Drakmore House sat on 131 acres of land. There was the main house, and a three-bedroom dower house, which had once housed her grandmother before her passing. The property had a two-bedroom stable cottage, two flats, and a stable with an outdoor riding arena. The grounds also featured the tennis court, a bowling green, and the woods with a stream that traveled through to the Drakmore Lake.
It was a place of dreams to many, but for Evelyn, it was the place where her dreams died.
Evelyn sat silently as Geneviève did her hair. Her nineteen-year-old companion was four years her junior, but there were greater differences between them than just their age. Firstly, Geneviève smiled a lot. Her hair was shiny and brown, while Evelyn’s strawberry tresses seemed dull now. Everything in her life seemed dull.
Geneviève was silent as she twisted Evelyn’s hair atop her head. Evelyn did not look up to see what she was doing. It did not matter what she looked like. It was all the same to her.
“Do you wish to take a walk this morning?” Geneviève asked in her gentle French accent as she continued to coif Evelyn’s hair. “We could go to the greenhouse. I heard Mr. Babcock planted some new fruit trees. I am not sure of the kind, but we could always find out once we get there.”
Evelyn could hear Geneviève’s eagerness, but she didn’t feel it. She felt very little since Jonathan’s death. He left the earth, and with him, he took a part of her. The world held no joy anymore. The only good thing she had was her thoughts of him and Geneviève’s never-failing company.
She felt sorry for the young woman. She met her at the worst possible time in her life. Evelyn had done her best to recover from her loss, but her heart could not accept it. Inside, she wanted to believe Jonathan was alive, that he had not left her, and that one day, he would return. Reality told her otherwise.
“That sounds fine,” she answered solemnly. “I’d like to see what Mr. Babcock has done.”
Geneviève smiled at her reflection in the mirror. “Wonderful.” She patted the braids that tangled around the bun atop Evelyn’s head. “All done.”
Evelyn nodded as she got to her feet, the black dress she wore felt heavy, like the weight on her heart. She walked slowly from the room with Geneviève close behind her. She could hear the gentle sounds of her companion’s lavender dress as she walked. Even that sounded cheerful.
The pair walked down the stairs together. “Good morning, Mrs. Dickerson,” Geneviève said pleasantly as they met the housekeeper on the landing.
“Good morning, Mademoiselle Tremblay. Lady Evelyn,” Mrs. Dickerson greeted them pleasantly. “You are up early this morning. Breakfast isn’t quite ready,” she informed.
Evelyn nodded. Breakfast had been set to a later time since her melancholy took hold of her. There were many days, early after the news was made known of Jonathan’s death, when she could not bring herself to leave her bedchamber at all. The sadness was so thick that it almost felt as if she could not breathe.
“The Earl and Lady Lannishire are in the conservatory,” Mrs. Dickerson informed.
Evelyn thought it curious that her father would still be at home. He usually left the house early to attend to his business in town. Her father was the owner of the largest cotton mills in all of Lannishire.
“Thank you, Mrs. Dickerson,” Evelyn replied. “Geneviève and I will be taking a walk in the gardens before breakfast. Will you tell my parents if they ask?”
“Of course, Lady Evelyn,” Mrs. Dickerson replied with a gentle nod of her head. She smiled at Geneviève and then continued about her work. Evelyn and Geneviève proceeded into the garden.
“It is a lovely warm day,” Geneviève commented as they walked into the garden. “The sky is very clear today.”
“Yes, it is,” Evelyn answered absently.
“Evelyn,” Geneviève said as they strolled toward the greenhouse. “I worry about you. I have been with you for two years, and yet, I feel as if I have not done well by you.”
Evelyn stopped to look at the young woman. “Why would you say that?”
Geneviève’s brown eyes lowered. “I have done all I can think to bring cheer to this house and your life, but nothing I have done has helped,” she stated. “You seem sadder every day.”
“I’m sorry, Geneviève. It is not your fault. You have done nothing wrong. In fact, you have done so much to help me. I do not think I would have ever left my bed if not for you,” Evelyn replied as she reached out a hand to gently touch the young woman’s arm.
“Are you sure?” Geneviève questioned sincerely. “It has been some time now that I have considered leaving your employ. I thought perhaps another companion would be better for you. I would go back to France and my family unless I found another place.”
“I won’t allow it,” Evelyn stated. “You are my only friend in the world,” she replied forlornly. “My sadness has driven almost everyone from my company. I wish it were not so, but it is,” she continued as tears stung her eyes.
Geneviève smiled at her. “You are my friend as well. I have no one in this country but you and your family. In many ways, you are my family in England. I have no other reason to be here if not for you.”
Evelyn stepped closer and hugged her young companion. “I promise I will do better,” she assured. “I will do my best to be the person I once was.”
Cutlery on china was the only sound to be heard in the dining room as the Pritchett family sat to breakfast. Evelyn could not remember the last time there was conversation or laughter as they sat to a meal.
The biscuits were buttery and light, just the way Evelyn liked them. She slathered on the strawberry jam as she ate her fourth one. She had already eaten the slices of bacon she’d picked from the tray, and the boiled eggs.
“You should not eat so much,” her mother chided gently as she clothed her knife and fork. “It will make you gain weight.”
Evelyn sat silently as she listened and looked at the biscuit in her hand. “Yes, Mama,” she said as she set the biscuit aside. She gave the biscuit one last look, lamenting the wastage of it before she looked away.
“Are you finished with your breakfast?” her mother questioned. “If you are, your father and I wish to speak to you.”
Evelyn looked at her mother curiously. “What about, Mama?” she asked.
Her mother looked around the room to where their servants stood to attend them. “Not here. Privately.”
Her mother rose from the table first, followed by her father. There was foreboding in Evelyn’s stomach at that sight. There was a reason why he had stayed late that morning. She wondered what it had to do with her.
Evelyn took her time as she followed her parents to the sitting room. Geneviève walked behind her quietly. She could feel the tension coming from the young woman. Like Evelyn, she could sense there was something amiss.
They entered the sitting room several steps behind her parents. Geneviève closed the door behind them and took a seat in the far corner of the room to give the family privacy. Evelyn wished she would sit beside her for whatever was to come. She had the feeling she would need the support.
Her mother sighed. “Evelyn, please believe that we understand your sadness. Jonathan was a wonderful young man. He was above and beyond most men,” her mother stated. “However, it has been two years since his passing, and though he is gone, you are not.”
Evelyn’s heart began to race. What was her mother saying? Why was she bringing up Jonathan? She knew better than to question. Her mother would inform her soon enough.
“We waited for you to come around and rise above this cloud that you have been under. However, it is clear to us that you cannot do it alone. Therefore, your father and I have made the necessary arrangements to assist you.”
“Assist me?” Evelyn questioned, perplexed.
Her father sat forward and took her right hand in his. “We have made arrangements for you to marry.”
“Edward Evers. He is a fine match and is to inherit the Dukedom and his father’s business,” her mother stated. “And you already know him, and like him, which makes the arrangement all the better.”
“Jonathan’s brother?” Evelyn questioned in disbelief. Her voice rose several octaves as she attempted to complete her sentence. “You wish me to marry my late fiancé’s brother?”
“Why not?” her mother stated nonchalantly. “It is the practice. Edward has already agreed.”
Evelyn’s heart galloped in her chest. “He has?”
“Yes,” her father confirmed as he released her hand and sat back in the chaise beside her mother. “He seemed quite eager.”
“Evelyn, we love you, and we want what is best for you,” her mother stated calmly. “We cannot allow you to stay in this place forever. It is not healthy. Even Geneviève’s presence has yielded little effect in raising your spirits.
“That is not true,” Evelyn replied quickly. Her eyes darted behind her to where the young woman sat. Geneviève’s head was lowered over a book, and she appeared oblivious to their conversation. She already doubted her own abilities as Evelyn’s companion. She did not wish for her to know that her parents shared her belief.
“You seem little improved since her first arrival,” her mother stated.
Evelyn met her eye. “Mama, do not blame Geneviève for my demeanor. She has done all she could to help me, and if it were not for her, I do not know where I would be today.”
“That is our concern,” her father interjected. “Something must be able to return our daughter. Return the young woman who had so much to live for, who smiled and laughed and filled this house with joy.” Her father breathed deeply. “Even if it is for another house.”
“The arrangements are already made and agreed,” her mother continued. “There is no turning back. You will marry Edward Evers in a four-month.”
Evelyn’s lips quivered, but she said nothing. There was no defying her mother’s will. She knew they were doing this out of love. They wanted their daughter back, and she wished to do that for them. She missed the young woman she used to be. She missed the feeling.
She nodded her head. “Alright,” she stated. “I will marry Edward as you wish. He is a good man. I am sure we will be very happy.”
Evelyn wanted to be more cheerful about the prospect, but she could not fake her emotions at that time. She was doing what was right and what was probably best for her and everyone. It could not be easy for those she loved to be around her. Her friends had escaped her, but her parents and Geneviève could not.
“If you will excuse me, I would like some time to think,” she said sedately as she got to her feet.
“Of course,” her mother said with a smile as she got to her feet. “You will see, Evelyn. This is for the best,” she assured. “He will make you very happy. He is very keen towards you.”
Evelyn nodded silently and tried to force a smile on her face. She walked to the door, where Geneviève met her. The young woman opened the door for her, and the pair stepped into the corridor.
“Is everything well, Evelyn?” Geneviève questioned.
“Perfectly,” she answered. “I am getting married,” she stated without emotion.
Geneviève stopped in her tracks. “Excusez-moi?” she said in surprise.
Evelyn turned to her. “I am getting married,” she repeated. Geneviève looked at her in disbelief. “Do not trouble yourself with questions now. I will explain later,” Evelyn, stated. “Right now, I would like some time alone.”
Her companion nodded wordlessly. Evelyn turned and left her.
The walk to her bedchamber was never as lonely as it was now. The weight of her sadness was now multiplied by the weight of the expectation, which now rested upon her. She was to marry the brother of the man she still loved. There seemed no greater tragedy in life apart from Jonathan’s death, and now the wound was being opened further.
Evelyn walked into her room and closed the door. She sat in the window seat and looked out on Drakmore. Her day had come full circle before half of it was over. Her life was turned upside down.
She rested her head against the frame of the box and sighed. She clutched the locket that still hung around her neck as she whispered one word into the silence.
She sat there for a long time, watching as the sun moved across the sky. Finally, she stood and walked to her dressing table. She looked at her reflection, and with a heavy sigh, raised her hands to her neck and unclasped the hook on her chain. She opened the drawer and placed the treasure inside.
Edward was a good man. He was intelligent, kind, and dependable. He deserved a fair chance, and he would never get it if she continued to hold onto his brother. She had to move on. She had no choice. Jonathan was dead. She needed to try and start her life over.
Eventide was filled with the sound of music and laughter once more. The house long languished in mourning after the passing of his brother, but now, there was a reason for cheer.
Edward stood at the top of the stairs as he watched the servants going about their work. The party was to start in an hour, but already, several guests had arrived. He watched as his stepmother and father greeted them. Still, there was one person who had yet to arrive. The most important person.
The last time he saw Evelyn was almost two years ago, though the memory was as clear as if it had been that morning. She was standing in a black dress, shielded by her father’s umbrella as they visited Jonathan’s grave. His brother was not in the ground, marked by the headstone his father had carefully selected. His body was lost to the sea after the ship was wrecked on its way to the Pacific. No one survived.
Since that day, Edward had done everything in his power to become the man his father needed. Jonathan had always been the son his father relied on, but now it fell to him to stand in his brother’s place and assume the role that had once been his. Now, he was assuming the role his heart had always wanted, that of Evelyn Pritchett’s intended.
Edward had always loved Evelyn. Since she was a girl, and they first encountered each other while on holiday in Paris, his eye had been taken by her. Unfortunately, for him, she only had eyes for Jonathan. Silently, he watched as the woman he loved fell for and became engaged to his brother.
His heart was galloping in his chest as he waited for the family’s arrival. How would she look now? Was she happy about their engagement? He certainly was. He was beyond happy.
“What are you doing?” Andrew asked as he trotted down the stairs. His younger brother was always so calm and callous. Even now, a year into university, he acted as if nothing was pressing in life.
“Nothing,” he answered. “When will you get a haircut?” he asked as he flicked his fingers at his brother’s blonde curls, which were now past his ears.
“When I feel like it,” Andrew mused. He was the image of his mother, Edward’s stepmother, and his father’s third wife. He had a long face and boyish features, with no sign of facial hair yet. His grey eyes were always alive with amusement, and a smile was usually on his face.
Their father was a man who loved women and children. He had three wives in his lifetime, two of whom had left him under tragic circumstances.
His first wife, Margaret, was Jonathan’s mother. She died of illness when his older brother was just a child. His mother, Anne, had been her nurse, and a year later, became the new Duchess of Amadore. Edward’s mother passed away while giving birth to him. Penelope, his father’s current wife, had come along years later, and soon after they were wed, Andrew was added to the family.
“Do you take nothing seriously?” Edward questioned.
“Do you ever not?” Andrew retorted with a smirk. “Today is your engagement party, and here you stand, looking like a man who is about to jump in the ring with a bull.”
“I do not,” Edward answered, flummoxed.
“Yes, you do,” Andrew insisted as he walked past him. “Do try to enjoy yourself for once,” he called as he walked down the stairs and left Edward to himself.
Edward fixed his cravat and smoothed his hand over his burgundy waistcoat. His tailcoat was dark grey over black silk breeches. He had had his barber trim his hair specifically for the occasion. He wanted to look his best when he saw her again. He wanted her to marvel at the man she was to be wife to.
He continued to watch the door from his perch. He had no desire to see anyone but Evelyn, though he knew he should play the part as the intended groom. Then the door opened, and the Earl of Lannishire entered, followed by his wife, and finally, Evelyn. Edward had to stop himself from bounding down the stairs.
His heart thundered in his chest at the sight of her beauty. She was a dream, a vision in emerald, and like a gem, he intended to cherish her and keep her safe. It was the first time since his brother’s death that color returned to her attire. He had been informed of her continued mourning. Though she was stunning in anything she wore, the green brightened her appearance.
I would have her never wear black again.
Edward’s father was smiling as he approached. He was engaged in conversation with the Earl while the women talked. He stepped toward the small group. “Good evening.”
“Edward,” the Earl greeted him warmly. “It is good to see you. It has been far too long. I must apologize for our delinquency in visiting.”
Edward’s eyes glanced at Evelyn, whose appearance remained reserved. Her eyes did not meet his. He could only guess their reasons for keeping their distance. He was sure Evelyn knew it too.
“That is no matter,” he quickly replied. “What is time between such good friends?” He smiled warmly.
“Good evening, My Lord,” Lady Lannishire greeted politely. “I have not had the opportunity to congratulate you on your new title as Marquess of Arnesmere. Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding it, I am sure the title has never been more deserving.”
Edward gently bowed to the knuckles of her offered hand. “Thank you, Lady Lannishire,” he replied as he righted himself. “Your confidence is most appreciated.”
“Evelyn shares my sentiments. Do you not, Evelyn?” Lady Lannishire continued. Edward’s gaze once more shifted to the face of the young woman who had remained silent all the while.
Evelyn approached at her mother’s summoning. She smiled meekly at him. “Yes,” she quickly agreed with her mother. “It is good to see you, Edward.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” he assured as he took her hand and kissed her knuckles.
“Edward, would you escort Evelyn inside?” his father asked. He need not have done so. Edward was eager to have a reason to have Evelyn on his arm, and he quickly responded to it.
“Of course. Evelyn?” he gently said as he hooked her arm into his. He led her proudly to meet the other guests.
Edward was ecstatic as he reacquainted their guests with his new betrothed. They greeted with equally eager enthusiasm, while Evelyn remained quiet.
Dinner was announced sometime later, and the entire party gathered in the main dining hall. Once again, Edward escorted Evelyn. He saw her seated in a chair near the head of the table while he took the seat beside her.
“Friends,” his father called as he clinked a fork against the crystal glass in his hand. “A father has very few opportunities to feel proud,” he began. “They are relegated to the big achievements in this world, but very rarely does he get to celebrate the same event twice.”
Edward restrained the perplex feeling from appearing on his face. What did his father mean by that?
“As you know, we once gathered to celebrate the engagement of my son, Jonathan, to the lovely Lady Evelyn. Unfortunately, that union was not to be. However, God has seen it fit to still bind the houses of Drakmore and Eventide through the marriage of our children.”
Rancor roiled inside of Edward. Could this day not have passed without the mention of his late brother’s name?
“Congratulations Edward and Evelyn. May your happiness last forever,” he declared. The room erupted in simultaneous agreement. Edward did his best to smile. Dinner proceeded.
The menu was vast. Edward could hardly keep track. In the end, he chose the beef wellington and vegetables – his favorite meal. He leaned closer to Evelyn. “Are you enjoying your meal?”
Evelyn nodded silently. “It is very good.”
“How have you been?”
“Well, thank you,” she replied. She cut her loin of pork and placed it in her mouth. It was so delicate that it could have been a dance.
“I have missed our talks,” he continued enthusiastically. “I look forward to resuming them.”
She smiled modestly. “We used to have nice talks.”
“The best,” he continued. “Remember the days we sat under the sun in the garden and talked about our hopes?”
“When Jonathan was at work,” she replied. The response seemed almost automatic. It pained him to hear it.
“Yes, while my brother was at work,” Edward confirmed.
“I am sorry, Edward. I did not mean…”
He shook his head dismissively and smiled. “There is no need to apologize. You speak the truth.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
“I am very glad to see you again,” he whispered. “It really has been too long.”
“I am sorry that we lost touch,” she replied. “I lost my way for a very long time,” she continued.
“And have you found it now?” he questioned. He had all but forgotten his meal. He only wanted to hear her speak to him. Her voice was the sweetest sound he had ever heard.
“You should eat,” she answered, instead of responding to his question. She cut another piece of pork and placed it into her mouth. Edward did as she suggested.
After dinner, the party gathered in the music room for entertainment. His stepmother sat at the pianoforte and enchanted the room with her elegant playing and melodic voice. Everyone seemed entranced, except for Andrew, who was conspicuously absent as ever. Evelyn, on the other hand, looked completely isolated, sitting alone on the small chaise in the far corner of the room.
Edward left his seat and walked toward his betrothed. “Would you take the air with me?” he asked.
Evelyn looked conflicted. “I am not sure…”
“There is nothing to be afraid of. We are engaged, and we are only going out onto the balcony. There is nothing clandestine about it. I assure you. You will be perfectly safe.” Edward extended his hand and waited for her to take it.
She bit her lip, and Edward smiled. She always did that when she was nervous. He found it charming. He always had. Finally, she placed her hand in his and allowed him to lead her out the French doors to the balcony.
Evelyn kept her distance as they stepped onto the balcony. Edward wished she come closer, but he understood her reticence. She still loved Jonathan. She had always loved him.
One day, my sweet Evelyn, you will forget about my brother. You will remember only my love for you. You have always been the dearest thing to me. If only I had dared to tell you before.
“You look like a girl again,” he said as she turned to her. His palms lay flat against the cold surface of the stone balcony wall. He had to do so, or else he feared he might reach out to touch her, and he did not want to alarm her. Evelyn was not ready to receive his affection.
“A girl?” she questioned.
“Don’t you remember? When our family traveled to the Lake Country that summer? You were seventeen then,” he commented. “You wore a green dress, similar to this one.”
Evelyn frowned slightly, then her forehead smoothed as she remembered. “Yes,” she said with a more cheerful smile. “It was the summer Andrew fell into the lake and almost gave the Duchess a heart attack.”
“Yes,” Edward chuckled. “We had to fish him out, like a trout.”
“He was always getting into mischief,” she continued. “He has always been such a spirited young man.” She turned and met his gaze. “How did you remember that?” she questioned.
Edward’s smile broadened. “I remember everything concerning you,” he answered.
He could see the confusion on Evelyn’s face. She did not understand. She did not know.
“Because I have always loved you, Evelyn,” he answered. “From the day I first saw you until this moment. I have loved only you.”
It was the night before her wedding, and Evelyn was restless. The meal at dinner had no taste. The music Geneviève played was flat to her ears, despite the young woman’s very skillful playing. It was as if the world had gone grey around her.
She trudged to her chamber, and Geneviève followed her. The young woman would be spending the night in her room, a custom her mother insisted upon, given they were spending the night at Eventide. She did not wish Edward to see her before the wedding day.
Once in her room, Geneviève helped Evelyn undress. She stood like a doll as Geneviève moved her limbs. She felt so weak and tired. Lost.
Geneviève helped her into her nightgown, and still, Evelyn could not find the strength to help her.
She turned to her companion and replied weakly. “Yes?”
“Why do you marry when you are so unhappy?” she asked sadly. “Forgive my forwardness, but I think this marriage will make you sadder.”
Evelyn gave her friend a small smile. “I have a duty to my family,” she replied.
“What of your happiness?” Geneviève asked.
Evelyn walked to the bed and sat upon the edge. “I was happy once. Truly and sincerely happy,” she answered. “That time is gone. I have to accept what is.”
Geneviève kneeled before her and took her hand. “Evelyn, you can be happy again. Happiness does not come but once in a lifetime,” she assured.
“Love does,” Evelyn replied.
Geneviève shook her head gently. “Not even that. My father was married once before he met my mother. If love could not come more than once, then I would not be here. My father had no children from his first union. I am his second child by my mother.”
Evelyn looked at her friend. She wished she was right, but her heart could not accept it. The only love for her was Jonathan Evers, and he would never come back to her. He was gone.
“We better get to bed,” Evelyn replied. Geneviève gave her a forlorn look but said nothing. She got to her feet, walked around the four-poster bed, and climbed in beside Evelyn.
The two women lay beside each other. Evelyn folded her hands over her stomach as she stared at the ceiling. Her life was going to change on the morrow. There was no stopping it.
Geneviève shifted in her place beside her. She knew the young woman had more to say, but she was too polite to press the subject. They had come to know each other a great deal in the past two years. She knew Geneviève’s temperament better than anyone did, and she understood her.
Everyone was thrilled about her marriage. Everyone but the two women in that room. Evelyn had tried to persuade herself to happiness, but it was useless. Geneviève only insisted she could be happy again if she would wait for love.
Time crept by, and still, Evelyn could not sleep. Her mind wandered to far-off places, to a time when there was someone who held her hand and touched her heart. Her hand reached for the locket that no longer adorned her neck.
The locket had been put away, but the memories of the man who had given it had not. Jonathan was always with her. He had left the world but lived in her heart every day. She rolled onto her side as she thought of their engagement party.
Pain filled her soul as she lay there, silently weeping. She missed Jonathan so much. She missed his smiles, their talks, the looks of love in his eyes. She missed the way he kissed her.
Evelyn prayed for the strength to endure the morrow’s wedding. The strength to be a good wife to Edward and to do her best to honor him. She hugged her pillow tightly as she cried herself to sleep. Her attempt to hide her tears were unsuccessful.
Geneviève’s arm wrapped around her shoulders in a gentle hug. “It will be all right, Evelyn. You will see. God will make it right.”
Evelyn sat at her dresser, her expression stoic despite the anxiety beating in her breast. Geneviève stood behind her, helping her get ready. Her mother was also there to oversee every step the young woman was taking. Her mother wanted everything to be perfect.
“Geneviève, would you hurry. We will be late at the rate you are going,” her mother commented. She began to pace immediately, her hands wringing in front of her.
“I am sorry, Madam,” Geneviève replied. She quickened her pace.
“Mama, please do calm down. Everything will be well,” she replied. She meant to convince her mother as much as herself. She looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her blonde hair was in large curls that framed her face. The back was twisted and braided into a bun, and Geneviève was still putting everything in place.
Everything will be all right, Evelyn. You can do this. You must do this. Strength.
Evelyn almost jumped when a knock resounded at the door. Her father’s level voice followed soon after. “Evelyn, dear, it is time.”
Her heart quickened. It was too soon. She was not yet ready. Her mind was still thinking of escape.
“Do you see? Your father is here,” her mother interjected, flustered. She rushed to the door and opened it. “Your daughter is not ready,” her mother informed as her father stepped into the room.
Her father smiled at her. “She looks ready to me,” he stated proudly. He walked to her side and kissed the top of her head. “You look lovely, my dear.”
“Thank you, Papa,” Evelyn replied hollowly.
Geneviève finished her hair. “C’est fini,” she exclaimed, with joy Evelyn knew was for her parents’ benefit.
Evelyn’s eyes met Geneviève’s in the mirror. She was sure the young woman knew her thoughts. She smiled at her, and Evelyn nodded as she remembered her words from the previous night.
God will make it right.
“Finally,” her mother replied. “Come along. The Reverend and the guests are waiting.”
Evelyn stood slowly, despite her mother’s urgent request. She did not want to do this. She turned to her father, her eyes pleading. He simply smiled at her.
Her mother smoothed the skirt of the expensive muslin and silk dress, which had been purchased from a fashionable shop in Paris. Evelyn wanted everything simple. The dress had no special adornments, and she wore no veil, but a thick ribbon about her head. Her bouquet was of snapdragons. Geneviève placed it in her hand as she stepped toward her father.
“Come, my girl. Your husband awaits you.”
Evelyn slipped her arm into her father’s and allowed him to escort her. She felt numb. Her heart was beating, but she could not feel it. She felt nothing but empty. Evelyn resisted the urge to cry.
The large stateroom of Eventide had been transformed. Garlands of flowers decorated the large mantle over the fireplace. Large candle stands illuminated the room further, and rows of gold-colored velvet chairs filled the space. A long red carpet lined the aisle, and at the head, Reverend Allum stood in his black robes. Beside him stood Edward.
Evelyn squeezed her father’s arm as they stood in the doorway. He patted it lightly. “Soon, you will be a bride. You make me proud,” her father whispered to her. Her heart sank.
The music began to play. A small orchestra had been acquired for the occasion, and their cost was well worth it, as the melodious tune filled the room. The guests stood and turned to look at her. Her father took a step forward.
Evelyn forced herself to walk. Her legs felt weak. Her palms were sweating, and she felt sick. Still, she continued. The few feet to the top of the aisle felt like a crossing of The Channel. Finally, they met Edward.
Edward was smiling brightly as she met him. She wished she could reciprocate, but she could not. Her father placed her hand in her betrothed, and Evelyn closed her eyes briefly.
Jonathan’s face flashed before her eyes. She could see his tall, handsome figure before her as if it were yesterday. She could remember every wonderful moment that they shared. Moments she never had with Edward. She never wanted.
It should be you, Jonathan. I should be standing here with you. Your face smiling at me. My hand in yours. Our lives becoming one. Not Edward. Please, forgive me, my love. My heart will always be yours.
Why did this have to be? Why had Jonathan lost his life when he was so young and strong? Why had her parents arranged this marriage? It was hard enough to marry, but to marry Jonathan’s brother was torture. She knew Edward; she loved him as a brother, but not more.
You cannot control fate, Evelyn. There is nothing to be done but to accept what is. Jonathan is dead. He will never return to you, and the decision has been made. You will marry Edward. It is too late to retract the promise made. You must see it through.
Her breath quickened as they turned to the Reverend. She heard the guests sit behind them. Reverend Allum, who was a tall and stocky man, raised his chin and declared. “Dearly beloved. We are gathered this day to witness the union of Evelyn Theodora Pritchett to Edward Vance Evers.”
Jonathan. Not Edward. Jonathan.
Evelyn could not bear to listen as the priest continued with the ceremony. Her face remained placid. She spoke when she was called to, but there was no feeling in her voice. It did not even sound like her own.
It was as if she was possessed by some alternate version of herself. It was that version that was performing the act of marriage when the true Evelyn hid within herself, crying out for someone to help her escape.
She dared to glance over her shoulder at the smiling faces of their guests. Everyone she knew was there. Her mother had forgotten no one. She saw to that. If she tried to run away, it would embarrass both her family and the Evers before all of their acquaintances.
Stop your foolish thinking, girl.
Evelyn returned her gaze to the reverend, but on the way, she was met by Edward’s delighted expression. Her heart was stricken by it. He was a good man, honorable, and in love with her, but she could not share the sentiment. She did not love him, and she could not say she ever would.
You deserve better, Edward. You deserve to marry a woman who loves you as much as I loved Jonathan.
Evelyn tried to force a smile onto her face but found it impossible. Instead, she met the austere gaze of the reverend as he continued the ceremony.
“I require, and charge you, as ye will answer on that dreadful Day of Judgment when the secrets of all hearts will be disclosed, that if there be any impediment why these two persons may not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it,” Reverend Allum declared.
The declaration seemed to reverberate throughout the room, and Evelyn found herself wishing someone would speak up. It was a futile wish. There was no cause for them not to wed, only her singular desire.
Suddenly, the sound of heavy running footfalls echoed from the hall before the doors swung open, and a booming voice cried out, “I object!”
The startled murmur of the room at the unexpected intrusion could hardly overshadow the thudding relief in Evelyn’s heart. She looked up at the figure in the door, and immediately that beating was arrested.
There, standing in the glowing light from the corridor window, was a man, a familiar man whose face had lost nearly all its color, distorted from the fatigue.
“What is the meaning of this?” Reverend Allum demanded. Evelyn blinked rapidly; sure that her eyes were playing tricks on her. Was this an apparition? Everyone around her seemed to have a hard time recognizing the man as well.
“I have an objection,” a ragged yet familiar voice answered.
Shrieks came from some of the women standing closer to him. Evelyn remained speechless. It was a ghost. It had to be. It could not be him.
He is dead. What game is my mind playing on me?
Evelyn’s head began to spin. Her heart galloped like a horse on derby day, and suddenly, her knees felt weak.
It cannot be. It cannot be.
“Jonathan,” she breathed in realization as the world fell into darkness around her.
The horse could not ride fast enough. The only thing Jonathan Evers wanted to see was home. A long time had passed since his ill-fated voyage to the Pacific, but that was over now. He was once again on English soil.
When Eventide came into view, Jonathan’s heart leaped in his chest, and he kicked harder into his horse’s flanks. He was almost there.
The horse slid to a halt outside the large doors of the great estate, and Jonathan leaped from its back. The groom, who was standing upon the stairs, fell over in shock at the sight of him.
“My Lord, Jonathan? Is that really you, Sir?” the bewildered man questioned.
“It is, my good man. Tell me, where is my father?” Jonathan asked as he laid a hand on the man’s shoulder to help him up.
“He is at the wedding, My Lord. Lord Edward and Lady Evelyn’s wedding.”
Words could not describe the feeling that sank into Jonathan’s stomach at the news. He had immediately demanded to know where the ceremony was taking place, and when informed it was at Eventide itself, he bounded into the house with only one thought.
Now, he was sitting in the drawing-room of his family home, surrounded by shocked and questioning people while Evelyn lay upstairs.
“How can this be?” his stepmother exclaimed as she sat upon the chaise nearest to him. She held his hand tearfully. “How can you be alive?”
“We were told you were dead,” his father said in disbelief. “They searched. They said no one could be found. No one could survive,” he continued.
“I did,” Jonathan said quietly.
“Yes,” his father replied. “Yes, you did,” he continued as joyful tears rolled down his cheeks. A moment later, Jonathan was being pulled from his seat into his father’s arms. “You are alive,” he cried. “My son is home.”
Jonathan’s arms were limp as he stood in his father’s embrace. Slowly, he raised his arms and hugged him back. Relief and joy washed over him. He had longed to see their faces again and feel their embraces. Now, he had them again, but everything was different.
“Where have you been?” Andrew asked. “Why did not you tell us you were alive?”
“I could not,” Jonathan answered. “There was no communication with the civilized world.”
“Where were you?” his father questioned. “What kind of place was this that you could not send word to us for so long?”
Jonathan stepped away from his father. He looked at the man to whom he bore a remarkable resemblance, with their brown hair and blue eyes. He could not answer him.
The image of fires burning and men screaming out in a foreign tongue filled his memories. Then there was running, while men with raised weapons followed him. Jonathan closed his eyes against the memory.
“It is not important now,” he answered. “I am here.”
“Not important?” his father repeated. “You have been gone for two years. I want to know what happened.”
“Yes, Jonathan. What happened?” Evelyn’s father questioned. Others soon followed. They all wanted answers, but Jonathan could not give them what he wanted. He could not tell them what he’d seen.
What Jonathan had endured on that island, he would never dare speak of to anyone. It was all he could do to try to wipe the memory of the place from his mind.
“How did you return to us?” Evelyn’s aunt questioned. “Why did you not send word of your arrival?”
Jonathan sighed. He strode across the room. He needed to put some space between himself and those questioning him. “A ship stopped at the island to gather materials to repair their sails. I happened to see it and was able to bargain my way on as a passenger.”
“Who were they?” Andrew asked.
Jonathan turned to his brother. He had grown so much in the past two years. He still looked like a boy, but there were the beginnings of a man to be seen in his face.
“They were sailors from Portugal. Fortunately, I was able to find one amongst them who spoke English, and who was able to help me. They left me at the nearest British port, where I was able to book passage back. I wrote to you then.”
“We never received your letters,” his father replied.
Jonathan nodded. “It is of no consequence. My journey home was a good one. My fellow countrymen informed me of some of the things I missed while I was gone. It was good to be amongst people who spoke my language.” He smiled weakly.
“What of the island? What was that like?” Andrew asked curiously.
Jonathan’s heart began to race immediately.
“It was an island,” he answered.
“Yes, but what was it like?” Andrew insisted. “The people, what did they look like? What type of culture?”
Jonathan forced a polite smile on his face. “Like any other tribal people,” he replied vaguely. “I’d rather not speak of that now. I want to know about you. How have you been? All of you.”
It was a veiled attempt at changing the subject, but it worked. The moment he opened the floor for others to speak, they quickly began to tell him of all of the delights their lives had undergone in the time he was gone.
One-by-one, he listened, but nothing was penetrating. His mind was above stairs, to where Evelyn lay. In what condition, he did not know.
The only person who did not speak was Edward. Unlike the rest of his family, Edward had not joined them in the drawing-room. Instead, he was where Jonathan wished to be.
At Evelyn’s side.
What had he done? He had acted on impulse, not considering the repercussions of his rash decision. If Evelyn and Edward were in love, what right had he to stop them?
They are obviously in love. He is with her now. They were about to be wed. Of course, they are in love.
The thought saddened him.
The only thing that got him through those two long years apart was the thought of Evelyn. The image of her dressed in white, the last time he saw her, was indelible in his mind. It was the vision that kept him going. The hope of her.
He had survived for her. Now, she was gone. She was to be another man’s. His brother’s. The love he had held on to as a life ring, the love he was sure was forever, was gone. She had moved on without him. Everyone had.
“Jonathan?” his stepmother’s voice interrupted his thoughts. She smiled up at him. “You have traveled a long way to come back to us. You must be tired.”
“I am,” he confirmed. More tired than he could express.
“Yes. Why do you not go to your room and rest? The servants would have prepared everything by now. What of your belongings? When will they arrive?” his father questioned.
“I have none,” Jonathan answered. “I lost everything in the shipwreck.”
“Of course. How silly of me,” his father replied. He strode toward him and patted Jonathan’s shoulder. “Get some rest. There will be plenty of time for us all to become reacquainted tomorrow. I will follow you in a while.”
Jonathan smiled. “You are right.” He looked around the room at the staring, surprised, and elated faces. He knew there were many questions yet to be asked, but that was all for now. Tomorrow, the questioning would begin again, and there would be some that would remain unanswered.
“Goodnight,” Jonathan announced as he nodded to the room.
“Goodnight,” the chorus came as his closest family and friends answered.
“I will have Martha escort you,” his father suggested.
Jonathan raised a hand. “That will not be necessary, Father. I think I remember the way.”
His father smiled. “Of course.”
Jonathan’s mind was full as he stalked the halls and up the stairs to his chamber. How had his letters gone astray? Why had they not been received? Had he done the right thing?
Should I have turned about and left? Should I have let the wedding happen? How could I spoil the happiness of my brother and Evelyn?
He was unsure which room Evelyn was situated in until he spotted Edward standing outside the door with a concerned expression on his face. He met his brother’s troubled gaze.
“Edward,” he said.
“Jonathan,” his brother replied.
Jonathan stepped closer, his eyes turning to the door where Evelyn was cloistered. “How is she?”
“I do not know. She has had quite a shock. We all have,” Edward replied. “Her mother and Geneviève are taking care of her.”
“Who?” Jonathan asked.
“Geneviève Tremblay. She is Evelyn’s companion.”
“I did not know Evelyn had a companion,” Jonathan replied.
“She joined the family shortly after your departure,” Edward informed. “She has been with Evelyn since that day.”
Jonathan nodded. He did not know so much – too much. He wondered how long it would take him to become aware of it all.
“I was going to my room,” Jonathan informed as the tense silence groaned between them.
“You should go. I imagine you must be tired after your journey,” Edward replied.
Jonathan’s jaw clenched. “Tell Evelyn I wish her well.”
“I will be sure to tell my fiancée,” Edward replied. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” Jonathan replied tensely.
The urge to hit something was overwhelming by the time Jonathan reached his room. He stalked the room. How had this happened? Why had this happened? He sat upon the edge of the bed and held his head in his hands.
There was a knock at his door sometime later. Jonathan looked up as his father asked to enter. “Come in,” he replied. Jonathan got to his feet.
“No need to stand,” his father replied. “Please, sit.”
Jonathan returned to his position while his father sat beside him. Both men looked at the opposite wall quietly. Jonathan could not fathom what his father was thinking, but he knew what was on his mind – Evelyn.
“This must all be a shock to you,” his father said gently. “Things are not as you left.”
“A little,” Jonathan replied.
“I expect more than a little,” his father continued.
Jonathan looked at him wordlessly. “What happened?”
His father hung his head. “After the news of your death reached us, we mounted a search. We looked for months, but there was no sign of you. Eventually, we had to accept your death,” his father explained.
“Then as was befitting. Your brother, Edward, became my heir. All of your titles and lands were given to him.”
“And Evelyn?” Jonathan asked.
“Yes, Evelyn,” his father replied solemnly. “She mourned you for a very long time. She refused to believe you were dead.” His father looked at him. “We feared for her. Her melancholy was so great her parents feared she might join you in the grave.”
“Did she become Edward’s bride?” his father finished. “Her father came to me, seeking a solution. He thought a happy marriage would awaken her from her sadness. She was to marry my heir…”
“So you decided to give her to him?” Jonathan bellowed as he jumped to his feet. His hands were balled into tight fists at his side. “You decided that in order to forget me, she should marry my brother?”
“Calm yourself,” his father replied as he got to his feet. He raised a calming hand in Jonathan’s direction.
“You gave him everything that was mine,” he retorted. “My title. My position. Even the woman I love! Did you forget me so easy? Was I so easy to replace?” he accused.
“No, of course not,” his father assured. “None of us forgot you.”
“You just carried on without me, pushing me aside for Edward,” he continued to rant.
“Jonathan,” his father said sternly. “I did what was right to do. I know now that it presents somewhat of a problem, given you are alive, but it is nothing that cannot be remedied.”
“Remedied?” Jonathan said incredulously. “You expect this can easily be remedied? My brother has always wanted to take my place. Do you think he will give it up now that he has it?”
His father looked at him sadly. “He is your brother,” he replied. “I must be fair to you both.”
Jonathan shook his head and turned his back. “Could you leave me, Father?”
He heard his father sigh. “If you wish. Perhaps with some rest, you will be in a better temperament. Sleep well, my son.”
Jonathan did not answer. He stood his ground as his father left the room. Edward had taken everything. What was left for him?
”An Enduring Love for the Lost Marquess” is now live on Amazon!