Friday, February 28, 2014

"And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips..." Luke 4:22  He said a little more and six verses later, road rage, rather truth rage turned ugly.

"And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things..." Luke 4:28

Have you spoken Truth into someone's life when they came back at you with gnashing teeth and sharp tongue?  A few verses later after He was well received in Capernaum,

(The day I wrote this I guess I kinda-sorta cut someone off in traffic.
I created a little road rage myself.  It made me smile a little smile at the coincidence
of it all while they honked  their horn loud and long.  Maybe I should take out an ad like this.)

"and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority.  In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 'Let us alone!'...But Jesus rebuked him saying, 'Be quiet and come out of him!'"


The guy was in the synagogue, fitting in seemingly, but the demon in him did not like the Truth.  He raised his voice against Truth.  It was ugly.  Don't you wish Jesus could be here to tell some people "Be quiet"?

Don't be afraid to speak Truth under the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  It won't always be well received.  Some may even come after you with Truth rage.  Sometimes that's what it means to be like Jesus.
It's kinda like the people who had a naked demoniac chained in the cemetery who kept breaking free and running havoc, but they were REALLY afraid when Jesus healed him...
"and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened." Luke 8:35
"And all the people of the country...asked Him to leave, for they were gripped with great fear."
Luke 8:37
Sometimes we are more accustomed to maniacs than the ones in their right minds healed by Jesus.
Amazing, isn't it?
Do we really want Jesus to go away and leave us alone with our crazies?

Thursday, February 27, 2014


The Voice
I watched a video clip from the show The Voice.  Such talent.  However, there is no competition for
"Flashing like lightening"
And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different,
and His clothing became white and gleaming (flashing like lightening)
And behold, two men were talking with Him;
and they were Moses and Elijah,
who, appearing in glory (splendor)
were speaking of His departure
 which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep;
but when they were fully awake,
they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him..."
then Peter made a few suggestions to Jesus, but...
"While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them;
and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying,
'This is My Son, My Chosen One;
listen to Him!'
...And they kept silent."
Luke 9:29-36
This was not the Voice competition.  There is only one Voice, one glory.
Listen to Him.
(Did you notice that the disciples have a habit of getting sleepy when Jesus prayed?) 
(Mr. Bean sleeping in church episode is too funny!)
Is the church too sleepy?  Missing His gory like flashes of lightning?
 "But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing,
 He said to His disciples,
'let these words sink into your ears;
for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.'
Did they get it?
We need to let THE VOICE sink into our ears.
Is this man sleeping or praying?  Only God knows.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Last week my husband preached about Gideon.  I was in children's church teaching about the armor of God.  So this week I decided to teach about Gideon so they could see how one hero looked in his armor.  He is one of my favorite Old Testament stories.  I think my husband is one of the best preachers ever, but the congregation didn't have as much fun as we did in children's church.

I asked for volunteers for Gideon's boot camp.  Plastic bowls of water were set on the table for them to drink without picking up the bowl.  Only one did not lap it like a dog, but drank it from cupped hands.  He was the only one to pass boot camp. 

We had little army figures to show how God reduced the troops from 32,000 to 300 (No I didn't have 32,000 army guys, only 96). Then we opened the caramel covered Bugle treats for our trumpets and torches (filled with sour patch multicolored strips for flames).  We popped balloons while yelling "Of the Sword of the Lord and of Gideon" for a battle cry.  Then they decorated their own cardboard swords and got glow in the dark sticks for nighttime swords.  Did you do that in big church last Sunday?  I didn't think so. 

I think about how it doesn't take a huge army to do God's work.  I think about how humble, dare I say angry, Gideon was being the runt in his family's litter, the least of the tribe of Judah hiding in the wine press to beat out a little wheat from the chaff, scared that the enemy would swoop down as always and steal it..  I think of the angel watching him while sitting in the shade of the tree saying, "Ho, valiant warrior."  Was he mocking or being serious?  I think of all the hard work to make a meal for this visitor only to have him "laser it" as the kids said.  I think about Gideon's fear and testing God, twice with the fleece, and then sneaking up to listen in to the dream that spread like wildfire among the enemy making them weak-kneed that God's people would be victorious.  I think of the ridiculous battle plan and weapons: clay pots, torches, and trumpets. 

God may not give us the shiniest sword on the church block...we may be fearful feeling like a runt...we may be beating our brains--I mean--grains out wondering if it will be enough...we may even put God to the test...our weapons may look silly and puny in the huge spiritual battle that is rattling sabers all around us, but  God wants us to know it is His battle, His victory.  He doesn't want us to claim bragging rights.  Has God said, "Ho, valiant warrior" to you lately?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

my two year old granddaughter told her mother,
"I want to go to church, but I don't want to see Jesus.
I only want to see Betsy (her two year old cousin)."

We are a small church, a small church with a full nursery and children's church.  We are teaching the young to serve.  Our ushers are pre-teens, our song tech operator of the big screen is 8, 9, or 10 years old depending on what Sunday.  Sometimes they pass out the bulletins. The teens sweep up the leaves from the neighbor's tree that pile up in front of the church doors when they arrive early, and children of all ages set up tables and chairs in children's church before worship every Sunday morning.  They clean up afterwards too, well, a little.   They aren't just pew warmers, or rather chair warmers.  In fact they are so involved that my sons were caught bragging that we owned the place.  I had to explain that just because their dad was the pastor didn't mean we own the church.  They were so surprised, "Really?"


I'm glad that all the children and youth do own it in another sense.  They belong as important members of the body of Christ and are active members.  Once when one little usher-- a neighbor boy who seems to love to come to church even when no one else in his family came-- when he took the offering while using a wheelchair because his foot was in a cast, he had trouble manuvering.  A young adult jumped up and wheeled him along.  That's what the body of Christ should look like. 


When someone wrote graffiti in the alley on our church wall, "Where are the jobs," a frustrated homeless person probably, this same young adult man jumped in to volunteer to paint the wall.  It had bothered some of our sweet ladies so much that they had laid hands on the wall to pray for the church-wall-graffiti vandal.  "Where are the jobs?"  Sometimes the jobs don't pay any money but the satisfaction of serving the Lord, and the reward is great and the benefits are out of this world.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Relatives took us to the circus once.  Front row seats.  I was mortified that I'd forgotten to take off my bright orange polka dot apron which was still on over my pink sweater: I looked like part of the clown parade.  Nevertheless, it was fun, until the tigers.  They were snarly.  Their trainer had just gotten out of the Kansas City General Hospital from tiger bites.  You know the old saying, if you fall off your horse, get back on and ride, or if your tiger bites you, get back in his cage and show 'em who's boss.  It wasn't a relaxing evening of entertainment.  I didn't have to clip my nails the rest of the year. 

This week, my dog chased my cat up my body as she dug in with her claws right over my heart.  Ouchie!  If you find me dead in the morning from cat scratch fever, let me know.  But seriously, we can't even imagine in the year of our Lord 2014 that there is a real man-eating tiger loose in the world.  (I suppose tigers are still sexist and don't care to be known as woman-eating tigers.)  It was in the paper last week that at least one tiger, if not two, are suspected of killing over nine people in one area of India this year already, and it's only February.   The locals cannot go to work, the fields or even get water without their lives being in danger.  A tiger usually becomes a man-eater if he is wounded or has bad teeth.  It seems we are an easy prey and have softer skin to chew.  Besides, then they tend to begin to like the taste.  How's that for the survival of the fittest: tigers with bad teeth can still gum us to death.  Take away man's gun rights and he's got nothing. 

When we first moved to this area, I found a certain book at a used book store's sidewalk sale, published in the forties about man-eating tigers in India.  It detailed the hunts by a professional tiger hunter whose job it was to kill these man-eaters.  It's not as easy as it sounds.  These true stories were hair raising.  It turns out the book is a rare classic.  All my grown children have read it and all wanted it for their private collection.  It turns out professional hunters have once again been hired to begin the dangerous dance around the bush to kill the huge beasts.

Can you imagine if that happened here?  Would we send in drones, the dog whisperer, tanks, the local police, boy scouts, Peta, the FBI?  Fortunately, I live in a gun-toting pocket of California full of hunters who would love to stalk the streets to keep us safe with Beale AFB as a backup.  Maybe I can sleep tonight.  Have you seen a tiger lately?  Their bodies are eight or nine feet long plus their tails.  It's enough to make the hair stand up on my neck and do the boggie dance with shivers up and down my spine.  No one lives to tell about it on an episode of Survivor or Naked in India's Bush Country (I tried watching a similar program but had to keep my eyes closed the whole time.)

Jesus knew something about the big cats.  He said...

"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But resist him, firm in your faith..." I Peter 5:8 (The apostle gives a little comforting verse leading up to this, "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you," then he goes on to tell the scary story: it's kinda like two of the favorite songs of the seventies that were "The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Don't Worry, Be Happy.")

 At least a roaring lion can be heard eight miles away.  If one is roaring and you decide to sin after that loud warning, you deserve to be the main course.  It will shake you in your booties!

Even as early as Genesis 4:7 when only man killed man or rather the first brother killed his brother, even before animals were meat-eaters, God told Esau, "sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."  It must have been like a light bulb when God pulled the chain to remind him that God had seen when Esau had crouched lying in wait for his brother to spring forth to murder him.  Beware the man-eating-man beast. 

Be sober and on the alert.
Truly, you can't pussy foot around with sin:
it will eat you for lunch.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yahtzee!  You know that moment when you roll the dice in the cup and let them fall out across the table.  Sometimes it comes out in the perfect winning combination.  Have you noticed when little children begin to speak, sometimes their light "faerie language" rolls off their tongue making perfect crystal clear sense though the next moment they may have gone back to baby babble.  They say that speaking in long, complex sentences to the babies develops the brain connections that will build their vocabulary and thinking skills.  Then there is the little one who has a wire loose.  The message somehow gets lost between the brain and the tongue.  The processing is handicapped and so the words seldom come out as hoped.  Sometimes it is a delay.  Sometimes it is total dysfunction.  There is frustration.  Sometimes extreme frustration.

Instead of living in the instant land of the internet, it's like a line has been cut so that not even a dot-dot-dash can be sent in a cable message.  It doesn't mean bad mommy.  It doesn't mean it is a result of a bad environment.  When he acts out, it doesn't mean her parenting skills are lacking. It means that some children will need to be loved more than using mere words.  Encourage these hurting moms of the challenged child.  Some parents are in the Peace Corp while some are in the Marines or Navy Seals.   We will do anything to protect and serve.

"Worry is belief gone wrong.
Because we don't believe that
God will get it right.
But peace,
Peace is belief that exhales
Because you believe God's provision
is everywhere--
like air."
Ann Voskamp
"His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?'
Jesus answered, 'It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents;
but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.'"
John 9:2-3
It is as if Jesus was asking again, "Who will cast the first stone?"
Then, "Neither do I condemn thee."
How much do we condemn ourselves though
when Jesus wants to work through
even heart-wrenching circumstances in our lives?
When things that are broken all your wishing cannot fix,
open your eyes swimming in tears to watch the works of God displayed.
It might be a mere glimmer of hope that holds you.
It might be worse than you had imagined and you can only say with Job,
"Yet will I praise Him:"
that in itself
is a miracle.
Where does it say that life has to make sense?  If that were true, this absolutely ridiculous notion
of God sending His Son in human form to be born of a virgin to be tempted in every way as we are,
yet without sin, to die on a cross He who knew no sin, yet willing to bear our sin so that we might have forgiveness, to be laid in a tomb and resurrected on the third day, then to leave again in thirty days up to heaven leaving us here with His Holy Spirit, how does that make any rational sense?
It doesn't. It is simply grace grabbed by faith.  He provided man with a rose garden but he was kicked out.  God never promised us another, at least not on this earth.  But He promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
Do you relate more to the mother or to the child?
Is that how you react when God wants to take you places?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Moor Amour
by Celia Jolley

Don't you wish our grown-up books were illustrated as they used to be?
Now only children's books have that delight.  It has been
my pleasure finding artwork to tuck into my stories.  I hope you
 enjoy my newest story.  I'll probably make a few more
adjustments, but here it is... 


Jane went to the kitchen before dawn just when the old cook was beginning to clatter around.  Coffee was the only aroma warming the huge room, but that was enough.  "I'd like to pack some food for my jaunt, if you please."  She dared to address the woman's bent back.

The woman, solid as a ham hock, only grunted and put out a round of cheese and a butt of ham and pointed to a bowl of apples before finishing mixing her biscuit dough with her hands.

The young woman hurriedly gulped down a cup of strong coffee and a left over scone as she wrapped her bundle. Tugging a wool shawl tightly around her shoulders, with the pack under her arm, she said her thanks and went to the stable.  There she had to wake a groom by shaking the sleigh bells hung up between the tack and the hay rakes.  He climbed down the ladder like a spider on a web cautiously at first then speedily putting on the harness, blanket and side saddle before handing her the reigns. 

She was off just as the first burst of sun rose in the east coloring the day with a blush.  Since being invited to spend the last month of summer with her cousin, she had embraced the adventure.  But no sooner had she unpacked her gowns, than a dark cloud blew in that threatened to drench her happy hopes.  He had come uninvited, unannounced.  Jane swore her cousin Anne to secrecy and either spent her days in her room with trays brought up for her comfort or left early and came back late from lone rides out upon the moor so as not to be discovered.  It wasn't as if she did not like the uninterrupted solitude to read or write, or to ride across the wilds.  It was just the nagging fear that he would find her that unsettled the young woman.  He was the last person she ever wanted to see again.  However, her argument with her cousin left her feeling less than gracious as a guest.  Yet, she had to get out of the house, out from under the same roof as that man.

Her cousin did not seem to understand, though she had been a witness that terrible night.  Still Anne tried to argue Jane out of hiding.  "You can't really blame him.  He just had too much to drink that evening.  It was all an unfortunate scene for which he was truly remorseful.  Didn't you receive his apology in a letter?"

"A piece of paper cannot restore my reputation, Anne.  Surely you understand.  I am sorry I ever agreed to that season in London with you.  I thought coming to your home here in the Heather Downs  would be far enough from society."

"You can't blame my brother for coming home to visit and bringing his friend.  They had no idea you would be here and still don't know.  Mother and father have agreed to remain silent on your behalf for the few days while they are here, but we're all agreed you should put it past you. What's done is done."

"Perhaps you would think differently if it had happened to you."  She knew her cousin was probably too sheltered to understand her complete public mortification on that night at the small gathering in the ball room at Lady Athena's.  Jane would never willingly be seen in private or public again with such a man who had caused her such grief.  She knew her name would forever be connected with his to her shame."

"You should never have left the ball room to go to the library alone.  It was unseemly."

"So, you think I brought it on myself, do you now?  The Lady had offered a book for me to take home to read telling me she had left it on the table there.  I was just resting my blistered feet while reading the introduction when he came in.  How was I to know he would follow me there."

"It was obvious that he preferred you.  You did allow him more than one dance which is a statement in and of itself."

"That was early in the evening before he had begun imbibing.  I refused him after that though he pressed me in an ungentlemanly fashion. I thought I had made it clear that his presence was not welcome."

"Peter believes he has sworn off spirits after that night.  He would never have acted that way except for being under the influenced of drink.  I doubt he remembers what he did, only the after scene when we all ran in."

Jane covered her heated face, "Oh, please, don't remind me.  I'll never forget the reproach in the eyes of the crowd who gathered, never.  Then the whispers.  I cannot hear a whisper now without imagining it is about me, no matter how ridiculous it seems.  You see, the damage has been done.  I was robbed of my good name by that rake and never wish to see him again even if he is reformed and preaching against spirits atop a soap box."

"It was just a stolen kiss."

"It was more than a stolen kiss to me.  Why do you think I hit him with the brass candlestick?"

"You did leave quite a knot.  I dare say that woke him up.  We heard the commotion when he grabbed it out of your hand and threw it across the room breaking the glass pane in the window."

"Please, speak of it no more.  I'm sorry I ever came here never imagining he would be welcomed here as well."

"He is Peter's best friend from the university.  Sometimes I wish that handsome man would look my way, but he is of another class.  He may associate with us, Peter said, but could never marry below his station.  I must look elsewhere since our season in London was cut so short after that."

"Blame him, not me for that.  I must say that I appreciate your parents taking me home after that night.  I could not show my face again, but am sorry it curtailed the hopes you had for the season.  Has there been anyone who has courted you since?" 

"Not hardly.  As you see, we are rather remote here, out of the way of society.  A ball is a seldom seen pleasure though mother has assured me of holding a small one here before you go home.  They have also promised me a second season in London next year."

"I will not appear at any balls here if your brother Peter insists on flaunting that rotter in my face."

"Do not call him names.  It is unseemly.  Some day his name will be held up as a great member of Parliament, no doubt, and we can say we knew him."

"Yes, I will be able to say I knew him, at his basest self."

"Oh, Jane, you are unforgiving, truly you are."

"Yes, I am."

Sitting on the moor looking out towards the undulating hills broken by outcroppings of rock
and deep valleys, the young woman did not know truly if she was too unforgiving.  It was clear what the Bible had to say, but what if someone violated you with unwanted advances?  Must that one be forgiven as well when the pain was still fresh?  Was she truly too unforgiving?  She just laid her tender heart bare for the Lord to exercise His will.  After a while, she sighed and felt lighter somehow.  The clouds across the horizon billowed up and stirred to a dark brew.  Her horse nickered from where she had staked him.  Wrapping up her lunch remains which the wind was whipping, she was trying to decide if she could sneak back into the house without being seen before the storm hit.  Perhaps if she waited in the stables and ran to the servants' staircase when the rain commenced she would be undetected.  That's when she heard another horse.

He was here.  "Are you putting me to the test, Father?" her heart cried out to the stormy sky with her face lifted and her eyes closed before she opened them again to watch him approach.

 He had watched the light of her countenance change from recognition to almost horror to anger to a hard resignation.  It was not exactly a welcome.  At least it wasn't fear.  He was glad of that.

"So you found me.  Did you come looking or did you not expect to see me here?"

"When I told them at lunch that I planned to ride upon the moors, Anne let it slip by gasping, then trying to cover it up by a silly, nonsensical explanation.  Finally, your uncle felt he must explain.  He gave me  permission to speak to you if I found you if I promised to leave you alone if you wished.  May I?"

"As you like.  I was just about ready to go back because of the change in the weather.  Perhaps it is better if we ride back together."

He looked up to see the approaching storm from this vista and nodded.

She climbed a rock after gathering her reigns and mounted.

"Did you get my letter?" he asked.



"Do I forgive you?  I am still working that out.  I've been talking to God about it out here on the moor. I am disappointed that my family thought it necessary to explain my presence as I was not ready to see you again. I find this most unfortunate."

"I truly am sorry.  I know it was terrible, a scene, and I am told I was a total abomination.  Well, I must confess that I have very little memory of that night, except for the blow to my head.  I may add that I think it has brought me to my senses at your expense sadly.  It made me realize how very stupidly I could behave after a few drinks. I hope in time you can forgive me."

"Perhaps in time.  The wound is still too fresh, and it does not help to see you again."

"You do not have to be afraid of me now."

"No, I am not afraid, but neither am I at ease."

"I will leave first thing in the morning.  You have my word.  I will keep to my room until then if you please."

"You are a guest of Peter's.  He will expect your company.  I can not pretend to have forgotten, but there is no sense in hiding any longer."

She gazed straight ahead while he stole quick glances at her stoic profile. He wish he could blame it on the drink.  He would if he could, but  knew afresh the attraction that had driven him to pursue her with his drunken advances though she had made it clear they were not wanted.  He remembered that much.  To his everlasting regret, he had carried on so carelessly with the tender heart of such an unsullied soul only to drag her down in the eyes of others.  Somehow it was always the woman who was thought to be blamed.  It made no sense at all since he confessed even in his drunken daze that she had not invited it upon herself.  That was received by only crude snickers that had chilled him through his warm stupor.  He found she was gone by morning ruined for the season, perhaps longer.  It was all his fault.  She was an innocent.  Miss Jane Asher still was in his eyes.

"Does this mean you will join us for dinner?" her aunt asked when they walked in together.

"Yes, Aunt.  You need not have a tray sent up.  Thank you."  Jane had managed to keep her chin up and to walk up the stairs with her back straight until her door was shut when the tears came.  She did not even allow her cousin Anne entrance when she knocked.  The young woman needed a little more time alone first.  Supper would come soon enough.  After a good cry, she kept a cool wet rag on her eyes to hopefully erase their swollen lids before going down."

The gentlemen rose as Anne and Jane entered the dining room.  Her aunt had seen fit to place her next to her cousin Peter rather than his guest who now sat across the table.  She kept her eyes on her food or on Peter as she made small talk as much as possible. Whenever  her name was spoken, her eyes darted around the room but were always pulled back to where she could see he was studying her.  Sir Henry Meredydd was impossible. 

He had even invaded her thoughts disconcerting her as she had dressed for supper trying to choose a gown in which she could look her best without appearing too appealing.  Finally, her cousin's lady's maid came in and made the decision for her choosing a rose muslin chemise that would show off her classical silhouette.  Jane had insisted on a filmy silk kerchief over the dipping neckline for modesty and pinned it in place herself. She waved away the maid when she suggested a headband with feathers. The last thing Jane wanted was to draw attention to herself.  She preferred simplicity.

Her aunt was saying, "We have promised Anne a country ball for the neighborhood before Jane has to  go home.  I hope you and Peter will be able to return for the event.  We always seem to be short on young men at such affairs."

All eyes were on Jane as her aunt made this declaration with arched eyebrows showing that she knew what she was doing in spite of her nonchalance cutting her ham into tiny bites almost too small for her fork. 

"I'm not sure of my schedule, but will let Peter know when he tells me the date.  If I am unable to attend, perhaps he'll invite another to accompany him instead," Henry replied while watching Jane's face.

It was a polite way to decline her aunt's invitation, Jane thought much to her relief.  She was angry to think that just because they were seated at the same table, the woman would pretend that everything was alright between them.  Oh, far from it.

He did not try to speak with her again. However, the next day, she found a rose bud left in front of her door when she opened it. She had only just watched from behind her window curtain the two young men as they rode away in the early light as he promised.  Put in a vase, the bloom had already sweetened the air as it began to open a little.

Eating lunch one afternoon, just the three of them, Jane, Anne, and her aunt, the butler brought in the mail on a tray.  Her aunt said, "Oh my, you have a letter from Oxford, Jane.  I wonder who it could be from?"

"I have no idea," and slipped it into her pocket unwilling to satisfy their curiosity at the present.

"That is unfair to make us wait.  Such letters are not an everyday occurrence.  Not even Peter writes
very often," Anne whined.

"I will let you know later today," she said excusing herself. "I have a letter to write myself.  Dear Mama is anxious to hear every detail of my stay."

Once up in her room, her suspicion was confirmed.  Sir Henry had written her again with another apology...

My dear Miss Asher,

I want to express my sincerest apology once again for placing you in a difficult situation.  I assure you that Peter and I had no prior knowledge of your coming for a visit.  I never would have come along if that had been the case so as to cause you further pain by my presence.

I hope in time you can be found to be sufficiently comfortable to be in the same room together.  I assure you that I enjoy your company though I know as yet you loathe mine.  I pray your forgiveness will come in time.  Perhaps the day might even come when I may have the first dance once again which would bring me much pleasure though I know your aunt's ball is too soon. 

Thinking of you always,

Sir Henry Meredydd

The letter brought a sigh with consternation.  He seemed to understand her desire to not be near him, at present anyway.  But he held out a hope for the future which she certainly did not feel.  At least he made it sound like he was not coming to visit while she was still here.  But why did he address her as "My dear Miss Asher" and end with "Thinking of you always"?  It was too much and she slipped the letter into her hat box for safe keeping.  It did not help that he was the handsomest man she had ever met.  She quickly finished a letter to her mother which she had started earlier to leave on the tray for the butler.

When she went downstairs, her aunt and cousin were still dawdling over lunch laughing over a letter. 

"It's from Peter," Anne told her.  "Read that part again mum, please."

"On our journey home, we stopped at an inn for a meal and a mug.  The food was meager, but the cider slated our thirst.  Henry always asks if it is hard or fresh as he has sworn off drink and is sticking with it.  The maid then brought a flask, sat on his lap and tried to make him drink it.  He dumped her on the ground and stalked out leaving me to finish eating and to pay the bill.  I wish she had sat on my lap.  I'd have drunk it and let Henry pay the bill.  Maybe next time."  Both her cousin and aunt erupted in laughter.

"See, Jane, how you have helped the man turn over a new leaf, and the joke was on him this time. Here Peter adds,  'The tables have turned.  It was a good thing there wasn't a candlestick handy  though or he might have given the poor lass a knot on the head for her offense.'"  They both laughed harder.

"Oh, dearest cousin, can you not see the humor?"

The young woman winced, "I can't say that he had that coming. No one should have to put up with unwanted advances."

"So, are you going to tell us who wrote to you, Jane?"  her aunt inquired.

"Yes, it was Sir Henry with another apology saying how they did not know of my invitation to visit and was sorry if his presence had distressed me."


"Well, what?"

"Are you going to forgive him?" Anne pestered her once again with the question

"I am working on forgiving him, but the forgetting is altogether another story."

"Oh dear.  Peter writes that he still hopes to get Sir Henry to agree to return for the ball.  Mother has set a date you know."

"Perhaps, I could go home early, and then he can come."

"Don't be ridiculous.  This ball is for you as well, dear girl.  What would your parents say if you ran off home before the only social event of our little neighborhood?" her aunt admonished her.  "Would it be so awfully terrible for Peter to have his best friend to accompany him here once more?  I believe it would silence some tongues to see your behavior together that behooves a lady and gentleman as if no prior unpleasantness occurred."

Jane sighed.  "As you wish, Aunt."  Then silently she prayed asking, "Another test, Lord?"

Jane occupied much of her time outside, walking and riding, and playing with the keeper's spaniels.  A litter of pups had recently been delivered, and she was thrilled when he offered her the pick of the litter.  "Oh, that would make me so very happy.  I enjoy my aunt's pugs, but I do like a spaniel for walking.  I would pick a wee girl.  Now I must be thinking of a name."

Jane and Anne spent a full afternoon laughing over possible name choices as they rowed about on the pond.

"Oh, Jane, if you would but choose a male, I believe picking the best name would be so much easier.
Somehow, the female names are not as noble."

"Let's think some more.  Perhaps if we go back and see the puppies again it will come to me,"  Jane said.

Her cousin suggested naming the dog after some of the most detestable matrons of their acquaintance, "How about Dame Geneviere or Lady Estelle?  Maybe you'd prefer Henrietta after your most hated Sir Henry?"

Ignoring her, Jane offered, "How about Amour?  I think I am in love with this precious creature.  "Je t'aime  mon petit chien!"  I can carry her with me soon as I ride upon the moors and then later she can run alongside me quite accustomed to a horse.  She can be my Amour of the moors."

"I can hear you calling for her, "Amour, come!  That does have a ring to it."

"I can call "Come girl."  She would be used to that as well.  But beside me I can enjoy mon Amour."

"She's your dog, but Henrietta is a better name for the creature.  You will someday tire or get in a fix calling for your amour to come to you."

But Jane was not listening as she introduced her pet with her new name with kisses and cuddles.  "She will be ready to leave her mother about the time I must return home.  The keeper assured me of that."  With a sigh, Jane returned the pup to its litter as they lined up like a row of liver and white  piglettes grunting and suckling.

Jane enjoyed the lawn games of croquet and badminton with her cousin, but Anne did not enjoy riding.  Jane could not understand it, but did not mind riding by herself.  Her uncle insisted that a groom always ride with her, but she made sure that he stayed far enough away to give her the space she desired.  It gave her time to think away from distractions just absorbing the beauty of the moors and sky in solitude.  However, a certain man kept intruding upon her mind.  She resented his unwelcome presence in her thoughts.

One day, Jane took her watercolors and painted the scene trying to capture the magnificence of the billowing clouds. It was a poor representation of the view that lay before her wrought by the Master Creator.  He was constantly painting new scenes as the changing light played across the hills from the sky to the lush moor's exquisite greens and heather purples.  She wished that someday someone could think of a way to exactly capture the scenes quickly in a frame faster than a paintbrush.  She held her fingers up in the shape of a frame and caught such images in her mind's eye turning all the way around surrounded by beauty.  She did not realize that moment that someone was thinking of her loveliness as she had sat in such a scene when he discovered her there.  After all, God's best masterpieces are portraitures, the crowning delight being of the gentle sex.  He thought Miss Asher quite a picture and kept that image fresh in his mind.

Jane rode back in a quiet mood.  This time away had been healing.  Even though the stone thrown that had unsettled her still left ripples; they were widening, and she hoped would some day disappear leaving the surface unperturbed.  Some day.  She shook her head as if to dislodge thoughts of him.  At least now she sometimes was able to think about him in his seemingly humble attitude rather than that night's.  She tried to concentrate on his penitent eyes as he gazed upon her on the moor.  He certainly seemed sincere, and she had not felt afraid.  She prayed the Lord would help her forgive and to let go of the memories to send them out into the deepest sea.

When she dismounted handing the reins over to the groom, she went directly to the litter of pups.  The mother licked her hand in welcome.  It was easy to pick out Amour from the rest.  She came playfully over on her wobbly legs rolling the last bit having been tumbled by another.  Jane snuggled the sweet soft thing against her cheek smelling the milk breath and the hay.  Sighing, she set her down next to the mother and picked up her paints and tablet and walked slowly back to the house where she was a guest.  Her puppy would grow until she was ready to leave her mother.  Amour would be her steady companion.  She realized time would not stop into any frozen frames, but would march on with unexpected twists and turns along the way.  Like the changing light upon the moors, beauty could be found never unchanged, but lovely just the same.  She must look for beauty: it would always be there in some form.

Lately, as the day of the ball drew nearer, her aunt had taken more and more to her bed.  All were concerned when she did not come down to dinner, nor breakfast or tea even.  Jane knocked softly then went in one afternoon.  Her aunt sat looking upon the closed curtains that kept the sunshine away.

"Are you sick, Aunt?"

"It's my nerves.  I must calm them and rest.  I have hardly been unable to get out of bed." 

Jane looked over at the medicine on her Aunt's table and saw a bottle of laudanum.  When her aunt noticed where her niece's eyes fell, she explained, "Peter left me a bottle when he was here.  Just a drop poured into my drink, and I feel so much better. He has a doctor who furnishes it to the students who need it to keep up with their studies. My son has found it to be pleasantly useful and offered it to assuage my nerves.  I have called for my doctor to come because I am running low and will need more to see this ball through."

"Have you noticed, dear Aunt, that the more you use it, the less you are able to be up and about doing the things you used to enjoy?  This is an addicting strong medicine, an opiate that should not be taken except in extreme suffering.  Do you realize it is hurting, not helping you?"

Her aunt waved her away and closed her eyes.  "You know nothing about it.  I dare say my doctor will see to it that I have what I need.  Why I even heard they spoon feed it to fussy babies.  It can't be that strong."

"I am afraid that the ball should be cancelled with you in this condition while suffering under its influence.  I worry that Peter won't be able to keep up in his studies if this is his stimulate.  He will pay a price for being under its influence.  I'm sorry he shared it with his dear mother."

"Nonsense.  You know nothing of what you speak.  Please leave.  I need my rest now."

"I beg to differ, Aunt.  My mother has totally given sway to its influence and seldom leaves her room now."

It was a somber dinner.  Jane noticed her uncle seemed especially sobered by his wife's circumstances.  Finally, he put his fork down and threw his napkin across his plate and declared, "I'm sorry, girls, but the ball has become out of the question with your mother's condition, though I cannot say illness.  I also have a letter from Peter saying he has to come home from his studies as he has fallen under the throes of the medicine as well.  I have called for a special physician to confer with me how to proceed from here to return them to their better selves.  I am sorry to have to be so frank, but it was a sad day when Peter introduced his mother to laudanum.  It is nothing but an opiate straight from the Orient with disastorous consequences.  I will send  John with a notice around canceling the event  saying your mother is ill and under a doctor's care.

Anne let out a cry of dismay.

"I have seen its effects on my own mother, Uncle.  I can hardly bear it.  Unfortunately, it is our family doctor who provides it lining his own pockets at my father's expense.  The poor man is afraid to deny his wife what she so desperately wants now.  My mother is seldom about anymore.  Let us pray your physician is more forthwith about that terrible vile of so called medicine."  Jane shuddered.  She had never spoken of her mother's situation with anyone before today, but her uncle's pressed lips and he nod let her know he understood. 

He reached out for her hand, "Dear Jane, you are welcome to stay as long as you wish with us.  Your presence has been a joy.  I am sorry to hear about your mother.  Perhaps my wife will listen to you, but don't be discouraged if she won't.  I have found her to be impossible to deal with about this problem, beyond reason.  If this doctor doesn't help us, I will search until I find one who will.  And then there's Peter.  It is almost too much."

"I will be glad to stay and help.  I have not been allowed to do anything at home but watch my mother deteriorate.  Hopefully, your dear ones have not been long under its effects. I dare say it won't be easy though."

"I will keep the doctor here at whatever expense to see us through.  I hope this will be a lesson to you,
Anne as you watch those you love caught in this vile web."

Anne had been obviously utterly stunned by their frank discussion.  Never in her life had she heard her father criticize her mother, and now openly speaking of it with her cousin.  She was more horrified at the conversation than of the condition of which they spoke.

"I am speechless, Father!  How dare you speak of my mother and brother so.  I'm sure there is a very good reason for the medicine.  She has assured me it has helped her with her ague and sleep as well as her nerves.  I can't listen to you two a moment longer."  With that she ran from the room crying.

Her uncle put his warm hand upon Jane's again as she hesitated wondering whether to go speak with her cousin.  "Don't go to her yet.  She is too wounded to see it.  Unfortunately, if her mother continues down the path she demands, it will be obvious to all as you well know.  The poor girl has had her season in London interrupted and now the ball has been cancelled.  Most of her emotion is upon the latter, I'm afraid.  She doesn't understand yet, and I wish I could shield her from the tragic truth, but we need to have her eyes opened so that she may avoid the example her mother is setting. I'm glad you are here, Jane.  Just be her friend.  That takes a load off me.  I'm sorry that I neglected leading in spiritual matters as their father.  Perhaps all of this could have been avoided if I had been a better man and example.  I fear for Peter as well as my wife."

That very night when they all had long been in bed, Jane heard a commotion downstairs.  She grabbed her robe and stood at the top of the stairs where she saw Sir Henry struggling to bring Peter up the stairs.  Her cousin indeed looked quite disheveled and even degraded.  She went down and put her cousin's other arm over her shoulder and helped pull him up to his room before the servants came out to gawk.  Her uncle soon came out dressed and took him from her.  Jane stood outside the door waiting for what she did not know herself.  Finally, Sir Henry came out and shut the door leaving the Father alone with his son.

"So, he is bad?"

"I believe he is suffering from withdrawals.  His father will need someone with him at all times.  I will stay to help as needed, that is if it will not distress you too much."

"Of course not.  You are his true friend in his time of need.  How long has he been taking the tincture of opiate?"

"I'm not sure.  I just became aware he was putting it in his drink lately.  When he no longer was able to attend lectures, I became concerned and wrote your uncle.  I agreed to bring him home.  Has the doctor been called?"

"Yes, he will be here in the morning."  Suddenly, Jane became aware of her state of dishabille in her night clothes and blushed as his eyes were on her.  "I'm sure your usual room has been made ready for you unless you are in need of some late supper."

"I am rather hungry, but I wouldn't want to put you out."

"Let me get  dressed, and I will take you down.  I guarantee, we do not want to wake the cook.  She can be very unpleasant at this time of night," Jane smiled.

"Thank you.  I will wait for you here before we brave the lion's den together," he grinned.

Jane quickly put on her dress from earlier but was unable to reach all the buttons in the back without the help of the maid.  She threw her shawl over to cover the gaps and went out.  "We must be very quiet."  She had purposefully left her shoes off in order to not make a sound.  At the bottom of the stairs she motioned him to a bench in the entry.  "You should take off your boots, sir, and enter more softly in your stockings.  He then noticed her bare feet.  He gladly obeyed and then followed this sprite.

They only lit one candle and kept their voices to a whisper.  Jane found many left-overs from their dinner since they all had little appetite at that meal when the problem had been addressed so openly.
Jane found herself to be quite famished as well.  It seemed a conspiracy as they smiled and  sat so quietly enjoying their food with a joint hunger.  As she reached for a plate, he caught her hand in his and looked into her face with a seriousness, and said, "Thank you, Jane.  May I call you that?"

"Yes.  It is but a simple fare, a quiet meal shall we say?"

"I am speaking of you allowing me to be with you.  I hope this means forgiveness has finally found a place in your heart.  I know forgetting takes time, but having you trust me to be with you in a room alone together, gives me hope."  He spoke quietly leaning in towards her so as not to be heard beyond where their heads were bowed over their plates.

She felt his warmth and smelled his cologne that lingered.  His eyes were on her not willing to let her go."

"Yes.  I forgive you.  Drink as well as this tincture has a terrible effect on one's very nature. I have been relieved to hear that you have made changes in your life in that regard which confirms to me your sincerity in your apology."

"I am sorry to the depths of my being, shamed at what I did that night and the pain it inflicted upon you.  Thank you, dear Jane.  You humble me by your forgiveness.  I promise that I will live up to that trust for forgiveness can be just that, a willingness to trust again."

"That trust is taken one step at a time, not by leaps and bounds, you understand."  It was her turn to look into those eyes of his that seemed to know her more than any other as if he read her very soul.

Finally, he said, "Of course, you are right.  Like small bites are easier to swallow than giant ones that could choke."  He smiled as he playfully took a very small bite of cold salmon off her plate."

"Hey!  That's mine!" and she grabbed his hand before he could raise his fork to his mouth.

He shrugged and said, "Alright, open up," and he fed her the little bite as she was sure she flushed up to her hairline. 

Still they laughed until the cook came out scowling in her nightcap with an apron over her night dress.

"Oh dear, we are so sorry.  Our guest arrived here without his supper, so I was trying to serve him quietly."

"Well, a man has to eat, but he can do it without an uproar to raise the house." And she stomped off.

Her appearance and the suppressed gaiety burst forth in more laughter when the good woman returned to her chamber.

"I think I'd best clean this up before she comes out with her rolling pin.  It's longer than my arm and would look wicked if it was to become a weapon," Jane whispered.

"I'll help.  They worked silently now side by side, washing, drying, and putting away until there was no evidence of their late night feasting.  Once when her shawl slipped evidently showing her gaps in dressing, he pulled it back up in a gentlemanly fashion.

They walked up the stairs together and she felt his shoulder brushing hers with alarm.  Hadn't she just forgiven the man?  It could not mean more.

"Goodnight, Sir Henry."

"Can you please call me just Henry?"

"Yes, goodnight, Henry."

"Sleep well, dear Jane."

Indeed, her sleep seem to float in and out of the smell and warmth of him so near until she was lost deep in slumber.

Jane woke in the morning feeling so light as she had not felt in months.  The stone in her heart that weighed her down was not there anymore.  She hoped that meant she had truly forgiven him.  He did seem worthy of her trust.  Troubles still hovered over her aunt and uncle's home, but they were not in her own heart any longer.  She prayed for the afflicted ones as she always did before she rose from her bed, her aunt and cousin as well as her own dear, sweet mama. "Dear Lord, let them be free  indeed."

Her uncle was at the breakfast table, but no Sir Henry.

"Was it a rough night?" she ventured.

"It was not easy to see him in that condition, but I just read Scripture to him while he glared back.  I dare say, we were up all night.  His friend Sir Henry has taken over.  I hope to snatch some sleep this morning  and be able to relieve him again later."

"I wish I could help, but I know it would not be proper."

"I have allowed your aunt a small dose of the tincture.  We can't have two going through withdrawals at the same time, now can we," and he gave a small smile.  "But, believe you me, she too will be off the stuff shortly.  I believe I hear the doctor now.  Invite him in John, if you will , please, and offer him some breakfast with us."

Jane listened quietly as her uncle gave the doctor permission to speak in front of his niece.  She knew the men would not discuss it if Anne were present.  Her uncle was certainly well read on the subject.

"Most of the periodicals give such glowing reports for its usage, so much so that I wonder if the authors are addicted to it as well," he said.

The doctor agreed.  "I'm afraid many of my colleagues have become so, much to the detriment of their profession.  It is a wonderful medicine for the dying or those in terrible pain and suffering, but the use must always be weighed with the cost of its addictive nature.  It has been too freely dispensed as a cure all.  I know of even men of the cloth losing everything due to what began as an innocent treatment that led to their ruin.  I am not surprised your son obtained his in Oxford.  As you know many so called doctors become wealthy supplying the tincture of opium.  There, young men away from a parent's guidance who are still tied to their father's purse strings are easy targets.  It's a dirty business."

"Thank you, doctor.  You don't know how grateful I am that we share the same view of its effects.  We will abide by your directions.  I would like to add that I would wish you to be perfectly frank with me, and may also speak freely in front of my niece and my houseguest, Sir Henry Meredydd.  Just exercise caution with my daughter Anne and our two patients.  A few of the most trusted servants have been made aware, but the rest of the help has not been informed.  We prefer it remain as such.

"Sir Henry is here?"  We are well acquainted.  I have served his family for many years."

"Yes, well, he recommended you, and I am glad he did.  If you are finished then, come this way.  I will show you up to my son's chamber.  Henry is with him now."

"John, make sure that Sir Henry has a hot breakfast ready as he will assuredly be down soon."

Jane had neglected to eat while the men were discussing the problems of laudanum.  She was just beginning to eat again when Sir Henry came in.

"Do we need to eat in whispers this morning?"

Jane smiled, "Of course not, but you may prefer it if you have not had much sleep."

"His father stayed the night with him, and I only relieved him early this morning.  I'm almost as hungry as last night though. This looks good. While at Oxford, we do not eat this well."

"The cook may be fearsome, but she does a wonderful job in the kitchen if you stay out of her way."

"We raised the lioness out of her den last night, didn't we," and he smiled at her as he remembered their joined venture.

"And lived to tell of it.  Imagine that."  Jane returned his smile feeling quite light inside indeed.

The luncheon was a small affair and full of small talk as it was only Anne, the fine doctor, and herself.  Sir Henry had a tray sent up for Peter and himself while her uncle slept. Of course, her aunt still kept to her room as well.  As promised, the subject of the doctor's required presence was not addressed.

Late that afternoon when Henry came down, he joined Anne, the doctor and herself in a game of whist.  Suddenly it was interrupted by loud yelling and the sound of things being smashed.  Even her aunt's shrill voice joined in.  Henry jumped up so quickly that his chair fell back, but he left it and took the stairs two at a time.  Peter came down wild-eyed and was grabbed at the shoulders by his friend mid-stairs.  Her uncle stood at the top holding his wife in her nightdress who was weeping.

"I only wanted him to have a little draught as you have allowed me.  What is so wrong of me for that? I can't bear to see his suffering?  How can you ignore his distress?" she cried out.

"Let me go, Henry.  I am leaving.  They can't make me stay." Peter wrested himself from his friend's grip.

"Let him go, Henry.  But I warn you, Peter.  I will not leave the estate to a reprobate.  You will be done with this disgusting addiction or be done with us.  I can hardly forgive you for what you have done to your mother as well."  Jane saw such sorrow as seldom seen in a man's face other than the death of a loved one.
The woman shrieked as Anne ran crying to her mother, "Father, I can't believe this of you!  Come mother, I will stay with you."  By now all the servants had heard and their heads were sticking out to see this untoward display.

Jane knew she would never forget the look of pain in her cousin Peter's eyes either as he looked up at his stern father, before he turned and fled down the stairs freed from his friend's grip. 

Henry said to her, "I will go with him and look after him, do not fear.  Please have someone pack up our things  as quickly as possible.  Tell your uncle that I find it necessary to borrow his curricle for I don't believe Peter is able to ride as yet."  He hurried to catch up with the desolate young man.

The doctor wearily walked up the stairs to see to his hysterical patient while her uncle went to his room and shut the door.  Jane then hurried and scattered the help by requesting what Henry had asked for.  "And be quick about it."  She went to Sir Henry's room to make sure nothing was left and casually picked up the Bible on the nightstand.  Opening the cover, she saw his name inscribed so she handed it to the valet.  "Don't forget this either."

She watched from her window as the carriage went away.  Her heart was heavy for her family, but strangely buoyed by something else.  Perhaps, it was the constant true friendship displayed by Sir Henry in Peter's time of need.  She was sure her uncle was determined to see that her aunt was next to be taken off her "medicine."  Would she be the only one to stand by her uncle in this?  Surely, her cousin Anne could not.  Jane lay on her bed trying to rest in case her attention was needed this night in her aunt's chamber but thoughts of the disturbance and the looks on the faces of all concerned played over and over in her mind.  It was the close warmth of Henry's request for help as he left that comforted her to finally find a rest that slipped into sleep.

Jane went down to supper with the imprint of her pillow still on cheek.  It was just her uncle, the doctor, and herself again.  Her uncle spoke wearily.  "Anne is with her mother presently, and I've had their trays sent up.  The girl can be useful now, but will be useless later when the going gets tough.  Can I count on your help, Jane?"

"Of course.  I slept this afternoon so I would be fresh to stay the night if you wish."

"That would suit me well.  I am very tired.  Tonight will hopefully not be too terrible, but the next few days, as we have just witnessed, may well be.  She will wheedle you constantly to find her some more of her precious laudanum, but I know you will stay strong.  The doctor has the only that is left in this house, unless she has some hidden away that I am unaware of.  If you have too much of a struggle with her you may awaken either myself or the doctor as need.  Thank you, Jane.  You can't imagine my relief to have you here."

"Uncle, if I may, I would like to write to my father with just a little of what the doctor's opinion is concerning this tincture of opiate, but it would reveal what your family has faced," Jane asked hesitantly.

"Certainly.  I hate to think what your father is going through in his misguided efforts for your mother's well-being.  Now that we have displayed our family's dirty secret before all the staff, it is no longer a well-kept secret to be sure.  Tongues will wag after today's scene.  Your father might as well hear it from you.  You need not replace Anne until bedtime.  Thank you."  He removed himself from the table with his shoulders sagging.

The doctor remained with her at the table.  He was studying her.  "You are a remarkable young woman, Miss Asher.  This family is blessed to have your help, especially your uncle as this is a very trying time."

"I am glad that Peter did not go out alone.  I don't believe Sir Henry will leave his side for a time.  He has shown himself to be a good friend."

"To your cousin, to you, or both?" the doctor asked playfully watching her blush.

"We have not been on good terms, but I believe he has made some better choices lately that are to be admired," she answered cautiously.

"Yes, we have had some good talks.  He is a changed young man, and I am glad he has not gone down the same path as your unfortunate cousin.  Sending young men away to school for so much of their lives does not always have the intended consequences the parents hoped for."

Jane's conscience pricked her as she felt inquisitive and asked more about Sir Henry.  "So you have known his family for some time?"

"Yes. I have not been his physician his whole life, but have been there the last fifteen or so years.  He has been blessed with a robust constitution, but his sisters have not been.  I wish more young ladies spent more time outdoors.  He has told me you enjoy riding out on the moors.  Too much time wasting away inside sitting prettily on a stiff chair stitching on an embroidery is not healthy, in my opinion."

"Especially, if you could see how horribly I do that, you would agree even more."  It was good to see a smile brought to that venerable face.

"I dare say you would take up a book rather than a needle, if I am not mistaken."

"Quite.  You seem to know me well, Doctor."

"Of course, when a young man has spoken of little else...  He is quite taken with you, miss."

Jane was stunned and looked shocked at the man.  "I don't know what to say."

He chuckled.  "People do seem to talk more freely with a physician as if he was a doctor of the affairs of the heart as well as the whole body.  It is amazing what is said behind closed doors."  He rose to take himself away, "Please excuse me, but I must see to my patient. I will give her something else to help her sleep tonight, so be sure to take a good novel in there.  There is a cot set up as well so do not fear sleeping.  You will know when she wakens by her demands.  Be sure to call me if there is a need.  I can always give her more medicine to help her sleep as needed."

Jane took a book in and squeezed her cousin Anne's hand as she left despondent.  The girl could not meet her eye.  Her aunt was already sleeping, so Jane made herself comfortable and opened her book.  Instead of seeing the words on the page, her mind went over and over what the good doctor had said at the table.  He must surely be mistaken.  She went to the window, drew the curtains back and watched the moon rise etching shadows across the lawn edged by flower beds that flowed to the binding hem of the forest.  There was the very rose bush from whence he had plucked her that bloom.  She remembered his letter which closed with the words, "Thinking always of you."  Isn't that what she herself was doing, always thinking of him?  This was a new twist in her stomach so much so that she nearly gasped.  Jane thought she had succeeded in removing herself from his company as much as possible, but realized he had taken up permanent residence in her thoughts and was comfortably settled.  Oh my!  She stood for a long time unseeing in the dark, still staring though watching scenes play before her in her mind's eye.  Yes, she was beginning to admire him, the one who she had thought nothing but a rake. 

Jane took breakfast with the doctor before returning to her room to rest.  The cot was not nearly as comfortable as her bed.  It had been a calm night, but the days promised to be more troubling as the woman would wail when denied her dose.  Now her uncle stayed at her side.

"I'm glad you spent a quiet night with our lady.  It will be a bit stormy from here on out for a while."

Anne walked in just then and asked confusedly while looking out the windows, "But the day looks fair, Doctor.  I hope you are mistaken on that front."

Jane explained, "He means, dear Anne, that difficulties lie ahead for your mother as she will undoubtedly suffer without that horrid tincture.  He will make it as easy as he can for her, but it will get worse before it gets better."

"I believe you all are making things out to be worse than they really are.  Poor Peter felt quite ganged up upon."  She pouted.

She nor the doctor responded and changed the subject back to the weather.  As they spoke, her cousin's thoughts were really on the cancelled ball, hers upon Sir Henry, and the doctor's upon two lovely young women who were in their first bloom, quite a refreshing sight to one who saw so much of the sick room.

As she watched the doctor leave for his daily constitutional, his walk, Jane asked, "Would you care to walk with me today, Anne?  It is proving to be a very fine day indeed, too nice to stay indoors."

"Perhaps.  Father says he has no need of me till this evening, that is if mother is quiet.  I don't even think I can stand being around her if she is suffering.  It is too hard," Anne confessed.

"That's why we need to go outside to leave our burdens for awhile.  It will refresh our spirits, you'll see."

"I believe I will then, Jane."

The girls went out without their wraps as the sun was unseasonably warm.  Their hats were worn with the ribbons hanging loose hardly tugged by the slight breeze.` They were a pretty sight as the man of the house looked down from the window at the two as they walked among the roses smelling them and picking a few for a bouquet.  He sighed.  He must find treasure where he may, and right now his niece was pure gold.  He thanked the Lord for her help and good influence on all those under his roof.

At the same time, the doctor was walking back from the edge of the trees having similar thoughts and agreeing with the admiration Sir Henry felt for one so fair with her purity of heart.   The girls were walking towards him with hands full of roses.  They had stopped to chat in the lane when a carriage came pounding, drawing near.  They stepped aside as it passed.

"Why Peter has come back!  And Sir Henry is with him,"  Anne exclaimed.

The good doctor took a ladies arm in each of his and together they returned quickly back to the house.

Peter went up to his room unassisted.  His father watched from his wife's doorway before coming down where Sir Henry was greeted by the others. 

"I believe he is passed the worst.  At least, let us pray so.  He is quite humbled by his behavior the other day, indeed I sympathize, but he has also thought much on what you wisely told him, sir.  It is not his desire to be of this wretched character and longs to be a better man, a son you can count on.  It is particularly difficult as he knows his influence upon his mother's condition.  He feels terribly about that, in fact was near despair when I talked him into returning home.  I do hope I did the right thing sir.  I trust you are not unforgiving."

"Yes.  It is our desire only to help our son.  Thank you, Henry for your friendship.  We will always be indebted to you.  Has it been so very bad?"

He looked at the ladies, but walked on ahead with the man so as not to be oveheard, "I had to keep him from flinging himself out of the curricle when we left.  He was very despondent.  But after the first night, he seemed to be coming around over the worst.  Now he needs to rest and build up his strength and learn to lift up his head once again." 

"I will go to him," her uncle said and went up with a quickness Jane had not seen for awhile.  Henry hung back waiting for them.

"Once again, I am sure you are hungry.  We will have something sent up for Peter as well.   We look forward to when he can join us at the table once again."  Jane realized she spoke as if she was taking the place of the lady of the house and flushed at her presumption, yet Anne was not ready yet to step into that role herself.

"Won't that be grand to have everyone sit down together around the table like when you first came, Jane?" Anne said hopefully.

"I believe it will be even better as your brother will not be flushed with drink.  You will find him to be his old self again once he has eaten his humble pie," Jane responded.  "Come, let's find you something to eat."  Looking at Henry she forgot what she else she was going to say as  he found her hand and squeezed it as they walked along.

She was still holding the roses in her other hand but did not notice until a maid came up and took the flowers from Anne and herself.  The girl kindly said, "These will make a pretty bouquet for the lady of the house in her sick room to cheer her."

Anne and Jane remained while Henry ate.  He told them how he had stayed with Peter through more ranting and ravings, but by and by, he quieted until he asked to come home again.  Indeed Jane noticed how tired Henry looked, disheveled, in fact with dark circles under his eyes.  She found his hand to grasp while saying, "You must be exhausted.  Please go rest now.  Sleep as long as you wish, until the morrow if you like.  I will have some food sent up when you do wake."

He looked at her with such a look as no man had ever given her, but merely replied, "Indeed, I believe I will.  Thank you."  She thought for a moment he was going to kiss her hand as he raised it but let it go as he rose to leave.  "Good night, ladies."  But to Jane aside he said softly, "Call me if you need me for Peter."  There was that faint odor of his cologne.  When he left she closed her eyes and breathed deeply.

"Are you alright, Jane?"  Anne wanted to know.

"Yes, quite so.  It has been an amazing time of it, you must agree."

"Unimaginably so.  Let's go finish our walk."

This time they were watched by Sir Henry as he lingered at the window enjoying the view immensely.

Once Peter had happily rejoined his family, Henry announced at dinner that he would leave the next morning.  I had a letter from my mother that my presence is required at home."

"Will you return to Oxford after that?" Anne asked.

"No, I completed my course but stayed on to finish up some family business as well as to look after a certain young friend and he grinned at Peter.  Didn't do very well at that did I?"

"You certainly made up for it these past few weeks.  I owe you my life," Peter stated truthfully.

"We can never repay you, Henry.  You are always welcome here.  I don't expect Peter to go back to Oxford.  His place is here now," her uncle added.

Peter restored...

As these grateful thanks were being offered, Jane was quiet and kept her eyes down on her plate.   She suddenly looked up realizing Sir Henry was addressing her.  "Excuse me, what did you say?"

"I asked how much longer you will remain here?"

"It won't be much longer, but I'll stay as long as my aunt needs me.  Besides, my puppy will be ready to be taken from her mother soon," she smiled.

"She's found her Amour," Anne said under her breath.

"Did you say something, Anne?" Henry asked.

"No, just remarking about my cousin's new pet."

"That is a fine litter.  I'm tempted to get one for myself since I'll be returning home.  Mother also wrote that our family dog we've had so many years has died.  Would you mind if I speak to your keeper about that, sir?"

"No, they are his dogs.  He just lets us use them for the pheasant hunting.  Good hunters too.  They are sought after, but fortunately his female usually has a large litter."

"Let's go out and see the puppies after dinner," Anne suggested.

"Smashing," Peter said.  "I haven't seen them yet."

"Will you choose a male or female?" Jane asked Henry as they walked down the gravel drive.

"I probably will get a male because I have a neighbor with a female I can breed him to."

"So, you will stay at home now?" Jane asked.

"My father wishes for me to begin taking the burden off his shoulders. I do not believe it is healthy for a man to spend so much time in London apart from his wife and family as he has had to do all these years in Parliament. It is time I took up some more of the estate's responsibility.  I still have two sisters at home.  My mother will bring them out next season in London.  I may go along and try to be the responsible party this time.  Will you return with your cousin to London?"

"Oh, no.  I only went to keep her company, but I'm sure she will be fine when she returns next Spring." 

"That's a shame.  I remember how well you dance."

"And came away with blisters on my feet to prove it."  Jane was amazed that she could speak of that time without dredging up all the horrid emotions that had caused her so much prior pain.  Now she was joking with the one who had been so abhorrent to her.

Jane became more serious and said, "I hope to have my father's support to help my mother who has been prescribed laudanum by our family physician for several years.   After seeing how difficult it has been here, I have my doubts whether my father can stand up to it.  My mother is a gentle and kind soul, but will suffer greatly if the medicine is taken away.  I do not know if there is another physician who is available like the good doctor here."

"He has been a big help to me as well.  He was the one who helped me put the drink away.  It wasn't easy either, but I feel so much better now. I hope to never let it rule my life again."

"He did tell me he was your family's physician, but I did not know he had been personally helpful to you.  We are all in his debt then, your family and mine."

Jane and Henry had lagged behind and now sat on a wall while talking.

"Jane, I..." suddenly they were interrupted with Anne running over with a puppy.

"Look at this one Henry.  He is the boldest of them all.  Here, put him down and see."

They watched the little dogs' antics until the furry creatures got hungry and sleepy and sought his mother.  "Yes, I believe you are right, Anne.  That one does seem to be the pick of the litter."  Henry and Peter  went on to speak with the keeper about buying a pup to take with him in the morning.

Anne and Jane walked back together to the house in the dusk of the day.  "Oh, Jane, now that everything has been turned back around, we had just begun to be happy again.  First Henry is leaving, then you will leave next.  I don't want you to go."

"My mother and father need me right now.  You may come visit me sometime perhaps," Jane replied, then hesitated, "as long as my mother is well enough that is."

"Won't you come to London with me again.  See, you and Henry have put the past behind you.  We could have so much fun together.  He says his sisters will be out next season."

"I don't care if I ever see that city again.  It is big, crowded and the air and water are foul.  And still, people put on airs and try to look down their noses at us country folk."  Jane shuddered at the thought.

"Just give it some thought.  It would make me very happy."

"We have a couple other cousins you could ask," Jane said playfully.

"Nooo!  Do not even mention those two!  If they go to London, I will stay home.  They are two insufferable bores," Anne wailed.

"There you have it.  After that dreadful thought, going to London without cousins doesn't seem so bad after all, now does it."

"You are impossible Jane Asher."

There wasn't going to be another moment alone, Jane realized, for Henry to finish saying what he had begun to before they reached the gamekeeper's.  She wished Anne had not interrupted, but it was not her fault.  They were, after all, going to see the kennel.  But he would be gone in the morning, and Jane did not know if she would ever see him again.  Oh, how things had been turned around on this visit.  Her life at home would seem quite tame after this. 

That evening the four young people played whist until quite late.  It was a very pleasant night, but she was sad for it to end.

"I will take my leave early in the morning, so I must say farewell now to you good people.  These last few days have been a real pleasure."  He took Jane's hand and kissed it and held her eyes in a long gaze.  "Adieu." 

Jane soon excused herself and hurried up to her room before tears spilled.  She had no idea while she was crying.  It had been a wonderful few days seeing Peter restored back to his pleasant self.  She could not deny that she would truly miss his friend, Sir Henry.

In the morning, she found she had indeed overslept.  He was gone.  He had said he would leave before dawn. She hurriedly dressed to go down to  breakfast and opened her door to find another rose.  She put it in a vase but not until she buried her face in its soft richness.  She would save these petals for a sachet this time. 

The days turned colder.  Jane realized that it was time to go home.  Her aunt had recovered, coming down to the table with her family, and even the doctor had left.  Her aunt had griped Jane's hand and said, "Thank you my girl, for putting up with me in my difficulty.  I will pray for your mother that she can be free of that awful laudanum.  What a shame that it is your family physician who has been responsible for making her condition worse."

"Father has written to say that her ague is so bad, that she probably will never be free of it.  He is afraid to try.  So, without a miracle, she will continue to use it.  I only hope to curb the amount when I go home so that she may have some enjoyment of life around her."

"I'm sorry, dear. I can't imagine what it would be like if one was on it for years.  We will keep you in our prayers.  I understand you will leave us in the morning."

"Yes, Peter has agreed to take me to the stage.  It isn't that long a journey.  I should be there before nightfall."

"Give our love to all, if I do not make it down in time tomorrow to see you off."  She kissed Jane on the cheek and went up to her room.

In the morning the rest of the family said their goodbyes, Jane had her puppy atop plenty of hay in a basket on her lap, along with a nice parcel of food from cook. 

Her uncle embraced her and said again, "We could not have made it through without you, Jane.  Thank you."

Anne was pouting.  "I don't like you leaving.  Not one bit!"  Jane kissed her on the cheek climbed in and they were off.  Peter climbed in beside her.

Once they were off, he pulled a letter out and said, "He left this for you and asked me to give it to you when you left.  He busied himself pulling the puppy out of the basket to hold while she read the letter.

"My dear Jane,

You don't know how wonderful it is to not be writing to you with another apology or having to grovel for your forgiveness.  You gave me so much pleasure at being able to be with you without having to bring up past regrets.  Thank you for being my friend and comrade in the laudanum battle.  Hopefully, we will meet again under more pleasant circumstances next time.

I don't know when we will see each other again, but I trust God who does.  I hold a great admiration for you.  When you think of me, know I will be thinking of you.  Henry"

Jane would keep the letter along with the others as some of her special treasure.  If she never had another admirer, this would be enough, she told herself.  But she knew it wasn't the truth.  Why is it one can speak the truth with everyone else, but try to lie to your own soul?  How could a hole in your heart just happen? No amount of falsehoods would ever fill it.  It would still ache.

"You do know he admired you, Jane," Peter finally spoke as she looked out the window turned away from him to keep him from seeing the tears in her eyes. "If his life was his own, he would have spoken to you.  He told me this.  I've never seen him so taken with anyone before, and you know he has many pursuers."

"I'm sure he does." She hoped her bonnet hid her face as she looked down now where one tear fell on her hands clasped tightly.

"I hope he will be happy especially being back with his family.  Tell me about his two sisters.  You have met them, I'm sure."

Suddenly, it was Peter's turn to be quiet.  Then he said, "Yes. You see, I do know some of what you are feeling because the younger one and I had felt an attachment last summer when I visited.  Once it was discovered, I was hurried away and forbidden to write.  Henry was ever so sorry.  He says his sister has never quite gotten over it, but his parents are adamant about putting them out into society, one which we can't reach, dear cousin."

"I'm so sorry, Peter.  So you have a hole here too," and she tapped her heart."

"Yes, it is something that I tried to fill with drinking, carousing, and even to numb it with the laudanum.  The funny thing is, it never went away.  Neither can it be gotten over by the most caring and careful watch by my family and even my best friend.  Not even a doctor can take away this pain, right, Jane?"

She sighed and said,  "Only God can help us.  Sometimes His lessons are to perfect us in our suffering."  But right now, even those words did not bring her the usual comfort.  She was in misery and could not wait to get home."

Peter saw that she was safely on the stage, and squeezed her gloved hand as she put it out to wave.  "We shall keep each other's secret.  It is good to have someone to confide in, dear cousin.  Goodbye."

The stage wasn't overcrowded, but with the puppy, it was cumbersome.  Yet at the same time, the little thing brought comfort as she cuddled it as it fell to sleep tucked under her chin.  "Mon Amour," she whispered.  "At least I have you."

Her mother was worse, or more lost in her haze.  Her father did not have the strength to deny his wife the very thing that sapped her life away.  Jane lost hope of even cutting back what he doctor gave her.
Her home no longer seemed her home.  She was so glad to have the companionship of her puppy which grew to a lanky size soon to become a beautiful dog who never left her side and slept at the foot of her bed at night.

Jane did not know how she would have survived without the long rides she took though there were no wild moors to look out upon.  Her father's estate was indeed much smaller and more confined with small sections of forests and ancient walls.  There was one old ruin on the property which Jane found herself going to more often than not.  It was here she would sit and think and sigh.  Part of a roof was still in tact under which she could hover out of the rain which it most constantly fell this time of the year.  There was no way to tell which were tear drops or raindrops if someone was to see her face.  At times it seemed that her life was crumbling about her.

She sat beside her father in church on the Sabbaths, and even attended a rare wedding and more commonly, a funeral.  It was at one of these services for a wife of a near neighbor that when greeting him, she was jolted out of her melancholy into a total fright.

The man who had just lost his mate held onto her hand noticeably much longer than the others who passed before him.  He smiled without the least hint of proper grief as he looked into her face.  Then glancing back, she saw him return to his mask of mourning.  Jane somehow knew he would not observe the right decorum behooving a widower, and he would soon come calling.  Less than two weeks passed before he came to sit in their parlor.  Her father tried to pry out of him the business of his visit, but he sat sipping his tea, with monosyllable answers.  Jane hid.

When he left after his third time calling, she begged, "Father, promise me you will not leave me alone with that man.  I find it odorous that he would come calling with his wife barely cold in her grave."

"Oh, so you think that is why he is making a pest of himself? I should have known.  And here I thought he was trying to wiggle the secret out of my successful pig farming.  After a long illness like what his wife suffered through, he may feel he has had his months of grieving behind him and most certainly needs a mother for his passel of children.  But you, my dear, are not to be the one.  I will see to that."

True to his word, her father nipped those visits in the bud.  But there were more.  Though their neighborhood had few young available men, they all seemed to come calling  over the next few weeks especially when word got out that she had turned down the prosperous merchant, the widower.
The worst were a pair of brothers who demanded she choose between them.  She feared a Cain versus Able fight might break out any moment before she finally convinced them that neither had won her heart or hand.  After that, she stayed away from the house as much as possible and spent a good portion of every day out painting or riding.

It was one pleasure her mother still took, admiring Jane's paintings.  Jane even did a pencil drawing of her trying to bring back some of what she remembered about her mother before she had fallen into the laudanum habit.  Jane tried to interest her in painting with her there in the bedroom, even to look out at the verdant fields around about them from the view at the window.  It was all to no avail except for her looking at Jane's paintings.  It drove Jane to paint something new almost every day to show.  When the weather was too poorly, she painted a still life of flowers or fruit right there in her room.
Mostly she painted seated upon a wall at the castle ruin or the ancient Roman one that had withstood time.

Jane was surprised to find her father reading a letter from her aunt and uncle when she returned with paints in hand one day in early December. 

"They want you to come for Christmas, Jane.  They want us all to come, but it would be too much for your mother.  The quieter here, the better.  I hope you don't mind that I had replied for you, but perhaps I neglected to tell you earlier."

"Surely, you would not wish me away at this time of year, Father?"

"Jane dear, you must take your pleasures when they are offered.  It is much too somber here for a young lady.  You need to take some society even as small as it is there.  I believe I have successfully turned down every single man under forty years of age in our whole neighborhood who has asked to court you, and even a couple older."

"There is Mr. Collier father.  He has been more genteel in his attentions.  I have told him he may call."

"No, he won't do at all.  You must trust me as I have looked into his background and he is not suitable.  This is no place for you at a festive time of year.  Your mother and I may very well spend it quietly at home knowing you are having a pleasant time away.  That would be a great gift indeed."

"If you are sure, Father.  I do miss my cousin Anne."

"I've already spoken to your mother and she is in total agreement that you must go, but please take your dog with you.  It would be too mournful here without you."

"I don't know of a public conveyance who would agree to take her now that she has grown so."

"I forgot to mention, dear, that your cousin Peter is driving here to transport you.  I'm sure he will not have a problem with your pet."

Jane kissed her father on his cheek and took the letter he handed to her.  "Why, he is coming tomorrow!  I must get ready."

Jane packed all her newest gowns, which were few, and her riding habit, warmest things and boots.  She could not wait to be riding out on the moors again.  There was no time to shop or make gifts, but she found books from her own shelves that she thought each of her family would enjoy plus a framed painting of the castle ruin for her parents.  She gave that to them at dinner.  The three of them had taken to eating up in her mother's room.  It was much cozier there than just she and her father at the large table in the dining hall.

"Here's an early Christmas gift I made for you.  I'm sorry I won't be here on the day, but know as you look at this, I am thinking of you."  They appreciated it as no one else would, a painting from their estate quite well done by their own child.

Jane hesitated but then packed her paints.  Having had little else to do the last few months, Jane knew she had improved her art immensely.  Her favorite pictures, however, were of her spaniel. 

She saw Peter's carriage from her window and ran down to greet him.  How surprised she was to find Sir Henry with him.  She felt suddenly breathless.  "Please come in.  I hope you had a pleasant journey," she asked them both, but could not keep her eyes off his."

"It was much finer in Henry's rig, I dare say.  It has springs that make it seem like one is riding in a feather bed." Peter said happily.  "Well, hello, Uncle.  It has been too long."

Her father grasped his nephew's hand warmly then looked up to his companion.  "And who might you be, sir?"

"Forgive me, Uncle. This is my friend Sir Henry Meredydd."

"Meredydd.  Is your father Lord Perceval Meredydd?"

"Yes, do you know him?"

"Quite well.  When you see him, tell him James Asher sends his greeting.  We served together for a time in his majesty's navy."

"Indeed, sir. I am happy to know that."

"And your mother?  How is she?"

"Quite well."

"As beautiful as ever, I'm sure.  Your father and I were going courting at the same time, many years ago."

"I had no idea, sir."

"You do take after your mother in color, and your eyes.  I'll never forget her eyes. You see, I introduced your mother and father."

"This is a surprise indeed."

Jane was dumbfounded.  She had never heard her father go on in this fashion.

"Please come in.  We have rooms ready for you.  I assume you wish to stay the night?"

"We thought if we got away quickly, we might return to Heather Downs today.  We will still have enough daylight I believe for most of the journey.  But thank you anyway. Have you packed, Jane?" Peter said.

"Oh, yes.  Everything is ready.  I must ask one favor, however, Peter.  Is it permissible to bring my spaniel?  She is quite spoiled and Father does not want to cater to her while I'm gone."

"Of course!  Mother would have all our dogs in the house if father would let her.  The pugs don't seem to mind the keeper's spaniels when they are out for a run, so I doubt they will mind yours."

"Would you like to see my mother before you leave, Peter?"  Jane hesitated asking him, but she knew he would understand her frailty.

"I was looking forward to seeing my gentle, sweet aunt.  I would not dream of not calling upon her."

"Would she mind if I came along as well.  I wish to meet the mother of such a daughter," Sir Henry asked Jane.

"I am certain she would be honored to meet you as well," Jane answered.

She sent a maid to get her mother ready while she offered the men something hot to drink and a quick lunch.

"Would you care for some spirits?" Her father asked.  He did not drink but had it there for guests.

"No," the two young men said emphatically at once as in one voice,"  They all laughed.

"That's the determination I find admirable in young gentlemen and sadly lacking in most," her father replied.

They had eaten quickly when the maid came in to say that her mother was ready to greet them.

Jane was glad to see some excitement in her mother's eyes and pink on her cheek as she held out her hands to Peter, "Oh, you are a sight to behold all grown up into such a man now, Peter.  What a delight to see you.  And you must be Sir Henry.  Jane has said such nice things about you."

Jane wracked her brain to think what she might have said as she had tried her best to keep his name from ever coming up not wanting to answer questions or have her parents guess what was in her heart.

"Or perhaps it was your mother, Peter, who wrote commending Sir Henry for being such a friend in their time of need."

Jane was astonished to hear her mother say, "You must have been very brave, dear Peter, to get free from the laudanum.  I am too weak and old to make such a radical change after all these years."

"Indeed, I am truly sorry to hear that, Aunt.  I completely understand how you feel.  I despaired of it myself and would have failed without my friend and family standing by.  I will continue to keep you in my prayers."

Then her mother reached her hand to Sir Henry who graciously took it.  "And you, fine gentleman,  must know that we hold you in high esteem.  The loyalty you showed your friend, our nephew, speaks volumes for your character."

"We all have fought our own battles, haven't we m'lady?"

"Yes.  Quite so.  Please give my greetings to your mother.  We used to move about in the same
circles long ago when we were young.  In fact, I am sure I held you when you were a toddler."

"That is a surprise.  I hope I behaved and did not pull your hair or bite your finger."

It was good to see her mother laugh.  "Oh, how droll you are young man."

"We must leave now to have enough daylight for the journey, Mother.  I will write," and Jane kissed her mother on the cheek.

Jane almost called her dog by name, then caught herself and said, "Come girl," and rattled her leash.
The dog came bounding up.  Sir Henry allowed it to smell his hand then the pet was all wriggling and happy to have a new friend. 

Just as she was about to step in the carriage, Jane turned and said, "Oh Father, I haven't had time to let Mr. Collier know I won't be home when he arranged to call.  If you would please send my regrets for me, I would be appreciative."

Jane did not know what would be more indelicate, having Sir Henry sitting beside her or facing her where she could not escape his glances.  He chose to sit beside her.  The dog finally settled
at her feet. 

"How is Anne?" Jane broke the silence.

"She has been kept quite busy being courted by a certain gentleman."

"Has she known him long?"

"You know how you think your friends from the university are interested in you when all they really desire is to be allowed to court your sister.  It is quite deflating."

Jane's breath caught in her throat.  He must mean Henry was paying court to Anne. She stared out the window not daring to try to speak.  Anne had expressed a wish to have Sir Henry's attentions, but her cousin thought she was below his station.  She wondered what had changed especially since Peter had been turned away from seeing Henry's sister.  Perhaps in his ardor he was willing to ignore his parents' wishes.

"Had you any idea that your parents knew my parents, Jane?"

"No, that came as a surprise."  She could not look at him." 

"So, Jane, who is this Mr. Collier who was to come calling?  Is he courting you," Peter asked.  She felt Sir Henry shift in his seat as if uncomfortable.

"Not yet.  He is someone new in the neighborhood.  I don't really know much about him yet, except he seems kind enough.  We've only just met.  He came upon me painting at the old ruins.  You remember those, don't you, Peter?"

"Oh, the hiding games we had there.  Of course, you knew all the best places.  Remember that time, you fell asleep while hiding, and we were all in a panic that the trolls had spirited you away?  The old shepherd had told us a few too many scary stories."

Jane finally felt able to smile.  "You ran to get our fathers to help search, but when I woke up, I thought you had all had tired of the game and abandoned me.  If I remember correctly, I was quite miffed and crying when you found me walking home."

Peter laughed at the memory.  "I believe you are spot on.  I do remember tears that day."

"How are your parents, Peter?"

"Anxious to see you.  The house seemed bereft of your company when you left, too lonely without you and Henry about.  You see, I haven't adjusted to life outside of Oxford yet.  It's a bit too quiet at home."

"How about you, Henry?  Have you adjusted to managing your estate or are you kept busy traveling back and forth between Heather Downs and your place?"  Jane tried to force polite conversation.

"No, this is my first time back.  It has been exceptionally busy at home.  Father has been teaching me a great deal.  There's so much responsibility to manage when it impacts so many lives."

"I thought Peter said you had been calling?"

"Calling on who?"


Peter let out a roar of laughter.  "Oh, dear cousin, you misunderstood me.  She is being seen by another one of my Oxford friends, a Mr. Lee."

Henry was looking at her curiously.  She was sure he could see her blush.  "Did you really think I was paying court to Anne?"

"I know we are below your station, Sir Henry, but..."

He gave a bitter laugh and said no more turning to look out the window.

"Tell me of this Mr. Lee, Peter," Anne finally broke the strained silence.

"He is a good bloke, solid, from a proper family, and seems quite taken with my sister.  You know that sort of thing is beyond a brother's expertise.  So, you'll have to wait to talk with her to have more of you questions answered.  She has not stopped begging my mother and father to invite you back since you left.  I believe there is a ball finally to be held."

"And you, Peter?  Is there someone you are seeing?"  Jane was sorry she asked as a shadow passed over his face and shook his head and looked away.  She knew he was thinking of a certain Miss Meredydd.

"It wasn't a very merry party as they rode along each looking out the window as the conversation had dried up and blown away.

Whenever the coach changed horses, Jane walked her dog.  Usually Peter walked with her while Henry saw to the carriage.  On the last stop, it was dusk and she found only Henry walking with her.

"Miss Asher, Jane? 

"Yes, Sir Henry?"

"I am truly sorry that you feel it necessary to say that you are beneath me.  That can never be right in the truest sense.  It grieves me to hear you say it."

Jane turned to look at him surprised, "But, you must admit, in the way our world views such things, it is true.  You belong to a different station in life, one to which I may not belong.  We must be grateful for your friendship."

"Perhaps the Americans have it right in the way their government and society works with every man having an equal chance to make something of himself.  Here it is more about  titles and lands." 

"So, you see, it is true."

"Not as far as character or virtuous qualities, Jane.  You could never be beneath me.  I want you to know that I hold you in highest regard."  Now, he held her hand until her pet pulled her along impatiently.

When her dog stopped to sniff around a tree, she continued, "I will continue to be grateful for your friendship for I have come to admire you as well.  You have risen far beyond my first impression," she added with a smile.

"Oh, please, do not remind me."  He had taken off his hat and ran his fingers through his locks unruly after a day on the road.  "And yet Jane, as I have confessed my shame at my condition that night, the spirits robbed me of a clear memory of what actually took place.  Would it be too painful if I asked just exactly what did happen?  I do remember a kiss, a very nice kiss, then a knock on the head."

Jane was glad for the oncoming night to hide her deep blush. She was sure she could not answer if he had asked in the daylight instead of in the cloak of darkness.  "Ah, well, you completely surprised me.  I rose when you entered and having never had the attentions of a man, shall I say, I was caught unaware by the kiss.  It is just that the kiss and the embrace became very passionate.  When I tried to push you away, you did not heed.  Thus, I struck you with the candlestick."

"And your torn dress?"

"You had grabbed my wrist, while wresting the candlestick out of my hand and throwing it. When the others burst in, I tried to step away suddenly, but your foot was on my hem.  The dress skirt was half torn from the seam of my waist revealing just the lining.  It looked much worse than the offense, it is just that I was completely mortified. I have no experience with men, you understand."

"You should not have had that uninvited experience, I must say.  But," he paused and finally braved to ask, "you are sure that I did nothing else more forward than the kiss?"

"No, just the kiss, and well the embrace."

"Did I hurt you?"

"No, as I said, I was, well, caught by surprise, so to speak.  Like I say, I've had no experience in such things between a man and a woman."

"Thank you Jane.  I was troubled enough by the pain I caused you, and dearly hoped I had not proved a complete cad as much as it appeared I was by all there.  I thank you for answering me truthfully as aggrieving as it is for you to remember that night, one I'm sure you'd rather forget."  He once again was holding her hand and kissed it gently.  "You have settled some questions I have tried to make clear to myself and was unable to do so for these past few months."

What Jane would not say as she looked into his eyes nearly hidden in the dark, was that as the memory of the night faded, the thought of that kiss remained in a most disconcerting manner.  No, he had not hurt her.  If truth be told, she was swept up by it, yielding even, until fear took hold, fear of the unknown ways of a man and a maid.  Earlier that evening, she had escaped to the library to sort out her thoughts as she had indeed enjoyed his attentions and dancing immensely at first.  However, the alcohol on his breath as the night wore on frightened her enough to want to make herself scarce.  She had considered waiting out the rest of the night reading in the library, which in hind sight, was a very bad idea indeed.

Peter found them there thus as even her Amour sat waiting for them to be finished.  "Isn't it time we were off?  I hope I am not intruding."

"No, you are quite right.  I'm afraid it will be late when we arrive, much later than we had hoped."  Then to her he added, "This may mean we will have to brave the cook's wrath if we invade the kitchen later tonight?"

"The lion in her den again is it?"  Jane quipped.  Though it was too dark to see, each was sure of the other's smile as they thought about their stolen meal in her lair."

"Of course.  I'm sure there will be food set back that we can eat," Peter spoke matter-of-factly.

The quiet in the carriage was one more of ease as Henry sat close and put her hand threw his arm covering it with his own. She could feel the warmth of him and still catch the faintest familiar smell of his cologne.  Her dog lay across her feet keeping them warm as well.  Jane decided to enjoy the moment knowing that tomorrow would once again bring a respectable distance.  Peter himself seemed pensive, a quiet not of his usual nature. 

The house was glowing with light seen from afar.  It was a welcome sight.  The last few miles it was all Jane could do not to put her head down on Henry's shoulder as wearying as the trip had been.  Anne spilled out even more light when she opened the doors wide for them. 

"Would you like me to ask the game keeper to feed and look after your dog and bring it to you later, Jane?  She most likely would like to stretch her legs as well," Henry asked.

"That would be most kind, thank you," was all she managed before Anne was hugging her giddily.

"Oh, Jane, you have no idea how glad I am to see you!  I've so much to tell you," and she propelled her inside where her aunt and uncle greeted her warmly.

"Oh, you look so well, Aunt.  It is truly good to see you so!"

"Thank you, Jane, for helping to bring my health back to me.  But here is Anne to talk your ear off about her special excitements."

"And you, sir, look like you've had a weight lifted off your shoulders, dear Uncle."  Jane in truth thought it so.

"Peter has risen to the challenge and has become an invaluable asset in seeing that things run smoothly.  He has indeed lifted my load considerably.  He will be a fine manager some day, no doubt."

"That is good to hear.  He does seem to have become more grown up since I was last here."

"I should hope so," Peter walked by.  "I was a sad excuse of a man before."

"I hope you don't mind, Aunt, but I have brought my spaniel with me.  I've spoiled her so badly that my father feared taking charge of her while I was gone.  I hope that is alright?  I did not have time to write."

"You know I love dogs, dear.  My pugs are too chubby and easily winded to give chase for long."

"Thank you."

"I know you must be hungry, so the cook has agreed to serve a late supper for you in the dining room.

Henry had come in, and whispered in her ear, "We won't be fed to the lions tonight."

It was a pleasant meal.   Though her aunt and uncle had eaten earlier, they all sat around the table and shared many a laugh.  After the quiet of her own home, Jane was relishing the comfort of her relatives' closeness.  It seemed they had gone through the war together fighting the laudanum battle which had now drawn them together in a special way. 

"I do believe we are only missing the good doctor this time around the table," Jane said.

"He has lately been at my house," Henry commented.

"Oh dear, I hope no one is ill," her aunt worried.  Jane noticed that Peter looked up concerned.  She knew where his thoughts flew.

"No, he and my father like to get together and play cards on occasion.  He asked about all of you and sends his regards.  By the way, were you aware that my parents knew Miss Jane's parents?"

"You don't say!" Anne remarked.

But her uncle responded, "Of course, I'd forgotten that they had soldiered together.  And, if I'm not mistaken, your mother was in some high society, Jane, but that did not keep her from falling for your father's charms.  Oh, my!  Did she ever tell you how angry her father was when he found out?"

"I had no idea," Jane said astounded.  Everyone was listening intently.

"Yes, when your father came to ask for her hand, he was abruptly turned out and told to stay away.   When your mother declared she would defy her father, she was told she would be cut off.  The bans were posted in a little out of the way chapel, and they were married before the month was out.  I had not thought of that in years.  They have been happily married all this time and her father eventually relented of his threats of denying her dowry."

"Yes, my father would do anything to make her happy," Jane said rather sadly thinking of her mother's poor health.

"Your father, he poor man, had the misfortune of not being the eldest son.  He was raised in similar fortune, just not in line to inherit.  Actually, if memory serves me, he had an uncle who had promised to leave him with a sizable inheritance, but the old bloke married finally at a ripe old age.  His little wife was a young  widow and convinced him to leave it to a very young stepson instead.  Quite an unfortunate turn of events for your father as he had courted your mother with that good faith.  By the time he found out it wasn't to be, it was a blow because they were already committed to each other.  Jolly good, your mother stood by him though.  Does make a decent love story doesn't it?  Yes, he's a good man, though we haven't seen enough of each other as I would have liked."

"He was always a very good brother to me," her aunt said, "much like Peter is, protective of Anne."

"Peter had better not run my beau off or he'll lose a friend and face his sister's wrath!" 

"If he acts the gentleman, I won't get in his way." Peter conceded.

"And what about you, dear Jane?  Have you had suitors?" her aunt dared to ask openly.

Jane was embarrassed to speak so freely in front of all of them, but she tried to keep it light, "Father has checked nearly every man in the neighborhood under forty off his list. I believe there is only one left, and he is untried, so I have no news for you I'm afraid."

"Well, Sir Henry tells us he is to go calling in London after the holidays on a certain young lady, but he will not tell us her name, the tease.  He's had us guessing all week," her aunt declared to Henry's chagrin.

"You mean, mother, he's tried to change the subject all week, and I'm sure he would appreciate if you would do so as well," Peter gently chided her.

"Well, those who are not young anymore, must take our pleasure in those who are.  It is how things are," she sniffed.

Jane had listened with interest to those around her, but realized suddenly that she was very weary.  Now she would have to go to bed wondering who it was Henry was seeing.  She knew it would be a troubled sleep, sorry now how foolish she was that she had let the man hold and kiss her hand.  It was infuriating!

The next morning Jane gave Henry a cool "good morning," when he came down to breakfast after hardly meeting his eyes.  He arched his brow, but said nothing.  She ignored him all day in fact.  The sooner she checked herself in delusions of fondness he might have felt for her the better.  At least they had finally settled what had really happened that terrible night, his apology was given and accepted, so that was that. 

Jane let herself be attentive to her cousin who wanted to gush of her Mr. Lee.  He would be there later in the week for her to meet.  She promised Anne that she would be honest in telling her what she thought of him.  Her ears almost hurt and certainly her smile was strained when she finally suggested they go for a walk with her dog.  The spoiled creature wasn't used to sharing this much attention and was nervous in the new setting. 

"But Jane, it is drippy outside.  Wait at least for the sun to come back before going out on a walk."

"It is not actually raining any more.  I really do need to take the dog on her walk before she has an accident.  If you don't wish to join me, I will be fine.  We can visit some more when I get back."

"I'll wait for you to return, Jane.  Come straight up to my room when you are done walking the dog."

Jane was relieved for the peace and quiet walking down the lane.  After a while she let the dog run free off the leash.  The trees were dripping indeed from the earlier rain, and the puddles were many mirroring the grey clouds overhead where an occasional gleam of sunlight poked a golden finger through.  She realized she needed to let the dog run often so it would be more sedate by the time they returned to the house.  Amour was still an energetic puppy though much grown.  Jane was worried about her poor choice of the dog's name as it truly could cause embarrassment when called.   She must be very careful.  Oh my, but the dog was getting muddy as usual.  Now it took off after a rabbit.  Jane could only watch as it disappeared over a slight rise.  She called as loud as she could, "Amour, girl, come!"

"Will she come back on her own?"  It was Henry.  She had not heard his horse.  Now she had done it.  He had heard her call the dog its silly name.

"I believe so.  She does love to chase rabbits."

"Here, come up with me and we can ride after her." He held his arm down and took his foot out of the stirrup so she could get up.  He pulled her up effortlessly.

They said nothing, but she was sure he could hear her pounding heart.  He had pulled her up to ride in front of him and he held her tightly as she rode side saddle. 

"There, I see her now.  Call her again.  I think she gave up on her prey."

"Girl, come!"  The dog looked up and came loping back with her tongue hanging.  She was sopping wet and covered head to toe with mud.

"Let's take her to the gamekeeper and let him take care of her for you.  I don't think your aunt would take kindly to the creature as she is now.  My dog is outside all the time. Mother won't have him in the house at all."

"She's certainly a mess.  I hope the man won't mind this favor."

"He can bring her back when she's more decent company."

"Thank you Sir Henry."

Jane slid down in front of the keeper's cottage as the man came out.  She handed him the dog's leash as Sir Henry did the talking for her.  "I'll walk back to the house from here.  Thank you again."

Jane was struggling for her composure.  Whenever she tried to distance herself, was he always to be there?   She wondered what he was about.  He had said he had thought her admirable, was attracted to her in London,  and even pursued her with the kiss.  Then there were the times he held her hand and even kissed  them on the way here.  He must be a rake as he obviously was soon to court someone else.  Now as he had held her close on his horse, had it meant nothing to him?  It galled her to be used like that.  She would speak to him very soon, she must, to ask him to keep his distance.  Having Sir Henry as a friend was not working out.

Anne droned on about her Mr. Lee, about the small parties in the neighborhood, about the Christmas ball to be held on the 23rd, about the food, the decorations, the invitations.  Jane could hardly pay enough attention to make the appropriate comments at the right time. 

"Anne, if you would excuse me, I would like to lie down before supper," she said abruptly.

"Are you quite alright?" Anne asked perplexed.

"Yes, still a bit weary from the trip yesterday, thank you.  Make sure I am awakened in time, if you please," and Jane sought refuge in her room.  She built a fire back up stoking the embers herself before laying down.  A headache was threatening behind her eyes.  She did fall asleep dreaming of riding a horse.

She came down in time for dinner wearing one of her newer dresses, a green silk with a matching spencer jacket trimmed in black with jet buttons.  She was seated beside Peter to her relief and stayed quite animated talking with him.  He always was a good conversationalist.  Jane was proud of herself for not looking once in Sir Henry's direction, that is until dessert.

"Did the gamekeeper return your dog yet, Miss Asher?"  He asked.

"Not yet."

"Why, yes he did. You were sleeping, so I sent him back to return with her in the morning," Anne replied.

"Oh, I'm afraid that would be a great inconvenience to him.  I will see to it directly after the meal."

"I could walk you there," Henry offered.

"I'm sure Peter can.  I've already put you out too much already today."

"What?" Anne asked.

"Oh, just that my dog ran off chasing a rabbit.  Hen...Sir Henry helped me get her back."

"Well, did the dog catch the silly rabbit?" her uncle asked.  "She could be trained while she's here by the gamekeeper, I dare say, if she has shown that much hunt in her."

"Capital!  I'll ask him when I walk Jane down," Peter said.

"I'll go with you.  I have a few questions about training my dog as well," Henry said.

Jane gritted her teeth but tried not to show it. The man was like her shadow.  She would have to speak to him soon.

After the meal was over, Jane ran upstairs to get a shawl.  It was raining again.

"You don't have to go, Jane.  Henry and I can manage to return with one little spaniel."

Jane looked back and forth between them and finally said, "I would like the walk and to personally thank the keeper for looking after my dog."

She found herself walking between the two men.  When Henry offered his arm she ignored him as if she had not seem him do it and just hugged her shawl more tightly around her head.  By the time they got to the keeper's, they were quite soaked.

"Ach, I didna expect you to come back tonight.  As you can see she is contented enough here with me other dogs.  In fact, she can stay here as much as ye like.  She's a good one, she is.  But come sit by me fire and warm yerselves, would ya now."

Her dog had indeed come over to be petted before settling down once again with the many others on a pile of rags in the corner not far from the warmth of the fire.  "She does seem content.  She probably is more comfortable here than in the big strange house.  I believe I will take you up on your offer as long as you let me know if she causes you any trouble."

The kind man had given them a cup of hot tea by the fire.  Jane just listened as the men talked of training a dog to hunt.  Her mind wandered.  She wondered how her mother and father were doing.  She was amiss in failing to write a letter yet to let them know of her safe arrival.  Perhaps the trip had been ill timed.  Maybe she should have stayed home.



Peter said, "I asked if you were warm enough to return.  It sounds like there is a lull in the rain.  We'd better run for it."

"Yes, I'm fine.  Thank you sir, for your warm hospitality."  Her dog only raised its eyes as she left, not even lifting its head.

She took Peter's arm on the way home as the path was slick with mud and standing water.  By the time they were back in the house, they were once again soaked.  "I'm sorry, sirs, to have dragged you out on this wet night for nothing.  It seems my dog is happier without me."

Henry had knelt down to help pull her muddy boots off once inside, much to her chagrin.

"It's just a creature with simple needs, a dish, a bed, and a warm fire.  She ran a great deal after that rabbit today and is probably quite bushed," Henry said.

"Yes, you are right.  I will try not to have my feelings hurt too badly by being spurned by my dog."

"Come sit by the fire again," Jane," Peter urged.  "It's raining hard again now.  We made it back inside just in time."

The fire did feel fine.  The others must have retired early as it was just the three of them left downstairs."

"I think I will go ask cook for a cup of chocolate.  Would you like one, Jane, Henry?"

"Yes, please," they both said.

At first neither tried to fill the silence, but Jane finally took a deep breath and began before she had it all sorted out in her head.

"Sir Henry?"

"Yes, Jane?"

"I feel I must ask you to...I mean, it is quite awkward, as friends you know...well..." Jane began badly.

"You feel we must keep our distance?"


"Have I offended you in any way?"

"No, I mean, not exactly.  It is just if you are going to be seeing someone in London, I feel it is best if we are not too familiar, so to speak."

He was quiet for a long while.  Finally he said, "And if I wasn't to see anyone in London, would you ask me this?"

"No," Jane said it so softly she wasn't sure if he heard her.  Why did she feel like crying?  "But you do realize, don't you, that it is no use?"

Just then Peter came back with a tray with three cups.  He found grim companions.  They sat silently sipping their hot chocolate. 

When she was done, she said, "Thank you, Peter.  I'm going to my room now to get out of these wet things.  Good night."

They both stood as she left.  She couldn't help but look into Henry's pained face before she left and drank in his hurt.

When she was gone, Peter said, "Now you know how I feel, Henry.  Am I right?"

"Quite so, I'm afraid."

"You two are making each other miserable."

"I should go home then."

"No, not at all.  I'm not saying that, it's just that I was trying to give you some sympathy, poor boy, that's all, commiserate and all that."

"I think I'm done in for the night.  I'll see you in the morning then."

"Good night.  I hope you can see your way through this, old pal."

"Me too."

That night Jane wished she had not slept during the day as she could not find sleep until the wee hours.  Her thoughts would not wander far from a certain gentleman's face no matter how hard she tried to drive them away."

The next day shone fair for a December morn brightening spirits a bit.  Sir Henry did what she had asked by keeping his distance, yet his eyes followed her more than ever.  The four young people played whist until quite late that night.  She and Anne were partners against the men.  It was all light hearted fun. 

The only trouble was when Mr. Lee arrived with his sister Elizabeth.  He was nice enough, and so was she.  However, as soon as the supper was over, Anne suggested they dance.  Their aunt volunteered to play so there could be three coupes.   Mr. Lee's sister Elizabeth flirted mostly with Sir Henry, but with Peter as well.  Neither man seemed attracted, but neither were they rude.  Next Jane became Mr. Lee's partner.  He was more than polite almost making Jane feel uncomfortable.  Next she claimed Peter as her partner, and unavoidably, finally Henry.  So it went throughout the evening.

The last dance, it was Henry's turn to claim her once more.  She managed to go through the movements without meeting his eye.  It was just the gentle touch of his hand in hers and his light touch at her waist which made her tremble.  This was going to be difficult.  She would breathe the familiar cologne as well.  "Oh, December, move swiftly," she prayed, "for my heart is being torn apart."  When it was finished, she did a curtsey then excused herself without looking  at him.  She went directly to bed without any other leave taking. 

The ball was reduced to a comfortable gathering.   Many were ill and stayed home or did not want to venture out in the snowy-blowy weather.  There were no partners to tempt Jane to dancing with them more than once, though she politely accepted each one once, noticing the one who did not ask her.  She saw him leaning in the doorway watching her keenly.

Peter took her out for the final dance.  "He is of all men made most miserable." 

"More than you?" she asked.

"I doubt if I could have stood by if the object of my affection danced with all others but me.  He's of stronger metal than I."

She was quiet the rest of the dance reflecting on what Peter had said.  Was she the object of his affection truly?

The next morning Henry stayed for a late breakfast, reluctant to be off.  "I promised my family I would spend Christmas with them.  But Peter and I have been talking.  He's thinking of bringing you, Anne, and you Jane, if you are willing to my house for a few days afterward.  It would break up the holiday nicely."

"I don't know how welcome I would be, Henry.  It ended rather abruptly last time."

"Nonsense.  You are my friend, and I am allowed to invite whomever I wish.  My sisters would truly enjoy having Anne and Jane to visit as well."

"Aren't you going to London as you planned?" Jane asked.

"No, I've decided against it."  He looked directly at her until she looked down.

Anne was in raptures.  She would be glad to have a time to see if absence really made the heart grow fonder with her Mr. Lee.  She was not happy with how he flirted with all the young women last night including Jane. Perhaps he was not as ardent of a suitor as she had thought.  The idea of going somewhere, anywhere, sounded like pure bliss, and to think to be invited to the prestigious Sir Henry's at that!

"Capital.  You might expect us on the eve of the twenty-seventh then, if that is alright, Father?"

"I'm sure you could use a holiday away.  You've done well staying close to home, son.  Watch over our young ladies for us, lad."

"Good, and you can help us ring in the new year."  Henry was looking at her again.  He nodded slightly towards the door as if he wanted her to follow. "Until then.  Thank you for your hospitality."
When they were out the door, she asked, "Did you want to speak with me, Henry?"

"Walk with me to get my horse, please.  You can visit your dog while you're there if you like."

They walked in silence barely brushing shoulders.  Finally, he took her hand and led her into the stables.  Next thing she knew he had pulled her close, "Jane, you must know how miserable I am.  There can be no distance between us unless you choose miles.  Can you not see how impossible it is for me not be close to you?"

She felt a tear slip down which he gently wiped away.

"You do care then?"

She nodded unable to speak.

He drew her face up and came in slowly for a kiss giving plenty of opportunity for her to refuse him.  She did not.  He kissed her with a passionate love that she did not know existed and responded in kind.

Finally, he broke away and whispered,  "You do not know how happy I am, Jane.  I could hardly bear to leave you otherwise.  Merry Christmas, my dear Jane.  I am looking forward for you to meet my family."

"And if they are not happy to meet me?"

"If they understand that all my happiness depends on this, I trust they eventually will come around."

"Like they did with Peter?"  Her tears fell faster than he could wipe them away.

"I am of age, and much of my inheritance is beyond their control.  Of course, I want their blessing, but I want you more."  He kissed her once more and then rode away looking back once to wave.

After the excitement of the ball, the family enjoyed a more quiet celebration of the season going to church and exchanging gifts.  The room was still festooned with evergreen swags and red holly berries filling the room with a woodsy scent.  It reminded Jane of the fun trip to the woods they had taken filling the sled with the small branches Henry and Peter had cut away while she and Anne found the berries.  Henry had tucked a small clump of the berries behind her ear every so gently. 
She had thought for a minute he was going to kiss her then in front of her cousins as his eyes half closed looking at her lips. 


"Yes?  Did you ask me something?"

"Your thoughts are far away, it appears.  I just wanted to say thank you, dear.  The book is lovely,"
her aunt smiled.

"Oh, excuse me.  I hope you enjoy it.  The poems are indeed beautiful."

Jane tried to stay in the conversation as thank you's were exchanged.  Her aunt and uncle gave her a stunning gold bracelet.  Anne was admiring her own, a matching one. 

"I don't know what to say.  I've never had anything so fine before," Jane exclaimed.

"You deserve the best, dear girl.  We do think of you as our own."  Her uncle said.  Both girls pecked the good man on the cheek, one on each side, before going to her aunt to do the same.

Jane was glad that Peter seemed to like the copy of "Pilgrim's Progress" she gave him, and Anne, a small leather diary, Jane had purchased and never used. 

"No one may read what I will write in this book.  It is for only my eyes to see!" she exclaimed.

In turn, Peter gave her a book of poetry, Anne gave her a lovely nightgown which Jane was too embarrassed to take out of its box in front of everyone.  Anne was giggling behind her hand which Jane thought odd.

When Jane went up to her room to put away her gifts, she entered then went out again thinking she had come to the wrong room.  For there laid out on the bed was a generous new wardrobe of day gowns, evening dresses, petticoats, stockings, and slippers and even a warm hooded cape trimmed in fur.  Anne came in shrieking with laughter and her aunt was clapping happily.  Peter and her uncle looked on with great satisfaction.

"You were surprised, were you not?  You had no idea we had been getting your measurements sending your old dresses out to the seamstress when you thought they were too long at the laundress'.

"But it is too much.  How can I accept such generosity?"

"You are family, dear one.  You must to make us happy.  And now you even have an invitation and somewhere to wear all this!"

"Did you know that Sir Henry was going to invite us?"

"Peter had told us before you arrived of his invitation, and I told mother we couldn't think of going if we were to appear as country bumpkins.  It was her idea to have yours made up as a Christmas surprise.  We had so much fun picking out the fabrics and such."

"I can't believe you were able to keep it a secret, Anne," Jane was dumbfounded over the magnitude of the gift.

"My dear girls must give us a fashion show since I won't be there to admire you moving about in such high society."

"Delighted, mother.  Come on Jane.  Bring your things into my room and Sarah can help us both at once instead of running from room to room.  Everyone else is off for the day, but she wanted to see you receive your gift."

Jane smiled at the shy maid and mouthed, "Thank you."

Every time they descended the stairs, Anne put on such airs that Jane was in giddy fits of laughter.  It was a very merry Christmas indeed.  That night Anne crawled into bed with Jane to whisper late into the night about their upcoming visit to Sir Henry's estate trying to imagine what it would be like.
Finally sleep put an end to a most marvelous day.

As the carriage drew closer to the esteemed destination, the girls finally quieted each lost in their own thought.  Peter himself was nervous as he imagined seeing the one who was never out of his heart.  He knew it would be a difficult and delicate balance to be near, but not to appear taking advantage of his hosts by singling out their forbidden daughter.  It was night by the time they arrived and foggy   which made it difficult to see the manor.  Once inside the young ladies hardly had a chance to be awed as introductions were made.  Jane knew immediately she would like Henry's sisters.  His mother seemed cautious in her welcome, but his father seemed austere even looking Peter over with a bit of a stern countenance once he had forced a smile upon the girls.  However, another young woman was waiting to be introduced.

"This is Miss Camille Green from London, a friend of our family's who has also come to visit."  She was glaring at Jane but gave a smile that did not reach her eyes.  She could be quite a dark beauty if she did not look so worldly with a jadedness about her for one so young.

"Henry has told me so much about his friends from the country.  I'm sure this is a rare treat to be invited here.  How lucky for you."

However, Jane hardly noticed as Henry was smiling down upon her grasping her hands noticing how lovely she looked in her new cape.  He had kissed Anne then her upon their cheeks lingering longer with her.
Beatrice Meredydd

It was not hard for Jane to guess which of the sisters had stolen Peter's heart for she wore hers in her eyes.  Indeed, she had not lost her love for him if she was not mistaken.  The two walked side by side down the hall though not daring to touch, hardly even look at one another.  Jane found Henry walking closely to her with his hand gently placed upon the small of her back.  While he whispered near her ear, she kept her eyes down.

"I have told Mother about you.  She is anxious to get to know you better.  I have not had a chance to speak with father yet, but I will soon.  Don't worry.  He can't back me down.  This house is his, but I have another inheritance not far away.  I hope to show you while you are here.

The supper had waited for their arrival.  The room was magnificent with tapestries hanging on the walls and family shields hanging even higher under the beams.  The fireplace was enormous and many silver candlesticks lit the room.  The food tasted so good after a day in the carriage, but Jane could only nibble nervously.

"Henry tells me you are the daughter of my special friend George Asher.   Is this correct?" Lord Meredydd asked.

"Yes, sir.  We just found out that you knew each other from your years of service together."

"Why, I did not realize that was our Georgie!" Henry's mother exclaimed.  "George Asher?  I can't believe it.  Did you know it was your father, Miss Asher, who introduced us?"

"How romantic," Miss Camille said almost with a sneer.

Jane had never heard her father called Georgie before.  She was almost speechless, but stumbled out her answer.  "It was not until Henry and Peter picked me up and met my father that this came to light.  It is a small world, isn't it."

"Quite."  Lord Meredydd said staring into his glass for a long time.  "We owe your father a great deal, more than you can imagine.  I will tell you in more detail later, son, but suffice it to say that it is a great honor to have you here, Miss Asher, yes indeed.  I'm ashamed to say that we have lost touch with your parents, dear.  How are they?"

"Yes, tell me of your mother?  You do remind me so of her.  It is the gentle way you have about you."

"They are fine, that is, my mother's health is frail, but they are happy."

"No doubt they are happy."  Henry's father twirled his empty glass.

"Have you been to London for a season yet, Miss Asher?  I don't remember seeing you there, but your name does seem familiar.  It seems to have been bantered about in some circles, what was it now...?"

Jane could not believe the young woman would have the nerve to bring up the past here at the dinner table in front of his parents and was aghast at her rudeness whereas the girl enjoyed Jane's panic and felt smug with her secret.  She would find an appropriate time to use it after tormenting the dear Miss Asher with it first for awhile.  Anne was having a hard time keeping her mouth shut in astonishment as the conversation evolved.  Peter was trying to figure out how it would all end while Henry seemed pleased except when Miss Green had put herself forward in the conversation in a most unpleasant manner.

Jane saw Henry's parents exchanging long questioning glances and hoped it did not bode ill.  Anne tried to strike up a conversation with the Miss Green, but she snubbed her as if she had not just spoken to her.  Instead the flirt was trying to catch Peter's attention which was totally set on a certain Miss Beatrice Meredydd. 

"It is all very curious, is it not?" Jane whispered to Henry 

"I am quite flummoxed.  I have no idea of what father has to say to me.  He seems delighted to have you here, Jane.  That I am certain of.

"It is so nice to meet your parents.  I must say I see a resemblance in your mother, but not your father at all."

After dinner when the ladies went out to the parlor, Lord Meredydd excused himself from Peter and merely said, "Something has come up.  Please forgive me, Peter, but I must speak to my son in private."

Henry was now imagining all sorts of things his father might have to say to him but decided not to chase every rabbit trail in his worry.  He was even more overwhelmed when his father returned to the library with his mother. 

"Have a seat, son.  This talk is long over due.  Please forgive me keeping our guests waiting and for not making certain facts known sooner."

"As for Miss Asher..." Henry was about to blurt out his feelings for her but was stopped with a hand on his arm by his mother.

"In due time, Henry dear.  Wait and hear your parents out, and she took a handkerchief out of her sleeve and wiped her eyes."

"Would you two care to explain what is going on here?  Our guests are waiting."

"It is quite an extraordinary circumstance, wouldn't you say dear?"


"What?" Henry demanded.

"We have been meaning to tell you since you came of age, then you were away at the university, and time just slipped away until now.  Here we are."

"What?  Can you please tell me what is going on?" he commanded.

"Yes, well I will tell you a tale and see if you can figure how this affects you and our little company here tonight."  And so he began while Henry leaned forward listening.

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, but very young woman who was deeply in love.  She and her wedded husband thought love was enough to sustain them.  Indeed it might have been had her husband lived, for he was a hard worker, but his inheritance was entailed away after his death.  His poor widow was practically penniless.  She took a job as a head matron to oversee the household of a very wealthy old man.  He was kind to her and doted upon her young son, the very love of her life.  Finally, knowing his time was short, the man could not sleep thinking of what was to become of his dear lady and her darling son.  He was awake all night, and went over his many legal papers.  In the morning he called for his lawyer, dressed very carefully, and asked for the young woman to come to his study.  She was concerned looking at the man that he was not well.  However, nothing prepared her for what he was to say.  He asked if she would take his name for her protection and allow him to leave his fortune to her son with enough to keep them more than comfortable until he came of age.  Weeping thinking of his great kindness toward her, she was hesitant to accept for her sake, but finally agreed for her son's sake for she surely did not know what would happen to them when something happened to her dear employer.  He then enclosed himself with his lawyer for the rest of the day.  The bans were posted on the Sabboth and after the second such week, they were married in name only.  She took such good care of the gentleman that he lived another year before he went to his reward.  Now widowed for a second time, she was no longer penniless but more than comfortably settled.  Yet, she was lonely. A distant nephew of her late husband came to see her one day.  He had understood that the uncle was to leave him the inheritance, but was most gracious upon hearing what had happened.  He assured her of his consideration to her as kin, and invited her after her time of mourning into some circles of society which he had of late moved in."

Henry stood almost knocking his chair over.  "Is that me?  Is he talking about you, mother?  Have you indeed been widowed twice.  How is it I never knew this?"  Henry began pacing the floor running his hand through his hair and stopped suddenly and turned toward his father who was waiting.  "And you, sir, you not my father by birth?  Have you all this time blest me with the love  a father has for a son and not held it back because you were not actually tied by blood?"

His father arose as well while his mother who had not stopped wiping her eyes began to weep silently.  The two men embraced and held each other for a long time.  Then Henry put his arms around his mother.  "Thank you my brave little mother for taking such good care of me."  Then another thought hit him and he straightened up.

"You mean it was George Asher who introduced you two.? George Asher who believed he was meant to inherit all that was left to me instead, Jane's father?  He must be some kind of gentleman to have not resented it all this time."

"I'm sad to say that we lost touch with the good man even though he had promised to be my close kinsman if ever I needed him to be,"  his mother sighed.

"Wait.  We are related by marriage, but not by blood to Mr. Asher, is that right, Mother?"  Henry had his hands holding onto her shoulders."

"Quite so.  What is it, son?" Then she gasped with eyes that lit up and she waved her handkerchief.  "How wonderful!" and she hugged her son.

"What are you two dancing about the room just now for I'd like to know?" Lord Meredydd demanded.

"Can't you guess, darling.  Our Henry's in love, and I totally approve of the young lady."

"Dash it all!  You don't say,"  were all the words the lord could manage, but sank back in his chair and laughed and laughed.

"Does that mean you approve, Father?  Do I have your blessing to ask for her hand?"

"The Lord works in mysterious ways.  He has decided to bless poor George and his family in the generous way he blessed you and your mother when you were too little to remember that time of trial.  Yes, of course, son.  Go see to it tonight if you like," and he sat back and laughed some more. 

Jane, especially Jane, as well as Peter, Anne, and the other young women were concerned with the meeting in the library when they did not come out very soon.  Then they heard laughter. 

Beatrice whispered to her sister, "It's been a long time since I have heard father laugh like that."

When the doors opened, Henry walked straight for her and took her hand all smiles.  Everyone noted the happy look on all their faces, but were not told yet of what had transpired.

"Just a wee bit of family business.  I do apologize for leaving our guests alone.  Whist anyone?" Lord Meredydd asked.

Just then the butler came in to announce, "The good doctor is here."

Jane rose to greet him happily as well as did Anne and Peter. 

"I'm surprised to find this lovely party of young people all together here."

"You and Sir Henry are looking quite happy, I might add," he whispered in her ear before he went across the room to join Lord Meredydd in a card game.

Refreshments were brought in.  Jane found herself to be ravenous since she had been too nervous to eat much of her dinner.   Henry brought her a plate.  When he was seated beside her, he looked up with a twinkle in his eyes and said, "Aren't you wondering just a tiny bit about that meeting in my father's study?"  The way he was grinning Jane gasped suddenly.

"You didn't?  Did you tell them?"

"I did not have to.  They guessed it and are all for it.  He was still holding her hand with no interest in cards whatsoever."  Come, take a walk with me, please Jane."

The conniving Miss Green sat by Anne to play against Peter and Beatrice.  "I hear you are acquainted with one of my suitors, Anne.  Do you know a Mr. Lee, lately of Oxford?"

Anne answered with her chin up.  "I believe we have met.  Yes, I believe he's one of Peter's friends who has visited our little country estate if I remember correctly.  Is that right, Peter?"

"Quite so."  He was amazed at the way the two young women danced around the subject at hand with fire in their eyes.

"I doubt we will be seeing him again, however.  I don't believe he took to our country ways," Anne remarked casually.  "You see we must all chase after the sheep which leaves little time for dancing."

With Beatrice's eyes grown large, Peter squeezed her hand under the table and winked. 

"Oh, I do love to do a little shepherding myself," the Miss Meredydd remarked joining in the game.  "I do like to decorate my staff with ribbons to match those in my hair."

Anne barely managed to hide her smile.  Peter saw the corner of her mouth twitch as Camille said, "I don't think I could bear to live in the country.  Ugh."

"What a pity,"  Beatrice went on.  "Henry does love the country life so."

They all saw the young woman clinch her jaw before playing her cards very badly.

Henry had led Jane to an alcove off the main hall with a window seat.  He sat beside her not letting go of her hands grinning like a little boy in a bakery shop.

"What has happened, Henry?  Please explain as I am so anxious to hear what your parents said to make you so happy."

He told her the tale much like his father had told him.  She was unable at first to accept the fact that it was truly her father's part in the story.  Tears sprung to her eyes then as she asked trembling, "Does that mean we are related? 

"Only in name, dearest one.  Your father's great uncle only gave his name to my mother to seek her welfare.  Don't you see how happy my parents are to give back my independent inheritance to the daughter of their dear friend if she accepts my proposal of marriage."

"Your what?" she gulped.

Henry slid down on one knee and asked, "My dearest Jane, the one who is so far above me that I hardly dare to ask, but will you accept my hand in marriage?"

"Yes, yes, most definitely..." but she was cut short by his kisses.

"I will ride to your father's tomorrow to ask for your hand.  I don't doubt that my father will want to accompany me.  When I get back I would like to take you to your great-great uncles' estate.  The manor house is not as grand as this and is quite quaint, not as modern..."

"I am delighted.  I doubt I could ever be settled comfortably in such a grand house as this."

"Shall we tell the others, that is pending your father's approval?"

"You have no doubt, do you?"

"None whatsoever, of desiring to be your husband and of your father's consent."

When they walked in, Lady Meredydd clapped her hands upon seeing Jane's blush, and Lord Meredydd rose from his seat beaming.

Everyone looked at them standing there with his arm around her most intimately at her waist.
"I am happy to announce that Miss Asher has accepted my proposal of marriage."

Such a joyful noise greeted them except for one Camille Green who growled throwing down her cards and stomping out.

When Peter came to shake his hand, Henry grasped him in a bear hug saying, "Don't give up hope, dear fellow.  Perhaps your opportunity may come sooner than you think and he winked at his little sister Beatrice. 

Anne kissed them both on the cheek saying, "The only way I could be happier is if you only had a little brother, Sir Henry, to pay me court."