By Lea Sheryn
On the day of the spring equinox, the sun shone directly along the evergreen-lined drive. I stood in the drawing room window, breathlessly awaiting the stunning event. Slowly, the sun crept into place and the light beamed between the stately trees. I clapped my hands as a child would. The much longed for annual sight delighted me.
Abruptly, the station trap appeared, blighting the scene. It raced along the approach, swooped around the great fountain of Neptune and halted before the entrance portico. I stepped closer to the window and shaded my eyes. The bright sunlight marred my view as the occupants descended.
When the tall man moved into the portico’s shade, I recognized my older brother, Joel. He stepped around the trap and bowed at the waist. A woman emerged and stood beside him. For a moment, they hesitated before the grand entranceway.
A light gray cloak covered the woman from neck to ankle. A wide-brimmed hat with a long ostrich feather sat upon her bright yellow hair. Without waiting to see anymore, I rushed from the drawing room into the corridor. Another door burst open further down the hallway and my other brother, Grayson, stepped out.
“Why is Joel here?” Grayson asked, rushing in my direction. “’Tisn’t end of term yet. We didn’t expect him for another three weeks.
“No, tisn’t,” I agreed, perplexed. “Who’s the woman? We haven’t seen her before, have we, Gray?”
“No, we haven’t,” my brother agreed. “Let’s find out, shall we?”
“Yes, we shall,” I answered, rushing toward the grand staircase.
Hurriedly, I began to descend, Grayson pranced along beside me. My middle brother never walked; his feet moved with a natural dance step. Before we reached the ground level, our father marched into the hall from his study. He purposely strode toward Joel, calling his name sharply.
“Yes, father?” Joel halted his stride and faced our father. The woman stopped also and stepped to our brother’s side purposefully.
“Well.” Father cleared his throat noisily. “Well,” he repeated, still hesitating. “You best introduce the…the..um…young lady, son.”
“Miss Charlotte Plumb, Father,” Joel presented. “This is my father, Lottie. Sir Joel Everstow.”
“Pleased to meet you, Ducks,” Miss Charlotte Plumb stated, stretching out her pink gloved hand for Papa to shake.
Her high pitched Cockney voice echoed around the great hall. Grayson and I paused at the bottom of the staircase, shocked by the unaccustomed sound. Papa cleared his throat again and ogled the outstretched hand. Gently placing his hand on Lottie’s wrist, Joel pushed her arm down until it dangled limply by her side.
Recovering our equilibrium, Grayson and I approached Papa and stood by his side silently. We continued to ogle our brother’s companion curiously. Finally, following an intermediate amount of time, Joel acknowledged our presence and introduced us.
“My brother, Grayson and younger sister, Priscilla,” Joel muttered, avoiding our stare. “Miss Charlotte Plumb.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Gray stated, taking her hand and pressing it to his lips. The room stood still with the awkwardness of the situation. “We are pleased, aren’t we, Prissy?” he finally questioned, breaking the silence surrounding us.
The newcomers eyebrows rose abruptly at Gray’s mention of my nickname, and I do believe she stifled a unexpected giggle. I did not particularly like the moniker but, since it belonged to Grayson particularly, I put up with it. As I grew older, my brother used it less frequently. Nevertheless, it slipped out on this occasion.
“Won’t you please step into the drawing room for a toast,” Papa offered, returning to his usual politeness. “I must apologize for the absence of my wife. Lady Everstow is an invalid. She spends her time in her rooms. I will make the introduction following our welcoming toast.”
“Whatever you say, Ducky,” Lottie chirped, hooking her arm through Papa’s elbow.
“Sir Joel,” I snapped, swooping past the newcomer, “not Ducky.”
For a brief instant, my older brother’s companion’s face altered. She pursed her lips sharply and her gray eyes turned to dark pearls filled with hate. I threw a penetrating glare in her direction and pounded up the stairs. Her high, hollow laughter followed me until I reached the top. Pivoting, I raced along the west corridor and up the stairs to the nursery schoolroom. The rest of the party continued toward the east wing and the drawing room.
By the time I reached the third floor, I had calmed down considerably. Silently, I entered the schoolroom. Deep in conversation with Mr. Blanchard, Miss Young, my governess, did not hear me enter. Grayson’s tutor did not see me either.
“…sent down?” Claudia Young questioned, her voice sounding appalled.
“Yes, sent down,” Mr. Blanchard repeated in husky tones. “That woman…” When he saw me standing in the doorway, he clipped his statement.
I pressed my back against the door for a moment, wondering what I should do. Finally, I reached for the knob, turned it and practically fell into the corridor. I ran for my bedroom and flung myself onto the huge, canopied bed.
In the fall of the previous year, Joel entered Oxford as a first year law student. Traditionally, all the Everstow boys attended the famed university. Papa studied law there as did his papa and so on throughout the generations. We were all proud of Joel and glad of his apparent success. Then, I caught the governess and tutor whispering about him. They always abruptly ceased their conversations at my appearance, but I knew they spoke of Joel.
After much controversy, the university heads decided to expel my eldest brother. On this day of the spring equinox, he returned. It surprised us that he chose to bring with him the cause of his expulsion. Miss Charlotte Plumb, I thought disdainfully. I disliked her—didn’t trust her—disregarded her—right from the start.
“Sent down indeed,” I muttered, sitting up and hugging my pillow to my chest. Never in Everstow history had anyone gotten sent down.
“What do you think of her?” Grayson asked, mincing into my room and plopping onto the bed. He grabbed another pillow and copied my stance.
“I’m trying not to,” I remarked through gritted teeth. “Whatever made Joel bring her here.”
“I couldn’t tell you.” Gray rolled his shoulders and his eyes simultaneously. “Oh, but, listen, Priscilla.” He squirmed his butt around, a sure sign he had a secret to tell. “After we drank the toast, Papa rang for Mrs. Cotton. He asked the housekeeper to prepare Joel’s bed chamber and another one for Miss Charlotte. That Miss Charlotte made an awful face—it frightened me, Prissy. Really frightened me.” Gray hugged his pillow tighter. “Then Joel said…” His eyes grew big and round. “Joel said it wasn’t necessary to make up a second bedroom. Papa told Mrs. Cotton to prepare it nevertheless.”
“Oh, Gray,” I breathed, grabbing his arm.
“Joel said it was too late, and that he would share his room with Miss Charlotte.” Grayson sucked in his breath and hastily continued, “He and that….that woman are getting married quickly. There’s already a baby due, Prissy.”
“What did Papa say?”
“Papa didn’t say anything,” Gray stated, casting his eyes downward. “He stared into the fire and his face turned purple and…and then he tossed his sherry glass into the flames. It burst and popped. I covered my ears with my hands and ran out. Oh, Prissy, when Mama finds out…”
Mama! My mind shrieked. Mama couldn’t take the shock. An invalid ever since I can remember, my mother lived entirely within her own suite of rooms. She moved only from her bed to her chaise lounge and back again throughout the day. Having a weak heart, the doctor warned her against having children. However, she married Papa and provided him with an heir immediately. Grayson’s birth further weakened her and mine finally made her an invalid. The slightest discomfort, the slightest sign of confusion or turmoil could easily destroy her flimsy grip on life.
“Whatever was Joel thinking?” I gasped. “He can’t possibly marry that awful creature. Surely, Papa will buy her off, pay her to care for the baby or…Oh, Gray!”
Side-by-side, Grayson and I sat on the edge of my bed. My hand reached out and clasped his fingers tightly. He squeezed mine then let go. His arm stole across my shoulders, and he pulled me close. Tears clung in my eyes, and I knew my brother cried too. In many ways, our lives would change drastically—mine particularly.g here…