Strangers at Dawn

By: Elizabeth Thornton

Simon’s face flushed scarlet.

Martin’s bottom lip stuck out. “Now look here, Sara, it wasn’t like that at all. In fact-”

“Shut your mouth, Martin,” Simon gritted through his teeth. He glared balefully at Sara. “There are some things a gentleman doesn’t mention in polite company, especially not to his sister, and strumpets is one of them.”

Bosom heaving, she walked to the table, picked up a large square packet and emptied out the contents. “One can tell a great deal about a man’s character by the bills he runs up. Do you know what these bills tell me about you, Simon?”

“Lord have mercy, another lecture,” he replied indifferently

She ignored the taunt. “Gaming, wenching, drinking-I think that about sums up your character. You’re a drone, Simon. Some might even call you a parasite.” When Martin snickered, Sara rounded on him. “And you’re no better. Wherever Simon leads, you follow; Don’t you realize how lucky you are? You’re the first men in our family ever to go to university, and not just any university, but Oxford. Father tried to give you all the advantages he never had. He wanted you to become gentlemen, real gentlemen, not …” Her eyes made an insulting appraisal of their buff-colored pantaloons and equally tight cut-away jackets, and boots that had ridiculous gold from them. “… not tailors’ dummies. Your tailor’s bills could dress me for the next ten years.”

Martin said, “All Corinthians dress as we do. And at Oxford, if your tailor isn’t Weston, you might as well cut your throat.”

“Corinthians!” said Sara scathingly. “In my day, we called them ‘dandies.’”

Simon interjected, “Now hold on, Sara. There’s a lot more to it than that. Corinthians are athletes. They are the finest sportsmen in England.”

“They’re idlers:’ exclaimed Sara. “Boredaristocrats. Maybe you should remember that we come from humble stock. We’re not blue bloods. Everything we have came to us through someone else’s sacrifice, and hard work.”

“I never wanted to go to Oxford, anyway,” muttered Martin. “The fellows there are all-”

“Oh, stow it, Martin! Sara has no more love for whiners than I do.”

Simon’s scathing rebuke got Martin’s temper going. “Don’t patronize me! I wasn’t the one who started that fight and got us rusticated. I wasn’t the one who ran up those bills. I told you Sara would take a dim view of it, but did you listen to me? Oh, no. My opinion doesn’t count. If she washes her hands of us, what’s to become of us? If we don’t make good on those gambling vowels, we’ll have our legs broken, that’s what. And it’s all your fault.”

Simon looked as though he might spring at his brother. “Why, you-”

“Be quiet!” Sara was as surprised at the shrillness of her command as her brothers were. She pressed a hand to her aching temples. “Be quiet,” she repeated in a more controlled tone, “and I’ll tell you what’s to become of you.”

She let her hand drop away, then said with precision, “I’ll instruct Drew to payoff your debts, but this is the very last time. You see, I’m going to be married.” She took a moment to savor the shock that registered on their young faces before she went on. “I’m sure you’re as aware as I am that when a woman marries, control of her fortune passes to her husband. So you see, things are going to be very different from now on.”

AFTER THE LAST CRESCENDO OF SCARLATTI’S sonata had died away, Sara flexed her fingers, then abruptly rose from the piano. Miss Beattie was watching her. She was thinking that Sara could hide her feelings from most people, but not from her. When she was upset, she invariably reached for Scarlatti.

“Scarlatti?” she said. “Now what brought that on?”

Sara smiled sheepishly, like a child caught out in a prank. “Simon said I was just like Father.”

Miss Beattie went back to counting the stitches on her knitting needle. “And why did he say that?”

“Because I did what I said I wouldn’t do. I lectured them. It was worse than that, Bea. I threatened them. I told them that my husband would have control of my fortune.”

“And they believed you?”

Sara took the candle from the piano and began to light several other candles around the room. “They think I’ve fallen violently in love with someone and that I’m so blinded by love that I’m willing to jeopardize their share of father’s fortune. As though I would be such a fool! Didn’t you hear the racket they made when they left?” Sara’s lips twitched. “They’re going to seek legal advice to see if there’s some way they can stop me.”

Miss Beattie said carefully, “Whom did you say you were going to marry?”

Sara laughed. “I didn’t. I told them they’d find out when it suited me, and not before. Now don’t look at me like that, Bea. Simon and Martin are incorrigible. They take too much for granted. I’ve given them the fright of their lives, but they’ll soon get over it. They always do.”