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Since their reunion, Nicole and Anne have formed a bond that goes beyond "sisters" to best friends. Their paths separate again when Nicole's soul-searching consideration of her uncle Charles' desire for an heir brings her to his estate in England. When Anne brings her young son to England, the bittersweet reunion starts both young women on a new journey. Will their mutual love and support be enough to sustain them as the secret of the birthright is uncovered?
Catherine stood in the tiny second bedroom of her daughter Anne's home. She could hear the sounds of departure beyond the closed door. But Catherine was not good at leave-takings. There had been far too many in her life already. She was determined to be strong this day, but to do so she needed a moment alone. Time to sit by the window and watch the last of autumn's finery carpet the small front garden, time to pray to the Lord for strength.
So much had happened in these past months. She felt as though her memories were a swirl of autumn colors, caught in the winds of time. The previous summer, Sir Charles Harrow, eighth earl of Sutton, had come to Halifax in search of his brother, Catherine's husband. Unable to have children of his own, Charles required an heir to carry on the Harrow legacy and to secure his vast landholdings in England—the only need great enough to force him to renew contact with his estranged brother. But Charles had discovered that the child Andrew and Catherine had raised was not theirs by birth.
Though not by bloodline, Anne was as close to Catherine's heart as any child could be. As she sat by the window, Catherine felt nearly overwhelmed by the wonder of great events and small beginnings. Simple friendship with an Acadian family had blossomed into both heartache and joy. Though Catherine had lost her daughter and raised an Acadian baby as her own, in fact she had received gifts beyond measure. Now she called both these lovely young women her daughters. Nicole, the child raised by Louise and Henri Robichaud in the Louisiana bayous, and Anne, the girl she and Andrew had cherished these eighteen years.
Now Anne was wed, and as Catherine sat with her eyes half-closed against the sun's warming rays, she inwardly heard once more the joyful sounds of those wedding-day bells. Andrew's brother had arranged for a ship to bring Henri and Louise to Nova Scotia for the marriage. This had been the gesture of a man transformed, both heart and mind, through the hardship and discovery of his voyage. Charles was not only a man now at peace with himself and his brother's family, but a living testimony to the power of God. As Catherine prepared herself for yet another departure, she gave silent thanks for this brother-in-law who had become a friend.
Before his return to England, Charles had presented two bolts of finest silk as a wedding gift. Catherine did not even try to guess at the cost. She and Louise and Nicole all had worn new gowns. Her own was lavender in color, and Catherine could not help stroking its softness. The other bolt had been a creamy pastel silk, taken from the hour before sunrise, and they had used almost all of it for Anne's wedding dress. When Anne had emerged through the church's front doors, a collective sigh of wonderment had risen from the congregation. Anne's betrothed, a fine young doctor by the name of Cyril Mann, had watched his bride's approach with something akin to awe. Catherine had sat and held Louise's hand through the entire ceremony, both of them trying not to weep. Anne, this precious one who was daughter to them both, this fragile girl whom they both loved, had looked radiant that day. Nicole had stood beside her "sister" as bridesmaid, together at last.
Now it was Nicole who knocked and opened Catherine's door. "We're ready, Mama."
"Then so am I." She rose and held out her hand to her daughter. "I was thinking about Anne's wedding day."
"So much joy," Nicole agreed, the words accented by her native French. "A good thing to remember at this time."
"Yes." Catherine stood holding her daughter's hand, studying the strong, lovely features. The wedding was a month and more behind them now, and the time had come for yet another parting.
"Is something the matter, Mama?"
"I just wish I could hold on to the good moments longer," Catherine said. She took a deep breath. "Come, let us be off."
But as she followed Nicole out to where the others waited, it was not just this day's parting that pierced her heart. She looked ahead and saw the future with a mother's wisdom and prayed for strength to endure what she sensed might lie ahead.
The day was gentled by a wind far too warm for early October in Halifax. Out over the slate gray sea, light rimmed the horizon. Above was only cloud, so thick it appeared more like twilight than midmorning. Anne reached out with both hands, one taking hold of her husband, Cyril, the other gripping Nicole. She drew strength from these two fine people and knew with utter certainty that were it not for them here beside her, heartbreak and tears most certainly would overwhelm her.
Henri and Louise Robichaud made their way about the gathering, holding each person in turn, saying their good-byes. Two months they had been reunited here in what was once known as Acadia and was now called Nova Scotia. Though this particular day graced them with the comfort of a gentle autumn, already the landscape was dotted with the remnants of two early snows. Three times Henri and Louise had postponed their departure, not wanting to leave behind their precious daughters. Now they had no choice.
Still, when Henri released his brother Guy and turned to Andrew, he waved Nicole over to translate a final apology. "They say this will be the last ship of the season heading south."
"With the troubles rising," Andrew replied, "I have no doubt. Some are even calling it war."
"May God grant that it not come to that, not now, not ever." Henri spoke with quiet fervor in his native French, but Nicole's English translation was so subdued, so tragic sounding, that Anne turned away.
The sky seemed grayer still, the wind softer, the sliver of light on the horizon more golden than ever. It was a curious sort of day, the world darkened and brooding, yet with a crown of brilliant light shimmering in the distance, countless miles away. Anne clung to the light with the desperate hope that this was indeed a sign for her, a promise that if she held on through this heartrending moment, there would be joy again.
The time with Louise and Henri had been unlike anything she could have ever expected. Their reunion was branded upon her heart. It took place here at the quayside, on this very spot where they now stood holding one another. Catherine had waited beside her then, with Andrew, Nicole, and Cyril. Just like now. Only different. For her body had not been wrenched by sorrow as now. Then Anne had seen the impossible come to life, the dreams of years. And had experienced joy so great her heart could scarcely contain all she had felt. The boat drew near, and the two figures rose up above the gunnel and waved and shouted and laughed and wept. The three of them—Andrew, Catherine, and Nicole—had replied with tears and cries of their own.
Anne had suddenly found herself blinded, as though her heart's only defense was to wash the day in tears, leaving her unable to see a thing. No matter that she could no longer see, as the boat had scraped against the rocky quay, and the cries and the footsteps came nearer. No matter that she had no memory even today of what the newcomers said, for her sobs had drowned out everything else. No, it had not mattered at all. When first the rough, sinewy man's and then the softer woman's arms had wrapped around her, Anne had felt her heart growing, expanding in her chest. Re-forming so as to create enough room for these new folks she could now call her parents.
Anne was drawn back to the present moment as Louise stepped in front of her. Now it seemed to Anne that Louise understood exactly what she was feeling. She stepped before her daughter and said, "Never shall I be able to think of this place on Earth without knowing the joy of lifelong dreams come true and the sorrow of this day."
Anne struggled to draw a fraction of breath, enough to whisper, "Momma."
Then a hand caressed her cheek. "Look at what this day has brought. The dream that woke me in the night, year after hopeless year, has now become real. What joy I feel in hearing you speak that word. What impossible joy."
"Oh, Momma. I cannot let you go."
"You never shall, my daughter. Whatever this strange thing called life may bring, we shall never be parted from one another's hearts." It was Louise's turn to struggle for breath. "It is the only thing which grants me the strength to endure this day."
A second figure stepped up alongside her mother, stockier and grayer, with a strength that reminded her of a great oak tree, able to endure the harshest winds, bending and creaking but remaining ever steadfast and sheltering. "Oh, Father."
"There is no man wealthier upon this earth," Henri whispered as he held her close. Then lowering his voice for her ear alone, he added, "Or sadder."
Louise fitted herself into their embrace, and the three of them held together as one. "I came with one daughter and one hope," her mother said. "I leave with two daughters and the wonder of seeing miracles come alive with my own eyes."