“It was an extravagant affair! The gentlemen wore such exquisite formalwear. Many of the officers wore their finest uniforms with boots and medals polished to a sparkling shine. All the ladies wore such elegant dresses and brilliant jewelry. Everyone danced and laughed. There was a bounty of fine foods to be had and no shortage of engaging conversation. They were all so civil and polite and full of mirth!” Lilith Tower proclaimed to her closest friend as they sipped tea in the Willow Ridge gardens. The sun lit up each girl’s light-colored dress which contrasted the deep green of spring surrounding them.
“Do you suppose a bachelor of sufficient class will propose to court you?” Audrey asked in her usual gossip-hungry tone.
“Oh, I don’t know. I want so much to make my father happy, but I do not know if I am so brave as to try and charm one of the sons of my father’s affluent friends. I wish only to carry out my filial duty,” Lilith responded timidly.
Audrey smiled slyly. “Perhaps a man of status is simply not someone who you would want to marry. Perchance eloping with a low-born man with hard hands and an unpredictable nature enlivens your spirit?”
Lilith blushed. “Audrey! I could never betray my father in such a way! Besides, a woman must always control her breast for the sake of her kin. You know that!”
Audrey giggled. “But, of course!” she continued, “though we have our obligations, we still dream in our chambers. And on more than one occasion, I have dreamt of stealing a kiss from that young porter Andrew.”
Lilith’s eyes lit up. “To be so bold! Audrey Phillips, hath morality and virtue no connection to thy sensibility? For shame!”
As both girls laughed, Lilith saw the new groomsman near the stables. A man of 22 years of age. His hair was thick, long, and dark blonde. His eyes were a shade of blue that pierced through the heart of anything upon which he gazed. He was as strong as the horses for which he cared. His spirit seemed just as wild as a feral stallion. ‘Twas unfortunate his family had fallen on hard times and had no societal consequence. Lilith eyed him wistfully but carefully.
A few days later, Lilith found herself alone in the stables caring for her favored Hackney. She became startled when the groomsman Nicholas entered to feed the horses. He apologized and went to work silently so as not to bother Mr. Tower’s daughter. Lilith fell into a daze and wondered what it would be like to live without the obligations and responsibilities of a woman of status – what it would be like to run off with Nicholas and not suffer such terrible repercussions for her and her family. Little did she know that the sight of her made Nicholas’ chest heavy.
“May I feel your hands?” Lilith suddenly asked. She blushed as soon as she realized she blurted the question out.
Nicholas turned around startled. His soulful eyes turned to Lilith. “Miss? You want to do what?”
Lilith became entranced with his eyes. “I’m sorry…” She hesitated. “I should not have been so forward. I was just curious what the hands of a groomsman felt like. I have only known the feel of soft, delicate hands…” She trailed off.
He nodded. He was happy to oblige her. Nicholas wiped off his hands as best he could and presented them to her for inspection. She touched them gently with her fingers. Lilith’s chest became burdened with an uncontrollable passion. She placed his hand on her cheek and gazed into his eyes with a terrible yearning. Nicholas felt a fire in his breast and could not help but kiss her. Once the deed was done, Lilith became conscious of the situation. She gasped and frantically left the stables, refusing to look back at Nicholas. What had she done?
As time went on, her father Mr. Edmund Tower sought out suitors for her. Since her mother had died, and he had no sons or other daughters, he turned the whole of his affections and attention to Lilith. He was determined to ensure the best life she could have. Of course, Lilith was still young and still learning her womanly duties. Many of the potential suitors were in their thirties and were looking for a capable wife who could not only bear them sons, but represent them well in high society. Though many thought Lilith to be a pleasant vision, few thought her ready to be a proper lady of English society.
She was not too upset by the outcome, however, as she became friendly with Nicholas. Although she had to tenaciously extinguish the flames of her breast when she was around him, Lilith found Nicholas to be intelligent, charming, and rather amusing. He was surprisingly talented with words as well as tools, and she was never bored in his presence.
A few months passed by without any substantial suitor proposing marriage for Mr. Tower’s daughter. Lilith continued with her education as a young woman of high society, and she continued to get closer to Nicholas. Then, just a couple months before Lilith’s 17th birthday, Mr. Tower was hit by a stray bullet in the chest on a hunting trip. He died before surgeons could even get to him.
Upon hearing that ‘my dear Lilith’ were Mr. Tower’s last words, Lilith let loose a torrent of tears. Audrey did all she could to console her friend, but the most she could do was stop herself from crying. The only two times Lilith was with Nicholas after her father’s death were about the only times she could muster the strength to hold back her tears. However, within a month’s time after her father’s funeral, her family’s estate of Willow Ridge was transferred to the possession of her uncle Nathan Tower, and she too became a part of his responsibility. She was uprooted from her home and transplanted to Chadswyck Hall miles and miles away. Lilith cried quietly on the long carriage ride for both her father and for Nicholas.
At Chadswyck Hall, Lilith was greeted by her two slightly older cousins Sylvia and Katie. They appeared the very image of respectable women in the highest echelon of British society. As was decorum, they offered condolences to Lilith for her recent misfortunes. They simply could not bear the thought of losing their own father. The tepid familial embrace Lilith enjoyed was short-lived, however.
Mrs. Mary Tower, Lilith’s aunt, revealed herself to be Sylvia’s and Katie’s instructor in proper behavior, mannerisms, social etiquette, and fulfilling the very obligations demanded of every English woman. She was a strict woman; a devout Christian, wife, and mother. She demanded no less than perfect discipline in the ways of morality and virtue. Lilith became her third and, by far, least advanced pupil. In the days and weeks that followed her arrival at Chadswyck Hall, not a night went by that she did not cry herself to sleep.
Mr. Nathan Tower held little affection for his niece. He was much more concerned with finding suitors for his own daughters. He was particularly interested in marrying Sylvia to the son of the Earl of Suffolk and Katie to the son of the coal magnate Mr. Liggington. Both unions would guarantee stability for his daughters, powerful connections for the Tower family, and strong and respectable grandsons. Lilith was a burden to her uncle’s ambitions. He would sooner chastise her for saying the wrong thing, being too forward, not offering the proper courtesy, acting in a manner unbecoming of a young lady, or even for looking too morose in front of company than to console or embrace her.
Lilith learned all too quickly that her cousins would not aid her in becoming the proper lady of English society that Nathan and Mary Tower desired her to be. They gave her false counsel when she sought their aid. At a party hosted by the Sotherby family, they convinced her that walking around with the Bible on her head whilst preventing it from falling off in front of guests would win the host’s favor. She was immediately taken home by a servant and later scolded, for which she cried hysterically when she was alone. Of course, her cousins explained that she was supposed to walk as if she could walk around with the Bible on her head without letting it fall off. Thus, when they convinced her that letting out an audible belch after a meal was a social cue expressing special gratitude, she realized that their counsel could never be trusted.
Then, one day, when Lilith thought she was by herself during the mid-day, she began to cry again. Only, on this occasion, her tear-drenched woes were interrupted by Mrs. Nancy Breyer, the wife of Mr. Samuel Breyer, a long-time friend of her uncle. Mrs. Breyer inquired as to what tore at her breast so. Lilith, unable to cope with her emotions, broke down and spoke freely about her life after her father died. Mrs. Breyer’s eyes began to glisten, as well.
“My poor girl. You have suffered so much and have been given so little chance to become a proper lady.” Mrs. Breyer blotted Lilith’s cheeks with a kerchief. “Mary is a fine and respectable woman, but she can be too good at suppressing her tender side.”
“I just feel so alone here. I have no one who will embrace me. They have so little patience for me.” Lilith buried her face in her hands.
“My dear Lilith, hold back your tears and still your breast. I will take over your education from here on out. Your uncle will be happy to oblige Samuel when he makes the request. Fret not, child. You will be merry yet again.” Mrs. Breyer looked into Lilith’s eyes and smiled warmly.
As Mrs. Breyer said, Lilith was released into the custody of Samuel and Nancy Breyer to teach her how to flourish in society. For months, Lilith lived with the Breyers, taking instruction from Mrs. Breyer. Lilith even stopped crying herself to sleep at night. Mrs. Breyer took Lilith to social events to guide her through everything that she should do and say while around company. She taught Lilith to be charming and to act with decorum. Mrs. Breyer taught her everything that would and could be expected of her not just as a lady in society, but also as a wife and mother.
Eventually, Mrs. Breyer took Lilith to a ball, where many potential suitors of status had convened. Lilith was charming, appropriate, and the life of the party. Even the noblemen’s sons were casting their gazes upon her lovely figure. Gentlemen were quick to ask her to dance, and others stole her attention with engaging conversation. Her cousins, Sylvia and Katie, were, however, at the ball as they were still unmarried. They seethed with jealousy at seeing the dim-witted trollop win the attention of so many. They took it upon themselves to discreetly embarrass her beyond recourse.
Sylvia and Katie split up and introduced a rumor that Lilith had run away with a young military officer a few years ago, and she had to beg for her father to take her back when the officer was killed in battle. Some even said that she had killed her infant son to ensure her father would not disown her outright. The rumors spread like a wildfire. Soon everyone looked at her not with amazement and wonder, but with contempt and suspicion. The host of the ball quietly asked her to leave providing the evidence of her ignominious reputation as the basis for the request. Lilith gasped. She began to cry. She stormed off expediently.
Nearly a fortnight passed wherein Lilith did not leave the Breyers’ household. No word of apology or explanation came from her cousins or aunt and uncle even after Mrs. Breyer found out the girls’ scheme and confronted their parents. Lilith ate little, slept less; she merely wept. Both Mr. and Mrs. Breyer attempted to console her and offered her warm and loving embraces. They had two sons and three daughters of their own, but all had already been married and moved out. Lilith was like their fourth daughter, now. Their breasts ached with the pain of seeing their little Lilith under such torment.
Then, as if sent from Heaven, a visitor came to call upon Lilith.
When Lilith was finally coaxed into meeting her insistent visitor in the parlor, she immediately sensed something warm and familiar. She saw the profile of a working man but wearing regal garments. His long, thick, dark blonde hair was well-tamed and tied with ribbon. It was when Lilith saw his penetrating blue eyes that she stopped. She trembled, but did not dare move lest the vision dissolve into the ether. She was looking at Nicholas – a much refined and drastically better dressed Nicholas.
Nicholas stood up to greet her. He smiled warmly, not unlike the sunrise. His entire presence radiated with joy and splendor.
“My dear, lovely Lilith. Your beauty is more powerful than I remember.” Nicholas said.
Lilith stared wide-eyed. She gasped and nearly fainted. Nicholas rushed to her and held her in his arms. She began to weep.
“Nicholas. My sweet, strong Nicholas. Are you really here?” She said softly.
He brushed her tear-soaked cheeks with his pristine but rough hands. “I have come for you, my darling. I have come to do what I could not do before. I have come to make you my wife.” He kissed her quivering lips.
Some minutes later, Samuel and Nancy Breyers joined them in the parlor. The four of them sat and drank tea as Nicholas explained what had happened to him after Lilith left for Chadswyck Hall.
“My mother began being courted by a mysterious gentleman. You must understand – my father having been a decorated officer of war, as his father was before him, acquired a certain amount of prestige for our family. However, he left behind numerable debts when he was killed in battle. I was forced away from my education at the university and had to pay off the family debts with my own hands. I could not follow the path of my forbearers for the sake of my mother, so I worked for the gentlemen who knew my father. As a result, my mother and I were not quite outcasts, but we were not welcomed into our accustomed social circles. Therefore, it was not all that strange for a substantial gentleman to keep a veil of secrecy when courting my mother.
“It was only when a marriage proposal was offered that he revealed himself to me. Not only did he want to marry my mother, but, since he never had a son, he proclaimed his intent to adopt me as his legal son and heir.”
“Well, c’mon now, son, don’t keep the ladies in suspense. Of whom is this man of means that you speak?” Samuel interrupted.
Nicholas chuckled. “My apologies. The man that married my mother and became my adoptive father is none other than the Duke of Bedford, Sir Francis Russell.”
Lilith, Nancy, and Samuel all jumped up and began bowing and curtseying in reverence.
“My apologies, sir, if I had known you were the son of a renown nobleman, I would have prepared a much more appropriate welcoming,” Samuel explained.
“Now, now. Please, stop. If I wanted to be treated like a nobleman’s son, I would have told you straight away,” Nicholas offered.
They looked to make sure of his seriousness and sat back down. They made sure to sit as straight-backed as possible.
“The point is that when we were at Willow Ridge, I wanted nothing so much as to offer a proposal of marriage to Mr. Tower for you, Lilith.” He looked to her with mournful but brilliant eyes. “As soon as my affairs were secure as the heir to the Duke of Bedford, I asked after you. It was just last week that I received word that you were living with the Breyers.” He paused. “I also had been told that fortune did not shine upon you after Mr. Tower’s most unfortunate and timely passing – something for which you still have my deepest condolences.”
Lilith began to tear up again. “’Tis true. Those that called themselves kin were cruel.”
Nicholas sighed then smiled. “Well, worry not, my darling love. I now have more wealth and privilege than any who could ever behave so unkindly. With the leave of Mr. and Mrs. Breyer, I will take you from this fine estate on this very day and take you back to my adoptive father’s castle. We will be wed, and you will have your chance to show all of England just how much mirth and felicity is even possible.”
Just as Nicholas proclaimed, the two of them were joined in matrimony. Mr. and Mrs. Breyer were even welcomed to the wedding as the parents of the bride. Also, Lilith’s old friend Audrey agreed to be a bride’s maid. Nicholas and Lilith ended up having several children and lived all their days with love, peace, kindness, and happiness.
Lilith’s cousins, however, were revealed to be liars and tricksters. The Earl of Suffolk and the coal magnate Mr. Liggington sent letters to Nathan Tower rebuking him for thinking that such awful girls would ever be worthy to marry their sons. The girls eventually married men of little means and no real consequence. Nathan eventually divorced Mary, and before he could remarry he died from a terrible stroke. Mary ended up living out the rest of joyless days with Katie and her husband.