“What is all the commotion?” Isabel asked as she removed her bonnet. She could hear excited voices in the drawing-room. She didn’t dare go in. “Is Elsie in trouble again?” Elsie was her youngest sister. She was a bit of a wild one, always managing to get herself in trouble and sending their mother in a tizzy.
Amelia shook her head. “No, it’s not Elsie this time. It’s Mr. Hornby.”
“Mr. Hornby is here?” Isabel felt her heart lurch. She ran her hands over her hair and smoothed the skirt of her dress. “Has he been here long?” If she had known that he was coming over this afternoon, she wouldn’t have gone for a walk.
“Why is Mr. Hornby the cause of such commotion?”
“It seems that Mr. Hornby has decided that he wants to move to Canada. He had considered the possibility for a very long time. He sails next month.”
Isabel felt the color drain from her face. “He’s leaving for Canada? Next month?”
Amelia looked at her in alarm. “What’s the matter, Izzy?” she asked. “You have turned white as a sheet. Are you not feeling well?”
“I–I need some fresh air,” she mumbled.
“But you just returned from your walk.”
“I need some fresh air.”
“Perhaps you should go and lie down.”
“No. I need to go outside.”
“Would you like me to come with you?”
“No–I would rather be alone.” She quickly made her exit, leaving Amelia standing there, looking perplexed.
Outside in the garden, Isabel burst into tears. She couldn’t believe that Mr. Hornby was leaving England and—her. How could he leave without knowing that she loved him dreadfully?
She had known him since she was child and he had always been so kind to her. He never made her feel like a nuisance and when she was a teenager, he never treated her like a child. They had very stimulating conversations and she looked forward to his visits. He seemed to enjoy it when she played the piano and would sit beside her with the newspaper open in his lap, pausing from his perusal of it to compliment her playing. She loved to play for him and didn’t feel a bit nervous at all. Sometimes, they would take turns reading poetry. She could have sat for hours just listening to him recite the sonnets and the works of her favorite poets. He had such a marvelous voice.
She didn’t know exactly when her feelings for him had changed but one day when she went into the library and found him there looking through one of the History volumes, she realized then that she was in love with him. It didn’t matter that he was twice her age. To her he was the most wonderful and handsome man she had ever known. She cherished the time they spent together and the fact that she hadn’t heard of any romantic attachment on his part with anyone, she hoped that this might be in her favor. However, that could all change now.
Why was he going to Canada? Why so far away? Will she ever see him again?
“Isabel?” She hadn’t heard him approach her and was startled when he materialized beside her. “You are crying.” He gave her his handkerchief.
She took it and wiped her eyes and her nose. “Mr. Hornby,” she said. “Amelia told me that you were here.”
He frowned. “Why didn’t you come and see me then?” he asked. “When I arrived I was very disappointed to learn that you weren’t home. Why didn’t you join us in the drawing-room? I wanted you to be there to hear my news.”
She felt the tears coming again and she turned away so that he couldn’t see her face. “I heard the news,” she said. “Amelia told me that you are going to Canada.”
“I suspect that Amelia wasn’t in the room when I asked your father permission to marry his middle daughter and to take her to Canada with me if she would agree to it.”
She swung around to face him, her eyes huge with shock. “You asked my father to marry me?” she could scarcely believe this.
“Yes. I must admit that at the age of two and forty, I never imagined that I would be asking a girl half my age to marry me. Isabel, I am old enough to be your father but my feelings for you far from paternal.”
“Oh Mr. Hornby, I had hoped that you would come to regard me as I have regarded you for the past three years.”
“Then, you will marry me?”
“And you have no objection to moving to Canada and being so far from your family?”
“I admit that I shall be sorry to leave them and the house in which I have spent the happiest years of my life but my future happiness is with you.”
Mr. Hornby smiled and brushed his knuckles against her cheek, his eyes filled with the love that had long dwelt in his heart. “I shall resolve to make you as happy as you have made me, Isabel.”
“I cannot imagine being happier than I am at this moment, Mr. Hornby.”
“Please call me Nigel.”
“Nigel.” His name came out as a laugh and a sob as she was overwhelmed by the sheer happiness of this moment.