Here you go! Sorry, but I lost most of my italics due to this not being rich text.
From the journal of Isabella Renault:
I was christened Isabella Rose Hawkins, only daughter of Simon and Helen Hawkins. I was born June 18th, 1862, exactly nine months to the day after my father left to fight in the Civil War…at least that is what I was told. I was born in Wilmington, Delaware, United States of America, but after the war ended, my parents, older brother, Jackson (who was seven years older than me and never let me forget it) and I moved to a small town called Amsville, just outside of Wilmington, where I was raised to adulthood.
I was a pure romantic at heart. I believed in love at first sight. I could not seem to help this, for books were my only friend and many days I would sit by the lamplight reading tales of love, of heroes and villains. It was with this foolish notion that I came to believe that one must never give themselves to anyone without true, unconditional love. The kind of love that endured all, that truly lived to the vow ‘for better, for worse’. The kind of love that is so intense, you would swear you could not breathe without the other. That was why, by the age of 18, I had chosen to marry my childhood sweetheart and become Isabella Brolen. I was sure I’d found love, long lasting love.
But it did not last. My dear Lawrence died a mere two years later, leaving me alone, a young, grieving widow. But that story is for another time.
The remaining eight years since, I spent educating myself to become a teacher and helped to establish the first, full-time school house in Amsville. I watched with pride as Jackson married, had children and took a very successful job with the railroad out West. Dedicating myself to remaining home to care for my parents, I was happy, satisfied and fulfilled. And for all this, I was approaching thirty and sure I would never marry again.
Yet on a summer’s day in 1889, my world took yet another dramatic turn.
Father had arrived home from London that day. Being away so long, I had practically run down the stairs to throw myself into his arms in joyous welcome. Yet, what I found was not the man I had seen leaving several weeks earlier. Long in the face, pale and gaunt, without a word to Mother, he took me upstairs and informed me that I was to marry again. Seems he had met an English lord who desired a wife and my Father desired the money that he had offered to pay.
I had tried to refuse, I had tried to beg, but he had none of it.
That was it. No more explanation. No courtship, no prior meeting, I was simply to be sent to him and that was that. I had been left confused, upset and angry.
Later that evening, I found myself perched at the top of the staircase, hidden from view, as my father explained to Mother that I was to be sent in two days on the boat for Southampton, where I would be taken to my new home and married rather unceremoniously.
“What about her teaching?” Mother asked him through shedding tears and sniffles.
“Now that she will become a wife again, teaching should no longer be of priority to her.” He said in a voice that was so unfamiliar to me, I felt I would blanch at the sound of it.
Yes, I had moved back to live with my parents in their meager home, but I loved teaching. I had sixteen students in my charge, ranging in education from first grade to tenth grade. Now where would these children be? I kept asking myself. Many, especially the girls and older boys would simply forget school and move on to other vocations if no teacher was found quickly. And why must I do this so soon? I needed time to find someone to take over and two days was not nearly enough.
“Simon.” Mother looked him in the eye. “What have you done?”
Father turned away, unable to look her any longer. A rather stern man, he could stand up to anyone but my mother.
“Answer me. What happened that you have had to pawn off our only daughter?”
He reluctantly told her then. Told her of the gambling debt. Told how he’d been taken in by what he thought was a simple game of blackjack. Blackjack was my Father’s game, he never lost. He was sure he’d come home with at least double what he’d taken. They cheated, he told her. But he couldn’t prove it. Lost everything, his unusually meek voice squeaked. Lost all they had. Then he went to this English lord. Lord Renault his name was, Frederick Charles Renault, Lord of Haven Manor. Asked for money, no…begged for it. Offered all he had left…pocket watch…his father’s gold cufflinks, even partnership in the lumber mill….not enough, the man had told him, until….
“He’s a wealthy man, darling. I mentioned you, Jackson and Isabella. He appeared to be very interested in Belle, asked what she looked like, how old she was, if she was educated…I told him everything. Then it happened. He offered to take her in marriage, and in exchange, he would pay her dowry, almost three times what I lost in the blackjack game….triple, my darling….we could pay off the mill’s debts and own it outright, like we always planned.”
“Not at Belle’s expense…” My mother could hear no more. She waved her hands at him as she sunk into her chair, weeping into a handkerchief.
My father stared dumbly at her, unable to say anything that would make it better.
Finally, she looked up at him and said simply, “She will not go. Send word to this English lord that she….died….or she was married before you returned, anything. Or perhaps, send no word and we’ll simply move away.”
“No, a man has returned with me. He’s Lord Renault’s insurance that Isabella returns with him to England. The money is left with me when she boards the boat.”
“Then we shall not take the money.”
“I cannot lose the lumber mill, Helen. You know what would happen if we did, we would have nothing. I’m disabled from the war, you know that, I can’t do manual labor anymore. You…you could barely make enough doing seamstress work to make ends meet, nor would Belle with her teaching position. Jackson has gone West with his family, he can’t help us now. No. It is done. She will marry this man and live with him in England.”
“I don’t care about the mill, I only care about Belle and her happiness!”
“You certainly care about the things I buy with the money the mill makes, don’t you? The fine clothes, the furniture, the perfumes….!”
“Stop it!” Mother cried again. “Do not turn this on me! You don’t know what you’re subjecting her to! A loveless marriage to a stranger an ocean’s apart from us! She will be alone, I will be alone!”
“You will have me, darling.”
The look on my mother’s face indicated without a doubt that was not a consolation.
“You swore to her, after all she’d gone through, losing Lawrence, that she wouldn’t have to marry, unless she truly wanted to, if she fell in love again….”
Father sunk to his knees, taking her hands in his, “She will grow to love this man, in time. He is successful, business savvy, relatively attractive…but you should also know…”
“No more!” Mother cried as she leapt up, pushed past him and stormed away.
“…he wears a mask.”
The door to their bedroom slammed shut. Mother never heard that last, strange part.
But I did.
What kind of man wears a mask? My God, what had Father gotten me into?
Not only was I being sold to save my father from his own foolishness, but being sold to a faceless man in another country.
And that is when I ran to my room and shut the door.
“Come in.” Isabella said softly as she rose from the bed in the small room of the over-crowded boat. At least it was private, if that was a consolation. Most people on the ship, stowaways, slept where they could find a place…a chair, some packing crates, the floor.
The door opened and Louis, Erik’s personal assistant (or insurance, as her father had called him) walked in, carrying a large garment bag with him. “Good morning, Miss, the boat will be arriving in Southampton shortly.” He said to her.
Belle found this man strange from the first moment she laid eyes on him. Which, sadly enough, was the last day she would spend with her mother before leaving to board the boat for England. That evening, when all was quiet, she’d sat alone with her mother, contemplating running away, just leaving it all behind. Forget her father, forget the mill, forget it all but her own happiness. Find Jackson, live with him, her mother had said, she’d tell everyone she ran away or even died. But in the end, Isabella just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t abandon her mother, never to have contact again, even with her encouragement. For this dear woman, who had nursed her through whooping cough when she was four, taught her how to sew, to laugh, to be a proper young woman….and was there to give her love and support as a new widow. For her, she would give the world. After much introspection, she felt marrying a stranger to save her family’s mill seemed almost trivial at that point.
So, as she looked upon her mother’s aging, soft, tear-stained face for the last time as the boat pulled away from shore, she knew some things were just worth sacrificing oneself for.
Louis, she soon found, was rather soft spoken. Yet, as she observed by the way the other passengers regarded him, he seemed to carry himself with much authority. He didn’t hold much conversation. He was always straight and to the point, and although Isabella prompted, would never reveal much about her impending journey or the man she was to marry, other than he was very successful and had a vast estate less than five miles outside of London.
And now, after a long week of waiting and sheer boredom, she looked at the garment bag in Louis’ arms. Strange that she hadn’t recalled it when they first boarded. “What is that?” she asked him as he sat it down on her small bed.
“For you to wear when you are taken to the estate. Dress quickly, the boat will dock within the hour and we have a long carriage ride home.” He replied shortly.
Home. It wasn’t her home. She didn’t even want to think about that, not at all.
“I have my own clothing.” She informed him with a small snort of contempt. Of course he knew that, he’d carried her luggage to the ship and had seen her wearing her clean, although rather plain gowns on the ship all week.
“I am aware, but this is appropriate for the new Lady of Haven Manor.”
The door clicked shut without another word. My, but that man could come and go quickly.
Another snort. She knew she’d just been insulted, but what could she do? Her clothing was just fine, but just to amuse the charming Mister…or Monsieur Louis, as he liked to be called by those on the ship, she would open the bag and see what monstrosity of English gaudiness she was being asked to wear.
Yet, what she pulled out was the most beautiful gown she’d ever laid eyes on. She felt the material as it poured over her hand. Satin, she was positive, but very light and appropriate for the warm weather. And in pale blue, a lovely summer color indeed. Lacking was the over adornment of lace, ribbons and beadwork that she was sure most English ladies required of their gowns, but perhaps on retrospection, that was just a stereotype, after all. As she turned the gown around, she could see the back did indeed have a very large bow made of white ribbon with streams of embroidered red roses and thinner ribbons down the back. Not overdone, but understated and classic.
Despite herself, she was awed. Definitely, no one aboard the ship had a dress this lovely, or if they did, they certainly didn’t wear it.
It was another forty-five minutes (and five exhausting tries to get her hair to stay pinned up) before she heard the sounds of rustling and the excited voices of people declaring they were finally in England. No sooner than she opened the door, trying to figure a way to navigate such a full bodied dress out the narrow door, then Louis appeared once more to gather her bags.
Louis, not one to be over flattering, was rather taken aback by how lovely the gown looked on the young woman he’d been escorting. He noted pleasantly, that she had taken time to fix her hair up as well. The pale blue gown accentuated her ivory skin, light colored hair and hazel eyes, just as he had hoped it would when he brought it with him from Madame Ducet’s dress shop in London. He was sure it would impress his employer, that is, if a man like Erik Renault could be impressed.
“By all means, allow me.” He said as he politely gathered the edge of her gown and helped her inch into the narrow hallway. He then proceeded inside and picked up her bags.
“Thank you kindly.”
“I do say you look lovely in your new gown, Miss.”
She smiled at the compliment, “Thank you, it’s beautiful, did Lord Renault choose it?”
He soon joined her in the hallway, “No, I did.”
Her eyes widened. Indeed, a man of few words, but exquisite taste. He was more intriguing than she’d given him credit for.
Louis held out his arm to her, “Shall we abandon this horrible boat for dry land?”
With a laugh, her first laugh since being on board, she took his arm and said with a very relieved, “Yes.”
By the time they finally made it off the ship, after fighting through the more eager and anxious people who were desperate to get to shore, Belle was exhausted and ready to reach the carriage, if for nothing more than to simply sit down and rest.
“You said it was long, but just how long is the ride to the estate, Louis?” she asked as she picked up the last of her bags.
“Oh, I would say a good two hours yet, Miss. But the carriage is comfortable and if you wish, you could take a quiet rest; I will be riding up front so you can have all the privacy you need. I could remove a couple of books for you, if you so desire, I noticed you taking in a volume of Byron poetry...” He answered.
My goodness, it was longest sentence he’d said yet. She could hardly believe it. Maybe it was the English weather, or just the relief of being home.
“Yes, that sounds like a good idea, I am rather…” she started, but couldn’t continue.
Because that was when she spotted him.
Her bags fell to the ground as he walked toward her from a rather large, covered carriage. Her eyes raked over him from top to bottom. Somewhat close to how her father had described him…dark hair, strong build, and nicely dressed. Yet, there were a couple of noted exceptions. One, he was smiling. Her father never mentioned that Lord Renault had smiled, not one time during their conversations. It was lovely to see. Also, he appeared younger than first estimated, at least closer to her age. Pleasant surprise. Perhaps, just perhaps, this could work out.
But the most noteworthy exception…
This man did not wear a mask.
Shocked, she began to wonder if perhaps her father had referred to the mask that Lord Renault wore more metaphorically, than literally. Then again, she’d never known her father to be metaphorical. The notion in itself was quite disturbing.
“Welcome to England, Miss Hawkins.” The young man said to her as he offered his hand.
That caused a pause. Hawkins? Did Lord Renault not know she’d been married, that her last name was actually Brolen? Oh lord, what had her father told this man? Surely that she was not a virgin! She chose to let it go, for now.
She took his hand, “Nice to meet you, Lord Renault.”
The sound of laughter rose from both Louis behind her and the young man in front of her. She felt her cheeks burn in embarrassment. What had she said wrong? Oh, how she hated to be embarrassed like that! She could almost burst into tears.
The young man seemed to sense this and immediately ceased his laughter and let go of her hand. “Forgive our amusement, how rude of us. I am not Lord Renault. I forgot that you had not met him previously.”
“I have not, but I do say, the descriptions of you both are rather similar.” Isabella managed to utter as her cheeks began to lose their bright flush.
“In some ways, yes, some ways no.” he told her as he took her hand once more, kissing it respectfully, “I am Dùghall, Dùghall Godard, Miss. I am Lord Renault’s driver and I also run the stables at the estate.”
Pure relief finally set in. At least it was not totally her mistake. At the same time, a tinge of disappointment rose as well. Shame that this attractive man was not the man she was to marry. Of course the question remained, where was the man she was to marry? Where was Lord Renault, still in the carriage perhaps? She tried in vain to see inside, but dark curtains covered the openings.
Sensing her inquisitiveness, Dùghall responded, “Lord Renault was called out on business, he is not here to meet you, regretfully. I am to take you to the estate and he will meet you there later when his business is finished.
“Oh, I see.” She sighed softly as she watched Louis put her luggage on top of the covered carriage. At least now she knew her father had indeed not learned to be metaphorical, after all.