Spring of 1835
"It feels good to be home again," Felicity said with warmth in her voice. Leaning against the porch railing, she breathed in the fresh air. "So many memories!"
Stepping down from the porch, she headed toward the wooden swing, which hung from an old oak tree in the front yard. Childhood memories came rushing back as she sat down and wrapped her hands around the ropes. Feeling the breeze sift through her hair, Felicity remembered her father calling her to come inside for supper or to do her schoolwork.
Another scene came to her. She was swinging back and forth as she watched her parents plant flower seeds. Her father was digging the soil while her mother dropped the seeds in the holes and covered them up. They seemed to enjoy themselves. Felicity's heart swelled when her father turned around and gave her a warm smile. Tears welled up in her eyes and she swiped them away. Those were days that she kept close to her heart.
Closing her eyes, Felicity relived the dream she had last night and a feeling of peace spread over her. The dream was not hard to interpret. It was still vivid and fresh in her mind. So real! So alive! In her dream, Felicity had attended one of her aunt's fabulous balls.
With a broken heart, she turned to her mother and said, "Please, I want to go home now." Just as she turned to leave, an overwhelming feeling came to her and she shook her head. "No! Wait!"
When Felicity turned around, her father was standing before her, looking handsome and in good health but younger and more vital. The gray in his hair was gone. After slipping off his overcoat, she noticed he was dressed in formal attire. He had on black trousers and tailcoat, a green waistcoat, and a white shirt.
Stepping toward him, she asked, "Papa? Could I have one last dance before you go?"
He nodded and his smile brightened up the room. With a mischievous glint in his eyes, he asked, "The Boston Waltz?"
Felicity's eyes widened. Lorenzo Papatino had introduced this American Waltz, which was referred to as the Boston Waltz, just last year in 1834. It was much slower than the original waltzes in Germany and France.
Her father wiggled his eyebrows. "How about it? It'll be fun."
Felicity hesitated. She had learned the dance a few months ago from some of her students, just for curiosity's sake. But...
She looked around the room, wondering how this new dance would be received. The Boston Waltz was new and had received much criticism by the upper classes, especially among the pastors. After years of dancing at arm's length, it was not readily accepted. To embrace one's partner was unheard of. Apparently, the waltz was popular among the country folk, but the upper class didn't want to overstep the bounds of propriety.
When Felicity saw the twinkle in her father's eyes, she could not resist and relented. He placed one hand at her waist and held out the other towards her.
Placing her hand on his shoulder, she slid the other one in his extended hand. The warmth of his hand was so real. As they danced, joy overtook her. She was dancing with her father. There was no doubt about it.
When the music ended, tears welled up in her eyes as she said softly, "Thank you, Papa, for one last dance."
Glancing at her mother, she tilted her head curiously, wondering if she would like to have the next dance but she shook her head. When Felicity turned around, her father was gone.
After waking up, it took her a while to realize that it had been a dream. It felt so real. After a few seconds, it dawned on her that she had never had a chance to say good-bye to her father before he passed away. Felicity finally had that chance through a dream.
Blinking back the tears, she scanned the neighborhood. Felicity noticed the lilacs were blooming along the roadway, and their fragrance was heavenly. The rolling hills in the background were so lush and green, with fresh new leaves appearing on the trees.
Across the street from her home was once a lovely meadow with a large pond filled with water lilies, cattails, and croaking frogs. She used to go there often to read or sit back and watch the clouds float by, but it was no longer there. A two-story home with several decorative gables stood in its place. Even though it was an attractive home, it saddened her to see how everything had changed.
Giving a push with her feet, the swing glided back and forth in a peaceful motion. Holding tight to the rope, Felicity leaned back and breathed in the fresh air. A few wavy strands of chocolate-brown hair came loose from her braided bun. When they fluttered with the breeze, she pushed them away from her face.
Felicity was an adventurous person and her parents could not hold her down from experiencing life. When Aunt Beth asked her to be her companion and told her they would see the world together, Felicity immediately accepted. Since her father was a teacher and was not wealthy, she knew she would never have an opportunity like this again.
The first place they went was England. While there, she took several painting classes and learned how to paint with watercolors. Ever since she was twelve, she had longed to take lessons and finally her dream came true.
Every year they went to some place different. They traveled to Paris, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland to see the beautiful countryside and ancient castles from days gone by. It was enjoyable seeing the world with her aunt and painting the scenery of each place they visited. But after a few years, Felicity felt there was much more to life than just being a companion.
When she heard about the Troy Female Seminary, established by Emma Hart Willard, she immediately applied for a job as an art teacher. It was the first female school in the United States, which provided young women with the same college education comparable to that of young men.
It was located in New York, which was a long ways from home. Since a teacher's salary was quite modest, she very seldom found the time to visit her family.
Felicity liked the idea of being free and had decided to provide for herself by being part of the "working class," which caused her parents needless worry. They preferred that she marry and settle down. At the age of twenty-nine, Felicity felt content with her lifestyle. She wrote home often, telling them of her life as an artist and teacher. To Felicity, she was having an adventure.
As she glanced around the neighborhood, Felicity noticed several new homes, including the one across the street, which hid the scenery she so admired. Her mother had told her that a wealthy businessman had bought several acres of land and built homes on it. The ones he could not sell, he rented out. The gabled home across the street was one that he was renting.
Felicity had a mind to scold him for ruining her gorgeous view and destroying the lovely pond she enjoyed as a child. How she wished she could have captured the scene with her paintbrushes and watercolors before she left!
As she thought about her beloved homeland, Felicity wondered why it had taken so long to come back for a visit. It saddened her that it took the passing of her father to bring her back home again.
When Felicity first arrived a couple of days ago, her sister, Lizzie, had expressed great concern about their mother. A few mysterious things had happened, but her sister felt it was their mother's imagination. With the mourning of her husband, she was not thinking clearly.
When her mother told the sheriff that someone had broken into her home two different times, the officer asked her if anything was stolen. Lizzie said she felt embarrassed when her mother admitted that several things were out of place but nothing was taken. Very politely, the officer took Lizzie aside and told her to watch her mother because she was probably experiencing anxiety from the loss of her husband.
Lizzie noticed that her mother did not have the same zest for life. Since her husband was gone, she had no desire to putter in the flower garden like she used to every spring. She seemed to be slowing down.
When Felicity arrived, she could see the relief written all over Lizzie's face, as if a big burden had been lifted from her shoulders. Lizzie had checked on their mother daily but she also had to take care of her own household chores and her children. It was a strain and Felicity noticed it.
Even though she would miss teaching at the seminary, Felicity knew it was her turn to care for her mother. She could not expect Lizzie to continue because she had a husband and four young boys to care for.
As she stared at the large gabled home across the street, Felicity frowned. Her mother had told her about their new neighbor who was renting the place. He had not been there long, only two weeks.
When her mother explained how she and Mr. Adams had become friends, Felicity immediately pictured an elderly gentleman with white hair and a cane. Apparently, Mr. Adams visited quite often, as if he understood her loneliness. It surprised her how quickly their friendship grew.
Felicity had not met the man, but she was suspicious of his intentions. Living in a big city made her wary of strangers and their ulterior motives. She had lived alone for the past few years and had learned to be careful.
One thing that bothered her was his very strange questions. He had asked her mother if an authenticator had come by to the house. When her mother didn't understand what he was talking about, he explained that such a person provided authentication services, such as checking to see if an item was genuine or valuable, then he would tell his client its value and help them sell it.
When her mother said she knew of no such person, Mr. Adams asked if she had any relics or anything of value that could use those services. Martha promptly showed him some valuable items that she had collected throughout the years. She trusted the man and that worried Felicity. His inquiries were very suspicious. Was he one of those men who took advantage of elderly widows, hoping to get their valuable possessions?
Just at that moment, the front door of her neighbor's home opened and a man exited. Balancing a tray in his hands, he headed in her direction. As he approached, Felicity tilted her head curiously. She wondered if he were one of Mr. Adams' servants. The home he was renting was large and very impressive, so he had to have a few servants.
As the man approached, she noticed he was good-looking. He had wavy dark hair, broad shoulders, and a strong jawline. His posture and the way he held his head up didn't seem like one of a servant. But that was not all. He wasn't dressed like a servant. He wore a long-sleeved white shirt with a dark brown waistcoat and a white cravat.
When the man finally came within a few feet of her, he smiled and adjusted the tray in his hands as he said, "You must be Mrs. Brooks' daughter."
Felicity gave a slight nod of formality. "Yes. That's right."
"Your mother talks about you all the time. I feel as if I already know you." Glancing at his tray, he said, "I brought over some bread pudding. I know you've been in town all day, visiting your lawyer. You must be tired."
Felicity curiously cocked her head to the side. Not knowing how to respond, she said, "Thank you. Your timing was perfect." Felicity held her hands out to take the tray. "Please allow me to relieve you of your burden."
"I assure you that it's not a burden at all. Your mother was very kind to me when I first arrived."
This statement took her by surprise. "That's very thoughtful, Mr.... Um..."
"Sorry." Clearing his throat, he said in a friendly manner, "Mr. Adams. Nicholas Adams."
Felicity's eyes widened. This man was Mr. Adams? Where was the elderly man she had pictured in her mind? Where was his cane and white hair? The man, who was standing before her, appeared to be in his thirties and stood at least six foot two. Not only that, he was quite good-looking and full of confidence as he spoke.
Tilting her head to the side, she said, "I understand you've been keeping my mother company from time to time. I thank you for that."
Nicholas shrugged. "She's lonely. It's the least I can do. The other day I found her sitting on a bench in the backyard with tears in her eyes. I gave her my handkerchief and we talked for a while. Your mother just needed a bit of company. That's all."
Felicity bit her lip. While she was in New York and making arrangements to come home, a stranger was comforting her mother. She instantly felt guilty for not being available when her mother needed her. This fact made her feel uneasy. She was also upset for not coming home to visit more often. But that wasn't all. She should have been comforting her mother. Not some stranger!
Looking up into his green eyes, she said firmly, "I appreciate that you've been keeping my mother company, sir. But I'm here now."
Nicholas raised a curious brow. "Yes, I can see that."
"There's no need to worry about her any longer."
"But I do worry."
Not wanting to speak of her mother's discomfort any longer, she said in a business-like manner, "Please give our utmost thanks to your cook."
"My cook?" Nicholas seemed amused. "If you give something from your heart, you have to make it yourself. Otherwise, it's not a gift."
Felicity was speechless. A man who knew how to cook? She stared at him curiously, trying to figure him out. She didn't know what to say.
He grinned and his smile lit up his eyes. "It's not the same if you hire someone to make a gift." Nicholas looked at her inquisitively and said, "Your mother says you've been away for quite a while...experiencing life."
"Experiencing life?" Felicity asked with edginess in her tone. "She really said that?"
As he nodded, a playful smile tugged at his lips. "She sure did. She also said that you teach at a ladies seminary and you're an artist." Nicholas cocked his head to the side and gazed at her. "Oil or watercolor?"
"Do you paint people?"
She shook her head.
She shrugged. "Not really interested."
"How about animals?"
She shook her head once again.
"How about scenery?"
Giving a tired sigh, she motioned toward the land where the two-story home stood. "Over there was a beautiful pond with the prettiest water lilies. I wanted to paint it before I left." Felicity tried not to feel resentful as she said, "I guess I should have done it before it was destroyed."
Nicholas nodded with soberness. "Everyone wants their childhood surroundings to remain the same...the way it once was. But change is part of life."
She looked at the land across the street with longing. "I know."
"Change is inevitable," he said warmly. "But it doesn't mean you have to like it."
Turning to her neighbor, she wondered why he sounded so compassionate. It was not his fault that she had not been here when her mother needed her. She should be grateful for his kindness. She had been standoffish toward him, giving brief answers to his questions. If she didn't lighten up, the man would think she was a snob, a cocky teacher who taught at a ladies seminary. The thought made her wince. She did not want to seem condescending or superior. For her mother's sake, she had to lighten up.
"Are you famous?" Nicholas asked with a raised brow. "Just wondering because I haven't met any famous artists, yet."
This question took her off guard. She smiled for the first time and said lightheartedly, "If I were famous, then you wouldn't be asking me that question, would you?"
He chuckled. "I guess not." Cocking his head to the side, Nicholas asked curiously, "Do you give private lessons?"
She nodded. "Why? Are you interested?"
"Perhaps. I like broadening my horizon."
When Felicity held her hands out to take the tray, he shook his head. "Allow me. I'd like to see how your mother is doing."
Realizing this was an opportune time to get a bit of information about her mother, she led the way toward their home. Glancing at him, she said, "Mama told me that she enjoys your visits."
"And I enjoy her company."
"When I spoke to my sister, Lizzie said Mama seems anxious. Have you noticed anything?"
"Yes, I have. I've been worried about her."
She raised a curious brow. "You have?"
"Your mother told me about the suspicious goings on at the house. She said the sheriff thinks it's her imagination."
Felicity stopped at the doorstep and turned to him. "Do you believe her?"
Nicholas nodded and said firmly, "I do."
"But she said that things were out of place, not where she had put them, but nothing was stolen. That doesn't make sense. Who would come into her home, move things about, and then leave?"
"Your mother is in her right mind, if that's what you're asking. There is no reason to doubt her."
Felicity smiled at his answer as she opened the door for him to enter. Calling to her mother, she said, "Mama! Mr. Adams is here."
As they walked into the sitting room, Martha rose from her chair and smiled. "Welcome, Nicholas. It looks like you've finally met my daughter."
His eyes seemed to brighten as he said, "Yes, I have. She was telling me about her profession."
Martha furrowed her brow. "Oh my! I worry about my girl, so far away and teaching at that school. I fear she has neglected her talent."
"No, I haven't," said Felicity in a gentle tone.
"But how can you paint when you're teaching all day long?"
Turning to Nicholas, Felicity said apologetically, "Mama doesn't seem to understand. I enjoy teaching art. I really do."
Placing the tray on an end table, he turned to Martha and said, "She's not wasting her talent by teaching art, Mrs. Brooks. She's helping others to develop their talents. She might be teaching a future artist who may be famous some day." He glanced at Felicity and smiled. "She may have given someone a bit of hope."
Mrs. Brooks sighed. "You're right, Nicholas. I didn't think of that."
Felicity was impressed with the way he spoke to her mother, helping her to understand the importance of teaching art. Turning to him, she gave Nicholas a grateful smile and nodded.
"Actually," he said as his eyes lit up. "I would like to commission your daughter to paint a picture for me."
"You would?" asked Martha with enthusiasm. "What kind of picture?"
"Hmm. Now let me see..." He folded his arms across his broad chest and grinned at Felicity. "I've never had a portrait painted of myself. How about it? And I'll be sitting on top of my prize racehorse. It's a fine mare and has won many a race. Didn't you tell me that you loved painting animals?"
When she saw the humor lacing his eyes, she blushed and held back a smile. "He's teasing, Mama. Don't believe a word he's saying."
With a chuckle, he said, "You're right, Miss Brooks. I would rather hire you to paint the lovely pond at the back of my home. The water lilies should be blooming soon. I've seen a few buds popping out of the water."
Felicity's mouth dropped open. "What did you say?"
"The pond wasn't destroyed, as you thought." With a smile tugging at his lips, he said, "I'd like to put the painting above my fireplace. But let's wait until the lilies are blooming first. Shall we?"
Felicity stared into his eyes with wonder. Mr. Adams knew that she wanted to paint that pond. She was speechless. He probably would have told her about it if she hadn't been so dad-blamed ornery. She had acted resentful towards him.
"How about it? Will you take on this assignment?"
With enthusiasm, she nodded. "I would love to, Mr. Adams."
"Please. Call me Nicholas. I'm not one for formalities. Besides, your mother calls me Nicholas, so you might as well." He pushed his fingers through his wavy hair and said, "Well, I guess I'll take my leave."
"Wait, Nicholas!" Martha placed her hand on his arm and asked, "Won't you please stay and eat supper with us?"
He shook his head and gave her a tender smile. "You don't need me anymore. Your daughter is home." He glanced at Felicity. "You're in the capable hands of Miss Brooks."
As he turned to leave, Felicity blurted out, "My students call me Miss Brooks."
He turned around and his brow rose. "They do?"
"And the teachers I work with call me Miss Brooks, too."
"Since you're my neighbor, you might as well call me by my given name. Don't you think?"
He smiled and gave a nod. "Of course. Formalities can be tiresome." Motioning to the tray, he said, "Enjoy the bread pudding. I hope you like it. And welcome home, Felicity."
As he closed the door behind him, Felicity was ecstatic. She was going to paint one of her childhood memories. The joy she felt was unbelievable. Glancing heavenward, she smiled. Was her father smiling down on her at that moment?