Friday afternoon…….First week
When Ann Perkins arrived home, she could see Tom’s horse tied outside. She stopped the buggy and sat there for a few minutes. It was impossible to guess what kind of mood her husband would be in. True, he had found some temporary work; but, for some reason, manual labor always put him in a bad mood. He had been a bank teller once. Tom also tried his hand at farming and raising horses. She saw him come out of the house. He smiled when he saw her. That was a good sign. She got off the buggy and waved.
“Hello! How did it go?” Tom came over and took the reins, leading the horses to the barn.
“It went all right.” She tried to see his face, maybe read something there.
“Does Mr. Connor want you to come back?”
“Yes…tomorrow. He has another room for me to paint.”
“Good!” she said enthusiastically.
“Why is it ‘good’?” he asked, frowning. Oh dear, she thought. Now she’d have to watch what she said.
“Because you need the work and it’s something you are good at. We need the money as well.”
“I would have thought your fancy dress shop would have solved all our money needs.” Ann didn’t understand what had gone wrong. One minute he was smiling, the next he was moody.
“The dress shop does bring in money, Tom. But the money you make keeps us afloat. We couldn’t survive without it.” His face softened a bit. “Mr. Connor is a nice man, isn’t he?”
“He’s decent enough. He pays me like I’m a common laborer, though. Pounding nails and moving a paint brush around is not my real job. I was a rancher.” Yes, Ann thought, and now you’re a laborer.
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing how to build and paint. It’s honorable work. And, like I said, you are very good at it.”
“And I wasn’t a good rancher, is that it?” Ann could feel a headache coming on.
“You were a fine rancher. It was the weather, and the rustlers. Buyers weren’t paying high prices for horses.” Lord, why did they have to go this route all the time. His failures were always everybody else’s fault. “You did your best.” She so wanted to bring this conversation around. “You’re a good man, Tom. A lot of men just like you are having a hard time getting the work they’re trained for. Working for others is only temporary.” Tom said nothing as he brushed down the horses. “You’re taking me to the dance tonight, aren’t you?”
“I wasn’t thinking about it.” Ann sighed. There was nothing more she could do.
“All right, Tom. I’ll start dinner.” She left the barn and went inside. She didn’t feel much like going to the dance either.
Jim was feeling pretty good about the dance. He had just come from Mattie’s and she was more than happy to accompany him tonight. She was a very beautiful woman with a pleasant personality. That would leave Cort to hold the office down alone, which Jim knew would suit him just fine.
When the 1 o’clock stagecoach pulled up at noon, no one was expecting it. Being Friday, most of the citizens had the dance on their minds. Cort, Morgan, and Jim were on their way to get some lunch.
“Isn’t he early?” Morgan asked. Jim nodded.
“Depends on the driver. Sam doesn’t wait long before loading them up and driving on. Most of the other drivers stop to eat and socialize.”
There was a small crowd gathered around the coach; the deputies crossed the street to see what the ‘to-do’ was all about. Several gentlemen were standing around a tall brunette, smiling and tipping their hats like mechanical toys. They were talking over each other to get her attention. From the back, the deputies could see that she was dressed in a form fitting white affair with a short, blue velvet jacket. In one hand was a white parasol surrounded by ruffles.
As the lawmen approached, the woman turned and greeted them with a sweet, dimpled smile.
“Look who’s here—the law. Have you gentlemen come to arrest me?” Morgan and Jim stopped dead. Even Cort was impressed with her beauty.
“Uh-n-no, m’am,” Jim stammered, removing his hat. Her hazel eyes sparkled mischievously. Even her heavy Southern accent was seductive.
“Well, I hope not. I was wondering if any of you handsome deputies can point me to the Crystal Palace. I’ll be staying there for a few days.”
Morgan pushed in front of Jim and extended his hand.
“Ma’am, I’m Morgan Earp. I’d be more than happy to see you to the Crystal Palace.”
“What more could a poor southern girl ask for.” She threaded her small hand in the crook of Morgan’s arm. Cort had to laugh at the bewildered look on Jim’s face.
“You have to be quicker than that,” he quipped.
Turning, she lavished the gathered gentlemen with an angelic smile.
“Would you kind sirs mind bringing my luggage?”
Five men pushed and shoved each other, trying to gain control over two suitcases. The motley parade marched in the direction of the Crystal Palace.
Cort and Jim headed for the Tucson Cafe. They were almost there when they saw Morgan walking slowly towards them, a look of shock covering his face.
“What’s wrong?” Jim asked.
“You’re not gonna believe this! That gorgeous, angelic creature I just escorted to the Palace—.” Morgan got closer and whispered. “It’s Josiah’s sister.”
“What?” Jim demanded.
“Yep. I couldn’t believe it when she introduced herself.”
“That’s the loud, evil, manipulative, sister?” Jim wondered.
“I DID ask her to the dance tonight though,” Morgan added sheepishly.
“WHAT?” Jim exclaimed.
“I told you,” Cort repeated, “you have to be quicker.”
Josiah was closing up the bank for the day. Since receiving the letter from Garnet this morning, his focus had been on her arrival and what his life would be like once she came. There was a growing part of him that wanted to get on the next train to ‘anywhere’ and leave for a few weeks….or months. He groaned aloud. He didn’t even know how long this craziness was going to last. Nor did he realize how long he had to plan his escape. Josiah shook his head. There would be no escape. But he was curious how many days of peace he could enjoy. He pulled out the letter from his pocket, mentally calculating a train and stagecoach trip from Atlanta might take two or more weeks. He checked the date on the letter and almost screamed. The stupid letter was dated three months ago! Where in the world had it been all this time? Three months? That meant only one thing…she could be arriving any day. Josiah lowered his head and sighed deeply as he exited the bank.
Peaches sat in front of her dressing mirror and smiled. Her lovely auburn hair was perfect as were her ruby red lips. Even her deep blue velvet dress had matching blue dancing slippers. It accentuated her figure in all the right places—even showing a bit of cleavage. Her target was Grady Long. He was one nice looking guy. If he was as nice as he looked, he was going to be her new best friend. Seth said he had mentioned the dance to Grady. Well, if he didn’t come, Peaches was going to knock someone’s socks off. She was just in one of those moods. Grabbing a light shawl, she glided down the stairs and left for the dance.
She had lost count of the exact times the sheets of cream-colored paper had been opened and closed, folded and refolded, in these long weeks since they had left home.
Old home, she reminded herself. My old home; the ancestral home; the home of my birth; the home of my childhood — home, home. She needed to remember that her destination would be the ‘new home’, and most likely a semi-permanent home, until she decided to take a husband and move away.
So now that the issue was settled in her mind, she withdrew the stationery from the leather handbag, and with the greatest care, unfolded the paper, the fingertips of one hand tracing the elegant lines of the embossed shield and the letter ‘T’ which highlighted the top of the first page. And once again, she thought of her ‘old’ home. Of her father’s office, the room he considered his sanctuary, tucked away in a quiet area of the house. Of him sitting before that enormous desk which was a family heirloom, and in his very bold hand, carefully penning the three letters which he would — in Southampton — present in sealed envelopes to each of his departing offspring, directing them not to open them until they had departed England. Even now, after all these weeks, the scent of bergamot and cedar from his cologne, and the blend of oak and spices from one of his favorite cigars still lingered, and were all that were required to trigger an image of him in her mind.
And despite the fact that the words were nearly memorized, she still read it as though it was for the first time.
Midsomer Manor, Causton
Sunday Evening, Fourth of April
My Dearest Elizabeth:
I have put-off until the final minutes these words I am now writing you, not because I am a procrastinator by nature – even you know that it untrue – but due to the idea in my mind that this is a form of letting go, of letting you go, my precious little girl, and that I have no way of knowing whether we shall meet again in this life or not. I want to think that yes, it is quite possible, but we both know that not only miles will separate us, but an entire ocean, and nearly the whole of a continent as well. Therefore, I am sending you forth with words I pray will be both a comfort and an inspiration.
I also realize that in doing so, in letting you go, I am freeing not only you, but your brothers of a burden I had never hoped to witness; however, I am a realist above all, a man who has never hidden his head or became some fanciful optimist to fit the imaginings of the peerage. I have attempted to rear all of you with a similar approach to life, that while the rank the Lord God has blessed us with all these centuries should be greatly prized, it must also be approached with earnestness and (I dare say it) some humbleness as well.
Again, being a realist, I accept that I have both succeeded and failed in this effort, as all of you well know.
I look at Morris… (and it was here — not for the first time — that she noted the way each letter in M-O-R-R-I-S had a slight hesitation, the handwriting exposing her father’s feelings towards his eldest son and successor) …I look at him, as I know you have, and I ask that you not judge him for what he has done, although time and time again, I have found myself doing so, and in doing so, have asked myself a thousand times if I, as his father, could have done better. Despite the hardships this situation has caused, when I made this decision regarding Laurence and Tom, I had no thought that you would volunteer to make the journey with them. You remember the times I chuckled, patted your hand, and accused you of having a child’s fanciful dreams — when all the time I knew you were quite serious. It was a time for me to yes, hide my head and pretend you were still in the nursery with your fairy tale books all about.
In the end my precious girl, I know that what we decided is for the best, especially for you, and I believe that your mother — looking down on us from Heaven — would accept this as well. I would not have much of a dowry to offer on your behalf; once our situation is completely public (I know we cannot keep it secret for long), the number of eligible beaux seeking your hand would dwindle, and I will not see you buttress our fortunes by marrying you to some wealthy man of means when I realize in all likelihood, this would make your life a misery. It has happened too often to companions of yours — I need not recount them for they are known both to you and me.
No, he did not need to do that, she considered, recalling the large number of childhood friends who had gone into marriages of convenience for the sake of their families’ honor and bank accounts. These women now either floated through life with complete, empty contentment (“For this is how is it supposed to be for a woman, Lizzie”); complete emptiness in life (“I never imagined this is how it was supposed to be, Lizzie — did you?”), or complete cynicism (“The Prince of Wales is such a darling. Look at this. Another emerald necklace. He says it matches the colour of my eyes. I call it another reward for services above and beyond to the Crown! Oh Lizzie stop looking so astounded.”)
Your mother and I attempted to give you something more, something which would be a salute to your namesakes (the Tudor Queen and the heroine of her mother’s favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice), as well as grant you a sense of freedom as much as we could provide . No doubt we have spoiled you on some level, but what you took from that will prove, thank God, to be a blessing as you face this new life. So as I was saying, from the moment you announced that you wished to join your brothers, I knew you would likely follow that path, no matter how I might discourage you or tease you in the hopes you would change your mind and decide to remain here at Midsomer. In the end, you, dearest girl, knew best; it took a while for your father to accept that you recognized this as the one opportunity at a real life.
I have already charged Laurence and Tom in caring for you as befits their positions as your older brothers. They know your nature as well as you know theirs — you three are cut from such different cloth than Morris — and they will love you and protect you in this strange land. While they will, as I do, respect your independence, never forget that their recommendations, their suggestions, and their advice comes from their own experiences as well as their brotherly love for their only sister — and my only daughter. You will remain our most precious jewel and they shall endeavor always to keep you safe. Even in these modern times, this is the hope and prayer of a father to a daughter who has always made him proud, and for whom he foresees greater opportunity than you would have had here in England under our present circumstances.
In the days of yore as they say, when a man of means (or a member of royalty) had more than one son, you remember what normally happened. The eldest son was the heir apparent; the second son entered the Church; and should there be a third son, he either went into the Navy or the Army to make his way. A daughter … well, a good match was naturally found, be she the child of a duke or a Princess Royal; a matter of policy and diplomacy; a matter of good business, with love having little to no play (I am blessed that in finding my own helpmate, your dearest mother, we both did the impossible in discovering love when we were matched).
But to the matter at hand: in our case there has been an exception — the options have unexpectedly opened due to all which has occurred these last months.
Now I can see neither Tom nor Laurence as churchmen — we have laughed over that in the past, and while I could see them making fine careers serving in Her Majesty’s Army or Navy, I decided not to force their hand in this. Do not tell them I said this if only to prevent them becoming even the slightest bit prideful, but you very well know they are of very sturdy, solid character; level-headed and pragmatic, even when filled with creative notions, and I think that will make them quite adaptable to what they will face. As for you, I am thankful you are not some Princess Royal, to be shipped off as some type of helpless pawn to Germany or Russia or Austria. You might be the daughter of a duke, but your mother and I always wanted something more than an elaborate title, chests of jewels — and little else.
Therefore, I bid you a loving adieu, from our Old World as you enter the New, a nation still young and fresh and alive, a nation which — despite a civil war that nearly tore them asunder forever — still has a rich future ahead of it. At least, that is my belief, another reason why I have no qualms towards my three younger children finding a new life there. It will be like nothing you have known before, but I feel that the three of you are more than ready for the task. I only hope that you will love it as much as I once did all those many years ago, when I laid eyes on it for the first time.
For you, Tom and Laurence, I bequeath you in my lifetime something that I still hold precious — property in the American West. For Morris, I can only leave, when I depart this life, an empty title and an ancient house and lineage; not much else, and of this he is very aware. But as I write these words, it is hoped that the alliance between our family and the Mercers will give us what we require to maintain all we have known, so that he will inherit a dukedom worthy in both title and treasury. (Blunt words I know, but you know the truth of this already).
Yes, blunt words indeed. For while her father sought to protect her from some loveless marriage, it was likely that her future sister-in-law would find herself in one, all to infuse the Thornhills with desperately needed funds. The “poor” girl, one of the nouveau riche of the American aristocracy, would — in exchange — receive a title or two, live in a house dating back to Elizabethan and Stuart times, be introduced at St. James’, and have the responsibility of carrying on their line. It was an enormous lot for the child of some railroad magnate, steel king, wily politician or clever financier, and she could only hope the future bride would be ready and able.
But I shall end my letter (I had no intention of it becoming so lengthy), with the words which I know you carry in your heart as well: ‘The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.’ Write me often, my dearest daughter, my precious Elizabeth, and watch out for your brothers as well. Continue to make me proud!
Your Loving Father.