“Take your Bibles, and turn with me to 1 Samuel 15.” The aging minister’s voice filled the crowded church. She flipped through the delicate pages of the pew Bible, then followed along as the minister began to read.
An invisible band tightened around her chest. Minister Trevnor wasn’t preaching on Saul disobeying God. He couldn’t be. But the pastor’s voice boomed through every wretched word of the passage, causing one verse to reverberate through her mind, the verse Mother had quoted when she’d refused to marry David DeVander eight years earlier. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
“We’re going to examine what the Bible teaches about obedience and disobedience this morning,” the minister continued. “The Bible promises happiness to those who obey God and His commandments, but sorrow and punishment to those who disobey. When God looks at you, does He see obedience or disobedience? Children, do you obey your parents? Laborers, do you obey your bosses...?”
Elizabeth crinkled the pages of the Bible between her fingers. She didn’t need to hear a sermon on obedience, not now.
Have you any notion how furious your mother was when she saw what you’d penned? It isn’t appropriate for a lady like yourself to express your opinions in such a public way. Father’s words from last night about the newspaper articles flashed through her mind.
Had she disobeyed some unwritten law, some sacred commandment, by writing that editorial? Mother and Father seemed to think so.
Her parents had also said she was disobedient and rebellious for refusing to marry David. No matter what she did, what grades she’d gotten in college or how far she went out of her way to please them these days, she was somehow always “disobedient.” She likely would be until she married a suitable man. And by “suitable” her parents meant some rich public figure who would help her family’s political connections. Her husband could behave in countless despicable ways beyond the public’s eye, so long as he looked good in the papers. And she was disobedient for refusing to comply.
She fidgeted and looked about as casually as she could manage. She ought never to have made a habit of sitting in the third pew from the front. How easily she could slip out if she sat nearer the back.
Mrs. Weldingham eyed her again, and Elizabeth straightened, staring ahead and trying to shut out the sermon.
Certain words slipped through anyway. Disobeyed. God. Punished. Destroyed.
Was God punishing her for not obeying her parents? Was that why Hayes Academy would likely close? Because she’d written an editorial rather than sitting back and accepting whatever happened to the school? Was that why her parents never seemed happy with her? Because she’d disobeyed them by teaching rather than marrying?
Her head began to throb, and she glanced toward the front of the church. But instead of seeing the minister, rambling about the horrors Saul’s family faced because of his disobedience, Mr. Hayes filled her view.
He already knew she disagreed with her father about the school’s funding, and he hadn’t condemned her. Nor had he said anything about how she shouldn’t teach last night. He’d simply said her family should treat her better and then had asked if she wanted to start her own family. Would his opinion of her change if he knew how she’d defied her parents by not marrying? Or if he knew her intended had found her so unsatisfying he’d run into the arms of a mistress before they’d even married?
And why did Mr. Hayes’s opinion matter so much anyway?
* * *
Luke entered the drawing room and stopped. He hadn’t expected there to be so many people. Sure, he’d seen a servant moving about the premises here or there, inside the house or on the grounds. But to have everyone in the same place—why there were nearly twenty of them.
And they looked terribly uncomfortable. Not a one sat on the dainty furniture—not that he could blame them—but half of them tiptoed about as though they’d never even seen the drawing room before.
Had he told Stevens to assemble them in the wrong place? Where did one meet with his servants? The kitchen, perhaps? Or the servants’ dining room?
Stevens stepped up to him. “Everyone’s in attendance, as you requested.”
Luke cleared his throat and moved to the front of the room. “Thank you all for taking time from your usual duties to be here.”
The milling and soft chatter stopped, and every eye turned his way. Fear and dejection filled most faces. Some eyes burned hot with anger, while others shone dull with resignation. But all knew why they stood there.
“Is he the new master?” A girl of no more than twelve or thirteen whispered to the maid beside her.