GLASS HOURS (Excerpt Only)
Cathy Richard Dodson
Cathy Richard Dodson
Copyright 2008 by Cathy Richard Dodson, all rights reserved. No portion of
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious
or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is
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To everything there is a season
A time to mourn.
Lyndfield Estate, upstate New York
March 4, 1890
A light mist coated the air and hung lazily over the lush green of the estate. Caroline Lyndfield pushed a strand of damp hair away from her forehead then leaned down to touch the cold gray slate. 'Francis Delafield Monroe', the stone read. 'Beloved teacher and friend.'
Caroline drew a heart into the beads of moisture gathered on the stone. No one had known he was more to her than just a teacher and a friend. Indeed, he was beloved. If things had turned out the way they planned, he would have been her husband--her lover. Mist gathered in her eyes and flowed into tears. She remembered the final time she'd spoken with him. That fated last day...
They had stood just inside the conservatory, surrounded by the promise of spring roses. Hadn't it been raining that day too? But of course she wouldn't have noticed. The days always seemed sunny when he was with her.
"Caroline, we must speak to your father soon," Francis said, pressing in his gentle manner, but managing never to push. Just one of the many things she loved about him.
"I know," she nodded. "I know...but Father is so preoccupied with his work right now. I want it to be the right time, my love."
Francis took a step back from her, pulling his warmth with him. "You mean he's preoccupied arranging your marriage to Evan Ludington."
"Tisn't fair, Francis. You know I've told Father I do not want to marry Evan." Caroline reached out to him, but uncharacteristically, he drew away.
"It's time I took this matter into my own hands," he responded with quiet determination.
"Francis," she pleaded. "Not yet. Give me another day. I'm afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
She shook her head, not really certain of the answer to his question. "My father can be very determined to have his own way. You know that."
He sighed. "Yes, I know. I do know that. But no more days, Caroline. It's now, or it will never be." He reached out and touched her cheek, giving her a tender look as he'd spun on his heel and walked silently away.
Caroline remembered the tears held in check as she'd watched the gray and green of the woods close around him. Suddenly, the heaviness and chill of the day had hit her hard. That was the last time they'd been together--and they'd parted in anger.
Caroline fought back a moan of grief and despair. Only babies cried and she wasn't a baby. William Lyndfield had always demanded courage from his only child. Of all the things she'd learned from her father, that was probably the most valuable. Though he himself might beg to differ. With his tremendous wealth, he could buy her any prize, and Caroline knew her father's fortune was his greatest treasure. Not his daughter. Her brave heart had been instilled only to serve his own purposes; she recognized her father for the selfish man he was. Perhaps it took that kind of egocentricity to build a financial empire, but Caroline would have been happy to settle for less money and more love.
But courage her father had bequeathed her nonetheless, and she called on it to serve her now. 'A grown woman who loved a grown man' Caroline reminded herself, ' With all my heart.'
Francis Monroe had been her teacher since she was fourteen years old. He'd come the year after Aunt Jess had died, another tragedy of Caroline's youth. But thankfully, her father hadn't tried to replace Aunt Jess with another female "None of those namby-pamby governesses for my girl," he'd said. "You'll have the best, a male instructor. And you'll learn like a lad. So some day, my dear, you can barter business with the best of 'em."
So had come the beginning of her time with Francis, and in many ways he had filled the gap left by the death of her aunt. She met him on a summer's day when the roses still bloomed fresh on the vine and her heart was bursting with impressionable youth. Caroline had fallen in love with him instantly. With his fair curls and pale blue eyes which made him appear almost too angelic to be a man--his graceful slender form and long sturdy hands. And of course he was every bit as intelligent as her father thought him to be. He'd taught Caroline mathematics and Latin and English grammar and history with the wit and insight of a genius, yet had made it all seem fun somehow. They became the best of friends; their days, and their years, had flown by.
Until finally the year came when they'd at last acknowledged their love for one another. Francis had taken his own sweet time noticing his pupil was no longer a child but a lovely young woman with her heart in her eyes. But since the day he had, they'd stolen moments away from lessons for kisses, and had pledged their troth. They had dreamed of a future together: a dream that seemed real and possible enough, until Caroline's father casually announced his plan for her life over dinner one night. That he wanted her to spend some time--"getting acquainted on a more intimate level"--his words had been--with his friend and colleague, Evan Ludington.
"A fine man," her father informed her between bites of lamb and sips of wine. "A man of wealth and stature. A scientist like myself." He patted Caroline's hand as she looked from him to Francis, who sat across from her, head down and eating his own meal in silent desperation. "I'd like to see our futures united, my dear. With his intelligence and my fortune, a man like Ludington could conquer the world."
How well she remembered the ominous silence that filled the dining room, and she found herself wishing her aunt had been there with her delightful laughter to lighten the mood. Perhaps, as Aunt Jess had been wont to do, she'd have made a stand for her. But only the clink of her father's fork against his china plate, clinging to the air like an echo, broke the quiet of her shock. Through dim gaslight she noticed Francis' gaze trained to his own plate, and it seemed to her they all moved as if in a slow nightmare.
She sought words to question her father's request, but none came to mind or voice. Her only thought-- outrageously--was that Evan Ludington must be nearly three times her age. But such trivial information made no matter to her father. William Lyndfield had decided and that was that. Caroline knew better than to argue with him over dinner. When she and Francis spoke of it at last, she'd promised to confront her father. But the time had never seemed right somehow. He was either away on business, caught up in one of his many experiments with Evan, in the wrong frame of mind--or something.
All she ever managed was a feeble, "I'm not sure I want to marry Evan, Father."
To which her he merely replied, "Women never know what they want at your age. You'll be happy enough when you get to know the man better.'
'Besides," he'd gone on, heedless of her downcast eyes and forlorn expression, "The empire I've built must be kept intact, and who better to continue your education than my dearest friend and business associate, Evan Ludington."
Caroline thought her heart would break at such an alliance, yet she had protested not more.
So of course Francis had every right to be upset with her, to take the matter into his own hands. She loved him for being a man who would not sit by and let others deal with his problems. Still, as she'd watched him walk into the rain that terrible day, she'd had an odd sense of foreboding, and she had wished he would wait.
Now, he was gone forever. Caroline wiped the remainder of the moisture off the face of the stone. Cold, so cold and touched with the icy chill of death. Cold as Francis had been when they found him in the river. Why had he gone to its banks on a day as rainy and drear as that one had been? Surely he would have gone straight away to talk to her father after they'd parted? He had seemed so determined. What could have happened to make him change his mind?
Yet when she'd returned to the house, her father and Evan had been deep into a chess game; so much so, they hadn't even noticed her damp arrival. There was no sign Francis had been there or was anywhere nearby. She wondered briefly at the time, but assumed he went to change into drier clothes before speaking with her father.
The storm had grown worse as the evening progressed. Thunder and lightening alternately shook the walls and lit the corridors of the house. Caroline waited all evening for some word from Francis, but none came. The next morning, when breakfast time arrived but he did not, she knew something was wrong.
It had taken four days to find his body, far down the Hudson River. No longer was he the Francis they knew and loved, her father said, wanting to spare her the agony of seeing her teacher and friend so ravaged. That Francis had gone beyond the confines of this world, he told her sadly.
But Caroline would have none of that. She must see him. She must be sure it was her Francis who had gone, and not some stranger mistaken by others for her heart's love. And so she herself laid back the dirty brown blanket and saw the blotched white skin and the filthy matted curls of the man she loved. She saw the long sturdy hands with their torn nails and bloodied palms. The head and heart now vacant of all he'd ever thought and felt. With pain too deep for tears, she turned away from him, knowing he whom she loved was forever gone.
"It's raining, my dear. I think you should come out of the wet."
Not so much startled as disgusted by the voice, Caroline turned to find Evan Ludington standing over her. Despite not having heard him approach, she wasn't surprised to find him there. He seemed to be everywhere she was these days, so much so that sometimes she found herself slipping quietly in a different direction with a direct goal of avoiding him. Evan frightened her with his piercing stares and fathomless dark eyes.
Gazing up and up at his tall form now, she noted his height lacked the lean slender grace which had been Francis'. The dreary wet of the day had pressed his dark graying hair as well as his somber clothes against his body, making him look even older and duller than usual. The lined face had a hard cold look about it that his smile didn't brighten and the day itself did nothing further to light. Caroline knew instinctively Evan was a harsh man, and would bring no joy into the lives of those he loved. If indeed, he had the least idea what love was. Which she doubted.
"Caroline..." Evan addressed her again, and this time she knew she must respond.
Rising from the damp earth, she took the hand he offered and forced herself to hold back a shiver at the touch of his hand. 'Cold. Like death,' she thought.
"He was a wonderful teacher to you, your father says." Evan drew her arm through his and led her back toward the gray outlines of the house in the distance. "But you must let him go now."
Caroline tried not to turn back but couldn't resist a final glance. His grave seemed so lonely out here under the sprawling beech where she'd insisted he be buried. Francis had had no family, so Caroline's wishes had been carried out, but only she knew the secret of his resting place. He'd first kissed her there, under the breadth and fullness of that tree. There, they'd pledged their love. There, they would have been married. Some day. If cruel fate had not intervened as it did. Now, Francis would sleep there forever. Alone.
"Are you quite all right, Caroline?"
Their steps brought them close to the green frame playhouse now, beneath the shadows of the elms. Caroline had never liked this place; even as a child she had never strayed too close, though her father had once built the little house for her. Had she loved it then, she wondered, and simply forgotten the good times spent there having dolls' birthday parties and afternoon teas?
Evan bent his head close to hers and put his icy palm beneath her chin, drawing her attention to him. "I said, 'are you all right'?"
"Yes, of course."
"I know you must miss Francis, my dear. But he would have been going soon anyway. He was only your tutor, and now you have your future to think of now. Our future...the lessons of life await you now, Caroline, and I will be your teacher."
This wasn't the first time Evan had spoken of "their" future. She felt his eyes on her, assessing her, studying with calculation, but something else as well. Some dark lust she had no desire to understand. He had pressed her about a betrothal at every opportunity since Francis' death. As if he thought their marriage might drive away her sadness. Make her want to live again. Ironic, that all she wanted to do was die at the thought of marrying him.
Often she wondered how Evan had come to be part of their lives. He seemed to have always been there, and from her youngest days she could remember both him and her father, scheming together. She remembered how sometimes she'd wanted him gone so desperately, for once she could have her father to herself; but it seemed that was never to be, and here he was now, left with her, while Francis was dead.
She felt anger welling up inside her. Anger at his presumption that she would--could--forget Francis, be he teacher or lover, at a moment's whim. Impulsively, she spun on him. "How dare you? How dare you speak of his leaving and his dying in the same breath? Would to God he could have walked away from here alive. I would give my own life that he might have that day. What kind of callous unfeeling man are you?"
Evan's right eye twitched, but beyond that Caroline had little preparation for what was to come. He grasped her wrist tightly and pulled her so close to his face that his hot breath struck her skin like flames from an open fire.
"Callous and unfeeling, am I?" With those words his mouth came down hard on hers; his tongue probed and pushed against her teeth. As she struggled against an iron hold, his free hand found her breast and fondled the skin clinging to the thin fabric of her dress. His black eyes locked hers into a hypnotic trance, yet all the while her mind screamed to escape from his hold.
Finally he stepped back and released her, so suddenly she would have fallen had he not reached out again to steady her swaying form. "Not so unfeeling, dearest Caroline," he whispered, his voice against her ear sending a renewed surge of fear through her. "Perhaps feeling too much...but you'll understand this better after we're married."
Caroline blanched and stepped away from him. She drew herself up and met his eyes directly. "I will never marry you, Evan Ludington," she yelled through the rain, beginning to fall in earnest now. "I would rather die first."
She left him then, and was soaked through by the time she made it back to her room. Her gown had torn during a struggle with a shrub as she'd hurried away from Evan, toward home and, perhaps irrationally, a sense of safety. She felt sick. Sick with fear, sick with love, sick with grief, sick with loathing. How could her own dear father wish for her to marry such a despicable man? Why hadn't she been courageous enough to say no when Francis had asked her to? If she'd only done that, he might be alive today.
"Oh God," she whispered. "Forgive me."
"Are you all right, miss?"
The voice came from the doorway she'd left barely open. It was Nan, her young maid. Houses like Lyndfield Manor didn't run without a staff, and while Caroline had no pretensions about how she looked or what she wore, her father insisted she have a ladies maid to help with her basic necessities. Aunt Jess had done all that when she was alive--Caroline's mother and her sister had come from parents who simple country folk, and while they had owned a respectable farm in upstate New York, the girls had grown up knowing nothing of the kind of luxury life at Lyndfield would bring. When Caroline's mother had died in childbirth, Aunt Jess had taken over and tried to teach her niece the difference between respecting her place in society and being able to take care of herself. Now that she was gone, though Caroline would have preferred to be alone, her father insisted on keeping up appearances.
Caroline brushed away a tear. Not even Nan knew the truth about her love for Francis, and Aunt Jess had taught her it didn't do to gossip with the servants, no matter how much you might like them. But now, with both Francis and Aunt Jess gone, there wasn't even one person she could talk to about her feelings, and the pain was killing her. She felt certain her aunt would have understood her love for Francis: she, too, had been a romantic at heart. Caroline remembered how they'd read Jane Austen together, giggling like schoolgirls over their favorite parts. But Aunt Jess had changed, in the end. Something had weighed heavy on her mind, and Caroline had never been able to pry out of her what it was. She shook it off now, not wanting to dwell on that older grief.
"It's nothing, Nan. I'll be fine." Her eyes searched the room as the younger girl entered. "Where's the dog?" Shannon had been her one comfort on these lonely evenings--he'd been Francis' Irish setter, but she'd taken him in since the death of her love. Normally he'd be waiting at the foot of her bed, but tonight he was nowhere in sight.
"I think he's out in the barn, miss. I saw him chasing down a cat earlier. He musta' got caught there by the storm." Nan went to the bureau and opened a drawer. From it she took a flannel gown and shook it open. "You're soaked, Miss Caroline. Let's get you into something dry. Then you'll feel better."
Caroline gave Nan a weak smile, desperately wishing for a friend with whom she could share her feelings. "You're probably right."
Maybe the girl sensed as much, because Nan winked conspiratorially and began to help Caroline remove the wet clothes. "Course I'm right, miss. Then I'll bring you a cuppa and you'll feel well in no time a'tall."
By the time Nan returned with the steamy tea, Caroline's nausea had begun to dissipate. While she sipped it, Nan fluttered about, drawing curtains and lighting the lamps.
"You been out to his grave again, haven't you miss?"
Caroline nodded with silent despair, biting back the words she so wanted to share.
Nan looked at her then seeming to make a decision, crossed the room and pulled up a chair beside the bed. She leaned close to Caroline and took her hands. "I know about loss, Miss Caroline. My beau was killed in a carriage accident last spring."
Caroline leaned toward the girl, at last recognizing a sympathetic soul and realizing even if she didn't share, at least she could listen. "He was? You hardly seem old enough to have a beau."
"Dickie and I were pledged when we were ten. We always knew, you know? Now, maybe it twasn't the same for you and Master Francis, but you were still the best of friends and that's a great loss too, ain't it?"
"Oh, yes, Nan, a very great loss. I miss him so much."
Nan, for all her youth, patted Caroline's arm like a grownup and rose from the chair. "I think it's best to grieve and let it go, Miss Caroline. He woulda wanted it that way, don't you think?"
"Yes," Caroline said, sadness filling her voice at the thought she couldn't let the conversation go further. "I believe he would have."
"I'm here if you need to talk," Nan said over her shoulder as she whisked out the door but Caroline knew it wasn't to be.
"Thank you, Nan," she whispered softly, laying her head against the pillow and allowing the promising peace of sleep to come upon her. "Thank you."
* * * *
Thunder shook her awake from a fitful sleep. Caroline sat up, disoriented, and tried to focus her sight in the darkened room. She'd been dreaming again, about Francis. Always the same dream. He called out to her. Begged her to help him--to save him.
She tried to run toward his voice, but was always swallowed in a cloud of black emptiness. "Oh Francis!" She bit her lip and sobbed with despair. "What can I do? What didn't I do for you?"
Staring at the outline of the long French windows opposite her bed, she shuddered as lightening flashed again and lit the night. Movement caught her eye. Was it only her imagination or had something crossed the lawn? She rose and crossed the room, ignoring the feel of the cold wood beneath her bare feet. Yes, there it was again.
Someone--something-- was out there! Straining to see into the darkness, Caroline caught a glimpse of the playhouse, then another image flashed through her mind. A man, and a child. A struggle. Something terrible was about to happen.
"Go now!" her mind screamed out to her. Without another thought, her rescuing spirit came to call. Fearless and with purpose, she threw on her heavy woolen robe and lurched into the night.
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