Okay, I meant to post this next part in two parts. But since I didn't get any reviews (not that I really expected any, you tend to get more on FFN, plus this story's in pretty serious English) I thought, what the hell. And I'm just posting it so that IF there are any readers, they'll get the rest of this story. Anyway. Yeah. Enjoy. Erm, if there's anyone actually reading this. And if there is, I had a REALLY uber bad day. So you'd really make me feel happy if you popped in a review. It only takes 30 seconds.
The morn of Elizabeth Ashwin's sixteenth birthday dawned clear and cool and bright, the skies a pale blue that had the ladies shivering in their dresses and the men downing brandy by the fireside. There was little wind, but what there was tended to be of an icy nature, sending anyone who dared to go outside scurrying back in.
Elizabeth watched anxiously from her window, her expression as unreadable as her mood. She flickered between happiness and sadness, worry and hope. She had looked forward to this day for an age, but now it had arrived, she found herself wishing it hadn't. Sixteen meant she was finally on par with her brother and friends. But it also meant proposals, formal events, parties, balls, oh, the endless, inane chitchat and the hours spent dressing up!
In this weather, though, would anyone even take the time to drive out to the house? Elizabeth hoped so, for she had been looking forward to her birthday for most of the year. She hoped her aunt Jenny would arrive in time to help with her hair and dress, for Lady Ashwin was simply not very good at these things. She could, of course, borrow her mother's handmaids (who did Lady Ashwin's hair every morning) but their styles were too formal for her taste.
… And she hoped that Tom would like her dress. That fact was not to be ignored.
A soft knock on the wood of the door alerted her to another presence and she turned to see one of her mother's handmaid's standing shyly in the doorway. The girl, whose name Elizabeth thought was Mary, curtsied, her plain dress brushing the floor. "Lady Ashwin sent me to enquire as to whether you need your hair done, Miss Elizabeth?" she asked, looking down at the floor in her shyness.
"It's Mary, isn't it?" Elizabeth asked, hoping that she had the name correct. Not having much contact with her mother's handmaids, she knew only Margaret, the Ashwins' maid and Charles, the butler-cum-chauffer.
"That's correct, Miss," Mary confirmed with another curtsy.
"There's no need to call me 'Miss', Elizabeth instructed. "It will be either Elizabeth or Lizzie, is that clear?" Mary nodded in acquiescence and her hands jumped to the sides of her dress but Elizabeth stopped her before she could sink into the third curtsy of the morning. "And there will be no need for curtsies either; I cannot tolerate such attentions lavished on me when I am undeserving. And yes, you may help with my hair."
"Oh, but it is your sixteenth birthday," Mary protested as she motioned for Elizabeth to sit on the stool before her vanity. "Surely today you wish to be the centre of attention? And you most certainly deserve it, Miss," she said as her fingers started combing through Elizabeth's curls.
"Elizabeth," she corrected automatically before continuing. "There is only one person from whom I wish attention," Elizabeth said softly, too softly for Mary to hear. Or so she thought.
"Ah, yes, young Thomas Sherrard. I think the two of you should make a very fine pairing," Mary asserted, her quick fingers pulling Elizabeth's hair up into a bun. Elizabeth shook her head at the style, grimacing, before Mary's words registered in her mind.
Had she been drinking anything, she would have choked, but as it was, she spluttered and yanked away from Mary's hands. "What? Wh-why?" she stammered, wide-eyed.
"Your mother has been speaking to me about it. As you are now of courting age, she has been looking for a young man who would both interest you and keep you on your toes."
"And – she is considering Tom?" Elizabeth got out past the constriction in her chest. The thought of marrying Tom someday… well, it wasn't awful but it sent shivers of nervousness all the way from her stomach to her toes and back.
"Your mother, although she may seem aloof, pays very close attention to you," Mary said quietly as her fingers twisted Elizabeth's hair into another, more elegant bun. Elizabeth shook her head and Mary unpinned her hair again.
"Enough to know that I should die if forced to marry any of those boys who will doubtless submit proposals today?"
"Yes," Mary said simply, her fingers sifting through Elizabeth's curls as she tried to think of another way to do her hair. Elizabeth sighed.
"This," she began, gently pulling Mary's hand away, "is why I was waiting for my aunt Jenna. Nobody can do my hair the way I want it except her."
"No, I want to try," Mary insisted. Sighing again, Elizabeth settled back down on the stool, her back ramrod straight as she had been taught to sit. After many bun variations and after vetoing simply putting a few clips in and leaving the rest open, Mary and Elizabeth worked out a semi-ponytail using a bullclip. Her glossy curls hung over the top of the bullclip, obscuring the black clip from view.
"It's nearly eleven; the guests will be arriving soon. You should start dressing… Elizabeth," Mary said, hesitantly addressing her by her first name.
"Oh, yes!" Elizabeth exclaimed, excited at the thought of the dress that hung under a wrap in her closet. It was not often that Elizabeth was excited at the thought of clothing, but the dress really was something to look at.
A majestic full-skirted gown, with at least half a foot of the glossy material dragging on the floor, the dress was a sight to be seen. The skirt was held up in diamond-shaped pleats by small silver rhinestones, while the bodice had a sweetheart neckline and was tight, emphasizing her slim waist and shapely hips. It was red, but had an overlying layer of white embroidery in the most fantastic, swirling, flowery shapes. She had picked out a silver necklace to go with it and beautiful red high-heeled sandals, although they would be covered by the dress.
"Undo my dress for me," she requested of Mary, who immediately turned her attention to picking at the ties of her dress. It fell to the floor and she stepped out of it, turning to unzip the magnificent vermillion gown from its wrappings. Mary held it open for her and she slipped into it, the bodice like a second skin and the satin of the skirt lovely and cool against her bare body..
"You look lovely, Elizabeth," Mary said admiringly, lacing up the bodice. The first of the cars rolled slowly up the driveway as she slipped on her shoes, and had Mary clasp the necklace around her throat, and there soon came a knock on the door as Lancey arrived to escort her downstairs. As per tradition, Lancey would escort her onto a small stage where she would be formally introduced to society by her parents. It was the right of the brother and only the brother to do this. An exception had been made in the case of Louisa, however, who had been escorted by Lancey on the occasion of her sixteenth.
"Lizzie! It's time; most of the guests have arrived. Let me see my beautiful sister!" Laughing, Elizabeth pulled the door open and twirled for her brother, holding out her hand for him to take. Hand in hand, the siblings walked down the stairs, across the landing and down another flight of stairs that led down to wide double doors. Since the doors were extremely heavy and difficult to move, they were usually left open, but today there were footmen on hand to open the door, to unveil Elizabeth to the sea of guests clustered in the ballroom.
"Tom's going to be blown away," Lancey told her matter-of-factly. Elizabeth twitched slightly and narrowed her eyes at him.
"I'm not even going to ask," she said with a sigh, dropping her glare.
"Esteemed guests, I thank you all for coming today!" she heard her father call from the opposite side of the doors. She could picture him, dressed in a new suit and beaming with pride. "Today is an important part of Ashwin family history. As is the custom, when a daughter turns sixteen, she must be conducted into society with a ball, and today I am very proud to be able to satisfy that custom. Without further ado, it is my honour to present to you my lovely daughter, Elizabeth Jane Ashwin."
With a great groan, the heavy oak doors creaked open, exposing Elizabeth and Lancey inch by inch. Elizabeth, never one to fall victim to stage fright, held her head proudly as she and her brother walked onstage. Her father greeted her with a kiss on the forehead and Lancey released her hand, stepping down the stairs to join the assembled guests.
"Many of you have known my Elizabeth since she was a babe in arms," her father continued. "You have seen her grow from a stumbling toddler into this beautiful, charming, confident young woman you see before you." As she had been instructed, Elizabeth dipped her head coyly, her eyes searching the crowd for a certain face. She saw Louisa with Lancey, saw her mother with tears in her eyes, saw her aunt Jenna patting Lady Ashwin on the back, and then –
There he was, perfect and straight in a new tuxedo, his shoes shiny and polished and his hair falling with casual elegance into his eyes. He was staring straight at her with so much intensity, she felt like his eyes were drilling holes into her. In that moment in time, she felt as if they were the only two people in the world of consequence. It seemed ridiculous that she was prevented from running down the stairs and into his arms by a useless sixteenth birthday ceremony.
She pulled her eyes away reluctantly, blindly accepting the bouquet and letting Lancey help her down the stairs. Forced by the circumstances into returning countless greetings, and stopping every now and then for feathery kisses brushed on soft cheeks, she steadily made her way to him.
Tom waited, ever patient as his beautiful girl – for there was no doubt that she was his; he planned to do everything in his power to make her so – moved in his direction.
At last, when she was but two feet away, he moved forward and took her hand, pressing a gallant kiss to the soft, smooth skin. Her breath hitched slightly, a movement invisible to anyone but those who looked for it.
"Miss Elizabeth," he greeted politely, as society demanded. "I would like to congratulate you upon your entrance into society. You look stunning tonight, if I may say so."
Elizabeth smiled, her eyes twinkling with repressed laughter. It was absolutely foreign for the two of them to converse in such a formal manner. "Master Thomas. Your compliments are most appreciated. Pray, help yourself to a refreshment, for it is not seemly for one to have empty hands at an occasion such as this."
"Thank you, I shall," Tom replied with a quick, easy grin. She flashed a secret smile before moving to speak with another guest and Tom sighed, turning to follow her advice and get himself a drink.
The man tending the bar was cheerful and overly talkative. After ten minutes of incessant chatter, Tom managed to procure a glass of white wine. He set off around the room, mingling with the guests as he was expected to do in lieu of his parents. They had been invited for dinner with the Ashwins and thus had chosen not to attend the party.
"Afternoon, Mr Fischer," Tom greeted reluctantly. He took a sip of wine.
"Thomas. Still as irresponsible and immature as ever?" the old man said snidely. Forcing a tight smile, Tom took another sip of wine.
"Your bad upbringing is all to do with your parents. You see, your mother always was a lazy, headstrong child. And as for your father, he was a good-for-nothing layabout –"
Tom began to see red. Insults to his person he could stand, but most certainly not to his parentage. In a stroke of good fortune, Lancey appeared at his side, clutching Tom's arm. "Mr Fischer, so pleased you could come today, but I'll thank you not to insult my guests," Lancey said politely, and dragged Tom away before the old man could retort.
"How on earth does he get invited to such things?" Tom snarled as Lancey sat him down at a table. Glancing at the seating arrangements, he felt a start of shock as he perceived the light pink tablecloth. He was sitting at the high table – that of the newly-sixteen. It was set for four. To his left, Elizabeth sank down into her chair. To his right sat Lancey and Louisa was seated opposite him.
The first course was served, and as the group sipped at a delicious soup, they dropped their formal masks and began speaking as normal.
"I do hate wearing heeled shoes," Elizabeth complained. "I don't know how you stand it, Louisa."
Louisa arched an eyebrow. "You had better get used to it, my girl. Now that you're sixteen, you will be obliged to wear them to every social event."
Elizabeth groaned, pushing her empty soup bowl aside. A servant snatched it up and carried it to the kitchens. She leaned back in her chair.
"Lancey," she said suddenly. He looked up inquiringly, sipping his soup. "A few nights ago, I saw Mother creeping out of the door rather quietly. I don't think she noticed me, but she neglected to close the front door and I was able to see the profile of John Bedloe – our chauffeur," she added for the benefit of Tom and Louisa. "What do you suppose that means?"
The three older children shared a look. They were not sure of how much Elizabeth knew, and uncertain as to what to tell her.
"Is that what they call 'adultery'?" Elizabeth asked sweetly and softly, so absolute in her naïveté.
Tom cleared his throat. "Erm – well – what time did you say this was?" he asked her.
"Around midnight, I would say."
"Why on earth were you wandering around at such an hour?" Lancey exclaimed incredulously.
"I was only searching for a glass of milk," Elizabeth defended herself.
"Oh, dear," Lancey said, a strange expression crossing his handsome features. "Do you suppose my father knows?" he asked of Louisa.
"I doubt it. He would raise a ruckus."
"So it was adultery, then?" Elizabeth pressed, trying to make sense of the conversation.
"What do you know of adultery, Lizzie?" Louisa asked her.
Elizabeth shrugged. "I know it is in the Ten Commandments," she said. "I know many things, but I shall not repeat them at the table or elsewhere. It embarrasses me."
"Dear me, and here I was thinking you were naïve," Tom drawled. "Where on earth do you get your information, princess?" The word had slipped out by accident and Louisa was noticed stifling a smile, but Elizabeth paid no heed.
"From the maids and such," Elizabeth admitted with a blush.
"Erm… in that case, yes, Lizzie, it was adultery," Lancey admitted with a grimace.
"But… isn't that a sin?" Elizabeth asked worriedly. "Should we tell Father, do you think?"
"No!" all three adolescents exclaimed vehemently. "You mustn't tell a soul, Lizzie. Let the adults sort it out themselves. Not a soul, Lizzie. You understand?" Lancey pressed.
She nodded, the surprise in her eyes evident. "I won't tell anyone," she promised. As the second course arrived, Louisa cut a neat slice of meat and lifted it to her mouth, chewing delicately.
"The grandeur of this hall never ceases to awe me," she remarked. Elizabeth looked up from her own meal and she had to admit, their ballroom really was magnificent.
The ceiling was twenty metres high and supported by towering alabaster pillars. Arched rafters of an elegant redwood curved across it, their tips touching the tops of the pillars. The floor was composed entirely of marble- a wide, white expanse that sparkled after the polishing it had undergone.
An entire wall was composed of windows; huge, arching panes of glass stretching from floor to ceiling. The windows overlooked the gardens, the elevated position of the ballroom affording a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.
On the east side of the room, numerous tables were arranged for the dining guests. A band occupied the front left corner and a bar the bottom left. The empty space in the centre was, of course, reserved for the hours of dancing that were sure to come.
"I wonder that we don't make use of it more often," Elizabeth remarked. "It is rather a lovely hall."
"It takes a lot of effort to clean, I would think," Louisa said, delicately spearing another piece of meat. "All of the servants would likely have to be spared from their daily jobs in order to clean here. Not to mention, someone very brave is needed to dust off those beams," she indicated the redwood rafters.
Elizabeth peered up at the beams over her head and gulped at the thought of climbing up to dust them. A lot of work had gone into this party, she knew.
During a break in the conversation, Louisa abruptly paused, her fork hanging in midair halfway to her mouth. "I say," she began, "why do you suppose the word 'adult' is in the word 'adultery'?"
Tom shrugged, biting into a slice of cucumber. "Only adults do it, I suppose," he said. "Although it is rather odd, if you consider it. After all, an adult must have written the Ten Commandments."
"Indeed," Louisa confirmed, retrieving her napkin from where it lay against the indigo of her dress and dabbing at her mouth elegantly.
"If that is what comes with being an adult, I shall never be one," Lancey announced decisively. "I should hate myself for ever if I ever did commit such an atrocity, especially if I did such a thing to Louisa."
She smiled at him across the table, her hand reaching out to brush his briefly. "The same holds true for me, my love," she said softly.
Tom said nothing, his gaze lingering on Elizabeth longer than necessary. Oh, how he wished…
The dessert arrived presently; small squares of cake with fruits arranged on top. Elizabeth, who had been waiting for it all afternoon, dug in with a little less decorum than she would have normally. Tom watched her with amusement, his dark, intense gaze almost melting the chocolate from his cake.
"They ought to have given you a double helping," he teased.
"Oh, shut up," she snapped, blushing despite herself. Trying most valiantly to keep her eyes fixed on her plate and the delicious morsels of cake, she cut a strawberry in two and chewed it slowly. However, her struggle was in vain, for her eyes involuntarily drifted up by their own accord, focusing on odd things that she would not have noticed two days prior. Before they had – well, what had they done? Before that, whatever it was, anyway.
His fingers, so long and precise as they manoeuvred his utensils, the nails finely shaped and not raggedy and bitten off as Lancey's were.
His arms, so strong, yet so gentle. She had seen the strength in those arms when he had helped her up yesterday, and countless other times besides.
His lips, soft and curved and pink.
His hair, falling into his eyes with a subtle elegance.
"Lizzie?" he asked suddenly. Blushing furiously as she snapped out of her daze, she registered that she had been staring for far too long.
With a hint of a smirk on her face, Louisa laid down her fork and arose. The band had started playing, and it was custom for the birthday girl to have the first dance with a man of her choice.
"Dance with me, Lancey," Louisa suggested. He caught her eye and deduced her plan almost instantly.
"I will, my love," he replied. "But Elizabeth must take her dance first. Lizzie," he said, directing his words in her direction, "rather than standing in the centre of the room and waiting foolishly for someone to take your hand, you ought to simply dance with Tom here."
Tom shot his friend an alarmed glance, which was immediately disregarded.
"Shall we, Tom?" Elizabeth asked quietly, her pleasant tone not entirely masking the quaver in her voice.
"We shall," he replied through a clogged throat. Arising from the table, he held out a hand to help her up after she had transferred her napkin from her lap to her seat. Doing his utmost to clear his throat inconspicuously, he led her out onto the marble tile.
The band struck up a waltz and Tom settled into the familiar steps, his partner flowing easily alongside him.
"According to Mary, Mother intends to marry us someday," Elizabeth said conversationally.
Tom jerked at this unexpected – but not unwelcome – news. "Who is Mary?" he asked with a frown.
"One of my mother's handmaids. She fixed my hair this morn."
"She did a fine job of it," Tom said admiringly as he twirled her. She felt so very small and fragile in his arms, yet fit so perfectly within their circle.
"I meant to have my Aunt Jenna do the honours instead, but she did not come to my room as I had asked her to. I had to make do with Mary, but I do not regret it. In fact, I may ask her to fix this hairstyle more often."
"I would like that. It suits you," Tom said honestly. She blushed again at his words, lifting her arm so that he could twirl her. Other couples were upon the dance floor by that time and their conversation had gone unnoticed.
"Tom," Elizabeth said suddenly, quietly. Her subdued tone immediately alerted him and he pulled her out of the crush of dancing couples, threading a way to the bar.
The barman was at the other end of the long table, serving a large group of guests. Sitting Elizabeth down on a stool, he faced her, bracing his elbows upon the wooden surface of the bar.
"What did you want to inquire of me, Elizabeth?" he asked her, his fingers tracing circles upon the wood.
"I – I would not mind being married to you," she confessed in a rush, her cheeks darkening to a rosy pink. Heart pounding, he tilted her chin up with one finger so that she was forced to look into his eyes.
"Elizabeth," he murmured, using her full name to signify his earnestness. "I would not mind being married to you, either."
The blush fled from her cheeks as her confidence returned, and she stared deep into his eyes without wavering. "So what does this mean?" she asked quietly, toying with a strip of silk on her dress.
"Elizabeth, my dear!" Lady Ashwin called, shattering the moment. Elizabeth turned reluctantly to face her mother, plastering an ecstatic smile upon her face.
"Yes, Mother?" she asked sweetly. Tom let out a laugh at her sugary tone and Elizabeth forced herself to ignore the shivers that had run down her spine at his deep chuckle.
"The proposal box is full and ready for you to look over. It is custom that you begin to do so while the party remains ongoing. Take Thomas with you if you wish, but make haste. I shall manage the guests."
Looking harried, Lady Ashwin hurried away, stopping in a corner in the opposite side of the room. Her expression relaxed into one of sly cunning and she brushed a light kiss over Louisa's cheek. "Well done, my pet. What a fantastic idea!" she praised.
"Thank you, Lady Ashwin," Louisa returned politely with a small curtsy. "If you will excuse me…? I wish to seek out Lancey."
"Of course, of course!" Lady Ashwin cried, immediately stepping out of the way. As she turned to mingle with the guests once again, her sharp eyes caught a pair of figures slipping into the adjoining room where the proposal box was kept.
And now, Lady Ashwin thought to herself, is when Elizabeth finally grows up.
"Henry Brightmore," Tom suggested, holding the slip of paper aloft.
"Pretentious," Elizabeth sniffed, dismissing the name with a haughty wave of her hand. She was perched on the edge of a table, her legs swinging restlessly underneath the folds of her skirt.
"Tell me something," Tom requested. She looked up curiously. "If you should choose to accept one of these proposals, does it then became an official, documented betrothal?"
"Goodness, no!" Elizabeth laughed. "I should die if that were the case. No, I am free to break it off at any point in time, and so too is the boy in question."
The words calmed his pounding heart. He now had less reason to worry, for if she did choose one of the boys who had submitted, he would still have a chance to win her hand.
He reached down into the box and his fingers withdrew the next slip. "Bertie Eddols."
"Every time I meet him, I receive the impression that he has never learned to wipe his nose correctly. The boy is constantly snivelling in a most irksome way." Tom laughed at that, his fingers already digging for the next slip.
Elizabeth's countenance was thoughtful and a spike of fear drove into Tom's heart. "He isn't so bad, I suppose," she mused. "… but no, I could not ever see him as anything more than a friend."
Wanting to rub his chest as the relief flooded in, he reached in for the next slip, knowing he was doomed to an afternoon of such heart-stopping moments. Shakily, his fingers caught a piece of paper and he withdrew it from within the box.
"Thomas – "he began, and abruptly stopped. Elizabeth turned to him questioningly, for Thomas was quite a common name; she herself knew three boys by the same name.
"Tom, is all well?" she asked tentatively. His eyes were wide in what looked like shock and his fingers gripped the paper with excessive strength.
"I – the paper says – Thomas Sherrard," he gasped, his fingers becoming slack.
Stunned into silence, Elizabeth simply sat. A thousand and one thoughts whirled through her head; and as many emotions. Anxiety, happiness and fear were among them. Fear of losing him to another, for how many times could this opportunity arise?
"I do not understand, Tom," she said quietly. "Did you not ask your parents to submit a formal proposal?"
"No," he whispered, staring at her. She felt a tiny flash of hurt and did her utmost to conceal it; but it was too late, he had seen it. The corners of his lips dropped and he reached for her unconsciously. "Oh – no, Elizabeth, I did not intend it that way. I meant to ask them last night but they were both busy. I intended to simply ask them tonight at dinner."
In her shock, her customary eloquence abandoned her, and all she could manage was a small, "Oh," her lips curved in an 'O' shape.
The silence ticked on and Tom focused with burning intensity on a spot on the ceiling. Elizabeth took to memorising every aspect of the room; the white walls, wide hearth, the shag carpet in front of it, the dark wood furniture.
"Would you consider it?" Tom asked quietly, his voice breaking the silence like shattered glass.
She turned her head sharply, her blue eyes boring deep into his. "I would not even need to consider it, Thomas. For you…" she inhaled deeply, mustering up her courage. It was now or never. "… I'd accept without even thinking."
There were thirteen seconds of silence in the room. Elizabeth counted each one, her pounding heart too fast and too sluggish at the same time, marking out its beat like a drum roll.
"I've loved you for three years," Tom confessed, his dark eyes darting up and back to gauge her reaction.
"I can't confess to having loved you for such an extended period of time," Elizabeth admitted, "but it is safe to say that I love you now. And, if you so choose, I will announce my choice of submission to the guests directly."
It felt incredible to finally let out the secret she had been holding within her for many months. The only thing keeping Elizabeth on tenterhooks was Tom's answer, which he had yet to give. She stared resolutely at the floor, waiting for the fated words to fall upon her ears. That is, until gentle fingers lifted her chin to face him.
She sucked in a breath at having him so close, yet wishing he was closer.
"Tom?" she whispered. His hazel eyes were unreadable, light brown with flecks of gold. Her eyes, for some unknown reason, were irresistibly drawn to his lips. She wanted him to lean closer, and closer still –
"Elizabeth Ashwin," Tom said softly, forcing her chin up higher still when she avoided his eyes. "I have waited three years for you to be of age so that I may finally be able to court you. Now that my chance has arrived, what in God's name makes you think I would not accept?"
Smiles broke out over both faces at once, filled with the promise of happiness and love.
And finally, ever so slowly, Tom stepped closer, cupping her cheeks in his palms. And he kissed her. It was slow and deep and wonderful, the brush of her soft, warm lips against his rougher and slightly chapped ones.
"Elizabeth," he sighed, pulling away.
"I have waited for ever for that," she admitted with an embarrassed smile. Tom's answering grin was dazzling, so much so that to Elizabeth, it seemed to fill the entire room with love and joy.
Elizabeth's heart thudded in her chest, the sounds around her melding into a soundless roar as he drew closer and closer. She could count every one of his eyelashes, long and fine and dark…
"So have I, my love," he said, stroking her smooth cheek. "So have I."
And he kissed her again, and nothing could possibly match up to the beauty of their love.
Six months later.
Letter from Elizabeth Ashwin to Thomas Sherrard, dated 16th August 1904.
My dearest Tom,
Today I watched you leave, standing ever so proudly on the prow of that ship. When we began courting, I had thought that your eighteenth birthday was too far away in the future to think about. But it was not so; the past six months have flown by. I shall miss you terribly, but you have promised to visit often, and I shall hold you to it.
Louisa and Lancey are more in love than ever. I am often alone these days. Lancey does try, but you of all people know how Louisa is, having been forced to spend large amounts of time with her when my family and I are vacationing. They send their love and wishes too.
I hope your journey goes well, my love. You will do good by the outpost in Greece, I am sure.
Helen is visiting next week. She wrote me a day ago and said she is most excited to see how her sister-in-law has grown up. I do believe I blushed!
Letter from Thomas Sherrard to Elizabeth Ashwin, dated 9th September 1904
I am sincerely sorry for the delay in replying to your letter. The boat ran out of supplies due to some miscalculations on the Captain's part and we were forced to dock at Barcelona and later at Napoli for food and other necessities.
Helen has written to me as well. She says she is glad that I have finally found a lovely girl and that I should keep hold of you. As if I required her to tell me that.
I shall miss you very much, but you will be seeing me sooner than you thought you would. I shall be returning to celebrate the New Year with my family and my love.
I am very sorry that you are feeling lonely. Might I suggest you talk with Cora and Lillie Elsey? I have not spoken overmuch with them but I think that they will make suitable companions, at least until my return.
Greece is fabulous. There are no words to adequately describe how picturesque this country is; I cannot wait until you are of age and can accompany me here. Father's business is not doing well in Athens, though, so I will have a lot of work to do. There have apparently been some mishaps in appointing managers, and I intend to remedy that immediately.
I love you so very much.
Letter from Elizabeth Ashwin to Thomas Sherrard, dated 30th September 1904
My dearest Tom,
What lovely news! I am delighted to hear that I shall be seeing you in December. I have been missing you awfully of late, although I did indeed take your advice and speak with Cora and Lillie Elsey. They are lovely girls, my age too. We are getting along wonderfully.
Helen arrived from New Zealand yesterday. I had been waiting at your house to welcome her, and she looked absolutely exhausted, not to mention, on her face, a residual green colour remained from the seasickness.
And she gave us a surprise! Helen will be staying for good now. Robert will be working here in England and they are buying a lovely little house quite near to ours with the money they have saved up.
And can you guess why? That's right! Helen is going to be a mother! Of course, she may have told you this already, but I am so excited!
Greece sounds absolutely amazing. My heart aches to sail across the sea and join you this very moment, but I cannot.
I love you.
Letter from Thomas Sherrard to Elizabeth Ashwin, dated 5th October 1904.
My lovely Elizabeth,
I am very glad indeed that you have found friends. Even more so that my dear sister is to be a mother; I shall be writing to her presently.
Although the business is slowly but steadily picking up, the days seem as long as years. I miss you so, Lizzie.
There's a fellow who works in the assembly department who tells the most hilarious tales. He has all the men – myself included – in fits of laughter.
But do you know what is so special about this man? He is near-blind. He can barely see what he is assembling, but through years of practice, he doesn't even need to. Despite his disability, however, he is ever cheerful and smiling. I have modelled myself on this man, Elizabeth, and vowed to stay happy through all the bad fortune.
How are Lancey and Louisa? Lancey's seventeenth birthday is drawing near, as is Louisa's a month later. Knowing our mothers, I am guessing that plans are already in full swing.
Although my hand itches to write more, I am needed in the factory.
I love you, my princess.
Letter from Thomas Sherrard to Helen Sherrard-Frewin, dated 5th October 1904.
I do not have much time to pen a long letter, but suffice to say that I am so very happy for you. I am going to be an uncle! Goodness knows I'm too young for it, but everything shall be wonderful now that you have decided to stay in England for the time being.
How is Robert? Give him my regards. And I wish you all the best with the pregnancy and the house. I am absolutely chomping at the bit to meet you in December!
Letter from Elizabeth Ashwin to Thomas Sherrard, dated 19th October 1904.
My dearest Tom,
Helen says she received your letter, but would rather not pen her own when she has so few words to express. She would like me to tell you that firstly, she is eager to see you too. Secondly, she is as excited as you to be back in England, and is in seventh heaven where the pregnancy is concerned. She says that Robert is hale and hearty and sends you a hug and a firm handshake.
I am glad, my love, that you have decided to model yourself upon such a worthy role model. I should like to meet this man someday.
Yes, our mothers are planning the parties already. They can be seen every single day with their heads bent over the dining table and talking in low whispers. Lancey whinges and says he doesn't want a party. Louisa strokes her hair and says nothing, but as all girls do, she looks forward to the dressing up.
Cora, Lillie and I went to the town today and bought new dresses, for no reason whatsoever! It felt wonderful.
I must dash, mother is calling me downstairs. Apparently, we have some unexpected guests – the Callums. Although a hurricane seems to be brewing up outside, so I suppose they opted to take refuge with the nearest family.
I love you, and my heart longs to be with you.
Letter from Elizabeth Ashwin to Thomas Sherrard, dated 20th October 1904.
My dearest Tom,
I am aware that I wrote to you but yesterday, but something rather odd has happened. I am sure something of this sort has happened to Louisa many times in the past, but I am unsure of how to deal with the situation diplomatically and courteously.
I mentioned in my last letter that the Callums had arrived. Their son, George, turned seventeen last week and has submitted a proposal for my hand, despite the fact that I am betrothed to you.
Oh, help me, Tom. I have three weeks to give an answer and I sincerely hope that you receive my letters before then.
With much love,
Letter from Thomas Sherrard to Elizabeth Ashwin, dated 27th October 1904.
My lovely Elizabeth,
You know better than I how to handle a situation diplomatically and courteously. Men have no need of conversational skills, for we do not take offence easily and forgive just as easily.
I remember you saying that you may break off submissions any time you so choose. If you would rather the Callum boy, then I would accept your choice, but know that I shall continue to fight for your hand as long as I live.
Rest assured, my love, I trust you implicitly, and know for certain that you will never commit adultery like we discussed at your sixteenth birthday celebrations.
But please, do not keep me waiting longer than necessary.
I shall be awaiting your reply.
I love you.
Letter from Elizabeth Ashwin to Thomas Sherrard, dated 22nd November 1904
It is now my turn to apologise for a delay in replying. Your letter, for an unknown reason, reached five days late.
Ah, how I cried after reading your words. I so longed to be with you, to hold you tightly and assure you of my love. But I am far away, so the utmost I can do is hope you will believe me, and hope that you can hear my voice when I call for you in my dreams.
I love you so much, Thomas Sherrard. I shall never leave you. Not for anyone.