About the book
Their souls were two parts of a whole, calling out to each other…
With both her parents gone, Miss Eliza Snowley has only her sister to rely on. Left in the care of their cousin and his cruel wife, they are torn from their family home and moved to London.
Alexander Barnet, the Duke of Dewmire, guards his heart like a stolen secret. Having already lost love once in his lifetime, trusting his heart to someone new seems daunting. Until the day he meets Eliza, and the tune her fingers play, strum against the strings of his heart.
With a persistent charmer vying to drive him out and Eliza’s chaperone dictating her every move, their love seems doomed to fail. An unexpected tragedy brings them closer until a rainy night comes with dangerous tidings. A letter detailing the event that destroyed Alexander’s life and a promise to do it again...
“Do I look all right?” Alice asked, smoothing the front of her black muslin gown. Her sister, Eliza, smiled adoringly.
“Of course you do. You always look perfect,” Eliza answered sweetly. “Besides, it is not the Queen come to call, only our cousin’s wife.”
“Still, I wish to look my best. After all,” Alice paused to sniffle quietly into her handkerchief, then recovered to add, “she is now to be the mistress of Euthoria Park.”
Eliza was quiet as she finished inspecting her own mourning gown. True, Father’s death had not been unexpected, as he and Mother both had suffered from consumption for quite some time. Mother’s death a year ago had been hard on all of them, and Eliza had thought losing Father in the same way would at least be familiar.
Instead, it had left the sisters drifting as if capsized at sea, lost in the waves of a tormenting ocean storm, clinging for their lives to a narrow piece of wreckage. To feel as though their parents had been replaced—another truth that was not unexpected due to Father leaving no male heirs—stung as brutally as their loss.
“Gideon has spoken so fondly of Mrs. Snowley,” Eliza reassured Alice, “and I cannot wait to see little Perry again. He has certainly grown up over these past few years, I’m sure of it.”
“Is it not odd that we have not entertained our cousin’s wife nor our small nephew in all this time?” Alice asked, looking towards the door to be certain she wasn’t overheard. “Gideon has been here since Mother’s death, and we’ve yet to have Mrs. Snowley or their son come to visit.”
“As for myself, I cannot envision it,” Eliza admitted, pausing with a ribbon in her hand. “To not see my own son for nearly a year, and at such a young age? But nonetheless, Gideon had much to learn from Father about taking possession of the house and the lands. And with Father too weak to offer much in the way of instruction, I’m sure it was for the best that the mother and child stay away and let them work.”
Alice nodded quietly, though Eliza could see by her reflection in the glass that she was still perplexed. True, Mrs. Snowley had remained at their somewhat small estate a great distance to the north. Perhaps her fears of traveling with their young son had prevented her from arriving before now. Nevertheless, she would be here shortly, and would be here for good.
“My only worry is what’s to become of us once Gideon and his wife are the owners of Euthoria Park?” Eliza said quietly. “I know Gideon loves us like a brother, but I cannot say that I know Mrs. Snowley well enough to think that she might be of the same mind.”
“You don’t think…” Alice stopped, her face a mask of horror. “You don’t think she might turn us out?”
“No, Father’s will would never have permitted it. I’m far more concerned that she might insist on speedy marriages for us both, though, mostly to have us out from underfoot.” Eliza grimaced at the thought.
True, she and Alice were both somewhat advanced for young ladies of wealth, Eliza already having reached her twenty-first birthday and Alice nearing the age of three and twenty. But since their father’s great wealth had come from prosperous land holdings and sound investments rather than old family fortunes or titles, there had been no rush to secure a good match that would advance a Duke or an Earl. In truth, with both of their parents so deathly ill, neither girl had given much thought to having a Season or seeking a good match.
“Misses, your guests have arrived,” their housekeeper, Mrs. Carroll, called out through the closed door. “They will be pulling up to the house any moment.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Carroll,” Alice called out, ever the thoughtful, kind sister.
“Come, let us greet Mrs. Snowley in the way she will surely expect, if not necessarily deserve,” Eliza said as she rolled her eyes, though Alice caught her arm and pulled her back.
“Eliza,” Alice said with a hint of warning in her tone, “you mustn’t be impudent. That is a trait that is barely tolerable in a younger girl than you, and you cannot rely on your impish beauty to help you get away with it. You are a young woman now and must comport yourself like it. Remember, as mistress of the house, Mrs. Snowley now has the authority to have our cousin’s ear and complain of any insult or antics.”
“I know,” Eliza said, struggling to keep her tone civil. In truth, her irritation was not with Alice and it was rather unfair of her to heap it on her shoulders. “Hurry, or we shan’t be there the moment her bottom leaves the carriage seat.”
Alice sighed and followed Eliza down the stairs. In truth, Eliza knew she was being petulant, but she’d not had a pleasant history with their cousin’s wife. The woman was rather haughty, disdainful of the fact that someone with Nestor Snowley’s vast wealth should not have a title to go with it; in her esteem, the only function in having both money and two daughters such as Eliza and Alice was to marry them to penniless Dukes in order to produce titled heirs.
Gideon paced nervously at the bottom of the staircase, waiting for his cousins to come down. His nerves seemed to abate somewhat as they came into view.
“Ah Eliza, Alice! You look as lovely as ever,” he said, cringing when he realized he had just complimented their beauty while they were still dressed in mourning. He cleared his throat and said, “Betsy will pull up to the house in only a moment. Remember, she is… somewhat particular about a great many things. But never fear, she will adore you, I’m certain of it!”
He tugged nervously at the black ribbon fastened around the sleeve of his coat until it came apart altogether. Alice hurried forward to help him adjust it.
“Do not be troubled, Gideon, I know she will be very happy here in her new home. And Eliza and I are grateful to you for honoring Father’s wishes and keeping us put up in the only home we’ve known.” Alice patted his arm and smiled when she’d finished, right as a liveried footman opened the front door.
There were no words to describe the grand entrance Mrs. Snowley made as she appeared. Her gown was of such an overdone style that Eliza wondered briefly if the woman was, in fact, leaving shortly for the opera. Flounces and ribbons and layers upon layers of gauzy muslin drifted around and behind her as she slowly entered, her eyes already roving the room to take in its finer features. When her eyes finally settled on Gideon and the sisters, her expression soured as though she had just been assaulted by an exceedingly unpleasant aroma.
“Mr. Snowley, I would rather have thought you’d greet me outside. It has been a year since we’ve seen one another, after all,” she said, ignoring Eliza and Alice as she sneered at her husband. “If you had no great affection for me in all this time, you could have at least come out to greet your son.”
“Ah yes, Perry!” Gideon said, ignoring his wife’s jabs and looking past her. “Where is the lad?”
“He insisted upon going to see the ducks in the pond, so Miss Travers has taken him,” Mrs. Snowley replied. She picked up a silver bowl from a nearby table and inspected it briefly before returning it to its place, then turned a vase of flowers this way and that until it faced a direction she liked.
“So these are my cousins,” Mrs. Snowley said, a brief smile on her face that broke as she looked at the cut of their gowns. “Are those the same mourning gowns you wore when your mother died? I do hope you don’t simply keep them hanging in the wardrobe for the next relative who passes on.”
No one spoke, then suddenly Mrs. Snowley broke out into a high-pitched scream of laughter. “I am only teasing,” she said, though Eliza and Alice failed to even smile at her attempt at humor.
Mrs. Snowley looked around again and said, “Tell me, where are all the servants? I would have thought they would have been outside to await my arrival as well.”
“Well, my dear,” Gideon said, looking awkwardly at his cousins, “it is a rather hot day and we were not sure of the hour of your arrival. And they all have their duties to attend to. I’m certain you’ll meet them soon enough. Ah, see? You’ve already met the butler outside, Walford, and this is the housekeeper, Mrs. Carroll.”
The housekeeper stepped forward primly and folded her hands, a pleasant look on her face. Mrs. Snowley stared her down as though inspecting the woman closely, though Mrs. Carroll only serenely endured it.
“Does she not curtsey to the mistress of the house?” Mrs. Snowley asked, addressing Gideon. He looked around to Eliza and Alice, the older of whom shook her head ever so slightly.
“No, my dear,” Gideon said very quietly, clearly embarrassed by his wife’s question. “That is a privilege reserved for nobility. Though we have inherited a modest fortune, it is not required of someone of her position.”
“Hmmm. Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time with my titled friends,” Mrs. Snowley simpered, turning away from Mrs. Carroll and walking towards the door to the drawing room. “Their servants extend such courtesies to all of their betters. Speaking of which, how many servants are there?”
Gideon looked to Eliza, who only shrugged her shoulders in reply. Alice stepped forward and said, “All told, there are close to twenty, Mrs. Snowley. Then there are the stable hands, the tenant farmers who live on the perimeter of the property, and lastly, the steward.”
“Forty? For a house and property of this size?” Mrs. Snowley said, turning around and looking at Alice sharply. “How ever did you manage, unless you were doing the cooking and the washing yourself?”
“No, Mrs. Snowley,” Alice replied meekly. “We did live a rather simple country life, though, especially as our parents have been so ill for such a long time.”
“Country life?” Mrs. Snowley repeated, snorting derisively. “You’re so far from London it’s a wonder you can find this estate on a map.”
“My dear, be kind. We’re not so far from the city as all that. It’s but a short carriage ride. Why don’t we go up the stairs and see your chambers?” Gideon suggested, effectively ending his wife’s judgment on the house and its appointments. “You have a lovely view of the gardens from your bedchamber, and your morning room and dressing room have been recently restyled. Of course, you’re free to select any furnishings you might need.”
That promise of a buying trip seemed to placate the woman—at least for a few moments—as she took her husband’s arm and let him lead her up the stairs. She turned back only once to look down at Eliza and Alice with an unreadable expression, then continued walking without another word.
“Why, hello Eliza! It is lovely to see you again,” Eliza said with a high-pitched falsetto once Gideon and his wife had disappeared down the upstairs hall. “I’m ever so sorry about your dear parents, I know how this tragedy must have wounded you.”
Alice giggled then immediately clamped her hand over her mouth. “Shh, we mustn’t be unkind!”
“Why Eliza, Alice, look how you’ve grown since I last saw you, you’re now beautiful young ladies. Oh, what’s that? Alice, you painted this? Why, it’s simply astonishing! What a rare talent you are!” Eliza continued, crossing the foyer to a painting that hung over a small table filled with flowers. “And my word, Eliza, is that your pianoforte in the drawing room? You must play for me, I do love music and Gideon has written to tell me of your extraordinary ability.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “You and I are not so lofty in our achievements, I’ll remind you.”
“What?” Eliza continued in a peculiar voice, her eyes widening as she continued her game. “No, I could never. I couldn’t possibly take your room Alice, not when there are so many others in this house that are equally grand. And not when I know how much the daylight matters while you are painting.”
“Be fair, Eliza, she must not have known about that when she asked for the room,” Alice reminded her sister.
“Asked?” Eliza said, returning to her own voice and pinning her sister back with a pointed look. “She did not ‘ask’ anything. She demanded. It was in her letters that she was to have a room facing the east and overlooking the gardens. It was so detailed, in fact, it is almost as though she had sent someone ahead of her to provide her with information about the house.”
“That cannot be true,” Alice said, then she smirked as she added in a low voice, “If it were true, she would have already known how many servants there are!”
Eliza hid her laughter behind her hand and pressed her other hand to her midsection, quieting the great gasps for air. “Come,” she finally managed to say, “let us go look for Perry. Perhaps he is not so insufferable as his mother?”
“Be kind,” Alice reminded her sister gravely as she slid her hand through her sister’s arm. “Like it or not, this is no longer our home. We are here but by the charity of our cousin and the tenuous legal proclamation of Father’s will. We must be kind and grateful at all times for we need them, Eliza, and they most certainly have no need of us.”
“I know,” Eliza said for what felt like the hundredth time since learning of Mrs. Snowley’s impending move to Euphoria Park.
They left for the outdoors to go in search of their youngest cousin, wholly unaware that Mrs. Snowley had stood looming at the bannister, a hateful look on her face as she took in Eliza’s mockery.
“So, our begrudging ladies don’t think so highly of my presence here,” she said to Gideon, who fidgeted nervously at her side. “Let’s see what they think of going on a little trip.”
Alexander Barnett tugged on a pair of brown leather gloves as he walked past the drawing room at Dewmire, ready to set out for a morning ride. He peered in as he passed and saw his mother sitting on a sofa with her small writing desk on the table in front of her. Her pen was still poised in her hand, but she was staring out the window.
“Mother? Are you all alone in here without anyone to keep you company?” he asked pleasantly.
“Ah yes, Alexander,” the Dowager Duchess answered, brightening when she saw him. “I was writing a letter to my sister and saw the most marvelous red bird out the window there. I’ve just been watching him, enjoying how he flits from branch to branch without a care in the world.”
Alexander smiled. His mother was so like him, completely enamored of a mother hare leading her kits through a hedgerow, yet wholly uninterested in attending a ball or some event.
Noting his riding habit, the Duchess asked, “Are you going out?”
“Yes,” Alexander answered, nodding. “But I am happy to take you for a ride in the park instead, if you’d like. We can take the carriage into London or the phaeton if you’d like the fresh air and a more comfortable turn.”
“Oh no, go and enjoy your fun,” she assured him, reaching up and giving his hand a pat. “We’ll plan it another day. Didn’t you say your friend was expecting his wife to arrive today? You should go and pay a call.”
“Thank you, Mother, I might do that. It’s a rather long way to Euthoria Park, but the weather is certainly fair. I’ve only been over to see him twice since he came to stay there, as business has kept both of us busy. In any event, I shall strive to be home for tea, but I will certainly dine with you this evening,” Alexander promised her. He bent and kissed her upturned cheek, then bade her goodbye.
Poor Mother, locking herself away in that house, Alexander thought miserably. She never calls on anyone, she rarely entertains visitors, she does not even take a ride unless begged to.
True, his father had been gone for nearly three years now, leaving Alexander and his mother to keep Dewmire. It had been a terrible tragedy, a shipwreck in a storm while traveling to Spain on business for Parliament. But it seemed as though part of his mother’s heart had gone down in the waves as well. She had never been the same since the loss of him and she often woke in the night, unable to sleep and merely walking the floors.
“I could only hope to have the sort of love my parents shared, but seeing how grief has grabbed hold of her, I don’t know that I want it,” he’d told a friend once. “No, give me a solid marriage of fortunes whose only purpose is to secure wealth and titles and produce heirs. If she would be fair of face and pleasant to chat with from time to time, that is all I ask.”
His excursion was a pleasant one, a chance to exercise his poor forgotten horse. With Alexander’s business interests tied up in horse racing, he felt as though he was always riding this horse or that one and ignoring his favorite stallion.
By and by, his finished Yukon’s ride throughout much of a Dewmire, a chance to inspect his property and enjoy the beauty of the day. Veering south, he set out in the direction of Euthoria Park, intent on seeing Gideon and his family. Alexander made good time, but still arrived a good bit after midday.
“Good afternoon,” Alexander said, greeting the butler cordially and introducing himself. “I’ve come to see Mr. Snowley.”
“Of course, Your Grace, this way,” Mr. Walford said, leading Alexander into the drawing room. “Mr. Snowley will be here in a moment.”
Alexander walked around the large drawing room, admiring the portraits illustrating his friends’ lineage. Though he had only known the elder Mr. Snowley in passing, he’d spent several years at school with Gideon.
As Alexander took a turn of the room and admired the long, low, stone stables that peeked out from behind the house, a sudden cry of surprise behind him caused him to startle. He turned, and simply stared.
“I’m so sorry, I did not know anyone was in here,” the young lady said, her dark green eyes growing wide. Alexander only stared, taking in her beautiful face and alluring though timid smile. She demurred somewhat and asked, “And who might you be?”
“I beg your pardon, Miss, I’ve forgotten myself,” Alexander said, recovering only a little. “I am Alexander Barnett, the… a friend of Mr. Snowley’s.” He stared at her a moment longer, as though scrutinizing her features and finding them flawless. Alexander blinked rapidly as if to break some sort of spell the woman held over him, and gestured with his gloves towards her gown. “I see you are in mourning, I presume you are one of Gideon’s cousins? I am so sorry for your loss.”
“I am, in fact,” the woman replied in a gentle voice. “I am Eliza Snowley, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
Alexander suddenly felt foolish, finding himself utterly at a loss for words. How had he missed knowing Gideon had such a lovely cousin? It was true, he had not spent much time at Euthoria Park, but surely a creature as lovely as this would be impossible to hide.
He looked around for a topic to broach, and his eyes settled on the pianoforte. “Do you play, Miss Snowley?”
“Yes, I do. Perhaps more than most people like to hear,” she answered in a way that was both amusing and humble, yet also belied her ability.
“Perhaps you would play something then while I wait for Gideon? I mean, Mr. Snowley?” Alexander asked hopefully.
Eliza shook her head. “I am actually looking for someone at the moment, I apologize but I must decline. Perhaps you will come to call on Gideon one evening when we are all sitting together and enjoying one another’s company. That would be a more suitable time.”
Before Alexander could protest, Eliza’s face took on a strange expression, one that was not quite anger and also not surprise. It was… triumph?
“Ah-ha! There you are, you little scoundrel!” Eliza called out, and Alexander took a step backwards in alarm.
“I’m sorry?” he asked, pressing a hand to his chest as though defending his innocence of any charges.
“Oh, not you,” Eliza said, grinning. “I’ve found the missing boy we lost a good hour or so ago.” She pointed to the sofa where a small bare foot was sticking out from underneath. At her words, the foot retracted and disappeared from view.
“Allow me,” Alexander said, brushing his hands together comically before kneeling down and reaching an arm under the sofa. He made a great show of searching for something with his hand, while squeals of laughter arose from beneath the furniture. “Almost there, I think I’ve got something… At last!”
With a mighty pull and a slight roll backwards, Alexander’s stood up and hoisted the small boy in the air by his ankles, allowing his hands and hair to dangle freely.
“I’d say this one weighs at least half a stone, wouldn’t you, Miss Snowley? It should make a fine supper if Cook seasons it well enough before roasting.” Alexander winked at Eliza conspiratorially, and she returned his broad grin.
“Put me down! You mustn’t eat me, or I’ll tell Mother on you!” the boy shouted, feigning anger but failing as he laughed.
Eliza bent sideways so that she could up end her face and look at the child. “That is the only fitting punishment for little boys who escape their governesses, I’m afraid. I should like to protect you, but I fear the law is very clear on this matter.”
“Mother!” the boy cried out while Alexander still held him aloft. He squirmed this way and that to free himself, but Alexander held him tightly.
“I do know of one punishment that is a suitable replacement for cooking,” Alexander said, catching Eliza’s eye and looking mischievous. “Miss Snowley, if you would please administer the punishment? Simply place your fingers along the rib cage and tickle furiously.”
“No! Mother!” the boy cried, his laughter now contagious. Alexander and Eliza both smiled with delight as he writhed about, trying in vain to push Eliza’s tickling hands away.
“What is happening in here?” a shrill voice screamed, and Alexander and Eliza looked up, suddenly embarrassed at their game. “Give the boy to me at once! Perry, my dear, Mummy is here!”
Snatching the boy from Alexander, the mother sneered with disdain. “Is this how you comport yourself in fine houses, sir? To await the master of the house and torture his innocent child beneath his very roof? It is unthinkable!” Turning to Eliza, she added, “And you. What a horrible example you’ve set for my son. You should be ashamed of how you’re frolicking about with a stranger in the house, reducing my baby boy to tears.”
Eliza looked down at Perry where he stood behind his mother’s voluminous skirts, sticking out his tongue at her. She clenched her fist then wiggled her fingers at him threateningly, and he ducked away.
“My dear, what is all the commotion in here, I haven’t—Alexander!” Gideon shouted as he entered the drawing room. “I wasn’t expecting to see you today, what a marvelous surprise!”
He came forward and shook Alexander’s hand, then turned to Mrs. Snowley. “Dearest, this is Alexander Barnett… Duke of Dewmire.” Turning back to his visitor, Gideon added, “Your Grace, may I introduce my wife, Mrs. Snowley?”
At the mention of Alexander’s title, two things happened that spun around each other in centrifugal circles, nearly colliding but never actually meeting. Mrs. Snowley’s demeanor at once turned to that of a doting hostess, while Eliza narrowed her eyes at him, uncertain now of what measure of trust to afford him.
“Ah, and it seems as though you’ve already met my cousin, your partner in crime,” Gideon continued with an eager smile. “Your Grace, my cousin, Miss Eliza Snowley.”
“It is my extreme pleasure to meet you formally, Miss Snowley,” Alexander said, bowing. Eliza curtseyed, but did not say anything in reply.
“And finally, my son. Perry. Though I rather think you have already met him and are well aware of how much he weighs.” Gideon laughed as he pulled Perry out from behind his wife and picked him up in his arms.
“Papa! They were going to eat me!” Perry said, his lower lip quivering in a very practiced-looking pout.
“They were going to do no such thing, my little dear. Mummy would never allow them to hurt you!” Mrs. Snowley said in a sing-song voice. She glared at Eliza for a moment before turning her brilliant smile on Alexander.
“And you, Your Grace. It is wonderful to meet you. I do hope you intend to stay for tea,” Mrs. Snowley said. She turned behind her and clapped her hands at Walford, who silently left to summon the refreshment.
“I think I can manage that, but not much longer,” Alexander replied, smiling all around. “My mother is at home today and I should not wish for her to dine alone.”
“Now there is a son who knows how to treasure the mother who gave him life,” Mrs. Snowley said dreamily. “Not a son who plays mean tricks on everyone and pretends to have thrown himself into the pond and drowned.”
“What?” Gideon asked, leaning back to look at Perry’s cherubic face. “Why would you do something so upsetting? Look at your poor mother, she’s liable to faint from the fear.”
“Because I don’t like Miss Travers. If I drowned in the pond, you might dismiss her!” Perry whined.
“So you left your shoes beside the water and hid in the house?” Eliza asked. “That is actually rather clever!”
“I’ll thank you to not encourage such things,” Mrs. Snowley hissed behind Gideon’s back before smiling at Alexander again. “Please, sit and entertain one another while Eliza and I return Perry to the nursery.”
Eliza looked around as though wondering something unspoken, then curtseyed again to Alexander. “I suppose I am leaving now,” she said blandly.
“I do hope you return very soon,” Alexander replied, bowing. “In any event, it was very nice to meet you.”
Eliza smiled and left him to his visit with Gideon, following behind Mrs. Snowley and a howling little boy who did not wish to return to the nursery.
“Tell me, Gideon, how is it you’ve managed to hide such a lovely young woman as Miss Snowley all this time? I’ve paid you visits twice and have never seen her before,” Alexander said, attempting to keep his tone aloof but fearing that he failed at it.
“Well, as you know, their father was very sick for such a long time,” Gideon began.
“Their father? Who else is there?” Alexander asked, curious now.
“Of course, I forgot you wouldn’t know. There are two Misses Snowley, Eliza and her older sister Alice.”
“Both unmarried and still at home? That is… unusual. I hope there is not some unfortunate cause,” Alexander said, wincing slightly.
“Only their devotion to their parents,” Gideon replied, his adoration for his cousins evident. “They’ve tended to them through a terrible illness for years now, but it was all for naught. Their mother died over a year ago, but they only lost their father within the last fortnight.”
“That would explain how Miss Snowley might be in such a jovial mood despite the circumstances, if his death were not wholly unexpected,” Alexander acknowledged. “I, too, know the pain of losing a father, though it was in the most horrific and sudden way. My mother is still not over the loss of him after all this time. In truth, it’s why I do not like to be away for long. I sometimes feel that the only thing preventing her own death from a broken heart is a sense of responsibility to me.”
“That is quite a shame,” Gideon replied kindly before brightening considerably. “Though tell me what brings you Euthoria Park today?”
In truth, I cannot remember why I came, Alexander thought instead of answering, only that I am very, very glad I did.
“Alice, you will not believe what just happened,” Eliza cried as she hurried to her sister’s new room and closed the door, pressing her back against it. She seemed to wilt with the effort of containing her excitement.
“What is it, Eliza? Are you all right?” Alice asked, putting down the paint tubes she’d been unpacking from her crate.
“I am more than all right,” she answered with a giddy smile. “Did you know that our cousin has a dear friend who lives close by? Close enough that he might come to call?”
“I should not be surprised,” Alice answered, returning to her paints. “Gideon is very friendly fellow, the sort of person that people naturally enjoy spending time with. I don’t wonder that he would have a great many friends.”
“No, Alice, not like this one. This one… I don’t even have the words to describe him!” Eliza said breathlessly. “Charming, funny, handsome… I feel as though all of those words are barely sufficient to attach to his name, let alone call out his glory.”
“His glory? Eliza, what is the matter with you?” Alice asked, laughing in great surprise. “This is not like you at all. I wonder whether you’ve been love struck by some spell or arrow!”
“I would that I were because then I could hope that the spell would be broken or its power someday fade,” Eliza said dramatically, throwing her hand against her forehead and falling backwards onto Alice’s bed. The sister both broke into fits of laughter before Eliza turned over and glowered. “And of course, dear Betsy had to swoop in like a shrill fish monger and scream as though we were murdering her poor Perry. We had only turned him upside down, and—”
“You turned the child upside down? You and this… this friend of Gideon’s?” Alice asked, her forehead creasing. “Eliza, I’ve told you far too many times, you are not a girl of thirteen anymore. Next I suspect I’ll find you climbing trees or jumping from the hay loft to the piles of hay below.”
“Would that I were still permitted,” Eliza groused. “Why must I stop having my fun simply because young ladies don’t do this or that? Besides, it was the Duke who started it. He was the one to pull Perry up into the air by his little feet.”
“The Duke? What Duke?” Alice asked, wiping her hands with a cloth as she placed water cups and brushes on the shelf.
“Oh, he is Gideon’s friend. He’s a Duke of something or other, I did not hear where,” Eliza said. “But he was the one to start Perry into his laughter, and the boy was thoroughly enjoying the game until his mother interrupted, screaming that we were harming him.”
“Eliza,” Alice said, a warning note to the word.
Ignoring her, Eliza continued, “And he was so charming. He even asked me to play the pianoforte for him, as though that would be at all proper. Me, alone and entertaining someone I do not know. In fact, it was rather odd… he introduced himself but did not mention that he was a Duke.”
“Really? That is strange,” Alice said in agreement. “Why would someone tell you their name but not their station? You don’t suppose he would lie about something like that?”
“I don’t know, but it would be far too risky an endeavor,” Eliza countered. “We would know at once he was a liar if we were to discover there was no such Duke as that, or that someone else actually held the title. Besides, it was Gideon who introduced him that way. Oh Alice, it was too funny!” Eliza smiled at the memory of it. “Mrs. Snowley was being so cross with us for out game with Perry—who I must say again was rather enjoying himself—but the moment Gideon so much as uttered the words ‘Your Grace,’ Betsy nearly fell in the floor in her attempt to fuss over the Duke.”
Alice laughed in spite of herself at the vision of their cousin suddenly having such a change in demeanor, then remembered her manners. Eliza, on the other hand, was rather merry at the thought.
“But you have not told me anything of him besides his handsome looks and his ‘charming,’ personality, which you mentioned twice now, by the way,” Alice said, changing the subject. “What is this man like?”
“I don’t know much else to say,” Eliza said once she’d recovered. “He was very… normal.”
“Normal? What is that supposed to mean?” Alice finished unpacking her art materials and closed the case.
“I don’t know, like you and me, I suppose,” Eliza answered with a shrug.
“Dear sister, when you meet more people of the world, you will come to realize that you and I are not normal. We are unlike a great a many people.”
“How do you mean? And I hope you are not referring to money or property, for if you have not remembered, you and I now possess neither of those things. I don’t suppose we ever actually did,” Eliza said, sounding wistful.
“No, that is not what I mean, though in truth that is a great part of it. We have never had to worry about things that so many people are fearful of,” Alice reminded her. “We had loving parents who doted on us, never once bemoaning the fact that we had both failed to be born as boys.” Eliza stuck her tongue out playfully, and Alice only laughed. “But we have not been burdened with the pressure to marry, and to marry well. We have had the benefits of solid education while being encouraged to pursue our talents and favorite pastimes, too. Why, there are a great many ways our lives have been uncommon.”
Eliza nodded. It was true, theirs had been a very good life, though she still expected that those of a certain class—the titled, noble class—must somehow be unlike them. At least, she’d thought so until this Alexander Barnett arrived and changed that perception entirely.
At three of the clock, Eliza and Alice were summoned to tea. They would have thought Mrs. Snowley might take the opportunity to rest from her journey and enjoy what the cook, Mrs. Pratt, prepared, but that was not the case. Mrs. Snowley swept into the kitchens and caused quite an uproar as the servants took their midday meal, making demands of various items and delicacies.
“I’m ever so sorry, Mrs. Snowley,” Mrs. Pratt said formally, looking to the butler and the housekeeper for assistance as she was asked about certain dishes, “but we do not have any of that on hand.”
“Can you not send someone into the city to fetch it?” Mrs. Snowley demanded, rather put off by being denied by a servant.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but no. By the time they left, acquired the ingredients, and made their way back to the house, there would be no time to prepare it,” Mrs. Pratt said, attempting to keep her composure.
“Well, that is simply unacceptable,” Mrs. Snowley answered haughtily. “From now on, I shall provide you with the list of items you are to keep on hand at all times in case we find ourselves entertaining someone of importance such as the Duke of Dewmire. I don’t know what passes for the usual fare here, but it will not be sufficient for someone of his station, I am certain.”
Mrs. Pratt didn’t answer, and all around her, the servants looked away in shame, embarrassed for the cook. For her part, Mrs. Pratt finally managed a mumbled acknowledgement before Mrs. Snowley turned and stormed from the kitchen.
When Alice and Eliza arrived at the drawing room ahead of the appointed time, they found it empty.
“This is what happens when tea time is moved a full hour earlier,” Eliza whispered to Alice angrily as they entered the room and sat down.
“Shhh, Eliza. Perhaps it is only for today, as Mrs. Snowley has come a long way from her home. She must be rather hungry after such a journey,” Alice said.
“No, it is to be the usual time,” Mrs. Snowley said, sidling up behind Alice before coming around the sofa and sitting down across from them. “Four o’ clock may be the norm, but it would prevent us from walking in Hyde Park each day at the hour of five.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Eliza asked. “Each day?”
“Yes, or at least as often as we can,” Mrs. Snowley replied, looking down with indifference to Eliza’s surprised expression and plucking a speck of dust from her skirt and discarding it. “It is near enough that we can take the carriage and see very important people as we stroll.”
“You do mean you and Gideon, and perhaps little Perry?” Alice suggested hopefully.
“Why, of course they will attend,” Mrs. Snowley said, finally looking up. “But the pair of you as well. You must get out of this house if you intend to find suitable husbands.”
“I must remind you, dear cousin, that we are still in mourning,” Eliza said, attempting to keep her tone civil. “It would be very poorly done for us to stroll about in public at such a time as this.”
“Oh. I see,” Mrs. Snowley said, looking as though she was only now remembering their father. “I only assumed that if you could laugh and frolic in here earlier with a guest, then you must not be putting much effort into feeling low.”
Alice clamped a hand over Eliza’s suddenly, as if silently giving her a dire warning. Eliza took a deep breath, but said nothing.
“Mrs. Snowley, would you care to have the tea served now?” the butler asked from the doorway.
“I think we should wait a moment longer for our guest, Walford,” Betsey replied. She looked about as though the answer was somehow in plain sight. “I don’t know what is keeping them.”
“Perhaps they were unaware of the change in the time?” Alice said helpfully.
“I specifically stated to Gideon that it would be at three. There is no reason he should have forgotten,” Mrs. Snowley answered primly.
For the next half of an hour or better, the three of them sat in silence, listening only to the gentle tick of the clock that rested on the mantel. Eliza at least had the benefit of hearing music in her mind, her thoughts roving over page after page of her favorite pieces. Poor Alice, though, did not let her mind wander in such a way, always rooted in the moment so that she might not miss any brilliant sights before her.
Mrs. Snowley, on the other hand, was clearly fuming. She tapped her fingertips together angrily, outraged at having been usurped on her first day as mistress of the house. She looked around the room with a very pinched expression on her face, and before long, Alice appeared to at least feel sorry for her. Eliza, on the other hand, did her best to hide a look of satisfaction.
“I shall go and look in on Perry,” Mrs. Snowley announced to no one in particular, then left the room in a hurry. Eliza dared not look at Alice for fear she would begin to laugh; she cared only a little bit whether Mrs. Snowley overheard, but did not wish to earn another reproachful glance from her sister.
“I do feel badly for her,” Alice said in a hushed voice after asking Walford to please bring up the tea, “to feel so out of place in her own house.”
“I promise you I am trying to feel an ounce of sympathy for her, Alice, but I have yet to find that sentiment,” Eliza said sincerely. “It must be very difficult to move your household halfway across the countryside, but as with all things, it is made more difficult by our own actions. Are you not the one who’s always telling me to keep a cheerful outlook and a civil tone? Well, that advice is sound, and all must heed it if they wish to be well thought of.”
Walford and a pair of footmen brought up the tea and laid it out, and the sisters thanked them. Voices in the hallway made Alice and Eliza turn to look, and they smiled warmly as Gideon and Alexander came in.
Alice turned back to Eliza with a pointed look on her face, though she did not say anything. Eliza leaned close and whispered intently, “I know!”
“Ah, there you are!” Gideon called out, clapping his hands together. “And we’re just in time for tea.”
“Mrs. Snowley thought perhaps the time might be a little earlier,” Alice explained cautiously. “We’d best go and find her to come down.”
“I’ll go fetch her myself,” Gideon said, beaming at how the afternoon was turning out. “You sit and begin, I’ll be along in a moment.”
Alexander took a seat on the sofa opposite the sisters, taking the spot Mrs. Snowley had only just vacated some minutes before. He nodded to Eliza and smiled at her, then looked to Alice.
“I am sorry, but we have not yet met. I am Alexander Barnett,” he said expectantly.
“I’m Alice Snowley, Eliza has already told me of your meeting earlier. I had not expected such a friendly guest today, but I’m so glad you’re here,” Alice said politely. Alexander beamed shyly under such a welcome.
“I am sorry that I intruded in your time of mourning, though,” Alexander said. “I was away on business until very recently and had no idea your father had passed such a short time ago, else I would not have wormed my way in today. Please pardon my rude intrusion.”
“Not at all, Your Grace,” Eliza answered genuinely for both of them. “We are glad of some pleasant company after such a terrible time, though we are not yet up to having numerous guests milling about and talking or laughing. It’s a comfort to have quiet conversation while being reminded there is still a whole world taking place out of these doors.”
They began to eat the simple fare of scones and jam, fresh fruit, sliced cheese, and both tea and coffee in honor of Mrs. Snowley’s arrival. Throughout, Alexander regaled them with tales of life at Dewmire which kept both sisters amused greatly without taxing them overly much to make joyful conversation of their own.
“I cannot believe I’ve lived here my whole life, yet never come to Euthoria Park,” Alexander finally said. “My father had spoken of a Mr. Snowley, but only in terms of the farming aspects of the property.”
“I agree, I hardly know where Dewmire might be from here,” Alice said, looking to Eliza who nodded in agreement.
“Though Dewmire sounds familiar. You raise horses, do you not, Your Grace?” Eliza questioned.
“Quite right,” Alexander answered proudly. “There are no finer racehorses in this region, if I am not being too boastful to say so.”
“And where do they race?” Eliza asked, pouring more tea for them.
Alexander needed no other prompting to continue talking. He told them of the different breeds he’d acquired, including some horses called Arabians from Persia. He was very animated when he spoke of them, and his interest in these animals was very infectious.
“But what of your family?” Alice asked, as always bringing her thoughts to one’s relations. “You’ve mentioned your father, but what of your mother?”
“She resides at Dewmire as well,” Alexander began, “but she was never a very sociable person, even before Father’s passing. It only made her somewhat more of a reclusive soul, so I strive to attend to her as much as I can.”
“That is very thoughtful of you,” Eliza said.
“But that does remind me of the late hour,” Alexander said, nodding at both ladies. “I have a rather long ride ahead of me to reach home, and need to depart in order to make it in time for dinner with her. Thank you so much for the refreshments, and it was a pleasure to meet both of you.”
“The pleasure was ours, Your Grace,” Alice said, standing up to go to the door. “Please feel free to call on us again, and I do hope to meet your mother someday. But I think I should help gather up some of these dishes. Eliza, why don’t you show His Grace to the door?”
The three of them stood as Mrs. Snowley entered the drawing room alone, looking very put out again. “What is going on here?”
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