Annie sat in a large velveteen wing-backed chair pushed up close to the fire. When her grandparents had crossed into the wilds of Tennessee twenty years earlier the soft fabric had been a deep wine color but after two generations of use it had faded to a rosy pink. It was her favorite spot to sit on a cold and wet evening. It was rare that she needed a fire this time of year but tonight there was a wet chill in the air after a late spring storm rolled in at noon and seemed as determined to stay as an unwelcome visitor.
Earlier that day, when the first roll of thunder shook the floorboards Annie had grasped Hannah's hand panicked. It was clear that Hannah understood her fears, all their plans for the evening would be ruined by a storm. Patting her hand knowingly Hannah had just smiled and assured her that their guests would be there. She was right.
The night had been beyond her expectations, not that Annie had much experience in such matters. Unlike Hannah's sophisticated York county in South Carolina, Madison County, Tennessee was sparse on social soirees. The largest events of the years boiled down to a Christmas ball sponsored by the Bathsada Methodist church and a week of summer time events on the town's Founder's Day. Not to mention that Annie had always been too shy to enjoy either. But now Hannah was here, her friend and companion. With her help over a dozen of the county's most prominent families had attended the dinner party at the Sadler Plantation that very evening - mud, rain and all.
Annie closed her eyes trying to remember every detail of the night. How the ladies sat elegantly with their backs straight as a board, leaning daintily over their bowls to sip at the steaming asparagus soup or the smell of cigars wafting down the hall from the library where the men sat together after the meal. Tucking her legs up under her body Annie pulled the fleecy crocheted blanket tighter around her shoulders trying to stay warm. Leaning on the armrest closest to the fire she let the radiant heat make her body as warm as her heart already felt. Closing her eyes she luxuriated in the glowing embers of her memory, letting her consciousness drift. Just as she was about to succumb to sleep a soft shuffling noise from the hall roused her.
Peeking around the corner of the chair she tried to squint through the darkness toward the door, unsure if the fading light under it was real or a figment of her imagination. Once the light disappeared completely a little sliver of white caught her attention on the floor.
Shivering as her bare feet touched the uncarpeted planks, she dashed toward the door, standing on her tiptoes to distance as much of her flesh from the cold oak floor. She quickly reached the white spot, which turned out to be a piece of paper, folded in half. A familiar script caught her eye. It read only, Annie. Picking up the hastily folded page she flipped it open to see it full of black scrolling down its expanse.
As I write this letter I am brimming with contradictory emotions. In one night I have experienced the heights of joy and the depths of despair. It is in despair that I pen this letter. My dear friend, if only I had known the pain I would inflict you this evening I never would have come to Madison or sought out your friendship in York County. I find that I do not even know myself anymore and have done things that a year ago I would have found abhorrent. Though I was brought here to be your companion, to help you become a lady, I fear I have proven to be a very poor model and know for a certainty you will be better off without me.
So tonight I am leaving in order to spare you any further suffering. It is the only solution. My soul aches at the thought of leaving this place where I feel so utterly free. I can only pray that our future holds a reunion but I would understand if I never heard from you again. I truly hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me one day.
Your most devoted friend,
"Absence from those we love is self from self - a deadly banishment. "
Annie's eyes raked over the page, the words blurring through mounting tears. Dropping the letter she yanked her door open, determined to find her, to make her come back. She rushed into Hannah's neighboring room where she had slept for nearly six months but something deep inside Annie whispered that her friend would not be there. The door hung open and it took no more than the dim light of the fire to confirm it was vacant.
I could never want her to leave, not just for me but also for.... A loud bang from the great hall shook Annie and vibrated through her bones and into her chest where her heart thumped wildly. Whispering as loudly as she could manage she called out to her friend.
"Hannah, HANNAH, please answer me. Where are you?" Even her whisper echoed through the great hall but only silence bounced back.
Stumbling down the pitch black stairs she felt a cold wind cut through her thin nightgown. A violent shiver trembled through her but she did not notice. A hard rhythmic bumping sound distracted her, like a twin of her own heartbeat.
Reaching the bottom of the staircase she felt rather than saw the front door gaping open ahead of her, bare foot sinking into a rain soaked carpet. The wind whipped so fiercely it plastered the white cotton gown against her like a second skin. She pushed forward, staring out into the black foreboding night. Unable to move, frozen by the rain, wind and fear she stood until the name she said chattered out between clinched teeth.
Full of defeat Annie retreated backwards and solemnly shut the large oak door, her frozen fingers fumbling with the latch when a soft warm hand closed over them, startling her. Stifling a scream she glanced back hoping to see her friend. Instead she saw the familiar warm face of Caroline, hair wrapped up in it's usual tidy manner despite being in a house coat and nightclothes.
"Girl, what are you do'in? You'll catch your death! Here, put on my shawl. Master Sadler gonna be awful upset when he hears about this."
The shawl was warm and filled with Caroline's familiar scent of smoke from the kitchen fire and baking bread. Annie let it envelop her, trying to talk through tremulous shivers.
"No little one, don't talk no. Let's get you into a warm bed before you catch your death of cold." Annie shook her head, determined to say something before relinquishing herself to Caroline's calloused, experienced hands.
"N-n-no, p-p-please, p-please get my u-uncle. T-t-tell him that Miss H-h-annah.... Tell him Miss Hannah is gone."
One Year Earlier
York County, South Carolina
It was Hannah's favorite story and even though she had heard it hundreds of times before in that very room she still sat on the edge of her seat listening to Mr. Sadler's baritone voice weave the tale.
The Battle of Huck's defeat was filled with action, terror, romance and patriotism. A turning point in the Revolution, not just for South Carolina but for the whole country, the whole war, or at least that's how it was told in York County. It was a piece of local pride and folklore, a battle fought by regular farmers on their own land, on her father's land. Mr. Sadler and James Williamson had fought side by side in that battle, and though it had only lasted ten minutes their triumph forged a friendship between the Sadlers and Williamsons for the next fifty years.
Hannah had never heard her father tell his story, not that she remembered at least. Just three short years after her mother died bringing her into the world, James Williamson followed her out of it. And though she never really knew him she had reconstructed him in a way that made him warm, tender and very in love with his only daughter in a family of nine boys. In his absence, Mr. Sadler had become the closest thing she'd ever had to a father. She spent hours of her childhood in this very room listening to his soft deep voice, pretending it was her father's.
Hannah blinked back tears, it was hard for her to stay unemotional thinking about her parents, wondering if her image of them was better than their former reality. Trying to regain self-control she glanced about the room hoping everyone was too engrossed in the story to notice her discomposure when she saw there was another unable to focus on the story. Her cheeks flashed with the heat of an embarrassment she had only become aware of in the past six months of her nearly eighteen years.
Glancing briefly to the side, she locked eyes with Richard Sadler's youngest son, Richard Jr. Knowing he'd been caught in his reverie Rich smiled briefly, also employing a new embarrassed blush. His fair skin flushed to his light hair line and if his blond hair could show mortification it would be bright red.
Hannah had grown up with Rich. He was her playmate, her best friend and now apparently he was her admirer. Hannah had noticed a change in his behavior over the past few months but it had become glaringly apparent just a few weeks ago when he returned from his first year attending South Carolina University. He'd been acting attentive but also shy. It was a transformation that puzzled Hannah.
Rich was never shy and Hannah would know, both the youngest in large families of boys they'd spent their formative years in each other's company. And though Rich was a year and a half older than her they had remained best friends through their whole childhood.
One of their favorite pastimes was to explore the oat fields that Huck's troops camped and fought in many years before. They would search for any treasures left behind from that battle. Rich had a large collection of lead balls, shoe laces, buttons and part of a coat sleeve that they liked to imagine once was red with the blood of the Tory it belonged to, perhaps even Huck himself.
Smiling at the memory Hannah nodded a hello in Rich's direction. She was sure she could detect relief wash over him, draining the red blush from face. He twisted his mouth up in a crooked smile and glanced away. Hannah didn't know what to think about this new development and decided to worry about it later.
Refocusing herself she turned her attention back to the story. Mr. Sadler was getting to the best part, where John Adamson, a loyalist, was saved from certain death by the hands of Captain Bratton – always a dramatic part of the tale. Richard Sr. paused theatrically, lowering his voice to almost a whisper.
"As the troops continued to push forward into the Tory camp, Captain Bratton was distracted by the red hair of one of Huck's men. He was cowering by a tree where he had been captured after being wounded in his right arm. There was something about this man he found familiar. His hands were folded in front of him in prayer and his face filled with the kind of peace only the best kind of man would possess so close to his death. Bratton searched the man's face for a sign of recognition when he suddenly realized who he must be.
"Bratton's own dear wife had come so close to death at the hands of this man's commander Colonel Jackson. Jackson held a reaping hook tight against Mrs. Bratton's throat, explaining in a cold calm voice that she must reveal her husband's location or die on the edge of that hook.
"Another Tory soldier bounced their young son, David, on his knee smiling with rotten teeth vulgarly. Then, as Mrs. Bratton recalled to her husband, a quiet young man with brilliant red hair stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on Jackson's clenched paw and he spoke with such gentility he made everyone recall their good breeding and habits.
" 'Now Colonel this woman is no part of our dispute and if you shall attempt to harm her or her children I shall have no choice but to stop you.' Jackson was infuriated but miraculously chastened. To everyone's surprise he released Mrs. Bratton reluctantly. She recalled this story to her husband moments before the battle pleading for this young man's safety and Bratton had a choice to make…."
Hannah was glad that Mr. Sadler did not fail to enthrall her as always. Her heart raced thinking about the brave boy with red hair. She sighed deeply letting her eyes travel around the room again. Rich was actually paying attention as she glanced at him this time. Hannah laughed to herself knowing Rich loved this part of the story as much as she did. Directly behind him was Samuel, Hannah's eldest and favorite brother. Next to him sat Jane, his young bride, on the deep red velvet couch that adorned the Sadler's sitting room.
Their only child, three year old James, lay sound asleep across his parent's lap. Samuel's arm rested nonchalantly around Jane's shoulders, her light hair swept up and gently grazing his arm. She had always found them a handsome couple but sitting there, together with their son and Jane's belly, swollen with their new baby tastefully obscured by extra folds of fabric, was one of the prettiest sites she could imagine.
A shifting movement from behind Samuel and Jane drew Hannah's eye line reflexively. A tall mysterious man stood leaning against the mantel of the fireplace. His hair was fiercely dark, almost black, dark thick eyebrows crowned his large brooding eyes. His skin was brown, as though he worked hard for his living but Hannah was aware that he also carried himself with an air of gentility wearing a fine dark suit that looked a little out of place in this casual country setting.
Without moving he looked at her and she found herself frozen by his abyssal eyes. She wanted to look away, but something in his stare made her look at him for a moment longer. He broke their gaze.
Her heart was pounding. Staring at a stranger, what would Jane say? What he must think of me? Hannah thought panicked, hoping he did not think her evaluation was because of some romantic interest. Though he may be thought attractive to some, I find him all together too old and weathered to hold my attentions, she thought shaking her head, wishing it were completely true.
Feeling unnerved by the strange dark man, Hannah fiddled with the small gold locket that rested around her neck. Once her long forgotten mother's, now the only tie she had to her. It gave her comfort and Hannah was not often found without it and on occasions such as this one she used it to calm her nerves.
As she twirled the gold chain around her index finger and then let it spiral away absentmindedly Hannah missed the conclusion of the story where the Revolutionists won, and all lived happily ever after; including Hannah's hero the redheaded boys John Adamson. This fact did not sink in until Rich was standing in front of her talking excitedly.
"Hannah, what did you think of the story this time? Did you find anything new? I noticed for the first time that my father mentioned it was little David Bratton that was on Jackson's knee. Either I had forgotten that part or that was a new detail."
Rich was smiling like a Cheshire cat. Hannah loved that smile, it always led to a lively conversation and usually some cockamamy adventure. It was one of Rich's most endearing qualities.
"No Rich, of course we knew that detail." She batted at him playfully. "Do you not remember in our epic reenactment four years ago we borrowed the Robinson's youngest to play the part of David?" she laughed eyeing Rich mockingly. "I sure hope your advanced age is not causing injury to your impeccable memory. I would be concerned for the professors at the University if you were found to be senile the first day you return to your studies."
"Old age? I'm barely a year older than you." Rich softly ruffled Hannah's light brown hair as he had through their whole friendship. Hannah ducked away acting annoyed.
"Rich I know you are allowed to act like a ruffian at these events but I am expected to act like a lady," she said lowering her eyes and curtsying obnoxiously low. Rich snapped to attention and bowed graciously to her, speaking in an affected tone.
"Yes my dear lady, please forgive me for my ridiculous behavior, I do not know what came over me in the presence of one so great. Please may I be honored enough to kiss the hand of such a fine lady?" Rich grabbed Hannah's hand, pulling it toward him. She yanked it away quickly just as his lips were about to brush against the ivory leather of her glove.
"You can dream young man, you can dream," she responded making them both fall into peals of laughter. Several scornful glances were tossed their way but as always neither one cared about decorum as much as their families would wish.
"Rich, no one can make me laugh the way you do," Hannah gasped, her voice still shaking with laughter. " This past year was such a chore without you to entertain me. What will I do once you are gone again? Do you really have to leave me?"
Hannah placed her hand on Rich's forearm as she spoke and when the words left her mouth there was a noticeable change in her friend's face. His eyebrows pinched together, suddenly serious, aging him ten years in that one moment. Rich twisted his mouth to one side as though he was wrestling to hold back words fighting to escape.
Hannah pulled her hand back quickly, staring at the floor. The laughter inside was replaced with dread and a fear of what feelings his words may hold, feeling unsure if it was more than the friendship she harbored within her own breast, not knowing if such declarations would be welcome. As Rich opened his mouth to speak they were mercifully intercepted by Samuel and Jane.
Jane, petite and prim, slipped her slender arm in the crook of Hannah's elbow, making her feel like a giant next to her tiny feminine form. Relief was not something she usually felt when her sister-in-law was around but today she felt like giving her a hug.
Usually Hannah never felt like she belonged when Jane was around and size was only one of the many reasons. She knew that her sister-in-law meant well, but the critical eye and high standards of a preacher's daughter, and now wife, made Hannah feel like she did not and could not live up to her expectations. It was only for Samuel that she could put aside her annoyance and live peaceably with the woman. But love for her brother could not stop Hannah from cringing almost every time his wife opened her mouth to give her grand opinions.
"I wonder if anyone in this town will ever grow tired of that story. I do not understand the draw of that particular tale," she said tossing her hand to the side like she was sweeping away one of the greatest moments in the county's history. "It is all so very violent and old fashioned. Sometimes I think I could scream if I heard the name of Huck just one more time! It seems to me there are better things we could be speaking of. Think if we hear the stories of the scriptures as often as we hear about John Adamson how much closer we would feel to our Savior."
"Yes my love, you are very in tune to such things," Samuel said clutching the free arm of his wife and patting her hand gently. "But I can see no harm to being proud of our families' part in the founding of this great nation. It may be because I was raised on it, but I cannot help but feel a surge of pride each time this story is told, and you have to admit Rich's father tells it so compellingly."
Samuel tried to turn the tenor of the conversations towards the positive. One of the many qualities Hannah loved about her eldest brother. Rich smiled at the complement paid to his father.
"Yes I think father was born to tell this story. So I am afraid, Mrs. Williamson, you will have to forgive an old man his eccentricities." Rich smiled knowingly at Hannah, being the subject of her many railings on the more frustrating qualities of her sister-in-law. Jane did not catch the meaning of their exchange and just nodded in a gracious manner.
"Yes it is his house and I would never attempt to impose my beliefs of propriety on my host, but I hope Samuel agrees this story will never be told in our home." Samuel continued patting Jane's arm as though the act could pacify her sharp tongue. He quickly tried to change the subject.
"Well Rich, your cousin seemed to enjoy the story. It couldn't possibly be the first time he's heard it, could it? Any how, a smile on Mr. Ethelwin Sadler's face puts a smile on my own." Rich sighed heavily looking pointedly at the dark man Hannah had noticed earlier.
"Yes, Cousin Ethelwin is staying with us for an undetermined amount of time," Rich said and Hannah's experienced ears could hear the annoyed edge to his voice. "I tend to think he is quite a bore. Though my cousin he is more than fifteen years my elder and I can find nothing we have in common to speak of. Then there is his niece." Hannah looked at the small dark girl again with curiosity. "She is so painstakingly shy I do not believe I have heard her speak three words strung together since their arrival last night."
Ignoring the editorial statement made by Rich, Hannah looked at her brother inquisitively.
"Samuel, do you have business with this man? I don't think I have heard you speak of him before." Taking her own look at the stranger she twisted her brow together. "And I know I have never seen him, at least that I can recall."
"No, I'm sure you never have laid eyes on Mr. Ethelwin," Samuel said smiling at his sister, "but you are correct in your assumption. I know him through business. He's the newly appointed board member for the recently established Davidson College just over the boarder in North Carolina. The school cannot officially open until funding is established and Ethelwin has given me the opportunity to visit local communities to raise funds. As a result I have been given the hope that if I am successful in this task, I can look forward to a position teaching at this college when it becomes accredited. So as I said before, Ethelwin Sadler's happiness is directly tied to my own at this time."
Samuel's face beamed. Hannah knew he'd desired a stable teaching position since entering the ministry. He had always been a studious man with a true love of learning. When he entered college Samuel was skipped all the way to the senior class as soon as his teachers saw through his relaxed personality to the natural student he was. He was considered one of the greatest math students that had ever attended South Carolina University, but knowing their father desired it Samuel chose the ministry. His laid back and casual demeanor did not lend itself to being a fire and brimstone preacher but he had to find some way to pay the bills at the great Williamson plantation.
Samuel had been left in an awkward situation when his father passed away. Though he was left in charge of the ancestral home and had the rights to inhabit it, all profits were split evenly between the ten siblings, leaving all of the Williamson children with the appearance of wealth but no real claim to it.
In addition during his studies at divinity school Samuel had decided that no one but God should own one of His children thus renouncing his ownership of any slaves. Though he did not condemn others for the same action, he insisted that a servant of the Lord could not participate in it. As a result of this decision, just weeks after the death of their father Samuel freed their five family slaves and offered to pay them workers wages to continue on at the plantation. All five stayed including Betsy who had been with the family since Hannah's parents were married. Hannah was glad to see them stay since they had become more like family than servants throughout the years, especially Betsy. But the other Williamson brothers were not pleased.
Samuel's radical actions lead all of his brothers to go in their own directions seeking individual rewards of land and fortune. As time passed this small plantation in York County seemed more like burden then an birthright, but Hannah and Samuel were tied to it – Samuel by inheritance, and Hannah by the limitations of her gender and age.
Samuel's explanation was interrupted by the sound of a man clearing throat and the small group realized they were not alone in their conversation. Looking toward the sound, Hannah saw the imposing man she'd been observing earlier now in person, directly in front of her. On closer inspection, she could see the similarities in Mr. Sadler's facial structure and the defined characteristics of this man, especially when Ethelwin smiled as he did now.
"Samuel, I have been looking for you. I wanted to introduce you to my little niece, Annie." Ethelwin gestured towards the frail dark haired girl by his side. Her eyes barely flickered up to greet the faces smiling at her. Despite her instant dislike towards this girl's uncle Hannah felt an immediate sense of pity and kinship towards his niece.
"Miss Annie, we are so pleased to have you with us. I hope you enjoyed your Great Uncle's rendition of our famed epic battle." Samuel paused and shook his head slightly as though trying to remember something. "Oh, I would be amiss if I did not introduce you to my family. This," Samuel gestured toward Jane, still arm in arm by his side, "is my dear wife Jane. Asleep on the couch is my son James, and of course, one cannot forget the blossom of the Williamson family, my dear sister Hannah. You two are only a few years apart in age, and I'm sure you will be the best of friends."
Hannah curtsied slightly, hoping that was what the circumstance called for, and then smiled kindly to her new little friend trying to silently relay the message that she would sincerely enjoy some female companionship but before Hannah could speak Jane, in her usual fashion, interrupted her efforts.
"Well you girls will get the opportunity to become more acquainted tomorrow." Jane looked pointedly at Ethelwin caressing her husband's forearm demurely. "My Samuel has informed me that we will have the honor of your company for dinner tomorrow. We are to have a fine turkey for this special occasion. Our financial position usually does not allow for such an extravagance, but anything for you Mr. Sadler."
Jane dipped her head as if in reverence and performed her own curtsy, though slightly encumbered by her bound arms and large belly.
Hannah was writhing with annoyance. As always Jane said something that made Hannah suck in her breath out of embarrassment. What would such an esteemed man as Mr. Ethelwin Sadler think of her brazen discussion of their finances, or lack there of? Hannah eyed the severe looking man suspiciously waiting for sneer to creep onto his decidedly judgmental face but instead she was surprised by the turn of a flickering smile on the side of his mouth.
Without revealing his amusement Mr. Ethelwin gathered himself up and spoke kindly in a soft warm southern drawl that sounded like melting butter on cornbread.
"Yes Mrs. Williamson, I look forward to it and I know Annie does too."
He sounded like he meant it. Hannah couldn't help but stare- the man was such an enigma. Her eyes ran through his thick black hair, counting the flecks of silver scattered across his unruly curls. The dark stubble on his chin looked rough and compelling and a part of her wondered what it would feel like to run her fingers over it.
Then without warning his dark eyes turned to look right at Hannah's searching ones and like earlier she felt unnerved. Trying to look casual she stared past him, pretending to examine the crowd milling about with equal intensity.
"And you Miss Williamson," he said, his voice drawing her attention. " I would be delighted to hear you sing. I've heard nothing but praises from Richard Senior and Junior regarding your talents. I am a great admirer of the arts would be honored to enjoy your voice."
Hannah blushed and nodded in agreement. She didn't want to talk to the man, there was something about him that made her uncomfortable.
"My new friends, I do not mean to be short but my little Annie is tired and we must be excused to retire. We need our rest for the exciting evening we have in store for us tomorrow."
Everyone but Hannah and Rich smiled and nodded, murmuring their own farewells as Ethelwin and his niece bowed genteelly and blended back into the crowd from which he had appeared.
Jane looked at her husband and Hannah smiling. "It will be a delight to enjoy their company tomorrow evening."
Rich interjected quickly. "I don't really see anything special about that pair. You can have your fancy dinner party, I'll be out on a hunting trip with Daniel and Joshua and I'll bet ya a penny that we'll have more fun."
Jane pursed her lips holding in whatever chastisement she had dancing on her tongue and for the first time in a long time Hannah found herself agreeing with Jane rather than Rich. Being a young woman who was not used to a variety of company outside of her home county she looked forward to becoming acquainted with young Annie and the chance to study her mysterious uncle. Walking home in the pleasant chill of the early spring Hannah could find nothing but thoughts of their new acquaintances filling her imagination.
Hannah lay in bed savoring the warm spring sun that filled her room. The bright reds, yellows and oranges of late morning shone through her closed eyelids. She knew that she had stayed in bed longer than a grown woman should, but after the excitement at the Sadler's, and then the very long and tedious lecture she had endured from Jane on her arrival home, Hannah was exhausted. As tired as she felt Hannah had slept restlessly the night before. Her thoughts lingered on Jane's tirade.
She remembered the cutting words so clearly. They were still dressed in their party clothes and had just arrived home. Jane had been particularly pouty on the walk from the Sadler's, but as soon as Samuel had excused their house servant Betsy and ascended the stairs with sleeping James, Jane laid into Hannah.
"Dear we must speak, please sit with me a moment," she said, gesturing toward the sitting room directly to the right of the foyer and grand staircase. Jane walked determinedly and stood next to the formal sofa sending the message that she would not sit until Hannah did.
Hannah sunk her tired body into the lush cushions, a remnant of wealthier days when her parents both inhabited the house. Jane sat rigidly next to Hannah's slouched form holding a handkerchief twisted in her fingers, the only sign of the true feeling she was holding inside. Hannah sat in the darkness with Jane suffering through a long moment of awkward silence until at last she'd collected her thoughts and spoke.
"Hannah I am saying this as a sister, or as close to a sister as you will ever have, you must get control of yourself while in public. The way you behave with that Sadler boy is indecent, flirtatious and crass. If you are ever to find a respectable husband and relieve your brothers of your burden, you cannot represent yourself in such an inane and immature way. A man wants femininity, kindness and humility in his future bride not a brazen tom-boy in women's clothing. Not to mention the spectacle you and Rich make with each other. If you wish to marry that immature boy with little to no inheritance, I will not stop you, but at least announce your engagement so you do not appear to be such a, excuse my language, hussie."
Jane hissed the last word under her breath but it still cut Hannah to the core. She fought to hold back the tears stinging her eyes and red hot anger threatening to explode. Hannah knew she must rein in these dangerous emotions before she said something that would upset Samuel. Jane didn't notice the battle ensuing within Hannah and took her silence as an invitation to continue.
"I just hope you use this discussion as a touchstone for your behavior with our guests tomorrow night. Praise the Lord," she held up a hand in actual prayer, "Mr. Ethelwin did not see your performance with Rich tonight, or else I am sure he would never allow his niece near you again. Please try to be cordial and as silent as the circumstance allows and we will be just fine. I am sure I don't have to remind you how important this relationship is to your brother and our family."
Jane looked pointedly into Hannah's tear filled eyes as if to imprint the gravity of the situation like a brand. Hannah opened her mouth to speak but Jane stood before any words could come out. Recalling this moment, Hannah wondered if perhaps it was the darkness and not just a cold heart that kept Jane from seeing the tears running down her face.
When Jane reached the stairs, she turned almost imperceptibly. "I am glad you understand," she said coolly. "You poor little thing, you have no mother to guide you so I know I must do my best to advise you in these areas. Your brother will be pleased with your cooperation." And with that Jane disappeared into the darkness of the upper hallway.
Hannah let a soft sob of anger and embarrassment escape upon hearing these words. She knew better than to think Samuel had any part in this attack but it was his name that kept her from releasing all of the hidden emotions. Even while reliving the moment in her warm bed Hannah's eyes filled with the same tears. Just as she was about to wallow in her self pity once again, a soft knock came at the door. Hannah knew that timid knock- it must be Samuel. She dried her eyes with the edge of the bed-sheet and invited him in.
"Come in Samuel!" Her brother peeked his head around the edge of her white six paneled door.
"Is this a good time?" Samuel looked a bit confused at seeing her still in bed.
"Yes, yes, sorry I am so lazy this morning, it was just…well it was a long night." Hannah swallowed the emotion swelling in her throat. It took Samuel three long strides to make it from Hannah's door to her bedside where he sat smiling. His gray eyes and sharp features mimicked Hannah's own, only his hair was quite a bit darker than hers and already flecked with strands of silver. With sympathy in his eyes Samuel sat on the side of Hannah's feather mattress.
"Hannah, you have been crying," her hand flew up covering her face, feeling self conscious. "No, no it is no use to try and hide it, I can always tell." Samuel sighed heavily "I am afraid I know what is responsible for these tears, or should I say who." He grabbed her right hand gently and squeezed it lovingly. "You know she means well don't you? She does not understand our family and traditions but ultimately she always has our success and happiness in mind. I thank you for being so patient with her, especially in her.. uh … delicate condition."
Hannah took a deep breath trying to gather courage. She loved her brother but the way she was being treated by Jane was not fair, a common feeling among seventeen year olds but also a quite authentic one in this case. Samuel had to know that she was not alright with his wife's behavior. Hannah was about to speak when her bedroom door flew open. Jane stood holding a pile of folded clothing in her hands. Hannah could detect a small disapproving shake of Jane's head .
"Hannah! Are you still in bed at this hour? It is almost one o'clock. I do not know what I am going to do with you. I will have to call Betsy up here to help you. You are almost a grown woman and a stout Presbyterian, you should be able to dress yourself and on any other day I would insist on it but today is too important to teach you a lesson." Jane had been unloading the folded clothing onto Hannah's dresser briskly. As she spoke her last word she sighed and looked at her husband. "And you Samuel, delaying her further, you know better."
Samuel flashed his disarming smile, "Darling, Hannah just needed some beauty sleep. I came in to inform her that our guests are coming earlier than expected but you came in just before I got the chance. " Jane's hard exterior dropped for a moment as she smiled at her husband.
No matter what she thought of Jane, Hannah could not doubt that she was in love with Samuel. With a slight smile on her lips Jane turned around and grabbed a yellow garment off of the dresser. Letting it unfold to the ground Hannah saw a beautiful yellow cotton summer dress. It was in the popular style but Hannah felt as though she had seen it before.
"I have a surprise for you Hannah. You know how I love to mess around with fabric and needlepoint, well a few weeks ago while Betsy and I were cleaning out the blue room for the baby we came across a box of your mother's old clothing. I found this sweet yellow cotton that was in perfect condition but very old fashioned." Hannah reached out to touch the light fabric wondering if she remembered this dress from her earliest memories. "I was going to rework this dress for your birthday but seeing this important occasion tonight I stayed up last night and finished so you could look your best for this evening."
Despite Hannah's feelings toward Jane she was touched by the perfect yellow dress. "Jane, we did not get home until nearly midnight, how long were you up last night?"
"Not that long, do not worry yourself about that on my account. I just want you to wear it, today, at three o'clock when the Sadler's come. So Samuel you must get out and let this young lady get dressed." Jane shooed her husband toward the door leaving the dress draped on the edge of the bed. Hannah fumbled out of bed trying stop Jane before she could close the door, "Wait!"
Jane opened the door and smiled at Hannah. "Yes dear?"
"Thank you, I just wanted to say thank you. The only thing I have from my mother is this locket and I thought I would never find anything so precious to me again but to wear her dress… it just means so much to me."
Jane patted Hannah's hand resting on the door, "Well it would be most wonderful for me if you would get dressed and act like the lady I know you are. Please take special care in your hair as well. There are some small yellow flowers off the back porch on that tulip tree that might look lovely. Like I said before I will send in Betsy, you just need to hurry."
"I will, I will. See you very soon, and thank you again." Before she could think twice she put her arms around her awkward little sister-in-law and turned to study the dress that lay on her bed. She ran her fingers across the light almost translucent fabric laying smoothly over a backing of white thin muslin. The bodice of the dress was connected with intricate lacework, the handiwork of Jane no doubt. The sleeves stylishly capped and the neckline just low enough to cause Hannah to raise her eyebrows wondering at Jane's intentions knowing her puritanistic tendencies.
Hannah's musings were interrupted by Betsy's knock. A slight flutter of excitement filled her stomach in a way she had never experienced before. Hannah had a hard time sitting still while Betsy put her hair up with painstaking intricacy and once dressed in her yellow gown she felt thoroughly beautiful. Kissing Betsy on the cheek for a thank you she slipped on her cream colored slippers and bounded down the stairs.
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