"Looks like you are quite the fisherman. Maybe sometime I'll bring my pole and you can show me how to fish."
Finally, he was helping his sister as she gingerly stepped across the stream almost pulling him down into the water as she lost her footing. They laughed together at this new experience. She had probably never been wading barefoot in her life like this. She wore her simplest dress, but it was still too fancy he feared. He hoped that Elizabeth and Jane would like each other, form a friendship of sorts as uncommon as it might be.
When they entered the cottage yard, Elizabeth and Isaac were just coming back from a walk in the woods. The boy had juice on his chin as evidence of what they had found there. Isaac laughed but hung back shyly because of his sister.
Jane was entranced. "It is Snow White and one of her little men!" she whispered to him.
"Jane, I would like you to meet Miss Elizabeth Chandry and her brother Master Isaac."
Jane curtsied prettily then smiled with deep dimples in both cheeks. She looked enchanted with Elizabeth's brother. "You are a darling, young sir. I'm so pleased to meet you both. I hope you can teach one such as I to fish. I long to eat fresh trout."
Isaac ran to get their fishing poles while Elizabeth shyly cast about for some tidbit of conversation. She was not expecting to see them yet. Jane was fetching in a straw bonnet and wearing a delicate, but simple gown, a day dress too fancy for sitting on a bank.
"I will get a blanket for us to sit on," Elizabeth excused herself. She did not realize that Jane followed her inside and heard her exclaim.
"Oh this is such a wonderful abode, quite delightful. It is just so comfortable. It is almost as if you are playing house with that beautiful boy. How you must love him!"
Elizabeth did not mind her gushing because she knew it was sincere. It was a rare lady to admire such simplicity as their existence. "Thank you, Miss Hawkins. My brother is my joy."
"Oh do call me Jane. I would like to call you Elizabeth if you don't mind. You are the first friend I have found. Other young ladies who have called are so very formal, rather stuffy. I had hoped to find the country more quaint filled with agreeable people. So far, they are not so different than the ton in London. Oh, but perhaps you found them to be to your likely. I hope I have not offended you."
Elizabeth laughed. "Oh no. You have found out my secret that I do not miss society at all. I have found no true friends among them either. I doubt they've hardly noticed I am no longer among them. It will be good to have a friend such as yourself and please do call me Elizabeth. My only company is my brother who is happy though quiet most of the time. He rarely speaks."
"You must be lonely then, at least some of the time."
"Books are my friends, you might say. My way to travel beyond this cottage."
"Yes. I enjoy reading, but not as much as my brother. He devours books. He is enjoying our uncle's library indeed. It is a fine collection."
"How fortuitous that he has inherited something so much to his likely. His uncle would be pleased that it is appreciated I'm sure."
"Yes, but I'm afraid his manor is a little expansive to my liking. I was used to our cozy house in London. However, the countryside is a pleasure. It is so beautiful."
"Do you like riding then?"
"Very much so. Perhaps we could ride together some."
"I would enjoy that, however, I could not run the horse. I must ride double with my brother."
"I will ask Nathan to make the arrangements for us."
"What arrangements?" Nathaniel was filling the doorway with his tall form. He was taking in her home looking around. Her brother squeezed by to pull her out by her hand.
Jane told him, "We want to go riding together soon. I just know Elizabeth and I will be good friends."
Lord Hawkins looked very glad. Then he chuckled at Isaac's eagerness to go fishing. "Come with me lad. We will let the ladies follow at their leisure."
The pair went off. "Would you like a cup of tea before we go," she asked. "No thank you, but those scones look very good."
Elizabeth was already wrapping them up in a cloth to take with them in a basket. She held the blanket to sit on in her other arm. "Well, we're off then."
Jane leaned over and whispered to her. "I met your sister. She is nothing like you."
"You did? Did they call?"
"No, we received an invitation to dine. When I asked if your brother and sister were they the only children, your father said, 'Yes,' while at the same time your mother said 'No, there was another daughter who was away at present.' It was a little awkward. Of course, we did not say anything about my brother having met you."
"Indeed." Elizabeth was quiet.
"You should have seen your sister flirt with my brother. She blinked her lashes at him so much, I asked if she had something in her eye. My brother could scarcely contain his laughter. Then I saw her true countenance. I dare say there is not much love lost between you two."
"You've judged correctly, sad to say. Was my brother there? I'm sure he would have been quite taken with you."
"We have not had the pleasure of meeting him. He is still away at school, I presume."
"And my father probably talked of Parliament's politics while my mother carried on about Justine's upcoming season in London."
Jane giggled. "How right you are, you clever girl. It's exactly how it went. My brother would much prefer to talk about books, though none in your family was so inclined to take his bait.
"No, none of them are great readers. Father mostly reads the newspapers of London, little else."
"I realize now how much happier you must be here. They did not seem like a very warm family. I cannot imagine sending one's children away in hiding. Isaac is a dear."
"He is a handful in that setting. He caused more than one scene in front of company. They had decided to institutionalize him until I came up with this notion. God saved us, I dare say. Only He could have."
"Oh my!" tears were in Jane's eyes. "How very tragic. I love you even more now."
"They were good parents when we were younger, then I was sent away to school coming home about the time Isaac was born. Everything was different then. They hardened themselves against what they saw as our problem."
Lord Hawkings was standing over them now. He offered his sister his hand. "We must take our two fish home now, Jane, so that cook can prepare them for us for our supper. Thank you for entertaining my sister, Miss Chandry."
"It was my pleasure, and please take all the fish. I feel I have a friend in Jane and am very grateful. I also appreciate the kindness you show to my brother. You are the only other person he has ever made up to."
"He is just a boy who belongs to the great outdoors as I wish I could do." He took her hand and helped her to her feet as well. "It has been a most enjoyable afternoon, one I won't soon forget. Thank you."
Then he helped his sister cross the water. They sat on the opposite bank grinning while they put their shoes back on. Isaac waded back and forth. For a minute, Elizabeth was afraid he would run after them, but he came back when she called. "Time to feed the chickens."
The next morning, the gilly was there with a puppy. Isaac was overjoyed. She was thrilled herself. A dog could be an extra protection for her brother. The gilly hemmed and hawed, kicking aimlessly at the dirt with his boots, then finally said, "I finally found out what my son did. Who was the gentleman trespassing here that put him in his place?"
"It was Lord Hawkins. But I won't tell if you don't tell my father. He is not trespassing. His property starts in the middle of the stream. It is the boundary. He had come to ask about fishing is all."
He looked at her keenly judging if she was telling the truth.
"Your son insulted me, sir. I never want him to come near here again."
"I'm sorry, Miss Chandry. That was out of line. Yes, I will say nothing of Lord Hawkins, if you say nothing of my son's untoward behavior."
"Agreed. And thank you for the puppy."
Isaac was running in circles delighted to have the puppy chase him. The puppy looked to be grinning as well.
"The lad looks to be doing well under your care. It is an admirable thing you are doing for him here."
Then he was gone. The puppy's joyful barks and her brother's laughter filled the quiet and her heart.
A couple of days later, Elizabeth was startled to have Isaac run into the house and grab her legs while the puppy stood in the open doorway barking in a way that was protective. She grabbed the poker from the fire and went to the door. A young man in rough garb was trying to make up with the pup.
"Excuse me, miss. I was just delivering this. Dinna mean to alarm ye."
He handed her a letter with a seal then set off at a trot. The pup seemed elated to have run off the intruder and barked after him in stiff-legged bounds.
She sat in a chair at their little kitchen table and quickly broke the seal. It was an invitation with fancy script. She was invited to a ball, a masquerade ball at Lord Hawkins in honor of his sister Jane. She focused her eyes on the sunshine outside, but was unseeing, imagining what it would be like. Then she rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand accepting the solitude of her chosen life. It would be impossible to accept. Her new friends were nice but could not begin to understand her life protecting Isaac. He was looking after his sister while she was looking after her little brother. Their worlds were far apart.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth found herself sighing several times that day. She did not regret her choices, just the "what ifs." The larger world would dance without her. She would not even be able to hear the music.
It was Saturday, the day to saddle up and ride to the manor for supplies. She hoped the puppy would have no trouble following them. When she knocked before entering the kitchen, the cook greeted her with even less than the usual congeniality. Suddenly she saw the reason. Her sister stood glaring.
"Good morning, Justine."
"Why you are as brown as a nut. Do you never wear a hat or a bonnet?"
Elizabeth felt her hair and said carelessly, "I guess I don't. There's no one to please but Isaac."
"Oh, him. Well, Sir Thomas Wells was here to see father. For some reason, the man has asked to court you."
Fear stabbed at her stomach. "What did Father say?"
"He said that, of course, I would have to be settled upon first as the eldest daughter, then he would see about bringing you home to be courted. I have no idea what the man sees in you instead of me. He is quite well off as a gentleman, you know."
Elizabeth tried to remember where she had met him. Perhaps he was one of her brother's fellows at Oxford. "Was he one of the ones that came home with our brother from Oxford?"
Justine laughed with a sneer, "No, he is one of father's business acquaintances who came to dinner with Lord Rushing when he was still alive. It was several years ago now. You were probably fifteen or so then."
Elizabeth tried to recall that dinner but could not picture the man at all. "This is ridiculous. I am not to marry, but to take care of Isaac. Ask father to put you forward instead if you like."
"I already did, but he said the man was adamant it was to be you, which I can not fathom why on earth! He may be wealthy, but he is far too old for me. He must be willing to settle for some young thing without any other chances."
"Please tell father to kindly refuse for me. I will keep Isaac."
"Father will not listen to any silly thing you have to say. By the way, I have set my cap for the dashing Lord Hawkins, our new neighbor. Father thinks that would be a grand match. We are invited to a masquerade ball there in honor of his sister Jane, who I find to be a silly bore. She always seemed to be laughing behind her napkin at dinner. Sir Thomas will be there as well and has requested that father arrange for you to come. He has not given his reply yet."
Isaac burst in chasing the puppy through the kitchen which soon set the cook and her helper into an uproar. Justine huffed away. Elizabeth hurried to gather her necessary things so that she could escape back to her haven, alone with Isaac. There was no welcome here for them.
It was to her consternation that Monday brought not just one, but two visitors. One brought a letter from Jane while the other a message from her father. She opened his first.
To my daughter Elizabeth,
I am requiring you to attend a ball at Lord Hawkins next Friday. A costume will be sent to you before then. Your sister insists that her costume from last year would suit you. There is a gentleman I wish to introduce you to, Sir Thomas Wells. It is at his request. I suppose I must send someone to stay with Isaac. We have dismissed his nursery maid, of course, so I will have to send someone else.
Your father, Lord Chandry
She tossed it on the table. Her sister's costume was ghastly and too revealing. It was the dress of Cleopatra with one bare shoulder and of clingy material far too sheer. She had been embarrassed by her sister wearing it. Never would she be seen in such a thing. She simply would have to disobey her father.
Then she held her friend Jane's letter. It smelled of lavender. When she opened it, the kernals of that flower spilled out.
How I've missed you. That day was so memorable to me, I long to repeat it. Did you get your invitation? Nathan insists on a ball to introduce me to the neighborhood. I only agreed if it was to a masquerade ball so that you could come in disguise and join us. Here is my plan. I have had a gypsy costume ready for you with a scarf for your head and an elaborate mask that will cover your face more than adequately. You may dance and enjoy yourself without anyone the wiser My brother is quite looking forward to you attending as well and is delighted with my plan. He will send his best servant to watch over your brother that evening. Please come early. I will have your costume here and will help you dress. Won't it be fun to pull the wool over everyone's eyes? You can slip out before the unmasking, of course.
Your best friend,
Oh, it was so tempting. She wondered if truly she could pull it off? Her father would not be expecting her in that dress. It would give her a chance to see this Lord Thomas Wells, if she could figure out which one he was, so as to find ammunition with which to put her father off the match. Maybe Lord Hawkins could point him out for her. Did she dare ask him?
Perhaps her hair could be crimped to look more curly than usual as an added disguise. Surely her tan would throw some off. She would make a perfect gypsy. If only she could trust someone to watch over Isaac, it would be a grand lark. Elizabeth imagined dancing with Lord Hawkins as a gypsy. Then she thought of her sister dancing with him as well and cringed. Justine would eye like a hawk every female who dared to dance with the man. Could she pull it off? It would make a memory to last her a lifetime. That's all, after all, she would have, just memories.
Isaac sat playing her lute. He was surprisingly good at such a young age. He made up his own tunes, some that tugged at her heart, some that made her want to dance. She put her head in her hands and begged God for wisdom to make the right decision. She needed assurance that Isaac would be safe. Then she needed to be confident that she would not be discovered. Justine might just make an ugly scene with her spite. She reread Jane's letter, its assurances, but could not make up her mind.
Friday morning broke lovely in its dawn. She had tossed and turned through the night with indecision. It wasn't until Lord Hawkins sent a groom and she watched him play with gentleness toward Isaac and his pup that she decided. She kissed her brother and gave some last minute instructions, then ran off to see Jane.
Lord Rushing's manor that Lord Hawkins had inherited was massive. She had been here once as a little girl. She wondered if there was still a mounted lion in the entry that Lord Rushing had killed on a safari. It had fascinated her then. It was there looking a little worse for the wear, but still the awe-inspiring beast she remembered. The butler was escorting her upstairs to Jane's room. After knocking, Jane threw open the door and hugged her. "Oh, I knew you would come! I told Nathaniel you would do it, you brave soul."
Elizabeth laughed. "I did not decide until the groom arrived and did so well with Isaac that I dared. But I am glad now I did not disappoint you. My father also required me to be here, but I refused him and sent his servant back home with my regrets. There is a man, a Sir Thomas Wells, he wants me to meet who has asked to court me."
Jane was aghast, "Sir Thomas? Why he is old enough to be your father! What on earth is your father thinking?"
"Oh, I would refuse. It would mean Isaac would be sent away, and that I could not stand. I hope to put a doubt in the man's ear like a mosquito buzzing that would discourage his intentions."
"What would you say?" Jane had drawn her by the hands to sit beside her on the bed.
"Oh, I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet. I wish he would pursue my sister instead."
"I know for a fact that she has schemes for my brother. Can you imagine that?"
"She usually gets what she wants."
"Not this time, I assure you," Jane laughed.
"Let us hope not, then," Elizabeth agreed.
"Here, come see the costumes we are to wear. I think you'll like what I have chosen for you."
Jane was to be dressed as a princess with a tiara. It was a shimmering gown of almost a fairy like construction. Then she showed Elizabeth hers.
"What do you think?"
Elizabeth had expected to be dressed in rags, but this was a work of art made with the finest of velvets and silk rich in hue and pattern upon pattern. The scarf was beautiful with hand-painted roses on a purple silk. The leather girdle she laced up was as soft as kid gloves. She would not be wearing stays for which she was grateful. It would leave her figure soft but not too revealing.
"It is more lovely than I could have imagined!"
"You will look gorgeous and be the curiosity of the evening leaving everyone wondering who the beautiful gypsy is. Your brown skin is perfect and I'm glad you crimpled your hair, a perfect disguise. You should go barefoot, unless you don't want to."
"That will suit me. I just hope I don't dance with anyone clumsy enough to crush my toes."
"Look at the big chance you are taking. Surely you can dare to take that risk too," and she laughed gaily.
Soon maids had them dressed and were putting the finishing touches on. Elizabeth's mask covered most of her face with peacock feathers. She hardly recognized herself. Jane was a fairy tale princess to be sure. Her brother would be so proud of her.
There was a knock on the door. The maid opened it a crack then admitted Lord Hawkins. He was wearing a peasant shirt with an open collar. A scarf was tied round his head. His face was brown from the sun, and his black hair and dark eyes were convincing. He was a gypsy king. Lord Hawkins boots were those of a peasant. He had not put a mask on yet. His eyes were staring at first at his sister than at her, all of her.
"Is it too late to call the ball off? I don't think it safe to let you two beauties be seen. I will have to guard you both closely."
He was looking at her, at her eyes as if there was no mask at all.
"I don't think Elizabeth should enter with us. She needs to blend in with the guests so no one will no who she is. And by the way, Nathan, Sir Thomas has asked to court our Elizabeth."
"What!" A thundercloud threaten to break on his countenance. She had seen that same look when he came after the gilly's son.
"If you could kindly point him out to me, I thought to put doubts in his mind about my acceptability while he does not know me in my costume."
"I can put more than doubts in his mind. How dare he set his sights on one so young. He does not have a stellar reputation. Whatever you do, do not go off alone with him."
"I do not plan to do that with anyone, Lord Hawkins," and she blushed.
"I'm sorry. I did not mean to insult you. I only feel protective of you with the likes of him. It is sorry I am that I ever invited him. He was a friend of my late uncle and was begging for an invitation. Now I know why. Are you sure he has no idea you will be here?"
"My father required me to come, but I sent late regrets and refused the costume he had sent. They have no idea I will be here."
"Good. If you are discovered, I will take care of it. I do not want you to go unescorted back to your cottage. Make sure you let me know before you want to leave, especially if you think someone might have a clue as to your identity."
Then he smiled and kissed his sister's hand. "You are lovely, dear Jane. Mother and father would be so proud to see you if they were here."
She wiped a tear. "It is at times like these I miss them most, but you are the best brother in the world. I don't know if I could have gone through with it without Elizabeth and you beside me."
It was time. She let them descend the grand staircase while she followed a maid down the servants stairway. Elizabeth wound her way through the huge kitchen busting with servants and entered through the butler's door. The room was crowded already. She saw her parents across the room conversing with friends. They looked ridiculous dressed as Vikings and quite uncomfortable. Then she saw her sister making a beeline for Lord Hawkins. She was none other than Bo-Peep, a regular wolf in sheep's clothing. Her skirt was quite short with ruffled bloomers. Rather scandalous. She pressed in upon Lord Hawkins arm startling him. Though she was too far to hear, she knew Justine was asking for the first dance. It was nothing for her to be so forward. She watched as Lord Hawkins shook his head slightly and put his arm around his sister. Of course their's would be the first dance. Then he turned his back on Justine and visited with new guests who had just arrived. She knew her sister would be fuming.
Now Elizabeth gave more attention to the men talking with her father. One was dressed as Julius Caesar. Could he be the one expecting to find his Cleopatra? The man was stout, balding with a wreath around his head. His skin was almost as white as his toga. The lacings of sandals were too visible as they wound up his thick calves. Ugh. Her stomach turned. The man appeared to be unhappy, angry even, as her father shrugged. Maybe he had just learned that she was not going to arrive. Something told her with no uncertain terms, this was Sir Thomas Wells. She did not know if she would have the nerve to dance with the man in order to whisper doubts into his ear to put him off.
Soon her observations were interrupted by someone taking her elbow. "Excuse me miss. I believe the music has started. May I have the pleasure of this dance? A man whose mask was a long beak did not wait for her reply and swept her out to the dance floor. She had to pull her head back to avoid being struck in the face with his beak. It was quite uncomfortable to be sure. She tried to see Lord Hawkins and Jane, but only caught a glimpse. Elizabeth was so relieved when the man released her and bowed. Someone else touched her arm. It was Lord Hawkins.
"I believe the gypsy king should dance next with the gypsy queen. May I?"
His hand was splayed across her back sending shivers up her spine. He gently took her hand while she placed her other upon his shoulder. It was a dance to remember as they locked glances from behind their masks. Never would she forget this moment. Her skirts swirled above her bare feet and her hair fell from the scarf in cascades. His scent of leather and an exotic tonic intoxicated her. When the dance was over, he squeezed her hand gently."
"Thank you Lord Hawkins," she managed to say.
"The pleasure was all mine, my gypsy queen."
Elizabeth went back to the edge of the crowd where she caught her sister shooting daggers at her. It made her heart sink wondering if Justine would guess who she was. She was hardly left alone to ponder as partner after partner lead her around in dancing, from Shakespeare to a knight in mail. Her bare feet were been tromped upon with toes quite tender.
Then Sir Thomas was bowing before her showing off his bald pate. "Would you care to dance?"
She wanted to make an excuse but her tongue was tied. This was her only chance to say something. She had to try to discourage him from pursing her for the sake of Isaac. So as they danced she began.
"Do you see that pretty Bo-Peep over there?"
"Yes. I think I recognize her as the daughter of a friend."
"Well, a gentleman just told me that she has expressed an interest in you. Perhaps you should try to dance with her next."
"Really now. I was interested in her sister but she is not here tonight unfortunately."
"Oh, but why wait. Isn't she the elder daughter? Surely she must be settled upon first."
"Quite. But she is a handful, her father had told me before he knew my interest. I want a more timid kind. Besides, I saw her pressing herself most unbecomingly against Lord Hawkins in the last dance."
"But if she is interested in you, could not that prove interesting?"
"Indeed. Since you are evidently the bearer of gossip, perhaps you could tell me where the sister is."
"Oh...she is caring for a little brother, one kept away from society because he is...different."
"Really? That is peculiar indeed."
"I doubt she would leave her little brother even though someone such as yourself would press a suit. I heard she is quite determined."
"Upon my word. You are full of juicy bits. I thank you. I had no idea. But my, aren't you lovely. Perhaps you would like a walk in the garden to get some fresh air. I've noticed that you have been in quite the demand. Tell me, was it by accident that you are dressed as a gypsy as our host is, or was it planned?"
"Truly, I had no idea what his costume was to be. I was as surprised as you, sir."
"Well, if you are sure you do not wish to step outside with me, I must give my adieus." He kissed her hand with a sloppy wet kiss. It was all she could do to wait until he turned before she wiped her hand off on her skirt.
A hand was at her back. Lord Hawkins. "Did you have success in putting the man off."
"I hope a little. You were right, he did ask me to go outside with him. Of course, I refused."
"I'm sure you caught his eye as well as all others. I must dutifully say my sister is the belle of the ball, and rightly so, but you my gypsy queen are most alluring. No wonder you have not lacked for dancing partners."
Just then she heard him, "Izzy, watch!" It was Isaac. She looked up to see him perched on an upper balcony railing. He was going to walk across the top of it. Even the musicians stopped playing and the whole ballroom was hushed. Elizabeth felt faint.
"Get down, please Isaac, please. Wait for me. I'm coming up to you."
Lord Hawkins said, "I'll stand under in case he falls. Go now."
The groom who was supposed to be watching him dashed in with sweat dripping. "I lost him. I'm sorry, sir."
She watched her little brother with his arms out sway back and forth as he took one step after another. She pulled her skirts to her knees as she dashed up the stairs.
"Isaac, come to Izzy!" She knelt down before him. "Please get down and give me a hug."
With a laugh he jumped down, but not before a wavering that about sent him plunging. The crowd below erupted with cheers. She must go now. Immediately. Her family would know she was here.
But as she turned, Justine was blocking her way. She hissed, "How dare you come like that, disobey father and bring that..that freak! You have ruined everything." Then she slapped her so hard it nearly knocked Elizabeth backwards.
Lord Hawkins was suddenly there. He had seen it all. "Desist. You must leave immediately, Justine. I insist. I want nothing more to do with you. And you must leave your sister and little brother alone. I will not have anyone in my home attacked, even by their own family member. It is coarse indeed."
Justine was seething, purple in the face with clenched fists. She growled and then ran away. Lord Hawkins picked up Isaac who clung tightly to his neck. The man's other hand stroked her cheek where Justine had left her mark.
"I am so sorry, Elizabeth. This is all my fault. I thought my groom capable of watching him for one night. It was selfish of me to want you here. I beg your forgiveness."
"There is nothing to forgive, my lord. He was just being Isaac, but he is safe now. I came against my better judgment, for I wanted to be here with Jane...and with you. I hope it has not ruined everything."
Jane appeared panting, "Oh, dear God, is he alright? Isaac, my beautiful boy, how you scared me!"
Next came her father pushing past Jane. "How dare you defy me! First you turn me down, then come as gypsy trash. Then you allow this boy to shame us all. He will be sent to the asylum first thing tomorrow."
Lord Hawkins spoke in a voice of authority that even quailed her father, "Lord Chandry, I take responsibility for sending someone to watch the boy who was completely unable. It was I who pressed your daughter to accept our invitation. I beg of you to reconsider. She has been taking wonderful care of your son..."
"My son..." her father spat. "I renounce as of tonight that he is mine. He will be locked away where he belongs." He turned to go.
"Wait." Again, there was a command of authority. "I will gladly take him as my charge. If you renounce him as you say, let me claim him then."
"But why? He is a lunatic." Her father was standing with his mouth hanging open.
"I have my reasons. I will send legal papers by my lawyer tomorrow with a settlement, a generous purse to sweeten the deal. Then you will be no longer troubled for his upkeep."
"Fine. I will take my daughter home with me then. She has someone who wishes to settle upon her, and I will not delay after tonight."
"That will not be acceptable. My terms are that she will be retained to care for the child. You will be rewarded for that as well."
Her father narrowed his eyes taking in their matching costumes. "I see how it is. You have found the pathway to my daughters cottage. It was rumored to be so by the gilly's son. I did not believe it until now. She is to be your mistress then is she?"
Lord Hawkins growled and stepped forward but Jane was quicker. "Don't Nathan. Not now. Not tonight. Just send the lawyer to settle it tomorrow, and then we will deal with his slander later."
The fairy princess turned and straightened her backbone and answered Elizabeth's father's charges, "She is my very dear friend. I was the one who was happy to make her acquaintance and have desired her for my companion ever since. They will both be very welcome in our home. I am sorry that you have such a low opinion of your own daughter while I hold her in highest esteem. Now, if you will excuse me, I must see to my other guests."
Her father left red in his face.
Elizabeth was stunned, barely breathing. Lord Hawkins hand was at her back. "Is it alright if we proceed, Elizabeth. I wish to do right by you. I must tell you though my thoughts have gone back and forth over the path to your door ever since the first day I found you like a sprite by the stream. It is true that Jane has asked me if you thought you would be willing to come be a companion for her. But I knew how much you loved your cottage haven. Would you consider coming under my protection?"
The gypsy had taken off her peacock feathers and looked up into his unmasked face with a longing matched by her own. She placed her hand upon his chest where she could feel his heart beating. I trust you with my life and thank you. I pray my father will not resist."
"I'm sure I can make the deal sweet enough that he will think he is getting the bargain. But I may assure you, sweet Elizabeth, that you are the true treasure, as well as this lad."
Isaac was wiggling and reaching for her. Elizabeth took him in her arms and covered him with kisses.
Lord Hawkins was watching her with an intense look. "I never thought to be jealous of such a little fella, but I am positively green with envy. I wonder if you could give me just one of your kisses."
She traced his face, then trailed her hand to the back of his neck as he bent and covered her lips with hers in a tenderness she had never known. Even Isaac was stilled in her arms. "I'm sorry, sir, but I find I can not give you just one," she whispered, and then kissed him again until her little brother squirmed most unmercifully.
"What did he say?"
"He is saying 'amen.' I guess he thought our kiss was like a prayer."
"An answered prayer. I can bear your solitude away from me no longer."
The groom came and took Isaac away as the child giggled.
This time the gypsy king wrapped his arms around his queen as if to never let her go and bestowed a very long prayer of gratitude upon her lips indeed.