Authors: Katherine Sutcliffe
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #True Crime
“This perdition is all yours,” he replied. “I’m simply curious why you and your men continue to bother. You’ve been hacking away at that dirt and rock for most of a year, and what has it gotten you? Bloodied hands and an aching back.”
I watched the ponies struggle along the metal tracks, dragging their carts behind them. After nearly a year of toil and struggle, my hopes still hinged on the words of a man who had died poor as a church mouse.
Could Thomas Whitefield have been wrong? Was there no more lead, no rich vein that was going to make my paltry coffers full again?
“Your Grace,” came a cry, and I turned to see my stablehand rein his frothing animal to a stop. “ ’Tis time, Your Grace. The babe is on its way!”
I mounted my horse, and the three of us rode toward Thorn Rose as if all the hounds from hell were following.
Miracle met us at the door, a determined look on her face. “Everything is well. There is no need to panic.”
I tried to move around her but she blocked my way.
“You’ll not step a foot into that room until you wash.”
I turned to Clay. “Do something about her, or I will.”
He grinned. “Be my guest. I dare you to try.”
Sarah Maria dashed from the salon, followed by my niece, Maggie. I fell to one knee and opened my arms to greet my daughter.
She skidded to a stop, wrinkled her little nose in displeasure, and shook her head. “Wash first,” she said. “Then a hug.”
A cry erupted from upstairs, and I felt the blood rush from my face.
Miracle barked an order to the nanny, who gently took the children and escorted them back to the parlor. Glaring at me, she demanded, “Wash.” Then, lifting her skirts, she hurried up the stairs.
Clay clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Drink first. Wash later.”
I nodded and followed him, sinking down into a chair near the French doors overlooking the grounds surrounding my home. Clayton pressed a snifter into my hand and laughed.
“Get used to it. I did. Women may appear fragile as glass, but they aren’t.”
“Right.” I quaffed the port and extended my glass for more.
DID NOT WASH.
through the gardens and picked great bunches of anemones, and tied them together with Sarah’s hair ribbons.
I sat on the floor outside our bedroom, my back against the wall, my eyes closed tightly each time I heard Maria cry out.
And the hours ploughed on, until nightfall had filled up the house with shadows and the nanny had tucked the children into bed.
I examined Miracle’s face each time she left the room; noted that she spoke quietly to my brother, keeping her face as expressionless as possible.
At the stroke of midnight, Clayton wearily descended the staircase to fetch us each another drink. Sitting beneath the halo of light from the sconce on the wall, I stared down at the wilted anemones in my hand.
“Something’s wrong,” I said softly. “I know it.”
came the soft whisper.
I looked around, expecting to find that my brother had returned. Nay, he was not there. I was alone and obviously hallucinating from too much port and worry.
I will show you miracles yet.
Looking off into the dark, crushing the anemones in my hand, I said, “Then show me, damn you.”
There came a racket of excited voices from the lower floor. Jumping to my feet, I moved to the top of the stairs and looked down at my foreman’s soot-and sweat-streaked face.
The memory of that dreadful day when the mine had exploded nearly two years ago rushed over me, and I sank against the balustrade, gripping it as I said, “Christ, Mr. Stubbs. What the hell has happened?”
“Happened?” His dark face broke into a wide smile. “We’ve just struck a vein, Your Grace. Aye, a right good one, by the looks of it.”
Clayton moved beside the man and gazed up at me with a grin as he lifted one snifter in a toast. “By God, you did it, you son of a bitch.”
Yet the news brought me no pleasure, no relief. It would all mean nothing without Maria.
I quickly turned and found Miracle standing in the open doorway of our bedroom. I swallowed, searching her eyes.
She smiled, and I felt my knees go weak.
“Would you like to see your wife now, Your Grace?”
I followed Miracle into the room.
Maria lay with her eyes closed, her face damp with sweat, her hair like strands of gold as it reflected the lamplights. How fragile she looked! So weary, so pale. I felt my heart climb into my throat.
Then her lashes fluttered open; she found me with her wide blue eyes, and smiled.
“There you are,” she said.
I moved to the bed, unable to take my gaze from her treasured face.
“What have you there?” She weakly pointed to my hand.
“Anemones.” I laid them upon the pillow by her head. “I’m afraid they’re dead.”
She turned her head and nuzzled them with her nose. “Nay, not dead, love. Just a little wilted. Like me.”
I pressed my lips to hers, and murmured,
“Coy anemone that ne’er uncloses
Her lips until they’re blown on by the wind.”
Maria smiled into my eyes. “Would you care to meet your sons now, Your Grace?”
“A son!” I laughed and touched her cheek. “Maria, you’ve given me a son.”
She shook her head. “You misunderstood, sir. I have given you
Slowly, I straightened.
Maria pointed beyond me, and I turned to see Miracle with a babe cradled in each arm. As she moved into the lamplight I looked down on their tiny pink faces, the whispery voice returning to me yet again.
I will show you miracles yet.
I sank onto the bed beside my wife. Her arms opened to me and I lay my head upon her sweet breasts and closed my eyes, savoring the touch of her fingers upon my cheeks.
“Husband,” she whispered. “All is well. Why do you weep?”
“Because I love you,” I said. “And I will love you forever.”