Anne and Catherine sat on either side of William, holding his hand or leaning on his shoulder. It was almost as if he was back from the dead, for mentioning him was forbidden after he had left. It seemed as if they had the house to themselves, and they were in their own little world for quite some time.
"So, my dear sisters, what have you been occupying yourselves with whil-in the past two years or so?" William merrily inquired.
"The usual- except that I have completed my formal education, and am now thought of as quite a woman back home," replied Anne.
"And you, Kitty?"
"Things are much the same with me, Will. Nothing changed. Though I read more than I used to,and Anne is forcing me to learn the pianoforte, when we can do it at Lady Catherine's."
"How is she, and her daughter?"
"Quite well when we left-as for her daughter,we have recently learned that she is to be married! Can you believe it?" exclaimed Anne.
"No! To whom is she to be married?"
"I see you are quite surprised, brother," Catherine now spoke. "She is to marry Lady Carter-do you know her?"
"No, I do not..."
"Well, she is to marry a Lady Carter's brother, Sir Nilson. I am supposing he is as old as Miss Anne herself, for Lady Carter is not young, and speaks of him as she would of an older brother."
"Ah, I see, I am quite interested in how that turns out."
"You sound like quite the old man," Anne said teasingly.
"I do? Well. How is that young preacher, Mr.Reading? You left him in good health?"
Anne was silenced.
"Yes, brother, though perhaps not in such good spirits." Catherine looked down with a smile. She looked at Anne, then at her brother with a knowing look. William said nothing.
"Brother, what have you been doing? all these years?"
"I have been preoccupied with study."
"You have?" Anne smiled at his eager solemnity.
"Brother, is there something you're not telling us?" Catherine looked keenly at his face.
"No-yes. I was not going to mention her-"
"Her!?" the sister's exclaimed at once.
"Yes...I have met the most beautiful, lovely, darling creature that is not my relative that ever existed!"
The girls looked at each other, then at their brother.
"Are- are you engaged?" asked Catherine.
"No, and-no, I am not. I have not breathed a word of anything to her."
"Who is she? What is her name?"
"Her name is Isabella."
"Brother, there are thousands of Isabella's. What is her family?"
"Oh, her name is Isabella Hamlington," he added this quite complacently.
Anne thought for a moment.
"William, the Hamlington's of Derbyshire- is that of whom you speak?"
"Why, yes. How did you know?"
Anne looked at Catherine. Catherine started.
"We know her older brother!" they said together.
To be continued...