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An American girl Romance Part 1

By Jean Bush

Adventure / Romance

Chapter 1

"I have to go, Lissie," Ben was saying. He was edging toward a door beyond which lay darkness and mist.

"No, You can't!" Felicity begged frantically, trying to run to him and stop him from going out into the blackness, but her legs were numb and wouldnt work. The best she could do was twitch.

"I must," he told her solemnly. "My time has come."

"Ben, NO! What about me? Don't leave me, don't!"

"Goodbye, Lissie. I won't forget you." And with that, he turned and vanished into the fog and darkness, far out of her reach.

Panic and despair welled up in her chest. She tried to call out for him but her voice wouldnt work, either. Ben, no, come back, please! You'll be killed! You-

Eleven-year old Felicity Merriman jerked herself awake with a gasp, prompting her mother to ask, "Why, Felicity! What on earth were you dreaming about just now?"

Felicity blinked, suddenly embarrassed. Across from her in the carriage, Mother was peering at her curiously, as was her younger sister Nan, who had been playing "finger-grab" with baby Polly in Mother's arms.

She swallowed, despite a suddenly dry throat. "I-I'm not sure."

Nan grinned teasingly, "Well, you were twitching like a cat about to pounce!"

Felicity blushed.

"'Tis best you woke, for we are almost home now," Mother told her, changing Polly from one arm crook to the other.

"We're back in Williamsburg?" Felicity asked hopefully.

"Aye. And soon we shall see your father."

Felicity nodded and rested back against her seat. Beside her, her little brother William dozed off and on, as she herself had done, lulled to sleep by the rocking carriage. She smiled at William, seeing his head nod, then turned to gaze out the window on her right. Familiar scenery rolled by, bright and green in the early summer sun. She spotted familiar homes and buildings. They would be home very soon and they'd be able to have supper with Father.
And Ben.

The fear and despair she'd felt in the dream was still with her. She still felt shaken up inside and it was difficult to ease. It was not the first disturbing dream she'd had about Ben, her father's apprentice and her very good friend. In the night, she'd been woken by a dream where he'd been shot and was dying, and she hadnt been able to get back to sleep afterward.

They had left Grandfather's plantation early, because Mother wanted to be back in Williamsburg with Father, who was especially busy with the store, what with government officials bustling about town. Felicity was depressed about having to leave King's Creek so soon, as summer had just begun, but Mother promised they could return again before fall, which made leaving tolerable.
She had been previously depressed about discovering her new friend, Mr. Haskall, was a British spy, and she'd had to turn him in for it. On top of that, at dinner yesterday evening, Mr. Tate, the plantation's overseer, went on about how the Continental Army was seriously lacking in uniforms, food, and supplies, which in turn reminded her that Ben would be leaving to join the army when he turned eighteen in September.

Of course she'd been worried about what would happen to him once he went to war, but he'd been on her mind a lot lately, for reasons she couldnt understand, and only when she caught herself smiling as she thought of him did she wonder what in tarnation was getting into her.
Was it a fancy? Was she beginning to fancy Ben Davidson?

Felicity felt her face turn hot and quickly glanced at Nan and Mother. They were both too busy trying to get Polly to laugh, so they hadnt seen her blush.
Am I starting to fancy Ben? she wondered, feeling dizzy. Of course he's my friend and I care about him, but...what is this? If it was just a fancy, I'd be silly and stupid, like Annabelle Cole, and I am NOT like Bananabelle Cole!
Do I...dare I even think it?...I'm only eleven!...but I am not a child. Could it be possible...that-that I LOVE him?

Love? Felicity Merriman stared down at her hands in her lap, but she was seeing Benjamin Davidson's face in her mind. Ben, who was soon to leave to become a soldier, possibly be killed. Ben, who shared her secrets and taught her to whistle and fish and fly kites. Ben, who had chocolate brown hair, warm brown eyes and a grin so irresistable it made her feel like-
Whoosh! Was it actually, humanly possible for one's heart to flip over within the confines of one's chest? Felicity absently smoothed the yellow fabric of her gown. 'Twas a miracle of God she could maintain the appearance of drowsiness while her insides were as jittery as rabbits!

But yet she couldn't find much happiness in such a giddy feeling. He was leaving soon. He might not come back. He was 17. She was 11. He wouldn't think of her as anything more than a sister. She wasn't even old enough to be courted.
A wave of dizziness washed over her. Felicity squeezed her eyes shut and fisted her hands. What on earth was wrong with her? Was this what it felt like to love a boy? Nervous, exciting, and ... weakening?

"We're home!" Nan blurted loudly and suddenly, prompting Felicity to jump and snap her eyes open again.

"You're loud-mouthed, Nan," William grumbled sleepily, rubbing his eyes. He leaned against Felicity, who put an arm around his small shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze.

"Well we are!" Nan protested. "Look, there's Ben!"
Felicity looked.

The tall, slender, teenage Ben was coming to the gate as the carriage pulled up and came to a gentle halt. He was grinning as he peered in at them. Mrs. Merriman was the first out, with Polly in one arm and her hand taken by Ben so he could assist her down.

"Sorry your trip was so short, ma'am," he said to her. "But Mr. Merriman is very glad to have all of you home here in Williamsburg."

"As we are glad to be home with him!" Mrs. Merriman told him cheerfully. "He is still at the store, now, is he not?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Ah...then perhaps I have time to make a pie..."

Ben grinned with enthusiasm. "We would all like that, ma'am!"

Suddenly Nan rushed past them, eager to be stretching her legs, and behind her William came, calling, "Nan! Wait for me!" The two laughing children ran about the yard in circles, which was their newest game-making themselves dizzy then falling down. Mrs. Merriman smiled and shook her head.

"At least they'll be too dizzy to get into trouble. Ben, dear, will you help David with the trunk? Then you and Lissie come in for something refreshing to drink."

"Yes, ma'am."

The carriage's remaining occupant poked her red head out. Ben offered his hand to Felicity to help her down, and she took it gratefully, for she still felt swimmy-headed and unsteady. "Good afternoon, Ben," she said, forcing cheerfulness. Combined with her light-headedness, the sight of Ben made her nervous and giddy at the same time. The brief, warm grip of his hand made the butterflies in her gut go mad.

"Good afternoon, yourself!" said Ben, his grin widening. "'Tis good to have you back. I wanted to tell you that was a really brave thing you did, turning in that spy Mr. Haskall. You're a brave patriot girl, Felicity Merriman."

"Thank you, Ben," she replied tiredly. "I couldn't have done it without your help in convincing Father to come. But I'm just glad it's over."

David, the carriage driver, was beginning to unfasten the Merriman's trunk from it's platform at the rear, so Ben went to help. Also tethered to the rear of the carriage was Penny and Patriot, to whom Felicity went. The two horses, mother and foal, pushed their noses at their mistress.

"Looks like those two are glad to be home." Ben said, helping David lift the trunk down. "Wait a moment and I'll get Patriot."

Felicity smiled mildly, watching Ben and David carry the trunk into the house. Ben didn't look any different today than he usually did-everyday work clothes, brown hair back in it's queue-and yet he looked appealing to her in a way that made her feel tingly inside. Handsome, yes, but...a rush of heat swept over her that had nothing to do with it being summer.

"Hungry, Penny-girl?" she asked the beautiful copper-colored mare she was standing beside. "Bet you're tired from all the travelling, huh?" Felicity needed a distraction. She felt young Patriot's black nose tickeling her ponytail.

Then another wave hit her. One of dizziness again, making her utter a small sound of weariness and lean against Penny's strong neck.

"Okay there, Lissie?"

Felicity jumped. Ben had returned. He was staring at her curiously. He waved to David as the older man started the carriage away then took hold of Partiot's halter.

She waved too, and said to Ben," Oh, I'm fine. I just didn't get much sleep last night. 'Twas rather warm in the house."

"Oh." The two of them started walking toward the barn with the horses.

"So, how are things at the store?" she asked him pleasantly, doing her best to think about something other than having affections for Ben. As if it were even possible now.

Ben was rather talkative. "Busy! It seems like we just can't keep sugar and rum on the shelves. A few British soldiers come and go, more often than usual, but they get on well with your father."

"'Tis hard not to like Father!" Felicity said jovially.

"Aye," Ben agreed, grinning (the butterflies in Felicity's stomach took fit) "And it seems that Lady Templeton has had some of her family arrive from England for awhile-her sister and nephew, I believe-I hear her sister's husband passed away and her sister is quite distraught."

Felicity couldn't help but grin at Ben's gossip. "And from whom did you hear all this news?"

Ben laughed. "From Lady Templeton herself! She came into the store this week in desperate need of sugar and flour. She claimed the only consolation her sister Prudence will accept is sweets."

"Ah," Felicity sighed, as they entered the barn with the horses. "If only the woes of the world could be solved with sweets."

"Then soldiers would be too fat to fight!" Ben exclaimed with a chuckle. He grinned broadly at Felicity's un-ladylike laughter. Patriot eagerly followed his mama into the stall they shared, where it was cool and fresh hay awaited them.

Felicity latched the stall door securely then turned to Ben. "Speaking of soldiers, I suppose you're excited for September to come."

"Aye, I am indeed." He folded his arms across his chest and looked grave. "I'll finally be able to be a part of our fight for freedom."

"Then you're probably unable to think of anything but-oh!" A wave of dizziness so sudden and sharp took her by surprise so that she fell back against the stall door to brace herself.

"Lissie?" Ben stepped forward and grabbed her shoulders. "What is it, what's wrong?"

For a brief moment, her tongue felt numb and she couldnt form words. Ben's brown eyes were wide with fear and concern. Then she blurted out,"Fine...I'm fine." She swallowed uncertainly. "I told you, I didn't sleep well last night. My balance is off because of it. Why, I could fall asleep standing up!"

"I think you almost did!" Ben said worriedly. He gently released her shoulders. "Perhaps I should go fetch your mother..."

"No, Ben, there's no need." Felicity sighed, missing the grip of his hands upon her. "Mother knows I had a difficult night. It'll pass, 'tis nothing!" And then she felt uncomfortable under his scrutinizing gaze, so she moved from the stall door, nudged his arm as she went by. "Let's go get something to drink, I'm thirsty."


She glanced over her shoulder. "I can't wait to see Father! If you don't mind, I'd like to walk back to the store with you."

"Sure!" Ben hurried to catch up. "If you're sure you're okay."

"If I told you that I would enjoy a fishing lesson right now, would you believe me?"

A relieved grin crossed his face. "Aye, I believe you!"

But as they headed toward the house, Felicity could feel his eyes upon her, and she wasn't sure if she should feel nervous, glad, or self-conscious. Was loving Ben making her sick? Was she so worried about him being killed that it was affecting her own health? One night of very little sleep was turning her life upside down!

Felicity's walk to the store with Ben was pleasant and dizziness-free. The streets were full of people, on horse, foot, and in carriages. Some were familiar faces who nodded to them or wished them good day. It did not occur to either one of them that all who saw them thought that they made an attractive young couple.

As they approached the store, Ben had just finished telling her about a big, black muscular horse that a customer, Mr. Haverty, had purchased for farming, when they both saw a rather short young man slip on the steps to Father's store, and go down on his rump, swearing.

With Ben stifiling a chuckle, they rushed forward to help.

"All right there, sir?" Ben asked, reaching for one of the young man's flailed arms.

"Yes, yes, do release me, will you? There are too many steps to this blasted store!" He had an English accent, was clad in rather well-to-do grey velvet, and appeared to be of Ben's age, with already thinning hair pulled back in a very tidy queue.

Grinning, Ben let him go.

"This establishment doesn't even sell tea, for God's -" The man broke off, squinting up against the sun at the girl standing over him.

Though Felicity wore a sunhat, the light still illuminated her red hair from behind, casting an auburn glow about her. She smelled of lavender. Curious eyes the color of the finest emeralds peered down at him under dark lashes.
She was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen in his life.

"Can you get up, sir?" Felicity asked him, grasping his other arm.

"Yes, I-you are-my goodness," he stammered, gawking at her. She held his arm as he scrambled to his feet, not blinking even once as he did so. "Th-Thank you, young miss, I-I am...obliged. I am... at your service, yes."

The young man's voice had a high pitch to it, a nervous sound, and he spoke fast. Ben noted that the heels of the man's shoes were high and elaborately embroidered, as was his rich clothing. A Loyalist, no doubt, Ben thought. A Loyalist fop!

Felicity smiled courteously and picked up something on the ground, but the man was not concerned with that. He was staring at Felicity as if he'd never seen a girl before.
"Your hat, sir," she said.

"Pardon?" He was mesmerized by her eyes. So like an angel's!

"Your hat." Felicity handed it to him gently. "Do take care, sir."

The young man's head and widened but beady hazel eyes followed Felicity as she followed Ben up the steps. He saw the boy with brown hair that had offered to help him up first turn and say something to the beautiful girl, who giggled, then the two disappeared into Merriman's store.

He hadn't even asked her name! He continued gaping at the store enterance as if he expected the girl-no, the angel, to re-emerge. So young, so angellically beautiful...

"Sir?" panted a tall, grey-haired gent. As well-dressed as the stunned young man to whom he was referring, the older man jogged up and wheezed. "I saw you fall and-"gasp"-and as I was attending your mother's parcels-"wheeze"-I could not come to your aid, sir, I do appol-"

The young man waved him silent, still staring at the entrance to the store. "Never mind that, Smedley. I am fine, as you can see."

The older man looked bewildered as he clutched at the stitch in his side. "But sir-"

"Be silent! Can't you see I'm contemplating, old man?"

Contemplating what? The confused butler/footman/confidant stared at his young master as if trying to work a puzzle with a tired mind. "Do excuse me, sir, but your mother is quite tired and insisting on getting back. This heat does not do any of us well." Smedley withdrew a hankerchief from his coat pocket and dabbed at his high forhead. "She requires a foot-soak, my lord."

"Does she now," the young man murmured, his gaze still unbroken. "If mama is going to endure a lengthy visit here, she will have to adapt to this wretched weather like the rest of us." Finally, he turned to stare at his servant."There's something I must do."

Going up the steps of the store, Ben had whispered to Felicity under his breath, "That was Lady Templeton's nephew!"

Felicity giggled. "He's awfully short!"

"He reminds me of a turtle," Ben told her. "A Loyalist fop-turtle!"

Felicity snickered wickedly, much to Ben's amusement, as they entered the store. Their good-humor was short-lived, however, for an all-too familiar girl's voice squeaked loudly. "Ben, there you are!"

Every head in the store turned toward Annabelle Cole, rushing over to Ben, who sighed warily and stepped behind the counter, looking pained.

"I need your assistance in choosing some thread, " Annabelle told him, fluttering her eye lashes."Do show me your spools!"

"But you have seen all the spools Mr. Merriman has," Ben replied tiredly. "Numerous times this month."

Annabelle giggled airily, and began to go on about how a girl could never have too much thread. Felicity frowned... hard. Suddenly, she felt an intensely burning flame spring to life in her chest, and she wanted more than anything to very quickly shove Annabelle out the store and down the steps. The older girl had no intention of inspecting thread. Annabelle was here to inspect Ben.

For quite some time, Annabelle had made a habit of coming into the store to flirt with Ben, using any little excuse to do so. Many times Felicity and Annabelle's younger sister Elizabeth had teased Annabelle about it, but Bananabelle, as the two girls called her, was determined not to be disuaded in her misssion to get Ben to court her.

As if Ben would be interested in such a snobby, self-centered priss-pot like her, Felicity thought seethingly. And she's a Loyalist on top of that! No way would Ben ever...would he?

Ben didn't look too happy as he plucked out spool after spool of thread for Annabelle to look at, but Annabellle wasn't looking at them. She was fixed on Ben and smiling flirtatiously, giggling and batting her eyelashes.
Felicity wanted to wretch.If she even DARES think she'll ever win Ben's affections I'll take her by that mousy brown hair of hers and-

"Oh Felicity!" Elizabeth exclaimed, interrupting Felicity's savage thoughts as she came to her friend's side, looking harassed. "I'm ever so relieved you're back! Do you know that Annabelle has dragged me in here every day for a week just to look at nick-nacks and annoy poor Ben? She doesn't even buy anything! I'm so embarassed I can't even look your father in the eye! But your father is truly kind-I think he knows why Bananabelle keeps coming in, and he always gives me a sympathetic look, but I hate that she does this-Lissie, are you all right? You look... like you could absolutely explode!"

Felicity herself hadn't realized just how hard she'd been glaring at Annabelle's back. Now she had a headache! She rubbed absently at her temples with both hands and said, "Oh, sorry, Elizabeth! I was just...thinking"

"Thinking about a way to tease Bananabelle, I hope!" Elizabeth said cheerfully in her delightful English accent. "She desperately needs to be put in her place!" She grasped Felicity's closest hand. "I know you and your family weren't gone very long to your grandfather's plantation, but Williamsburg is so lonely without you! I've been so bored that a jaunt to the privvy is the only excitement I get!"

This seemed to rouse Felicity from her ferocious stupor. She laughed, even snorted, despite her slightly pounding headache. She turned to Elizabeth and gave her dear friend a hug. "Oh Elizabeth, I missed you, too! I'm sorry she makes you come down here to stand and wait while she makes a fool of herself. Father is very understanding."

"Aye, he is. Now what shall we do about Bananabelle today?"

Felicity cast the elder Cole sister an irritated look, and a weariness washed over her. She sighed submissively. "Nothing, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth gaped. "Nothing? Lissie... are you well?"

"I'm not sure," Felicity muttered softly. "I didn't get much sleep last night. But I think I've just realized something."

"What? Tell me!" Elizabeth grabbed her arm.

Felicity's tired green eyes met Elizabeth's concerned blue ones. "Teasing Annabelle just doesn't work. As many times as she ends up humiliated she just doesn't quit. Please don't hate me, Elizabeth, but I must say she just isn't worth the time and effort anymore."

Elizabeth searched her friend's face and found only resignation. "I know, Felicity," she said finally, gently, "I know. I'm afraid it will take something serious to make Annabellle see reason. And no, I don't hate you, Lissie. How could I? Especially when we share the same belief!"

"She is your sister," Felicity said.

"And she tends to be draining, does she not?" Elizabeth leaned her head against Felicity's. "Good God, Lissie, we are growing up."

Felicity smiled, leaned against her friend. "'Twas inevitable. Now whatever shall we do for entertainment?"

Elizabeth looked thoughtful. "I suppose there are always...boys."

"Elizabeth Cole!" exclaimed Felicity, snickering. "What a delightful suggestion!"

And then they heard Bananabelle purr, "I do plan on entering the beauty contest at the summer social coming up. Surely you'll come watch?"

Ben looked clearly uncomfortable. "Um, I plan to watch the wrestling match."
Felicity smirked.

"Oh, but surely you'll have time to come by and cheer for me, won't you?" She pouted flirtatiously.

Ben cast Felicity an undeniably helpless, pleading look. Right. That did it. Felicity squared her shoulders and strode over behind the counter to Ben's side and took the rack of thread spools from him. "Father needs you to open the crates in the back room. I'll take over here."

The look of relief that crossed Ben's youthfully handsome face was indescribable. Annabelle folded her arms over her chest tightly, and, glaring at Felicity, snapped, "Ben was helping me just fine, thank you. Why don't you run along and play, little Felicity?"

"Because this is my father's store, and now that I'm back I fully intend to be helping out alot around here," she snapped back. Her intense green eyes locked with Annabelle's blazing brown ones. "Go ahead, Ben. Thread is more of a woman's area of expertise, anyway. It does not take all day to figure out what color goes with...whatever."

Behind the fuming Annabelle, Elizabeth grinned.

Ben didn't need to be told twice. Passing Felicity's back he uttered a muffled, "Thanks," before hurrying off to Mr. Merriman's counting room.

Annabelle, who hadn't heard, opened her mouth to protest vehemently, but Elizabeth stepped forward and grabbed her sister's arm. "Let's go, Annabelle. I'm tired and getting hungry. I've practically memorized every item for sale in Mr. Merriman's store. Now, are you going to purchase thread or not?"

"Absolutely NOT!" Annabelle pouted angrily. "Not from your rude little friend, anyway. Let's DO go!"

Elizabeth and Felicity exchanged a grin. "See you tomorrow, Lissie," Elizabeth said quickly.

"Hopefully I'll see just you !" Felicity replied, watching them go. Smiling crookedly, she shook her head. No way was she going to let that snarky snob get her claws into Ben. Why, if it was the last thing she ever did-

"Ah, Felicity!" Mr. Merriman exclaimed, finally free of the talkative men he'd been assisting for some time. He came behind the counter and gave his eldest child a good strong hug. "My beautiful wild-child, tell me, how was the trip home?"

"Bumpy!" Felicity replied instantly. Though she didn't want to be called a child anymore, Father's warm smile and comforting presence made her feel at peace and secure as a child loved to feel. She yawned suddenly, clapped a hand over her mouth and tried without success to shake off the exhaustion that was threatening to overwhelm her. Again.

"What's this?" Mr. Merriman leaned back, studied her with playful, exaggerated expressions. "Not even evening yet, and my lively girl is yawning?"

"Oh, Father, I'm not tired!" Felicity tried to explain sweetly, but she knew her tired eyes were betraying her. "I simply didn't sleep well last night. 'Twas warm!" And that was the truth, but it wasn't the whole truth. She wasn't quite prepared on any level to say 'I think I love Ben and I'm so scared of losing him that it's making me sick!'

But Mr. Merriman laughed and said, "Well, there is a cure for that, and that's to sneak out to the kitchen for a cup of cool cider!" He gave Felicity's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "You'll sleep better tonight, for I believe we'll have a breeze. Your mother and sisters and brother well?"

"Aye! Mother wants to have a pie ready for supper-but I don't think I was supposed to tell you that..."

Mr. Merriman winked and grinned. "Then I shall act surprised. Especially if the pie is apple!"

A nervous face stuck itself out of the back room. Ben looked about the store for a moment, then emerged completely. He came over to Mr. Merriman and Felicity, who couldn't help but grin with amusement.

"There you are, Ben, " Mr. Merriman said pleasantly. "That fellow over there looks in need of assistence with the pipes. Be a good lad and help."

"Aye sir," Ben replied, with a measure of relief.

Mr. Merriman turned to Felicity. "And as for you, young miss, I'd like for you to go home and rest a bit."

" But Father, I'm fine, I want to stay at the store awhile, until you and-"

"Lissie, please." He took her gently by the shoulders and steered her out from behind the counter. "Tell your mother I'll be home directly, which I will, and that I gave you unbelievably strict orders to lie down awhile. I never did care for carriage rides, myself, either. They make me feel...wobbly."

Felicity giggled and gave in. As her father went to assist a woman at the fabric bolts, she cast Ben a 'See you later' look (he nodded back), and headed toward the as she was going out, a jittery young man was coming in. They bumped into one another, and Felicity immediately recognized him as the man who had fallen on his rump outside the store.

"Sorry, sir, I was unaware anyone was coming in!" It was her!

I-I-I'm sorry," he stammered, gawking at her. She was indeed a vision of angelic, youthful beauty. Eyes like the finest emeralds. Hair as red as a fiery sunset. Without a doubt, she'd be a glorious sight to behold as a woman, a time that was fast approaching. He gulped. "My manners are not what they should be, miss, so I pray you will-"

"Pardon," said a woman, the same woman Mr. Merriman had been helping moments earlier. She was carrying a load of parcels.

'Here, ma'am, let me get the door for you!" Felicity quickly stepped outside and held the door open for the woman.

"Oh, bless you, child, that's nice of you!"

The young man was left standing just inside the door, gawking and gaping at Felicity leaving. Just like that, she was gone. Just like a breeze, the girl-the angel-was gone. Again. A knot of frustration was forming in the pit of his stomach. And he'd spent a considerable amount of time working up the nerve to come into the store to approach her and properly introduce himself!

But there was still something he could do. He looked about the store. Being close to dinner time, the flow of customers had ebbed considerably. The young man recognized the boy with the brown hair as the one the beauty had followed into the store. He snapped the fingers of one hand haughtily. "You there, boy!"

Ben looked up from his work at the counter... and frowned. It was the fop-doodle again. Being called 'boy' like that was immensely irritating, especially when it came from a FOP who didn't seem to be a day older than himself. Strong annoyance settled in as the young man strode over to the counter.

"Who was that beautiful young girl who just left the store?"

Ben glared. "What do you mean? Mrs. Morrisey just left, but she's not-"

"The girl, the girl!" the young man interrupted fast and urgently. Didn't any of these absurd colonists have a brain? "That striking young red-haired girl that just left the store! Who is she?"

Then Ben knew who he was talking about. He was talking about Felicity. Ben felt a strong dislike for the fellow growing more intense every second. Whatever did this Loyalist fop want with Felicity?
"She's the shopkeeper's daughter...sir," Ben replied hotly, brooding.

"I see," the young man snipped. "And would this...shopkeeper's daughter have a name, boy?"

Ben's hands clenched the counter. "Felicity Merriman," he grumbled through clenched teeth.

"Felicity...Felicity Merriman..." The man murmured as though he was talking in his sleep. "Her name is Felicity. Such an endearing name for such a...angelic young girl." Mumbling to himself, he turned his back on Ben and seemed as though he were pondering one of the great mysteries of life.

"Felicity?" Mr. Merriman had finished with the last customer and strolled over to the counter where Ben was glaring so hard his forehead might crack. "Are you acquainted with my daughter, Mr...?"

"Forsythe." The young man spun around and thrust out his hand at Mr. Merriman. "Reginald Maxim Forsythe."

"Edward Merriman." The two men shook hands. Mr. Merriman glanced at the still brooding Ben before saying, "You're Lady Templeton's nephew, I understand."

"Yes, yes," Forsythe replied absently. "Mr. Merriman, I wonder if I could perhaps inquire about a meeting with your daughter...Felicity?"

Ben scowled. Mr. Merriman raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. "A meeting, Mr. Forsythe? I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, my young sir, but I don't think I quite get-"

"Mr Merriman," Forsythe began, stepping forward with his hands clasped behind his back, "putting it quite bluntly, I would like to inquire about the possible subject of courting your daughter, Felicity."

Ben's mouth dropped open in absolute shock. Mr. Merriman, to the surprise of both young men, chuckled softly and leaned casually against the counter. "Mr. Forsythe, have you any idea how old my daughter is?"

Forsythe looked indifferent. "Is age a problem, Mr. Merriman?"

Ben's eyes were going from his master to Mr. Forsythe like ping-pong balls.

"I'm afraid so, Mr. Forsythe. You see, my Felicity is only eleven years old. She is far too young to become involved in matters of courtship, even if she were interested in doing so." He straightened, adding emphasis on his words. "I couldn't even discuss it further until she is sixteen."

"B-But, sir, in England, there are young ladies who even become betrothed at such an age," Forsythe protested quckly. "Surely you and your family follow our customs?"

Mr. Merriman chuckled again. "Not all of them-very few, in fact. Here in Virginia we have made our own. Now...Mr. Forsythe, I truly appreciate your interest in my girl, but she is simply too young"

There! Ben thought. That ought to settle it!

"Mr. Merriman," Forsythe began again, sounding frustrated and losing patience, "need I remind you that my family has a considerable amount of wealth and has a highly respected social standing both hereand abroad? I ask of you that you not take my inquiry lightly. sir."

Ben's eyes jumped to Mr. Merriman in a 'Can you believe this guy?' expression.

Mr. Merriman sighed irresolutely. "I'm not insulting you, Mr. Forsythe, I know about your family's fortune and standing. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for your aunt. I'm merely saying that my Felicity is too yong to be courted, nothing more."

Forsythe made an uncomfortable sound in his throat and said, "Then you should know I only have the most honorable intentions toward your daughter. If it is a letter of permission you require, I admit I cannot obtain one from my father, for he has passed on, but my Lord uncle Alexander Templeton will gladly be willing to present a formal inquiry-"

This time it was Mr. Merriman who interrupted. "There's no need, Mr. Forsythe. She is too young. Please...the matter is closed."

"But you could allow me to visit," Forsythe pressed on. "I could come see her on the grounds of establishing a friendship."

"No, Mr. Forsythe," Mr. Merriman said, with a touch of authority in his voice. "The answer is still no."

"Your'e telling me 'no'?" Forsythe sputtered, and Ben looked utterly stunned. Forsythe's eyes jerked about as if he were looking for a hint as to what to do next, so he mumbled, "Perhaps, then... in time, you will change your mind?"

"Perhaps," Mr. Merriman replied (with no amount of assurance in his voice), "in about five years. We shall see."

Forsythe's mouth formed a firm, straight line. He stared at Mr. Merriman for a moment, then pursed his lips. "So we shall, won't we?" He nodded curtly. "Good day, Mr. Merriman. My best to your lovely daughter." He spun on his heel and strode out.

"Good day, Mr. Forsythe," Merriman chuckled again.

Ben felt as if he'd been holding his breath since Forsythe first addressed him. He came close to Mr. Merriman. "Could you believe him, asking after Felicity like that? I don't know about you, sir, but there isdefinately something about that boy I don't like!"

"I got the same impression, Ben," Mr. Merriman said, with a look upon his face that suggested he was in deep thought. "Do me a favor, Ben, and don't mention our little conversation with Mr. Forsythe to Lissie, will you? There's no need for her to be bothered with such a character."

"Aye, sir!" Ben replied promptly, in complete agreement. "Will you tell Mrs. Merriman?"

Mr. Merriman tapped his chin. "I believe I will, but later tonight, after dinner."

"Rude, wasn't he?" Ben glared in the direction in which Forsythe had gone. "As if Felicity would want anything to do with a boy like that!"

With slightly raised eyebrows, Mr. Merriman gave Ben an amused smile. Why young Ben, he thought, is that a general observation, or could you perhaps have an interest in Felicity as well? The idea was not strange or even shocking to Mr. Edward Merriman at all. He'd long known that his eldest daughter and his apprentice shared a special bond of sorts-brother and sister-ish, he'd believed, but they were not exactly kids anymore.

They certainly didn't look at each other like kids anymore.

Mr. Merriman merely smiled.

Start writing here ...

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