I had always been a curious girl. Brimming with questions and wondering how something worked. Oh I was forever wondering. Learning could capture my attention span for a long while. The way a butterfly would flit from one flower to the next, inserting its tongue into the sweet nectar, or how mixing different colors could make an entirely new one. My mother and father noticed this love of learning and immediately began to plan my success and future as a student. I was four and a half years old at that time and not capable of much but nevertheless, eager to learn. Thus I started with the very basics: the letters of the alphabet, simple math tables, basic concepts in science, the beginnings of history, geography, art in all its forms, and memorizing passages of Scripture, Shakespeare, and the like; not to mention numerous phrases in Latin, Greek, French, Italian and German.
I enjoyed being tutored but I learned the most and retained the most by spending time outside; either in nature or watching the common folk perform their duties and professions. I loved observing their trades. The blacksmith's pounding away at the angry red metal, or bakers molding, decorating and creating all sorts of edible art, the seamstress's threading their needles through countless reams of cloth, or farmers performing endless hours of hard labor chopping word, tending to their crops, and other chores. Many others captured my attention as well but perhaps the one I most disliked watching was the doctor. Human blood, illnesses, and diseases were not something that interested me; in fact it made me queasy to look on such things.
And so I grew from an incapable four year old to a more learned seven year old. By that time, many more things had been added to my studies. This included trades and house management, horsemanship and hunting, and many things in between. My day was packed from sun up to sun down with learning. It became my definition of fun. Of course, I did have playmates and I joined in with their games but I preferred my learning; even at seven years of age. My favorite subjects of all included art, music, writing, French and Spanish, Exploring the Bible (as I had come to call my studies of the Holy Book), horsemanship, fencing, hunting, baking, house management, and much more.
This was all more than any seven year old in my country got; most never acquired basic reading and writing due to lack of funds or time. You see, the people of my country were rather poor and could only focus on their means of making money to support themselves and their families. My father, however, was an important man in the king's parliament and had found great favor with him; thus we lived very well. Our home is a glorious mansion, so huge it is almost a great castle and our grounds are very extensive; containing endless fields, boundless and extremely beautiful gardens, and several stables, dog kennels and the like.
My brothers and I were very privileged children indeed, and our father made sure that we were always grateful for all that we had. Being a God-fearing man, he also taught us to be kind, loving and just towards the servants but to allow them to perform their duties as well, put others before ourselves, to be generous to those who were not as fortunate as we, add the Fruits of the Spirit to our characters and everything else the Lord has instructed Christians to be and do. Most importantly, my father showed us what the love of Christ looked like on a daily basis.
As I reached the age of ten, my education had grown and progressed greatly. I had long passed the knowledge of the average villager. My family was very proud of me, and I myself was quite pleased with my progression. I thanked the Lord everyday for the wonderful family He had placed me in and the chance at an education He had given me. Little did I know it was to grow more.
For several weeks before my eleventh birthday, I had heard my mother and father arguing about something of great importance during the evening hours but I never could catch any words, not did I want to as eavesdropping was not in my character. It was not until days after my birthday that I learned what they had been wrestling with.
Now, it should be known that, although I had grown up with manners and would usually handle myself intellectually, I was still a child at heart; a very wild child at that. I had bright blue eyes, fiery golden-red hair, and a strong will. So when problems or drama would arise or when something did not go my way, I would act irrationally and out of turn. This experience happened to be one of those times.
"Sarah Darling", my father had said, pulling me onto his knee, "your mother and I have been discussing a step that we believe will further your education and progress." He paused as if waiting for me to give approval to continue, so I politely nodded my head. He cleared his throat.
"Well, I have prayed about this for some time and have talked about it with some people. So, it had finally been arranged for you to…"
"Oh papa!" I exclaimed. "Not a boarding school!"
"No, no." He chuckled. "Not a boarding school but if you want to consider it that, you may. The king has agreed have you on at the palace to learn and study more."
He let it start to sink in then added, "But in order for there to be peace in this house while you are gone," He glanced at my mother, "you will also be learning how to be a proper lady."
Now any normal girl my age, no matter what social status, would be overjoyed and extremely happy to hear this news but, as suggested, I was not a normal girl and the idea was not welcomed.
"You want me to leave Anderson Abbey?" I squeaked.
"Of course we don't want you to leave, sweetheart, but this course seemed best for you." My mother's soothing voice explained.
"But then I have to leave all my favorite people! You and papa and Peter and Clyde and Michael." My voice had begun to sound rather whinny and tears soon threatened to fall.
"And then there are the maids that I love so much; Anna and Daisy and Charlotte! And then there's Carson and William the butler's. What about my dogs and horses? Or the village folk? Or any of my other friends?"
The ominous tears rolled freely down my cheek as I finished and my parents were quite shocked to see this reaction. Maybe I would stand there in silent joy or be completely beside myself with happiness, they had said to themselves; but not crying. The last thing they had expected was tears!
To see them just sitting there, staring at me blankly, made me angry. I crumpled my face into a rare frown. "Goodnight!" I said indignantly. I regretted it as soon as it left my lips. What an ungrateful girl I had made myself seem. Bursting into more tears, I ran from the room and straight out to the barn, which was a good ways out. Finding Cimmeron, my favorite horse, I swung myself up over him and away we went. I let him gallop over field after field. Tears streaked down my face and got lost in the night wind. I rode him all the way to the very edge of our property. No one would look for me here because it wasn't my normal spot of refuge. Slipping from Cimmeron's back, I found the nearest oak tree and sat; weeping.
The sun had long set and the stars had come out when I finished my crying, thinking and praying. How ungrateful I was! The Lord was giving me the opportunity of a life time and I was willing refuse it. I was sure that father, despite how important he was, had spent many of his days trying to persuade the king to agree. Oh how silly I was!
"Lord?" I called. "I'm sorry. I really did act foolishly and selfishly… Please forgive me." The leaves rustled in response.
Mounting Cimmeron once more, I spurred him on towards the barn. It was slow going due to the lack of light and the little knowledge I had of this side of the property.
"You don't even know all the details…" I told myself. I needed to apologize for my actions. I had acted entirely out of turn. In fact, the more I thought about what a life at the palace would mean, the more it began to excite and appeal to me.
"I'm sure father will let me bring my maids." I mused. "And the palace isn't too terribly far away. It's within riding distance. I'm sure I could visit sometimes. I wonder how long I'm to stay…"
With these and other thoughts and questions juggling inside my head, I finally glimpsed the stable yard. I smiled at the familiar structure. As we reached it, Paul, the stable boy and my friend, approached and took hold of Cimmeron's halter.
"Well now, Miss." He said, raising his eyebrows. "It's about time you came back. Your father was worried about where you'd gone."
I hung my head. "I know…" I said sorrowfully.
"What was that all about anyway's?"
"They want me to go live in the palace to study more."
"Study in the palace, she says." He was clearly speaking to Cimmeron and not me. "What I would give to study at the palace."
"I know Paul." I said ashamedly. "I was very ungrateful and I acted sinfully. I've thought about it though, and I have decided it wouldn't be too bad after all."
I smiled and slipped from Cimmeron's back.
"I'd better go now. Would you give him some extra carrots, please?"
He grinned and said a "will do, Miss" as I hurried towards the house.
"Mama! Papa!" I called as I burst into the living room. They had just sat there on the creamy sofa, donned in long faces. It was apparent they had been talking, perhaps heatedly, but I ignored this and threw my arms around them.
"I am truly sorry." I gushed. "I've changed my mind. The palace sounds like a wonderful place."
Surprised, they smiled and hugged me back.
"Oh darling!" Mother exclaimed. "You don't have to go if you don't desire to do so. We just thought it would benefit you in many ways."
"It's alright Mama. I think I would like it." I turned to father. "What would I be learning there?"
"Well," He began, "as I said you'll be learning how to be a proper lady so your mother can rest in the fact that you will know something about lady-like behavior." He chuckled as if imagining my failed attempts already.
It was true, with three older brothers around, being a lady hadn't been pushed. Even though I had manners and knew how to act, I was mainly skilled in gentlemanly duties. My mother had been very worried about this but father's argument had been that I was already learning so much as it was and being pushed in my studies was more than enough at the moment. I suppose I had always known that one day she would win but I was not quite looking forward to it.
"Alright." I said begrudgingly. "What else?"
"Basically more advanced versions of the studies you have been investing in. With the addition of government, law, economics, and politics."
"Oh." I breathed, my eyes shining. "That sounds very challenging and intriguing."
"I knew you would be interested."
Mother and father smiled at me.
"And you won't be too lonely!" Mother announced. "Clyde has been accepted into the military training center there. I'm sure they would allow you to see him somehow."
"That's very comforting." I smiled. Of my three brothers, Clyde was my favorite and was always the first confidant I went to when something troubled me. Having him there would be another blessing. I wondered who else would be there.
"As for the maids' dear," Mother said, answering my unvoiced inquiry, "they will come with you."
"It's more like they have to come with you." Father explained. "The dear King George can't spare many maids for you, perhaps two or three, so you're going to need yours."
"Oh how wonderful!" I cried. "How long will we be there?"
Mother's face fell.
"Ah." Father uttered. "This is where the arrangement becomes slightly less exciting."
I waited anxiously as he thought about the best way to put it. Eventually he gave up and stated,
"Nine." He paused.
"Nine?" I echoed. "But… I'll be twenty!"
"Yes. I know." He sympathized. "Twenty years of age is when you'll be given a choice."
My ears perked up.
"A choice of coming back, staying at the palace for life, or marrying a prince or a duke or a lord." He had paused in between each option.
"At least I have time to think on it." I finally managed.
A melancholy silence occupied the room for a few moments before I voiced a question.
"When do I leave?"
"A week." Came the short reply.
"Right'o." I said, trying to sound humorous. The sound I made was more strained then humorous.
Mother took me into her arms and squeezed while planting a kiss on my forehead.
"Goodnight dearest." She said softly.
"Goodnight mama." I smiled. "Goodnight papa."
That whole week had been spent in getting me ready for life at the castle. It was a busy yet relaxing week. I hardly did any studies and spent most of my time playing in the creek, riding Cimmeron, saying goodbye to all the wonderful village folk, talking with Paul, painting numerous pictures and many other pleasures. Nevertheless, there was packing; boxes, bags and others. In between all this, mother told me how to greet King George, sit properly, say and do this when spoken to and say and do that when asked something, etc., father went on about parliament and the history of our country and the castle, and Clyde told me all about the horse stables, gardens, dog kennels and exotic animals. You can guess whose speeches enthralled me the most.
Slowly but surely, Monday crept upon us, and I found myself in an unexpected place early that morning. The previous night I had had trouble sleeping and so I had gotten up earlier than normal. Getting dressed, I had gone to the barn and tacked Cimmeron up for a last ride before the palace. I didn't particularly know where to go so I headed through the woods and out onto the main road. It was a very beautiful morning. A pleasant country breeze was blowing, birds were chirping merrily and the golden sun was just peeking its nose over the horizon. Presently, I came upon our church; quietly sitting amongst wild flowers and gravestones. I turned into the gate and led Cimmeron to the hitching post out in front. I left him to munch on the grass while I walked steadily towards the lichen covered grave markers. I made my way in and out of the quite resting places. Finally, I came to the far corner of the graveyard. My eyes scanned the stone in front of me and stared blankly at the name engraved: Annabelle Grace Anderson; my wonderful and beloved grandmother. Unwillingly, hundreds of memories played through my mind as I had sat there in the dew covered greenery. Plucking a handful of pure white daisies, I had made a daisy chain and draped it over the dirty marble. Teary eyed, I walked silently back to Cimmeron and we galloped home for the last time.
Upon entering the house, I was greeted with the delicious smell of breakfast. Carmen, our family cook, always made the most amazing meals. If one wasn't watching, you could become rather plump on her cooking. I smiled as Charlotte had placed dish after dish of breakfast food on the dining table.
"Good morning, my love!" Father called cheerily as he picked me up and spun me around. I squealed with delight.
"Good morning papa!" I smiled.
Soon mother, Clyde, Michael, and Peter filed into the room. Good mornings were said and we placed ourselves in our chairs and joined hands. I will never forget that precious prayer we shared as a family.
"Dear Lord," father began, "thank you for this dear little girl you have given to us. Bless this short time we have with her before her adventure starts. Help her to be strong and keep going hard for You. Be with us as we deal with her absence. Thank you for this delicious food Carmen has made for us. Bless her for it. Help us to put on the full armor of You to ward of the enemy's arrows. Give us this day our daily bread, in Your precious Name, Amen."
After we had eaten more than our fill, father flipped through his well worn Bible and read the day's Psalm. When he had finished, we discussed and evaluated its contents. We all looked up as Carson slipped in and announced, after coughing politely, that the carriage was in front and my bags had been loaded. Father thanked him and he gave me his characteristic wink as he left the room. Oh, good old Carson. I would miss him dearly.
Arriving outside, I was surprised to be met by a multitude of people. It seemed as if the whole community had shown up to say their goodbyes. Needless to say, it was very emotional; endless hugs and kisses, well wishing, small tokens of their love and appreciation, and prayers to no end. When I finally stepped into the carriage, it was long past the time we should have left but I did not mind one bit. Those people meant the world to me and I did not want to miss that moment for anything.
"Good bye!" I had called to them, waving my tear soaked handkerchief through the air.
We arrived at the palace in what must have been record time because the whole ride I had been tossed this way and that by the potholes and juts in the road and the horses' were breathing very heavily. Righting my hat, I accepted the hand of the palace coachman and stepped down onto the gold colored bricks. My eyes marveled at the beauty around me. I had been to the palace once before this, but had only been one at the time and could not remember anything of the place.
The front lawn was decorated with tall, dark evergreens, all varieties of colorful flowers, carefully trimmed shrubs, evenly cut dapple green grass and marble fountains flowing with deep blue water. Gorgeous crepe myrtles and silvery purple wisteria were scattered throughout the lawn. Ivies and vines crept subtly up the old stone walls and fences. Robins, swallows, martins, sparrows, buntings and many other birds flitted this way and that through the trees while ducks, geese and swans swam quietly in the still ponds. A cool breeze swept down and over it all.
Vibrant flags with gold plated poles flew from the tops of the towers. Heavily armed guards stood completely still and menacing at their positions by gates, towers, and entrances. Despite the attempt to make the windows cheerful, hundreds of them stared down at me; cold and dark. I could feel the many eyes peering out at me. Turning from the castle, I had walked to Cimmeron who was tied at the back of the carriage. I took a big breath. It smelled different. Not like the country air I was accustomed to; it smelled…salty.
"Salty…" I mused, "Why would it smell salty?" I had pondered as father talked to an acquaintance. I closed my eyes, breathed again and listened hard. Just in the distance I heard a faint roar and a muffled crashing sound. My eyes had flown open in recognition. I knew that sound.
"The sea!" I whispered to Cimmeron. "The castle's near the sea!"
I smiled as memories of days spent by the seashore played through my head. I loved those family trips to the sea, and now I could visit it often. The sea fascinated me beyond measure. I was always marveling at the ebbs and flows of the tides, the bubbly sea foam, how little crabs scuttled across the sand, the wind engulfing me, and the strange calls of the sea gulls.
"Come dove." Father had called. "We must hurry; we are very late as it is."
I gave Cimmeron one final pat as he was taken to the royal stables and followed close behind father. We walked to the front gate and gave our identification to the steely guards. After being admitted, we were met by a finely dressed man and asked to come with him. The entrance hall was very huge. Gold urns full of flowers and decorative flags hung about while diamond studded torches gave light. Guards stood at even intervals along the passage way. I had waved and smiled politely at the first few guards but I got no response so I gave up and admired the decorations instead. Finally, after having walked a ways, our guide deposited us in what must have been an extremely large parlor and told us to wait as he disappeared back out into the hall.
"Well," father had sighed as he settled down on a delicate looking sofa, "what do you think of it so far?"
"It is..." I had begun, trying to think of suitable words to match the castle's splendor, "very resplendent and magnificent; breathtaking."
"Just think how much more heaven will be." Father had said, his eyes gleaming.
I smiled. "More than this could ever be." I swept my hand around the gold decorated room.
We were finally called into the throne room and nerves I had forbidden to come alive, stirred inside of me. I thought about holding onto father's hand but decided that would make me look childish and vulnerable. So instead, I had lifted my head high and straightened my clothes.
The throne room was even more intricate and beautiful than anything else I had already seen of the palace. A gasp escaped and my eyes widened in wonder. Father chuckled and gave my head a pat while a deep, billowing voice announced our arrival to King George. My eyes came to rest at the very end of the throne room and there he was; clothed in a dark purple robe that was lined in fluffy white and studded with glistening diamonds. His shinning crown towered above his graying hair and he grasped a gold scepter in his right hand. If this was what an earthly king looked like, how much more glorious would Jesus be? I thought in awe.
"Come forth Lord Anderson!" His grand voice had echoed off the marble floors and into our ears. As we approached, he smiled warmly and rose from the monstrous throne chair. I smiled, curtsied, and bowed my head as mother had said I should and waited until I heard King George give me permission to rise. My time at the palace had begun.