East of Sutherland Park
Another foray into the Regency Era.
When Juliana's father dies, her eldest brother takes her away to his home in Devonshire to 'recover'. There, at Sutherland Park, she finds herself caught in a struggle between personal wants and familial expectation.
Though it was barely after noon, the house that resided just outside of Winsbury that had belonged to the well-known and well-respected Fairchild family was cloaked in a heavy, solemn silence. The servants, who always spoke well of their employers to anyone who asked of them, soundlessly went about their daily tasks dressed in mournful black.
Upstairs, on the east side of the house, the master's bedroom was lit only by the tiny slivers of light that managed to squeeze their way in between the windows' heavy curtains. Though once belonging to a gentleman of considerable wealth, the room was conservative and utilitarian in its decoration. There was no finery on display, no wing-backed armchairs beside the hearth, and no works of art save for a portrait of a young woman that hung over the mantelpiece.
The click of the door's latch echoed through the room and Juliana Fairchild, the youngest of the three Fairchild children, entered the bedroom carrying a tray of tea things. She nudged the door shut with her foot and then crossed the room to the bedside. The tray was set upon the nightstand and then the girl lowered herself to sit on the edge of the bed.
Her hair was a pale, reddish blond, like her mother's, that emphasized the blueness of her large eyes and the pallor of her skin. She was slightly built, being but sixteen, and possessed a youthful and, at times, mischievous countenance. It was the popular opinion of the small town of Winsbury that she was one of the most beautiful girls of the county—an opinion she thought greatly aided by her family's large fortune.
She poured herself a cup of tea and then took a slow sip.
Juliana was close to her father. Being his only child left at home and his only daughter, she held a special place in his heart. They were each other's great source of company, being of a similar humor and generally understanding of and patient with one another's oddities. The man himself was a strange, dichotomous mixture of proper, English gentleman and passionate free spirit. He was hardworking and brilliant, but his passion lay with music, literature, and nature and he had sought to imbue in his daughter those same values.
Now he was gone.
Juliana smoothed a hand absently over the harsh black fabric of her dress and let out a long breath. Her face felt hot and her eyes stung, but she was holding back the tears. This had been the first time since the funeral that she felt coherent and she knew that once she let herself cry, she would not be able to stop again.
It had been sudden. His heart, the doctor had concluded. It fit with the weakness and the pains he had felt in the days previous that they had dismissed. She was glad now for having stayed with him. She played the piano for him in the mornings and read from the Sonnets and Psalms in the evening, giving him comfort by offering to him the things he loved.
This was the first day Juliana saw fit to get up from bed, having lacked the will to do so the days immediately following the funeral. Her whole world felt shattered. He had passed without preamble, without a chance to properly say good-bye. It hardly seemed fair.
But he did not suffer much, she reassured herself as she sipped her tea, repeating the words that Mrs. Reed had tried to comfort her with in the days previous.
Anne Kelly's father had suffered an apoplexy that left him in a miserable state for nearly a month before he passed. Barely able to speak and incoherent when he did, too weak to move; she could be glad that her father had been spared that fate at least.
Juliana looked up to the door and smiled at Mrs. Reed, the housekeeper, as the woman stood framed in the doorway, one hand resting lightly on the knob. "Yes?"
The woman hesitated a moment, as if she had wanted to say something but was now thinking better of it. "Do you need anything, Miss?" she asked finally.
"No, thank you. Has anyone heard from my brothers yet?"
Juliana took a breath and nodded, trying to stifle the worry she felt. "Thank you."
Reed nodded and then pulled the door shut again, the soft click of the latch echoing in the still room.
John lived in Devonshire and the last she had heard, James was in Brighton. It was possible that the letters hadn't even reached them yet. Maybe neither of them even knew their father was gone.
She felt a slight twinge of guilt in her gut when she realized that she wanted to see James most of all. It was not John's fault by any means. He was a good man and he had always been an affectionate brother, but there had always been a rift between them caused by their very different opinions and humor. This rift only deepened with his marriage and departure to Devonshire. There, he had taken over their family's old country house, which Father had gladly given up for the liveliness of Winsbury and the coziness of their cottage.
In contrast, James lived an almost Bohemian lifestyle of careless wandering, expensive merrymaking, and very few responsibilities. While reckless and self-absorbed, he returned to Hamptonshire much more frequently than John and always with gifts at hand and stories to tell. He wrote often as well, sometimes unable to wait to tell her of his adventures and other times only to forward her the address of his latest residence.
In her mind, they were kindred spirits.
James' life thrilled her. Simply hearing of the places he had been and the people he had met ignited in her a deep want for the same. She was a glutton for experience and a town like Winsbury, despite always alive with gossip and intrigue, could hardly sate her.
Juliana finished her tea and then set the cup down gently on the tray. In an hour, the maid would come in and remove the tray, as she had done all of the years that Juliana and her father had had tea together in the morning and the evening. It would be the last time she would do so.
* * *
It was much later in the afternoon when the late Henry Fairchild's sons arrived.
John Fairchild, a respectable man with dark, guarded eyes and a sharp, hawk-like profile, arrived in a carriage drawn by two perfectly matched horses. He was dressed in deep mourning black and staring at the nearing house with anxiety playing across his expression.
Good Lord, Juliana had been alone when their father passed. The thought sent a shot of guilt through his gut. He should have been there for her. She was only sixteen and so given to her emotions. His worry doubled again as he thought about the letter he had received. It had clearly been dictated as the hand it was written in was not his sister's.
The carriage pulled to a stop and without waiting for the footman, he pushed open the door and sprang from the carriage. He ran to the door just as it was being opened by one of the servants and came to a halt in the entry, a fresh wave of worry coming over him. Usually Juliana was the first to the door, even before the servants, with her arms around his neck before he could get his coat off.
"Juliana?" he called into the still, silent house.
"Damn, you beat me."
John turned sharply and scowled when he saw his brother standing the doorway, smiling from ear-to-ear.
James Fairchild was tall and well-built, with fine, handsome features that were often considered with the same admiration as their sister's. His hair was pale red and unruly and in contrast to his brother's clean and finely tailored trousers and jacket, he wore a long traveling coat with a hem splashed in mud and well-worn trousers with old, scuffed boots.
"Brother," he greeted as he opened his arms to the other man with a flourish.
John scowled. "Why were you not here with her?"
"I could very well ask the same of you," James replied coolly as the servants began to help them out of their coats and take their hats. "I had no more knowledge of father's illness than you did."
"Weren't you here just last month?"
"Yes, but he wasn't ill when I was here. What of you? When was the last time you visited our dear family?"
John spared his brother a cool look and, without answering, turned to Mrs. Reed just as the woman was descending the stairs. "Where is Juliana?"
"In Mr. Fairchild's room," the woman said with a shake of her head. "She's been there since this morning. Poor thing." She took a deep breath and then forced a smile as she looked from one gentleman to the other. "I am glad, however, that you could make it. Both of you. I think it will ease her mind to see you. I'll go tell her you're here and see if she'd like to come down."
John nodded in resignation and James glanced from Mrs. Reed to his brother and then back. Without a word, the younger man stepped forward to hug the housekeeper warmly, catching her off guard, and then he stepped around her and shot up the stairs.
"Where are you going?" John called after him.
"To do what I came here to do: see my sister," James replied as he disappeared from sight. "You just stay there."
* * *
"Pretty even in the saddest of colors."
Juliana was standing beside the windows when she heard the voice and she couldn't help the smile that pulled at her lips when she turned and saw James. She yipped in excitement and rushed across the room toward him. He met her halfway and laughed as he swept her up in a hug, lifting her clear off of her feet and swinging her around in a circle.
"I'm so sorry, Ana," he whispered as he bowed his head to rest his cheek against her hair. "I should have been here."
"You couldn't have known." The girl tightened her arms around him and pressed her nose into the lapel of his coat as she inhaled, taking in the scents of smoke and must that clung to him. "I'm just so glad that you're here now. I thought I heard a carriage."
James shook his head. "I borrowed a horse from the inn," he murmured. "John came by way of carriage."
He swept a few strayed curls from her forehead as he pulled away from her, one arm still around her waist. "He is downstairs right now."
Juliana nodded slowly and then laid her head against his chest again as anxiety swelled in her stomach.
"Don't you want to see him?"
James stroked her hair gently, careful not to pull loose any of the ringlets from their intricate design. "Then what's wrong?" he asked quietly.
She stared out the window as she tried to find the words necessary to explain herself. She watched the way the wind shook the boughs of the willows that stood far out in the yard by the stream and remembered the many happy summers she had spent under those boughs.
"John will not let me stay here."
Juliana did not know that for certain, but she had a feeling that she couldn't deny. John's actions were always steeped in brotherly concern, but he often came off as overbearing rather than loving. He had his own vision of what her life should be.
James shook his head. "Nothing has been said yet," he replied.
It was his way of trying to reassure her, but she found that she could only take minor comfort from it as she let her head come to rest again against his shoulder.
I used "Hamptonshire" because I read somewhere that that was a historical way of referring to "Hampshire". It sounded vaguely correct and I apologize to my UK readers if it's off.
I do like sudden deaths. They're just a bit more dramatic that way. Besides, setting things after sudden deaths when the family is arriving after the funeral has taken place lets me avoid having to write a clumsy funeral scene. This is all assuming that burial had to occur fairly quickly, given that they did not embalm bodies back then and dead dudes tended to smell after a bit.
And now I really have nothing more to say except that I invite you all to come along with me on this trip too.