Chapter XXXV

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"I do hope you find it Lord Howard if it means so much to you," mother said earnestly

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"I do hope you find it Lord Howard if it means so much to you," mother said earnestly.

"Yes it was worth a great deal to me, it's quite upsetting to have lost it, it was a gift from my mother," Mr. Howard said and I immediately felt guilty for holding on to it but if I gave it back to him then everyone would think I was a thief.

"I am sorry Mr. Howard," I could not help my guilty conscience and he came closer to see his book.

"I shall find it soon," he shrugged touching the book, "meanwhile I might cherish yours if I may?"

"Of course sir," I had to oblige him, what else could I say with Joseph and mama watching.

"Yes that is a grand idea," mama agreed.

"And I will look it over in the townhouse father, I may have brought it with me to London," Joseph offered to help and I blushed convicted of being in the possession of something so important to my old master.

"Dinner is served milady," the butler said to us.

"Thank you, Lord Stanley would you mind escorting Lady Alice?" Mother asked Joseph.

"It would be my pleasure," Joseph took me in his arm and Mr. Howard lost some of his smile.

"Lord Howard?" Mother said and Mr. Howard came behind us with her.

Mother sat at the top of the table, I sat to my mother's right, Joseph next to me and Mr. Howard to my mother's left which meant he was directly in front of me.

"I am pleased to say Alice and I have ordered our gowns for the Winter Ball," mama introduced the topic.

"So you have changed your minds about coming?" Joseph asked me gleefully as our first course was placed in front of us.

"Yes we have," I smiled politely at Joseph and noticed the great contrast between him and his father.

"It seems the same miracle has taken place with my own father who has not been to a ball in years but will remain in town for the Winter Ball."

"You have not been to a ball in years Lord Howard?" My mother asked keen on discovering Mr. Howard's personality.

"Yes my son tells the truth, I am not fond of these gatherings and do not usually participate in them," Mr. Howard responded.

"How refreshing to hear such an unpopular confession," my mother was compelled by Mr. Howard's dislike of society.

"Thank you though I will only say this here among friends of mostly equal thoughts right Joseph?"

"Forgive me father but my friends are always ready for the next new thing and London has its many artistic diversions if you would only care to spend some time here," Joseph excused his love for society.

"And I refuse to stay any more time than needed," Mr. Howard objected and mother chuckled along with Joseph.

"Oh poor Joseph not even Alice shares your comfort in society she is much like me in those matters." Mother spoke plainly like she usually did not, since we had received the inheritance she had put up walls to her conversation often lost in smiles and nodding.

"I am outnumbered but father I still wonder what could have possibly changed your plans this year," Joseph told us.

"Joseph wants to get rid of me like every good son does but I shall be extending my stay in London I have a couple of things that require my attention," Mr. Howard finished the sentence placing his eyes on me just long enough for it to be appropriate while Joseph laughed.

As dinner concluded we retired to the drawing room in a more relaxed an informal manner than how we started the night.

"Mrs. Stewart after you," Mr. Howard said though it was not customary for the hostess to lead the way out.

"Thank you sir," mother said and walked on first.

Joseph exited next and lastly I when like a fox Mr. Howard followed behind and lightly touched my hand without any of them seeing.

"We must talk soon," he whispered behind my dress and it chilled my soul to the bone but warmed my heart and skin at the same time.

In the drawing room my mother entertained Mr. Howard as our governess Mrs. Miller joined them in conversation and I sat by Joseph.

"How very odd to be in this position," Joseph looked at his father and I at my mother.

"How so?"

"I always thought it was our parents who should be chaperoning us but it seems the tables have turned," Joseph placed my attention on them.

"What do you know Joseph?"

"That we may be brother and sister soon," Joseph said the most repugnant words which turned my stomach and led me straight back to Mr. Howard's warning, he had news.

"Brother and sister?"

"With my father staying in town I could guess very easily what it is, look at them, they're the same sort of people. Both want to live as far as possible from society, both widowers, both at the age of still rebuilding their lives."

Joseph made sense but could Mr. Howard be cruel enough to marry my mother and cause me this misery?

"I do not believe it has been perceived by my mother."

"Then you should prepare her or why else would my father stay in town?"

"I do not like to speculate much when it comes to people's behaviors."

"I am getting a feeling you may not want to be my sister," Joseph slightly touched my hand and if he was telling the truth there was only one thing to do.

"Of course I do not want that Joseph," I looked at his hand hoping it was all a bad nightmare but those words had to be said.

"Joseph let us say our goodbyes for tonight," Mr. Howard said and Joseph promptly backed away.

"Already? Sorry I did not mean to intrude on you Mrs. Stewart," Joseph blushed with his words but he wanted to stay a while longer with me.

They went their way and the more I thought about it the more it made sense for my mother's smiles and new found happiness to be connected with Mr. Howard. I barely slept thinking Mr. Howard could do what I had never had the courage to do, pick my mother over me regardless of our previous involvement. The chance to choose Joseph over Mr. Howard was still in play and over the recent news could I find the peace to do it in order to stop an engagement between my mother and Mr. Howard? Or would it be too far to accept Joseph only to spare my selfish feelings? I knew how insane it was to even think to go that far but it was still there, this irrationality which I had no strength on my own to stop.

At night a nightmare came this time there was no fair haired woman in white, it was me wearing a white wedding dress and Martha helped me out of it and I stood watching her and Mrs. Trudor put it on my mother. Without understanding what it meant I tried to go ask mama which she then threw me a couple of coins and they put me out naked in the street, I had been cast off. Though I said over and over I was Lady Alice Stewart they shook their heads and even Daniel my brother said his sister had died and they took mother in the carriage to a church where she was to wed. The horses of the carriage then started to furiously gallop my way and I closed my eyes afraid my death would come but then woke up.

"Oh dear God, do not let them marry," I got my father's Bible out of the drawer to embrace it until I could fall asleep in peace.



















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