Sarah had missed the house on Church Street in Baton Rouge with its tall arched windows framed with bands of guilloche. She could shut her eyes at any moment and actually see the limestone hood molds with crocket finials, and the carved stone balconies on the upper floor. Now she had returned from New Orleans and would no longer have to tap her mental capacities for such a visualization. One of those delightful balconies was just off her own bedroom. As she left the carriage, Sarah automatically looked up at the balcony in happy anticipation that inside she would find her writing table, cozy corner, and four poster bed. It was a grand house belonging to her father, Judge Thomas Morgan, who was an important member of the community. It was he who had insisted that the windows be constructed of the elaborate dormer kind with stone pinnacles surrounding large sheets of plate glass. This beautiful home which had captured her heart was located not far from the Mississippi River. In the sultry summer months she could have those great windows opened wide in the attempt to summon any slightly cooler breeze that might come from off the Mississippi.
It was now, however, just after the new year, yet her thoughts were filled with those of the one that had passed. She would be twenty years old at the end of February and already she could sense that the world around her was rapidly changing. Up until that moment life had been filled with unclouded happiness, but then, everything had come to an agonizing halt. Eight months ago Harry, the brother she loved best of all, had been wounded in a duel at the Oaks in New Orleans. Now he was dead and at last she knew what it meant to grieve. The memory wrapped itself around her, ruining the joy she had felt at returning to Church Street. Breaking protocol, she brushed a tear away with her glove and squaring her shoulders, proceeded up the steps to the front entry. She must not let her mother see her unhappiness. Taking a deep breath, she saw the houseman through the etched panes of the door, then heard the brass knob turn, allowing her quiet entrance.
“Is mother resting, Gabriel?”
“Yes, Miss Sarah.”
“Has she had tea?”
“No, Mam. She’s a’waitin’ foh you. S’pects you should go on up now.”
“Thank you, Gabriel, I will.”
Removing her cloak and handing it to the stately slave, she glanced briefly at her appearance in the hall mirror, pinched her cheeks to remove their pallor, then began a slow ascent up the stairway. She stopped at the first landing where a large curved seat in a bay window looked out over the street. Beneath that window a crowd had gathered at the gate the night Harry had died. She could still hear the awful heartbroken echo of her father’s voice as he had answered the terrible question she had posed. “It’s true,” her father had said through tears.
How she had made it down the steps and out into the crowd, she still could not remember. She had simply found herself in the street looking for her sister Miriam. Shuddering slightly, she placed her hand against one of the square lights of the window as if to erase the reality of the vision. Someone that night had reached out to shush her and the indignity of the moment flooded through her. She had pushed their hand away and escaped into the night. No one had the right to smother her grief. Harry had been her brother, the one she had loved best of all. That night with all its horror had seemed to last forever.
Glancing up the stairs to the second floor, she sank down on the velvet cushions in the window seat. Would she find her mother’s misery as deep as ever?
James Sparks killed my Harry, she thought fiercely. According to Dr. Day, the duel was fought with shot guns loaded with balls fired at a distance of thirty paces. She looked around at the quiet house. Dear God, had Harry ever lived? It must be a dream, all those sweet happy days. A fancy of my own brain. No one knows how I have suffered and I’ll never let it show. Mother doesn’t think I can live without him. I will though. His love still sustains me.
She stood then, brushing out her skirts, and took the first brave step up to the hallway leading to her widowed mother’s suite of rooms. Her daddy had been the next to die and was now resting alongside Harry. But, with God in heaven, and the brothers she still had on earth, she would be grateful and not think about the prospect of being left utterly helpless.
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