• Meg Sechrest

Through the Lavender Fields-Preview



ONE

Caroline Porter stood at the window of her bed chambers, watching the rain as it rolled down the glass on the cool April afternoon, thinking about how the events of the previous few hours would affect her life forever.

“Here’s a dress for you, Miss Caroline,” her chambermaid said as she laid Caroline’s clean black dress on the chaise at the foot of the bed. “Your Aunt sent word only a little while ago that a carriage would arrive for you within the hour. Shall I help you into your dress, miss?”

Wiping away her tears, Caroline walked to the chaise, taking the black dress in her hands, knowing this would be her life for a short time.

“No. I can manage just fine. Thank you.”

“I will return to you shortly, miss,” the servant said with a curtsey and she left the room.

Caroline sat grieving her father for many minutes. After a short nap, when she felt quite recovered, she dressed in her travel clothes.

Slipping the delicate material of the black dress over her head, she was reminded of the day her mother died many years ago and it gave rise to feelings of loss.

“Oh, Papa, how will I get on without you? You’re all I’ve had for so long…”

Many memories of her father began recollecting in her mind and also her father’s last words to her…

“Caroline, my dear, do not despair that I will no longer be with you on this earth. You have much time left and many days yet to live. Do not spend your days grieving me. You will be happy and I daresay you will someday forget this old man and have a family of your own...”

“Dear Papa, I could never forget you.”

She rang for the servant and wiped her face, sniffling away her sadness.

“You rang?” The servant asked and entered.

“Could you please send a footman for my bags?”

“Of course. Someone will be up to assist you.”

As Caroline was slipping her gloves on her hands, the footman knocked.

“Miss Porter, your bags?” He said.

“Yes. Please take those right there by the chaise and that larger one by the changing room.”

“Yes, miss.”

He took two bags in his hands and left the room and Caroline turned to the mirror to begin fussing and tugging at her hair before adding a travel hat.

“Just a moment,” Caroline said when there was another knock at her door.

“Caroline, it’s John,” her brother said, peeking his head around the door.

Caroline composed herself, walking to the door. “John, I’d thought you’d left for London.”

He entered her room and motioned the servant to leave, and Caroline slid her black gloves onto her hands.

“No,” he replied. “Margaret insisted on going herself so I can prepare the house for her arrival.”

Caroline took her knitted black shawl from the side of the bed, wrapping it around herself as she sat on the corner of the chaise and looked at her half-brother.

“You don’t have to leave Lockewood, sister.”

“Oh, but I do.”

“You can stay here with Margaret and I.”

“Margaret made herself perfectly clear on the matter, John.”

“Forget Margaret, Caroline, I am the man of the house now and what I say is what matters at Lockewood. Our father left the estate to me.”

“Yes, well, I’m not living anywhere I do not feel wanted.”

“You are wanted, Caroline.”

“Not by your wife.” Caroline stood and walked to the door, opening it for him to leave. “Goodbye, John. You own me 50,000 pounds. I expect to see it before I turn 21 in August.”

John walked out and Caroline closed the door, thinking about her half-brother's wretched wife and how she’d wished he never would’ve married her for the money.

Caroline spent the next hour or so replaying the past year in her mind and how she wanted nothing more than to reverse time and bring back her dear father to make everything right again.

“Oh, Papa,” she said as she looked out her bedroom window once again, “If you just wouldn’t have gone on that trip, then you would never have fallen ill and you would still be here with me. If you only knew…”

Her thoughts were interrupted by a shrill voice she knew quite well.

“Caroline Anne Porter!”

Caroline spun around to see her Aunt Mary walking into her room.

“You are never ready on time!”

“Hello, Aunt Mary…you are mistaken. I am quite ready.”

“Step out here where I can see you. Let me have a look at you, child.”

The sister of Caroline’s late mother, tended to be brash and forthcoming, though she usually was well-intentioned. Mary Lemon had married well in life but was never well-suited herself for proper society. Mary was married to Mr. George Lemon, who was known to be worth 7,000 pounds a year, and she made no qualms about flaunting her money. This is where Caroline was to live now that her own father had passed on and her brother was taking over Lockewood.

“Well, Caroline,” Mrs. Lemon said, glancing around the room, “We must be going. Are your things packed?”

“I packed what I could. The servants took them downstairs already.”

“Very good. The rest of your belongings will be sent by coach in a few days. Your father’s estate and properties will all be settled soon. Your sum will be given to you when you turn 21 in August. In the meantime, your uncle and I shall see to your immediate needs. Come, child. We must make haste before it gets dark.”

Caroline turned and looked once more at her childhood home; the home where she’d grown from a girl to a woman and was rocked to sleep by her mother before her death and was told stories as a child by Miss Gilson, her companion, who would be accompanying her to the Lemon’s home for only a short while since Caroline would soon have to accept her place as a grown woman.

Caroline didn’t look back as she walked outside and into the carriage. As it drove down the lane, she kept her gaze on the harbor, a sight she would miss most of all.

***

“You do not look well,” Mrs. Lemon said to Caroline on the carriage ride on the way to Westinghouse—the Lemon’s home.

“My heart is heavy and I feel a terrible unease about leaving Lockewood.”

“I understand very much, Caroline. It is the only home you have ever known and with your father’s passing…”

“Perhaps once I get to Westinghouse and am settled it will take my mind off of things. When is Miss Gilson to join me there?”

“I am sorry to say that your companion will not be joining us at Westinghouse. It is time for you to take your place in society.”

Knowing the companion she’d had since childhood would not be there with her brought her heart great sadness, and Caroline turned her head away from her aunt, a tear dripping from her eye as she watched out the carriage window in silence for the next several miles.

“I know you are feeling very distressed about Miss Gilson not joining you, but there is much to do at Westinghouse and I assure you the loss will not be felt for long, my dear.”

Caroline turned her attention back to her aunt. “I have only been to your home in town. What kinds of things are there to do at the estate? Is your home far in the country?”

“We have a house on a great property that sits next to a large pond. Behind the pond is the home of Sir Lionel Norfolk. His wife Alice passed away several years ago, leaving him alone with a large fortune. He is our neighbor to the north just beyond the pond situated behind our property. They have no children, but they do have two nephews and a niece.

“This Sir Lionel, will I meet him?”

“I’m certain you shall, though I wouldn’t take his acquaintance to be a delight.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“Sir Lionel can be feisty in his old age and isn’t afraid to speak his mind, though you’ve never had trouble with that either. Perhaps you will both meet your match.”

Caroline smiled. “Perhaps. I shall look forward to meeting this Sir Lionel. What are his nephews and niece like? Will I like them?”

“His niece, Hannah, is about your age. She is a pleasant young woman. I daresay you might strike up a friendship with her. As for Edward and Benjamin, I do not see them as often, but I have never had an unpleasant experience, and I must say that Benjamin is the most striking in appearance. Although, I find his younger brother Edward to be more pleasing in conversation. Benjamin can be a tad shy, I find.”

“I am looking forward to gaining all of their acquaintances. I love having new friends.”

“You will get many acquaintances in the very near future, my dear. I hear there is to be a ball.”

Caroline’s spirits grew in a moment and her posture improved as her face lit up and she looked to her aunt across from her in the carriage. “Tell me it is true!”

“We have it on very good authority that soon there will be a very grand ball, my dear,” Mrs. Lemon said.

“Who shall host it?”

“Sir Lionel Norfolk himself. He has a great estate and some 200 rooms or sorts. It is very grand. I am convinced you will be most impressed indeed.”

“It sounds quite magnificent.”

Caroline laid her head against the side of the carriage and imagined what the ball might be like and who would be there, especially the two nephews of Sir Lionel Norfolk, trying to take her mind off leaving her home behind and the death of her father.

After a considerable amount of time went by and after she’d fallen into a slumber for enough time that her mind was hazy upon waking, her aunt tapped her knee and pointed out the carriage window in time for Caroline to see as they came through a clearing in the woods to rolling hills, where at the top of the hills sat a large rectangular shaped house of sandstone bricks with 20 or so windows in all and a grand staircase that led up to the large four-set front doors with a few blackthorn trees on either side of it and a vast gardens in the front for walking.

“There is quite a large pond just down that way if you’re willing to take a little walk,” Mary said and pointed to the back of the house.

“It is certainly a lovely property,” Caroline said.

“I am certain you will find comfort and happiness here,” Mary replied as the carriage stopped in front of the house.

The two women stepped out and Caroline absorbed her surroundings for a moment, finding the house and property absolutely breathtaking. She’d always considered Lockewood the best home she’d ever seen, but now she was convinced Westinghouse to be the most beautiful sight.

They were greeted by George Lemon, who was walking down Westinghouse’s long front stairway.

“Ladies! Glad you made it safe and sound! Caroline, it is so good to see you again, my dear. We are pleased you are here!” he said, taking her hands and kissing her cheek.

“I am happy to be here,” she replied. “You have a beautiful property, Uncle George. I regret my father had not brought me here sooner,” she said and walked up the long entry stairway. “After the death of my mother many years ago, my father resolved himself to be a recluse.”

“But we must never feel sorry for ourselves, shall we?” Mary said.

Caroline shook her head, but on the inside, she was rolling her eyes.

“Come now, my dear, let us get you settled into your room. We may well be expecting visitors this very day.”

“Visitors?” Caroline asked, looking around as her eyes took in the sight of her aunt and uncle’s beautiful home, which was a bit grander and nicer than the house she’d known all her life until now.

“Mm, yes, dear one,” Mary replied. “Sir Lionel Norfolk and his nephew Benjamin Bradley.”

“I believe he travels with his brother and sister,” George added.

“They are his half-brother and sister, George,” Mary said.

“This is true,” George agreed. “Caroline, technically, Hannah and Edward are Benjamin’s half-siblings. His father married Mrs. Kenton when Sir Byron Kenton passed away several years back.”

“I think I shall forget all of this by this evening,” Caroline replied. “All these names and all this information, it’s so much to remember.”

“Do not fret, young one,” George said and opened the door to her bedroom chambers. “All shall be reintroduced to you when they arrive.” He motioned for the servants to place her things in the room and they entered.

“Oh my,” Caroline said, “It is so lovely. I am forgetting home already.”

“We are glad it is to your liking,” Mrs. Lemon said. “If there is anything you need, call for your servant. Our visitors are expected by six.”

Caroline hugged her aunt and uncle at the door to her bedroom and it closed behind her. She walked over to the window, taking in the view of the vast gardens over the side of the house and across the woods, thinking about the dinner guests to arrive within the hour. After several minutes, she circled the room a time, brushing her hand across the furniture and stopped at her trunk of belongings, taking out a dress she felt would be appropriate for the evening’s dinner with guests, and began unpinning her travel dress, rehearsing all the information that had been given to her during the day.

Sir Lionel comes with his nephew, Benjamin, who brings his half-brother, Edward, and half-sister, Hannah, as well…

As she rehearsed the people she’d learned during the day, she put on her evening gown, then sat in front of the reflective glass and re-pinned her hair.

Once she was satisfied with her appearance, Caroline left the chambers and joined the party in the drawing room, where her aunt and uncle were already with several people.

“Caroline! Glad you have joined us,” George said. “Sir Lionel, this is our niece, Miss Caroline Porter. Caroline, this is Sir Lionel Norfolk.”

“How’d you do,” Caroline said, curtsying.

“It is a pleasure, young lady,” he replied with a gentle bow.

“Let me introduce you to my nephew, Dr. Benjamin Bradley.”

“Miss Porter,” Dr Bradley replied with a tilt of his head. “How do you do?”

“Doctor?” Caroline replied.

“Yes,” George replied. “He is quite a revered man of medicine. Do tell my niece about yourself.”

Dr. Bradley turned to Caroline and introduced himself. “I am in the field of medical research. I travel all over the world to find treatments and cures for different ailments and diseases.”

“How extraordinary!” Caroline exclaimed.

“Yes, my dear,” George said, “It truly is.”

George turned to continue introducing Caroline to the other guests.

“Let me introduce to you Dr. Bradley’s brother and sister, Miss Hannah Kenton and Mr. Edward Kenton.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Edward said.

"It is lovely to meet you both."

Hannah curtsied but said nothing.

“Miss Porter… as in Porter shipping?”Dr. Bradley said.

“Yes, sir. My father owned Porter shipping.”

“And he does not own it anymore?”

“He recently passed, and my brother John has inherited the business.”

“Oh, yes. I see you are in mourning. I am sorry to hear this news. My condolences.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And this is my late wife’s niece, Miss Sophie Hollings and my wife’s sister, Lady Susan Hollings.”

Sophie curtsied but said nothing and Caroline felt maybe she’d given the wrong first impression to her.

“Miss Hollings, Lady Hollings, it’s truly wonderful to meet you all. I am relieved to see so many happy faces so soon after my father’s death and upon arriving here at Westinghouse.”

“Of course you are, poor dear,” Lady Hollings said. “How awful it must be for you to leave your home like you have and travel so many miles.”

“I appreciate your concern, Ma’am. While it has been hard these last few days since my father passed, my aunt and uncle have seen to my needs most diligently. I am certain being at Westinghouse is just what I need.”

“It is good that you have such kind people to care for you,” Sophie said.

“Yes,” Sir Lionel said. “The Lemons are very well known for their hospitality.”

“Well then, shall we go into the dining room?” Mr. Lemon asked.

“We are expecting a few more people,” Mrs. Lemon said. “Let us wait in here.”

“Then let us get comfortable, shall we?”

Everyone took seats around the drawing room and began conversation, most of it revolving around Benjamin and his extensive traveling.

“Dr. Bradley, where do you suppose you’ll venture to next?” George asked from across the room where he was standing next to the fireplace, smoking a cigar.

Two young men entered the drawing room.

“Robert!” Mary exclaimed and threw her arms around him. “We are thrilled that you have joined us.”

“Hello, Mother, Father, Caroline… good evening everyone,” Robert, the Lemons’ son, said.

“Robert! What an excellent surprise!”Mary exclaimed. “How was your journey?”

“Please, mother, make no fuss. My journey was fine, and as you can see, I am in all one piece. Let me introduce to you my good friend, Captain Wilson."

“Lovely to have you, Captain,” Mary said. “Let me introduce you to some of our other guests.” She turned and motioned to Sir Lionel. “This is Sir Lionel Norfolk, our neighbor to the north.”

“How’d you do, Sir Lionel,” Wilson said, giving a nod.

“Happy to make your acquaintance, Captain,” Sir Lionel responded.

“He brings with him Lady Hollings and Miss Sophie Hollings,” Mary added.

“Ladies,” Wilson said.

“Captain,” they replied almost in unison.

“Lastly, our own niece will be staying with us for a little while, Miss Caroline Porter.”

Captain Wilson’s attention was caught by Caroline’s red hair that fell to her shoulders and green eyes that were now staring directly into his.

“Captain Wilson, might I tempt you with a drink?” George said, noticing Captain Wilson’s captivation by his niece.

“You may,” he said, taking a seat next to Dr. Bradley.

George motioned for the servant to serve wine.

“Nice to see you have returned from America, Robert. There is much to report from that end of the world, I’m certain,” Dr. Bradley said.

“Not half as much as you always have to tell when you travel. America wasn’t nearly what I thought it would be. Dr. Bradley, you will travel again soon?”

“Now that I could not tell you,” Dr. Bradley replied. “When and where I am to go is as unknown to me as the day of each of our deaths. I live each day as ordinarily as I can until I am assigned to a project. Then I go. I suppose it would be somewhere east again, perhaps India. I know they need some help with disease in their water supply.”

“Oh, India? Good heavens! You poor young man!” Mary exclaimed. “The living conditions are so deplorable! How would you ever survive there? I would never wish that lifestyle upon anyone! My word, what a terrible life that must be for you. Surely having inherited your family’s estate you must be doing well enough without it. Are you not?”

“I would agree, Ma’am, that circumstances are not what I would wish when I travel, but I try to make the best of my situation, working as safely as I can then leaving as soon as possible to come home to Crumstok. It is not glamorous work, but it is most important to the medical community. I am proud to do it. As for my family’s estate, the people I can help with my research far outweigh the risks I encounter when I travel,” Dr. Bradley replied. It was obvious to everyone that he felt upset by her comments, but Dr. Bradley remained kind, nonetheless. Caroline admired his declaration, thinking his words showed the sort of compassion that was embedded in his soul and his heart, and her first impression on his character gave her the strong sense that he was kind and warm-hearted, but most of all, generous and self-sacrificing in nature. He was willing to give up himself for medical research to help others. She was certain his family’s estate brought him a fortune, but he didn’t take up a life of leisure. Instead, he risked himself and his own comfort for the sake of medicine.

Mary tried to redeem herself, gushing, “Oh, you are doing such noble work. Any woman would be proud to have you on her arm. Tell me, do you have plans in the future for any such woman?”

Blushing, knowing her aunt was trying to do some matchmaking of her own, Caroline turned her face away. Even more to her humiliation, he looked to Caroline and said, “In fact, I have not had much time to think of women in my line of work. However, I do hope to change that someday. However, only if my wife is accepting of my work. I could never leave my work.”

“Dr. Bradley, I find it commendable that you chose a career when you have such an inheritance. Why is it you decided to practice the field of medicine you do?” Caroline asked.

“When I was a boy of but nine years of age, my mother had fallen ill. She spent weeks being taken so ill, growing worse and worse by the hour, but the physician was unable to do anything to help her condition. They didn’t know what disease had befallen her. I wanted so much to do something to save her that I took everything valuable I had and sold it on the streets for money to get her medicine at the apothecary, but even the apothecary had nothing to help. My mother’s death stayed with me throughout my life; and as I grew as a young man, I saw many other people with illnesses that were deemed untreatable by the doctors. It pained my heart to see. I decided I wanted to find cures and treatments for these diseases.”

“Truly, Dr. Bradley, I find a life such as yours to be incredibly compassionate and sacrificial,” she said.

“Well, there we have it now. I think we best make our way to the dining room. What shall we say to that? Caroline, you take arms with Dr. Bradley there,” George said. “Miss Sophie, my son would be happy to escort you, and Captain Wilson, you escort Miss Hannah…”

“As you wish,” Caroline replied, feeling awkward but not knowing how to escape his request.

“Miss,” Dr. Bradley held out his arm for her to escort her to the dining room.

“So, Miss Porter,” Dr. Bradley said as they walked down the hall, “How was your travel here?”

“Long and the typical uncomfortable journey that is to be expected of a ride through the country, I suppose.”

“I take it you are not from the country then?”

“My father’s portyard in East Sussex did not give us the luxury of living far from the seaside as he frequently needed to be at the port.”

“Of course. And where did you reside in East Sussex?”

They walked into the dining room and took their places at the table.

“My father had a home in Weymouth, sir. It is now occupied by my half-brother and his wife.”

“I’ve heard Weymouth is a lovely seaside town. I am quite sure you miss your home there very much.”

“I do. Until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to travel far from home. Occasionally, I would visit my brother John and his wife in London, but it was only a handful of times.”

Caroline was now seated in the dining room with Dr. Bradley on her left and Sophie on her right—who was leaning forward to look around her at Dr. Bradley—and she felt awkward and wished she’d been seated at a different place at the table. Sir Lionel held up to his reputation of being spirited by beginning the most dreadful conversation.

“Miss Porter, do you care much for travel?” he asked from across the table.

“Well, Sir Lionel, having not experienced much travel, I would have to tell you I do not know. I am perfectly undecided on the matter,” Caroline responded, thinking she had defeated his admission to whatever game he was subjecting to play.

“Come now, Miss Porter. You may not have ever traveled but you most certainly must have an opinion on whether or not you want to travel,” Lady Hollings replied.

Caroline combatted her remark right away. “If I say to you, ‘You must form for yourself an opinion on green peas,’ but you say to me, ‘Well I haven’t tried green peas;’ then I say to you, ‘Well certainly you must have an opinion of them even before tasting them. You must form an opinion of whether you might like them.’ Do you see how silly that sounds? That is why, consequently, I do not know if I want to travel. I have never been out of England. I have hardly left my home in Sussex until now. When I do travel, I will let you know what I think.” She took a sip of wine and Lady Hollings scoffed, “Well! Mr. Lemon, your niece certainly gives her opinion without reservation.”

Captain Wilson sipped his wine with the smallest of smiles, enjoying Caroline’s repartee. Caroline felt it was possible by the smiles on the faces around the table that she handled herself very well in her first dinner party away from Lockewood. Even with her father’s death so soon behind her, she was now thinking she could handle anything thrown at her.

“Dr. Bradley!” Sir Lionel called. “What are your thoughts about Miss Porter’s green pea discussion?”

“I find that Miss Porter’s words show that she knows very little of the world.”

“Indeed. And how do you come to that conclusion, might I ask?”

“Well, you have someone who makes hasty assumptions about things she knows next to nothing about, yet finds before ever trying new ideas or adventures that she may just as well be better off without them. I say it strikes me she is a woman who knows very little of the way of the world and in the things going on around her.”

“My dear nephew, you could very well be correct in your assertion of Miss Porter.”

“Dr. Bradley, and how do you know my views of the world are because of ignorance and not because of a tainted life lived?”

“Well, I assume by looking at you that you are hardly 19 years old...”

“20…”

“Forgive me, but what kind of life can any 20 year old could have possibly lived to have formed such an opinion tainted life or not?”

“Now there you have it," Sir Lionel declared. “And Miss Porter, now that you know how my nephew finds you, how do you find him?”

Caroline looked his way from the corner of her eyes and she said, “I find him just what any other gentleman is expected to be, sir.”

“Well, I think it wonderful that young ladies have learned to be bold and brave and have now the intelligence to join in on conversation rather than sit in the corner with their embroidery. I think it shows Miss Porter’s perception of everything going on around her,” Edward said with a nod to Caroline.

“Opinions, opinions, everywhere and not a drop to spare!” George said, trying to make light of the conversation, which was his usual energy.

“My brother always seems to make the most of a young lady,” Dr. Bradley said with a glance to Caroline as the ham and pea soup was being served.

“Perhaps, it isn’t your brother who is making the most of the ladies, sir, but the ladies who are owning their own dignity and he happens to share in their opinions,” Caroline replied.

“I think you may have to watch your tongue around my niece, Dr. Bradley,” George said with a chuckle.

Dr. Bradley took a spoonful of soup as his eyes moved to his side and he said, “I do not think it is I who needs to watch his tongue at all.”

“Consider that your judgment may be skewed, sir, in matters such as these because you lack the proper experience when it comes to the opposite sex. Please excuse me for a moment. I feel over warm.” Caroline stood from the table, exiting out the balcony doors to the left and walking down the stairs to the side gardens, she composed herself from the tiresome censure of Dr. Benjamin Bradley.

“Never in my life have I met a more infuriating man!” she grumbled as she walked back and forth in the first path of the garden, glancing at the rows of colorful spring flowers on each side. “I don’t know what makes him think he has any right speaking to me like that!”

“My brother has offended you.”

“Oh!” Caroline spun around. “Mr. Kenton!”

Mr. Kenton took Caroline’s hand, bringing it to his lips. “I must apologize for his behavior. It is truly shocking.”

“I thank you.” Caroline turned and continued her walk down the garden path.

“He does not mean to be rude, I assure you. He spends very little time with ladies of your…”

“Intelligence?”

Mr. Kenton chuckled. “Yes but also beauty.”

Caroline blushed. “He claims he has no interest in women or marriage.”

“I would say that is a true summation of who he is now. He is very much dedicated to his work.”

“What do you mean, now?”

“My brother hasn’t always been so uptight but life hasn’t been kind to him, which is why he’s become so…”

“Impertinent?”

“I was going to say formal, but that as well. Might I walk you back inside to supper?”

Caroline took notice of Mr. Kenton’s kind face and was now thinking perhaps she had made an hasty judgment against Dr. Bradley’s character in assigning him to be the kind and compassionate brother when it was evident his brother, Mr. Kenton, filled that role.

With a tilt of her head and a slight curtsey, she replied, “You may.”

“I assure you, Miss Porter, though my brother may be a bit imprudent in his words, he is worth his weight in gold.”

“Is that so?”

“It is indeed, miss.”



***

“Well! I must say, your cook has outdone himself!” Mr. Kenton said, stretching his arms overhead and rubbing his abdomen.

“Should we retire for smokes and drinks in the parlor?” George asked.

“That sounds like a grand plan,” Sir Lionel said, “But I would much rather enjoy the company of these lovely ladies a bit longer. What do you say to that?”

“Then let us move to the sitting room,” Mr. Lemon said.

All the guests stood and walked into the sitting room for conversation and drinks.

“Caroline, please delight us with some of your beautiful playing,” her uncle asked.

“Yes, my dear, please do,” Mrs. Lemon agreed.

“If that is your wish,” Caroline said and went to the piano, finding her favorite Schubert to play, Impromptu No. 3 in G Flat Major.

Mary turned to Sir Lionel and said, “Caroline is truly the most accomplished musician.”

Having heard this, Dr. Bradley went to the piano to turn her pages as she played.

“You mean to falter me, Dr. Bradley?” she asked.

“Certainly not,” he said and turned the page as she played.

Knowing the piece nearly by heart, Caroline played it without looking and glanced up at Dr. Bradley as he outstretched his arm over the piano, and she noticed a gentleness in him that she hadn’t seen at supper in the way his sandy hair fell over his soft blue eyes, and she watched him for a moment, thinking about the complexity of his character until she missed a note and he looked down at her.

“How about a duet?” Sir Lionel said. “Benjamin, you are a very accomplished pianist as well.”

When Caroline paused in her playing, Dr. Bradley shrugged in such a way to propose a question, and when she scooted over on the bench to make room for him, he felt it answered and he sat next to her, breathing in her sweet perfume.

“What would you like to play?” he asked her.

“I find Beethoven to be a very good choice for duets.”

“Do you now?”

“Yes,” she pulled out a piece of music from the back and pointed to Sonata in D.

“Indeed,” he said.

After they’d completed the piece, he leaned closer and said in just above a whisper, “You play very well.”

“As do you.”

They rejoined the party where everyone was sitting together engaged in conversation.

Edward offered Caroline his seat, “Miss Porter, please, sit here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Kenton. Very kind of you.”

“Miss Porter, do you paint?” Hannah asked.

“I enjoy painting very much.”

“I would quite like it if you would join me soon for some painting. It’s so much more enjoyable with company. Do you not agree?”

“With company is far more enjoyable. You name the day.”

“I shall look forward to it.”

Dr. Bradley walked behind where everyone else was seated, and when Caroline said, “I think I shall retire myself for the evening. It’s been a tiresome few days, and I require some rest,” in haste he said, “Are you well?”

“Quite, sir. Just tired from my journey.”

“Of course, my dear, whatever you need,” her aunt Mary said.

“Good evening, all. It was a pleasure to meet everyone. I look forward to the next time.”

Dr. Bradley tilted his head as she left the room and walked the long halls and up the stairs to her room, taking in the extravagant wood cherry molding and detailed craftsmanship of the ceilings as she walked, thinking about Dr. Bradley’s sandy blond hair and pale blue eyes as she walked.

“He has a certain charm and mystery about him that I find appealing; he’s not flirtatious like other gentlemen can be. Yet, there’s an arrogance to him I don’t like, I believe…”

After changing into her evening clothes, Caroline shuddered and wrapped herself in her dressing robe, feeling the chill in the evening air. She looked to the fireplace, hoping to have it lit. After ringing for a servant, yet receiving no answer, she assumed the servants were still tending to the dinner guests who’d stayed late for drinks in the parlor, and she decided to take the logs stacked next to the fireplace and make a fire herself.

She took the tinderbox from the fireplace mantle, staring at it for only a moment before understanding that she had no experience with using the contents inside. Not wanting to give up as she was feeling the prickles on her skin rise, she looked around for a way to light this fire and saw a few already lit candles, deciding that would be the best way. Piling up some paper on top of the logs, she lit the paper with the candle. When the paper caught before she could pull her hand away, she burnt her skin, dropping the candle onto the paper pile.

“Ouch!” she cried and looked at her red, scorched hand and wrist. Knowing the burn would need tending to, she rang for a servant again and sat on the settee next to the window.

As Caroline began to cry, the maid, Anna, walked in. “Oh, Miss! Are ya alright? Let me have a look!” Glancing at the burn for only a moment, she said, “The doctor hasn’t left yet. I better call him for ya. Stay here, miss.” She walked out and Caroline waited there only a few minutes until Anna walked back in with Mrs. Lemon and Dr. Bradley.

“Goodness! What have you done?!” Mrs. Lemon exclaimed. Dr. Bradley walked over and kneeled in front of Caroline for a moment while looking into her eyes. Caroline assumed he was trying to gauge her pain level and she said, “My pain is pretty severe, doctor.”

He inspected her hand for a few seconds before saying, “This is a very bad burn and will need to be treated. I need her arm undressed. Try your best not to touch the wound as you work.” He walked out to the hall.

“Come. Let’s get you into a nightdress,” Mrs. Lemon said. Caroline nodded but felt embarrassed that Dr. Bradley was going to see her in such an intimate state. She was changed and put into bed where the doctor could more easily care for her. “I’ll need some water, a drip bowl, and clean linens,” he said to Anna.

“Aye, doctor.”

“I’m going to leave you to it. I’ll return to the dinner guests,” Mrs. Lemon said as she walked out.

“You were lighting a fire?” he asked.

Caroline only nodded.

“Why didn’t you call for a servant?”

He stood and walked over to his medical supplies bag.

“I did, but I was too impatient to wait, I suppose.”

“I guess you’ve learned your lesson on the importance of patience, now haven’t you?”

“I suppose.”

Anna returned with the water and rags, placing them on the table.

“Thank you. This is all we need.”

Anna gave a small curtsey and exited the room.

“Those piano fingers will be resting for some time because this is quite the burn you have. From now on, let the servants tend to the fires. It’s their job.” He looked over at Caroline’s face just as a tear dripped down her cheek. Dr. Bradley kept quiet as he washed and treated the burn and wrapped it in bandages until Caroline flinched as he tied off the bandage.

“How is your pain now?”

“I’ll be fine,” she said, looking away.

“I see. I was going to head out of town tomorrow, but I suppose my plans will be changing now.”

“Do as you wish.”

“Miss Porter, I’m trying to help you. You do understand that, do you not?”

“I’m doing just fine.”

“As you wish,” he said and went to his medical bag.

He gathered his supplies. “You know, you might be the most stubborn patient I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a good many number of patients.”

Caroline turned to face him. “Do you always consider it part of your care to insult your patients?”

He smiled. “No. That’s special on your behalf.” He pointed to her arm and headed to the door. “You're all ready. I’ll be back tomorrow to see how you’re mending. Good evening, Miss Porter.”

“Good evening.”

Once he walked out, Anna came in to be sure Caroline didn’t need anything.

“That Dr. Bradley is truly something special,” Anna said as she moved to clean up the doctor’s mess.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Caroline replied. “He gave me quite the scolding this evening at supper.”

“I’ve never known Dr. Bradley to be rude, miss.”

“Tell me, Anna. Does Dr. Bradley stay with Sir Lionel?”

“No, miss. Sir Lionel has the property on the far back border of Mr. Lemon’s property, just a ways beyond the pond about a mile walk or so. If you go out yonder the gardens and through the woods in the opposite direction, there’s a house where the doctor lives just past the lavender fields.”

“Lavender fields?”

“Aye, miss. You might’ve seen his house on your way through, I should think.”

Anna finished braiding Caroline’s hair and headed over to check on the fire.

“Do you mean the white and brick one at the beginning of the road?”

“Naw, miss. That’s the one where one of Mr. Lemon’s tenants stays. The doctor is a good three miles past.”

“I thought Dr. Bradley owned an estate?”

When Anna stood and wiped her hands on her apron she said, “He does. He and his family are from Exeter. When he isn’t in Exeter, he stays here at a little cottage on the other side of the lavender fields. You aren’t thinking of walking all the way there, are you? It’s pretty rough terrain, miss. It’s a lot of woods the whole way there.”

“No. I was just curious. Thank you.”

“Do you plan on going to town tomorrow?”

“I am planning to go to town very soon.”

“I hope you find it to your liking and enjoy your time in Bath and at Westinghouse. Good night, miss.”


© 2021 Meg Sechrest All Rights Reserved.

This is only an excerpt. This novel may be purchased soon in its entirety in either digital or paperback version.

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

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 © Meg Sechrest 2020

DISCLAIMER: All of Meg's works are copyrighted under the protection of the United States Copyright Office. You must get written consent from the author to reuse her works in any way, shape, or form, except in a small quote for the purposes for a review.