If ever a woman was between two unwanted destinies…
I was sitting astride one of the sturdy roof supports of the smithy with my back against the warm stone of the forge chimney, listening to two men discussing my future.
One was William Smith, a brawny giant of a man who was making nails as he spoke. The other was the Puritan gentleman who now owned my family home.
“Nobody,” the dark-clad man was saying, “is able, or willing, to tell me where I might find the daughter of the house.”
“I shouldn’t think they know,” William’s bass rumble held a thread of amusement.
“And you, master Smith, would you tell me if you knew?”
“That would depend.”
The man rounded on him angrily. “I could turn you out in the streets and have you whipped from the village for your insolence.”
“You could try, but I own this smithy free and clear, and I’m not a man easy to intimidate.”
They stared each other in the eyes for a long moment, and it was the Parliamentarian who looked away first.
“No harm will come to the girl of my doing. I would marry the chit, or, if she will not, her father is alive in the Low Countries with others of his party.”
William made a deep humming noise. “So, the girl must either marry a man she has never set eyes on before, or she must leave her home to follow a father who is as like as not to lose her in a game of cards. Not a lot of choice.”
The dark gent ground his teeth. “Do I not know that? But it is the best I can offer.”
There was a long moment of silence broken only by the musical ring of hammer on anvil as William beat iron into nails.
“And what if there was another way?”
“I am listening.”
“The girl is as wild as one of her father’s hawks. She is not one to be tamed by any man. Marry her against her will and you would spend your life looking behind you. Let her be. It may be that you could come to know her that way and in time.”
“She doesn’t have time. The family of her father’s second wife has designs on her person.”
“For the same reason her father wants her. Money.”
“Aye. The girl is wealthy in her own right and there are many who would use that wealth.”
“Including yourself,” William’s voice was full of contempt.
“Yes. But at least I would use it to address the neglect of her home and it’s acreage. And I would be kind.”
William studied him then shrugged his massive shoulders. He threw the last nail into the bucket and shifted his head to look up to my perch.
“What do you think, Miss Henrietta? Will you marry? Or will you go to your father? Or…”
He held up his arms and I jumped into them before turning to look into the narrow, dark face of the man I was to spend the next fifty years married to.