Chapter Fourteen

When the Messenger Cometh – 2 Kings 6:32

The waves roared, slamming themselves destructively against the cliffs below; the white spray leaping up as if clawing out to reach them.

"Ugh! I am sure that Arabella gets worse and worse as each day goes by!" Rosemary threw a clump of grass vehemently to the ground. "But there is one thing to be comforted by Lily... She thinks she has something to be jealous of. If only she knew the truth! Oh to see the look on her face, I would give up my blue bonnet!" She said with a wicked laugh.

Lillian and Rosemary were settled on a grassy knoll high above the roling, turbulent sea. Lillian's knees tucked under her chin, arms wrapped around them; Rosemary sprawled out on her stomach, making daisy chains. The clouds above were ominous and gray, threatening rain at any moment; but if Lillian had not got Rosemary away from the house as soon as she had, she was quite sure she would have been strangled by her sister's curiosity. And so they had ambled about the rolling green hills, picking wildflowers as Rosemary pried for more and more details of the thrilling night before which Lillian delivered with blushing modesty.

Lillian had not, however, divulged the secret of Lucas' inheritance. As much as she wanted to share every detail with her dear sister, this secret she had promised to keep safe.

"So how long do you think it will be until he proposes?" Rosemary's elated face beamed up at her sister, hands clasped under her chin.

"Rosie we must not jump to conclusions..."

"Lillian! Surely he is not such a man that would behave so and then desert you, is he?"

"Of course not." Lillian bit her lip to hide the hopeful smile that threatened to burst forth.

"Well then what other conclusion is there?" She raised her eyebrows.

Lillian lowered her head and blushed. "Perhaps you are right." She raised her eyes, taking her sisters hands. "Oh Rosemary, I think you may be right!" Lillian exclaimed with glee, toppling them both over onto the grass with as she hugged her, laughing ecstatically.

"Lily! You are ruining my dress!" Rosemary tried to scold her sister but could not stop laughing. A low distant rumble threatened their blissful state. "Come on, we'd better get home in case we miss this pending proposal!"

As Lillian and Rosemary practically skipped over the hill behind their home, they saw a young man rushing out of the door.

Rosemary grabbed her sister's arm. "Lily, I think that's Lucas!"

Lillian's heart soared when she recognised his fine, retreating form. "Lucas!" she called, waving her arms.

She ran towards his retreating form, picking up her skirt as the wind whipped about her.

"Lucas!" She shouted.

He did not turn back, but instead mounted his horse and galloped frantically away.

Lillian slowed her scrambling feet and came to a halt, as Rosemary caught up beside her.

"He did not hear me..." She murmured, her heart sinking in disappointment.

Rosemary frowned. "But he was not that far away as too not have heard us..."

Lillian did not hear her. "I must find Papa!" She said urgently.

As soon as she entered the house she began calling for him. "Papa?"

There was no answer.

"Papa?" she called again, peeking into the study. He usually spent most of his time indoors in this room, pouring over their dissolving fortune. And here he was. His back toward her, he stood at the large window, staring out at the grey ocean lying on the horizon.

"Papa, why did Lucas call?" She asked innocently as she entered the room.

"What?" Colonel Gower asked sharply, startled out of his reverie. "Sorry love, what did you ask?"

She clasped her hands behind her back as she walked further into the room. "I was just wondering why Lucas Boyd called by."

"Oh, you saw him did you? You er, did not speak with him?"

"No... He left too quickly."

His look of concern quickly turned to one of temporary relief. "Ah... he was... er merely delivering a message from Lord Lindsay." He finished quickly.

"What was this message?" She asked, one sceptical eyebrow raised.

"What? Oh, ah... that the quails are ready for shooting again."

Lillian was not convinced; but the certainty that her father was hiding something meant that Lucas had come for a reason other than quails, and that reason could very well be the fairytale ending she had just been conjuring up with Rosemary.

"Surely, Father, Lord Lindsay has his own messengers for that sort of thing?" She asked with gleeful suspicion.

"Yes, well I believe Lucas was in the neighbourhood and offered to drop by... Never mind that," He changed his tone abruptly, "there is another, more important matter that I wish to speak to you about."

Lillian could not think of anything more important than an engagement with Lucas Boyd, but humoured her father. "Yes?"

"It concerns Rupert Wagstaff..." He began carefully.

"Ugh, what has he done now?"

"Well, it is more a question of what you can do for him, Lily." When Lillian did not reply, puzzled as she was, he continued. "The Wagstaff's are a very respectable family in our County and Rupert is set to inherit the entire estate. Lord and Lady Lindsay have advised me, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the pairing is a wonderful idea and I was hoping... wondering, if you had given any thought to the match."

"I'm sorry, to what?" She was finding it hard to follow. As if the conversation was a horse that without warning had bucked her, the rider, and sped away; leaving her behind to wonder what on earth had just happened.

"To Rupert Wagstaff darling."

"To Rupert? Father, Rupert Wagstaff is a brute. Plan and simple. I would not marry that man if he had twice his allowance."

"But love can soften a man, my dear. You girls have softened me. I used to be a fearsome leader before your mother came along. Steely Gower, they used to call me. Men would polish their brass buttons ten times over if I was on the inspection round. Then I met your mother..." He chuckled quietly. "I would have been an embarrassment to Her Majesty's Armed Services if they had seen me with her..."

"Yes, but Papa," she placed her hands over his, imploring him to understand, "Mama loved you with all her heart, and you her. You married for love, and I am certain I could never love Rupert Wagstaff. Do you really think he could love me as you loved Mama?"

"Not as much as you would deserve." He replied warmly, then as if remembering something troubling, his face was suddenly strained.

"What is the matter Papa? Do not worry about me marrying. I know the right man will come along soon. He may even be right under our noses!" She smiled at her wonderful secret.

Colonel Gower turned a calculating stare upon her when she said this, the kind that once left brave young soldiers quaking in their mirrored boots. But soon it softened and he turned back to the window.

"There is a man who loves you Lillian," He said in a distant, sorrowful voice, "And you will never know just how much..."

Lillian was confused by his suddenly sombre mood, but assumed it was sadness at losing his daughters to marriage.

"Do you mean yourself Papa?" She asked, her large, green trusting eyes gazing up at him. She hugged his broad old chest tightly, the way she had done when she was a young girl. "We will never leave you Papa, never."

Colonel Phillip Gower stroked his eldest daughter's hair. A rare wave of guilt swept over him. Was he doing the right thing, or ruining a chance at happiness? No, he thought, of course he was right; the blessings and support of wealthy friends mattered more to the survival of his family than the fleeting feelings of youth. He had made sacrifices for them before, and this was no different. Yes, that's it, he thought, settling back into his dwelling of comfortable assuredness. In the large scheme of things, it was for the future benefit of his family.