Yay! You’re back! Enjoy the second part of Chapter 1. Read Part 1 here.
Clara tried to answer her sister, but William spoke before she had a chance.
“Miss Boutwell had an encounter with a mud puddle, which was entirely my fault.”
Clara vainly stifled a giggle as Esther looked up to William’s handsome face. Esther’s rosy cheeks flushed and Clara saw her eyes widen.
“Your fault?” Esther asked, her gaze fixed on William.
“He bumped me and I fell into a puddle,” Clara said quickly. She shrugged William’s coat off her back and handed it to him. “Sorry to ruin your coat.”
William smiled and took the coat, handing Clara’s books to Esther. “No problem. Dirt and water will wash out. Again, I apologize for my carelessness.”
“No need to apologize. It’s been quite a long time since I went for a swim in a puddle.” Clara smiled at him and let her eyes flash childishly.
William laughed and let himself out the door. “Good afternoon.”
Esther let out a dramatic sigh when the knob clicked shut. “Ohhhh Clara, he’s so handsome!” she squealed. “Who is he? Where did you meet him?”
Clara groaned. “I’ll tell you later. Please Esther, stop being dramatic and help me out of these clothes. I’m freezing.”
“Alright, alright.” Esther dropped her playful teasing and helped Clara up the stairs.
Esther was twenty years old; three whole years older than Clara. She was the youngest of Clara’s older sisters, and the one Clara was closest to. Though Esther wasn’t a biological sister, she bore such resemblance to all four Boutwell women that no one ever guessed she had been adopted. Clara didn’t remember exactly when Esther had come to live with them…they had both been such little girls and Esther had been very quiet and reserved the first few months, grieving the death of her father, who had raised her since her birth.
“Clara?” a sweet voice called from the top of the staircase. “Is that you?”
“Yes, Mother.” A part of her hoped that her mother would stay where she couldn’t see her; shivering and filthy as she was.
“My goodness, Child, what happened to you?” Mrs. Boutwell asked as Clara alighted the staircase.
“I fell into a puddle on my way home.” An attack of chills overcame her as she spoke, making her words tremble.
“Oh Clara, you’re so unromantic,” Esther chided. “No Mama, an extremely handsome young man bumped Clara and threw her into the puddle. He walked her home and even made her wear his coat.”
Mrs. Boutwell’s hand flew to her mouth.
“It was an accident, Mother.” Clara firmly resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Esther. “He didn’t mean to bump me. Neither one of us was watching where we were going. Mr. McDonald was kind enough to make sure I made it home without freezing.”
Mrs. Boutwell sighed and shook her head, but Clara thought she saw a hint of a smile playing at her mother’s lips. “Let’s get you out of those clothes and into a hot tub. Esther, please put some water on the fire.”
“Yes, Mother.” Esther turned back down the staircase and Mrs. Boutwell led Clara into the master bedroom.
The Boutwells certainly weren’t considered wealthy, but they lived a comfortable life in the city. Clara’s father, a War veteran, was the pastor of a local Presbyterian church. He also earned a good living being in the Illinois Volunteer Militia, where he had risen to the rank of General.
Clara was proud of her father in many ways. Mostly though, because he feared the Lord above all else. Unlike many other men Clara had heard of who beat their wives and spent all their money in taverns, her father was a hard worker and a well-respected man, both by his family and his congregation. His quiet way with words and powerful ability to make a difference in people’s lives astounded Clara.
Mrs. Boutwell helped Clara strip off her still-dripping dress and petticoats, and Clara stiffly eased into the claw-footed tub. Clara thought she saw a smile breach her mother’s lips as she turned on the tap, but she couldn’t be sure.
“Oh Clara,” Mrs. Boutwell said, placing her hands on her hips and gazing at her. “Will you ever learn to keep yourself out of scrapes?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose, Mother, it was an accident. Mr. McDonald bumped into me, and I couldn’t catch myself.” Clara grinned sheepishly. “I saved my books.”
Mrs. Boutwell looked wistfully at the ceiling, but she too smiled. “Sometimes I cannot believe that you are nearly seventeen. But then again, you’ve always been more concerned about books than your clothes.”
Esther knocked on the door before entering with a pot of boiling water. She slowly dumped it in the tub, and Clara closed her eyes as the hot water mixed with the lukewarm water from the tap. It made her feet and legs tingle as they thawed.
“One more pot should be perfect,” Clara said, leaning against the cool porcelain of the bathtub and trying to ignore her stinging toes.
Mrs. Boutwell helped Clara wash the dirt out of her long, curly hair. Clara’s hair was the annoying and frustrating, but she wouldn’t get it cut for anything. The tight, curly locks fell to her waist, shimmering like her mother’s best brown silk dress. Clara was the only one of her sisters to inherit her father’s curly, Scottish hair. She couldn’t decide if it was a blessing or a curse. Though complicated to care for, the curls were strikingly beautiful.
Clara chuckled a bit as her mother gently worked soap into her curls and rinsed them repeatedly to remove the dirt and gunk that had attached itself after her fall. Her mother had been trying in vain for years to convince Clara to wear her hair up, as most young ladies her age did. But Clara liked wearing her hair long. She loved the feeling of the curls bumping against her back and shoulders. And besides that, wearing her hair up on top of her head was the surest way to get a dreadful headache. It was true though; had she worn her hair up today, it wouldn’t be in such a dreadful mess now.
Clara lingered in the warm water as long as she dared. Supper must be prepared, and her father would be home soon. Mrs. Boutwell left Esther to help Clara dress her hair while she began making supper.
“What was the young fellow’s name?” Esther asked, carefully squeezing the water out of Clara’s curls while Clara sat at the vanity in a fresh, dry dress.
“How old was he?”
“I don’t know! I don’t ask questions like that.”
Esther chuckled, then gasped. “Did you say his name was William McDonald?”
“Yes, that’s what he said.” What’s so important about his name?
“Do you know what that means?”
Clara turned and looked at her sister’s vibrant face. “No, I have no idea.”
“Sir John McDonald? The prime minister of Canada?”
“What does he have to do with Mr. McDonald?”
“Father was telling me about him…Father knows young Mr. McDonald’s father. William McDonald is the nephew of Sir John McDonald! Don’t you remember him telling us about it?”
Clara shook her head, spellbound.
“Ohhhh!” Esther faked a swoon. “The nephew of the one and only Sir John McDonald, prime minister of Canada, is sparking our little Clara!”
“What?” Clara spun about and faced her sister. What a preposterous idea! “Why would he be interested in me?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Esther teased.
Clara thought back to her exchange with William. Could he truly be the nephew of Sir John McDonald? He had been dressed better than most young men in the city. If he was indeed the nephew of such royalty, he would no doubt be quite wealthy…far too wealthy to be wasting his time with a poor little mouse like her.
“He’s not sparking me!” Clara protested, her brows knitting. “He bumped me into a puddle, helped me out, and then walked me home. What is so ‘sparking’ about that?”
Esther laughed as she brushed out Clara’s long curls. “You came in the house wearing his coat. He was holding your books. What else would he be thinking?”
Clara groaned. “I was wearing his coat because he didn’t give me a choice. And he was holding my books because I didn’t want to ruin them any more than they already were ruined. I think you’re taking this too far.”
“Oh Clara, Katie and Emma and I both know that you’re far prettier than the three of us put together. Young fellows have been eyeing you for years now, you just haven’t seen it. Now, they’re making themselves more obvious.”
“I’ve never seen Mr. McDonald before in my life!” Clara burst. “It’s not as if he were ‘eying me’ as you say. He was simply being a gentleman. Do stop teasing now, Esther.”
Esther said nothing, but Clara’s heart still pounded uncomfortably. Why must Esther tease her so? As if William had any motives other than helping Clara home. He felt awful about the accident, quite obviously, and simply wanted to amend his mistake. There was nothing romantic about that.
Esther finished dressing Clara’s hair and put a shawl around her shoulders, pulling the still-wet curls out over the thickly knit material.
“There. That will keep your dress dry until the curls stop dripping. I’m going to help Mother with supper.”
“I’ll be down in a few minutes.” Clara stood and fingered her damp hair, gazing at herself in the mirror. Her mind flitted back to what William said about her age. It was true; she did look much younger than she was, and the fact that she wore her hair down didn’t help at all.
But Clara wasn’t about to give herself perpetual headache just so people, even handsome young men, would think she was older.
Did you enjoy this little sneak peek? I hope so! I can’t wait to share the book with the world!