Lady Sarah, CHAPTER ONE, Last Installment to appear here. After this, if you wish to receive a chapter a week of this new American Regency romance, please go to the top right to subscribe to my enewsletter and enter your email address. Then you will receive a chapter a week. Now for this week’s installment…
Three years later
December 24, 1796
Alone on the bleak afternoon sitting in her parent’s rear parlor, Sarah suddenly felt buried alive. She cast her uninteresting book aside and drew in air. She’d seen no one but family for months now. The December gloom swallowed her up and she gripped the arms of her chair, holding in all the despair that clamored to be released.
The holiday season always brought memories of New Year’s Eve three years ago, the last time she’d seen Eliot Farraday. That dragged back to mind all the repercussions from that night and finally, the foolish and disastrous decision she’d made. If I hadn’t been just a callow, foolish girl, none of this–
The butler entered with the mail on a silver plate. She composed herself, thanked him and he left her again alone. She shuffled through the few missives. One letter caused her a jolt. Moving to her mother’s secretary in the corner, she inserted the cool silver opener at the wax seal. And then stopped.
She studied the worn, creased and smudged letter which had traveled so far. The most recent letter from their London solicitor had cast her life, cast her once again into the murky shadows outside of society. Could she expect good news from this letter sent from the same law office?
She steeled herself, gripping the silver opener. Yet she could not bring herself to open it, here alone in this empty house in the scant daylight. Her parents were delivering baskets of holiday food and gift to the needy and it would be hours before they returned.
No, she couldn’t face more bad news alone. And she couldn’t stay here alone with her upsetting fears and memories. Her brother Jean Claude should be home and in his sympathetic presence she could bear to open this.
After tucking the letter into her hidden pocket in her simple blue dress, she went quickly to the back hall where her heavy gray wool shawl, lined bonnet and matching woolen gloves were kept. She slipped off the elegant slippers she wore inside and slid her feet into fleece-lined wooden clogs.
She hurried down the frozen lane to the neighboring farm that had belonged to the Richardsons, a Quaker couple who had been like grandparents to her. They were gone now and her brother and his wife had inherited the property.
When she reached the house–one of the few where she still felt welcome–she found no one home. Bereft, she stood in the kitchen, gazing at the plain furnishings, smelling the scent of dried apples, feeling the pressure of the letter in her pocket, the gray emptiness closing in on her. She turned and fled.
The cutting December wind swooped around the corner of the house and nearly snatched her breath away. She hurried out onto the lane, heading for home like a swimmer heading for the shore.
Then she saw a man walking briskly toward her. Something about him struck her as familiar. “Good day?” Sarah called.
“Bonjour, madame,” he replied with evident holiday spirit, and in a voice she recognized.
“Your grace!” Sarah greeted Louis Phillipe, Duc de Orleans.
“Yes, madame, it is I.” A somewhat portly man of medium height only a few years older than she, he wore a thick navy blue great coat and white muffler and a fashionable beaver hat.
Though surprised, she was delighted to see him again. The previous dreadful letter from England had coincided with their first meeting. In the painful weeks that had passed since, his kind note, sent soon after, had meant so much to her. In this man she’d found a friend. She hurried toward him. “But where are you bound, sir?”
“To your home.”
“Yes, your parents invited me to spend the holidays with your family.”
Thinking she should have expected her mother to issue this invitation, Sarah merely nodded, tucked in her chin against the wind and started walking beside him over the packed snow.
“When I received the invitation, I was unable to communicate my acceptance. But I have been able to come after all. I hope I am still welcome,” he said.
“Certainly.” Since the announcement of her divorce, she had avoided all but the closest friends and family, not wishing to experience the humiliation inflicted on her during this man’s last visit. Perhaps that was why her mother had not mentioned inviting him to her.
She was heartened by learning that he would be their guest. So many guests that usually came during the holidays would not be coming this year. Because her parents had not invited them. This was their way of protecting her and at the same time, not causing their prominent friends distress over refusing their usual invitations, all because of her blackened reputation. The letter in her pocket nudged her.
“I’m sure my mother would have sent a carriage for you.” she said, picking up the thread of the conversation.
“I know she would but I was able to secure transport myself nearby. And I will walk the last miles myself. And I find you as my companion, a pleasant boon.”
In spite of her heavy mood, Sarah smiled then at the incongruity of the exiled man, only a few years ago an heir to the French throne, now walking to her mother’s house.
“I see your smile,” he said jovially. “You laugh to see a duke out walking. Dukes are not supposed to walk on a common lane in December.”
She blushed warmly. “I’m sorry–”
“Do not apologize. I laugh myself, but I enjoy to walk freely here. In Paris I am not permitted to walk the everyday streets. In New York I walk at will. The Revolution succeeds! I am liberated!”
Considering all this man had endured–fleeing the overthrow of the French monarchy and the guillotine that had claimed his father’s life, Sarah pushed away her doubts about her own future. She turned back to him. “How is your career as French tutor proceeding?”
“Excellently. Your mother has suggested many fine contacts for me. I am quite busy, enjoying myself and living comfortably in New York City.”
“Good. I am glad.”
“And I am glad of your mother’s invitation to spend Christmas with your family. I had others, but they merely wished to show my off like a prize lap dog. ‘See the tame heir to a vanquished throne.’ Your mother invited me out of friendship or should I say, kinship?”
“Oh!” His frankness startled her. She slipped on the snow.
He caught her arm and steadied her. “Yes, do not worry. I will not reveal our tenuous family connection. A Federalist family with such a Gallic tie! It would be much more appropriate to a Jeffersonian family.”
Sarah smiled ruefully. Louis was referring to her family’s ties to the conservative Washingtons who had been opposed to the Revolution in France when it had taken an ugly turn. And only family knew that her grandmother had been a courtesan at the royal court at Versailles so the two families were distantly related by blood. “I see, you are in a devil-may-care mood today, aren’t you?”
“I am. It must be the anticipation of a week’s holiday. Yet there is something I must settle with you.”
“Yes?” She avoided a patch of ice.
“You use my title, but you also are titled, Lady Sarah, the granddaughter of an earl.”
That title and the wealth her grandfather had left her had ensnared her with a fortune hunter, not a happy thought. She kept her gaze lowered.
“This is why I bring it up. I ask a boon of you, dear cousin. From now on I will be to you Louis and will you allow me to call you Sarah?”
“Of course, if you wish to. But I warn you again, don’t tell anyone we are related.”
“Would that be so terrible?”
The letter made itself felt again. “I apologize. That is not how I meant it, your grace-”
“Louis,” he substituted.
“Louis,” she amended. “I was afraid more for you than me. I would not want anyone to use our relationship to your disadvantage.”
“I see, Sarah. In that case my lips are sealed.” His tone became more serious. “Since we are alone and you have referred to your difficulties, may I ask how you are since I last saw you?”
“Thank you so much for your note.” In a way she was relieved that he had brought up the topic. “It helped me a great deal.”
“Bon. I was much moved by your father’s explanation of your predicament. Not many women would have been as resolute as you. To leave a husband who dishonored you in such a blatant manner, showing you no respect.” He shook his head. “Many women would have preferred to hide under the mantle of respectability in spite of all they suffered from an unfaithful and foolhardy husband.”
Sarah had been unable to do that. Remembering her former husband, his infidelity and complete disregard for her and his wanton dissipation of her inheritance from her grandfather still filled her with outrage. But now she paid the price for her honesty. Her mother said God forgave all sins, but society never forgave a woman who divorced. “Poor father,” she said, turning back to Louis’s reference to her father. “He still wishes I had let him go to London and challenge my husband to a duel.”
“I can understand both your positions, but what is done is done, n’est ce pas?”
“Too true.” In the social upheaval caused by the revelation that she’d been baseborn, she’d been duped into marriage by a man without honor or even common sense. If he’d had a shred of either, matters could have turned out so differently. But what was done was done. Still her hand strayed to press against the troubling letter in her pocket.
They walked in companionable silence then, the a few inches of snow crunching under their feet. As the sun lowered to the horizon, the wind quieted but the late December day brought thoughts of the warm fire waiting for them and they quickened their pace.
“Sarah, may I be bold and speak more on this matter?”
She glanced at his face which still appeared serious. “If you wish,” she said faintly.
“I thought much of your dilemma in the past weeks. At first I wondered why it should intrigue me so. Then I realized that you and I are not so different–we exiles.”
Sarah pursed her lips and he allowed her time to think. “I see. We are both exiles, aren’t we?” she said at last.
“Yes, but I think in a way your road is more difficult.”
“How so, Louis?”
“I am in a foreign land among strangers, but you are in your own country and yet separated from all you knew…” he began.
She stopped suddenly. A giddy feeling passed through her making her feel faint.
He halted. “Are you unwell, Sarah?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head as though to clear it. “It is just hearing it put into words. You are very perceptive, Louis.”
“I have much solitude and time to think,” he said wryly.
Her smile was wry. “I have, too.” They began to walk again and she tucked her free hand into the crook of his arm companionably.
“So what are your plans, Sarah?”
“Plans?” Her life had been altered forever. What could change that?
“Indeed. You have one advantage over me. I must spend my life always prepared, always hoping to return to Paris or to my estate in Orleans. But you have a whole world in which to find a place to begin a new life,” he said.
“I had not thought of it like that.”
“Well, you must think! Will you spend your life cloistered here like a nun?” He winked at her and patted her gloved hand. “A beautiful woman such as you?”
“Mother was right. You are a flatterer–”
“No, never.” They both laughed as though it felt good to laugh and hurried up the sweeping approach to Westhaven, her parent’s estate.
Just as they glimpsed the butler, holding the door wide for them, a carriage on runners bowled up the drive and drew to a halt. A footman helped Janine down. Sarah’s friend, a very petite pretty blond, wrapped in a modish blue woolen shawl and wearing a hat of exquisite design, Janine’s own design. “My lady, walking in the snow?” she exclaimed. “And le Duc.” She curtseyed deeply to Louis.
Louis lifted her hand and kissed it. “The lovely la femelle styliste. Have you finished dressing the ladies of New York society for the holiday balls?”
“Oui, your grace.” Janine blushed, keeping her gaze lowered in the presence of one she would never have approached in France.
Louis insisted on offering both young women his arms and led them into the house, singing a French melody.
Remembering when and how she and Janine had met on the docks of London three years ago, Sarah felt again the weight of the letter from London in her pocket. What news did it bring? And should she share it now and perhaps spoil her parent’s holiday as well as her own?
That evening all alone in her bedroom with one candle on her bedside table, Sarah at last inserted the letter opener under the wax seal of the London letter. She could no longer leave the letter alone yet did not want to worry her parents, especially during the holiday.
7 November, 1796
I regret bringing up an unpleasant subject, but I thought you should be informed. your former husband Gerald Frathing committed suicide eight days ago by hanging himself. After your divorce he opened his own law office, but unfortunately his income did not keep pace with his gambling debts. His suicide was precipitated by his imminent arrest on the charge of debt to creditors. Again I apologize for sending such dismal tidings. Your servant,
Charles T. Graham, esq., Solicitor
Overwhelmed by the news, she rested her heavy head in her hand. “How awful,” she whispered. She rose, allowing the to letter flutter from her lap to the carpet. Now the man she’d divorced was dead and what of her? Her world was limited to her parent’s home and a few farmhouses nearby where she was still welcome. Each day blended with each other day till time meant nothing but covering dreary endurance with a false smile.
She had married the Englishman Gerald Frathing the day after her sixteenth birthday. The next September 28 in the coming year 1797 she would be nineteen years old. She rested her forehead against the cool window pane, rattling gently with the wind. What was she to do with the rest of her days? Was her whole life going to be squandered living in seclusion? She wanted to scream, “No! No! No!”
if you wish to receive a chapter a week of this new American Regency romance, please go to the top right to subscribe to my enewsletter and enter your email address. Then you will receive a chapter a week. Also please tell your friends, mention it on twitter and Facebook. Thanks!–Lyn