The Shadow Fields, Part Eleven
Why did this all have to be so complicated?
I wrapped my arms around myself inside my coat as I paced the roof of the east wing of the house. Above me the clouds wove their way through the field of stars, and the partial moon gave off just enough light to cast the shadow fields as a deep, shadowy sea.
Everyone else had gone to bed. Most of the Christmas guests had gone home – only Uncle Roger and his family were still staying at Shadowfield, and even they were to leave in the morning. Before they left, I had to give them my answer as to whether I would be accepting their invitation to travel with them over the summer.
It seemed like the decision would be so easy, that my answer should be so obvious – but no matter what aspect of the situation I looked at, I found more complications! Nothing – nothing in me – could bear the thought of being away from Shadowfield for the entire summer, and consequently for the entire year. But how could I lose this opportunity to once-and-for-all learn the true nature of my uncle’s regard for me? And yet there was that same nagging thought: if Uncle Roger really wanted me to be a part of his family, wouldn’t he have made me a part a long time ago? Wouldn’t he have sent for me after he married Aunt Evelyn? Or never sent me away at all? Or wouldn’t he have at least explained his reasons for sending me away, if it really could not be helped?
Or wouldn’t he have at least said that he loved me, in so many words, at least once?
I suddenly stopped my pacing on the roof and stood still, staring at the wall in front of me. Now that I had come to think of it … I could not remember a single time – ever – when Uncle Roger had told me that he loved me.
I turned and walked to the edge of the roof – the place where Robert and I always came to look out over the shadow fields. And what Robert had said the last time we were here suddenly came back to me, about Uncle Roger sending me away without a regret, without an apology, and now … and now acting as though nothing had happened, as though things were just the same between us.
I turned and walked back to the edge of the roof again. A cloud shifted across the moon and swirled across the moors. I watched it until it faded into the dark shadows of the hills in the distance.
I thought for a long time about Grandfather and Robert and Shadowfield and how good our short time together had been.
I thought about Uncle Roger, and the years that he had cared for me. I thought of his invitation to travel with him and his family, and of his desire for us to be “one big family” … just as if nothing had ever changed.
A gust of wind brushed by me from behind, tossing my hair forward over my shoulder and whistling as it cut around the corners and walls of the house.
I decided that Uncle Roger was right. Nothing had changed between us.
“Good morning, Elizabeth!” Aunt Evelyn said as I joined everyone in the dining room for breakfast the next morning. She embraced me gently, smiling. “Well, may we have our answer? You have kept us in suspense long enough, and we leave after breakfast, so let us hear it! Will you be coming with us this summer?”
I glanced only briefly at the other people in the room – Grandfather, Uncle Roger, Sam and Rodney, and Mrs. Logan. Robert wasn’t there. I couldn’t decide if I was glad for that or not.
“I … I have decided,” I began.
“I have decided that I will – that I will not be coming with you this summer. I do thank you for the invitation, and it was very good of you to think of me, but –” I glanced at Grandfather again. His face was straight, but his eyes were shining. I smiled. “I am afraid that I cannot go with you.”
I could see Aunt Evelyn’s disappointment, but she smiled at me anyway. She moved her hands from where they rested on my shoulders and took my hands. “Well… I won’t say that I am not a little disappointed, but I can understand.” She looked over her shoulder at Uncle Roger. “Your uncle even told me when I suggested inviting you that he didn’t think you would want to be away from Shadowfield all summer.”
I looked at my uncle. So it had not even been his idea to invite me.
Uncle Roger took a few steps towards me. “I know my little Beth all too well, I’m afraid.” He smiled down at me. Had his smile always been so shallow?
“Indeed,” I said, “You do know me well.”
But perhaps not so well as you once did, Uncle Roger.
It was evening before I saw Robert again. I was going to see Lady D. before dinner, and on my way I found Robert perched on a low stone wall near the stables. Since the demands of being ladylike prohibited me from climbing up and sitting atop the wall with him, I contented myself with standing on an overturned bucket.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” he said, looking down at me. He was smiling, but I knew him well enough to see the concern behind his eyes.
“Hello, Robert,” I returned, as genuinely cheerful as I could be – just to confuse him.
He was quiet for a long time, no doubt trying to think of something that he could say. Finally: “Did your aunt and uncle get off safely, then?”
“Indeed, indeed,” I said, with a little sigh.
“You miss them already, do you?”
I saw his smile – his sincere concern for me, in spite of the feelings I knew he had towards Uncle Roger. I had thought to withhold the news that I had declined their invitation until Robert all but dragged it out of me. But seeing his smile, I couldn’t.
“I am not going with them this summer, Robert.”
He turned towards me. “Why not?”
“Well, it was what you said about Uncle Roger—” I began, but Robert cut me off.
“Elizabeth, I didn’t want to interfere and I should have kept my thoughts to myself. If you want to go with your uncle then please don’t let anything that I said –”
“No, Robert, listen to me!” I said, “What you said about my uncle was right. If he really loved me, either he would not have sent me away, or he would have sent for me again after he married Aunt Evelyn, or he would have at least explained why he could not send for me again. Regardless, he would most certainly not be acting now like nothing has changed.” I took a deep breath, a bit surprised at how good it had felt to actually say all of that. “I was angry with you over what you said about my uncle,” I continued, “but that was because all I cared about was knowing that my uncle loved me as I once thought he did. And that desire for something I couldn’t have made me overlook the things that I did have. You helped me see my uncle the way he really is. It made me angry because I didn’t want to see it at first.”
Robert was quiet for a moment before he spoke. “And – you do see it now?”
I drummed my fingers on the top of the stone wall. “I … it still upsets me – a bit. I can’t help loving Uncle Roger – after all, he was practically my father for years – and I don’t know why he doesn’t love me, but…” I looked out at the small paddock that the wall enclosed and let out a deep breath. “But it doesn’t matter to me anymore.”
I looked up and smiled at Robert. “So I’m going to go back to school next week, and then I am going to come back and spend the summer at home, with my horse, my grandfather, and my best friend.”
Robert smiled, but met my eyes only intermittently, as he often did, I had learned, when he was unsure of what to say. “Well,” he said at last, “I’m really glad that you’ll be back this summer, Elizabeth. Shadowfield is – lonely without you.”
The following week, I returned to school for the spring semester. There was a brief break for Easter, during which time my roommate came to Shadowfield with me as we had agreed before Christmas. Then, after a few more weeks of school, I returned home for my second glorious summer with Grandfather and Robert – and now Lady D.
Three years passed in this way.
My days at school were brightened by a nearly incessant stream of letters from home, and my days at home were spent riding, reading (of course), and taking an occasional trip into the city with Grandfather.
The summer that I turned eighteen found things at Shadowfield very much the same that they had been upon my first arrival. It seemed that, for the first time in my life, things had stopped changing. There were some small alterations, of course: a few of the household staff left and were replaced for one reason or another, Robert became one of Grandfather’s paid employees when the stablemaster decided that he needed an assistant, and, eventually, Robert saved enough money to begin buying and breeding horses of his own.
But on the whole, things remained just as they were and just as I wanted them to be. And I could not have been happier. I was content to live my life just as it was, even if nothing ever, ever changed.
And nothing did – until shortly after I returned to the city for my last year of school.