Read an Excerpt
By Lauraine Snelling
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
New York, April 1882
Scolding never did any good.
Ruby Torvald, hands on her hips, glared at her nine-year-old
sister. No, of course Opal had not meant to break the Dresden
shepherdess. Of course she had only been looking at it.
But how often had she been told to look, not touch?
"Opal, you knew better."
Strawberry curls flying rampant about her freckled cheeks in
spite of the French braids Ruby had plaited so carefully that
morning, Opal refused to meet her sister's frowning gaze.
"Uff da! What am I going to do with you?" What am I going
to tell Mrs. Brandon, and more importantly, how am I going to pay for
that? Ruby picked up the pieces, halfheartedly fitting the full
skirt onto the upper body, along with the head. As if any shepherdess
would really wear a flouncy skirt like that and full petticoats
too. Only the lamb at her side and the shepherd's crook
gave an inkling of the purpose of the figurine.
"I ... I'm sorry."
Ruby tried but failed to trap the sigh that seemed a continuation
of many others.
"I really am." With the toe of her shoe, Opal traced the rose
blossom woven into the Aubusson rug on which she stood.
"I know you are. But you need to think of how sorry you
might be before ..." Ruby laid the broken pieces in the trash
basket at her feet. Perhaps if she rearranged the bric-a-brac on
the whatnot table, Mrs. Brandon would never notice the shepherdess
was missing. "Go back to the schoolroom and write fifty
times on the board, 'I will not touch other people's things.'"
"But, Ruby, I already did all my lessons, and you said we
would go to the park after Bernie's nap."
Ruby closed her eyes to steel herself against the beseeching
looks from the young girl in front of her. She'd had to be more
mother than sister in the five years since Bestemor died. How much
easier life had been when they had lived with their grandmother.
You mustn't go around feeling sorry for yourself, she scolded. No
one wants to attend a pity party, even though you'd be the guest of honor.
She pointed in the direction of the stairs, ignoring the last pleading
look thrown over Opal's sturdy shoulder.
Ruby took the basket back to the kitchen and dropped the
pieces in the garbage.
"Not another one." Mrs. Fleish, the head housekeeper of the
Brandon mansion, gave Ruby a pitying glance.
"Ja, and now I have to tell the missus."
"That shepherdess was one of her favorites."
"I know." Ruby exchanged a look with the woman who had
taken her under her wing those five years ago when Ruby and her
small sister, Opal, had joined the staff at the Brandon house. Ruby
had started out as a maid but, because of her love for children, had
moved up to nanny's helper and had often filled in when one of the
many governesses parading through had left-or been dismissed.
She was the only one who could handle twelve-year-old Miss
Alicia, the eldest of the Brandon children, who was far too bright
for her age. Penelope, at ten, was a willing pupil, until she and
Opal got their heads together, a sure sign that mischief would
soon show a face. Jason had spent much of his eight years with
his nose in a book but had little regard for the demands of a
teacher, unless she was presenting a topic of interest to him.
Ruby knew how to charm him into being interested in anything
he needed to learn, so Mr. and Mrs. Brandon had finally given
up looking for a new governess.
"Don't worry, miss, she won't fire you, not even for that bit
of fancy clay." Mrs. Klaus, the cook, looked up from peeling
potatoes, the skins curling into the bucket kept for compost in
the garden. "She knows you are the only one who can manage
"She won't think I'm managing very well today. She caught
Jason sliding down the banister. He said he was studying the
properties of friction between wood and cloth at high rates of
Cook coughed to cover a chuckle. Her favoritism of the eldest
son was a well-documented fact. Ask any of the children who
it was that always got the biggest cookie or the choice of puddings.
Might as well get this over with so it isn't hanging over my head like
the scimitar in the story we read this morning. Ruby dusted her hands
off on her apron, raising a slight cloud of chalk dust since this
was her schoolroom apron, then hung it on the hook. "Is she in
her sitting room or the sunroom?"
Mrs. Klaus glanced at the carved walnut clock on the wall.
"Most likely the sunroom now. She'll be calling for tea any minute.
If you want to wait and take the tray with you, might be a
good time for you to talk with her."
"I promised to take the children to the park, so I need to get
this over with."
A bell chimed three times as they spoke.
"The sunroom." Cook set a plate of lemon bars on the silver
tray already waiting on the table, along with bone china cups, a
pitcher of milk, a sugar bowl with tongs for the sugar cubes, and
slices of lemon on another plate. Napkins lay folded on the side
and teaspoons gleamed on the white damask. Three golden daffodils
made a splash of color in a crystal bud vase.
"Here 'tis." Cook set the cream-toned teapot on the tray.
With hands across her ample front, she studied the tray to make
sure all was in perfect order. Mrs. Brandon loved to have her
afternoon tea just so. But then Mrs. Brandon liked to have most
things just so. She would have liked 'just so' to have included her
children, but they constantly disabused her of that notion.
Ruby picked up the tray and, turning, backed out the swinging
door that led from the kitchen to the butler's pantry and
thence to the walnut-paneled hall leading to the living quarters.
"Is it teatime?" Alicia, the eldest Brandon daughter, leaned over
the regal carved banister and stage-whispered down to Ruby.
"Yes. But isn't it Penelope's turn today?"
Alicia shook her head and, with shoulders back, paraded
down the stairs. "I traded with her."
"And who might you be this time?"
"Queen Victoria." The girl held out a limp hand. "You may
kiss my ring if you like."
Ruby rolled her eyes. "Nay, and I shan't curtsy either. Sorry,
Your Highness. Please follow me or lead the way, as you prefer."
She took a few steps and paused. "Why did Penelope agree to
exchange tea days with you?"
"She was indisposed." Again the regal tone.
"Oh." I have a feeling I should ask what she means by that, but ...
They entered the sunroom, its rich gold tones burnished by the
westering sun. Pots of palms, schefflera plants, and ivy topiaries
brought in touches of green, and a pudgy pot covered with waxy
gardenia blossoms leant a fragrance all its own. Ruby set the tray
on the low glass table in front of the rattan sofa where Mrs. Brandon
leaned against the gold-and-orange-flowered cushions.
"Thank you, my dear, that looks lovely. Alicia, you may pour
today. Ruby, you will join us, will you not?"
Now I won't be able to make my announcement and a hasty retreat.
Dutifully she responded in the affirmative and took the chair
"Milk or lemon, Mother?" Alicia looked up from pouring
steaming tea into one of the cups.
"Milk today, please, and one lump."
Alicia added the milk and a cube of sugar before passing the
cup and saucer to her mother.
"Thank you, well done." Lydia Brandon, her hair the same
rich sealskin brown as her daughter's, only knotted loosely on
top of her head instead of flowing in ringlets down her back,
smiled at her daughter.
"So, tell me, what has gone on behind my back today?"
Ruby swallowed a gulp.
"Milk or lemon ?" Alicia asked with a smile for Ruby.
"Lemon, please, and two lumps." I need to be extra sweet, or I
shall banish my recalcitrant sister to the attic to dine on bread and water.
How she hated having to apologize for her sister's antics. Ruby
accepted her cup of tea with thanks and lifted it to her lips.
Perhaps tea and cookies would sweeten Mrs. Brandon too. Or
leave a mellow glow that would be dashed to smithereens like
the mortally wounded shepherdess.
"Lemon bar?" Alicia waited in front of her offering the cookie
"Now, my dears, back to my question, which you have both
so assiduously avoided."
Ruby started to confess but stopped when Alicia began.
"Penelope had an accident."
"Is she injured?" The calm tone said this was nothing new.
"N-o-o, but ..."
"But?" Mrs. Brandon watched her daughter over the rim of
"But Benson, her favorite bear, is."
"And ...?" The pause lengthened.
"And Jason was conducting an experiment."
"With the bear, I take it?"
"Yes, Benson was captain of the raft that Jason built and
floated on the goldfish pond. He was adding rocks for ballast
and ... well ..."
Her mother took another sip of tea. "And ..."
"And Benson fell into the pond, and Penelope jumped in after
it, and she came up all muddy with a lily pad hanging from her
hair, so Nanny put her and the bear in the bath, and they had to
run the water out twice." Alicia grimaced in disgust. "She was
"I see." Mrs. Brandon put her cup down and took a bite of
the powdered-sugar-covered bar.
"Mr. Klaus said he could help clean out the goldfish pond
since his experiment got Penelope in trouble."
"Very good of Mr. Klaus."
"You won't tell Father, will you?"
"No, Jason shall."
"Oh, he won't like that."
"No, but confessing one's sins builds character."
"But building a raft wasn't a sin, was it?"
"No, but putting Penelope's favorite bear on the raft when he
knew it would upset her was not an act of love, was it?"
"N-o-o. But ..."
Ruby could tell that Alicia was feeling a bit confused. She
nibbled her lemon bar. Was this a good time to tell Mrs. Brandon
about the shepherdess? Wasn't Opal in the same fix as Jason?
"The wise man thinks ahead about the consequences of his
actions. Will what he does injure someone or cause someone
grief?" Mrs. Brandon carefully watched her daughter and smiled
at Ruby to include her in the conversation. "We must all consider
our actions. The Bible says we should do to others as we would
have them do to us, does it not?"
"An excellent precept to live by."
Ruby sucked in a lungful of air and sighed it out. "I have
something to confess."
"Oh?" Mrs. Brandon turned so she faced toward Ruby. "And
what has Opal been up to now?"
Ruby knew how Jason would be feeling when he spoke to
his father. "The Dresden shepherdess is no longer."
"Aah." Mrs. Brandon closed her eyes for a moment. "My
mother gave me that."
"I am so sorry. I ... I will pay for it. Can it be replaced?"
"It could be, but that is not what will help Opal to be more
careful." Lydia brought a hand up to her throat. "I think she
must come tell me this herself, and I will decide what must be
done." She looked to Alicia. "When we have finished our tea, you
will go tell Opal to join me in the library."
She held out her hand to forestall Ruby both in speech and
action. "Enjoy your tea, and then you may take the children to
the park as you had planned. I heard Bernie laugh, so I know he
is up from his nap. Jason will wait on the bench in the foyer for
his father to come home. Waiting, like confession, is good for the
* * *
Opal cast a worried glance over her shoulder as Ruby ushered
the others to the front door.
"But, Ruby, aren't you going to wait for me?"
"No. We will be back soon." She steeled her heart against the
imploring look from her young sister. Perhaps if she had been
more stern Opal would not be in this position now. Surely she
could better learn how to discipline her charges in ways to make
them think before acting.
Once out the door Penelope walked close beside Ruby. "You
want me to push the pram?"
"No, I'll do that. I thought you were going to bring your
"No fun without Jason. I wish he didn't get in trouble." Her
lower lip quivered.
Alicia took her sister by the hand. "Come, I'll push you on
They crossed the street to the park, where spring had
splashed bright greens, yellows, pinks, and reds of tulips, daffodils,
and primroses around the grounds. Robins dug for worms
in the grass, and squirrels chattered from newly leafing branches.
Ruby followed behind the two girls with the pram, then lifted
Bernie out to sit on the swing with her. At two and a half he
longed to run after his older brother and sisters and frequently
ended up with bruises for his efforts.
"More," he squealed as she walked back as far as she could
go before lifting her feet to swoop forward. She kept both arms
around the ropes and her hands locked around his chubby belly
to keep him from flying away from her.
Penelope's laughter reminded her how infectious was Opal's.
If Opal were here, she would be pumping as high as the sky,
challenging Jason to go higher than she.
Ruby leaned back and pumped enough to make Bernie
squeal again in delight.
When they finally left the swings, lights were beginning to
show in the windows of houses bordering the park.
"You think Papa is home now?"
"Papa home," Bernie echoed, clapping his hands.
"That might be his carriage now." Ruby nodded toward the
equipage trotting toward them as they crossed the street.
"Perhaps we better go round to the back then." Alicia took
her sister's hand. "Come, I'll race you."
Ruby bit back her admonition that young ladies shouldn't be
running foot races and followed the two girls, the pram wheels
bumping over the crushed gravel.
"A letter came for you," Mrs. Fleish said when Ruby set Bernie
down inside the kitchen door. "It's on the hall table." She bent
down to swoop up the small child. "How's my Bernie today?"
"Swing. Ruby, swing me high."
"Have you seen Opal?" Ruby asked.
"She's up in the schoolroom." Mrs. Fleish handed Bernie
back to her. "Supper will be ready whenever Mr. Brandon is finished
with Master Jason. I sent the girls to wash up."
"They're not eating in the nursery tonight?"
"No. Mistress said since this was a family-only night, the
three eldest would eat with them in the dining room."
"So it's you and me, young man." Ruby kissed Bernie's round
cheek. "And Opal."
Excerpted from Ruby
by Lauraine Snelling
Copyright © 2003 by Lauraine Snelling.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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