Somewhere in the Book…
The awkwardness between Owen and Sarah at dinner did not dampen the reunion that continued into the evening. Sarah excused herself immediately following the final course of roasted turkey. She’d barely eaten at all but for a warm roll with honey butter dipped lightly in gravy. Kathryn attempted to entice her with a new dessert she’d requested called Boston cream pie but Sarah obviously didn’t have a sweet tooth. Owen pretended not to notice her silent but oddly irritating behavior and carried the conversation completely through the meal but for questions from his audience.
“Will Sarah be attendin’ school while ye’re here in Philadelphia?” Kathryn asked.
“Oh no, she’s completed her lessons already in Ireland and is an avid reader. She’s constantly educatin’ herself quite well. I’d venture to say she’s brighter than any seventeen-year-old ye’ll ever meet,” answered William.
Owen took his thick hunk of pie in very small bites and hoped it would last as long as their discussion on the lovely Miss Jameson.
“Please tell me she’s still playin’ the piano. We’ve a lovely one and I barely have the time to play it,” Kathryn said, reaching for the tea pot to pour for Elizabeth.
“Thank ye, dear. Why yes, I’m sure she’s still more than able to play. Whether or not she will is another story.”
“But why? In yer letters ye spoke of her playin’ every day.” Kathryn sat the tea pot on its trivet with a heavy sigh. “Elizabeth, I do hope ye don’t mind me mentionin’ it but she appears as unhappy a girl as I’ve ever laid me eyes on. Isn’t there anythin’ we can do to please her?”
Owen was on the edge of his seat. His eyes darted back and forth over his tea cup and he yet had a half plate full of pie to finish.
“Well, I’m sure it is quite obvious she did not wish to take this journey with us. Last year, we felt it necessary to…rein her in a bit. She’d developed an all too consumin’ attachment to her horses and we felt it was time for her to set such things aside and begin preparin’ for adulthood as a proper young lady. We’d indulged her as our only child and allowed her far too much freedom and self-exploration.” Elizabeth spoke slowly and Owen detected she was being much too selective when choosing her words.
“I’ll tell it to ye plain, ye are like family, after all,” William spoke up, making eye contact with everyone at the table and then placing his hand atop Elizabeth’s before he continued. “Our girl is head strong, bold and opinionated, I’ll give ye that, but she’s got a heart a gold. It wasn’t just the attachment to her horses that set about me sellin’ ‘em off, it was an attachment to the young lad who took care of ‘em. Oh, we nipped it in the bud long before either of them could get any ideas set in stone, but there was feelin’s, strong feelin’s bein’ established, and we had to put a stop to it.”
Owen slurped his tea loudly, drawing attention to himself unwittingly, and apologized for the interruption.
“Doctor Whelan, we wouldn’t want ye to think us prudes or pious but wouldn’t ye agree we did the right thing?” asked Elizabeth.
Owen reached for the tea pot and offered everyone a refill before finding an answer he believed would excuse him from passing any sort of judgment on this matter. Based on his own experience with issues of class and station, he bit his tongue out of respect for his aunt. “I’m still a very young man and have no children of me own so I don’t feel qualified to comment. However, I can see now what a true broken heart can do to a person and I surely don’t look forward to such a condition.”
Owen always had a way with coming out with his thoughts even when he tried very hard to put his words into a context where they wouldn’t offend or seem harsh. He failed miserably as usual. His Aunt sat with her mouth open, staring at him as if he’d belched aloud without asking to be excused. The only person at the table who did not appear offended was William, which gave him some relief as he realized his candor in regards to a man’s daughter may have earned him a bloody nose.
“Well, Doctor Whelan, ye certainly don’t beat about the bush do ye?” William remarked, holding his cup out for more tea.
“Perhaps Owen misunderstood…” Kathryn stated with a sugary tongue.
“I believe he was right on the mark, Kathryn. It’s refreshin’ to meet a man who says what he thinks and not what he believes people want ta hear. That’s a rarity these days, especially in my profession,” William said, looking down at his cup as he stirred sugar into his tea.
“I apologize if I’ve offended ye in any way. It took me many a year and a rough journey through ‘em to open me mouth and now most of the time I don’t know when to keep it shut.”
“Ye’ve spoken the words neither of us could bring ourselves ta say, Doctor Whelan. Perhaps we needed ta hear it from someone else. It’s been nearly a year and she’s still bitter.” Elizabeth reached over and patted Owen’s hand as she spoke.
“Call me Owen, please. So what became of this young fella?”
“I shot him dead,” William said, setting his tea cup on its dish with a tap.
“William! Ye did no such thing,” Elizabeth chided.
“Well, I wanted to, that’s fer sure. I paid him and sent him back to his kin; told him never ta show his face around my home again. Cryin’ shame it was, too. He was a fine horseman and a hard worker. I couldn’t blame the boy, though. For heaven’s sake, look at the girl. She’s an angel, she is.”
“She’s absolutely lovely, William. How could any young man resist such beauty,” Kathryn stated.
“How about ye, Owen? Did ye happen ta notice?” William chuckled.
“William, I just don’t know what to do with ye at times,” Elizabeth said, shaking her head.
“If I’m speakin’ plain as ye seem to respect of me, I’m sure she’s lovely when she isn’t wearing that scowl and melancholy veil she has on. She certainly does have some pretty hair, though. I’ll give her that.” He’d finally reached his last bit of pie and conversation for the evening. He was too deeply reminded of Raina’s situation and hadn’t imagined being asked his opinion on matters he already felt strongly about.
“Well, then, perhaps a young handsome gentleman such as yerself might lighten her up a bit. Ye’d be doin’ her and us a great service. I mean ta say, if ye have the time, by gettin’ her out of the house. It’s nearly autumn, and from what Elizabeth’s shared from Kathryn’s letters, it’s mighty beautiful here in autumn.” William winked.
“Oh, William, that’s a splendid idea.” Kathryn stood and began clearing the dessert dishes. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
“Seein’ as how I really have no desire ta spend yer entire visit watchin’ her sulk about, I’ll see what I can do.”
What am I gettin’’ meself into? He was reminded of a young man who was far worse off and found his hope from the ocean. There may yet be hope for this pitiful creature as well. His heart had been broken more than once until he was convinced there wasn’t enough glue in existence to hold it together but he’d been wrong. He also believed there was more to this story but didn’t care much for listening to any more of the details. He wanted to sort it all out on his own.
For the next several days, Owen spent every daylight hour at the hospital. Several recent medical graduates had joined the staff and his non-patient-related hours were spent in lectures and doing rounds to acquaint the future physicians with their new roles. Having such heavy burdens on such a young heart aged him quickly and most of these young men had no idea they were a few years his senior. Being a twenty-one-year-old established physician was unheard of but his brilliance and reputation preceded him as if he were a tenured member of the staff.
By Friday evening, as his carriage pulled him around the house to the back garden that surrounded it, he spotted a light coming from the sun room, which illuminated the pale oval jewel that was Sarah’s face, reading in Rachel’s chair. Owen thanked Martin quietly and stepped toward the door like a mouse, watching in the darkness as Sarah slid her finger beneath the top of a page and pushed it to her left.
By the time he realized how long he’d been watching her, he had lost track of exactly how many pages she’d swiped over and she raised her right hand to rub her eyes. He decided it was long enough and tapped lightly on the French doors for her to unlock them and let him in.
“Good evenin’, Doctor Whelan. I hope ye don’t mind but I found this book in my room this evenin’ when I returned from my bath and I borrowed it,” she said in a tone barely audible over the glow radiating from her milk and honey cheeks.
“Oh no, I don’t mind. Ye may read any book in the library. Have ye found the library yet?” Of course she’s found the library. She’d most likely passed it a dozen times or more by now on her way to the parlor, Owen thought.
“Thank ye, Doctor. Aye, I searched it out the day after we arrived.” Sarah stood before him, her white nightgown peeking out from beneath her robe, with the book tucked under her arm. At the base of her throat, a thin yellow silk ribbon tied the top closed. She stepped to a chair at the patio table and waited for Owen to seat her.
Owen wondered if she should be out of her room dressed this way but saw nothing of her he needed to hide his eyes from, except perhaps her in total. In this soft light and she with her softened temperament and folded arms, every time she opened her mouth to speak, his heart was in his mouth, obstructing his ability to make any sense at all. Since Sarah was the only one capable of putting a complete thought into words and considering he was stunned at her speaking at all, he remained quiet and nodded when necessary.
Sarah carried on, mostly about his selection of books. She groaned and told him he had far too many medical books and she found them repulsive and dull. She gave him suggestions on titles he should purchase, authors of note whom she admired and suggested even devoting an entire cabinet to poetry. His head was under water. Sarah’s current of thoughts was never-ending and the undertow pulled him farther and farther beneath the surface until he believed his lungs were now gills, and his arms and legs silver fins waving in the tide.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a half-smile. “I have a tendency to go on and on in the evenin’. There’s somethin’ about the late hours that carries my imagination away. Perhaps I’ll see ye at breakfast. G’night.” She hurried away.
Owen sat in silence. His mind was still swimming somewhere beneath the sea of emotion he found himself caught up in. For a few minutes more, he tried to make sense of the hour which had just flown by him like a tossed rock. He pushed himself to his feet, unaware that they’d even been sitting at all, when he noticed she’d forgotten to take the book with her. He picked it up and turned it over, realizing it was the old original press of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that had mysteriously followed him from his uncle’s house. A vision of Sarah turning the pages for those minutes he’d watched her through the window flooded his mind as he too turned them, feeling the worn pages glide beneath his fingertips one after the other, until a folded piece of paper slid from the middle of the book and fluttered to the floor. He picked up the note and tucked it in his pocket
Instantly, Owen floated to the surface.