At Bowerly Hall-37

MY whole body was singing a melody as I showed him into Hannah’s newly decorated drawing-room. I called Agnes and asked for tea. I had not thought to see Charles ever again, and now he was here!

“Mary is moping horribly.” He sat on the nearest armchair and stared at me accusingly.

I perched on the edge of the other chair, conscious of his knees so close to mine.

“Is she keeping up with her painting? Has she been practising her poetry?”

What a pang it gave me to ask these things. In my mind, I saw the little girl and it twisted at my heart. I hoped she was not lonely and that Charlotte was allowed to visit.

“Why don’t you come back and ask her yourself?” Charles said.

“I can’t.”

He sprang up, making me jump. How tall he was. He made Hannah’s lovely room appear small as he paced it.

“If there’s something to say, please simply do so. Stop wearing a hole in the new carpet,” I said rather sharply as my nerves jangled.

“The thing is, Amelia…” He stopped and coughed then began again. “The thing is it isn’t only Mary who’s moping.”

Did a tiny ray of hope slip into my heart at that very moment?

“Please go on,” I said calmly while my fingers tightened on my dress folds.

“I miss you. I need you to come back to Bowerly with me.”

“I have a home here now. Hannah – that is, Mrs Bidens – has kindly given me a place to live.”

“Is it enough? I believed you to love Bowerly Hall. Do you prefer London?” He frowned. “Because if you do, then we will live here. I have a town house.”

“What are you asking of me?”

He grasped my hands in his and I felt the thrill of that contact. His were large and capable and strong and the touch of them did something odd to my nerves and my insides.

“I am asking you to marry me, Miss Amelia Thorne. To do me the honour of becoming my wife. You are the bravest, most determined and most beautiful woman I have met and I can’t live without you.”

“You can’t marry me! What would people say? I was a governess.”

“You are no longer a governess,” he reminded me. “You are a lady of quality, living a genteel life.”

“But you could have anyone. You can take your pick of the debutantes.”

I felt I had to remind him that I was not a young lady fresh from the schoolroom.

He brushed that aside with a scornful expression.

“What do I want with a silly young girl? I want a woman who’ll follow me into danger to save me. I want a woman who loves my daughter as much as I do. A kind, generous and loving companion for all our years.” He sighed. “Put me out of my misery and tell me yes!”

“Why have you waited all these weeks to find me?”

I had to ask. I didn’t wish to prolong his unease but I had to know.

He nodded as if he understood.

“I wanted to come to you immediately. It was an agony to wait but there were matters that had to be concluded. As you know, I journeyed to London. After I left Bowerly, I went to pick up Francis. From there we travelled to the docks in the city where I had booked a cabin and passage to America for him. He is now working there for a friend of mine until he has paid back all his debts.

“In return, I will not expose him for his crimes. It will bring nothing but ill fortune for my mother and his in terms of society. Then, of course, it has taken me some weeks to placate my aunt, who misses him. I have also had to arrange financial matters for her and for the men that Francis owes money to.

“I’m sorry it has taken so much time. Finally, I am here on my own selfish matters of the heart.”

“Are you certain about this?” I asked. I did not want him to regret his choice in me. “What will people say when they hear you are to marry a woman who has no title and no wealth?”

“I don’t care one whit,” he said. “I have wealth enough for us. Besides, Mary told me not to return home without you. She can be quite severe!”

I had barely spoken the words of agreement and love when my mouth was claimed by his.

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!