To eighteen year old Emily Lawrence, there was nothing quite as wonderful as a good book. There was nothing as pleasurable as being absorbed in the world contained within the pages. At the same time, there was nothing as irritating as being pulled from that world by reality.
“Emily? Emily, where are you?”
Emily lowered the book in her hands just enough to peek over the top of the pages. Her blue eyes swept around the room, but there was no one was in the library with her. Pleased, she brought the book back up and turned a page. She heard the door to the library squeak as it opened, but made no comment, hoping that she would go unnoticed in the window seat.
However, a few moments later, the book was snatched out of her hands. “Rosalind!” Emily objected. Emily looked up at her cousin with a frown. “I am reading that!”
“What? Again?” Rosalind Emerson asked, examining the title. “This must be the third time in the past year, Emily.”
“As far as I am aware, it is hardly a crime to enjoy a book more than once,” Emily answered in irritation. She stretched her hand out to take the book back. “And this is a particularly intriguing novel! Give it back to me!”
“A crime? No, indeed,” her cousin responded, ignoring the younger woman’s demand. She easily held the volume out of Emily’s reach. “However, there are quite possibly a hundred tasks that must be accomplished before our Aunt Lawrence arrives.”
With a groan, Emily straightened up, uncurling from her cozy position. “Very well, Rosalind, you win,” she sighed. “What do I need to do?”
With a smile, Rosalind pulled a sheet of paper from her pocket. “I made you a list, so that nothing will be forgotten,” she informed her cousin. “Also, I was asked to tell you that your father wishes to see you in his study.”
Her blue eyes casting the briefest of glances over the paper, Emily hummed to herself, and then folded the page. “Then, I ought to see him before I begin anything else,” she decided, getting to her feet. She stretched her arms out, her shawl slipping to the ground. “I imagine that it is not terribly important. Ever since Aunt Lawrence offered to take me to London, he has been…How can I describe it? He wants me by his side constantly.”
“He is your father and he wants to spend as much time with you as he can before you leave,” Rosalind answered diplomatically. She leaned closer to the window and looked out at the pouring rain. “I don’t understand what you find so irritating about that.”
“Don’t be cross, Rose!” Emily exclaimed, reaching up to rest her hand on her cousin’s arm. “You know that I am just out of sorts that it’s raining and I cannot be outside this house.”
“It’s not you, Emily,” Rosalind assured her, with a slight smile. “I’m missing my parents more than usual today, I suppose.”
Emily frowned. “That’s because you have far too much to handle,” she said. “I have the perfect solution: you are going to take the afternoon off.” She held up her hand before the young woman could finish her objections. “I know you have been longing to practice that new piano concerto. I can handle things.”
“Of course you can. That’s why you are hiding in the library with a book,” Rosalind responded, her smile widening in amusement. “Lawrence Manor is going to be so quiet when you are in London.”
“You must not talk like we are going to be separated,” Emily objected, getting to her feet. “You will be going to London with me! I need my companion!”
“How nice to know I am needed,” Rosalind said wryly. She turned and gave her cousin a gentle shove. “Your father was asking for you, remember? You ought to go to him before he sends someone else to find you.”
Heaving another sigh, Emily turned to walk away. She only took one step and then spun back around. She snatched her book away from her cousin. Laughing, she lifted her skirt and ran for the library door.
“Emily!” Rosalind exclaimed as her cousin danced out.
Laughing, Emily had just reached the gallery when her companion caught up to her. Rosalind threw her the shawl that had fallen in the library. “What would you do without me?”
“I am quite certain I would freeze to death,” Emily answered good-naturedly. She slung the shawl over her arms and then linked her right arm with her cousin’s left. “Has it only been five years since you came to Lawrence Manor? It feels like you have always been here.”
“Five very long years,” Rosalind said, her smile sad as they began to walk, side by side.
Even with the rain coming down outside, the light coming through the tall gallery windows showed off the glory of the room. Paintings from the top artists graced the walls. Persian rugs were spread over the oak floor, their bright colors brightening the floor.
However, anyone who happened to catch a glance into the room would have agreed that the two cousins were the highlight, for the pair made a charming picture. Both wore similar muslin gowns: Emily’s was a soft blue and Rosalind’s was a light lilac. Both young women had brown hair, though Rosalind’s had a natural curl to it. Rosalind was the taller of the two, and both had slim figures.
They had only gone several feet when Emily noticed that her companion still wore a sad look. “Rose, you are still thinking about your parents, aren’t you?” she asked softly.
Glancing over, Rosalind nodded. “Yes,” she admitted. “I...cannot help when the weather is such as it is today. Grey, rainy days have never boded any good for my family.”
“Well, we shall simply have to change that and make this grey, rainy day into something good to remember!” Emily declared, determined to cheer her companion up. “I will learn what Father wants of me, and then we will meet in the music room. I will continue reading my book, you will play your concerto, and no one will bother us at all.”
“And what of everything that needs to get done?”
Emily waved a dismissive hand. “It will get done,” she said. “Aunt Lawrence will not arrive here for two more days, perhaps not even then because of all the rain. You seem determined to run yourself to the ground, and I am equally determined not to let that happen.”
“You know I am older than you,” Rosalind warned, though her lips threatened to part into a grin. “By rights, I should be telling you what to do.”
“Be that as it may, I am the lady of the house,” Emily responded smugly. “I know very well that Mrs. Smith is already hard at work to get most of your list completed, so there is nothing at all for you or I to worry about.”
They reached the top of the staircase and started down. “Remember when you first arrived and I slid down the banister to meet you?” Emily asked, regarding the gleaming banister with longing. “I thought for sure that Aunt Lawrence was going to go into hysterics!”
Rosalind laughed, nodding in agreement. “I think she would have if your father hadn’t commended you on the fact that you did not fall off,” she responded. “I was never more surprised in my life.”
“And that is the type of behavior to expect when a girl is raised with no mother. She becomes an incorrigible tomboy,” Emily quipped. She fell silent as they reached the last step. She shook her head with a sigh. “See? Now you have me as out of sorts as you. This is not acceptable.”
“Tomorrow is the anniversary of your mother’s death, isn’t it?” Rosalind asked quietly. They paused at the bottom of the ornate staircase, facing each other.
“Rosalind, I really have no desire to talk about it,” Emily said, her tone going sharp.
“Then, we are more alike in that than you’ve realized,” Rosalind responded calmly. Her brown eyes landed on the clock against the wall. “And it has now been over half an hour since I was sent to get you.”
No more conversation continued between them as they walked across the marble entryway. The cousins parted in front of the study, Emily to go in and Rosalind to finish whatever other task she had been set to.
Emily rapped her knuckles lightly against the oak door. When a voice inside invited her to come in, she pushed the door open and stepped inside. “You wanted to speak to me, Father?” she asked.
The study had dark wood walls where several hunting trophies displayed proudly. At the far side of the room, Isaiah Lawrence sat at a desk in front of the window. “Ah, Emily,” he said, looking up. “I was beginning to wonder whether Rosalind had heard me or not.”
Smiling, Emily walked further into the room, letting the door swing closed behind her. She noted the accounts ledgers in front of her father. “Are you busy?” she asked. “I can return later on if you are.”
“You are always a welcome distraction, my dear,” Mr. Lawrence said fondly as he laid down his pen. “I merely wanted to inquire whether you had everything in preparation for your aunt’s arrival. I wouldn’t want my sister-in-law to begin thinking that you are unable to carry out the role of a hostess.”
Bending down, Emily kissed his cheek. “Everything is being cared for,” she assured him. “It is what I have Rosalind for.”
“Rosalind, yes,” Mr. Lawrence said with a frown. “She seems to be a bit little maudlin today.”
“That seems a bit of an exaggeration, Father,” Emily said, walking to the window. “She is a bit quiet, but it is just the weather. She says she is reminded of her parents on days like this.”
Mr. Lawrence snorted. “If it weren’t for the scandal that resulted, taking his own life was the best thing my sister’s husband could have done,” he stated harshly. Her back to him, Emily cringed at his words. “There would have been no coming back from his debts, which I had to settle.”
“Yes, I know, Father.”
“And it was a mercy my sister passed soon after,” Mr. Lawrence continued, warming up to the subject. “With such parents as she had, I see no reason why Rosalind should mourn them as she does.”
Turning, Emily forced an engaging smile. “Well, I would miss you terribly if you were to die, Father,” she informed him, her tone wheedling. She dropped her eyes, becoming very serious. “And I can understand her feelings since tomorrow is the anniversary of Mama’s death and-.”
“This is a ridiculous conversation,” her father interrupted sharply. Again, Emily flinched at the harshness in his voice. “You do take on about death and such. It’s all those books. It is not good for your mind.”
Though her shoulders dropped, Emily lifted her gaze quickly. “You have never before objected to the books I read,” she said. She tilted her head quizzically. “Oh, I see. You are tired, and numbers have always given you a headache. Come and have tea with me in the Music Room. Rosalind will play something soothing.”
Mr. Lawrence stood up, closing the books. “As I said, you are a welcome distraction,” he said. He took his daughter’s hand and placed it in the crook of his arm. “Your suggestion sounds most enjoyable and will give us the opportunity to discuss what you have planned. You do remember that your Aunt Lawrence loves dinner parties?”
“How could I forget?”
The next morning, the rain had finally come to an end, though the day was still grey and cloudy. Looking down at the gardens, Emily smiled as she watched the gardeners work in the mud. She shook her head and turned away.
She was dressed in her warmest outfit and her sturdiest pair of shoes on her feet. She tied her bonnet on and buttoned her pelisse. Smoothing her gloves over her fingers, Emily regarded her appearance in the mirror for only a moment before going to the door.
She gave a sharp yelp as she came face to face with her cousin. “Rosalind!” Emily exclaimed, holding her hand dramatically to her heart. “What are you doing, standing outside my room like that? You gave me such a start!”
Rosalind was similarly dressed for outdoors. “I’m going with you,” she said simply.
“Going with me?” Emily repeated in disbelief. “Going with me where?”
Her older cousin shook her head reprovingly. “You have not been yourself since I mentioned your mother yesterday,” she said, holding up one finger. She lifted another. “It is the anniversary of your mother’s death today.” A third finger came up. “You told Kitty that you would be out for most of the morning. Shall I continue?”
“All right, all right,” Emily said, throwing up her hands in surrender. “Yes, I am going to the cemetery. There is no need for you to come with me.”
“Perhaps,” Rosalind agreed. “But I am going to anyway.”
“Oh, very well,” Emily said, giving up. She and Rosalind walked down the hallway. After several minutes of silence, Emily cleared her throat. “I’m sorry about snapping at you yesterday, Rose. I didn’t mean it.”
“I know,” Rosalind answered. She smiled at her cousin’s look of annoyance. “I am older than you, Emily, and I always will be. That means I am much, much wiser than you.”
“Hurry up, then, old lady,” Emily taunted, quickening her pace. “See if someone as old as you can keep up with me!”
Rosalind laughed, refusing to rise to the challenge. Amiably, the cousins left the house. At first they set off down the drive, taking care to avoid puddles. Despite the grey clouds, the landscape was a pleasant green. When they started cross country, the wildflowers that were just beginning to bloom added a splash of color to the scene.
Together, picking flowers as they went, the cousins trudged around mud puddles and through the still damp grass to the village cemetery. Respectfully, Rosalind remained at the cemetery entrance while Emily went in further.
The grave she sought was at the farthest corner of the graveyard and Emily had to walk past the Lawrence family crypt to reach the site. Kneeling down, Emily placed her small bouquet by the stone. She ran her fingers over the engraved stone which read:
Emmaline Harris Lawrence
Born-April 15th, 1772
Died-April 26th 1807
Tears sprang into Emily’s eyes. “I miss you, Mama, so very, very much,” she whispered. Sniffing, she wiped at the tears and stood up. She took a deep breath and turned around. Holding her head high, she walked back to the gate where Rosalind waited.
“Are you well, Emily?” her cousin asked softly.
“I am perfectly fine,” Emily answered swiftly. She forced a smile. “Do you think we will be able to ride later on? I am anxious to be out on Lady. Its been so long since the weather has been agreeable.”
Compassionately, Rosalind reached out and, putting her hand on her cousin’s shoulder, turned Emily to face her. “You ought not bottle yourself up like that. You have the right to miss your mother, Emily,” she said seriously. “I miss my parents every day.” She smiled wryly. “Even though I know your father’s opinion on that.”
“It would be extremely hard not to know my father’s opinion on anything,” Emily responded. She sighed and looked back. “I just wish I knew why she went for a walk that day. Father refuses to speak about it. And I have not been in contact with my mother’s family.”
“Why was your mother buried so far from the rest of the Lawrence family?” Rosalind asked curiously.
“I wish I know,” Emily admitted. “That’s another thing I have tried to ask Father about.” She shook her head. “It’s best not to question things too much. He can fly into such a terrible temper.”
The cousins began moving away from the graveyard. The village was just beyond. “Do you want to see if there are any new ribbons in?” Rosalind asked. “You have been complaining your hat looks old.”
“Not today,” Emily answered. “I’m not in the mood for gossiping or seeing anybody. I think I would like to just walk and see the spring taking over.” She hesitated. “But, I suppose if you really want to see someone, we could go see Mr. Goldman at the church.”
“No, no,” Rosalind responded hastily. “I am content with your company if you are content with mine.”
Arm in arm, they walked back to Lawrence Manor at a much slower pace. Taking the long, round about way, they passed the neighboring estate, pausing on the top of a hill to look down at the large mansion.
“Waverly Place is so beautiful,” Rosalind said, admiration in her voice. “Do you know the owners?”
“No,” Emily answered seriously. “The family has not lived there since I was very little. I barely remember them, and Father will not speak of them at all.” She heaved a sigh. “It is just another one of Ambershire’s mysteries.”
“Such intriguing mysteries such as why Mrs. Jenkins insists on wearing that awful cap everywhere she goes?” Rosalind asked, her tone teasing.
Laughing, Emily turned to detour through the woods. Two hours after they had started out, they came out near the gardens. Rosalind broke away from Emily to investigate what the gardeners had accomplished in their absence.
Walking along the fountain, Emily pulled one glove off and ran her fingers through the water, shivering at the coolness. Shaking the water from her hand, she slipped the glove back on and hurried to catch up to her cousin. She looked up at the stone walls of her family home as she drew closer. It was a familiar and comforting sight that she never tired of.
“Do you think the roses will do well this year?” Rosalind was asking the head gardener, her tone anxious. “The frost won’t have affected them at all?”
“They’ll be fine, miss,” the gardener assured her. “Roses are tough little things. It does them good to have a bit of fighting to do.”
“See? I told you not to worry, my dear Rose,” Emily said, interrupting the conversation with a smile. She nodded as the gardener doffed his cap in her direction. “You both have done wonders with the gardens these past two years. I have never seen it look so well.”
Modestly, Rosalind shook her head. “I cannot take any credit for the work. I merely had a few ideas that would show the flowers off to their best advantage,” she said. She bid the gardener good day and walked on with Emily. “Its a talent. I inherited it from my mother. She always had flowers about. Well, whenever she could, I mean.”
“Miss Emily! Miss Rosalind!”
Ahead of the pair, the maid was standing at the edge of the gardens. “What is it, Kitty?” Emily called out.
“It’s Mrs. Lawrence, Miss!” the maid answered, sounding more than a little panicked. “She's just arrived. Your father wants you inside immediately.”
Alarmed, Rosalind and Emily looked at each other. “We will be right in, Kitty,” Emily called back to the maid. As the girl hurried inside, Emily shook her head. “How can she be here today? I was sure the rain would have slowed her down! I don’t know if everything is ready! This is a disaster!”
“I’ve warned you this is what happens when you procrastinate,” Rosalind answered. She took her cousin by the shoulders and shook her slightly. “Emily, calm down. I am sure everything will be fine.”
“Fine?” Emily repeated, her voice squeaky with nervousness and indignation. “We have been traipsing through mud half the morning and we have no time to change!”
“What happened to the incorrigible tomboy cousin I usually have as company?” Rosalind asked, starting up the steps to the house. “The one who was not afraid of anything?”
“She knows her Aunt Lawrence all to well,” Emily responded, scrambling to catch up. She grasped Rosalind’s hand in hers. “At least we will be facing her together. It should not be too bad with two of us to take the blame.”
Rosalind squeezed her cousin’s fingers. “Let’s go welcome Aunt Lawrence.”