Home > The Sisters of Sea View (On Devonshire Shores #1)

The Sisters of Sea View (On Devonshire Shores #1)
Author: Julie Klassen

 


1

 


GOD, pick up the pieces.

Put me back together again.

—Jeremiah 17:14

APRIL 1819

Sarah Summers carefully lifted the family heirloom, a warm mantle of nostalgia settling over her. The porcelain plate rimmed in gold had been painted with a colorful image of three sisters in Chinese robes, clustered close as a fourth read to them. Papa had given it to their mother long ago.

Sarah ran a gentle finger over the figures, a lump forming in her throat. Spying a streak of dust, she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and began wiping the plate.

At that moment, two of her sisters burst into the room, as different in looks as in temperament.

“Sarah, tell Vi to give back my straw bonnet.”

Viola scowled. “It’s not even yours. It belonged to—”

Realizing Viola was about to say the forbidden name, Sarah’s heart lurched and her hand with it, and there went the prized plate, crashing to the floor.

Oh no. Sarah knelt and began to frantically gather the scattered shards, inwardly chastising herself. Clumsy fool. . . . Sliding forward on bombazine-clad knees, she stretched to reach every last fragment.

Could the broken pieces ever be put back together?

Standing nearby, Emily berated her twin. “See what you did.”

Sarah murmured, “Not her fault. Mine.”

Emily huffed. “Right. Nothing is ever Viola’s fault. She can do as she pleases, and we are all to feel sorry for her.”

“That is quite enough. Ow!” Sarah raised a pricked finger to her lips, tasting blood. “Now, would you both go and do something useful while I clean this up?”

With another huff, Emily turned and strode from the room in a flutter of pale muslin, Viola in her wake.

Her younger sisters had laid aside mourning gowns late last year. Sarah, however, was mourning more than one loss. She had worn black for nearly two years, even though she had never been married, and their father had been gone for less than a year.

She carefully settled the pieces into a glove box, planning to try to arrange them back into place and glue them together. Most of the fragments were fairly large, except . . . Oh no. Three pieces had all but crumbled.

Pain knifed through her at the melancholy sight—a grim reminder that her family would never be whole again.

Retrieving a broom, she swept up the remaining dust. Then she went to confess to her mother.

Sarah found her in her room as usual, lying in a canopied, French sofa bed, her back propped with bolsters. Today, she was fully dressed in black crepe.

“I am so sorry, Mamma. I’ve done something clumsy and stupid.”

“What is all this fuss about?”

“I broke your plate.”

“My plate? Which?”

“The china plate, with the four girls?”

Sarah lay the box on her lap. Her mother’s soft eyes misted as she regarded its contents. “Oh, that is a shame.” She gingerly picked up a fragment.

“Careful,” Sarah warned. “I cut myself on one of those.”

Her mother didn’t seem to hear. “Your father was so proud of this. He found it in a shop in Bond Street. Said it reminded him of our four girls—before Georgiana came along, of course. He insisted we display it in the drawing room, although it matched none of the other furnishings.” She shook her head, a slight tilt to her lips. “Such a sentimental dear he was . . . then.”

Sarah’s throat thickened. “Yes.”

Her once-benign papa had become angry and bitter during the final two months of his life. Her fault as well, at least in part.

“What a pity.” Her mother replaced the piece with a sigh. “You really loved it, I know.”

“Me? I thought you treasured it.”

Eugenia Summers looked up at her. “Oh, I liked it well enough, because your father gave it to me. But I don’t break my heart over its loss, and neither should you.”

“Thank you, Mamma. You are very kind.”

“And you, my dear girl, take too much on yourself. Always have. Especially since . . . Well, we shan’t speak of that now.” Mamma forced a smile and changed the subject. “We expect Mr. Alford soon, do we not?”

“Yes. Tea will be ready in a few minutes. I hope he brings good news.”

Mamma pressed her hand. “Somehow, my dear, I doubt it.”

Since Papa’s death, their Gloucestershire estate, entailed through the male line as it was, had gone to a relative they barely knew.

Thankfully, their father had purchased this house with money inherited from a maternal uncle. Therefore Sea View was not included in the entail, and he was able to leave it to his wife in his will. He had also agreed to a jointure for her in the event of his death, although they had yet to learn the particulars. They hoped the funds would be enough to live on.

Since moving to Sidmouth six months before, they had been paying expenses from Mamma’s dress allowance and pin money, which she had saved for years. But that nest egg was rapidly dwindling.

Sarah glanced around her mother’s room. “Shall I bring in a few extra chairs, or . . . ?”

“No, let us meet him in the drawing room. I think I can manage it. I don’t want the man to see how weak I’ve become.”

“Very well.” Stepping from Mamma’s room into the nearby parlour, Sarah set the glove box on her worktable and then went belowstairs for the tea things.

While she poured the hot water, their cook added a plate of currant cakes to the tray. “Made these myself. That baker charges too much in my view.”

Sarah glanced at the plate. The thin icing did not quite conceal the burnt edges of the lopsided cakes. Baking had never been Mrs. Besley’s forte, but they would have to do.

She thanked the cook and returned to the main floor. There Sarah and Viola helped their mother into the drawing room just as the family solicitor, Nigel Alford, arrived as scheduled. They had seen the man shortly after Papa’s death, but this was his first visit to Sea View.

Emily and Georgiana joined them, and Sarah poured the tea while Emily passed the plate of cakes. The solicitor took one small bite, wrinkled his nose, and set the cake down.

After sipping his tea, Mr. Alford cleared his throat and addressed his former client’s wife.

“Your husband’s will has been proved and the bulk of the estate gone to his heir, as expected. I have paid the outstanding debts and am afraid I must tell you that your financial situation is rather bleak.” He focused on Mamma as though the girls were not even there. “The jointure agreed to in your marriage settlement is in the form of an annuity, the interest to be paid annually. Unfortunately, the interest shan’t be sufficient to support such a large family. I suggest you sell this house, as it will be beyond your means to maintain for long.”

“W-we shall live simply,” Sarah interjected, hearing the note of desperation in her voice. “Economize.”

He frowned. “I doubt you shall be able to pay the taxes, let alone the other expenses, living frugally or not.”

Incredulity flared. “If we sell this house, where are we to live?”

He lifted narrow shoulders. “You might rent a pair of rooms and live far more cheaply than in a big house like this.”

Sarah bristled. “There are five of us here, Mr. Alford, not including our loyal retainers. Jessie is young and could easily find another place, but our cook and manservant are too old to secure employment elsewhere.”

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