Sarah Wright, at 15, was the eldest of Eudora’s younger siblings, and her life had changed enormously since Eudora left. Even moreso than it had since their father had died.
Sarah had inherited, along with her mother’s blue eyes and brown hair, her sense of propriety, and keeping a respectable household was no simple matter in her eyes. It was also a task that had fallen entirely on her shoulders since her mother had fallen into despair, only to emerge from it and decide that it was time to find a husband.
For herself. Not for her young daughter, who should have had a debut ball a year ago, in order to welcome her own suitors.
Sarah tried to push the thought aside. If Mother finds a suitor capable of supporting this family, I can have my debut then, she reasoned with herself. Late is better than never.
Bracing herself for the day, she left her bedroom to wake the children for breakfast. Then it would be to the tutor for Edward, while Sarah tutored Victoria and Margaret—or Vicky and Maggie as they were more often called—herself. Languages, deportment, needlework, music, all before dinner. Then Sarah would tend to more duties that normally fell to her mother, such as consulting with Mrs. Stubens, the housekeeper, as she directed the servants in their cooking, cleaning, and ordering of the household. If Mother was “unwell” again—a distinct possibility—then Sarah would also receive any callers throughout the day, even if it interrupted the children’s lessons.
Above all, it was imperative that no one realize just how chaotic the Wright home had become. Especially not Mother’s suitors.
Sarah woke the girls first. “Maggie, Vicky, come along then, loves. It’s time for breakfast. I’m going to wake your brother, and I want you both dressing by the time I return. Understood?”
“Yes,” Maggie said sleepily, rubbing her eyes. Vicky made a noise that Sarah could only assume meant assent in the language of dreamers.
“Very well then, see that you are. Both of you,” she added. “I’ve lots to do today and I can’t have you late to your lessons.” Sarah left and went to wake their youngest brother, Edward.
She knocked on his door. “Edward, it’s time to wake up for breakfast.”
There was no response. She knocked again. “Edward, come on sleepyhead. They’re making those biscuits you like.”
Silence. This is odd, Sarah thought. “Is everything alright in there?”
When again there was no reply, Sarah said “Alright, I’m coming in.” She opened his door.
Edward was not abed, and in fact, the bed was perfectly made. Could he be downstairs already? she wondered. He never makes his bed without being reminded.
She poked her head back into the girls’ room. “Girls, get dressed and come down for breakfast. I’m going to look for your brother. He seems to be up early.”
“Yes sister,” Maggie said obediently, already making her bed. Vicky yawned and stretched, enjoying every inch of the stretch as a kitten might.
Sarah went down to the dining room, expecting to see Edward seated for breakfast, but he wasn’t there. She did find Mrs. Stubens, their housekeeper, overseeing breakfast preparations.
“Mrs. Stubens, good morning,” she said.
“Good morning, my lady,” the housekeeper returned.
“Have you by chance seen my brother? It seems he has risen early today.”
“I’m afraid not, Miss. Perhaps he’s in the playroom?”
“Right. I’ll check there. Thank you,” Sarah said, leaving for the playroom.
He wasn’t there either. Growing concerned, Sarah went to the yard. Of course, Edward wasn’t allowed to play outside without supervision, what with the odd disappearances and what happened to Father, but he could have been naughty.
When she stepped onto their back porch, she wished a naughty boy was what she’d found. Instead, it was only an empty yard, serene and undisturbed against her growing panic.
No, it’s not like Father. It won’t be like Father. There’s a perfectly rational explanation, she told herself.
Room by room, Sarah searched the house, not allowing herself to call Edward’s name nor to ask anyone else where he might have gone. There’s no reason to start a panic, she thought. I will find him shortly, and tell him how naughty he’s been to give me such a fright.
She even returned to his bedroom, searching under his bed, behind the curtains, in the closet—anywhere a young boy might mischievously hide. Nothing to even suggest he’d been there since being tucked into bed the night before.
She returned to the dining room where her mother and sisters had assembled for breakfast. “Ah, Sarah, there you are,” her mother began. “We were just beginning to wonder—why, dearest, whatever is wrong?” she said, seeing Sarah’s expression.
“Mother…Edward is missing.”