Part one - A time to teach

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To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

Ecclesiastes 3


Her eyes took a moment to adjust as the shade of the entrance hall leached the warmth from her skin. Shivering from the sudden chill Sarah waved away a young footman who offered his assistance. She laid her basket of cut flowers on a side table and drew the gardening gloves from her aching hands. The doctor had reassured the family that gentle outdoor exercise would not harm her, but he would be angry if he knew how far she had walked in the hot sun, or how often she stooped to harvest a perfect bloom or tug at an errant weed that the gardeners had overlooked.

An unfamiliar sound caught her attention, out of place within the starched, formal silence of Rothbury Hall. Had her imagination finally overwhelmed her senses? She waited and it came again, a childish giggle echoing in the ballroom. Swollen knuckles protested as she gripped the door handle, forcing it down to offer a partial sight of the large room beyond.

The slanting afternoon sun cast skewed rectangles of light across the parquet, where a pair of quick slippered feet hopped and jumped from one to the next; the dust motes twirling like downy clouds of dandelion seeds cast upon the wind. Delicate fingers reached up to grasp the glowing sparkles, and a gasp of delight followed as they bobbed and swayed in the disturbed air.

At the far end of the long space another door swung back, banging against a chair. The opening framed the silhouette of a young man, his fists planted upon his hips. "Christiana! What do you think you are doing?"

The girl sprang into the air again, her blonde plaits swinging. "I'm dancing with the dust fairies, of course."

He strode forward, his dark eyes stern as he clasped her fine-boned arm, pulling her towards him. "Not in here, you don't. You should be upstairs in the nursery. This room is for the grown-ups to dance, not you."

Wrenching herself away Christiana stuck out her tongue and gathered up her skirts, twirling across the floor like a spinning top. "They aren't dancing here now, so why can't I?"

Sarah chose that moment to make her presence known, stepping into the ballroom and closing the door behind her. The young girl, caught mid-spin, tried to check herself but her soft sole slipped on the polished wood as she tumbled to the floor. The shock of the fall set her lower lip trembling and she glanced towards her with round, pleading eyes. "Grandmama!"

"Yes, my dear?"

"I was dancing and I fell." She sniffed, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

Michael came forward then, his face pale. "I told her she was not meant to be here. Nurse sent me to find her and take her back upstairs, but she will not do as she is told."

"You are a good boy and I am sure you tried your best. It seems like an age since I saw you last. How are you enjoying school?"

He straightened his back as he ran long fingers through the dark curls that tumbled over his forehead. "Well enough, I suppose." Although not yet a man, he could no longer be called a boy, caught as he was in that intermediate stage between the carefree joys of the young and the responsibilities of age and position.

"You should enjoy your lessons while you can, for your youth will be over all too soon." A tug on her skirt drew her attention and she glanced down. "Yes, dear?"

"Grandmama, will you show me how to dance like mama and papa?"

"Here? Now? But we have no music, child."

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