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Fortune's BrideBook 3
By Jane Peart
ZondervanCopyright © 1990 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe wheels of the handsome black and gold carriage rolled up the winding drive to the large house of mellowed brick, half-hidden by the tall elms surrounding it. Within, a grave young man of twenty-seven and a child of ten rode in silence, each enclosed in private thoughts.
For Graham Montrose, it was a strange homecoming. For Avril Dumont, it was no homecoming at all. Until a few weeks ago her whole life had been spent in a pink stucco house, frosted with white iron lace balconies and shadowed by gnarled oak trees hung with Spanish moss, overlooking the Mississippi River. There she had known nothing but happiness. Now she was experiencing the overwhelming sensations of sadness, loneliness, and anxiety.
Within hours of each other, her parents had died of the dread Yellow Fever that swept through Natchez, leaving virtually no home untouched in its wake. The past weeks had been filled with turmoil and confusion, the servants wandering about without direction, strangers coming and going-a bewildering, frightening time until this kind, quiet man had appeared.
Calmly he had taken charge, explaining that he had been a friend of her papa's and that she would be coming to live with him at his plantation home in Virginia, where he would take care of her as her parents had wished.
Shyly Avril glanced in the tall man's direction, but his head was averted. He was staring out the window, apparently lost in a world of his own. Avril wished mightily that Dilly, her black nurse who had accompanied her all the way from Natchez by barge, boat, and stage, were with her right now. Dilly had been sent ahead to Montclair while she and Mr. Montrose stayed overnight in Williamsburg with his Aunt Laura Barnwell. In her entire life Avril had hardly ever been out of her old nurse's sight and without her the child felt even more lonely and uncertain.
She turned and looked out her window. Since leaving Mayfield, it seemed they had been riding for hours along this narrow road bordered on either side by dense woods. Rounding a bend, she saw a great house with lovely green lawns rolling down to a ribbon of sunlit river.
"We're almost there," Graham said, but she gave no response.
He wished there were something he might do or say to bring a smile to the small, freckled face, to soften the impact of her tragedy. He had lost two dear friends, but Avril had been robbed of her parents. Still stunned with shock from the news of Paul and Eva's sudden deaths, the responsibility as guardian of their only child weighed heavily on Graham.
Their friendship had begun in their school days when, after his own mother's untimely passing, Graham had been sent to Virginia Preparatory for Boys. Paul, then an upperclassman, had taken the lonely Graham under his wing and had become like an older brother to him. Over the years they had remained close friends-so close, in fact, that when Paul married Eva Duchampes, Graham had stood up with him.
The night before the wedding the two friends had signed a noble pact, agreeing that whoever survived the other's death would take as his sacred duty the care and protection of his friend's family. At the time, since both were in the full vigor of young manhood, it had seemed only a gallant gesture unlikely ever to need fulfilling. Now Graham wondered what he, a childless widower himself, was to do with this pathetic orphan, this desolate little girl, alone in the world except for a few distant cousins.
His soul-searching was cut short as the carriage halted in front of the pillared veranda of the house and the carriage door was opened by a smiling black man in a bright blue coat trimmed with braid.
"Welcome home, Mastuh Graham! You's a sight for dese ol' eyes!"
"Thank you, Hector, it's good to be back." Bending his tall frame, Graham sprang lightly to the ground. "And this is Miss Avril Dumont, who will also be living at Montclair." Turning, he extended a hand to the frail child, who made no move to get out.
Hector's grin widened to a white crescent in his dark face as he nodded. "And welcome to you, little Miss. We has been waitin' for yo' comin'!"
Avril smiled tentatively. "Is this Montclair?"
From her vantage point in the carriage, the three stories of the great house rose forebodingly. Then a sliver of late afternoon sun pierced the gloom, striking the polished windows. The reflected rays of light made the glass sparkle like winks of welcome. Suddenly her heart felt lighter.
"Come, dear," Graham urged.
Dutifully she placed her small, thin hand in his and descended cautiously.
Avril was tall for her age and the hastily purchased mourning clothes, a high-waisted frock of dove gray bombazine, hung limply on her skinny, small-boned body. The black straw "shovel" bonnet with its crepe ribbons almost obscured her face but could not hide the carroty curls escaping in tangled clusters from beneath the wide brim.
Standing there, Avril took a deep breath. The flower-scented air was refreshingly cool after the long, dusty ride along the country roads. She glanced around at the velvety green grass and the gardens where flowers grew in profusion. Beyond the hedges flocks of white sheep grazed in meadows that seemed to stretch forever.
As if realizing some comment was expected of her, Avril murmured, "It's very pretty here."
Graham looked down at her and smiled. At length he said gently, "Shall we go in? This is your home now."
She looked up at him and for a long moment their eyes met and held. In that span of time, a message was sent, trust given and received, an irrevocable bond forged. Avril's fingers tightened on Graham's.
Together they mounted the steps and went into the house.
Excerpted from Fortune's Bride by Jane Peart Copyright © 1990 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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