11 November 1869
Sarah smiled up at her father, Phineas Bell, as he tousled her hair playfully when he came in from work. She sat at the large wooden table just waiting for him to come home, as she had all her young life.
“Hello, Papa. How was your day at the mill?”
With a sigh, Phineas sat down heavily at the table next to his daughter. “Long, chick. But, it puts food on our table, doesn’t it, now?” He smiled and looked at her, realizing with a start that, at thirteen, she was beginning to show signs of becoming a young woman. Had it been so long? He remembered her birth as though it was only last season. Two years after Willie came along, he had a beautiful baby girl who had big green eyes like her mother’s and a ready smile. He cherished her to this day, and even though Rachel had given him two more daughters after her, she remained closest to his heart.
Looking at her as she perused her bible, the only book allowed by Rachel in their home, he suddenly reached out and took her hand, drawn to the fact that she looked so much like mother, but her face remained open, curious, and happy, unlike Rachel’s perpetually pinched look of dissatisfaction.
Sarah, startled by her father’s sudden grasp, said, “What is it, papa? Are you alright?”
“Yes, lovie. But I want to tell you something, and I want you to hear me, and never forget what I’m going to say.”
Sarah nodded with widened eyes, a bit frightened by his serious tone.
“One day, you will be married. Now, you may find a lad you particularly like, or, your mother and I may find one we think well suited to you. But I want you to know one thing: I will never choose someone you’re opposed to, and I won’t let your mother do it either. Above all things, you must choose someone you can be happy with, someone you can love who gives you all the love you deserve in return. Never settle for less, love, because if you do, you will never be truly happy, no matter what anyone else tells you. Do you understand me?”
Sarah, her head tilted slightly to one side, looked at him thoughtfully and said, “Yes, papa, I think so.”
“Good. Now, let’s go help your mother with tea before she gets cross with us, shall we?”
Sarah nodded and slipped her small hand into his large calloused one, thinking she probably had the best father in the world.
15 May 1876
Jamie sat at the end of the field, her back against the cherry tree, her hand full of plump red cherries and her mouth stained crimson from the copious amount she had eaten. The gorgeous spring day with its fresh air and gentle breeze was just what she needed to get out of the dreary winter mood she had been in for months. The blue of the cloudless sky mirrored the pale blue of her eyes, which wandered sightlessly over the newly lush English landscape before her as she allowed herself to think about this time last year, and all the changes that fateful season had brought with it.
Jamie had been at home, reading The Tenant of Whitehall Manor by an author named Acton Bell, about a woman who had escaped an abusive husband. Supposedly, this author, rumored to be a woman, lived somewhere up in Haworth. Most people, including those who hadn’t read it, considered the book scandalous and Jamie had heard that many towns had even banned it in order to keep peoples morality and sensibilities intact. But, as she was headed to University in only a few weeks, she felt it her duty to be well read about the most currently talked about works. While she would miss her mother and father, as well as her wonderful twin brother Edmund, she was beyond excited about getting out of their tiny village and experiencing the intellectual side of life in London once again.
Her mother walked in, wiping her large hands on a dishrag. “Are you still reading that book, Jamie? We’d be the talk of the town if you told anyone, I’d say. But is it so terribly interesting?”
“Oh yes, mother. The way the author describes the characters, you’d think they were walking about our very own village right now. And, really, all she is saying is that a woman has the right to leave a man who abuses her, especially if it will save her children. I can’t see as how that’s so sinful.”
Jane Suthurst smiled at her daughter’s enthusiasm. “Well, you and I may think that way, but remember how religious most people are in this area, and that they seem to think a woman’s whole duty is to please her husband, no matter what that entails, as long as it doesn’t make him look bad. I do miss the discussions of London, occasionally, don’t you?”
Jamie sighed and closed her book. “I do, but at least I’m going back. I feel bad leaving you here with papa and Edmund, who have so taken to this mining idea I fear you won’t have any company at all, except for those gossipy women from the village hall.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about me. Once you’ve finished Uni, I expect you to come back and share all that hard won knowledge with me!”
They were still laughing and making plans for Jamie’s departure when the front door suddenly slammed open. Both of them gasped and stood as a group of men made their way through the door, carrying something heavy.
“Bed. Now,” huffed one of the men at the front.
Jane pointed to the back room, asking “What? What’s going on? Who’s hurt?”
Following the men, they both gasped when they set their burden on the bed and backed away. Edmund lay on the bed, a blood soaked handkerchief wrapped tightly around his head, his eyes closed and a deep bruise already appearing on his collar bone.
“Oh my God. Edmund! What happened?” cried Jane as she moved to his side, feeling his forehead and placing a palm on his cheek.
“We don’t rightly know, Mrs. Suthurst. He was out supervising the mine at Acorn Bridge this morning, and Mr. Suthurst was over on the other ridge looking at the new dig site at Kirby Thore. I went to ask Edmund a question about some tools, and found him on the ground. It looks like some rock fell in while he was in the mine. He’s lost a mighty amount of blood, ma’am.”
“Jamie, go get some hot water and clean rags. Has someone sent for Robert?” Seeing one of the men nod she turned back to Jamie. “Go down to the surgery and get Doc Crabtree.”
“It’s already been done, ma’am. He should be here any minute.”
At that moment, Robert Suthurst had flown through the door, asking “Where is he? What happened? Jane?”
She looked up at her husband as he shoved his way into the room, worry etched in deep lines across her forehead. “He’s unconscious, Robert. Did you see Doc Crabtree on your way up?”
“I’m here,” came a rasping voice from the front room. “If you gentlemen would be good enough to give him some breathing room and perhaps wait outside, or, even, get back to your respective work, I’ll be able to see what I’m doing.”
Doctor Crabtree entered the room with his usual air of somberness. “Now. Let’s see. Mrs. Suthurst, if you would be so kind as to move to the end of the bed so I can get a look at his injuries? Excellent. Thank you.”
The village doctor leaned over Edmund and gently probed the wound on his head, pushing aside chestnut brown hair soaked in blood, and then did the same around the now blackened and swollen bruise on his collar bone. Opening his black medical bag, he dug until he found the Dettol, and then swiftly swabbed the head wound with the antiseptic.
“Now. Mr. Suthurst, would you please hold the young man’s legs steady, so that while I stitch his head he does not move about too much? Thank you.”
Jane and Jamie watched as the doctor began stitching the long gash on Edmund’s head, but he didn’t stir.
“Right.” Doctor Crabtree tied off the stitches and said, “Well, it will likely scar, but I’m much more worried about this swelling in his chest. We’re too far from a hospital to get him there, so I’m afraid we’ll have to wait and see. If he seems to be bleeding internally, I will have him bled, of course, but with this kind of injury all we can do is wait.”
“See to your mother, Jamie!” Robert said, just as Jane was about to sink to her knees. Jamie led her to a chair and quickly brought her a glass of water, and then stared at her twin in horror, one hand pressed to her heart, which felt like it would break, and one pressed against her pale cheek.
Robert leaned against the wall, staring intently at his son as though silently urging him to open his eyes.
He never did.
Two weeks after the funeral, Jamie’s parents existed in a fog of despair, going about their affairs with a numb, stoic countenance. Their only son had died, and Jane was now too old to have another child. The world had become a bleak, sad place without their son’s good humor and optimism. The prospect of Jane leaving for University left both of her parents feeling bereft.
Jamie made a decision, and one grey morning sat with her mother and father at the table.
“I’m not going. You need me here, to help with the mine. Yes, I know you have plenty of workers,” she had said, anticipating her father’s inter interruption, “but you know as well as I do that this is a family enterprise, and it takes all of us to make it work. Without Edmund,” she swallowed hard, keeping the tears away, “you’re a hand short. I can handle it, and learn what I need to. I’m not going. I’ve already sent a letter requesting a long deferment, if they’ll grant it, in case I am able to attend at a later date.”
She crossed her arms tightly over her chest, her jaw muscles visibly clenching, as she prepared herself for a lengthy argument.
Her father had stared at her for a long time, and her mother had drawn circles in a drop of water on the table with her fingertip.
“At twenty-two, you’re old enough to make your own decisions,” her father said, surprising her. “But you should know, Jamie, mining is hard, physical work, and if you put off Uni to work here, you may never get there.”
Taking a deep breath, she said, “I know. I am aware of that. But you taught me, papa, that it’s family first, always. Edmund was my best friend,” her voice cracked, and she had to take a moment to compose herself, “He was my best friend, and he wanted this mine to work. I won’t let him down.”
Jane put her hands over her face and began to weep quietly. Robert got up and put a strong arm around his wife, his own tears falling freely from the same pale blue eyes he had passed on to his children. Reaching out, he drew his daughter to him and held his two girls close, as they mourned and continued on, together.
There had been a steep learning curve for Jamie. She came in from the mine sore, her body aching so bad she thought she would never move again, only to force herself to get up at dawn the next day and do it all over again.
She found, as well, that working in a muslin skirt, bustle and bodice was ludicrous. The skirt got tangled around her legs as she attempted to navigate the mine, got underfoot when she bent to check the rock quality, and got trapped against the rough hewn rock walls when she went to check on the workers. The bodice kept her from breathing correctly while exerting herself, and she found herself dizzy more than once from lack of breath. Her legs were cut, bitten, and scraped, as were her arms. Her long chestnut hair, too, got in the way. It would blind her when the wind blew, often causing her to stumble, or get in her mouth when she was yelling directions at the miners, and was always horribly tangled when she got in at night.
So, one night she had entered into Edmund’s room, and silently thanking him, took out his pants, boots, shirts and braces, and then repaired to her bedroom mirror.
The next morning, she entered the breakfast room and sat down.
“Oh, dear God. What have you done?” her mother whispered, holding her chest.
“I can’t be expected to mine in a dress, mum. And my hair was getting ruined. I can grow it out again when the time’s right.”
“But your clothes, Jamie. What will people think, you wearing men’s clothes? And your beautiful hair, Jamie. It just, it just…”
“Well, the men will probably raise an eyebrow and then see it as practical, and the women will gossip and be secretly envious of my ability to wear comfortable clothes. Honestly, mum, do you have any idea how much more comfortable men’s clothes are?”
Jane had sunk down into her chair and stared at her only daughter, who now looked overwhelmingly like the son she had only just lost, with her chestnut brown hair cut just below her chin, and her tanned, strong arms and sharp jaw line.
Her father had entered and stopped short, staring at Jamie. “Hmph,” was his only reaction as he picked up his coffee cup and continued to look at her with an inscrutable look on his face.
“Makes sense, I suppose,” he said as they walked out the door together to start the day.
“See?” Jamie smiled crookedly over her shoulder at her mother, and ran a hand through her wonderfully short cropped hair. Her mother just shook her head and gave her daughter the smallest smile in return.
And now, a new spring had arrived, and Jamie was ready to get back to work, into the sunshine. Of course, mining didn’t end in the winter, but it became even more tiresome with no sunlight either in or out of the mine.
A shadow fell over her, and she glanced up to find Willie Bell flopping down next to her on the grass.
“Hello, Willie. Are you alright, then?”
“Yup, Jamie. How bout you? You alright?
“Mm hmm,” she said as she popped another cherry in her mouth.
“Crops should be good this year. They’re saying down at the mill that we’re in for a good season, and my sisters and mother are already getting the weaving area set up.”
Willie and Jamie had been friends since she and her family had moved to the area four years ago, when her father had decided to invest in the mining industry along with his other businesses. In order to oversee his investment, they had left the smoky, pungent life in London and moved to this quaint country village near the Acorn Bank Gypsum quarry.
Last year, right about the same time Jamie’s family lost Edmund, Willie and his family had lost their father, Phineas, to Cholera, which had also affected the youngest girl, who seemed to have lost her ability to concentrate and often had tantrums for no apparent reason. Jamie had had little reason, however, to ever speak with Willie’s sisters, since she was always down at the mine or reading, and Willie’s mother was a strict, pious woman, saving her daughters souls by keeping them locked in the house most of the time.
“How are your parents, Jamie?”
“Getting better with time, Willie. We’ll never get over losing Edmund, of course, but the pain is at least bearable now. How is your family recovering?”
“My mum’s gotten worse since my papa died. You’d think we all became massive sinners the moment she buried him. It’s worst for my oldest sister, Sarah. Mum thinks if she doesn’t get her married off soon, she’ll become some horrible old maid and embarrass the family.”
Jamie laughed, and said, “Funny. I think my parents have given up on me getting married. Looking like I do, and liking it, besides, I shouldn’t wonder I’m already considered an old maid.
“I don’t know, Jamie. You’ve got learning, and manners, and you work hard. Some bloke will take a fancy to you, don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried, Willie. I don’t want to get married, you see. There isn’t a single person I would even consider as a possibility, let alone marry.”
“Thanks a lot, Jamie.”
Punching him in the arm, Jamie said, “Right. As though you haven’t been thinking about asking little Martha Lord to marry you for years?”
“You’re the only one who knows that, Jamie. I haven’t had the courage to really begin courting her. Besides, what would she want with a farmers son? Her family owns The Grange, don’t you know? One hundred and fifty acres of perfect pastures. I can’t compete.” He stared out at the open green land before them with as sullen a look on his face as Jamie had ever seen.
“Compete with who, Willie? There can’t be that many men in this village of an age to marry her.”
“That’s what there is to recommend me? That there isn’t anyone else, so she’ll have to settle?” Willie’s face turned a crimson color and he took his frustration out on the grass in front of him, shredding it in his fingers.
“That’s not what I meant, Willie,” amended Jamie, sorry to have upset her friend. “I mean that you’re the best man she could have, and since there’s no one else vying for her hand, you have the chance to show her what a good man you are, and what a good husband you would be.”
Willie directed his question to the grass. “Do you really think so?”
Jamie placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “Yes, I know so. What are you waiting for? Ask her to the dance tonight.”
“No, no. But I will ask her to dance when we get there.”
Jamie pressed her lips together to keep from laughing at the determination in his voice. “Excellent. Well, then, I better head down to the mine.”
“Will you be there tonight, Jamie?” Willie asked, knowing full well her answer.
“Of course not, Willie. You know how the town sees me now. Esther Crabtree actually called me “unnatural” in front of my mother two days ago. Mum, obviously, felt it her duty to defend me as someone who takes care of her family before worrying about gossipy old women.”
Willie laughed and said, “Well, I have to ask, because it would make a much more exciting evening if you did show up! Plus, my oldest sister loves to read, and I know you do, too. It would give her someone to talk to, as well as outraging my mother.”
Jamie just shook her head and strolled down the rolling hill to the mine, smiling with cherry stained lips as she listened to Willie’s laughter behind her.
“I had forgotten how uncomfortable this all is.” Jamie tugged and pulled, shifted and loosened the pale blue gown with its dark blue petticoat and bustle. The bodice was pulled taught over her small breasts, and although she wore a corset, there was no need, as her waist was small and her curves nearly non-existent from her work at the mines.
“But you look beautiful, if a bit thin. And I really do want to go tonight. Your father hasn’t wanted to socialize since Edmund…”
“It’s okay, Mother. I don’t mind going with you. And it will give the old women something to talk about tomorrow.”
“Thank you, love. Shall we?”
Together, they strolled through the streets, Jane’s pale rose gown rustling against her daughters blue one. At the village green they both smiled in delight at the brightly colored streamers hung in the trees, the small stage set up for the band, and the children in their gay clothes laughing and dancing around the maypole. Arm in arm they walked to the punch table, dodging children running through the crowd with sweets clasped in their hands.
“Hello, Mrs. Crabtree. How are you this evening?”
“I don’t—fine. Thank you. And you, Mrs. Suthhurst?”
Jane grinned slightly at the blatant lack of greeting.
“Hello, Mrs. Crabtree. Good to see you, as always.”
“Jamie. Good to see you properly dressed, although I see that your hair hasn’t grown out yet.”
“Well,” began Jane, her cheeks pink and her shoulders rigid.
“Oh Mother, look, there’s Willie and his family. Shall we go say hello? I’m sure Mrs. Crabtree has other people to discuss.”
Grasping her mother’s elbow she gently guided her in another direction, grinning once again at the sputtering of the old woman behind them.
“Can you believe her? The absolute gall! How dare she comment on anyone’s appearance, the old shrew.”
Laughing, Jamie said, “Mother, don’t let her bother you. Just think what she would have said if I had come in my work clothes.”
An unladylike snort escaped her mother and she quickly placed a hand over her mouth, her eyes betraying her laughter.
“Hello, Willie. How are you, tonight?”
“Good, Jamie. How are you, Mrs. Suthurst? I don’t suppose I could request a dance with you later?”
“Why Willie, I would love to. But surely your dance card is full?”
“No, Ma’am. I’ve saved it for yourself and Jamie.”
Jamie laughed out loud, and said, “Right. My mother, maybe. But I fully intend to watch, not participate.”
A young woman stepped smartly up to Willie’s side, and he said, “Jamie, Mrs. Suthurst, have you met my sister Sarah?”
“Nice to meet you both. Willie has told us so much about you,” the young woman said.
Shaking their hands, Sarah ran an appraising eye over Jamie, whom had been a topic of discussion in her household on more than one occasion. Upon reaching her face, she met the palest blue eyes she had ever seen holding an expression of bemused patience. Her stomach did a slight roll, and stammering, she said, “You’re wearing a lovely gown, Ms. Suthurst. Yours as well, Mrs. Suthurst. What a lovely color.”
“Thank you, Sarah. We brought them with us from London, and I’m so glad we finally have a chance to wear them. Is your mother here this evening?”
“No, ma’am. She doesn’t really approve of this kind of thing, but she allows us to come out for a little while without her, as long as Willie is our chaperone.”
“Ah, I see. Well, please send her our regards, and tell her if she would like to have tea one day, she’s welcome to stop by.”
Sarah’s eyes widened, and her mouth opened slightly and then shut again.
“We’ll tell her, Mrs. Suthurst, thank you,” said Willie, gently taking his sister’s hand in his and giving it a squeeze.
“Yes, of course. Uh, Willie, I’m going to go see if Mary Ellen is okay.”
With a nod to the women, she lifted her dark grey skirt and walked quickly away, her head held erect and her shoulders stiff.
Turning back to Willie, Jamie and Jane talked to him about his plans at the mill, about the goings on at the mine, and the possibility of a train really coming through the town.
“My husband is quite excited about the possibility of train travel in this area, Willie. It would make transporting the lead from the mine so much easier and faster. And of course, it would allow us to get to London on occasion without such wear and tear on the horses.”
Willie listened, but his eyes followed the pretty, plump brunette talking in a group of other girls across the dance floor. “I agree, Mrs. Suthurst, but my mother feels differently. She is adamant that the train would cause everyone to leave and the children to forsake their parents in search of adventure.”
Jamie laughed, made some innocuous reply, and then said, “Willie, I believe the dancing is starting. Perhaps you have someone to ask to dance?” She tilted her head in the direction of his gaze, and, swallowing hard, he said, “Yes. Mrs. Suthurst, will you do me the honor?”
“Willie! I meant Mary.”
“I know what you meant. Maybe if she sees I’m a good dancer, she’ll be more likely to say yes.”
Jane grasped his hand, and with a big smile said, “Ah, Willie. Using me to make another woman want you. It’s been forever since I could play that game. Indeed, let us dance!”
With that, Jamie watched as her mother and brother high stepped to the music, smoothly dancing around and with one another. When they came back, breathless and laughing, she said, “Willie, I had no idea you could dance so well! Mary is sure to want a turn. Why don’t you go do it now, while she’s still watching you?”
Willie’s head snapped around to see if it was true, and then gave a silly grin when he realized Jamie was teasing him. Taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders, he stepped briskly across the dance floor, and as Jane and Jamie watched, he gently touched Mary’s elbow, and bowing, requested the dance. She placed her hand in his, and soon they were enjoying one another’s company on the dance floor. Neither of them had another dance partner for the rest of the night.
Jane was asked to dance by several young men who worked for her father at the mine, and although one or two made a half-hearted request for her as well, she politely let them off the hook. These were men she laughed with, worked beside in a filthy mine. They wanted as much to do with her outside that life as she did them. She moved softly into the shadows and continued to watch as her mother and her best friend enjoyed themselves, and then caught site of Willie’s sisters, tapping their feet but sticking close to one another on the edge of the festivities. Young John Walker approached them and held out a hand, bit found himself none to gently rebuffed. Jane narrowed her eyes and watched him return to his friends, who slapped him on the back and obviously gave him guff for failing.
Sarah’s feet tapped, and she swayed, desperately wishing she could dance, but knowing that her mother would hear of it and punish them. She had had to fight for them to come at all, and if her mother heard anything she could use against them, they wouldn’t be allowed to go to another festival.
Glancing around, she found herself trapped by coral blue eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then she turned away abruptly and said, “Time to go, or mother will be cross.” Her sisters grumbled, but gathered their skirts and followed their eldest sister out of the village square. Sarah placed a hand hard against her stomach, trying to push away the confusing rolling caused by the blue eyed woman who wore men’s clothes and had short hair.
Jane watched thoughtfully as the girls walked away, wondering what had just passed between Willie’s sister and herself. She found herself admiring the way Sarah’s hips swayed under her skirts, and the way she held herself so erect, with her shoulders pulled back. She probably doesn’t know that it pushes her breasts forward. Jamie shook her head, wondering where in the world the thoughts came from. It must be from spending so much time with the men at the mines, she decided. She turned her attention back to the dance floor, but couldn’t quite shake a feeling of unease.
“Wasn’t last night so much fun, Jamie?” Jane sat down at the breakfast table with her daughter, her eyes tired but her smile bright.
“It was, mother. And you looked beautiful on the dance floor. Dad would be jealous if he saw how many men turned your way!”
Jane giggled and sipped her coffee, watching as her daughter finished her breakfast and got ready to go to the mine. She couldn’t help but notice how comfortable Jamie looked in the men’s clothes, and that, somehow, they suited her more than the lovely dress she had worn the evening before.
“Is dad already gone?”
“No. He went over to the Robinson’s farm last night while we were at the dance, and played poker and drank a bit too much. He’s sleeping it off, so he’ll…”
“Be there in an hour,” her father finished, shuffling into the room in his nightgown and slippers, his hair a mess and his face a rosy pink.
Laughing out loud, Jamie kissed his cheek and said, “See you then. I’ll get the men started on the south tunnel today, so that when you get there you can see how deep we need to go.”
Nodding, he watched her bound at the door, and listened as she hooked up her horse. Sitting down, he grinned sheepishly at his wife, who grinned back and took his hand in hers.
They sat quietly drinking coffee for a few moments, and then Jane suddenly said, “I’m worried about Jamie, Robert. At her age she should be thinking about marriage, or at the very least in school. Instead she’s wearing men’s clothes, working in a mine, her hair cut short.”
“I thought you were okay with what she was doing, Jane? You know it’s just temporary, until the mine is so established I can hire someone to run it for me. Then, we’ll decide if we want to stay here or move on. Jamie can do whatever she wants then.”
“Robert, what if…well, what if Jamie is like those women we read about in the papers from America last week? What do they call it? Boston Marriage? She’s just so comfortable as the person she’s been since working at the mine. And she really seems to have no interest at all in the young men around here. Lord knows, before she, well, changed, there were plenty sniffing around.”
“As if we would want her with any of them, anyhow. Reading in this village is limited to the bible, with anything else tantamount to sinning. Jamie needs someone who stimulates her intellectually, someone who challenges her. She’ll find him, don’t worry. For now, just let her be who she wants to be.”
“Your’e right, of course. I just want her to be happy, and to have whatever she wants out of life. And of course, I love her no matter what.”
Kissing his wife’s hand, he said, “We both do. She’s a good girl. She’ll work it out, don’t worry.”
Outside, Jamie rested her forehead on the cool wood of the house. She had forgotten her gloves, and meant to run back in to get them when she heard her name in her parents conversation. Turning away, she leapt onto her horse, unwilling to think about what she had just overheard.
“Have you managed the opening to the new tunnel, Jamie?” Robert said, pulling on the heavy work gloves.
Nodding, she said, “Yes. They blew it about an hour ago, and started removing rock right away. It looks like a good vien.”
Placing a hand on her shoulder he said, “Good job.” Then he walked away and began to speak with his foreman about the new vein and how best to go at it from this angle. Jamie watched, biting her lip, feeling out of sorts and unsure of herself. She hung back for most of the day, watching and giving orders when necessary, helping with rock removal and bandaging minor injuries.
Late in the day, her father suggested they head home, and they mounted their horses and rode in silence for a while. Suddenly, Jamie said, “Dad, what’s a Boston Marriage?”
His head snapped around and he squinted at her. “Where did you hear that?”
“This morning, I forgot my gloves, and I overheard you and mom talking.”
With a sigh, Robert said, “I see. Well, Jamie, according to the papers, in America they are calling women who, uh, prefer the company of other women and who live with them instead of men, women of a Boston Marriage.”
Reining in her horse, Jamie stared at her father, stunned. “And mother thinks I’m one of those? A woman who prefers women?”
“No, Jamie. She just mentioned it because you don’t seem to have an interest in men, love. And, if it is the case, living in a village like this one wouldn’t be good for you, since these people tend to be rather small minded about change, as you can see with many of their reactions to the rail road.”
Jamie was speechless. She had no idea what to say, or how to respond. She urged her horse forward in silence, and her father left her to her thoughts, noting how her jaw clenched and unclenched as it only did when she was distressed in some way.
Just as they arrived at the house, he stopped and said, “Jamie, I want you to know something, and I mean it. Your mother and I love you, unconditionally. We lost Edmund, and we will not lose you. Understand?”
She nodded mutely, dismounted and went in the house, leaving her father to stable the horses. She went immediately to her room and stripped off the filthy clothes. She stood in front of the mirror, naked, and studied herself. Was it on her skin? If she looked close enough, would she find some tell-tale sign of her difference? She ran her hands over her flat stomach, her small breasts, her trim hips and then through her short hair. Her thoughts turned abruptly to Sarah and her gut reaction to the woman’s simple beauty. She thought of Sarah’s hands on her, and touched herself as she would want Sarah to. Aroused, and frightened, she stopped and yanked on clean trousers and a clean shirt. Fleeing the house, she ran down to the river to think: to try and figure out what was happening to her world.
Sarah sat, quietly working on the piece of lace to be fitted to Mrs. Thompson’s new gown. Her sisters each sat working on their own needlework, and they sound of their mother’s loom shuttling back and forth was both soothing and irritating.
“I had so much fun last night, Sarah. How I wish we could have danced!” Alice whispered to her sister, leaning forward slightly so that her mother would not hear her.
“Me, too, Alice. But at least we were allowed to go at all. And, once you’re married, you’ll be able to dance the night away with your husband.”
“I can’t wait to be married, Sarah. But how can anyone want to court us when mother wont let us out of the house?”
“Someone will, Alice, don’t worry. Perhaps young John Walker will persue you.”
Ducking her head, the young woman blushed and smiled into her needlework. “Oh, I do hope so. He’s so handsome, and his father is a good man, a hard worker. Do you think mother would agree?”
“If he goes about it the right way, I think so. He would have to be pious, of course.”
Alice rolled her eyes and sighed.
“You should want a pious husband, Alice. Mother is right,” said Annie in her typically self righteous manner. “You know that a pious husband will lead his wife to Heaven, while a sinner will only cause his wife to be dammed.”
“Oh Annie, give it a rest. You sound just like mother.”
“She’s a good Christian woman, Alice, and you should try to be more like her.”
“Stop it, both of you. It’s a moot point right now, as no one is asking for any of us right now,” Sarah hissed, glancing up to see if their mother was paying attention. Seeing they were safe, she took a deep breath and said, “Get back to work before mother gets cross.”
They worked in silence for another hour, and then, stretching, Sarah said, “I’m going to go down to the stream and do some washing so it can dry before dark. I’ll be back shortly.”
“Don’t dawdle. Gods hates idleness, Sarah.” Her mother’s hands did not stop as she instructed her oldest on her duties.
“I know, mother. I’ll work quickly and come right back.”
“Don’t talk to any men, either, Sarah. They can only lead you down the path of sin.”
“No men ever go down to the stream, mother. In fact, no one does. Most people here have wash basins in the garden now, so they don’t have to traipse all the way to the stream and wash their delicates in front of other people.”
“Do not complain about the way we do things, Sarah. Envy is a sin in God’s eyes. Simplicity is His way, and there is no reason to change it. Now go.”
Without a word Sarah picked up the basket of laundry and stomped out of the house, frustrated with her mother’s constant desire to keep her daughters away from the outside world, while her brother got to do as he wished.
When she arrived at the stream, still fuming, she dropped her bundle on the rivers edge and moved to her special tree. Reaching up, she felt around for the books she had hidden in the large knothole in the tree. The only book allowed in their home was a Bible, but Sarah had an unquenchable thirst for more, and had found some discarded books behind the town grocers. She hid them at the stream, and made time to devour them when she was supposed to be doing laundry.
Jamie watched from her vantage point on the rock above the stream as Sarah Bell took her books from the knot of the tree. She raised an eyebrow in surprise, realizing there was more to this woman than she had originally thought.
Sarah plopped down on top of the laundry and opened the book, only to slam it shut again and stand with a gasp when someone cleared their throat nearby.
“It’s okay, it’s just me, Sarah.”
“Oh. You gave me a scare, Ms. Suthurst. I thought I was alone.”
“I’m sorry. I was sitting up on that rock when you arrived, so I guess you couldn’t see me. I just came here to do some thinking.” Jamie swallowed, feeling awkward and unsure of herself.
“I come here to think, as well. I’m sorry to have disturbed you, though. I can leave you to your thoughts.” Sarah picked up her basket, attempting to hide the book in her hand.
“No, please, Sarah, stay. And call me Jamie. Ms. Suthurst is so formal. What are you reading?”
“Nothing. I mean, I should go. It’s just a book I found.” Sarah stumbled over her words, mortified that she’d been caught reading, and by the village rebel, no less.
“Here, let me see. Wow, Ovid. I’m impressed that you found a copy of that book in this area. I would have thought it a bit…” Jamie trailed off, not sure how to explain it.
“Intellectual, Ms. Suthurst?” Sarah’s chin rose in defiance, and she grabbed the book back.
“No, Sarah, I didn’t mean that. I mean, people around here seem to read the Bible to the exclusion of anything else, that’s all. And Ovid certainly isn’t the Bible.”
Biting her lip, Sarah said, “You’ve read it, then? This book?”
Jamie shrugged. “Sure. It’s required reading in London schools, although we usually read it in the original Greek for practice.”
Sarah’s eyes widened and she said, “Really? In Greek? I’ve learned a bit of Latin in the schools here, and I help my sisters with theirs, but I would love to read stories like these in another language.” She dropped her eyes to the ground, embarrassed by her admission, and then, panicked, she said, “You won’t tell Willie, will you? If my mother found out, she’s beat me to within a breath of life. She’d be furious.”
Holding up her hands, Jamie said, “No, Sarah, don’t worry, I wont tell anyone. Your secret is safe with me. And, if you ever want to discuss the stories, I’d be happy to. I love the morals that come with the stories.”
“Thank you, Jamie. I admit, it’s nice to have someone know my secret.” Sarah smiled shyly and turned the book over and over in her hands, attempting to ignore the screaming butterflies in her stomach as well as the young woman’s crystalline blue eyes. They stood uncomfortably for a moment, and then Jamie said, “Hey, are you doing laundry? I could read to you while you wash. That way you could hear the stories and still get your work done.”
Sarah broke into a large smile. “That would be wonderful. But are you sure? You don’t have work to do of your own? I wouldn’t want to keep you.”
Jamie shook her head, and taking the book from Sarah with trembling hands, she sat down next to Sarah’s basket, intentionally ignoring the lacy delicates of women’s underclothing next to her. She began to read the story of Arachne, the woman who had boasted about her weaving being better than even that of the goddess. The goddess challenged her, and she won. The goddess turned her into a spider anyway, angry that she had been bested, and so that the woman would weave for her entire life, but never be able to boast about it again.
Finishing the story, the two young women sat in silence pondering the moral. Jamie watched as Sarah’s back muscles moved under her coarse gown as she pushed and pulled the laundry in the stream. She watched as her hips rolled forward and back, and the pale skin of her forearms glistened under the water. She felt sweat bead on her forehead as she felt the sudden rush of longing to touch Sarah’s hair, her cheek, her lips. She knew with a sudden, intense and gut wrenching clarity that her mother was right. She was one of “those” women, and she knew with equal clarity what it was going to take for her to be happy.
Standing abruptly, she said, “Well, I better get back to the house. My parents will be wondering where I am. But thank you for letting me read. Perhaps we can do it again at some point.” Blanching at the offer, since she had not intended to say it, she held her breath.
“I’d like that, Jamie. You have a lovely smooth voice. And it does make the washing go so much faster. Thank you.” Sarah smiled openly at the woman in men’s clothing, glad to have a friend, even if it was one she could never acknowledge publicly.
With only the hint of a sad smile, Jamie nodded a goodbye and walked briskly up the bank toward her home.
Sarah watched her go, fascinated by the way the woman’s body moved so fluidly under the masculine clothing, and the way Jamie’s long arms swung freely by her sides as her long stride took her away from the stream. Shaking her head, she turned back to the laundry, frustrated by not being able to spend more time with the kind, awkward, blue eyed Ms. Suthurst.
Sarah walked slowly, balancing the basket of wet, heavy clothing on her hip and pondering her own reaction to Jamie Suthurst. Hearing someone’s footsteps ahead of her, she looked up and nodded a greeting to John Walker, who stopped in front of her and took off his hat, which he promptly began twisting in his hands.
“Hello, Ms. Sarah. How are you today?”
“I’m well, John, thank you. And you?”
“Well, I’m actually very glad to have run into you, Ms. Sarah. You see, well, I. Well, I would like to court your sister, Annie, but I don’t rightly know how to start, you see.”
“I would not presume to speak for my sister, Mr. Walker.”
His face fell, and he squeezed his hat into a ball. Taking pity on him, she said, “But, I will say, sir, that you would not be unwelcome. However, should you wish your suit taken seriously, I suggest you speak with my mother first, before you even suggest it to Annie. And, you must press your pious, Christian nature in order to impress my mother.”
John’s eyes lit up and he nodded so vigorously Sarah thought his head might fly off. “Yes, Ms. Sarah, I’ll do that. I’ll do that right now.”
“No, no, John. My mother will be reading the bible for the girls afternoon study session right now. Come by in the morning, after breakfast, and my mother will feel more kindly to you.”
He nodded, although he looked a bit crestfallen. “Okay, Ms. Sarah. Thank you for the advice, and for your kindness. I will see you tomorrow.” Giving her a slight bow, he turned and walked briskly away, whistling a tune Sarah had never heard. Shaking her head and smiling, she continued on her way home, glad for her sister but hoping her mother did not squash the two young people’s dreams.
Jamie got home and went straight to her room, where she fell onto her bed and covered her face with her pillow. She found herself torn between total confusion and utter giddiness at her new found knowledge. Things began to make sense. Her desire to follow the young women at school around, and never the boys. Her impatience with the idea of marriage. Her bodies reaction to Sarah Bell.
Sarah. What was she going to do about her? She knew instinctively that if she made her feelings known, Sarah would turn away, and never look back. But what else could she do? Maybe a friendship would be enough. They could read together, and talk about life in general. She would teach Sarah about London, and maybe even teach her some Greek.
Sitting up at the knock on her door, she smiled as her mother entered and sat on the bed with her.
“How was your day, honey?”
“Good, mum. I had a talk with dad on the way home.”
Her mother inhaled deeply and said, “I know. I’m sorry you overheard the conversation. I was really just talking nonsense. I don’t want you upset.”
Taking her mothers hand in her own, she said, “No, mum. You were right. I think, anyway. I am like those American women. I feel—different, somehow. I just never thought to stop and examine it. But now, I understand. I know who I am.”
With fear in her eyes, she looked at her mother. “You still love me? You don’t hate me, or think I’m strange?”
Staring out the window, her mother took so long to answer that Jamie was ready to run from the room to keep from hearing what she had to say.
But then, she said softly, “No, Jamie. I don’t hate you. As your father said, we love you. You’re our daughter. I wont say I necessarily understand it, of course, since I love your father so much. But, I will respect your decision, because I do want you to be happy. I’m sorry we wont have grandchildren. And, I think you’ll find that society will not be entirely comfortable with your choice. I’m sorry that it might be hard for you. Your father and I will stand by you and protect you as much as we can. People can be cruel, my love, but don’t ever listen to their nonsense. Especially around here, where most of these people have never been more than a few miles from the village they were born in.” Jane cupped her daughter’s cheek in her hand, and hoped she did not see the disappointment in her eyes.
Jamie leaned forward and hugged her mother tightly, glad to feel her mothers strong arms around her as she dealt with her own strange realizations. With her parents support, she could do anything, be the person she needed to be. She did not know how it would change her life, and could not imagine anything really different happening outside of her, but inside, she suddenly felt free, like a rabbit coming out of a winter burrow at the first signs of spring.
Sarah answered the door shortly after breakfast. “Hello, Mr. Walker. How may we help you?”
She watched as his Adam’s apple bobbed, and found it strangely repulsive.
“I have come to speak to your mother, Ms. Sarah, if she’s available.”
“Indeed, I believe she is, Mr. Walker. Please have a seat in the lounge and I will get her for you.”
Stepping into her mothers bedroom, she said, “Mother, Mr. Walker is here to see you.”
“I’m not sure, ma’am. He didn’t say.”
“Hmph. No good, I’m sure.”
Rachel walked from the room, her pointed shoes clacking on the wooden floor, announcing her arrival long before she arrived. She closed the door behind her, and an hour later the girls were hard at work on their needlepoint when the door reopened and the pair emerged. Annie, unaware the young man was even in the house, gave a slight gasp at seeing him. He was pale, his lips drawn tight and his hands crushing his poor hat once again.
“Annie. Come here, please,” said Rachel.
Annie went over and stood before them, her eyes properly downcast so as not to show her eagerness.
“Mr. Walker has requested my permission to court you. And, as he has proven himself a worthy Christian man through my examination of his biblical knowledge, I have granted him that permission. You will, of course, take one of your sisters along with you anywhere you go outside of this house until you are properly married, which Mr. Walker assures me is the assumed end result.”
“Yes, mother. Thank you. It is kind of you to ask for me, Mr. Walker.” She glanced furtively at his face, giving him the smallest smile of understanding, at which point some color returned to his face and he grinned.
“I’m glad, Ms. Annie, that you are willing. Would you do me the honor of a picnic tomorrow afternoon?”
Annie looked at her mother, who gave a curt nod while looking at the pair through slitted eyes. “Yes, Mr. Walker, that would be fine, thank you.”
“Very good. I will come by at noon, if that is suitable?”
“Oh, enough of this nonsense. Annie, get back to your work. Mr. Walker, good day, and we will expect you at noon tomorrow.”
Annie curtsied to him and then turned away, afraid to say anything out loud and give away her excitement. He bowed his head to the women and left the house quickly, as much to get away from Rachel Bell as to be able to give way to his own elation.
Sarah squeezed her sisters hand quickly and continued her needlework. If her mother knew how much this meant to Annie, she would quickly turn against it, saying that anything desired so much would only be the devil’s work. Sarah longed for the kind of excitement her sister and beau felt, but she had yet to meet anyone who brought it about. Except for Jamie, of course, but that was different.
Willie entered the house, and taking off his jacket and shoes, said, “Hello! I just ran into John Walker leaving the house, and he told me the good news. Good for you, Annie girl! John’s a good lad, and a hard worker. He’d make a fine husband.”
Annie blushed and hugged her brother, the one person who protected them from their mother’s over zealous belief in corporal punishment. He hugged her tightly back, and then said, “Well, what’s for tea? I’m starving!”
Rachel stood stiffly and said, “Do not exaggerate, William. It is no better than lying, and the Lord God despises liars.”
“Okay, mother. I am very hungry. Is there, perchance, something to eat?” He said it formally, with his hands pressed together as though praying, and Mary Ellen giggled. Rachel spun and slapped the girl soundly, making her cry out.
“Mother! She was just responding to Willie. You know she doesn’t understand.” Sarah pulled the youngest girl to her, wiping her tears with the hem of her own dress.
“How dare you tell me how to discipline my own daughter! You, the eldest girl who has not even had a single offer of marriage? You should be ashamed that your younger sister is to be courted before you.” She raised a hand as though to strike Sarah, who just stared at her mother angrily, when Willie grabbed his mothers arm.
“Enough, mother. What’s for dinner?”
Rachel looked at her son, a fully grown man now, and yanked her arm out of his grasp. “Stew and bread.”
She stomped away, her fury echoing in every step of her loud shoes.
Willie blew out a breath and grinned at his sisters. “Close one. Sorry about that, ducks. She’ll calm down soon.” Walking to Mary Ellen, he bent before the girl and dried her tears with his hand. “Now now, Mary girl. C’mon. It’s all okay now. No one is angry, and everything is okay.”
Mary Ellen smiled her simple smile as she always did when Willie spoke to her. Since the brain fever she and her father had caught, she had lost most of her sensibilities, and the family took turns watching after her to make sure she didn’t hurt herself in some way.
“Dinner.” Their mother’s clipped tone told them it would be a quiet meal. They all filed in and ate in silence, with Willie occasionally attempting some conversation, but the girls were too afraid of recriminations when he was not there to respond to him.
Sarah sighed, wishing she could go down to the stream to read, and maybe even speak with her friend.
Jamie sat at the breakfast table reading a newspaper. Her mother had found it and given it to her. It talked about America, and the idea of Boston Marriages. Although it had a slightly disapproving tone, the fact that it was mentioned at all stunned her, and made her think that she might not be so strange after all, if a whole group of women in America were like her. Today at the mine she had listened to the men joking about women as they always did, but she was uncomfortable joining in. She didn’t know how to act, what to say. She knew that she shouldn’t just tell people. As her mother said, this village would not accept it. She bemusedly pictured herself strung up on the Maypole, flames licking at her feet. Those days were gone, at least in major cities. But, she wouldn’t necessarily discard the idea occurring to some of these villagers if they found out. So, it would remain her secret, and she could live with that.
She was desperate to go down to the stream, but knew from her conversation with Willie early in the day that the girls were not let out right now, as Rachel Bell was in a foul mood and being especially protective of her daughters. The sun was so inviting, though, that she decided to wander through the meadows, and maybe up to the cherry tree for a lounge in the warmth. Pulling up her braces, she slid on her boots and clomped out of the house, yelling “going for a walk. Back soon.” Smiling at the yelled reminder to be back in time for supper, she headed out.
“This is a lovely spot, Sarah, don’t you think?” Annie was flushed with excitement, and she and John had hardly stopped speaking to one another during the long walk.
“Yes, Annie, I think it is. This old cherry tree has been here forever.”
“Excellent. Here it is, then.” John set about laying down the blanket and food for their picnic. They sat eating, and Sarah laughed and joined in occasionally, but generally stayed silent so the two could continue getting to know one another. Looking up at the sound of a twig snapping, John said, “Well, hello there Jamie! Come join us, why don’t you? I dare say Ms. Sarah could use someone to talk to, with Annie and I just yammering on to one another.”
Jamie stopped and stared. Sarah sat on the blanket with her knees tucked demurely to the side, her soft yellow dress matching her hair and her green eyes sparkling in the sunlight. Realizing that she was staring, and that she wasn’t breathing, Jamie stuttered, “No, thank you, really. I have to be—somewhere. I was just out for a walk.”
Standing up in one fluid motion, Sarah stepped close to Jamie and said quietly, “Please, do stay, Jamie. They’re getting to know one another, and it would be nice to give them some breathing room. Walk with me?”
Jamie nodded, her ability to speak deserting her and Sarah’s scent lodging in her nose. Sarah gave her a grateful smile and turned to the young lovers. “We’re just going to take a brief walk. Jamie wants to show me a strange mushroom growing in the forest. We’ll be right back.”
Annie’s face glowed and she turned to her beau, who began talking animatedly about something Annie seemed to find fascinating, gauging the rapt look of attention on her face.
Sarah and Jamie walked into the woods, Sarah occasionally touching the leaves, brushing her fingertips along the tops of the ferns, and stopping to stare at the little brown and black finches flittering through the branches.
Clearing her throat, Jamie said, “Do you know this is considered ancient woodland? It’s more than five hundred years old.”
“Truly? I had no idea. I love the woods. I feel so safe in them, like the trees would reach out to protect me if I needed it.” Sarah blushed, feeling silly for the admission.
“I understand. It’s always been a place of tranquility for me, too. A place where no one bothers me, or thinks I’m strange, or judges me. A place where I can just be me.”
Sarah took Jamie’s hand, wanting to comfort her, to take away the pain in her voice.
“You’re shaking, Jamie. Are you cold?” Sarah held Jamie’s hand up to her mouth and blew on it in an attempt to warm it. She was surprised when Jamie’s eyes closed and her jaw muscles began clenching. “Are you okay?”
Pulling her hand gently away, Jamie turned and plucked at the leaves on a tree. “Do you ever feel different, Sarah? Like you have nothing in common with the people around you? Like you want something different than they do?”
Sarah tilted her head and thought about Jamie’s question. “Yes, I suppose I do, although I haven’t really bothered to think about it. I want knowledge. I so wish I had the education you do, Jamie. I want to see the world. But,” she said, leaning against a tree, “I’m not likely to see anything beyond this village in my lifetime. Just like my mother and my sisters, I’ll get married, have kids, and never learn or see anything new again.”
Jamie flinched inwardly at the idea of Sarah married. “You don’t have to do those things if you don’t want to, Sarah. You can be your own person, make your own way. Go where you want to, read what you want to.”
“That’s easy for you to say, Jamie. Your family has money, and they let you run around…” Sarah grimaced at the way her words sounded. “You’re allowed to wear clothes you are comfortable in, regardless of what people say. My mother would beat me senseless for even thinking of it, let alone doing it. No, Jamie, a woman’s life is not her own, except for exceptions like you. Have you read The Ideal Woman? It’s the only other thing my mother has ever brought into the house for us to read.”
“Your mother subscribes to that? That a woman’s place in the world is to serve and obey her husband to the best of her limited abilities?” Jamie was stunned. She knew some women took that rubbish on board, but most women she knew read it and laughed, knowing full well a bored husband was a wandering husband.
“We should get back to my sister, so they don’t do anything silly. Thank you for walking with me.” Sarah felt an unreasonable urge to defend her mother’s belief, even though Sarah felt The Ideal Woman was nothing more than a way to keep a woman pinned down by her husband, no matter how he behaved toward her.
“Wait, Sarah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. Everyone has their own beliefs. Please, wait.” Jamie reached out and touched Sarah’s elbow, trying to get just a few more minutes with her. What she wanted to say was don’t leave me here, needing your breath near me, your skin just a touch away.
“It’s okay, Jamie.” Sarah relented and sat gingerly on a rock. “I wish I could accept my mothers thinking the way my sister Alice does. It would be easier than fighting it, testing it, dissecting it. But, it is the way I was brought up, and I have to abide my mothers decisions, just as the bible tells us we must.”
Nodding, Jamie stayed silent, not wanting to give Sarah another reason to go. But, Sarah said, “Really, we should get back to my sister, Jamie. It would be improper to leave them alone too long.” Jamie stood and took Sarah’s hand, helping her up. She didn’t step back fast enough, and they stood pressed together, Jamie staring into Sarah’s eyes and her stomach roiling.
Sarah stared back, and her mouth slowly formed a tiny “oh,” and then the spell was broken by Alice calling for her sister. Sarah stepped back, very slowly, and placed a hand on her stomach. And then, she turned abruptly and practically sprinted back to the young couple.
Jamie watched her go, and then rested her hands on her knees, trying to suck in air. She felt as though she would faint. Sarah’s soft, delicate hand in her own, the sweet, soft scent of her pressed up against Jamie’s body, and her deep, jade green eyes made Jamie’s knees weak and her hands sweat. Straightening, she walked slowly back to the group, the smallest grin pulling at the corners of her mouth, and praying that her newly born friendship with Sarah was not wrecked before it began.
They were packed up and ready to go, and Sarah looked at a point over Jamie’s shoulder instead of at her face when she said, “We’re going to walk back. Are you joining us?”
Jamie nodded and fell in step with them. She and Sarah stayed silent except for answering remarks directed at them, and once they were at the crossroads, Sarah said quietly, “Thank you for joining us. And for speaking with me in the woods. I don’t…”
Taking a deep breath, she finished, “Thank you. Good evening. Annie? We should go before mother gets upset.”
John leaned over and whispered something in Annie’s ear that sent her into a fit of giggles, and he kissed her hand gallantly before he let her go. John and Jamie stood together, watching the two women walk away, and John said dreamily, “What a woman.”
Jamie answered thoughtfully, “Indeed.”
Sarah answered Annie distractedly on their way home, thinking instead of what had taken place in the woods. What had happened? Jamie had helped her up from her sitting position and then. And then? She had the most disturbing sense that Jamie might have kissed her had the moment not been broken. She flinched. What would she have done? Surely it was unnatural for one woman to want another. She would have to stay away from Jamie from here on out. Clearly the woman was dangerous, with her men’s clothing and blue eyes. And slightly roughened hands. And flat stomach.
“Sarah! You’re not even listening to me!” Annie was pouting, knowing her sister was preoccupied with something else. “Is something wrong? Did Jamie upset you?” Gasping, she said, “Oh Sarah, did I upset you? I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry.”
“No, love, you didn’t upset me.” Taking her sister’s hand and tucking it in her arm, she smiled kindly and said, “Are you happy, duck? Is he all you thought he would be?”
“Oh Sarah, he is that and so much more. He’s so kind, and funny. I had no idea he was so funny.” Annie laughed and squeezed her sister to her tightly.
Taking her Annie’s face in her hands, Sarah said, “I’m so glad for you, Annie. But remember something, sweetling. If mother knows how happy you are, or how much you want this, she may put a stop to it. Be careful to temper your happiness when we get home, alright?”
Sobered, Annie nodded and continued walking, her brow furrowed. “Thank you for going with us today, Sarah. If Alice had gone she would have told mother every little thing and we wouldn’t have had a moment alone. And if it had been Mary Ellen, well, I would’ve had to watch her every second. Willie would have talked John’s ear off. So, thank you. It was very nice of Jamie to stay and keep you company.”
Struck, Sarah said, “Annie, you must not tell mother that Jamie showed up, do you understand? Mother would be furious if she knew we had spoken with her. You must leave her out of this entirely.”
Taken aback by her sisters vehement insistence, she agreed readily. Sarah gently touched her sisters shoulder, and both taking in a deep breath to fortify themselves, they entered their house.