”
Am I well?
The inquiry was almost farcical but Rose could only stare straight ahead through the shroud of blackness. There was nothing amusing about anything which had happened, not in the least.
“Why can I not move the veil from my face?” she murmured.
A gentle squeeze on her arm caused her to look at her neighbor.
“Rose, you are not wearing the veil any longer. You discarded it when we returned from the church.”
Her blue eyes caught Bridget’s brown ones uncomprehendingly.
“How can that be when I cannot see?” she demanded.
“Come along, my dear,” the motherly woman urged, pulling Rose to her feet. “You must eat something and rest before you faint. Dr. Bernard fears he is running low on smelling salts at the rate you continue to drop.”
Rose tried to protest, to explain that she needed to sit and address the mourners who had come to pay their respects. Sailors, neighbors and friends milled about, speaking in hushed tones as they celebrated the life of the man with whom she had spent so little time.
They knew him better than I, she realized, her heart growing impossibly heavier.
She stared from person to person, waiting for someone to flash her a disarming smile and proclaim the wake a hoax.
Any moment, Philip will walk through the door, tittering that I believed such an awful truth. He will embrace me, even before all these people and tell me that he would never leave me, not when our lives have not yet begun.
She felt bile bubble in her stomach as she realized that none of that was to occur. Her eyes rested on the face of the man who had borne her such tragic news. Captain Daniel Balfour met her gaze, his piercing grey eyes boring into hers with too much intensity.
Rose’s breath caught in her throat as she looked away, unsure of why his stare unnerved her so deeply.
He is the man who shattered your life with a few short words, Rose reminded herself. Tis only natural that you would feel discomfort in his presence.
“Come along,” Bridget insisted. “You must keep up your strength, child. It is what Philip would expect of you.”
Hearing his name made her wince as if a thousand blades pierced into the depth of her soul.
Do I have a soul any longer or has it died now that my love is gone?
Bridget steered her from the parlor toward the galley, carefully blocking the well-meaning grievers from communicating but Rose hardly noticed. In her mind, there was still a strange shroud about her eyes, stopping her from seeing the outpouring of good intent.
Bridget shooed the gathering of women from the kitchen and gently steered Rose into a chair. She then turned to collect a plate of food for her to eat.
“From where had all this come?” Rose asked suddenly, looking about in surprise at the mass of dishes piled along the countertops.
There were meats, breads and pies as far as the eye could see. Sweets and cheeses perched almost precariously over the edge of the table, taunting the house mice from their hiding spots in the shadows.
“The parish, of course. Philip was a well-loved member of our community and you are still one of us. We will not see you starve in your grief.”
“It is too much!” Rose protested, blinking. “It will go to waste. Bring it home to John.”
“Nonsense,” Bridget barked, her tone oddly harsh and Rose stared at her in surprise. Instantly, the older woman’s face showed contrition.
“I only mean that you are growing frail in your sadness. Philip was a hero who must be remembered for his bravery. You must honor his memory with strength, Rose. You cannot merely waste away.”
It is so easy for her to say such things, Rose thought with some bitterness. Her husband still lives. She had the opportunity to bear him a child. I have nothing now, no one. I am an orphan once more.
“You must eat, Rose,” Bridget insisted. “Please.”
Rose knew that arguing would only be a waste of energy she simply did not possess, and she reluctantly accepted the plate which her neighbor held in outstretched hands.
She means well. You must not act disorderly toward Bridget when she and John are all you have now. You must not drive them away.
Bridget gingerly sat across, studying the younger woman’s face and Rose wondered what she saw. Did the older woman still see a porcelain skinned girl with bright blue eyes or did she see precisely what Rose felt; a devastated soul without hope?
Bridget nodded toward the untouched plate and Rose stifled a sigh, bringing a piece of bread to her waxen lips. It was tasteless in her mouth, as if she was consuming sawdust, but she continued to chew, if only to appease Bridget.
She is correct; I benefit no one by falling to pieces.
Since learning of Philip’s death three days earlier, Rose had fainted several times. The exhaustion and anguish was too much for her to bear.
I am already earning a name for myself as weak. I cannot proceed in such a fashion.
“How are you faring, Mrs. Parsons?”
She heard a voice from the doorway and looked up, her heart hammering wildly as she stared at Captain Balfour.
“As well as can be expected,” Bridget responded for Rose, a noticeable tension in her tone. “She needs rest.”
“Of course,” the captain agreed cordially. “I only wished to pay my respects, but I must return to my home in Colchester.”
“Wait!” Rose cried, casting her dish aside to rise. “Please, do not leave yet! I need to know about Philip’s last days. How did he…”
She trailed off, unable to speak the word aloud but Bridget cleared her throat rudely, shaking her head.
“That is hardly a discussion for this moment, Rose,” she interjected as Captain Balfour opened his mouth to respond. “Captain, we wish you safe travels.”
“You may call on me. I will submit my post to a reading member of the household…”
Now he stopped speaking, appearing embarrassed by his gaffe as he gazed about, seeking such a person. Rose could almost read his thoughts, Who in such a modest home would have such capabilities now that Philip was gone?
“I can read, sir,” Rose told him with surprising sharpness and he appeared taken aback by the revelation. “While I am not quite a bluestocking, of course.”
“Of course,” he replied smoothly. “And I shall leave my address. I do hope you will use it if you should find yourself in need of comfort.”
He turned stiffly, leaving Rose to stare after him with eyes filled with yearning.
“Why did you cut him off?” she asked, anger coloring her voice. “I must know what happened to Philip.”
“For what purpose, Rose? It will not bring your husband back to you.”
“Yes but - but–” she sputtered, her mind wrought with confusion. Bridget did make a good point. There was no real need to understand the gory details of her husband’s death.
I always expected this news. Why do I handle it so poorly? I was prepared for it.
“I must know!” Rose choked, and her neighbor patted her hand as if she was a small child in need of placation.
“You will,” Bridget assured her, her tone softening. “Simply not today. Today, you must eat, rest and celebrate Philip’s life.”
The little I had to do with it.
Her heart was broken to realize the men in uniform had spent more time with her beloved than she. Yet Rose did not protest, sinking back into the chair with Bridget’s guidance as if she had lost all ability to fight.
“Finish your plate,” the older woman insisted, and Rose dutifully reached for the dish.
I must listen to Bridget. She has mourned the loss of her son. She understands the pain I am feeling.
The knowledge did not make Rose hurt any less.
A gentle clanging roused Rose from a fitful sleep. She lay in her bed, her long fingers wrapped into the quilt serving as an anchor through her nightmares.
In her dreams, she was on a sinking ship, engulfed in raging flames, Philip just beyond her reach.
“Do not go further!” she cried. “Come back!”
He did not seem to hear her as he surged toward the men who shot guns from the side of the massive ship, the din of war filling her ears.
“Philip!” she screamed but he was falling to the ground in a cloud of gun smoke and as she howled, rushing toward him, the smoke stung her eyes until she could see him no longer. Captain Balfour appeared, looming over her with a cruel smile, his thin lips curled over his crooked, yellow teeth. His sooty eyes were the same color as the grey of the smoke encasing them both.
“There is nothing you can do now, Rose. He is lost at sea.”
Rose began to scream until her eyes parted and she realized she was safe in the warmth of her bedchambers.
The rattle below her bedroom grew louder and Rose sighed, raising her body upright. She still wore the black dress and for a moment, she could not recall retiring to her bedchambers but slowly, the vision of Dr. Bernard standing over her returned. Idly, she wondered how long she had been asleep.
Surely not more than a few hours, she reasoned as she made her way toward the staircase.
“Bridget?” she called tentatively, descending the stairs. “Is that you?”
She followed the voice into the galley where her neighbor tended to the offerings left by the kind townspeople.
“Has everyone gone?”
“Yes. You needn’t be up.”
“I am feeling much better,” Rose assured her quickly. “Leave this and go to John.”
“John is rounding up the livestock,” Bridget answered gently. “I believe Dora has terrorized the chickens again and sent them running through the fields and into the swamps. He will collect me when he has finished.”
Bridget smiled and shook her head.
“I do not know how you manage with that nanny goat. She is the devil incarnate.”
Rose was momentarily at a loss of what to do and she stood awkwardly, watching as Bridget skilfully wrapped the food to keep it safe from critters.
If not for the Boyles, the animals would have been untended, Rose realized with shame. She had not once considered her livestock since receiving the news.
“I have been insufferable these past days,” Rose sighed. “Forgive me.”
Bridget paused and looked at her with sympathetic eyes.
“Nonsense. There is no greater anguish than losing a love. You have held up quite well.”
She is being kind. I have been incorrigible. I haven’t a clue how she has indulged me.
“Please, Bridget, permit me to do this,” Rose insisted, stepping further into the kitchen. “I must grow accustomed to the idea that Philip is not returning.”
Bridget examined her with wise brown eyes.
“Rose, I do not mean to sound crass but you have been alone for two years. It is not much of an adjustment.”
A flare of indignation shot through Rose’s body.
“It is!” she proclaimed. “I have spent this time pining for my husband, certain he was days from returning. Now I am left with the reality that I will never see him again, never hold him, never bear his children – “
Her voice cracked. Bridget hurried toward her, embracing Rose’s quivering body in her arms.
“Hush now, child. You are much stronger than you believe. You will prevail and move on with your life.”
“What life?” Rose insisted. “I am twenty and four, an orphaned widow without heirs! What future could I possibly have now?”
“You are being melodramatic,” Bridget sighed. “You will remarry and become a mother. There is no greater gift than that of motherhood.”
“Remarry?” Rose gasped, pulling herself from her neighbor’s arms. “I have no desire to remarry! My husband is dead and there cannot be another for me.”
Bridget smiled mirthlessly.
“You cannot know what God has planned,” she replied. “You must not close your eyes to possibilities.”
The words made Rose’s stomach churn. She knew Bridget was attempting to comfort her, but the woman’s statements only added to her already insurmountable sadness.
“You will see. I will die here, on our land, alone and childless.”
Bridget did not respond but Rose caught a shadow of worry cross over her wrinkled cheeks.
“What is it? Why do you fret?”
“The pastor has left something for you,” Bridget announced, wiping her hands on her apron before reaching for a small satchel and sheet of paper. Rose reached for them, her eyes narrowing in confusion.
“What is this?”
“Donations,” Bridget replied quietly. “From the district.”
Rose quickly scanned the letter, her pulse quickening.
Dearest Mrs. Parsons, it read. The congregation has come together to assist you in your time of need. We hope our donations will help you through this trying occasion. God bless you. Pastor Simmons.
A warm flush started in Rose’s chest as the note fell from her hands, slowly creeping up her neck to overcome her face. Suddenly, Bridget’s concern was blindingly clear.
Rose could not simply exist on the small farm alone, waiting out the rest of her life. While the land brought in a meager income, it had been Philip’s salary which had sustained them. Without his pay, there would be no land, no home in which to live her remaining days alone.
How will I make the rent without Philip?
A now-familiar wave of dizziness enveloped her, and Rose swooned, falling back against the wall.
“Rose, you mustn’t panic,” Bridget called, hurrying to her side.
“How can I not?” Rose breathed. “Soon I will be living in a gutter!”
“Nonsense!” Bridget growled. “John and I will never allow for such a thing!”
I am not their responsibility, Rose thought, willing herself to breathe evenly, despite the mounting distress she was feeling. Yet I cannot live off the kindness of the community either. I knew from girlhood that I would be alone. Philip only managed to make me forget that for a short while before he left me too. I will find a way. I have always found a way.
She stared blankly at Bridget, her mind awhirl.
“Rose, this truly is a matter for another time. Please do not concern yourself until you have aptly dealt with your loss.”
She shook her blonde mane, blinking away her tears.
“By then it shall be too late,” she murmured. The truth of her statement took her breath away once more.
“What will you do?” Bridget asked nervously but Rose had no answer.
She was a widow without skill, family or children. What future could she possibly have?
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