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Monday, March 28, 2016

A LILY AMONG THE THORNS


 
"Like a lily among the thorns,
So is my darling among the maidens."
(Song of Songs 2:2)

Miss Abigail Reynard most certainly did not hold any semblance of ladylike behavior as she wailed over her broken heart.  The household staff went about with stiff lips.  Her parents alternately consoled then upbraided her. 

"How could you fall for such a rake?" her father growled.  "I fear your reputation has been seriously compromised."

"Your foolishness is known by all the ton by now. You won't be invited to any more social events this season.  You are disgraced," her mother moaned.

"Just pack her up and send her back to the country," her father groused.  "Maybe it will all be forgotten by next year."

"Indeed.  However, I do wish to remain a few more weeks," her mother wheedled.  Perhaps we can find a chaperon to take her back to our country manor, someone who can travel with her.  Do we know of any young ladies who are above reproach but who are not out yet in society?"

"I know that the minister at Lambe's Chapel has several daughters, my dear.  Send over a note asking if one of them would be willing."

While Abigail fled the room sobbing, her mother sat down and happily wrote out her inquiry and sent a boy round to deliver her request to the manse. 

By the next morning it had been all arranged.   Abigail's trunks were loaded, and they only waited now for the good parson's arrival with his daughter.  At first her Lord Reynard thought it was some mistake, for a lovely creature stepped down out of the drab carriage as a butterfly out of its cocoon.  It wasn't the young lady's apparel which put her best foot forward, for it was quite plain.  Rather, it was her healthy glow with goodness which radiated from her eyes to her smile, in an extraordinarily beautiful manner.

"Miss Kendal.  How good of you to come,  Your father and I have long been friends."  Abigail's father bent over and kissed the maiden's hand much to the young woman's wide-eyed consternation and she quickly withdrew it blushing, but still remembered to curtsy. 

The minister climbed down a little more slowly as if the damp had seized up his knees making the step down with difficulty.  "Lord Reynard.  How nice of you to send for our daughter.  This is our Elizabeth.  Her older sister is otherwise engaged while her younger sisters are not yet out of the school room, so we hoped that she would do.  She has consented to go to the country as your daughter's companion if you will have her."

"Yes indeed.  And this is Miss Abigail, our daughter."  The two girls curtsied.  Though Abigail's eyes were red and swollen from a whole night of weeping, they curiously took each other's measure.  While one looked away morosely, the other looked brightly about as if she could hardly hold back a smile taking in everything and everybody. 

"Charles," Lord Reynard said with a snap of his fingers,  "please load Miss Elizabeth's things onto our carriage.  Is that all?  Surely,  a young lady has need of more than one small trunk." Abigail's father failed to hide his surprise.

The minister coughed into his handkerchief.  "We live a simple life, Sir Reynard.  She has not come out into society as of yet as you recall."

"Yes, yes, but of course.  I didn't mean to imply, well, never mind.  It will be quite late when they arrive at our country estate, but there should be no need of an inn on the way at least.  Ready to close the door to the carriage himself, Lord Reynard said, "Cheer up, Abbie.  Remember there's always next season."  His cold words of comfort were met with sob from inside the carriage.


The minister kissed his daughter goodbye on her cheek flush with her excitement. Elizabeth longed for the country as it had been ever so long since she'd been out of  London's soot and damp.  If her country insisted on fog and rain, she at least wanted to see fields of green instead of filthy cobblestones. 

So, two very different young ladies were thrown together as strangers to emerge as weary travelers, but friends at the end of their journey.  Elizabeth had spread enough sunshine in the belly of the carriage to have Abigail laughing before they left the city limits of London.



His father had implored him to go home to take care of urgent affairs. So, the next morning found Elijah taking a ride about the estate so dear to his heart. He had gotten in very late, but was surprised to learn that his sister had come just prior to his arrival as the disgruntled butler informed him.  The poor man's nose was quite bent out of shape for having been summoned from his bed, not once, but twice in the dark of night for the young people of the manor's unexpected return home. 

While early morning was Elijah's preferred time of day, it would be hours before his sister made an appearance, perhaps not before midday.  So he leisurely rode over the pastures where sheep grazed in lush grass.  The sun which had fought with the clouds all morning became victorious beaming down in warm pleasure.  As he allowed his horse to amble along a hedgerow, he heard children shrieking with laughter, then a young woman's voice chimed in.  It caused his heart to lurch.  He dismounted and led his horse along until he could see the stream where a small party was trying to catch minnows. How long had it been since he'd caught a glimpse of such innocent play or been the boy wading with a pail? 



"Now, try again," a little red haired lass of about eight giggled.  "See, if you stand very still, holding your skirt just so.  As soon as some swim in, you jerk it up full of the little fishies."

"I'll send them your way," added a young lad evidently related to the little lass judging by his mop of red curls.  "Just be patient.  Wait till there's a flock of 'em swimming round your ankles.'

"Schools.  Fish swim in schools.  Sheep, in flocks." the young woman chided with a smile in her voice.

"Silly, sheep don't swim in flocks," the young girl chortled.

Laughter peeled as carefree as thistledown from the young woman.  The young woman stepped out now where he could better see her.  Her skirt was held in front of her as the lass instructed, just under the water as she stood bent over, her bare feet standing in the gentle stream.

"This is perfectly delightful!  A first.  I've never been fishing for minnows before in my entire life," she remarked gleefully.

"You're not fishing for minnows exactly, miss, but catching bait so we can teach you how to fish properly," the little lad explained.

"Look, there are several now swimming about my skirt!" she was wide-eyed with wonder hovering over the water holding her skirt under like a fisherman's net.  None of them had any idea he was watching.

"Wait, wait, now!"  the little girl shrieked.

The young woman jerked her dress up so much that Eli had to look away, but her laughter drew his eyes back as she cried, "I did it!  I caught some! Quick, bring the pail."

Eli decided he'd better make his presence known, so he hurried to pick up the dented tin pail and swung it out to the young lady. The children has espied him, stood frozen with their mouths open, then ran like bunnies. 

"Quick, before they get away, hold it over here," she demanded not taking her eyes off her catch.  He complied.

She began pouring her skirt full of minnows into the bucket when she suddenly noticed his hand holding it out as he knelt and leaned over from the bank.  She screamed and promptly fell back to sit in the knee deep water.

He felt laughter piling up inside ready to erupt.

"Oh, sir, I beg your pardon.  I did not see you there."  She stood up and tried to curtsey in her exceedingly wet gown which nearly sent her toppling again.  Eli reached out to steady her holding onto her arm.

"I did not mean to scare you.  I see you found my favorite spot to catch minnows."

"Yours?"

"Forgive me.  I am Elijah Reynard.  He let go of her arm making sure she was steady and he bowed before offering her his hands as she attempted to climb out.  The children were no where to be seen. 

Once she was standing on the grassy bank," she looked more endearing as she flushed furiously with embarrassment.  "I am sorry to have disturbed your morning ride, Mr. Reynard."

"And you are?"

"I beg your pardon.  I am Miss Elizabeth Kendal," she said with another curtsy, her legs tangling in her damp skirt. He steadied her once more.

"Are you enjoying a visit in the neighborhood?" he asked with a raised eyebrow biting back his grin as he enjoyed her discomfort standing barefoot with the skirt of her dress drenching wet before him. He tried to keep his eyes from looking down where her wet dress clung to her form.  She obviously was not one of the villagers, but he had no idea from whence she had sprung. 

She would not meet his gaze and was intent on looking anywhere but at him.  "Yes, well, I came as a companion to Miss Abigail.  We arrived late last night.  Your sister did not mention that there would be any other family here at the estate.  Since she was sleeping soundly, I chose an early morning walk and chanced upon those lovely children catching minnows.  They convinced me to join their adventure.  I do ask that you pardon my disheveled appearance."


He was broadly grinning.

When she finally braved a glance up at him, she blushed an even brighter rose.  "Sir, I don't believe a gentleman should take such pleasure in a lady's predicament however."  Her chin rose up as her eyes braved to meet his.

He tried to cough and hold it back but failed.  A harty laugh erupted.  "You are quite right.  However, it appears that you might need assistance.  Let me give you a ride back to the manor."

"On your horse?" she asked in childlike awe.

"Well yes, I wasn't offering to give you a piggy back ride," he smirked.

She shot him a glare, but walked over to pet his horse's velvety nose.  Normally, the creature would jerk his head away for anyone but him, but he stood docilely. 

"Don't forget your boots, miss." He waited as she sat upon the grass and put them on all the while peering over her shoulder to see if he was looking, which he was.  When he mounted, Elijah reached down for her hand and easily pulled her up to sit in front of him.

When she was so situated, sitting sideways, she gave a happy little squeal. "I've never been on a horse before.  This is a first!" She held onto the pummel with one hand and had a tight grip of his jacket with the other while he grasped her with one arm around her middle.

"No?  Well, it's your first time to catch minnows, your first time to ride a horse, and..." He was looking down at her lips as she gazed trustingly upwards before he bent down and stole a kiss as sweet as he'd ever known.  "a first kiss, or am I mistaken?"

She almost fell backwards when she suddenly let go of his coat, so he caught her in his arms and held on more tightly.  She had turned away from him making him realize what innocence he'd just stolen.  "I must apologize Miss Elizabeth.  That was untoward of me."  Her hair had come down all the way loose, teasing him in his face where it blew, but he dared not touch it now.

She was silent the rest of the way to the front door with her face turned away.  Eli dismounted then reached to help her down with his hands on her waist.  "How was that for your first time?" he asked.


She looked up at him sharply, "My first time on a horse or my first kiss?" she asked.  "I did find the ride exhilarating, but you can hardly expect me to answer the other.  Good day, sir." She had to step carefully as her wet skirts still clung to her legs.

Elijah watched her shamelessly as she walked up the front stairs and into the house.  He felt like Punch and Judy were in his head having it out.  On one hand, he'd found her the most alluring young woman in all his acquaintance, yet he had treated her disrespectfully, especially for one so innocent.  He'd stolen the kiss as if she was some experienced woman that flirted brazenly with him in London, the kind he was so sick and tired of--the kind to whom he was practically promised. He spurred his horse to a gallop.  His morning ride had been sidetracked by the fisher folk at the stream, but he now needed the exercise to clear his head more than ever.

The repast was served in the smaller breakfast room papered in yellow toile.  His sister was just coming down for the day. 

"Oh, Elijah, I had no idea you would be here!  This is wonderful!  I hardly saw you at all in London."
Then her face fell.  "You heard?"

"Yes, Abbie.  I'm sure it wasn't as bad as it looked, at least I hope it wasn't.  He did not take advantage of you, did he? I will have to deal with him myself if you were compromised."

"No.  I was thoughtless for appearances.  I thought he'd broken my heart, but found he merely bruised it is all.  I should never have allowed him to take me outside." she admitted to her brother.

Just then Miss Elizabeth entered the room, and he felt it was his cheeks which were heated.  He was the one who had taken advantage of her, truth be told, she who should have been under his protection in his home.  He stood and pulled out a chair for her.

"Oh, Elijah, this is my companion, my new friend, Miss Elizabeth," Abigail said linking her arm through Elizabeth's. 


"Yes, how do you do, Miss Kendal."  He bowed formally.  He noticed that she'd changed and put her hair back up though he would not soon forget how it had looked hanging loosely upon her shoulders.  Elijah had never had a ride quite like that one and would not soon forget. He realized he was staring.

"So you have already met?  Wonderful.  You can't imagine, well, maybe you can, but she has almost as many books as she has dresses in her trunk.  We just finished unpacking.  You two will get on splendidly,"  A piece of sausage stuffed in her mouth put an end to Abigail's jabbering.

"What manner of books do you fancy, Miss Elizabeth?" 

She stopped and laid her fork down.  She searched his face as if to determine whether it was a trick question, then simply answered,  "A variety."

"I myself tend to read a variety as well, a little history, a bit of Shakespeare, an occasional novel, the Bible of course and some poetry." He had watched her face as he spoke and saw it light up when he said poetry.

"Poetry?" She almost choked.  After sipping on her lemon water she said,  "I'm sorry, but I did not image you the sort of man who sat around reading Milton or Shelly."

"I prefer a little Lord Byron, a bit of Keats, but am quite fond of William Blake."

"See, did I not tell you that you two would get along," Abbie said before biting into her buttered bread with plum jam.

"I have been reading some of William Blake's poetry as well and find it very pretty indeed," Elizabeth said demurely, not looking up at her host."

He moistened his finger and ran it around the crystal rim of his glass until it was humming a high pitch making her look up.  He smiled.  She timidly smiled back.  The chill in the room was beginning to thaw.

She went on, "The man perhaps is better known for his singing with some saying his poetry is mawkish or mere glitter upon the page.  But the way he paints with his words is quite lovely at times."

He held her gaze forgetting what they were talking about for a moment. 

"All I want to read are my novels.  Poetry is too puzzling by far and makes my head hurt," Abbie exclaimed making him come back to the conversation.

"Perhaps someday you will have a gentleman sweep you off your feet, dear sister, who will want to dazzle you with his poetry readings, and I daresay you'll love it then."

"When fish fly, you mean.  That will be the day."  She crossed her arms obstinately.  They all enjoyed the shared humor.

Suddenly, Elijah became quite serious.  "I am relieved you are home because I found a missive just arrived today which says that Janet is planning to come for a visit.  I need you to help me host them."

Elizabeth stared down at her food swishing it around with her fork while Abbie groaned.

"I fail to see what you find to interest you in her.  She is quite rude to me, you know, unless you are near at hand.  Her comments are cutting while she pretends to be cute.  She sees your inheritance when she looks at you, not that you are not  handsome, which is a lot for me to admit to since you are my brother.  But in what manner does she appeal to you?"

Elijah was stuck.  He had to admit to himself that when he found her letter after riding this morning that a certain dread came over him.  That wasn't supposed to be how one felt for their intended.  She was probably coming to "seal the deal" as he had not yet proposed.  If he could guess, she and her mother were already keeping the shops in London busy with wedding plans. 

"Well, what can you tell me of her attractive virtues, Elijah?  I truly want to know!" Abbie was sometimes like a dog to a bone.  She would not let it loose.

"She's fine enough in appearance.  Her, um, her eyes are..."

"Small and scheming," Abbie filled in frowning.

"That is quite enough.  I ask you to be civil while she is here.  I'm sure she will bring a friend or two along with her to amuse you.  You also still have Miss Elizabeth's companionship." That young woman looked like she had just swallowed something distasteful.

"Do tell me you are not proposing, Elijah.  I couldn't bear it!"

Miss Elizabeth rose to be excused from the table though she had hardly touched her food.  Elijah stood too as she took her leave.  Then he sank back into his chair to glare at his sister.

"It isn't becoming of you to speak of Janet in such terms, especially in front of your friend.  If you wish to speak to me about your concerns, then please do it in private, I beg you."  He tapped his fingers on the table.

"Well, we are in private now," Abbie continued with tears in her eyes.  "I am convinced that she is the last person on earth who can make you happy.  You don't hear the way she talks among her friends.  The things she says about you would make you blush, not to mention how she speaks of other men as well."

"I don't want to know then," he growled.

'She's a conniving, manipulative, harpy..."

"Enough, Abigail!"

But she did not stop.  She asked quietly, "Are you sure she is even a believer, Elijah?  I know that I am not one to talk after my most recent escapade, but you must remember how you have told me so often that it is of the upmost importance for a married couple to share their faith, so they don't, you know, end up like mother and father, how membership in the Church of England doth not make one a Christian."

Elijah sighed.  "I know.  I will find a time to ask about her faith when she comes."'

"How long will her party be here?" Abigail chewed on her nails.

"She did not say, but I'm afraid if it is too long, I will invent some pressing business back in London.  I came here to get away from all that frivolous socializing."

"I doubt that she will be happy for long, even with you here.  She calls this rusticating and will soon be bored, have no fear," his sister tried to assuage him.

"Let's hope then, shall we?"  When she rose, he went and hugged her.  "Thank you for giving me much to think about.  I needed that.  What do you think your companion is up to?"

"She's quite pretty, isn't she," Abbie smirched.

"Yes, and poor as a church mouse.  You know how our Father is," he grimaced.

A small sound caused them to look up to find Elizabeth slipping out the front door.

"Do you think she heard you?  We sound positively horrid speaking so of the marriage market."

"I do find her quite acceptable in every way, except for that essential part.  But I'm glad for you to have such a one to be your friend.  I like her ever so much better than the set you were with in London."

"From this distance, I realize how false they were.  I'm sure they have been serving me up in saucy slices while I'm gone, gorging themselves on gossip at my expense," she sighed.

"Well, try to keep Miss Elizabeth as a true friend then."  He kissed her on her forehead and went into his father's study and shut the door.


Seated in front of the window, he sank his head into his hands. How had he ever become so entangled with Janet?  It had never been his intention. Suddenly, he realized that he really did not like Janet any more than his sister did.  He had just been swept up with her in the crush of London's frantic season otherwise known as the marriage mart.  Abbie had spoken what he knew deep down was true.  Thus, Elijah would have to make it clear that there would be nothing forthcoming between himself and the young woman.  With that settled in his mind, he let out a deep breath of relief.  His eyes were drawn to the window where he saw the lovey form of Miss Elizabeth Kendal walking on the path to the woods.  "I hope she did not hear me.  I've been far from acting the gentleman around her.   Rather, I've been a cad," he scolded.  He was totally ashamed, for truly he did not know when he had met such an innocent, and continued to berate himself.

Elijah tried to pray, but his mind kept straying to his sister's companion.  He finally grabbed his copy of William Blake's poetry in order to distract himself, but soon threw it across the room instead.  The man had put in words so much of his torn heart that it hurt: guilt and what else, he did not know.    So he paced mumbling to God, a weak man's prayer.

Ashamed of himself, he went over and picked up the volume of poetry he'd thrown.  Elijah Reynard had never thrown a book in his life!  Elijah opened it back to the selection he'd been reading and pulled a leaf out of his pocket to mark it with, a leaf he'd pulled out of the tangle of Miss Elizabeth's hair while on horseback.  He stared out the window, but no one was to be seen any longer.  The man blew out a breath.


 
 
Elizabeth walked aimlessly.  It no longer was a fine prospect being here. If it had just been Abigail and herself, it would have been quite pleasurable.  But her brother was too forward, especially for one soon to be betrothed.  He was in fact, intolerable.  She felt her cheeks heat and touched her lips.  Indeed.  She would not be needed as this Janet and her friends were to be with Abbie.  Elizabeth sighed and decided that it was time to get herself home. 
 
Her father had wisely given her a coin to use as necessary that she hoped would be enough to pay her way on the mail coach to get home.  She'd ask the butler if one of the workers would be going to town in the morning with whom she could ride on the pretense of needing some ribbons.  It wasn't a lie actually in that she was in need of a certain shade of blue.  If there was time before the mail coach arrived, she would indeed look.  Her trunk could be sent home later, while only her satchel need be kept with her where she would stash her copy of William Blake's poetry.  Elizabeth kicked a pine cone down the road.  It could have been such a wonderful time, but it was not meant to be.  One thing she knew for sure, she would not be here when Miss Janet, his intended, arrived.   
 
She needed to write Abigail a note of explanation.  She owed her that much.  As for her brother, Elizabeth did not feel that she owed him anything at all.  By the time Abbie woke up in the morning, she'd be gone.
 
 
The evening took an eternity to pass.  Of all things, Elijah asked her to play the harp.
 
"How did you know I played?"  She was flabbergasted.
 
"I felt the callouses on your finger tips.  My mother played the harp, and I well remember the feel of those on hers."
 
He spoke of a familiarity which drew Abigail's eyebrows up.  Nevertheless, she sat down to play.  It was a lovely instrument.  Elizabeth chose one of Handel's compositions.  When she was done, the room was bathed in shadows.  Abbie jumped up clapping, "That was most excellent, Elizabeth.  No one has played the harp for us in years.  Wasn't that beautiful, Elijah?"
 
Hearing her play had squeezed his heart with memories of his childhood when his mother had made the home alive.  He was eight when she died of blood poisoning.  His father married Abigail's mother less than a year later.  The light did not come back into the home until Abbie was let out of the nursery and the bond of brother and sister was allowed to grow.  He could not hold his half-sister  hostage to his dislike of her mother.  His father was paying dearly for that mistake.  Indeed, his father and his wife shared nothing of faith.  Once Abbie was old enough to stay with a governess, his step- mother left her child, was all for London, and seldom returned to the country.  He tried to fill the void for poor Abbie as much as he could, though he was more often away at school.
 
Suddenly he realized they were waiting for his answer.  "Very lovely.  I was lost in revelry remembering when my mother used to play.  Thank you for indulging me, Miss Elizabeth.  You play exquisitely."
 
 
 
It was all confusion.  By the time Abbie clattered down the stairs calling to her brother while waving Elizabeth's note, a carriage was arriving with their guests.  Elijah came out of the study looking like he was heading to a wake. 
 
"Look, Elijah.  You have to read this!" Abbie insisted clearly upset.
 
"Not now, Abigail.  Our guests have arrived." He tightened the frown that was already upon his face.
 
"No, you truly must read this now." She stood in front of the doors with her arms crossed having thrust the note at him.
 
He glanced down then wadded it up.  "Foolish girl.  Doesn't she know how it will look for her to travel without a companion?  Doesn't she realize that the mail coach goes so slowly that she will have to stop at an inn on the way.  That could be disastrous for a young lady alone."  He groaned and raked his hand through his hair. 
 
"You must do something, Elijah.  She is under our protection still, even if she ran away to escape your company, I mean the ones who have just arrived."  Abbie was on the verge of tears.
 
"Of course.  I'm sorry but you'll need to see to our guests by yourself.  I'll return as soon as I can.  We need not tell them what the nature of my business is that has called me away so suddenly however.  Agreed?"
 
"Yes, of course."
 
Then the two of them pasted on their polite smiles and went out to greet their guest.  As soon as they were settled, Elijah was off.  He took two horses, one to ride while leading the other.  Once he apprehended Miss Elizabeth, he'd hire a vehicle and use his team to take her the rest of the way to her  home.  Far be it from him to force their company upon the young woman if it was not desired.  The chit was probably homesick.  Either that, or he'd offended her more than she'd let on.  He urged the horses on faster.
 
It was dusk by the time the mail carriage pulled up to an inn.  "Why are we stopping?" she asked an older gentleman sitting next to her where she felt as crushed as a violet under foot.
 
"It's an inn.  We spend the night.  That's what you do at an inn."  He looked at her like she was the village idiot. 
 
"I had thought it went straight through to London."  A desperate feeling came over her.  She had no money to pay for a room, no money to pay for even a cup of tea.  Her stomach had been growling the last hour as it was.  Everyone was waiting for her to climb out, ladies first and all that rot. 
 
She wanted to hide in the stage. Her knees felt weak all of  a sudden.  After climbing out, she stood in front of the inn not knowing whether to go in or look for somewhere to hide.  Just then horses' hooves were pounding to a stop in a cloud of dust.  She covered her face to keep from choking on it and to hide her tears.  A hand was at her elbow and she was whirled around with terror striking at the pit of her stomach.  But it was Elijah!
 
She launched herself into his arms.  He pulled her up tightly and kissed the top of her head.  "You didn't plan to spend the night in your escape, did you now."
 
"I had no idea.  How did you know?"  He realized it was looking rather scandalizing to be hugging a young woman outside of an inn, so he stepped back.  Naturally, the mail stage takes much longer than our family's carriage on the trip from London.  I figured that you would not be aware of that.  Abbie insisted I come for you.  I can hire some contraption or other and take you the rest of the way home, though it will be exceedingly late when we arrive.   I see no other way around it.  You cannot stay alone in the inn, that is for certain."
 
Elijah settled her in front of the fire with a hot meal while he went to check the stable for a vehicle to see her home in.  He came back looking like a thundercloud.
 
"Oh, dear.  What have I gotten you into?" She worried.
 
"The only thing he would agree to rent me is an old farm wagon.  My horses have never pulled something so heavy, and it will take us all night to get you home at this rate." He sank down to devour his meal in short order.  "There's nothing to be done but get going I guess.  Do you have anything warmer to wear than that pelise?"
 
She shook her head wanting nothing more than to bawl her eyes out for all the trouble she'd caused.  He went to the proprietor and came back with a blanket.  It looked new.  "I wouldn't let him sell me any of his old flea-bitten ones.  Ready now?"
 
A pair of stout draft horses were hitched to the wagon.  "What of your team?" she asked.
 
They already had a run to get this far.  I didn't want the strain on them to haul this heavy wagon.  I'll retrieve them on my way back home."
 
They rode in silence for a few miles.  She kept wiping tears while he pretended not to notice.  "I never meant to cause this much trouble," she choked out.  "You saved me from what would most certainly have been a terrible situation.  I had no money left and no idea what to do when you arrived like a knight in shining armor."
 
He barked out a laugh.  "Am I a knight then driving a farmer's wagon, is it?"  Then he became serious.  "It is I who must apologize to you, Elizabeth.  If I hadn't been such a rake, you wouldn't have felt like you had to run away.  It is my fault entirely."  He looked down at her where tears pooled in her eyes reflecting the full moon.  It was all he could do not to kiss her again.  It was going to be a long night.  He forced himself to look away.
 
"I think I was overwrought at the thought of meeting your friends from London society.  I had imagined that I would merely have a quiet time in the country with your sister, not be forced to mingle with fancy ladies."
 
"I am feeling a little overwhelmed myself.  I came home to get away from all that stuff and nonsense.  Father asked me to look after a few affairs at the estate until he brings mother home.  I was ever so glad to get the chance to run away myself.  Perhaps we are a little alike, do you think?"
 
She gulped.  "But your company!  You are missing them.  I am so very sorry."
 
"I ran away from them in town, and now I'm running away from them in the country," he said as he smiled gently down at her.  "You are more pleasant company by far."
 
She became very still except for a chill that shook her.  His arm went around her as he scooted her closer to him.  "We need to sit closer or you'll freeze to death.  It's a stiff wind blowing tonight.  Besides, if you get sleepy, you can lean on me." 
 
She only nodded, but sat rigidly upright with her blanket wrapped tightly around her.  They fell to easy conversation about the differences in their childhoods.  However, when the wagon groaned to a stop, she found she indeed had fallen asleep leaning on his shoulder with his arm around her to keep her from falling.  Elijah pulled on the brake, then lifted her down.  He held her there for a moment looking down.
 
"It has been my pleasure Miss Elizabeth to make your acquaintance.  You are a rose among thorns, quite delightful indeed.  May I write you on occasion, you know, to further our shared appreciation of poetry?"
 
"It would be rather forward.  I don't know what my father would think.  Perhaps you could include a sheet in a letter your sister writes me.  I will do likewise."
 
"There's an idea, spot on.  Well, here we are.  Now to rouse someone from their beds.  It is the wee hours of the morning, I'm afraid.  We can just hope they won't think the worst of me bringing you here like this."  With that he pounded on the door.
 
It took a bit before her father came to the door in his robe and nightshirt.  "He held a candle in one hand and his cane like a weapon in the other."
 
"Sorry to bother you, sir, but I have your daughter here.  I am Elijah Reynard.  I found she had slipped out to take the mail coach home not knowing that it would make a stop-over at the inn.  I decided it was best I bring her here as quickly as possible since I could not leave her there in good conscience."
 
"Come in then.  Hello, daughter.  You have created quite the consternation, but I'm sure we'll sort it all out in the morning.  You, sir, are welcome to stay in our guest room.  Do you need refreshment before you go to your bed?" Her father was always the gentleman.
 
"Perhaps something to drink, and then I'll be glad to lie down," he said.  His hand brushed hers in such a way as to cause her heart to flutter in a ridiculous manner.  It had been an shared adventure,  another first in her life.  A first compared to anything else like it, well which there wasn't any.
 

 
Just then, Edwin came out stuffing his shirt into his pants with his hair mused and standing every which way.  "Do you need my assistance, Reverend Kendal?"
 
Elizabeth was weary.  Almost too weary to be civil, but she made the introductions.  "Sir, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Edwin Williams.  Edwin, this is Mr. Elijah Reynard."
 
Edwin bowed stiffly.  Suddenly he appeared almost comical, and she stifled a giggle.  It was too much, her father's assistant meeting the son of Lord Reynard in the middle of the night in their humble home.  At least the manse was large with many bedrooms.  Her younger sisters were ranged on the stairs in their robes, their curiosity peaked. 
 
"Girls, I will introduce you in the morning when you are more presentable," she said shooing them back to their beds.
 
Her mother sidled up to her and whispered, "Are you sure you are all right, Elizabeth.  This is quite unseemly.  I'm all aflutter."
 
"I'm quite alright, I assure you.  I was just a little foolish trying to find my way home by myself until Mr. Reynard came to my rescue.  The only conveyance he could find was that old farm wagon."
 
"Edwin, would you be so kind as to see to the team tonight while I help our guest,' her father said.  "Have a seat, Mr. Reynard, while my wife puts on a kettle for tea."
 
"Oh, no need.  Just a quick mug of water would be sufficient, I'm sure.  I'll be happy to share a cup of tea in the morning with you however, my good man." Elijah was exceedingly polite for all she'd put him through.
 
"Well, good night, sir.  I can't thank you enough for bringing me home at such an imposition." She curtsied then fled up the stairs.  It had all been too much, and she found she was exceedingly weary.
 
 
 Indeed, he was drinking his third cup of tea by the time she came downstairs.  He thought he'd never seen such a perfection of beauty in a mixture of minx and purity.  He bit back a grin thinking of such a girl catching minnows.  He was enjoying his visit with her father who was knowledgeable on many accounts.  Elijah invoked him on his curious thoughts in theology, and prodded him about things that had troubled him over certain points of Scripture.  But of a sudden, his thoughts were mush.  However, Elijah did glance over to observe the reverend's assistant.  The man was surely besotted.
 
"Good morning, daughter.  I did not imagine you would rise so soon after your wee bit of sleep." Both the young men stood as she came to the table.  Her mother exchanged a look with her father, one Elizabeth could not interpret.
 
"Good morning, everyone.  It looks to be a beautiful morning for a drive in a farm wagon," she managed with a straight face.''
 
"My goodness, girl, how can you joke upon the man's graciousness to you?" Her mother was dumbfounded, but Elijah and her father chuckled.
 
"Please, take no offense, sir," she concluded with a smile that he caught and savored.
 
"We were just discussing the difference in Wesley and Whitfield's views in theology.  As you can imagine, Edwin came down on Whitfield's side as I upheld Wesley's since you weren't here to defend him as you usually do.  We have quite the lively debates around this table at times, Mr. Reynard,  as Martin Luther was reported to have had.  Our females are allowed to have equal parts in discussions under our roof.  They just have to curb their enthusiasms when they go out that door.  It is not appreciated everywhere, as you can imagine."
 
"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.  And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." Edwin quoted.
 
"Just as Priscilla instructed the Apostle Paul to say, I'm sure," Elizabeth volleyed back.
 
"You see what I mean, Mr. Reynard.  It is unrelenting," her father smiled.
 
"I much prefer a young lady fill her mind with such weighty things than the fluff society puts in their heads.  A penchant for reading is quite an asset in my book," he said looking directly into her gaze.
 
She smiled at his pun which Edwin obviously overlooked.
 
"Well, as long as a young woman doesn't get mired in too much poetry.  So many of our poets are known to have terrible reputations, thus their words, as pretty as they may appear, should be shunned."  Again, Edwin had taken a stab at her.  He looked between them with a narrowed glare.
 
"A young lady is wise who knows her place in society, not too knowledgeable to offend a man's delicate sensibilities, I'm sure."  Elizabeth could not help but slip in a bit of sarcasm which, as usual, Edwin failed to catch.
 
Elijah took her subtle meaning that the distance between them was delicate indeed, rather impossible.  He frowned down at the plate of scones, eggs, and sausage.  It no longer held appeal as it had a few moments ago, but he ate it anyway.  He needed to depart. 
 
 
Before he left the house, while her father was busy getting his cane left behind in the dining room, she came up and grasped his hand.  "I want to again tell you how very grateful I am.  It will never be forgotten." He wished his farewell could be more thoroughly expressed, but treasured the squeeze of her hand before she quickly let go.
 

 
As her father walked him out to the stable, the good man offered to allow him the use of his horse, a fine one indeed, while letting his man to drive the wagon back to the inn.  He could then return the horse to the manse while Elijah would be on his way back to his estate riding on his own mount with its mate in tow.  If only it was as easy to find a matched pair for himself.
 
"You know, we Kendals go back in the peerage, an ancient name.  It was a sad day when the crown took offense at something my grandfather did and took away our estate. It quite left his family destitute.  But as sure as the sun comes up, I find myself happily following my calling to the church, thankful for finding myself in this situation above all others.  May other men be so blessed and able to say the same."
 
"Thank you, sir.  You are an encouragement, and you give me something more to ponder.  May I be so bold as to ask what the arrangement might be between your assistant and your daughter?" Elijah could not help but ask.
 
Her father scribbled in the gravel with his cane, taking longer to answer.  "The young man has recently approached me, but my daughter is unaware.  I advised him to wait until she is at least another year older before asking to court her.  As you can see in the meanwhile, she quite holds her own against him.  It waits to be seen if that is a hindrance or an asset to him, as you can imagine I'm sure."
 
"Yes, I completely understand your meaning, sir.  And thank you for your honesty and your hospitality."
 
"It is you to whom we are greatly indebted for saving our daughter from an unseemly situation.  It was beyond decent of you."  The older gentleman squeezed his hand with such strength that it surprised Elijah.
 
"Elizabeth is worth saving, I must say.  She is a rare one compared to a worldly society.  You have done an excellent job in her raising.   Well, this is goodbye then, sir, and once again thank you for letting me borrow such fine horse flesh for my travels back.  It is far above the farm wagon as you can imagine."  With a wave he was gone, but looked back to see a face in the window he would not soon forget.
 
Once out of London, he rode ahead of the plodding draft horses pulling the farm wagon.  Finally, he gave the horse his head and had a good run.  It was not long until he was back in the saddle on his own beast, but found he was not anxious to go home, however.   Elijah had enjoyed his brief time in the manse, whereas Janet would be waiting furious with him.  He had to settle that issue concerning her with aplomb and soon. 
 
He was dirty and sweaty after being two days on the road and was in no mood to confront his guests as of yet, but Janet swept in to greet him.  Her face was obviously forced into an artificial smile.
 
"It is so good of you to come home, Elijah.  I quite despaired of seeing you wondering if I would have to chase you back to London to spend time together, to have our little tryst."
 
"I had hoped to present myself in a better manner," he steamed, "but if you wish to speak of trysts, I must settle this at once.  There will be no tryst or agreement of any kind between us, Miss Withcombe.  I'm sorry if you believed I meant otherwise."
 
She let out something between a scream and a growl.  "You did lead me on, sir, all the while having your pretty little mistress from the manse.  You met her at the inn, didn't you, while leaving me here unattended in the middle of nowhere.  You are no gentleman, Mr. Reynard. I hate you!" 
 
She had gathered quite an audience of her friends and his servants all who had run to her at her cry.  Only his sister looked on in sympathy.  His servants stood impassive, but taking it all in nevertheless.
 
"I assure you, the lady in question has been delivered home with her reputation intact.  She is an innocent and as such, should not be brought into this conversation.  She was merely a young companion to my sister, a girl not yet out in society who knows nothing of the slander you smear her with."  He was having difficulty controlling his anger.
 
"And I assure you, others may not think the same back in London.  Tongues will wag, you know.  As for you, I cannot endure another moment in your presence."  She turned to the butler.  "Please call for my carriage."
 
Once the hurry and scurry of their guests busy packing was quickly thrown together, Janet and her entourage left.  The quiet in their wake was refreshing. 
 
Though he had not time to clean up, Janet embraced him.  "Bravo, brother!  You did it.  I am in all amazement."
 
"It had to be done.  However, I'm afraid it will cost Miss Elizabeth.  Janet will do her best to insinuate the worst about the reverend's daughter.  I can do no more to protect her now.  Only time will do as the ton has a limited attention span."
 
"I will write and warn her then," Abbie sighed.
 
"Let me include a page as well.  She said she would allow me to write if included in your correspondence."  He nearly blushed in saying it.
 
His sister slyly smiled at him, "Did she now?  Alright.  I'll bring my letter to you unsealed.  You may send it off as you wish then."
 
 
 
He still did not wait until he had changed out of his dusty clothes, but immediately sat down with pen and ink in his bed chamber.  He did not need his book of poetry for it was etched upon his memory.
 
"Dear Miss Elizabeth, Let me express my appreciation again for your family's abundant good will even after our late night disturbance.  Your father is greatly to be admired.  I can tell he has schooled you well.  You both are cut from the same most excellent cloth.
 
It is once again that I must apologize, this time for what may come against you by the fury of a spurned woman, Miss Janet Whithcombe.  She will do her best to smear us, but it will all soon come to naught.  In the meanwhile, I truly hope you will not hold it against me for driving you away from our home.  Your presence there was a delight. 
 
As to our shared enjoyment of poetry, I'll give you a portion of Lord Byron's poem that begins, "She walks in beauty, like that night"...
 
"or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
 
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!"
 
Thus, thinking of you,
 
Elijah 
 
 
He was just finishing up when Abbie softly knocked.  "Come in."
 
"Here is my letter.  I'm sure she will toss it aside to find what deliciousness you wrote though." 
 
He looked up to find that she was teasing him.  "Just a little poetry."
 
She just gaped a grin.  "Well, mine was full of how terrible Janet was and not to mind a bit what the woman tries to do.  It will hardly be drawing room fodder as no one has of yet met Elizabeth.  However if they had, news of her beauty would indeed be spread about and would leave no doubt that you would choose her over Janet, am I right?"
 
"You said all that?" he asked surprised.
 
"No, not the part about her beauty.  I don't believe she has any idea of that, I'm sure.  It is what makes her so artless."
 
"Yes, she is that, both beautiful and artless."  He schooled his face to be impassive.  "Will you write her often?" He wanted to know for he hoped to have a letter soon written back to him.
 
"If you like, I can begin a prolific correspondence."
 
He finally released a smile.  "Yes, that will do."
 
It took two days for Miss Elizabeth to answer.  One sheet was lightly sealed inside the note to his sister.   He broke it open to read and smiled, his heart swelling inside his chest.  It was short, a mere snip of poetry...

 

 
"I almost wish we were butterflies
and lived but three summer days --
three such days with you
I could fill with more
delight than fifty common
years could ever contain."
 
John Keate
 
He picked up his quill and wrote...
 
Dear Elizabeth,
 
How are you holding up to Mr. Williams with your lively table conversations?  What doth your father's assistant have to say about Whitfield's practice of buying slaves to work at his Georgia orphanage in order to scrimp on costs of upkeep?  I am sincerely happy that England has moved to end slavery that sadly continues on the American continent.  Please fill free to write if the man has any thing of note to say.
 
The poem you sent now has new meaning seen in the light of our shared time together.  I can't help but wish we had filled our days with more delight before you flew away.  Tell me of other favorite verses you come upon, as I will to you, like this from William Blake...
 


 
"There is a Smile of love
And there is a Smile of deceit
And there is a Smile of Smiles
In which these two Smiles meet.
 
And there is a Frown of Hate
And there is a Frown of disdain
And there is a Frown of Frowns
Which you strike to forget in vain.
 
For it sticks in the heart's deep core
And it sticks in the deep Back bore
And no Smile that ever was smild
But only one Smile alone
 
That betwixt the Cradle and the Grave
It only once Smild can be
But when it once is Smild
There's an end to Misery."
 
I know of what the poet speaks.
 
Yours truly,
Elijah
 
 
He waited impatiently for his sister to return with her letter.  The sooner sent, the sooner responded to.  He had taken a distinct dislike to the Mr. Williams with his ever present access to Miss Elizabeth. 
 
When Elijah came out of his father's study after going over the books, he heard wheels on the gravel.  Someone was arriving.  It was his father.  Alone.  His step-mother evidently remained in London as usual.  The young man was curious to see what had brought his father home, the place his father loved above all others.  He hurried down the front steps to beat the butler to open the carriage door to welcome the good and godly man. 
 
When they were settled in the bright breakfast room taking tea, he asked, "What brings you home, father?  You sent me here on urgent business, but I have failed to find anything of too pressing a nature.  Life goes on as usual on the estate.  Have I missed something you wanted me to address?"
 
"Where is Miss Elizabeth?  I thought it best if you were here to oversee her visit with your sister."
 
Elijah tipped back in his chair, something he would never had done if the women of the family were present.  "Why was it so important for me?  Is there a reason behind your thinking?"
 
His father smiled.  "I met her.  I thought it would be optimal for you to do likewise.  I was charmed in short order."  And the man had the audacity to wink!
 
"Are you saying that you would approve of a poor as a church mouse young woman to catch my eye?  That is astonishing!"  He slammed his chair down on four legs and drummed his fingers on the table.
 
"It was her great grandfather who had the audacity to oppose the crown, thus losing the family fortune.  I happened to be in school with her father when he was sent home due to lack of funds.  However, since we had been schoolboy friends, my father saw fit to pay an anonymous scholarship for the boy.  He went on to become a minister, and we moved in different circles then.  However may it be, theirs is a forgotten name, but once a respected one on the list of ancient peerage of significance.  You could do much worse.  Tell me that you are done with that self-serving Janet wench.  I never liked her."
 
Elijah raked his hands through his hair and told his father all that had occurred since he'd come back to the estate, leaving out the part of the minnows.  That was his private cherished memory alone. 
 
 
"So you see, we scared her off, or rather the thought of the arrival of a house full of featherweights from the ton caused her to flee.  I would that I could bring her back, but I doubt her father would approve after her unexpected flight home."
 
"So, you have seen the girl's appeal, no doubt?"  His father sat smugly smiling.
 
"I must confess I have come to appreciate it to the full.  She has allowed me to correspond with her if I tuck a sheet into my sister's letter.  That is what has happened in the last few days here. Indeed, it is refreshing to see the wholesome influence she has had on Abigail."
 
"Well, good, jolly good!  That was the pressing business I sent you here for.  You did the only thing you could riding to rescue her on her inadvisable flight home.  The girl has pluck though.  A catch such as Miss Elizabeth will soon be discovered, and I fear she won't remain unattached for long. So, don't stay away too long, Elijah.  A girl like her doesn't come round too often.  I could tell at a glance that she is very much like your mother was at her age, more than any female of our acquaintance." 
 
"Did I tell you how she plays the harp?  It is quite excellent." Elijah suffused excitedly.
 
"Indeed."
 
"Father!  When did you get here?"  Abigail ran in though the bell had long rung for tea, and she was late as usual.  "Has Elijah told you of his adventure with Miss Elizabeth?"  Abbie was radiant.  "I found her to be a most excellent companion.  Unfortunately she was spooked by the crowd coming from London.  I must say that I am so proud of my brother for his dismissal of Miss Janet though.  She is quite furious and will do her best to smear Miss Elizabeth and Elijah's name, but it will pass I'm sure."
 
"And are you done then with your misery over your heartbreak, Abbie?"
 
"I am so sorry for the scenes I caused due to my childishness.  Of course you were right to send me home, and I mended as soon as my head hit the pillow.  Of course, Miss Elizabeth had set me straight as well, though how she knows about issues of the heart is a mystery to me," Abbie laughed.  Then she plunked her newest letter down by his plate.  This one is ready for you to slip in some of that poetry you like so well."  Her eyes gleamed at him.
 
He pulled his sheet out of his pocket and inserted it with hers, found the wax and seal ,and once done, put it on the server for someone to deliver to the mail coach.  His father watched with satisfaction.
 
 
When Elizabeth read her letter, she could not keep a secret smile from blooming.  She enjoyed it indeed.  Then she sighed a perfect church mouse sigh of hopelessness before an immense obstacle..  Mr. Elijah must be toying with her.  She was an entertainment until he next went to London where he would no doubt be much sought after. 
 
However, much as she was determined to fall in love with Mr. Edwin Williams, she just could not force herself to it.  Every dinner conversation became a competition with the man determined to challenge her at every point.  It was tiresome.  Did he think she was some wild thing that he had to tame?  Elizabeth could tell that her father was becoming weary of the wrangling.  Her mother was tight-lipped over the unpleasantness of what should have been an enlightening and enriching exchange of ideas.  Yet, Elizabeth was as guilty as he unable to resist the bait to an argument. 
 
Finally, Elizabeth's older sister came home from tending to their mother's elder sister who had been quite ill.  It brought some semblance of peace, a truce of sorts as Edwin began to pay attention of a different sort to Jane.  It was a relief to be out from under his thumb of opinionated blather.  In fact, she was able to carry on soft conversations with her father as those other two began to make eyes at each other.  It was rather sickening to observe the love birds as they twittered.  Her younger sisters loved to copy their faces from behind their backs.
 
When next she received a letter, she took it to her room and only handed Abigail's missive to her mother to read after her.  Elizabeth was able to keep her conscience clear about her secret pen pal by telling herself that it was just about exchanging favorite passages of poetry.  But her heart was in her throat as she read the passage he selected..."
 


 
"Thine eyes I love,
and they pitying me,
Knowing thy heart torment me
with disdain."
William Shakespeare
 
Dear Elizabeth,
 
Since I have received back only one letter to mine sent daily, I fear I have offended thee.  Please, tell me that I am still in your good graces.  Have you no poetry to at least comfort me with? 
My father has come home and is all enthralled having met the very Miss Elizabeth to whom I write.  Thus, I will add this poem...
 

 
"At Beauty's door of glass,
When Wealth and Wit once stood,
They ask'd her 'which might pass?'
She answered, 'He who could.'
 
With golden key Wealth thought to pass-
but t'would not do:
While Wit a diamond brought,
Which cut his bright way through.
 
So here's to her who long
Hath waked the poet's sigh,
The girl who gave to song
What gold could never buy.
 
The love that seeks a home
Where wealth and grandeur shine
Is like the gloomy gnome
That dwells in dark mines.
 
But oh! the poet's love
Can boast a brighter sphere;
Its native home's above,
Though woman keep it here.
 
So here's to her who long
Hath waked the poet's sigh,
The girl who gave to song
What gold could never buy."
 
I've found I've become enraptured with a little church mouse who holds the door.
 
Yours,
 
Elijah
 
Elizabeth folded this sheet and put it in her pocket so that she might read it throughout her day when she found herself alone.  Indeed, she slipped her hand in her pocket quite often to assure herself it was still there, his words for her to ponder.  That night she wrote a short letter to Miss Abigail, though she felt she had not much to say, leaving out the part her sister Jane played in the romancing by Mr. Williams which she deemed too disgusting to mention.  Then she searched her volumes of poetry not knowing quite how to respond to the gentleman...
 


 
"Tis when the sigh,
in youth sincere,
And only then--
The sigh that's breath'd
for one to hear.
Is by that one,
that only dear,
breathed back again!"
 
Do you know who the author might be?  Is it William Blake by chance?  Down another stream,
Mr. Williams seemed to have difficulty catching even one minnow of explanation concerning Whitfield's slavery issue.  Bravo, sir.  You stumped him there!
 
Just me, the church mouse,
 
Elizabeth
 
 
 
The family was all in a dither, for Mr. Edwin Williams had asked father for Jane's hand after only one month of gazing into each other's eyes.  The bans would soon be posted.  The couple would continue to reside in the manse with the family, however.  He could not afford any differently, but had hopes of a position of his own after he furthered his study under her father.  All their needles were kept busy sewing a trousseau for darling Jane, who was much too sweet for her beloved.  Love must truly be blind. 
 
Her father handed her another letter from his tray of mail.  She went up to her room, but Jane was there going through her trunk.  So, Elizabeth went out to the back wall of the garden and sat in the dirt.  She put aside Abigail's letter and pulled out the one under.  She held it to her nose for a faint whiff of the man.  He wrote...

 
My Dear Elizabeth,
 
You don't know how you lightened my days upon receiving your words.  I carry the letter next to my heart.  Every poet must have taken a tour of  those chambers, for they one and all seem to know how I feel, like this...
  

"You have ravished me away by a power I cannot resist;
and yet I could resist till I saw you;
and even since I have seen you
 I have endeavored often
'to reason of my Love.'
I can do that no more--
the pain would be too great--
My Love is selfish--
I cannot breathe without you."
 
John Keats 
 
When Elizabeth ran up the stairs and shut the door alone, she read his words again and lost her breath.  Could he indeed feel this for her, or is it just a love of poetry.  Surely he would not tease her so.  She fell to her knees to ask God's help because her heart threatened to stop beating.
 
 
 
A hard day's ride away, in a sunlit breakfast room, two gentlemen read the papers as they drank their tea.  Unable to get a word out of either, Abigail settled to read the back of the paper in her father's grasp.  It was the society page, the usual drivel.  Suddenly she dropped her tea cup.  It shattered on the ground sending hot tea to spill across her hem. But Abbie was moaning, "No! No! No!  It's can't be!"
 
"What on earth is the matter, girl?  Calm yourself.  What has you all worked up?" Her father looked at her sternly.
 
"Abbie?"  Elijah reached across the table to put his hand on her wrist with an uneasy feeling.  "What's wrong?"
 
She grabbed the paper, went round the table and thrust the paper at him, "Look."  Now she was the one putting her hand on his shoulder.
 
As Elijah read it, his face darkened.   He threw off her hand and stormed out of the room.
 
"What is it Abigail.  Tell me now," her father demanded.
 
"It's Miss Elizabeth.  Her banns have been read."
 
Her father pounded his fist into his other hand. "I told him not to wait too long, that she soon would be snatched up."
 
"He has to do something.  She can't marry that man who tries to best her at every turn.  He's detestable. She told me herself, that Williams fellow."
 
"Evidently he has changed her mind." Her father had as sorrowful a face as she'd seen. 
 
"I'm afraid my brother's heart will be broken," Abigail worried.
 
Then from outside the window they saw Elijah flash past on his steed.
 
"He's going for her.  He will win her back.  I know he will," she cheered.
 
Her father hugged her.  She hadn't even known that she was crying till then.  "Sometimes these things get in a tangle and it is not easily settled, darling.  We can only pray."
 
So she whispered,
 
"Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done ."
 
  
Elijah hardly slowed down past the inn, and pounded past the mail coach.  His horse was in a lather.  He never rode his beasts like this, but  time was of the essence.  He finally arrived and slid off his horse in front of the manse and pounded on the door.
 
Elizabeth opened and started at him shocked.  "What are you doing here?  Is something wrong?  Is Miss Abigail alright?"
 
He stepped forward as if to embrace her and stopped.  "You can't do it.  You can't marry him.  We belong together, you and me, Elizabeth.  My gold could never open the door, but I had hoped my quoting the wit of poetry had gained entrance.  Please, don't.  Don't. Marry.  Him."
 
"Marry who?  What are you talking about, Elijah?  She closed the distance between him where he was trying to catch his breath from his hard ride and grasped his hand 




"Edwin.  He doesn't deserve you. He would always try to best you and fail miserably." 
 
Her little sisters, then her mother edged out the door and stood gaping.  Elizabeth tried to wave them back in, but her father came to the rescue and herded the females of his household back inside.
 
"I'm not marrying Edwin.  I could never..."
 
"But the paper..."
 
"My sister, the other daughter of the minister at Lambe's Chapel, the other Miss Kendal is marrying Mr. Williams, not I."
 
"Who are you to marry then?"  He stepped closer as he grasped her hand.
 
"I hardly know," she stammered.
 
"Would you, Miss Elizabeth, do me the honor?"  He kissed her hand.
 
 
"Oh dear, does this mean, I hope, that I have 'ravished you with a power you cannot resist'?" she answered with a twinkle in her eye.  'The pain would be too great.'  I had better or you'll never be able to breathe again like poor Mr. Keats."
 
He caught her up as he happily replied, "I have endeavored often 'to reason of my Love.  I can do that no more.'  So will you, Elizabeth?"
 
"Yes, oh yes!" She was going to say, "My love is that selfish," but he gave her no chance by kissing her thoroughly, a shocking display in front of her mother and sisters as they peeked out the gabled windows. 
 
Her father, however, beamed as he shut himself up in his study saying his informal prayers aloud as he was want to do strutting about, "It's off back to the country again with our Lizzie, is it, dear Lord?  So be it.  'Thy will be done.'  But two daughters promised in two weeks, oh merciful heavens!  You even dug down deep into the peerage and came out with a future Lord for us. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!"
 
 
 
"I've a secret to tell thee,
but hush! not here--
Oh, not where the world its vigil keeps:
I'll seek to whisper it in thine ear...
I have not a joy but of thy bringing,
And pain itself seems sweet when springing
From thee, thee, only thee.
 
Like spells, that nought on earth can break,
till lips, that know the charm have spoken
This heart, howe'er the world may wake
Its grief, scorn, can but be broken
By thee, thee, only thee."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

















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