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Thursday, March 26, 2015

LOVE NEVER FAILS

A Short Story by Celia Jolley



Solitude
"Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter, fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, years slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind;
Quiet by day.
Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixed, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie."
Alexander Pope


Elizabeth caught her breath in her throat and read the poem again.  Her hands began trembling holding the book in her hand.  She dropped it into her lap where her skirt closed its leaves.  It was her answer.  This was the life her Isaac deserved.
Elizabeth's mother, Lady Isabel had given birth to a son and two daughters.  Many happy years went by before her mother found herself to be in a motherly way once more, unhappily so for her age.  It was a difficult pregnancy and birth, yet all were relieved to hold a squirming, bawling baby boy. His name was Issac, which means laughter though he cried most of the time.  None took to the infant as Elizabeth did.  Her mother handed him over to a nursemaid and visited the nursery at first dutifully daily, then seldom.  The lad was a lusty crier, easier left to the care of others, but Elizabeth could usually bring a gurgling smile, even laughter.  She spent as much time as she could with the baby, much to the nursemaids relief to be away from his tears. 
As time went on, the child's first words Elizabeth had taught him were lost around the age of two.  All the little words he learned evaporated on his tongue and were no more.  He did not seem to respond to others, none except Elizabeth.  He ran practically before he walked, and she chased after him continually while he laughed.  He was very fast indeed.  Then Isaac began climbing everything.  He would be found on top of the tallest armoires and dressers.  The little child would race down the stairs and burst into the room where company was receiving tea and climb the piano-forte, even the bookcase as if it were Mt. Everest.   He was an embarrassment to the family.  Locks were installed high up on the nursery doors.  Then they were needed on the windows where he would climb out.  Once he was found on the roof spinning.  He loved to spin as if listening to music mute to other's ears.  Yet, Elizabeth could not stop loving him, though it seemed the others did.  No one came to the nursery but her.
Finally, when the family was hosting prestigious company for a formal dinner, the lad burst in and ran the length of the table bubbling with giggles, upsetting tea cups and spilling wine glasses and eating off any plate he so desired.  Elizabeth was able to coax him away with a promise of cake and carried him back to the nursery.  It was the last straw, however.  Issac and his laughter was to be sent away tomorrow to an asylum.  Elizabeth had cried herself to sleep and her voice was hoarse from begging.  Her mind could not embrace the thought of him in such a horrid place that people only mention in whispers. 
She had risen at dawn, even before he was awake and ran to the gilly's old empty cottage to sink down and lose herself in a book of poetry.  It fell open to this page.  It was her answer.  She had to plead with her father one last time.



 She ran breathless to the table where he was placidly taking his breakfast.  "Father, one last time I must implore you.  You cannot have the shame of a son in the asylum.  It would be talked about worse than his mischievous appearances.  There is no doubt that it would hinder the chances of any of us finding suitable marriages or our acceptance into society."   She saw her father cringe before his visage hardened again. 
"But I have an idea."  She hurried on before he could speak. "Let them think he was only a spoiled, unwatched child, not a lunatic as the asylum would brand him.  I will take him, and he will be seen no more.  I promise to dedicate my life to his keeping.  We can live away from everyone in the old gilly cottage.  I'm sure it could be restored cheaply enough to be liveable again.  You can supply us with what we need for a simple life away from society.  I would be happy there with him.  He is my brother, and I love him..." 
Her mother looked piercingly at her.  "You have no idea what that would entail.  You would never marry, never have children of your own, be isolated from society.  You would in fact be disappearing from all of our lives."
"I know and understand the cost.  However, if he is sent to an asylum, it cannot bode well for a successful suit for my hand.  This way at least my sister and brother may find such happiness."
"Her father looked sternly at her as well.  "You would make such a sacrifice for an idiot?"
"He is not an idiot.  Isaac is just different.  Yes, I would make such a sacrifice if it means he stays out of the asylum."
"I suppose it might work at least until the older two have found suitable marriages.  Then, if we decide to, we may place him in the asylum then bring Elizabeth home again to live here with us in our old age," her mother wiped her mouth and sighed.  "I don't understand what you see in him.  He is such an unnatural misfit."
"I will take my estate manager over to look at the cottage you speak of and will consider it.  If it looks as if it is possible, I will consider it.  Your assessment of our situation has some merit and could save us from unsavory gossip."
"How would we explain your absence?"  Her mother wanted to know.
"You could say we are merely with a relative in the north.  That would not be a lie.  The cottage is on the remote corner of the property on the north side of the woods."
"Well, then, I will let you know this afternoon after I've considered it."
Elizabeth was weak with relief.  "Thank you father."
She went to her room to lay on her bed and stare at the ceiling thinking of how her life was about to change.  Her eyes searched her room for the things she would take.  Only her sturdiest shoes and dresses, would be needed leaving her gowns alone.  She would never go to another country dance, have her season in London, or attend a ball.  She would ask her father for a horse though.  There was a small stable beside the house.  Elizabeth also would ask for one of the gilly's pups.  He had moved years ago into a larger house when he was married and many children soon followed.  The old small cottage was empty.
The thought of being on her own and taking care of her brother away from the judgmental eyes of society, made her heart swell and a smile crept across her face as she lay on her bed.  However, without a maid or even a cook, she would have to learn how to do many a chore that she had never done before, even her own laundry.  Elizabeth would ask for as much food as the kitchen could send however.  They were after all still part of the family though invisibly so.  She had everything packed in her mind when she went down to dine.  Her father was sitting calmly sipping his coffee.  He merely nodded at her.  She had to wait until the prayer was said and he ate his fill before hearing what he had determined.


"I have made my decision.  Elizabeth and Isaac will remove themselves from our manor and take up residence in the old gilly cottage as soon as it can be readied, probably in a week or so."
Justine gasped, "What?  I thought you were sending the ghastly child away!"
"Your sister reasonably pointed out how it would affect your chances of a suitor, Justine, if it became known that we had one of our immediate family in an asylum.  You would be ostracized from society, a fear I had not contemplated.  She is willing to disappear for you and your elder brother's sake.  I hope you will be satisfied by the arrangement.  It will lighten our burden considerably due to her willing sacrifice."
"Why would you do such a thing, Elizabeth?  I could not survive a day like that with that...that...imbecile." She was agog.
"He is better company to me than polite society in many ways.  I suppose the only way to explain it is that I love my brother better than myself, or rather I could not live with myself if he were to be placed in an asylum."  She did not add that she could not understand how the rest of them could shun him so.
"Should we deem it best when you and your brother are well situated, we may reconsider it and have him committed at such a time then bring Elizabeth home to us.  Her chances of a match would be ruined, but she understands that."  Her mother's voice quavered slightly, the only sign that they appreciated what she was doing.  Elizabeth was not doing it for them, only for her brother's sake.
"Well done then, I say," her brother said.  He was home on break from his studies at Oxford.  At one time they had been close, but he had been sent away to school at age thirteen and came back a different young man of the world.
"At least you will be spared, father, one daughter's expense of going to London for her season and of her dowry and all that.  I believe it will be greatly to my advantage."  Her sister had always looked out for her own advantage, taking whatever she desired of Elizabeth's without asking and never giving it back whether it was a ribbon or a favorite gown.  Justine acted as if she was jealous of her; but for the life of her, Elizabeth knew not why.  Justine would be quite pretty if she got rid of the curl of disdain upon her lip.  However, the hardness of her heart was plainly written on her selfish face.
After dinner, Elizabeth went up to see Isaac.  He soon would be all hers.  He ran on tiptoe to her laughing and hugged her tightly around the neck.  Once in a while he called her Izzy, one of his few words remaining.  She embraced him to her heart.  Soon she would have him to herself and would seek only his happiness away from condemning eyes. 


The next day she rode her horse to see the house where workmen were already busy making repairs.  She opened the door, the one she would ask to be painted green along with the shutters.  New thatch was being laid on the roof.  Inside, the walls were being replastered in places.  Broken glass in the windows was being replaced.  The stone stoop was solid, but the threshold was a broken piece needing replacement.  She looked about her new home with excitement.  Shelves were being built around the large fireplace to keep her food stuffs and cooking utensils.  a heavy stone sink was on one side waiting to be filled with dirty dishes, dishes she would wash.  A swinging iron brace in the fireplace was still there to hang a pot on as well as an oven built into the side under the heavy mantel, a pot and oven to be filled with her cooking.  She imagined fresh curtains and rugs, nothing fancy.  A small room was tucked under the eaves big enough for one bed each and only the tiniest dresser between.  She must have bookshelves as well, lots of them, for books would be her only companions besides her silent but laughing brother. 
As soon as she had leisure, she would stitch Alexander Pope's poem and hang it on her wall.  Elizabeth took a deep, shuddering sigh realizing the unvarnished truth of what would be her lonely life.  She would pour her love into her brother.  That was to be her lot in life.  He was worth it.
Elizabeth went home to chose and pack.  Her belongings fit into two trunks, one of clothes and the other of books and art supplies, her lute and such.  Her wardrobe hardly looked changed as she was leaving so much behind.  She was sure Justine would soon take possession of most everything she left behind.  
When the day came to move, her things were loaded into a wagon.  Her father was gone, but her mother came to kiss her check and to lay a hand on Isaac's head.  He turned away frowning clinging to Elizabeth's arm.  He wanted nothing to do with his own mother who was a stranger to him as if he could sense her disapproval and worse, disgust. 
"Send word when you need something.  If it is not too much, we will provide.  You will not need much for the simple life you have chosen, I dare say, dear."
There was no thanks, no gratitude, only a relief to see them gone.  They were a problem solved.  Elizabeth shut the door on her past, and was ready to open the door to her new life with her brother.  She wished she had more cooking lessons from the kitchen, however.  She was also glad her father allowed her to keep her horse.  They could ride double as light as Isaac was. 
Justine just watched her leave without a word, observing her with eyes squinted in hardness.  Elizabeth was sure she would pounce on the things she left behind in her room before they rounded the bend.   
Once at the cottage, their things were unloaded and a fire started for them.  As soon as wheels rumbled away, Elizabeth caught up Isaac and swung him around.  He laughed gleefully. 
"This is our new home, Isaac!  This is our home, just for you and me.  No more nursery maid.  No more being locked away."

She looked around at the rocker and a padded comfortable chair either side of the fireplace, the shelves well stocked, her trunks under each window, new covers on their beds, curtains in the window, and rugs on the floor just as she had imagined. 
"As soon as I  begin a dinner, we will go explore while its cooking.  Listen.  I hear the stream.  Can you?"
Isaac cocked his head in his adorable way and nodded his eyes large and glistening with excitement.
"Here, you can put books on those shelves while I prepare our food."  It would not matter if she had to rearrange them all later.
She soon had a simple soup simmering that cook had made provision for.  It was agreed that once a week she could go to the kitchen and pick up bread and staples for their sustenance.  She could leave a list of what they needed for the next week as well.   She could even bring some of their laundry each week, things they could do without until the following week.  This would simplify her chores giving her more time to watch over her brother who would tend to wander.  She did not want him to get too far out of her sight and become lost.  That was her greatest fear.  There were wild animals about, wolves even.  She had no weapon with which to protect him.  Just vigilance.   The gilly had promised her a puppy soon.  She hoped he would not chase the chickens in the yard.  Isaac was doing enough of that himself hoping to catch one to hug.  Elizabeth stood in the doorway and laughed.
"Here, take my hand, Isaac.  Let's go find where this stream is that we hear and bring back a bucket of its cool water.  I'm thirsty.  How about you?"

It was more beautiful and magical than she had remembered.  Her elder brother had brought her here once long ago to fish when she was but a wee bit of a girl.  The trees and grass overhung the gurgling brook as it frothed over rocks.  It was not too deep or swift to be of greatest danger.  Still she must observe caution with her brother around water.  She barely stopped him before he began wading with his shoes on. 
"Here, Isaac, we must take off your boots and socks."  She rolled up his pants legs and watched him step into the cold water with a grin that spread across his face of pure delight.  "I'll join you.  Wait a minute."  This was the first plunge into living away from everything, being able to take her stockings off and wade like a child with her skirts held high out of the water.  She tucked them up into her waistband in order to take his hand as they explored the river together watching the bugs skating across the surface.
"Next week we'll fish.  I ask our gilly for poles and hooks.  I'll show you how to dig for worms for bait."  Elizabeth was filled with joy thinking of sharing this all with her brother who had been locked away as a prisoner in his own nursery for way too long.  A sob escaped though as she suddenly thought of what his life would have been like if he had been sent away to the asylum.  He looked up to her ready to cry with her.  Isaac trusted her like no other.  She would be good to him, God help her.
Elizabeth prayed aloud talking to her heavenly Father just like she did to Isaac.  "Thank you, dear God for providing for us your children, for this home, this stream, for keeping us safe from those who would have broken our hearts and spirits.  You are good and your mercies are everlasting.  Amen."
"'Men!" Isaac exclaimed.
She beamed.  He so seldom said words, that it warmed her heart that he was praying with her.  Soon though her feet were numb with cold.  She led him to the bank and dried his feet with her skirt.  She put his shoes and socks back on then put her face right in his face, nose to nose.  "Isaac, this is very important.  You must never come here by yourself.  Ask or even just point and I will bring you here as soon as I can.  Do you understand me?"
He gazed perplexed at her but finally nodded.
"We do not wear our shoes into the water either.  It is important that they stay dry or our feet will always be cold, alright?"
He smiled but pulled on her hand to go back into the water.
"No, not now.  After we eat, there will be enough light for us to go look for berries in the woods.  That will be fun."
Isaac smiled.  He was loving his new life.  If only she could be sure of keeping him safe.  He would scale any fence she could have built.  Vigilance was the only answer.  She would have to keep her doors locked at night as well in case he rose before she did or wandered in the night as we was want to do.
They explored the woods filling a small basket with early gooseberries and wild strawberries but popping most in their mouths.  Isaac had red juice dripping down his chin.  The blackberries along the stream would not be ripe until late summer, a few months away. 
That night after dinner and dishes were washed--she let him help swishing in the water beside her--she read aloud to him while he played with his blocks on the floor at her feet.  Finally, she held him, rocked him and sang.  Elizabeth was overflowing with gratitude to God as she tucked her little brother in and kissed his forehead.  God was good.
This was a daily pattern in their lives.  As soon as the day dawned, they would be up gathering eggs.   Chores done, they would walk in the woods after breakfast.  After taking a picnic lunch to eat beside the stream, then the two of them would take off their shoes to explore in the water together, sometimes stripping down to their undergarments to swim in a deep pool she found.  Finally returning home, they would settle in after eating supper, and Elizabeth would read aloud while he played contentedly beside her. 


Once a week, she would saddle up, and they would ride double to go to the back door of the manor where she would see the cook and a maid or two to refresh their stores with new supplies, flour, a pail of milk, wrapped butter and cheese, and the like as well as to exchange dirty laundry for clean.  The gilly would stop by betimes with a freshly skinned rabbit or a some other meat ready for the spit.  He taught her how to roast it.  She was getting quite good at it in fact.   She had not seen her family members since she moved out.  Elizabeth supposed it was how they like it, out of sight, out of mind.


The only real unmet longing she had was missing church and having no Bible to read from.  There was only one in the house, unopened, but her mother had refused when she asked to borrow it.  "What would our house be without the Bible?" she had said as if it was truly precious to them.  Elizabeth also missed the good words spoken by the kind curate in their village church on the Sabbath.  There was no way to take Isaac.  It was not to be.  So she closed her eyes and said what verses she could remember every night before they prayed and blew out the candle. 
The summer was slipping away.  The gilly had given them fishing poles, and most afternoons found them there relaxing on a bank eager for a supper of fresh trout.  It was her favorite of all their meals and easy to fix.  She would stake out the horse beside them so that he could enjoy munching on the lush grass. 
One afternoon, the horse's snort alerted her. She looked around and was startled to see a man approaching on the other bank.  He seemed just as startled as she was.  Only Isaac was overjoyed jumping up and down showing off their catch of the day while Elizabeth tried to hide her bare feet under her skirt.
"Hello, there," he called over the sound of the stream.  It was difficult to hear unless words were spoken loudly.
"Hello," Elizabeth answered hesitantly.  She was worried to be disturbed after weeks of solitude.
"We must be neighbors," he practically hollered.
"Oh, I thought that was Lord Rushing's property."
"It is.  I've inherited it.  I'm his nephew.  Here, let me come over, if you don't mind." He began wading the stream in his tall boots.
Isaac clapped and laughed pointing at the man's wet boots while Elizabeth stood up brushing the dirt and wrinkles from her skirt.  It had been a long time since she had taken care of her appearance, not even having a mirror in her possession.  She had simply brushed her hair each morning and tied it back with a ribbon.  Today she wore a simple pale yellow dress.  She wasn't even wearing her petticoats and certainly not her stays, those given up completely. 
The man, however, was smartly attired in a peacock blue waistcoat and a dark, almost black long jacket.  His starched white shirt shone brilliantly in the sun.  He came without a hat or gloves, or cravat, his shirt open at the neck, the only concession to casualness.    His hair shimmered like a blackbird's in the sun.  His eyes were darker yet in the shade when he came up to them. 
Isaac was jumping around him laughing in glee. 
"Who's this fine fellow?" he asked.

"My brother.  He doesn't say much and usually doesn't take to strangers.  We have not seen hardly anyone in weeks, so that must be why he is so excited."
"If only everyone could share such unconstraint, it would be a happier world, don't you think?"
Elizabeth smiled at such a thought.  "Indeed."
"Please excuse my manners," and he bowed to her.  "My name is Nathaniel Hawkins, recently come into the inheritance of my uncle, Lord Rushing.  I did not know if you could hear me earlier over the rushing water earlier."  He winked at her.


Elizabeth blushed but dipped in a curtsey.  "I am Elizabeth Chandry, and this is my brother Isaac."
"He is certainly well named laughter.  He has not stopped laughing since I laid eyes on him."
"He is a happy child, now that we live here."
"What do you mean since you live here.  Aren't you my neighbors up at the manor house."
Elizabeth bit her lips wishing she had not said anything, but now an explanation was due.
"I am my brother's keeper.  We live in the old gilly house on the corner of our property.  It is much better this way."
"I see."  The young Lord Hawkins ran his hands through his hair in a gesture that showed he was confused.  "Just the two of you?"
"Yes."
"No maids or manservants?"
"No, our gilly looks in at us from time to time.  It is a respite from the larger world of society for us, not unwelcome."  She could have said they were not welcome, but of course could not say that to a stranger.  She had said too much as it was.  "I am sure my family would like for you to call on them sometime.  They may not be aware of you having come to the neighborhood.  My parents, elder brother, and sister live there, that is if my brother is home from his studies at Oxford."
"You don't see your family to know if you brother is home or not?"
Elizabeth could kick herself for talking too much.  "No.  I haven't seen them since Isaac and I took up our residence here though we do ride once a week to the manor for supplies.  I am in charge of his life now, an arrangement I am grateful for."
Lord Hawkins looked askance for a mere second then smiled and ruffled a dancing Isaac's hair. 
"Looks like you are quite the fisherman.  Maybe sometime I'll bring my pole and you can show me how to fish."
Isaac chortled and ran in circles with his fish flying from its stringer behind him.
"He's quite an energetic little fellow, hardly confinable to a manor I imagine."
"Yes, it is much better out here where he can run free."
"I see you take loving care of your brother, exceptional care."  The way he looked at her made her breath hitch before she pulled away.  No one had seemed to appreciate what she had done except this stranger with kind words. 
"Thank you.  It is my choice and my pleasure."  She couldn't have him think she was put upon even though it was a highly unusual arrangement.  "If you see my parents, it might be better if you don't mention that you have met us.  We came here not to be seen.  It might upset them."  Suddenly she was gripped with a worry that Isaac could still be sent away if her parents found out that the new Lord Hawkins had seen their undesired offspring, their secret revealed.
"Please, it is of upmost importance that you say nothing." 


Nathaniel took note that her face was pale where a bloom had been shining a minute ago.  She was afraid of something.  Could parents be so callus as this, to ban two of their children from their sight?
The lad certainly had no restraint, but it was almost refreshing.  She was a stunning beauty, though she was obviously unaware dressed as simple as she was in common country attire and barefoot.  He could barely keep his eyes off her face, her hands, her form, her feet. 
"You have my promise."  He finally realized she was waiting for him to answer and gave a sudden release of breath.  "I must get back.  I have enjoyed walking around my new grounds, but I fear my horse has probably wandered by now and I may have a long walk back.  I hope to see you again with a fishing pole in my hand, if you don't mind Sir Isaac?"
Isaac grinned up at his new best friend.  No one else but Elizabeth had ever captured his interest, and she was a bit jealous.  "If you find yourself without a horse, you may come back and borrow mine.  I won't have need of her until Saturday."
"Thank you.  You are most gracious.  He brushed his forehead in a departing salute and strode across the stream then up the hill on the other side out of sight.
Suddenly, it seemed she must have dreamed it.  The man did not reappear, so he must have found his horse after all.  After another fish was caught, she was ready to go back to their cottage, but a little nervous now about their haven having been discovered.  She hoped he was the kind of man who kept his promises.
The next day when they returned from fishing, Elizabeth was surprised to find the gilly's grown son waiting at her door with an unskinned rabbit in his hands as if it was a prize.
"Thank you kindly, but as you can see, we have caught our supper."
"It'll keep," he said as he eyed her, all of her, until her skin prickled.  He made her intensely uncomfortable.
"I'll just be taking it to the manor when I go tomorrow then.  Cook will appreciate it more than I."
"But I caught it for you."  The man had the audacity of running his bloody finger down her cheek.  It smelled of the dead rabbit. 
"Do not touch me, sir, or I'll report you to my father."
"What does he care.  From what I hear, you are of no account, no longer considered to be a lady."
"How dare you!"
Just then Isaac jumped off a bench and launched his little body onto the man's back, clawing him and biting his ear, practically taking off a chunk.
The man howled and finally threw the boy off.  He was starting to come after the boy where he cowered, but she had run to the fireplace and picked up a hot poker. 
"If you lay a finger on him, so help me God, I'll brand you for life," Elizabeth said through clenched teeth.
Just then Lord Hawkins came running into the yard and threw a punch into the man's stomach. When he doubled over Nathaniel jerked him by the collar and pants and threw him away to land in the dirt across the yard. 


"Don't ever insult the lady again if you value your life, whoever you be.  Do not even set your foot near her either or you'll answer to me.  Is that clear?"
The gilly's son looked fearfully at the gentleman who had just caught him and managed to say, "Yes sir.  No sir, I won't come round again, sir."  Then he scudded away holding his stomach.
Now Elizabeth had run over and was picking up her sobbing brother clutching him to her heart.  Tears were streaming down her face as well.  When Lord Hawkins came over to them, Isaac reached for him.  He had never done such a thing before.  Elizabeth was stunned.
"Are you alright Miss Chandry?  Did the man hurt you?"
"No, he was just insulting, but did not lay a finger...well, I mean, he did not hurt me, only Isaac here who came to my aid just before you got here.  I thank God you happened by when you did."
"Hopefully, he will think twice about spreading malicious gossip about it, but I was coming with a question.  But first let's see if my little friend is injured."  He had a hard time prying Isaac off him where he clung.
"You're a brave one, young man, protecting your sister.  I'm proud to count you as my friend indeed.  Did the man hurt you?"
Isaac only rubbed his bottom where the man had thrown him to the ground.  Elizabeth satisfied herself feeling her brother all over that he had no further injuries.  But she was still shaken by the "what ifs."
"I cannot invite you in, but I can bring you a cup of tea out here, Lord Hawkins.  I can not thank you enough."

"No, please don't trouble yourself.  My sister wanted me to ask you if it was alright if I brought her to meet you one day.  She is probably close to your age, and is holding me to a promise I made her years ago to teach her to fish.  She won't let me off the hook, so to speak."
Elizabeth found herself laughing.  "Surely, you jest.  But I would love to meet the young woman, would be honored, but I am outfitted only for this humble situation.  I can not serve her properly."
"She only wishes to visit with you while sitting on a bank under a tree.  She will be likewise wearing casual attire fitting for a fisherwoman."
Elizabeth could not help but grin.  "Then I would be happy to make her acquaintance.  But I notice, you, sir, are still the dapper dresser.  Will you likewise be attired as a mere fisherman or the Lord of fishermen?"
She suddenly saw he was barefoot and blushed.  He bowed and said, "I have already learned to take off my boots to cross the stream.  Next I will give up the jacket and waistcoat and be a country boy."
Isaac had recovered enough and was dancing around Lord Hawkins laughing and pointing at his bare feet. 
"Well, I must be off, but please let me know if that man or any others come to bother you.  Perhaps you should have a pistol all alone here as you are."
"No, my brother would be sure to find it and would be too curious to keep his hands off of it.  I can not even think of it.  The fireplace poker will have to do.  I will tell the gilly that his son may not come back here again."
He stood looking at her with concern in his eyes before he took himself away in long strides.  He turned once to look back to see her wave good bye.  He had never in his life met someone like her, and thanked God he had come when he did.  No telling what would have happened.  He felt anger surge through him at the unprotected manner her parents left her.  He realized he would have to school himself with calm before he met her parents holding back what he truly thought.
The next day was Saturday, the day she went to her home only to enter at the back door like a beggar.
The day after, the Sabbath.  He had to content himself with planning to come on Monday, but it rained, quite heavily.  There would be no fishing that day or the next. 

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 did not catch a fish, but enjoyed sitting in the shade and dangling her toes in the water.  Lord Hawkins caught two and was very proud indeed.  Elizabeth caught one.  As usual, Isaac caught the most, three in fact, even though it wasn't the best time of day to fish.  Even he gave up fishing to wade in the stream.   He had Lord Hawkins by the hand and was showing him his favorite rocks where crawdads hid and together they watched bent over as minnows swam in their little schools.  Elizabeth did not ever remember spending such a splendid day.  She would treasure it always.

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." 

"You're welcome." 

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."

"Thank you."

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. 



Dearest Elizabeth,

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,

Jane


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. 

 " 'Men!"

"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.







   

"


I've shown you my poetry scraps before,
 but here is one of my favorites I've written...
 
 
APOLOGIES OF HEAVEN

By Celia Jolley
 
When we enter through the womb of dawn
And are blinded by the Morning Star,
When darkness is banished
And we gain true sight,
In the light of His presence,
Will we say, "I'm sorry, oh so sorry"?
 
When what is hidden is revealed
When frail viewpoints grow panoramic,
When we shall know even as we are known,
Will we say, "I'm sorry, oh so sorry,
I'm completely undone"?
 
When we no longer see through a glass darkly,
When we shall see face to face,
Will apologies whisper over heaven
Beating as softly as a dove,
"I did not know or understand.
Please forgive me. 
"I'm sorry, oh so sorry"?
 
For there fellowship will be unbroken
And all hearts will beat as one.
He's forgiven and forgotten,
There'll be no remembrance of the former things,
No tears, no pain, no sorrows.
 
But first in the presence of the Holy,
In the wind of worshipping wings,
Will we bow and say,
"I'm sorry, oh so sorry
Bring a coal from the fire
Of consuming love"?

 
 
 "In the year of King Uzziah's death
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted,
with the train of His robe filling the temple.
Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings:
with two he covered his face,
and with two he covered his feet,
and with two he flew.
And one called to another and said,
'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.'
And the foundations of the thresholds
 trembled at the voice of him who called out,
while the temple was filling with smoke.
 Then I said,
'Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
for my eyes have seen the king, the lord of hosts.'
Then one of the seraphim flew to me
 with a burning coal in his hand,
which he had taken from the altar with tongs.
He touched my mouth with it and said,
'Behold this has touched your lips;
and your iniquity is taken away
and your sin is forgiven.'"
Isaiah 6:1-7