Talon Hall: a large fortress that sits on a handsome estate just north of London. Towers rise up from the landscape hard and unforgiving, its fourteenth century heritage obvious in the architecture. Windows glisten with the morning light in opposition to the weather beaten stones that surround them.
Sounds quite forbidding I know, but in my mind, it’s a place of joy with meticulous gardens and hidden ponds. A stream wends its way across the estate past the parsonage, white washed and humble. Behind the church weathered stones stand proud marking the passage of time. Parents and children lay side by side in this peaceful place where two young girls play hide-n-go-seek.
In a cemetery you say!
Well, it wasn’t Amy’s idea.
“Slow down Emily Elizabeth. I can’t catch you.”
“Isn’t that the point?”
Amy laughed. “I suppose you’re right.”
“I’m always right. The sooner you accept it the better. Hey where’d you go?”
“Tag you’re it.”
“No I’m not. We agreed that Mrs. Hornsby was a safe spot.”
“I’m sure that she would be pleased, but you’re standing next to her brother.”
Emily Elizabeth looked crest fallen. Surely she had not gone to the wrong headstone. As she wiped away the film that disguised the first name she realized her error.
“Even in the afterlife that man is the bane of my existence.”
“Emily Elizabeth,” Amy giggled softening her reproach. “That’s sacrilegious.”
Emily smirked “You’re probably right, but Sterling says that I was banished from God’s book the minute I learned to speak. So you see it can’t be of consequence. Besides, you remember him. He used to tell Papa every time I did something wrong. That man never could keep a secret.” Emily crossed her arms and made harrumph sound.
It was then that the church bells rang out interrupting their game.
“Amy! Emily Elizabeth,” Mrs. Montgomery called from the side gate. “It’s time for church, come now, you may visit with one another afterwards.”
Sighing they both shared a look before moving slowly toward Amy’s mother.
Eyeing the girls and their clothing she made a few adjustments to their clothing the minute they came into reach. Smoothing Emily Elizabeth’s hair and adjusting Amy’s sash she took a step back smiling. “You both look quite lovely, shall we go inside?”
The girls shared a silent exchange as they followed her into church.
Emily’s eyes were closed her head bowed, but not in prayer. When Amy realized her friend was in danger of falling over she almost laughed aloud, almost.
Thank goodness for Emily Elizabeth’s lack of decorum. Amy was in danger of slipping into a similar hypnotic state.
Though many tried to pass their Sunday mornings napping she knew the pastor well. He always seemed to catch on just as one was slipping into a perfectly restful state. Slapping his hand on the podium the thunderous clap echoed off the walls snapping all to attention amid yelps of surprise.
Among those startled, Emily Elizabeth sat up straighter her arms crossed in defiance as she frowned at the pastor.
Making brief eye contact with many in the congregation he continued. “Children,” said reverend Willingham in his deep baritone. “They are a reflection of ourselves what we once were. God speaks to them, through them. They are miracles to be held dear.”
Reverend Willingham’s eyes touched on each person’s face. He knew them all so well, had christened some, and buried the relatives of others the most recent being young Colin’s mother.
Colin Kinross sat petulantly kicking the pew before him as he did most every Sunday. There was a perfect scuffmark matching the boy’s shoe from years of his absent-minded attention. Mrs. Willingham had suggested changing the pews about, but realized that eventually all would share identical scars, which defeated the purpose not to mention that many preferred one bench over another and would find themselves quite disconcerted over such a change. Looking over his flock Reverend Willingham smiled, he could wish for no better than they.
Eventually his eyes alighted on Mr. Brooks, R.S. as he was called, always sat near the back his silver head nodding in agreement with key points the good reverend wished to make. He had been a member of the church for more than fifty years had never missed a Sunday. When the sermons grew over long, it was R.S. who jingled coins in his pockets, alerting Reverend Willingham to the time as well as the rest of the congregation. Everyone from Lord Ravencroft to the widow Travis knew the signal. A smile and nod from the pulpit soon followed the muffled metallic noise.
With the congregation’s attention restored and time slipping by, it wasn’t long until he closed the sermon finishing with an announcement.
It was a time honored tradition that every few months a child be given the privilege of ringing the church bells for Sunday Service. Brian Crane had done so for 12 consecutive Sundays. Emily Elizabeth kept count to ensure that no one child got to ring them more times than another that only happened once when Katherine Day got sick and Sterling was chosen to ring them in her stead. Only one was chosen for this blessed task every three months, but today’s announcement was unusual in that not one name was mentioned, but two Emily Elizabeth Ravencroft and Amy Montgomery. It was an honor they gladly shared.
After church Sterling and the girls headed out the double doors brushing past the minister and congregation.
Scratching his head Emily’s brother smirked, “Wonder why he chose you two? If he knew what you were really like I doubt you’d ever get to ring the bells.”
“Reverend Willingham chose us because God told him to,” said Emily Elizabeth hands on hips in indignation.
Sterling had a much different opinion and proceeded to enlighten them, “He did so to keep you both out of trouble.” Arms crossed he sneered at his little sister, “God knows how to look past your angelic faces. Don’t forget that.”
Amy worried her lower lip looking to her friend.
Emily Elizabeth had never been cowed by Sterling the way her friend was. Amy took everything to heart even religion. She often worried for Emily Elizabeth’s soul. Though it was a silly concern in Emily’s opinion, she found comfort in her friends’ diligence to keep them both in God’s book.
Emily didn’t hesitate to correct her brother putting her friend at ease. “If God saw fit to make us pretty on the outside then he must have taken care to make us that way on the inside as well.” Sticking her tongue out, Emily grabbed Amy’s hand and dashed off.
The girls headed toward the stream skipping, running and jumping all the while laughing at nothing.
“Now then, let us discuss what we shall do when we go to London.” Emily tucked a raven curl behind her ear, kneeling she spread the skirts of her gown out so they wouldn’t wrinkle.
“I can’t go with you Emily Elizabeth, you know that.”
“Why can’t you,” she asked confused?
Amy smiled. “Well, there is the matter of my birth, which is slightly lower than your own. Also there is the expense and …”
“Never mind that,” she said cutting off Amy mid sentence. “I won’t go without you and you will be equal to me in fashion if not in beauty.” Emily batted her eyelashes.
Amy grinned. She knew as well as Emily Elizabeth that both were considered lovely, but as a pair they were a force of beauty. At least that is what Mother said and she would never lie. So there it was and whoever didn’t believe it to be true was either dull witted or blind.
“I shall make papa buy us beautiful gowns and we will only wear the finest slippers and dance holes in each and every pair. What do you think?”
“I think it sounds lovely,” Amy said wistfully.
“Good then it is settled, we shall go together.” Emily Elizabeth clapped her hands together excitedly.
“Will we fight over men, do you think?” Amy peeked up through brown curls curious.
“Of course not, we will have the decided good taste not to fall in love with the same men. I will select those I’m interested in and you will select the ones you’re interested in, then we will whittle them down by how kind, handsome and of course wealthy they are.”
“What about love,” Amy asked shyly?
Emily looked up her face a study of concentration it wasn’t long before a mischievous smile appeared. “We shall have so many men to choose from that I’m sure love will fit nicely into the mix.”
“It will also help us choose,” Amy added.
“Yes, that is how it will be.” A gleam filled Emily Elizabeth’s emerald eyes as she visualized their future.
Amy tilted her head to the side as if playing out the scenario in her mind, then with a nod she agreed.
Emily Elizabeth pictured them cutting a swath through the London ballrooms; their fine silk dresses spinning out as they twirled on the arms of devoted partners. She tapped a ragged nail against her mouth. How many dresses would they need she wondered? Looking at her friend she tried to decide what color would suit her best. Surely Amy’s chestnut hair would be better accentuated if she wore shades of green and perhaps gold. Of course she knew they would be forced to wear white during their first season, but maybe mother would let them purchase other colors as well. Her pale pink lips turned up in a Cheshire cat grin when she turned to look at her friend of eight years.
Both had grown quiet, each lost in their own thoughts.
Emily Elizabeth stretched out on the ground. Her hand propped her chin up as she picked a blade of grass, twirling it between her fingertips.
“What do you dream about Amy?”
“About seeing my father again,” Amy replied.
Emily Elizabeth rolled on to her side. “You miss him don’t you?”
“Very much,” she said quietly.
“We can share my father if you’d like.”
Legs crossed, Amy leaned forward her arms resting on her knees. “Are you sure he wants another daughter?”
Emily bit her lip in thought then replied, “Father likes you very much. I don’t think he would mind.”
Amy’s cheeks were pink. She was embarrassed, but at the same time thankful that she had Emily Elizabeth and Emily’s family, whether they knew it or not.
Ever inquisitive Emily asked, “Is that all you dream about?”
Amy hesitated “No.”
“What then?” Emily’s eyes were filled with curiosity.
“About us getting older, maybe having children and them becoming wonderful friends like we are.”
“That’s nice. I sometimes dream that too. Too bad there are no boys here worth dreaming about.”
Amy smiled noticing the mischief in Emily Elizabeth’s expression. “Why too bad?”
“Because, as of right now, the children we are dreaming of are illegitimate.”
Amy giggled, which made Emily giggled.
Then the laughter of both grew, until the girls were laughing and crying at the same time.
Sterling came up the hill a moment later.
They tried to calm themselves, but found it even more amusing and began laughing again.
Sterling looked at them and rolled his eyes.
“Girls are silly creatures,” he mumbled walking away.
Amy made a face before turning to Emily. “Mother will have dinner waiting. I should probably go.”
Sighing they both stood brushing the grass from their skirts.
“Today was a good day was it not?”
“Exceptional,” answered Emily Elizabeth pragmatically.
“Do you think our lives will always follow such a decidedly pleasant path?”
“If so, it is only because our friendship encourages it.”
Amy smiled linking her arm with Emily’s. “Then we are, as Reverend Willingham is fond of saying, truly blessed.”