Megan was torn about school this morning. She wanted to go but she was also still scared.
"It'll be just as wonderful as yesterday," I said, holding her hand as we walked to the school. "Did you have any bad dreams?"
"No," she said. "That bed is really comfy, Tommy!"
I smiled. They really were. I hadn't slept that well since before our parents died. I kissed her forehead and waited until she was in the schoolhouse to walk to work. I passed Daniel on the way and he shook my hand.
"Good morning, Mr. Buckley," he said cheerfully.
"Good morning," I returned, my heart thudding. Did he know? "How are you?"
"Wonderful," he said, holding his head high. "My proposal to Miss Elvira Rivers has been accepted."
I felt like the world dropped out from underneath me. She accepted his proposal? Then why did she meet with me last night? Could it be that she is toying with me?
"C-Congratulations," I said quietly. "Excuse me, I must get to work."
"Of course. Have a wonderful day, Mr. Buckley."
When I got to the smithy, Ivan beamed at me. I returned the smile half-heartedly.
"Do you enjoy your new home?" he asked.
This time my smile was earnest. "Yes. It is very spacious and Megan is happy. That's all that matters to me."
"We don't have any orders today," Ivan said. "You can do as you wish."
I thought to the thimble I offered to make Elvira. I bit my lower lip. My heart hurt but I still cared for her. It would make a good wedding present I suppose.
I sighed and got some spare iron.
"Mr. Buckley!" someone called and I looked up. Bryant Rivers was striding over, a broad grin on his face, with a letter in his hand. "Good morning."
I smiled. "Good morning, Mr. Rivers. How are you?"
"Splendid, thank you." He lowered his voice as he passed me the letter. "This is from my sister."
I frowned at it. "She wrote to me?"
"Of course she did," he said, surprised at my question. "Why wouldn't she?"
I sighed and he frowned as I set it to the side. "Thank you for delivering it, Mr. Rivers. Please excuse me."
"Wait. Read it. I'm supposed to wait for our answer."
I looked at him for a moment before doing as he asked.
I greatly enjoyed our time together last night. I would like to know if you will join me in the gardens soon again. Bryant said he will make certain we will not be interrupted.
There is a chance you will hear a rumor. Please do not believe it. I will explain.
I blinked at it then stared at Bryant.
"I don't know why she wrote this," I said.
"Is it not obvious?" he asked. "She wishes to see you."
"But why?" I asked, passing it to him. "She is engaged."
His mouth twisted into a scowl. "Did Daniel March tell you this?"
"Yes," I muttered, turning back to the melting iron. "I passed him on the way to work and-"
He sighed. "It's a lie, Mr. Buckley," he said and I looked up at him again. "Elvira speaks the truth. This is just a rumor. My mother went against our wishes and accepted the proposal."
"How can we continue if she is-?"
"Leave that to me," he said firmly. "Do you want to see her again?"
"Of course I do," I said. "But if your mother has accepted his proposal, then she would be doing something unfaithful."
"No she won't," he promised, putting his hand on my shoulder. "I'm on my way to speak to Daniel now. But first: when would you like to see her again?"
"Right now," I said and flushed at my quick answer. I cleared my throat. "I mean, tonight would be great."
Bryant grinned. "I'll let her know. Good day, Mr. Buckley."
I just nodded and bit my lower lip as he walked away. I went back to my iron. I wasn't bothered again until the end of the day. The thimble was done but, before I could leave, Ivan stood in front of me. His face was sad.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Is something wrong with Candace?"
"Please be careful, Thomas," he said and I stared at him. "I heard you talking to Mr. Rivers."
I sighed and sat down, running a hand through my hair. "It's a mistake, isn't it?"
"I didn't say that," he said. "But Daniel March.... He is a well-connected man. If he finds out that you are spending time with Miss Rivers, it could be bad for the two of you."
"Are you going to tell him?" I whispered.
He clapped me on the shoulder. "No, Thomas. Bring Megan to dinner tomorrow. I'll tell you about how Candace and I came to marry."
I nodded, my thoughts a jumbled mess of fears and anxieties. I slipped the thimble into my pocket and walked to the schoolhouse, still lost in my thoughts. When I got there, Bryant was walking out, looking angry. When he saw me, he beckoned for me to stand beside him.
"How's your sister?" he asked as Daniel watched.
"She's well," I answered. "She's enjoying school very much."
"Good, good. And your work down at the smithy?"
"Mr. Rivers, what are you-?" His eyes widened and I cleared my throat. "Very well. Was my work on your sword to your satisfaction?"
"Yes, it was. Thank you for repairing it. It looks just like the day my father received it."
We kept up the small talk until Daniel disappeared back into the schoolhouse to ring the bell. Bryant's eyes darkened.
"What is wrong, Mr. Rivers?" I asked quietly as the parents started arriving.
"He is a vile young man and I will not let him anywhere near my sister," he hissed, glaring at the closed door. He shook his head. "She says-" He stopped when he saw Daniel walking over to us. "Ten of those rings would be appreciated," he said suddenly and I frowned. Ten rings? "I know we asked for eight, but ten is my new number."
Oh! I cleared my throat.
"Then ten is how many you shall have."
He beamed and clapped me on the back. I looked at Daniel.
"Mr. March, how are you?" I asked but his eyes were on Bryant.
"You and Mr. Buckley have been talking for a while," he observed.
"He is my friend. I can speak with him how much I would like."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Megan's doing a fine job," he told me. "I hope she continues to do well." His eyes bored into mine and I clenched my jaw. He cleared his throat, a smirk playing on his lips. "If you'll excuse me, it is time for me to go see my fiancée."
Bryant gripped his arm, his eyes angry. "You're not going anywhere near her without me," he said through clenched teeth. His eyes then looked to me. "So, we have agreed on ten rings?"
"Yes. I'll deliver them to you tomorrow morning after I drop Megan off at school."
"Tommy!" I heard and I turned, smiling as Megan came running over to me.
I knelt down so she could jump into my arms. I nodded good bye to the two men and walked back home, letting Megan chatter away about her day at school and trying to ignore the hidden threat in Daniel's words.
At ten in the evening, once I was sure Megan was asleep, I locked the doors and windows then took the same back path Bryant had shown me. Just as yesterday, Elvira was already in the gardens. She sat at the bench and her head was bowed, though. I opened the hidden gate and cleared my throat gently.
When she looked at me, her face went from sad to radiantly happy, something that made me feel warm. I sat beside her and kissed her hand.
"Thank you for agreeing to see me," we said in unison and I laughed.
"I thought you wouldn't come," she admitted. "Bryant said that you were approached by Daniel."
I nodded, looking at my lap. "He was suspicious of Mr. Rivers and I talking outside of the schoolhouse. I don't know what Mr. Rivers said to him but Daniel said something that makes me... wary of continuing."
Her face fell and those beautiful grey-green eyes watered.
"What do you mean?"
I held her hands. "Worry not," I said quickly. "I still desire your company. There was a...."
I hesitated, not sure if I should tell her. She gripped my hands tighter.
"Tell me, Thomas," she whispered. "Please tell me."
I sighed. "He threatened my sister's education." She gasped. "I don't know if he's aware that I'm meeting with you but-"
"He isn't," she interrupted.
"How can you be sure?"
She bit her lower lip. "He came to call on me today." Her lip curled. "He wanted to speak of wedding plans. When I told him that I did not wish to marry him, he got angry and said no one else wants me so I might as well give in."
I took her chin gently and made her look at me. Her eyes were sad.
"That's not true," I said firmly. "Don't believe him."
She looked at me. "How do you know?"
I sighed. I took a deep breath and kissed her gently. She leaned into me, her hand on my shoulder. I put my hand on the back of her neck and she pressed her lips to mine firmly. I flushed when she bit gently on my lower lip before pulling back.
"There is another man who wants you," I whispered, our noses touching.
She burst into tears and I held her close. I was conflicted. I didn't mind secret meetings; especially since Bryant was helping orchestrate them. But to know a man was not only hurting her but threatening me made me angry. I held her tighter and kissed the top of her head. Her tears slowed and she sighed.
"How was your day?" she whispered, not leaving my eyes.
In fact, she got more comfortable and I smiled.
"Well, it started out rather awful but then I received a letter from a lovely young woman," I said and she giggled a little. "I finished your thimble, by the way." I got it out of my pocket and she gasped. "You put it on your finger," I explained. "That way, when you embroider or sew, the needle will strike the thimble instead of your beautiful skin."
She smiled and put her head on my chest. I shut my eyes and held her tightly again, unaware that someone was watching us.